Mar 132013
 

It gets harder every day to explain my spirituality to others. I am a follower of the Master Jesus, and an independent priest. But am I a Christian? Many would say no, because I have unorthodox beliefs.

C. S. Lewis argued, in Mere Christianity, that “Christian” should mean someone who claims to hold to the “Christian doctrine”. He was arguing against those who prefer to use “Christian” as a word meaning someone who is loving and charitable. Lewis would prefer us to say of a baptized scoundrel, “he’s a bad Christian” rather than “he’s not a Christian”.

But what, exactly, constitutes “Christian doctrine?” At one time, we could identify the earliest Christian creeds and doctrines and insist that a Christian must claim to believe them. But with the emergence of early Christian writings such as the Nag Hammadi texts, our view of what early Christianity looked like is changing. Early Christians were a much more diverse bunch than originally thought. From the very beginning, there existed apostolic groups with radically different notions of what Jesus message was.

I would tend to call myself a “gnostic” Christian, but this is misleading also. No Christian group actually called itself “gnostic”. This was a catch-all phrase for several groups that differed considerably with each other. There are a few common features of “gnosticism”, such as the emphasis on individual enlightenment, that are appealing. Then on the other hand are the strange cosmologies and a very negative attitude toward the material world.

“Mystical Christian”, “Esoteric Christian”, and “Hermetic Christian” are also possibilities, but seem to conjure up strange images in the modern mind.

So, what do you think is the best self-label for an “inner” Christian in the modern world?

Jul 272010
 

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream – Edgar Allan Poe

inception-poster-2010 So I went to see Inception last night with most of the family. First a general review. It was an excellent and entertaining movie. It combined espionage, science fiction  and action with mind-bending psychological and metaphysical elements. I don’t generally go out of my way to see a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, but he seems to be getting better.

But my reason for commenting here is because of the use of the dream metaphor. Just as a warning, my commentary below may be considered a spoiler by some, so you may want to see the movie first.

The movie involves shared dreaming, dreams-within-dreams, and the strange phenomena that in dreams, we are often unaware that we are dreaming, and confuse dreaming with real life. As the characters struggle to avoid becoming lost in their multi-layered dreams and strive to wake up, a natural question arises – what if the waking world is actually yet another layer of dream, from which we need to awaken? In the film, this speculation is immediately and forcefully dismissed as pathological. But the director knows that he has planted a seed of doubt in our minds, and he subtly toys with that doubt right up to the end of the movie. Seeds of doubt are another theme that runs throughout the movie.

In fact, dreaming and waking have been used in various spiritual traditions for thousands of years as a metaphor for ordinary consciousness and enlightenment. In fact, the name “Buddha” translates as “the awakened one”.  In the Gnostic “Hymn of the Pearl” from the Acts of Thomas, the son of a King is sent on a mission to retrieve a treasure, but falls asleep and forgets who he is. His father sends a letter to remind him:

Awake and arise from your sleep,
and hear the words of our letter.
Remember that you are a son of kings,
consider the slavery you are serving.

Unenlightened consciousness is indeed very much like dreaming. We become entranced with the little details of our lives and the stories unfolding around us. We forget and become unconscious to a larger context around us. We forget our connection to our highest self and become attached to the particulars. Many enlightened teachers have confirmed that the process of enlightenment is like waking up from a deep and not very nice dream.

It’s interesting that several spiritual and psychological schools and techniques use dream work, dream journaling and lucid dreaming as tools for self-development. Ken Wilber suggests that dream work is one of the few resources we have for accessing our shadow aspects – which are normally invisible to the conscious mind.

Like the dream engineers in Inception, we need to become better architects of the dream world in order to become more conscious in the waking world – and ultimately – awake to the larger world of spirit.

Jul 142010
 

surprise I was browsing around this morning and ran into a rather grim article over at the Boston Globe titled How Facts Backfire. It highlights psychological research which uncovers the interesting pattern that when people are deeply committed to a particular opinion, showing them facts that prove them conclusively wrong doesn’t change their opinion. It actually makes it stronger.

This bias also works on the positive side of course. We’ll gladly accept “facts” that confirm our opinions.

There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their preexisting views. If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn’t. This is known as “motivated reasoning.” Whether or not the consistent information is accurate, we might accept it as fact, as confirmation of our beliefs. This makes us more confident in said beliefs, and even less likely to entertain facts that contradict them.

