How Do YOU Want it: The Gnosis of Suffering and Liberation

How Do YOU Want it: The Gnosis of Suffering and Liberation

Goddess News’ axiom: ‘If you want to be spiritual, ask uncomfortable questions,’

Goddess News, Spiritual Blog, Divine Feminine,

Dr Joanna Kujawa, Spiritual Detective :).

Dearest friends,

This is an additional blog this month in response to a beautiful article by a friend and spiritual activist, Ben Bowler.  His blog (  was written as an attempt to explain the beautiful and dark song by Leonard Cohen, You Want It DarkerYou Want It Darker, in case, you have missed it, was released in October 2016, a month before Leonard Cohen died.

(If this topic does not interest you, please wait till next month’s blog on Goddess and Shamanism ?)

If there is such a thing in life as poetry that can break your heart, Cohen did it in this song. The song deals with the impossibility of the human condition, with the surrender to a God who is much darker than we could imagine and with a final surrender to the incomprehensible God. The song is all the more powerful given that it was one of the last songs/poems by Cohen that rebel angel – who himself was both dark and sublime.

The main question in Cohen’s song, as my friend points out, is the same one that theologians have struggled to answer from the beginning of time: how can a God who is supposed to be all love be capable of witnessing and (perhaps even creating) so much suffering?

I love the song because in it Cohen, just like Carl Jung, points towards the inescapable truth that there is darkness in our lives and that this darkness is sometimes impossible to explain.

In the West the most accepted explanation for the presence of evil is that of St Thomas Aquinas. He explains evil as the opposite of light – or the lack of light. I may sound like a complete heretic here, but, with all due respect Thomas, this is not a satisfying explanation even if it appears to be scholastically sound.

The same, I believe, is true with the New Age attitude, which more-or-less ignores darkness and pushes positive thinking as a universal panacea. I do give some credit to the New Age movement, as many of us have actually found, after we have moved away from the traditional dogmas of all the old religions, that it can give us a more positive view of the world and enable us to refuse to ‘fear God’. If God is the one we need to fear, we are indeed in trouble and, frankly – who wants a God like that? But being positive and tip-toeing on rose petals is not going to save the world or us.

Instead, if we are looking for explanations, I would like to start with the Gnostics, those early Christians who were viewed by the powers at hand as heretics yet who were visionaries like no others. They were also the first to rebel against the rigid prescriptions of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ and the idea that we as humans are nothing but obedient slaves to an ill-humoured deity.

I am not going to get into details here, but the Gnostics believed that there was a usurper deity called the Demiurge (who also came under different names) who, despite claiming to be a creator, was nothing more than a powerful-but-hungry demon feeding upon our fears and our baser instincts.

And here comes my favourite part. It was usually a Goddess Mother, Protennoia (she also comes under different names), who came to denounce him for what he really was – a usurper.

In this sense, the Gnostics were the first conspiracy theorists because they refused to buy in to the story they had been told. But, unlike many modern-day conspiracy theorists, they were also visionaries and they had access to the Revelation of a more full (if not the whole) story. Among my favourite Gnostic sources are: The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, The Gospel of Philip and The Gospel of Thomas.

There are modern spiritual sources which address this issue as well, including The Urantia Book. The Urantia Book, like Gnostic sources, claims there was some unwanted intervention by either badly intentioned or misguided higher beings who fell out of harmony with the rest of the Universe and began running this planet as their own rogue enterprise (to simplify a complicated story).

For those of us who suspect that the traditional narrative is not very coherent or at least has been seriously edited, we can probably agree that we have not been told the full story for one reason or another. Either pretending that evil does not exist or is just some sort of ‘lack’ is … well … somewhat unsatisfying.

We might ask ourselves whether the question of a dualism between darkness and light is a solely Western perspective; in both Hinduism and Buddhism this question doesn’t even arise.

In Hinduism, the Divine, has many aspects or attributes – some benevolent, some terrible – which are  represented by many archetypes known as ‘gods’ and ‘goddesses’. The Creative aspect of the Divine (Brahman) is both a Sustainer of the Universe (as Vishnu) and its Destroyer (as Shiva). The same is true of the Feminine Divine in Hinduism, where it is very strong and apart from, for example, Saraswati (the goddess of Wisdom), there is also Kali (the terrible Destroyer).

For example, in the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna (representing humanity) asks Krishna (the Deity) to show Himself, Krishna wisely responds, ‘Are you sure you want to see me?’

The assumption underlying Krishna’s question is that the vision of the Divine is so beyond human perception and understanding that Arjuna/humanity would be completely terrified by It. Not because the Divine is ‘evil’ but because it is so vast and incomprehensible.

An interesting explanation is also given by Carl Jung, who, based on his understanding of Gnostic teachings, agreed that the Divine is both ‘good’ and ‘evil’, both feminine and masculine. As in the Gnostic teachings, what we perceive as ‘God’ emerges from the Pleroma or the Cosmic Soup of All Beginnings in pairs of opposites (male–female, good–bad) etc.  And thus, as in Hinduism, the Divine is beyond the human distinctions of good and evil.

