Chapter Five



In comparing the Gnostic tradition with the Sant tradition, we have discovered several remarkable similarities, including the idea of a transcendent Father, intermediate beings, secret passwords, enlightened sons of God, and visions of inner light and sound. Although it would be inaccurate to claim that Sant Mat is simply India's version of the Greek Gnostic tradition, we should not overlook the historical and theological consequences of such a transcultural interlink. Historically, it would be useful to determine to what extent the Gnostic tradition, as a historical movement, influenced early and. medieval Indian thought, particularly the views of such nirguna bhakti poets as Namdev, Kabir, and Nanak. There may well be a sociological pipeline--via such religions as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and/or trade and commerce established by conquering empires--which has channeled early Jewish/Christian/Greek thought to India and/or channeled early Indian thought to the Judeo-Christian world. [1] To gauge accurately when, where and how this cultural pipeline through time operated would be of great interest and value to sociology in general and religious studies in particular, since then we could have some inkling of how theological ideas and spiritual practices evolve.

Arguably, however, there may be no clearly defined historical link between the early Gnostic tradition and the medieval/modem Sant tradition. It may well be, as Huston Smith, Ken Wilber, and other perennialists argue, that the similarities between the Gnostic tradition and the Sant tradition are structural. That is, the commonality of ideas between two different geographical religious movements arises precisely because they both have tapped into an inherent, even biological (but not culturally variable), stage of human development. Framed in this way, Gnostic and Sant ideas reflect certain psychosocial stages of humankind's religious consciousness, and thus are similar to each other not because they are linked progressively through history, but because they are linked inherently through the natural evolution of human awareness. Here one can turn to the, studies done on near-death experiences by Ring, Sabom, and Grof, where individuals from around the world report similar experiences at the time of clinical death even though they come from diverse cultural backgrounds, as indicative of how certain religious ideas may indeed be similar because of a non-historical connection--a connection grounded in human consciousness or neuro-anatomy.

These two lines of inquiry--historical and psychological--are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Rather, the interplay of religious ideas may, in fact, ferment from, both arenas, as Mircea Eliade has tried to demonstrate in his studies on yoga and shamanism. What I would suggest for future research in this area is to start first with the historical connection, attempting to map out--genealogically or otherwise--the ways in which the Gnostic tradition may have interfaced with early Indian culture and vice versa. Although the exact link may be impossible to make, we can at least have some clear outline on when, where, and how the religious transfusion took place.


1. It would be of special interest, I believe, to examine Manichaeism and Islamic esoteric traditions, which may have had a direct influence on the Sant tradition.