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Chapter Four



The Doctrinal Dimension

There are various doctrinal parallels in the Gnostic tradition and the Sant tradition. For instance, inherent to both traditions is the notion of a Transcendent God. Gnostics envision a God similar in many ways to nirguna Brahman of the northern Sants, described as "ineffable," "immeasurable," and unnamable." [1] In the Gnostic tractate The Apocryphon of John, the writer proclaims:

He [God] is [illimitable] since there is no one [prior to him] to set limits to him. He is unsearchable [since there] exists no one prior to him to [examine him. He is] immeasurable since there [was] no one [prior to him to measure,] him. [He is invisible since no] one saw [him. He is eternal] since he [exists] eternally. He is [ineffable since] no one was able to comprehend him to speak [about him]. He is unnamable since [there is no one prior to him] to give [him] a name ... He is ineffable...He is neither large [nor] small. [Mere is no] way to say, 'What is his quantity?' or, 'What [is his quality?'], for no one can [know him]. [2]

The Indian mystic Tulsi Sahib gives a similar rendition of God:

There is a Being who is inaccessible, unfathomable and nameless, and who has no locality, location, and address, and is not confined to space. No question of .. manifested or unmanifested arises about His Abode ... That Immovable Being is all by Himself and has no form or name ... He is above all and nameless, in whom Sants merge... [3]

Gnostic theogony also includes an illegitimate lower demiurge, the creator god, responsible for entrapping souls in material existence. As we have seen, this pernicious power is, according to the Gnostics, the god of the Old Testament, who claims to be the Highest Being and thus demands worship. The creator god, known as Ialdabaoth (a name probably derived from Judaic mysticism), became arrogant and boasted to "the multitude of angels around him...'I am a jealous God and there is no other God beside me’. [4] Gnostics argue that others assume Ialdabaoth as the Highest Being and so fail to recognize the Transcendent God, their true spiritual source. Their lack of spiritual knowledge, so to say, is due to this one simple, but devastating mistake: in a phrase, they believe the demiurge to be God and thus are deceived.

The teachings of the Sants have a similar binary theological makeup: a Transcendent God and a lower demiurge. As with the Gnostics, they argue that there is a lower deity, named either Brahm [5] or kal, [6] who "created the material universe but could not create souls." [7] This negative power, says the Sants, seeks personal veneration and so captures the jiva (spiritual being) in a realm of material darkness by attracting it to the "pleasures" of the world; consequently, the inner spiritual self is forgotten. Acting as a prison keeper,

Kal tries to prevent souls from going out of his domain into higher spiritual stages, because he does not want the population of his own kingdom reduced or thinned. [8]

Tricking people into thinking he is the Highest Lord, while in fact he is only the ruler of the lower worlds, Kal obstructs souls from returning to God, wherefrom they originally came. Thus those who "took the deity hereof to be the lord of all were duped." [9] Tulsi Sahib elucidates:

From Sat Nam [the Highest Being] has emanated Brahm ... Not knowing the reality, people have thus described Brahm: The one without attributes, formless and infinite; Also, the dispenser of justice and free from delusion. These qualities the ignorant attribute to Brahm. And him the world worships with all devotion. The ten incarnations come from Brahm, the world looks Upon him as Nirgun. [10] He, in turn, has created the worlds physical and astral ... [11] Thus the world hails Brahm as the Supreme Lord. It recognizes not the path leading to the Ultimate. [12]

Only the "elect," [13] or the "rare one(s)," [14] are aware of the distinction between the lower deity (laldabaoth / Brahm) and the Highest Reality and thus will escape the prison house of creation. Those who "have no knowledge of the higher regions and have confused the lower regions with the higher regions and the Goal" [15] are metaphorically depicted in Gnostic and Sant sources as "blind," "asleep," "drunk...... unconscious," "ignorant," etc. According to Tulsi Sahib, one must "wake up! wake up!," for he declares that "whosoever sleeps, loses all; whosoever wakes is blessed with great good fortune." [16] The more spiritually advanced souls, explains The Gospel of Truth, have finally

cast ignorance aside from them like sleep...they leave (it) behind like a dream in the night. The knowledge of the Father they value as the dawn. This is the way each one has acted, as though asleep at the time when he was ignorant. And this is the way he has <come to knowledge>, as if he had awakened. (and) Good for the man who will return and awaken. And blessed is he who has opened the eyes of the blind. [17]

For the Gnostics there are two versions of the salvation scheme: 1) the "elect" alone will be saved, and 2) all souls eventually will return to the "Realm of Light." 'Me Gnostic Valentinus seems to support the former. He argues that there are three types of people: 1) the material (hylic), 2) animal (psychic), and 3) the spiritual (pneumatic). Information of the Valentinian tripartition of souls is supplied by Clement of Alexandria:

The spiritual are saved by nature; the psychic, being possessed of free will, has an inclination towards faith and towards incorruptibility, but also towards unbelief and destruction, according to his own choice; but the material perishes by nature. [18]

There is yet another version to the Gnostic elect theme. Instead of a superior class "saved by nature" versus those whose fate is doomed from the start, all souls will eventually be saved. Souls who possess knowledge (gnosis) can immediately return to God and those who do not will be sent "back again into the world according to the form of the sins that it may have committed," [19] until a time comes when they too shall be perfected.

