Introduction to Gnosis I: Religion and Yoga
The word Gnosis is Greek, yet Gnosis is not Greek; in the same way Dharma is a Sanskrit word but Dharma is certainly not confined to that particular language or culture. If we were to use an English word for these two words we could say “Direct experience of an eternal truth” or “Objective understanding of Reality”. One of the reasons that we use these ancient languages is because they had a clear understanding of what we are describing and therefore, they had a single word for it. But I think it is better to use modern language at times and therefore, we can call Gnosis, as an experience, the direct experience of how life actually exists or of our true nature. Now, all of those beings who have had the direct experience of our true nature, of Reality, say nearly identical things yet they all spoke different languages and had slightly different cultural backgrounds. Nevertheless, the principles and symbols that they taught were always the same. As an example, every religion emphasizes the importance of the serpent (Moses and the brazen serpent, the protecting nagas of Buddha Shakyamuni, the Chinese dragons) and a sacred bird (white dove of Christianity, the Hamsa swan of Hinduism, the quetzal of Mayans, etc.) The swastika is the most ancient, religious image found in nearly every civilization since the beginning of time across the globe. Why? This is because in the heart of every tradition lies the same path, the same goal, and the same truths. Today, we are going to be discussing precisely those things. We will discuss from this Gnostic understanding, who we are, what are our goals, and how do we get there. This is a tested science; if you follow the laws and procedures indicated, the results will have to follow. Anyone, anywhere can become an angel, a Buddha, a god-man. It simply depends on whether you follow the science or not. We will discussing some of those principles today in a broad manner. Because this is quite a short lecture, we are covering a great deal of information and not going very in depth into each topic; however, the objective of this is for you to be able to begin some type of practice here and now, even if that simply means contemplating what we are talking about.
There are two main aspects that the word Gnosis contains:
1.Gnosis as a direct experience of an eternal truth
2.Gnosis as the full and complete path to final liberation
In the final synthesis, however, these are really one thing. It is only through direct knowledge that we can achieve liberation from suffering. Some people who enter Gnosis are seeking to escape suffering, while others, are seeking to achieve their greatest potential. In both cases, suffering and ignorance of our true nature keep us from being what we can become. This path is as fundamental and eternal as life itself. It was not created by any man, any culture, nor any particular religion. Gnosis does not depend upon any belief what so ever and can not be found within any concept. This is because, we are simply trying to discover how life, how nature, actually exists. Therefore, we need to put aside all of our beliefs and investigate, observe, analyze deeply. This is the true meaning of meditation. Meditation is not to escape our problems and run away from the world. That word have become corrupted in this day and age and it is better to think of meditation as rigorous and profound analysis through observation, understanding, and intelligence. It is using every tool that you have in order to understand the true nature of something. It just so happens, that the greatest tool that we have in order to understand how thinks function is our own mind, our own imagination (imagination is another word that has become misunderstood). As you listen to this lecture, it may sound as if we are stating our beliefs and it may be a belief for you at this time but it is better for you to look at it as a hypothesis, one which you will have to test to see for yourself whether it is true or not. It quite funny to see people so adamantly affirming that Buddhas or angels do not actually exist and if you ask them if they have taken any time to investigate these things for themselves, many times, they have not. Let us not be like those who mock what they do not know and feel ourselves to be the masters of the universe when in reality, the greatest so called “scientists” of our age know nearly nothing about life and this is something they readily admit.
Let us discuss some of the principles of Gnosis. Who are we? This question can be discussed in a limitless number of ways. Nearly the entire Buddhist canon is directed to answering this question. Therefore, we could go very deeply into this however we are going to look at this in a general sense, but nevertheless, a true sense. Our Real Self is the Universe Itself. Take some time and think about that. All of the immense Intelligence, the indescribable Beauty, the grandeur and Power: we, as our True Self, are the Creator of all of this. The Universe, in order to know Itself, has divided itself into many parts, in order for it to have interaction. It is only through this interaction and split that It could come to understand Itself. When I state our Real Self, I am talking about our unconditioned self, our primordial Being or pristine awareness. Now there are many terms that we could use from every tradition to describe this but I am intentionally avoiding those in order for you to not become overwhelmed by the various pantheons and divinities. Those will certainly be discussed later. I also do not want to place into your mind any images of deities that may confuse you. That is not to say that we are against religion, far from it. We love, honor, and study all religions because they are all describing what we are describing.
