Recognize, Gnosis and Ginān: Interconnected Indo-European roots?
August 22, 2018
Oh wow! I came across the etymology of the word recognize while reflecting on the idea of recognition of that which the soul knows, that which the heart of heart knows in Kazemi's "Justice and Remembrance" (2007); and reflecting on the meaning of the word ginan (part of the Indic Shia Ismaili Muslim devotional tradition) from Virani's "Symphony of Gnosis" (2005). The 'gni' of re-co-gnize stood out and resonated with the 'gna' from ginan. Wait a minute. Could the the HEART of HEARTS of these words be related?
Kazemi (p. 149) comments on a sermon by Imam 'Ali' relating to the question of a kind vision of God that is possible for the human being.
Praise be to God who is present in the hidden inwardness of things, and whose being is indicated by the signs of manifest things. The eye of the onlooker cannot behold Him, so the eye of one who does not see Him cannot deny His reality, nor can the heart of one who affirms his reality see him. He is utmost in elevation, so no thing is more elevated than He; but He is also close in His nearness, so no thing is closer than He ... God has not made the intellects capable of defining His qualities, but He has also not veiled the intellects from the essential knowledge of Him.
Kazemi explains that "on the one hand, that human intellects cannot define and a fortiori know the divine attributes; and on the other, that 'essential knowledge' of Him is attainable. Kazemi explains that this contradiction can be resolved by reflecting on "another key aspect of dhikr, that of recollection, remembrance, recognition." He submits that through dhikr one reconstitutes (re-collects) fragments of knowledge that already exist but that are forgotten. One recognizes (emphasis mine) [or re-cognizes] that which one has already known, and for this reason can know it 'once again.' He cautions that his does not mean that the knowledge is composed of parts that have to be compiled together, back into a whole, because that knowledge would be of an empirical order. Rather, he says, that the remembrance is more like an awakening, an enlightenment "which dawns as the clouds of congenital forgetfulness are dispelled."
This brought on some reflection today about how one thinks of the word recognize, or re-cognize. In a secular context, the meaning of this word for me can be easily framed as having to do with the brain, cognition, reason and logic - related to science, study, analysis, thought. But the type of knowing that Kazemi discusses, seems to point to an intellectual knowledge, a knowledge that is beyond reason, one that is felt, and re-membered in the heart of hearts. Hansen (2011) in "The Teacher and the World" says that cosmopolitan-minded education is a journey not accented not on physical movement alone, but of intellectual, ethical and aesthetic journeying also (p. 2). Can the whole notion of recognizing, of acquiring knowledge, then, shift away from knowledge only as an empirical kind but the kind that is of another order, necessitating new kinds of educational pedagogies to enable re-cognition on ethical and aesthetic levels as well? Is the pursuit of knowledge also of an intellectual dimension beyond the physical world? Could the quest for re-cognizing (educating) what is in the heart of our hearts already known, be related to the idea of some other definition of cognition?
In reflecting on these ideas, curiosity led me on a playful reworking of the words co-gnition, co-gnize...re-co-gnize...again...with...wait a minute...the 'gni' reminds me of the word 'ginan', an Indic Ismaili Muslim devotional expression.
The True Guide proclaims:
Upon arrival I take my seat within the heart's abode
And all seventy-two chambers resound with divine music.
The darkness of night is dispelled by the vigil
As the Symphony of Gnosis begins (from saloko moto v. 105 as cited in Virani 2005)
Virani explains that in this beautiful verse of medieval South Asian Ismaili mystical poetry, the term translated as gnosis, ginān, "a usage apparently unique to the Ismailis, refers also to a corpus of esoteric literature revered by them (p. 503). Virani eloquently uses the ginān texts to explain that according to the Ismaili belief a pre-eternal esoteric or gnostic wisdom exists that is imbued in our heart's abode. The soul falls into a 'profound slumber of ignorance' (p. 505) due to material temptations and becoming bewildered by its entrancing surroundings. Though the soul forget's its lofty status, from the deepest recesses is heard a 'Symphony of Gnosis' (a celestial music) invoking a deep nostalgia for its lost origin, for which the soul begins begins its sojourn to seek.
O dear creature, at the time when you dwelt in the womb,
You were imbued with gnosis...
(Hojīre parānī jāre tum gīrabhā thān vasanto vol. 5, p. 117, v.1 as cited in Virani 2005)
Again, we see a call to re-cognize that which is forgotten, that which the heart of heart already knows. In the Indic Ismaili tradition, it is ginān (like the dhikr Kazemi describes), their texts, and their divine melodies that can awaken the soul with re-cognition of it's divine origin. Virani explains that the word 'ginān' and its variants gyān and gnān is derived from the Sanskrit root jñāna and that Seyyed Hossein Nasr translates as 'Supreme knowledge.' Virani (p. 504) further explains Nasr's translation that 'the term jnāna implies principal knowledge which leads to deliverance and is related etymologically to gnosis, the root gn or kn meaning knowledge in various Indo-European languages including English (Nasr as cited by Virani 2005).
You can read more about ginān in Virani's article, but here I'd like to focus on the Sanskrit root of jnāna and it's possible connection to the word 'recognize'. During my search on line to seek out the etymology of the word 'recognize' I learned that indeed there is a connection!!
At the heart of this word, is "gnō-, a Proto-Indo-European root meaning 'to know.'" 'Gno' evidently forms all or part of many many words in the English language. This 'gno' is:
the "hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit jna- "know;" Avestan zainti- "knowledge," Old Persian xšnasatiy "he shall know;" Old Church Slavonic znati "recognizes," Russian znat "to know;" Latin gnoscere "get to know," nobilis "known, famous, noble;" Greek gignoskein "to know," gnotos "known," gnosis "knowledge, inquiry;" Old Irish gnath "known;" German kennen "to know," Gothic kannjan "to make known.""
This was revelatory for me. Learning this makes me think even more about words, and meanings, and colours of meanings that are imbued in the origins of the words. This all makes me think about what it is we seek to cognize and re-cognize and how in our secular world, sometimes remove a depth of possibility in the words that can lead to a richer experience of the world and importantly, development of the human being as part of an interconnected whole. Have we inadvertently taken the word 'cognition' in a very literal, physical sense focussing on the mind-brain outside of its connection to heart and soul?
Could notions of gnosis, knowledge, wisdom, spiritual knowledge all also be entangled in the word recognize? At the heart of heart in these words, is there an inextricable spiritual and material link? Could these words rooted in historic encounters of sound and language across cultures, faiths, and frontiers give us platforms for new understanding and knowledge production? It is said that the gift of acquiring knowledge is not for its own sake, but to know the mysteries of the divine, to understand creation, and to use knowledge for betterment of society. What would happen we reconsidered the word cognition (re-co-gnition) not just a journey of the brain/mind but also an intellectual journey of the heart and soul? Could these new understandings shift how education looks, feels, and is enacted?
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