The doctrine of reincarnation is found throughout Gnostic literature. For instance, in The Apocryphon of John the Gnostic (in the voice of John) "plains that if souls at the time of death "have not known to whom they belong" these souls will be cast down into the prison house of creation, overpowered again with "forgetfulness...until it is liberated from the forgetfulness and acquires knowledge. And if it becomes perfect, it is saved." [20] The issue of karmic propensities (the principle that karma sways one away from the Divine at death, if one is not attached to It beforehand) and reincarnation is accepted by many Gnostics, including Mani and Basilides. According to the Christian philosopher Origen of Alexandria, Basilides supports reincarnation when he says:

Before I came into this body, I lived in the kind of body that is not subject to the law: the body of a domestic animal or a bird. [21]

Basilides presents human suffering as a punishment for sins that were committed in a previous life. The suffering of a newborn baby, for instance, is believed to be the result of some past offense(s). For Basilides, even the suffering of Jesus is related to a "sinfulness"-- that is, the human inclination to sin, but not necessarily sinful acts themselves. Clement remarks on Basilides' view of karma and reincarnation:

Actually, Basilides' presupposition is that the soul previously sinned in another life and undergoes its punishment in the present one. Excellent souls are punished honorably, by martyrdom; other kinds are purified by some other appropriate punishment. [22]

Of these two Gnostic versions of the salvific process--salvation only for the elect with no mention of reincarnation or salvation for all souls via reincarnation--the teachings of the Sants coincide with the latter. Eventually, perhaps after millions of life times, the soul is believed to merge back into its Primordial Home. It is an arduous journey homeward in which the soul is led astray many times before it is released from the grips of Kal. Tulsi Sahib affirms:

For countless lives the mind had been under the sway of passions; from moment to moment it has been a captive of the wave of cravings. The pursuit of desire makes one take abode in the body; the endless chain of karmas throws him into the cycle of birth and death...When the soul leaves the body and the mortal frame decays, it goes into the cycle of eighty-four... In the form of don keys, dogs, swine and the like, it is crushed and chewed in the laws of Kal. Ceaselessly revolves the individual in the whirlwind of transmigation...[23]

But once one has obtained a human form, one can "break all the shackles and get deliverance from the ceaseless cycle of births and deaths." [24] Human birth is considered invaluable, because only in the human form does one have the potential to return the body, the mind, and the spirit (the three components of all living beings) each to their proper place: the body will return to the earth; the mind will return to the region between the mundane and supermundane; and the spirit will soar up to the subtle realm of the transcendent God. Salvation is the completion of this process. While few are said to accomplish this in their present life-time, Simon Magus explains that every human being has within them "an infinite power ... the root of the universe" which "exists in a latent condition ... potentially, not actually..." [25]


The Experiential Dimension

Gnostic literature is filled with descriptions of mystical experiences beyond the simple waking state. For instance, the Gnostic text Zostrianos explains that the one "who can be saved is the one who seeks after him and his mind, and who finds each am of, them ... he withdraws to himself alone, for he can become divine." [26] The writer continues to explain that there is often pain in returning to the world of the physical, for although he possesses an eternal, immortal power, he is bound within the [movement] of the body. He is [made] alive and is bound always] within cruel, cutting bonds by every evil breath, until he [acts] again...[27]

Werner Foerster suggests that the Gnostic tradition might be set along side mysticism but that there is a fundamental difference between the two. He argues that the mystic is trying to foretaste death, while the Gnostic is not interested in experience but in cognitive learning. [28] I disagree with Foerster on this point. Experience for the Gnostic is inherent to learning; to experience death (or practice the process of death) plays a key role in learning about the higher regions. The tractate Zostrianos petitions:

Awaken your divine part to God ... Behold death [my italics] here and seek the immutable ingenerateness, the Father of everything. [29]

The purpose of withdrawing from the physical body is twofold: 1) first of all, it is a means to purify the soul to heighten consciousness of God. As the soul ascends to higher levels, its awareness of God sharpens. In essence, self-knowledge is knowledge of God. 2) Also, it entails the act of dying while living. Step by step one enacts the actual process of death so that at the time of death the soul is not lost but knows the path of ascent to the Unknown Father.

