One idea that characterises most Gnostic texts are their complex accounts of the unfolding of the various Divine emanations, the Aeons, the "Eternities" or "Worlds", which become the transcendentalPleroma or realm of Light. The Pleroma is distinguished from the lower or manifest creation, so the Gnostic Cosmology is based on the idea of a duality between the transcendent Spiritual Reality (which includes the manifest and unmanifest) Absolute) and the imperfect psychic and physical reality, the "Cosmos". The psycho-physical cosmos in fact is considered a lower or imperfect reflection or copy of the higher perfect order of the Pleroma
The exact representations of the Pleroma differ according to different Gnostic sects, but if we take the Sethian and Valentinian schools there is the division into four grades of divine existence, as follows
It is fascinating to consider the parallels here between the Gnostic idea of the Pleroma and parallel themes from Neoplatonism, Kabbalah, Ishraqism, Samkhya, Kashmir Shaivism, and more recent teachings like Sant Mat (Radha Soami), Theosophy, Sri Aurobindo, Meher Baba, and various New Age and Channelled teachings, all of whom distinguish between a transcendent Divine Spiritual ontological Reality (or Realities) and a lower imperfect reality of finite psychic and physical existence, usually in terms of a number of distinct planes or emanations. The fact that such similar models of understanding can arise independently in different cultures and systems of thought suggests that Reality really does have a "structure" that can be tapped into and perceived. Of course the scepticalmaterialist can and will find other explanations - and I respect that. But the materialist still cannot explain why one should prefer their irrational and very limited world-view over other worldviews that may be equally irrational but at least are not so limited. Ultimately though it is upto each individual to decide how they wish to perceive reality. Which is how it should be.
The Gnostic Dramaturgy - Creation and Redemption
The following pages give an account of the Gnostic conception of creation of the Divine Powers (Aeons) and the Universe. You can start at the first link and go through, or simply dip in anywhere. But before going any further, a word about writing style. Most esoteric and occult teachers, for some infuriating reason, have a penchant for writing or presenting their metaphysics in the most turgid and unreadable way. And the Nag Hammadi Library is unreadable even relative to these other unreadables. So the first that strikes the reader when confronting this archaic text is its obscure style and rampant contradictions. In fairness, this may in part be due to the fact that these texts were worked over again and again by successive scribes and copyists. Each copyist would add his own interpretation and theories, without even bothering to see if these fit in with the original text. In this way these texts eventually became completely incomprehensible, as anyone who tackles The Nag Hammadi Library will discover.
But having said that, I simply cannot agree with those Catholic writers who dismiss the Gnostic material as some sad and sorry off-shoot that the Church in its wisdom discarded. Rather, I agree with Jung that the Church really diminished itself by rejecting Gnosticism. And the great revival of interest in Gnosticism in today's world only proves Jung's point; that the wonderful mythologising and cosmologising of the classical Gnostics still can contribute much to today's world.
Most Gnostic texts begin with a creation account that describes the origin of the various Divine emanations from the original indescribable Godhead.
In the Apocryphon of John, the First Principle is designated as "Invisible Spirit" and "Father". This is described in terms typical of the monistic experience everywhere: ineffable, immeasurable, self-contained, perfect, tranquil, the source of all, and so on.
Indeed, one of the great strengths of classical Gnosticism is the beauty and evocative nature of its language, especially when describing the Absolute Reality. In The Gospel of the Egyptians, the Godhead is described as
"The Father of the great light, who came forth from the silence...(who) rests in the silence" [pp.196-7].
"He is without end; he is incomprehensible. He is ever imperishable....He is unchanging good. He is faultless. He is everlasting...blessed...He is perfect, having no defect. He is imperishably blessed." [p.210].
