September 25, 2016

The Seven Levels of Certainty and Uncertainty

Standing StoneBy Marc Gafni

The following are notes from Marc Gafni’s dharma talk given in March 2012 at Shalom Mountain Wisdom School, where Gafni serves as the World Spirituality Teacher in Residence.


The seven levels of certainty and uncertainty tells the story of how the great religious traditions came into being and how they were challenged first by science, and then by modern and post-modern mindsets.

This is a rough sketch of a map of certainty and uncertainty.

We have forgotten what we know. Indeed we do not know whether we know or not at all. We do not know whether we know or what we know or even how to know. The general impression today is that anyone who claims to know something is lost in dogma or regressive fundamentalism. Indeed almost the definition of a fundamentalist is someone who claims to know something with is totally “true” about Ultimate issues.

A person cannot survive and certainly cannot thrive without knowing.

A generation cannot survive without its knowing. A generation certainly cannot participate in the evolution of consciousness, which is the evolution of love, without knowing what it knows.

So let’s go back to the beginning of story that led to this post-modern predicament in which all knowing is undermined and in which the only grand narrative is that there is no–and can be no–grand narrative.

The public teachings of the great traditions were not about enlightenment. Enlightenment teachings in virtually all of the great traditions were esoteric. The great traditions taught the masses of people by leading them to believe a set of dogmas. Whether it was Christians professing, “Jesus is a saving grace,” Tibetan Buddhists or Jews professing, “We are the chosen people,” or Hindu doctrine, there was always a set of dogmas.

In each of the great traditions, a belief in a set of dogmas leads to a set of actions. The great traditions motivated people by infusing their daily lives with the belief that these actions were ultimately right. What motivated the actions was the belief that the actions were in alignment with the core constructs of the cosmos. Failing to do these aligned actions was sin, punishable not only in this world but in the next. Some of the dogma reflected deep reflection on the nature of the cosmos. Other doctrines emerge from the surface structures of that particular religion’s journey in history.

The goal was almost always a complex mixture of ethics and a sense that these teachings led the most possible people to lead lives that were most right in accordance with an ultimate knowing of the nature of reality.

Almost every system has a strong sense that is was the best system of human living. Other systems were thought to be inferior is some substantive way.

In all the great religions, to be in alignment with the beliefs and actions of “my system” meant public membership, the obligation to perpetuate my system, to be in alignment with the Gods, to be obedient to the Gods, to be responsive to the Gods.

So the story begins with each of the religions holding absolute certainty in regard to right action, right belief and the essential structure of the cosmos.

Post-modern naturally moves to reject these certainties for any number of compelling reasons. One of the most powerful is that virtually every religion claims to have an exclusive truth that competes with and contradicts the exclusive truth of another religion. So it seems that since not everyone can be right, everyone is probably all wrong. And we are left – after all the great postmodern deconstructions of knowing — with a painful and gaping uncertainty. The only certainty of post-modernity seems to be that you cannot be certain of anything. And any sort of claim to true knowing or certainty of any kind is in many circles mocked or worse. It is thought to be dangerous — as we said earlier — a sure sign of fundamentalist thinking.

But the true relation of certainty and uncertainty, knowing and unknowing, is far more nuanced and interesting. And to understand it is essential. We absolutely move beyond the post-modern dogmatic certainty which deconstructs all knowing and bows only to the ultimate and all pervasive claim of radical uncertainty. So let’s reconstruct some of the stages in spiral dance between certainty and uncertainty and let this be the beginning of our post-postmodern reconstructive project in which we are able to reclaim the Eros of knowing even as we hold the Eros of not knowing.

We begin with a simple reconstruction of seven levels of certainty and uncertainty.

Level 1: Uncertainty

Spiritual elites, leaders, and select individuals ask: What am I doing here? Why am I here? Where are we going and all the other elemental meaning questions?

Level 2: Certainty

Spiritual leadership and elites have a direct experience of spirit. This direct experience comes from intensive spiritual practice coupled in some accounts with the grace of revelation.

Leadership motivated by love and responsibility wants to transmit it certasinty of knowing rooted in direct experience to the broader community.

Certainty of direct experience is transposed from direct contact into dogma and sets of rituals and obligations. Dogma is mixture of accurate truth and untruth for a number of reasons. First dogma is refracted through the prism of the level of consciousness of those formulating the dogma. It is that level of consciousness which interprets the direct experience. Second the dogma is gradually expanded to include much more then what emerged from the original first contact. The dogma overreaches its areas of knowledge and loses its accuracy.

