Your consciousness is in God; draw it into yourself, and it will appear; will, and it takes birth; suspend the senses of the body and the birth of the Godhead takes place. But first you must purify yourselves from the mindless torments of matter, one of which is ignorance, though there are many others, which force the man who is confined to the prison of the body to suffer by way of the passions. But these at once depart from him on whom God has had mercy, and so the body of Gnosis in man is built. This is the way of true rebirth.(If you haven't already, you may want to read my earlier posts What Gnosis Isn't and What Gnosis Is: a Prelude before proceeding.)
Earlier, I tried to weed out some of the truly bad ideas about Gnosis that have been bandied about for the past couple of millennia, today I'll start to talk about what Gnosis is. Gnosis is the only point to Gnosticism, so it is important to try to describe what it is—even if that it cannot be done directly.
A simple description is fairly straight-forward, but remember, it is a description of something real, not a definition of something abstract. Try not to make the same mistake that Socrates was always grilling people over twenty-five centuries ago. Also remember, that there are preliminaries that seem necessary to follow the path of Gnosis that are reflected in what I've called a Gnostic attitude. (Summarized, unfortunately, in numbered points in 'What Do You Believe?')
The potential of Gnosis comes through individual experience, it is experience of what is real, but of, or echoed in, the internal real. Like the example from the Hymn of the Pearl in which the letter comes to aid, and is recognized because its contents are also written on the heart of the receiver. Gnosticism provides opportunities for Gnosis to be evoked in individuals, it leads them to both have and recognize those essential experiences.
The experience, and the recognition of it, are not enough, however. The experience, the opportunity for Gnosis, needs to become something deeper—for Gnosis is knowledge/experience both of something, and that leads to something. You must be able to keep the experience and its effects long enough for them to have an effect. It cannot occur without consciousness, and so many forces within ourselves, and within our world, would high-jack these profound experiences for their own ends. In this, Gnosticism acts as a container: a chalice, an alchemical retort, a cauldron—a context for such experiences that allows you to live with them until you “catch up” with them and become them.
Gnosis is, ultimately, a transformative knowing—a knowing that you become, because, in the deepest sense of the mystery of your being, it is your truest self. This is the point to it all. This is why Gnosis isn't this, or that; it is the very real process of truly knowing, becoming, who we truly are. That is why it cannot be transmitted directly, why you cannot have Gnosis of somebody else's Gnosis, why you must do it yourself. Let us be clear: this is a deep, long, and real process—one that leads to liberation, and beyond.
Accepting Gnostic descriptions as articles of faith, won't do a bit of good, nor will any false 'realization' of Gnosis, nor any other tricks of the mind. All of that exists to keep you from Gnosis. The path of Gnosis is a life-long commitment, and because of the nature of the cosmos, Gnosis can never be perfectly realized here—you are never done, there is always more work. It is difficult, and always seems to require the more difficult of any choice, but it is rewarding in the way nothing else can be—it is real. And remember, the Redemption (liberation) is only the sixth of seven mysteries. (Though understanding the seventh before you understand the sixth would be 'premature enlightenment' indeed.)
The closest parallel to reach for is Buddhism. It is a different path to liberation, and we need to be careful as Gnostics to not make metaphysical speculations about Gnosis outside of the Gnostic experience. Buddhist liberating experience has a different experiential quality to that of the Gnostic, and there is a very real different in means/approach, however, it does share many key understandings with Gnosticism. For example, Enlightenment is a state of being arrived at through a process of inner transformation. It is real, and can be recognized in people. No amount of study will give it to you, though it does help, and may be necessary. Though it makes no sense to consider it much before you have achieved a basic level of Enlightenment, there are levels of Enlightenment—the work continues. And, Buddhism without Enlightenment makes as much sense as Gnosticism without Gnosis.
We must become Gnosis, live Gnosis—live out our truest nature and highest calling. There is nothing more important, or precious. Nothing to be more concerned about, and careful with. For when, as in the Dunsany story I retold in the prologue, we attain Gnosis we cannot go back, there is nothing worth more. If you own the world and lack yourself—you have nothing.