“For he who has not known himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself has at the same time achieved knowledge about the depth of the all.” – Book of Thomas the Contender.
“Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you that makes everything his own and says ‘My god, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.’ Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate. Learn how it happens that one watches without willing, rests without willing, loves without willing. If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him within yourself.” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 8.15.1f.)
“Then lights, which are the means of Gnosis were given him, and he was given authority over all the secrets, so that he might distribute them to those who had striven.” – The Book of the Gnosis of Light.
Alright, I goofed up as my last entry wasn’t exactly my best. It was more of a gusty, spontaneous reaction against the collective irrational reaction over the recent court verdict. But forget about current events that have no bearing on our lives for a moment and let’s get back to the reason why I created this blog in the first place, shall we?
Knowledge in the ancient world was hotly debated, received and processed in different contexts. To Socrates, the most essential duty to one’s self was self-knowledge. This was brought out through radical inquiry, or the “Socratic method” that is a staple practice in practically every law school. The ancient oracle of Apollo, at Delphi, had the aphorism of “KNOW THYSELF” inscribed above the gateway. This axiom sounds deceptively simple, yet when faced with all the implications, it becomes a complex and difficult en-devour to internalize into inner-truths. Without this knowing, we are left wallowing, half-buried in our own ignorance, mistaking our thoughts and subjective consciousness as an objective and absolute truth. It is this self-deception the ancient philosophers reviled and helped dispel by honest interaction and dialogue. The only correct starting point for true knowledge is to admit one’s own ignorance: “The only thing I know is that I don’t know.” By starting at this point, a more honest position of limitations is acknowledged and appreciated in efforts to avoid whatever exceeds those boundaries.
Socrates’ student Plato defined knowledge or “epistemology” as deep metaphysical truth or an innate quality belonging to the immortal soul belonging to the “world of ideas”. When something is learned, it is in actuality “recalled” also known as “anamnesis”. This type of knowledge is certain and mere opinion or belief which is subject the impermanent world of appearances and sensation. Belief that happens to be true because of sheer luck does not qualify as knowledge. It is more often than not that beliefs are lacking in truth and a held in the bondage of falsehood. Knowledge was seen as a kind of “food for the soul”, the fuel towards even deeper shades of gnosis. Each time a person incarnates, this innate knowledge is forgotten at the shock of birth. Both Socrates and Plato saw themselves more as midwives rather than teachers since knowledge was already present deep within the soul’s pneuma (Greek for “spirit”) of the student, aiding along the innate knowledge to be given birth. Plato defines knowledge in this manner:
“This knowledge is not something that can be put into words like other sciences; but after long-continued intercourse between teacher and pupil, in joint pursuit of the subject, suddenly, like light flashing forth when a fire is kindled, it is born in the soul and straightway nourishes itself.” Seventh Letter, §341c.
For Plato philosophical understanding was something very similar to seeing, though a seeing not with the physical eye but with the soul. This soul or “Nous”, or the higher mind, (the “mind’s eye” or “third eye”) becomes the seat of the intellectual cultivation of truth. This reflection of the Divine Mind contained within the immortal soul or nous becomes the beholder of reality. Truth is seen as the essential means to reveal meaning and the purpose of life. It is also seen as the means to dispel falsehood and delusion. Searching for truth by the means of the intellect or the physical body will almost always inevitably lead to impasse and disappointment due to the fact the human creature is limited to the five senses of the physical world. True knowledge, however, is not inhibited by the level of corruption and death since it has an eternal character that is active, real and living. It must be an objective, substantial reality uninhibited by deception rather than a vague, abstract idea. Nietzsche, on the other hand would come along and repudiate the very idea of an “objective truth”, maintaining that the truth was entirely subjective to one’s own delusions. This view is in a way self-defeating.
Without seeing first-hand, the burning embers of truth, man is relegated to become troglodytes within Plato’s Cave. These troglodytes live unexamined lives and are self-enslaved by chosen ignorance or myopia by mistaking the shadows and darkness as objective reality due to the fiery embers (representing truth) behind them in which they are unable to see but cast shadowy reflections upon the rocky walls. If the prisoner is dragged out from the cave and into the light of the sun, he would finally confront the world as it really is. On return to the shadows of the cave, the liberated prisoner would attempt to share his new found knowledge only to be met with scorn and laughter. It is not that reality in itself is illusory but our perceptions of it are subject to delusion.
In eastern mysticism, the search for self-knowledge is treated with equal if not more-so importance. The Buddha taught self-awareness in his doctrine contained within the Buddha sutras and the dhrama or “way” to enlightenment which is defined as the means to end suffering or ignorance. Suffering is induced by to the false sense of “self” and its attachments to objects and desires which are also subject to transitory nature of reality. In the Heart Sutra, the Buddha explains this phenomenal self is actually made up of five “heaps” or ever-changing qualities called “skandhas” that includes: form, sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness. This persona isn’t an integral and autonomous entity. While this view is seemingly nihilistic, it however offers an allowance to shed the lesser identification of both body and mind and into the higher depths of the spirit in its ineffable adobe.
