Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On the Organ of Spiritual Perception

I personally don't have an issue with the distinction between gnosis and Gnosticism, but since the question keeps coming up, perhaps we should settle the matter once and for all by handing down some definitions ex cathedra, i.e., from the front of the bus back.

For starters, one could just say that gnosis is to nous as perception is to the senses, or reason to the rational mind. Gnosis is what the nous "does" or "receives" -- the nous essentially being our organ of spiritual perception and discernment (to paraphrase Aristotle, it is that part of us that is divine, or at least closest to it).

If we didn't have this faculty -- or it us -- there would be no realistic way to discern spirits, to read the signs of the times, to deeply understand scripture, or to even operate this bus, really. In its absence we are spiritually autistic, as it were. And we all know spiritually autistic people. They pretty much run the show, don't they?

A related problem is when the nous is appropriated by lower regions. For example, many self-styled gurus and spiritual hucksters presumably have an activated nous, except it's merged with the ego (or lower), which drags it into the mud. That pattern is similar to, say, a psychoanalyst who has valid knowledge of the unconscious mind, but who lacks insight into his own motivations, and ends up seducing a patient.

But for clarity of thought in this upper atmasphere of the soul, I don't think it's possible to surpass Schuon, so let's see what he has to say. Conveniently, one of his books is called Gnosis, with the subtitle Divine Wisdom. So gnosis is divine wisdom, in contrast to, say worldly knowledge.

And if that is too saturated, you can always just say (n) vs. (k) to distinguish the one from the other. But in some form or fashion one must make this distinction, because if one doesn't, one becomes either an atheist or literalist -- which amount to the same thing, since both apply the wrong category of thought to the spiritual dimension. It's a ubiquitous problem, for "Men tend not to live on anything but the ground floor of their souls" (Nicolás Gómez Dávila).

More from Dávila: To be stupid is to believe that it is possible to take a photograph of the place of which the poet sang. To put it another way, religion can surely be understood rationally, but not only rationally.

Rather, one also needs an uncorrupted imagination, which "is the capacity to perceive, through the senses, the attributes of the object which the senses do not perceive" (NGD). Thus, "The imagination is not the site where reality is falsified, but where it is fulfilled" (ibid.).

For "When things appear to us to be only what they appear to be, soon they appear to be even less" (ibid.). For example, "The Gospels, in the hands of the progressive clergy, degenerate into a compilation of trivial ethical teachings" (ibid.). But in reality, "Faith is not assent to concepts, but a sudden splendor that knocks us down" (ibid).

Back to Schuon. The lone reviewer pretty much says what we just did, that gnosis represents "the highest aspect of the Intellect -- and is not to be confused with the lower faculty of rational thought [while not negating it, I might add]. Gnosis deals with intuitive contact with the higher level of the Self, while mere rational thought deals with the strictly human level/profane intelligence for a profane world."

"Gnosis," according to Schuon, "refers to supra-rational, and thus purely intellective, knowledge of metacosmic realities. Now this knowledge cannot be reduced to the Gnosticism of history," nor can it "be held responsible for every association of ideas or every abuse of terminology." As is true of any religious concept -- or any concept, frankly -- improper abuse does not negate its proper use.

That's right, what Bob said: "the fact that an imposture necessarily imitates a good, since otherwise it could not even exist, does not authorize charging this good with all the sins of the imitation" (Schuon). Might as well condemn religion because of Deepak, for "To claim that all gnosis is false because of Gnosticism, amounts to saying, by analogy, that all prophets are false because there are false prophets" (ibid.).

Nevertheless, "It is a fact that too many authors -- we would almost say: general opinion -- attribute to gnosis what is proper to Gnosticism and to other counterfeits of the sophia perennis, and moreover make no distinction between the latter and the most freakish movements, such as spiritualism, theosophism and the pseudo-esoterisms that saw the light of day in the twentieth century" (ibid.).

