Magazine Article: The Theosophical Review, August 1906
In the June number I recorded some of the deeper impressions which a study of the Trismegistic literature has left on my mind, and endeavoured in a general fashion to set forth a few of the leading ideas of the Religion of the Mind, or the Pure Philosophy, or Single Love, as the disciples of Thrice-Greatest Hermes called their Theosophy some nineteen centuries ago.
The most general term, however, by which they named their science and philosophy and religion was Gnosis; it occurs in almost every sermon and excerpt and fragment of their literature which we possess. The doctrine and the discipline of Mind, the Feeder of men and Shepherd of man’s soul, are summed up in the fairest word—Gnosis.
Let us then briefly consider the meaning of the name as the followers of this Way understood it. Gnosis is Knowledge; but not discursive knowledge of the nature of the multifarious arts and sciences known in those days or in our own. On this “noise of words,” these multifarious knowledges of the appearances of things and vain opinions, the followers of the True Science and Pure Philosophy looked with resignation; while those of them who were still probationers treated them with even less tolerance, declaring that they left such things to the “Greeks”; for “Egyptians,” of course, nothing but Wisdom could suffice.
At any rate this is how one of the less instructed editors of one of the collections of our sermons phrases it. For him Egypt was the Sacred Land and the Egyptians the Chosen Race; while the Greeks were upstarts and shallow reasoners. The like-natured Jew of the period, on the other hand, called the body “Egypt,” while Judæa was the Holy Land, and Palestine the Promised Land, and Israel the Chosen of God; and so the game went merrily on, as it does even unto this day.
But the real writers of the sermons knew otherwise. Gnosis for them was superior to all distinction of race; for the Gnostic was precisely he who was reborn, regenerate, into the Race, the Race of true Wisdom-lovers, the Kinship of the Divine Fatherhood. Gnosis for them began with the Knowledge of Man, to be consummated at the end of the perfectioning by the Knowledge of God or Divine Wisdom.
This Knowledge was far other than the knowledge of science of the world. Not, however, that the latter was to be despised; for all things are true or untrue, according to our point of view. If our standpoint is firmly centred in the True, all things can be read in their true meaning; whereas if we wander in error, all things, even the truest, become misleading for us.
The Gnosis began, continued and ended in the knowledge of one’s self, the reflection of the Knowledge of the One Self, the All Self. So that if we say that Gnosis was other than the science of the world, we do not mean that it excluded anything, but only that it regarded all human arts and sciences as insufficient, incomplete, imperfect.
Indeed it is quite evident on all hands that the writers of the Trismegistic tractates, in setting forth their intuitions of the things-that-are, and in tricking out the living ideas that come to birth in their hearts and heads, made use of the philosophy and science and art of their day. It is, on the one hand, one of the charms of their endeavour that they did so; for in so doing they brought the great truths of the inner life into contact with the thought of their age.
There is, however, always a danger in any such attempt; for in proportion as we involve the great intuitions of the soul and the apocalypses of the mind in the opinions of the day, we make the exposition of the mysteries depart from the nature of scripture and fall into the changing notions of the ephemeral. Human science is ever changing; and if we set forth such glimpses of the sure ideas and living verities of the Gnosis as we can obtain in the ever-changing forms of evolving science, we may, indeed, do much to popularise our glimpse of the mysteries for our own time; but the days that are to come will accuse us of clothing the Beauty of the Truth in rags as compared with the fairer garment of their own improved opinions.
The documents that have been preserved from the scriptoria of the Trismegistic tradition are by many hands and the product of many minds. Sometimes they involve themselves so closely with the science of their day that the current opinion of the twentieth century will turn from them with a feeling of contemptuous superiority; on the other hand they not unfrequently remain in the paths of clear reason, and offer us an unimpeded view of vistas of the Plain of Truth. But indeed, even when they hold most closely to the world-representations and man-knowledges of their day they are not without interest; for it may be that in their notions of living nature—the very antipodes of our modern-day opinions based on the dead surfaces of things—they may have been with regard to some things even nearer the truth than we are ourselves in this so boasted age of grace and enlightenment.
