In the world as we know it, most of us have lived in accordance with the idea that we improve our lives, we become happier, by accumulating things: money, knowledge, power, or various types of experiences. And usually we seek knowledge first: making money takes a certain type of knowledge, or to travel or to become a famous musician. So in one way or another we believe that knowledge is the key to success in life.
We believe that those whom we admire or envy "know something" that we need to learn. Bill Gates must know a lot more than us, and that must be why he is who he is. We believe that once we know a certain thing then we will be able to do something that will make us happier than we are now. For example, if we learn to speak Spanish or to use a computer than everything will change for us. Or if we go to school to learn a new career, then that emptiness we feel inside will finally be gone.
Really, we could expand this term knowledge to include experience of all kind: we all believe that if we are having certain kinds of experiences, we will be happy. We seek to know ourselves through sensations, through experiences: I seek happiness through buying a new car, through eating certain kinds of food... the knowledge of that experience, the sensations of that experience, seem to me to be the path to happiness.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking doesn't get us anywhere. How many of us have thought this way and followed what we believed only to find ourselves in the same situations with more or less the same problems, the same sufferings, the same unanswered questions, the same dark areas in our lives...
You can keep eating all the cheeseburgers you want, all the ice cream you want, but the craving will not go away, and your happiness won't last either.
What we need to realize is that we habitually try to change the external circumstances of life rather than that which creates the circumstances. The causes are internal, they are inside us.
"Our level of Being determines our life."
This means that our external circumstances are simply the reflection of what we are inside.
Now as we go through life seeking to improve things, to change things, to "learn," gathering knowledge, objects, experiences, we are never really changing in a fundamental way, we are just "running from corner to corner of the same room," as one teacher put it. We are really travelling down the same road as everyone else: from birth to school to marriage to children to retirement to death. Even if we react against this path by being some kind of rebel against society, not settling down, living wildly, really we are still on the same road, because fundamentally we are the same inside.
This road that everyone travels is called the Line of Knowledge. This is the Line of Life. Nearly everyone travels down this line believing that they are on their way to some great place, believing that pretty soon they'll get what they've always desired and they'll finally be happy, satisfied. Just around the bend, they say, it's just around the corner.
But this horizontal line goes nowhere. It is just the line that leads from birth to death.
Gnosticism reveals to us that there is a genuine way to rebel against this line, to change in a revolutionary way, to break with the path that marches toward death. It is the vertical line, the Line of Being.
The teacher Gurdjieff said the term Being,
"...to us, simply means ‘existence' as opposed to ‘non-existence'. We do not understand that being or existence comes in many levels and categories. In Western culture it is considered that a man may possess great knowledge, for example he may be an able scientist, make discoveries, advance science, and at the same time he may be, and has the right to be, a petty, egoistic, mean, envious, vain, naive and absent-minded man."
"No one can deny that different social levels exist. There are the people of the church, and of the brothels, of business, and of the land, etc. etc.
Thus also there are different levels of being. Whatever we are internally, magnanimous or petty, generous or mean, violent or peaceful, chaste or lustful; attracts the diverse circumstances of life...
"All things, all circumstances that occur outside of ourselves, on the stage of this world, are without exception the reflection of what we carry within." - Treatise if Revolutionary Psychology
It is our Level of Being that must change if we are to change what is around us. We must change INSIDE in order to change OUTSIDE.
And the key to this change lies precisely at the intersection of these two lines: this present moment. Right now these two lines are crossing through you - the horizontal marks where you are in your life, and the vertical marks your presence, your awareness, your level of being. Someone who is truly aware, who really knows how to be present, to pay attention, and is pushing moment by moment to be more and more aware, is developing along the vertical line. And everything changes for this person.
But most of us, assuming that we pay attention, sleep deeply. Assuming that we are aware, believing that we pay attention, we assume we know who we are and where we are all the time. We assume, we believe, but we do not really see.
We go into work and we "know" we at work, so we go on autopilot. We don't really see where we are because, on a subtle level, we assume we've seen it all, so we feel we are free to think about other things. This means we are not present.
We love to dream. And we dream our lives away, dreaming about ourselves, dreaming about the future.
We imagine our lives, we imagine the fight we had with our loved one, and we imagine how when we said this awful thing it really wasn't that bad, especially because of this and that, and we shift and rework our memories and our perspectives in this way.
We lie. We change things a little here and a little there in order to make ourselves feel better about ourselves, in order to make things look the way we want them to look.
The Buddha said,
"Our minds shape our lives.
We become what we think." - Dhammapada
This does not mean that if I think I am a fireman then I am one. It means that our minds create our reality; we believe that what we see is real, both inside and outside. What we do not realize is that we only see what our mind allows us to see, and our mind is very limited, very dysfunctional. It edits and filters what it perceives, and in a very self-serving way. And we aren't aware if it. Most of this isn't conscious, it is unconconscious, subtle, habitual thinking. Even in our conscious thinking we do this, we even chose to do it; people tell us things we don't like to hear and we "forget about it," we throw it out. We have certain beliefs or concepts that we are attached to and do not like to change them; we are choosing to see things in a certain way because it is comforting to us, or convenient to us, without regard for seeing what is really going on, even if it is painful to hear.
