What is Gnosis?

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What is Gnosis?

Despite the fact that the word itself is easy to define (gnosis is Greek for knowledge), the exact implications of this knowledge are much more difficult to comprehend. Most are familiar with the sort of knowledge that is learned from books or lectures. Gnosis is different. Gnosis is a type of experiential knowledge – it is knowledge that can only be attained through direct experience.

It is important to understand that while gnosis is the basis for the Gnostic movement, it is much more than that. Gnosis is not a synonym for mysticism, esoteric or the occult. Rather, gnosis is the category of mystical experience. This gnosis occurs beyond any physical or psychic levels of being. When an individual attains gnosis, they experience a direct relationship with the divine.          

Mystical Religions                                                            Return to top of page      

Mysticism is loosely defined as a practice that looks to achieve oneness with divinity. This practice usually occurs outside the mainstream exoteric religion. For example, Kabbalah is a Jewish mystical religion, Buddhism is nearly wholly mystic, and Gnosticism is a Christian mystical religion. Why is this important?

A common theme in mystical practices is the idea that the mystic (one who practices mysticism) and all reality are one. These mystics seek to transcend their own limited identity and re-identify themselves with all that exists. This oneness can be called Union (Christianity), Nirvana (Buddhism), Moksha (Hinduism), Irfan (Islam) or Illumination. Some even believe that Christianity itself is a Jewish mystic religion. These mystical practices usually draw inspiration from non-canonical religious texts (such as the Gnostic Gospels). From the information provided within these mystical texts, the mystic is well equipped to understand themselves and all reality.   

Gnosis in Writing                                                            Return to top of page

Building on the mystic concepts, one can find many references to gnosis within the New Testament and the Nag Hammadi Library. Perhaps the most famous of all gnostic quotes from the Bible is found in the Gospel of Luke. Here, Jesus tells his audience: “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21, NIV). The mystics of the ancient church knew that this was Jesus’ way of telling his followers to look within themselves to experience the divine directly.

There are more examples found in the New Testament that have a deeper meaning not previously understood by those that solely followed the exoteric teachings of the church. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 3:16: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s spirit lives in you?” directly speaks to those that realize the true meaning of mystical practices.

Another important New Testament passage is found in Galatians 1:12: “I did not receive it from any other man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ,” as Paul describes his attainment of the knowledge of Christ. Here, the mystics can understand that it is not the church or dogma that provides this mystical knowledge – the true knowledge of Jesus – but it is knowledge found only within oneself.

Sure, these are a few examples from the New Testament, but what about the Gnostic Gospels themselves?

Naturally, the Gnostic Gospels are flooded with mystical knowledge and allusions to gnosis. The Gospel of Thomas has many important passages: “But the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you, when you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living father. But if you don’t know yourselves, then you dwell in poverty and you are poverty.”

“What is hidden from you will be disclosed. There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.” “One who knows all but lacks within is utterly lacking.” “If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you have nothing within you, what you do not have within you will kill you.” “One who seeks will find. For one who knocks it will be opened.”

The Prayer of Thanksgiving is another interesting Gnostic text to consider. This text consists of a Hermetic prayer, offering thanks and gratitude from those receiving gnosis.

“We are happy, enlightened by your knowledge. We are happy. You have taught us about yourself. We are happy. While we were still in the body you have made us divine through your knowledge.”

Each of these different quotes from the Bible and the Nag Hammadi library represents different sayings that the mystics used to further their knowledge.

The Mind                                                                      Return to top of page

Now that we have placed gnosis within the context of mystical tradition and we can see how it is alluded to in various writings, it now becomes important for us to examine how gnosis is attained. Naturally, this occurs in the mind.

Since childhood, people are accustomed to indirect experiences. These indirect experiences occur daily. For instance, the text that you are currently reading is being processed through an indirect experience. There is the process of seeing, reading, and understanding the text on this very website. This is an indirect experience. To attain gnosis is to have a direct experience. To do this, the mind must be cleared and meditation becomes a common vehicle by which gnosis is attained. More can be read about gnostic meditation practices here.

The Mystic Christ
   by Ethan Walker III

The light of non-duality and the path of love according to the life and teachings of Jesus. The Gnostic path is the inner path to God-realization. Buddha, Krishna, Jesus and the other great Masters are all one and in essence taught the same thing.

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