Category Archives: THE HEART OF THE MATTER

1. THE HEART OF THE MATTER Summary, Outline, Introduction

THE HEART OF THE MATTER
What is Essential and How Can We Come to Know It?

SUMMARY
 
         Over the last two centuries, science trumped spirit with fact.  But then philosophy, radicalized by two cataclysmic wars, demonstrated conclusively that fact is not truth. In fact, there is no “truth”. The result is the post-modernist faith that all reality is merely relative.  Real truth, the “essence,” is an ancient lie.  This spiritual cataclysm, the “death of God”, is today the malign nihilism that gnaws at the human spirit. 
         How can we live without truth?
         Obsessed with information, we have lost the essential understanding of Being itself, the innate knowing hidden in the spirit but available to all of us.  This “gnosis” can never be reached by calculation, but only by contemplation, an art lost to the West and to all who come under its sway.
         The primordial form to be contemplated is the body; more precisely, consciousness in its connection to the body in its natural state.  But the body has been objectified, materialized and sold out to technology and the profit motive, even as the earth has been sold out.
         The institutions by which gnosis feeds into culture — religion and education — are bereft of the essential.  Symbol and myth,  vehicles of the divine, have been dismissed as superstition.  Religion has become a fanatical attempt to establish the lost ground.  Education, intended to draw out the essential, instead serves the bottom line of profit. 
         Now, severed from the essential, we are uploading our souls into virtual reality.
         Error.  Foolishness. Depravity.

         What is essential and how can we return to it?


                          CONTENTS
         
        (1)   Introduction           

(2)   Nihilism

(3)   The Essential is Known as
Gnosis

(4)      Ignosis


(5)   The Body as the Primordial Form

                      The Subtle Body
                      Medical Technology

(6)   The Institutions of the Essential:

                      Religion
         (7)            Symbol and Myth
         (8)            Deity Yoga
         (9)       Education

(10)   Our Culture and Civilization


(11)   The Virtual and the Essential


              What is Essential and Non-Essential?

                                                                     INTRODUCTION

         All my life, even as a boy playing in streams and forests with my Irish setter, Shamrock, I have longed for something that I found in nature.  As I grew into my thinking life, I came to the sense that we — our civilization, the West — have strayed from the center, the primordial relationship to nature and the true nature of things.  As I was educated and traveled the world, I realized that by virtue of our White Man hegemony, we have influenced the world to follow our course.  The hubris of this arrogant entitlement has created the environmental crisis and the nemesis of Islamic extremism. Our world is on a collision course with our own excesses.
         Anyone who has come of age since the sixties and is at all sensitive has felt a similar dis-ease. For many of us, the quest for possible ways of correcting the situation has become the mission of our lives. Our efforts to fix this dis-ease came to be known as the counter-culture. The sexual revolution, the movements for the rights of minorities, gays and women, and a dawning ecological awareness — all are outgrowths of this core impulse to regain the true nature of things.
         Since the sixties, this unease manifested also in the flight to other cultures — an unprecedented diaspora of privileged Westerners into ancient Asian and indigenous cultures in search of more essential life paradigms.  How can we relate internally and externally to the inherent equilibrium of the biosphere and all that is?  Many of us have adopted life work and practices originating in cultures that accomplish these ends. 
         Nevertheless, for all that we restless baby-boomers and the sensitive discontents who followed have participated in this secret alliance to correct our collective error, we have not succeeded.  We watch with horror as the misaligned world continues down its crazed course towards self-destruction.
         The Sanskrit word dukha, means dis-ease – literally, a wheel no longer centered on its axle.  If we want to save our world, we have to find a way to return the wheel of life back onto its center, the essential nature of things.

