This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
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5.4. Esoterism and Exoterism

General remarks

The modern world, for all its rhetoric about privacy and self-determination, cannot tolerate secrecy. This goes double for anything that is ‘secret’ by its very nature, which is to say, anything that is the exclusive possession of a minority simply because the majority cannot comprehend its meaning. Anything that claims to be beyond the reach of ‘the average person’ is rejected or suspected, and this follows naturally from the unnatural dogma of equality with which this civilization is enamored. For this reason, the term ‘esoteric’ has taken on a mostly pejorative meaning. At its most basic level it refers to knowledge that is beyond the reach of all but an elite. In the West it is used to describe the beliefs held by ‘secret societies, or else the vague spiritual notions of various ‘new age’ groups. All of this is assumed to be mere quackery, because after all if legitimate knowledge were in question, then everyone would have already accepted it. Legitimate knowledge is common knowledge. That is how democracy works: that which is true is that which is acceptable to the majority. Everything else if fringe.

In other words, it is not generally believed that a form of knowledge that is beyond the reach of almost everyone can be valid. Such a stance is obviously absurd, of course, and that is why it is not openly preached but is more an unspoken presupposition. Such an attitude could only persist due to the denial of reality as we find it, since that reality displays vast divergences in mental and physical aptitudes between individuals; add to this the fact that even if all mental aptitudes were the same, observation would attest that very few people show any desire to cultivate the capacity for thought they actually have; on the contrary it seems that most people harbor an aversion to thought that, even if understandable, is irremediable.

Traditional doctrine, which is immune to the pressures of modern ideology, is structured in such a way as to allow for the inequality of persons, speaking to all without demanding that all conform to the lowest common denominator. The more elementary parts of the doctrine, those that can be readily made available to anyone without much difficulty and without much risk of distortion or incomprehension, we may call exoteric. Teachings of the more profound order, particularly those relating to principles and therefore much more difficult to grasp, make up the portion called esoteric.

The point we wish to emphasize, however, is that the division is one of necessity, based on human nature and manifests the refusal to compromise the integrity of doctrine for the sake of popularization. It is not arbitrary, self-serving, or political; it is certainly not as if esoterism were a collection of ideas being ‘kept secret’ from the rest for the enjoyment of a privileged minority. The door is there and anyone is free to enter, but few seek out this door. The esoteric path is not blocked, but the gate is small and the way is narrow, and few find it.[1] All knocks are answered, but they are seldom heard. This is why the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar could say that ‘the Catholic Church does not abolish genuine esotericism. The secret path of the saints is never denied to one who is really willing to follow it. But who in the crowd troubles himself over such a path?’

[1] Matthew 7:14.

The line of demarcation between exoteric and esoteric

Because mental aptitude varies widely throughout a population, it might seem that the distinction between esoteric and exoteric must be either a matter of identifying an ‘average intelligence,’ and then dividing doctrine accordingly, or it must seem an arbitrary division, as if some priest one day decided that this doctrine will be directed toward the few and not the many. Both of these notions are false, because the distinction between esoteric and exoteric is dictated by the knowledge itself, and the order to which it belongs. That which belongs to the exoteric order is easily comprehensible and available to all, and it is available to all because it is easily comprehensible. It is ‘external’ and obvious. The knowledge that belongs to the esoteric order is always a knowledge of metaphysical principles, and a specific mental constitution is necessary in order to attain to it. It is ‘interior’ and it is not obvious, and for this reason it remains impenetrable to most people; this exclusiveness is not due to the will of any sect or society. Metaphysics is inherently exclusive. So we find, then, that the line of demarcation between the exoteric and the esoteric tends to be the same as that between metaphysics and all other orders of knowledge. This paradigm is of course not rigid, and in our section on Christianity, we will expand a bit more on the unique approach that tradition has adopted with respect to the esoteric/exoteric divide. But what we have said above and the further remarks we will offer below can serve as a working model for an understanding of why students of doctrine so often utilize these terms.

Esoteric doctrine is often oral

Due to the limits of the written word, esoteric doctrines are often preserved orally from master to disciple. This method allows for an effective transmission of the doctrines and prevents the distortion that can come about when texts become primary, and which always require exegesis. The result of this means of transmission, however, is that in some cases, when the tradition disappears or is wiped out, the doctrines are lost forever. Such was the case with the Druids, for example, and it seems to have been true of the medieval alchemists, the doctrines of which must be surmised from scattered and partial remnants usually veiled in special terminology.

