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Apr 09, 2012 07:50 PM
by Cass Silva

Esotericism - an introduction
(Author's note: this essay first appeared as part of "ÂIntegral Esotericism - Introduction" onÂIntegral World, November 2006, and is here included with only a very few modifications. Despite being quite old, I am still happy with it as a good introduction to the subject. However, several of the hyperlinks point to or emphasise topics which represent a newer insight on my part - MAK 04 Oct 09)

The words "Esoteric" and "Esotericism" are used here in a very specific context, that pertains to the contemporary (19thÂcentury onwards) "Wisdom Tradition" of the West. It is not to be confused with "esoteric" in the colloquial adjectival sense of something that is very specialised, technical, and difficult to master, such as "esoteric" mathematics, or that pertains to the minutiae of a particular area of common knowledge, such as "esoteric" baseball statistics.

In this definition, "Esoteric" refers to insight or understanding ofÂinnerÂ(Greek:Âeso-) orÂspiritualÂorÂmetaphysicalÂrealities, or a specific teaching or spiritual practice or path or "wisdom tradition" that is based on a mystical interpretation of spirituality, rather than a religious or slavish following of the outer words of scriptures, or pertains to transpersonal or transcendent states of existence. In contrastÂexotericÂknowledge, is knowledge that is well-known or public, and does not require any such transformation of consciousness.

To give an example, Muslim fundamentalism which is based on a literal reading of the Holy Quran is "exoteric", whereasÂSufismÂwhich looks at the inner meaning of the words and takes the scriptural account as metaphor (e.g. Mohammad's Night Flight to Jerusalem is interpreted as the ascent of consciousness) is "esoteric". Even progressive Islam which adopts a less restrictive and more academic and open-minded understanding provided by secular modernity is still "exoteric" because it is not based on a mystical and transcendent understanding of the hidden meanings of things.

Similar classifications between the "outer" "exoteric" and the "inner" "esoteric" approach to scripture and toÂspiritualityÂcan be made in Judaism and Christianity, while groups likeÂTheosophy,ÂAnthroposophy,ÂNeo-Theosophy, and the "Fourth Way" teachings or "the Work" ofÂG.I. GurdjieffÂandÂPeter OuspenskyÂqualify as "esoteric" teachings.

All such esoteric teachings involve complexÂcosmological,Âcosmogonic, and anthropological speculations and accounts of theÂnature of realityÂandÂthe spiritual path.
Another definition of "esoteric" is that it representsÂa special occult teaching that is available only to the initiate, and kept hidden from the profane masses. This form of "esoteric" was or is found in Ancient Egypt, in Pythagoreanism, inÂHinduÂandÂBuddhistTantra, in Rosicrucianism and Hermetic Occultism, and inÂRadhasoami, to give just a few examples. More recently initiation-based sects like Eckanker, TM, and Divine Light Mission could also be included here. Alternatively, such knowledge may be said to be secret not because of the desire of an exclusivist priesthood, but by its very nature, for example, if it is accessible only to those with the right intellectual or spirituality capacities.

Especially in the late 19thÂand early to mid 20thÂcenturyÂoccultÂmovement of the West, these two definitions have often merged.
As such, Esoteric can pertain to theÂReligiousÂ(asÂmysticism),ÂOccult, or Philosophical/Perennialist, which might broadly and simplistically be matched with the Emotional, Astral, and Mental dimensions of reality.
"Esotericism" is both the collective field under which these various "esoteric", cosmological, and occult teachings can be included, and a generic term for any representation or variation of the contemporary occult-spiritual Wisdom Tradition of the West, based on theÂKabbalistic, Theosophical,ÂHermetic,ÂNew Age, and other such traditions. As such, "Esotericism" has an "inner", ontological, cosmological, mystical, andÂtranspersonalÂfocus and emphasis.

As much as both pertain to higher spiritual levels of attainment, there is some overlap between esotericism andÂmysticism. However, a mystic is not necessarily an esotericist. Mysticism is based on the devotionalÂrelationshipÂwith theÂGodhead, with the on prayer andÂbhaktiÂ(heart consciousness) towards the object of devotion. Esotericism may or may not incorporate this, but adds the additional element of spiritual or transcendent knowledge (gnosis). Thus Esotericism is based in part at least on the element of transcendent or transpersonalÂknowledgeÂ(gnosis). It constitutes a sort of spiritual intellectualism, in contrast to the simpler devotionalism of Mysticism. However, it is not the case that one is superior to the other.

