Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Path of the Esotericists Among Us

The German Hermeticist, Franz Bardon, observed; "there is a fundamental problem with truth. It depends on the insight of the individual." Bardon was right. Each one of us sees truth from the standpoint of our particular environment, education, maturity, religious training, cultural lens, and family upbringing. Thus, to an extent, truth is always an illusion.

That's just the way life is. One of the challenges of the seeker is that, knowing there are different paths to truth, he wants to explore all of them simultaneously. While he must ultimately survey the field of options available to him to understand the ancient traditions, he has to guard himself against making only an intellectual pursuit.

The world is full of academic esotericists.

One of the first things we must come to understand about enlightenment is that each of us is on his own walk. Our personal path is the path to greatest harmony within ourselves and with the world in which we experience. The shortcoming of almost every proscribed system of thought is that it fails to recognize the importance of the awakened consciousness; or the limitations of its own notions.

Religion and science are two classic opposites. At the outset, religion generally demands the unshakable belief in a spiritual fact that its own truth lies in its religious tradition. Thus, it always poses a dogma. Beyond that, it requires the faithful to lead a good and pure life under the certain prescriptions it defines for its followers. Science, on the other hand, is independent of such demands. It merely asks that one investigate things without prejudice to gain knowledge and understanding. But, in so doing, it tends to conclude that what is not known can become known; else it cannot exist. Science rarely accepts the metaphysical. Therefore, science is often atheistic in principle.

To me, this gap between science and religion mirrors the conflict between rational thinking and inspiration. Reason becomes a control of inspiration when inspiration seems to fly away into the vague unknown. Yet inspiration is the impulse for rational investigation.

The esotericist accepts the value of both these opposites. He seeks to unite both paths using an entirely different approach. He engages in the "spirit of the old Initiates." He investigates the means of science as far as its facilities reach, but he is also not afraid of applying those traditions which are not (or not yet) in the grasp of orthodox points of view. To affect this kind of work, he often labors in small circles for the precious things which lead him to the genuine experience. The bottom line is that the work on one's self cannot be taken over by anyone else; nor can it be invested in any one organization. The seeker can only be guided, but not carried, by his spiritual friends.

This is the first rule of all esoteric study.

And this is the covenant Initiates make with each other. It can't be any other way because only what a man accomplishes by his own work becomes real to him. After all, we can only know certain aspects of absolute truth. There is life, there is free will; there is memory, intellect, and intuition. Beyond these obvious characteristics of truth, most everything else can be argued (and, indeed, have been debated throughout the history of recorded thought.)

This brings me to another important rule of esotericism. It is useless to argue with those who are not adepts of the higher leanings of truth. No sincere adept would impose his truth on someone who is not otherwise ready to contemplate it. There is a Biblical reference for this idea from the Master of the New law himself: "Cast not your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under your feet."

There is also a Masonic parallel to this dilemma. We all know Masons who believe with all their heart there is nothing spiritual about the rituals of Masonry. There are those who claim there is nothing to learn beyond the ritual words. There are even more who are appalled when it is suggested that Kabalistic, Alchemical, or Hermetic associations might be made from a study of the Degrees of Masonry. Never mind that every aspirant is told before he receives the very first Degree that Masonry is a course of hieroglyphic instruction taught by allegories. Oh well. As obvious as this may seem to the esoteric minded among us, there is little to be gained by arguing with those who aren't listening.

Thus, for the Initiate, it is wisest for him to do the Great Work quietly. He will likely never be in the popular current of societal thought anyway. And that's okay. The true seeker has no reason to affect the natural balance of things by becoming disruptive.

It is enough for him to come to know the truth for himself.


MP said...

Thus, for the Initiate, it is wisest for him to do the Great Work quietly. He will likely never be in the popular current of societal thought anyway. And that's okay. The true seeker has no reason to affect the natural balance of things by becoming disruptive.

Br. Bob, while I agree with you, I will tell you that it can be very lonely and frustrating to feel like you are the only who cares about these things in your Lodge.

This does NOT mean it is right for the lonely esotericist to force their ideas on their brothers, but the ability to join with like-minded brethren is often curtailed by approbation and hostility.

Robert G. Davis said...

You are soooo right. Fortunately, our ability to connect with each other digitally is opening up a whole network of brothers who are like-minded seekers. We can share our reflections and experiences; we can gain insights from one another; and we can even meet face to face. The world of the inner spirit is starting to be shared across the landscape of esoteric study. I believe the pockets of isolation are quickly being filled with new friends and brothers who really do care.

Anonymous said...

Great work Bob it gives me food for thought and encouragement for my continuing efforts

Frater J

MP said...

And, Brother Bob, that was one of the things I discussed with you when I first met you at Masonic Week in DC in either 1997 or 1998, and we talked about the "Sand in the Gears" essay and the other Essays from the Edge.

Indeed, it was because of the Compuserve GoMasonry forum that I continued in Freemasonry after being met with hostility by my "Mother" Lodge, and it was from that forum that I found contacts when I moved to Massachusetts.

Without the internet and the Mason on there, both esoterically focused AND exoterically focused, I would not likely have stayed in Freemasonry.