Jumping to conclusions is actually a mental shortcut that served us well in survival situations. It can be unhealthy to stop and ponder whether this particular lion, unlike the last one you met, might in fact be friendly. Doubt and hesitation are unwelcome when decisive action is needed.

But this survival instinct can backfire, and it can be used against us to manipulate us by our leaders, our culture, and even our religions. Research shows that the stronger and more deeply held our opinions, the less likely we are to be swayed by any facts. And while we have no problem seeing this tendency in people who agree with us, the trick is to see it in ourselves.

The best defense against this and other cognitive biases is to be aware of them and to

 seriously ask ourselves, especially with regard to our dearest opinions, to which of them we might be falling victim.  I find it very helpful to make myself clearly and honestly adopt the motto, “I might be wrong”.

Many of my most transformative and wonderful experiences in life have been the result of discovering I was wrong about something. I’ve gotten to the point where I actually relish the th

rill of uncovering some new opinion or aspect of myself where false ideas are lurking. To find them opens us up to new experiences and new learning. Learn to embrace them.

As for convincing the unwilling of their errors, the article in the Globe is less than optimistic. As Von Schiller put it, “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain”. Lord Acton was a bit kinder, and put it like this:

“There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion.”

The Globe article tends to agree. While occasionally a brutal assault of facts will change an entrenched opinion, the only thing that seemed to work well in changing wrong opinions was an overall increase in the opinion-holder’s self esteem. This makes perfect sense, as when we become identified with our opinions, they become part of our ego structure. To lose an opinion to which we’ve become attached is to lose a part of ourselves. Only if we have a strong self-worth are we comfortable risking that kind of danger.

At the bottom of it all, the primary negative emotion in this and so many other things is fear. Our little ego’s fear of being further diminished by having the ideas it associates with damaged. By identifying, instead, with our higher selves, we learn to trust. We feel safe opening ourselves up to change, because we have faith that our true selves will survive that change. We develop an attitude of love and acceptance toward the universe, and, as the writer of First John says, perfect love casts out fear.

Feb 012010
 

How does one reach the state of consciousness that is commonly called “enlightenment?” You don’t often see a really good answer to that question. Either it is very vague, giving you little guidance, or it is steeped in layers of tradition, and requires navigating your way through a very complex path. So I was pleased to read in David Hawkins’ book, I – Reality and Subjectivity – a relatively simple and straightforward approach to enlightenment, as he describes his own journey. The steps are:

1. An intense desire to reach this state of consciousness.

2. Develop constant universal compassion – cultivating acceptance, forgiveness and gentleness to absolutely everything and everyone without exception.

3. Surrender the personal will to God (the Self). Each thought, feeling, desire or deed is surrendered completely to the Divine will, the mind grows increasingly silent. At first, individual  thoughts and feelings vanish, then entire concepts and ideas. Finally, one is able to surrender the very energy of thinking before thoughts arise.

4. Focus intently on each present moment, not allowing extraneous thoughts of the past or future to enter. Make intense focus on the present task in the present moment a constant meditation. At first this is quite difficult and requires a lot of energy. Gradually it becomes habitual.

At that point, interesting things start to happen. As Hawkins describes it:

Suddenly, without warning, a shift in awareness occurred and the Presence totally prevailed, unmistakable and all encompassing. There were a few moments of intense apprehension as the self died, and then the absoluteness of the Presence inspired a flash of awe. This breakthrough was spectacular and more intense than anything before. It had no counterpart in ordinary experience. The profound shock was cushioned by the love that is the Presence. Without the support and protection of that love, it seems that one would be annihilated.

There followed a moment of terror as the ego clung to its existence, fearing it would become nothingness. Instead as it died, it was replaced by the Self as Everythingness, the All in which everything was known and obvious in its perfect expression of its own essence.

Hawkins book goes own to elaborate on this process and how to achieve it. I’ll work on a review of the book when I’ve finished it. Hawkins claims that simply reading the book raises one’s level of consciousness, and I tend to believe him, based on my experience with reading it so far.

Jan 222010
 

A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. Although the book has been around for a while, I haven’t yet posted a review on it. As I’ve stated before, Eckhart is, in my opinion, the clearest and best spiritual teacher around today. His first book, The Power of Now was wonderful, and if anything, A New Earth is even better. For one thing, this book deviates from the question and answer format of the first book. I personally prefer the new format.