Next > Nihilism

2. Nihilism

 
        What is the essence?  What is Truth?
         There is no such thing.
         At least, after the conflagration of two world wars, it became fashionable to the point of political correctness to deny essence or Truth.  This is a sacred tenet of Western thought from existentialism through post-modernism. How did this happen?
         In the wake of the nineteenth century love affair with science, what we can call “scientism”, we thought that the world was composed of facts, and that any scientific fact tells us the essence of things.  Ludwig Wittgenstein led the movement of Logical Positivism to champion this belief, but then, dramatically, he realized the error of his ways: using language is not equivalent to stating facts. With fearless integrity, he reformed his thinking to demonstrate that any time we use language we are playing a game by rules for its use that uniquely fit the situation. Facts, scientific or otherwise, are not where it is at. Moreover there is no essence of anything — only “family resemblances” between things.
         Through a very different approach, phenomenological ontology, Martin Heidegger denounced Metaphysics, the very basic, scientifically oriented intelligence of our culture, which has come down to us since Plato. He determined that our Western way of thinking is rooted in an illusion that things and facts are of the essence. Heidegger called for a “destruction” of Metaphysics as we have known it.  Thinking that Hitler might be sufficiently radical to be the agent for such fundamental change, Heidegger became prominent in the Nazi Party, until sometime around the burning of the books.  After this shocking affair and the ever-mounting evidence that the Nazi project was in fact a malignant use of force, Heidegger turned away from politics to contemplation, coming to the basic view that science and technology are a kind of mentational fascism.
         Sartre said that the only true being is Nothingness, which is the very nature of our existence, our consciousness.  We have no essence; we only create it by what we make of our existence.
         What we thought was the essence of truth about the world, to be validated through science and implemented through technology, is in fact an absurd distortion. 
         What to do?
         Followers of these thinkers have come up with a way of destroying this illusion, formal methods for completely relativizing essence, and therefore whatsoever is. Heidegger’s “destruction” has settled down into Deconstruction, systematically analyzing and breaking down all “essences” or understanding of what-is into local and historically bound assumptions.  This development underlies post-modernism.  A thing, happening, or event has no intrinsic true nature.  What we understood to be true about it is in actuality a habit of culture, bound by time and space — in a word, relative.  Hence essence is relative.  All truth is relative.  We’re just making it all up, and therefore nothing has any real value.  This is called Nihilism.
         Champions of this relativity purport to bring us freedom.  But in truth the nihilistic consequence of Deconstruction and the worldview from which it arises is that we are bereft.  Something essential has been lost. Heidegger called it “the forgottenness of Being”.
         Freedom is never only release from illusion, constraint, or limitation: it must be freedom to something more essential.  Deconstruction and non-essentialism are important in order to understand relativity, but only if balanced with clarity about what is essential.  Essences may be culture bound, but the essential is not.
         There is no essence, but there is the essential.  And we all know it.

Next > The Essential is Known through Gnosis

3. The Essential is Known through Gnosis

 
        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 atmanBrahman 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:
    luminosity

    bliss
 &n
bsp;  the given

    final peace
    transcendentality
    the sense of all paths
    self-realization
    liberation
    diamond-like emptiness.
         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.

Next > Ignosis

4, Ignosis


         When we value accrued knowledge and information above all else, we are blind.  This blindness, the preoccupation with the non-essential, is not ignorance. (Who could call us ignorant in the information age?)  We have no word for this essential ignorance, but many words existed in the ancient cultures that knew gnosis. One of those words is ignosis.

