Salvation – or freedom from suffering in this tough world and entry into a blissful state of being – is the attraction held out by most of the world’s religions.

Call it what you will, The Kingdom of Heaven, Samadhi, Mukhti, Paradise, or Nirvana – millions of devotees the world over hunger for a taste of Salvation. Each religion and philosophy has a different definition of Salvation and the means to get there – so what to do?

Exactly what does Salvation mean and how do we set foot on the Path to this blessed condition?

Definitions of Salvation

Salvation [from Latin salvatio from salvare to save] In Christianity, the saving of individual souls from supposed damnation, and admission to eternal bliss brought about by faith in the Atonement – which means in Christian theology: reconciliation of God with Mankind through Jesus Christ.

But all religions are religions of salvation because they all give a promise of some form of deliverance by natural or supernatural means experienced as the highest Good.

Usually, a Saviour or enlightened teacher helps to start the process of salvation which is hidden from the general awareness of most people. Faith in sacred teachings, moral obedience, ritual acts, and personal trust in a saviour are the means by which salvation is reached according to most religions.

Limited Salvation

There are basically two types of salvation referred to in the world’s religions:

Limited and Absolute Salvation.

Limited Salvation: offers an experience of deliverance from illness, danger, or want, often in the temporary experience of a trance-like state of identification and mystical awareness of God.

Taoism and Confucianism stress the limited salvation offered by obedience to moral and society’s laws.

In traditional societies, Shamanism and Animism indicate that salvation can be found in the ability of the Shaman to control divine or demonic forces affecting our lives.

Absolute Salvation

Absolute Salvation: is passing beyond all the limitations of the human condition. 

Christianity: it is final entrance into the Kingdom of God in which there is victory over sin and death as pictured in the return of Jesus after the End-Days and the re-establishment of His Kingdom of the Saved on Earth as pictured in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.

Hinduism: it is liberation (Moksha) from the cycle of reincarnations passing from all attachments into a blessed state (Nirvana).

Islam: it is entering Paradise after the last judgement by Allah into a life of bliss.

It can be pictured as a drop of water falling into and merging with a shining sea, or the light of a candle merging with the Sun.

The traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, as well as Neoplatonism and Christian Mysticism represent this understanding of Absolute Salvation.

Salvation by Divine Intervention

There are basically two paths to salvation according to the world’s religions:

Help from the Divine: In some traditions, humans can’t possibly reach salvation on their own. They depend wholly on the intercession of Divinity or a saviour sent by God enabling the power and Grace to reach salvation.

Christianity: the theologies of St Paul, St Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin stress that humans can’t turn away from sin on their own. Instead, they must depend on the power of Divine Grace to turn away from sin and be saved.

Shinran, or Jodo Shinsu (Pure Land) Buddhism: of Japan teaches that salvation is by pure grace from the compassionate redeemer.  This sect advocates that faith, recitation of the name of the Buddha Amida (Amitabha), leads to birth in the paradise of the Pure Land.

Hinduism: Some forms of Bhakti Yoga of stress that it is only by the Grace of the Guru or God that you can find salvation. You don’t earn Grace. Grace is the natural state of the Universe. But we have to surrender our belief in our separate self to enable God to allow us to live in the flow of Grace. As Hindu spiritual teacher, Siddhi Ma, says about finding Salvation: “It’s all Grace; but you have to act like it isn’t!’.

Salvation by Self-Help

Other traditions stress that it is up to us individually to use our will, reason, devotion, meditation, or moral action to find salvation for ourselves.

Catholic Scholasticism and Protestant Pietism: stress acts of personal decision, good works, and asceticism to attain salvation.

Zen Buddhism: stresses a disciplined life to find higher consciousness through your own efforts.

Hinduism: in most forms of Hinduism you can only reach a state of bliss/nirvana by dedicated work to overcome the lower aspects of human nature over many reincarnations.

Mystical Experience

We can’t really understand the experience of Absolute Salvation as it transcends human understanding by definition. However, we have several accounts of Limited Salvation through the Mystical Experiences of Mystics around the world. These share common features such as:

  • A sense of Oneness with the Divine: the Cosmos, with God or an ultimate Reality attained by an altered state of consciousness, trance or visionary experience. A consciousness of God’s presence outside of any intellectual speculation.
  • A Joyful and Blissful Expansion of Consciousness: being ardently embraced by Divine Love usually encompassed by Light which is supernatural.
  • Intuitive Insight and Enlightenment: understanding the meaning of life, hidden/ultimate truths, Seeing a true essence beyond the world of appearances. Such a Knower Knows from Being There and not just talking about such an exulted state of Being. It is outside of explanation by the purely rational/intellectual mind and in fact rationality acts as a barrier to such an experience. A Knower Knows and a Thinker only THINKS he or she knows.
  • Spiritual Transformation: into a more refined state of humanhood. Descriptions of God in action as creative energy or light energy, or God conveying a message.
  • Knowing Some Major Truth: which happens mystically outside normal rational process as through a dream, eg Einstein and Newton.
  • A Humbly Requested Answer/Result: maybe after many years of personal effort; or perhaps an unexpected happening, but it is God who decides.