> From: t_s_theosophist <>
>Sent: Tuesday, 10 April 2012 12:16 PM
>Subject: theos-talk MOSLEM THEOSOPHISTS? -WHY NOT?
>There is no reason that there should not be Moslem Theosophists. We only wish that there were more. Theosophy
>welcomes those of ALL religious backgrounds or of none. Theosophy is the Universal Solvent which makes sense of the TRUE meaning of ALL religious traditions.
>A True student of Theosophy is able to make sense of the different religious traditions and to see how they all fit into the universal plan
>for the upliftmet of humanity.
>While many who have embraced Theosophy feel they no longer have any need to identify with a particular religious tradition because of their Theosophical understandings, which is fine, there are others who still find meaning and comfort in a particular tradition, which is also fine.
>Those who maintain identity with a particular religious tradition do so however from an enlightened Theosophical perspective which transcends the normative teaching of that particular tradition, and may be considered "hetrodox" by their non-theosophical orthodox co-religionists. ( and thats OK).
>Because of their unique Theosophical perspectives, religious Theosophists often find themselves marginalized 
>and "politely shunned" by the more 
>conservative members of their particular religious tradition.
>Because of this phenomena religious Theosophists often form specific groups of their own in which they can fellowship with others who share their outlook.
>Theosophy is NOT  Anti-Religious,
>it has no argument against the True expression of religious sentiment
>and divine aspiration. Theosophy does totally reject all forms of dogmatism, authoritarianism, and sectarian expression. The Masters  of Wisdom, and Madamme Blavatsky were totally opposed to the sad state of religious expression that they found predominant at the time,
>which distorted the true purpose of 
>religion and made it a prison house instead of a gateway to Divinity.
>A Theosophical understanding of the Religions provides a forum for the 
>development of a Common Ground of 
>Harmony among various religious expressions. This can lead to 
>interfaith constructive dialogue and engagement.  In fact, Theosophy is
>the IDEAL venue for venturing into
>Interfaith Dialogue and engagement
>if we know how to approach this properly.
>We know this as an actual fact because for the past 18 years members of Orlando Lodge have been actively engaged in the Interfaith Community of Central Florida, promoting Interfaith Dialogue and Constructive engagement among the various fatih traditions on a regular basis. 
>In order to do these things productively, we ourselves must first be grounded in a thorough
>understanding of the basics of Theosophy, and centered in the 
>ideal of the ONE LIFE. N.Sri Rams
>"Meditation on Life" is an ideal 
>practice to develope this "centeredness."
>There has been a lot of criticism over the years by non-religious Theosophists who do not really have
>this transcendent understanding of Theosophy against such movments as 
>The Liberal Catholic Church, The Bharat Samaj,The Co-Masonic Order,
>and other Theosophically inspired
>activities. These activities do NOT
>promote the normative orthodox agendas of the various faiths, but are geared to instill a Theosophical perspective into the different traditions, motivated by our Theosophical Understanding of our Essential Unity.
>Theosophy shows that the TRUE Teachings, (not the present distortions) of ALL the religious prophets and teachers are echoing
>our understanding of The Ancient Wisdom. 
>The "left-brained" intellectuals among us may have a difficult time 
>appreciating this perspective, because it really requires a "right -brain" (buddhic) approach to comprehend its value.
>Our challenge right now is to become
>thoroughly familiar with the Basic Teachings of Theosophy, to become Centered In The Ideal of Unity,      ( again, N. Sri Rams Meditation on Life is an ideal practice.)
>And to seek out, and/or create venues for Interfaith engagement.
>"The Higher Your Source of Illumination, The Smaller The Shadow You Cast."   --N.Sri Ram
>William Delahunt
>William Delahunt has been a member of The Society since 1969, and actively engaged in Theosophical Education since then.
>He is a Past President of Orlando Lodge, and currently serves as its Secretary , and Director of The School of Theosophy, Orlando.

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