Although I am not a priest or someone similarly endowed with authority on spiritual matters, I hope that what thoughts and experience I do have to share will be of some benefit to you and others who have similar concerns. I can also attest to the fact that many of the members here that I either know personally or have corresponded with are among the kindest, most intelligent, and insightful people that I have ever met. For many of them and for myself as well, there are few exchanges more enjoyable or rewarding than the discussion of God, religion, and the spiritual life.
* * *This is an important statement which perhaps deserves some further exploration. I do not necessarily think that Marco Pallis was stating that a Westerner is intrinsically suited for the Christian Way, but rather that he is inclined toward it because of the very strong impressions that living and thinking in the Christian West have made upon him either overtly or subtly. His words that "his mental conformation, whether he likes it or not, will have been powerfully affected by Christian ways of thinking and acting" implies extrinsic elements at work, rather than an unfoldment of the innate disposition of the soul.
To clarify this statement, let us first turn to the nature of religion. All religions are in essence or "at heart" the religio perennis as it is providentially adapted to the different conditions of man. Similarly, the human soul bears within itself the faculty of the Intellect or the "eye of the heart", capable of discerning and bearing witness to this element of universality. This constitutes one kind of heredity of a primary nature to which may be added a secondary heredity attached to a particular religious form which has been providentially inherited by birth or circumstances. The former is primary and indicative of the intrinsic disposition of the soul while the latter is secondary and although both powerful and significant, ultimately extrinsic.
The person sensitive to the essential nature of religions whom we have designated as the esoterist realizes that although some may be extrinsically inaccessible, no religion is inherently incompatible owing to the primary heredity identified with the religio perennis. However, as Frithjof Schuon has so aptly remarked, the heart is covered by a sheet of ice, a fact that is true for nearly all men, one of the results of which are certain limitations directly contributing to the accessibility of a given religious form. This ice affects our ability to appreciate and bear witness to the beauty and sanctity of religious forms and render their symbolic qualities transparent to transcendent spiritual realities.
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This is a very insightful comment. Although thinking is an important aspect of who we are and what we do as human beings, it is a limitation if our experience of religion consists of thinking alone. Not only is it impossible to witness your own transformation, which is like trying to watch a flower grow, if you only endeavor to think about the metaphysical significance of symbols, you fail to engage faculties which are as, if not more, important than the acquisition of theoretical knowledge. These faculties are best expressed through their physical analogues, senses such as sight, hearing, and tasting, which serve as symbols when transposed onto the spiritual plane. They all, but tasting especially, express the immediacy of metaphysical and presential knowledge in addition to indicating the means of its acquisition through a material medium and counterpart.
Frithjof Schuon very succinctly expressed this truth in the video interview that was recently circulating on YouTube when he stated with regard to the significance of art that "It is not enough to think about Metaphysics. We also want to see and to hear metaphysics." A full appreciation of a given religion can be obtained by not only thinking about its doctrines, but also by seeing and hearing the beauty of its divinely instituted formal elements, and ultimately by tasting its spiritual essence. Also like the flower however, these faculties grow imperceptibly over time, sustained by our faith in God and nurtured by the beauty and sanctity of the rites, traditions, and revelations that He has provided for our spiritual nourishment and salvation.
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While it is true that a person referring to him or herself as a master probably is not, I think that this judgment is much more difficult to make concerning those who refer to themselves as Buddhists or even Christians or Muslims, for what degree of perfection is required to hold claim to such an identity? Certainly to testify to the adherence of the eight-fold path does not necessary mean that one fully realizes its meaning and actualizes that understanding within one's being, for that would make one a great saint. In a sense, religion begins and ends with its fundamental doctrine. It begins with faith and ends with the consummation of that faith in an through presential knowledge. Religions are broad and encompassing enough to accommodate men and women of various aptitudes, inclinations, and even degrees of sincerity. I think that this fact constitutes a great lesson to us, especially for esoterists. There is a wonderful passage in the Book of Wisdom of Ibn Ata'Allah that I like to relate in this context. It states that
"If you see a servant whom God has made to abide in the recitation of litanies and prolonged His help therein, do not disdain what his Lord has given him on the score that you do not detect the signs of gnostics on him nor the splendor of God's lovers. For had there been no inspiration, there would have been no litanty."