Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Eight Pieces of Brocade (八段錦): "Riding Horse, Drawing Bow to Shoot Eagle"

When I was a young lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division, I purchased a book called The Kung Fu Exercise Book by Michael Minick, published in 1974.

The book contains a series of exercises which it explains on page 9 are derived from the "Ancient Art Silk Weaving Exercises" and which the author says are part of a system which is far more than just exercise:
The system I am going to describe is far more than just a pattern of exercises. It is an integral part of Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine's weapons against ill health are few in number, but they are extraordinarily effective. They include acupuncture, moxibustion (a form of therapy in which acupuncture points are generally heated instead of needled), remedial massage, herbal remedies, and, most basically, exercise. 7 - 8.
The ancient art exercises described in the book, the author says, are surprisingly easy to do, can be performed by people of any age, do not require physical exertion, can be performed almost anywhere, and can be performed in as little as ten minutes if necessary (12 - 13). Most importantly, the book explains, "these exercises put one into contact with one's inner life force" -- the Prana or Chi or Hei:
Regardless of semantic differences, few dispute the presence of this force within us. Anyone who does either the Ancient Art Exercises or Yoga for a while will become aware of it. With increased experience, he may be able to move this energy around his body. Advanced practitioners can often will it to flow into their hands or down their legs; they have control over each individual bodily organ just as the famous fakirs of India have when they stick pins through their bodies or stop their hearts. There is only one way such control can be gained -- through contact with their life force, or Ch'i. We are not suggesting that the exercises presented here will make you capable of lying on a bed of nails -- such feats take years of special work -- but you can expect to be put in touch with your own internal energy. 12.
While I wasn't particularly interested in being able to stick pins through my body, there was something discussed later in the book which caught my attention, during a section in which the author, after pointing out the often-made generalization that modern western medicine is usually more interested in finding problems and manipulating the environment versus traditional medicine including Chinese medicine is more interested in assessing and maintaining healthy systems and focusing on improving the body systems rather than altering the external environment, described some basic indications that the body systems are in tune and functioning properly. One of these indicators we can look at, the book says, is our sleep pattern:
Do you sleep soundly? A man or woman with the aforementioned energy sleeps soundly and deeply, and wakes completely refreshed after six hours' sleep. Moreover, such a person falls asleep minutes after his head hits the pillow, regardless of place or circumstances. Talking in one's sleep is an unfavorable sign, as are violent, disturbing dreams. Finally, one should be able to awaken at a preset time by simply visualizing the hour to get up immediately before going to sleep. The inability to meet these fundamental conditions indicates a basic health problem that needs attention. 18 - 19.
That caught my attention because sleep (or the lack of it) is a constant issue in the types of training I was involved in at the time. 

Not long after I got the book and started to work on some of the exercises, my unit went out to the field for an extended training event (back in those days we didn't come back in for weekends, either). Imagine my surprise when I set my wristwatch alarm for a very precise wake-up time very early in the morning well before the break of day, and woke up on my own, the next morning, two minutes before the alarm was scheduled to go off!

I have not been particularly fastidious about performing these exercises over the years, but I can say that this ability to wake up a few minutes before my alarm is set to go off continues to manifest itself (off and on), depending on the level of these types of activities that I incorporate into my daily routine. 

Now one thing that is interesting to consider is the question of exactly "who or what" is waking you up in this example. 

Obviously, it is not your conscious mind that is waking you up, since when you are asleep your conscious mind is pretty much not conscious (in most ordinary definitions of consciousness or unconsciousness).

Is it then your "subconscious" mind that wakes you up, right when you know you needed to wake up?

How does one's subconscious keep track of the time and know when it is time for you to wake up? Is the "subconscious" really "conscious" while you are sleeping?

Or could this be an example of the "higher self" (given various names in the ancient texts and traditions of humanity)? Modern conventional paradigms of mind and consciousness which deny the possibility of the existence of a "higher self" or "supreme self" are forced to find a way that the unconscious or subconscious mind can perform all the sometimes quite incredible feats that people sometimes demonstrate, but as we may have an opportunity to explore in future posts, there are times in which individuals have demonstrated knowledge which comes to them in a state of non-ordinary consciousness which neither they nor their "subconscious" could possibly have known through any means within the conventional paradigm.

And here's another blog post from about one year ago which touches upon the same general idea, and which contains a helpful quotation from Alvin Boyd Kuhn on the subject.