So, we are here on Earth in order to realize ourselves as the Eternal, Divine Cosmos. Therefore, our True Nature is complete joy, bliss, beauty, knowing, and complete understanding. All virtues are found within our natural state, our essence. There are times when we can feel this, especially when we are very young. Because we are a drop of the ocean which is life, which is the Universe, we contain all of the properties of the whole. This means that there are levels to ourselves. There are levels to our own mind (awareness or consciousness), our existence. We often refer to the Tree of Life, the Kabbalah, in order to illustrate these levels but I am going to avoid that in this particular lecture. I want you to see the big picture without getting caught up in details just yet. So we are the Universe Itself. We have come here in order to grow, to know ourselves, to understand our nature more and more. We have come here in order to realize ourselves, to create our particular self into a perfect vehicle for the highest intelligence within us which is Compassion and return to our home with Mastery and Self-cognizance. That is why the path is called the Path of the Self Realization of the Being. The Being is our True Self.
What are our goals? What are we trying to achieve through this discipline? We seek to return to our true nature of compassion, joy, and bliss. We seek to comprehend and align ourselves with the eternal laws of the Cosmos. We seek to stop being animals (our inferior nature) and become immortal citizens of the Universe. Our highest goal is to become a perfect expression of Compassion, of pure Universal Consciousness, without any sense of egotistical notions what so ever. This type of being is what the Buddhists call a Bodhisattva, the utmost potential of any human being. However, not every Buddha or Master becomes a Bodhisattva; there are levels of realization. These seem to be quite lofty goals and they certainly are but we are also seeking to simply understand how nature, how life actually exists. Through rigorous analysis and the science of meditation we seek to familiarize ourselves with the truths of existence regardless of our beliefs about them. We long to simply become a little bit of a better man or woman everyday through the elimination of our ignorance and defects, the cultivation of timeless virtues, and benefitting others. The Gnostic Teachings deliver the complete science of the path of the Bodhisattva; a science which is difficult to find in many of the philosophies and religions of this day (precisely because of the fact almost of the religions of the world belong to the Piscean Age).
If our natural state is one of complete knowledge, bliss, and compassion why are we suffering as much as we are? This is due to what we can call our conditioned existence. Our conditioned existence are our perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and actions which are based in ignorance of our true nature. Each of these behaviors are extraneous to our true nature and are therefore, ultimately, unreal and illusory. It is only through observing directly with an unbiased awareness that we can begin to understand these misconceptions. Each of these defects are based upon a false sense of self, an egotistical sense of “I”. We feel that we are separate from nature and from others and this is the cause of our suffering. This conditioned existence expresses itself in various ways: anger, hatred, envy, lust, and all of the other defects that are within ourselves. Now, we cannot begin to judge ourselves, to condemn ourselves. We should not justify ourselves either; both of these behaviors constitutes a lack of understanding. What we need is a deep comprehension, an understanding of how and why we behave the way we do. The part of us which understands and knows is our pristine awareness, pure perception. Perception is not a thought, it is an awareness; it is that which perceives. It is very important for us to identify what our awareness is and direct it with cognizance. For example, we can have a belief about a chair in our house. We can know that we have a particular chair in our house, but this does not mean that we are actively observing the chair. That which actively observes without judgement is the awareness. Within our pure perception is understanding and compassion. Most of the time we are not within our pure perception, we are viewing life through some kind of filter like anger or lust. When we learn to meditate, analyze, and comprehend we can begin to actually eradicate these behaviors from our psyche and that is the beginning of the path.
