OLD NOTEBOOKS: Bangkok: In Buddhism there is no continuing, personal Self, only a temporary, constantly changing, aggregation of mental and physical elements. For all intents and purposes there is no self. There is no God, no divine being in human form. There is, however, an understanding of the Divine Spark’ of the Gnostics; the spark of knowing: gnosis, consciousness. Christian Gnostic groups in the first century AD, emphasized personal spiritual knowledge above the orthodox teachings, and traditions. The quiet struggle against the authority of religious institutions continues up to the present day. Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr says people are disillusioned with conservative churches that teach that nonbelievers go to Hell.
So, what happened to the Gnostic writings which flourished among Christian groups in the Mediterranean world? Fathers of the early Church in the second century, denounced them as heresy. Efforts to destroy these texts proved largely successful, resulting in the survival of very little writing by Gnostic theologians. What were these early Gnostics mainly concerned about? According to the Jewish Torah (the first five books of the Christian Bible), God plants the two trees of knowledge and immortality in the Garden of Eden, yet forbids Adam and Eve to eat from them. He warns the other gods, the Elohim, that if humans should taste omniscience and everlasting life, they will become divine like God himself, and this must be prevented at all costs.
The Gnostics felt that if God was truly good, he wouldn’t want to keep these divine gifts from humankind, and therefore concluded that the God of the Old Testament is evil, a malignant being who traps human souls in the world of matter he created. In order to keep them subject to his power, they believed, he must prevent them from realizing their true nature—that they are divine beings from a kingdom of light which transcends the world of suffering in which he keeps them enslaved.
This alternative reading of the book of Genesis can be found in the Nag Hammadi texts ‘On the Origin of the World and The Hypostasis of the Archons.’ The Nag Hammadi texts were discovered in Egypt in 1945. There is so much to find in these texts, including the dialogue between Jesus and his brother James. Jesus explicitly tells James, “Free yourself from this blind idea, that you are merely the case of flesh which encircles you. Then you will reach Him Who is. Then you will no longer be James; rather you are the One Who is.” It’s amazing to find this Vedantic teaching, from India, claiming that the individual soul (Atman) is identical with God himself (Brahman), spelled out so clearly in an early Christian text. Today Christians believe that only Christ was “one” with God, but Jesus seems to be saying that the rest of us are too.
“We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s missing is awareness.” [Richard Rohr] According to Rohr’s teachings, a person does not have to follow Jesus or practice any formal religion to come by salvation, but rather “fall in love with the divine presence, under whatever name.” The Perennial Tradition, or Perennial Philosophy, forms the basis of much of his teaching. “God’s love for the world has existed since the beginning of time, suffuses everything in creation, and has been present in all cultures and civilizations. Jesus is an incarnation of that spirit. But this spirit can also be found through Buddhist meditation, or through communing with nature. This is the Cosmic Christ, who always was, who became incarnate in time, and who is still being revealed.”
In an early Latin work Eckhart asserts, ‘God is existence’ (Deus est esse), that ‘existence is God’(esse est deus). The ‘isness’ of all that exists is God. This is the ‘birth of the Son of God in the soul.’ In Eckhart’s Christology the reason for the Incarnation (indeed, for the Creation) is that human beings might come to a realization or conscious awareness of themselves as the ‘image and likeness of God’, bringing forth or ‘giving birth’ to the Son of God within their innermost soul. Christ is understood not as Redeemer but as Reminder: ‘Christ came to remind us of our blessed and divine origins as images and likenesses of God in a grace-filled universe. The purpose of his coming is more our divinization than our redemption from sin and guilt.’
“The ineffable reality of God lies beyond our ordinary comprehension.” I have only just started finding out about this special kind of Christian contemplation (apophaticism) that rejects all the attributes and ideas about God we’ve known since we were children, and staying in the ‘darkness’ of a state of “unknowing.” Thus, arriving at this experiential union with the divine.
There are many things about this kind of Christian contemplation that seem very ‘Buddhist’ to me, I recognise the state of unknowing as being that which is outside human experience. Not impossible that the Buddha’s Dhamma had an influence on the Jesus Teachings. Maybe that’s why I had this strange recognition of it, déjà vu, when I first went to Wat Pah Nanachat in 1984. Studying Buddhism revealed fragments of an innate knowledge.
Instead of being deluded by the conditioned realm, I observe it. There is the state of knowing, of being aware of the changingness of conditioned phenomena – behind which there is the Unconditioned. With intuitive awareness – we find that silence, the unconditioned, as an embracing background, within which the conditions are in perspective. They are the way they are, they’re like this: but then they end, they cease. [Ajahn Sumedho. Escape. Forest Sangha Newsletter: October 2000]
Excerpts from the following:
Richard Rohr: “Richard Rohr Reorders the Universe,” The New Yorker, February2, 2020
Christopher Malcolm Knauf: Meister Eckhart and the ‘Wayless Way’.
Lynda Johnsen: Gnostic Texts Reveal Jesus in a New Light
Photo: Sunset on Phuket Island, by M.