contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Jesus

CHILD OF THE NOW

“They said to him

‘Tell us who you are

so that we may believe in you.’

He answered them

You search the face

of heaven and earth,

but you do not recognise

the one who is in your presence

and you do not know how to experience

the present moment.

“We are always asking for signs and omens so that we may believe. It is as if we want to be compelled from outside ourselves. But Yeshua offers no proofs, omens or explanations. He is what he Is. All who question must encounter him in the present if they want to see.

“He reminds us again that what we are looking for is already here and now. Here and now are the place and time to recognize, to experience, to taste the vastness of the present moment in all its dimensions of time, of space and of beyond space-time.

“The Gnostic is the Child of the Now.”

Jean-Yves Leloup The Gospel of Thomas: The Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2005 (Translation from the Coptic and commentary by Jean-Yves Leloup; foreword by Jacob Needleman. English translation by John Rowe. Original French edition published 1986)

I WE THEY YOU

I read recently that Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf includes an ‘I’, a ‘we’ and a ‘they’, but no ‘you’. The same writer (1) also reflects on the bible story of Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, and how it can be seen to place the origin of human violence in the elimination of the ‘you’.

I am interested in how this insight can be applied to non-dual spirituality, and find help in the Gospel of Thomas (2). Here, Thomas is described as Jesus’ twin. How are we to understand this? There is a point at which Jesus says:

“’I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended’.

“And he took him and withdrew and spoke three sayings to him. When Thomas came back to his friends, they asked him, ‘what did Jesus say you?’”

Thomas feels unable to tells his friends, because the three sayings seem so shocking, and they are not recorded. However, a persuasive commentary (3) on this text suggests that the three sayings are: ‘I am God; You are me. We are the kingdom of God’. The already existing human connection between Jesus and Thomas is raised to another level because they are able to recognise the divine both in themselves and in each other. This is the view also recognised in the Sanskrit greeting Namaste.

Cynthia Bourgeault makes a similar same point in the context of the connection between Jesus and Mary Magdalene (4). Singleness is not all.  “There is still one greater mystery to be revealed. … Deeper than at-one-ment lies communion …. the nondualism of the Western metaphysical stream is a flowing unity – a ‘not one, not two, but both one and two’ in which the continuous exchange of twoness and oneness in the dance of self-giving love captures the very dynamism of the divine life itself”.

(1) Karl Ove Knausgaard The End (My Struggle: 6) Vintage Digital, 2018 (translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett & Martin Aitkin)

 (2) The Gospel of Thomas in The Nag Hammadi Scriptures San Francisco: HarperOne, 2007 (ed. Marvin Meyer)

(3) Nicola Denzey Lewis Introduction to ‘Gnosticism’: Ancient Voices, Christian Worlds New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013

(4) Cynthia Bourgeault The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity Boston & London: Shambhala, 2010

FACES OF THE GNOSTIC GODDESS

Tau Malachi is the Bishop of a Christian Gnostic Church, the Ecclesia Pistis Sophia, also known as the Sophian Fellowship. In his, Sophian, tradition, Sophia is essentially God the Mother and Mary Magdalene is the Christ Sophia, born at the same time as Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnation of the Christ Logos. Tau Malachi’s St. Mary Magdalene: The Gnostic Tradition of the Holy Bride (1) collects, and reworks oral tradition developed over a long period and in different cultures.

This tradition shows the Gnostic affinity to what we would now describe as Goddess, Pagan and Tantric themes, whilst remaining distinctively Gnostic and Christian. The mainstream church is explicitly criticized for “following in the way of Peter, who rejected the Bride and placed himself as an enemy to her”. As a result, “many secrets and mysteries she had to tell were not received”. The conflict between Mary Magdalene and Peter is indeed an early-appearing narrative, also described in at least four Gnostic texts dating from the second and third centuries C.E. – The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and Pistis Sophia (2).

To provide a flavour of Tau Malachi’s collection, I offer the extract below

“The Holy Bride has seven faces, the principal face being Our Lady in Red, St. Mary Magdalene. But she also has six other faces, all of which were embodied in Lady Mary. The three bright faces are Maiden of Light, Mother of the Royal Blood, and Crone of Ancient Knowledge; the three dark faces are the Mistress of the Night, Queen of Demons and Hag of the Void.

“These are as seven veils of Bride Sophia. Unless the Holy Bride reveals herself to a person, those who know her cannot speak the mysteries of the seven faces. It is she who must choose her lovers and bring them into herself.

