And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. . . .
Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. — Matthew, xiii, 10, 11, 13
Why is there so much in religion and in the sacred literature of ancient peoples that is veiled in mystery; why so many "dark sayings" to which satisfactory explanations have seldom been offered? It is given to some to know the "mysteries," while to others only the " parables" are given. Time has woven a sort of hallowed protection about these mystical passages of scripture which forbade investigation, for it was considered a sacrilege to "inquire into the ways of the Lord." These writings, many of which nobody professed to explain, or even to understand — have they been treasured and preserved for centuries merely for the sake of passing them along to future generations who likewise would have no understanding of them? The general feeling seems to be that the men of long ago knew well their import, but for some strange reason human intelligence was supposed to be on the downgrade and hence men of our present age lacked the intellectual and spiritual qualifications to comprehend these ancient truths.
"The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven"! This particular text suggests that inner aspect of the Christian teachings where Christianity and the ancient traditions find a common meeting-ground, in contradistinction to the various theological doctrines which have grown with the centuries. Yet how meaningless the words fall upon our twentieth century ears! Approach even those who have been well grounded in the Christian faith on such a topic and no doubt we shall be told that such ideas may have appealed to the simple-minded fisherman of Galilee, but not to our more enlightened and civilized age!
Yet, in those few cryptic but little understood words of the Master Jesus lies the key, not only to basic Christianity, but to the underlying doctrine of every genuine spiritual impulse which has been initiated from age to age — the formulation of those deeper truths regarding man and the universe which have been preserved since "the foundation of the world," as Jesus expressed it, and which have been given to those who had "ears to hear," and were morally fit to receive them.
Interest in the fundamental truths of religion which lie beneath the ritual and external forms is being revived. Our difficulty lies in the fact that generally we do not discriminate between Christianity per se, and the theological superstructure which has been erected upon it. One of the early Christian teachers, Ammonius Saccas, a Christian Gnostic of the celebrated Alexandrian school which probably was the foremost center of learning and philosophy during the dawn of the Christian era, founded an Eclectic System or school of divine wisdom or theosophia. His chief purpose was the reconciliation of the tenets of all religions with the Christian mystery-teachings which were preserved for a time, at least in part, by the early Church mystics.
Much that is fine in every religion has been taken from older systems and passed along from one religion to another in different guise. The early Christians, for example, borrowed the term "Christos" from the Greek mystery-teachings and applied it to their own ceremonies of initiation — a fact which is confirmed by the writings of the early Church Fathers. World-religions are so closely interwoven in their origins that it is utterly impossible to put any one in an airtight compartment and label it original — a fact well recognized by St. Augustine:
The Christian religion, which to know and to follow is the most sure and certain health, called according to that name, but not according to the thing itself, of which it is the name; for the thing itself, which is now called the Christian religion, really was known to the ancients nor was wanting at any time from the beginning of the human race, until the time when Christ came in the flesh; from whence the true religion, which had previously existed, began to be called Christian; and this in our days is the Christian religion, not as having been wanting in former times, but as having in later times received this name.
Let us therefore not attach too much importance to mere names and labels. The important thing is to look beyond externals and ascertain just what are the fundamentals of religion.
If we study impartially what the spiritual Founders themselves have taught, in so far as their message has been transmitted to us, we find that the teachings of one verify those of another, though clothed usually in different terminology due to the respective times in which they lived; all reaffirmed in essence the same age-old truths. This corroboration detracts nothing from the spiritual grandeur of any particular Teacher; but, on the contrary, gives added weight to the truth and universality of the respective messages.
When the spiritual impulse of one Teacher has expended itself, and the particular movement inaugurated by him has been dissipated into innumerable and conflicting sects, a fate which inevitably befalls every religion and is to a greater or less degree due to human misunderstanding; when dead-letter interpretation becomes the accepted and crystallized belief of the day, and knowledge of man's divine ancestry has become garbled and forgotten — at such times we find that another regenerating cycle occurs; a spiritual renascence follows; another Teacher appears among men.
There are two doctrines which he promulgates: parables which imbody high moral and ethical precepts which are for the many; the deeper truths given under the seal of silence to a few chosen disciples. In the words attributed to Jesus it is clear that these two methods of teaching were used, a practice which has been universally followed. We find Buddha teaching 'the doctrine of the eye' to the multitude, while to the few, his immediate disciples, he taught 'the doctrine of the heart.' There is nothing out of the ordinary in such a practice, because men vary greatly in their powers of perception, some being far more capable of grasping truth than others, whether in the field of religion, philosophy, science, or any other school of thought.
The extraordinary language attributed to Jesus regarding the mystery-teachings when he warned against casting pearls before swine and giving things which were holy unto dogs, in all probability was taken from the jargon of the Mystery-schools of Asia Minor by early Christian writers. Whatever words Jesus actually used, he pointed to the ancient law never to divulge to the unthinking, to those who give little or no heed to spiritual things, the inner doctrine of the mysteries.
