Views from a universal spiritual tradition.
This world is full of challenges. Life is a story of our desires and the opposition to those desires. Opposition may come from other people or from circumstances and events, but I have never met a person who did not face obstacles, adversity, and suffering in their life. Indeed, as humans, we are defined by the degree to which we overcome these challenges. At the end of the day, life is really a personal school or boot camp we attend for growth. Our journey is the stuff of art, the core of religion, and the object of scientific inquiry.
This is the reality of the world. Why is it so? Why isn’t Earth the easy paradise symbolized by Eden? Why is the material world different from the heaven so many of our religions envision, a beneficent place where earthly cares are shed? A tradition exists that directly addresses the questions above.
As I pursued spiritual matters throughout the course of my life, it became apparent to me that certain threads interconnected the course of human spiritual history. From India and Asia, through Persia and on into the Middle East and Europe, echoes of a universal wisdom appear in multifold traditions from Hinduism to Buddhism, Manichaeism, Greek philosophy, the Mediterranean mystery schools, and ultimately the three Abrahamic religions. See the Video and Articles links for more information.
A universal spiritual tradition existed that was at the root of every major religion on earth, pagan or mainstream. This tradition, directly or indirectly and to a greater or lesser degree, speaks of a fall, a change from a higher to lower state of awareness. But unlike the fall depicted in Judeo-Christian traditions, the fallen, according to this wisdom, are never really separated or different from that from which they have fallen away, neither was there the concept of sin attached to this event. The fall, though apparently a mistake, was ultimately intentional, because the Source and the fallen were one.
The Source—call it God, the One, the Monad—permeates everything. Therefore, the fall was an act of conscious self-limitation, a dispersing of one Universal Consciousness into the appearance of many limited points of view. Limitation means ignorance of the whole, and ignorance is a form of shadow. So, shadow and error were inherent in human experience. This is why one often hears the world described as an illusion by offshoots of this tradition, illusion meaning that human consciousness is separated from the reality of its oneness not in fact but by misperception.
Central in this collective story is the recognition that the universe, both seen and unseen, was shaped by intelligent forces. In physics, we have gravity, electro-magnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces. These unseen forces shape our physical world. But, according to the ancient wisdom, even these energies were controlled by higher forces that affected the human soul (the psyche) as well. Natural law had a mathematical precision; the psychic world of the mind and soul was chaotic, seemingly subject to random chance and full of suffering. It was order and chaos, good and evil, side by side.
How is this duality possible when even the scientist and the religious believer instinctively sense a unity behind all things? The scientist searches for the holy grail of a grand unified field theory to unite all the natural forces. The religious person seeks God, and if God is everything, how can a loving god be the source of all the evil in the world? What kind of god toys with us by tempting us into evil with the gift of free will?
What kind of god toys with us by tempting us into evil with the gift of free will? The Gnostic, or western, branch of this ancient wisdom answers this question by telling us God did not create the world—not exactly. There is one God, but God operated through intermediary energies or intelligences in the creation. Most major religions echo this belief in some form, even the ones most zealous about their monotheism. Christianity has the Christ and the Holy Spirit as well as the angels and devils they share in common with their Judaic and Islamic cousins. Islam has jinns. Hinduism and Buddhism have their gods and goddesses, each one differing in their intrinsic blend of light and shadow.
In keeping with the notion of intermediary forces, Gnostics believed the creator of the material world was not the One True God, but an inferior force, generated from, but too far removed from the Source, to create perfection. Think of how videos or CD’s degrade in clarity with each successive copy and you have the general idea behind this notion. Thus we have the genesis of the rampant flaws and evil evident on the material plane of existence. The goal of the Gnostic was attaining the spiritual knowledge necessary to overcome these limiting forces that intervened between humanity and the True God at the root of all things.
Far fetched? Much needless conflict has occurred over the nature of God. This is puzzling because the “monotheistic” religions recognize god-like intermediary forces and the “polytheistic” religions ultimately acknowledge that one Supreme Being manifested all the sub-deities. These religions ascribe differing names to the intermediary forces, but they all hold that unseen intelligences play a great role in human life. Significantly, most religions also recognize that the various non-material powers are not entirely beneficial to human development. Thus, we have the concepts of devils, jinns, and evil spirits—in other words, retardant forces.
Gnostics and their myths accounted for the fact that the further the manifested forces were from the Source, the more “shadow” they contained. This shadow gave rise to the creator god and the distinction between him and the ‘hidden” True God. The two gods are a symbolic of the dichotomy between the flawed material world and the perfection we are always told that God truly represents.