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The Gnostic Way of the Christ

Taught by Jesus of Nazareth

Inner Light Most of the world's great religions or spiritual movements were founded by 'enlightened' individuals who tried to pass on the timeless wisdom that had been revealed to them.

It's important to note that none of these 'masters' ever claimed that they had achieved this wisdom or under-standing of truth by their own efforts alone. They all testified that what had been hidden to the masses was made clear to them by grace ... or what might be called the inner working of God in the heart.

Without a doubt, Jesus of Nazareth became fully enlightened as a young man and determined to share the insights he'd been given with as many as possible. Because the mass of people has little spiritual discernment, he could only give them teachings that seemed dualistic but in fact were not. (e.g. Our father who is in heaven etc.)

To his close disciples, however, who were more spiritually discerning, he revealed, in private sessions, more explicit nondual wisdom both before and after the resurrection. Some of these teachings were written down but it seems that most was given and passed on orally as has ever been the custom in our ancient Wisdom Tradition.

As we have said elsewhere, within a generation or two of the passing of an enlightened religious teacher, the liberating nondual wisdom that these spiritual leaders knew and taught was invariably misinterpreted, obscured by dogma and ritual, corrupted, distorted, diluted or lost altogether.

But remarkably, in the religious institutions that the followers of these enlightened ones established, there would always be a scant few, generally known as mystics, who would recognize the core teaching again and try to pass the great wisdom on to any ready and able to receive it. This was certainly so in the case of Christianity.

The Christian 'mystics' were typically misunderstood, marginalized and even persecuted by the religious establishment of their day. They were routinely excommunicated from the official Church and their writings were sought out, confiscated and destroyed. So they had to be very discrete about their activities and became quite secretive about passing on nondual wisdom teachings to earnest truth-seekers.

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The Gnostics

Before the time of Jesus and for several centuries after his death, there were a host of secret societies known as Gnostics. They got this name from the Greek word gnosis which means to know or have special knowledge. Most of these societies had nothing whatever to do with the teachings of Jesus and often had quite bizarre beliefs and practices.

However, by the end of the 2nd cent. CE, those 'secret churches' still following the deeper nondual teachings of Jesus, or, often referred to as The Way, were considered by the official Church authorities as heretical and scathingly designated by them as Gnostics -- a term that many non-conformist Christians were eventually happy to wear.

So to sum up, not all Gnostics understood or taught nondual spiritualiy, but in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, many followers of the secret Way taught by Jesus were known as Gnostics.

These Gnostic Christians began to refer to the nondual teachings of Jesus (the Gospel) as the Gnosis of Light. Although expressed through images, symbols and terms appropriate for the culture of those times, the Gnosis of Light was entirely consistent with the great Nondual Wisdom Tradition that has endured from humanity's beginnings to this very day.

In the following paragraph loosely summarizing the Gnosis of Light we understand to have been taught by Jesus of Nazareth, you may recognize some Anglicized words from a variety of cultures that allude to this ineffable reality ...

The primordial nondual wisdom -- Jnana/Yeshe/Noesis/Fana/Shakti/Samantabhadra/Prajnaparamita etc. --
points to or reveals the Logos/Christos/Tatagatagarbha/Shekina/Vidya/Rigpa etc. --
the supreme identity that we actually, always and already are --
the very essence or nature that is not other than ...
our supreme Source: Shunyata (emptiness)/Tao/Dharma Dhatu (Cittadhatu)/Ein Sof/Nirguna Brahman/Bathos (the Depth)/Abba (the primordial Father)/Godhead etc.,
felt in the Heart as: Hridyam/Nyingpo/Kokoro etc. --
the sacred Presence or Light of Consciousness that, moment to moment,
continuously recognizes, realizes and actualizes itself in our everyday life-experence.

This rose, by any name, would smell as sweet,
This pearl by any name, would forever with incomparable beauty shine.

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The Mystics

By the end of the 4th cent. CE. Gnostics of every kind were all but hounded out of existence around the Mediterranean, but the Gnosis of Light was not lost -- being secretly conveyed to other lands where it was discretely fostered and preserved under various guises such as philosophy, alchemy and monasticism etc.

Even in the so-called Dark Ages, there were those like the Irish monk and scholar, John Scottus Eriugen, who faithfully pointed the Church back to the original teachings of Jesus and the leading apostles.

Throughout the last 1000 years in the West, those who rediscovered the core teachings of Jesus and the ancient wisdom tradition were generally known as mystics or seers. These also were ignored, dismissed as heretics and/or persecuted by Church authorities.

