Gnostic Consciousness: Knowing with Spiritual Beings

Introduction

Despite my resolute sense of the sacred nature of earthly existence, religious belief has yet to strike me as a particularly appropriate form of response to the presence of the holy. Belief is to be distinguished from Faith, in that believing implies conceiving of the existence of spiritual beings without the perceptual experience to give such conceptions their content. Faith, in contrast, involves opening one’s innermost heart to the Wisdom of the divine and is the first step toward accessing supersensible experience.

Beliefs are empty wishes, which according to Rudolph Steiner, are “deeply bound up with personal egoism…rising out of the body like subjective smoke” (IMS, p. 233). I may believe a friend’s testimony concerning any number of worldly issues, but I cannot settle for a secondhand understanding of the true source of my deeply felt spiritual intuitions. I am forced, then, in this essay, to go beyond belief by way of Faith, that mode of loving perception whose content is Wisdom. In this way, I hope to contact the true source of my desire for the divine.

But leaving behind religious teachings and symbols entirely would be an arrogant mistake, stranding me in uncharted astral waters without any direction home. The human soul is a stormy sea between the lonely island I call “me” and the shores of a shared earthly destiny. Crossing these treacherous waters requires more than my ego can take. Psyche (my soul) is a spiritual being who cannot be an experience had by my ego, because my ego is always already adrift within Her, already swallowed whole. To calm the seas of my soul, I can only die willingly for Her in Faith that She redeems me. She is the Church, not of Rome, but of the earth entire. In Her, I find my destiny.

The maps toward Her hidden treasure have been written for us by countless spiritual seers, each urging us to brave the depths of Her psychic sea so that we may see with them what our earthly senses conceal. Her treasure is buddhi, the gift of intuitive knowing that bridges heaven and earth and turns death into eternal life.

The sacred scriptures pointing signs for us in the direction of the divine are many, but in this essay, I will discuss those mentioning three beings in particular: Krishna, Buddha, and Christ. In what follows, I will attempt, aided by Faith, Wisdom, and Love to know with these beings the purpose of their presence on earth, and to see with them how they are guiding the evolution of humanity toward a rebirth as the children of Gaia.

Krishna

The human, at present, is a being precariously caught between the ignorant instincts of its animal past and the angelic gnosis of its spiritual future. Said differently, the human is a heavenly being still in the process of becoming fully conscious of its mission on earth.

The human soul, wounded by the split of the ego from the unconscious, is torn between a desire to live and a fear of death. In such a wounded state, humanity has little choice but to make of life a war in defense from death. Out of this confusion (confusion, because war for life only assures that death prevails) grows the soul’s conscience, its sense of good and evil. These moral opposites arise because the ego knows of no other scheme with which to make sense of its precarious mortal existence.

Humanity’s inability to see the meaning of the playful war of these friendly enemies (good and evil, life and death, desire and fear) is responsible for shattering its collective Psyche into an untold number of ego identities, for whom collectivity has become unconscious. The current age of spiritual darkness due to egoic isolation is one of war for forgotten wisdom buried beneath the blood of ages, for as Krishna says, only he or she “who in all things is without affection though visited by this good or that evil and neither hates nor rejoices, [only] his [or her] intelligence sits firmly founded in wisdom,” (BG, 2:57).

Krishna is the being that helps open the human heart to the karma of the generations who have come before, in whose deaths the lives of the present steal their time. Krishna is consciousness of the past, and all its implications for humanity’s future path. In Krishna, one becomes conscious of the weight of the whole human mass, or what Teilhard de Chardin might call the “great Monad” (HM, p. 188).

In the opening scenes of the Bhagavad-Gita, after being urged by his as yet unrecognized charioteer to ride forth into battle against his own family, the warrior Arjuna is caught in an epic struggle with the great moral forces in his soul. The war of Kurukshetra is set to begin, but Arjuna throws down his bow and arrow because he cannot bear the thought of slaying his own people, of embracing the cosmic significance and ultimate sacrifice of the task before him.

Arjuna looks to his charioteer for help, saying:

It is poorness of spirit that has smitten away from me my true heroic nature, my whole consciousness is bewildered in its view of right and wrong. I ask thee which may be better [to fight, or not]—that tell me decisively. I take refuge as a disciple with thee; enlighten me, (BG, 2:7).

His charioteer responds:

Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body, is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible. Therefore fight, O Bharata. He who regards the soul as a slayer, and he who thinks it is slain, both of them fail to perceive the truth. It does not slay, nor is it slain, (BG, 2:18-19).