Let’s have a look at some examples from history:

St Thomas Aquinas

St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1273) the famous theologian who hugely influenced the development of Catholicism had such a mystical experience of ‘limited salvation’ just before his death in 1274. In Butler’s Lives of the Saints the event is described this way:

“On the feast of St. Nicholas [in 1273], St. Thomas Aquinas was celebrating Mass when he received a revelation that so affected him that he wrote and dictated no more, leaving his great work the ‘Summa Theologiae’ unfinished.

To Brother Reginald’s (his secretary and friend) expostulations he replied, ‘The end of my labours has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.’

When later asked by Reginald to return to writing, Aquinas said, ‘I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.’ … Aquinas died three months later while on his way to the ecumenical council of Lyons.”

Plato

Perhaps St Aquinas after a lifetime of intellectual endeavour realized, as the great Chinese Taoist teacher Lao Tzu put it, “The Tao (the Way) that can be told is not the true Tao.”

Or, as Plato explained in his Seventh letter, “There neither is nor ever will be a treatise of mine on the subject (true mystical/salvation experience). For it does not admit of exposition like other branches of knowledge; but after much converse about the matter itself and a life lived together, suddenly a light, as it were, is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another, and thereafter sustains itself.”

St Augustine

St Augustine (354-430): another hugely influential Catholic theologian said of his own experience:

“… Such things I said, weeping in the most bitter sorrow of my heart. And suddenly, I heard a voice from some nearby house, a boy’s voice or a girl’s voice, I do not know: but it was a sort of sing-song repeated again and again, “Take and read, take and read.” I ceased weeping and immediately began to search my mind most carefully as to whether children were accustomed to chant these words in any kind of game, and I could not remember that I had ever heard any such thing. Damming back the flood of my tears I arose, interpreting the incident as quite certainly a divine command to open my book of Scripture and read the passage at which I should open. … I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the passage upon which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy, but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its concupiscences” (Rom 13:13). I had no wish to read further, and no need. For in that instant, with the very ending of the sentence, it was as though a light of utter confidence shone in my heart, and all the darkness of uncertainty vanished away…” (Confessions, 8.11-12).

St Augustine taught that salvation cannot be gained merely by the soul receiving proper moral and doctrinal instruction and by following the example of Jesus and the saints. Rather, salvation involves the entire inner renewal of the soul by divine grace, received as a free gift from God through prayer and the Sacraments of the Church. The teachings of this period of St. Augustine’s life, such as his treatise “On Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants,” became standard fare for theology in the West, both Catholic and Protestant, and were largely endorsed by the Western Council of Orange in 529.

Yoga: Patanjali

Patanjali is the founder of the yoga system. He was the first master who created a clear, scientific, logical system to reproduce the experience of Samadhi-Bliss or enlightenment- Patanjali’s 8th limb of yoga.

Many of us know the word samadhi as meaning ‘bliss’ or ‘enlightenment’, and this is the final step of the journey of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  After we’ve reorganized our relationships with the outside world and our own inner world, we come to the finale of bliss.

There are different levels of Samadhi, or different stages of connection with the Divine.  When the word Samadhi is used alone, it usually refers to the state of enlightenment, which is the highest form of Samadhi.

Samadhi is not a permanent state, and like the stages before it (Dharana and Dhyana), Samadhi does not come upon anyone by accident.  It takes dedication and effort, and a person must be willing to train the mind and go deep inside.

Samadhi is attaining bliss and oneness, and the stage in which one “stops the turning wheel of thoughts.” The first line in the yoga sutras is â€œChitta vritti nirodha,” which means “the stopping, or aggregation of, the turning wheel of thoughts,” This is the goal of the yogic path.

“Samadhi is described as a state of non-duality, where the self and the world around it are (finally) perceived as one and the same. Effectively transcending the limits of the body, mind, and identity, the aspiring yogi becomes one with everything.”

The Buddha Gautama

At Bodh Gaya, in the modern Indian state of Bihar, Siddhartha Gautama sat beneath a sacred fig tree and began to meditate. According to some traditions, he realized enlightenment in one night. Others say three days and three nights; while others say 45 days. When his mind was purified by concentration, it is said he acquired the Three Knowledges:

The First Knowledge: was that of his past lives and the past lives of all beings.