“Without breaking our vows to her, however, we can say this: these faces correspond to the seven rays of the Light-transmission, and within every face there are seven faces; thus, there are forty-nine faces of Bride Sophia. The fiftieth face of Sophia is Mother Sophia, and those who behold it attain the perfection of understanding called Primordial Wisdom. Of these it is said, ‘their crowns are in their heads’.

“Let one who seeks to understand this invoke the Holy Bride, seek their revelation, and contemplate deeply what is said here. Remember what the Lord said: ‘seek and you will find; ask and you will receive; knock and the door will be opened unto you’. The Holy Bride is the everlasting door, the gate of all-gnosis.”

(1) Tau Malachi St. Mary Magdalene: The Gnostic Tradition of the Holy Bride Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2006

(2) The first three can be found in: Alan Jacobs, The Gnostic Gospels London: Watkins, 2005. Thomas and Philip were discovered as  part of the Nag Hammadi collection in 1945 and published in 1978. Mary Magdalene had already been found in Cairo in 1896. Pistis Sophia, obscure but never lost, was translated and edited by the Theosophist (and personal secretary to Helena Blavatsky) G.R.S Meade. I have the American edition, published as Pistis Sophia: A Gnostic Gospel Blauvelt, NY: Spiritual Science Library, 1984.

The Gospel of Philip also includes an account of the close relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. Another early work in the Jacobs collection Thunder (also known as Thunder Perfect Mind) gives a voice to the repression of the Divine Feminine, whilst also pointing to a transcendence of opposites.

SEEING: DOUGLAS HARDING AND ST. THOMAS

I’ve been working with The Gospel of Thomas (1), for two reasons. First, it is a non-dual text. Second, it comes from my native tradition, by which I here mean the one I was personally born into. The Gospel is a collection of stories and aphorisms attributed to the teacher Yeshua (Jesus), without any accompanying life-story.

Some of these are very unlike the stories and aphorisms we find in the canonical gospels, unlike enough to get the text banned in the later fourth century C.E., a time of hardening Christian Orthodoxy. But others appear within them. I remember hearing these as a small child who knew himself to have been baptised and given a Christian name. They captured my imagination, and I remember liking and indeed loving them.

Thanks to this background, Christianity – even in the form of an early ‘heresy’ – affects me differently from other paths. I need to be on guard against emotionally driven reverence and dismissal alike. Fortunately this is not too difficult with St. Thomas. There’s a way in which this text heals my relationship with the tradition of my birth, though without any call to renew my allegiance to it.

Douglas Harding was a non-dualist teacher who faced the same issue, only more so, having been brought up in the Plymouth Brethren and subsequently become estranged from his family through religious differences. He wrote an essay about the Gospel of Thomas, giving it a warm welcome (2):

“In this early apocryphal Christian text, the living voice of Jesus comes down to us directly, bypassing all that men have been saying about him and doing in his name. It comes across distinctly, high above the confused roar of two millennia of Christianity, so-called. It’s as if he himself had planted this beneficent time-bomb in the cave at Nag Hammadi, carefully setting the fuse to delay its explosion till the world would be ready for the impact. It’s as if, so tragically far ahead of his own time, he knew when significant numbers of quite ordinary men and women (as distinct from highly specialised and disciplined saints and sages and seers) would at last be capable of catching up with his vision of the Light, his experience of what he calls the Kingdom.”

Harding also says that we owe it to such a teacher “not to believe in this teaching of his in Thomas, but to test it, sincerely verifying (and falsifying) the scriptures by our experience instead of our experience by the scriptures”. In the essay, he goes on to accomplish this by identifying parallels between the Gospel of Thomas and his own Headless Way (3).

I will deepen my work with the Gospel of Thomas. I already know the text quite well, but I think that my understanding of it has changed since my last close reading of it several years ago. I hope also to clear up any residual unfinished business with my Christian roots, and allow the text itself a stronger role in my ongoing life and practice.

(1) Jean-Yves Leloup The Gospel of Thomas: The Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus Rochester, VA: Inner Traditions, 2005 (English translation and notes by Joseph Rowe. Foreword by Jacob Needleman)

(2) Douglas Harding A Jesus for Our Time. Chapter 14 in Look for Yourself: the Science and Art of Self-Realisation London: The Shollond Trust 2015 (first published the The Head Exchange in 1996)

(3) http://www.headless.org/

BEING IN TRANSIT

If I ask myself, ‘where is my spiritual centre?’ I do not find an answer within any named tribe. Spiritual friendships, communities of practice and generic webs of connection can all help, and I hope that I give something back. But my path is fundamentally solitary. Perhaps even the notion of having a centre is limiting.

