Those who seek to understand the ultimate nature of reality."
Plato, The Commonwealth (475e)
Our primary task in life is to understand our ultimate reality, the nature of our terrestrial existence and our supersensible being, and having gained this understanding, to determine in what ways we can contribute to the betterment of the human condition and our own transformation from terrestrial personhood to Higher Self. Both our earthly existence and our spiritual being consist, to a large part, in our understanding (or lack of understanding) and the resulting wisdom (or lack of wisdom).
To carry out our responsibilities, we must first assess what human capabilities and powers--natural and supranatural--it is necessary for us to master. We can best do this by exploring Plato's teachings concerning these capabilities and power:
Sophia (Greek: σοφια): Wisdom and Inspiration
Noesis (Greek: νοησις): Intuition and Higher Reason
Dianoia (Greek: διανοια): Understanding and Philosophical Reason
Gnosis (Greek: γνοσις): Knowledge and Scientific Reason
Plato's Conception of the Human Essence
Form of Power and Apprehension
Higher Self Soul
Nous: Divine Spirit
Phren: Higher mind Thumos: Human spirit
Lower mind Epithumia: Appetites and passions
Feelings and desires The emotional nature
Pistis: Surety and Faith--psychic groping after truth Grasping words' meanings Eikasia: Perception of images Doxa: Opinion, conjecture, misconception
In this essay we'll explore two of the five capabilities and powers referenced above: gnosis and dianoia. As indicated from the linkouts in the outline, we have explored pistis, doxa, noesis, and sophia in earlier essays.
In our effort to understand the various elements and powers within us, it's most fortunate that we have Plato's explanation and explication of these forces, so we can comprehend their diverse functioning and thereby gain the capability of awakening these powers within ourselves. Plato's explication of these elements and powers is very precise in how they interact with one another and what effects we can achieve by each of the elements.
Note, for example, that under the heading of gnosis in the outline above, there is listed "esoteric, true knowledge." Even ordinary knowledge in the terrestrial realm must be depicted as "esoteric," since so few people have the capability of gaining this kind of knowledge or of understanding it even if they happen upon it. Note also that such elements as "intuition" and "inspiration," often misidentified as being synonymous capabilities and experiences, are clearly delineated as having diverse functions.
"Knowledge is the life of the heart, which delivers it from the death of ignorance."
Thaqafi (Perennialist adept)
Plato distinguished between knowledge as deduced from rational or scientific thinking (gnosis), knowledge derived from philosophical reasoning (dianoia), knowledge derived from pure reasoning or intuition (noesis), and knowledge gained from inspiration or dialectical interchange (sophia).
While working to achieve understanding of the mundane world, for example, who actually has terrestrial political-economic-spiritual-religious power, we must also expend equal energy in gaining understanding of who and what we are--both our terrestrial existence and our supersensible being--and what is the nature of the spiritual domain.
"Work in the invisible world at least as hard as you do in the visible."
Gnosis: true knowledge--the grasp of truth--is a highly significant achievement, far above ordinary uninformed opinion, speculation, error, or disinterest or disregard for truth. This is especially the case today when the capitalist cabal who has seized control over political-economic-social power structures deliberately conditions and brainwashes people with falsehoods, misrepresentations, and deadly lies.
This achievement of knowledge as intelligence is symbolized by Ovid as the goddess Athena bestowing her intelligence on human beings created from clay by Prometheus, awakening their minds to dianoiatic understanding.
As we move upward into dianoia, noesis, and sophia, we find that there is a higher mode of knowledge.
"The integral Knowledge is something that is already there in integral Reality: it is not a new or still non-existing thing that has to be created, acquired, learned, invented or built up by the mind; it must rather be discovered or uncovered, it is a Truth that is self-revealed to a spiritual endeavour: for it is there veiled in our deeper and greater self; it is the very stuff of our own spiritual consciousness, and it is by awaking to it even in our surface self that we have to possess it."
Aurobindo, The Life Divine
While we gain awareness of ourselves and our world through mastery of knowledge, gnosis, at the same time we must become proficient in understanding that knowledge: dianoia. Gaining understanding in the mundane world helps you realize how to gain understanding in supramundane realms, and what understanding is in all domains.
We note that each element and force--gnosis, dianoia, noesis, and sophia--requires that the preceding, subordinate element has been fully developed. We must master the gaining of knowledge (gnosis) so that we can use that knowledge in developing understanding (dianoia). Each ascending element is a higher force: gaining understanding from knowledge (dianoia) is a higher function than gaining knowledge (gnosis).
For example, in high school I amassed considerable knowledge about what my teacher called civics: information about what the United States political system was supposed to be, according to the U.S. Constitution. However, I had almost no understanding of "real" politics, or economics, or social issues and structures in general.
I grew up in a small hamlet in Oklahoma where I was dismally ignorant of what was going on in the larger world. Through my family life and education I was programmed in all the American myths and subterfuges. When a small group of older high school students began secretly reading the writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin--and encouraged me and other students as well to read these--I had no genuine idea what the writings were talking about. Incidentally, this was during the McCarthy era and you can imagine how those students were pilloried by the Town Fathers, held up to ridicule in front of their high school peers and forced to sit on the stage in the VFW Hall while the 200% American town leaders excoriated and castigated them to a fine turn.