Be this as it may, there are ample examples of clean and clear thinking in the logoi or sacred sermons, or discourses, or utterances, of the School; and one of the most attractive elements in the whole discipline is the fact that the pupil was encouraged to think and question. Reason was held in high honour; a right use of reason, or rather, let us say, right reason, and not its counterfeit, opinion, was the most precious instrument of knowledge of man and the cosmos, and the means of self-realisation into the Highest Good which, among many other names of sublime dignity, was known as the Good Mind or Reason (Logos) of God.
The whole theory of attainment was conditioned by the fact that man in body, soul and mind was a world in himself—a little world, it is true, so long as he is content to play the part of a “procession of Fate”; but his Destiny is greater than that Fate, or rather, let us say, his Unknowingness is Fate, his Awareness will be his Destiny. Man is a little world, little in the sense of personal, individual, separate; but a world for all that—a monad. And the destiny of man is that he should become the Monad of monads, or the Mind of God—the Cosmos itself, not only as perceived by the senses as all that is, both that which moves and moves not, which is the Great Body and Great Soul of things; but also as conceived by mind, as that Intelligible Greatness of all greatnesses, the Idea of all ideas, the Mind and Reason of God Himself, His own Self-created Son, Alone-begotten, the Beloved.
On this transcendent fact of all facts is founded the whole discipline and method of the Gnosis of the Mind. The Mystery of mysteries is Man or Mind. But this naming of the Mystery should not be understood as excluding Soul and Body. Mind is the Person of persons, the Presence of all presences. Time, space, and causality are conditioned by the Mind. But this Mind, the True Man, is not the mind in bondage to causality, space and time. On the other hand, it is just this mind in bondage, this procession of Fate, the servant’s form, which is the appearance that hides the potentiality of becoming the All, of becoming the Æon, the Presence—that is, the subsistence of all things present, at every moment of time, and point of space, and every instant cause-and-effect in the Bosom of Fate. It is true that in the region of opinion, body, soul and mind seem separate and apart; they are held by the man in separation as the fundamental categories of his existence; and truly so, for they are the conditions of ex-istence, of standing out of Being, that environment of incompleteness—the complement or fulfilment of which is ec-stasis, whereby the man goes forth from his limitations to unite himself with Himself, and so reaches that Satisfaction and Fulfilment, which our Gnostics call the Pleroma when set over against the conception of space, and the Æon when set over against the idea of time, and the Good when contrasted with the notion of fate.
But Being is the Three in One, Mind, Soul and Body—Light, Life and Substance, co-eternal and co-equal.
It therefore follows that he who would be Gnostic, must not foolishly divorce within himself the mystery of the triple Partners, the Three Powers, or the Divine Triad. For him the object of his endeavour is to consummate the Sacred Marriage within himself, where Three must “marry” to create; that so he may be united to his Greatest Self and become at-one with God. Body, soul, and mind (or spirit, for in this Gnosis spirit is frequently a synonym of mind) must all work together in intimate union for righteousness.
The body of man must be regarded as a holy temple, a shrine of the Divine—the most marvellous House of God that exists, fairer far than the fairest temple raised with hands. For this natural temple which the Divine has wrought for the indwelling of His beloved sons, is a copy of the Great Image, the Temple of the Universe in which the Son of God, the Man, dwells.
Every atom and every group of atoms, every limb and joint and organ, is laid down according to the Divine Plan; the body is an image of the Great Seal, Heaven-and-Earth, male-female in one.
But how few know or even dream of the possibilities of this living temple of the Divine! We are sepulchres, tombs of the dead; for our bodies are half-atrophied, alive only to the things of Death, and dead to the things of Life.
The Gnosis of the Mind thus teaches us to let the Life flow into the dead channels of our corporeal nature, to invoke the Holy Breath of God to enliven the substance of our frames. That so the Divine Quickener may first bring to birth in us our divine complement, our other self, our long-lost spouse; and then we may ourselves with ungrudging love and fair wooing of her bring our true selves to birth, so becoming regenerate or reborn—a trinity of Being, not a unit of vegetative existence, or a duality of man-animal nature, but the Perfect Triangle jewelled with all three sparks of perfected manhood.
It is very evident, then, that if the idea of this Gnosis be carried out logically, the hearer of this Mathesis must strive ever to become a doer of the Word, and so self-realise himself in every portion of his being. The object that he has in view is intensification of his whole nature. He does not parcel out his universe or himself into special compartments, but he strives ever to refund himself into ever more intimate union with himself—meaning by this his ever-present consciousness; for there is nothing really that He is not.