The soul, when pulled from the physical body, is said to rise upward experiencing higher states of consciousness. It is here that visions of light and sound are described. According to the mystics of these traditions, such manifestations are believed to be guides for the wayward soul, leading the soul through various higher states of consciousness. The author of the Pistis Sophia comments:

Man's soul shall become, when it leaveth the body, a great flood of light, so as to traverse all the regions until it cometh into the kingdom of mystery. [30]

Contacting this light and sound is said to be transforming. The writer of the treatise Allogenes purports:

[I] turned to myself [and] saw light that [surrounded] me and the Good that was in me, I became divine. [31]

In Trimorphic Protennoia the gnostic writer (in the voice of God) describes how this transformation takes place:

I cast [voiced] Speech [or Sound] into the ears of those who know me. And I am inviting you into the exalted, perfect Light. Moreover (as for) this (Light), when you enter it you will be glorified ... you will become gloriously glorious, the way you first were when you were <Light>. And I hid myself in everyone and revealed [myself] within them, and every mind seeking me longed for me, for it is I who gave shape to the All when it had no form. And I transformed their forms into (other) forms until the time when a form will be given to the All. It is through me that the Voice originated ... And it is a Word, by virtue of a Sound; it was sent to illumine those who dwell in darkness...[I] am a Light that illuminates the All. I am the Light that rejoices [in my] brethren, for I came down to the world [of] mortals...[32]

Also, this same Gnostic suggests that the appearance of light within is constructed in a particular pattern as a guide that helps to uplift the soul through various spiritual realms to knowledge of the Divine. The Gnostic asserts:

I [God] went down [to those who were mine] from the first and I [reached them and broke] the first strands that [enslaved them. Then] everyone [of those] within me shone, and I prepared [a pattern] for those ineffable Lights that are ineffably within me. [33]

The Sant tradition embraces a comparable mystical motif. Only by "ascending within himself by his soul" [34] can one be united with God. Tulsi Sahib encourages:

Seek not thy Beloved in the world outside; within thine own self, behold the splendor of thy Beloved. In the pupil of thine eye is a mole, wherein is hidden the entire mystery; peep within and behold thou what lieth beyond this dark curtain. [35]

The teachings of the Sants are also based on this light and sound. These manifestations, argue the Sants, appear to the soul once it has withdrawn from the physical body. Tulsi Sahib describes this spiritual experience:

Whose soul is attached to the Word [shabd] revels ever in cosmic flight... In the lamp of the inaccessible he [the jiva] keeps beholding a flood of light... In the region of the firmament, glitters flashes of light...which the rare brave one beholds...Vacate thy body....[36]

It is said that the light attracts one's attention while the sound pulls it upward, leading the wayward soul to its Primordial Home. Shiv Dayal Singh elucidates:

By practicing shabd according to the rules [i.e., following the light and sound], the mind and the surat [soul] become pure and by holding unto shabd the surat spreads beyond the heavens in the astral body, [and] will climb ... In Trikuti [the second spiritual region] the surat will arrive and from there it will go forth having separated from the mind ... and its true place will be obtained. From this place in the beginning the surat originated and having come into the three worlds engrossed in time, the surat went and will eventually return back to its origin ... [37] [My translation]

As with the Gnostic tradition, the light and sound are described in particular patterns. Once withdrawal has commenced, the darkness within is said to gradually be illuminated with shifting points of light that eventually "cease flickering and develop into a single radiating point." [38] As the soul continues its journey variations of a beautiful white light and of a melodious sound occur. Describing this inner light and sound exactly is said to be an impossible task, for, claims Shiv Dayal Singh, "how can I describe the melody, when nothing like it is to be found in the world." [39] The sound current is not a sound one hears with the physical ears, but only with the inner self, the spirit entity. Accordingly, this "heavenly music that plays interminably" [40] is, in essence, God manifest and it upholds all of creation.

When describing the philosophical nature of the cosmos, Gnostic writers emphasize this sound current, variously referred to as Word, Voice, Logos, Speech, or simply Sound. Also, throughout Gnostic texts reference is made to the manifestation of a mystical light, known as Treasury of Light, Immeasurable Light, etc. In the Trimorphic Protennoia it is described in the following way:

I am [the Word] who dwells [in the] ineffable [Silence]. I dwell in undefiled [Light] and a Thought [revealed itself] perceptibly through [the great] Sound ... And it [the Sound] exists from the beginning in the foundations of the All. But there is a Light [that] swells hidden in Silence and it was the first to [come] forth...I alone am the Word, ineffable, incorruptible, immeasurable, inconceivable. It (the Word?) is a hidden Light ... being unreproducible, an immeasurable Light, the source of All...It is foundation that supports every movement of the Aeons that belong to the mighty glory. It is the founding of every foundation. It is the breath of the powers. It is the eye of the three permanences, which exist as a Voice by virtue of a Thought. And it is a Word by virtue of the Sound ... I (the Word) became a foundation for the All ... [41]

