Remembrance of Things Surpassed
There is no outside without an inside. Tradition preserves the "outside" of the ripple as it makes its way through history. Esotericism, in whatever form, tries to penetrate into the inside. It does this through the development of a latent faculty known as the nous, or intellect, and through an activity called gnosis or intellection.
This gnosis is not to be confused with "gnosticism," which is a particular teaching that existed on the periphery of Christianity during its early centuries. Nor is it to be confused with the Da Vinci Code nonsense that we are hearing so much about.
Rather, gnosis is simply an extension of knowledge beyond the empirical and rational domains. Many religious people seem to think it is "dangerous" to talk about gnosis. Actually, it is dangerous not to talk about it, because in so doing we lose the ability to even discuss one of the most important aspects of religion: that it is a realm of real knowledge, and that this knowledge is knowable. After all, if it is not knowable, then it is not knowledge. It's just "belief"--which is exactly what the secular world wishes to reduce it to.
As a matter of fact, this is why most intellectuals would say that religion involves neither knowledge nor knowing: it is merely nonsense about nothing believed by a bunch of nobodies.
One of primary purposes of this blog is to set things aright and to demonstrate that this is not the case--that religious knowing--gnosis--involves an intellectual development far beyond that of the typical secular intellectual. For, to express what amounts to a metaphysical tautology, the acquisition of knowledge implies no limit to itself. To put it another way, to say that we can know anything at all, means that it is possible to know anything in principle. It's just a matter of knowing how. (Actually, it's a combination of know-how and be-who, for gnosis, as we shall see, is inseparable from being.)
In our postmodern climate, this undoubtedly sounds like an outrageous claim, but I can easily prove that these critics are wrong. Either knowledge is possible or it is not. I have no quarrel with a doctrinaire postmodernist who claims that no knowledge is possible. At least they are consistent. They can go away now. I won't even deal with them.
But for those who do believe that knowledge is possible, but limited only to what they know, where do they get off? In other words, they say that the things they know are knowable, but that some other things they do not know are unknowable. But no knowledge of the first type allows them to make the second statement. That is, the statement that "no metaphysical knowledge is possible" clearly does not follow from the statement "knowledge is possible." In fact, "knowledge is possible" is a deeply metaphysical statement.
The fact of the matter is, as I explained in my book, to say that we can know anything at all about the universe--to affirm that the universe is intelligible--is to make a hidden but quite revolutionary statement about the nature of human consciousness and its relationship to the cosmos as a whole. Make no mistake--once you say that human beings may acquire knowledge, you have forged a link between the human mind and the Absolute.
Take a banal example: energy = mass multiplied by the square of the velocity of light. Physicists will tell you that this represents absolute knowledge. If it is knowledge, then it is true, for "false knowledge" is an oxymoron. And it does not represent "observed" knowledge--no one can observe the speed of light. Rather, it comes close to representing a kind of pure knowledge. Knowledge is one thing. But to know that you know it means that there is no boundary between knower and known. In knowing you know, the "you" that knows is also the you that is known.
You cannot arrive at this conclusion--that we know and know that we know--by reason. Reason alone cannot prove the existence of truth. Rather, reason can only operate on premises that are supplied by the senses or by some other conclusion that has been arrived at through reason. Reason does not generate the raw data through which it operates. Even in dealing with simple problems, the philosopher Michael Polanyi demonstrated that we are guided by a higher form of instantaneous, non-rational knowing that tells us where to look to find problems that seem worth investigating and solving with reason to begin with.
Here again we see that reason is a tool of the intellect that surpasses it. Gnosis simply involves applying that same process to a higher realm from which the intellect originates, and which is known in a direct and unmediated way. In other words, the existence of what we call "God" is not proven through reason or logic--again, logic can only prove what is entailed in its premises. It is much more analogous to sensory knowledge. If you can see or touch something, no one is going to ask you to first prove the existence of sight or touch. Rather, sensory perception is simply "given."
It is the same way with gnosis. What frustrates the rank-and-file intellectual is that knowledge of God--gnosis--is ultimately "given" in the same way. Its validity can be "proven" in the same way that sensory perception can be proven, in the sense that it is obvious to the person who has it. The reasoning mind builds its argument in a linear way, eventually arriving at a conclusion. But the higher mind perceives directly and spontaneously--the same way you know that you know.
It is much more akin to the way, say, you perceive beauty in music. In so doing, there is no gap between the music, the beauty, and the mind that inuits the beauty directly. But how could you ever prove to the person who doesn't perceive the beauty that the beauty is indeed there? It would be like trying to explain to a blind man why you shouldn't wear brown shoes with a tuxedo.
Let's take the analogy one step further. In perceiving the beauty in a work of art, where does the beauty ultimately reside? Beauty is the splendor of the true, and seeing either truth or beauty ultimately comes down to a case of like knowing like--of the intellect knowing its own substance reflected back to itself through a particular medium. The uncorrupted intellect is spontaneously oriented toward the good, the true and the beautiful, so that knowing any of these things ultimately involves a kind of remembrance of itself. It is vertical remembrance--not a remembrance of things past, but of things surpassed.