         The need for a word such as ignosis tells part of the story.  Originally it meant incomprehension of the essential, but as the apprehension of the essential decayed in the process of acquiring knowledge, the only derivative that remained was “ignorance”, which has come to mean not knowing a fact or series of facts.  This degrading of the word meaning “lacking gnosis” into a word describing a lack of factual knowledge indicates the path we must retrace if gnosis and Sophia are to be restored as the transcendent center of existence.
         Of knowledge and ignosis, the ancient Brahmanic wisdom of the Upanishads has this to say:  “Those who are in ignosis are in darkness; those who think they know are in greater darkness still.”
         The greater darkness can be called Error.  Error is not a mistake or an incorrect statement.  It refers to an entire mode of thinking which may be locally accurate and logical, but which is speciously based. The German word irren, from which “error” comes, is derived from the word meaning “crazy or foolish”.  Following Error can be called Errance, which leads further into Wrong.  For the most part, mere knowledge and information may be correct, but insofar as it is rooted in ignosis, it is basically foolishness.  So is fashion.  So are all too many of the cultural fictions that animate our civilization.
         Errance – error – foolishness – these lead to depravity, which is subject to the shadowy ways of darkness, a force in its own right.
        Bereft of the essential, evil ricochets back and forth off of itself until it self-destructs.
“To the origin” is the cry for the essential.  “More” is the cry for the non-essential. 
The essential is qualitative, not quantitative.  However, the absence of the essential creates a vacuum in which value drifts towards the quantitative. More knowledge, more goods, more information, more fixits … we live in an economic environment that can survive only if it is growing.  It can only thrive on More.  Quantity is addictive.  Consumerism is our cultural addiction, a frenzied attempt to stuff the awful void of the non-essential with substance that has brand names.
         Progress is a keystone of our civilization. It is identified with technology.  As the story goes, every new technological wonder contributes to progress. But the fact is that every technological advance is neutral and can as easily serve regress.  Look at the automobile.  Look at nuclear energy. 
         In fact, we are not truly better off than we have been.  Daily, evidence mounts.  In addition to the downside of each technological advance, the more these advances are deployed, the more desperate is our day-to-day frenzy to keep up with them. “More” has become a madness.  But what is worse is that all this technological advance, at an ever-increasing rate, is using up our natural home, and, in the process, is rendering it uninhabitable. This will become clearer and clearer in the twenty-first century.  Is there any way that we can think of this as progress?
         This dedication to “more” is Error, foolishness.  And for the first time, tragically, it constitutes the environmental destruction which becomes daily more irreversible.

Next > The Body as the Primordial Form

5. The Body as the Primordial Form

 
        In every healthy baby we see the potential renewal of the essential. There is an essential body. Yoga is the age-old Asian discipline in which the body is regarded as the incarnation and primordial temple of gnosis and is cultivated through care and practice as the vehicle for its realization. 

         Our bodily manifestation is an essential whole with its own integrity, which we sometimes describe as “psychosomatic” and also “spiritual”.  These words, however, come from our fragmented view of essential truth. The integral nature of this bodily whole is prior to any division.  This essential integrity has to be understood before there can be any divisions.  
         Body, emotions, mind and spirit — all of these together constitute the whole, which is yet more than these four. Health is the essential state of this integrated whole.  Probably without exception, every indigenous culture has an understanding of essential health as wholeness.
         This psychophysical essence is the functioning whole that we intuitively understand as health. The healing arts of indigenous cultures are fundamentally about maintaining or returning this whole to its essential integrity.  The healing works through the integrity.  Its methods strengthen the integrity of the whole, which restores parts into their essential harmony.
         I sometimes think of this on the analogy of a computer.  The essential program is stored in the computer.  When the program is malfunctioning, I reboot the computer and the original programming is restored.
Gnosis is the primordial inspiration and original intuition of health.
 
       The Subtle Body

         To say that the body is the seat of consciousness is to say that gnosis can be apprehended through what we call “the connection to the body.” This connectedness, brought to its highest levels of awareness, becomes the primordial field for contemplation known as “the subtle body”. Yoga is the cultivation of the subtle body as the primary medium and ground of contemplation. This has been developed over millennia in the East, but can be alien to the West, which often derides it as “contemplating the navel”.  This Western attitude results largely from the separation of spirit and matter in the Christian tradition, and the devaluation of the body as the locus and cause of sin.
         Techniques of meditation in the subtle body may center on watching the experience of breath, often but not always in repose.
         Other methods use visualization of primordial images projected into bodily awareness. Consider, for instance, the central image and locus of immortal consciousness in the subtle body.  In the Indian tradition, this is the spinal column and the charkas, and, in the Tibetan tradition, it is the channel running up the center of the body and seminal points along it.  In the Far East, tai chi and martial arts, which are moving forms of meditation, focus on deep kinesthesia, directly contemplating chi or life force animating the subtle body in motion.
         Masters of the essential disciplines in the East do not age and die in the American way of gradually declining and succumbing to degenerative disease.  They tend to retain their physical and mental faculties until they have some system failure and then die within a couple of weeks.  This is dying of old age rather than of degenerative disease.  This condition of age seldom exists in our culture, and, insofar as it does, it is seen as genetic luck rather than any kind of mastery of essential life skill.