In the Sant tradition this inner sound current, as has been explained, is titled shabd which is the manifestation of the Divine. This shabd is said to emanate from the Highest Being, or God, and it upholds all of creation. Shiv Dayal Singh expounds:

O! know thou, Shabd is the beginning of all creation; and the end of all too do thou know as Shabd. The three worlds and the Fourth Realm (Dimension). all these things hath Shabd created...Save Shabd there is no other Reality." [42]

Hence, both traditions proclaim the existence of an Unknown God, beyond reason and speech, that allows Itself to be known through a transcendental manifestation of light and sound. Upon withdrawal, this light and sound appears, illumines the darkness within and the soul ascends. But where does the soul ascend to? Several Gnostics have attempted to delineate a specific spiritual cosmology. It is difficult, however, to ascertain from such old texts, with missing material and obscure language syntax, exactly what these transcendental realms consist of. Nevertheless, several things do remain clear: the spiritual map entails ascending to various heavenly regions, encountering various sounds and lights, and facing the aeons or powers of that region. Some Gnostics contend that the soul is washed or baptized each time it passes through a heavenly realm. In other words, one's consciousness becomes more purified, until one attains God-realization. "Concerning the the self-begotten ones," writes a Gnostic, "those in which you have now been baptized each time ... it serves as knowledge of the All ... (which) you acquire when you pass through the all-perfect aeons." [43] So unless one withdraws one's consciousness from the physical body and washes the soul, or attains higher consciousness, one will forever remain ignorant of the Divine.

It appears from various Gnostic sources that there are a variety of inner realms, each with a specific ruling power. According to one Gnostic writer, there are five basic realms, the fifth being the realm of the Divine encompassing all the others. This Gnostic explains that he withdrew into himself and ascended through various regions, being baptized in each, until finally he reached the fifth aeon. Here he announces:

The Autogenes is the chief archon of his aeons and angels as his parts, for those who are the four individuals belong to him; they belong to the fifth aeon together. The fifth exists in one; the four [are] the fifth part by part. But these four are complete individually ... perfect parts ... He stands within an aeon because there are within him four different self-begotten aeons ... [When I was] baptized the fifth [time] in the name of the Autogenes by each of these powers, I became divine. [44]

It is difficult to arrive at a conclusion concerning the importance of the number of inner realms, since there is some degree of inconsistency among the Gnostics on this point. Some Gnostics, such as the writer(s) of the Gnostic text Pistis Sophia, may be referring to the notion of five heavenly realms when discussing "Five Trees," [45] each of which are associated with a divine being. The one who knows "Five Trees" is believed to attain salvation. Yet, others (e.g., Basilides) delineate a more expansive cosmology, including 365 heavens. [46]

As the soul ascends through the various heavenly planes, it is said to encounter "powers," gods of the lower regions, who are ignorant of the Ultimate God. Gnostic theogony discussed in the Trimorphic Protennoia demonstrates the mystery of this Highest Aeon in relation to the other lower aeons. This Aeon produces a divine sound that shakes all creation and disconcerts the inhabitants and the rulers of the lower realms. Seeking solace, they gather and approach some form of a creator god, named the Archigenetor, who is also ignorant of the source of this sound. The theme of a God beyond all gods is evident. The Gnostic writes:

For I shall tell you the mystery [of] this Aeon that is, and tell you the forces that are in it ... the foundations of the underworld and the ceilings of Chaos shook and a great fire shone within their midst, and the rocks and the earth were like a reed shaken by the wind ... domiciles were greatly disturbed over a great thunder. And the thrones of the Powers were disturbed since they were overturned and their King was afraid...they [the inhabitants of the realm] said to the Powers, "What is this disturbance and this shaking that has come upon us through a Voice <belonging> to the exalted Sound? And our entire habitation has been shaken..." Then the Powers answered saying, "We too are at loss about it since we did not know what was responsible for it. But arise, let us go up to the Archigenetor and ask him. And the Powers all gathered and went up to the Archigenetor. [They said to] him, "Where is your boasting in which [you boast]? Did we not [hear you say], "I am God ... and it is I who begot you and there is no [other] besides me? Now behold, there has appeared a Voice belonging to that invisible Sound of [the Aeon] that we know not. And we ourselves did not recognize to whom we belong, for that Voice which we heard is foreign to us, and we did not recognize it; we did not know whence it was. It came and put fear in our midst and weakening in the members of our arms. So let us now weep and mom most bitterly! As for the future, let us make our entire flight before we our imprisoned perforce and taken down to the bosom of the underworld. For already the slackening of our bondage has approached...ignorant Chaos became for us a dwelling place. For behold, even the Archigenetor of our birth, about which we boast, even he did not know this Sound." [47]

