This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The presence of esoterism as criterion of truth in the religions

Every religion contains esoterism if by this we mean an interior way to the divine. The danger however is that this esoterism be abstracted and then turned back on the religions themselves in order to discredit them based on how well they conform to our abstraction. This is what we mean when we warn against the notion of an ‘absolute esoterism.’

One of the negative consequences of an absolute esoterism is this knowledge is turned around and used as if it were the standard by which a religion is to be judged. In reality it is the religion that produces the metaphysics, but the esoterists of the modern world would judge the religions by the esoterism they have derived. It is as if a man took an apple from a tree and then condemned the tree itself for not being edible. This is to misunderstand the very nature of things. We can perhaps say that modern esoterists suffer primarily from a superabundance of religious produce and, blinded by this superabundance, they have lost all perspective as to how it was formed and on which branch.

To provide but one example of this hermeneutic ‘cart before the horse’ problem, we can observe that the most developed metaphysics we are aware of—the Vedanta doctrine of the Hindus—is derived, not from a speculative work such as Guenon’s, but from commentaries on the scriptures, namely the Upanishads, and from canonical texts like the Brahma-sutras. We find the same thing in Hebrew esoterism, the most signifianct text of which is the Zohar, another scriptural commentary.

Are we to assume then that Shankara was not up to the task of abstracting ‘pure metaphysics’ from Scripture, and that the world was simply waiting for Guenon to accomplish this feat? Or is it more reasonable to see this as evidence of the dependence of metaphysics on revealed texts—and as a warning against any attempts to ignore this relationship?

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