This chapter reminds us that there is a Hindu tradition of mysticism. Mysticism is generally understood as a doctrine that claims you can have an immediate spiritual intuition of truth believed to transcend ordinary understanding of a supreme being. Mysticism allows an unmediated and intuitive union of the soul with God through contemplation or spiritual ecstasy. Thus, the main goal of mysticism is to obtain greater knowledge of God and unite the soul with Him.

This mystical phenomenon is found in all major religions. Since the sacrificial cult of the Rig Veda did not wholly meet the needs of the people, and since the texts of the Upanishads didn't satisfy head and heart, people needed something else for their religious craving — both knowledge of God and a way to commune with God. The mystic actions of the ascetic came close to fulfilling this aspiration. Even though mystical union was not possible for all, there was a chance for all to practice.

By the time of the Upanishads, asceticism had become widespread, and it was through the ascetics rather than the orthodox sacrificial priests that the new teachings developed and spread. Most of the new developments in thought were about mental and spiritual exercises of meditation. The original motive of Indian asceticism was the acquisition of magical power. If asceticism had its charms even for the less spiritual, they were still greater for the questing souls who took to a life of hardship from truly religious motives. As a person's mystical exercises developed, his psychic faculties enhanced, and the ascetic obtained insight no words could express.

The metaphysical interpretation of the ascetic's mystical knowledge varied from sect to sect, but the fundamental experience was the same, and was not appreciably different from that of the Western saints and mystics, whether Greek, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. But Indian mysticism is unique in its elaboration of techniques for inducing ecstasy, and in complex metaphysical systems built upon interpretations of that experience. Where in other religions mysticism is of varying importance, in those of India, it is fundamental.

The Smartha philosophy defines mainstream Hinduism as allowing for the veneration of numberless deities, but this worship proceeds with the understanding that all of them are but manifestations of the one divine power. That ultimate power is termed Brahman or atman, and is believed to have no specific form, name, or attribute.

The system prevalent in Hinduism is defined by the Smartha philosophy; this theory allows the veneration of numberless deities, but on the understanding that all of them are but manifestation of one divine power (a belief that is sometimes called soft polytheism).

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