"The intellectual only sees things through his theories."
We, as intellectual animals, always thinking, always identified with the mind, only see what we project.
I was once getting some gas when someone at the next pump asked me a question. Since I had set the little automatic switch, I could let the gas pump without having to stand there holding it so I went over to talk to this person. After a while, I heard the click of the pump stopping, so I assumed the tank was full. When we finished talking I went over and pulled the pump handle out and gasoline began spurting all over the place. I quickly pressed the handle to stopped the flow of gas, of course, but not before making a mess.
The mistake I made was that I believed in my understanding of reality. I believed that the pump was already off, and so I went ahead and acted on that knowledge and was closed to seeing what the reality actually was. I was not aware. I was not paying attention. I was assuming something, and daydreaming, and I made a mistake.
If I knew how to BE, if I had been mindful of myself, observing myself, I would have easily seen that the gas was still pumping. But I was too identified with the conversation and with my assumptions about reality.
"The mind, hypnotized by its very own concepts, always presumes that concept and reality are the same."
In a way, my story illustrates this truth: I had a concept of reality that I believed in, so I acted on it. I was hypnotized by my thoughts, by my concepts. I was closed to seeing reality. Though this story is simple, it represents what is going on in all of us all the time, but with much more profound and deeply impacting events. We sleep though our own destruction and the destruction of our world, as we manifest our many errors and create new ones, as we hurt those around us and set up cycles of cause and effect that we will be dealing with far into the future. All because we are sleeping, thinking, daydreaming.
We must struggle to be free of this hypnosis; we must struggle to awaken, to pay attention. Otherwise, we are in constant danger.
In this sense, "knowledge" encompasses more than algebra or physics: it is in fact the totality of our understanding. It is our framework for the world, our understanding of the world, our vision of everything. Knowledge, taken in this way, is our internal picture of reality.
Our minds are stuffed with concepts. We have ideas about everything: we have decided what reality is, and are closed to seeing the truth. If someone tells me about this guy David, I create an idea about him in my mind, as a reaction to what I am told. Then if I ever meet him, I will see him only accordance with my concepts: either for or against. If I have been told something negative, I will meet him with suspicion and a closed heart. I will not be able to see who he really is, because I am only seeking to prove or disprove my concept. And usually, we only seek to prove what we believe.
In this way, we build concepts and ideas in our minds about anything and everything, every moment of every day. We constantly add to it. We never stop. We never take a moment to just be. To observe. To really see. Instead, we are constantly fiddling with our ideas, our memories, our projections, our dreams; we have built an entirely false view of ourselves and our world. And yet, we live everyday believing in this as "truth", as our "knowledge".
Obviously, it is very subjective knowledge. And subjective knowledge, because it is an illusion, can change nothing that has objective reality. To change objective reality, that which is real, one must have objective knowledge.
And objective knowledge only comes from objective.
When we can really pay attention, really be aware, when we can really see ourselves as we truly are, then we can change. When we can allow ourselves to see our, our pride, our anger, when we can stop lying to ourselves, stop justifying ourselves, then we can start to see our true Level of Being. Then objective knowledge starts to come. And then we can start to change. Then we start to develop along the vertical line. And that horizontal line, the line that everyone in life is on, begins to change for us, too.
Things will change when we stop the assumption that we are aware. We have to realize that we are not aware, we daydream, we think constantly, obsessively: we are asleep.
Then by paying constant attention, having constant awareness, moment-by-moment, we begin to see more of the truth.
This is how we come to real knowledge: self-knowledge, the experiential, active knowledge of what is happening inside from moment to moment.
Obviously, in order to do all of this we need a certain type of help. We need to know how to awaken.
Part of that comes fromand the teachings of various Masters. But we must approach the study of the teachings with the right perspective.
We must study with discrimination, with purpose, and not merely to become "walking libraries" who are full of theories and concepts but are dead inside.
We do not need to have book knowledge, or memorize dates or strange names or different languages. We need direct knowledge, experiential knowledge.
The early Christian desert fathers - who were adept meditators and wrote prolifically on the need to observe ourselves - described one aspect of our level of Being as nous (Greek):
"It is the highest facility in man, through which - provided it is purified- he knows God or the inner essence or principles of created things by means of direct perception." - Philokalia
It is very clear: "He knows by direct perception." He does not know by thinking about it or being told about it or by reading about it: he knows by direct perception.
"Nous must be carefully distinguished from reason; nous does not formulate abstract concepts or argue them using deductive reasoning; but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience or intuition. It dwells in the ‘depth of the'; it constitutes the aspect of the heart." - Philokalia
We are not talking about the mind. This is a type of knowledge that is received and understood by the heart. It is intuitive knowledge.
