The Gnostic Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo has pinpointed several errors in the way that the gnostic consciousness, known in Sanskrit terminology as vijnana, is to be understood. On the one side, there are those who try to equate it with the higher reasoning faculties of the mind. On the other side, there are those who equate it with the infinite awareness of the unlimited divine consciousness. Both of these views, however, miss the core essential characteristics of the gnostic consciousness.

In the Taittiriya Upanishad, the vijnana consciousness occupies a position between the level of mind and the level of bliss. Reason is a power of mind, and even in its higher reaches, remains bound by the essential limitations of the mind, the fragmentation, separation and division that is inherent in the mental function. Bliss is one of the characteristics of the upper hemisphere of consciousness, the divine standpoint, of Sat-Chit-Ananda. Vijnana or gnosis is between these two and thus, takes on characteristics and meaning by its ability to translate the one form of consciousness into terms that suit the other form.

Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “The gnosis, the Vijnana is not only this concentrated consciousness of the infinite Essence; it is also and at the same time an infinite knowledge of the myriad play of the Infinite. It contains all ideation (not mental but supramental), but it is not limited by ideation, for it far exceeds all ideative movement. Nor is the gnostic ideation in its character an intellectual thinking; it is not what we call the reason, not a concentrated intelligence. For the reason is mental in its methods, mental in its acquisitions, mental in its basis, but the ideative method of the gnosis is self-luminous, supramental, its yield of thought-light spontaneous, not proceeding by acquisition, its thought-basis a rendering of conscious identities, not a translation of the impressions born of indirect contacts. There is a relation and even a sort of broken identity between the two forms of thought; for one proceeds covertly from other. Mind is born from that which is beyond mind. But they act on different planes and reverse each other’s process.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 22, Vijnana or Gnosis, pp. 457-458