This is a transcription of an audio lecture from The Sufi Path of Self-knowledge, originally given live at the Gnostic Academy of Chicago:
We're continuing our course on self-knowledge and the discussion of the nature of consciousness, perception, awakening, and understanding—that which we call our genuine identity, that which we call the Being, the Innermost, which the Muslims denominated Allah, and the Christians as Chrestos, Christ; likewise, the inner Buddha amongst the Asian esotericists, or Jehovah amongst the Hebrews. This inner intelligence, this inner divinity, we could say Atman in Hinduism, the inner Self, is beyond our terrestrial conceptions of self. We seek to go beyond our current everyday understanding of who we are, to go deeper, to get insight into who we are as a spirit, as an inner Buddha, as a God.
As Jesus of Nazareth taught, “ye are gods, is it not said so in the scriptures?”—and we must learn to become that, which in our very root, we are. But our terrestrial life, our mistaken sense of self, has hypnotized us from actualizing the truth and understanding that for ourselves, from our experience. Our name, our language, our race, our culture, these things in themselves began in time and end in time. But that which is divine is beyond these terrestrial concepts. So if we seek to understand that which is eternal, we must, in turn, confront and transform that which is illusory. We must be willing to make changes in our understanding of self and our perception.
So in this lecture we're going to talk more in-depth about consciousness. Last week, we discussed the nature of awakening: what it means to awaken, and we explained that awakening is to become aware of that divine potential—to awaken that consciousness, that soul, that part of us which belongs to divinity. We seek to develop that based on conscious works and practical exercises. So we mentioned a technique we can use to develop that insight. We have many available throughout the literature we provide.
In relation to this teaching of self-knowledge, we are practical. We do not rely on theory. We do not rely on belief. We do not rely on a creed, a concept, a flag. Instead, we base ourselves on practical knowledge, that which we verify, that which we know for a fact. We are scientific, we are methodical, and we seek to verify the teachings given in religion—to know that which Jesus of Nazareth, Buddha, Prophet Mohammad, Krishna, Moses taught. We seek to verify that for ourselves and to make it living and concrete.
So in the spirit of universality, we've been discussing the nature of self-knowledge as given in the Middle East, to emphasize that this knowledge is not only contingent upon the teachings of the Christians or the Buddhists or the Kabbalists of Israel, but also the Muslim initiates, the Muslim teachers, who in the Middle East gave this doctrine known as Islam, which in Arabic means 'to submit'. So we teach the esoteric or hidden meaning of that tradition, and in the spirit of inclusivity and taking an eclectic approach, we've been discussing this science of relation to the mystical doctrine of Sufism.
So we're going to elaborate on this teaching more in depth, but we seek to submit to our divine will, to our divinity through practice, through a systematic discipline. The primary practice we engage with is meditation, as we'll be explaining and leading up to this introductory course. We have this image of a Muslim master who is kneeling in prayer, and likewise we must learn to develop that connection with the divine that we seek.
The Definition of Consciousness
What is consciousness? There are many definitions of this term. In the basic sense we think of consciousness as a physical state of awareness, to know that one is thinking, that one is feeling, and that one is acting. But consciousness in its most profound sense is spiritual. It is the root of perception. It is the root of who we are fundamentally. Consciousness does not pertain to thought; it is beyond thought. Consciousness does not pertain to emotion. It is beyond emotion. Consciousness is beyond the body, but it uses the body. It is beyond impulse, instinct, sensation.
When we sit to practice and to observe ourselves, observe our body as we practice that exercise of Anapana, which is breath work, we become aware that thoughts emerge, sustain, and pass. Likewise, emotions emerge, sustain, and pass. So also with the sensations of our physicality, like clouds or a mirage that disappears as we approach it.
If we learn to observe ourselves in this manner, and to realize that we are not thought, that we are not emotion, we are not the body, the question remains as to what we are in our fundamental depth. Consciousness is not thought, as I mentioned, but it can use thought. Consciousness is not emotion, but it has its own profound sentiment, which is pure and divine, its own longings, aspirations, fears, but not from an egotistical sense, of a crippling sense as that implies. Likewise, consciousness is not the impulses that emerge within our psyche, such as a desire to go running or walking, or to eat something, to read, to perform some type of physical activity. Consciousness emerges and is before these experiences emerge, and so when we develop that, we learn to perceive ourselves not as these elements but something beyond that.
Our consciousness is something dynamic. It is not limited to thinking, concept, thesis, antithesis, belief, disbelief. Likewise, consciousness is not limited to a feeling of like or dislike, of pleasure or pain, attraction or lack of attraction, and the same with the body, to do or not to do. Consciousness is beyond these elements and possesses its own dynamism, its own dynamic qualities, which we need to experience and verify.
We begin to see as we observe ourselves that there are two types of consciousness. There's consciousness that is conditioned by thought, feeling, and will—thought, feeling, and impulse. There's consciousness that is conditioned by those elements. There is a type of awareness involved with thinking, feeling, and acting.
But in this dynamic and very expansive science, we begin to see that consciousness cannot be limited just to those aspects that we commonly and currently experience. It's something beyond that. In Sufism, we say that the soul is known as nafs or nafas, which in Arabic means breath. The soul is like breath, it is like breathing, which is why when we practice Anapana, awareness of our breathing in our body, we begin to become aware of not only our physicality, but our thinking, our feeling, and our body.
The Sufis explain that nafas can be conditioned or unconditioned based on our will, what we do with it, how we act, how we behave. The unconditioned consciousness in this study, in Gnostic psychology, we denominate with essence, the soul, that purity of consciousness that belongs to God, that belongs to the stars, to Urania, the heavens. Then there's the subjective self, which is all our negative qualities such as fear, anger, resentment, pride, hate, anxiety, suspicion, and doubt, greed. That vast plethora of qualities that we denominate as the ego in these studies: this sense of self, this I, me, who I am, what I believe in, who I consider myself to be.
