Ye Shall Know the Truth

Ye Shall Know the Truth 
Christianity and the Perennial Philosophy 

Edited by Mateus Soares de Azevedo 
Foreword by William Stoddart 

This collection of essays by aims at explaining, discussing, and developing in a new key, the spiritual, philosophical and artistic patrimony of the Christian tradition in its intellectually challenging dimension - as well as to consider its future possibilities. Behind the book lies the belief that one of the main factors responsible for the contemporary decadence, lack of vigor, and indeed the tragic crisis, of traditional religion is the indifference that is shown towards its sapiential or “knowledge” dimension.

The essays here envisage religion primarily as knowledge of a sacred character - not as “social service” nor as a merely ethical system. The authors of the Perennial Philosophy here support the vision that the intellective dimension is central to the human being; knowledge, profoundly understood, is the very heart of man.

World Wisdom

From Chapter 1


Marco Pallis

“Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. . . . And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom . . .” (Matt. 27:50, 61). This occurrence, which is attested by the three Synoptic Gospels, marks the end of Christ’s human ministry, in the ordinary sense of the word, since all that follows, from the Resurrection till his final Ascension, is of a miraculous order. Like all sacred events, the portent at the moment of Christ’s death on the cross can be regarded from both a historical and a symbolical angle, since the two views do not exclude one another; in the present case it is the symbolism of the occurrence that will chiefly be considered.

It is important to be reminded of what the veil of the temple of Jerusalem served to mark, namely the boundary between the main portion of the sacred building, where all Jews were admitted and which contained the seven-branched candlestick and the altar of sacrifice, and the Holy of Holies, which was quite empty and into which only the officiating priest could enter. When he did so, the priest had to divest himself of his clothes. Voidness of the place and nakedness of the man are both highly significant indications of what the Holy of Holies stood for in the Jewish tradition, namely “the mysteries” or, in other words, that of which the knowledge, formless and inexpressible, can be symbolized only “apophatically,” by an emptying or divestment, as in the present case. Esoterically speaking, this knowledge can refer only to God in His suchness, the divine Selfhood transcending even being.

Whatever lay on the hither side of the veil, on the other hand, represented the tradition in its more exoteric aspects, which are multiple and formally expressible in various ways. All three evangelists stress the fact that the veil parted “from the top to the bottom,” as if to indicate that the parting was complete and irremediable and that henceforth no definable boundary would exist between the “religious” side of the tradition and the mysterious or, if one so prefers, between the exoteric and esoteric domains. As far as the human eye was able to discern they were to be merged—which does not mean, of course, that their interpenetration would in any way detract from the reality of each domain in its own order, but that any formal expression of their separation was precluded once and for all. For this to be true, it would mean, among other things, that the central rites of the tradition must be such as to serve this comprehensive purpose and that, with any spiritual “support,” its context alone, and not its form, would provide the clue as to which domain it pertained to in given circumstances.

This gives the key to Christian spirituality as such; it starts from there. Moreover, it can be seen that if the unicity of revelation has needed to be given increasingly diversified expression parallel with the downward march of a cosmic cycle, each traditional form deriving from this necessity must affirm itself, above all, in those particularities that distinguish it from other comparable forms. Thus Islam remains the prophetic tradition par excellence; though the prophetic function itself is universal and though in other cases one may speak of such and such a prophet or prophets, whenever one refers to the Prophet without epithet, one means Mohammed and no one else. Similarly, if one speaks of Enlightenment with a capital E, it is of the Buddha one is thinking; which does not mean, however, that enlightenment does not belong to every avataric founder of a religion—obviously this function will always imply the supreme knowledge—but its presentation under the form of “supreme awakening,” samma sambodhi, nevertheless remains the keynote of Buddhism in a sense not shared by other traditions. With Christianity it is the Incarnation that provides its specific note; in all other cases, one can only speak of such and such an incarnation; emphasis on the word will be relatively more diffuse. The particularity of the Christian tradition, namely its eso-exoteric structure, is closely bound up with this all-absorbing role of Christ as the Incarnate Word, in whom all essential functions are synthesized without distinction of levels.

Apart from this special character attaching to Christianity, it is evident that an authentic and integral tradition could at no time be equated solely with its collective and exoteric aspects. Whatever the nature of the formal framework, the presence (latent or explicit) of the esoteric element is necessary; otherwise the tradition in question would be—to use a common Tibetan expression—“without a heart.” Similarly, a tradition is never reducible to an esoterism alone: hence the need to be firmly anchored in an orthodox exoterism, speaking its scriptural language and making use of such ritual and symbolical supports as it provides; an esoterism trying to function minus its normal exoteric framework would be like a heart without a body, to use the same comparison as before. Belief in the possibility of a quasi-abstract and wholly subjective spiritual life, one in which tradition and the formal expressions of revealed truth do not count, is a typical error of various neo-Vedantist and other kindred movements that have seen the light of day in India and elsewhere in recent times.

Different ways in which the relationship “mysteries-religion” or “esoteric-exoteric” can be given effect to may be profitably studied by comparing some of the principal traditions in this respect. For instance, in the Islamic tradition, where the two domains are defined with particular clarity, “the veil of the temple” has been present from the origins and remains intact to this day; both the law (shariah) and the esoterism (tasawwuf) are traceable back to the Prophet himself.

With Christianity, as we have seen, a rending of the veil previously extant in Judaism marks the final affirmation of the New Covenant in the face of the Old and, with it, the birth of a wholly independent tradition. In the case of Buddhism, on the other hand, the nonexistence of any such veil is laid down from the start. The Buddha’s saying that “I have kept nothing back in my closed fist” means that in his tradition the purely spiritual interest alone really counts. Although in Buddhism, as elsewhere, an exoteric organization becomes unavoidable from the moment that the number of adherents begins to increase, the fact itself will always remain, from the Buddhist point of view, a matter for regret—something to be accepted contre coeur, under compulsion of events, but never in principle.

Something similar can also be said of Christianity: If Christ’s kingdom, by his own definition, is “not of this world” and if the penalty of casting the pearl of great price before swine is that they “will turn and rend you,” then one of the consequences of the removal of the veil between the Holy of Holies and the more accessible part of the temple (to return to our original symbolism) has been a certain blurring of the distinction between the two domains even where it really applies—the shadow, as it were, of an overwhelming grace. This confusion has expressed itself in the life of the Christian church under the twofold form of a minimizing of what, in spirituality, is most interior and of an excessive focusing of attention on the more exterior and peripheral manifestations of the tradition, and especially on the collective interest treated almost as an end in itself. Carried to extremes, this tendency amply accounts for the fact that it was within the Christian world, and not elsewhere, that the great profanation known as “the modern mentality” first took shape and became, as time went on, the vehicle of “scandal” among all the rest of mankind. If this happening, like everything else of a disastrous kind moreover, comprises its providential aspect, as bringing nearer the dark ending of one cycle and the bright dawning of another, it nevertheless does not escape—by force of karma as Buddhists would say—the curse laid by Christ Himself on all “those by whom scandal cometh.” The pain of the cross, in which all must be involved, is there, in anticipation of its triumph.

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