I’ve learned a lot from Druidry. Partly thanks to Druid practice, I experience myself as more fully alive on a living Earth. I honour the wheel of the year as it turns in my locality. In Druidry, I’ve been enabled to explore a contemplative dimension within Earth spirituality. I have also connected with ancestral threads I might otherwise have neglected. But I’m not a polytheist Pagan and I have never felt attracted to Shamanism. I’ve learned from Buddhist tradition too. I’m a meditator. I have a deepened sense of interconnectedness and the call to kindness that goes with it. But I have not adopted the four noble truths as the basis of my path, and I do not seek refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. I am grateful for my connections to Druidry and Buddhism and will continue to take an interest in their literature. I also sense that, with certain understandings and practices now ingrained, their active roles in my life are over.

My creative edge has for some time been elsewhere. I have been working with the insight that perceptions, apparently of the world, do not establish the existence of a world, but only of perceiving (or awareness, or being). Sensations, apparently of a body, do not establish the existence of embodiment, but only of sensing (or awareness, or being). Thoughts, apparently of a mind, do not establish the existence of a mind, but only of thinking (or awareness, or being). This can seem destructively sceptical, even solipsistic. Yet for many people it signals the possibility of a ‘more than’ (or awareness, or being), rather than a dissociated ‘less than’. Mind, body and world can return enhanced rather than diminished by this kind of exercise, with a sense of a ‘not I not other than I’ connection with primordial awareness or being.

This is the basic stance of nondualist traditions, ancient and modern. In Indian culture, the stripping down and reduction to nothingness is sometimes identified as Vedantic, and the subsequent return and flowering in everything as Tantric. In the Gospel of St. Thomas, a Christian Gnostic text, Yeshua (Jesus) says: “I come from the One who is Openness” and the aspiration of disciples is to make themselves “the abode of Openness, a house that welcomes the breeze, a body that has become transparent, like a crystal flooded with light”. Here, a metaphor concerned with transparency emphasizes power and energy rather than vulnerability and exposure.

I am not a member of a nondualist group, or a Christian Gnostic. But I am moved by these spiritual currents. I am in dialogue with them. I think that ‘being in dialogue’ is a good place to be. For me, certainly now, it has more integrity than formal membership or adherence to a system.

(1) Jean-Yves Leloup The Gospel of Thomas: The Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus Rochester, VA: Inner Traditions, 2005 (English translation and notes by Joseph Rowe. Foreword by Jacob Needleman)

MARY MAGDALENE

 

Tomorrow, 22 July, is dedicated to Mary Magdalene. The passage below is from The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (1), one of the so-called Gnostic Gospels driven underground in the later 4th century C.E. due to Orthodox repression. These words show the importance of Mary Magdalene as a teacher to many people in the early Christian movement and beyond, and as the Christ Sophia to some (2).

“Peter said to Mary:

‘Sister, we know that the Teacher loved you

Differently from other women.

Tell us whatever you remember

Of any words he told you

Which we have not yet heard’.

Mary said to them:

‘I will now speak to you

Of that which has not been given to you to hear.

I had a vision of the Teacher,

And I said to him:

Lord I see you now

In this vision.

And he answered:

You are blessed, for the sight of me does not disturb you.

There where is the nous* lies the treasure.”

(1) Jean-Yves Leloup The gospel of Mary Magdalene Rochester, VA: Inner Traditions, 2002 (English translation and notes by Joseph Rowe. Foreword by Jacob Needleman)

(2) http://www.sophian.org/

Nous* Mary’s vision is a vision of the nous. Leloup’s commentary suggests that ancient Christian Gnostics understood nous as the “finest point of the soul”, an intermediate realm between the purely sensory and the purely spiritual, giving access to a vein of prophetic or visionary sacred knowledge.

 

OLD MIDSUMMER’S DAY

485px-Andrea_Solari_Salomè_riceve_la_testa_di_Giovanni_Battista24 June is a special day for me. When I was quite small, someone told me that it was Old Midsummer’s Day without telling me when the new one was. So it was Midsummer’s Day for me. ‘Old’ just gave it depth and perspective in my imagination. I was told in the presence of oak trees too, in a sun-ripened afternoon , sultry like high summer. Old.

A year or two later I found out that it was St. John the Baptist’s Day too. I had two vivid images of him at the time. The slightly less vivid one was of him baptising Jesus, the anointed one who was to follow him. The slightly more vivid one was a version of Andrea Solari’s depiction above (1507): John beheaded as requested by Salome, at the command of King Herod. It is a strange story in some ways, for Salome means ‘peace’ in Semitic languages and she’s not depicted in an obviously peaceful light.