Level 3: Uncertainty

The rise of science challenges religion with a demand for evidence. It shows that many of the dogmas are either not supported by evidence or flatly contradicted by the evidence. Science creates in its wake uncertainty about anything to do with the subjective or spirit.

Level 4: Certainty

Science claims to provide a new form of knowledge which is objective. It pertains however only to matters, which can be empirically or logically validated or measured.

Level 5: Uncertainty

Objective knowing gives way to a demand for context. The postmodern intuition grasps the all-important idea of context and recognizes that all knowledge is a function of context, historical, psychological and otherwise.

Level 6: Certainty

We are able to differentiate between different forms of knowing. We realize there is an Eye of the Spirit, which imparts true knowing in its own realms. And we know that gnosis is constantly evolving.

Level 7: Uncertainty

And we know that gnosis is constantly evolving. After all gnosis we confront the mystery again. In this new uncertainty we witness our emergent evolution.

* * *

Now let’s go through each one of these a little more deeply and see the dance steps of certainty and uncertainty until we come directly to our contemporary situation.

Level 1 Uncertainty

Leaders ask, “What am I doing here?”

Before recorded history, an individual, a leader, begins to reflect: Why am I in the world? What am I doing here? The only thing I know for sure is that I want to survive.

“I am in the world, uncertain, my only certainty is survival.”

What began as a hunt for new pastures or prey becomes a quest for meaning. There is a desire to move beyond survival to meaning. Spiritual intelligence begins to evolve.

Level 2 Certainty

Leaders direct experience of spirit creates genuine certainty and then becomes religious dogma and then is corrupted.

Eventually, over a period of generations, meaning is found by a leader or by a series of leaders, who have experiences of the Ultimate. Or the leader reflects deeply on the nature of reality and is able to deduce first principles of meaning.

There is a natural connection, he or she hears the voice of God walking in the garden and has an inborn desire to sacrifice to that God.

If you remember the story of Cain in the Bible no one ever commanded him to sacrifice. God did not command him; it is a natural human response. What is so interesting about the Cain and Able story is this movement to contact divinity. Adam, archetype of humanity, hears the voice of God walking in the Garden of Eden. That movement, in all the traditions, is a great spiritual explosion of certainty.

Within Level 2 there are 3 steps. The first step is spiritual, the second step is religious. The third step is corrupt.

Level 2 Step One

The elite leaders triumph. Through discipline and courage they are graced with unmediated contact with the Ultimate. It happens for the elite only, whether it’s the Shamans, the Brahmans, this elite that are having this experience – their spiritual experience and they are the few and far between.

Level 2 Step Two

Then the elite and their students, out of love, seek to translate the spiritual unmediated contact into what we call religion. And religion has gotten a bad critique but religions are motivated by love, religions are the attempt to translate the experience of the elite into a system, which can evoke the memory of the experience for the masses. That is what a religion is. So religions are — in their source — awesome and rooted in love.

Level 2 Step Three

Religions are naturally subject to corruption. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” One of the great true statements.

One example is the Borgias, the family of Pope Alexander VI. They were corrupt beyond all imagination, and these were the people who, according to the politically reinforced dogmas, were incarnating the word of God! Naturally religious institutions become corrupt. What happens? The certainty is transferred from the first person experience to the third person dogma. And, there is no way to challenge it. Anyone who claims first person certainty is burned at the stake.

To summarize, religions are at Level 2 certainty, which is born out of direct, unmediated first person contact mixed with direct deduction of first principles, which is also taking place in the first person of the person doing the deduction. That direct contact is then translated into systems of rituals, dogmas, and teachings, which become religions. Then the certainty of the original experience is transposed into the certainty of the religion. The dogma absorbs the certainty that was invested in it by the people who had the original unmediated experience of Spirit. Dogma however often expands beyond a translation of the direct contact experience of the leaders. Moreover in the fullness of time, all to often the institutions formed by these dogmas are then corrupted by the political and moral power vested in them.

The period of the religions goes on for a couple thousand years. And during this period something happens. Because certainty has been institutionalized in dogma you can’t claim your own certainty. Especially if it contradicts the church.

Whether it is the Cathars who are accessing ecstatic Eros or it is lay persons reading the Bible in Christianity, who are not supposed to be, or it is people looking for direct contact with the cosmos not through the vehicle of the church, anyone who seeks to bypass the third person through the first person gets burned. So this is the corruption of certainty. This is not true in all the great systems. But is largely true in most of them. In Judaism study is the ideal and everyone accesses knowledge, nonetheless mystical knowing goes underground and esoteric and to be part of the community is to subscribe to dogma.