"the incomprehensible, inconceivable one, who is superior to every thought." [p.38]
While in the Tripartite Tractate, the Godhead is described as "the inconceivable, ineffable, the incomprehensible, unchanging one" [p.57]; unbeggotten and immortal; having "no beginning and no end," and "unattainable in his greatness, inscrutable in his wisdom, incomprehensible in his power, and unfathomable in his sweetness" [p.56]
And according to Hans Jonas' account of the Valentinian theology in his The Gnostic Religion, in the "invisible and nameless heights there was a perfect Aeon", called Fore-Beginning, Fore-Father, or Abyss. With him was his female counterpart (or polarity) known as Ennoia (Thought), Grace or Silence." [pp.179-180].
It is this Supreme Godhead, this Absolute Reality, that is the source of all subsequent creation, even of the Divine creation.
The Gnostic Savior
Unlike Hermeticism and Neoplatonism, which as spiritual philosophies do not depend on a particular "external" religious figure for salvation, Gnosticism, like Christianity, is very much a Divine Savior-orientated belief-system. The difference is that according Christian doctrine the supernatural Savior confers Love but at the same time denies Knowledge and self-effort ("not through works but through faith", etc); while in Gnosticism - whether Christian, Sethian, or some other form - the Savior confers spiritual Knowledge (Gnosis) yet at the same time dose not negate spiritual self-effort. In Gnosticism then, Christ is not a blood-sacrifice figure who has to be tortured and executed to atone for man's guilt and sin, but rather a messenger of saving Knowledge, very much like the Buddha who taught the way to Enlightenment and Nirvana.
And while the Christian religion, being profoundly anti-metaphysical, simply equates Christ with God-Almighty (while further befuddling things with the three-in-one Trinity; Constantines' politically expedient creation at the Council of Nicea), the Gnostic cosmology sees the Savior as simply one emanated Divine Principle among many. As the anonymous author of the The Gospel of the Egyptians explains:
"The incorruptible man Adamas asked for them a son..., in order that he (the son) may become the father of the immovable, incorruptible race, so that through it...the dead aeon (Matter) may raise itself, so it that it may dissolve. And thus there came forth, from above, the power of the great light, the Manifestation. She gave birth to the four great lights..., and the great incorruptible Seth, the son of the incorruptible man Adamas."
[The Gospel of the Egyptians, in Nag Hammadi, p.199]
Even for the Christian Gnostic - e.g. the Valentinian - Christ and Jesus are not only unrelated to the conventional (Pauline) Christian deity, but are actually two separate beings. In the Valentinian cosmogony the Christos never leaves the Pleroma at all, except to shape the formless entity" into the Lower Sophia, while the suffering and Passion of the human Jesus - into whom the Jesus-Aeon descended at his baptism and departed before the crucifixion - was merely a stratagem to fool Death. The human Jesus was the messenger for the Gnosis which makes possible the "information" of incarnate Souls; he had nothing to do with the Pauline idea of original sin, etc.
In other Gnostic teachings, especially those referred to as "Sethian" - such as the The Gospel of the Egyptians, quoted above, it is Seth rather than Christ who is the central Savior figure. The human Seth, who unlike his brothers Cain and Abel possessed the "spirit" or "seed" from above [Birger A. Pearson, "The Figure of Seth in Gnostic Literature", pp.478-483 (in B. Layton, ed., The Rediscovery of Gnosticism, vol. 2. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1981, 472-504), was the progenitor of the Gnostic race. The Jewish-Gnostic Apocalypse of Adam, and the more sophisticated The Gospel of the Egyptians, a "salvation history" of the earthly race of Seth, its origin, its survival of flood and fire, and its salvation through an "Illuminator" or Savior, Seth himself [Ibid, p.489]. Such "salvation history" is derived from Jewish apocryphal sources [p.503].
