A cut, and paste copy of my esoteric secrecy article from the kheper website
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Most mystical, or esoteric societies generally have something in common the world over. Their meditational practices, and the resulting inner experiences are regarded in the main as being confidential. Such esoteric "secrecy" has been around for centuries, and centuries. At initiation intellectual knowledge of the meditational practices are given out. It may take place in a ritual setting where it is transmitted by speech. On the other hand, instructions may be sent via the post, or even by email! Anyway, there are a number of important reasons for esoteric secrecy which we shall discuss here:-
I. Direct Mystical Experience is not the same as Intellectual Knowledge.
Direct mystical experience is totally different to intellectual knowledge. This is the key reason why meditational practices are kept "secret". With mysticism we are normally dealing with"higher realities" that are very difficult to describe accurately in the language of this world. As such symbolism may have to be used. Some of this may for example be found in the Surangama Sutra, or the classic Tibetan Book of the Dead. What we are trying to say here is that mystics do not want to confuse esoteric experience with intellectual knowledge. The former is strictly speaking for the awakening intuition, and not the mind.
Moreover, from a traditional esoteric viewpoint inner visionary "ascents" in meditation are seen as proof enough that "greater realities" exist. Indeed, it has been argued why it is we should continually theorise about such things as reincarnation, pre-destination, subtle bodies, higher, and lower beings, et al when their existence can be proven "beyond doubt" by "going within"? This kind of mentality though is not totally suitable for the Western mind.
Anyway, it is possible to get some idea intellectually about "secret" meditational practices from privately (or publicly) circulated literature of a mystical society. Usually, there is someone with experience to whom one can turn to. For example, the author did so, and discovered that the Sufi Azeemia Foundation had practices similiar to surat shabd yoga in which the soul is transported by inner Light, and Sound via meditation.
It is also important to point out that some mystical societies have little, or "no" secret knowledge. For example, the Subud Brotherhood involves simply a transmission of purifying spiritual energy, and allowing it to take over the mind, and body. Its actions though can be stopped at will. On the other hand, kriya yoga has a whole progressive series of initiations in which "secret" techniques are divulged to the disciple for his, or her spiritual advantage.
Some esoteric societies have tried to get their new disciples to sign a legally binding document in which they cannot publicly divulge the inner "secrets" of their tradition. Reiki, or the so-called Radiance Technique has tried to do just that but much detailed information has already been published about it over the years.
II. Misuse of "Higher" Knowledge.
Another reason for esoteric "secrecy" is that such "sacred" information could be used notably for the development of psychic powers. Most mystical societies believe in the need to achieve "God-Realization", or alternatively the "Ultimate Reality" as understood by Buddhists. As such psychic powers if gained to any extent via meditation can prove to be a distraction on the path, and may lead one in the wrong direction. Intellectual knowledge as to how they can come about can also be corrupted, and cause all sorts of problems.
III. Ego Inflation.
Talking about initiation secrets, or ones inner experiences can seriously inflate the ego which is contrary to spiritual evolution. As stated earlier meditational instructions are intended for personal use, and not for anything else. Yet, some esoteric societies are not that strict. Their disciples may be allowed to disclose their inner experiences but only if there is a genuine need for it.
To keep the meditational knowledge as secret as is possible shows respect for ones chosen path. This is simple esoteric etiquette.
For example, Radha Soami Satsang Beas which teaches surat shabd yoga issues at initiation a piece of paper on which certain basic knowledge is contained. Ideally, this should be burnt after it has been read, and intellectually absorbed. This shows respect as there is now no chance of it falling into the wrong hands!
Significantly, masters can, and have been known to show respect for their own tradition. Here, we give again another example of this from surat shabd yoga. Rai Saligram, or Huzur Maharaj in one of the volumes of Prem Patra briefly discusses the Spiritual Regions. He uses the symbol of a flame in which he gives the names, and correct sequence of these Realms. At the same time, he describes them as having specific "lights", or luminous coloured "skies". Yet, he makes no mention of the key sights, or of the particular order of the Sounds for each successive Spiritual Region. In other words, he shows respect to his tradition because he does not give the full "secret".
V. Esoteric Knowledge "Useless" without a Master.
Esoteric knowledge is generally taught by a master who has hopefully experienced most, if not all the possible pitfalls of his, or her path. Thus, spiritually fit to help other people he, or she is largely indespensable. Hence, intellectual data concerning meditational practices by itself is largely "useless" without such a one, and secrecy is necessary in so far as some other person may attempt to go it alone which could be "disasterous. "
Fortunately, or unfortunately, alot of information already exists on all this in the public domain. Often bits, and pieces of it are scattered about in a mystical societies "authorized" public, and private literature. With careful research it can be slowly, or quickly put together like an intellectual jigsaw puzzle. Thus, esoteric "secrecy" is to some extent a nonesense.
VI. Esoteric Knowledge is for the Few.
Trying for whatever reasons to spread meditational instructions to all, and sundry is wrong, and rediculous. Many people would think such knowledge was madness, or rubbish. Thus, the need to keep it largely to oneself.
Some Light on Instant "Spiritual" Experiences.
There are some mystical societies which claim that they can give instant "spiritual" experiences. Though such phenomena can be very encouraging for the disciple it does not mean that he, or she is any more special than anyone else in terms of spiritual growth. This is the key point to grasp. Depending on where one goes anyone can infact have an instant "spiritual" experience.
I, the author for example once attended a Sahaja Yoga meeting in which the now controversial guru Mataji Nirmala Devi was presiding. She claims that the kundalini can be activated by following her instructions, and that it is not experienced as heat, but rather as coldness, and/or wind. In one of her meditational "exercises" I suddenly became aware of a "vortex", or whirlpool of "wind" from the top of my head. Other people claimed to have had the same thing, and it is interesting to point out that psychic depictions of this energy exist.
At the time of the first initiation certain kriya yoga Teachers can make one aware of the kundalini going up, and down the spine. This instant spiritual experience can only continue if one is prepared to regularly undertake certain meditation practices which ofcourse are meant to be "secret". . for the disciple only.
However, some spiritual teachers believe that such inner phenomena are really just tricks. This may well be true in some cases but surely not all.
Sometimes due to past karmas, or actions (if we believe in reincarnation) one may across a specific mystical path, and may have an instant spiritual experience at the time of initiation, or even long before (eg. having a vision of seeing ones Master before physically meeting him or her).
Back in 1990 when I had finished interviewing Dr. Sharma (a "Satguru" of Shabd Yoga, and a successor of Faqir Chand) I became aware of being surrounded by highly subtle invisible energies of higher conciousness. The whole process of being possessed by them was so natural, and so spontaneous.
Postscript: I was once initiated "by mistake" into a Sufi sect headed by Sheikh Nazeem from Cyprus. At the Mosque I was suddenly surrounded by the "brothers" in their special robes, and hats. I was trapped I could not run away, and even if I did I felt it would be very rude of me. So, I just played along. Unfortunately, no instant spiritual experiences were involved!
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text content copyright © Robert Searle 2005, all rights reserved page uploaded 17 September 2005