In this tradition, which we call “gnosis, ” we study all the religions of the world, because every religion, every mystical tradition, comes from the same root, which was the experience of its founder.
Any genuine religion, mystical tradition, or type of spirituality is an attempt to communicate something of value and importance, which is that there is a purpose to life that one can experience for oneself.
The main traditions that we study here are Hinduism, Judaism, and the reform of those religions which came later, which are Buddhism and Christianity. We study all religions, but these are the four main ones we are interested in.
There are people all over the world that study the religion that they grew up with, or the religion that they became attracted to during their life. All of those traditions are very beautiful and have a great deal of knowledge that they express to humanity. But unfortunately, people do not see religions for what they truly are. Over many centuries, religions have become a mere belief, something that people follow, respect, study and believe in, but rarely experience. It is very rare, sadly, to find anyone who has true experience of what the religions are teaching. Yet, that is their purpose: to guide us to experience what they teach.
In this tradition, the experience of religion is our primary goal. Our primary interest is learning the practical value of each religion. This is part of the reason we study all religions, and part of the reason we focus more on these four.
If we consider this for a moment, when we think of any type of knowledge, any type of information that we may want to acquire, usually it is all based on what someone has said, or has affirmed. The question then is: can we also confirm what has been said, or do we merely accept it or reject it? Pure science demands that we be able to confirm it in our experience. And we too demand this: gnosis is not just religion, it is also science, philosophy, and art. As science, we must experiment, investigate, and discover through our experience what is true.
Now in the case of these four traditions Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity, all of them in their essence teach exactly the same thing. On the surface they can appear different, but in their heart they are exactly the same. They are attempting to convey the experience of a higher way of living, something that cannot be communicated in words. Each religion is like the expression of a person who has gone to another country and come back, and said, “I went here and I went there, and I saw this place and I ate this food and I had these great experiences, and it was wonderful, and the food tasted like this, and they served this type of meal, and I really enjoyed it, and you should experience the same thing.” We hear all that and we get excited, and we believe that must be a great place to go. We have never been there, yet we believe. Religions are exactly like that. But merely believing is not enough. We need to go to the “place” that was described, and experience it for ourselves in order to really know what that religion is about.
So, merely believing in a religion is like believing that India is a great country, but having never gone there. We may believe it is like this or that, we may love it, we may talk about it, we may have lots of books about it and clothes from there and listen to music from there, and burn their incense and eat their food. But if we have never been there, the truth is that we have no idea what the real experience of India is, whereas someone who has been there knows. Moreover, there is a difference from someone who visited briefly and someone who lived there for many years. There is a big difference amongst these examples; that difference is what we call gnosis. It is to have actual knowledge. That word gnosis means knowledge from experience.
All these religions, these traditions that I am pointing at, have tried to express the experience of what reality is, and they have each expressed it in their own words and using their own symbols and descriptions, but they are each describing the same thing, which is the nature of reality. Every religion originally attempted to point us towards what is real, not in terms of a belief, not in terms of something that we should simply accept, but in terms of something that is experienceable, something that can be known personally. These two illustrations represent symbolic ways of illustrating the experience that religions point towards.
Kalachakra and Kabbalah
This image on the left is an image from Buddhism of Kalachakra; it shows different dimensions, levels of existence, through which beings experience. The image on the right is the exact same idea, but from the western world; it is called kabbalah, the tree of life, and shows many dimensions, many worlds through which beings have experience.
In both of these cases, these symbols are an attempt to convey to us that our physical and material existence is only a fraction of what exists. Sadly, most people when they study these types of teachings either believe it or do not believe it, which means they do not really understand that the purpose of these images is to be maps: these symbols show us there is more to being alive and there is more to existence than just the material world — there is much more, but we do not perceive it. We need gnosis in order to understand that.
- gnosis: knowledge we gain from our experience
This word gnosis is a Greek word that means knowledge, but it does not mean knowledge in the usual way that we think of knowledge. We usually think of knowledge as something that we learn in a book or something that we study or are told. But really gnosis refers to the kind of knowledge we gain from our experience, something that we have known and that we have proven — what we know is real, we know it is true. We know that in winter it gets cold, we know that in summer it gets hot, we know that if we eat certain kinds of food it affects us in certain kinds of ways. Those are types of gnosis — shallow gnosis, but that is knowledge that we can confirm through our perception. Everything that religion teaches us can also be known through our own perception, if we know how to do it. Ultimately, all religions have attempted to teach us that. But nowadays people do not care, they simply want to believe something, to accept one and reject all the others. This is really to the detriment of humanity.
The founders of these traditions that I have mentioned did not invent anything; none of them made anything up. Each one of them said in their own way that they were only teaching what was already known. The Buddha said, “I have seen an ancient path, and I am teaching what the ancients taught,” so he did not invent anything new. Krishna said the same thing. Krishna said;
“Whenever there is a decline of Dharma (Righteousness) and a predominance of Adharma (Unrighteousness), O Arjuna, then I manifest Myself. I appear from time to time for protecting the good, for transforming the wicked, and for establishing world order (Dharma).” – Bhagavad-gita 4
Religion is a single ancient teaching that flourishes in many ways, like flowers. Each flower has its own color, its own fragrance. But the beauty of the flower is the same, it is something living.
That singular path, the one root of all knowledge, is what we are really interested in, not the beliefs, not the theories. We really do not care about beliefs, because they do not change anything; whatever we happen to believe makes no difference. You will observe that in your own life if you really carefully watch your own beliefs: you will find most of the time, you find out that your beliefs were wrong. When you meet someone and you may believe that they are this way and that way, and as the years go by you find out that they are not the way you thought, and you discover new things and you find facts that contradict your beliefs. This is partly why many people leave religions; the religious leader tell them reality is A B C, and you must believe this or you are going to hell. Then the followers find out that A B and C do not add up, they do not really make sense in the terms of the facts of how nature works and how the mind works, how humanity works, so they leave the religion. Or they see their religious leader doing things that contradict what the religious leader has been saying all along, and they leave for that reason. Really, truthfully, if the religious leaders where teaching how to acquire gnosis — personal experience — that problem would not happen. This is why we emphasize it so heavily.
As an instructor in this tradition, I really do not care what you believe, that is your business, I respect it; you can believe whatever you want. My interest as an instructor is to help you come to know, so that you do not need to have to believe. You can know.
When you know something, there is no doubt, there is no fear, instead there is confidence — not confidence in an outside group, an outside instructor or a teacher or a movement, but confidence in yourself. That has a lot of value, and gives you strength that you really need in order to work successfully in any type of religious pursuit. That confidence comes from having knowledge that you yourself have acquired, where you have proven the cause and effect relationship between actions and consequences. This is simply what gnosis is, that is all it is, from the most superficial level to the most profound level, gnosis is that: knowledge of cause and effect.
The relationship between cause and effect is empirical, absolute. There is no room for belief in that. You may believe that a certain type of food will not hurt you, then you eat it and get sick, because cause and effect is simply a fact, no matter what you believe. The belief does not impact reality, belief is a mental construction. This is also true of religion: beliefs are irrelevant, meaningless. What matters is action and the results of action.
All of the students of religion have a lot of thoughts about the religion, about their spirituality, and have many abstract notions, like beliefs. But the only place we can find real knowledge is in facts. This is why we emphasis facts so heavily. So, let us start looking at facts.