So what are some practical things that we can begin doing today? We should begin by a good balance of study and practice. We need to know the Doctrine very well and we also need to have sufficient practice. Everyone is at a different level and it would be difficult for another person to tell you what you need to work on so we need to honest with ourselves.Another name that we could use for Gnosis or religion is Yoga. They are the same thing and therefore we can use the system of Patanjali in order to understand how to enter the path through mediation. These are some of the steps of yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Since we are here in the physical plane, we should be cultivating our natural state here and now.
We should recall that our natural state is virtue, goodness, and beauty. We need to become aware of all of our actions contrary to this state and really analyze them and there are many unnatural habits and tendencies that we have. We should study the ethical principles within every tradition whether this be the yama and niyamas of Yoga or the Ten Commandments of the West. The first step to this path is ethics. Many people yearn for beautiful experiences in the higher dimensions but what we should do first is make our physical life beautiful, not beautiful with lots of things to buy and endless stimulation but beautiful because of our virtuous actions. When we begin to cultivate virtues in our physical life through observing our actions and even our emotions and thoughts our mind begins to settle naturally. If we are living in a just, upright manner and we are sincerely changing our behaviors, we have no need to be anxious or fearful. We have dedicated our lives to benefiting others and serving our Innermost Being, therefore, we should feel like we have taken the ultimate refuge. “Today we have been born in the family of the Buddha…” So ethics of action, thoughts, and feelings are the beginning step but really ethics of physical action is the real beginning. Many times we emphasize the observation of our feelings and thoughts and this is necessary and good . But if we performing harmful actions in the physical plane, well we should change that first and foremost. If we are performing wrong actions physically and only trying to observe our thoughts and emotions, it is kind of like trying to perfect a gem before you have even chiseled it out of the stone. I am not saying that we can feed negative thoughts and emotions either only that we should certainly not neglect our physical actions. If we perfect Yama and Niyama first physically, and then in other levels, we are doing well. Today many people think that they can achieve yoga or religion without ethics and this is impossible; this contradicts all of the teachings of every tradition.
The next step is posture. Posture means that we are learning how to relax the physical body. Stress and tension in the physical body make meditation impossible. We need to learn how to really relax all of the muscles of our body, no matter what we are doing. Tension in the body is most likely a result of some anxiety that we have in our emotion center and intellectual center. It is helpful to read the passage in the Bible about the lilies of the field in order to build faith in our Inner Being. When we are faced with anxiety, it is helpful to remember who and what we are, the eternal universe. We are the child of the Great Mother and the Great Father Who are always with us. We also should have a healthy amount of exercise daily depending upon how much your own body needs. Some need more, some less. Meditation does not need to be done in an eastern position, it can be done sitting in a chair or lying down. What matters is that we are relaxed and our spine is in its naturally straight position.
Pranayama comes after posture. Pranayama means control of the vital energy. What is our vital energy? It is our creative, sexual energy. Sexual energy is at our root chakra and is the base of everything that we do and become. Therefore, we need to learn how to restrain and transmute this creative energy. Every mystical tradition teaches that we must never allow the creative energy to be released whether we are single or married. This is something that we will go very deeply into later on. But if you think of our spiritual path as a car, the creative energy is its fuel, its gas. We absolutely need it in order to go anywhere. If this sounds strange at first, you may want to do some research into authentic spiritual Masters such as Moses, Lao Tzu, Sivananda, and the Dalai Lamas and discover how they all state the same thing in regards to the retention of that energy.
Understanding of Impressions/Concentration
I’ve combined two of Patanjali’s steps into one here because of the briefness of this lecture. Pratyahara, one of the steps, is usually translated as retention of the senses. Pratyahara is often overlooked in Yoga practice and I have included a full article on this stage here for further understanding:
www.abuddhistlibrary.com/Buddhism/H – World Religions and Poetry/World Religions/From the Indian Tradition/Teachers from the Indian Tradition/David Frawley/Pratyahara – the Forgotten Limb/Pratyahara the Forgotten Limb of Yoga.htm
What we want to do is understand the nature of impressions which are what comes to us through the senses. It is through understanding the nature of impressions that our mind naturally begins to loosen its grip to pain/pleasure and other grasping and averting. Every sensation is impermanent, therefore why do we so desperately seek some and avoid others? This is something we should reflect on (this does not mean that we should avoid eating, bathing, or getting dressed because the body is impermanent. we need to cultivate the middle way of balance and intelligence). This helps to lessen the fluctuations in the mind which are constantly craving or averting and eventually the mind will settle on its own. We also need to understand the relationship between the impressions that we take in from the outside world and the effects that they have on our mind. Our mind is easily influenced by what we see and hear, therefore we need to learn how to select impressions that are healthy for our mind and spiritual practice. The media constantly bombards us with negative impressions that are very difficult to make positive use of. In other words, if impressions are the main food for our mind, we should not eat junk food or garbage. With this understanding, we see that it is more important to select our impressions that even what we eat, although both are important to our practice.