Seth himself then takes on the form of a Divine, celestial, pre-Creation being, as we have seen. The human Seth is thus an Incarnation, an Avatar to use the very appropriate Indian term, of the "great Seth", the heavenly son of the incorruptible Man, Adamas [p.477]
In The Gospel of the Egyptians, the great Seth passes through three "parousias" (flood, fire, and judgment by the inferior gods of this world) in order to salve his race, "through a Logos-begotten body" which he prepared for himself, finally "putting on" Jesus for that purpose [Nag Hammadi, p.203] [pp.490]. While in another Sethian tractate, it is the eschatological high priest and messianic warrior Melchizedek who takes on the role of Jesus Christ. [Nag Hammadi, p.399; [p.498]
So the basic feature of Sethian Gnosticism is the theology "of Seth as a heavenly redeemer, who can manifest himself in a variety of earthly incarnations, such as Zostrianos, Zoroaster, Melchizedek, Jesus Christ, etc" [Birger A. Pearson, "The Figure of Seth in Gnostic Literature", (in B. Layton, ed., The Rediscovery of Gnosticism, vol. 2. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1981, 472-504), p.498]
Ultimately, Seth's purpose and mission is not only the salvation of the gnostic sparks trapped in matter, but also the spiritual dissolution of the fallen Cosmos. As we have seen ;The Gospel of the Egyptians refers to Seth as "the father of the immovable, incorruptible race", through which "the dead aeon", that is, matter, or darkness, "may raise itself, so it that it may dissolve." [Nag Hammadi, p.199].
Esoteric means the "inner" (eso-), in the sense of the inner consciousness; the contemplative, mystical or meditative transpersonal perspective. This is something different from the ordinary everyday understanding of things, and can only be understood by intuition or higher mental or spiritual faculties.
The opposite of Esoteric is Exoteric, which means the "outer" (exo-), i.e. the outer or surface or everyday consciousness. This includes both the scientific-materialistic and the conventional (or literal) religiousperspective. As it is based on the everyday understanding of things, and does not require any transformation of consciousness (and indeed considers any such transformation to be harmful), it assumes that the everyday mind alone can understand Reality. (Things are not always that simple though, because in order to do, say, quantum physics one requires a mathematical intuition not shared by many).
Central to the distinction between Esoteric and Exoteric is that of states of consciousness. An Exoteric philosophy or religion as one which is based on the normal waking state of consciousness, or a modified state of consciousness which is still pretty close to the normal waking state. Any aspiration beyond the ordinary state of existence is discouraged. For example, according to the religious person, "God created/loves you just as you are", so who are you to question what God has ordained for you by striving for some higher state of consciousness? While according to the sceptical Materialist, there is no higher state beyond the rational mind anyway (all non-rational states of consciousness being delusionary).
In contrast, all true Esotericism is Gnostic. That is, it is based on Higher Knowledge, or Gnosis, to use the Greek term. Gnosis is a much superior way of understanding than Reason. Reason stumbles around with premises and logical arguments, and uses these in its own way, without regard for higher truth. With reason alone, you can equally prove or disprove any statement. Certainly, used properly, reason is an invaluable aid to understanding and approaching the Truth. But used improperly, it can cunningly justify any statement or argument, no matter how patently false. It is through this negative use of reason that the inferior religious and sceptical materialistic philosophies are able to flourish.
Thus we have (putting it of course simplistically) two fundamental positions; the Exoteric literal religious-and-scientific position, which requires no transformation of consciousness, and is therefore accessible to the "average joe"; and the Esoteric "mystical" and philosophically sophisticated position, which is based on the transformation of the self and the understanding of the nature of reality. Of course, I need to emphasise here once again that this is an oversimplification of what is not really a clear cut few and many dichotomy at all. For example the understanding of an "exoteric" (no need to attain a mystical/transpersonal state) science such as physics is accessible to only a small percentile of the population (which is why there are so few talented physicists), whereas the average person (if spiritually inclined) is much more easily able to understand and assimilate mystical or at least New Age topics, such as homeopathy, "geopathogenic zones", eastern teachings (especially as presented by a guru), and so on.
With this in mind, I present the following, very simplistic, tabulation.
