Posted by: shawnjohnston | November 15, 2007

Guarding Knowledge

Guarding knowledge is not a good way to understand. Understanding means to throw away your knowledge. You have to be able to transcend your knowledge the way people climb a ladder. If you are on the fifth step of a ladder and think that you are very high, there is no hope for you to climb to the sixth. The technique is to release. The Buddhist way of understanding is always letting go of your views and knowledge in order to transcend. This is the most important teaching. That is why I use the image of water to talk about understanding. Knowledge is solid; it blocks the way of understanding. Water can flow, it can penetrate anything. – Thich Naht Hanh

I wanted to share this with you because I think this is something we forget constantly. It is the greatest flaw and weakness of any religion, tradition or system of understanding. Our tendency to create rules and guidelines for ourselves is limitless. If I behave thusly, I shall achieve this affect. But this is not the case with things spiritual. Spirituality and understanding is both/and. Things that appear opposite can in fact be true at the same time. Knowledge is either/or and there is no room for either/or and black/white thinking in a spiritual life. All things must be brought into harmony and all things must find a home in peace.

“Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter the kingdom.” – Gospel of Thomas

What else can this passage be directing us to? God is the resolution of opposites, that ultimate reality where all things exist as one in absolute and perfect wholeness. Gnosis is nothing more and nothing less than a way of seeing this in our reality. A way of seeing the inherent wholeness and unity in all things based in their basic existence and participation in the Creation of God. Christ saw this way, and he is the template by which we make our own Christ-nature manifest in this physical reality. He is not the only way, but in many ways, the one best suited for our western way of thinking and behaving. Gnosis is universal, it is not the property of Gnosticism. You can find gnosis everywhere and in any tradition or religion.

When we assert that we “know” something we are in affect closing the book on it. There is an ending implicit in this statement. When we know something then there is nothing more to learn. We close our minds to further understanding. There is a Buddhist teaching story about a father who went to the market one day and left his young son at home alone. While he was away their village was raided by bandits and the man’s son was taken away and forced into slavery. When the man returned home he found his son missing and his village partially burned. He searched and searched and eventually came upon the burned body of a child in a home that was burned and mistook it for his own son. He wept and grieved for his dead son and buried that body and did not search for his son.

Eventually his son escaped the bandits and found his way home but found the door locked. He knocked and called to his father to let him in, but his father refused to believe that it was his son. He cried, “Go away spirit and leave me alone!” After a few more tries the boy left and never saw his father again. When we cling to knowledge we cannot accept truth even when it knocks on our door.

Gnosis is a process of casting off what we know and finding a way towards understanding. But understanding is hard to express without phrasing it in terms of knowing. This is why expressions of gnosis are so varied, so oblique and so hard to understand. They make complete sense only to the person who expressed it. Much of the Nag Hammadi is this way, just written down expressions of gnosis. To take much of it as truth or knowledge is to guard your mind from finding it’s way to it’s own understanding. Understanding is more than just mind. It is heart as well, and it must be brought into harmony with mind. We must become as open windows so that the truth can come to us unchallenged. By clinging to knowledge we close that window, and whats more, we focus instead on the glass rather than the view beyond.



  1. Hi,

    I was very interested by your message, and I wanted to reply: is the kind of knowledge you let us know there with teachings of masters and wisdom’s story, “understandable” for you and for us? Are you ready to forgive it?

    I dont’t think that gnosis is unification of the opposite, like a middle point wich make you quiet and “relativist”…The call of seeing things as One is just a call, not gnosis. Am I gnostic because I consider that grey exist when some people just see black and white? Sure not…
    Accept that we don’t know anything is always an excuse to learn more about the thing you probably think you can know. The cycle is never broken (you talk about buddhism) and you can continue all your life to reach the psychic realms and to “believe” in gnosticism…!or something else (after gnosticism, I started to learn Advaita…).

    If you say that Christ isn’t the only way, but just the best item we can get as westerners, how can you reach His way, wich means Himself (Didn’t he say that He is the way?). It’s not a call for fundamentalism, but a message of engagement. Not blind engagement, of course if Christ become an image of the Self in your mind, and not the Self himself, I’m sure that you won’t adress him any prayers, because for gnostics, he would be the demiurge. Anyway…

    In Christ,


    PS: sorry for my english, I’m french

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