New Age movement, Gnosticism and The Secret
New Age movement is an assortment of Eastern and Metaphysical thought systems. These thought systems focus on theology, nature, and philosophy and try to unite them. There is a huge focus on religious tolerance and moral diversity. Such a movement is expected to bring enlightenment and peace to the hearts of human beings as well as to reunite humans with the divine. According to the New Age doctrine, the present-day humans are completely disconnected from the divine due to ignorance and lack of insight concerning the powerful nature of the divine power.
The emphasis is on mankind and it reminds human beings to look inwards for answers and solutions. New Age is generally tolerant to almost every religion and is opposed to the narrow-mindedness of some religions. The beginning of the New Age movement can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s in certain metaphysical religious communities. The New Thought Movement, which almost immediately preceded the New Age Movement, affirmed the belief in the divinity of each individual. New Thought’s major contributions to New Age philosophy were the belief that the fundamental nature of the world is spiritual rather than physical; the concept that thoughts are things and the idea that positive thinking has the power to change the world. These are the major tenets in The Secret put forward by Rhonda Byrne. With Spiritualism came the conception of spiritual progress after death and the role of trained “mediums” in communicating with the spirit world. While most New Age groups did not espouse the specific methods of mediums, they did embrace the underlying idea. Many New Agers believe in communicating with the spiritual world and receiving spiritual truths from the astral planes through a practice called channeling.
Theosophists introduced Asian religious concepts like karma and reincarnation to New Age thought. Specifically, Theosophy's perception of a series of past lives that progressively lead toward an evolution of self-consciousness became a foremost part of the New Age worldview, which envisions human development as progressive advancement. Finally, New Age groups embraced the Human Potential Movement’s belief that human potential has been restricted or limited by society in general. People must experience spiritual healing and growth in order to recover from this plight, develop their full potential, and live meaningful lives. Unlike the countless religious movements that extend through evangelism or institutional growth, the New Age Movement was primarily spread through New Age literature and media. New Age books and periodicals like Jane Roberts’s The Seth Material (1970) and Helen Schucman’s A Course in Miracles (1976) (both purportedly channeled texts) were published as trade paperbacks by mainstream publishers.
In the 1980’s Shirley MacLaine’s book and television program Out on a Limb spread ideas like reincarnation to a wider audience than ever before. Media publicity made contemporary New Agers aware of a larger body of individuals who shared their beliefs. The New Age movement also focused on the new age of love and light and emphasized the coming age of light and peace through personal transformation and healing. The movement was heavily supported by the followers of esotericism, very similar to the Gnosticism in the West during the 2nd century AD, succeeded by similar movements like Rosicrucianism and Theosophy. Rosicrucianism is a spiritual and cultural movement that arose in Europe in the early seventeenth century.
The mysterious doctrine of the order is built on esoteric truths of the ancient past and Theosophy is a religion established in the United States during the late nineteenth century, founded by Helena Blavotsky. According to J. Gordon Melton, the director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion at The University of Virginia, “The New Age is seen as a vision of a coming new era defined by the transformation of our broken society characterized by poverty, war, racism and all kinds of exploitation into a united community of abundance, peace, brotherly love, etc.” In the late nineteenth century, Helena Petrovna Blavotsky -the co-founder of the theosophical society, announced the coming of the New Age. She believed that theosophists (people who embraced the Buddhist and Brahminical notions) should assist the evolution of the human race. Her ideas completely reaffirmed the faith of practitioners of spiritualism and believers in astrology, because it promised them a period of unity and enlightenment. David Spangler can be credited as the rightful developer of the philosophy of the New Age movement. He believed that the release of new waves of spiritual energy accompanied by astrological changes (the movement of the earth into a new cycle known as the Aquarius age) had initiated the coming of the New Age.