I would suggest that the ability to wake up a few minutes before your alarm clock borders on the "difficult to explain" (although not impossible to explain). Situations such as the near-death experiences described by persons whose brains were being monitored and whose brain scans during major surgery showed absolutely no activity are much more difficult to explain (see for example the famous NDE discussed in this previous post, which actually took place right around the same time or just a year or two before the field exercise where I first discovered that the exercises from the Kung Fu Exercise Book seemed to be "working" for me in terms of waking up when I needed to). If someone is registering no brain-wave activity during a certain period of time, then it is difficult to attribute knowledge that they appear to have obtained during that period of time to the "subconscious mind."

If you are interested in the exercises in the system described in that 1974 book, they are actually a part of an ancient system of exercises known as the Eight Pieces of Brocade (a "brocade" is a treasured piece of fine embroidered fabric), or the 八段錦.

This set of three symbols represents a symbol for the number "eight," a symbol for a "piece," and a symbol for embroidery or brocade, and is pronounced ba duan jin in Mandarin, and baat dyun gam in Cantonese*. The video embedded above shows one version of the ba duan jin available on YouTube, although you can also find many others.

One of my favorites from the series described in the book (and shown in the above video between about the 4:30 mark and the 6:30 mark) has always been the exercise which author Michael Minick refers to as "Riding Horse, Using Bow and Arrow to Shoot Eagle" (pages 75 and following). You can see that this exercise is referred to by a variety of related names: on this wikipedia entry, for example, it is called "Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Eagle / Hawk / Vulture."

Not only is this a beautiful and very satisfying exercise to make a part of your daily practice, but it also seems to have a celestial aspect (as do many, many facets of the Chinese martial arts -- see for example the discussions here and here and here).

There is a constellation which is traditionally envisioned as "drawing a bow" and "riding a horse," and what is more it is positioned very close to the majestic figure of an Eagle in the heavens: the constellation Sagittarius, positioned at the base of the glorious column of the Milky Way, and currently very visible along with the mighty Scorpion in the southern sky (for viewers in the non-tropical latitudes of the northern hemisphere it would generally be towards the southern horizon) in the hours after sunset.

Below is a screen-shot from the open-source planetarium app Stellarium, showing the Scorpion and the Eagle and Sagittarius (this one is unlabeled, but the ones below it will add outlines):

If you go out to see it, you should be able to find the glorious Scorpion, and even see the delightful "Cat's Eyes," as well as view the most dramatic portion of the Milky Way band, rising up between Scorpio and Sagittarius.

You should also be able to spot the bright little "teapot" portion of Sagittarius (can you find it in the un-marked image above?). The "teapot" also looks like a grasshopper or a "locust," and it figures as a locust in many scriptures of what have come to be labeled the Old and New Testaments, including the events described in Revelation chapter 9.

Below is the same screen-shot, this time with the outlines of the Scorpion and the "teapot" section of Sagittarius marked in green, and the outline of the Eagle in red (I think the Eagle looks almost "bat-like" when you find him in the actual night sky -- his wings are actually quite a bit larger than they appear in this image, because Stellarium "curves" the stars to simulate the wrapping-around of the actual night sky, which sometimes distorts the constellations a little depending on where they are on the screen):

Now, the side of that "teapot" that is pointing towards the Scorpion (and towards the Milky Way) is actually part of the "bow and arrow" that Sagittarius the Archer is holding: can you envision it? The "teapot" is the brightest and most-noticeable portion of the Sagittarius constellation, but it is not actually the entire constellation. Below is the outline of Sagittarius (in blue) as envisioned by H. A. Rey:

Finally, although I usually do not place much value on the flowery artistic renditions of the constellations that are sometimes included in planetarium functions or in some books about the stars, here is the same screen-shot with an artist's rendition of the mythical figures belonging to each constellation:

Such flowery artistic renditions are practically useless for actually finding a constellation in the night sky. However, in this particular case, I have included it here because it shows how Sagittarius is often traditionally envisioned: as a Centaur bearing a bow, preparing to launch an arrow. And, you can see that he is located very near to and directly below the Eagle of Aquila.

It is very possible, and in fact in my opinion it is very likely, that the Ancient Art Exercise of "Riding Horse, Using Bow and Arrow to Shoot Eagle" in the Eight Pieces of Brocade is referencing this celestial series of figures.

Thus, when we perform this and other ancient physical exercises, we are consciously or unconsciously attuning the motions of our body to the cycles of the heavens and the cosmos.