Ego in Latin means I, self. And if we begin to observe ourselves, we see that we, in turn, are not one self. Every thought, every feeling, every impulse is a sense of self that emerges within the screen of our awareness and seeks to act to define itself to do, to fulfill its wants; it is desire. These desires, these different selves, are different senses of self, identity, different qualities, which are related to each other, as in a train of thought. If we are aware of ourselves we see that one memory brings about another, one thought brings about another, and through a chain of association, leads us into a state of slumber, a lack of awareness.
It is the sleep of our unconditioned consciousness, our soul, which produces our suffering. If we learn to awaken that pure potentially, that pure consciousness is what grants us access to the divine mysteries. It is that sense of consciousness that does not pertain to self, me, myself. It is perception, but it is not self as we think of it. Yes?
Question: So the unconditioned you said is the extension of God in itself?
Question: And the conditioned consciousness is essentially anything that's an antithesis of that, and anything that is masking that, anything that is trying to define it?
Instructor: Yes. That conditioned consciousness is the adversary of God, which in Hebrew is Shatan, which is where we get the word Satan. In this image, we see the Angel Michael defeating the monster or the devil. This is a symbol of how the light of pure consciousness, which is not conditioned, defeats the tenebrous and negative self, which is that sense of self or desire trapped or expressing as fear, hate, pride, vanity, and the seven deadly sins as we know of. So that conditioned self is we call ego or egos. It is desires that are in conflict with each other, and which fight and combat one another for predominance in order to express itself and gain the object of its desires. So it is that precise sense of self or selves, which we mistake for the divine, which produces our suffering.
Question: Does anything come out of this fight? Is this fight... Well, you know, obviously not pointless, because if the fight wasn't going to happen, the fight wouldn't be happening. But I guess what comes out of it then, if Michael here is defeating the monster? What is now attained, or at least maybe not lost, by the monster being defeated?
Instructor: Excellent question. So we have to understand ... The thing we must understand is that part of our divine consciousness is trapped within that conditioning. This is the myth of the genie of Aladdin's lamp, the genie, the genii, the jinn, the soul is encased, encapsulated and shelled within that negativity. And so we have to learn how to break those shells, break that conditioning so that the soul, which is trapped, can be liberated. Precisely, this is the path of consciousness, the path of self-knowledge. We gain knowledge by defeating the dragon because that dragon has stolen the maiden. That maiden is our pure essence or pure soul, which needs to be freed, which needs to be conquered. That is to attain the marriage of the knight with his maiden, the warrior with his lady.
The Three Types of Soul in the Qur’an
So we state that in this path of developing that pure consciousness, we could say that there are three types of soul, three stages, three demarcations, which are taught within the Qur’an, the holy book of the Muslims, but also within the Sufi doctrine. We say that there is a carnal soul, there is a blaming soul, and then there's also a peaceful soul. In the beginning, the soul is carnal. It is enmeshed within passion, within desire, within the negative product of mistaken action, encased in fear, and these subjective elements.
So that carnal soul is mentioned in the book of, or in the surah of Yusuf or Joseph, the 12th surah of the Quran, verse 53, where Joseph who is imprisoned by his own brothers stated, "Yet I do not absolve my own carnal soul." In Arabic, nafs al-Ammara. "For the carnal soul, indeed, prompts men to evil except in as much as my Lord has mercy. Indeed, my Lord is All-Forgiving, All-Merciful."
There's also a next gradation in which we recognize that we have a polluted soul, because that soul is enmeshed within hate and fear and the elements of suffering or elements that cause suffering; we are carnal of the flesh below, terrestrial. But there's a soul that knows how to reproach itself that is beginning to develop and change, which is beginning to conquer that lower animal nature, we could say: those animal-like qualities of conditioned consciousness.
In the Qur’an, this soul is mentioned in the verse, or the surah known as the Resurrection, verse 2, "And I swear by the self-blaming soul, the self-reproaching soul."
Likewise, there is a third type of gradation, which is the soul at peace, referring to those beings who have fully perfected the consciousness. That conditioned consciousness has been purified and now the consciousness, that is fully elaborated and expressed within the divine, has fully reunited with that source. "Oh, soul at peace, return to your Lord, pleased and pleasing." This is surah 89, verses 27 and 28.
Likewise, the blaming self is known as nafs-e-lawwama, and the soul at peace is nafs-e-mutmainna in Arabic. So these are three stages of how the soul achieves perfection, and that is really the goal of self-knowledge. We gain knowledge by comprehending our mistakes, changing them, and not going back to them, but instead learning to transform the nature of our mind and those lower qualities, which obscure the very light of understanding in ourselves.
In relation to talking about consciousness, these qualities, which really are the impetus and produce the consequences of suffering, these are the factors that we need to transform. In Principles of Sufism by al-Qushayri, a famous Sufi master, he says the following about the lower self, the nafs or egos:
“The first part of the constitution of the nafs consists of things forbidden by the command of God or by respect for this majesty. The second of its two parts consists of trivialities and vileness of character in general. In particular, it is made up of pride, anger, hatred, envy, bad behavior, intolerance, and the other blame-worthy characteristics. The worst and most difficult of the elements of the ego is it's supposing that there's something good about itself, or that it has a right to some standing.”
This is why many people today deify and enthrone hate, pride, self, egotism. “This quality is counted as secretly attributing equals to God.” In the Muslim doctrine, the Qur’an speaks often about shirk, to not join partners with God. In the public sense, in the exoteric sense of the religion, it refers to not worshiping other deities besides Allah, which is a very basic and superficial understanding. Instead, in a conscious sense, to not practice shirk, to practice the unity of God, is to take all the parts of the soul that are trapped in those defects, to free them and unite them all with that light, with the divine.