He further explained that people use this energy to manifest the New Age, his views stood in opposition to the views of Alice Bailey, who believed that a new messiah would appear in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Bailey also established a ‘Triangles program’-to bring a group of three people to meditate regularly. She believed that meditation raised the divine energy of people and helped people to raise their level of spiritual awareness. The New Age movement brought a lot of people belonging to diverse cultures under one roof. It predicted that this New Age of heightened spiritual consciousness and international peace would bring an end to poverty, racism, hunger, and war. Seen as a result of a major spiritual awakening of a general population, it also said that human beings could foretaste this New Age through their own spiritual transformation. It put people on the path of Sadana, a new path of continual growth and transformation. Traditionally, they sought the help of tarot readings, the use of crystals, meditation, and yoga to bring about a spiritual transformation in human beings.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the believers of the New Age started seeking more scientific explanations for their beliefs and hence overthrew some of the beliefs such as the use of tarot readings and crystals for channeling energy, although they still supported the spiritual transformation and increasing the spiritual consciousness of human beings. This type of esotericism is similar to Gnosticism prevalent during the 2nd century AD, Gnosticism comes from the Greek word “Gnosis” which means knowledge. A few hundred years before and after Christ, certain religions and sects practiced Gnosticism.
Gnosticism says that human beings are divine souls trapped in an ordinary physical or material world. According to the believers of Gnosticism, the world was created by an imperfect spirit. The imperfect spirit can be an evil spirit or sometimes someone who is rather faulty, yet tries to do the best it can. In order to free oneself from the material world, one had to attain Gnosis. This Gnosis or knowledge is only given to a special group of people. Gnosticism was practiced by several people in the 2nd century AD Greece. Some Gnostics saw Jesus Christ as sent by the supreme spirit, to bring Gnosis to the earth and to reach out to the real God who is perfect, distant, and not easy to discern. To Gnostics, this world we live in is a corrupt world of suffering and evil created by a false god, who thought of himself as the real God. Their goal, through Gnosis, was to kindle a divine spark within themselves and to gain the secret knowledge needed to be free of this world after death, very similar to the concept of Nirvana preached by Buddha, which states that a man can escape the circle of death and birth by getting rid of passion, ignorance, and contempt.
The word Gnosis and Gnosticism have crept into the thinking of modern societies largely because of the discoveries of the new Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945 and of the dead sea scrolls since 1947. These texts throw light on the early practices of Christianity and Judaism. Gnosticism, as an intellectual product, is grounded firmly in the general human act of reflecting upon existence. The Gnostics are concerned with the basic 8 questions of existence or "being-in-the-world"(Dasein) that is: who we are (as human beings), where we have come from, and where we are heading, historically and spiritually. These questions lie at the very root of philosophical thinking, but the answers provided by the Gnostics go beyond philosophical speculation toward the realm of religious doctrine and mysticism. However, it is impossible to fully understand the meaning of Gnosticism without beginning at the philosophical level, and orienting oneself accordingly. Plato, one of the earliest Athenian philosophers has also shared his views on Gnosticism. According to Plato in his work Ethics, knowledge of the divinity, of the origin of the world and the present conditions of men help one to receive the knowledge kept as a hidden or concealed secret by a small group of people. Many Gnostics preached transcendence as the ultimate achievement. Plato very clearly emphasizes that gnosis is not a culmination in itself. It should be put in service for the collective welfare for creating an unbiased and beneficent polity on earth.
Plato has left a rich legacy of around thirty dialogues and just over a dozen letters which beckon us to the philosophy of life yet he wrote nothing about the inner reaches of the gnosis, and the ways by which one can obtain gnosis. Plato in his Seventh Letter (360 BC) mentions: This knowledge is not something that can be put into words like other sciences; but after long-continued intercourse between teacher and pupil, in joint pursuit of the subject, suddenly, like light flashing forth when a fire is kindled, it is born in the soul and straightway nourishes itself In his work titled Ethics, he adds that "no sensible man will venture to express his deepest thoughts in words, especially in a form which is unchangeable, as is true of written outlines". This is an allusion to the dangers of misinterpretation and misapplication should such empowering knowledge fall into the wrong hands. Similar thoughts are expressed elsewhere in his writings and, when taken together with what is known about Plato's "unwritten doctrines," they reflect the esotericism of one initiated into the Mysteries. He had talked about the Mysteries in great detail in the Myth of Er, the last chapter of Republic, in which he says that death is not the end of life, it is just the beginning of a new journey. As such, he would have been obligated never to reveal publicly the teachings of the Sanctuary. In his time the Mysteries had become a State-sanctioned institution and betrayal meant death or banishment.