I hope that you will have the opportunity to go out and see the beautiful Milky Way galaxy rising up between Scorpio and Sagittarius this week (or indeed this time of year), as well as the majestic Eagle flying above them.

I also hope that if it is at all possible, you might try incorporating some of the Eight Pieces of Brocade  into your own daily practice (although I am not a doctor, and make no claims as to its medical benefits, although I personally have no doubt that it is beneficial in many ways).

And, if you begin to find that you "wake yourself up" one or two minutes before the alarm is scheduled to get you up in the morning, you might also ask yourself just who or what could be responsible for that!


* The word translated as "piece" in English (as in "Eight Pieces of Brocade") is actually a "quantifying unit," used prior to nouns and generally appropriate to a certain category of objects, items, people or animals -- there are different quantifying units for different categories (if you ask for "one glass of beer," for example, you will use a specific "quantifying unit" which we would translate into English as "glass of" or "cup of," and this would be a different word than the word you would use if you wished to purchase eight ink-pens, or "eight 'units of' ink-pen"). You can see some of the different quantifying units listed here -- about the seventh down on the list you will find the word and the character used for the category of nouns or objects which "can stand or spread," and this is the word used for quantifying pieces of brocade.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The blindness of Dhritarastra, and Upamanyu at the bottom of the well

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The previous post and video discussing the ancient sacred text of the Bhagavad Gita explored its celestial foundation, showing that like the rest of the world's Star Myths it uses the majestic celestial cycles as an extended metaphor portraying the descent of each human soul into this incarnate life, an incarnate life which can be seen as a sort of "battlefield" characterized by the endless struggle or interplay between the material and spiritual realms (both within the individual and without).

Immediately prior to Arjuna's descent into the battle of Kurukshetra, he is given direct guidance from his divine companion, the Lord Krishna: 
Do your duty to the best of your ability, O Arjuna, with your mind attached to the Lord, abandoning worry and attachment to the results, and remaining calm in both success and failure. [. . .] Therefore, always perform your duty efficiently and without attachment to the results, because by doing work without attachment one attains the Supreme. (2.48 - 49; 3.19).
In fact, over and over throughout the Gita, Lord Krishna's message to Arjuna is basically the same: do what is right, without attachment to the results: instead of attachment to the results, the mind should be attached to the Infinite divine principle.

This Infinite supreme principle is represented in the Gita by Lord Krishna, who shows himself in the Gita to be completely Infinite, beyond definition or categorization by the mind. The same Infinite supreme principle is represented in the chapters immediately preceding the Bhagavad Gita (in the Mahabharata of which the Gita is a small but central part) by the goddess Durga, who is also described in terms which indicate that she too is supremely beyond definition or characterization or containment within boundaries (see discussion and video in this previous post).

While this advice may seem to apply only to those ascetics who withdraw from the hustle and bustle of the daily struggle to make a living and negotiate the mundane world of keeping the dishes washed or the faucets from leaking, I believe that it may well have been given for the benefit of all of us here in this incarnate realm, even if we do not personally dress in flowing robes and retire to a life of full-time meditation and study of the Vedas (although of course it would be of great benefit to us in that particular path of life as well).

Consider, for example, the possibility that some of our greatest times of frustration and anger seem to come at moments when we experience serious self-doubt (such as when changing out the above-mentioned faucet, if that is a task we're not really sure that we will be able to do properly, and we don't have confidence that it will turn out no matter how many times we consult helpful internet videos purporting to show us what to do). It is in those situations (I find) that we seem to be most prone to lashing out (even if we are "only" lashing out at an inanimate faucet, or the entire unfair world of faucets and water-fixtures -- the things we say to inanimate faucets, bolts, washers, and threaded fasteners can in fact be quite ugly and embarrassing to us in later recollection, and things we certainly hope that the neighbors did not overhear).

Or, consider a classic hero in any of your favorite old kung fu movies: if he or she is completely confident in his or her ability to handle the situation, the kung fu master will not show the slightest bit of anger or frustration -- while the villain (who secretly fears he may not be able to handle the abilities of his opponent) gets angrier and angrier and eventually bursts out in a display of rage which lets the audience know that he is in fact about to lose.

Wouldn't we all desire to arrive at the place where we are like that hero in the kung fu movie -- totally secure in our knowledge that we can handle the situation at hand (any situation whatsoever), and therefore completely unflappable and beyond anyone's ability to make us "lose it"?