       Medical Technology

         Medical science is miraculous in its capacity for preserving physical function. However, it is a misguided miracle in that the tradition is myopically physical. It splits the body from the integrative whole and conceives of it on the model of a machine.  It “fixes” malfunctions and tends symptoms without any real comprehension of the essential cause.  The non-physical elements are discussed rarely and are often left to the untutored intuition of the physician.
         Essential methods do not create side effects, other than those that the whole undergoes in the process of restoring its integrity — so called “healing crises”.  By contrast, when medical technology is deployed, it often throws the body off its internal integrity.  The medication “fixes” the physical symptom, but creates problems in its place.  This process is compounded when more than one medication is employed.  There can be side effects that conflict, creating new symptomology.  Medication can constitute disease in its own right, in that it militates against the essential integrity of the body, thereby thwarting the fundamental self-healing principle within the essential whole.  The deployment of medicine is economically driven. The more new medication fixits are created, the more profits increase. In this sense, medical science, fueled by the profit motive, is itself a pathology.
         Like all foolishness based on the principle of More, the contradictions inherent in this system are bringing it to a crisis.  We generate more and more hi-tech (read expensive) fixits, our medical personnel are in an increasing frenzy to master and sustain them, and the fixits are becoming so expensive that the system can no longer afford them.
         Long ago, we lost sight of the essential integrity of the whole.  In our materialist myopia, we look to the body for the cause of illness, whereas disease can have a root cause that is physical, emotional, mental or spiritual.  Medical science is most effective in cases where the root cause is actual physical damage or pathology. Indigenous cultures have methods that are often far superior for approaching other levels of causation. 
         Medical science is at pains to explain instances of faith healing as well as many methods employed by indigenous cultures, which are based on the cohering principle of essential integrity, which we call “spiritual”.  However, in our materialistic context calling these methods “spiritual” relativizes and trivializes them.  But, the integral nature of health is in fact foundational.  While medical science works at the physical level and hopes for a percolation into emotional, mental, and spiritual levels, foundational healing works at the spiritual level, which flows down into the mental, the emotional, and, finally, the physical level.  Fixing can happen, but no real healing occurs without a foundational realignment. That foundation is essential.
         Many healers in the West have looked to more indigenous cultures to adopt essential healing practices, bringing to this project their own ingenuity to adapt them to effective deployment in the West. For a long time this was marginalized, with practitioners being considered flapdoodle imposters by “real” doctors.  Because of the intrinsic contradictions within the medical paradigm, these essential methods have come slowly into fashion.  First they became “alternative”, and now, as the economic weight generated by the medical industry is rendering the system untenable, the methods are becoming “complementary”, but the medical model still determines the course of the mainstream. 
        In our physical culture, we greatly depend upon employing force. That includes medicine, which does not function cooperatively with the essential whole; it uses force to alter aspects of it.  Our beauty industry is based on hi tech and profit driven exercise machines and cosmetics.  But none of this is essential; nor does it produce genuine well being.

Next > Institutions of the Essential: Religion

6. Institutions of the Essential: Religion

 
        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.

       Religion
 

         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.

Next > Religion: Symbol and Myth

7, Religion: Symbol and Myth


    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.

Next> Religion: Deity Yoga

8. Religion: Deity Yoga


    Although any real religion potentially connects to the essential, one must commit to a connection with the imagery in order for it to become charged with the essential.  The Tibetans know all about this technology.  They call it “deity yoga”.  One learns about a deity and the vision it projects, immerses oneself in it, enters into a complete relationship with it, becomes one with it, opens to the revelation of its essential nature, and is thereby “completed” through realizing as one’s own nature the essential qualities of the deity.  The gnosis has happened, and the deity becomes the focus of its luminosity.