Anytime we act on fear, on gluttony, on resentment, that is performing shirk because the soul that belongs to God is trapped in that. If we enact that mistaken sense of self, it is perpetuating our suffering, and that's a form of, we can say, in a very strict sense, blasphemy. Because the Lord wants to take all that soul that belongs to him and bring it back to the source. This is why the Bible says that God is a jealous God.
There is another form of soul mentioned by the Muslim esoterism, known as nafs al-iblissiyya, the "souls" of Iblis, the devil. The devil is not just a historical figure from some ancient past, but represents a psychological truth about us, here and now. These souls of the devil are the pluralized ego, the multiple selves, like pride, vanity, fear, laziness, lust, gluttony, all the qualities of the lower, carnal soul. Each defect, as we said, is a conditioned and conditioning element, a self that has its own thoughts, feeling, and impulses that never obeys the will of divinity. This spiritual work is focused on destroying the ego, so that the unconditioned consciousness can flourish. In this way, we guard our breaths against God Most High, as the Sufis states repeatedly in Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism. We must learn to guard our consciousness moment by moment, to not speak vain things, to not act upon the ego, but learn to work against our faults so that we can transform our lives.
The Three Brains
But let us talk more about how we can develop that unconditioned soul. In Gnostic psychology we refer to three brains. The word brain in the esoteric sense refers to a machine, not just the physical cerebral matter in our skull. A brain is a center of physiological and psychological activity. We are commonly affiliated with the intellectual brain, which is where we process thoughts. By brain, we're not only referring to just the physical aspect of the soul or of the body. We're referring also to mechanisms in the soul, how the soul functions through the brain because mind is independent of the physical matter. The physical brain is merely a machine or tool that processes the thoughts of the mind, which exist beyond physical matter.
Likewise, the emotional brain processes emotion, sentiment, like, dislike. And the emotional brain is the physical manifestation in the heart and its nervous centers that process feeling. Likewise, we have a brain related to movement, instinct, and sexuality, which is impulse or will. We state that the soul can express through these centers or these brains. These machines process forces that belong to the cosmos and belong to our psyche. We need to learn how to use those energies inherent in those centers in order to use them for our spiritual work.
The Sufis also teach this, that the soul is not just independent from the body, but is expressed through the body, and that we should learn how to use our intellectual center, our emotional center, and our motor-instinctive-sexual center, these three brains, thought, feeling, and movement, in accordance with the divine will. So the lower consciousness or lower soul, the egos, can manifest in our thoughts, or feelings, or actions. But the soul also can use this machine of the body to process superior thought, superior emotion, and superior action.
So the Sufis teach in Al-Risalah, Principles of Sufism, the following:
"The whole cure of character is the abandonment and breaking of the ego through suffering hunger, thirst, and wakefulness, and through other sustained efforts including the breakdown of strength," we could say egotistical strength, our attachments. “For that is also part of the general abandonment of the ego.”
So how do we break the ego? How do we abandon the ego? We must learn to suffer hunger, thirst, and wakefulness. To be hungry as a psyche is to not feed our mind and our body, our impulses with substances or impressions that will damage our psyche, that will deepen our state of suffering—such as watching movies that are very violent, very aggressive, with foul language—these elements enter the mind, the mind transforms them, processes them, and they become further conditions of the psyche.
We feed our mind and our heart and our body not just with physical food, but with what type of experiences we surround ourselves with. Divinity has established its own commandments in accordance with religion: don't drink, don't smoke, don't commit adultery, don't commit fornication, whether it’s through the Ten Commandments of Moses or the ten meritorious and non-meritorious actions of Buddhism. Each religion has its own structure or laws, commandments that can guide us to live a superior life. The Sufis and the Muslims say that one should not eat that which is unlawful, which people think refers to Halal, which is the Muslim equivalence of observing a kosher diet. But psychologically we need to become Halal, holy, meaning to eat substances or to take impressions that are going to be beneficial, such as good literature, good books, good music, things that will elevate our way of being. So we have to suffer hunger, meaning that when we begin to restrain our mind, the ego becomes hungry, it fights, it wants to be fed, it wants to sustain itself. Likewise, thirst, thirsty for impressions that would feed that pride or fear or anger, which we used to indulge in. Wakefulness, of course, is how we attain that fasting of the soul to not identify with those elements, to not let them carry one away, and to learn to change them.
“This implies that the ego is a subtle entity, seated in the physical body, which is the locus of blameworthy characteristics. The ruh (or you can say in Hebrew ruach), the soul, is likewise a subtle entity seated in the body, which is the locus of praise-worthy characteristics. The whole is subjugated one part to the other and that totality is one human being.” —Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism by Al-Qushayri
So this machine of the body and of the psyche can process good fuel or bad fuel depending on what we take in and also how we act.
The Path of Life and the Path of Being
Which brings us to this next slide, an image that we repeat and go over in many lectures due to its importance. In this graphic, we have the intersection of a horizontal and vertical beam. That horizontal line refers to life. On the left we have our birth, followed by our childhood. Moving towards the right we have marriage, old age, sickness, and death. This horizontal line of life is mechanical.
Birth and death process themselves cyclically. The soul goes beyond and transmigrates as we teach in other lectures in accordance with the Hindu doctrine. These elements that we consider to be ourselves, as I mentioned, “my language, my name, my culture, my race, my political beliefs, my ideology,” these things come with time and they pass in time. They're transient; they're not eternal. That is all demarcated by this horizontal line, which is the path that everybody follows. It is 100% mechanical, as I mentioned.