In the chapters that follow, the charioteer eventually reveals himself to be Krishna, the Lord of all existences. He shares with Arjuna many lessons concerning the inevitability of action in the constantly flowing realm of Prakriti (Nature). Among these lessons are the yogas leading the divinely inspired worker to act without attachment to the fruits of his or her labor while knowing Purusha (Soul) through devotion to the supreme Brahman. Bhakti brings one closer to the divine essence within, the atman, which when identified with heals the egoic rift in Psyche by reminding us of our eternal origin and destiny. The necessity of uniting the three yogas of action, knowledge, and love is a message running throughout the Gita, but the most important impartation occurs in chapter 11.

Arjuna, now free of self-pity and the delusion that his egoic indecision might forestall the inevitable cosmic unrolling of the Supreme Godhead’s secret labor on earth, asks Lord Krishna to reveal his divine form and body.

The Gita describes Krishna’s supreme form:

It is that of the infinite Godhead whose faces are everywhere…a world-wide divinity seeing with innumerable eyes, speaking from innumerable mouths, armed for battle with numberless divine uplifted weapons…the whole world multitudinously divided and yet unified is visible in the body of the God of Gods, (BG, 11:9-14).

Arjuna struggles to see such a tremendous vision, which he says is “hard to discern because Thou art a luminous mass of energy on all sides of me, an encompassing blaze, a sun-bright fire-bright Immeasureable,” (p. 176).

A warrior of another time, Teilhard de Chardin, seems to have encountered a similar many-eyed, many-mouthed divine being while embroiled in war against his own European family, calling it variously “an immense human Presence” (HM, p. 174), and “a Soul greater than my own” (HM, p. 175). He echoes the difficulty expressed by Arjuna, saying that the “gift or faculty of perceiving, without actually seeing…is still comparatively rare,” (HM, p. 31). Krishna relates the same when he says, “What thou hast to see, this thy human eye cannot grasp; but there is a divine eye (an inmost seeing), and that eye I now give to thee,” (BG, 11:8). This eye belongs to the atman, whose spiritual sight sees beneath the surfaces that separate to the face shared by All.

The intense human energy that is brought forth in war seems to have served as the provocation for the emergence of such a spiritual sight in both Arjuna and Teilhard. As Teilhard says, “The effect of the war was to break through the crust of the commonplace and conventional [so as to open a window] onto the hidden mechanisms and deep strata of what humanity is becoming,” (HM, p. 178). In this way, the confusion of good and evil are transcended through a vision of the future, as the full breadth of time and the path of world history are made present. Evil becomes, given such a view, the provocateur of further evolution—the light that violently wakes the Self (atman) from its slumber deep within the clouded human soul.

As Teilhard says, the outward chaos of the front lines, like a crashing wave, curls upon itself and develops within one:

“…an underlying stream of clarity, energy, and freedom that is to be found hardly anywhere else in ordinary life—and the new form that the soul then takes on is that of the individual living the quasi-collective life of all men, fulfilling a function far higher than that of the individual, and becoming fully conscious of this new state,” (HM, p. 168).

Krishna-consciousness calls upon one to go beyond the isolated egoic state and its culturally relative sense of good and evil by offering insight into the mission of humanity as a whole. Krishna is the first awakening of the human Self (atman) and its demand of personal sacrifice for love of All (Brahman). The ego must transform, like Arjuna and Teilhard, by remembering the momentum of karmic current carrying it out of the fragmentation of old, and seeing, with them, the future unification that redeems its present sacrifices. With the knowledge gained through such sight, one is called to fight not for hatred of one’s enemies or the spoils of war, but for love of an earthly destiny decreed by heaven.

In the closing pages of the Gita, Krishna offers his final teaching to Arjuna, saying:

Devoting all thyself to Me, giving up in the conscious mind [ego] all actions into Me, resorting to Yoga of the will and intelligence be always one in heart and consciousness with Me, (BG, 18:57).

To which Arjuna responds:

Destroyed is my delusion, I have regained memory through Thy grace, O Infallible One, I am firm, dispelled are my doubts. I will act according to Thy word, (BG, 18:73).

“We are,” as Teilhard says, “the countless centers of one and the same sphere” (HM, p. 192) rushing toward an inevitable return to psychic and spiritual wholeness. Only by yolking individual knowledge, action, and love for the sake of collective human destiny can one participate in bringing to fruition the divine mission on earth.

Buddha

Krishna grants the human being a glimpse of the glory of his or her dharma by reminding him or her of their terrifying karma and the sacrifices its purification requires. Fully acknowledging one’s dharmic duty involves purifying the soul of its desires and fears. The teachings of the Buddha provide an appropriate practice kindling in the soul the fires of such purification.

The Buddhist Pāramitās provide the ego with a vessel to carry it from the island of isolated suffering across turbulent seas to the shores of enlightened compassion. One such path toward moral perfection and wise understanding can be found in the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.