Esoterism, exoterism, and religion

We have spoken of the division between the esoteric and the exoteric as if it were universal in the traditional world, but the division is not black and white and in some traditions one or the other element might be difficult to isolate. In the case of Hinduism, where the entire doctrine is colored with metaphysical conceptions, and each is free to approach this doctrine from the various paths available, but all of which are addressed as to a single mentality, it has been said that there is no exoterism at all. This is perhaps an exaggeration, for certainly not every Hindu is a subtle thinker who sees beyond appearances, and all it takes is a few hours browsing the literature to know that this is the case. Even so, we can admit that the line at least fades and what might count as esoteric seems to predominate. The reason for this is, according to Guenon, is that the East never really left the metaphysical point of view behind, and so it is nonsense to imagine it as something preserved ‘in secrecy’ by an exclusive few. The West, Guenon explains (and here we tend to agree with him), reached a point where the general mentality was of such an anti-metaphysical character that the meanings of symbols, the very language of metaphysics, were almost entirely lost. Consider here the fate of alchemy, which was already mentioned. Here was a science of cosmology, the language of which, because symbolic, is today interpreted as nothing more than ignorant and vulgar attempts to create gold. In other words, an embarrassing episode in ignorance and greed, rather than a subtle approach to theosis. Such is the condescension the West has displayed toward metaphysics and its language of symbols, and it was perhaps due to this tendency that the ratio-theological point of view itself became more appropriate for it than a metaphysical view, since this particular style of religious thinking allowed for the transposition of more philosophical expositions of the doctrine. This adjustment came at a cost, but it was, in the end, providential and permitted the Western world to at least remain attached to principles in its own way.

From this same cause there grew a need for a way of speaking and a general body of teaching that could be directed at a civilization whose way of thinking had become antagonistic to metaphysics. The result is a more obvious exoterism which implies, as a corollary, a more definite, albeit less visible and less ‘official’, division corresponding to esoterism. While Western esotericism has become quite diminished and in many respects ‘invisible’ in Christianity (for who, after all, speaks of Meister Eckhart, while every Catholic knows something of St. Thomas Aquinas), it remained present in Judaism in the form of the Kabbalah, and is alive and well in Islam, where it is called Sufism. Esotericism should be seen as the ‘inner room’ of these religious traditions.

Three modes of thought

To gain a better understanding of the different aspects of tradition, it may help to further distinguish between doctrine and rational knowledge so that it can become clear which type of “knowing” we are concerned with at any given time. We will distinguish between ‘modes’ of thought as expressed through metaphysics (esoterism), theology (usually belonging to the order of exoterism), and philosophy (neither exoteric nor esoteric, but strictly rational and of a lower order altogether).

Philosophy is rational knowledge and by nature suffers certain limitations, the most significant being an inability to adequately deal with metaphysics. The reason is that metaphysical knowledge is transcendent, which is to say beyond the purely human mode of thought. To say it more clearly, philosophy proceeds from reason, which takes place on the individual plane and discursively; metaphysical knowledge proceeds from the Intellect, which as Meister Eckhart tells us “is something in the soul that is uncreate and uncreatable; if the whole soul were this it would be uncreate and uncreatable; and this is the Intellect.” Likewise, in Islam it is said that “The Sufi is not created.”

Pure intellectual knowledge is not reachable on the individual order, the order of reason. No chain of reasoning can acquire it. Because it comes from above, from the supra-individual order, it can only be direct knowledge, as opposed to discursive, and this is why it was received by direct intuition.

We should also carefully separate metaphysical knowledge from “faith” because it is a matter of knowing and not belief, and even though faith transcends reason, metaphysical knowledge transcends the theological point of view altogether because, while faith and theology proceeds from Revelation, metaphysics proceeds from intellectual intuition. Revelation is the Word of God spoken to creatures, and faith is the passive and indirect participation in divine Knowledge; but intellectual intuition is the direct and active participation in divine Knowledge.

To say it another way, metaphysical knowledge is not something within us, that we acquire and keep there, but is the point of contact with the mind of God. It is the realization of one’s inner unity with the Divine.

This is why metaphysical certitude is absolute. It is the identity of knower and known and they are not separate things. It is not ‘knowledge about’ the divine, it is contact with the divine and union with the divine. It is a realization of the divinity from which our innermost selves are not distinct. To doubt it would be an impossibility.

Knowing and believing

For the vast majority, Divine Knowledge is only accessible through faith, and this is why all great religions are dogmatic, which is to say that they translate metaphysical knowledge into articles of faith, which adapts them to a certain mentality and concretizes them and in this way relativizes them so that they can be accepted in the minds of believers. But again, to accept articles of faith is not to participate in the Divine Knowledge.

In other words, the religions cloth the transcendent in so many secondary forms so that they may be obtained by those to whom they would otherwise be invisible. This is exoterism. Esoterism, which always pertains to metaphysics, takes the essences as its starting point, and so it goes beyond the various religious forms without contradicting them.