However, beyond this egoic by-product of the “heaps” exists another “observer” which is sometimes called the “unborn, undying mind” that exists in a deathless state of pure awareness beyond mere sensation or thought which is subject to the irrational passions. It is this divine substance that makes up the numinous self or in Hindu terms, the “atman”. In the Upanishads, the atman is described as being found in the secret cave of the spiritual heart. It is the non-emergent presence that exists from the start and supreme foundation of each individual. This atman is also called the “Buddha” or “I AM” nature which is present in the here and now rather than in some remote, unknown dimension in the cosmos. Adi Shankaracharya, in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita proclaims: “Self-knowledge alone eradicates misery”. “Self-knowledge alone is the means to the highest bliss.” “Absolute perfection is the consummation of Self-knowledge.” Ramana Maharashi maintains similar sentiments with the “I” consciousness and the “Supreme Self”. This present, eternal character is defined in The Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei:
“Since the physical body is something that was born and is composed of the elements of earth, water fire, and air brought temporarily together, according to the principle that what is born cannot avoid perishing, it, too, must one day perish. But the Buddha-mind is unborn; the body may be burned with fire or decompose through interment, but the Buddha-mind cannot. The unborn Buddha-mind simply makes the born body its temporary home. While it resides there, it is free to hear, see, smell, and so forth. But when the body perishes and it loses its dwelling place, it can no longer do those things. It’s as simple as that. The body, being created, has a birth and a death, but the mind, which is originally the unborn Buddha-mind, does not. It stands to reason, doesn’t it? It’s the same as Shakyamuni’s death or nirvana: ne is the unborn, and han is the undying mind. Both point to the Unborn.” (91)
This is comparable to Plato’s doctrine of self-knowledge or more accurately self-remembrance. It is not that the Buddha achieved enlightenment, but rather the Buddha realized he was enlightened the whole time. Not knowing this “Buddha-nature” only reveals one thing: that you live in ignorance. However, one can very well lead a life of happiness and be perfectly fine without undergoing the “way” to “enlightenment”. Undergoing such a path remains more of an innate “calling” rather than a spiritual fascist-like mandate for all to follow. In fact, it isn’t even good to attempt to dispel anyone’s ideological falsehoods. As Jeremy Puma over at Dharma Gnosis asserts, “This Way is for those who are called to it, not for those who do just fine without it. Once called, there is no return, but not everyone needs the journey. It’s available to everyone, but not everyone who is offered need accept. The importance is deciding this not for other people, but for yourself.”
The world-famous teacher and guru Krishnamurti who would eventually break away from the occult world of Theosophy had also this to say about self-knowledge in The First and Last Freedom:
“…the transformation of the world is brought about by the transformation of oneself, because the self is the product and a part of the total process of human existence. To transform oneself, self- knowledge is essential; without knowing what you are, there is no basis for right thought, and without knowing yourself there cannot be transformation. One must know oneself as one is, not as one wishes to be which is merely an ideal and therefore fictitious, unreal; it is only that which is that can be transformed, not that which you wish to be. To know oneself as one is requires an extraordinary alertness of mind, because what is is constantly undergoing transformation, change, and to follow it swiftly the mind must not be tethered to any particular dogma or belief, to any particular pattern of action.”
In Gnosticism, knowledge in their religious context was peculiar. It wasn’t a subjective or personal “mystical ecstasies or experience” or a “I’m divine so all is one and groovy” that is achieved by the means of self-practice or ritual. Rather, it was a revelatory transmission of information that one receives like a cell-phone tower in order to piece together the existential predicament and the means to interpret knowledge and theology in the most profound and often perhaps a transgressive, discordant sort of way. Exploring the world of the Gnostics is a bewildering exercise. Digging deep into their doctrines results in a kind of intellectual vertigo. All those names, all those claims. One is quickly overpowered by a desire to find some kind of objective reality, some concrete fact that one can hang on to. Second to fourth-century Mesopotamians inhabited a very strange time indeed, one in which a grasp on reality seemed to have totally slipped. They looked out on the world and where the vast majority of people see reality, they—like the Hindu and Buddhist sages of India—saw only illusion and confusion. To their way of thinking, the mass of ignorant humanity is utterly deceived in accepting the logic of rationality and the evidence of its senses. A glimpse of the underlying true nature is granted to a select few by the divine powers. This glimpse was the Gnosis, the Knowledge, and those to whom it had been granted were Gnostics.
This knowledge reveals that it is the means to enable the solar nature, the spiritual seed within, that shard of the infinite to be somehow liberated and find its way home out from the fetters of matter and darkness of empty being. This gnosis is esoteric in character and full of hidden secrets. Yet, not all esotericism is Gnostic. It is available to anyone and everyone provided that they undergo procedural initiation. The Gnostics are in essence a spiritual race of people or the pneumatikoi who have awakened to their real divine nature through gnosis. The other kinds of people (as well as the differentiated layers of self) include the psychikoi or psychics, who straddle the fence between the material and spiritual worlds, whose soul-nature may be guided by faith, but who will still need exceptional effort to gain enlightenment. And lastly, the hylikoi or hylics whose awareness was severely limited to the matters concerning the physical world. From a spiritual point of view, the hylics are essentially already dead. (Hence the caustic words of Jesus Christ in Luke 9:60: “Let the dead bury their dead.”)