The Second Knowledge: was of the laws of Karma.

The Third Knowledge: was that he was free of all obstacles and released from Attachments.  When he realized release from Samsara (the wheel of rebirth) the awakened Buddha exclaimed, “House-builder, you’re seen! You will not build a house again. All your rafters broken, the ridge pole destroyed, gone to the Unformed, the mind has come to the end of craving.”  [The Dhammapada: verse 154]

The demon Mara is portrayed in many different ways in early Buddhist texts. Sometimes he is the lord of death; sometimes he is the personification of sensual temptation; sometimes he is a kind of trickster god. His exact origins are uncertain. Buddhist legends say that Mara wished to stop Siddhartha’s quest for enlightenment, so he brought his most beautiful daughters to Bodh Gaya to seduce him. But Siddhartha did not move.

Then Mara sent armies of demons to attack him. Siddhartha sat still, and untouched.  Then, Mara claimed that the seat of enlightenment rightfully belonged to him and not to a mortal. Mara’s demon soldiers cried out together, “I am his witness!” Mara challenged Siddhartha—These soldiers speak for me. Who will speak for you? Then Siddhartha reached out his right hand to touch the earth, and the earth itself spoke: “I bear you witness!” Mara disappeared. To this day, the Buddha often is portrayed in this ‘Earth Witness’ posture, with his left hand, palm upright, in his lap, and his right hand touching the earth.

And as the morning star rose in the sky, Siddhartha Gautama realized enlightenment and became a Buddha.

Salvation According to Theosophy

Theosophy follows the Buddhist and Hindu teaching as concerns the individual. Salvation is achieved by victory of his divine self over the illusions created by the contact of the intermediate nature with the lower planes. In this sense the serpent of Eden, Satan even, is man’s saviour, as are Prometheus, Lucifer, etc.

Mankind as a whole is saved by those Manasaputras  (‘Sons of Mind’) who descended into intellectually senseless mankind of the Third Root-Race (18 million years ago) and who, by thus enlightening the minds of early humanity, became the elect custodians of the mysteries revealed to mankind by its divine teachers. Again, the Silent Watchers (Planetary Spirits) in their various grades, who refuse to pass on into a greater light and maintain their post for the protection and guidance of humanity, are saviours also.

Yet no one can be saved by the vicarious merit of another; his salvation is achieved by means of that very free will and enlightened intelligence of his own through which he at first risks falling. But the great ones maintain the ideal which the multitude elect to follow, and thus light the path mankind will ultimately tread. – from the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary.

Pathways to the Experience of Salvation: Purification

The journey to the inner self, the pathway to ‘Salvation’, usually commences with efforts at self-purification, which may include physical techniques, such as various forms of yoga, abstinence from recreational drugs, and eating foods which will do the least harm to our fellow creatures. If we don’t take care, however, these efforts may become yet another type of self-indulgence.

Over time, interest may progress from the physical arena through emotional and psychic realms to spiritual development. At some stage the soul will begin to be aware of a vague glow of the inner spiritual light. In some sensitive people this experience may shake them to the core, and there is often real suffering of heart and mind.

We make great vows to ourselves: “Now that I have glimpsed this light I will do my very best to change my ways and lead a more spiritual life.” But everything in and around us seems to conspire against our best intentions as nature immediately presents us with tests to prove our resolve.

Accelerated Karma

Karma normally spread over many lifetimes may come to us over a very short time. We should remember, however, that along with opposition, our vow invokes forces which help us. As William Q. Judge remarks:

“The appeal to the Higher Self, honestly and earnestly made, opens up a channel by which flow in all the gracious influences from higher planes. New strength rewards each new effort; new courage comes with each step forward. . . . So take courage . . . and hold on your way through the discouragements that beset your earliest steps on the path . . . Do not stop to mourn over your faults; recognize them and seek to learn from each its lesson. Do not become vain of your success. So shall you gradually attain self-knowledge, and self-knowledge shall develop self-mastery.” — Echoes of the Orient 3:288-9

Looking for and working with the inner god of every person we encounter, and not becoming weighed down with a limited self-centred viewpoint, allows the inner god to guide us in daily living.

Katherine Tingley felt we should induce our will to flow with “that nobler part of our nature that rises to every situation and meets it with patience and courage.

“. . The knowledge of it comes not in any world-startling or magical way — and is not to be purchased save by surrender of a man’s passionate and lustful nature to the god within.” This represents the core message of all world religions — “Love thy neighbour as thyself.”

To realize how difficult this is, try not harming any person or being in thought or deed for even one hour today!

Following the Daily Karmic Script

We are composite beings, a vortex of forces from the greater sea of life in which we are immersed.