However, in Hinduism as in Gnosticism there is a similar interloper. Perhaps not the nasty-minded Demiurge (a demon or small ‘g’ god who pretends to be a Creator or the Source) but a veil of deception, in the form of Maya. Maya is a form of limitation that prevents us from seeing the magnificent beauty and power of the world as it is. In my understanding of Maya, this is a sensory and cognitive limitation in us. We just can’t see it.

Just like the Gnostic Jesus (the Gnostics called him Yeshua or ‘The Teacher’) says, ‘For those who have ears, let them hear.’ But do we hear?

Whether this inability to see the true reality is due to an external limitation imposed by a more powerful being with a horrible sense of humour or our own shortcomings is not known. Most Yogis and Hindu scholars, however, would agree that the presence of suffering and evil in the world  is a form of ignorance. Thus, again, just like the Gnostics, they would agree that redeeming ignorance is the way to Enlightenment.

Thankfully, we are not left without hope because at least in Hinduism we are given  sadhana  – a spiritual practice which allows us to pierce through this veil of deception – and the guidance of great Teachers (be it the Buddha, be it Yeshua/Jesus or any other great Being).

This veil of deception was pierced one time for me after a traditional spiritual awakening ceremony called Shaktipat – and I can tell you that when it happened the world had different colours, dimension and feelings and it was infinitely more beautiful than what we normally experience. This was an act of Grace or, if you prefer, the light of Sophia – until I fell again. And it does feel, my dear friends, like being thrown from a mountain top right after you have been miraculously elevated to the peak! This is the experience of Shakti, the underlying Energy of the Universe, that Energy cannot be corrupted even we can. And it permeates through our Being at the deepest level.

So what now?

Do we surrender to this bizarre deity, the way Leonard Cohen did, out of human desperation?

Only if we buy into the limitations of traditional theologies which, in my opinion, corner themselves with their limiting and dualistic descriptions of the Divine – they are looking at single drops of water and do not see the Ocean!

However, even in Western theology there is a sage who did grasp the vision of the Divine in Its full glory and his name is Teilhard De Chardin. De Chardin believed that the Universe is an evolutionary movement. That is, the Universe evolves with us. More, the Divine evolves with us.  If you want a more evolved ‘God/dess’, focus on your own evolution, on your own spiritual growth.  In other words, if you evolve so will ‘God/dess’.

I think that Jung would agree with de Chardin, and,  even would take it further by saying that we are placed at the centre of the evolutionary movement somewhere between demons and angels. And it is entirely up to us which path we take because both paths are open to us. So with every decision in our lives, we either choose good or evil – not only for ourselves but also for the entire Universe. We are the doers and manifesters of both: good and evil.

No pressure, huh?

In the end, I do not think that ‘He’  (the ambivalent deity as seen in many religious traditions) wants it darker but rather that we are challenged to ask a different question:

‘How do we  want it to be?’

Because the possibilities are endless.

PS Next month’s blog will be on Goddess and Shamanism

As always, I would love to hear from you through your comments,

Much love,

Dr Joanna Kujawa

Goddess News

Spiritual Blog

Dr Joanna Kujawa

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13 Responses to How Do YOU Want it: The Gnosis of Suffering and Liberation

  1. James says:

    It’s only a struggle until ego-death

  2. I love the Gnostic story precisely because of how elegant the notion of the Demiurge is, in terms of answering the problem of evil. I think any religion worth its salt should take a shot at it. It seems to me Judaism did it in a few different ways, in terms of explaining how evil and suffering could exist, but the intermediary creator God is as good of a solution as anything.

    It seems to me that suffering is roughly the natural state of humanity, and it is only through our relationships and communities that we can overcome it. Yet, these relationships and communities can bring pain and suffering too – so it’s a trade off: we can triple our lifespan and cure various diseases by advances in science, technology, and philosophy, but it is out of similar paradigms that we get Pol Pot or Joseph Stalin.

    As an atheist, I struggle with this area, because I acknowledge that spirituality and a sense of inter-connection can be enormously helpful in managing the onslaught the world has for us. But my spirituality (if you can call it that) comes from my awe of what Einstein called “Spinoza’s God”.

    • sundari says:

      Thank you, Tim, for a great comment. I agree that Gnostics’ explanation is a very elegant one and more intelligent and intuitive than that if traditional religions especially in the West. The community issue is more ambivalent one because until we find for ourselves a community that aspires to evolve beyond the current limitation it can become just another source of limitation (for example, ‘you have to do what we do to belong’). It has taken me many years to find people who truly want to transcend our current mind-sets. So I prefer the Gnostic solution of ‘looking within’ and Hindu and working on ourselves – it is ultimately the only liberation available to us, I believe, except acts of pure Grace. Thank you again for your meaningful comment xxx.

