Gnosticism, which we will also refer to as Erfan, means to discover. Prior to the merging of the Arabic into the Persian language, the word for Gnosticism was referred to as Shenakht, which means to discover. After the advent of the new Persian language, Dari Persian, about 1,300 years ago, many Arabic words merged into Persian. As a result, the word Shenakht was replaced by Erfan, which means to discover, equivalent to the ancient Greek term Gnosis.
Erfan is not an ideology, nor a worldview and the subject of Erfan could be anything that one can make the object of the process of knowing: a drop of water or an ocean; it could be something in the physical, invisible or metaphysical world, or concern the Self or God. Indeed, the field of Erfan is endless and can encompass anything. In summary, there are two characteristics of Erfan or Gnosticism. Firstly, anything can be the subject of one’s discovery. Secondly, Erfan concerns the discovery of the true Self and God. The Self and God are connected and this connection is summed up in one sentence, which had been carved above the entrance of the temple of Delphi:
Those who discover themselves, will discover God.
How does today’s science relate to the concept of Erfan? For this, let us look at the definition of science more closely. Science refers to a state of knowing. Today, this state of knowing is derived from repeated experiences in the laboratory, which are accessible to anyone. The validity and accuracy of science results from the experience with repeated experiments in the laboratory. This means that scientific knowledge is not just based on one experience but instead of many experiences that take place in a well-controlled environment such as the laboratory. However, the field of science has limitations. For instance, Erfan involves insights and mystical experiences, which cannot be measured in a laboratory and this is the difference between Erfan and science. A scientific experience is accessible to everyone. Mysticism, however, is an individual and personal experience, which cannot be transferred from one to the other person. Instead, each person has to experience it for him- or herself.
Dr. Seyed M. Azmayesh