World Religion Simplified
(East and West at their most characteristic*)
Religion West: Exoteric vs. Religion East: Intrateric
RELIGION AS CREED, shared belief, dogma. vs. RELIGION AS QUEST undertaken by an individual.
Exemplified by doctrines (that fragment the believers). vs. Exemplified by individual "teaching."
Dualistic: Natural/Supernatural, etc. vs. Monistic: Naturalistic/Humanistic, no next or other world.
The "outer," i.e. everyday consciousness. vs. The "inner," the contemplative or meditative.
Cognitive: Beliefs most anyone can understand. vs. Intuitive: "The Secret waits for the insight."
Personal self salvation. vs. Impersonal non-egoic enlightenment.
Temporal: Beginnings and endings. vs. The timeless: "To see eternity in a grain of sand."
Organized religion essential. vs. "Organized religion" an oxymoron.
Doubt: Something to be delivered from. vs. "Greater the doubt the greater the enlightenment."
Authoritarian: One God, one Book. vs. "He who knows does not speak..."
Religion is a period. vs. Religion is a question mark.
Prophets are needed to know the way. vs. "Put no head higher than your own."
Heaven & Hell: Elsewhere, else-when, out there. vs. Metaphors all: "What-is" is here, now, ineffable.
Literalistic Truth. vs. "Just a tacit understanding and no more."
Ethics requires religion—you need it to be good. vs. Ethics, like logic, has nothing to do with religion.
Deep concern over our propensity to sin. vs. Deep concern over our capacity for error.
Science is necessarily and properly exoteric. vs. Exoteric religion is an abomination.
Tends towards either/or thinking. vs. Tends towards and/both thinking.
Fosters and supports "the culture of belief." vs. Compatible with "the culture of inquiry."
Mind against heart, heart against mind. vs. Xin (heart-mind).
Life after death. vs. Death after life.
*Something of the East is contained within the West, e.g. gnosticism (prior to being exterminated by the early Church), Kabbalah, Sufism, the heretic mystics (Eckhart, Blake, John of the Cross), Schopenhauer, Spinoza, Transcendentalists (Thoreau, Emerson), and the existentialist philosophers and writers from at least Melville and Hawthorne on. The closest analog in the West to what would be called religion in the East is Existentialism—the individual undertaking an existential inquiry unguided by authority, so think "religion = existential quest" and the "intrateric" side will make more sense. And there is more than a bit of the exoteric in the East: e.g. organized doctrinal religion, "spiritual" pundits, authoritarian gurus, explanatory fictions (e.g. reincarnation), even scriptural literalists (e.g. Nichiren Buddhists) whose presumptuous certitude would put our Jehovah's Witnesses to shame.
The division of world religions into those based on creed and those based on quest was made by Huston Smith, a religious studies scholar best known for his book
The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions
(originally titled The Religions of Man) which remains a popular and excellent introduction to comparative religion.
In his excellent "The Perenial Philosophy," Aldous Huxley divided world religions along much the same lines as Huston Smith, but called them "exoteric" and "esoteric." Exoteric refers to the outter world as observable by all. The word "esoteric" is the opposite yet has some unfortunate conotations today and so has been replaced with here with "intrateric," which refers to one's own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions as you alone can observe them. Intrateric knowledge is always in the here and now before it can be converted into a concept to be thought about. Exoteric seeing involves thinking well, while intrateric seeing involves what is commonly called mindfulness, which can lead to "insight."
"The Secret waits for the insight of eyes unclouded by longing; Those that are bound by desire see only the outward container." is from the Tao Te Ching. "To see eternity in a grain of sand" is Blake. "Greater the doubt the greater the enlightenment" is a likely Zen Hakuinism. "He who knows does not speak, he who speaks does not know; who knows this knowledge without knowing?" comes from Zhuangzi commenting on Laozi. "Put no head higher than your own" is from that fellow affectionately known as Buddha. "Just a tacit understanding and no more," Huineng's comment on transcendent insight.
Esoteric religious joke: A man was walking alone down a forest path. The Devil and his assistant were following at a distance. The man bends over and picks up something. The Devil's assistant, horrified, exclaims, "Oh no, Master! The man has discovered Truth!" The Devil smiles and says, "Don't worry, I'll help him organize it." (As told by J. Krishnamurti.)
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