In understanding the connection between these two terms, I turned to two ancient languages, Greek and Sanskrit.
Gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge and praxis is the process of realisation of that knowledge as a skill.
Jñāna is Sanskrit for knowledge and bhāvanā is the process of cultivation. The word bhavana normally appears as citta-bhavana (cultivation of the heart/mind) or metta-bhavana (cultivation of lovingkindness).
I want to learn a lot about meditation – the more I know, the better results I get. But what if knowledge does not lead to better results? What if learning something new does not help progress. Is it simply to gain knowledge?
In cognitive psychology there is a concept called a schema, which is a theoretical framework that helps the integration of new knowledge. Our brains use schemas to integrate new information and experiences into our understanding more easily. These are the two sides of the same coin, the theoretical and the practical, and both are required for a well-developed schema.
“Life is a journey, not a destination” – Ralf Waldo Emerson
What is essential is finding the balance between learning and practicing, the dialectic which moves us to greater understanding. But what if there’s no destination? The journey is all that there is?
If we live in the present, become more process-oriented, it can be very joyful. In “The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life” Thomas Sterner writes, “Real peace and contentment in our lives comes from realising that life is a process to engage in, a journey down a path that we can choose to experience as magical…. We easily forget that when our lives here began, learning to walk and to articulate our thoughts and feelings started from a place of “no skill.” Driven by both desire and necessity, we mastered these skills one step at a time, one sound at a time.
So careful practice is the way to mastery, a fulfilling process in itself, and it builds discipline and clarity.
On enjoying the process, I am rooting for that robin who has been attempting to fly through our window for several hours – since it is not going to achieve its goal of setting up a nest in our house. Despite multiple failures, it continues to try. I have to be persistent in my practice, even with a scattered mind – which is the case most days.
“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” -Buddha
Once I have learned a new technique, the next step is to practice until I can apply it. Professional athletes practice mindfully for hours a day on particular techniques. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that when anger wells up in us, we should begin to practice mindful breathing right away: “Breathing in, I know that anger has manifested in me; breathing out, I smile towards my anger.” So I now have the knowledge as to what to do when my children press my buttons – with consistent practice this becomes a skill. This is applicable to anything in life – from better posture to frequent hand-washing to stop the spread of germs.
On clarity, I have noticed that I am able to make decisions more easily and peacefully, where I used to agonise for days.
“There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path.” – Buddha
If I have 10 chocolate cakes and someone asks me for one, how many do I have left? That’s right, 10.