    While the comparative study of religions promotes an understanding of the perennial philosophy behind all of them, it tends to be a merely intellectual exercise producing a sense of relativity. As a lifelong student of comparative religions, it has taken me a long time to understand this.  A syncretic understanding of religions and “appreciation of all symbols” is not deity yoga, because the connecting and charging do not take place. Or, it takes place as an abstraction, which does not truly touch one’s existence. Syncretic understanding is trivial relative to true gnosis, and it is deceiving because it masks ignosis. To be a scholar of a religion is not to discover its true treasure. One thinks one is finding the treasure, but one is only becoming an authority on treasure maps.  This shifting from the authentic pursuit of gnosis to mere intellectual enquiry, while existentially less demanding and better rewarded in academia, is in fact deeply disillusioning, an aspect of  “the greater darkness” described by the Upanishad verse quoted above.  In this lies the fallacy of religious scholarship — that knowing all sorts of facts about religions and their symbols somehow produces the boons of authentically engaging with one.  In my experience, there is a subtle bitterness lurking among scholars of religion.  Those that I have known as wise men appreciate all religions, but they tend to practice and enter one specific religious structure with childlike dedication.
    Therefore, Christian “believers” have an important point: to receive the true boons of Christianity, one has to engage completely with its imagery.  The Christian way of doing deity yoga is faith — believe it absolutely against all assaults of common sense, keep studying the Bible, and develop a personal relationship to Jesus Christ.  This is the famous pari, or “gamble”, prescribed by the seventeenth century French philosopher Blaise Pascal as a bulwark against the encroachments of reason.  Faith and its devout practice is the traditional and time honored way that this imagery and symbology become charged — that is, taps into the essential and begins to feed back into the existence of the faithful.  In this devoted engagement, the immanent capacity of gnosis to reveal itself, which Christians call the “Holy Spirit”, becomes activated to illuminate the essential in moment-to-moment existence.  This produces the happiness and serenity that “true Christians” enjoy.
    The “truth” in this is what the Tibetans have understood to be the way the charging of the imagery is accomplished, drawing the believer into the essential. But in the case of Christianity, this is complicated, and it is no wonder that it is confusing.  It succeeds, but it carries with it many dangers.
    One danger is that Christianity, being a theistic religion, stops the process at the point of interaction with the deity.  One sees oneself as an isolated ego separate from the deity — in this case, Jesus Christ and/or God, and in Catholicism Mary or any of the saints.  The worshipper is completely identified with the ego as separate from the deity, so the process towards completion is largely stunted into a relationship of supplication.  The communion is there to overcome this separation, but it is often poorly understood, especially in a culture that has lost its grounding in gnosis.
    The proposition that Christianity is the only true religion is a militant truth, a claim characteristic of all three Semitic religions.  Islam and Judaism are also the “only” truths. Throughout their history this has justified war and aggression. This seems to be a characteristic of monotheism. Buddhism, Taoism, and the many forms of Hinduism have no such impulse or need to defend their unique claim to the truth.  Each of them is based on the understanding that every human can come to the essential only by following a unique path into gnosis.
    Christianity is indeed unique, as all believers believe. Jesus was a great teacher and example of the essential.  As a deity, Christ is a medium into the essential, called the logos, the primordial word or intelligence of Being, which is God.  The Holy Spirit is the presence of the essential, which expresses itself intimately and imminently, in daily life. These symbols and images are unique to Christianity, but the only truth is the essential to which they give access.
    In Christianity the confusion of image with fact tends to overwhelm its essential function.  The biblical elements declared in the Nicene Creed, for instance, are understood to be historical and factual. This fundamental belief in “the way God works in history” comes from Judaism.  In some ways, it has given strength to Christianity, but its rigid entitlement also causes its unique vulnerability and error. In the name of faith, belief gets confused with fact: essential imagery, with historical truth. When fact and historical truth is relativized, the power of the religion is neutralized.
    The authority of Christianity is generally justified by words attributed by the church fathers to Jesus: “I am the truth and the way.  Only through me can you come to the Father.”  This is set forth as a spiritual statement, but it hides a political one.  When the architects of the Church codified the Bible, they had an eye on establishing their authority in the mode of the imperial structure of the Roman Empire.  They used these words to consolidate the authority that is still claimed by Catholicism. In this sense it is a political statement. But if the man Jesus (who was no Christian!) did indeed say these words, he meant that the way he had to show is the essential way to Godliness. This is the real spiritual statement. There is only one essential gnosis.
    Where this confusion reigns, intolerance is justified.  In egoistic zeal, the Christian arrogantly imposes this misguided version of truth and factuality upon the world as the one and only truth. In the name of an ultimate authority, the Christian Church over history became a moral dictatorship advancing the power and greed of its leaders. Intolerance leads to violence and militancy.  And this breeds manifold evils: the wars of religion which have slaughtere
d more people in the West th
an any other kind of war, and the ‘divine right’ of the White Man which became an entitlement to conquer and control the world.  It has made a violent mockery of the essential word of Jesus Christ, leading the West down the path of error, foolishness and depravity.

