Foundation of Esotericism

Grace F. Knoche

"It is given to you to know the mysteries of heaven," Jesus explained to his disciples, but to the multitudes that gather, "I speak only in parables."

For centuries we have lived on those parables, but today they are not enough. The milk for babes has now to be supplanted by the strong meat for men, for the citizens of this mid-century have growing pains. They want to know, and to know seriously, what makes this world tick, and where man fits into the world picture. Is he here for one life alone, destined to suffer the torments of indecision, ignorance, and even hell, for mere caprice; or is there an ancient pattern of which somehow he has lost the thread?

It is all very well to look back at history and attempt to derive the answer. But unless one has some sort of touchstone, the religious concepts, the philosophic systems, and even the scientific discoveries of past ages leave one cold. Too often myth, legend, parable and story, in which the once great truths were couched, yield to modern man confusion rather than light. Yet here and there, when courage cracks through dogma, and vision penetrates legend, one may glimpse if but through a glass darkly the foundation of esotericism, and know that wisdom rules, and that man is truly a part of the basic plan.

There are few, however, who have time in this era of rapid change to search through tomes of musty books. The rockbottom need to provide for family and home, to serve country both in war and peace, keeps man close to the grindstone. Yet with all the turbulence, there is surging into the consciousness of the world the urgent demand for knowledge. If man is divine at heart, as all the Sacred Books affirm, where the pattern? And if he does belong in some overall plan of harmony and law and order — a theory perhaps, but harder to disprove than not — why then is man such a misfit? Burdened, harassed, perplexed, yet obviously with free will, man seems more bound than ever by forces beyond his control.

Tradition has it that every world teacher had his disciples to whom he taught the inner doctrine, which he withheld, however, from the curious idle who, seeing but the surface of things, would misunderstand if not distort. The fact that this tradition has persisted for millennia, despite the dogged efforts to oust it from men's consciousness, is proof conclusive that it is founded on something more lasting than fantasy. That there should be a substratum of truth underlying the creeds of centuries is not only natural, but a necessity to man's sanity. Nor has man always neglected the whisperings of intuition. What about the millions of people in every age (and today too) who have resolutely believed in a process which enables the soul of man to incarnate life after life on earth, for the purpose of developing and progressing so that one day it may become at-one with its 'Father in Heaven'? Is this too a mere daydream of a few isolated individuals? Or is it something greater, an intuition perhaps of a stream of esoteric understanding running deep and often underground, but which when the cycle is ripe springs unbidden to the surface?

St. Paul said that man was composed of body, soul and spirit, and that man had to learn to discriminate between the devilish and earthly wisdom, and that wisdom which was heavenly and divine. But he did not tell us very much more, nor give a satisfactory basis on which to build a philosophy that would stand the shocks of our present atomic age. The pressures of twentieth century civilization demand a fuller revelation, a larger picture unfolded, a more basic pattern revealed, so that seeing we may believe, and believing we may begin to put a philosophy to work that will transform confusion into order, ignorance into knowledge, and last but by no means least, transmute the base metal of selfishness into the gold of altruism.

What then is the pattern, the Master Plan? Esotericism has it that there are three fundamental concepts which must be grasped before an adequate understanding of life can be had:

First, that back and behind, within and without, above and below, and permeating all — is Space: that exhaustless, bottomless, boundless ocean of infinity that stretches shoreless for ever into the Unknown. Space — the Yawning Void of the Scandinavian Edda; the Fullness or Pleroma of ancient Greece; the Emptiness or Sunyata of Buddhism; the limitless sphere of the Kabbalists, who at a loss to find a name for the Unnameable, simply called it 'Ein Soph, the Boundless. In the Bible, it is the Darkness on the face of the Deep, pregnant with endless possibility, yet remaining fallow until the Spirit of the 'Elohim, periodically sweeping through Eternity, quickens those sleeping seeds of universes-to-be into life once more.

The second basic concept follows naturally upon the first: that of Rhythm, Motion, the expression of divinity in action. Once the quiver of manifestation is felt, Darkness is shot through with a myriad sparks of light, and the one-time sleeping seeds of universes-to-be, flashing through the open doorway of Light, now clothe themselves in Spirit and Matter — to enter the long cycle of evolution as infant god-sparks, destined to emerge after eons of trial and error, of sorrow and joy, of failure and triumph, into Gods.

It is the cyclic ebb and flow which was called by the Hindus the Great Breath, whose outbreathing brought the universe into being, and whose inbreathing gathered all that was in manifestation — suns, stars, men, and atoms — into latency again. A concept not at all strange, for do we not have daily reminders of the rhythm of nature in the ebb and flow of tides, the cycles of day and night, sleeping and waking, summer and winter, the waxing and waning of the moon, and the sun's journey from north to south? Even the pulse-beat of man's heart is a miniature reflection of the diastole and systole of the Sun! If the old Hermetic axiom "As above, so below; as below, so above" is true on earth, why should it not hold throughout? Else what a waste to work out in such minute and delicate beauty one set of laws for men, and develop an entirely different pattern and rhythm in nature universal!

The third concept, rounding out the structure, has been graphically called the "Cycle of Necessity," which tells of the need for those infant god-sparks — themselves one with the Over-all Divinity, but as yet unaware of their power — to pass through phase after phase of material existence. A sleeping god, pulled downward for eons through the dark corridors of matter, clothes itself again and again in changing forms: in mineral, plant, animal, till finally, helped by the 'Elohim or Sons of Mind, as man he tastes of the Tree of Knowledge. Now, with a sudden flash of awareness, he recognizes Good from Evil, Spirit from Matter; and with knowledge of his innate godhood, man, a free willing being, begins consciously the long upward climb. A Fallen Angel indeed, but a fall engineered by man's own divinity who willingly fell into material garments that man, through the conflict of spiritual aspiration with material desire, might earn the reward of a self-developed godhood.

That is man's heritage — and his destiny. Stepped down to everyday living, it makes of our stay on earth a meaningful tour of duty, in which the soul of man, recognizing that Divinity is the backdrop against which his earthly sojourn must be lived, can find the path that leads to Truth. For if there be truth in the universe, then man has power to find it. And if there be no truth, then the whole system of Nature is a mockery. And who would dare to look up at the night sky, studded with galaxies, suns and stars, and declare, "Here is anarchy. There is no god!" Pressure of evidence is on the side of divinity, not of matter; yet here again, who will say that matter — that mysterious aggregate of electric points surrounded by Space — is itself not divinity asleep?

Know ye not that ye are gods, and that the kingdom of heaven is within? Verily, there is both Plan and Planner, and Man a god, immanent and yet transcendent, is an intrinsic part of that divine economy.

(From Sunrise magazine, October 1952; copyright © 1952 Theosophical University Press)

All waits or goes by default till a strong being appears;
A strong being is the proof of the race and of the ability
of the Universe.
When he or she appears materials are overawed,
The dispute on the soul stops,
The old customs and phrases are confronted,
turned back or turned away.
— Walt Whitman

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