The first Truth concerns dukkha, or the fact that egoic life is suffering. Before Prince Gotama realized his inner Buddha-nature, his encounter with the three sorrows of age, sickness, and death nearly overwhelmed him. During the course of spiritual development, every individual is forced to confront these same sorrows in one way or another. Most initially ignore and repress them, turning their eyes elsewhere toward the many distractions afforded by countless bodily desires. But beneath the surface of such superficial pleasures, there begins to boil a sense of the emptiness of all egoic longings. The ego is possessed by a thirst that knows no satisfaction, and so eventually, dissatisfaction begins to overflow it, carrying the sorrows back into consciousness where they drown one in despair.

The Buddha invites one to sit with this psychic crisis rather than run, such that in its painful message is seen the source of the cure for all earthly sorrows. Recognizing that life lived egoically is a disease is the first step along the path toward calming the unsettled waters of the soul.

The second Noble Truth concerns samudaya, or the origin of suffering. Only once the impermanence of all manifest form is accepted and the sorrows of age, sickness, and death have been faced can the cause of such afflictions become apparent. It is craving for and attachment to the flux of phenomena that disquiets the soul and gives rise to its suffering. An ego still immersed in the uneven seas of desire is afflicted with a dis-ease occluding the clarity of its dharmic destination. Unless the ego-identified soul is cured of its suffering, one’s Buddha-nature remains but a seed awaiting the lush soil affording it an opportunity to grow.

The third Noble Truth, nirodha, concerns the cure allowing for the cessation of suffering. In this Truth is found the promise of the Buddhist path, that desire and its samsaric effects can be overcome and transformed into the bliss of nirvana. Nirvana is the extinction of desire through the realization of an emptiness (Suññatā) so luminously alluring that one cannot help but fill it with infinite compassion (Karuṇā). With this, the seed, or Tathāgatagarbha (GH, p. 105), of one’s inherent Buddha-nature absorbs the now purified water of the soul and begins to grow.

The fourth Noble Truth concerns mārga, or the Eightfold Path. It lays out a systematic way of engaging life as a spiritual practice in order to cultivate the seeds of wisdom (prajñā), morality (sīla), and concentration (samādhi) in oneself. Of course, an initial glimmer of insight was required before one could find the path at all. Without having the capacity to deeply recognize the inadequacy of egoic existence, one cannot even begin to take seriously the wisdom and moral precepts contained in the Eightfold Path.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, in each person hides “the pure nature, the potential…to overcome imperfections and attain liberation,” (GH, p. 105). A natural awareness of the ever-present seed of wisdom within allows one to begin the process of cultivation. Once one has mastered right speech, action, and livelihood, he or she can begin to cultivate right effort, mindfulness, and concentration. With continued practice, the path culminates in a full flowering of the divine wisdom of buddhi, the intuitive intelligence lying dormant in the heart of each of us.

Buddhi opens in us a gateway between the heavenly realm of eternity and the earthly passage of time, giving us insight into the essence of our existence. The purpose of Mahayanist Buddhist practice, however, is not merely the attainment of Nirvana for oneself, but the transformation of one’s whole being into a bodhisattva of compassion. A bodhisattva is compelled to remain on the earthly plane to “suffer with” all sentient beings, sympathetically sharing with them through skillful means the path toward liberation.

Buddha’s mission is to provide the human being with a method for realizing the wisdom and compassion of its inherent Tathāgatagarbha. Without a way of cultivating this seed within, one remains stranded on an island of ego lost amidst the sea of saṃsāra. Buddhist practice offers a light in the darkness, a means of contacting the buddhi hidden in the depths of our soul and making conscious its task of transfiguring the world.

Christ

While it has also been said of Buddha that he “walks on the water” (EPO, p. 90), Christ heralds the very Spirit of the water itself. Rudolf Steiner has said, “Buddha’s life ends with the transfiguration, whereas the most significant part of Jesus’ life begins after the Transfiguration,” (CMF, p. 97). By this, Steiner means that Christ not only became one with the light of the world (as Buddha did after his parinirvana), Christ is the being who radiates this light into the world of flesh and blood, into the very heart of the cosmos itself.

Just before his death, the historical Buddha, according to the Dalai Lama, “stated that the body of a fully enlightened being…is…impermanent and subject to [transience, impermanence, and non-endurance]” (GH, p. 120), just like every other phenomenal form. According to Steiner, Buddha’s transfiguration merged him with the “all-pervading blissful life of the spirit” (CMF, p. 97), thereby demonstrating humanity’s origin in the divine Word (Logos).

In contrast, as is written in the Gospel according to John, in Christ, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (1:14). In this way, the spiritual essence of the cosmos incarnated on earth, suffered crucifixion, and was resurrected. As a Sun being, Christ expresses the hidden meaning of light and warmth, radiating wisdom and love upon all humanity. Christ’s transfiguration makes transparent, according to Jean Gebser, “the genuine irruption of the other side into this side, the presence of the beyond in the here and now, of death in life, of the transcendent in the immanent, of the divine in the human” (EPO, p. 529).