Metaphysics opens a door—philosophy closes one

We might also say that the difference between metaphysics and philosophy is that metaphysics, although it must express itself through human faculties in the rational mode, otherwise it could not be expressed, always means something more and is in this way symbolic and oriented inward; philosophy, on the other hand, is never intended to be anything more than what it says explicitly.

Philosophy begins with a doubt (the dialogues of Plato are the best examples of this) and so its goal is clearly set, and when it accomplishes this goal and resolves the doubt, its meaning has been exhausted. Metaphysics, on the other hand, begins with something known with absolute certainty, and so, even when its language resembles philosophy, its message is intended to awaken in the listener a knowledge that the language itself could not have expressed. This is why such writings are said to be only accessible to those “with ears to hear”–whereas philosophy, if it is coherent and rational as it intends to be, can be grasped by anyone who can reason, or on the contrary can be deemed objectively incoherent, as the case may be.

Unity unrealizable externally

Due to what we’ve already said–that the essence of things is only visible to a few and to the rest accessible only via belief, which is to say via passive participation in a religious form–it should be clear that the unity of religions cannot be ‘demonstrated’ to all, which is to say on the level of the diverse forms themselves. If they could all be reconciled and unified, that would call into question their purpose for existing. That is why I won’t waste time trying to resolve the antagonisms between the religions, at least not in their own terms and certainly not on their own level, because that is impossible. They can only be transcended, and this is why we speak of the ‘transcendent unity’ of religions and not of ecumenism, which should be rejected as contrary to the Will of God, since He established these religions not by chance but by Revelation, proving that each has their place and purpose and they should under no circumstances ‘forget their differences’.

What is most important to me is that you understand that each religion, even if they insist on one color in the spectrum of light to the exclusion, sometimes violent exclusion, of the others, they nonetheless manifest an aspect of the light and are therefore, as a logical necessity, capable of offering a path to transcendence, leading the believer into the presence of the one and only light, where color no longer matters. That is to say, each may use the ‘ray’ of a particular Revelation to ascend via the Intellect to the Divine source of all particularized lights.

The rule of secrecy in the modern world

The traditional approach to esoterism was secrecy. Some historians will attribute this concealment to zealousness, persecution, and small-minded ignorance on the part of religious authority. In other words, the few who possessed the truth were driven into hiding by the ‘official’ Church. This was Julius Evola’s mistake regarding the secrecy of the alchemists in the medieval period. The mistake is understandable because it is true in a sense. The religious authorities were indeed suspicious of esoteric elements when it came to official dogma, but we need to understand this opposition correctly. It was not wrong, and not due to incomprehension plain and simple. The teachings of esoterists are very easily misunderstood by the majority, and in societies that are religious in character, it is not safe to permit easily misunderstood doctrines to be spread within the domain of a particular religious form. It is a matter of prudence and not of persecution or self-interest, and it is the role of the religious authorities to act in this way, even if it does seem to suppress esoterism.

Having rendered the opposition of the religious authorities understandable, we should ask whether it is acceptable and prudent today, in the present, to speak openly about these teachings, or if secrecy ought to remain the rule always and everywhere.

To this, we reply that we no longer live in a traditional civilization ruled by a religious mentality under the guidance of a particular religious form. Instead, we live in a time of chaos where unbelief and anarchy are the norm, and where doctrine of any kind is almost entirely absent. Thus, we are free from both difficulties faced by the alchemists: we cannot lead the general public away from orthodoxy, since they are nowhere near it and don’t even have any concept of it; and we also need not fear opposition by the religious authorities, because these also have been removed from any effective power over the world.

We can openly speak of these things because in the main no one will listen, and while damage can still be done to those who cannot understand these things, it will be outweighed by any help offered to those who can understand but lack access to this knowledge.

Exoterism and salvation

The end of exoteric knowledge is salvation. Since this is always something that occurs on the individual level and pertains to a specific person, we can describe it as a point of view is the “personal” or “interested,” as opposed to disinterested and impersonal.

For this reason, exoteric knowledge is by definition exclusive in both its means and its aim. In its aim, because it desires salvation and not knowledge or union or some other end; in its means, because it only concerns itself with what is required to achieve the salvation of an individual.

For example, the idea, in Catholicism, that “the Church” is one, regardless of where the faithful may be and even if they do not necessarily know that they are members in it, at the same time does not acknowledge the full validity of other religions. Even though this validity is included in the principle of the unicity of the Church, it cannot be integrated into Catholic exoterism because it has no value for the salvation of individuals, and in fact could present a serious danger for those who cannot comprehend it at the right level. For these persons it would result in a kind of religious indifferentism, or the idea that “all religions are the same.”