People go through life without any type of spiritual longing or inquietude, a desire for something more. Those that do, sadly, fall into habits and beliefs in order to encapsulate further within an ideology, a political system, or a religion in a conceptual way. These all belong to the horizontal beam. One can be very devout in one's religion, practice austerities, fulfill the commandments of Islam or Judaism or Buddhism, and yet have no cognizant experience of what those religions teach. One thing is the form, to adopt it as a behavior, but this does not denote knowledge, cognizance, or understanding.
That which we want to develop in ourselves is this vertical path. This vertical beam refers to states of consciousness. Above, we have superior states of consciousness known as heavens, Jannat or nirvana, heavenly states or qualities of being. Then we have inferior states referring to that conditioned lower consciousness known as nafs, egos, selves, which is the submerged aspect of this vertical beam. As we talked about in the lecture on awakening, there are those who learn to awaken that free consciousness and ascend upward to heaven, to the divine. But there are those also who knowingly feed their hatred and their fear, and their pride, and deepen their suffering, and they descend that vertical path.
When we are walking the spiritual path, we seek to become aware of the present instant. Everything is contingent upon our awareness of our moment. Who are we in this instant? What is passing through our mind? What is our emotional state? What impulses are emerging within us? The primary foundation of meditative science is self-awareness, which in many teachings is very popular today. Awareness is necessary and fundamental to accessing the very deep knowledge we seek. So consciousness, self-observation, awareness of self is found precisely in this moment, where these two beams intersect. Our mechanical way of life intersecting with a spiritual way of life. It has nothing to do with outward behavior, although it can be reflected by that. It refers to inner states or qualities of being, ways of being.
So what is the best way to worship that, which is divine, is to be aware of our present, and to be aware of the presence of God. The word awareness in Arabic is muhadarah, which comes from the root word hudur meaning presence. So to be aware of that superior quality of divinity relates to the presence of God, to be aware of that. We call that self-remembering, to remember the divine in our consciousness. That's something we have to taste. No one can teach us this. It has to be verified and lived in ourselves and we will make many mistakes, and we will stumble, and we will commit errors, but as the Qur’an teaches, God calls unto whomever He wills as He wills, and will repeatedly bring us back to the present if we keep forgetting to observe ourselves.
That's the challenge, the battle we go through. In the beginning, we see that we are not aware. We're observing, then we get carried away by a memory or a preconception or preoccupation of work or family or whatever. That continually pulls us and distracts us from the present moment.
“The best act of worship is watchfulness of the moment” says al-Wasiti from the book Principles of Sufism. “That is that the servant not look beyond his limit, nor contemplate anything other than his Lord, and not associate with anything other than his present moment.”
The aspect of not associating with anything other than the moment is obvious: not to daydream, not to think about the future, or the past. Neither should one contemplate anything other than his Lord, meaning: to not identify with those negative, subjective qualities. When we see them emerge in our psyche, we don't act on them. We develop restraint. This is the self-blaming soul that is reproaching those lower qualities and is separating from them. This does not refer to a zombie-like, nonchalant, or laconic state where one has no feeling. Instead, it is a very pure and expansive quality.
Remembrance needs to be made continuous, which is known as Dhikr Allah, remembrance of God or invocation of God. Dhikr means remembrance in Arabic. The following teaching is given about remembrance by al-Wasiti. He was asked about the practice of remembrance and said:
"It is leaving the enclosed court of unconsciousness for the vast space of contemplation, through the power of fearing Him and the intensity of loving Him."
So contemplation is a very technical term referring to cognizance, understanding, experience, witnessing. If you are familiar with Islam they pronounce the famous Shahada which is, "I give testimony that there's no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet." Contemplation is mushahadah, to witness, to know. We could say a real Muslim is someone who has that experience, who knows God from meditation and from insight. Also, we gain that understanding through fearing him and in loving him. To fear does not refer to the lower qualities of the ego. It is a type of reverence. The word fear could be synonymous with reverence, respect for the teachings given by the divine so that we follow them and really fear the consequences of behaving in a bad way.
Also, we have the following verse from the Quran about the nature of remembrance. This is from the Thunder, sura 13, verse 27:
"Truly God leads astray whomsoever He wills, and guides to Himself whomsoever turns in repentance, those who believe and whose hearts are at peace in the remembrance of God, are not hearts at peace in the remembrance of God," meaning to have that presence within oneself and to not stray from that.
The Allegory of the Cave
That's something we develop progressively, through a process, which is illustrated by this famous art work about Plato's allegory of the cave. Plato in The Republic, who is, by the way, a Gnostic initiate, Gnostic master, taught the nature of four ways of consciousness, four states of consciousness in this famous philosophical Allegory of the Cave. In this image we see a group of enchained people with their necks, hands, and legs caged or chained against the wall, and they're left in darkness. They see across from them the shadows projected from a fire that's beyond the wall from which they are situated with their backs turned. There are people crossing back and forth before the fire carrying different objects, plates, pottery, different dishes, et cetera, which would project through the fire in the cave to those objects, and project shadows against the wall.
In this myth, we find that someone or a few people very rarely are freed from their chains and are taken to face the fire behind the wall. Of course, this is a gradual explanation about that which some philosophers denominate the nature of finding the truth. But here we're going to explain how that relates to states of consciousness specifically in relation to the Greek mysteries.
Someone is freed, and, of course, when they face the fire they're blinded. They cannot withstand the intensity of the light because they've been in shadow for so long. Afterward, they adjust; they begin to see precisely where the source of those shadows came from. Whereas, the people against the wall have no conception. They have only seen shadows, they have many concepts, and theories, and beliefs about what those shadows represent, not knowing what's behind them, what's the source.
