Exoteric, Esoteric, and Levels of Reality

The distinction between esoteric and exoteric allows us to see how different areas of knowledge pertain to the four basic metaphysical levels.  If we list general fields of inquiry and practice, we would have:


Reality my cosmology Neoplatonic paradigm Kabbalistic paradigm Huston Smith (Forgotten Truth) by Huston Smith Exoteric Esoteric
Godhead or Absolute Absolute Reality Absolute- 
the One
En Sof Spirit/Infinite n/a Monistic mysticism
Spiritual- Divine (God) Noetic
Noeric
Nous Atzilut
Beriah
Soul/Celestial Religion Theistic mysticism
Psychic- Intermediate Psychic Soul Yetzirah Mind/Intermediate Psychology
naive Religion
Occultism
Physical Physical Sense world (Hyle) Asiyah Body/Physical Science n/a

Obviously, there is some overlap, in that some areas of knowledge (especially in the Mystical and Hermetic - Occult fields) pertain to more than one reality.  Confusion also arises through the fact that lower-order forms of knowledge (such as "born-again" Christianity - Psychic/Intermediate level) claim to represent higher realities (Divine and Absolute) than they actually pertain do.  Moreover, both Esoteric and Exoteric fields pertain to these various levels, the Esoteric fairly accurately, the Exoteric less so.

One could also observe that each of the three main metaphysical alternatives of Materialism, Dualism, and Monism are valid, but only inasmuch as they apply to their own particular "segment" of the spectrum of being. Materialism pertains to the Physical, or level one; Dualism to the Intermediate (psychic or psychological; level two) or the celestial (spiritual; level three) alongside the physical; and Monism to the Infinite (or the Absolute: level four, in contrast and in relation to the other three levels.

At level one, the Physical, the laws of science apply, but not the laws of magic, which belong to level two.  Hence the materialist or sceptic, who understands only level one, dismisses magic as "superstition" or "pseudo-science".

With each higher level, different laws, and a different way of experiencing Reality, apply.  And sometimes it happens that one of the higher levels can "break through" into one of the lower and manifest there, in so doing overriding the laws of that lower level.  When that happens we have what is generally called a "miracle", a Divine break-through.  Understood from the emanationist perspective it can be seen that there is nothing "supernatural" or "mysterious" about this at all; it is all a matter of metaphysics, even if it is not a matter of physics.

Exoteric

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Forgotten Truth : The Common Vision of the World's Religions
by Huston Smith

This book is much less about comparative religion and more about a hierarchical cosmology in which the renowned scholar of comparative religion Prof. Smith, inspired by the "Primordialist" School of Fritjof Schuon, Rene Gueneon, and co, posits four ontological grades as a means of integrating science, religion, mysticism, phenomenology, and folklore into one grand picture. I had already been thinking along these lines when I read this book many years ago, but his simple presentation really galvanised my own perspective, and helped give me a basic and uncluttered framework on which to build. There is no real mention of emanation in his book, and so his cosmology is curiously static, and in addition quite simplistic. One might also wonder if this ontological gradation is as universally held as he claims. But even so this is a very good introduction to the idea of an ontological gradation of reality

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 8 April 1999
page last revised 29 August 2003

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