There is a hindu contemplative tradition called self-inquiry, where a seeker of God asks "who am I?" to expose the person as unreal (a collection of self-image, body, identification, etc.) The experience of witnessing the person exposes the true witness as beyond the person, beyond quality, and as absolute knowing itself. God alone is, and the person is but an imaginary extension.

I'm looking for Christian traditions that follow a similar path toward an experiential discovery of God. I found that the term is Hesychasm (going into one's "self"), but it looks like outside of Eastern Orthodox it's a dead tradition.

The closest work I've found to this understanding is the Cloud of Unknowing The Philokalia has also been recommended (written by the "watchful" saints).

I've also been looking at the Franciscans ("What we are looking for is what is looking" St Francis) and the Trappist Centering Prayer. Also someone pointed me to this scripture: "I am who I am" (Exodus 3:14): Moses asks what he is to say to the Israelites when they ask what god has sent him to them, and Yahweh replies, "I am who I am," adding, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I am has sent me to you.'"

  • 1
    An awesome tv show called Joan of Arcadia from about 2004-2006, maybe, was on. I was an atheist then, but still watched. One line by 'God' in that show stood out to me and stayed with me till this day. "When you find peace in the contradictions, you will find me." Or something very close to that. There is a deeper truth that is revealed by this statement which has always resonated with me. It isn't for everyone, but you may find value in it.
    – Adam Heeg
    May 15, 2018 at 17:14
  • If you’re interested in the hessychast mystic tradition this beautiful and profoundly deep Russian movie is a most see: m.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz-vegualMg
    – Martin
    Jan 16, 2021 at 11:54
  • This site is based on Christian doctrine and theology. In Christianity, pagan worship and practices were condemned and punishable by death. Instead of trying to find/ learn about Hindu traditions in Christianity, why not just study Hinduism instead. ??
    – Tennman7
    Jan 17, 2021 at 14:31

3 Answers 3


Hesychasm is foundational to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and is one of the things that distinguishes it from Roman Catholicism and the Protestant confessions that arose out of Roman Catholicism.

The watershed event in Orthodoxy regarding hesychasm was the so-called "Hesychastic Controversy", that occurred on Mt. Athos in the early 14th century. Gregory Palamas, a monk originally from Constantinople, helped define the Orthodox tradition as a result of the controversy.

The Orthodoxwiki entry on Gregory Palamas describes the event as follows:

[Gregory] He was initially asked by his fellow monks on Mount Athos to defend them from the charges of Barlaam. Barlaam believed that philosophers had better knowledge of God than did the prophets, and he valued education and learning more than contemplative prayer. He stated the unknowability of God in an extreme form, having been influenced by a reductionist interpretation of the writings of St. Dionysius the Areopagite. As such, he believed the monks on Mount Athos were wasting their time in contemplative prayer when they should instead be studying to gain intellectual knowledge.

When St. Gregory criticized Barlaam's rationalism, Barlaam replied with a vicious attack on the hesychastic life of the Athonite monks. Gregory's rebuttal was the Triads in defense of the Holy Hesychasts (c. 1338), a brilliant work whose teaching was affirmed by his fellow Hagiorites, who met together in a council during 1340-1341, issuing a statement known as the Hagioritic Tome, which supported Gregory's theology.

A synod held in Constantinople in 1341 also supported St. Gregory's views, condemning Barlaam. Later, in 1344, the opponents of hesychasm secured a condemnation for heresy and excommunication for Gregory, the saint's theology was reaffirmed at two further synods held in Constantinople in 1347 and 1351. Collectively, these three synods in Constantinople are held by many Orthodox Christians and several prominent theologians to constitute the Ninth Ecumenical Council. Between the latter two synods, Gregory composed the One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, a concise exposition of his theology.

This latter work - One Hundred and Fifty Chapters - can be found in English translation in Volume 4 of the Faber and Faber edition of The Philokalia.

The Orthodoxwiki entry gives some additional background on Gregory's hesychastic theology:

Contrary to Barlaam, Gregory asserted that the prophets in fact had greater knowledge of God, because they had actually seen or heard God himself. Addressing the question of how it is possible for humans to have knowledge of a transcendent and unknowable God, he drew a distinction between knowing God in his essence (in Greek, ουσία) and knowing God in his energies (in Greek, ενέργειαι). He maintained the Orthodox doctrine that it remains impossible to know God in his essence (God in himself), but possible to know God in his energies (to know what God does, and who he is in relation to the creation and to man), as God reveals himself to humanity. In doing so, he made reference to the Cappadocian Fathers [Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus] and other early Christian writers.

Gregory further asserted that when the Apostles Peter, James and John witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor, that they were in fact seeing the uncreated light of God; and that it is possible for others to be granted to see that same uncreated light of God with the help of repentance, spiritual discipline and contemplative prayer, although not in any automatic or mechanistic fashion.

He continually stressed the Biblical vision of the human person as a united whole, both body and soul. Thus, he argued that the physical side of hesychastic prayer was an integral part of the contemplative monastic way, and that the claim by some of the monks of seeing the uncreated light was indeed legitimate. Like St. Simeon the New Theologian, he also laid great stress in his spiritual teaching on the vision of the divine light.

Gregory Palamas is such an important figure in Eastern Orthodoxy that the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent every year is reserved for his commemoration.