Yet, the so-called “mystical experience of oneness and unity” that appears in more modern definitions of “gnosis” is in essence, a pipe-dream. At times, it seems if at all this sort of knowledge was necessary for spiritual salvation in this looking-glass world was to be able, like Alice in Wonderland’s Red Queen, to believe six impossible things before breakfast.
OMFG!! HOW DARE YOU PROFANE THE INEFFABLE MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE!! One might say.
Yet this is exactly the kind of attitude a highly esoteric and fragmentary text called Allogenes (Greek for “Stranger”) asserts in the strongest terms as revelatory information told in paradox:
“And I saw holy powers by means of the Luminaries of the virginal male Barbelo telling me that I would be able to test what happens in the world: “O Allogenes, behold your blessedness, how it silently abides, by which you know your proper self and, seeking yourself, withdraw to the Vitality that you will see moving. And although it is impossible for you to stand, fear nothing; but if you wish to stand, withdraw to the Existence, and you will find it standing and at rest after the likeness of the One who is truly at rest and (who) embraces all these silently and inactively. And when you receive a revelation of him by means of a primary revelation of the Unknown One – the One whom if you should know him, be ignorant of him – and you become afraid in that place, withdraw to the rear because of the activities. And when you become perfect in that place, still yourself. And in accordance with the pattern that indwells you, know likewise that it is this way in all such (matters) after this pattern. And do not further dissipate, so that you may be able to stand, and do not desire to be active, lest you fall in any way from the inactivity in you of the Unknown One. Do not know him, for it is impossible; but if by means of an enlightened thought you should know him, be ignorant of him.”
Yeah, that’s right, you heard Allogenes! According to this and many other Gnostic texts (others being the Apocryphon of John), seeking the ineffable on your own merits is but a fool’s errand. Digging deep within yourself is all fine and dandy, but until Grace grabs you by the hairs, and reveals personally to you what gnosis really is through mediation between you and a higher agency, you’re on your own buddy. In essence, this Apophatic God is only “known” through not knowing him, without reason or the intellect. The Supreme is only “known” by the vessel of an empty mind rather than a mind full of thought and emotion. It’s almost a call to radical agnosticism.
In Orthodox Christianity, the is also an indwelling spirit of Christ’s light “within” to bring about the internal Kingdom of God, although it’s rather specific to baptized Christians. Then we have this saying from the New Testament:
“Therefore leaving the elementary principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us move unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works (the Law), and of faith toward God; of the doctrine of baptisms, and laying on of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment…” (Hebrews 5:14–6)
In other words, true Christianity is at is essence, spiritual maturity (in the light of Christ that is) rather than being compliant to all the numerous doctrines and dogmas that come with it. It is the “initiated” Christians that discover the true doctrine of Jesus Christ by the means of the straight gate and narrow way for regeneration. The spiritual baptism is conferred over the believer by the means of being “reborn of water and spirit” (John 3:5). The person’s soul is made a new and altered to reflect the image of God, in a kind of theosis. When the author of John speaks of consuming divinized flesh, it isn’t necessarily a reference to cannibalism or vampirism (although it’s pretty easy to assume this). Like the parable where Christ divides and multiplies fish and bread to the multitudes, Christ distributes the knowledge, the living information by the means to realize eternal life. Hence, you are what you eat. The sci-fi author Philip K. Dick was all over this subject. And let’s not forget Jung’s influential ideas of individuation (after all, it was he who posited the symbol of the crucified Christ as a powerful symbol of the Self in terms of alchemy and transformation). And many other western philosopher’s take on this slippery subject that is the Self.
Personally, I feel like there is some aspect of me that is unattached to the world of forms. Sometimes, I really do feel like I have a body as opposed to the feeling I am my body. The problem is however that 95-99% of my reality is occupied with concerns of the flesh and all its distractions (eating, sleeping, bathroom breaks, exercising, feeling horny, movies, TV, video-games, etc). One step further, this applies to not only me but the rest of everyone else. No-one really likes pain, but really let’s think on how our daily routines are foremost concerned with: money. “Will I have enough money to pay my bills?” “Will I get fired at the end of the day?” “Will I be foreclosed on?” “How will my credit rating reflect on me?”
This constant state of fear-floating stress is what keeps mankind in bondage within the chains of being. (It is the means in which the archons or “rulers” utilize to keep their Matrix-like system of control in working order, which is a subject I’ll get to in a future in-depth blog post). Yet, when you get down to it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that life is always in a constant influx of suffering and sorrow. Nor is it entirely joy and ecstasy. It’s what you make of reality (whether or not its a dream within a dream. Who knows, really?), and no one else can take that knowledge away from you.