So Level 2 Certainty is direct unmediated contact with either the transcendent or eternal principles, or the ground of being or a personal God. However you tell the story, it is direct contact. It does not matter if it is the God of heaven and earth or whether it is kind of a direct first principle, which is divine and alive, but it is direct contact. Then it is translated into religion, spirituality becomes religion and religion does great good on the one hand, advanced knowledge and goodness and also becomes corrupt.

Cont’d: Level 2: Certainty

Certainty is transposed from direct contact into dogma. The dogma overreaches its areas of knowledge and loses its accuracy.

Now it is certainty of dogma, the certainty of my principles are right principles, and it is certainty of ethical principles that are codified in the religion. The purpose of the religion is good, although it gets corrupted. The purpose is to evoke the original experience of the founder or the original impetus to goodness or wholeness- in some way.

Level 2 certainty is not only a codified expression of the great traditions for the masses, it is the very precise calibration of the great beings who precisely calibrated depth and span — the brilliance of the great traditions is that they calibrate precisely depth and span. Meaning, they managed to get maximum depth for the maximum span of people. A great tradition knows if you had a little too much depth you would have less span and if you do a little too much span you will not have enough depth for it to hold. It is one of the most brilliant in the sense of luminosity revelations of spirit is that the great traditions did two things. They precisely calibrated depth and span and they were modular. Meaning, you can study Tibetan Buddhism in a village in Tibet and be moved by it, you can study Judaism and read the Torah and Talmud and be moved by it in an exoteric level as a simple person or as a simple and beautiful and holy believer in the commandments, or you can study Hinduism as a villager in Southern India or you can be Ramakrishna, deep in the esoteric Hinduism, the same Hinduism the villager is studying or you can be a great Kabalistic sage in Jerusalem and be studying the same biblical text that the schoolchild in the village is studying. You can be Christian and believing in Jesus through native faith or studying and incarnating the actual mystery of incarnation at its deepest level. Because the great traditions are modular. Modular meaning that they are available for influence at many different levels of consciousness simultaneously and they are built that way.

The definition of a great tradition is three-fold, first greatest depth and greatest span, second it has modular amplitude. Meaning it can be accessed on many different levels of consciousness. Third, the great tradition not only codifies spirit, not only makes available the certainty of the original experience through its rituals and laws and practices but also in its rituals and laws themselves there is opportunity for direct contact.

The greatness of a great tradition is that it actually mystically allows for direct contact in the law itself. So when I studied Torah, Torah is not only the mystical expression of the original revelation but also when you read the sacred text itself you can have with the right intention a mystical experience. When you do the Passover Seder yourself, it is often done with mystical intention; it will give you a mystical experience. If you put on phylacteries and engage in the 18 blessing prayer, if you engage in the Lent service, etc. — it itself will give you a direct unmediated contact experience.

Built into the source code of the great tradition is the ability not only to remind you of the original great experience but the ability to actually re-experience the original great experience. The nature of Level 3 certainty is that not only can you remember the original certainty but also you can actually re-experience at least a dimension of the ‘rumors of angels,’ as Peter Berger wrote of the great traditions; you can re-experience a dimension of the great tradition.

Level 3: Uncertainty

The rise of science challenges religion with a demand for evidence.

Religion overreached in its claims and was not able to meet the demand for evidence.

A challenge arises to the certainty of the great traditions, which creates a new uncertainty. What’s the challenge? The challenge is the challenge of the rise of science. And what science says is that we actually have to be able to check in third person the truth of things. And so for example, the church tells us, based on Galen’s medicine, how many bones are in a human body. Ok says modern science, let’s dissect it. Let’s do a third person check. This is the Renaissance. Recently I went to a great traveling exhibit of gorgeous paintings of the Renaissance dissections. It turns out, the amount of organs and bones in the human body is wrong in Galen’s medicine.

Then, Galileo was looking through his telescope and it looks a little different out there than what the church told me. What happens is, the actual dogmas of the church claimed were certain, are found to be wrong. The planets do not revolve around the earth much more that violates church doctrine. This is the rise of science, or actually of empirical verification, subject to democratic accessibility. Because really science existed before the renaissance. But there was great confusion between value spheres so the church dominated the sphere of science. The value sphere of spirit, which is an interior subjective value sphere, colonized science, which was an exterior objective sphere.

In subjective evaluation it works like this: I say I am in love. I use certain ways of measuring whether that is true. But not in an objective sense, rather in a subjective sense. That does not make by being in love any less certain. It just means that it is subject to subjective verification and not objective third person verification.