    Even today, churches with grand overheads tend in this direction. The Catholic church is the star. Rather than freeing up the essential, it stifles it.  Lovers of freedom rebel, but they throw out the baby with the bathwater.  This, together with the misunderstanding of the nature of religious truths and the contradictory belief in the propositions of science has, in Nietzsche’s terms, “killed God”.
    The function of religion should be to bring about essential truth, but this high calling in no way exempts from error the institutions of religion.  True religion is the great hope for the collectivity, but false religion, rightly derided as “the opiate of the people” is its undoing.

Next: The Institutions of the Essential: Education

9. Institutions of the Essential: Education


         Education in America is viewed primarily in quantitative terms.  Gathering information and learning skills to prevail in a competitive capitalist world certainly is useful.  In fact, it generally is regarded as all that is necessary. Education in this culture is basically a factory operation for generating contributors to our bottom line, the profit motive and the ultimately fatal principle of capitalist economics–that only through growth can the economy be sustained. 
         The Latin educare means, “to draw out from”. This reflects the Socratic method of drawing out gnosis through astute questioning.  The essential can neither be memorized nor accumulated. It can be drawn out only because it already is there. The high function of education is to draw out the essential so that one can align one’s being and life with it.  This is qualitative, not quantitative.
         Quantitative education stuffs information in, and, at best, teaches how to think, to be clever, to calculate effectively. A good liberal arts education attempts to draw out the essential by exposing students to those who have authentically grappled with the essential.  But that cultural history ended with nihilism.  Rarely does education today address or fortify the real foundations of life and death.  From this perspective, our education is profoundly inaccurate and degenerate.
         True education is cultivating savvy about what we innately know, gnosis, and learning how to make it the center of the institutions of civilization.

Next: Our Culture and Civilization

10. Our Culture and Civilization


        There is in the end and the beginning the origin.  It is a subtle organizing field in every living being, including the cultures of the earth, and indeed the earth itself.  This origin is a coherent center which organizes and harmonizes the physical, emotional, and mental into a whole.  The central organizing is foundational, constituted of innate awareness, and emanating from that basic awareness.  We however tend to marginalize it and call it “spiritual” as though it were something that has to be added after everything real and important (factual) is said and done.  Through gnosis, we can intuit this subtle organizing field because it is essential.  It is what we basically are, but the limited thought forms of our present scientifically based reality have barely grasped it.