From this comes the ability to remain in the here and now, fully present. We begin to see the beauty of each moment because we are not caught up in unnecessary desires. Concentration is a natural ability; we all should be able to concentrate fully and naturally but we are living in an unbalanced way and due to past actions, some have lost this ability. Really, when we are truly living ethically, we are relaxed, and we are transmuting our creative energy, concentration comes naturally. We should also cultivate the practice of being alert here and now always living in the scene in which we find ourselves, to awaken to the present so that when we are in the astral plane we will become awake and know we are dreaming. Buddhist texts state that we should view life as if it was a dream, not meaning that we do stupid things, but to always be observing things as if they were foreign and new. We need to cultivate the newness of the mind. The truth is everything is always new and fresh at all times, things are always changing in each moment but we don’t view them that way. We need to start. This is how we live from the Essence, from our true nature. Our true nature is always new, always fresh, always seeing things as they truly are, not how we believe them to be.
The last step we’re going to discuss is reflection. This is not directly one of the steps of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra but we include this here because this is one of the main practice that we are trying to cultivate. All of this is leading towards meditation or samadhi and direct understanding. This is when we turn of the external sense and use the concentration we have developed in order to understand the true nature of any phenomenon. The hypothesis in Buddhism is that our mind is naturally understanding, even knowing. So, we sit and imagine a phenomenon in order to understand its true nature. The most important type of this reflection is what we call retrospection. We simply sit and review the actions that we performed that day, trying to see where our egos distrusted ourselves and others. What defects manifested that day and did we act upon them. We should become aware of the various defects that we have. Some people have more anger, some people have more laziness, some people have more lust; it different for everyone. But we need to be aware of what we have. It is very important that we are not condemning ourselves or justifying ourselves. We should not identify with our defects but see them as something which we need to eradicate from ourselves. It is kind of like taking out the trash from our house; the trash is not a necessary part of the house and therefore it should go. Understanding, comprehension, and special insight are the only way for us to eliminate these defects.
The final thing I want to discuss are what we call the three factors. All of life is created with the law of three; we will delve into that in other lectures. But what is important to grasp here is that there are three fundamental factors that we should be performing in order to advance on this path. These are as follows:
1.Death- To comprehend and annihilate all egotistical behaviors in ourselves
2.Birth- Return to Virtue, Creation of the Immortal Bodies
3.Sacrifice- To dedicate our life to benefiting humanity with intelligence and understanding
These three factors will be discussed in future lectures but it is necessary to know that all of creation takes place with three elements: positive, negative, and reconciling; therefore, if we want to create a Buddha, an angel, within us, these are the three factors that we need. Each moment we should be dying to our ego through awareness and understanding, we should be cultivating virtue and retaining our creative energy, and we should be helping others however we see fit. We need to sacrifice for others in intelligent ways. Giving money to a drug addict or drunkard would not be good at all. We all have some way of giving: it may be our time, our attention, our understanding, our love for another. This is something we should reflect on and discover. In Buddhism, they state the best thing we can give is the teachings. We need to know how to give the teachings properly though; this takes awakening the consciousness and understanding the teachings deeply. Study the books of actual Masters such as the Bible, the Dalai Lamas, Sivananda, Samael Aun Weor, etc. Devotion to your Innermost (True Self), ethics, meditation, transmutation, and love for all beings will lead you towards Truth and Beauty.