Or in a second example, my friend might tell me “I just saw Mother Mary last night and she gave me information for you…etc.” I have to make a subjective evaluation of whether my friend is telling the truth or not. I may well believe her, or I may not, but basically I am evaluating her impact on me and does she persuade me or not. That was the old way of verification. What the new way of verification does is say, No — this is not a form of knowledge at all. My friend must show me a principle that is demonstrable and empirically verifiable. Otherwise this knowledge is merely “subjective”. Third person means I need to be able to get to the same conclusion myself. If I cannot then the new science said this is not gnosis.

That’s knowledge. So what happens in Level 3 Uncertainty, there is a rejection, we reject the certainty of the church, of the great traditions – we throw out the baby with the bathwater. First since the church was not trustworthy; since it is overreached in so many ways that we now see — like its claims about astronomy or the human body – then we no longer trust the church. Just like in relationship you do not trust a person who has lied to you to many times about important issues, especially if the lies seemed aimed to retain power over you. So post science in terms of spirit and all of the subjective realms we enter into a new uncertainty. So Level 4 is Uncertainty, the dogmas of the church are now rejected and in its place, Level 5 is the new Certainty.

Level 4: Certainty of Objective knowing: Euphoria of Science, Spirit is Regressive

What is the new certainty? The new certainty is the objective knowing of the sciences. That which is objectively knowable, subject to third person verification. And anything that is not objectively knowable, becomes, “it’s just subjective.” We grew up with that phrase, “the merely subjective.” What does the merely subjective mean? It is not real knowledge. It is not real gnosis, not real knowing, it is merely subjective.

So in Level 4, the only thing that is certain is the gnosis of empiricism, that which is available to what we are going to call the gnosis of empiricism and that which is available to what the great traditions called the Eye of the Mind and the Eye of the Senses.

The Eye of the Senses is empirical; the Eye of the Mind is logical. Mathematics, for example, would be the Eye of the Mind. So the only thing we know now, this new level of certainty, Level 4, is only the Eye of the Mind and the Eye of the Senses and we throw out all other certainties that were claimed by spirit.

That is what happens in relationship to spirit: spirit was represented by the formal religions, by the church, and it turned out the church lied about a lot of things. The church overreached its certainty. And it overreached its certainty and was found to be wrong. And so we broke the relationship. We broke our contract with the church.

In Level 3 uncertainty we doubted everything that the church said, we rejected the church. In Level 4 certainty we only grant certainties that are in the Eye of the Mind and the Eye of the Senses and nothing else is certain. Now, that was a big mistake.

Anything that was not in the realm of science was not real. What emerges at this stage is certainty of the sciences, and uncertainty is everything in the realm of spirit or subjectivity. That lasts into the modern period. The first challenge of Level 3 uncertainty is evidence. Modernity and modern science is built on a demand for evidence. The church doesn’t have evidence and it gets a lot of things wrong so it is rejected. That’s the first challenge to the certainty of the church. Then later there is a deeper challenge.

The second challenge which has seeds in modernity but comes into full bloom in post modernity is context — contextual thinking deals an apparent death blow to the great traditions metaphysical claims, or at least to most of them. Beginning with Sassure and later emerging as deconstructionist insight, which basically said, everything has a context. That’s post-modernity. Modernity is the demand for evidence. Post-modernity is the demand to look at context. Context matters. This developed historically and there are anthropological and sociological and all sorts of reasons that fostered ritual and dogma but they certainly are not objective gnosis. They are imbedded in historical, social constructs. We need to deconstruct those contexts and when we deconstruct those contexts we realize there is no real knowledge there, there is just context.

That’s the post-modern move. As one writer said, the only thing that post-modern professors thought was objective was tenure, their own tenure as they were writing these articles, that somehow did not seem to be subjective. Everything else seemed to be contextually bound.

So the discernment of context, the realization that everything was contextual is a huge realization, a big revelation. So historical that religious studies began. It is called Wissenschaft in Germany.

These are two different moves: it is the modern demand for evidence, and it is the post-modern realization of context. These taken together essentially undermines the Level 2 certainty of religion, deepens the Level 3 uncertainty which means we doubt all the religious truths, and what remains standing is Level 4, the certainty of the sciences.

Level 5: Uncertainty

Science overreaches, claiming the only form of true knowledge is third person – empirically verified. Science dis-qualifies other values spheres leaving them lost in uncertainty and then deco.nstructive thinking says in its most dramatic form that everything is contextual including science there is no real gnosis at all. Everything is uncertain

The next step is science overreaches. Science does the same thing religion does. Because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely; so science became powerful. Science insisted that it was the only form of gnosis available. Which creates no sense of any real knowing in all of the subjective realms which deal with all emotional issues, values issue, spiritual issues and really just about all of what Paul Tillich once called Ultimate Concern, all of the stuff that really matters.

