If you're anything like me, life can feel a little contentious at times. I know I often feel like I'm suppressing a mildly rebellious urge, an urge that arises from the underlying sensation that things aren't quite the way they're supposed to be. Life can be absurd and crazy. Life can be harsh and unjust. Sometimes, I even get the feeling that I'm living in an understated, personal exile of sorts, separated by the incessant details of my material life from a source of contentment and wholeness that I'm naturally heir to – a source from within that I struggle, and occasionally succeed, in finding.
But it requires my being troubled, that uncomfortable feeling, to inspire me to seek the troublesome path that leads to inner peace; and when I manage to get there – however brief that moment of success is – I find a knowledge, an understanding. I know why I'm here. That, in a nutshell, is my experience of Gnosis – that rebellious urge to root out and live within Life's greatest solution.
Get outta that state – get outta that state you're in!
The B-52s, Private Idaho
A Rebel With Lots of Cause (and Effect)
Simply put, Gnosis (coming from the Greek, for knowledge) is that knowledge, that understanding of transcendent being and belonging to, that arises from within our hearts.
Inspired by the inner longing to reunite with a serene, unifying power that we inherently know to be our benevolent source, Gnosis isn't a product of any science, or even philosophy or religion, really, although one etymology of the word does link it to Jnana Yoga ("jnana" means "knowledge" in Sanskrit, too), called the yoga of intellect, where the mind is used as a ladder to rise beyond our common material existence, to integrate and reunite all of our parts with the aquifer of transcendent being.
Instead, Gnosis is a personal discovery based in self-exploration and inner experience, and as such, it's both a process and a state of being.
So, it's just natural that Gnosis is the product of that rebelliousness; after all, it is a search that requires rocking the boat a bit, since one must abandon the definitions and conventions of who you are supposed to be, and what society says is important, in order to attain a state of inner completion that really isn't available through any outer rules or religions.
In all its incarnations throughout human history, Gnosis has been the product of what Aldous Huxley called "The Perennial Philosophy," and so it can be likened not only to the Hindu process of Samadhi sought through Jnana, and other forms of yoga, but also to Gautama's spiritual rebellion that led The Buddha to nirvana.
That's also why the search for Gnosis — consistent with the essential goal of all the earlier pagan and indigenous religions in human history (and pre-history) — came to be associated with a Christian insurrection that actually pre-dated Christianity.
These pre-Christian rebels developed a process, a mythology, and a language of metaphor that could lead an individual to enlightenment through personal inner experience, and so was completely at odds with the prevailing religious institutions of Paganism, Hebraism, and then Christianity itself.
Yeshua said: Whoever searches must continue to search until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed; and being disturbed, they will marvel and will reign over All.
The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 2
Essene, But Seldom Heard
"The Gnostics," as referred to by academics (with something of a religious axe to grind), were specifically those pre-Christian Hebrews and early messianic Christians whose Messiah primarily took the form of an inward self-realization of God, so to speak. Everybody was (and is) a Christ, in a personal way, or capable of the realization of their very own "Christhood" through an understanding, or initiation, in which an initiate could dis-identify with the difficulties of their material being by way of an austere practice of purifying ritual, absolute honesty and nonviolence, and unselfish service.
Of course, in the harsh light of most poly and mono-theistic religious (and political) institutions, who claimed to own exclusive riparian rights to the path to Heaven, the suggested deification, or apotheosis, of every man, woman, and child was downright heresy.
Just the suggestion of a kind of personal equality with Jesus Christ for every seeker turned the institutions of early Christianity very nasty indeed.
Certainly the nicest, and probably the most influential of these heretics were called Essenes (essence, essential), a "fringe" sect of Hebraism that were happy to let the Pharisees and Sadduccees run the show around the second Temple of Herod back in old Jerusalem, just before the Christian Era.
I suspect, like the fringe that we today call "Progressives," Essenes likely made up a much greater share of the population than reported, but by their rejection of destructive commerciality (including slavery), ritual sacrifice, and phony spiritual authority, the guys with the hats and swords miswrote their history, as usual. Theirs was, and is to this day, the essential rebellion of those seeking Gnosis.
Present day media academics continue to compartmentalize the Essenes as heretics, of a sort, by pigeonholing them into the caves of Qumran, near the Dead Sea, where a particularly devoted community of ritual Gnostics made their last stand. In fact, Essenes were less a part of Hebraism and more a spiritual nation of their own, spread out across civilization, and bridging, from east to west, many of the disciplines oriented towards enlightenment through inward experience.
Most likely to have been influenced by the Hinduism, and then Buddhism of the missionary efforts moving westward from the Gandhara region of India, reaching across trade routes east and west, and establishing centers of learning and study from Alexandria to Mt. Carmel, this horizontal inclusion of ideas was similar to today’s Occupy Movement in its means of empowerment, and its principles – which similarly embraced the ethics of spirituality, sanity, health, equality, responsibility, and justice – all of which are the symptomatic qualities of a Gnostic "global" community, both in the ancient world, and today.
Essenes established inns called hospitals, where anyone was welcomed and fed communally. They practiced hygiene, strict vegetarianism, and holistic medicine way before any of that was cool. Everyone – man, woman and child – was spiritually equal, possessing the same spark of divinity and spiritual potential for unification with The Divine as anyone else. All that was required was initiation into "the secret teachings" of inward exploration, and the willingness to live a life of compassion and integrity. They were absolutely non-violent, and only participated in commercial and agricultural efforts that benefited everyone. In short, they lived the ideals of Christianity, before Christianity.
Stay tuned for part two of this discussion on Gnosis and resurrection, coming soon!