Esoterism is to exoterism as the spirit is to the letter.

The meaning of dogma

Dogmatism is the translation of spirit into letter such that it can serve as a means of guidance and realization for believers. Dogma brings the truth within reach of believers by placing it within limits, expressing it in a very narrow fashion that is strictly suited to the people for whom it is formulated.

Dogma should always be understood as a specific formulation that–true as it may be–is only comprehensible to a certain group of people. It cannot be integrated by others without the Truth it was meant to convey being perverted.

Necessitated by the diversity of human types

The world is divided into multiple human types, usually geographically situated but not to be confused with races. Taking a single truth as a starting point, we could say that each human type requires its own dogma, formed in accordance with the spiritual temperament of that type, in order to be capable of integrating that truth.

We have said that the exoteric point of view performs a limiting function, but it is also important to see that exoteric teachings (dogmas) as a means of spiritual realization are the opposite: they present to the individual who “believes” an opportunity to participate in a knowledge that is beyond him, and if it is not beyond him it provides him with a “support” in order to realize transcendence within himself. So we should say that exoterism, from the level of pure metaphysical knowledge, or esoterism, is limitative, but from the point of view of the believer it is expansive–providing a path to participation in the universal.

When exoterism becomes problematic

Because the esoteric way can, by definition, only concern a minority, the exoteric aspect of a religion is a necessity and a good. What is evil in exoterism is not its function or its presence, but its tendency toward autocracy. Always the exoteric is impelled to not only ignore or deny the esoteric, but to violently suppress it.

Perhaps one of the greatest drawbacks of the Latin mind, with its thirst for legal rigor, is that it has often led men who are capable and called to pure Knowledge to limit themselves to the outward and formal.

An exoteric framework that systematically eliminates esoterism is a body that bleeds its own lifeblood. It can never completely succeed, but to the degree that it does, it begins to ossify and collapse for lack of spiritual vitality.

Woe unto you, lawyers! For ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in, ye hindered.[1]

The esoteric nucleus within a given Tradition should not be imagined as a localized body at the center of the visible Church itself, as if it were a conclave of the spiritual elite that try to work behind the scenes and yet within the exoteric structure itself. The esoteric element strengthens and stabilizes but it is its own dimension and often does not directly work within the exoteric framework at all. It is not a “group” or committee that can be identified or categorized. It is the transcendent dimension of the Tradition in which anyone whose vocation is knowledge may participate to some degree.

What has been said of Islam can be said of any tradition in the modern world:

The majority of non-Moslems, and even many Moslems who have been brought up in a European cultural environment, are ignorant of this particular element of Islam which is both its marrow and its centre, which gives life and force to its outer forms and activities and which by reason of the universal nature of its content can call to witness the disciples of other religions.[2]

Exoterists have a right not to understand or acknowledge esoteric knowledge, since no one has a duty to do what is impossible for them. And in this sense it is understandable and also within their right to condemn manifestations of esoterism that interfere with that salvation which is their sole concern.

The spiritual life of the individual is based on his given nature, which bestows on him a certain spiritual disposition and determines the “mode” of his spiritual realization. This is called “vocation.”

It can be said that metaphysics is not necessary for salvation. This is false on the individual level because certain individuals, being called to metaphysics as a matter of vocation, would sin against the Holy Spirit if they limited themselves to exoterism, since this would require a denial of their own nature.

In other words, the esoteric way should not be considered the result of a “choice,” as if those called to it could have chosen some other path. The Way chooses the man, the Infinite calls the finite. Choice does not enter in.

It is neither choice nor desire which determines vocation. This is good to remember especially since in the present day everyone is told not only that they can choose their own vocation but that they may choose whatever they desire. They can choose what they desire, but this may or may not have anything to do with their vocation. Vocation, which is nothing less than one’s worldly path of spiritual realization, or path toward the Infinite, is an ontological tendency–something that we could say corresponds to “instinct” albeit on a much higher plane. It is extremely important to keep this distinction in mind.

[1] Luke 11:52.

[2] Khaja Khan, Studies in Tasawwuf.

Exoterism and the futility of apologetics

Exoterism is characterized by an inability to prove its claims. It cannot satisfy the desire for certainty, and this is because it stands as a bridge between metaphysical certainty and base rationality. It brings metaphysical truth downward so that those who cannot “know” it can believe in it, but it does not and cannot bring these truths within the range of the rational faculty, as should be obvious. And so we find the ever-present tension for believers between the desire to know for certain that what they believe is true.

