Reproducing the sage

The emergence of formal religious hierarchy, whether in traditional or esoteric religions, signaled not the maturation of the thought of the founder but the end of the creative application of the sage’s thought.

This is clearly the case in the most famous sages Jesus and Gautama Buddha, less so in Pythagoreanism, Platonism, Jainism, or Theosophy. The religions of the ancient world were often so diffuse in content that it is hard to investigate them except as anthropological objects. Their enthusiasm and the rarefied but unreproducible insights of original sages such as Zoroaster or mythic figures like the Yellow Emperor of China offer tantalizing glimpses into the formation of self-reflective culture.

Gnosticism exists as a foil to Christianity. The other scriptural religions — Judaism and Islam — are akin as cultural phenomena that provoked no particular controversy internally until they encountered other philosophies and traditions. The scriptural religions are a cultural continuity but vulnerable to inimical forces in the new cultures they run into or which co-opt them. In short, historical religions are collective social structures are not to be probed as sources of wisdom but rather social solutions to material and cultural challenges.

What has all this to do with the solitary? It will be seen that in the grand mix of religions and religious culture, the solitary alone holds the insights as founder or sage. The immediate followers of the sage or “founder” have the historical opportunity to grasp the charism and enthusiasm of the sage. This response from the sage’s immediate followers is very much an individual and internalized experience. How can it be conveyed to succeeding generations except in the most careful language, at once open and wise?

The instinct of succeeding generations is to capture the sage’s essence, as it were, in a bottle. Special souls (often enough solitaries themselves!) will be able to relive the insights by reliving the physical and psychological circumstances, but doing so is not obvious to most people. The householder or the covetous of power in religious castes or orders will not be able to understand the sage.

Most people will unconsciously assume that codifying and ritualizing the sage’s thoughts will keep it alive and long-lived, therefore permanently available. Such availability is exactly the ossifying process, or at least the assumption that this availability is the same as living thoughts and actions. The empty shell remains. The remnant may be a source of great comfort, for it undoubtedly appeals to an important part of our psyche and our heart.

But it is mere sentiment and rote if we cannot reproduce the mind and circumstances of the sage. Meditation, simplicity, and disengagement are all universal techniques of the sages. They do not guarantee insight but are rather necessary prerequisites. The solitary is best fitted to at least attempt to pursue this path. By reproducing the mind of the sage the solitary cuts directly to what is essential to know in the brief time allotted to us in this life.