  3. Ursula says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article. It gives me a lot to think about, thank you. Ursula

  4. Ian Burns says:

    One has to face the darkness to truly transcend, and in so doing recognise those aspects of ourselves which resemble the archonic and Demiurgic tyranny of our cosmos. I love Cohen of course, and your article was once again thought provoking and a revealing read. Technically I’m not sure that we so much ‘redeem ignorance’ as dispels its influence through illumination of gnosis, that aside, it is all allegory and metaphor in the end, and it this realisation that liberates us from the darkness of tyranny where ever it is found..

    The myths ‘were never true, but always are’ Sallust once wrote, he had a clarity of thought which revealed the way in which myth can be corrupted. We all, or most of us, at some point in childhood asked ourselves, were the stories true? Did Jesus really exist? Joseph Campell, as Miguel is always quoting, said ‘religion is myth misunderstood.’

    Your point about the conspiratorial mindset of the gnostics is well made, one has to penetrate the great myths to reveal the truth that they contain. Reminds me of April DeConnick’s assertion that Gnosticism was not a monolithic religion but rather a ‘…spirituality of human empowerment and individualism…It worked at the edges of the conventional religions, engaging the margins by critiquing and subverting the old servant models of religion. In the wake of its interrogation of the old structures, new religious movements began to form that worked for the welfare of the human being rather than the welfare of the gods’.

    An ‘orientation to the transcendent’ that places the individual and the centre of the soteriological project, We free ourselves to free the word, and to that, we must know ourselves, To know ourselves is to evolve and direct our evolution – between the light and dark?.

    More Valentinian than Sethian perhaps, I feel it dark enough already much of the time, and there is the dualist rub, what is light without darkness but a dazzling darkness all its own, Prakriti dances for Purusa so that he know what he is through beauty of her creation, one might see this archetypally that men and women dance with each other, do this for each other, to reveal the meaning of life as Cohen sang ‘So Dance me the End of love.’

    Thanks for another great blog. I would love to hear you expand on Teilhard De Chardin further. ‘a pilgrim from the future’ illuminating the way home.

    • sundari says:

      Wow, Ian! How I love your comment. Thank you for that. I agree with your analysis. I was just walking with my dog and thinking about my Gnostic and Hindu tendencies and how they supplement each other for me. I was also making peace with my book ‘Jerusalem Diary’ as it has been such a journey but, at the end, it is a testimony of a true if frustrated at a certain stage seeker. When I was writing it – I was so tired of the stories were told (that is why the underlying frustration present there) and at the same time had no doubt that there are paths to truth even if obstructed by mainstream stories.
      But back to the issue of darkness – we are on the same page. I believe that you, Miguel and most people form the Inner Sanctum are better aquainted with different sects and aspects of Gnosticism that I am. My approach is more experiential, that is, as a seeker on my path I experience something and then I seek explanation. This is a form of spiritual practice. For example, only beginners think that meditation is for ‘relaxation’. This initial stage is there to show us that the peace is possible. But, but! But to return to this initial peace we are soon asked to face our ‘darkness’ and deal with it. We are asked to face out limitations and transform them. It usually is very painful but, eventually, liberating process. There is no Gnosis, there is no liberation without it. Once again, Loved your comment and it made my day. ? x

      • Ian Burns says:

        Glad you enjoyed. Thought you might this interesting, Louise Manzanti talking with David Fuller about the need for us all to do ‘shadow integration’ work in the wake of #MeToo. She talkis about the need for women to go to the ‘Deep Feminine. It seem to resonate with some of the archetypal interpretations you are exploring.

        • sundari says:

          Thank you Ian. I will definitely check it out and comment on that when I am back from my morning coffee :).

        • sundari says:

          Back from y morning coffee. Yes, we all suffer from a collective trauma. Women from millennia of disempowerment and abuse and men from the brutalities of wars to which they were sent by the same powerful forces. And we all need to recover form this. Eckhart Tolle once called it the ‘body pain’ the subconscious pain of generations of trauma. We need to come to the surface – not for the purpose of revenge but to bring it to the Light of Consciousness and release it. This is how karmic healing happens and it is a process – not always pretty. Thank you Ian x.

  5. Karthyeni Sridaran says:

    Joanna, your blog so beautifully written on Darkness and Light, illusion and liberation was almost as poetic as Cohen’s final piece…it was convincing and inspiring. Cheering you my dear friend to keep going in your awe inspiring journey…and what a pleasure it is to see you grow into your own true Goddessness.i bow with awe and respect for your trek through life experience with such determined courage to get to the truth is transforming you into a Noah of the Modern Age! Pretty awesome to observe!. Thank you for this beautiful composition ????

    • sundari says:

      Thank you Kathy. Your support and encouragement make all the difference ?. I am so glad that you liked it and found some nourishment in it. This reminds me of the Vedanta studies that we did together in Asia and later my daily Vedanta readings every morning in St. Kilda when I was working on my PhD. We have had a long spiritual journey together. ?. Much love to you my friend.

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