But in more recent times, the writings of these scholars and mystics (like Meister Eckhart) have been widely published and have helped many Christians to go much deeper into their faith.

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The Inner Presence

Today, thanks to the recovery and translation of many 'lost' Gnostic scriptures and more thorough research into the original teachings of Jesus and the early church, the core nondual teachings of the Master are coming more and more to the attention of 'orthodox' Christians.

A return to contemplative practices is encouraging the Church to look more to the heart rather than to a lofty throne somewhere in the heavens for the presence of God.

Many Christians now recognize that Jesus' frequent references to the kingdom of heaven in the gospels was the Master's way of pointing his hearers to the realm of Spirit or Consciousness within each and every person. It was not, Jesus taught, a place to arrive at, if we were good enough, after death, but an inner Presence to be noticed and experienced here and now.

The apostle John indicated that the Master referred to this pure, still, silent Presence as the Light of Life ... a Light that is in everyone who comes into the world. He wasn't making this up, but was simply restating an aspect of the great Wisdom Tradition, articulated in this instant by a psalmist who was also a seer centuries before.

For with you (God) is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (Ps. 38:9 NIV)

A follower of the Gnosis of Light would understand this to mean: not that God gives us the ability to outwardly see physical light or lights of various kinds, but that the invisible or transparent Light of Consciousness shines within each one of us and that by grace we can experience it as our unborn, undying, essential beingness!

At the heart of the enduring Gnosis of Light is a simple but powerful insight or perception. It's the inseeing or perceiving of a living Presence within which is understood to be both God and, paradoxically, one's true Self!

It is in and from this clear, luminous Presence that all forms are seen whether in the interior or exterior worlds.

This sacred, spacious, all encompassing sacred presence is known by other names in different traditions, but for those seeking to follow the original (primitive) teaching of Jesus, it's known today simply as: 'the Spirit of Christ', 'the Christ Presence', 'the Christ Light' or 'Christ Consciousness'.

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Enthroning the King

The pre-Christian Gnostics true to the ancient nondual wisdom tradition often represented their understanding of the one Consciousness that is the source, sum and substance of all sentient beings by the image of the King.

The King is a ubiquitous symbol of the true Self. Plotinus, a Roman mystic and philosopher, for example, writes: "Consciousness is the King. And we are also the King when we are transformed into the King." (Plotinus, Enn., 5.3.3-4)

Modern spiritual teacher and author, Eckhart Tolle has written:

"Men and women are of royal origin because their true nature is Being. The values and archetypes of nobility and royalty have their origins in the experience of Presence. Kings and queens symbolize humankind’s royal origin which is the magnificence and abundance of Being.

In ancient mythologies and fairy tales, the royals were not only rich and powerful but they also embodied wisdom, justice, and benevolence -- all higher values of consciousness. You could even say that each man aspires to be a king and every woman aspires to be a queen.

This aspiration is for the achievement of Presence in our lives whether we are young or old. Spiritual maturity can be experienced as the feeling or state of being a king or queen. The king and queen symbolize the maturity of being master of one’s mind and life. The state of the royals is available to all who discover Being in the Present Moment."

It should be remembered that the Greek word Christos, from which we get, Christ, originally was the same as the Jewish word, Messiah, a title which the first disciples gave to Jesus. These words mean, the anointed one or the one smeared with fine oil; a practice usually reserved only for kings, priests, and prophets.

Over time, the title, (Lord) Christ, changed or developed somewhat and came to carry the extra meaning of the Logos or Living Word, but that is another matter we won't go into here.

Possibly with the pre-Christian symbol in mind, the original Christians conceived of the luminous Presence within as the King or Christ enthroned in the heart.

Pre-Christian and Christian Gnostics imagined the spiritual journey to be about awakening the King within. In non-Christian secret societies, the initiate was enthroned as a king as part of the initiation ceremonies. The enthronement of the initiate, or new convert, was a ritual carried out even in the Hellenistic Mysteries (J. Harrison,Prologemena to the Study of Greek Religion, 1922, p. 514).

If we replace the word King in the passage from Plotinus above with the Jewish/Greek synonym Christ we can see just how similar pre-Christian and Christian teachings were: "Consciousness is the Christ. And we become Christs when we awaken as or to the Christ."