Afterward, by the work of a guru, of a teacher, of a master, or a prophet, this prisoner is taken outside of the cave is dragged, forced out. This is a very terrible experience, but one that is necessary in which one must let go of one's comforts in this cave, and finally is let out into the expanse of the wilderness outside of the mountain. From there, one witnesses the stars for the first time. Of course, the light is very difficult to adjust to according to Socrates, Plato's teacher. Afterward, he sees the sun for the first time, the light and the expanse of the countryside.
This is a symbol of psychological states emerging from sleep, of conditioned mind, to unconditioned mind. We see that the people in the shadows are those who have the lowest state of consciousness. They have no self-awareness. They see shadows or nothing. If they see shadows on the wall, we could say those are different beliefs, concepts, ideologies that people project in their mind, on the screen of their understanding.
We denominate that psychological darkness, that complete lack of understanding, those shadows, Eikasia in Greek. Eikasia refers to barbarianism, war, complete unconsciousness, a state of darkness, a way of being, which we could see is exemplified by the violence that is occurring today. We simply have to look at the news to see Eikasia in action.
But also there is a state known as Pistis, which is when one sees those different shadows on the wall, which are the different beliefs, ideas of humanity. Eikasia means imagination. It's a type of sight, but in the darkness. It is like a nocturnal sight or unconsciousness. One is perceiving, but one isn't aware—this is the terrible irony. People who fulfill acts of violence are not aware of the consequences, or if they are, they don't see it objectively. Therefore, they are perceiving imagination, Eikasia: they see in the dark.
Pistis is belief, from the word pisteuo. It is to have a concept, an idea, something to think about that a person adheres to very diligently. Those people in the cave, when they see the shadows, firmly believe that the shadows are one way, philosophy, political party, religion, belief system, or concept, which are represented according to the projections of their mind and they conflict and they argue with each other.
Question: Is maybe Pistis a reaction to what you perceive?
Instructor: Yes, and all the concepts and beliefs that people have about the mysteries of life and death are just reactions to life, beliefs which don't have any real substance. Beyond that is Dianoia: when someone sees the fire, one has insight. Dianoia refers to revision of belief, to change one's way of thinking. That is awakened consciousness.
Notice that these first two states, Eikasia and Pistis, refer to the darkness and the shadows, ignorance. The higher two states of consciousness, the unconditioned states of consciousness, refer to Dianoia and Nous, as we'll explain. Dianoia again, means imagination, but this is a conscious way of seeing without filter, without obscuration.
Question: Is this maybe perceiving like a purpose?
Instructor: It is perceiving one's self, one's mind, one's heart, one's body, and perceiving the external world without any type of subjectivity, to see it clearly. In this state, we begin to revise our way of thinking, meaning we used to think we are one way but then we see that we are not from the perspective of that active observation.
Question: To see it as it is?
Instructor: Yes, Dia means “to stand side to side, thoroughly, to step aside” from that which is subjective, to step aside from the conditions in the mind. This is a new way of seeing ourselves. This is awareness, self-observation.
When someone escapes from the cave after that long trek and sees the sun for the first time, that is the state of Nous. That is the light of the divine, fully unobstructed, fully manifest: that pure light, which the Gnostics call Christ, that intelligence or consciousness beyond limitation, which is cosmic. That sun is precisely the complete, unconditioned mind, freedom, peace, pure insight or understanding.
One thing to mention in this graphic we see some Latin: Lux venit in mundum et dilexerunt homines magis tenebras quam lucem erant enim eorum mala opera— In synthesis saying, "Because the light came into the world and men love darkness rather than the light for their works were evil."
So those who are in the cave are attached to their beliefs, the cage of the mind, the cave of the ego. And those who obtain freedom become known as prophets, masters, avatars, because they eventually have to come back down in order to teach others, to guide them, and to show them the way, the truth, and the life. But of course, they are persecuted, stoned, poisoned, killed, murdered, et cetera.
Kabbalah and Levels of Consciousness
So we talked about levels of being, levels of consciousness, which is mapped out in this image. This is known as the Tree of Life, the Hebraic Kabbalah. The important thing to remember is that the word kabel in Hebrew means “to receive,” to receive knowledge. While we study this image, this graphic of states of consciousness, levels of being, these in turn, serve us to understand our experiences in meditation or out of the body in dream yoga. This tree of life is represented in the Book of Genesis, which is a book of the Gnostics. This graphic shows us the heights of consciousness, of Nous, noetic thought, which is that sun, that trinity above, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, which in Hebrew known as Kether, Chokmah, Binah.
Likewise, that energy, that consciousness descends into lower levels of matter, energy, and expression. In the middle triangle we have spirit, consciousness, and will, Chesed, Geburah, and Tiphereth in Hebrew. Likewise, we have the lower quaternary, these lower four spheres, mind, emotion, vitality, and physicality, referring to Netzach, Hod, Yesod, Malkuth.
This is an image that we study very deeply, which we talk about very extensively, which we'll cover in synthesis here. But this is a map to help us understand consciousness, where we are, who we are. We talk a lot about mind, heart, and impulse, referring to these four lower spheres, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, our vitality, and Malkuth, our physical body. We are here in the physical body, but we notice that in the present moment, mind, emotion, feeling, instinct—these things are manifest in this body. So this entire Tree of Life is not something foreign, outside of us. It's inside; it's here with us, here and now. We can experience those higher states even in our physical body. But of course, with training we learn to put the body in a physical state of rest, and then we go out in order to ascend those heavenly realms and to receive the knowledge we seek.
This image of the three circles above refers to Ain, Ain Soph, Ain Soph Aur, in Hebrew meaning the nothingness, the limitless, and the limitless light. Again, that limitless light, this outer circle, is the sun that Plato referred to, the Absolute, the good, the pure, which is what we aspire towards.
