Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mr. Gnosis All (or, Physician Get Over Thyself)

Is there "saving knowledge?" I get some occasional mild flack about this, and I can understand why, because it's a concept that can be easily misunderstood. (Some of you may be inclined to personalize this message, but don't worry, you're not alone. It's an important issue.)

As a matter of fact, the idea that there is some kind of hidden knowledge accessible only to "special people" is immensely appealing to unredeemed rascals and hideous narcissists like Madonna or Deepak Chopra. I would venture to say that 99% of the interest in kabbalah or yoga is of this nature. It's not a statement about kabbalah but about those barbarians who would eagerly seize upon it in order to further aggrandize themselves (or enrich themselves in the case of Chopra and his sleazy brethren of The New Age Treedwelling Salivation Show).

Some intellectual types who come to faith do so precisely because they are tired and weary of the predictable games of the intellect. They know full well how the debased intellect builds castles in the air, how it lives in its own fantasies, the arrogance it displays in its empty claims to know so much about reality. They are aware of the solipsism and self-centeredness it engenders. Better just to defiantly believe "because it's absurd" and impenetrable, and leave it at that.

Of course, you may have noticed that people who are in possession of the "saving faith" can be just as tedious and arrogant as the spiritual gnosis-alls, whether Christian, Jewish, or obviously Muslim. In fact, we've even had an arrogant and pompous Aurobindean and Spinozean pantheist who have condescended to offer their pearls to the rest of us benighted One Cosmonauts.

Do you not see, my dear bobbleheads, that faith deployed in this manner is nothing more than mere "special knowledge" by another name? In other words, faith can be used by a blunt intellect to aggrandize the self and to feel superior to others, just as knowledge can be. "X said it, I believe it, that settles it. Oh, and by the way, you're going to hell." Thanks for the tip!

I do not believe that God gave us our intellect merely to shut it down when we come to faith. Rather, we are to love the lord not only with all our hearts, but with all our minds as well. For all truth ultimately emanates from the same source.

Normally I don't lay down the law, but I will say this: you must never reject a truth merely to preserve your faith. Rather, you must widen your faith to encompass all Truth. For I AM that Truth.

Of course, I get the opposite complaint as well---not a complaint really, more of an urgent request--"Bob, stop beating around the burning bush. Just give us the damn secret." Of course I can't do that, for although I believe there is "saving knowledge," as I tried to explain in the book, it is not the type of knowledge that can be passed like an object from mind to mind.

It is actually paradoxical, for I believe the type of knowledge I am talking about is objective. And yet, it must be subjectively discovered or realized for it to bear fruit in the rocky fields of the soul.

We're going to be hearing a lot about this issue in coming weeks, what with the recent bogus controversy over the "Gospel of Judas" and with the dopey Da Vinci Code. In order to insulate yourself from this nonsense, you must draw a sharp distinction between gnosticism and gnosis.

Gnosticism refers to a group of early Christian heresies that had some very specific ideas and doctrines, while the latter simply refers to the activity of the higher mind, or what used to be called in the Christian West intellection. As I mentioned yesterday, ever since the Enlightenment, there has been an unfortunate conflation of soul and spirit, so that the intellect has been appropriated by mere secular intellectuals.

But it was not always so. For example, when Aquinas refers to the intellect, he is specifically talking about that eternal part of us that can know the divine, not about the reason, which is the province of what we now call intellectuals.

Can you see the problem? Those who would suspect me of being a gnostic in the pejorative sense are themselves fully caught in the enlightenment trap of conflating intellect and reason. Gotcha! Some falls are a result not of pride but of misplaced humility.

One of my nonlocal friends says "Knowledge saves us only on condition that it engages all that we are: only when it constitutes a way which works and transforms, and which wounds our nature as the plough wounds the soil." Right there we have a key to the type of knowledge I am discussing: rather than aggrandizing the self, it pierces the self--it does not elevate you but humbles you.

There. You now have some saving knowledge of your own, for in knowing it, you are in a position to identify both false prophets and true profiteers.

