Deconstruction is a stunning device for uprooting relative ideas that have been taken as basic truth. But just as scientism was an excess of faith in science, so post-modernist nihilism is an excess of deconstruction. It is overkill. Devotees of deconstruction have basically refuted the modern concept of knowledge, of science as a faith leading to any kind of ultimate truth. The whole concept of factuality, which stands behind science and technology and pervades all knowledge in the West, is limited and culturally relative. However in the case of Heidegger and other existentialists, this refutation was just half of the project. Heidegger’s real goal was to establish an authentic understanding of Being as opposed to mere knowledge of things. What is essential, that to which we must be free, is the heart of the matter. And this is what wisdom is all about.
Deep inside, we all know what is essential, even when we do not believe it or have a way of talking about it. It is the basic awareness that constitutes the human psyche. This was the first great lesson produced by Socrates. There is an origin available to all of us, an active paradigm of Being, the light of the Good. This essential is what you already know — both initially and finally. It is innate awareness, the given placement of Self in the foundations of life and well-being. This origin is neither subjective nor objective, but is both, or more accurately fundamental to both subject and object and that which binds them as one.
This deep knowledge of the essential is gnosis. The word is alien to us, because it’s meaning is forgotten. We could call it the lost knowing. The cause and perpetuation of this loss is that we have no language or way of describing the essential. But as the essential is the North Star of life, the reference for all true reckoning, let us try.
In the great Indo Aryan cultures, essential knowledge, that is, knowing derived through insight, was understood to be the truest apprehension. This given essential was known as vidya in Sanskrit and eidea in Greek and video in Latin. They all come from the same Indo Aryan root. Their translations: “insight knowledge”, “given form” and “I see”. These three translations illuminate the basis of essential knowledge. The eidos, or “ideas” sought by Plato are what is “seen” and contained in essential understanding. We have no term or conception corresponding to this. Let us join with the ages and call it “gnosis” to distinguish it clearly from the mere knowledge of facts.
Gnosis is Greek. Its equivalent in Sanskrit is jnan, also budh. In its pure form it is the Buddha nature.
Gnosis is the innate awareness of luminosity once the calculative mind is silenced. It is essential to clearly differentiate this foundation of understanding, which is given, from both knowledge and information, which are derived. Gnosis is not a compilation of facts. Nor does it have a “rational basis”, as two millennia of Western Philosophy ultimately concluded. It comes not out of any intellectual activity at all, save the discipline of withholding the will of intellect and its constructs in order to contemplate the field of consciousness in the present as it is primordially given. Gnosis comes gently nurtured out of emptiness; it is to be uncovered and contemplated.
Over the centuries every great culture has developed practices of contemplation and disciplines of meditation that lead to gnosis. From these we can derive great benefit and move towards well-being. And when we contemplate what is happening to us as we touch into our truest nature, we begin to understand how to shape our world. But finding the right path is one of life’s great challenges.
Once again. Gnosis is not some obscure and refined body of knowledge that can be known by a knower, but rather the innately understood nature of the knower itself. In order to hold this important distinction, we follow Heidegger by adopting a linguistic device. What is intuited and known through gnosis is essential. However, to describe it as “essence” leads back to the contradictions with which we began. Using “the essential” as a noun refers to knowledge or structure understood through the inner knowing of gnosis. Using “essential” as a modifier, as in “essential integrity’ or “essential body”, indicates that these are intuitively derived and understood through gnosis.
What is essential is known through gnosis. Having the divine strength conferred by authentic self-comprehension, it is true power.
The Indo Aryans have given us the greatest and most basic expression of what is apprehended in gnosis. This it does in a remarkable play of language almost impossible to translate into English. In Sanskrit it is called brahman atman. Brahman is “the overwhelming awe-inspiring” unitary awareness that every conscious being inhabits. With primordial elegance, Sanskrit often refers to it simply as tad, “that”. Each individual conscious being is atman, literally, the “itself” of that. Each of us is the actuality, the itself of Brahman. This is affirmed in the fundamental and highest possible achievement described in the Sanskrit tradition, tat tvam asi, “That art thou.”
The problem with the whole matter is that it is “unthinkable”.
The concept of that is not that itself. In fact, That Itself is essentially falsified when it is thought of as any thing or concept. It can be experienced only in the present and may be described by words such as:
bsp; the given
the sense of all paths
That Itself is always experiencable in the now as the fundamental context, the underlying ground of any experience whatsoever.
The experience of That Itself radiates the understanding of gnosis, which then becomes a particular form of knowledge, that came to be known in the Western tradition as sophia. Sophia was conceived as a goddess, because she is the feminine form of knowing coming out of the receptivity of gnosis. Sophia is the essential wisdom arising out of gnosis, which is divine emptiness.
The experience of gnosis and the wisdom thus derived, Sophia, are the only true basis for the hermeneutic, or interpretation of the great scriptures of the world. Among the most forthright of these scriptures is the Upanishads, a written compilation of an oral tradition that explored and revealed gnosis and its essential wisdom about 800 years before the Christian era. About three centuries later, Socrates turned the way towards gnosis into the discipline of philosophy (the love of essential wisdom or Sophia) and Buddha turned gnosis into a pragmatic spiritual empiricism. In fact, the revelations of all the great religions express gnosis.
The great evolutionary thinkers of the twentieth century, including Teillard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo, understood gnosis as the telos or ultimate goal of evolving human consciousness. Enlightened beings, those in whom gnosis has flowered, are seen as harbingers of the future. The “gnostic being”, as Aurobindo calls it, is the next evolutionary step of humanity.