Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Living in Gnosis from the Gospel of Truth

Understand the inner meaning, for you are the children of inner meaning. ... Speak from the heart, for you are the perfect day and within you dwells the light that does not fail. Speak of truth for those who seek it and of gnosis to those who have sinned in their error.

Steady the feet of those who stumble and extend your hands to the sick. Feed the hungry and give rest to the weary. Awaken those who wish to arise and rouse those who sleep, for you embody vigorous understanding. If what is strong acts like this, it becomes stronger.

Focus your attention upon yourselves. Do not focus your attention upon other things—that is, what you have cast away from yourselves. Do not return to eat what you have vomited. Do not be moth-eaten, do not be worm-eaten, for you have already gotten rid of that. Do not be a place for the devil, for you have already destroyed him. Do not strengthen what stands in your way, what is collapsing, support it. One who is lawless is nothing. Treat the lawless one more harshly than the just one, for the lawless does what he does because he is lawless, but the just does what he does because he is righteous. Do the Father's will, then, for you are from him.

The Gospel of Truth in The Nag Hammadi Scriptures (p. 43 [32-33])

Friday, August 10, 2007

Iraqi religious minorities continue to suffer

The persecution also affects such communities as the Sabean Mandaeans, who follow the teachings of John the Baptist; Yazidis, whose rituals include worship of a fallen angel who repented; and Jews. More than 80 percent of Mandaeans have left Iraq since 2003.
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Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Inner Experience by Thomas Merton

The first thing that you have to do, before you even start thinking about such a thing as contemplation, is to try to recover your basic natural unity, to reintegrate your compartmentalized being into a coordinated and simple whole and learn to live as a unified human person. This means that you have to bring back together the fragments of your distracted existence so that when you say “I,” there is really someone present to support the pronoun you have uttered.

Reflect, sometimes, on the disquieting fact that most of your statements of opinions, tastes, deeds, desires, hopes, and fears are statements about someone who is not really present. When you say “I think,” it is often not you who think, but “they”—it is the anonymous authority of the collectivity speaking through your mask. When you say “I want,” you are sometimes simply making an automatic gesture of accepting, paying for, what has been forced upon you. That is to say, you reach out for what you have been made to want.

Who is this “I” that you imagine yourself to be? An easy and pragmatic branch of psychological thought will tell you that if you can hook up your pronoun with your proper name and declare that you are the bearer of that name, you know who you are. You are “aware of yourself as a person.” Perhaps there is a beginning of truth in this: it is better to describe yourself with a name that is yours alone than with a noun that applies to a whole species. For then you are evidently aware of yourself as an individual subject, and not just as an object, or as a nameless unit in a multitude. It is true that for modern man even to be able to call himself by his own proper name is an achievement that evokes wonder both in himself and in others. But this is only a beginning, and a beginning that primitive man would perhaps have been able to laugh at. For when a person appears to know his own name, it is still no guarantee that he is aware of the name as representing a real person. On the contrary, it may be the name of a fictitious character occupied in very active self-impersonation in the world of business, of politics, of scholarship, or of religion.

This, however, is not the “I” who can stand in the presence of God and be aware of Him as a “Thou.” For this “I” there is perhaps no clear “Thou” at all. Perhaps even other people are merely extensions of the “I,” reflections of it, modifications of it, aspects of it. Perhaps for this “I” there is no clear distinction between itself and other objects: it may find itself immersed in the world of objects and to have lost its own subjectivity, even though it may be very conscious and even aggressively definite in saying “I.”

If such an “I” one day hears about “contemplation,” he will perhaps set himself to “become contemplative.” That is, he will wish to admire, in himself, something called contemplation. And in order to see it, he will reflect on his alienated self. He will make contemplative faces at himself like a child in front of a mirror. He will cultivate the contemplative look that seems appropriate to him and that he likes to see in himself. And the fact that his busy narcissism is turned within and feeds upon itself in stillness and secret love will make him believe that his experience of himself is an experience of God.

But the exterior “I,” the “I” of projects, of temporal finalities, the “I” that manipulates objects in order to take possession of them, is alien from the hidden, interior “I” who has no projects and seeks to accomplish nothing, even contemplation. He seeks only to be, and to move (for he is dynamic) according to the secret laws of Being itself and according to the promptings of a Superior Freedom (that is, of God), rather than to plan and to achieve according to his own desires.

It will be ironical, indeed, if the exterior self seizes upon something within himself and slyly manipulates it as if to take possession of some inner contemplative secret, imagining that this manipulation can somehow lead to the emergence of an inner self. The inner self is precisely that self which cannot be tricked or manipulated by anyone, even by the devil. He is like a very shy wild animal that never appears at all whenever an alien presence is at hand, and comes out only when all is perfectly peaceful, in silence, when he is untroubled and alone. He cannot be lured by anyone or anything, because he responds to no lure except that of the divine freedom.

Sad is the case of that exterior self that imagines himself contemplative, and seeks to achieve contemplation as the fruit of planned effort and of spiritual ambition. He will assume varied attitudes, meditate on the inner significance of his own postures, and try to fabricate for himself a contemplative identity: and all the while there is nobody there. There is only an illusory, fictional “I” which seeks itself, struggles to create itself out of nothing, maintained in being by its own compulsion and the prisoner of his private illusion.

The call to contemplation is not, and cannot, be addressed to such an “I.”

From The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation by Thomas Merton (pp. 3-5)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Questions: Approaching Gnosticism

I prefer an inquirer who is interested and a bit cautious as opposed to (overly) enthusiastic ones. As there is a process of discernment and orientation that really needs to take place and needs to be grounded in the real situation both within and without.

The basic concerns expressed, understandings of, and assumptions about religion in the world today have little to do with individual spiritual life—individuals following their own spiritual path, and taking it seriously by taking responsibility for it.

The path of Gnosis is an individual path, your path. Making use of the Gnostic tradition in following your path doesn't change the nature of this: that it is your path, your responsibility, your life in the deepest sense. This can be very difficult for people to even understand in this culture of collective religious identity. There is also a tendency to imagine that having a connection with others who are on a similar path, making use of the same tradition, will mean some fundamental change in the nature of our own spiritual path with the result that the path itself will be easier. Yet, what is really possible from such interactions is aid, sometimes profound aid, in walking your own path.

From the perspective of the Gnostic tradition, personal growth and transformation is what it is all about, expressed as Gnosis—knowing through growing, growing through knowing. But a very deep and sure knowing, a knowing that you are, rather than a knowing that you posses. It is a true knowing that is liberating. Gnosis is this way of knowing, and with it comes a deep understanding of who we are, and where we are, and what sets us free.

Just as their is no collective substitute for the individual spiritual path, there is no collective substitute for Gnosis. No amount or type of information will satisfy. And, the Gnostic tradition itself can only be a guide and aid. One can take ancient Gnostic texts and create systems of thought interwoven with beliefs, this has happened in the past and takes place more frequently now that we have such a rich treasure of ancient texts, but that will not substitute for Gnosis—and Gnosis is your individual responsibility and path.

I hope this has provided a basic orientation or confirmation of our general approach.