Nature Mysticism is presented here as a route to the transcendent through Nature. It is jnani and via positiva though in ways special to itself.
The term 'Nature Mysticism' was coined and used by scholars of religion at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, including William James and Evelyn Underhill, and has remained an obscure term. There is no entry for it in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica for example. This section will look at Nature Mysticism in the writings of Richard Jefferies, Thomas Traherne, Walt Whitman, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Annie Dillard, and other sources, all of whom were Westerners (with the exception of Krishnamurti who probably owed more to the West in his thinking than the East). There is however a vigorous Nature Mysticism to be found in the East, in the Upanishads, in Taoism and in Zen.
Nature Mysticism is not to be confused with the spiritual life of early Shamanic religions, also known as paganism, Earth religions and so on. For the Shaman all elements of the natural world are imbued with spirit, and hence Shamanism is a spiritual life that is occult in its overtone, not transcendent. For the Shaman the spirit behind an object in Nature, such as a tree or animal, is engaged with on the basis of the temporal issues of an organic survival, though with empathy and reverence. For the Nature mystic an object such as a tree or animal is engaged with on the basis of finding the eternal. This means in fact that Nature as a whole is more important than its constituent elements, and Nature is more important as an aesthetic experience than as a means to survival. The Shaman is at an early stage in the evolution of the spiritual life, where an alienation from Nature has not yet been experienced, while the Nature mystic has undergone all the necessary anguish of separation. Hence the Shaman only dimly loves Nature and appreciates its beauty, while the Nature mystic loves Nature as one only can after the profound alienation that the intellectual life brings in its wake. This love however is not bhakti but typical of the transformation of the intellectual, that is to say any intelligent person, into the jnani.
The aesthetic component of Nature Mysticism is intimately involved with both the jnani temperament and with the path of via positiva, indeed we could say that Nature Mysticism is the jnani instinct for balance and purity turned outwards and finding in Nature its reflection. However, the very sensitivity to beauty that is the requirement for a Nature mystic is also the source of Nature's most likely rejection: how does one deal with the suffering and death that all living entities undergo? A thoughtful and sensitive individual has to confront the fact that in Nature all living entities survive through the death of other living entities. Given that the jnani has to penetrate appearances, much like a scientist, there can be no scope for a romanticised or Arcadian view of Nature. The act of predation, the 'Nature red in tooth and claw' of Tennyson, has to be accommodated without flinching, but neither, as Hitler found, can it be a reason for exultation or a model for human society. Indeed the meditation on the mortality and suffering of the individual in the context of the eternity and joyfulness of Nature as a whole is a vital part of Nature Mysticism.
In this section we will look at the few individuals and writings whose work illuminates the understanding of Nature Mysticism and for whom the very term was invented. The key issues are how it relates to the concept of jnani, the expansiveness of the via positiva, and how the aesthetic sensibility of the Nature mystic can come to terms with the sometimes harsh realities of the living world.