In any event, the church awarded John the Baptist 24 June as his day, placed at the opposite end of the year to Christmas, days which are in each case placed at a time when the sun has just started moving again. The old story about the conflict of a winter and summer king alternating in their mirror image enjoyment of dominance and death is now somewhat discredited as a universal theme. But it is clearly a strong part of our cultural inheritance, just like our experience of the changing seasons themselves.

Old Midsummer’s Day is a time when the sundered halves of the western way come together, with a common theme handled in different ways and with different understandings.  That, and the fact that the day has been present in my imagination since I was very young, give this day a special kind of magic. I was glad to mark it today with my partner Elaine, in a completely informal way.

PAIDIREAN (PAHJ-URINN) II

I started wearing my Paidirean – the Ceile De prayer beads – for my morning practice on 19 December.  In the Ceile De Order they are used in conjunction with what in this tradition is called the Heart Prayer:

 A Thighearna … Solus an domhain … Chriost mo chridhe … dean trocair oirnn

 Ah hee-earn-ah … Solus on dowain … Chree-ost mo chree … Jaun trok-ir orn

O Lord … Light of the world … Christ my heart … show mercy/compassion/grace

I don’t follow the practice as prescribed, but I notice that I soon started saying this prayer aloud (having listened carefully to the Ceile De CD) when doing walking meditation – initially drawn in by the sound of the old language.  In walking meditation I am mindful to each footfall and so in working the Heart Prayer I have become mindful to each footfall and a syllable of the Heart Prayer as well (except of course when I am not).  As time has gone on I have increased the use of the prayer, sometimes said aloud, sometimes not.  I intersperse this with times of complete silence within as well as without to make the practice more spacious. Likewise in sitting meditation, essentially a plain breath meditation, I have introduced the key phrase “Chriost mo chridhe”, as an intermittent mantra within the practice.  These words in particular anchor in my sense that ‘Christ’ stands for an interior awakening rather than an external or historical being.

Why has this prayer become resonant to me?  I am reminded again of the summer of 2007.  At midsummer I went to Melrose and had the experiences I described in my previous blog post.  On a weekend late in July I was scheduled to go to a conference with my partner Elaine. The plan involved getting from Bristol, where I lived, to Stroud, where she lived.  But we were cut off from each other by floods: roads closed, railway in chaos.  So we both stayed put.  I was following the OBOD Ovate course at the time and decided to have a day of ritual derived from the course followed by a day of reflection and recovery.  The main result of all this, the one image that fully imprinted itself and which I took away, was that of a dove feather falling gently down beside me  It felt initiatic and it gave me my felt sense of connection with Sophia the Holy Wisdom.  It changed the course of my work.  My centre of gravity had shifted and I realised that I had quite a bit of work to do to make this breakthrough good.  How was I going to use the altered state of the ritual experience to create a more lasting change?  Although not fully recognized at the time, this was the beginning of my ‘contemplative’ turn.

Sophia brings a gnostic understanding to Christ consciousness, awakening the practitioner to a non-dual awareness where knower, known and knowledge, lover, love and beloved, are one.   Except that this last sentence is also a formula of sorts and formulas – even if authentic messages from those who have gone before us – are necessarily suspect.  This, at least, is what I take away from the gnostic Gospel of Thomas:

“Jesus said to his followers, ‘compare me to something and tell me what I am like. Simon Peter said to him, ‘you are like a just messenger’. Matthew said to him, ‘you are like a wise philosopher’. Thomas said to him, ‘Teacher my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like’. Jesus said, ‘I am not your TeacherBecause you have drunk, you have been intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have measured out.’  Two followers have personal and cultural presuppositions so strong that their availability for direct experience is compromised.  Only one is sufficiently open and unknowing to make the connection and the shift that goes with it.

Thich Nhat Hanh puts it another way.  “In Buddhist circles, we are careful to avoid getting stuck in concepts, even concepts like ‘Buddhism’ and ‘Buddha’.  If you think of the Buddha as someone separate from the rest of the world, you will never recognize a Buddha even if you see him on the street.  That is why one Zen Master said to his student, ‘When you meet the Buddha, kill him’.  He meant that the student should kill the Buddha-concept in order for him to experience the real Buddha directly.”  (From Living Buddha, Living Christ.)

Following my experience in late July 2007, I wrote a blackberry Lughnasadh verse for my wheel of the year tree poem.

 I am Blackberry

The bramble and the fruit and the wine

And the spirit.

Intoxication as from a bubbling spring,

Freely measured out.

It alluded to the words in St. Thomas and reflected my realization, such as it was. It was not particularly mature or fully integrated, but it did push me into seeking and developing a more rigorous and systematic personal practice.  My hope is that the new shift inspired by the paidirean will deepen and extend it.

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