Indeed it is one of the pleasantest features of the Trismegistic Gnosis, or rather, one may say its chief characteristic, a characteristic which should specially endear it to our present age, that throughout it is eminently reasonable. It is ever encouraging the pupil to think and question and reason; I do not mean that it encourages criticism for the sake of criticism or carping, or questioning for the sake of idle curiosity, but that it is ever insisting on a right use of the purified reason, and the striving to clarify the mind and soul and body, so that they may become a crystal prism through which the One Ray of the Logos, the All-Brilliancy, as Philo calls it, may shine with unimpeded lustre in clean and clear colours according to the nature of the truth in manifestation.
And here we may attempt to compare, though not with any idea of contrasting to the disparagement of either, the greater simplicity of the Gnosis of the Mind with the dazzling multiplicity and endless immensities of the, perhaps for my readers, more familiar revelations of the Christianised Gnosis. They are two aspects of the same Mystery; but whereas the former is conditioned by the clear thinking of philosophic reason as set forth pre-eminently in the Logic of Plato, and refuses to sever its contact with the things-that-are “here” as well as “there,” the latter soars into such transcendent heights of vision and apocalypsis, that it loses itself in ecstasies which cannot possibly be registered in the waking consciousness.
I, for my part, love to try to follow the seers of the Christian Gnosis in their soaring and heaven-storming, love to plunge into the depths and greatnesses of their spiritual intuitions; but it cannot but be admitted that this intoxication of the spirit is a great danger for any but the most balanced minds. Indeed, it is highly probable that such unrestrained outpourings of divine frenzy as we meet with in some of the Christian Gnostic Apocalypses, were never intended to be circulated except among those who had already proved themselves self-restrained in the fullest meaning of the term.
The Trismegistic sermons show us that such rapts and visions were also the privilege of “them who are in Gnosis”; but they did not circulate the revelations of such mysteries; and though they taught the disciple to dare all things in perhaps more daring terms than we find recorded in any other scripture, they again and again force him to bring all to the test of the practical reason, that so the vital substance received from above may be rightly digested by the pure mind and fitly used to nourish the nature below.
But as for us who are hearers of the Gnosis, of Theosophy, wherever it is to be found, it would be unwise to reject any experience of those who have gone before upon the Way. Whether we call it the Gnosis of the Mind with the followers of Thrice-greatest Hermes, or the Gnosis of the Truth as Marcus does, or by many another name given it by the Gnostics of that day, it matters little; the great fact is that there is Gnosis, and that men have touched her sacred robe and been healed of the vices of their souls; and the mother-vice of the soul is ignorance, as Hermes says. But this ignorance is not ignorance of the arts and sciences and the rest, but ignorance of God; it is the true a-theism, the root-superstition of the human mind and heart—the illusion that prevents a man realising the oneness of his true self with the Divine.
The dawning of this sacred conviction, the birth of this true faith, is the beginning of Gnosis; it is the Glad Tidings, the Gnosis of Joy, at whose shining Sorrow flees away. This is the Gospel, as Basilides the Gnostic conceived it, the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings; that is to say, the Father in the likeness of a dove—the Father of Light brooding over the sacred vessel, of divine chalice, or cup, the awakened spiritual nature of the new-born son.
This is the true baptism, and also the first miracle, as in the Gnosis of the Fourth Gospel, when the water of the watery spheres is turned into the wine of the spirit at the first marriage.
But perhaps my readers will say: But this is the Christian Gnosis and not the Gnosis of the Mind! My dear friends (if you will permit me, I would reply), there is no Christian Gnosis and no Trismegistic Gnosis; there is but One Gnosis. If that Gnosis was for certain purposes either associated with the name and mystic person of the Great Teacher known as Jesus of Nazareth, or handed on under the typical personality of Great Hermes, it is not for us to keep the two streams apart in heart and head in water-tight compartments. The two traditions mutually interpret and complete one another. They are contemporaneous; they are both part and parcel of the same Economy. Read the fragments of these two forgotten faiths, or rather the fragments of the two manifestations of this forgotten faith, and you will see for yourself.