As we all know, however, the material world seems to be custom-designed to defy the possibility of any one mortal human to have such kung fu (and such knowledge of plumbing repair, automotive mechanics, personal finance, parenting, golf-ball physics, etc) that no situation can ever arise which would be beyond their ability. 

And yet it may well be that Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita is specifically telling us that no matter the situation in which we find ourselves, we can in fact transcend both the heart-clutching self-doubt and the attachment to results that can cause us to fly into a rage (or otherwise say and do and think things which we later regret), and instead become more and more like that enlightened kung fu master in the old movies (as an important side note, some of the asanas of yoga, which are basically impossible to accomplish at first try but which can eventually be achieved after years of disciplined practice, may be teaching this very same thing).

Again, I believe it is very possible that the lessons imparted to Arjuna prior to the great Battle of Kurukshetra are given to us not only for helping us in the extraordinary circumstances or extreme situations in which we might find ourselves, but in ordinary and mundane aspects of everyday life (including changing a faucet, or parenting). 

Even if most of us have not reached the level of the kung fu master for whom no situation could ever arise beyond our personal capability, by following the Bhagavad Gita's directive of doing what is right, to the best of our ability, and attaching our mind to the Infinite -- to which we, in fact, always have immediate access -- we can replace that clawing self-doubt with something completely different.

This may seem to be just too simple, but it may in fact be one of the primary things we are supposed to be practicing here in this material world. Remember, this one piece of advice is in fact the central message that Krishna offers to Arjuna, over and over throughout the Bhagavad Gita, in a variety of different ways. 

And, it certainly does not seem to me to be extremely simple to do consistently, even for one single day. First, it is not always perfectly obvious what it means to "do what is right" or "do your duty" in every possible situation -- we are often pretty good at rationalizing our way out of doing what is right, coming up with excuses to tell ourselves in order to excuse ourselves from doing what we know we should do, as the figure of the blind king Dhritarastra demonstrates very graphically in the Mahabharata. 

In fact, the character of Dhritarastra seems to embody a powerful warning against trying to distort the actual Bhagavad Gita message of "do what's right without attachment to the results" into the false message of "use 'fate' as an excuse to avoid doing what's right," or "leave it all to fate (without attachment to the results)." 

The Mahabharata portrays Dhritarastra's abdication of his responsibility to restrain evil as directly responsible for the chain of events that bring about the Battle of Kurukshetra in the first place. In this case, Dhritarastra fails to curtail the wicked schemes of his own son, and because as the king and the father everyone else defers to him as the one who should act, things get progressively further out of hand. 

Dhritarastra, for his part, consistently declares that all is in the hands of fate, and so he has to accept the outcome. For example, at the end of Book 2 and Section 48, in response to the urging of his wise brother Vidura to stop the disastrous dice game which will eventually lead to the enmity that brings about the cataclysmic battle, Dhritarastra defends his refusal to do his duty by saying, 
Therefore, auspicious or otherwise, beneficial or otherwise, let this friendly challenge at dice proceed. Even this without doubt is what fate hath ordained for us. [. . .] Tell me nothing. I regard Fate as supreme which bringeth all this. 
The ancient scriptures, through the events in the Mahabharata, appear to be showing us that this attitude of Dhritarastra is a perversion of what the Bhagavad Gita teaches: it is not "avoid your duty and abandon attachment to results" but rather "do your duty, to the best of your ability, without attachment to the results."

Because the Mahabharata is using metaphors to convey spiritual teachings, it makes Dhritarastra (whose character I believe to be a metaphorical figure meant to depict an aspect of our human experience in this incarnate life, and not a literal historical king from the ancient past), a blind king, whose failure to see the right course of action and his resulting failure to do what is right lead directly to the disastrous battle between two sides of the same family. 

But, the Mahabharata elsewhere tells us in no uncertain terms that this metaphorical blindness is exactly our condition when we plunge into material existence, until we regain our connection to the Infinite -- which is actually within us and thus potentially available to us at any time, in any situation.

In a fairly short passage found very early in the epic, in Book 1 and Section 3, the Mahabharata gives us the story of a spiritual disciple named Upamanyu, who out of hunger eats leaves from a tree which cause him to go blind. Crawling around on the ground in his blinded condition, Upamanyu proceeds to fall right into a deep well, where he winds up alone, at the bottom of a well, blind.

After his spiritual teacher notices his absence and comes looking for him and calling out his name, Upamanyu answers from the bottom of the well. His teacher comes to the top of the well and asks what has happened: Upamanyu relates the story of his having eaten leaves from a mighty tree, which caused him to go blind, and then fall to the bottom of the well.

