The Esoteric Perspective

Sri Yantra

The Esoteric perspective in this context means the "inner" (eso-), in the sense of the inner consciousness; the contemplative, gnostic, wisdom perspective, as opposed to the "outer" (exo-) or Exoteric, i.e. the outer or surface or everyday consciousness.  Esoteric and Exoteric are the two basic ways of looking at reality - the intuitive and the rational.

(I am of course naturally aware of the use of the term "esoteric" in the colloquial sense; e.g. "esoteric mathematics", meaning dense, abstruse, extremely specialised and little-known.  But I am here using the term is a more metaphysical sense of altered states of consciousness, and non-mundane realities.  In this latter sense, even the "esoteric" aspects of science, etc are "exoteric").

Esotericism and Mysticism

Regarding higher spiritual knowledge and development, some teachings are refrred to as esotericism (e.g. Alice Bailey), and others as mysticism (e.g. Meister Eckhardt). This leads to the question:

Is there a difference between mysticism and esoterica? If so, what is it?

As I understand it, they are often but not always the same

Esotericism might be seen as having a strong intellectual and theoretical component (Theosophy, Steiner, Alice Bailey), although obviously with a practical side as well. Or they may equally combine strong theory with practice (Kabbalah, Golden Dawn, Gurdjieff-Ouspensky Fourth Way, etc). Also esotericism is concerned with gnosis (spiritual knowledge). It often, but not always, incorporates an element of secrecy regarding initiation, special knowledge, etc. Esotericism also tends to be a separate teaching to the exoteric or literal religion (although still taking the latter as authoritative). When intellectual, Esotericism pertains to the theoretical understanding how reality works (Kabbalah, Theosophy etc)

Mysticism tends to be more practical and contemplative, and tends to be devotional (Christian mysticism, Sufism etc), although it can and very often also is equally concerned with gnosis (Sufism again, Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism). Mysticism tends to be the spiritual application of an esoteric or an exoteric religion or teaching, but is not a separate teaching.

It is important to understand that just because a system of knowledge is "esoteric", that does not mean it is trueEsoteric doctrines can be just as far from the truth as exoteric ones.  The way I see it, both are necessarily and complementary, and in a sense incomplete without the other.

See also Esoteric Quotes


Web links Links Web links

Web Site Numerometria - a new work of thought concerning the synthesis of religion, science, magic, theology, and technology - by J. S. Graham

Wikipedia link Esotericism - Wki page; multi-authored coverage of teh top; quite good really

Web Site Enlightened Spirituality - includes panentheist spirituality, authentic sages, criteria for healthy/unhealthy spirituality and cults, ethical eating, nondual spirituality, world religions, mystical traditions, Consciousness studies, Sathya Sai Baba, Rumi and the Sufis, the Taoists, the Buddha and Buddhism, Christian and Jewish mystics, the Vedantic tradition, and more.


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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 24 September 1999, last modified 8 September 2007