Here is the potential problem with "saving faith." Yes, of course it is true, assuming it comes from an authentic revelation. However, we are created beings who live in time and space. The spiritual life is a journey, a sojourn from truth to Truth. Truth must be the basis of the journey, but it is also the end, the telos drawing us toward itself. For that matter, it must also be every step along the way. If you merely "possess" truth in the usual way, I'm afraid it won't be operative in your life in the manner I am discussing.

For the depth and breadth of truth are only revealed in the fulness of time. Otherwise, the understanding received by your next door neighbor who was saved in church last Sunday morning is absolutely no different than the understanding of Meister Eckhart, or St. Theophan the Recluse, or Shankara, or Denys the Areopagite--someone who has been wounded by the truth for many years and has been bringing forth sound fruit. Even after they're technically dead.

Perhaps you believe there is no room for improvement on the spiritual path. What you know now is what you will always know. The knowledge has no instrumental purpose within your soul--it performs no work, engenders no transformation, drains no psychotoxins, dissolves no clots or hidden complexes. It is entirely static, reducible to a slogan on a t-shirt or a sign held up at a sporting event.

On the other hand, perhaps truth is an arrow, spiritual practice the bow. What is the target? That very same truth, only understood with the whole self--not merely the mind or heart but the mind in the heart--body, mind and spirit.

Certainly faith confined to the heart is preferable to gnosis confined to the head. In the latter case, the so-called gnosis will be inoperative anyway. It won't do anything or go anywhere without being leavened by the heart. It will indeed be vain conceit.

Here's how to tell the difference. True comprehension will not merely be passed off at the head. Rather, comprehension will lead directly to spontaneous conformation with the divine, for these are two sides of the same reality. Truth is the virtue of the mind, while virtue is the truth of the body, of action. Knowing the one will entail being the other: know how = be who.

Let's bring it down to a personal level. Although I have come to enjoy getting up early in the morning and sending my little spiritual bobservations out into cyberspace, I do so with the greatest trepidation and humility, and sometimes wonder whether I should be doing it all. So you don't need to remind me of the potential pitfalls. I am well aware of them. One false move, and whatever genuine assistance I am able to offer would dry up in a nanosecond. Yes, I could probably still fake it. But I would know it, and that would be extremely disturbing. (And if you are foolish enough to believe I make money off of this or my book, I respond with a hollow and bitter "ha!")

For gnosis is not so much a noun but a very special verb. Ultimately it is lived and not thought. You might say that it resolves the tension between "faith" and "works," for works will actually become a form of gnosis, while gnosis will lead directly to actions, not in a "top down" moralistic way, but in a spontaneously insightful way. "Goodness" will come naturally, for, in the words of Frithjof Schuon, “he who possesses Truth must nonetheless merit it, although it is a free gift.... If we want the truth to live in us, we must live in it.”

So, as I hope you can see, I am not some kind of spiritual “know-it-all.” Rather, I am insufferably self-righteous.

*****

Stand upright and humbly pass along what has been given to you:

22 Comments:

Blogger Lisa said...

Thank you for sharing your insufferable self-righteous pearls of wisdom. I sense that you are trying to tell us not only to know it but to live it! Thank you for making my morning coffee and internet news search not so depressing. You are a bright spot in the blogosphere!

4/18/2006 08:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Sal said...

"God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind. "
-A Man for All Seasons
Robert Bolt
Always loved that quote.

4/18/2006 08:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Hoarhey said...

Bob,

Thanks for the thankless job you're doing.

You said:

"Here's how to tell the difference. True comprehension will not merely be passed off at the head. Rather, comprehension will lead directly to spontaneous conformation with the divine, for these are two sides of the same reality. Truth is the virtue of the mind, while virtue is the truth of the body, of action. Knowing the one will entail being the other: know how = be who.
In truly knowing it I can't help but live it."

I can remember back to some of my darkest most lost days when I was becoming someone who I was despising more and more but was helpless to do anything about it. Mind parasites galore and a huge ego to back them up. At some point I must have asked for divine help because that help came. With minimal work on my part, mainly just awareness and admission, I did mysteriously begin to change.
I feel pity for people who banish Spirit from their lives because they reject the only avenue where real change (for the better) can occur.
Thanks for helping to better explain some of the processes which have been happening in my life, giving me a better grasp of them.