In this book, Eckhart takes his previous teachings; the power of now, the pain body, developing awareness – and fits them into a grand theme. This theme is no less than the spiritual transformation of the planet, and our role in it. From the beginning chapter, Eckhart emphasizes the importance of this particular time in human history as a period of transformation in human consciousness – one that each of us can be a part of.

Along the way, he also goes even deeper into each of his teachings, and gives more detail on fascinating concepts such as the pain body, which is an energetic system, almost a “being” that we create with our negative emotions that then takes over our consciousness to produce and feed from negative energy. Eckhart also gives more attention to practical techniques for developing a focus on the present moment and escaping from our self-created roles and images.

The really great thing about this book is the material that is available for free to go along with it. Oprah selected this book as a book club selection. Not only that, but she felt so strongly about it that she hosted a series of web seminars with Tolle to discuss and work through each chapter. Not only that, but there are additional workbooks and exercises and materials available on her site. So all you have to do is get the book, and you can take a complete “course” in the material for free.

I’m not sure how much longer the material will remain on her website, so you if you haven’t gotten Eckhart’s book yet, now would be a good time. Here is the link to Oprah’s website area for the book. Sign up for the book club (free) to get access to all the workbook materials.

Funny. I’ve just noticed that while I refer to most authors by their last name (Dyer, Wilber, etc), I always refer to Eckhart Tolle as “Eckhart”. I’m not completely sure why, but I certainly have a strong affinity for his teaching. Also, come to think of it, his first name reminds me of Meister Eckhart, the great German mystic, so perhaps that’s why I gravitate to the name.

Pick up the book and enjoy a new spiritual classic.

Jul 282006
 

The History of the Gospel of Thomas.

Fathers of the Church had mentioned or quoted from a gospel attributed to the apostle Thomas. It was mentioned by Hippolytus of Rome between 222 and 235 and possibly quoted earlier by Clement of Alexandria. Other various mentions of the Gospel of Thomas by title apparently appear, but may refer to any of several works with Thomas’ name in the title.

The real work of scholarship on the Gof T? (Gospel of Thomas) began after the discovery of the “Nag Hammadi Library” in 1945. This consisted of a series of leather-bound texts in the Coptic language, sealed in a clay jar and buried in a cave (found by accident by several camel drivers). These particular manuscripts dated to about 340 AD. Among them was the “Gospel of Thomas”. As soon as it was available for translation, however, scholars realized that fragments of the Gof T? had been found earlier in Greek at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, in 1898. At least one of these Greek fragments has been dated to about 200 AD. (Just for comparison, the earliest fragments of Matthew and Mark in Greek date to about 250 AD).

The Oxyrhynchus site was basically a disposal site for government documents. Papyrus being expensive, tax receipts, land records and such were often written on the back of damaged or incomplete older manuscripts, and these were periodically taken in baskets to a document dumpsite. Thomas is in good company, as fragments of other gospels such as Matthew have also been found here.

The Content of the Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas (one online version of which may be read here: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gthlamb.html) consists of 114 “sayings” of Jesus, with almost no surrounding context or narrative. The sayings tend to be stark, simple and pithy (and occasionally difficult to understand). Included in Thomas are a number of sayings which also appear to be found in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) although the Thomas version is usually simpler. Other sayings don’t appear in the synoptic gospels, but appear to be quoted by various Church Fathers or other early Christian documents. Some sayings are totally unique to the Gof T?

Why the Gospel of Thomas is Important

The Gof T? is important because many scholars are convinced that much of it is of a VERY early date, and may be quite authentic. If this is true, it gives us access to a very early form of Jesus’ teaching, as well as to teachings of Jesus which may be authentic, but which may not be found in the other gospels. Some scholars even put the original version of Thomas as early as 50 AD, and believe it may have predated the Gospel of Mark. Other scholars put the composition of Thomas as later – some MUCH later. Before addressing some of the reasons for the disagreement, I first want to spend some time arguing for a very early date for the Gospel of Thomas. Here, in brief, are the reasons why some scholars date this work very early.

