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The teachings embodied in the present volume let in a flood of light on questions connected with Buddhist doctrine which have deeply perplexed previous writers on that religion, and offer the world for the first time a practical clue to the meaning of almost all ancient religious symbolism.
More than this, the Esoteric Doctrine, when properly understood, will be found to advance an powering claim the attention of earnest thinkers. Its tenets are not presented to us as the invention of any founder or prophet. Its testimony is based on no written scriptures. Its views of Nature have been evolved by the researches of an immense succession of investigators, qualified for their task by the possession of spiritual faculties and perceptions of a higher order than those belonging to ordinary humanity. In the course of ages the block of knowledge thus accumulated, concerning the origin of the world and of man and
the ultimate destinies of our race-concerning also the nature of other worlds and states of existence differing from those of our present life-checked and examined at every point, verified in all directions, and constantly under examination throughout, has come to be looked on by its custodians as constituting the absolute truth concerning spiritual things, the actual state of the facts regarding vast regions of vital activity lying beyond this earthly existence.
European philosophy, whether concerned with religion or pure metaphysics, has so long been used to a sense of insecurity in speculations outrunning the limits of physical experiment, that absolute truth about spiritual things is hardly recognized any longer by prudent thinkers as a reasonable object of pursuit; but different habits of thought have been acquired in Asia. The secret doctrine which, to a considerable extent, I am now enabled to expound, is regarded not only by all its adherents but by vast numbers who have never expected to know more of it than that such a doctrine exists, as a mine of entirely trustworthy knowledge from which all religions and philosophies have derived whatever they possess of truth, and with which every religion must coincide if it claims to be a mode of expression for truth.
This is a bold claim indeed, but I venture to announce the following exposition as one of immense importance to the world, because I believe that claim can be substantiated.
I do not say that within the compass of this volume the authenticity of the esoteric doctrine can be proved. Such proof cannot be given by any process of argument; only through the development in each inquirer for himself of the faculties required for the direct observation of Nature along the lines indicated. But his prima facie conclusion may be determined by the extent to which the views of Nature about to be unfolded may recommend themselves to his mind, and by the reasons which exist for trusting the powers of observation of those by whom they are communicated.
Will it be supposed that the very magnitude of the claim now made on behalf of the esoteric doctrine, lifts the present statement out of the region of inquiry to which its title refers—inquiry as to the real inner meaning of the definite and specific religion called Buddhism. The fact is, however, that esoteric Buddhism, though by no means divorced from the associations of exoteric Buddhism, must not be conceived to constitute a mere imperium in imperio-a central school of culture in the vortex of the Buddhist world. In proportion as Buddhism retreats into the inner penetralia of its faith, these are found to merge into the inner penetralia of other faiths. The cosmic conceptions, and the knowledge of Nature on which Buddhism not merely rests, but which constitute esoteric Buddhism, equally constitute esoteric Brahminism. And the esoteric doctrine is thus regarded by those of all creeds who are “enlightened ” in the
( Buddhist sense) as the absolute truth concerning Nature, Man, the origin of the Universe, and the destinies toward which its inhabitants are tending. At the same time, exoteric Buddhism has remained in closer union with the esoteric doctrine than any other popular religion. An exposition of the inner knowledge, addressed to English readers in the present day, will thus associate itself irresistibly with familiar outlines of Buddhist teaching. It will certainly impart to these a living meaning they generally seem to be without, but all the more on this account may the esoteric doctrine be most conveniently studied in its Buddhist aspect; one, moreover, which has been so strongly impressed upon it since the time of Gautama Buddha that though the essence of the doctrine dates back to a far more remote antiquity, the Buddhist colour