Pagan Gnostics of the Cynic school called the realized initiate a King in the Kingdom of God (E. Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ?, 1999, p. 160). Likewise, Christian Gnostics taught that when we realize the Gnosis of Light we will become self-ruled kings in the Kingdom of God and reign over the All.

They imagined the triumphant Christian initiate crowned with a halo of light, declaring: "The light has become a crown on my head" (Pistis Sophia, 1.59).

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Initiated into the Way

When a teacher or elder who is a 'seer' of this Presence, and who has received the Gnosis of Light, deems that an inquirer is 'ready', he or she is invited to begin a course of tuition that may lead the seeker to what is called Self-recognition -- a recognition of our shared divine essence.

On accepting the invitaton and commiting to the process, the individual can be thought of as an initiate until the goal is reached.

The purpose of initiation into the Gnosis of Light as practiced by the earliest Christian seers was to awaken in the initiate a recognition of this Spirit dimension within ... in addition to our conditioned and usual 'object' consciousness. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. (Eph. 5:14 KJV)

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The Gnosis of the Way

Central to the ancient nondual Wisdom Tradition (the Gnosis) is the revelation that despite appearances, there is only one Reality. That Reality or Truth is 'God' (Consciousness, Awareness, the Universal Intelligence etc.), there is absolutely nothing else. The different 'things' in the world are simply manifestations of the infinite Unmanifest (Spirit) ... beyond all names and any description.

This luminous and illuminating Consciousness is the true nature or essence of all beings, whether they are aware of it or not, and the purpose of Jesus was, and all enlighened seers is, to help any who earnestly desire it to awaken to this Light of Consciousness within.

Paul understands the (Spirit of) Christ to be synonymous with (the Spirit of) God in Rom. 8:9, "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (KJV)

Paul teaches that we are each a part of the 'body' of the cosmic Christ. We are all linked together in and by the one Consciousness (holy Spirit). God actually lives as us and experiences the realm of 'matter' through the unfolding manifestation we call the Universe.

In 1 Cor. 3:16, Paul makes it even more personal: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (KJV) Here we find Paul teaching the very depths of the Gnostic mystery. He is calling his hearers to become aware of the luminous Presence, the Christ-Light within ... their unborn, undying, infinite, eternal essence.

This was certainly Paul's own experience: e.g. "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:" (Col 1:24 KJV) and, "... I (the old conditioned self) no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2.20 NIV)

Although at times one might refer to the Christ as 'him', as in, "For in him we live, and move, and have our being..." (Acts 17:28 28 KJV); it should be clearly understood that the divine Presence refered to in this way is not a person (an object or form) and certainly not a person of any particular gender.

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Dying to Live Anew

Experiencing the Gnosis of Light was likened by the early Christians to a kind of dying. It was a 'death' of the old conditioned self immediately followed with a 'resurrection' or awakening of the new unconditioned Self within (bringing about a new spiritual awareness of their eternal, rather than temporal, identity)

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus (the) Christ were baptized into his death (the dying to ego that he experienced)? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death that like as Christ was raised up from the dead (brought to conscious awareness within us), even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Rom 6:3-4 KJV)

Paul was speaking here in allegorical terms and we, nearly 2000 years later, have tried to understand and interpret his words literally. Thus we have arrived at erroneous interpretations of this and other allegorical scriptures because we rarely approached them from the understanding of the first Christian writers.

In the passage above, Paul is speaking of a person coming to the awareness of "the Christ" (the divine luminous Presence) within as a process of 'death'; and 'rebirth'. We are baptized into oneness with him (again, not literally a male person) -- the Christ -- through initiation and subsequent receiving of the Gnosis of Light.

Thus, in the Light of this Consciousness: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ (and therefor one with) Jesus." (Gal 3:28 KJV)

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The Exodus Allegory

This famous Jewish story is about Moses leading his people out of captivity in Egypt via a miraculously parting the Red Sea.

The escaped captives then wandered in the wilderness in search of the Promised Land, at the end of which time Moses dies. It is his successor, Joshua ben Nun, who miraculously parts the river Jordan to lead the Jews to the destined homeland. So far so good as this sticks to the "literal" understanding of the text that we are familiar with.

It's important, however, to pause a moment at this point and understand right up front that the names Joshua and Jesus are intrinsically one and the same. The first mention of Joshua/Jesus is found in Exodus 17:8. In the original Greek, the Hebrew name "Joshua" becomes "Jesus".