Primitive Form

One of the first things scholars noticed was that, in form, the Gospel of Thomas is very primitive. It appears almost as if it were somewhat randomly assembled “notes” of sayings of Jesus, with no narrative context. Being in this form, it reminded scholars immediately of the hypothetical document “Q”, which has been presumed to be a very early source for Matthew and Luke, and which also appears to have consisted of a series of sayings of Jesus without context. (I have discussed this document previously, and have posted it on my website for reference, here: http://www.pathstoknowledge.com/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Perennis.TheSynopticProblem) Some scholars have even argued that Thomas was a source for “Q”, or may in fact, BE “Q”. In any case, the literary form is quite primitive, and appears to have been quickly replaced in popularity once the more biographical form of the gospels arrived on this scene.

Simple Versions of the Sayings

Where Thomas and the synoptic gospels both have a similar saying of Jesus, the version in Thomas is almost always simpler and pithier, without elaboration or application. The general wisdom in source criticism is that sayings and parables tend to accumulate elaboration and application in the course of time. The sayings “grow in the telling”. Very rarely will an author simplify a saying or remove accumulated ornamentation. Indeed, to do so would betray an almost modern understanding of source development. An ancient author would be hesitant to trim down a remark that may have originated with Jesus, but didn’t seem to mind as much adding commentary. A few examples:

Jesus said, “Come unto me, for my yoke is easy and my lordship is mild, and you will find repose for yourselves.” (Thomas 90)

Vs.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mat 11:28–30)

or

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who had much money. He said, ‘I shall put my money to use so that I may sow, reap, plant, and fill my storehouse with produce, with the result that I shall lack nothing.’ Such were his intentions, but that same night he died. Let him who has ears hear.” (Thomas 63)

vs.

And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luk 12:16–21)

Not only are the Thomas versions more compact, but they use quite different wording, making it unlikely they used the synoptic gospels as sources.

Different Order of Sayings

Where the Gospel of Thomas includes sayings that the synoptics include, it very rarely includes those sayings in the same order as the synoptics do. This suggests that the author of the Gof T? did not have any of the synoptics as his sources. If he did, he would probably have tended to reproduce at least some of the order of one of the syoptics in copying down the sayings, but this is not the case. The most recent statistical analysis of this was done by Stevan Davies, and can be found here: http://www.misericordia.edu/users/davies/thomas/correl.htm The author of Thomas, then is probably using an independent source, earlier than the synoptic gospels – possibly even an oral source.

Thomas a Possible Source for Mark and John

Several scholars have attempted to show that the Gospel of Thomas was used as a source for sayings of Jesus reported in Mark:

http://www.misericordia.edu/users/davies/thomas/tomark1.htm http://www.misericordia.edu/users/davies/thomas/tomark2.htm

and in John:

http://www.misericordia.edu/users/davies/thomas/johnthom.htm

Needless to day, if Thomas is a source for Mark – which is believed to be our earliest gospel, it would put the date of Thomas very early. It may have occurred to the reader here that our earlier point of Thomas sayings being in a different order than the synoptics argues against Thomas being a source for Mark. Not necessarily. Mark’s gospel is biographical, and just as Matthew and Luke did for “Q”, he may have felt compelled to rearrange Thomas sayings of Jesus to fit into his narrative. Whereas Thomas, if he were simply extracting sayings from Mark, would have no such motive to rearrange them.

Primitive Christology

Unlike John, a later gospel, few of the sayings in Thomas draw attention to Jesus himself. The focus is on Jesus’ teachings. This is consistent with the earlier gospels such as Mark, and the generally understood theory that the Christian understanding of Jesus as uniquely divine developed over time.

Early Manuscript Evidence

The earliest manuscript fragments of the Gospel of Thomas (as noted above) date to even earlier than the earliest fragments of Matthew, Mark or Luke. This is not conclusive proof, of course, as it may simply represent the luck of the draw. We do, after all, have fragments of John dating earlier still, even though John is recognized as being later than all three synoptics. But it makes it quite possible that Thomas represents a very early source of Jesus’ teaching.

