In the ancient religions and mystical traditions the experience of the spiritual truths of existence was carefully preserved and transmitted as a secret knowledge held by the few, the initiates, who were carefully prepared for the experience and who were qualified for the conditions required by the quest. This developed an esoteric side to the religions understood and experienced by the mystics of each respective religious tradition. This represents the second stage of development described in the previous post.
“Out of this second stage there emerged a third which tried to liberate the secret spiritual experience and knowledge and put it at the disposal of all as a truth that could have a common appeal and must be made universally available. A tendency prevailed, not only to make the spiritual element the very kernel of the religion, but to render it attainable to all the worshippers by an exoteric teaching; as each esoteric school had had its system of knowledge and discipline, so now each religion was to have its system of knowledge, its creed and its spiritual discipline.”
Sri Aurobindo points out that these two sides, the esoteric side of the mystic, and the exoteric side of the religious man, actually represent a dual principle of Nature, “the principle of intensive and concentrated evolution in a small space and the principle of expansion and extension so that the new creation may be generalised in as large a field as possible.”
“The mystics founded their endeavor on a power of supra-rational knowledge, intuitive, inspired, revelatory and on the force of the inner being to enter into occult truth and experience: but these powers are not possessed by men int he mass or possessed only in a crude, undeveloped and fragmentary initial form on which nothing could be safely founded; so for them in this new development the spiritual truth had to be clothed in intellectual forms of creed and doctrine, in emotional forms of worship and in a simple but significant ritual.”
This allowed the broadening of the base of spiritual focus to a much larger segment of humanity, but gave up thereby a considerable amount of the intensity and amplitude of effort that could be applied by the select group of mystics with their specialised capacities and training.
Early mystics, concerned about the watering down of the spiritual experience and the possibility of misuse of occult powers derived during the practices, traditionally kept the teachings secret and reserved for the initiated only. Another risk involved the loss of significant “life energy” of the spiritual impetus through rationalisation and turning into into creed and dogma. However, for humanity as a whole to progress, it became necessary for Nature to undertake the expansive movement even with the considerable amount of dilution and misuse that would occur. “But this risk had to be taken, for the expansive movement was an inherent necessity of the spiritual urge in evolutionary Nature.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 24, “The Evolution of the Spiritual Man”