While Buddha provides the method that purifies the soul, returning Psyche to a virgin state free of the conflicting desires and fears of a merely earthly existence, only Christ can provide the spiritual power that births in us the divine Wisdom capable of loving the world entire.

As is spoken by Christ to His Father:

…the glory which You gave Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are One: I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have Loved them, as You have Loved Me (John 17:22-23).

The Love made possible by Christ’s incarnation on earth is what unifies not only the entire human race, but the cosmos itself into a single Body whose life is eternal. This, the Body of Christ, is the true Church open to anyone with the Faith to heal the separation from the spiritual realm caused by original sin. This sin was the knowledge of good and evil that turned the soul into a battleground and made death its principle enemy. As is written by Paul in Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Faith was distinguished from belief at the outset of this essay in order to make it clear that the wishful desiring of the latter only clouds our ability to listen for divine inspiration. Although it is written, “…blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29), we may read the use of the term “believed” in this context as more akin to the openheartedness of Faith than the egoic desire for wish fulfillment. But the open ears afforded by Faith are not enough to fully and intuitively participate in the meaning of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

As Steiner has said,

Faith allows a person to participate unconsciously in the Mystery of Golgotha, [but] initiation leads to a fully conscious connection with the power that streams invisibly from events depicted in the New Testament (CMF, p. 100).

In other words, while Faith brings us to the water, it cannot make us drink of its immortalizing Wisdom. However, the Resurrection of Christ is significant precisely because it transforms what had been revealed only to a few in secret into an event upon the world stage of history. What had been a mythological image becomes, after Christ, an actual event (CMF, p. 98). Given Faith, though one may currently lack the spiritual sight to consciously commune with the Wisdom of Christ, realization is nonetheless assured and made inevitable by the deed that was done on the Cross for all humanity.

But as was made clear at the outset, I cannot settle for the hearsay of stories, but must myself die and rise by the Love of Christ. I must know, with Paul, “that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more,” (Romans 6:9), and “that our old man [was] crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed” (Romans 6:6). With this, the Christ in me becomes alive unto God, I am reborn, and my Psyche remembers her true name: Sophia, Bride of God.

My soul is but a reflection of Sophia, the divine Wisdom who’s Love was so great it overflowed the Pleroma and created the world. As Eve, She tempted me when I was Adam with the serpent’s secret fruit. I ate and gained knowledge that this world was not my origin and that death must not be my destiny. Christ was Her rescue mission, the Savior sent to Redeem Her creation from the sin of separation from God. Christ is “the Light of the world” (John 9:5) who shines upon the shattered mirror of many souls making each One with Him in Love.

Conclusion

Only when I begin to open my heart in Faith can I hear the whispers of spiritual beings softly singing me the Song of the Spheres. Faith brings me—through Krishna, Buddha, and Christ—to Wisdom, the source of the Light of the world.

With Krishna, I come to know and love my karma, to act without personal attachment to the fruits of my labor. For the labor of life on earth concerns a destiny shared by all, a mission mandated by the insatiable ramification of the human race and the closed shape of its planet’s surface. Our dharma is to unite as a single Omega, a Cosmic Person.

I come to know, with Buddha, the skills required to pacify my soul, to cure it of its sickness. So long as the ego remains unconscious of its shadow and Psyche forgets her name, my soul cannot express its one true desire: to love all beings that suffer in the world of earthly turning. Buddha provides the soil out of which the seed of compassion and Wisdom may grow.

In Christ, I come to know that His was also my ego’s crucifixion, the death of all my sin. Christ comes to replace the external Law of old by awakening the Word of God within my heart, “for the Law was given by Moses, but Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). His resurrection redeems the creation of the cosmos and opens the gates of heaven to all who dwell on earth, because as Teilhard says, “Heaven cannot dispense with Earth” (HM, p. 203).

Works Cited
ISM – Bamford, Christopher, ed. Isis Mary Sophia: Her Mission and Ours. Steiner Books, 2003.
BG – Bhagavad gita and its message with text, translation and Sri Aurobindo’s commentary. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Light Publications, 1995.
HM – Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de. The Heart of Matter. New York: Harvest Books, 2002.
EPO – Gebser, Jean. Ever-present origin. Athens, Ohio: Ohio UP, 1986.
GH – His Holiness The Dalai Lama. The Good Heart A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus. Minneapolis: Wisdom Publications, 1998.
CMF – Rudolf, Steiner,. Christianity as mystical fact. Hudson, N.Y: Anthroposophic P, 1997.

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