Unlike those high school students, I wasn't taken in by the Marxist ideology--but that was due to no awareness or understanding on my part. Later, when I studied Marx's philosophy during my work toward a Ph.D. at Yale, I discovered some interesting information in Marx about the excesses of capitalism, but I never found the overall communist ideology to be persuasive or even very interesting. At that point I had worked out of a lot of my earlier ignorance, so I had a better basis in understanding with which to make an informed judgement about communism.
Similar to my lack of understanding about the "real" world, the high school students who flirted with communism were equally ignorant about the world. They later all became doctrinaire capitalists working within the cabal's military-industrial complex.
It took me many years to slowly overcome some of my ignorance--in all areas of life--and begin to gain some understanding of the world in general. This "work" is never finished. If you believe you've completed your "work" of self-discovery and self-improvement, then you can be sure that you have much self-discovery of shortcomings, delusions, subterfuges, and slick stratagems yet ahead to discover.
"Faults will turn to good, provided we use them to our own humiliation, without slackening in the effort to correct ourselves. Discouragement serves no possible purpose; it is simply the despair of wounded self-love. The real way of profiting by the humiliation of one's own faults is to face them in their true hideousness, without ceasing to hope in God, while hoping for nothing from self."
Fenelon, The Inner Life
Dianoiatic understanding comes as much from ridding ourselves of ignorance and and other negative elements as to gaining awareness of ourselves and our world. In our search for Higher Consciousness, we must "unself ourselves," as Hakim Sanai phrases it, ridding ourselves of ego-obsession and ego-blindness. We can only gain increased powers of discernment if we're unreservedly honest about ourselves and constantly seek to discover personality features that hold us back. We learn to recognize when we're rationalizing, equivocating, lying, projecting, or acting defensively.
Our task is to cast off our bondage to the senses and the ego that cause attachment to the impermanent and temporary and regain sight of the permanent and eternal. We come into more and more intimate conscious relation to the inner principle which underlies all phenomena and we cognize unity in diversity, the realm of the Spirit.
We all are composed of specific understandings: for example, the realization of the absolute necessity of rational thought--and humor--in a world gone stark raving mad, the awareness of shortcomings and self-delusions in ourselves, and comprehension of what is actually going on in the world today (contrary to the lies and misrepresentations we find in the mainstream press). It is your understandings (or lack of understandings) that make you what you are; this is your eternal essence--that part of you that will endure after your death. You can't take your wealth or fame--or rubber ducky--with you, but you must take your understandings, since they are your immortal constituent qualities.
"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
To lead an intelligent and aware life, you must work assiduously to gain understanding of what is truly happening in the world. One of the essential ingredients of gaining understanding is to achieve awareness of your single and double ignorance: what you don't know and what you think you know but don't know.
Dianoia, the seat of which is the heart, is a part of the inner person that reasons and processes knowledge or information into understanding, including the making of choices and the feeling of empathy and compassion for another.
"And having once seen beyond Time and Matter, it finds then no more ends nor bounds to stop its swift and restless motion. It may then fly upwards from one heaven to another, till it be beyond all orbe of Finite Being, swallowed up in the boundless Abyss of Divinity, outruns, beyond all that which darker thoughts are wont to represent under the Idea of Essence. This is that [absurd thinking] which the Areopagite speaks of, which the higher our Minds soare into, the more incomprehensible they find it. Those dismall apprehensions which pinion the Souls of men to
mortality, churlishly check and starve that noble life thereof, which would alwaies be rising upwards, and spread it self in a free heaven : and when once the Soul hath shaken off these, when it is once able to look through a grave, and see beyond death, it finds a vast Immensity of Being opening
it self more and more before it, and the ineffable light and beauty thereof shining more and more into it ; when it can rest and bear up it self upon an Immaterial centre of Immortality within, it will then find it self able to bear it self away by a self-reflexion into the contemplation of an
John Smith, Of the Existence and Nature of God, 1660
To take an example, many persons feel a certain kind of dread [as in the beginning part of the quotation above] when contemplating eternity or immortality--as though their "world" or "reality" would disintegrate if they experienced these states of being. Dianoia assists us [as in the latter part of the quote above] in gaining unconditional confidence in the goodness of the Deity, completely dispelling this sense of dread.
The way dianoia is able to help us gain this understanding is first through the contemplation of and reflection on terrestrial life in general. When we explore the ultimate nature of this mundane world through dianoiatic contemplation, we find that its primordial and natural essence is goodness. This goodness consists in the natural beauty found in nature: flowers, animals, streams, clouds, trees, people, events, the human eye. It is composed of a harmony within the natural universe. Divine goodness is also revealed in unspoiled human life: a rare Spring day (or a day of any season), a kind act by a thoughtful person, the joy of being with loved ones. Dianoia helps us discover goodness in human excellence: art, poetry, music, language, culture. Even the ultimate reality of Being--existence instead of non-existence--evinces goodness. Through dianoiatic or philosophical reasoning we find that all these elements constitute overwhelming evidence of the goodness of the Creator of All.