This should also serve as a warning against apologetics, which is the attempt to justify religious beliefs on rational grounds. Obviously these arguments do nothing to convince those not already predisposed to accept them, since they cannot prove what they claim. In fact we cannot help but suspect that apologetics and the libraries of books dedicated to that purpose serve more to comfort the believer and satisfy (in a false way) his desire for rational certainty than they do to actually convince those who do not already “believe.” In this way, many believers actually sell their inheritance for a mess of pottage by degrading their belief to the level of rational argument.

This is why an exoteric religion must collapse: it has no credentials and no proof of its Truth because it depends on esoterism for its certainty. Exoterism on passively participates in this certain but can never obtain it. That is why it is suicide to reject it.

If the dogmas of the faith seem to stand on their own feet and seem to have their origin in the exoteric system itself, this is not surprising, and it misleads the many into thinking that esoterism is not needed. But this is because the esoteric aspect of the religion is not visible. It cannot be observed in the Rome, synthesizing metaphysical certainties into exoteric dogmas in efficient, assembly-line fashion. In other words, the fact that the exoteric seems to have no esoteric essence and that it is “self-sustaining” is an expression of the transcendence of esoterism. If one does not participate in it, its presence should at least be evident by the baffling fact of the stability of the exoteric aspect and the presence at its center of doctrines that it can in no way justify or explain.

Unfortunately, however, the usual inference on the part of believers for this “mystery” is that God Himself is at the helm, handing down these dogmas in some way directly to the spiritual authority, that authority having no more insight into the matter than the average believer. A spectacular example of this ignorance regarding the development of doctrine can be seen in the contemporary Protestant view of the Bible. In the Protestant view, the Bible was not only produced and verified absent esoterism, it did not even require the Church at all, but descended from Heaven bound and translated into English for private, individual interpretation.

In a very strange way, contemporary “Bible Christians” reject esoterism in theory while in practice they believe that each and every believer is an esoterist capable of discerning and synthesizing all necessary doctrine for themselves.

The nature of exoterism is such that the religion a person “believes in” is a matter not of proof or of certainty but of credulity, which depends on circumstance, disposition, and sentiment.

If there is any truth to the claim that there is only one religion that is the exclusive possessor of Truth, it is from the point of view of the individual believer and is true in sense that the individual in question would not be able to participate in that Truth via any other religion. In other words, the exclusivity of the Truth in a religion is true not of the religion but of the capacity of the individual to perceive it. If, on the other hand, this is extended to mean that the religion itself, without respect to the individual in question, is the sole possessor of the Truth, this is patently false and denies the differences in human types that are obvious to all but the most superficial minds.

I tried to explain that exoteric doctrine cannot justify itself to the believer. And yet there is no shortage of believers and saints who speak of the certainty obtained through their belief. This is why we should distinguish between the exoteric teachings themselves, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the spiritual influence that may or may not act on the believer via those teachings. Remember what was said above about exoterism as a spiritual means. Religious beliefs serve their purpose when the prepare the way for the believer so that the spirit, which blows where it will, may act. At that point the believer may acquire a kind of certainty, but remember that this certainty is haphazard, not guaranteed, and is commonly described as given by God without rhyme or reason. It is therefore not intrinsic to exoterism or its content, but is the work of the Holy Spirit made possibly by the “preparatory” function of exoterism. It is often a kind of mystical certainty that does not amount to metaphysical knowledge but is a mode of experiencing the Truth and coming into contact with it.

Although I’ve said that no “proof” exists for the exclusive truth of one religion, I should emphasize that I did not say that there are no proofs in favor of religion itself; only that these proofs, when they are valid, pertain in some way to all traditional religions.

It is contrary to the nature of God, which includes justice and mercy, that he would leave humanity in the dark for thousands of years without a legitimate light to guide them. And yet this is what many Christians seem to think. Moreover, it is pretension plain and simple to suggest that Christianity, which is one of the youngest of religions, should lay exclusive claim to Truth.

Passive and active participation

Revelation has a twofold aspect, esoteric and exoteric. The exoteric is intelligible enough to act as a vehicle for Grace, and this is the only real justification for adherence to any exoteric religion: to benefit from it as a means of Grace.

Since Grace is the only justification for adhering to religion, once one adheres to religion and enjoys the Grace which flows from it, he has no need of any other. For this reason he cannot be converted. The Muslim does not “need Christ” any more than the Christian “needs the Prophet.” Proofs either direction are futile because they have no point. Even if you could someone present a flawless case for Christianity to the Muslim, what does it matter to him? Again, one does not participate in religion for the truth of its claims–or perhaps we should say that this is only secondary since religion operates at the level of beliefs and not knowledge of the Truth. It operates at the level of Grace for the end of Salvation.

