As usually happens after discussions of anything other than "the weather", after some period of time further thoughts develop. Relating to several points in our conversation here are some thoughts that have come to my mind that are useful for me and which I desire to share with you.
Much of the disagreement that rages in human groups seems to come down to what is the fundamental difference between Faith and Philosophy. Spinoza wrote an entire treatise with this as the main theme and I noticed in listening to a lecture on Gnostic teachings that the speaker expressed a similar view. He pointed out that the main difference between Gnostic Christian teaching and orthodox Christian teaching of "the Church" is the difference between "Knowing" and "Believing".
For most of orthodoxy real knowing is assumed to be beyond human capability so instead there is a faith that others (Christ for the Christians, Moses, etc. for the Jews, Muhammad for Islamics, Buddha for "religious" Buddhists, etc.) have known something and the believers have faith in these other persons faith or knowing. In contrast the Gnostic teachings of Christ have to do with individuals coming to Real Knowing so there is no "You must accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior or burn in hell", etc. and as I mentioned, it appears that Christ was quite aware of the two ways people work. Some things he said were directed toward the masses of "believers" while his private teachings were directed toward those who could come to a state of Knowing for themselves. Most of the orthodox writings are, for the masses, the only thing they can grasp as they center around obedience to rules and the associated hopes and fears of life. The Gnostic teaching goes beyond this; first to an inner awareness then advancing to true, direct Knowing.
We talked about science and advances in knowledge and I probably seemed a bit flip in my reactions to such topics as space travel, string theory, super-string theory, etc. I still find such topics of some interest but in a way it is to the masses a kind of hypnotic "faith". Some day, we seem to say, science will unlock the secrets of the brain or of the universe or whatever and "then" all will be different. Men have been telling themselves this as long as written history. For me, I am discovering that these inquires, while interesting, are picking at the surface and do not (and may never) deal with the essence of being and reality. The whole idea of progress and of humans mechanically evolving to some higher plane seems to me irrelevant when compared with a real developing "Knowing" or Gnosis of our Essential Nature. Remember that this knowing has nothing to do with faith but at the same time it is not readily seen and understood.
One way to think about this is to imagine, or daydream if you will, that you have gone a hundred years into the future. You are waiting to get on board a space vehicle to vacation on Mars. How are you different in this daydream from what you are now as you perhaps sit waiting for a plane to take you across the country or even around the world? Or go the other way, remember before man walked on the moon? As the possibility got closer our imaginations leaped and we thought "This will change everything --Look how rapidly man is advancing." But now where is "standing on the moon"? it seems a commonplace thing and we now move our imagination out to Mars and to other yet to be attained goals. Again, how will this make us different as individuals. The mere fact that future generations will always look back, as we do now, on the past generations as rather quaint in their ways might provide a clew that "progress" is an illusion.
We have not yet as a group begun to ask the right questions but if you look at the history of thought you will find that there have always been different expressions by a few individuals that have a common thread. That common thread points to something that has been discovered within the individual and has to do with "Knowing", not "Believing". These ideas are not advancing through time but rather they show up here and there in time like windows on Eternity.
One of my favorite examples of "Knowing" (Spinoza uses it) is the idea that, in a flat plane, two lines each parallel with a third are parallel with each other. Note that this is presented as an abstract idea, so when people say "Well, space may be curved and therefore parallel lines might meet", etc. they are confusing this abstract idea with the idea that space might be flat or curved. I'm not talking about space, I'm talking about an abstract flat plane. Now, how do we know the two lines must be parallel with each other? Many people will simply say that they (or others) were taught this in school or they have read Euclid's elements and accept that he was a smart guy so it must be true. But if you become familiar with the idea and you think carefully about it you will find that you know this to be true Intuitively, that is directly, and not through Reason/inference. This is an amazing thing that most of us overlook. Here is something we have not learned from outside (I know we have learned the words like "line", "plane", "Parallel", etc. and how to draw pictures to represent such things but here I'm speaking of the idea with which the words are associated). In the same way we know directly that 2+3=5 (again, the idea, not the words or particular objects we use to represent the numbers). Even so, most people do not see this because they have not learned to think clearly so they just say "Oh, I know that because I was taught how to add as a child." and for them this is true, they don't know that they "Know" because they live with the confused presentments of their own memory and imagination.
Now the teachings of Jesus, Spinoza, Buddha, and others are saying things in words that if understood and used to direct our thinking can lead us to a "Knowing" of our true Eternal Nature. This brings with it an inner Joy which leaves things like space travel and advancements in science as interesting pastimes and occupations but of no Essential value in themselves. I know this seems like quite radical thinking to some and I would not recommend that the masses give up the pursuit of science and other advancements. These are fine and noble occupations and promote the use of Reason rather than Superstition but they are not ends in themselves for those who come to have a growing Intuitive Knowledge of their own Essential Being.
Yours in Inner Friendship,
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