Few know this because today it is normal practice to use Joshua for the hero of Exodus and Jesus for the hero of the gospels, which avoids any comparison of the two. In the days of Jesus, however, it would have been completely obvious that they both shared the same name.

In fact if a Gnostic Jew was writing for a Gentile audience, then he would have written "Jesus" and not "Joshua" long before the time of the historical Jesus. This is not a coincidence. Could it be remotely possible that the Christian Jesus/Joshua has a close connection with the Jesus/Joshua of the Exodus saga?

  • In Hebrew the name Joshua/Jesus is written with the letters Yod Heh Shin Vah Heh.
  • The letters Yod Heh Vah Heh (minus the Shin) is known as the Tetragrammaton (yhwh) and was extremely significant to Jewish Gnostics, as they were used to signify the unpronounceable name of God, usually rendered today with added vowels as either Jehovah or Yahweh.

As Philo, a Jewish mystic and philosopher, explains, when the middle letter Shin, known as the Holy Letter, is added, the name means "Saviour of the Lord".

So now we ask, does "Joshua" and "Jesus" mean "Savior of the Lord"? The answer, according to their respective stories in the Bible, is clearly, Yes!

The 'Christ' is also linked to the Exodus story. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, tells us that, as well as Jesus, Moses was 'God's Christ' ...

And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. (Heb. 11:24-27 KJV)

'Christ', as we have seen above, means 'anointed one', and is a Greek rendering of the Hebrew word "Messiah", which was an epithet for a leader, used of Jewish kings.

Although today we have become used to the name 'Jesus Christ', as if 'Christ' was the surname of Jesus, and the two names are used interchangeably, this was not how it was in the life-time of Jesus and immediately after. In those days, the name/title, 'Jesus, the Messiah' would have been understood by all Jews to mean symbolically, 'The Saviour King.'

Jewish Gnostics, and Christian Gnostics after them, understood the Exodus story to be an initiation allegory.

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Coming out of Egypt

In allegorical terms, Egypt represents the body. When one identifies only with the body and bodily desires or aversions, they are considered gnostically to be 'in captivity.

To 'come forth out of Egypt' was understood by gnostics to mean the leaving behind of the sense of being merely a body and discovering the dimension of Spirit within.

This was considered to be the beginning of the spiritual journey (leading to a transformative shift of consciousness) and direct experience of God.

Hippolytus recounts for us that those who are ignorant... are Egyptians in need of departing Egypt; that is from their mind/body centered existence (Hippolytus, Ref., 5.11).

The ignorant Egyptians represent those "without the Gnosis of Light", without the knowledge of the divine Presence (Spark, Seed etc.) within them.

Crossing the Red Sea

Crossing the Red Sea was understood by Jewish and early Christian seers as symbolizing a purifying baptism -- considered the first stage of initiation on the path of spiritual awakening for those who were 'seeking ultimate truth'.

Explaining that the Exodus should be understood 'allegorically', Paul writes: "Our ancestors passed through the Red Sea and so received baptism into the fellowship of Moses" and, "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted." (I Cor. 10:1-6 KJV)

Initiation by 'baptism' often begins a process in which initiates must face their doubts and confusion, symbolized by the Israelites being 'afflicted' in the desert for 40 years.

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The Death of Moses

As one begins to awaken to the Christ Presence within our mortal frame and receives the first glimmer of the Gnosis of Light, the next stage consists of experiencing the "death" (disempowering) of the old conditioned self. This was represented symbolically for Jewish and early Christian seers by the death of Moses.

However, according to the same 'allegory', Moses is mythically reborn as Joshua/Jesus. It's through this 'new Moses', this 'Joshua/Jesus', that one completes the journey to the Promised Land. It's only as this reborn "new man" (Joshua/Jesus) that true salvation or full awakening (enlightenment) can come about.

Both the supernatural parting of the Red Sea (seeing through the conditioned mind and becoming more conscious) and the parting of the River Jordon (identifying at last with one's true Self), are indicators that the 'Promised Land' is not reached by any 'effort' or 'attainment' on our part but by the Grace of God alone.

"For it is by grace you have been saved (from the captivation of the conditioned mind), through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God... " (Eph. 2.8 NIV)

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Parallels with the Exodus in the Jesus Story

In the story of Moses, at his birth the evil Pharaoh, fearful of a prophesy that Moses would be the cause of his downfall, commits mass infanticide in an attempt to kill him, In the story of Jesus, as reported in the synoptic Gospels, this becomes the "slaughter of the innocents" perpetrated by the evil King Herod who, fearful of a prophesy that the true King of the Jews has been born, attempts to kill the infant Jesus (Matt. 2:2-16).