So, what is Gnosticism? Pretty much "a fabric of more or less disordered speculations, often of Manichean origin; and it is a mythomania characterized by a dangerous mixture of exoteric and esoteric concepts." I'm sure you're all familiar with the parable of the ice cream and the dog doo.

So, when does gnosis go off the rails? I can think of several pitfalls, pride being foremost among them. There is also the danger alluded to above, of conflation with an unredeemed imagination, or with one's own mind parasites. For this and other reasons, it is always best to channel the of flow gnosis -- or O --> (n) -- between the banks of an institutional or traditional river. It's the difference between, say, a Meister Eckhart vs. a William Blake or Emanuel Swedenborg, the latter two being too much a mixture of dream and reality.


Open Trench said...

Congratulations on this post, Bob. It is of a superiour consciousness and the etheric spiritual ripples from it overspread the world as a boon.

No better aid to the mankind is easily concievable.

Not that I'm terribly qualified to make assertions as above but that is the way I feel.

Gagdad Bob said...

Oh well. I guess I'll just have to try harder.

ted said...

Bob, I was wondering with all the different perspectives on the Trinity, how do you see Cynthia Bourgeault's interpretation? Seems more Gnosticism than Gnosis. Although she pulls much from Tomberg, there is a lot of Gurdjieff stuff here which I've always been cautious of.

Gagdad Bob said...

Don't know about her. I think I may have checked her out and been turned off for some reason or another, so I proceeded no further.

Gagdad Bob said...

Spong endorses her, so that's reason enough to run away. Not to mention the sentence "there is indeed a ham radio concealed inside this Trinitarian tea cupboard." Prose like that shouldn't be lightly tossed aside, but rather, thrown with great force.

Gagdad Bob said...

She is a proponent of "liberation beyond all relative distinctions, including those of gender itself. The last step in women's liberation, she states, is liberation from the fundamental identification with being a woman."

From her photographs, it looks like she succeeded.

ted said...

Good, looks like I don't need to proceed further then also.

I also appreciated the last negative reviewer's comments.

Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

Lovely post. The quotes from Schuon are spot on.

Is gnosticism manichean, though, or was Mani a Gnostic?

Gagdad Bob said...

You know, I have only a surface knowledge of Mani, just enough to make some lame puns. I can say, however, that I don't necessarily have a lack of sympathy for Gnosticism, but in the end, it's just too easy to be a total cynic. Faith in a good creation is much more of a challenge, and therefore the manly Way of the Raccoon.

JP said...

"Spong endorses her, so that's reason enough to run away."

People like Spong make excellent warning signs along the highway.

The're really like cheat sheets because they save you from wasting a lot of effort.

JP said...

"So, when does gnosis go off the rails? I can think of several pitfalls, pride being foremost among them. There is also the danger alluded to above, of conflation with an unredeemed imagination, or with one's own mind parasites. For this and other reasons, it is always best to channel the of flow gnosis -- or O --> (n) -- between the banks of an institutional or traditional river. It's the difference between, say, a Meister Eckhart vs. a William Blake or Emanuel Swedenborg, the latter two being too much a mixture of dream and reality."

Good way of putting it.

julie said...

Faith in a good creation is much more of a challenge...

Yes, at least at the start; it's so easy to see the world through jaded eyes. ge's contribution (at the end of yesterday's comments) about what the gnostics believed is a case in point: the very first of their ten great ideas stands in direct opposition to Christs own words. It reminded me of the piece Vanderleun puts up every now and then about refusing to believe in a god who allows children to be massacred in Africa on a regular basis.

There is so much ugliness in this world, and especially so much that man brings upon man and everything else, that it is easy to decide that if there is a god, he must be "demented." Even so, I will never be convinced that creation is not good.

The light is Good, and we are all stardust...

mushroom said...