4/18/2006 08:55:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

Bob - and by extention, the great bobblehead waveform -

>>Normally I don't lay down the law, but I will say this: you must never reject a truth merely to preserve your faith<<

Well, therein, I think, is one of the dangers of subscribing to dogma. I do believe in dogma as being a necessary ladder to the final leap into space, but obviously, when one's dogma - which ideally is understood as being suited to one's particular spiritual station - is projected onto all as an unyielding, unbending, universality, then it becomes a matter of "blind faith".

Secularists are always going on about how "religion causes war", blah blah (as if "scientific materialism" proved to be the universal peace balm), but fact is, *ego* causes war - and in the case of so-called religious wars, it's ego defending its territory, its patch of blind faith. Which is not really any different from a dedicated Marxist going to war to defend his own faith-based ego-investment

4/18/2006 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Tamquam Leo Rugiens said...

Bob, you say, "I do so with the greatest trepidation and humility, and sometimes wonder whether I should be doing it all." Well do I remember the trepidation with which I preached the best truth I knew. I was very much aware that it did not fit the mold of conventional wisdom, though it seemed related. I was seriously temtped to simply trot out the old bromides and leave it at that. But I couldn't. I felt that I was in even greater danger if I attempted to lead people along a spiritual journey whose path was alien to me, I could only lead where I had gone. Some people didn't like it, but some found life, the life that I had found when I had gone that way. Ecclesia suplet.

Will - I agree that dogma is a necessary ladder, but it is more. When exploring the bounds of terra incognita it is absolutely necessary to have have markers to keep one from falling off the edge. I sought to look at the interior of dogma, to understand it better, grasp the Truth of the truth. I tested those understandings, kept some that seemed solid and discarded many others, but never discarded the dogma. When wandering in the unknown I then had life lines that kept me from getting lost in my own mentations.

4/18/2006 11:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Sal said...

Thanks, Will - my thought exactly, but I'd add that I've found that fear plays a big part in that as well. Fear of being wrong and having to admit same (there's that ego), fear of integrity re: truth making you have to change your views/praxis. Fear, for the not-so-smart of us, of venturing into deep murky waters and getting in over our intellectual heads and making a wrong choice over info we're not able to understand.

And we all know that scared people can do some irrational things.

4/18/2006 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger LiquidLifeHacker said...

2 Corinthians 4:6

4/18/2006 12:24:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Tamquan -

Yes, I agree. I have my own lil stable of dogmas that steady me as I navigate the abyss. I think, however,that we should be hesitant to impose our guideline/dogmas on anybody but ourselves (save, of course, for the obvious guidelines, eg., thou shall not murder, etc.)

Plus we should always be testing our guidelines for reliability, being careful not to rely on them merely as comforting but essentially meaningless mantras.

4/18/2006 12:24:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Sal -

O yes, definitely, fear really is ego, I think.

I'm convinced that 99% of all the fear we experience is basically fear of what others will think of us.

4/18/2006 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger LiquidLifeHacker said...

Depends what we fear.

Proverbs 9:10
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.

4/18/2006 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Maybe some other Bobbleheads or Bob have had a problem similar to mine that they can comment on to help me sort out this problem. (if it even is one!)Here goes...

I have an aversion to participating in organized religion. I cannot place my spiritual needs under the rule of a man known as a rabbi, priest, etc. I was raised a reform Jew and have seen the hypocrisy, pettiness, and misogyny of these leaders. I love the religion of Judaism, I just don't love belonging to a temple. I have philosophical problems with the reform reasons of picking and choosing which commandments to follow but also feel constricted and limited in the Orthodox views. Besides the fact, I could not be accepted into the Orthodox community because my husband is not Jewish. I have problems following rules I do not necessarily agree with. What's a Jew to do?

I feel very close to God and have continued to enjoy our relationship throughout the years. I try to live a good, honest, fair, caring, helpful, funny, loving life.
Any suggestions?

4/18/2006 04:07:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Lisa, I am sorry but I just can't help it . . .

