Home » Esoteric and Buddhism – Part I: Esoteric

Esoteric and Buddhism – Part I: Esoteric

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Part I:  Esoteric

A major misunderstanding has risen though the years in relation to the term ‘esoteric’. Esoteric means ‘the hidden side or Truth of phenomena and mentalities‘, ‘the knowledge of the Heart (spiritual intuition)’ as distinguished from the exoteric ‘knowledge of the mind – that what can be heard with the ear and read by the eye and reasoned about by the discursive mind.’ To the latter category belong all world religions in their outward forms (the inner often being lost), to the first category belongs Religion beyond religions. Esotericism is not ‘elitist’ in the common meaning of the word, but is only accessible for men and women who have reached a certain stage of spiritual evolution after many lifetimes of previous experience. It does not merely come by our present personal wish, desire or decision, nor by following courses or associating with wiseacres. It comes by living the life of altruism only, lifetime after lifetime. Even the brightest scientific and religious minds may not be able to ponder it, or even recognize it, and may deny it. So if Theosophists speak of esoteric Buddhism, Christianity, books, teachings etc. they do not mean mentally ‘difficult’, ‘hidden’, ‘secret’ or ‘making use of occult methods’. They also don’t mean the Vajrayāna of Buddhism as it is often understood by the people.1 They refer to that inner wisdom that will be the common good of humanity at large in the future. Gautama the Buddha came some 2½ millennia ago to prepare the soil, and modern Theosophists and others play a role in that.

With ‘esoteric’ (derived the Greek esoterikos, pertaining to the inner) is meant the body of mystical and sacred teachings reserved for students of high and worthy character. It has nothing to do with great intellect and one’s degree of academic or other education. This body of teachings has been known and studied by highly evolved individuals in all ages. The esoteric doctrine is the common property of humankind, and it has always been so. In the various great religions and philosophies the world over the student can find fundamental principles which, when placed side by side and critically examined, are easily discovered to be identic for each system. Every one of such fundamental principles is inherent in every great world religion or world philosophy; hence the aggregate of these world religions or world philosophies contains the entirety of the esoteric doctrine for those who ‘have the eyes to see,’ but usually expressed in exoteric form. The esoteric philosophy or doctrine has been held from time immemorial in the guardianship of great men, exalted seers and sages, who were born from time to time to promulgate it, or rather portions of it, to the world when justice is on the decline and the spiritual and intellectual need for so doing arises.

No one should think that in our ‘special’ days the esoteric doctrines can be had in full from The Theosophical Society or any other movement or organization. It was and is the task of this movement to recall to human consciousness at large that such doctrines do indeed exist, and lift a very small tip of the veil that keeps it hidden for the profane eye. A larger and larger tip of that veil will no doubt be lifted in centuries and millennia to come, if and when humanity shows worthy. This little bit alone has already shown able to make the established human belief systems shake on their bases.

The great exoteric religions all have been derived from the universal divine wisdom that always existed, and have been given to humanity by the true Esotericists who had not only Knowledge or ‘omniscience’ but, had in all their being become one experientially with the true teachings concerning the universe. However, none of these world religions or philosophies gives in clear and explicit form the entirety of the body of teachings which are at its heart. Some religions emphasize one or more of such fundamental principles, while others will emphasize on some other; in either case others of the principles remaining in the background. This readily accounts for the fact that the various world religions and world philosophies vary among themselves and often, to the unreflecting mind, superficially seem to have little in common, and perhaps even to be contradictory. The cause of this is the varying manner in which each such religion or philosophy has been given to the world, the form that each took having been the best possible one for the period in which it was promulgated. Each such religion or philosophy, having its own place in the evolution of humankind according to the variety of cultures, represents the various human minds who have developed it or who, so to say, have translated it to the world in this or in that particular promulgation.

One example of such exoteric discrepancies – which are fully compatible if one understands the esoteric background from which they derive – is the existence of a Creator God in the Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and the total denial of the existence of God and His Creation in Buddhism and Jainism, for example.

