Every religion, insofar as it subordinates the well-being of individual members to that of the group itself, tends to replace the inner law of conscience with outer laws which are applied to all indiscriminately. But ‘One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression’ (Blake, MHH, 24). In these conditions, a human conscience can turn to an esoteric subculture within it; otherwise the individual may be cut off from true fellowship when the exoteric religion loses its feel for the core experience which is the living source of its own laws, and the guidance embodied in them sinks to the level of superstition.
The esoteric side of scripture is not limited to early Christianity, or even to the Abrahamic religious tradition. As Steven Heine explains, it also appears in ‘esoteric Buddhist training that is characterized by intense subjectivity. This dimension includes the profound intimacy of the master-disciple relation based on intuitive insight and hermetism, as well as an aura of secrecy and inscrutability projected toward outsiders’ (Heine 2001, 8).
What i have called the conscience would correspond to the Buddha-nature in Buddhism, and in Persian Sufism to the Perfect Nature, the Angel who guides the ‘man of light.’ To paraphrase Henry Corbin, this relationship of guidance depends crucially on perfecting the individuality of each person, which cannot happen if that individuality is swallowed up in a collective being or will.
‘The power which is in thee,’ in each one of you, cannot refer to a collective guide, to a manifestation and a relationship collectively identical for each one of the souls of light. Nor, a fortiori, can it be the macrocosm or universal Man which assumes the role of heavenly counter-part of each microcosm. The infinite price attached to spiritual individuality makes it inconceivable that salvation could consist in its absorption into a totality, even a mystical one.— Corbin (1971, 16)
It was the difference or polar tension between the Angel and the individual, or between universal and particular person, which made each of the pair meaningful. In this vision (as in the enactive model of cognition), the act of seeing is ‘an interaction, a reciprocal action’ (Corbin 1971, 140). You could even say that you are God’s secret and he is yours. As Ibn Arabi put it,
Ana sirr al-Haqq: ‘I am God’s secret,’ the secret, that is, which conditions the polarity of the two faces, the face of light and the face of darkness, because the divine Being cannot exist without me, nor I exist without Him.— Corbin (1971, 129)
In Corbin’s account of Iranian Sufism, the true self is ‘the organ and place of theophany’ (Corbin 1971, 129).
This is the state of the ‘friend of God,’ of whom the divine Being can say, according to the inspired hadith, so oft-repeated by the Sufis: ‘I am the eye through which he sees, the ear through which he hears, the hand by which he touches … ’
… and, we may add, the mind by which he reads revelation:
the theophanic figure of the Angel of Revelation in prophetology … is here the Angel of spiritual exegesis, that is to say, the one who reveals the hidden meaning of previous revelations, provided that the mystic possesses the ear of the heart.— Corbin (1971, 131)