The Mahabharata tells us that the teacher says:
"Glorify the twin Ashvins, the joint physicians of the gods, and they will restore thee thy sight." And Upamanyu thus directed by his preceptor began to glorify the twin Ashvins, in the following words of the Rig Veda:
"Ye have existed before creation! Ye first-born beings, ye are displayed in this wondrous universe of five elements! I desire to obtain you by the help of the knowledge derived from hearing, and of meditation, for ye are Infinite! Ye are the course itself of Nature and intelligent Soul that pervades that course! Ye are birds of beauteous feathers perched on the body that is like to a tree! Ye are without the tree common attributes of every soul! Ye are incomparable! Ye, through your spirit in every created thing, pervade the Universe! Ye are golden Eagles! Ye are the essence into which all things disappear! Ye are free from error and know no deterioration! Ye are of beauteous beaks that would not unjustly strike and are victorious in every encounter!"
And Upamanyu's glorification of the Ashvins continues, until the text tells us that "The twin Ashvins, thus invoked, appeared" and restore Upamanyu's sight, and give him a blessing and tell Upamanyu that he shall have good fortune.

Clearly we have here another illustration of the importance -- and the immediate availability -- of the connection to the Infinite. This time, instead of Lord Krishna representing the supreme Infinite or the goddess Durga representing the Infinite, it is the twin Ashvins who are specifically described in terms that indicate that they themselves are beyond categorization, that they are themselves the Infinite and undefinable and unbounded (at one point in the hymn of praise, Upamanyu says that they are both males and females, that they are the givers of all life, and that they are the Supreme Brahma).

And, just as in our previous examination of the Bhagavad Gita we saw clear evidence that Lord Krishna is associated with the celestial figure of the constellation Bootes the Herdsman (as Arjuna the semi-divine archer is associated with the celestial figure of Orion), and just as in our previous examination of the Hymn to Durga we saw clear evidence that the goddess is associated with the zodiac constellation of Virgo the Virgin, in this story of Upamanyu and the Ashvins, we see clear evidence of celestial metaphor at work as well.

The twin Ashvins very clearly correspond to the zodiac constellation of Gemini the Twins, who are located near the "top" of the shining column of the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way actually makes a complete ring in the sky, with one half of the ring visible primarily during the summer months and the other half during the winter months: when the part of the Milky Way that the Twins appear to guard (with Orion right nearby) is visible in the sky, the other half (it's "lower end") is not visible, and vice versa. On the other side of the celestial sphere, the Milky Way band is guarded by the constellations Scorpio and Sagittarius. When the Twins and Orion are in the sky, Scorpio and Sagittarius are not (because nearly 180 degrees offset on the celestial sphere), and when Scorpio and Sagittarius are in the sky, then the Twins and Orion cannot be seen.

Below are two frames from the Stellarium digital planetarium app, showing a southern-looking view for an observer in the northern hemisphere, looking at each of the "two sides" of the great Milky Way ring as it rises up from the southern horizon, at two different times of the year. On top is shown an image of the "upper reaches" of the Milky Way column (flanked by the Twins and Orion), and immediately below that is an image of the dramatic "base" of the Milky Way column (with Scorpio drawn in, lurking at the very bottom).

The constellations which I believe figure most prominently in this episode of Upamanyu and the Ashvins are given colorful outlines for ease of identification: if you want to see the same screen-shots without the colorful outlines, I have provided them at the bottom of this post, in the same stacked order (the Twins-side of the band in the top image, and the Scorpio-side in the lower image).

I believe that it is pretty clear that celestial representation of the "well" into which Upamanyu falls when he is blinded by the leaves of the tree is in fact that shining column of the Milky Way itself. Way up at the "top" of the column, we see the Twins of Gemini -- representing in this particular myth the helping deities of the Ashvins, who dwell in the realm of spirit but who will appear immediately when invoked by Upamanyu.

At the very bottom of the column we see the helpless figure of the Scorpion, who may well represent Upamanyu in his blinded condition (there are other important myths in which a figure associated with Scorpio is temporarily blinded, but in any case, we know that Upamanyu is located somewhere at the bottom of the well, which is where Scorpio is to be found).

When Upamanyu's teacher calls down to him in the well, the teacher may be "played" in the myth by the constellation Orion, who is also located (like the Twins) near the "top" of the well when Upamanyu is at the bottom.

