The word Gnosis is from Greek and means "knowledge." The knowledge that is referred to here is not limited to intellectual knowledge; it really indicates a specific type of knowledge that is experiential and that has a specific purpose: the complete development of the human being.
Gnosis is the ancient and universal knowledge at the root of all knowledge. Every form of science, philosophy, art, and religion emerged from the same root. This is why in ancient times, knowledge was taught in an integrated way, as one complete, integrated form, unlike the modern approach that attempts to divide knowledge into separate fields, thereby artificially dividing something that should not be divided. This has resulted in all the confusion and misunderstandings that have plagued mankind for centuries, in which religion battles science, and art battle religion, etc., when the reality is that you cannot understand one without the other. Those who have understood this have been the greatest masters of their craft: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Beethoven, Wagner, just to name some Western examples. The purpose of Gnosis is to help us realize our own greatest potential.
In terms of religion, Gnosis is the source of the knowledge in every major religion. Gnosis is not limited to one specific culture, place, or time. The Gnostic wisdom is found in Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Tantra, Zoroastrianism, Paganism, and many others. And as that universal wisdom or knowledge, it is the essential science required in order to achieve the ultimate aim of all real religions, which is the religare (Latin), or in other words, "union" with the divine.
Gnosis is a method for training the consciousness (what Buddhists call the mind, and Christians call the soul). It is a universal method, which means that it is compatible with all religions and all mystical traditions, because in truth they are all founded upon the science of Gnosis anyway! So the student discovers that those who learn and apply this Gnostic Wisdom come from every culture, religion, tradition and mystical background, and they find common ground in this science.
All of the religious allegories, stories and teachings indicate that we need to change in order to achieve the goal of religare (union), religion. As we are now, we are overwhelmed by negative emotional forces and negative mental forces, which create tremendous suffering in our lives. Every human being struggles daily with unhappiness, doubt, anger, fear, and more. These states cause us to act in harmful ways toward ourselves and toward others, which in turn creates more suffering for everyone. Gnosis is a direct and very potent way of transforming these problems, because it works upon the very foundations of suffering.
Gnosis is a method to develop discipline and psychological stability. It is a means to arrive at genuine inner tranquility. And the great beauty of Gnosis is that it presents a method which uses tools that we already have within: we do not need to rely on anything or anyone other than ourselves. Truthfully, our happiness and well-being is up to us, and when we discover how to cultivate such qualities through the transformation of our own mind, we arrive at the understanding of the message that has been given by every great Saint and Prophet.
Our minds create our lives. We become what we think. - The Buddha Shakyamuni, from The Dhammapada
Just as so many wise beings have told us, we create our own reality. We reap what we sow. Therefore, if we plant good seeds through proper action, we can create a better life for ourselves and for everyone around us. This comes naturally as we realize and transform our mistaken views about life and about ourselves.
The essential root of this change is the recognition of a flawed perception that we have within. We do not see the nature of reality, and it is due to this ignorance that we grasp at illusions and act in ways which contradict the basic laws of existence, resulting in suffering for ourselves and others. In synthesis, this ignorance is a form of self-grasping, or a mistaken view of our own identity. The way to change this mistaken view is to cultivate that part of ourselves which can see things in their objective form, thereby creating within our own mind a natural antidote to ignorance and wrong action, an antidote that is already a part of our own psyche but which remains in a latent or inactive state.
To achieve this we must learn which mental states are positive and which are negative, and we must learn to discriminate between them. When we can see within ourselves how we cultivate many different states of mind and the subsequent results of those states, we arrive at the understanding of the true nature of our own life. When we see how our own anger makes us suffer, and then in turn brings suffering to others, we will be compelled to change that quality within ourselves. Likewise, when we experience the great power of gentleness and humility, we will naturally be drawn toward cultivating those qualities within ourselves. The transformation of the psyche and life is something that can only be developed by the person who wants to change, and is inspired by their perception of the truth within themselves.
This is not a change that can be rendered overnight. Real change requires the respect of certain natural laws and factors. For example, in order to grow a garden one must work with the laws of nature. The gardener must understand how the sun, moisture, the seeds and the other elements are all interrelated, and to have a successful garden there must be planning, preparation, proper effort and patience. Likewise, to transform the mind requires a great deal of proper effort and patience. You must have a good understanding of the psyche, the mind, emotion, and how all these elements interrelate with external circumstances. All of this knowledge is integral to the science of Gnosis.
It is vital that you have an expansive knowledge of things so that you do not waste time in the pursuit of only one aspect of the work. In the Gnostic tradition, we have a vast collection of spiritual writings that nourish our efforts to awaken our consciousness. To begin, we have the more than sixty books by Samael Aun Weor, and the hundreds of complimentary lectures and talks that he gave. This body of knowledge was given in order to elucidate understanding of the Christian Bible, the Torah, the Zohar, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Germanic Eddas, all the great psychological wisdom hidden in the Greek myths, the Odyssey and the Illiad of Homer, and hundreds of other volumes from our religious and classical heritage. As well, Gnosis is found in the one hundred volumes of Buddhist sutras and in the two hundred volumes of commentaries on those sutras by great masters such as Tsong Khapa and Nagarjuna. Gnosis saturates the Tibetan Tantric tradition and overflows from the teachings of Milarepa, the Dalai Lamas, and many others. So, if you were to gather the wisdom of all these traditions and incorporate them into your daily practice, you would make giant leaps forward in your comprehension of great spiritual truths. But if you were to merely respect all these writings and instead base your practice on some small text or personal selection of materials, you will probably receive some benefit, but your spiritual progress will not be that great.
