Also, depending on the culture, the notion of “God” is optional. Esoteric Christianism, of course, has the concept of a “God” and the notion of a special path for good Christians to follow to achieve the goal of universal compassion quickly. Esoteric Buddhism, by contrast, rejects the notion of “God” (in the sense of “Creator”) as being unnecessary and contradictory. Whatever the tradition, some things are common to all esoteric traditions (and some have often used an analogy: we’re all climbing the same mountain; but there are many paths leading to the top, a few easier than others, depending on your own choosing; but at the top, we all meet, and the clear vision embracing the horizon is the same for all).
First, it’s a personal path. There are no “rules” that apply to all human beings, since by definition, every human being is different: the path is individual, and you have to pick your own. You can get a set of guidelines, but you have to thoroughly analyse them to see if they make sense to you. Just because someone claims they make sense, you should never, ever accept the guidelines for granted — if they don’t make any sense for you, you should avoid them.
Secondly — and this naturally follows from the above — the means for completing the path are inside yourself, and yourself only. For Christians, the end of the path might be called “salvation”; for Buddhists, it’s usually called Enlightenment; whatever the name, whatever the goal, the point is that nobody can grant it to you (no, not even a “God” can do that for you). Other people (or Gods, or spirits, or whatever your tradition mandates as “helpers”) can guide you, teach you, coach you, help you out, but it’s your own effort that brings you through the path to reach a goal. It cannot be otherwise; all esoteric traditions are very strong supporters of free will, and if you had to rely on anyone else to “grant” you the ultimate goal, you’d have no free will whatsoever. Also, you would be dependent on the benevolence of others to find your own way — their “benevolence” only extends as far as showing you a (possible) way, but it’s up to you to figure out where it leads or if it makes sense following it. The only confidence you have is that others have followed similar paths, and they have reached their goals; and many told us what they did to do so. But it’s always up to you to find out if it works for you or not.
Thirdly, whatever the details of the final goal are described, they always rely on the notion that the meaning of life is ultimately become more happy by being compassionate to others and help them out. Depending on the tradition, this notion of an utopian ideal of a Brotherhood of Man can be more colourful or less (i.e. it’s good enough if we get more people to be nice, we don’t need to worry or get frustrated if we can get everybody to be nice!), and have more or less fancy descriptions of what it means (which you will accept or not, based on your own reasoning), but the point is that is accomplishable.
Fourthly, however, it’s quite clear that this will not work for everybody, simply because the vast majority is not interested (even if they have the necessary abilities and skills — mostly intellectual — to follow the reasoning through and see what makes sense or not). Realising that we all have the potential to follow a path, but that only a very few have the will to follow it, has made all esoteric traditions very careful about their teachings. They use symbols and strange words to hide the meanings. They almost always rely on oral tradition — masters teaching students. Students are asked to refrain from “showing off” but be alert to help others to find a path if they ask for genuine help. Learning is very hard, and we humans are impatient: we want immediate results, and esoteric traditions don’t give immediate answers, but just decades of hard study and work on your self until you start seeing a few glimpses of a change. There is no “magic”: changing your own self to become a better human being is not accomplished in minutes, hours, or during a weekend workshop. If that’s what you’re after, you can simply get a “happy pill” (or drink yourself senseless 🙂 ) for immediate effects. Sadly, none of these will work forever, but just temporary…
So the whole point of esoteric traditions with their images and symbols is really to “hide” the teachings from the eyes of someone who happens upon them without having the right mindset or being prepared to understand them. The notion of a “hidden meaning” is present in all religious texts; except for Christianity, which has severed all ties with esoterism, formally and brutally, in the 6th century AD, all other texts have an exoteric (i.e. literal) reading and an esoteric one. Purely esoteric texts exist, but they look like gibberish to someone who is not prepared to read them. This is deliberate — you’re supposed to have people out there willing to explain the meanings and help you out first, until you’re able to reason properly and see what makes sense to you or not.
Enough about religion! How does this apply to Second Life?