' To attain Gnosis '...


Enlightenment, Realization, or Gnosis is nothing that can be attained through any of our conventional ways of knowing. This is because conventional knowledge is based on imaginary distinctions, which we take to represent reality. The Reality that Gnosis reveals, however, is non-dual, and without distinctions. To the extent that we reify the distinctions of conventional knowledge as inherently existing entities and objects, they act as veils to our Realization of this Non-dual Reality. Thus, to attain Gnosis we must surrender our belief that conventional knowledge gives us knowledge of Reality. This is why the Taoist sage, Lao Tzu, asks:

When your discernment penetrates to the four quarters Are you capable of not knowing anything?

And why the great Sufi poet, Rumi, writes:

Where should I seek knowledge? In the abandonment of knowledge.

Because as Zen Master, Suzuki Roshi, explains:

If you want to understand it, you cannot understand it. When you give up trying to understand it, true understanding is always there.

Now many seekers take such teachings to mean that, in order to attain Gnosis, we must stop trying to grasp reality through formal philosophical modes of thinking. This is certainly true, as far as it goes. The trouble is, it does not go far enough. What Gnosis demands is something much more radical. The Christian mystic, St. John of the Cross, explains:

Those are decidedly hindered, then, from attainment of this high state of union with God who are attached to any understanding, feeling, imagining, opinion, desire, or way of their own, or to any other of their works or affairs, and know not how to detach and denude themselves of these impediments. Their goal transcends all of this, even the loftiest object that can be known or experienced. Consequently, they must pass beyond everything to unknowing.

In other words, it is not just our philosophical knowledge that must be surrendered. We must surrender belief in any of our conventional ways of knowing - including those everyday, `common sense' ways of knowing we take so much for granted.

This is easier said than done for two reasons. The first is that our most primitive forms of knowledge are based on elementary distinctions which, under normal circumstances, we are not even aware we are making. Consequently, before we can surrender our belief in all forms of knowledge, we must first become mindful of those subliminal mental processes on which knowledge itself is founded.

The second reason is that even the creation and acquisition of our most sophisticated forms of knowledge is by no means a dispassionate affair. Except in the rarest of cases, it is motivated by a desire to in some way enhance and protect ourselves. The more we think we know about the world, the more we feel we can control and manipulate it to our own ends. By the same token, the less we think we know, the more we feel lost and vulnerable. Consequently, the prospect of surrendering our belief in all forms of knowledge is quite frightening, for it means we must be willing to enter a state of such profound unknowing that we literally no longer have the slightest idea of who we are, or where!

- Joel Morwood

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