Esoterically there is definitely no ‘person-like’ God who is limited as to space and time and who could be found on any specific location in the universe. Esotericism clearly denies the existence of anything ‘external’ in the universe, the universe being One Being which manifests itself to limited consciousnesses in many facets. Every principle in the cosmos, such a Mind, Desire, Matter (=density of substance in various degrees), Wisdom, Energy and Divine Essence (from which and in which all manifested phenomena exist temporarily) are but modifications of One Being, Consciousness, Life that ever moves and changes for the eye of all things that change (māyā). The divine is as present in a grain of sand, a galaxy, an atom or a man, and all these beings are continuously conscious in various and varying degrees, living and changing due to cosmic Mind – and this is what the world knows as Creation as well as Evolution. The eternal Mind can not conceive of a beginning or an end or anything that is ‘less’ than eternal. But within this eternity creation and destruction take place continuously in whatever time-limit small or big one wishes to fancy, and beyond. Inherent Cosmic Mind is the great changer, manifestor, creator. Therefore Divine Creation, consisting of the activity of all conscious more or less perfect divine minds, takes place continuously, and one may call the togetherness of all lofty spiritual intelligence ‘God the Creator’ if one wishes to do so. This exoteric idea of God as propagated in Judaism, Islam and Christianity etc. has the power to bring forth great respect in the human mind, so it can feel and partly understand why beauty, goodness and intelligence are all-pervading in Nature. Exoterically, this one God-idea taken on its own fails to explain the obvious existence of evil, suffering and failure in Nature, and thereto other teachings had to be given.

Systems that were given to more philosophically minded and spiritually developed people could make a further step by straightaway denyingany limited true existence in the cosmos in the form of a God or Being that is finite. Creation then becomes an eternal process without beginning or end, though it may show periods of relative activity and withdrawal from activity, and periodic movement up and down from spiritual and material (i.e. manifested in its ultimate sense) and spiritual phases again.

Another such discrepancy exists between Jainism (which is at least partly pre-Gautama Buddhism) and Buddhism, where the first claims, while the second denies the existence of an eternal individual soul. The first is the more obvious from a mental point of view, the second is the more philosophical from a spiritual point of view, and is therefore much more difficult to understand by average people.

The fact that no religion gives out the full Truth is because it can not yet be understood by humankind at large at a particular time – and as a proof of this we see the tremendous suffering people have brought and bring on each other in the name of ‘God’ or ‘Religion.’ Many of these quarrels find their basis in mental interpretations which are of a lower, or rather a less perfect nature than in direct perception of Truth – and it is from this direct perception which itself is beyond interpretation that all interpretations derive.

The religion of Hinduism however much it has been ‘exotericized’ by the Indians – contains both the idea of Eternal Brahm(an), i.e. the All, and Parabrahm(an), i.e. that what is eternally beyond Brahman, and at the same time it teaches us of cyclic Creation by Brahmā, exoterically one creator-god but in reality the collectivity of creative minds in the universe. Hinduism preaches the existence of an individual soul for each and every being, but also the oneness of them in Brahman. It teaches change and constancy, duality as well as non-duality. Very much of esoteric truth lies hidden within the ancient and even later Hindu scriptures, but one needs keys to unlock these truths. Without these keys being available for the masses, Hinduism has become greatly a body of polytheistic idolatry and often selfishness (each one seeking his or her own god without concern for others).

True Esotericists, initiates, kevalis, bodhisattva’s etc. were and are highly evolved humans and are beyond mental mistake and speculation. In a number of cases they came as prophets, messiahs or avatāras, using an appropriate human-embodied being as intermediate instrument for communication between the divine and the human realms.

The term esoteric is applied to the advanced instructions given to qualified candidates in Mysteries, i.e. true schools of Philosophy. Jesus in the Bible, for example, referred to teachings for his disciples in private, but veiled for the public, precisely as all other ancient religious and philosophical teachers always had. Esoteric teachings both were and are such as could not be understood or profitably received by those not previously prepared by study and probation by a true teacher. Exoteric or outer teachings however were often given to the world in symbolic language which revealed the esoteric meaning only to those who were in possession of the keys to interpretation. The esoteric tradition has existed and will continue to exist on various and successive levels until the end of human development, i.e. many millions of years in the future.

If the word ‘esoteric’ is used in modern worldly articles or books this is a by definition a degradation of the term.


Part II. Esoteric Buddhism

  1. This we will discuss in the next Editorial. []