We learn through beginning in this body how to ascend this tree and to know that light for ourselves. The following is given by Ibn al-Karbalai in his book Rawdat al-jinan:
"When the seeker realizes the station of contemplation," Mushahida or to witnesss, which is witnessing God's essence, the purity of that light, "Comprehending and encompassing all phenomena, does not your Lord suffice since He has witnessed over all things," (sura 41, verse 53), "He continually witnesses lights from the Mundus invisibilis, the invisible world."
So in meditation, when we begin to witness that truth, we begin to see images, dream experiences that are not subjective, but objective, without obscuration in the mind. When we develop ourselves and when we realize that quality in ourselves, we begin to witness this Tree of Life in meditation, whether it's the top trinity or whatever aspect or sphere which God seeks to teach us about, which is us, ourselves, our true nature. In meditation, we can perceive lights, clairvoyant images, qualities of perception that are beyond our physical senses.
“From such a mystic’s perspective, this world and the hereafter are one and the same. This can only be realized by a vision that is all heart and spirit, not a view bound by mere mud and mire.”
So what is that view of heart and spirit? It is Dianoia and Nous. Dianoia, meaning revision of beliefs, spiritual, and intellectual culture, synthetic understanding, revision of concepts, self-analysis, self-awareness, self-observation, self-understanding. Nous is purely illuminated intellect, superior mind, God-consciousness, in which we are one with the Lord in us, and one perceives through that light. But of course, that view of mud and mire pertains to Eikasia and Pistis, belief and ignorance. Again, this image is referring to the heavens, what we aspire to.
The following quote, I think I mentioned previously, but I re-emphasize because it's very poignant in terms of this understanding of self-knowledge:
"Wherever the delusion of yourself it appears, there's hell. Wherever you aren't, that's heaven."
So who is this “you” we're referring to? It means ego. When there's no conditioned mind, when there's no subjective sense of self, when there is no fear, no pride, no gluttony, no lust, when there is only pure unconditioned soul, one can experience that heaven. It is a state of mind. This map also refers to places that we can visit in the dream state. These are dimensions, levels of being, but more importantly, it refers to who we are moment by moment—qualities of consciousness. So we have to get out of the way, meaning we, as an ego, need to be eliminated so that pure light can be extracted and brought back to the source. Which brings us to the next point about how we do so.
Awareness, Disclosure, and Contemplation
In this image, we have adhan, which is a call to prayer. The Muslims they pray five times a day, which is a very beautiful teaching about the need to develop discipline in one's practices. Likewise, as they pray five times a day, in Gnosis we pray moment by moment. We do not limit ourselves to just particular moments of the day, although we do many exercises and practices and disciplines that we engage with. But prayer and awareness is a moment by moment without respect to time, to be aware of the present.
So how do we become aware? What do we need to do? The following is given by al-Jurayri, he's a Sufi master. Again, he synthesized in this very brief statement how we learn to develop and gain self-knowledge of the divine.
Again, this is from al-Qushayri’s Principles of Sufism. He said that “whoever does not establish awe of duty in vigilance and his relationship to God will not arrive at disclosure of the unseen or contemplation, (mushahadah) of the divine.”
What is this awe of duty? Reverence, respect, to feel the duty to engage with meditation and practices that are going to benefit our soul. Self-observation, self-remembering, and mantras, many exercises we teach in this tradition, that we engage with in order to develop disclosure of the unseen, which sometimes is referred to as unveiling. Because as we learn to work with positive forces, with mantras, sacred sounds, we invoke divine forces into our psyche, in order to help us control the lower self. These energies, in turn, help us to awaken perception. And so meditation, different exercises of yoga we engage with, these, in turn, help us to expand our consciousness and feed it with the forces that are going to benefit us. That is awe of duty, to have that reverence and respect for the practices and to engage in them repeatedly, daily so that we can tear the veil that covers the mystery. That is the unveiling we seek and the witnessing of the divine, in which we see beyond the veil of our subjective self in order to experience the truth.
We need energy to do so. Consciousness is empowered by forces, which we need to identify and understand. So we are teaching in relation to the Kabbalah those ten spheres or ten modalities of consciousness; those are also forms of energy and matter, from the most subtle, from the top to the most basic and material below. These forces help us when we learn to control them, to aid our spiritual life.
We included in this image Perseus having slain the Medusa. This is another myth from Greece, very beautiful, that teaches how the hero, the soul has to fight against the devil. How the master, the spiritual initiate or disciple learns to overcome the ego, decapitates it, conquers it, destroys it. Precisely, Medusa's power is in its hypnotism and its conveying men into stone whenever the gaze or their eyes would lock and their gaze would meet. This is a symbol of how Medusa, the ego, the negative self, turns men into habitual creatures, into fragments of stone, symbolizing habits, which become ingrained with experience and time.
There are many people who have habits following that horizontal path of life we were discussing, and they never change them, and we all have certain qualities and habits that we engage with that make us into figures of stone, something that's immovable and frozen, trapped within the confines of the cave, the darkness of the mind, in Plato’s Republic. Whereas the qualities of consciousness we seek to develop are free, liberated, unconditioned.
So, how does Perseus kill Medusa? In this myth, it is very beautifully taught. He uses the reflection on the shield to perceive Medusa next to him, and with his sword, cuts off its head. That reflection refers to conscious perception, to perceive with conscious imagination. To see the ego without identifying with it. To see the quality of mind that needs to be changed and observing it, and working on it, and finally decapitating it, but not looking directly at the ego, not looking directly at the defect itself and identifying with it, because to feel oneself in that quality is to become that quality. We become what we think, as Buddha taught, “mind precedes phenomena.” We must learn to not identify with those qualities. To observe them, to see them objectively and with the sword of insight, of wisdom—represented by Manjushri's image of a Buddha wielding a sword and cutting through illusion with fire—likewise we learn to conquer Medusa, which is the nafs, the lower soul.
We included also an important quote from Samael Aun Weor in the modern Gnostic tradition, "Wherever we direct attention, we expend creative energy." So when we identify with an ego, we give energy to it, but if we don't identify with it, we feed and empower our consciousness. We must learn how to redirect attention, how to direct our mind, how to observe ourselves, how to act, how to think, how to feel. because every action produces a consequence. Every internal state produces an effect, and we must learn to understand the cause and effect relationship. This path of Self-realization, the realization of the Divine Truth within us, is precisely found by eliminating the undesirable elements of the mind. So, we need to learn, how do we spend our energy? How do we use our intellectual energy? How do we use our emotional energy? How do we use our physical, vital, and sexual energy? We will explain in relation to Tibetan Buddhist teachings on Tantra.
Energy in the Kabbalah
Again, this image of the Kabbalah we're now discussing is in relation to forms of energy. So, to elaborate on these spheres, we have physical energy below in the first sphere cutting up to the top of the middle or the middle triangle. Likewise, we have the second sphere, which is vital energy, followed by emotional or psychic force, followed by mental energy on the right, the fourth sphere, mind and intellect. Likewise, we have volitional or energy-related to willpower, which is this fifth sphere. Likewise, we have conscious energy, which is what we deeply seek to access through meditation and through self-observation relating to the sixth sphere. Then we have the seventh sphere, which is spiritual energy, which is the Divine. The spirit is God. “The soul is acquired, but the spirit is,” we say.
Above that are higher forms of energy known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, known as the First, Second, and Third Logos, Christ in synthesis. Not just Jesus of Nazareth but the energy he embodied. So, we must learn how to use these energies and to recognize their usefulness in place, to remember that these forces cannot be manipulated or used without consciousness, without the soul being in dominance of them, which is why Samael Aun Weor wrote the following in The Great Rebellion:
“No matter how much we might increase our strictly mechanical energy, we will never awaken consciousness. No matter how much we might increase the vital forces within our own organism, we will never awaken consciousness. Many psychological (or you could say emotional) processes take place within us without any intervention from the consciousness. However great the disciplines of the mind might be, mental energy can never achieve the awakening of the diverse functions of the consciousness. Even if our willpower is multiplied infinitely, it can never bring about the awakening of the consciousness. All these types of energy are graded into different levels and dimensions, which have nothing to do with the consciousness. Consciousness can only be awakened through conscious work and upright efforts.”
So, as I said, we need to conserve our intellectual, emotional, and physical energy. We need these forces to exist. Someone who has no vital energy is either asleep or is dying, is sick. When the vitality leaves the body, that vital force or vital body, we could say, the vehicle of energy, when it leaves the body, the physical body dies. It decays. We need these forces in harmony, but the consciousness must use them. So, even if we multiply these forces, we perhaps get a lot of exercise physically, we do a lot of energetic exercises such as yoga and mantras, meditation. We may engage with prayer of the heart. We may study a lot. These things in themselves are good, but they must be done consciously. The soul must be in command of them.
Question: So, for example, how you stated you could be living out or carrying out a doctrine as in like the rules of the church or rituals and such but not believing or knowing anything about that religion, so, it'd be like basically doing that, just working and doing consciousness, but not doing it consciously, or like doing religious practices to build upon your spirituality?
Instructor: When one practices, one needs to practice as if one's brushing one's teeth. We do it for our benefit. Not necessarily because we want to spend the time or enjoy it, but we do it because it's necessary to our hygiene. Likewise, our spiritual hygiene is dependent upon practice. So, we learn gradually through experience how these exercises work, what energy it focuses on, and how we can use that energy consciously. So, that's a skill we acquire through practice, and speaking of which, we always end these series of lectures with an exercise we can engage with.
In this practice, we continue to observe and develop our self-analysis, self-awareness from moment to moment, and at the end of each day recollect on how conscious we were of our three brains, mind, emotion, and physicality.
Another exercise you can engage with is another sacred mantra, sacred sound, which works with those forces, vibrations of energy. So every day, you can sit in a comfortable posture, whether upright in a chair or if you are flexible and you enjoy the oriental style, you could sit in full lotus, half lotus, but this is not absolutely necessary. What's necessary is that we're fully relaxed.
You can sit in a chair, whatever's more suitable and conducive to relaxing the body and not having any tension. Relax your mind, heart, and body and afterward you can visualize within your brain a beautiful white light, followed by pronouncing a sacred mantra called INRI, which is in Latin inscribed above the Martyr of Calvary, Jesus of Nazareth. It said, 'Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum,' but it's a secret mantra. INRI can also refer to 'Ignis Natura Renovatur Integra,' which in Latin means “fire renews nature incessantly.” So that light and fire of the sun mentioned in the myth of Plato, in the Allegory of the Cave, is a symbol of Christ, an energy and a force that we can incarnate, that we seek to incarnate, that will aid us in purifying our psyche. This mantra works with that force and it attracts energies to the brain to illuminate the mind.
So, we can pronounce this mantra. You sound it in two syllables. Like this 'iiiiinnnn' followed by another breath and then a rolled R as in Spanish, ‘rrrrrriiiiiií.’ If you notice, if you pronounce that and notice the vibration, it will vibrate in the center of the brain. It will stimulate the pineal and pituitary glands, especially the physical brain, the cerebrum and fill it with a Christic force, energy that can develop that insight we seek.
I know for some people that letter could be hard. The R especially if you're not familiar with Spanish or don't speak Spanish, but it's rolled on the tip of the tongue, and I'm sure if you go online and Google it, search it on YouTube, you can find some examples of how to practice that, but when you do these mantras, concentrate on the vibration in the body, in the mind, and visualize with eyes closed a light that fills the cerebrum and the cerebellum, the different centers of our brain, of our mind, with light. You can do that for 30 minutes or 60 minutes, whatever is convenient for you, and that energy will help you to develop the awareness of that unconditioned consciousness.