There are two ways to understand this knowledge. One is on the superficial, intellectual level, which is developed by reading or listening to lectures, and through which we gradually form a conceptual understanding of the science to transform ourselves. This is primarily focused on helping us recognize the difference between positive and negative states of being and the means to control them.
The second is the experiential level, the stage at which we begin to realize the practical application of the teaching within ourselves.
The science of Gnosis is a vast and incredibly sophisticated map of the universe and the consciousness, thus to develop an intellectual understanding of it can be a daunting task. Yet the experiential knowledge is even more difficult to develop because it arrives only as a result of continuous practice.
Experiential knowledge is always accompanied by the presence of intuitive knowledge, or the wisdom of the consciousness as realized in the heart. This is essentially an emotional wisdom, something that one feels. For example, from time to time we may "feel" that a certain behavior is wrong, and this is a form of intuition, because it is not rational, it is emotional. Yet, this is only the most mundane level of intuitive knowledge; intuition is a deeply emotional wisdom that can be felt in a very powerful way.
From this we can understand that there are both beneficial and harmful emotional states. Emotion is a vital part of life. However, there are different types of emotions. There is the common and widespread experience of negative emotion, those feelings which are harmful and result in suffering, even when we enjoy experiencing them. Many people enjoy and cultivate pride, but objective knowledge leads us to see that pride creates suffering. Likewise, many people enjoy their anger, yet this same anger is a source of tremendous suffering. Therefore, a negative emotion is called such in part because of the results it brings, and also because of its source in the psyche.
Superior emotion includes feelings and states that are very rarely felt by modern human beings, because it arrives into the psyche through a psychological vehicle that very few human beings possess. Even still, we can experience many positive emotional states which greatly enhance and enrich our lives, and whose effects include the positive reinforcement of our longing to change for the better.
Therefore, Gnosis is about changing ourselves. It is a precise science which indicates the way to reduce afflictive emotional and mental states and instead cultivate beneficial ones. It is the means to transform our undisciplined mind into a disciplined one.
How do we know this type of change is possible?
Firstly, we know about the law of impermanence. Truly, in every moment, everything is changing. Through proper forms of action, one can influence that change. But to do so requires that you know how to act, and how to achieve the desired effect. Likewise, through discrimination and spiritual wisdom, we learn how to properly influence the continually changing psyche we have within, in order to achieve a more fruitful and beneficial result.
Secondly, it is easy to see that within nature we always find contradictory forces. Light and darkness, acid and alkaline, heat and cold, etc. are opposing forces which dance around a central point of balance. This same situation exists within our own mind.
When we begin to examine the state of our mental and emotional world, we find many opposing currents. And we see that certain forces can overwhelm others, in the same way that turning on the lights in a dark room causes the darkness to vanish. Gnosis teaches us how to accomplish this from moment to moment within ourselves, in order to achieve psychological equilibrium, a state in which we maintain a continual balance in our mental and emotional well-being.
This equilibrium is based upon an extensive understanding of our own psychological situation, and the discrimination to consciously choose how to act, think, and feel.
From all of this it is clear that in order to achieve the aim of any religion, one must have a penetrating knowledge of the mind, accompanied by a comprehensive awareness of emotional and mental states.
It is also evident that our problems and sufferings arise from a flawed perception of ourselves and the world, therefore we need to develop the capacity to question our own perceptions from moment to moment. Understanding the true nature of reality is crucial in this case, because it is our perception of reality which determines how we relate to everything: our own self, those around us, and every circumstance we pass through. By "reality" we mean the entire expanse of existence and not merely our own superficial view of our little corner of it, because a large portion of our fundamental problem is a flawed view of reality, which in turn results in suffering.
This is why the teachings of Samael Aun Weor offer so much insight into the nature of reality. Throughout his works he discusses the root of reality, the Absolute Abstract Space, the nature of matter and energy, the mathematics of creation, and more. If the achievement of in-depth Self-realization were simply a matter of faith and devotion to one God or another, then there would have been no need for him to explain the nature of reality in such detailed and comprehensive terms. The same can also be said of the deeply technical and complex psychological teachings in the Buddhist tradition, which is just another face of the same wisdom. From this we can understand that all of these explanations are necessary in order for us to eliminate our mistaken point of view.
Gnosis demands that we take an objective point of view of all phenomena. We cannot hold onto a way of seeing things merely because we like it or because it is our tradition or it satisfies our psychological tendencies. Any limiting view (such as a religious, scientific or metaphysical theory) restricts our capacity to approach objective knowledge, thereby restraining our ability to perceive the true nature of any given phenomena. It is essential that we set aside any personal preference if we wish to see the inherent truth of life.
This is especially true of how we view ourselves. So long as we have false views of ourselves, then we cannot see ourselves as we really are. If that is that case, then we cannot begin to approach the objective view of reality itself.
The purpose of Gnosis is nothing less than the complete transformation of the individual, which in turn changes our society and our world. The achievement of this transformation is dependent only upon the effort of the individual to work on their own mind.