September 20, 2008

the Kingdom is inside you, and outside you

This from Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew by Bart D. Eharman:

... [T]he Gospel of Thomas [is] a valuable collection of 114 sayings of Jesus, many of which may reflect the historical teachings of Jesus, but all of which appear to be framed within the context of later Gnostic reflections on the salvation that Jesus has brought. Unlike the Gospels of the New Testament, in this Gospel Jesus does not talk about the God of Israel, about sin against God and the need for repentance. In this Gospel it is not Jesus' death and resurrection that bring salvation. In this Gospel there is no anticipation of a coming Kingdom of God on earth.

Instead, this Gospel assumes that some humans contain the divine spark that has been separated from the realm of God and entrapped in this impoverished world of matter, and that it needs to be delivered by learning the secret teachings from above, which Jesus himself brings. It is by learning the truth of this world and, specially, of one's one divine character, that one can escape this bodily prison and return to the realm of light whence one came, the Kingdom of God that transcends this material world and all that is in it.

A remarkable document, an ancient forgery condemned as heretical by early proto-orthodox Christians and lost or destroyed, until the remarkable discovery of the Gnostic library in Upper Egypt, near Nag Hammadi, preserved now for us as the secret sayings of Jesus, which, if rightly understood, can bring eternal life.

Elaine Pagels writes in her book Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas:
Thomas’s gospel offers only cryptic clues – not answers – to those who seek the way to God. Thomas’s “living Jesus” challenges his hearers to find the way for themselves: “Jesus said, ‘Whoever finds the interpretation of these words will not taste death,’” and he warns the disciples that the search will disturb and astonish them: “Jesus said, ‘Let the one who seeks not stop seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled; when he becomes troubled, he will be astonished and will rule over all things.” Thus here again Jesus encourages those who seek by telling them that they already have the internal resources they need to find what they are looking for: “Jesus said, ‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.’”

Yet the “disciples [still] questioned him,” Thomas writes, “saying, ‘Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give alms? What diet should we observe?’” In Matthew and Luke, Jesus responds to such questions with practical, straightforward answers. For example, he instructs them that “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret.” When you fast, “put oil on your head, and wash your face.” And “when you pray, play like this, [saying], ‘Our Father, who art in heaven. . . .’” In Thomas, Jesus gives no such instruction. Instead, when his disciples ask him what to do – how to pray, what to eat, whether to fast or give money, he answers only with another koan: “Do not tell lies, and do not do what you hate; for all things are plain in the sight of heaven” in other words, the capacity to discover the truth is within you. When the disciples still demand that Jesus “tell us who you are, so that we may believe in you,” he again deflects the question and directs them to see for themselves: “He said to them, ‘You read the face of the sky and the earth, but you have not recognized the one who stands before you, and you do not know how to read this present moment.’” ...

Yet Thomas’s Jesus offers some clues. After dismissing those who expect the future coming of the kingdom of God, as countless Christians have always done and still do, Thomas’s Jesus declares that
the Kingdom is inside you, and outside you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will see that it is you who are the children of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty, and it is you who are that poverty.
This cryptic saying raises a further question: how can we know ourselves? According to Thomas, Jesus declares that we must find out first where we came from, and go back and take our place “in the beginning.” Then he says something even stranger: “Blessed is the one who came into being before he came into being” But how can one go back before one’s own birth – or even before human creation? What was there before human creation – even before the creation of the universe?
"Blessed is the one who came into being before he came into being," reminds me of the Zen koan "What did your face look like before your parents were born?", also known as the concept "original face." It is the same, no?

Hui-neng, the 6th Patriarch of Ch'an -- Chinese Zen -- said, "See what at this very moment your own face looks like - the Face you had before you, or indeed your parents, were born - there is nothing hidden. If you look within and recognize your own ‘Original Face', all secrets are in you."

Wikipedia offers a nice, succinct page re Original face that provide three ancient Zen poets' takes on what the concept means to us.

Contempory Zen Master Wu Kwang, a Gestalt therapist, offers a long psychology-based take on the concept. I am particulary taken by this idea found at the end of his article/essay "What is your original face?":
Another provocative implication of this [koan] is that time goes not from past to present to future, but, psychologically, from present to past. If you touch the moment where you perceive your original face before your parents were born, then you can also see how you give birth to your own parents! If you are having a moment of unencumbered freedom, and then begin to step back into the mental and emotional attitudes of better or worse, should or should not, good or bad, valuable or not so valuable, at that moment you are giving birth to a relationship with authority figures and parental edicts. At that moment, you give birth to your parents - whether your real parents or little bits and pieces which you extracted from them that sit in your mind-belly, giving you a lot of indigestion.

When you perceive that, you begin to take some responsibility in the present for what you are carrying around. 'Ihis sense of responsibility gives you a tremendous sense of freedom, and hopefulness, and a way to work with all of these things.

2 comments:

Lucy said...

Some of the quotes in this post remind me of the work of Carl Jung - he thought that to become whole a person must bring to consciousness what is in the unconscious - the archetypes - and realise the full self. This work, he said, is very difficult and troubling, but if successful will allow the individual to transcend human woes. People are generally conditioned by their experiences - and especially by their parents - so perhaps the goal (through practices such as meditation) is to become free of conditioned attachments / complexes / reactions / memories that have built up through contact with the outside world - and, therefore, percieve the world with innocence.

Mark 10:15 : I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

Tom said...

Thanks, Lucy, for your comment. I think you're right.