In the Exodus story, the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites was followed by forty years of wandering in the wilderness. In the Jesus story, we find a similar pattern when Jesus' baptism was followed by his forty days in the wilderness.

And here's another interesting similarity. Once Joshua had crossed the River Jordan, he selected twelve men to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. And after his baptism in the same river Jordan, Jesus likewise selected twelve men to be his immediate disciples. (John 3:13).

In the Old Testament, the 'death' (disempowering) of the old conditioned self is represented by the death of Moses. In the New Testament, the same occurrence is symbolized by the death of Jesus on the cross.

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him (Jesus), that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Rom 6:6 KJV)

In one of his letters written from prison, Paul appeals to those who have had their first glimpses of the Gnosis of Light to not fall back into their former unconsciousness or 'sleep'. He urges them to live by the new Light of Consciousness that is dawning in their hearts ... "To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: (Col. 1:27 27 KJV)

The full and complete awakening to one's true identity is represented in the Exodus story by Joshua crossing the dry River Jordan bed into the Promised Land. 

The Exodus story makes a point of telling us that none of the Israelites who left Egypt with Moses entered the Promised Land. They all perished in the desert over the forty years of wandering. It was only those born in the desert during this period -- a new people -- who crossed over Jordan lead by Joshua.

Its paralleled in the New Testament is found in the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb and his ascension to Heaven. Initiates who finally became fully identified with the 'Christ' Presence within were known in the early church as "those who have crossed over" (Mead, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, 1906, p. 186).

So in summary, here are the three stages:

1. Beginning the Quest

  • O.T. Moses and the Israelites cross over between the parted waters of the Red Sea.
  • N.T. Jesus and others baptised by John.

2. Dying to the Old Self

  • O.T. The death of Moses
  • N.T. The death of Jesus

3. Realization of the True Self

  • O.T. Joshua and the new Israelites enter the Promised Land.
  • N.T. Jesus is resurrected and ascends as a Spirit-being into Heaven.

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'Jesus Gnostics' Today

At the outset of the 21st century, it's very difficult to speak of such a wide inclusive term as Gnostic Christianity with any real meaning. As we know only too well, the 'meaning' of any spiritual, religious or philosophic term always comes down to somebody's interpretation.

Nevertheless, according to current google listings, there seems to us to be at least four distinct types of contemporary gnostic 'practitioners' claiming some connection with the original 'secret' teachings of Jesus. They are ...

  1. Those in the Neo-Gnostic or New Age movement who claim a primitive Christian basis for their teaching and practice in fields such as alchemy, astrology, magic, psychic healing, channelling, prophesy, angels, degrees, chambers, secret lodges, avitars, astral travel, UFOs and the like.
  2. These activities range from the merely fanciful and relatively harmless through to quite dangerous mind-controlling cults to be avoided at all costs. We have outlined a couple of these nasty neo-gnostic cults on another page. The teachings of these individuals or groups are inevitably dualistic and therefore, cannot be considered as part of the primordial nondual wisdom referred to above.

    (It's worth noting that 'orthodox' churchmen today, and especially evangelicals, tend to label anyone who exhibits a serious  interest in say, the Gospel of Thomas, disparagingly as a 'Neo-gnostic' or a 'New-Ager'. They would probably apply the same pejoratives without discrimination to any who follow the Nazarene in a way different to theirs.)

  3. Those who are focused on (obsessed with?) priestcraft, clericalism, succession, ritual, and secret societies etc. These gnostics often try to imitate some ancient litergical church (such as Roman Catholicism) or if possible, seek to be reunited with such as a recognized gnostic branch (so far without success). Sadly, very few seem to know anything of the 'Gnosis of Light'.

  4. Those who are focused on explaining the 'historical Jesus' by means of the once supressed and lately discovered noncannonical gospels and who are trying to deduce his private or esoteric teachings from these and other ancient texts. A few in this camp seem to have glimpsed the 'Gnosis of Light', but most give the impression of wandering in the mist of scholasticism or the maze of academe (cf.).

  5. And by far the smallest group, those who, through grace alone, have awakened from (and to) the ego dream and directly received the Gnosis of Light, either by attending to the pointers of truly awakened gnostics and/or Christian mystics, or who have come to the Light through some other sub-tradition and then recognized the same truth in the innermost secret teachings of Jesus.

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