Robert G. Davis said...

The internet has been a true blessing for the esoterically inclined. When we consider that the average length of time those now entering the fraternity will stay in it is only 13.5 years, it is extraordinarily important that we connect with like-minded brothers as early as we can.

Setting this aside, we've come along way since 1997, brother!

Anonymous said...

Cool. Thanks for the dime store subjectivism. Er. Sort of.

I think a guy like Kierkegaard might have a problem with the handful of analogies you torture together at the beginning of your essay. For example, if truth is always an individual construct, then "paths to truth" doesn't really fit as a metaphor, does it?

Je te dis merde!

Robert G. Davis said...

I'm afraid I must respectuflly disagree. Truth, being an individual construct, implies by its very nature that all paths to truth must be metaphors. Let us not forget that metaphors are, by definition, associations whereby an idea interpreted by one group can be understood by another group in an entirely different culture.

This process is what enables a sythesis to emerge from different faith systems practicing their own paths to truth.


Anonymous said...

Sure, I'm with you on all this. I was just making the semantic point that a subjectivist philosophy might have a problem with pre-existing paths to truth.

To quote your entry, briefly: "... there are different paths to truth." Certainly, in a subjectivist paradigm, there is only one path to truth, namely, the path the individual takes, and it can't exist until he takes it.

Robert G. Davis said...

nor can truth exist until he finds it. :)

Parindra said...

From my own experience, everybody has their own Truth, and each is valid.

Which makes me question or wonder if there is such a thing as an "Ultimate Truth".

What would be the next step, or even a first step for a Brother who is interested in this sort of topics and thinks the exact same way?

Robert G. Davis said...

Bro. Lenny:

Thank you for your post. I like to think that people have at least a conscious notion that truth is something to be sought. The problem may be that too many folk choose to let others find it for them; which is why it remains so illusive. In my experience, the true seeker tends not to reveal what he has found; knowing full well that, since his own quest for truth will not be entirely finished in the present life, how can he teach another what is ultimate truth? After all, he already knows that what is a powerful, self-evident truth for one person may not be true for another. About all he can do is share the path he is on at the moment and the insights he has found there.

I believe with all my heart there is an ultimate truth. Just like I believe that the human soul is immortal. But the possibility that the real truth may not be revealed to me until I enter "that house not made with hands" is all the more reason I should seek it in my current life.

For me, the first place to start is to acknowledge that truth relates to the world of ideas--a combination of faith, belief, insight and philosophy. The whole purpose, goal, and method of the study of the philosophy of the Scottish Rite (at least the Southern Jurisdiction and European Rites), for instance, is the discovery and understanding of Truth. We accomplish this by discussing what other people in other times have seen as true. We do it through the processes of symbol and allegory interpretation. We do it with friends who share the same passion and interest.

Second, one must release himself from a literalist mindset regarding the ritual words of our degrees. The words of Masonic ritual are indeed beautiful and instructive at their first level; but they reveal little more to us than gentle moralisms until we have considered their allegorical meanings, discovered their hidden associations, and experienced the transformation inherent in the revealed insight from their study.

So, releasing oneself from the mundane level of things is the first step. Once you have gone that far, other people will surface who will facilitate your quest to the next place it will take you.

Parindra said...

Thats wonderful.

It's like I questioned a Brother on the subject of "a Lodge is chartered to do 2 things only; Elect it's Officers and Make Masons".

So I challenged him on whether he felt the "Make Masons" should be taken literally: "we pass them through the degrees" or something more symbolic and metaphorical that we give them this title, but they must live up to it and earn it.

A friend of mine just joined SR in the Southern Jurisdiction and mentioned a few things. I was really impressed. Hope the Northern Jurisdiction can live up to the few things he shared.

It sounded like SR would be a really good next step to Associate with Brothers also interested in "what other people in other times have seen as true."

There is a saying, that Truth is like a Pyramid. At the bottom, it seems like everybody is talking about different things.

But as we evolve, grow, and expand our consciousness we move closer to the top and you realize, "We're all talking about the exact same way".

That is where things get interesting and life changes :)

Anonymous said...

Br. Bob,

Thank you for this article. I am an active member and officer of a Lodge trying to illuminate and spiritually advance our candidates for initiation and uplift our active brothers. I feel, though, quite often that while our programs are of a high quality, and the content of our "esoteric" topics of discussion and presentation are truly profound - I fear they often fall upon deaf ears. We are practicing the Great Work quiety, while also providing the opportunity for great insights into the Spiritual Tradition that is Masonry, but sometimes it gets very discouraging because I wonder "is our work helping?" Why should we continue with Masonry if Masons are not interested in Masonry? When should we retire from the Lodge and take our spiritual practice elsewhere?

I strongly agree with your comments on not throwing pearls before swine, so to speak, but if the case is that most Masons are "profane" in the true sense - uninterested in authentic spiritual growth from their practice of Masonry, actively out of the Temple - how can we continue to participate in the profanity?

Thanks for your comments on a brother who is worried about the True Spiritual Light of Masonry.