God (Dualism): i.e. God is mainly considered as a separate, external being
or Space-Time-Energy (Materialism) - the "unified field theory" or Theory of Everything or some such holy grail of physics
Universal Consciousness (Monism)The Divine is within as well as without
The above table therefore presents things in a very simplistic way, as the distinction between Exoteric and Esoteric is never so clear cut. The whole idea of such a dichotomy comes about through the establishment of the various Monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc) in dogmatic form. Due to the impossibility of reconciling literal scriptural theology with mystical insight, a very sharp demarcation naturally appears between, say, conventional Judaism and Kabbalah, or conventional Islam and Sufism. But in the East, especially India, no such distinction is necessary, and one finds instead a smooth gradation from exoteric to esoteric, with all positions being equally acceptable. In any case, especially in traditional or established forms of esotericism (Buddhism, Sufism, Kabbalah, etc), there is always some conceptual dogma, so we have esoteric religion, a religion based on mystical experiences, but still interpreting them according to an a prior analysis. Most mystical and esoteric streams within religious traditions get around this problem by the use of sophisticated Hermeneutics. In the Western world this problem was further exacerbated by the rise of scientism, rationalism, and Protestantism. A good example of the difficulty of separating esoteric from exoteric can be seen by looking at the distinction between so called "rabinic" or Legalistic Judaism and the occult movement of Kabbalah. One would think that there could be no more distinct counterpoles, but a deeper study shows that the situation is no-where near as clearly defined, even here.
In fact, the very idea of a sharp Exoteric-Esoteric dichotomy is a recent one, developing out of the Traditionalist school of Guenon, Schuon etc on the one hand, and Theosophy and later occult movements on the other. Such schools of thought acknowledge a universal current of mystical revelation in that is the living heart or spirit behind the external esoteric legalistic surface of religion.
It should also be pointed out that other definition of "Esoteric" or "Esotericism" has been used by the "New Age" movement of the seventies and eighties to simply mean any acceptable non-materialistic and non-conventional-religious metaphysic. So one could equally refer to Theosophical concepts of the Astral body or of nature spirits, or Buddhist teachings regarding higher states of consciousness, as "esoteric". In this context, "Esoteric" becomes a meaningless blanket term for any non-physical realities or knowledge.
When a teacher proclaims seeking the Highest One aside of established revelation and the orthodox community, before long a new orthodoxy arises around that teaching too, as in the case of Jesus with Judaism, Budhha with the Vedic Brahmanical religion of his time, Nanak with the Hinduism and Islam of his time, and so on. It is apparently an ongoing dialectic due to the circumstance that many people who are not evolved enough to let go of their enculturation.
The problem is that as soon as a teacher asserts something spiritual, it soon takes on the character of a metaphysical model whose interpretation by the majority of powerful becomes privileged (orthodox). The alternatives are either to disguise one's assertion poetically (Kabbalah, Mystical Christianity and Sufism) or else to abjure all modeling as misleading, which is the Zen alternative. Because the more fundamentalist orthodoxy is so politically powerful in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the sages of Kabbalah, Mystical Christianity and Sufism have relied on poetic metaphors to disguise an underlying model which the orthodox would likely deem heretical and react against. Zen, on the other hand, abjures model construction almost entirely because it sees models as establishing boundaries whereas the aim of the teaching (dharma) is the
" The Logos-Wisdom is the principle of all Divine and Esoteric Revelations. She has the characteristics of being the indwelling revealer of God. She IS the active principle and the transmitter of all Divine knowledge as well the cosmological cause of all creation. "
" The Ladies of My Spiritual Bridal Chamber Awakening. "click here.
Think for yourself and do not quickly accept ideas. Test all things; hold fast what is good. (1 Thes. 5:21)
If you have enemies, each has a Soul, as you do.
" Love your enemies "
" By their fruits you will recognize them" (Matt.7:15-16) "
" Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own. " --Robert A. Heinlein
" I neither know nor think that I know. " --Socrates
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