I have only a passing knowledge of Gnosticism in that some of the NT Epistles seem to be countering early forms of it. As John who says that anyone who denies that Christ came in the flesh is an antichrist. Also some of what Paul says in Colossians could be interpreted as anti-Gnosticism. The main thing I always got was that the material body was bad, and it didn't matter what one did with it. Such a view runs completely counter to the body as a temple.

Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

Thanks for your response. Mani is an interesting thinker, so far as I can tell from the fragments that have survived (and only in translation, anyway).

I think we are in agreement that Gnosticism is alluring, but hollow, and cold. And I think, false.

ge said...

[GB, thank thee for this effort deepening the discussion]

"Gnosis is not assent to concepts, but a sudden splendor that knocks us down" to me works a little better than "Faith is not..."

Julie +:
Jesus the Gnostic
---hope you read that full list not stopping at 1
[attributed to PKDick after all, not yr typical historian] to sense the ancient gnostics' gist & hermeneutic twists of yesterday.
-Recall whom did Jesus say 'this world' was in control of??

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; 9 and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 10* Then Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'"

And so Pilate asked Him "art thou a King" and Jesus answered "yes but my kingdom is not of this world"

and it's "Our Father [who art in Heaven]..." after all...

Gnostics in some tellings, specify JHVH the Old Testament [kinda petulant, jealous, bloodthirsty, all-too-human] "God" as the culprit----so it's a botched creation we got, made by a blind-idiot godlet who needed help once he'd messed things up. Sure there's glimmers of glory and beauty and harmony but everything dies, sickens, winds down, peters out, and re-elects Obama, keeps Maher on the air, puts Beiber-Gaga-Oprah at # 1 etc...[and we, unlike the brutes, are cognizant of these lacks! [how-why??]...but impotently alas*

Jesus was persecuted and tortured and murdered for Christsake, some peachy-keen world! that's enough to make a [historical] gnostic out of any sensitive soul.

guess He showed 'em in the End.

notes for further consid.:
Sophia as what a gnostic finds within

[Historical gnosticism as a critique of creation---and Hermeticism's distinction being its more theophanic-optimistic, lead-to-golden take]


*or are we?
In rigpa awareness, which is Gnosis in Tibetan dzogchen, one relaxes into the ubersimplicity of the everpresent base nature of Mind, and see-knows all as perfect-- faults, drawbacks & all-- flawed creation, misguided lifetimes, all things bright & beautiful, nothing lasts or can be grasped but the awareness of whatever arises, hangs a while, fades into skylike zippobang blissful nothingness that can never be trumped or beat, that is the real hid within gift of human life

julie said...

ge, at risk of talking past each other, I did read the rest and of course, being PK Dick's take on things, I do realize he may have even taken some license with his portrayal. In fact, I assumed as much, figuring that his own madcap mystical experiences influenced his take on the Gnostics as much as any actual history.

Even so, to equate the devil to a demented version of god strikes me as overblowing the status of the fallen one. And heaven is obviously not earth, nor vice versa, but at the same time earth isn't not heaven anymore than it is not the sun.

I get what you're saying, more or less, I think. I just don't really agree. I think. Again, we may just be talking past each other. For myself, I prefer something like the Yoga of Hesychasm to Dick's perspective. Both touch on an experience of transcendence, but the feel is entirely different, and altogether more Jehovial.

Unknown said...

Bob --

Great post -- you've clarified several concepts that I've heretofore found murky. Thanks.

I notice that you have George Gilder's new book in the "Readalong on the Bus" widget. Your statement "For this and other reasons, it is always best to channel the of flow gnosis -- or O --> (n) -- between the banks of an institutional or traditional river" appears to be a spiritual version of Gilder's idea that information (i.e., surprise) is most effectively conveyed by a channel that is a static, stable and relatively simple (or at least easily understandable) structure.


Rick said...

I get nervous when one of "the 10 major principles" begins with "Probably".

julie said...

lol, indeed...

ge said...

Can you hum a few bars, we'll try & fit them in?