The Highest Aeon explains to them the hidden mystery of this sound. Also, comments the Aeon, it is from Itself that the light manifests. It states:

Become worthy of the mystery hidden from (the beginning of) the Aeons, so that [you might receive] it. And the consummation of this [particular] Aeon...which [has no change forever]. I am androgynous. [I am Mother (and) I am] Father since [I copulate] with myself. I [copulate] with myself [and with those who love] me, [and] it is through me alone that the All [stands firm]. I am the Womb [that gives shape] to the All by giving birth to the Light that [shines in] splendor. I am the Aeon to [come. I am] the fulfillment of the All ... I cast [voiced] Speech [or Sound] into the ears of those who know me. [48]

Throughout Gnostic literature names of specific lights of the different realms are described: Armozel of the first region, Oroiael of the second, Daveithe of the third, and Elethe of the fourth. The fifth aeon, the Divine, is the all-encompassing light. A specific description of these lights is absent, although they are referred to as "eternal Lights, perfect because they were perfected individually." [49] The author of Trimorphic Protennoia expounds that "each Aeon gave myriads of glories within great unsearchable lights and they all together blessed the Perfect Son, the God who was begotten." [50]

The Sant tradition presents a strikingly similar spiritual topography. It consists of four basic regions the soul traverses until it reaches the fifth region, the highest state of consciousness. [51] Again, as with the Gnostics, each realm is controlled by a ruling power or aeon. Here, the light and sound of each region are described. In the first region, Sahans Dal Kanwal, the soul is pulled out of the body and enters a new dimension, encountering for the first time beautiful light and sound. The light is described as a thousand candles, and the sound like bells. The second region is called Trikuti, and here the mind is shed from the soul. The light is referred to as a red sun, and the sound as thunder or drums.. Daswan Dwar is the third spiritual realm, a realm pure spirit where one attains self-realization. Magnificent white light is seen and one hears a harmonious stringed instrument. The fourth region is titled Bhanwar Gupha, where the soul approaches the infinite God, envisioning a splendid white light and hearing a soft flute. Finally, the soul reaches Sach Khand and merges into the infinite ocean, attaining God-realization. Here, the light radiates to infinity and the sound is compared to that of a vina. Shiv Dayal Singh praises this region as the "the Throne of the Lord; know Him thou as thy true King." [52]

Clearly, both traditions describe similar cosmologies, but the parallel continues. As previously stated, each spiritual realm is ruled by an aeon or power. To know the names of these demiurges is very important. It is only through some form of initiation, that these names are revealed; prior to initiation, the names remain secret.

In the Gnostic tradition, these names may be what the Gnostics refer to as "the imperishable names which are in the Treasury of Light." [53] In order for the soul to traverse through a region it must know the name of the ruling power; in a sense, these names are passwords. Upon name call, the power falls down and cannot hinder the soul's ascent. Thus, knowing the name of the aeon makes one superior to it. These secret names are the esoteric element of the tradition. The Pistis Sophia discusses these "angelic powers" or rulers, and the prayers to be addressed to them in order for the soul to pass through their gate. One who has received the tokens [54] (or passwords) has the "Mark of the kingdom" which "all the regions fear." [55] The writer explains:

The soul is on the road that leadeth on high, and before it is far distant therefrom, it uttereth the mystery for the breaking of all the seals (i.e., the formula) and all the bonds of the counterfeit of the spirit wherewith the Archons have bound it unto the soul. And it having uttered these words, the bonds of the counterfeit of the spirit are loosened so that it ceaseth to persecute the soul, and lets it go according to the commandment given unto it by the Archons of the Great Fate, who said unto it: Let not the soul go free, unless it shall utter unto thee the mystery for the breaking of the bonds wherewith we have bound thee unto it. Thereupon the soul, thus set free, leaves fate behind unto the Archons of the way of the Middle-space, and destroys the counterfeit of the spirit leaving it for the Archons in the place wherein they had found it (at first) unto the soul; and in that moment it becometh a great flood of light, shining exceedingly; and the Receivers who had fetched it out of the body are afraid of that light, so they fall down upon their faces, and the soul is made as it were a wing of light, and the courses of the Light, until it entereth into the place of its own kingdom for which it hath received the mystery... And when they come before the Archons in the Middle-space, the Archons depart out of the way of that soul, in a word being in great fear unto which there is no measure. And in that moment the soul utters the mystery of its defense before them; and they fall upon their faces out of fear of the mystery and of the defense which it hath uttered ... [56]


Basilides, according to Irenaeus, also taught to his disciples esoteric divine names. Irenaeus reports in a suspicious tone:

