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Spiritual Teachings

To God belongs the East and the West: wherever you turn, there is the Face of Allah; Allah is All-Embracing, All-Knowing. (Qur'an 2:115)

Traditionally, the approach to spirituality can be either exoteric or esoteric. Exoteric refers to outer, more tangible aspects--things that we can see, touch, hear, smell, taste, and do. Examples would be praying, engaging in charitable and volunteer work, singing devotional songs, and attending lessons by a spiritual teacher. Also, some forms of meditation such as Vipassana and Zen are exoteric. For instance, Vipassana aims to keep the mind from wandering about by grounding it in actual experience. The mind is anchored more in the process than the content of direct sensory experience. So for instance, one would be just as aware of the sense of hearing as to what one is hearing. Likewise, Zen emphasizes experience in the current moment and takes ordinary everyday activity for its meditational object.

Esoteric refers to inner, more subtle aspects--things that are usually not apparent to our everyday consciousness. Examples would be visualization practice ( seeing oneself in the form of a deity ), subtle perception ( clairvoyance ), psychic abilities ( telepathy, psychokinesis ), developing subtle energies ( tai chi, pranayama ), communicating with subtle life forms ( occult practices ), and meditations that emphasize deep, unwavering concentration on a single object ( repetition of a short prayer or mantra, holding to a single sensation such as the rise and fall of the abdomen, focus on a subtle energy centre or chakra ).

In fact, exoteric and esoteric are relative terms. They are more a matter of degree along a common spectrum rather than being unrelated spheres of experience. What is taken for esoteric is really just an extension of the exoteric. For instance, praying for a few minutes would be exoteric, but the saying of that same prayer by a devout person for many hours on end would, over time, become esoteric. Similarly, what is taken for exoteric is in fact really esoteric. For example, countless mystics have declared the sheer wonder and mystery of our commonplace experience of day-to-day living. What for us appears normal, and even dull at times, appears as miraculous and worthy of reverence to them.

What this means is that the esoteric is a natural progression to the exoteric. It encompasses the exoteric but does not deny or negate it. Both have their place in human experience. It is simply that our common experience--what we get if we do not develop our spiritual faculties--is exoteric. To experience the esoteric normally requires an informed and sustained effort over many years. Another name for the esoteric is the mystical. And it is mysticism that is the common thread to all of the world's religions and spiritual traditions. On the surface, religions and spiritual practices are quite different, however, at their core they are all very much the same. The world's mystical traditions vary somewhat in their focus and emphasis--some may highlight surrender while others may highlight transformation and purification--but they all follow the same basic progression and formula for reaching complete spiritual maturity--a state known as enlightenment.

Since, at the core, all mystical ways share a common vocabulary, this page uses representative examples from the major eastern and western paths. It describes these esoteric traditions, and relevant modern thinking, in broad terms, and concludes with a summary of their essential parts.

Synopsis for the major metaphysical traditions:

 


Further Resources

The following books and Web pages are some places that you can continue with your discovery.

Books

These give the core ideas and practices. They are remarkably well-written and quite fun to read.

Spiritual Practice

  • A Path With Heart, Jack Kornfield ( the spiritual path and exoteric Buddhist meditation )
  • How to Meditate, Kathleen McDonald ( beginning Tibetan contemplation and meditation )
  • Introduction to Tantra, Lama Yeshe ( the basic ideas and values of Tibetan tantra )
  • Clear Light of Bliss, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso ( advanced esoteric Tibetan meditation )
  • Tantric Paths and Grounds, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso ( Tibetan tantra from start to finish )
  • Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar ( yoga philosophy and guidelines for practising asanas )
  • Light on Pranayama, B.K.S. Iyengar ( yoga guidelines for practising pranayama )

Inspiration

  • The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche ( a Tibetan explanation of death )
  • Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda ( life story of a yogi growing up in India )
  • Sai Baba, Man of Miracles, Howard Murphet ( meetings with, and story of, an Indian saint )

Science and Psychology

  • The Holographic Universe, Michael Talbot ( metaphysics explained in terms of the hologram )
  • Transformations of Consciousness, Wilber, Engler, Brown ( transpersonal psychology )
  • Vibrational Medicine, Richard Gerber ( alternative healing modalities which use subtle energies )