Many people admire or respect scientists for their knowledge. But a scientist who, in addition to his worldly training, has worked on himself, developed his Being, opened his heart, would be unable to create a destructive technology. While he may have the technical knowledge to do so, his Being, acting through his Intuition (or intuitive knowledge), would not allow him to do it. He would have an intuitive understanding that it would be wrong; that only harm could come of it. In a simplified sense, it is like Jiminy Cricket in Pinochio; it is our "conscience", or a sense of right and wrong. It is just "KNOWING". He just "knows" not to pursue the idea.
We have all had the experience of "sensing" something about a person. You meet someone and "know" that they are dangerous or not to be trusted. This understanding comes not only from your life experience and the things you've seen and experienced. This is proven by those poor people who time and again are taken advantage of or hurt when "they should have known better." Even though they have a lot of experience with bad people, they keep getting in trouble.
In the Philokalia, it is written:
"Once we have purified thethrough patient endurance and with tears of fear and inward grief, and have reached the state of seeing the true nature of things, then - initiated spiritually by the angels - we spontaneously attain contemplative knowledge."
So we are told that with purification, by working on ourselves, we become open to deep levels of spontaneous "knowing"; a type of knowledge that is not intellectual: it is experiential, and intuitive.
"When one opens the inner mind, one does not need to verbalize theories, hypotheses, and preconceptions."
One knows, one does not have to discuss or debate. When we still the mind through, when we learn to be perfectly still and silent in mind and body, the inner mind begins to open, and we receive knowledge directly from the . The intellect is not involved. Someone who can reach this state can hold up a question or image, like an ancient symbol, or perhaps a dream, and receive an answer: knowledge.
This all starts for us by observing ourselves. We have to know ourselves fully, completely thoroughly. We have to uncover all the darkness we have inside, we have to make the unconscious conscious. We have to know ourselves without lying to ourselves, without criticizing ourselves, without judging ourselves.
By observation, by being, we begin to gather a different sort of knowledge. We begin to see reality. We begin to see who we really are, where we really live, and what is really going on inside and around us.
However, as we progress in our work on ourselves, we should not assume that we must stop studying. It also does not mean that we should reject the knowledge of the world. Worldly knowledge is a tool that we must make proper use of. We must work on ourselves, yes, but we must simultaneously manage our worldly responsibilities. We must be good family members, good members of our community, good workers; sometimes this means we must gather a certain amount of "worldly knowledge." The key is balance.
We must also study the teachings. But we must do this in an appropriate way, not just for the sake of gathering data, or to build up mental concepts and ideas. Remember that the mind, the intellect, is part of the problem we have.
Again, in the Philokalia, it states:
"The purpose of spiritual reading is to keep the intellect from distraction and restlessness, for this is the first step toward salvation. Solomon says that the enemy hates the sound of steadfastness, while the wandering of the mind is the first step toward sinning."
Here we see an intelligent use of knowledge, or the pursuit of knowledge: it is pursued for a purpose, and not for its own sake.
"Spiritual knowledge is good if it fills its possessor with shame and so leads him involuntarily towards humility, making him think that he possesses such knowledge unworthily..." - Philokalia
God reveals himself to simplicity and humility, and not to those engaged in laborious study and superfluous learning.
The Gnostic ought not to rely in any way on his own thoughts, but should always seek to confirm them in the light of the divine scripture or of the nature of things themselves. Without such confirmation, there can be no true spiritual knowledge, but only wickedness and delusion.
Coming from an very intellectual and materialistic culture, this can be difficult for us to learn. We believe so much in the value of knowledge, that we forget it's real use.
"If knowledge gets far ahead of being, it becomes theoretical and abstract and inapplicable to life, or actually harmful, because instead of serving life and helping people to struggle with the difficulties they meet, it begins to complicate man's life, brings new difficulties into it, new troubles and calamities which were not there before."
This is easy for us all to see. All the inventions created "in the name of a better life," in the pursuit of knowledge, in the effort to make our lives easier, actually make our lives more complicated, more difficult; they have polluted our lives, our environment, have destroyed the way of life of many people, and overturned ways of being that have existed for many centuries.
The internet, for example, is believed to make our lives easier, simpler, and more fulfilling. But if you consider the energy, expense and frustration it takes to buy a computer, set it up, get it working properly, pay for an internet service, and learn how to use it all, doesn't it seem easier just to use the telephone or go to the library to do your research? Many people believe that have to have this knowledge of the internet, and it frustrates them and makes them anxious and they suffer over it, when in fact, there is nothing objectively (consciously) better about someone who is using the internet than someone who is not. The knowledge, the technology, is nothing in and of itself. We attach importance to it. And because we do so, we clutter up our minds and our lives with concerns and anxieties about things which, in the end, are empty of real meaning and importance.
It could be said that we pursue such things and crave such knowledge because we feel something missing, we feel a hole in us, like there's something that should be there that is not. And we are right to feel that. There is something missing. But we are looking ON THE WRONG LINE.
What is missing is BEING.
We have forgotten our Being, and become lost on the line of knowledge.
We have forsaken our true God, and have given ourselves over to the pursuit of desire.
We have gone to sleep, we have immersed ourselves in a dream, and we have forgotten what it means to be awake.
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