While listening to the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" one day, Phil K Dick heard the lyrics change into a prophetic warning: "Your son has an undiagnosed right inguinal hernia. [Misunderstanding all the ti-i-ime] The hydrocele has burst, [but it all works out] and it has descended into the scrotal sac. [It doesn't matter much to me] He requires immediate attention, or will soon die." [let me take you down... to the hos-pi-tal] Phil rushed him to the hospital and found every word to be true. The doctor scheduled the operation for the same day.

[Original lyrics interpolated by ge]

No, Dickean Nag-Hammadian Gnosticism is probably not the religion of choice for young mothers, dewy eyed lovers, or happy churchgoers---- better suits old hags, disillusioned magicians, losers

Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

Gnosticism, that is, the ideology of gnosticism, appears to account for the observable fact that the world we observe, at least when we are looking at the shadows, is very different from the world we would like it to be. And yet our ability to perceive a world that would be better than this world, a perfected world, shows us that there is within us a kernel of something that has its origins otherwhere than in this observable world. So you can see where a thinker, absent revelation, might think that this world is a prison for the divine element within us, and that its horrifying features derive from a demiurge. Now I think that the gnostic point of view ignores the Geworfenheit of Dasein, that is, the inherent polarity (I almost said duality, but that would be mistaken) of every horizon that bounds our experience (hot/cold, dark/light, good/evil)- and in any event, I think that the Kabbalist's understanding that the creation of something that is not-God and can therefore approach God implies allowing imperfection to exist, makes it clear that only imperfection can in fact "exist" separately from God.

julie said...


Yes, talking past each other. I wouldn't dream of dismissing Dick's mystical experiences; I am at least a little familiar with his story as well as his stories. But just because he was exposed to the truth about some things does not mean that he was right about every thing. Or even that whatever opened him to bits of truth didn't also open him up to some serious falsehoods, as well. I forget if it was UF or maybe Perry, but one of the earlier tomes I came across here had a warning about getting caught up in "strange waters." Isn't it possible that that's what happened to Dick?

And me, I may appear to be a young mother and dewy-eyed lover, but I can assure you I am also an old hag, a disillusioned witch, and a loser.

I don't dismiss Dick. But I'm jaded and cynical - disillusioned - enough that I take what he says with great caution...

Also, Gandalin has a good point.

Magister said...

Great post, Bob!

/from the back of the bus

Rick said...

Julie, funny you were thinking UF about that warning. You may be right. I was thinking it was Schuon -- maybe in one of those video interviews -- doesn't matter -- he "warned" that one should not think they are special for having an experience. This is good advice and allows someone the possibility of seeing the true value of such a gift. In my case (if that's what it was) the experience itself became a window through which was found all these people like, you and Bob, and Schoun, and UF (the list is looooong). THAT was the fruit. And everything I've gotten through my thick skull since.

ge said...

I'm no Dickhead* myself, ['vote! vote!' -ed.] but all the while i've been touting Gnosis as salvific & swell, while 'gnosticism' is its distant evil shunworthy twin, I'd forgot the rich literary-sci fi [Matrix, anyone?] angles it has spawned [which = its hipper contribution to mankind than its 'religious'.]
PKD seems like a case where both meanings of the term congealed----+ add enough speed to fuel an army, and voila! you get material for a good half dozen hollywood extravaganzas

* the only book of his I've got through admiringly was The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

julie said...

I've read a few of his stories, but it's been a little while and they have a slippery nature that makes them hard for me to mentally hang on to. Wasn't Timothy Archer the one that was essentially an autobiography? Moreso than the rest?

ge said...

yup it was about Bishop Pike
and reads like real [albeit unusual] life stuff, w/ just names changed

ge said...

an audio visual
Iris Dement

John Lien said...

Very nice video, ge.

Magister said...

Iris sings:

but no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me

Christianity, Wahabbism, Buddhism, Satanism. It's all the same.


ge said...

"...all the same to me" She's a devoutly-upraised Christian, being honest I think, re what anyone really k-n-o-w-s

her gospel album