SCENE - a sunny day in the village market place. Shoppers are shopping, sellers crying out the virtues of their wares, children playing, dogs, chickens adding to the genial hubbub. ENTER LISA, an attractive, intelligent looking young woman accompanied by RUTH, an elderly, respectful woman who wears a shawl. As the scene begins, Lisa is patiently explaining to Ruth:

LISA: I love the religion of Judaism, I just don't love belonging to a temple. I have philosophical problems with the reform reasons of picking and choosing which commandments to follow but also feel constricted and limited in the Orthodox views. Besides the fact, I could not be accepted into the Orthodox community because my husband is not Jewish. I have problems following rules I do not necessarily agree with. (LISA stops, examines an apple on a cart, signs heavliy) What's a Jew to do?

(Everyone in the market seems to freeze. There is complete silence)

TRADESMAN: Who said that, who?

FRUIT VENDOR: Not me, not me. Was you?

CONSTABLE: Well, someone said it, no need to dread it, so someone, how 'bout a clue?!

(a somewhat stunned LISA, now center stage, nervously clears her throat and addresses the crowd)

LISA: Okay, I said it! Look, everyone, I feel very close to God and have continued to enjoy our relationship throughout the years. I try to live a good, honest, fair, caring, helpful, funny, loving life. So . . what's Jew to do?

ELDERLY MAN: My dear, we thought you'd never ask!

(cue ORCHESTRA: the strings break into a bouncy rhythm)

ELDERLY MAN (singing) Oh, what's a Jew to do?

EVERYONE: (singing) What's a Jew to do?

ELDERLY MAN: Here's is what I'm telling you/as long as that Jew is you/ you just go on being you!

EVERYONE: That's what a Jew should do!

LISA: Oh my. . .

GOURD VENDOR: Now listen, young one, don't feel odd . . .

STREET CLOWN: If, as you say, you feel close to God . . .

CONSTABLE: Then your heart is your synagogue!

GOURD VENDOR: Are we getting through to you?

EVERYONE: That's what a Jew should do!

(a group of men lift LISA up and sit her down on the back of a mule)

ELDERLY MAN: Now, you may not be Orthodox . . .

EVERYONE: She may not be Orthodox!

ELDERLY MAN: . . and you may not be fond of Hannukah socks . . .

EVERYONE: And not be fond of Hannukah socks!

ELDERLY MAN: You may not even like bagles and lox!

(MUSIC STOPS - EVERYONE stares aghast at the ELDERLY MAN)

ELDERLY MAN: (speaking voice) Okay, okay, you have to like bagles and lox, at least a little bit.

LISA: . . . that's . . . not a problem . . .

EVERYONE: Whew!

(MUSIC resumes)

ELDERLY MAN: (singing) That's all a Jew need do!

EVERYONE: Just go on being you!

(Orchestra brass now plays triumphantly as LISA is hoisted onto the shoulders of the crowd)

LISA: (singing) I'm sure I comprehend now, for true/ That for me to be a good Jew/Is the same for a Christian or a Hindu . . .

LITTLE BOY: And that's living a good, honest, fair, caring, helpful, funny, loving life . . .

LISA: That's what I said that before.

LITTLE BOY: You needed to hear it once more.

LISA: Yes! As sure as the sky is blue . . .

LISA, EVERYONE: That's what a Jew should do!!!

(FLOWER VENDOR holds rose up to LISA who takes a whiff)

LISA: Ah-CHOO!

EVERYONE: Bless you!

(CURTAIN)

4/18/2006 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Lisa--

I was about to try to address your question before the post above me broke out into song.

But I'm not really sure how to answer it anyway. Judaism is so specifically wrapped up in family and community, that it's sort of like asking how you might play baseball by yourself.

Although I certainly believe there is an esoteric/universalist aspect of Judaism, the problem is, as soon as you say that, you are no longer Jewish. In Judaisam there is simply no "lone wolf" tradition of monasiticism.

Not being Jewish, I don't have to worry about that. I can just enjoy the esoteric aspect and appreciate how closely it hews to The One Truth.

4/18/2006 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Bravo, Will!!!!