The aim of Those who have sought to elevate the race is "to assign to man his rightful place in the scheme of the universe; to rescue from degradation the archaic truths which are the basis of all religions; and to uncover, to some extent, the fundamental unity from which they all spring"— as one writer expressed it. Unfortunately, our interpretation of religion has not always assigned to man a position which would elevate and bring forth his divine potentialities. The 'born in sin — worm of the dust' idea, which for so long has permeated our religious concepts and relegated the divine possibilities of the human soul and a realization of the kingdom of heaven to some future state only, gives little dignity to human life, nor does it offer a spiritual incentive for man to seek closer communion with "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world."
The great battleground of human progress thus is not within the council-chambers of statecraft and secret diplomacy, or on the drenched fields where unnumbered hosts have fallen at the whim of some powerdrunk despot; nor is it in the great mechanical superstructure which modern civilization has created. Rather does it lie in the religious and philosophical thought-world of men; in the silent places of the human heart where the divine in man ever tries to lift its voice above the selfish desires of human nature. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
Western scholars who have pursued their own independent lines of research have long suspected that somewhere in the world there exists a comprehensive interpretation of life, based upon something more enduring than the ever-changing theories of modern science, or conflicting religious opinions. A passage from the published writings of Albert Pike, the great Masonic scholar of modern times, is pertinent:
Through the veil of all the hieratic and mystic allegories of the ancient dogmas, under the seal of all the sacred writings, in the ruins of Nineveh or Thebes, on the worn stones of the ancient temples, and on the blackened face of the Sphinx of Assyria or Egypt, in the monstrous or marvelous pictures which the sacred pages of the Vedas translate for the believers of India, in the strange emblems of our old books of alchemy, in the ceremonies of reception practised by all the mysterious Societies, we find the traces of a doctrine, everywhere the same, and everywhere carefully concealed. The occult philosophy seems to have been the nurse or the godmother of all religions, the secret lever of all the intellectual forces, the key of all divine obscurities.
The world does not need a new religion. If such were the case, there would indeed be grounds for mistrust, for there is nothing more fatal to universal understanding and the realization of brotherhood among men than the perennial spring of 'new religions.' You cannot unite men in a common purpose by giving them a thousand and one conflicting philosophies of life. The last thing we need is to have another world religion inflicted upon our troubled times already over-blessed with a superabundance of creeds and sects.
What is needed then is not a new religion, or some magic formula and cure-all, but a correct interpretation of the great religious impulses, and the re-establishment in the consciousness of men of the primeval truths which underlie them, enabling us intelligently and courageously to meet our problems and trials in this great School of Life. There is a law in nature which insists that man digest his own food, and this is as true of spiritual food as it is of physical nourishment. No one can grow for us; no one can think for us, and it is the destiny of every human soul to hew its own way to the temple of Divine Wisdom. In the words of Jesus, each one of us must take the kingdom of heaven through the strength of his own efforts.
In the past, superstition and religious emotionalism have made of the World Teachers supernatural beings, figures of imagination far beyond their own claims or desires. They are not gods, but are men like ourselves, who through unselfish living and constant aspiration to the god within have outstripped the mass of mankind in spiritual evolution, and thus have become the guides and spiritual torchbearers for their less enlightened brothers. As "coming events cast their shadows," in like manner the great men presage the high destiny which awaits the race as a whole when evolution shall have run its course in this particular Mansion of Life.
Such a One was the Initiate whom we know as Jesus of Nazareth, around whose life time has woven an almost impenetrable veil of mystery. He left no written word; and contemporary history tells us almost nothing of his life, the year and date of his birth being arbitrarily fixed at approximately the time of the winter solstice, a season of the year which has been considered sacred from time immemorial. Who Jesus was, or when he appeared among men is of secondary import; his teachings as found in the canonical books of the New Testament carry their own intrinsic worth, whether the revelation be of "supernatural" origin or not.
A teacher of the "mysteries," Jesus sought to show that all men were essentially divine, the Father and the Kingdom being within; and that beyond the selfish desires of vacillating and mortal man lies the pathway to spiritual Selfhood, to that spark of divinity from the reservoir of universal Consciousness which men call God. Take from religion this mystical element of aspiration toward the god within, and you have left but an empty and crystallized shell of fixed opinions and beliefs.
Who dare say Truth ends here or there, or that this or that is the last word of Divine Wisdom? Whatever heights the soul of man may attain as he slowly ascends the ladder of life from mansion to mansion, more "mysteries of the Kingdom" will ever lie beyond, for Infinitude is his home.
(From Sunrise magazine, September 1970. Copyright © 1970 by Theosophical University Press)