If some do convert, it is usually not under the best of circumstances and does more harm than good. Nonetheless, Grace can intervene for the improperly converted, but it does “retroactively.”

Anything that is formal is not unique. Only God can claim exclusive possession of a quality. This is summarized by the Gospel saying: “Only God is good.” The meaning is not that nothing else is good, since all that God created is good in its order. But only God is “only” anything. We may say that this or that teaching is good, but we may not say that only this or that teaching is good. Everything in formal manifestation is for that reason not in exclusive possession of a quality. If one expression of the good exists, it is, in a way, proof that many others exist. Likewise, the existence of one true religion is a kind of proof of the truth of others. “Only God is Truth.” To say “only Christianity is Truth” is blasphemy.

The exoteric treatment of history

Another way to demonstrate the difference of level that separates esoterism from exoterism is the tendency to treat historical events, which are always, in a sense, symbolic of the universal, as if these events were themselves absolute. In other words, significant historical events are the expression of eternal truths–which are beyond history because beyond time–but are not those truths themselves. Take as an example the Redemption of humanity, which is a metaphysical truth that cannot be placed in any historical period or locality, that is to say, it does not belong to time or space. Christ’s crucifixion is the manifestation, in time and space, of this eternal act, but men benefited from the Redemption before Christ’s death and after it, within the visible Church of Christ and outside that visible community.

To have it the other way, as it is imagined according to the exoteric perspective, and to have a certain ‘moment’ in time identified with cosmic redemption, the earth itself would have been instantly reduced to ashes, such would be the effect of such an actualization.

What was said of dogma can also be said of any means of Grace. That a particular means of Grace is a translation for the sake of believers of a universal reality, and this means that a given translation is only one of many possible translations or “forms” that the means of Grace might take. The Eucharist will perhaps be the best example of this, and we can say that even if it is the most profound means of Grace available in the Christian religion, it is not specific to that religion. And this is acknowledged in the partial way that is normal for dogma by saying that the Eucharist is instituted for the sake of all men in all the world, but the esoteric perspective would add that members of other religions participate in that same primordial truth via their own means of Grace.

The diversity of humanity

There are several humanities (human types) and each human type is so different from the other that they usually remain ignorant of the existence of the other types. This is not difficult to see in the United States, with regard to how it sees other nations and cultures. Every other people is appraised as if they were the American people with the same needs, temperament, and interests. Most groups are externally similar enough to Americans that this illusion can be maintained even upon contact with them. When the difference is too striking, however, the result is always violence and even genocide. Taking the “American Indians” and the negro people, for example, we can say that another response to a different human type is to classify them as something other than human. If a particular “humanity” is not identical with North American humanity, it cannot be acknowledged as humanity at all, but must be relegated to the animal kingdom.

The Gospel is for the world, but which world?

It might be worth noting, in order to meet the Evangelical view of the “Great Commission” as a command to foist the gospel on anyone and everyone, or “all nations” to the ends of the earth, that it seems that in the context of the Roman Empire, which is to say the context of the Bible, the world was not identified with the planet earth, but was coextensive with the Empire. For example, when Caesar Augustus decreed that “all the world should be taxed,” (according to St. Luke) which Dante called the “census of the human race,” it is obvious that neither had in mind the entire globe and all the people and races it contains.

We could say that the Roman Empire constitutes the providential sphere of expansion for Christianity, or in other words, modern Europe. This does not mean that the establishment of Christianity in many places around the world is to be condemned, but rather to insist that this was not implicit in the Great Commission.

The denial of other religious forms by Prophets

It is true that Christ and Muhammad both rejected existing religious forms, on different grounds, as they encountered them. But this warrants clarification and a proper understanding of the “mission” and prerogative of the great Prophets. For example, if Abraham and Christ denied the validity of the “paganisms” they encountered, it was precisely because these religious forms had decayed to an extreme degree and were no longer capable of acting as means of Grace, which is to say, they were truly “dead” and could not serve the one purpose that justifies the existence of the religious form.

The case of the Islamic Revelation is different, however, because what was rejected was not the petrified remains of prior religious forms, but other living and legitimate monotheistic forms. The reason for this rejection is that there can be said to be a “priority” of Revelations where the most recent takes precedence over the previous when the two come into contact. In other words, if we view Islam as a Revelation for a specific human type, which would provide for them the means of Grace necessary, from the exoteric point of view, for salvation, then this is because the limits of the existing monotheistic forms were such that they were not effective for this type. In other words, the Islamic Revelation overcame the particularized limits of Christianity. And even if these limits are not inherent in the Christian Revelation itself, they became inseparable from it in practice due to the context in which it grew up and the character of the doctrine it developed. Had Christian doctrine been spread to the Near East, and had conversion been able to take place on a general level, it would have had disastrous consequences for Christian doctrine because it is simply not suitable for everyone and if adopted unnaturally by a people to which it is not suited, it gives birth to all manner of heresy and instead of acting as a vehicle for Grace and a path to Truth, acts as a barrier to both.