         In our quantitative way, we think of culture as symphonies, performing arts and museums.  But real culture is related to gnosis; providing access to it and giving expression to it.  True culture is the discovery and establishment of the essential, and the generation of thought, art forms, and institutions that freshly accord with it.  When culture becomes the proliferation of error and the celebration of foolishness and depravity, the culture degenerates.
         The cancer of contemporary culture is the profit motive run amok in the world.  Like cancer, it feeds on healthy cells and turns them into pathogens.
         Not long ago I participated in a conference in Europe entitled “The Possibility of a Dialogue of Civilizations.”  Half the speakers were Europeans and the other half were Muslims. A Libyan philosopher said that while a dialogue of civilizations is possible, one between civilization and non-civilization is not.  What is non-civilization according to my Libyan friend?  A culture whose values are determined by the profit motive.  The sole focus on profit is the law of the jungle.  Was this the message to the West in the destruction of the Twin Towers?
         The profit motive becomes truly malignant when it is wedded to the scientific method.  The practical beginning of this error is isolating any phenomenon from the whole and subjecting it to an empirical method that creates the possibility of technological deployment with no view or responsibility for the divine whole.  Science, having “murdered to dissect,” is becoming more sophisticated about systems, but it remains destructive when it does not regard the systemic whole. 
         The environmental movement was inspired in the 60s when Rachel Carson alerted us to the fact that isolating a phenomenon in the laboratory, manipulating it so that it has certain effects, and creating a technological product that employs its algorithm never regards the intrinsic equilibrium of the whole.  Pesticides do eliminate certain organisms, but what effect do they have on the environment?  What impact do they have on the subtle organizing field?  The results of this error, she warned, may be catastrophic.  Carson was a prophet.
         Advanced theorists in many fields now understand that nothing is in isolation, every whole entity being a part of a greater whole.  The interaction of all parts of any whole and the greater whole of which it is a part is its essential nature. Our blindness to this has created a planetary system which is out of control.
         The culminating insight of the environmental movement was the Gaia hypothesis of Lovelock, that the planet itself is such an organizing unitary field, and we are in the process of destroying this, with consequences whose magnitude we are only beginning to experience and comprehend.  We humans with our science and technology are in effect a pathogen threatening the Gaian organism.  If that organism is sufficiently healthy, it will shake us off…with what consequences to our species and our human culture?  This is likely to be the central challenge of the twenty first century.
         Science is the child of the vision of progress.  It is an extension of intelligence about things.  This in itself is neutral. Scientism is the belief that science and its child, technology, tell us the truth about reality and puts us on a track of progress.  But scientism is hubris whose nemesis is regress.  Even as science brings us progress, the world is regressing into ever more violent and contentious behavior. Those who love nature are in despair as they look around them at the spectacle of our collective self-destruction.
         Heidegger showed how this scientism is a kind of ontological malignancy leading to nihilism. Whatever science looks upon is removed from its essential context and subject to mere usefulness, which Heidegger sees as a kind of violence.  Thus, whatever it turns toward is subtly damaged.  In its pursuit of the manipulable essence of things, science violates the essential. Like a malevolent magician, it casts a spell over us.  Whenever its latest view and evaluation of things is digested by the common mind, it becomes “reality”.  With each new scientific discovery, we breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Ah, this is how it really is.”  Thus we all learned in school that there are nine planets in our solar system, but now we know how it really is: there are only eight.
         The latest theory, once it becomes comprehensible to the common mind, is taken as the truth of being. This is the fundamental faith of our civilization.  But this truth is never really essential.  It is just the latest error.  Remember when we were all puffing away on cigarettes, hoping we looked like movie stars?  Wasn’t it the latest science that repeatedly proved to us that smoking was not addictive or deleterious to health? If you have any sense of the essential, however, you knew that inhaling smoke into your lungs was harming them. The more subtle harm of tobacco was increased as chemicals were added. Basically, smoking is a pulmonary and blood disease brought on by a habit of choice. Ex-smokers, look back.  Didn’t you always realize it?
         In the 60’s, the government published the first food pyramid.  It was the digest of the latest research on nutrition.  This was taken to be “how it is”, the reality of nutrition. According to these revelations Americans dutifully changed their diets.  But the “science of nut
rition” fostered more and mo
re additives and processed food, which, together with environmental poisoning (more technological wonders) created a dramatic increase of cancer and degenerative disease.  The pyramid was revised in 1992, and there was a shift in our national diet accordingly. Lots of pasta and bread.  This then became the truth.  Now, the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other degenerative diseases has spawned new pyramids, and it is revealed that the old ones were greatly influenced by the manufactured food lobbies. Slowly expensive experiment by experiment, we are coming to the realization that foods taken in moderation in their natural state are peerless as nutrition. In fact this is the only essential nutrition.  As this newest scientific revelation dawns on us, the food processors are falling all over themselves to manufacture products that “replicate” natural food.  This will take a very long time.  The subtleties of the relationship between food in its natural state and the well being of the whole human being, while essentially obvious, seems to be incomprehensible to our current technological paradigms. The industry will be at pains to replicate these features, which likely are not even specifically physical. The processed food industry in the last 100 years has put the farming industry at its service, rendering extinct the small farmer who in the ancient way grows essential food.  It will have to manufacture such foods, because we have disassembled the infrastructure by which foods in their essential state are grown.