For example, there are ways to distinguish whether we are infatuated with each other or deeply in love are just attracted to each other after meeting one another at a party for the first time. Now, these are not distinguishable through the Eye of the Mind or the Eye of the Senses. Yet, it is a form of knowledge, a form of gnosis. Not only is it a form of gnosis, but also many of us would stake our lives on our loves. It is a form of gnosis that propels us to dramatic action and sacrifice. It is a form of certainty. That is real knowledge, so to suggest that it is merely subjective, that would seem to be a big mistake.

That is problem one with this Level 4 certainty. We lose all of the gnosis of our entire realm of love, of goodness, of virtue. What does science tell us about these realms? In the end, it tells us that they are merely subjective, one-way or the other. And sciences’ ultimate way of doing this, which has been on so many of Time Magazine’s cover stories about brain research, is to say not only is it merely subjective, it really is just neurotransmitters. The subjective reality you thought was holy and special is just an expression of this objective measurable physical process of dopamine release, serotonin release, whatever it might be. We have now discovered the love chemicals. So there is a reduction of subjective experience to the realm of merely and then a deeper dismissal of it as merely the expression of the true reality, that which is scientifically measurable. So there is a two-step decimation of the subjective.

The first step is, it is merely subjective. The second step, the more extreme step is let’s reduce consciousness to the brain and love to neural chemicals crossing synapses through the neural circuits. There is this enormous savaging of the subjective that takes place.

This is what Lewis Mumford calls the disqualification of the universe. It has no quality, it has no depth. The universe becomes flatland. You begin to live in a flatland universe without depth and without quality. Depth and quality are not properties that are objectively measurable. Depth and quality are in the realm of the subjective. So science rejected depth and quality. So for example, the book Lila by Robert Pirsig is about quality. He is wrestling with this, how do you bring quality on line.

So Science claims that it is the only realm of gnosis. The person who spent his life’s work combating this scientific imperialism is Huston Smith. Huston launched a blistering attack and was ridiculed in the scientific academy. For 40 years or more he was the person in the country holding the truth that there’s different kinds of knowledge. He was the one holding this idea that actually there is a different kind of gnosis. Jorgen Habermaas in Europe was holding the same distinction pointing out that every form of gnosis has different forms of validation.

Science dis-qualifies the universe. That is its great shadow. Science has deepened the uncertainty, it has challenged the certainties of Level 3, created the great uncertainty of level 4 and then, post-modernism deconstruction deepens further still the uncertainty of Level 4. Science introduced a new certainty, science’s new certainty is that which is scientifically knowable, and then science believes, arrogantly, as religions believed arrogantly, that it could reach into every sphere. So science began to either dismiss or try and colonize the value spheres of the subjective.

Look at the exact parallel. Religion says not only do I know about my field, I know about everything. Religion colonizes the sphere that should be the realm of empirical verification and claims that they are rules through the eye of faith. What does religion actually know about, let’s use a new eye, a third eye, and religion knows about what Ibn Arabi calls the Eye of the Heart, Hugh of Lincoln called the Eye of the Spirit, or the Kuzari, the hidden eye that is the secret eye or the Third Eye. Meaning there is a quality of gnosis which is revealed through a faculty of perception which is real and it has standards and it has methods and enactments. This is what we mean by the eye of the heart-spirit-third eye- hidden eye etc. This eye, this faculty of perception reveals information about the cosmos, it tells me things. Just like the Eye of the Mind does and the Eye of the Senses does.

Essentially what science does is it disqualifies the universe by rejecting any vision that comes from the Eye of the Spirit, the Eye of the Heart.

Religion which began through the powerful and breathtaking deployment of the Eye of the Spirit became corrupt because power corrupts; and religion overreached and claimed that it also had authority in terms of the Eye of the Mind and the Eye of the Senses. Religion told us how to govern, it told us how medicine should work, it told you the nature of the solar system, told Galileo what he should see through this telescope, and so the Eye of the Spirit overreached. It made knowledge claims, it made gnosis claims in the realm of the Eye of the Mind and the Eye of the Senses. It overreached and then it got thrown out.

But therein lies the problem. What got thrown out? The whole Eye of the Spirit. Not only its overreaches!! Then science steps in as the new certainty, Level 4 certainty, and science says we know everything, including the Eye of the Spirit.

