Continuing study of Faivre and Hanegraaff reveals that as they distill and characterize esotericism, I find countless echoes of Yoga Science. It is as if there is a Principle of Prefigurement at work: the more fundamental the fact for Yoga Science, the more clearly it appears as a theme they have found characteristic of esotericism – which I’ll discuss in general since the Renaissance according to Faivre in Part 1 here, and more recently in terms of the 20th Century New Age movement according to Hanegraaff in Part 2 to follow.
Here I’ll attempt to give some initial impression of how I see this Principle at work by looking at each of Faivre’s “six fundamental characteristics of Western esoteric spirituality” – the first four “intrinsic,” the last two “relative.” I’m not certain when this scheme was first published by Faivre, likely in his Accès de l’ésotéricisme Occidental in 1986. In any case, it has been cited and further elaborated upon by his various students, including Hanegraaff and de Michelis in the decades since.
1. Correspondences. The idea here is that a central feature of the esoteric tradition is that “there are symbolic and/or real correspondences between all parts of the visible and invisible universe (“as above so below”)… The principles of contradiction, excluded middle, and linear causality are replaced by those of resolution, of included middle, and of synchronicity… Two types of correspondences may be distinguished: first, those that exist in visible or invisible nature… and next there are the correspondences between nature (the cosmos) or even history, and revealed texts” along with the idea that knowledge of these texts furthers knowledge of nature. (This and the following quotes are all from Faivre’s Introduction I to Western Esoteric Spirituality, Faivre & Needleman 1992.)
Right. Yoga Science aims toward a rigorous scientific description along these very lines. Perhaps the best illustration I know of “resolution” and “included middle” is Kelso & Engstrøm’s Complementary Nature published last year by MIT Press founded on the many decades of rigorous cross-disciplinary applied mathematics and physics of Herman Hakken. (I’ve not yet written much about this work, since it is not obviously “Yoga Science” but there is a fascinating tale to tell here, but one that need not detain us at this juncture.) The SummaTime Scale meanwhile, as I discovered just this year, is purely synchronic – and not at all by intention, since it emerged from my years of reflection on electrophysiological process, human development, and cultural and cosmic evolution.
2. Living Nature. “From the idea of correspondences, we begin to see that the cosmos is complex, plural, hierarchical. Therefore Nature occupies an essential place within it. Multilayered, rich in potential revelations of all kinds, it must be read as one reads a book… seen, known, and felt to be essentially alive in all its parts… knowledge – in the sense of “gnosis” – which appears to contribute to the basis of an esoteric attitude.”
Yes. Yoga Science’s rigorous scientific description includes this characteristic, unquestionably. Both in terms of suggesting a new approach to complexity that is itself “complex, plural, and hierarchical” but also in terms of an understanding of gnosis as direct nondual apprehension of any and all phenomena of Timed Nature based in Timeless source consciousness.
3. Imagination and Mediation. “These two ideas are linked and complementary to each other. The idea of correspondence already presupposes a form of imagination that tends to reveal and use mediation of all kinds, like rituals, symbolic images, mandalas, and intermediary spirits… an imagination that allows the use of these intermediaries, symbols, and images, for gnostic ends, to penetrate Nature’s hieroglyphs, to put the theory of correspondences into active practice, and to discover, to see, and to know the mediating entities between the divine world and Nature… via the “interiorization” of the world within our mens… This imagination founds a visionary Philosophy, a kind of creative play… to render the invisible visible.”
Exactly. Yoga Science’s rigorous scientific description is one intended above all for application. The creative and visionary work/play most critically needed by a suffering Nature is just this, to render our own invisible interiors visible to our scientific understanding in such a way that we can much more artfully engineer our life world to be in harmony with our total circumstance on this planet.
4. The experience of transmutation. “We also understand it as “metamorphosis”… one must not separate knowledge (gnosis) from interior experience, or intellectual activity from active imagination… This (is) illuminated knowledge, which promotes a “second birth”… the implication is often that the transmutation takes place in a part of Nature just as much as in the experimenters themselves.”
Right. This is an accurate summary of what some have called “the alchemy of Yoga.” “Yoga is known through Yoga” means that the experiential experiment transforms both the knower and the known. This is inherent in the participatory nature of all true praxis and the Yoga Science aims to be this as well, and what’s more, to explore the creative development of a true praxis equipped with the full armamentarium of the most rigorous science possible.
5. The practice of concordance. “… becomes especially apparent at the beginning of the modern era (the end of the fifteenth century…). It involves the marked tendency to seek to establish commonalities between two different traditions, sometimes even between all the traditions, with a view to gaining illumination, a gnosis of superior quality… It manifests the intention… to reveal… a living and hidden trunk of which particular traditions are only the visible branches.”
Check. Yoga Science proposes that the scientific evidence is now incontrovertible that our human history with all its marvelous diversity can be traced in an unbroken line back along each and every one of its cultural and geographic branches to a prehistoric trunk of an “out of African” human diaspora. Necessarily in parallel with this external and objective history is an internal and subjective history of the human psyche, in all its depth.
6. Transmission. “… that an esoteric teaching can or ought to be transmitted from master to disciple following a channel already dug…”
Here, a qualified “yes.” Although Yoga has historically included this as a characteristic feature of its application, there have been many exceptions, even within the Yoga tradition – individuals whose knowledge, wisdom, or awakening appeared to be “given directly” and apart from the agency of a guru or master conventionally understood – either in the flesh or as visionary apparition.
The function of transmission can perhaps be understood as twofold: to initiate the process of transmutation, and to establish its authenticity. How these two central aspects of transmission are served in the Yoga Science of the future remains to be seen. Two things come to mind: the emergence of a global “culture of transmission,” and the authenticity implicit in science itself.
We see in the religious culture of pre-communist Tibet still in living memory a “culture of transmission” – a complex social network of literal and spiritual empowerment that resulted in many individuals given training and initiation by sometimes dozens of masters. I would argue that science has revealed that every communication involves a transmission of some sort – be it “high” or “low.” As the world rapidly shrinks, I think we can already begin to see the emergence of just such a culture of transmission. It may be possible to see this as a maturation of the “cultic milieu” first identified by sociologist Colin Campbell in 1972 and that Hanegraaff uses as a seminal tool in his analysis of the New Age movement.
Meanwhile, in science itself we see the potential for a process of authentication that is increasingly global and consensual. Even with episodic “paradigm shifts” of all kinds, science and its technology represent a unique form of human knowledge accumulation that could develop, especially given a context in wisdom as the SummaParadigm, means to authenticate human development itself.
In these two ways, I think we can at least suggest the possibility that the traditional guru function, so central to esotericism, may be transformed in the future as Yoga Science matures.
In conclusion, I take esotericism as a whole to represent a vast array of intuitively-based prefigurements of specific features of the Yoga Science. My hunch at this point is that all the various interests that are alive today in the New Age (and my first example is in the membership of an esotericist association as diverse as that of ISSSEEM) might come to find robust scientific description and articulation in the Yoga Science.
In Part 2 of this initial exploration, I’ll extend this exercise to Hanegraaff’s contributions.