Initiation and Spiritual Realization

Earlier, I mentioned that beyond the material and worldly sciences is the realm of gnostic knowledge and mysticism, the aim of which is ‘spiritual realization.’ In turn, spiritual realization is attained through the ‘annihilation of the ego’ (known as Fana in Arabic). But the process of annihilating the ego coincides with what is known as ‘initiation’ into a traditional organization which transmits spiritual influence. What initiation amounts to is “the indispensable beginning (initium) that carries with it the possibility of all later developments,” according to René Guénon. Initiation is equal to affiliation with a traditional organization that transmits spiritual influence to the initiate.

Furthermore, Guénon mentions that initiation is “the entrance into a way that will be traversed thereafter, or again the beginning of a new existence in the course of which possibilities of another order will be developed, possibilities beyond the narrow confines of the ordinary life.” Thus, in a sense, initiation is an escape from the mundaneness and hollowness of ordinary life. In turn, there are two types of initiation. For one, there is virtual initiation, whereby esoteric understanding is gained theoretically through books and through limited contact with those who have experience with the spiritual influences of traditional organizations. Second, there is effective initiation, whereby an individual is brought into a traditional organization and is directly receiving spiritual influence from members of a traditional organization through close contact.  

Effective initiation is always superior to virtual initiation, given that “oral transmission is always and everywhere considered a necessary condition of true traditional teaching, so much so that putting this teaching in writing can never dispense with it.” In essence, effective initiation communicates “a ‘vital element’…for which books could not serve as a vehicle.”

In most cases, ‘virtual initiation’ lays the groundwork for ‘effective initiation,’ and the former attracts the means and the persons by which the latter is realized. In other words, virtual initiation creates the capacity for the initiate to attract effective initiation. Thus, as Guénon suggested, “every effective initiation necessarily presupposes a virtual initiation.” In many cases, and as mentioned before, the leap from virtual initiation to effective initiation hinges on “the interior work of the initiate,” which is required if effective initiation “is to yield the results rightly expected from it.”

But if an initiate is to remain in a virtual state forever, it could mean one of two things, according to Guénon. For one, it could be possible that the initiate does not have the qualifications for effective initiation. Or, it is quite possible that:

“certain initiatic organizations are reduced at the present time, and which prevents them from furnishing sufficient support for the attainment of effective initiation, so that even the existence of such an initiation is unsuspected by those who might otherwise be qualified for it, although these organizations do remain capable of conferring a virtual initiation, that is, of assuring the initial transmission of a spiritual influence to those who possess the minimum of the indispensable qualifications.”

In sum, initiation facilitates the escape out of the miseries and troubles of the material and social realm and thus entrance into a condition and state that is wholly metaphysical and transcendent in nature, albeit this condition and state is denied by a vast majority of people due to the limitations on their ability to comprehend it as well as a lack of knowledge and life experience.

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