John as a Rebuttal to Thomas

Elaine Pagels has suggested (in “Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas”) that the Gospel of John may have been written (or redacted) as a reaction against the Gospel of Thomas and the Thomas community of Christians. While John includes much teaching that appealed to Gnostics, it also (in present form) taught more firmly than anywhere else in the New Testament the utter uniqueness of Jesus as the one and only divine being and way to God. (John 14:6) While Thomas agrees with John on Jesus pre-existence and divinity, it also suggests that those who understand Jesus’ message can become very much like him. This is, oddly, a message that seems to be somewhat echoed in John in several places (John 14:12; 17:21) John also, tellingly, includes several tales about the apostle Thomas, stories not seen in any other gospel, and, always in the negative. Thomas despairs of Jesus’ life (11:16), fails to understand Jesus’ message at the last supper (14:5) and becomes “doubting Thomas”, who is not there when Christ appears to his disciples and has to be chastised for his unbelief later (John 20). In Luke 24, however, when Jesus first appears to the apostles, he appears to ALL the eleven, with absolutely no mention of Thomas being absent.

It would be easy to see these incidents as being a polemic directed to the Thomas Christians, to try to malign their tradition as having come from a doubting apostle who didn’t understand Jesus. It would fit well if John were perhaps a polemical redaction of a work that originally derived from some Thomistic sources.

Arguments for a Later Date

Some scholars have argued that some sayings of the Gof T? DO show signs of having been copied from the synoptic gospels. I have read some of this work and find it on the whole to be a bit contrived, basing itself on the minority of Thomas sayings rather than on the general trend of the majority. It is, however, entirely possible that in the Coptic version we have (which is our only complete copy) there has been some scribal “harmonizing” of some of the Gof T?’s sayings with the synoptic gospels. We know this occurred with the synoptic gospels themselves, with later copies having had their differences slightly “smoothed over” by helpful scribes. The scribes of the later Coptic version of Thomas would have had the synoptic gospels available to them.

Gnostic Thomas?

Most of the tendency to date Thomas late, however, comes from the assumption that Thomas is Gnostic, and hence must date to the late second century, when Gnosticism was gaining a foothold. The Gospel of Thomas WAS found in a collection of mostly Gnostic material. But the collection also included a paraphrase of Plato, which predated Jesus. Furthermore, we know the original manuscripts of the Gof T? were much earlier, and in Greek. The Gospel of Thomas lacks all the mythology and terminology usually associated with Gnostic writing. There is no mention of Archons, Pleroma, the Demiurge or the like. There are no cosmological myths or references.

There are, however, some concepts that might be called “proto-gnostic”. Concepts that would have been comfortable in a Gnostic worldview. Such things as the existence of a secret teaching. The emphasis on personal enlightenment as salvation, the importance of revealed knowledge, and a somewhat negative view of the material world. It is possible that some of the sayings in the Gof T? were edited to make them more appealing to later Gnostics. In particular, the prologue and the last saying are suspect (and would have been the easiest to add). But another possibility is simply that some of the original teaching of Jesus DID in fact sound “proto-gnostic”. Similar sentiments can often be found in the canonical gospels. For example:

Secret knowledge: Luk 8:10 And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.

Revealed knowledge: Joh 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

An evil world: Mat 4:8–9 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. (notice who the world seems to belong to)

Conclusion

It seems to me, then that the reasons for assigning a late date to the Gospel of Thomas aren’t as strong as those for an early date. And if the Gospel of Thomas is as early a work as some scholarship suggests, then it is a remarkable find for anyone who wants insight on the teaching of Jesus.

More resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Thomas http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/thomas.html http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl_thomas.htm

Jul 272006
 

The following chart of consciousness is taken from David Hawkin’s book Power Vs. Force

 

God-view Life-View Level Log Emotion Process
Self Is Enlightenment 700–1,000 Ineffable Pure Consciousness
All-Being Perfect Peace 600 Bliss Illumination
One Complete Joy 540 Serenity Transfiguration
Loving Benign Love 500 Reverence Revelation
Wise Meaningful Reason 400 Understanding Abstraction
Merciful Harmonious Acceptance 350 Forgiveness Transcendence
Inspiring Hopeful Willingness 310 Optimism Intention
Enabling Satisfactory Neutrality 250 Trust Release
Permitting Feasible Courage 200 Affirmation Empowerment
Indifferent Demanding Pride 175 Scorn Inflation
Vengeful Antagonistic Anger 150 Hate Aggression
Denying Disappointing Desire 125 Craving Enslavement
Punitive Frightening Fear 100 Anxiety Withdrawal
Disdainful Tragic Grief 75 Regret Dispondency
Condemning Hopeless Apathy 50 Despair Abdication
Vindictive Evil Guilt 30 Blame Destruction
Despising Miserable Shame 20 Humiliation Elimination