The key here is to refuse to ever consider the validity of a religious form as if it were something that exists in the abstract as a set of ideas or a body of doctrine. Only the esoteric element of a Revelation can operate at that level. All dogma, all sacraments, and all exoteric aspects of doctrine have a purpose which cannot be separated from a specific people.

Again, a religious form is tailored to a particular human collectivity, not coinciding with race or culture or even specific civilization. Because the element that determine this collectivity are complicated, it should not surprise us if membership in that religion is not limited geographically or racially. That there are Christians found in almost every modern country does not mean that Christianity is a religious form proper to every people.

It is not helpful to ask if there are individuals within the purview of a religious form who could adapt themselves to another (for example, if there is a Hindu who could adapt himself to Christianity). It is more helpful to ask if the entire collectivity could adapt itself to another religious form. In this light, the answer must be a decisive negative, since it would be disastrous, and in fact impossible, for the population of India to be converted en masse to the Christian religion.

The Islamic rejection of the Trinity

The Islamic Revelation is the Revelation of the Unity of God, and this means that the Islamic understanding of God is on a plane that transcends dualism of any kind, which is to say it enters into the metaphysical, and not merely the ontological perspective. The Christian view, however, emphasizes the ontological perspective and remains there, at the level of Being, which is where theology develops itself.

What in Christianity is called the Holy Spirit is somewhat the equivalent of the Hindu Buddhi, or the Divine Intellect reflected in the order of manifestation. When Christians deify Buddhi, a part of “creation,” with God, they are committing what for Islam is an “association” (shirk) of the created with the uncreated God.

Further, Islam would really have no problem accepted that the idea of God comprises a ternary aspect, but they cannot accept the Christian insistence that this same idea is reducible to the Trinity, as if in an absolute sense, since any notion in which God is not an Absolute Unity is a relative understanding and Islam cannot condone ascribing relativity to the Absolute.

Divinity is both personal and impersonal, although this is hard to comprehend when one has been mentally formed by a way of thinking that only acknowledges the personal God. To explain it one way, we could say that God is “personal” in each particular Revelation, and is rightly seen as such within the confines of that Revelation; but God is “impersonal” or “suprapersonal” when seen as the principle of all religious forms without prejudice.

The distinction between the personal and the suprapersonal, much like that between the individual and the supra-individual orders, may be extremely difficult to grasp. Be patient with yourself and return to helpful texts again and again, and turn to meditation on the appropriate symbols. This will help you make progress.

Did Christ speak of esoterism?

It might be objected that the Bible and the Christ we find in the Bible did not mention esoterism. Regarding the Bible, this is nonsense since all Scripture is both esoteric and exoteric, although we can acknowledge that the New Testament tends more toward exoterism in its expression. Regarding Christ himself, however, we need look no further than his attitude toward the uncomprehending, for example regarding the mystery of the Eucharist. We are told that when he spoke of the necessity of consuming his body and blood, many left him. Did he try to explain things to them in a simpler manner? No, he simply acknowledged the fundamental principle of esoterism, which is that those who have ears to hear may hear, but there is no call to explain oneself to those who do not, nor should one ever try to justify this knowledge or simplify it to bring it within the grasp of all. The idea of Christ offering proofs of the truth of his parables is absurd. Moreover, it is clear that Christ reserved certain teachings for his disciples alone, contained in the Scriptures in synthetic form, no doubt, but by no means stated there explicitly.

The subjectivized absolute

Christ was the Incarnation of God (Avatara) through providence at a specific time and place and among a specific people. The geographical extent of the particular context into which an Avatara is born constitutes “the World” for that Prophet’s Divine Mission. They have no need to acknowledge other Worlds beyond their own. Christ spoke of “the World,” which for his Mission and his Revelation was the co-extensive with the Roman Empire. It is natural and proper that he would not speak of what was outside the scope of his purpose.

It would be good also to remember that Christ, by his own words, did not come to preach to the “whole” but only the “sick.” As explained earlier, each religion provides a means of Grace to those it is meant to save, and those who have this are “whole,” as opposed to the sick who have need of the physician. The man who participates in a living Tradition and makes use of its means of Grace has no need of a Savior. Or, to clarify, he already enjoys the benefits of the Redemption–of the Redemption that Christ’s death made manifest–since he is in contact with that Truth under a different from more appropriate to his human type. We should also go further and offer a warning: he who goes among the “whole” with a zeal for Evangelism and, by playing on the appetite for novelty or by dazzling the poor with wealth, or by any other means nefarious or well-intentioned brings about the “conversion” of those who are already “whole” to an alien religious form, such a person does immeasurable violence to those he “saves.” He goes among the healthy and leaves only the diseased in his wake.

