What is essential has a mysterious center, which is the organizing principle of the whole. We call it the origin. It is as though our essential make-up is a kind of gyroscope. Each of us has this mysterious center and any collective of us has it as well. The only real advance corrects Error by referring back to this origin and revising it as an innovative way of doing things.
If “progress” does not regard the whole and accord with its center, it misses the essential, and the result is regress away from essential life.
The clarification of gnosis as the knowledge of the essential and ignosis as the engine of error provides a basis for an important clarification in the matter of deconstruction. There is a natural hierarchy and gradient of culture-bound constructs. The more foolish a thing or tendency is, the more relative and culture bound it becomes. The more essential it is — that is, rooted in the clarity of gnosis — the more universal it is and the more it contributes to true culture.
The institutional custodians and guardians of the essential are religion and education. These are the hallmarks of culture.
To be essentially religious is to follow the indications of one’s religion to arrive at true gnosis, the foundational understanding of being human.
The rightful function of religion is to strengthen the magnetic attraction of the origin and to facilitate access to gnosis. The institutions of religion are there to shepherd the human flock toward the essential. Its imagery and rite provide a means to access the gnosis that is the innate awareness of human consciousness.
The study of comparative religions helps to identify gnosis as what Aldous Huxley called the “perennial wisdom” which is common to all great religions. The essential way in every great religious tradition is encased in the unique but relative perspective and worldview of each. This wisdom tends to become concealed in historical and cultural traditions that are relative and non-essential. In many instances this cultural envelope provides points of distraction, for instance Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Getting caught up in these points leads to much foolishness, as for example the annual consumerist stampede at Christmas.
One such tendency, the shadow of monotheistic religions, is fundamentalism. This is for the most part a version of cultural conservatism, based on fear, justified by cherry picking passages of holy writ. The fixation on reactionary tendencies over the central function of religion is a deep distraction from the essential, the “greater darkness still”. One only need observe how Islamic extremists use the Koran to justify war, or to recall how the Bible has been used in America to justify slavery and white supremacy, and to oppress women and gays.
Gnosis as the fundamental existential truth of Being is not just some passive reservoir of esoteric knowledge. If one looks at the imagery of any great religion, there is often the good news that the essential has the force to come upon us in a revelatory manner. This is the symbolic meaning of the enlightened savior. Christians celebrate this arrival every year just as the darkness of winter is threatening to envelop the world.
The imagery of the Christmas story expresses the luminous event which may take place in any human heart. The birth of the holy child is the blossoming seed of gnosis. It has nothing to do with worldly grandeur, but is grounded in humility (the stable). It has everything to do with the grandeur of the spirit (the heavenly display and the angels). Because it lights up the essential, it brings a new order and thus threatens anarchy for the non-essential, which rules the world (King Herod) and which will go to any lengths to eliminate its luminous core (Herod’s order to slaughter the first born throughout the land).
The light of true Being originates directly from the Source (the immaculate conception). It can come forth only when lovingly nurtured by humble and pure-hearted receptivity (the Virgin Mary), and cared for in the trust and protection of the ego, which, through loyal devotion, has surrendered and put away its doubts (Joseph). There is no place for this event in the comfort of accepted society (no room in the inn). The narrow confines of social acceptability cannot accommodate it (no sanctuary except in the stable with the animals). Even, and perhaps specially, it is the naïve outcasts from ordered society, in their innocence, who can recognize and receive it (the shepherds). The mind hungers for gnosis as its greatest potential. The wise will travel the world for it, and once they come upon it will lay before it their greatest treasures (the three kings and their gifts). Gnosis is the just rule of the Good. (The King is born.) “Joy to the world!”
In their revelatory creation, all of the great religions have begun as the rebirth of the essential. But like all things of the world, religions, their symbols and their institutions tend to drift into the non-essential. As a general rule of thumb, the more wealth and acceptance a religious institution amasses, the less essential it tends to be.