Science arrogantly says we will create through science depth meaning. We can actually create meaning. Francis Bacon said that science is going to solve everything. This enormous march of progress –scientific progress will bring redemption. Science was going to have the answer to everything; human meaning, how to figure out how to love, love, joy, families, and of course, science falls short. Tragically short. How could it be otherwise? Science overreaches and falls flat on its face in regard to creating intersubjective or interior frames of meaning.

Level 6: Certainty

There is an Eye of Spirit and everything can be seen through this eye

What then begins to come back online is a new certainty. The new certainty is when we begin to re-deploy the Eye of the Spirit. We realize that the Eye of the Spirit is, in its own way, scientific. Why? It is scientific for the following reasons: because, science is, you want to know something. So you do an experiment. Oh, and once is not enough. As Erica Jong reminded us- but seriously in the scientific context repeatability is critical. So you do the experiment. Then, you do it again. Then you do it a third time. Then you think, actually, maybe, this person in the experiment might be a little off, who knows what agendas they have. So, let’s have somebody else do it in some other part of the world. Let’s make sure they do not know each other. They follow the same procedure, double blind. Let’s repeat it a few times, around the world in double blind conditions, and let’s have a community of the adequate check the results. So, 1. It is an enactment, 2. it is a repeatable enactment. 3. It is done in double blind circumstance, 3, and 4 it is subject to the consideration of the community of the adequate. That is called science.

Actually, interestingly enough, that is the exact procedure that the Eye of the Spirit follows. You do an enactment, let’s say meditation or let’s say contemplative prayer. Let’s say sacred study of sacred text. Then you repeat the enactment. You do a consistent enactment, you have to practice and do it consistently, and then you get a result. Other people do similar enactments, they don’t know about each other. They get a result. Then the results are collated. When are they collated? In modernity, we start to collect the results of all the great traditions. We realize all these great traditions doing these enactments all over the world in these double blind conditions. Wow this is the great experiment of spirit. And all the great traditions came to about 10 core similar conclusions about the interior nature of reality.

All the great traditions with the most subtle and speculative minds did enactments in double blind conditions and submitted it each to their own community of the adequate. Now we have gathered all of them and from all of them you get 10 core conclusions about the nature of reality. Do you really want to live your life not knowing that?

This is the new certainty of level six.

There is a realization that there is an Eye of the Spirit and the Eye of the Spirit yields a new certainty. This is level six certainty.

Now what we have just done is we have solved the science/religion question. The whole science/religion question just disappeared. The entire conversation. People try solving it 1,000 ways which basically don’t work, Now, through tracing each step of uncertainty and certainty to this point, we can see that there are different faculties of perception and each one is subject to its own verifiability.

Every field of knowing has to establish its validity. Each field of knowing establishes its validity each one in a different way. One of the people who wrote about this, in a fairly unreadable track is Habermas who is about 85 and living in Germany. He is one of the most influential philosophers in the world. He talked about the different validity claims of each quantum of knowledge.

When we can explain to people in simple terms that each field of knowledge has it’s own validity claims, people understand that we can know things. We need to solve this for people. Otherwise, they are completely uncertain about the relationship between certainty and uncertainty.

Whenever you claim certainty, they think you are dogmatic because they are thinking you mean Level 2 certainty, meaning the certainty of the great traditions. Since we rejected the great traditions, we can’t be in certainty. We actually need to show there is Level 2 certainty and there is Level 6 certainty.

Level 2, the certainty of the church or Level 4 were seen until now as being an either or proposition. This is not longer the case. Similarly the certainty of science, level 4 involves the rejection of level 2 certainty — based on science — and the level 5 the uncertainty about ultimate issues that comes from the limitations of science. People think there is either Level 2-church or Level 4-science – certainty — and you have to choose between them. Now, there is Level 6 certainty —  enactments of Eye of the Spirit — which changes the game reclaiming what was important in level 2 – church certainty while avoiding its overreaches — and validating what was important in level 4 certainty – science — while avoiding its overreaches. Level 2, dogmatic fundamentalist, or Level 5 — radical uncertainty about all spirit — were seen to be the choices , and the two contradict each other. That is the Great War. And our point is no, actually, there is a Level 6 certainty.

Once you see it, it is elegantly simple and you can locate yourself in it. You can give yourself permission to be sure about something. You can give yourself permission for certainty without losing the appropriate uncertainties.

Level 7: Uncertainty and Certainty live together

After all gnosis we confront the mystery again. In this new uncertainty we witness our emergent evolution.