This fact explains many of the moral dilemmas and strange quirks of human behaviour we all encounter. The inner god, the enduring part of us, animates the lower forms and energies and sends us forth periodically on a voyage of understanding which we call a lifetime. As we experience life’s challenges, the higher self never provides a greater load of karmic lessons than we have the capacity to bear.

The joys and hardships we encounter in the world of daily life (the Road of Osiris as the ancient Egyptian termed this quality of soul learning) are orchestrated by the Higher Self to lead us toward perception of a Higher Reality. Life is our teacher, and our experience provides the exact set of circumstances which we need to grow.

Nightly Meditation

We can picture life unrolling day by day as a “karmic script,” for those with the eyes to see it. How can we learn to follow the signals our Higher Self is constantly sending us?

There are many ways. Various forms of concentration and meditation accustom us to hearken to the voice of our inner god. Particularly beneficial are greeting the opportunities the day has to offer in the morning and reviewing the spiritual lessons one has learned in the evening. There is also need for silence, a precious commodity in today’s hectic world, in which to hear the whisperings of the Voice of the Silence.

Even if we are busy with the tasks at hand, we always have the opportunity to devote part of our mental energies to finding spiritual directions from the many choices which face us.

Shifting Our Focus to the Inner God

Further, in the words of James A. Long, we need to “make the esoteric exoteric and the exoteric esoteric”; that is, take seriously philosophical and religious teachings and apply them directly to living.

The ability to read the daily karmic script will enable us to better appreciate the inner purpose of our lives that our higher self is trying to communicate to us each second as it urges our footsteps along the path to greater understanding of the oneness of Being.

Nothing is stopping us here and now from trying to live a life closer to the internal example of perfection within us. And attaining a limited form of ‘Salvation’.

The Bhagavad Gita

I know of no better outline of the principal practical and philosophic paths to the inner god than the Bhagavad-Gita.

Arjuna or everyman stands between the opposing armies of the Higher and Lower Self reluctant to engage in the inevitable struggle for control of our consciousness.

Krishna, his charioteer, advises him on the various paths by which identity with the Higher Self can be achieved, including good works, spiritual knowledge, asceticism, self-restraint, spiritual discernment, discrimination between godlike and demoniacal natures, the three kinds of faiths, and others. Krishna stresses that all such paths are valid ways to the higher self, and to the extent that people sincerely apply themselves to the search, they shall be repaid spiritually.

The important thing is to follow our duty without thought of results. The result will follow in the fullness of time if we do the best we can.

As Krishna says: “Seek this wisdom by doing service, by strong search, by questions, and by humility . . .”

Conquest or Transmutation of the Lower Self

But do we need to enter into a battle with the lower self in order to identify with the inner god? The Bhagavad-Gita and many mystical writers seem to answer yes, stressing the need for absolute conquest of the lower self if we are to approach the temple of the god within. Yet this “battle” might be more along the lines of the transmutation process pictured by the alchemists of medieval Europe. They spoke of finding the Philosopher’s Stone which would allow us to transmute the lead of the lower self into the gold of the higher self.

According to G de Purucker, the best way to overcome the lower nature is not by “battling” it and “fighting” it, thus exercising it and making it strong and vigorous, but by understanding it to be a part of yourself and by resolutely putting it in its proper place with inflexible and impersonal kindness and gentleness. Sometimes and very often indeed the best way to begin to do this is by completely ignoring it, turning the back upon it.

“. . . ally yourself with the higher parts of your nature, and in consequence you identify yourself thereby with the higher parts of the Universe.”— Dialogues 3:19, 21

Salvation: Return to the Source

Essentially ‘Salvation’ comes back to identification with the Inner God at the core of us which is a reflection of the One Consciousness, God, The Source, or whatever you want to call it.  We are told in Theosophy that this will occur for those who run the evolutionary race successfully at the end of the lifetime of our Solar System (Solar Manvantara) when individual humans will have advanced to become full-blown Gods. 

We will then achieve what is referred to in many religions as ‘Absolute Salvation’. The limited human consciousness will become once again the untrammelled and cosmic consciousness of Universal Divinity. ‘The Many’ will once again become ‘The One.’

‘The Dewdrop will return to the Shining Sea.’

References

Butler’s Lives of the Saints: Complete Standard Edition. 4vols. 1956.

G de Purucker: Studies in Occultism. 1973. pp503-507: “The Many and the One in Man.”

HP Blavatsky: The Secret Doctrine. Vol.2: Anthropogenesis. 1974.

Andrew Rooke: ‘Journey to the Inner God’ Sunrise Magazine, April-May,2002: https://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/path/oc-rooke.htm

Keith Crim (Ed.) The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. pp.643-646: ‘Salvation’. 1989.