         Computer technology has spawned awesome new forms of communications and information processing.  But each device demands to be maintained and increasingly utilized. As the power and influence of these devices in our lives increases, so does our frenzy to keep up with it all.  Take a look.  Most Americans are frantic.
         The combination of scientism, technology, and the profit motive are Error.  We live in the fashions of Error.  No wonder that we are alienated and that the quality of our lives is degenerating.

Next: The Virtual and the Essential

11. The Virtual and the Essential


         Since the beginning of the century I have had the sense we are drifting further and further from the essential.  Reflecting on this I come to the following observation.  Our inherent referent for the essential is nature. It is our teacher, our existential comfort. We feel joyous and purified by it.  Nature is the essential food of the soul, because it is where we come from and our true home.  Its pristine being nourishes us. 
         From our human beginnings, the touchstone for our growing intelligence was the natural world.  It conditioned and instructed our intelligence, our understanding, and our way of being.  Nature grounded us in its realities. For all the difficulties of primitive life, things were good then in a way they no longer are.
         In the last 200 years, the man-made world became more and more dominant as the environment from which we absorbed our being.  Starting with the Romantics, we began to sense our alienation and long for our primordial connection.  This reached a point of alarm in the last half of the twentieth century, sending the sensitives off on their various quests and motivating sweeping social change.  We were removed from nature, but we have still been grounded in the reality of the physical world.
         Now, however, another degree and kind of remove is taking place.  Our referent is becoming the virtual reality of our media, our telecommunication and our computers.  Now our grounding is a completely synthetic one that is even more divorced from the teaching of the earth.  With incredible volition our reality is becoming a virtual one.
         But what of our soul?  Divorced from our source, imprisoned in a synthetic world whose determining value is greed, we enter deeper and deeper into error.
         We humans have taken over the natural process of evolution based on a technology that is myopic with regard to the whole. The optimystics of the world, such as my friend Barbara Marx Hubbard, look at all the factors in the movement of civilization and, in the resonance of visionary evolutionists such as Teillard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo, see our species evolving into a higher life form, a non-organic one, which may survive even after we have destroyed the capacity of the earth to sustain human life. Noting the tendencies and direction of advances in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and life extension, we see the possibility. The optimystical view is that the gnostic geniuses of the past, including Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus, have been prophets of this higher life form and that their insight is a gesture towards the telos or final end of this evolution, Aurobindo’s gnostic being.  But the lessons of error and foolishness of the past and the gravity that devolves the realizations of these great minds, give pause.  If the valence of these developments is not rooted in the essential connection to life, the great experiment of human consciousness will fail.
        
        If there is anything truly sacred in the world, it is essential.  Through gnosis we come to know it.  The wise have called it by many names.  It is worthy of our prayers, our devotion and our utmost commitment.  It is our only hope for survival and the compass for any authentic way forward.

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