We then reason that since the Deity is of the essence of Goodness (as in Plato's form Goodness), then He (She) must have created eternity and immortality as modes of being comporting to our human good. It is in this way that understanding of the goodness of the Deity becomes a part of our being.
"Can Wise, Juste, Good, do ought that's harsh or vain?
All what he doth is for the creatures gain,
Not seeking ought from us for his content:
What is a drop unto the Ocean main?
All he intends is our accomplishment.
His being is self-full, self joy'd, self-excellent."
Henry More (a Cambridge Platonist), Psychathanasia, 1647
Dianoia, philosophical reasoning, leads to a most powerful form of understanding of the terrestrial realm and the supramundane realm. It is, however, a form of understanding of the supersensible domain that is philosophical or metaphysical in nature only, that is, it does not partake of the higher essence of understanding: participation.
"Understanding can be acquired only by actual participation in the reality."
Betty and Stewart Edward White, Across the Unknown, 1937
"Real knowledge of those worlds at first hand can only be obtained by those who are able to investigate when outside their physical body. Descriptions of the spiritual worlds must always originate with the seers. But such knowledge of these worlds as is necessary to the life of the soul may be obtained through the [dianoiatic] understanding. And it is perfectly possible to be unable to look into supersensible worlds oneself and yet be able to understand them and their peculiarities, with an understanding for which the soul has under certain circumstances a perfect right to ask, and indeed must ask. . .
"Whether we stop short at understanding only [dianoia], or go on to strive after clairvoyance [noesis], depends upon the awakening or non-awakening of an inner craving for firsthand knowledge. If such a craving is there, we cannot but look for every opportunity to start on a real personal pilgrimage into supersensible worlds."
Rudolf Steiner, A Road to Self-Knowledge
Locating Your Being In a Greater Mode of Oneness
Plato's philosophy liberates us from the metaphysical ignorance in which we have placed ourselves (entombment in the body), initiating us into the actual experience of Being and our original and essential union with the One. In Plato's teaching, philosophical knowledge (dianoia) provides understanding of mystical-spiritual experience (noesis) which encourages us to attain the capability of at-oneness with our Higher Self. We become aware that our true being is that of a soul enclosed within the body and our life task is to rise from this tomb of the body and awaken to our true reality: an immortal soul. Plato's teachings are directed exclusively to the person's Higher Self or Soul (nous) to awaken her direct intuitive cognition (noesis) through which she can attain wisdom (sophia).
As we move from gnosis to dianoia we begin to gain a potent understanding of noesis and the domain of nous, which Plato conceived as a realm in which humans intermingle with the Divine Spirit. Gaining comprehension of this supersensible domain consists in shunting off our bodily sensations and impertinences and locating our being in a mode of oneness (unity, harmony) with the Divine All. This process of locating our being is comprised of gaining sure understanding that we have our life, and actions, and being in the Divine.
"This particular attitude of mind, surety, confidence, is itself a force: a superlative force."
Betty White, Across the Unknown
Again, the way we gain understanding of having our being in the Divine is to reason dianoiatically that we certainly don't have being in own own physical self--since this self deteriorates and will one day pass away. We don't have our being in any other terrestrial entity (person, event, object). Yet we have being that we experience in our terrestrial existence. The only locus of our being can be the Divine!
Locating one's being in the Divine and then working to gain new understanding of who and what you are is an exhilarating and rewarding mode of life and discovery. It's clear that individual persons experience this process of "locating one's being in a greater mode of oneness" in very different ways. I had supposed that this process might be one in which I came into realization of a visual or imaginal new realm, but the domain I've entered and presently "work" within is a domain of understanding (s), of realization (s).
This mode of locating my being in a Larger Harmony and realizing new understanding of who and what I am is a process I worked to discover over an extensive period of time. To most people, incapable of any cognizance of this process or this realm, this entire process will seem like airy-fairy nothingness.
I have been encouraged in my effort to "gain new understanding of who and what" I am by a serendipitous discovery of Mary Atwood's statement: "It is by the searching and proving of His own Identity, not otherwise, that man can arrive at the assurance of this Wisdom, which is above science, art, and every other kind of faith; which includes all knowledges, arts, and every particular which the inquiring Spirit seeks within itself. " Her book on Hermetic Philosophy--from which this passage derives--is an invaluable record of the long, historic inquiry into the Human Essence.
It's necessary to keep clearly in mind the distinction between understanding the supersensible realm and actual participation or experience within that domain: the difference between dianoia and noesis. But the importance of understanding of the supramundane world cannot be emphasized too much.
"The wish for an understanding of the higher worlds will spread more and more amongst the people of our day; for close observation of human evolution shows that from now onward human souls are entering upon a stage of development in which they will be unable to find the right relation to life without an understanding of supersensible worlds."