Another way to understand the “subjectivization of the absolute” is to borrow the terminology of the alchemists and say that man is a “microcosm” that represents and in a way symbolizes the “macrocosm.” His structure and function is analogical to that of the cosmos. Now when we come to the Avataras, we can say that this correspondence is manifest in a providentially significant manner. For such a one, we can say that specific events in his earthly life represent events taking place in the cosmic order, and in these cases, if we adopt the exoteric point of view and begin from the order of manifestation instead of the point of view of metaphysics, it would also be true to say the opposite: that those events of the cosmic order are representations of those in the life of the Avatara. Thus, from the metaphysical point of view, we can say that Christ’s earthly life is a manifestation of the Redemption; from the point of view of theology, however, we would instead say that the Redemption of the world is a consequence of Christ’s earthly life. Both are true, given the point of view they adopt, keeping in mind the fact that the theological perspective, due to the limits it imposes on itself, must ostracize the alternative point of view, since it does not approach the level at which it ceases to be a contradiction.

They are the Maha-Purusha.

When Christ says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” he is identifying himself with the Word which was at the beginning with God and through whom all things were made. The Word is a single principle, but can be clothed in an indefinite variety of forms, each of these form being truly “identifiable” with the principle as manifestations of it. And this is Christ, and to claim this identity as such does not imply exclusivity.

Thus, when Christ says that none my approach the father except through the Son, this is analogous to the Sufi saying: “None may meet Allah who has not first met the Prophet.” In other words, none may know God except through the Word, although the form by which the Word comes to be known is diverse.

“Jesus is God, but God is not Jesus; Christianity is Divine, but God is not Christian.”

The pervasiveness of Western culture, or we should say the restlessness of the Western soul, which has led it to expand violently across the face of the Earth, has had ill effects on Christianity itself. This is because “exoteric exclusivity,” which protects those inside that religion’s framework from confusion and indifference, becomes a danger when the religious message is carried into the “Worlds” of other Revelations. The danger lies in the fact that some will inevitably see that other religions are not all demons and darkness, and having lived under the assumption that only Christianity produces good works and good men, their faith will be shaken. This, as well as the violent conflict that results when believers inundated with claims of exclusivity try to relate to members of other religions, and the result is inevitably misunderstanding, pretentiousness, and hatred.

Perhaps it is worth referring to the words of Christ himself which, having said a few things on the nature of his mission and his point of view, can now be seen in a different light which shatters the pompous exclusivity of contemporary Evangelical types who would condemn all souls who do not profess faith in Christ by name to the fires of hell. In what sense, then, do we take these words: “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, no in Israel. And I say unto you that many shall come from the East and West and shall sit at the feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, in the Kingdom of Heaven. But the children of the kingdom [Israel and the Church] shall be cast out into the darkness.” (Matt. 8:10-12)

It is a saying of American presidents that “Whoever is not with us is against us.” But the point of view of the Absolute is the opposite. In the words of Christ: “For he that is not against us is on our part.” The former is explicitly exclusive and alienated the vast majority of humanity, which is its purpose; the latter is shockingly inclusive, because it is spoken by the principle of Unity Himself.

One more illustration of the importance of “point of view” when weighing claims that appear to be exclusive in nature. When a person speaks of “the sun,” does this mean that he is ignorant of the existence of other stars that are in fact “suns” in their own right? Of course not. We speak in this way because communication depends for its effectiveness on a shared point of view, and from our point of view it is perfectly valid to speak of “the sun” even though it is obvious that there are others out there but, for our purposes, this is the only one we generally acknowledge as such. In fact, for us it really is the only sun.

Lastly, we can end by acknowledging that even though no religion can claim exclusive possession of the Truth, it is to be expected that each religion exceeds all others in realizing a certain aspect of the Truth. This explains somewhat the claim of exclusivity itself, and the way the Prophets speak, since their immediate concern and their mission usually pertains to this particular aspect of the Truth which they do in fact possess to a greater degree than previous Revelations. But it should be kept in mind that while this helps us understand things and allow for an attitude of superiority on a particular point, it is obviously only a relative or “particular” superiority, and never an Absolute superiority.

Form must give way to spirit. That is the path of realization. “If you would have the Kernel,” says Meister Eckhart, “you must break the husk.”