Therefore, much of what was written had to be veiled. This may explain, in part, why Plato, just as he is about to clinch an argument or say something definite about profound matters, often turns to allegory or myth, which is universally accepted as the language of the Mysteries. In Plato’s Apology, he had mentioned a great deal of his mentor Socrates and his views. According to Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. These words help us to understand the immortal declaration in light of the Delphic commandment (commandments allegedly given to the oracles by Apollo himself). “Know thyself”, “Control your anger”, “Long for wisdom” are some of the several phrases mentioned in the Delphic commandments. For Gnothi Seauton, the word Gnothi comes from the same root as Gnosis and the phrase simply means “Know Thyself”. For both Socrates and Plato, this is the prescription of life and joy and the starting point of philosophy.
The Secret written by Byrne is based on the principles of Gnosticism and New Age movement, when Byrne wrote the book, she asserted that she had written this book with the motive of sharing and passing on information that was exclusively kept in secret by a few people who knew about this Gnosis or knowledge to escape the hurdles of this material world. Throughout history, there have been many who coveted the knowledge of The Secret, and there have been many who found a way of spreading this knowledge to the world. She has also mentioned that by thinking the right thoughts and by following one’s desires with great belief, one can eradicate all sorts of worries and sorrows thus tracing the beliefs of the New Age movement. Both Gnosticism and New Age movement focus on spiritual transformation, on the age of love and light, a space where human beings focus more on loving others and acquiring the highest kind of knowledge which would allow them to escape from all the trials and tribulations of this materialistic world, which clearly is the theme that The Secret focuses upon. The Secret is a handbook of rules by which women and men can live their authentic selves and live fulfilling lives. Byrne clearly states that in order to achieve one’s desires one must be in the right alignment with the universal energy. And in order to get whatever one desires, it is not enough to give voice to one’s desires and believe that one’s wishes would come true, one must also be rightly aligned with the universal energy of love. If one is cruel and ill-hearted, one can never be able to attract one’s desires and be mentally, physically, and spiritually nourished.
If a person needs to attract his or her desires and thereby wants to be mentally, physically, and spiritually fulfilled then he or she must emit the frequency of love and compassion, the highest kind of vibration that would aid him or her to be in harmony with the right kind of energy needed for the manifestation process. All your joy is on the frequency of love- the highest and the most powerful frequency of all… Your ability to generate feelings of love are unlimited, and when you love you are in complete and utter harmony with the universe. Just like how the New Age movement and Gnosticism advocates an individual to focus more on himself or her self; to first raise one’s own vibrational energy in order to collectively raise the whole vibrational energy of the earth and to witness an age of love and light, The Secret to asks individuals to firstly fill their spirits with joy in order to emit joy to others.
“Unless you fill yourself up first, you have nothing to give anybody. Therefore, you must tend to yourself first. Attend to your joy first. People are responsible for their own joy. When you tend your joy and do what makes you feel good, you are a joy to be around and you are a shining example to every child and every person in your life. When you are feeling joy, you don’t even have to think about giving. It is a natural overflow.”
The New Age movement emphasizes human beings to look inwards for answers and solutions. Similarly, Rhonda Byrne also asks individuals to look inwards for all the answers to their niggling questions and all the solutions to their personal miseries. Gnosticism as it is earlier mentioned is completely synonymous with spiritual enlightenment. Just like that, The Secret also aims to spiritually enlighten individuals, by heightening the power of their minds