  • Thanks! I'll assume then that Protestants and Catholics don't have a similar line of contemplation. Loved reading Palamas's Wikipedia article, his life, and his final words: "To the heights! To the heights!"
    – Kyle
    May 15, 2018 at 17:01
  • I think there is some ambiguity today in how Gregory Palamas is viewed within the Roman Catholic Church. There are many jurisdictions within the Roman Catholic Church that were acquired from the Eastern Orthodox Church and placed under the authority of the Pope - sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not. Byzantine Catholics comprise one of these groups. I believe that Gregory Palamas and other post-Schism eastern Fathers still maintain some kind of authority among these Catholics, but I am not completely sure.
    – guest37
    May 15, 2018 at 17:33
  • The Indian tradition that the OP is referring to, appear to be the ideology of `Aham Brahmasmi' roughly translated as 'I am the cosmic being" . For deeper research, log on to : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aham_Brahmasmi May 18, 2018 at 16:13
  • Protestants tend to believe that we cannot attain unto knowledge of God through mystical or more mundane efforts...that it is too lofty for us. Knowledge of God is available to us by His self-revelation to us in creation, the scriptures, and in Christ (in whom all the fullness of God is pleased to dwell). We study to know and obey the word, relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth and in the blood of Christ to cover our frequent failures. We view prayer as more of a practical conversation with a heavenly Father than a mystical experience (Jesus' prayer model). Jan 16, 2021 at 13:50

If you are interested in mystical traditions you may want to look further afield:

There are surprising parallels with

"For the first time you [lift your heart to God with stirrings of love], you will find only a darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing [...] Whatever you do, this darkness and the cloud are between you and your God, and hold you back from seeing him clearly by the light of understanding in your reason and from experiencing him in the sweetness of love in your feelings. [...] And so prepare to remain in this darkness as long as you can, always begging for him you love; for if you are ever to feel or see him...it must always be in this cloud and this darkness."

— The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works. Translated by A. C. Spearing

and a work by Ibn Arabi, the Spanish Islamic mystic, The Universal Tree and the Four Birds where he writes:

I heard a voice coming from me – but neither inside me nor outside me – say: “Why do you demand a high station when you are on the road? What have you to do with the sittings on the Throne; What have you to do with the celestial couches and sublime litters? What have you to do with the uppermost horizon? What have you to do with the screens of splendour? What have you to do with the radiant curtain? What have you to do with the Cloud? What have you to do with the impenetrable Veil of Sublimity?

The Cloud here is referred to in a hadith in which, before creation, God is said to have been in a Cloud above and below which there was no air. Given that Ibn Arabi lived in Andalusia (and well before The Cloud of Unknowing had been written) it wouldn't surprise me if there has been some cross-over; the Wikipedia page suggests the inspiration may have been St Augustines Confessions where he mentions he might have 'given more vigilant heed to the voice from the clouds' and 'thy Word which now appears to us in the dark image of the clouds and through the glass of heaven, and not as it really is'.

As further evidence of the above; there is this article, published in Greek Orthodox Theological Review by Seyyed Nasr in 1986 who writes:

There is a striking resemblance between Hesychast and Sufi teachings concerning the nature and meaning of the prayer of the heart itself ... The Hesychast tradition and Sufism share the belief that one should remember God constantly and with every breath, that this remembrance is none other than the invocation of a divine Name revealed as a sacrament, that this prayer is related to the heart understood spiritually and that the practice of the incantory method must be based upon the guidance of a teacher and master and is accompanied by appropriate instruction concerning meditation, the practice of virtue and other elements of the spiritual life


One of the greatest works in Protestant literature begins:

"Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other."

A longer quote is given below.

It is the Protestant view that a person feels no need of God until he has a knowledge of himself, of his impurity, weakness, vileness and depravity. And yet he flatters himself so much he can have no sense of these, and thus no knowledge of himself, until he has some knowledge of God's perfections, purity, holiness and goodness, and is further persuaded that the perfections of God is the standard to which he himself is required to conform.

Seeing as these perfections of God can only be discovered by a study of the Scriptures, i.e. the Bible, it follows that any contemplation of ourselves without a study of Holy Scripture, and a comparison of ourselves with the standards of Scripture, is likely to lead us far astray from both the way of salvation and from a true knowledge of ourselves.

The two great needs of the soul. A Protestant view :-

"Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.

For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; no, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone.

In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us from heaven, are like streams conducting us to the fountain. Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. In particular, the miserable ruin into which the revolt of the first man has plunged us, compels us to turn our eyes upwards; not only that while hungry and famishing we may thence ask what we want, but being aroused by fear may learn humility. For as there exists in man something like a world of misery, and ever since we were stripped of the divine attire our naked shame discloses an immense series of disgraceful properties every man, being stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness, in this way necessarily obtains at least some knowledge of God. Thus, our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us, that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness.

We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him.

  1. On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, upright, wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also — He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced.

For, since we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure just as an eye, to which nothing but black had been previously presented, deems an object of a whitish, or even of a brownish hue, to be perfectly white. Nay, the bodily sense may furnish a still stronger illustration of the extent to which we are deluded in estimating the powers of the mind. If, at mid-day, we either look down to the ground, or on the surrounding objects which lie open to our view, we think ourselves endued with a very strong and piercing eyesight; but when we look up to the sun, and gaze at it unveiled, the sight which did excellently well for the earth is instantly so dazzled and confounded by the refulgence, as to oblige us to confess that our acuteness in discerning terrestrial objects is mere dimness when applied to the sun. Thus too, it happens in estimating our spiritual qualities. So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity." (Quoted from the opening paragraphs of "The Institutes of the Christian Religion" by John Calvin, 1536)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .