This is a transcription of an audio lecture from Introduction to Gnostic Studies, originally given live at the Gnostic Academy of Chicago.
So every time we meet here together, we talk about gnosis. What is gnosis? It is experiential knowledge, knowledge of divinity, but knowledge of divinity that begins with ourselves.
Consciousness, ego and personality are three elements of ourselves that we can understand. And if we start with the basis of understanding this, then we gradually work into an understanding of which part of ourselves is the most divine, and how we can strengthen that part.
Now, because this is a path of self-knowledge, we have been working with the practice of self-observation. Before we seek to understand beings that we cannot see, other dimensions, those types of mystical experiences, we seek to just understand our reality. So with self-observation, we have begun by looking at our three brains. We talked before last time about how the three brains are three energetic centers.
The body is like a machine that can receive all types of information. We can receive motor, instinctive, and sexual impulses in our body, and that is controlled by the motor-instinctive-sexual brain.
We can receive emotional sensations, things that we process usually in the middle region of our body. We can feel anger in our gut, or love, warmth in our chest. And that can be divided into superior or inferior emotions. All of us have emotional states that are very pleasant and happy, serenity, but most of the time, unfortunately, we are stuck in emotional states that are states of suffering, anger, depression, misery. So we can use the emotional center in two different ways, in a superior way or inferior way, depending on what we are resonating with.
In the same way, the third center we talked about, the intellectual brain, which corresponds with the physical brain, up here in our head, can be divided into superior thoughts or inferior thoughts. Superior thoughts might be inspired works of genius, inventive types of creative thoughts, totally free from repetition and conditioning, while inferior thoughts might be of a more egotistical nature, selfish and repetitive.
If you have been working with self-observation, and observing not only external events but also your internal states of being, you might have noticed that the majority of our life is spent repeating thoughts that we have already thought, emotions that we have already felt before, actions and habits that we have already done, that life becomes a bit like a routine. And we don’t know how to escape this. Even if we are stuck in habits and emotions and thoughts that do not necessarily bring us any joy, we don’t know how we are supposed to step out of that.
We talked about how gnosis, self-knowledge, is the fourth path, the path of equilibrium, the path of awakening consciousness. Consciousness is separate from thoughts, separate from emotions, and separate from our instincts, impulses and body. Although consciousness gives us the chance to perceive all of those different types of sensations that we experience, that are a part of our life, we can awaken our consciousness separate from those sensations when we are in psychological equilibrium.
So we talked last time about looking at our lives, looking at if we are living in an imbalanced way, if there are times when we become too intellectual, getting carried away in theories and ideas. Times when we become too emotional, getting attached to sensations and emotional stimuli, dramas on TV, those kind of things, and not really thinking things through, not really putting things into practice. Or finally, we might be imbalanced in that we are a person that is always on the go or has a lot of instinctual habits, really identified with our physical body, but we’re not really thinking things through. We don’t have a lot of emotional depth.
By identifying that and working to correct our own imbalances, we can begin to activate a state of conscious awareness. We can begin to self-observe ourselves in a new way.
Perception of Reality
So if you’ve been working with that practice over the last few weeks, then this question might be something that you are looking at in a new way. Do we perceive reality?
So most of us are going to assume, “Well, yeah, I’m not hallucinating. I see the room around me, and that’s reality, right?” But we want to go a little bit deeper than a superficial understanding of this question.
When working with practices to understand not just the external world and our habits and life the way that we usually understand it, but to perceive life in a more profound way, in a spiritual way, then we need to question reality, because is it reality, or is it our perception of reality?
To give you an example of this, pretty common, that most of us have had a first impression of somebody that was really great, and we thought that they were an amazing person, and then later on we found out that maybe they weren’t such a nice person after all. Or conversely, maybe somebody rubs you the wrong way, maybe the first time you meet, you think this guy is going to be a jerk, but then not so long later, you realize they are a pretty good person. Maybe they become one of your best friends.
So what is it there that tricks us? Why is it that we think we are perceiving the reality of someone or situation, but later on time proves that we actually haven’t seen it as it was?
A really poignant example of this is a betrayal. So all of us at one point in our life have been lied to, or betrayed by someone we trusted, and that can be a very traumatic experience for the soul. Because in an instant, you realize that someone you thought you trusted, you thought you knew, you thought you had a good understanding of their character, has said or done something that contradicts everything that you believe. You might go deeper into a state of doubt, questioning not only your relationship with that person but questioning yourself and what you did wrong, what you didn’t see to get yourself in that position. Questioning: is it just this one person that I didn’t understand, or is it all types of people that I don’t understand? Do I even have a grasp of life?
The doubt can be very distressing, but it is very important, because it shows the fundamental truth of our situation, which is that we are not really very cognizant of reality. We are actually in a state where we should feel a little bit of distress, because we need to figure out: “What is it that I am not seeing? And how do I move into that place where I can begin to see things as they are? So I don’t continue to follow an unconscious assumption about life and about people and about myself that puts me into a state of greater suffering.”
But most of the time after something like this happens, the pain is too great. So we run away from that doubt. We run away from ourselves. We push it down. We blame the other person or we get distracted with something else. Sometimes we run directly into the same situation with someone new and we end up repeating and continuing our suffering rather than learning from it.
Now with practices like self-observation and meditation, we are able to begin breaking that cycle. We are able to begin to understand what it was that we missed, that we didn’t perceive, to understand ourselves in a new way, and to step beyond our wrong assumption of reality into a better understanding of reality.
So the first of the three elements of ourselves we are going to look at today, that will help us to be comprehend reality, is consciousness. Now consciousness as commonly defined is “the quality or state of being aware and having mental faculties not dulled by sleep, faintness or stupor.” So that is, if you’re the boxer in the ring and you get knocked unconscious, then you wake back up and you are conscious again. You know, very simple, superficial understanding of what consciousness is, but we are seeking again to go deeper.
That consciousness is not just being physically awake or physically asleep. But most of the time, in an esoteric understanding of consciousness, we are asleep. We are not perceiving things as they are, but rather we are going through the motions of things only half aware of what’s happening, repeating our habits, repeating our routines, but not really being awake, not really perceiving the situation as it is.
So in Gnosticism, we define consciousness as the root of our perception of all phenomena. So as I mentioned earlier, consciousness is beyond our mind, beyond our thoughts, beyond our heart, beyond our emotions, beyond our body. It is through consciousness that we can perceive physical sensations and emotional sensations and intellectual thoughts, but consciousness is distinct from them.
When we really begin to work with consciousness, in an awakened way, we begin to strengthen that inner energy within ourselves. Consciousness is also understood as the Essence of the human soul. So an Essence is a synthesis, a seed of something. And in our tradition, we talk about how by working with consciousness by activating and awakening consciousness, we begin to develop the soul, to develop what is within us in a new way.
So one way to test our consciousness right now is: are you aware of your thumb on your right hand? Now you are, but you weren’t just a few minutes ago, maybe? Yeah! Right, well, and that is a good point. A lot of time our attention is focused on everything else that is going on. We are perceiving a very narrow bit of whatever is happening in the room. Right, so if we want to work with consciousness, to become more conscious, then we need to be always working to become more aware, to expand our consciousness in every moment.
Just like a muscle, the more that you use it, the more that you are able to perceive. However, if we are never working with consciousness, we are only perceiving a sliver of reality. In fact, we estimate that only about 3% of our consciousness is actually active. Whereas, if you looked at someone like a Buddha, who is totally awake and enlightened, you know they can perceive everything around them, everything within them, multiple dimensions of reality. That’s the ultimate goal we are striving for in our spiritual work, is to become awake, to be able to perceive things as they truly are, not just to perceive a narrow or a filtered view of reality.
From moment to moment, we can begin with a practice of just being aware of our body. It’s a great way to ground yourself. You know all the time we are walking around in our body, we are doing all kinds of things, but we are never aware of breathing or the way our eyes move around to look at things, right? Until suddenly we trip over something or we have this terrible pain in our back, then we are aware of our physical body. That is a good place to start, but, of course, with Gnosticism, we are seeking to go a little bit deeper even with that. We are seeking to become aware of the inner parts of our self, seeking to become aware of consciousness itself, our inner psychology, so we gain that self-knowledge.
But there is one barrier to becoming conscious, and that barrier is what we call ego. A common definition for ego is the self. In fact, the word is Latin for “I,” as in “me.” And another common definition we have for ego is an exaggerated sense of self-importance. So we can think of this with celebrities, right? They might walk into a room and demand certain things that other people wouldn’t ask for, that they might have a sense of themselves, that they are larger than life, even if physically we realize they have a physical body just like us. There might not actually be a physical difference in that person.
If you put them alone in the desert all by themselves, you know that sense of self isn’t going to save them, right? And yet we see that they have that exaggerated sense of self-importance. It might irritate us, in fact, that they move through life in that kind of way.
Now the trick is that all of us have that, not just celebrities, but we don’t catch it in ourselves as much because we haven’t trained ourselves to look for it. One of the fundamental practices of the gnostic is to train yourself to catch when your ego is getting carried away.
So in Gnosticism, the ego is a false self which filters our perception. It can also refer to a compilation of all kinds of egotistical desires that give us a sense of self.
We might, for example, be somebody that really loves hamburgers, and so that is a sense of “my identity.” “I love hamburgers and I might drive two hours just to be able to get the best kind of hamburger that I want.” So I am feeding a false self. The truth is that if I never saw a hamburger again, I would not die. I would be able to survive just fine. But because I have developed this sense of identity attached with that sensation of eating a hamburger, then it seems really real to me and I will do all kinds of crazy things just to get what I want.
This is a silly example―right?―hamburgers, but we can think about it with ourselves. How much do we do, how much do we sacrifice, to have a job that we believe other people will respect? Or to drive a car or have clothes that show a certain sense of self? How much do we do to feed our own addictions, and I don’t just mean drugs and alcohol, but addictions to different kinds of sensations, like our emotional addictions to drama. How many hours might we spend watching dramatic television shows?
Yet all of that is kind of a construction in our own mind. It does not have much to do with reality. It’s a sense of self that we feed and we make real, a psychological sense of our self-image that we believe very much is real. We will argue with people to the death, sometimes, to defend our sense of pride, but physically does not actually have a reality, does not have much to do with just the regular physical sensations of our bodies. It is exaggerated.
Now there’s actually a study that is going on at Ohio State University’s medical center where they talk about mind-wandering. So if we think about the consciousness, pure and free from any egotistical self-interference, that is what they would call in their study, it is a neuroscientific study, they would call it “on-task thinking.” So they are able to see in the brain that the brain exhibits different activity when we are in on-task thinking. That is when you are perceiving something just as it is, without any thoughts. You are just totally awake and you are there.
In addition to that, there are two levels of mind-wandering. So when you are perceiving something, let us say you are sitting in a class and you are perceiving something. The professor is going to talk about some problems that are going to be on the next test, and then you start to have your own commentary about it. That is the first level of mind-wandering. That is a performance based mind-wandering. You might be thinking, “Oh no, he just said that and I missed what he said, and am I going get that wrong on the next test?” You are still half aware of what is going on, but there is this other level of being concerned about your own performance. So it can be when you are listening to somebody talk and in your mind, you are disagreeing with everything they say. Then that can be the first level of mind-wandering.
And then a deeper level of mind-wandering is when we are just totally somewhere else. You know we are sitting there in that class and we are thinking about how we need to get to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for enchiladas, so when we get home we are going to cook dinner. We are totally not there at all.
One of the studies that actually came out of Harvard about mind-wandering found that over 50% of our lives we are mind-wandering. Now you can measure that in the brain, a different activity pattern in the brain. But that people who engage in mind-wandering less are actually happier than people who engage in more mind-wandering. I bring up this example because a lot of the time we are thinking about the things that we want. We are fantasizing about that hamburger, right? We are not just perceiving the situation as it is. We are not just perceiving the painting of the flowers for what it is, but we are perceiving with our own filter of, “Well, I don’t really like the colors that they chose here.” Or, “Ooh, I really like the paint choice of that.” We are always bringing ourselves into situations rather than perceiving them with that pure consciousness, bright and awake. So before we say that is good or bad, it is just something to be aware of in ourselves, something that we want to observe.
The other element that we want to be able to observe and distinguish from ego and from consciousness is our personality.
We talked last time about how most of us believe who we are, is our identity in the world. You know, “My name, my age, my race, my culture, my job, my family,” that we believe all of those things are “who I am,” and we live our lives investing a lot of time into those things.
Commonly defined, the personality is “the totality of an individual’s behavioral and emotional characteristics.” And in psychology, we study personality as something that is relatively stable over time, that someone has a certain characteristic and that is just who they are and they are not going to change very much. So you will hear people who will maybe do something that really irritates other people. They will always defend it and say, “Well, that is just who I am. You need to accept me for who I am!” And sometimes the personality can become egotistical in that way. We can use different traits of our identity in the world to strengthen a sense of self, to make ourselves feel more real.
When we look at personality in an esoteric way, we look at the root of personality, which is persona, in Latin meaning “mask.” And in Gnosticism, we consider the personality as just a mask, that it is not the truth of our identity, but rather one superficial part of our identity.
Personality is neither good nor bad, but it is the way in which we can interact in the world. So we can look at is as an interface with the external world, which allows us to communicate and function in a particular time period and location. So if you had the personality of someone from ancient China, you would never fit in here. You would not eat the same things. You would not wear the same clothing. You would not speak the same language. You would not have the same customs. It would be very hard for you to fit in the world.
So we need a personality. We need these characteristics we inherit from our family, we inherit from our culture, from society and education, in order to be able to survive in the world. But, are we able to also look a little bit deeper into what is going on behind the personality? What is driving the personality?
When we are moving through the world, it is not just the interface that is acting, but it is our own conscious energy, our own psychology, that is expressing through that. When you are feeling very kind towards someone and acting towards them in a very loving way, you might be using the same language, the same mannerisms, to be able to communicate with that person. But it is a very different experience than when a few days later, you are furious with that person and you are shouting at them. You see there that distinction? The personality is the same. It allows us to connect with other people. But who do we have driving the car? That is the question.
I would like to quote from Gurdjieff, something he said about personality and about our own inner self, the deeper psychological self that we are seeking to study here with esoteric knowledge. Gurdjieff says:
“We have nothing of our own; everything that we put in our pocket is not our own―and on the inside, we have nothing.” ―Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World
So we do not want to find ourselves in that situation, where we have lots of material possessions. Everything that we put in our pocket, or even psychologically, we have a sense of self that has been given to us, a name that has been given to us, an identity prescribed to us by the world, but internally we have nothing of ourselves. We have nothing of our soul, nothing that carries on, as we mentioned last time, that carries on after death.
We want to develop our soul, that Essence, that seed, into something that is strong and vibrant, shining with a lot of conscious awareness. So that when we come to the end of our life and we have to give up our status, we have to give up our reputation, our wealth, our possessions, even our physical body, there is something that survives, right?
So this is our situation as we are. We can look at ourselves. This is just a conceptualization, a framework by which we can look at ourselves and examine ourselves. But where did it come from? Have we always had a consciousness? Have we always had an ego? And have we always had a personality?
If we think back to childhood, the early years of childhood, there was something different there. Unfortunately, this is starting to change now a days. Children are much less happy, but for most of us we can recall those first years of our life were very happy, were characterized by a state of bliss. We were free from the types of worries that we have now. I have a four year old niece and the way that she goes and interacts with toys and games, she is totally bright and present. There’s a lot of pure consciousness there. But unfortunately as we start to get older, as we enter school, and then later on as we enter into puberty and different psychological stages of development, in which we become very self-conscious and very aware of ourselves, all of that begins to change.
The sense of self that we have becomes more developed, becomes stronger, and we are no longer able to just perceive life the way that a child does. Now, it is true that children do not have the intellectual understanding of life that adults have, but they do have a very awakened perception of life that is something we lose sight of.
Many times we become distracted. We have all those wrong ideas of life, all those perceptions of life, that we mentioned earlier, that end up actually not being a perception of reality. And so we have lost something that the child has that we can reclaim by working on our own psychology.
The founder of the Gnostic movement is Samael Aun Weor, and he gave us this quote in his book about the Fundamentals of Gnostic Education. He wrote:
"The revolutionary psychology of the Gnostic movements, in a clear and precise manner, makes an in-depth distinction between the ego and the Essence [consciousness]. Only the beauty of the Essence manifests through the child during the first three or four years of life. Then, the child is tender, sweet, and beautiful in all his psychological aspects. However, when the ego begins to control the tender personality of the child, then all the beauty of the Essence begins to disappear and the characteristic psychological defects of every human being bloom in its place.” ―Samael Aun Weor, Fundamentals of Gnostic Education
So we see that at a certain age, children start to throw temper tantrums. And what are those tantrums about? They want their way. They didn’t get what they wanted. “Billy is playing with a toy and I want the toy. And so I am going to scream and have a fit and become miserable about the toy.” As adults we might smile at this, “Oh, that’s so silly that he is so upset about this toy when we know that twenty minutes from now he is going to be completely thinking about something else and will have completely forgotten about the toy. So why is he investing all this energy, crying and screaming and getting so upset about, it when it is not a big deal?”
But, we do the same thing when it comes to our money, when it comes to our car. We get into a car accident. When it comes to losing something that has value to us, we will freak out. We will be in misery if a check gets lost in the mail. We lose it. We do not perceive ourselves in that same way. Perhaps this is something that, yeah, is going to be inconvenient for us, it is going to be causing a little bit of time or effort or energy for us. But in the long run of things, is it really worth becoming so upset? Becoming so frustrated about it?
The Four Noble Truths
In part of Buddhism, they talk about the Four Noble Truths. Has anybody heard of those before?
The first is that life is suffering.
The second is that suffering is caused by desire, selfish desire, the false sense of self that we are talking about here. That “I want,” “I want reality to be a certain way that I want it to be, and if it is not that way then I am going to suffer and be miserable about it. And I will make everyone else miserable too.”
But the third is that there is a way to cease suffering.
And then the fourth is that the way to cease suffering is the eightfold path.
We talk a lot about Buddhism in the Gnostic studies, not in this particular topic that we are talking about today, but Gnosticism is on that same foundation. We invest a lot of energy in a false sense of self that is actually creating our misery. We think, “When I get that promotion then I’m going to be happy.” We desire that promotion and we work really hard. And maybe sometimes we are lucky and we get the promotion. But then we are not happy because we want something else. We want the next promotion, or “I am not getting the same credit the guy next to me is getting, so I’m not happy.”
We do not see that it is our own sense of self-importance that has crated our unhappiness. The important thing is not to change our physical life. It is not to renounce promotions or cars or clothing, you know. It is not the point. The point is our psychological relationship to life, that with this exaggerated sense of self, we are walking around expecting life to conform to the way we think it should be. We are actually not allowing ourselves to see life as it is. We are not allowing ourselves to be content with whatever is the experience of life: to be in tune with the experience of life, whether its happy or sad, whether it is raining outside or sunny―to just accept life as it is and continue to be, to be present, as an Essence, as a consciousness, as a soul, that gets to experience all the variety of life in its many manifestations.
Samael Aun Weor said something else about personality and Essence, to distinguish that for us. He wrote that we should:
"Understand: the human being is born with an Essence but not with a personality; thus, it is necessary to create the personality. Nevertheless, the personality and the Essence must be developed in a harmonious and balanced manner. [...] In the Essence, we have everything that we own; in the personality, we have everything that we borrowed. That is, in the Essence we have our innate qualities (our spiritual qualities, our soul), and in the personality we have the example of our elders, what we have learned at home, in school, and in the streets." ―Samael Aun Weor, Fundamentals of Gnostic Education
So we need both of these things. We need our personality. The personality gives us the chance to experience life and connect with others, to develop our soul through different types of experiences and learning. And we need the Essence, which allows us the conscious perception of those things.
We need the Essence to become active, because when the Essence is asleep we get into repetitive behaviors. We are just going around like a machine repeating everything by habit. When the Essence is awake, we are able to perceive life in a totally new way.
Is the Ego Really Necessary?
We need a personality and Essence that are developed in balance, but do we need an ego? Do we need a big sense of self?
I have a comparison here for you. You can think of somebody with a big ego like a talk show host or a radio host―or a sports celebrity or sports talk person. Those people who make a living off of having a big ego, exaggerate their personality. They become, maybe, extremely politically-opinionated or they are very aware of pop culture and everything that is going on with current events. They are able to use their personality in a way that is creating a strong persona, so that more people will listen to them. They find that entertaining. They love the types of jokes that that person always makes.
And so we look at a talk show host that has a lot of egotism and a big sense of self feeding that personality. But is there another side to the coin where we can have a different type of self behind the personality?
Solar or Divine Personalities
When we talk about great masters, when we talk about people like the Dalai Lama, or Leonardo de Vinci, or Buddha, or Jesus, we think of those people with what we term in Gnosticism as a solar personality, a personality that comes from the spirit within. So they are able to use the customs, the language, a physical cultural experience of life, but not to express a big sense of themselves, not to convince everybody that they are the smartest person and they know exactly what they are talking about and everybody should listen to them and follow them. They are able to just express divinity in a very bright, intelligent and pure way.
We can compare someone like that to a light bulb, in that the energy, the light of divinity, or the spirit within them, is very bright, and when they clean off all the grime on the glass, when they make their personality just that glass, that is pure of any egotistical filtering, then that light can shine more brightly.
You see a lot of power in those types of people. But it is not a power that tyrannizes others. It is not a power that oppresses or makes others feel less than. It is a power that people are drawn to because it is a natural power from God.
Balancing Essence and Personality
We mention that we need a balanced development, and I am going to read one more quote from Samael Aun Weor about that.
“In practicality we have been able to verify when the personality has developed in an exaggerated manner at the expense of the Essence the outcome is a swindler, so that’s a cheat or a charlatan. The observation and experience of many years have allowed us to comprehend that when the Essence is somehow developed without attending in the least to the harmonious cultivation of the personality, then the outcome is a mystic without intellect, without personality, of noble heart but inadaptable and incapable.”
"In practicality, we have been able to verify that when the personality is developed in an exaggerated manner at the expense of the Essence, the outcome is a swindler. The observation and experience of many years have allowed us to comprehend that when the Essence is somehow developed without attending in the least to the harmonious cultivation of the personality, then the outcome is a mystic without intellect, without personality―of noble heart, but inadaptable and incapable.” ―Samael Aun Weor, Fundamentals of Gnostic Education
So we talked last time about Fakirs, and I think Fakirs are a nice example here of the mystic without the personality developed. They might go off into the desert or into the woods and do all kinds of incredible feats of will power and renunciation, but are they able to come back into society and help others? Are they able to communicate? Do they have the skills necessary to be adaptable to different situations in life? They are developing a lot of Essence, their own Being, and that’s beautiful, but, unfortunately, it is a little bit out of balance.
In that first example, he is talking about a swindler, and we can think of con men, people that have that big personality, very charismatic, have a big sense of self, but do not have developed an ethical type of character. They do not have much consideration for their soul, for who they are inside, or for whom they hurt, so they do not have the ethics, the conscience of their actions.
We want a balance of both of these. We do not want to be too much a mystic without any ability to go and connect with others and to learn from life. But we do not want to be too much of someone invested in life and getting the most that we can squeeze out of it, hurting other people, without any development of the part of ourselves that is, hopefully, going to be immortal and survive after this life ends.
So Samael Aun Weor finished by saying:
“The harmonious development of personality and Essence brings as an outcome brilliant men and women." ―Samael Aun Weor, Fundamentals of Gnostic Education
So when we think of people like Mozart, Beethoven or Leonardo Da Vinci , Michelangelo, we can see that those were people that had a craft in the world, that really developed that to the highest pitch, but were also able to bring some aspect from their own creative consciousness, within their own spiritual soul, into the world through it, and gave us great works of art. And that is what we are striving for.
There is another quote from Gurdjieff that I want to share. Gurdjieff talks about the Essence and he talks about the personality, but he calls them knowledge and being. So the Essence would be the Being, that is that child who is just there, totally present to what is going on, bright and attentive. That sense of just being, being aware. And the personality would be the knowledge that we gain from external life, what other people teach us, our education in school.
Gurdjieff says that:
“People understand what ‘knowledge’ means. And they understand the possibility of different levels of knowledge. They understand that knowledge may be lesser or greater, that is to say, of one quality or of another quality. But they do not understand this in relation to ‘being.’ ‘Being,’ for them, means simply ‘existence’ to which is opposed just ‘non-existence.’ They do not understand that being or existence may be of very different levels and categories.” ―Gurdjieff cited by P.D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous
So just in the way that we can go to school and we can develop our knowledge, our personality, we can learn a lot of things about the external world. We can develop the Being. We can develop our Essence, our soul. And that is what our spiritual practice is geared towards. He says that being or existence may be of different levels, but some people exist in a state of misery, that their being is very low and they are suffering a lot. It is hard to get out of that state.
There are other people who exist on a high level of being. We talked about very extreme examples of people like saints, or buddhas, that have a lot of being, that emanate love and happiness even when they are burned alive at the stake, or persecuted. Those people have a very elevated level of being to still express compassion. So how do we develop that?
It begins by working with first seeing ourselves through practices like self-observation and meditation, and little by little coming out of our state of suffering. If we cannot be happy in spite of our difficulties, then what is the use of our spiritual practice? We are coming to these studies because we want to change. We want to understand ourselves so that we know how to change. How do we receive the guidance of divinity within ourselves? Not from anybody outside of ourselves, but from within our own direct experience. So we do not have to rely on ideas or theories about the way that life is, what we have been taught in school, but that we know from our own heart, from our own soul, what life is, and how we can come out of our suffering, how we can change in those types of ways.
So how do we ascend to those higher levels of being? How do we develop ourselves consciously, spiritually?
The Purpose of Essence, Ego, and Personality
I am going to finish this lecture with a section about the purpose of these three elements. Now that we have come to look at consciousness, ego and personality, and distinguish them a bit, how do we make them useful for our own development?
Gnosis is the path to self-knowledge. Just in that way that during our last talk we began to gain some self-knowledge about our habits, our predisposition, are we an overly intellectual person? Are we an overly emotional type of person? An overly physical instinctive type of person? In the same way, we should gain self-knowledge. We should train ourselves to be able to observe these elements of our own psyche.
So we talked about the Essence, that is the seed of the human soul, and how it can be developed through conscious works and upright efforts. If we are not becoming aware of ourselves from moment to moment, if we are not strengthening that muscle of the consciousness, then we are never going to develop it. We are not going to become aware of anything more than the little sliver which we are habitually always perceiving of life.
We need to be sure to awaken ourselves in an upright way. So the more that we work with our conscious willpower, the greater the effects of our actions are going to be. We talked last time how if we are working with consciousness in an imbalanced way, strengthening our egotistical sense of self, or working with consciousness so that we can control other people and get them to do what we want them to do, then we are going to develop in an inharmonious way and we are actually going to increase our suffering.
When we are working in an ethical way, when we are seeking to bring ourselves out of suffering, to not cause suffering for others, to awaken in that way, through upright efforts, then we are strengthening the soul free of any ego. The ego is the false self, can be considered as an inner adversary, because it is trapping us in the conditioning of believing “I want this. I need to get this.” And then when we spend years of our lives trying to get the certain job that we wanted so badly, and we are there and we are not happy anymore, then we are stuck with this exaggerated sense of self and in a state of misery.
But how do we become conscious? We do what we need to do to survive. We go to work, we take care of our families, do those things, but without a big egotistical attachment to it.
We also talk in this tradition about how the ego actually is a result of past error from past lives. So this is a tradition that believes in reincarnation and teaches reincarnation, and that is a lot of our predispositions, that we think “That is just naturally who I am,” can actually be a result of past errors in past lives.
We will talk more about it in another talk, but the way that we learn from ourselves is by accepting the ordeals that life brings us. Life brings us a variety of situations, and in those situations, which can be painful ordeals, we are able to begin to see ourselves as we are. We have a friend that is always talking down to us, really irritating us, activating our pride. That friend is actually giving us a chance to see an element of self. Now I am not saying, “Be friends with people who are abusive and really mean to you.” That is not the point. So do not go to extremes. But that in different situations in life, if we are humiliated or angered, or we are really wanting something very badly that we cannot have, we are able to see that self in a new way, especially if we are self-observing. And then if we are able to perceive that self in a deeper way, when we are meditating about what we have observed, we might be able to become free of it and be able to change.
Now I will use an example from my own life here in a moment, but I want to finish here about the personality being the mask to the external world. So we need the personality. It is not a bad thing. We need the personality to go through life and encounter those ordeals, so that we can learn about ourselves internally, and so we can learn about how to help other people. It is important. In an example to make this all a little more concrete for you, how do you actually work with self-observation and meditation to understand these types of things? I will give an example from a couple of years ago when I was first working with these types of practices.
I was in school and I had been assigned to a group project with two other people, two other students. We were randomly assigned a topic for our project. So we did not get to choose it. But I was glad about the topic because, you know, with my personality speaking here, it was something that I had many years of experience with and I really liked. The other two students in my group had no experience with it and did not really care for the topic. So I thought in this moment that I was going to be really helpful and volunteer to do the majority of the work. So I said, “You guys don’t worry about it too much, I’m going to do most of this. I know all about it, so you guys can just take it easy.” But as time went on and we were trying to work together, I realized that they were pretty irritated with me and they were shutting me out, doing parts of the project without doing that in a collaborative way.
So I began to be frustrated. My pride got hurt. I was like, “Why are these people being so hostile to me? I’m just trying to be helpful here!” Since I had been self-observing, after one of the meetings in which I felt they were treating me very coldly, I was meditating on it, because I choose to meditate especially on the things that are causing me suffering, trying to understand “Why am I suffering, and how do I make a change here?”
I had a strange experience in meditation. It was the first time it happened to me, where as I was just replaying the scene as it had happened, you know, as I observed it in a balanced way, with my three brains in equilibrium, suddenly I saw it from a completely different perspective, as though it was in third person, the way that those persons would have seen me. Now originally, in my egotistical perspective, I thought I was great. I was being helpful. I was just trying to do the right things for these people. But when I saw it from the perspective of another, in this experience of meditation, I saw a lot of pride, that I was being a know it all. I was not having any appreciation for the fact that even if they did not have years of experience with this topic, they might want to engage with the project. They might have opinions or insight or things that are valuable. I was not able to see that because of the egotistical filter at the time.
When I saw it in meditation, my experience of that situation totally changed. Rather than being angry at them and resentful that they were not treating me with respect, I was humbled. I felt terrible that I had not been appreciating what they were going to contribute to the project, and so from that point on, I changed. I gave them way more opportunities to share. I talked less about me and all the things I know. The project ended up going much better from that point. It went very well.
This might seem like a silly example, but it is just one small example of many things that we are doing throughout our life―many things that we have no awareness of how other people are seeing us. We walk into a room and we think everybody is seeing us in a certain way. We might walk in and think, “Oh, I am gonna sound so smart and everybody is gonna think I look so great!” Maybe, conversely, we walk into a room and think, “Everybody here is gonna hate me! Everybody’s looking down on me. Nobody here values me!” And none of that is reality. It is this false sense of who we are. It is an image of what we carry around within ourselves, of what we think other people think about us.
But authentic self-observation with the consciousness allows us to begin to perceive ourselves in a real way, especially when we are coupling that with meditation and what we have observed. We are able to go a lot deeper. And you know, because of this little change, this little story where I saw my pride, I was able to walk away from that. Then after I finished school and I got a new job, I was much more of a team player. I didn’t walk into every staff meeting talking and gloating about all the things that I knew and how I was the best person. I was able to appreciate what my colleagues have and to learn a lot from other people. If I had held on to that sense of pride I would not be able to learn.
And you know it is interesting that we see this a lot in other people. We all have that friend who is the one upper. “You went to NY last weekend? Well, I went to Paris, and I met with the Dalai Lama.” We know that person. We see that in other people and we know it is really irritating and we do not like it. We kind of roll our eyes, “Yeah, OK,” but why don’t we see that in ourselves? When we are in the lime light, when everyone is finally listening to us, we want to brag and get everybody to like us and think that we are great, maybe not in these exaggerated examples that I am giving, but in small ways, little ways.
We are not perceiving it most of the time, and we can see it in other people, because it shields us from seeing it in ourselves. We get frustrated and angry with other people. We project onto them and criticize their negative qualities because it is painful for us to see our own state. We need a really radical sense of sincerity and humility if we really want to be serious about achieving this type of self-knowledge in our own spiritual work.
Dolos, Prometheus, and Veritas (Truth)
So we can use myths in order to understand archetypes in ourselves. The Greek mysteries are very deep, and they give us a chance to understand psychological teachings. Sometimes people think that Greek myths are all about these gods in the past and pagan worship, and that they are literal figures. But if we use myths in a way to understand our own spiritual development and our own psychological processes, they can be very useful for us, here and now. Not in some ancient time, but here and now in our own psychological work.
“The myth of Dolos, spirit of deception. In Greek mythology, Dolos is the spirit of trickery and guile. He is also a master at cunning, deception, craftiness and treachery. He was the son of Gaia and Ether. The name Dolos is translated as “deception.” Dolos was also an apprentice of the Titan Prometheus. Dolos became known for his skill when he attempted to make a fraudulent happy statue of Veritas, in order to trick people into thinking they were seeing the real statue. He ran out of the clay he was using to create the statue and had to leave the feet unfinished as he quaked in fear as his master Prometheus looked over at his attempt of deceitfulness. To his surprise, Prometheus was rather amazed at the similarity between the statues, so Dolos then became a master at his crafty and tricky ways.” ―Excerpts from Wikipedia
The following account comes from Aesop’s Fables:
“Prometheus, that potter who gave shape to our new generation, decided one day to sculpt the form of Veritas [Aletheia, Truth], using all his skill so that she would be able to regulate people’s behaviour. As he was working, an unexpected summons from mighty Jupiter [Zeus] called him away. Prometheus left cunning Dolos (Trickery) in charge of his workshop, Dolos had recently become one of the god’s apprentices. Fired by ambition, Dolos (Trickery) used the time at his disposal to fashion with his sly fingers a figure of the same size and appearance as Veritas [Aletheia, Truth] with identical features. When he had almost completed the piece, which was truly remarkable, he ran out of clay to use for her feet. The master returned, so Dolos (Trickery) quickly sat down in his seat, quaking with fear. Prometheus was amazed at the similarity of the two statues and wanted it to seem as if all the credit were due to his own skill. Therefore, he put both statues in the kiln and when they had been thoroughly baked, he infused them both with life: sacred Veritas (Truth) walked with measured steps, while her unfinished twin stood stuck in her tracks. That forgery, that product of subterfuge, thus acquired the name of Mendacium [Pseudologos, Falsehood], and I readily agree with people who say that she has no feet: every once in a while something that is false can start off successfully, but with time Veritas (Truth) is sure to prevail.” ―Aesop, Fables 530 (from Phaedrus Appendix 5)
I want to talk more about this myth in our discussion so I’m going to break it down a little bit and then we will rap up and move into discussion.
So let us talk about some of the symbols in this myth. Hopefully you caught them. One of the main characters of the myth is Prometheus, who is actually teaching Dolos. Prometheus is a Greek word that means “forethought.” Prometheus is known for being a Titan that was very wise, who had the forethought of future things. He is credited with creating man from clay, like all of humankind he created. And he stole fire, the creative power of the gods, to give to mankind, so that mankind would be able to develop beyond the animals, so that mankind would be able to progress and create all kinds of feats and inventions and new ways.
The next character is Dolos. Dolos is the spirit of deception. Dolos actually means “deception.” And in the story he crafts a statue that is so well constructed that he almost fools his master, Prometheus. He is a trickster known in many other stories for being able to fool even the gods and get the gods to make mistakes. And when we look at these two statues, they are also very important. So, one statue is Veritas, the Truth. Veritas means “truth” actually.
Prometheus is this great archetype related with our consciousness, but actually, a much more elevated aspect of our own spirit and Being then we are going to get into today. When he creates Truth, he does it in order to create a form which can regulate human behavior. So we can think of Truth as an archetype for the soul that is something given to us spiritually, but that we have to develop. We have to give it life in order for it to guide us in living in a true way, perceiving reality in a true way, performing those upright actions.
The other statue, which is created by deception, his apprentice, is Pseudologos, which means “lie.” And that would be what we have been talking about, the false self. Our own self-deception fuels our own creative power into creating a false self that does not have any feet, spiritually speaking, does not get us anywhere. And in the end, when we have given our life to both statues, we will be able to see, like Prometheus does, which one can walk and which one doesn’t get anywhere.
When we continue to fuel the false self, we are stuck in our tracks. In the beginning, it looks really great. It might look the same even. That is the way it is with a lie. It starts off well, but then over time, the truth prevails. The truth comes out. We want to study our lives in a way where we can begin to discern between these two elements.
Now a little back story about Prometheus is that he had a brother. The brother’s name was Epimetheus, which means “hindsight.” Prometheus is an archetype of foresight and Epimetheus an archetype of hindsight, someone who learns from the past, is not able to predict what is going to happen next, is not able to act wisely and intelligently to take steps in a way that are positive. He is someone who makes lots of mistakes and has to learn from, unfortunately, the suffering from those mistakes. You can see a correlation there. In this myth of Prometheus, it says:
"After the gods have moulded men and other living creatures with a mixture of clay and fire, the two brothers Epimetheus and Prometheus are called to complete the task and distribute among the newly born creatures all sorts of natural qualities. Epimetheus sets to work but, being unwise, distributes all the gifts of nature among the animals, leaving men naked and unprotected, unable to defend themselves and to survive in a hostile world. Prometheus then steals the fire of creative power from the workshop of Athena and Hephaistos and gives it to mankind." ―Olga Raggio, The Myth of Prometheus
So Epimetheus is a symbol here of our own lower qualities, our lower state of being. He is giving all of the best forces that we have, our life, our energy, to those qualities of anger, of pride, of envy, of greed. He is giving it to the animal nature that we have within. And because of that the human part of us, the highest archetypes, as what we see as an ideal for humanity, human virtue, goodwill for others, love and wisdom and reason, there is no energy left for that. They are left naked and unprotected and unable to defend themselves in a hostile world.
Prometheus is the other side of this. Prometheus steals that creative power from the gods, the consciousness, and gives it to mankind to develop, to progress, to make them higher than the animals. In our spiritual work, that is what we are seeking to do. We are seeking to move from that level of being that is characterized by suffering, by repetition, animal types of desires. We are seeking to move into a human state that emanates love and reason and wisdom, that sees reality from a higher perspective.
So I kind of already talked about this but we can see that these archetypes and the great myths relate to ourselves. Prometheus is being a creator of our life. In the myth he breathes life into both statues and puts them into the kiln. And in the same way we are taking our consciousness and we are breathing it into a false part of ourselves, with the false identity that we are clinging to and feeding with a lot of our time and energy. And we are also breathing that life into pure parts of ourselves, our love, our creativity, all the things we have to offer the world. And by doing that we are able to, if we are aware, if we are self-observing and meditating, to perceive which one is reality, which one is helping us to rise out of suffering and which one is causing us to remain trapped in greater states of suffering.
Two examples of the ego: we have Epimetheus, afterthought, hindsight, and we can have Dolos, which is our own self-deception, that intentionally or unintentionally we are deceiving ourselves a lot of the time to believing we are somebody that we are not. Sometimes it can be a good thing. We are believing ourselves to be somebody better than we are. We like to think that we have got it all figured out, we are the guy that is reliable and nobody else is as good as us. Or sometimes we can have a self-deception that “I’m incompetent. I’ve got nothing to offer and nobody is going to listen to me,” and any variety in between there.
But we are not perceiving ourselves as we really are, so we need to train ourselves to awaken consciousness to be able to do so.
As I mentioned earlier, the two statues are representing aspects of our personality, that personality being driven by a false self-image. Is it something that we are feeding and we are developing our personality a lot for our own egotistical gain, for our own sense of self and getting what we want, feeding our desires? Or is it a personality that embodies the truth, the divine archetype of our soul, that does not need any egotism, but can shine with a lot of radiance and power, to be able to live in a wise and compassionate way?
So I am going to finish here with two quotes from Samael Aun Weor.
The first he talks about two consciousnesses, referring to these two statues that we just learned about. He says:
“…we must get to know, to be able to comprehend, that the human being is divided into two consciousnesses: the true and the false.
“When one comes to this world, one brings within the essence all the data (which is deposited by nature) that one needs for the inner Self-realization of the Being. But, what happens? One is put into schools where one receives a false education and much advice and precepts that are futile. In the end, one creates a false consciousness. The true consciousness within, with the deposited data that one needs to follow the footsteps, to follow the path, to arrive at the liberation of the Being, remains at the bottom, sadly categorized with the name of subconsciousness.” ―Samael Aun Weor, The Revolution of the Dialectic
He goes on to say:
“Therefore, we have to throw away all that constitutes our false consciousness in order to cause our true consciousness to emerge to the surface so that we can work with it. This shows us that in order to work psychologically, that is, in order to put the true wisdom into play, one needs to become a child, to become an infant, a baby, stripped of all theories.” ―Samael Aun a Weor, The Revolution of the Dialectic
So as a child we are talking about that state of cognizant awareness of life, perceiving things as they are, perceiving reality as it is, not as we wish it would be. Not a child in a naïve sense, but a child with the purity of the spirit and with the wisdom of experience.
So that means that we need to begin to strip ourselves of some of the theories. Sometimes we cling to our idea about life or the way that other people are, “what I need to do to get ahead,” all these theories might not actually have a basis in reality. They might be things we have been told by other people, things that sound good. It is only by working with our own consciousness, our own self-observation, our own meditation and guidance from within, becoming a child of divinity, that we are able to grow psychologically and spiritually to increase our true self. But we need to be able to abandon our self-deception in order to do that. As long as we are clinging to our idea and believing that the way that “I am perceiving life right now is how it is and I’ve got it figured out,” we are never going to see it in a new way. We are just going to keep repeating and living off of that.
So a question for us to finish with is, “What is false in us?” Hopefully, as we have been talking and giving some examples, you have been able to think about yourself a little bit. What we are going to close on with our discussion is considering, with a radical sincerity, with total honesty with ourselves, what it is that we have been investing our lives into, spiritually speaking, that does not have any spiritual significance? It is not to discard our duties to our family, to our jobs, to our society. It is not to run away from our responsibilities, but to use those as places in which we can self-observe, in which we can meditate on our life and use life as a school for our own spiritual development, to develop the truth of ourselves, to become those brilliant men and women that were mentioned earlier.
It is only first by seeing the lie that we are going to be able to renounce it. As long as you do not see the lie, or you believe that it is the truth, you will never be able to see beyond it. So we need to start by looking at ourselves, not at other people, not at anything else going on in the world. Until we can see ourselves, then we are not able to see anything else. We start with self-knowledge and then we grow in knowledge of other aspects of reality, the universe and divinity.
Do you have any questions?
Comment: I do have a comment on the last slide that you showed us, you must become a child… Jesus quote… to enter the kingdom of heaven you must become a little child…
Instructor: Yes, he says, “Verily I tell you, unless you change and become as children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” It is in the Book of Mathew. It is the same sentiment exactly, that when we are hoping to reach a higher level of being, we have to first become pure like a child.
The Gnostic Academy of Chicago
Free online courses, lectures, podcasts, and transcriptions.