But again, some one may say (as a matter of fact not a few have already said): What do we want with a forgotten faith, fragmentary or otherwise? We are living in the twentieth century; we do not want to return to the modes of thought of two thousand years ago; we can create a new Gnosis that will interpret the facts of present-day science and philosophy and religion.
I too await the dawn of that New Age; but I doubt that the Gnosis of the New Age will be new. Certainly it will be set forth in new forms, for the forms can be infinite. The Gnosis itself is not conditioned by space and time; it is we who are conditioned by these modes of manifestation. He who is reborn into the Gnosis becomes, as I have heard, the lord of time and space, and passes from man into the state of super-man and christ, or daimon and god, as a Hermes would have phrased it two thousand years ago, or of bodhisattva and buddha, as it was phrased five hundred years before that.
Indeed, if I believe rightly, the very essence of the Gnosis is the faith that man can transcend the limits of the duality that makes him man, and become a consciously divine being. The problem he has to solve is the problem of his day, the transcending of his present limitations. The way to do so is not, I venture to submit, by exalting his present-day knowledge in science or philosophy or religion at the expense of the little he can learn of the imperfect tradition of the religion and philosophy and science of the past, handed on to us by the forgetfulness of a series of ignorant and careless generations. The feeding of our present-day vanity on the husks from the feasts of other days is a poor diet for one who would be Gnostic. It is very true that, speaking generally, we do know more of physical observation, analysis and classification, we do know more of the theory of knowledge, and many other things in the domain of the lower memory of appearances; but do we know more of religion as a living experience than the great souls of the past; do we know more of the Gnosis than the Gnostics of other days? I doubt it.
We are beginning once more to turn our attention in the direction of the Greater Mysteries; the cycles of the Æon are, I believe, once more set in a configuration similar to the mode of the Time-Mind when such illumination is possible for numbers of souls, and not for stray individuals only. But the conditions of receiving that illumination are the same now as they have ever been; and one of the conditions is the power to rise superior to the opinions of the Hour into the Gnosis of the Eternal Æon.
It therefore follows, if I am right in my premises, that the illusion of all illusions that we must strive to transcend is that of the Lord of the Hour; it is just the general opinion and presuppositions and prejudices of our own day against which we must be on our watch with greatest vigilance. There are certain forms of knowledge, forms of religion, and forms of philosophy, that dominate every age and every hour; these forms are most potent, for they are alive with the faith of millions; and therefore it follows that it may be we shall find less difficulty in our endeavour to pierce through the clouds of opinion to the living ideas beyond if we study forms that are no longer charged with the passions of mankind—with that storage of the hopes and fears of incarnated minds, the shock of which few are strong enough to withstand. It may thus be that the forms of the Gnosis of the past may be read more dispassionately and seen through more clearly.
However this may be, it would be manifestly absurd to go back to the past and simply pour ourselves once more into these ancient forms; this would be death and a mental and spiritual reincarnation backward, so to speak. It is precisely this absurdity which so many literalists attempt in theology, only to find themselves sticking in the mud of dead forms with the tide of the spiritual life far out.
On the other hand, there may be some who feel that in what has been said above the artist and lover of the Beautiful in us risk to be sacrificed entirely to the Philistine. There is such a thing as scripture; there are such things as the best books. Non refert quam multos sed quam bonos libros legas; it is not the quantity but the quality of the books we read that is of importance. The Gnosis is enshrined in scripture, in bibles and not in books. And I doubt not that even today there are enough bible-lovers, in the wider sense of the word, among us to appreciate the beautiful and permanent in literature.
The Trismegistic sermons have a common language with the writers of the New Testament book, and they also use the language of Plato. They can, therefore, hardly be said to be out of date even as to their form; while as to their content, as far as their main ideas are concerned, I venture to say that they pertain to the great books of the world, they are part of the world scripture.
If, then, any would learn of the Gnosis of the Mind, they will not lose anything by reading what the disciples of this form of the Wisdom-Tradition have handed on to us. They may prefer more modern expositions, or they may find some other scripture of the past more suitable to their needs; but if they are lovers of comparative theosophy, and are persuaded that he who is acquainted with one mode of theosophy only does not know theosophy truly, even as he who is acquainted with one language only knows no language really, they may learn much by comparing the theosophy of Hermes-Gnostics with the theosophy of the Christian Gnostics, or of the Buddhist or Brahmanical lovers of the Gnosis.