How Do YOU Want it: The Gnosis of Suffering and Liberation
Goddess News’ axiom: ‘If you want to be spiritual, ask uncomfortable questions,’
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Dr Joanna Kujawa, Spiritual Detective :).
This is an additional blog this month in response to a beautiful article by a friend and spiritual activist, Ben Bowler. His blog (http://1god.com/2018/01/09/leonard-cohens-want-darker-suffering-faith-problem-of-evil/) was written as an attempt to explain the beautiful and dark song by Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker. You 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,
Dr Joanna Kujawa
Dr Joanna Kujawa