Uncertainty again. For two major reasons. First – all of our knowing does not displace mystery. The mystery of evil, or the mystery of life. The end of all knowing is that we do not know. After all the gnosis and all the great traditions we confront the mystery again. After Stage 6 there is stage 7 – uncertainty again — that means, I know Level 6 certainty — Then I realize, wow, all the things I don’t know. After all the knowing, the 10 great knowing insights or core conclusions, there are all the things I don’t know — so we actually embrace uncertainty in Level 7 again. We embrace the mystery. What the new knowledge of Level 6 cannot do is make the arrogant mistake of either the Level 2 certainty of the traditions or the Level 4 certainty of science. What they said is that our certainty removes all uncertainty. That was their basic claim. Science made that claim and the great traditions made that claim. Second — Now we know that even the shared truths of the great traditions which are not subject to refutation –are also living in an evolutionary context. So there are not eternal certainties but rather evolving certainties. We know them to be true at this moment in time at this level of consciousness – and we hold them dearly and with great love and certainty even as we know that they are evolving and even as we know that they do not remove all of the uncertainty.

Post Script: On certainty and uncertainty:

I remember when I was 29 years old and I was reading a book by Akiva Tatz. He is a doctor, a brilliant teacher, and a major teacher in the Jewish missionary circuit, the intelligent missionary circuit, and he wrote a great book, Living Inspired. He says that the word safek, which means doubt, doesn’t exist in the Bible because the core religious experience is one of certainty. He goes on to say, and he is seconded by a lecturer who taught at Johns Hopkins named Gottlieb, that the basic explanations of why people suffer in the world given by the tradition – called classically theodicy – solve the problem of suffering. No question or uncertainty remains. These are serious, nuanced, beautiful people in the world and they basically go through the six major theodicy explanations, the six major deep explanations of why people suffer, and Gottlieb writes that between these six we have basically removed the question of theodicy. These six answers to why people suffer basically solve the question of suffering. I thought, really? At the time I was completely orthodox, teaching, and I thought you are going to explain Auschwitz, really? It felt like a violation.

So I began an insane search for different strata of texts. Late at night, I have a waking dream in which I see the entire book of Genesis in front of me and I saw in the dream that there were 7 texts in the book of Genesis which use the word Ullai which in Hebrew means maybe, and I checked when I woke up and it was right and I realized that the seven pivoting points in the book of Genesis are ‘maybe stories.’ I realized why the word safek doesn’t appear is that it is a Greek word. So I wrote a book on re-claiming uncertainty as a spiritual value based on what I called the ‘maybe stories’ of Genesis, the best book I ever wrote. Not yet published in English but it will be this summer I hope. The point was, after the certainty there is uncertainty.

Then I found a text in the Zohar, “the Goddess is called uncertainty.” Isn’t that gorgeous? The Shechina is called Ullai. So you have this in the great traditions. In the great traditions themselves you actually have this layering but it is esoteric. In Christianity this embrace of the uncertain would be the cloud of unknowing doctrine that really holds that in a deep way. So actually within level 2 certainty – certainty of the great traditions – that is only the exoteric tradition but within the traditions themsevelves – there is a strong esoteric teaching of Uncertainty. This teaching is really the core of level 7 uncertainty as well.

So Level 7 has to be uncertainty. Meaning that after all of our certainties we embrace the uncertainty yet the uncertainty is not the uncertainty of Level 1 or level 3 or level 5. The uncertainty of these earlier levels and the uncertainty of Level 7 are completely different. Level 7 uncertainty is, I have embraced all the certainties and out of all that certainty, by the end there is the spirit that lives in and as uncertainty.

There is a reason why Buddhism, which didn’t believe in a personal God, still did prostrations. Ever wonder about that? Buddhism has a major prostration practice with no personal God; it is the acknowledgement of the uncertainty. I bow. I do prostrations. Bowing before uncertainty. We hold this uncertainty in relationship. What Level 6 gives us is trust. There are things we know about reality. There are things we know by accessing the Eye of the Spirit. There are things we know about reality, what we are going to call perennial truths. (The man who developed this, a major influence of Huston Smith’s, was Frithjof Schuon. He was an amazing, amazing man and he did major work on the perennial philosophy. Then along came Aldous Huxley, whom Frithjof disapproved of but he popularized it in his book, Perennial Philosophy.)

Basically these are perennial truths. The problem with the perennial truths, Level 6 certainty, the problem is they claim too much certainty. They did not recognize evolution. Huston Smith’s weakness which he inherited from Frithjof, was that he did not recognize the evolutionary context.

What I am working on to correct and World Spirituality is in part perennial philosophy in an evolutionary context.

The perennial truths, which are evolving, which make space for uncertainty. We are here, we are committed and we have to make space because things are evolving. We know it is going to look different tomorrow. We are open and holding uncertainty and only by holding uncertainty we avoid the reification of certainties that become new dogmas. We recognize that there are perennial truths and they are evolving.

