In traditional art the imagery of gnosis in the great religions is deployed. The renaissance madonnas and child express the caring nurture of the seed of gnosis within as it is germinating. Paintings of the crucifixion display the death of the ego as gnosis transcends into pure light. The various positions in which the Buddha is sculpted express the inner postures of bodhi or the pure states of gnosis. These works grow out of contemplation and are intended to facilitate contemplation in order to nurture the process by which consciousness matures into gnosis.
The way of gnosis is embodied in symbols of mythic import. These include generic symbols, such as the cross, the yin/yang symbol, and the mandala; specific images, such as Hindu deities, the Buddha, and the Christ; and events such as episodes from the Bible treated in Christian Art or scenes from the Ramayana found throughout Asia. These symbols are mythic in the double sense of the word: they are not factual, but they reveal the essential. By interacting deeply with them, what Christians call the practice of faith, the essential can be revealed to us.
Myth is indifferent to reality in time and space, because it is essential. The essential “transcends” duration and extension in the sense that it always is present. In fact it is presence. Most of the great religions are based on myth. The effectiveness of the religion depends upon how that imagery becomes charged, increasing its capacity to open out into the essential. Once charged, the imagery begins to reveal its essential truth, and any question about its factuality becomes irrelevant. The gnosis of the essential is what is true, not its symbol as some fact of history.
For this reason, the images of religion degrade into irrelevance in the West when they are understood as real things in time or space. As there is no “essence” as such, no existent thing that is the essential, these symbolic media are falsified by the perception of them as “real”. Conservative religious tendencies that portray them as historically real and factual debase their essential function. Any question about historical fact, like, “Was the Buddha’s mother really impregnated by an elephant?” or “Did Christ really rise from the dead?” is absurd. As the Buddha would have said, such questions do not fit the case.
When a religious image is treated like a factual thing or event in time or space, it is despoiled, loses its essential function, and is set up to be ridiculed in a scientifically based reality. This is what has happened to Christianity. This fundamental misunderstanding has done incalculable damage to the essential mandate of religion in the West. The images of the Biblical symbology reveal the essential. As gnosis arises, this imagery becomes transparent, true and beautiful. Unless you arrive at a place of intuitively understanding the connection between the symbolic and the essential, you are turned off by the claim that they are truths and even more so by the Christian insistence that they are “the only truth”.
Yet it is true that gnosis of the essential is the “only truth,” and that it only can be known through the experience of it.
Where religious symbology is concerned, making the intuitive connection is the crucial factor. In fact, unless one is spiritually gifted with ready gnosis, as in the case of great religious geniuses, one has to become deeply involved with a symbol through faith, devotion, or contemplation, for it to become charged with essential meaning or gnosis. In this context, temporary belief in historical veracity may serve the charging process, but once gnosis dawns, such concerns fall away. Any true gnostic will understand the precious truth of an image without having any stake in its historical veracity.