And they [the Basilidians] also concoct certain names, as it were, of angels. They report that some reside in the first heaven, others in the second, and thus they strain to relate in full the names ... that they have fabricated. And thus, they say, the name under which the savior descended and ascended was Kaulakaua. So whoever learns these things and becomes acquainted with all the angels and the causes of their existence--such a person becomes invisible and incomprehensible to all angels and authorities, just as Kaulakaua was. And just as the child was unrecognizable by all, so too, those people shall not be recognized by any; but rather, whereas they know all and pass through all, they themselves are invisible and unrecognized by all. For they say, "Recognize them all, but let none recognize you!"...And few people can know these things--only one in a thousand, and two in ten thousand. [57}

Gnostic literature is full of allusions to seals of the different aeons or powers. One can only wonder if these seals are prayers addressed by the soul to each god whose gate it has to traverse on its way to its final Abode. Once one is given the "five seals ... death might not have power over him from this time on." [58] For instance, in the Trimorphic Protennoia, the writer mentions five seals and each seal seems to correspond with a different aeon, so the fifth seal would therefore be the name of all-encompassing Aeon. Naming the five seals and pursuing the source of light and sound may be what enables a soul to continue spiritual ascent. The author asserts:

I [God] hid myself within them all [humans] until I revealed myself among my members, which are mine, and I taught them about the ineffable ordinances...But they are inexpressible to every Sovereignty and every ruling Power except to the Sons of Light [Gnostics] alone ... These are the glories that are higher than every glory, that is, [the Five] Seals complete by every virtue of Intellect. He who possess the Five Seals of these particular names has stripped off <the> garments of ignorance and put on a shining Light. And nothing will appear to him that belongs to the Powers of the Archons. Within those of this sorted darkness will dissolve and [ignorance] will die ... I proclaim to them the ineffable [Five Seals in that order that I might] abide in them and they also abide in me. [59] [my italics]

In The Gospel of the Egyptians reference to the five seals appears at least six times. The writer announces:

The five seals...the Father brought forth from his bosom, and she [the soul] passed [through] all the aeons ... They who are worthy of (the) invocation, the renounciations of the five seals ... these will know their receivers as they are instructed about them. and the will know them (or: be known) by them. These will be no means taste death. [60]

In the Sant tradition, these names of the aeons are referred to as Panch Nam (the five names) or Varnatmak Nam, [61] and told to the disciple only at the time of initiation. Silently repeating these names during meditation is said to calm the mind from running out into the world of the senses, in order that one's consciousness might withdraw from the body. Once consciousness has withdrawn and the soul commences ascent, these names of the aeons serve the same purpose as for the Gnostic. [62] Step by step, or region by region, the soul travels upward announcing the name of the inner ruling powers, until it reaches its Home. Proclaiming these five names and following the sound and the light allow for the soul's ascent.

Shiv Dayal Singh implores his disciples "of the five Names do thou the repetition." [63] He explains that if they:

do not possess even detailed theoretical knowledge of these regions and the intermediate stages through which they must pass on the way, such persons are always confused because they do not know the presiding deity of (each) region...But the Sants first teach Their disciples the distinctive marks of each region and then fix the Highest their goal, and give practical instructions for traversing the Path. In this way the devotee can reach his goal and also know all about the conditions prevailing in the various stages. If he does not get the knowledge and proper understanding (of these mysteries), the disciple will ... not be able to make steady progress. He will not have strength enough to reach the final goal, and will very likely be deceived at some place or other on the way and stop there. [64]

The "mysteries of the Kingdom" (i.e., the names of the heavenly powers, etc.) are revealed, according to the Gnostics, by the Son, who has descended the inner realms and taken human form to explain these divine secrets. The adherents or initiates are named Sons of Light and alone are taught the path of light and sound and the "imperishable names." As one Gnostic puts it:

The Son who is perfect in every respect--that is, the Word who originated through that Voice...who was within him the Name; who is Light--he [the Son] revealed the everlasting things and all the unknowns were known. And those things difficult to interpret and secret, he revealed, and as for those who dwell in Silence...he preached to them. And he revealed himself to those who dwell in darkness, and he showed himself to those who dwell in the abyss, and to those who dwell in the hidden treasuries he told ineffable mysteries, and he taught unrepeatable doctrines to all those who became Sons of the Light.[65]

In the Sant tradition this Savior figure is called the satguru, who has come to "showeth the Reality within thy body."[66] Likewise, the satguru has traversed the inner regions and alone can explain its mysteries. Shiv Dayal Singh says:

Of the Five Melodies doth he [the satguru] tell thee the secret; and the way of the soul doth he show thee. The names ... doth he reveal to thee; and their forms and stages doth he explain...[67]

Unless one has been initiated by a Sant, it is believed that one will remain steeped in worldly delusions caught in Kal's transmigratory snare. Tulsi Sahib enumerates the necessity of a spiritual guide:

Without the guidance of a Master the way cannot ever be found. He will¼ take thy soul to regions celestial, and reveal the firmament within. If thou desirest to revel in realms spiritual within thine own self, none will help thee expect the Sants. In a short moment wilt thou depart, and thy body be reduced to dust. Thy Master alone, 0 Tulsi, will show the entrance back to thy Home.[68]

While both the Gnostic tradition and the Sant tradition agree that a spiritual guide unravels insoluble mysteries of the universe and awakens the soul from ignorance, there is a possible difference between these two religions in respect to this incarnate divine being. First of all, it is unclear whether all Gnostic initiates had a particular spiritual guide. And for those that did, it is uncertain whether (s)he was recognized as an, enlightened being or simply a fellow seeker. The adherents of Mani did believe that Mani died fully aware of his transcendental Self, but whether he was revered while living as a Christ or a Buddha is not clear. If Gnostics did not acknowledge their present, living leader as an enlightened being, then one could conclude that generally they relied upon a, past Redeemer(s) to aid their spiritual journey. This appears to be the case with Basilides, who argued that Jesus alone was the prototype of all spiritual men. However, in the Sant tradition, as elucidated by Tulsi Sahib, in order for a soul to return to God one must be initiated by a living Sant.


The Ethical Dimension

While both traditions appear to underline very similar themes: an inner sound current, a spiritual journey, divine secret names, and a redeemer who reveals all of this, in the area of ethics there are some distinctive differences. First of all, while the Sant tradition may consist of a proliferation of different branches, each branch seems to stress basically the same vows. All Sants, says Tulsi Sahib, require their followers to be vegetarian. to abstain from intoxicants, to live a moral life (including no premarital sex), and to daily meditate. Yet, in the Gnostic tradition there are clearly wide differences with respect to ethics. As explained earlier, Gnostics fall into tree main camps: the libertines, the moderate ascetics, and the ascetics. Each group reacts against creation either by abuse, moderation or renunciation.

Only the moderate group fits well with the Sants. Similar to the moderate Gnostics, Sants are not hermits but value marriage and family life. Renunciation and libertism are scoffed and, instead, a kind of detachment based on moderation is embraced. Only through maintaining a balance between these can one disentangle oneself from the mire of the world. Tulsi Sahib explains:

Saints know not renunciation, nor acquisition. The two throw the mind into the web of delusion. What one renounces, he gets in the next life; again and again he comes to the world for gratification. In acquisition the entire world is enslaved. In these two the entire world remains entangled. Sant Mat is quite distinct from both. Renunciation and acquisition are for it delusion. [69]

With respect to dietary restrictions, there are only a few Gnostic leaders, such as Mani and Saturnilus, who quite clearly implemented a vegetarian diet. As for the Sants, however, abstinence from meat-eating is considered essential for spiritual growth. In the following poem, Tulsi Sahib vehemently denounces those who do not maintain a meat-free diet:

Whoever has eaten flesh and fish in this life is bound in captivity by the butcher, Kal. Nothing good will come out of such conduct...[70]

In summation, some schools were obviously more similar to the ethics of the Sant tradition than others. Hence, to say simply that the Gnostic movement is alive in India in the Sant tradition must be qualified. While most of the Nag Hammadi literature illustrates a profound parallel between the two traditions, the parallel becomes somewhat vague when reviewing the specific ethical stance of each Gnostic school.



1. The Apocryphon of John, in NBL, p. 106.

2. Ibid.

3. Maheshwari, op. cit., pp. 41-42.

4. The Apocryphon of john, in NHL, p. 112.

5. Brahm should not be confused with the Hindu notion of Brahman, the Absolute or Highest Reality. Brahm here refers to the lord which has jurisdiction only over the phenomenal world. Moreover, the Sant's conception of the Transcendent God is not equivalent with Brahman.

6. Kala in Sanskritic speculation is usually time. In this specific context it refers to an entrapping power which rules over the whole universe.

7. L. R. Puri, op. cit., p. 199.

8. L. R. Puri, op. cit., p. 200.

9. Shiv Dayal Singh, trans. by S.D. Maheshwari, Sar Bachan Poetry Part One (Agra: S.D. Maheshwari, 1970), p. 522.

10. Nirgun refers to the Lord of the third spiritual region, beyond the three gunas or attributes.

11. The four main divisions of the universe, according to the Sants, are: 1) the material universe; 2) the astral region; 3) the causal region; 4) the highest region of pure spirit. The first three are under the domain of KM.

12. J. R. Puri and V. K. Sethi, op. cit., pp. 79-80.

13. Basilides (as well as other Gnostics) refers to the Gnostics as "the elect (who) are alien to the world, as if they were transcendent by nature." See Irenaeus, Adv. haer. I.24.4.

14. J. R. Puri and V. K. Sethi, op. cit., p. 42. Tulsi Sahib describes one who has awakened as a "rare one."

15. See L. R. Puri, op. cit., p. 42.

16. J. R. Puri and V. K. Sethi, op. cit., pp. 49-50.

17. The Gospel of Truth, (I,3 and XH,2), in NHL, p. 45.

18. Clement of Alexandria, Excerpts ex Theodoto, 55.3.

19. Pistis Sophia, 263. All citations from Pistis Sophia are taken from Charles William King, Gnostics and Their Remains (Minneapolis: Wizards Bookshelf, 1973); see also, Carl Schmidt's translation of Pistis Sophia (Leiden: Brill, 1978).

20. The Apocryphon of john, in NHL, p. 120.

21. Bentely Layton (trans.), The Gnostic Scriptures (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1987), p. 439.

22. Ibid., p. 443.

23. In the Hindu tradition it is believed that there are eighty-four hundred thousand different species that the soul can incarnate into. J. R. Puri and V. K. Sethi, op. cit., pp. 43-45.

24. Ibid, p. 50.

25. Hippolytus, REF 6.9.

26. Zostrianos (VIIII,I), in NHL, p. 415.

27. Ibid.

28. See Werner Forester, "Introduction," Gnosis: A Selection of Gnostic Texts (Great Britain: Clarendon Press, 1972), p. 2.

29. Zostrianos, in NHL, p. 430.

30. Pistis Sophia, 235.

31. Allogenes (XI,3), in NHL, p. 494.

32. Trimorphic Protennoia, in NHL, pp. 519-20

33. Ibid., p. 517.

34. L. R. Puri, op. cit., p. 173.

35. J. R. Puri and V. K. Sethi, op. cit., pp. 92-93.

36. Ibid., p. 128-31.

37. Shiv Dayal Singh, Sar Bachan Radhasoami Poetry (Armitsar: Radha Soami Beas, n.d.), p. 3.

38. Kirpal Singh, Crown of Life: A Study of Yoga (Delhi: Sawan Kirpal Publishing, 1961), p. 156.

39. L. R. Puri, op. cit., p. 63.

40. Kirpal Singh, Naam or Word (New Delhi: Sawan Kirpal Publishing, 1960), pp. 183-84.

41. Trimorphic Protennoia, in NHL, p. 519.

42. L. R. Puri, op. cit., p. 47.

43. Zostrianos, in NHL, p. 410.

44. Ibid., pp. 409, 417, 429.

45. Pistis Sophia, 230.

46. Irenaeus, Adv. haer. I.24.3.

47. Trimorphic Protennoia, in NHL, pp. 517-18.

48. Ibid., pp. 518-19.

49. Zostrianos, in NHL, p. 377.

50. Trimorphic Protennoia, in NHL, p. 515.

51. In the Sant tradition there are eight regions in all: Sahans Dal Kanwal, Trikuti, Daswan Dwar, Bhanwar Gupha, Sach Khand, Alakh Lok, Agam Lok, and Anami Lok. Sach Khand is believed to be the "imperishable region," and the three that follow are higher manifestations of it. For simplicity sake adherents generally refer to the "five inner region," since the last three are higher divisions of the fifth.

52. L. R. Puri, op. cit., p. 179.

53. 2 Jeu, ch. 46, Schmidt-MacDermot, pp. 110-11.

54. Pistis Sophia, 234.

55. Ibid., p. 239.

56. Pistis Sophia, 282.

57. Irenaeus, Adv. haer., I.24.5, I.24.6.

58. The Apocryphon of John, in NHL, p. 122.

59. Trimorphic Protennoia, in NHL, p. 521.

60. The Gospel of the Egyptians (III,2 and IV,2), in NHL, pp. 211, 217.

61. There are two forms of Shabd: Varnatmak Nam (refers to that which can be spoken) and Dhuniatmak Nam (perceivable as inner spiritual Sound). The former deals with the mantra one is given at initiation (i.e., the names of the aeons).

62. Charles King makes an intimate connection between the "ineffable names" of the Hindu tradition and the Gnostic tradition. See C.W. King, The Gnostics and Their Remains (Minneapolis: Wizzards Bookshelf, 1973), pp. 266-73. Indeed, repeating holy names is an idea to be found fully developed in the practice of the Brahmins; yet, the Sant tradition offers a more exact comparison with the Gnostics.

63. L. R. Puri, op. cit., p. 253.

64. Shiv Dayal Singh, The Sar Bachan Radhasoami Prose (Punjab: Radha Soami Beas, 1974), pp. 52-53.

65. Trimorphic Protennoia, in NHL, p. 514.

66. L. R. Puri, op. cit., p. 83.

67. Ibid., p. 83.

68. J. R. Puri and V. K. Sethi, op. cit., pp. 40.

69. J. R. Puri and V. K. Sethi, op. cit., pp. 170-71.

70. Ibid., p. 68.