So Level 6 is the perennial philosophy, let’s go back to the great traditions; reclaim their eternal truths which is what Frithjof was saying, modernity with its sweep of uncertainty swept away too much. Let’s go back to the great traditions as Rene Guenon, who was Frithjof’s teacher, wrote in his book in 1927 on the pre-modern truths that we need to reclaim. That’s perennial philosophy, it is really important, that’s Level 6 certainty.

Level 7 is World Spirituality. In some sense Level 7 embraces certainty and uncertainty together. Level 7 is uncertainty because things are changing. There is an evolutionary context, things are evolving.

If we go back and claim that the perennial truths are the truths, of the pre-modern traditions, what we are doing is we are locating truth in pre-modernity. See the problem? The perennial truth is a regressive move because it locates truth in pre-modernity. So for example, it tells you who to have sex with and where and when. It is extremely homophobic. Feminism didn’t even start. Democracy, what is that? See the problem? Universal rights of man? Maybe. One man, the king. Since context matters, it is unlikely we want to locate the source of truth in pre-modernity. That is regressive.

So what do we want to do? We want to locate truth in best truth of pre-modernity, the best truths of modernity which would be psychology, and science, the best truths of post-modernity, which would be the realization of evolution and context: the best truths of pre-modernity, modernity and post-modernity would produce a World Spirituality. One that transcends and includes and keeps going.

After 7, it just keeps going — a new certainty and a new uncertainty, a new certainty and a new uncertainty.

At Level 6 I am both reclaiming the perennial truths, 3rd person, and re-experiencing them myself, 1st person. The reason I am going back to the perennial truths, they help me interpret my own experience. I then am able to both validate and go further in my own 1st person experience. Think of the paucity, of the tragedy, of starting by yourself.

I have a reverential relationship with the great traditions and refuse to give it up. It would be arrogant. One must start with a bow, a huge reverential bow to the great traditions and then move forward. Part of what happens is you also discover yourself in the truth of the great traditions.

In Level 7, there are a number of things that happen at this level of consciousness. One, I open up to uncertainty again because I avoid reifying the great traditions and so therefore I can embrace feminism, I can embrace gender equality, etc. I can embrace all of the evolutions of modernity and post-modernity. I recognize evolution and I begin to participate in it. That is the key to Level 7. I participate in it as an evolutionary unique self.

So the evolutionary move creates more depth and more span, in other words, more complex, beautiful and functional spiritual gnosis (depth) for more and more people (span.) What is possible in the relationship between depth and span at Level 2-church is very different than what is possible in the depth and span at Level 6 eyes of the spirit. At Level 6 we can have a depth and span relationship which is richer, more practical, and more accessible — meaning all of us might have the leisure time and actually engage in a direct experience and then re-engage in that direct experience several times over the course of our lives so that the cornerstone of our own map of spirit will become our level six direct experiences. That’s an evolution that creates a foundation for further evolution. This is the beginning of the democratization of enlightenment.

The reason this map is important in the beginning is that it allows seekers and students to be certain. And to be uncertain. It allows them to locate their experience. Either I am of the elite or I am actually of this new vanguard, this democratization of enlightenment. The democratization of enlightenment means exactly this. That at Level 6, greater depth for greater span becomes a genuine option. And greater depth for greater span has always been the loving goal; the evolutionary move that the great traditions were pointing towards. We can embrace now in a much more participatory way. We are closer. We are gaining evolutionary momentum.

Be Sociable, Share!
About Marc Gafni

Marc Gafni is a visionary scholar, philosopher, and wisdom teacher. He is teacher-in-residence and co-initiator of the Center for Integral Wisdom. He is the leading theorist and teacher of Unique Self enlightenment, an emergent post-postmodern wisdom lineage which builds on his national bestseller Soul Prints, winner of the Nautilus Award for Best Spirituality Book, as well as the highly acclaimed Your Unique Self (2012) and Radical Kabbalah (2012), which is based on his doctoral dissertation at Oxford University.


  1. [...] for certainty of knowledge so that it fits in an hour-long dharma talk? Surely Marc Gafni’s “The Seven Levels of Certainty and Uncertainty” stands as the most ambitious summary I’ve encountered for some time. The dharma talk notes [...]

  2. [...] of World Spirituality in the writings of Dr. Marc Gafni, The Center’s teacher in residence. These recent teachings  emerge from Marc’s book The Uncertain Spirit published in Hebrew in the mid-eighties. An [...]

Speak Your Mind