I am used to the strange looks I get when suddenly overwhelmed to break out in song! As the penguin breaks out in song in a sea of penguins, "I gotta be me!"

BTW, I love bagels and lox and stopping to smell roses! Thanks for the thoughtful responses...

4/18/2006 06:37:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Good question, anonymous. I believe, in the strict sense of the question, it entails following the 613 commandments given by God. I don't exactly know how to fit the dogma into my life. In another sense, it is just what I am, what I was born into, my culture. I just try to be the best human I can be each day. I love learning about religions, I have a difficult time implementing them in my life. I am a libertarian/conservative Reform Jew that does not buy into the liberal/multi-culti Reform notion of Judaism. There is not really a group that I can identify with wholeheartedly in Judaism or any other religion for that fact of the matter. It is like being between a rock and a hard place. I have a personal relationship with God and so far, we pretty much agree on everything! ;0)

What do you think it entails, Anon?

4/18/2006 07:25:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hey, what happened to anonymous' question! Maybe I am just plum crazy!

4/18/2006 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Sorry. I deleted it because I smelled something unkosher. I could be wrong.

4/18/2006 07:32:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Bob & Lisa -

>>Although I certainly believe there is an esoteric/universalist aspect of Judaism, the problem is, as soon as you say that, you are no longer Jewish.<<

Well, maybe not accepted as Jewish by the Jewish community, but I'm not sure if one ever stops being Jewish.

In Walker Percy's last novel The Thannatos Syndrome, he has a priest go around saying that a proof of the existence of God is that Jews go on being Jews, they have never been completely assimilated or destroyed.

I can't say for sure, but I have the feeling that to be Jewish is to live out a very special and specific role in the Plan. The tradition that is carried forward against all odds must have a significance beyond tradition for tradition's sake.

I'm not Jewish, so perhaps I have the advantage of the "outside" perspective.

4/18/2006 07:32:00 PM  
Anonymous jwm said...

Will:
That was brilliant.
Lisa: I have thoughts to share, but right now I am exhausted. I'll catch you on the dead thread in the morning.

JWM

4/18/2006 11:30:00 PM  
Blogger Goesh said...

I always thought I might have made a good Essene or Druid. I have never liked schedules and times for attuning and communing though I appreciate a good ritual as much as the next person.

4/19/2006 06:47:00 AM  
Anonymous jwm said...

Yesterday was a strange one. I went to see an old friend, a crazy artist I have known since 1963. When I say crazy, I don't mean eccentric, or avant garde. He is crazy in some strange indefinable way that defies categorization. Imagine a man in his sixties with the emotional age of a child. Conversation is a stream- more like a whitewater rapid of consciousness- tangentially realted thoughts jumping decades in the span of a sentence. I was pretty drained by the time I left.
I got home, re-read Bob's post, and on impulse clicked on Bible Gateway, dropped the cursor at random, clicked, and brought up Luke,2 which seemed to deal with the hidden knowledge question. Strange.

Lisa had just posted.
I looked at your post, Lisa, and I almost had to laugh. I thought it was only those of us raised in (nominally) Christian homes who felt that simultaneous attraction and reluctance toward our religious upbringing. I was just about to begin writing, but my mother fell down in her bedroom. Lisa's post went up just after four. I got back from the emergency room about eleven last night. Sprained shoulder. Nothing much they can do. Scrip for vicodin. I'll be on a very short leash for a while.

It's funny. I said had some thoughts on Lisa's post, but now most of them are pretty vague, and I can't quite put my finger on the words. I guess the best I can do is say I think I understand what you mean. It's very much what I feel toward Christianity.

When I was a kid we went to the Methodist Church. On the lintel above the side door was carved the verse:

Show me thy ways, O Lord. Teach me thy paths.

That verse has been part of my daily prayer for a long time. Somehow the path that we have taken has brought us here. Is this path part of the greater Way? Something tells me it is.

JWM

4/19/2006 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

JWM- I am sorry to hear about your mother. I hope she is feeling better. I have been under the weather myself today and spent the day in bed. Too drained to come up with anything clever to write! ;0)

4/19/2006 05:54:00 PM  

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