In the case of the latter, the exoteric doctrine provides points of reference between the local and nonlocal -- very much like a work of art, the purpose of which is to point behind its local surface to the nonlocal depth, or from appearances to reality, form to substance, accident to essence.
Having said this, esoterism is Not Just Anything, nor is it merely an excuse for loose and self-serving interpretations. But this is only because pure esoterism itself must correspond with, and be subordinate to, the inner nature of things -- of those things which cannot not be. This is the domain of the intellect, which in principle operates no differently from the lower mind vis-a-vis empirical science.
The practice of science is predicated on two ineluctable principles: the intelligibility of the world and the unique ability of human minds to discern this intelligibility. Or, just say Intelligence and Intelligibility. And if you think deeply for a long time about how these two relate, you will realize that they must be two sides of a single reality. Or, it can just come to you in a flash of certitude. Either way is fine.
Failing these -- the Flash of Intuition or the Slog of the donkey mind -- then you will have to "take it on faith," which is indeed a sufficient reason of faith, i.e., to convey the essential truths to people who have neither the time nor inclination to be metaphysicians or esoterists.
Especially prior to modernity (which of course includes now), this population consisted of almost everyone, being that everyone was preoccupied with merely staying alive. But all humans at all times are entitled -- yes entitled, for God is merciful and just -- to the Saving Truths in whatever form. God creates man in order to save him, not for the perverse pleasure of condemning him.
Back to the intellect. Merely take what was said about science and the sensory ego, and transpose it to a higher key, and you understand at once what is meant by man being made in the "image and likeness" of the Creator. Ultimately it means that the intellect not only knows God, but shares something of the divine substance -- which is precisely how and why this transformation in (n) can take place.
So right there we have a key principle of esoterism hiding in plain sight: not that the intellect is God, but it's not not-God either! Or, we might say that the intellect is God, but that God is (surely) not the intellect. Analogously, at this moment I am bathed in light and therefore "inside the sun." And yet, the sun is obviously way up there, nine million miles away. So, this light is the sun, but the sun is not (merely) this light.
As a brief aside, we've lately been discussing -- and will get back to -- Tallis' Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity. Again, he is unique in my experience in championing the utter ontological uniqueness of man, but without anchoring this in any principial reality. In short, you might say that for Tallis, man is in the image and likeness of the Creator, minus the Creator; or there is no God, and man is just like him.
So, Tallis wants to have his crock and eat it too, which is impossible, for this is a Communion of Nothing. Indeed, speaking of which, the other day I was trying to explain the esoteric meaning of Communion to the boy, but what is Communion but an example of pure esoterism? It makes no sense in any other way, Thomas Aquinas' attempt to tame it with reason notwithstanding (i.e., "transubstantiation").
It is not that Aquinas is wrong, only that he's trying to reduce an esoterism to an exoterism, when real understanding must proceed in the other direction, such that the outward is a prolongation of the inner principle.
Nor can any esoteric explanation "contain" such a mystery, which is one of its purposes: to extinguish mere intellection, or better, to show what intellection is, which is nothing less than the metabolization of the Divine Substance, from the mind right down to the cells. We are what we eat, on every plane. I would say that Communion is a quintessential vertical re-collectiom and con-centration, i.e., from dispersal to unity and from periphery to center.
But Bob, that's a hard saying! Yes and no, for His yoke is also easy. Communing with God is at once -- and by definition -- the hardest and easiest thing that can be. Why easy? Because in truth, you are never not communing with God. The hard part is realizing it, and in depth: all the way down to the cells, as it were. That would be a "perfect faith" but also a perfect knowledge, or perfect conformity between mind and truth or Is and Ought.
But again, esoterism cannot merely be an excuse to deepak the chopra. This is what distinguishes it from mere Gnosticism (the bad kind) which is always partial and (more or less) of man instead of God.
One way to avoid this is to understand that esoterism and exoterism are not opposed, but rather, complementary. It is not as if the former is superior to the latter, but rather, must always adopt an attitude of humility toward it. This is why, if you can't anchor your esoterism in tradition, it is probably wrong. For example, I suppose Scientology is simultaneously 100% esoteric and 100% bullshit. It is anchored in nothing but L. Ron Hubbard's cynical and drug-fueled imagination.
Schuon uses the analogy of the pure light of non-formal truth passing through a prism. The former is esoteric, essential, or principial; passing through the prism is analogous to manifestation on the terrestrial plane. Thus, the exoteric is by no means "not light," rather, light made visible. How else -- by what other principle -- could the eternal Logos become flesh?
Let's go back to the very beginning, or beginning of the beginning, AKA Genesis. What does it say there? In the beginning God creates the heavens and the earth (creates, because God transcends time). While looking up various translations, I see that the Latin Vulgate reads in principio creavit Deus caelum et term. Thus, we could reduce this to: In principle the Creator eternally creates, from the toppermost of the poppermost to the bottom of the world.
Putting this together with what was said above, we are in the image of this eternal principle.
And the clock on the wall says we're flat out of time, so to be continued... but not before wrapping things up with an observation by Schuon: Authentic esoterism stems from the nature of things... its seeds are everywhere present, sparks can flash from every flint...