EXCERPT FROM THE INTRODUCTION
The bulk of this book is a commentary on the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) from the point of view of the esoteric or universal spiritual tradition, which understands Jesus of Nazareth as part of what has been called a "cosmic apostolic succession" of great spiritual Masters of common purpose which began with the appearance of human life and continues to this day.
The esoteric tradition:
The terms "esoteric" and "exoteric" are fundamental to an understanding of this perspective, so I will begin with definitions. Both terms are from the Greek and mean "inner" and "outer" respectively. But they have come to stand for two opposing views of the nature and meaning of what we normally call "religion": "exoteric" (Sanskrit dharma) refers to institutions, rituals, outer appearances, and doctrines and beliefs-although not necessarily to the original meaning of those things; "esoteric" (Sanskrit moksha) refers to what Aldous Huxley called "the perennial philosophy" : the transcendence of the human condition (in the terminology of India, "the liberation from the cycle of births and deaths") and the methods which lead to that. This transcendence is a process of becoming, rather than believing or performing, and can exist within any given institution, set of rituals, or belief system, or within none of them. From the esoteric point of view, most exoteric preoccupations are irrelevant.
My guru, Sant Kirpal Singh Ji, has explained the conclusion of the esoteric "process of becoming" in this way:
And what comes last? You become one with God. You lose all individual consciousness, like a drop of water which, when it unites with the river or the ocean, becomes one with the ocean... . This is the ultimate consummation of the soul with God: you become one with God; you see He is in you and you are in Him: "I and my Father are one." This is the ultimate feeling. Feeling? No, seeing. It is not even seeing-seeing remains in the third stage. The ultimate is that you become one with Him. It is becoming. ("Marriage: Outer and Inner," Sant Bani, May 1987, Vol. XI, No.11, p.13)
Students of the esoteric tradition have pointed to the Greek and Egyptian mysteries, the Yogic and Tantric Systems of India, the schools of Mahayana Buddhism, the Jewish Kabbalah, the Christian Gnostic schools and their successors, the Islamic Sufis, and the Sant tradition of India (Sant Mat), which incorporates features of all of the above, as the principal esoteric schools. Others, such as the post-Constantine Christian monastic orders, have adjusted to orthodox institutional demands more or less happily. In connection with Judaism, e.g., consider the remarks of Dr. David Sheinkin:
Within the Western world, several different spiritual traditions have flourished.... Also, within each spiritual tradition, an exoteric and a more or less separate esoteric path can be identified. For instance, the Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Jewish religion all have well-defined and well-established paths, as well as secret paths historically known to only a very few. (Path of the Kabbalah, p.8)
If these schools or paths have been successful, then of course some people must have graduated from them; there must, in other words, be historical records of people who have "become one with God," in Kirpal Singh's words just quoted. And so there are. P. D. Ouspensky puts it this way:
According to tradition, the following historical personages belonged to esoteric schools: Moses, Gautama the Buddha, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato; also the more mythical-Orpheus, Hermes Trismegistus, Krishna, Rama and certain other prophets and teachers of mankind. To esoteric schools belonged also the builders of the Pyramids and the Sphinx; the priests of the Mysteries in Egypt and Greece, many artists in Egypt and other ancient countries; alchemists; the architects who built the medieval Gothic cathedrals; the founders of certain schools and orders of Sufis and dervishes; and also certain persons who appeared in history for brief moments and remain historical riddles. (A New Model of the Universe, p.30)
There are many other lists of historically known Masters of esoteric knowledge, some of which correct Ouspensky's somewhat Eurocentric rendering. Shiv Dayal Singh of Agra, known in India as "Swami Ji Maharaj," who flourished in the mid-nineteenth century, gives the following list of Indian and Iranian Masters:
Names of some of the perfect and true Saints, Sadhs and Faqeers who manifested themselves during the last seven centuries are given below: Kabir Sahib, Tulsi Sahib, Jagjivan Sahib, Gharib Das Ji, Paltu Sahib, Guru Nanak, Dadu Ji, Tulsi Das Ji, Nabha Ji, Swami Hardas Ji, Surdas Ji and Raidas Ji, and among the Mohammedans: Shams Tabriz, Maulana Rumi, Hafiz, Sarmad, and Mujaddid Alif Sani. Their writings reveal their spiritual attainments. (Sar Bachan 1:39)
Sant Kirpal Singh (1894-1974) has included a number of lists in his writings, one of which, while brief, is especially interesting, both because it connects Ouspensky's list with Swami Ji's, and also because it comes much closer to our time than Ouspensky's does:
All Masters, such as Jesus, Mahavira, Buddha, Kabir, and Nanak, etc., of the past, and Ramakrishna, Hazur Baba Sawan Singh, Sadhu Vaswani, etc., of re- cent days, radiated this divine luster [i.e., humility and simplicity] from their personalities. (The Way of the Saints, p.341)
None of these lists is meant to be exhaustive, and in other places Kirpal Singh and other writers have mentioned many other Masters whose lives and teachings embody the universal spiritual tradition, including a number of women, as the contemporary Indian mystic, Sant Ajaib Singh, makes clear:
Kabir says, "Bhakti [i.e., the devotion of God] is the ball on the playground. One who is strong can make his ball reach the goal." You know that in the game of football the referee doesn't give the ball to any particular person. He simply puts it in the center and one who is clever and strong takes it to the goal. In the same way, in this field of devotion no one is given any concession or preference. No particular religion or sex has the rights controlled for this game of realizing the Almighty. Those who say that women cannot become Masters are under a grand illusion, as they do not know how far the difference of sex exists. Sehjo Bai, Mira Bai, and Rabia Basri were perfect Saints Who practiced and preached Naam. There is no difference in the inner world. God has put the same type of arrangement within the woman for His realization as He has put within the man. (Streams in the Desert, p.295)
The question of the inclusion of women in the highest rank of spiritual Masters is one of the recurring marks of the esoteric tradition, and one of the ways to distinguish it from the exoteric, which generally assumes that religious distinction is a male prerogative; but, as The Gospel of Thomas shows, some of Jesus's most advanced disciples and the ones who understood him best were women, although this has been largely blotted out in the New Testament.