In general, religion separates the sacred from human experience, placing it outside of the life of man. Worship of the divine through prayer, including devotion and conduct, seem like an effort to bring the divine closer to man. By contrast, mysticism teaches that the sacred is to be realized within each person that, in the words of the Buddha, all beings have the Buddha-nature. This is not to suggest that experience for man is only related and limited to participation with the mundane or secular such that he needs God. It can go quite beyond the mundane. Both religion and the secular life limit man's potential. Mysticism is a door that opens to the unlimited; the true nature of reality which each of us can personally realize.
In Asia, the guru and the sage are not the same as the vicar, the minister, the priest or the preacher. Their roles are not like that of, say, a Catholic priest or a Baptist minister. I happened to be reading the book Mysticism. This part struck me as being close to the way I see the Asian guru and sage (maybe more so with the Zen sage).
"Thus the classical Eastern sage could well be a mystic, someone viewing the world on the basis of direct experiences of ultimate reality. The wisdom of the Hindu or Buddhist sage could well have come from meditational, yogic perceptions of the truth that the Dharma, the holy teaching, had laid out. The case is different, culturally, for the typical Chinese sage, Confucian, Taoist or Buddhist, but not wholly so. The master there would be able to epitomize the tradition for the disciple and bring it to bear practically. This would involve knowing the tradition from the heart, having penetrated its core. It would also involve knowing the individual disciple or petitioner and just what he or she required. In studying the tradition from the heart, the master might have been moved by direct experiences of ultimate reality. Such mystical experiences would not have violated the social expectation shaping the sage's work. Indeed, they would have fulfilled it. To know the Way (Tao), for example, one had to be moved by the Way, have the Way seduce one's heart, direct one's will, illumine one's mind. All this could be mystical" (Denise Lardner Carmody and John Tully Carmody, Mysticism: Holiness East and West, p. 16).
I like this view. What I know of the typical Western minister they don't seem to have very much of the Asian sageness in them. They seem to want an obedient flock. Maybe they see that in such conformism, their God will come closer to them because he is pleased with their submissiveness taking pity upon them. For the Eastern sage, they seem to be plumbing the depths of their being, going deeper to the very fountain of life itself.
It seems that the religionist is hoping and waiting for his God to come to him, while the sage is moving to their true nature so as to awaken to it; coming out of his slumber or avidya.