Questions and Answers
Question: I have a question, and this has been actually bothering me for at least the past week or so since, I don't know if you're aware of, the Alton Sterling shootings, like the police brutality cases and such, and something that I’ve become aware of recently is you know, of course, everyone has their own subjective realities and within our subjective realities are the battle of our soul. We, at least, are given hope that we have the ability to overcome that but obviously we are told through scripture that not everybody will. Is it inherent that these people, the people who don't win that internal battle of the soul, are they inherently, I guess, defective? Is it that they are supposed to not win or is that they truly, deep within themselves, that the unconditioned soul does not have the pure willingness to be reunited? Is it that soul's desire to be separated possibly?
Because I've gotten into lots of conversations with people because I believe that every single thing that we experience, especially in the media, is not moreso to just help us know what's going on in the world, but to help us gain greater understanding within our own worlds by knowing about things that other people experience. So, when I approach people about these subjects, I don't do just so like, "Oh did you know what happened?" It's like, "What do you know about what happened and how do you feel about it? How does this change your reality?"
Instructor: The Qur’an teaches it beautifully. God calls to Himself whom He will and those who have harmed themselves or have gone astray, He punishes them in relation to their own behavior. So, those in whom the longing to change is not existent, God cannot help, but those who feel that longing to change, who feel that spark of conscience that exists within the unconditioned soul, have the potential to change, and there are many who have lost their potential. The Qur’an speaks about this very extensively, about the Lord calling unto whom He will and those who go astray, who choose to deviate, He lets them go astray, and to not have that guidance is to really be in affliction.
Question: Do they have satisfaction in dissatisfaction? Are they okay with where they end up even if you know it seems like God is telling them to go a certain way or at least giving them an option to go, but they choose to go a certain way? Are they, in the end, satisfied with that decision, as satisfied as someone who chooses to go?
Instructor: We always say that the soul always has its freedom to choose what it wants, that chooses to deepen the conditioning of the psyche—that's the nature of that soul and that's what it wants—but those who feel that they need something more to change themselves and to transform who they are and to follow that conscience that inspires them and approaches spirituality, that is the calling of God to want to change. In relation to that, that book the Qur’an is very insightful about finding the will of the divinity. To many people, they are only interested in deepening the cage, strengthening the cage that produces their suffering, which is why John Milton, author of Paradise Lost said, "The mind is its own place and can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."
Question: About the suffering of others on the path because, like you said, God calls upon whom He calls. In this process, like you said, once they get out of the cave, they want others just to get out of the cave, too, so they have to go back into the cave in order to do so, but once they do they're killed by the people whom they're trying to save.
Instructor: Well, literally in the case of Buddha and Jesus, that was the case, but in many cases when someone teaches this type of knowledge, they may meet resistance or criticism from others who don't hold those beliefs or don't really seek to develop that, but when I was referring to that, our spirituality is really expanded and founded upon compassion. So, we don't necessarily have to become a teacher, instead we can find ways to help humanity according to our disposition, our ways. So we learn to use our awakened consciousness to aid us in whatever particular aspect of life we've been placed in order to do that consciously.
Question: So, if we have these different outlets. Say, some people like to help others actively, like go out in the community and help homeless people and stuff, but others like to do so with law and politics, if we use all of the energy that we can put into different places, but in a finite amount, but focus all of that energy towards those, are we as fulfilled as trying to do all of these different things, trying to help people in the community at the same time while trying to work in your career outside of the family?
Instructor: As to one what has to do, that's ordained by the Being, and you may find from experience in meditation or in the dream state that you have a particular... in fact, maybe many particular things you need to do; it depends on what you need to focus on.
For me, I received the experience to teach this knowledge many times by the founder of this tradition, Samael Aun Weor. I asked him about it many times in the astral plane, the internal worlds. But also there are other responsibilities to do that we are forced to engage with. Part of that awe of duty I mentioned from al-Jurayri’s statement in the Sufi book is that we take whatever occupation we're engaged with, whatever job we have, whatever family life we have, and we transform it consciously. We take that daily experience and use it for our spiritual benefit. So instead of reacting to life mechanically on that horizontal line, we are still engaged with life in accordance with cause and effect. Wherever we're born, who we're with, whatever responsibilities we have, we fulfill them, but even better: in a very radical way, in a very transformative way. That becomes noticeable when we do so with consciousness that is not conditioned.
Even if people may not really attribute us to being spiritual, they may say, "Oh, he's really the kind person or really benefiting me or really did something of help." We find our vocation or really our divine calling by learning to awaken and we learn to see how we can engage with life with rectitude and love as Samael Aun Weor wrote in The Perfect Matrimony. That answered your question?
Question: Yeah, and lastly when you said that people can make a hell out of heaven... It's not essentially what you do or what makes up that reality, but essentially what you get out of it and where you put it, I would say. So, if you're going to be in any type of reality, if you're going to have a family, and a career, and all these other things like you can, but as long as you do them in this type of way and you work towards this thing, it doesn't matter what makes up that reality.
Instructor: Well spiritual life, spiritual awakening is not only contingent upon our obligations, but our spiritual life is not separate from our daily life. Our daily life is our initiation into a new way of being. We learn to take whatever circumstances we find ourselves in and we learn to do it consciously. That's how we learn and that's how we benefit others. When I refer to reality, I mean I refer to those higher grades of consciousness. So, we learn to take our physical daily life and make it spiritual and not something habitual or painful. Instead, we learn to transform whatever occurrence we find ourselves in in life and make it a benefit to humanity. That's really our goal.
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