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In his book Fundamentals of Gnostic Education, Samael Aun Weor reminds us of a fundamental experience in life:
“This Via Crucis that is our miserable existence begins in infancy and youth with mental disorders due to intimate family tragedies, difficulties at home and at school, etc.
“It is clear that during childhood and youth all these problems do not manage to really affect us—with few exceptions—in much of a profound manner; however, when we become adults we start questioning: “Who am I? Where do I come from? Why do I have to suffer? What is the purpose of our existence?” etc.
“On the path of life we all have asked ourselves these questions. We all have wanted at sometime to investigate, inquire, find out the “why” of so many sorrows, troubles, struggles, and sufferings, yet unfortunately, we always seem to end up caged within some theory, or within some opinion, or within some belief, or within what the neighbor stated, or within what some decrepit old fogie told us, etc.
“Thus, since we have lost our true innocence and the peace of a tranquil heart, we are incapable of experiencing the truth directly, in all of its harshness, given that we depend on what others might say; so, because of this, we are obviously on the wrong path.”
The truth is that which answers our most fundamental questions about life, about ourselves, and all the “whys” that remain enigmas to us in spite of our theories and beliefs. But “truth” cannot be known through mere theory or belief. Truth is something that cannot be caged or conceptualized: it must be known through experience. In this sense, we can say that truth is true for the one who has experienced it, and for the one who has not, truth is unknown. This can be likened to the first moment we tasted honey, or saw the radiance of our own child’s smile, or even felt the dagger of betrayal in our heart. Until experienced, these moments cannot be explained, understood, or known. Yet, amongst those who have shared the same experience, there is shared knowledge that may be unspoken but is nonetheless understood by all.
Experience provides a special kind of knowledge that is alive and profound. It does not depend upon books or outside authority of any kind. When one has experienced, one knows.
The Greek word gnosis refers to this special, experiential knowledge, especially in regards to the fundamental truths of existence. Real Gnosis comes from the conscious experience of the truth of life, death, and all the mysteries that surround us. By “conscious experience” a form of active, awakened perception is meant, one that penetrates far more than what is physical. The consciousness— when awakened—can perceive other dimensions. It is here that real Gnosis begins to bloom in the mind and heart, revealing the truth to the soul.
This kind of experience is possible for anyone. It does not matter what one believes, or where one comes from. You can be devoutly religious or deeply independent, yet acquire the personal experience of that which exists beyond the physical senses. Furthermore, it is not necessary to belong to any group or promise anything to anyone. And, even more scandalous, you do not have to pay anyone any money. Despite the outrageous demands of thousands of “spiritual” groups and teachers, you can experience and know the truth even if financially poor. Real Gnosis is for anyone who is willing to make the effort in themselves; truth does not depend on who you know.
Rely not on the teacher/person, but on the teaching.
Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words.
Rely not on theory, but on experience.
Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
-Buddha, Kalama Sutra
In order to arrive at the experience of the truth, there are required steps. Everything in nature works according to laws, and not according to our convenience. This is where most people become diverted from the truth: the truth does not comfort our illusions or accommodate our attachments. Therefore, due to fear and the desire for security, most people avoid the truth, preferring instead to remain comforted by their personal beliefs, even if they are illusions. Yet, for the one who is brave enough to face their own self-deception, the reality of Gnosis is quick to be seen. And, for the one who is brave enough to confront and change their own inner contradictions and mistakes, Gnosis— the knowledge that emerges from that inner investigation—becomes an illuminating light and a nourishing medicine.
Practical spirituality begins by guiding the sincere person towards the establishment of a strong foundation in life, from which they can work towards experiencing the truth for themselves. This foundation is material, psychological, and spiritual. By establishing a degree of stability in our mind, our life also stabilizes. Then, we are in a position to prepare ourselves to know the facts of existence: facts that are sometimes disturbing, sometimes painful, and almost always what we least expected. Yet, facts are facts, and once known, they become steps towards greater knowledge.
Very simply, if we are unhappy, only we know that and experience that kind of suffering; it is self-produced and self-experienced. If unhappiness is an internal experience, then happiness must also be internal. Therefore, first we have to face the fact of our unhappiness. Then we need to find the cause of unhappiness and exchange it for a cause of happiness. The only way to do this is by knowing ourselves in depth. We need self-knowledge.
“Even if one is the most sinful of all sinners, one shall yet cross over the ocean of sin by the raft of Self-knowledge alone. As the blazing fire reduces wood to ashes; similarly, the fire of Self-knowledge reduces all bonds of karma to ashes...” — Krishna, Bhagavad-gita 4:36-37
Knowledge is power, and there is no power greater than knowledge of oneself. The power to change resides entirely in self-knowledge. Where we are lacking self-knowledge, we are lacking power to change. Thus, if we feel powerless in some area of our life, we need to acquire knowledge of that area.
The Oracle of Delphi stated:
“Know thyself, and thou shalt know the universe and it’s gods!”
Self-knowledge is the key to the knowledge of everything that exists, for by understanding who we truly are inside, we can then understand the experience of others, where we have all come from, and where we are going. We can only acquire this kind of knowledge on our own, by our own efforts, and in our own experience. In this way, there is no need to believe or theorize, for having experienced the truth, we know. That is gnosis.
"As fire is the direct cause of cooking, so knowledge and not any other form of discipline is the direct cause of liberation, for liberation cannot be attained without knowledge." —Shankara, Atma Bodha [Self-knowledge Course]