The limits of "gnosis"
... and what true gnosis is
Contemplative traditions walk the proverbial razor’s edge when it comes to gnosis. The word gnosis, of course, simply means “knowledge,” and surely (maybe?) knowledge in and of itself is a good thing. In the context of contemplative religion, gnosis of some sort or other is what incites the whole pursuit. Each person’s “faith and practice” begins from the inner conviction that he or she is operating on the basis of something known – “known,” that is, in the sense of intuition, a draw towards something that lies just “beyond,” “a heart strangely warmed,” an encounter, an inner conviction that can’t be erased, something perceived – perhaps even sensually as well as intellectively – but more than can be conceived… All these are knowledge, but not “knowledge about” — rather, knowledge as a “direct encounter.” But a problem with gnosis arises, as we’ve noted before, when the “knowledge” in question purports to be secret knowledge or a claim of possessing an elite understanding of spiritual mysteries. This is not to say that religions haven’t had justifiable reasons for guarding what they believe to be revelation – the early Christians certainly did. But secretiveness carries with it an intrinsic risk: one that, if taken too far, can actually be inimical to contemplative practice.
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