In his praise and invocation of the Ashvins, Upamanyu declares that they are many things: they are both males and females, they are the parents of all, they are the ones who set in motion the wheel of time -- which wheel is itself described in imagery which parallels very closely the image of the wheel with "strakes" that is described in the famous Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel in the Hebrew Scriptures.

He also describes them as beautiful birds, as golden Eagles, who have perched on something that is very "like to a tree" -- undoubtedly, this is another celestial clue to help us decipher the constellations underpinning this text. The two birds on the body that is like a tree are the two majestic constellations of Aquila the Eagle and Cygnus the Swan, both of whom are above poor Upamanyu at the bottom of the well.

What is going on here? What is the message?

I believe that this story of Upamanyu, with all of its celestial trappings, is a condensed allegory of our human condition in this incarnate life -- the kind of spiritual teaching that the ancient scriptures almost always try to convey using celestial imagery. 

We are cast down into incarnate, material existence in a human body like Upamanyu falling down a deep well. The plunge down into the lower realms of matter is associated with the lower half of the zodiac wheel -- where Scorpio and Sagittarius basically "guard" the lowest point on the annual cycle, just prior to the winter solstice (see the now-familiar zodiac wheel diagram, used in countless previous posts, below):

In this incarnate condition, we are like prisoners at the bottom of the wheel -- like Upamanyu deep at the bottom of the well. We are also spiritually blind, prone to falling prey to all the many attachments and errors against which the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita warn us.

And yet at some point there comes a turn -- a turn in which we look to the realm of spirit, to the connection with the Infinite which has in fact been available to us all along (because we are not, in fact, entirely animal or entirely material, but have within ourselves a divine spark, an inner connection to the Infinite).

When Upamanyu invokes the Ashvins, he is calling to the ones who are located at entirely the other end of the wheel -- at the top of the cycle, in the upper realms of fire and spirit, and at the very top of the Milky Way column that can be envisioned as running from the bottom or "6 o'clock" position on the above zodiac wheel right up to the top or "12 o'clock" point on the circle, right next to the Twins of Gemini.

And so, when we look at Dhritarastra in the Mahabharata, and his disastrous failure to do the right thing, we must realize that he also does not represent an external king who lived thousands of years ago, but that he (like Upamanyu) is meant to depict one aspect of our human condition.

He is frequently wracked by self-doubt, and he also needs to be warned against the specific errors of wrath and anger by his wise brother Vidura, in Book 5 and Section 36 for example. His disastrous (even if often understandable and even at times well-meaning) failure to do what is right is a depiction of our own typical condition in this incarnate existence (as is Upamanyu when he becomes blind and falls down into the well).

But, although we are in this condition down here at the bottom of the well, we actually have access to the Infinite, right where we are -- as Upamanyu demonstrates when he calls upon the Ashvins and they appear, and restore his sight. This is depicted as the solution to our plight: connection to the Infinite, with which we in fact are already connected, if we could only see it (and even Dhritarastra later invokes through meditation the same connection to the infinity of the invisible realm, which is depicted in the illustration at the top of this post).

In fact, this is the only source of rescue depicted in the text. It is not Upamanyu's wise teacher who rescues Upamanyu: it is Upamanyu's wise teacher who tells Upamanyu to call upon the Ashvins. It is the connection with the Infinite that Upamanyu must achieve or restore in order to escape or transcend the condition in which he originally finds himself at the bottom of the well. 

This is in fact identical to the message that Lord Krishna gives to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, and identical to the message depicted in the invocation of Durga immediately prior to the Bhagavad Gita. All three parts of the Mahabharata are in fact telling us and showing us the very same message -- they are just employing different metaphors (and different celestial entities, whether Bootes, Virgo, or the Twins of Gemini) in order to convey that message.

And so, I hope, this discussion helps to remind us that these teachings are for all of us, all the time. The esoteric metaphors in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita are not just for full-time yogis, or kung fu masters, or those facing extraordinary circumstances. We have all of us eaten from the leaves that have temporarily blinded us, and we have all of us fallen into a deep well, so to speak. 

If that is the case, then these teachings are for everyone who finds himself or herself cast down into this physical existence, this deep well (which is, I'm sure, just about everyone who is reading this blog right now).

The solution is simple, but it is one that can occupy us for a lifetime. In the words of the ancient text: 
Do your duty, to the best of your ability, with your mind attached to the Lord [to the Infinite, to the goddess Durga, to the twin Ashvins, to Krishna the divine charioteer], abandoning worry and attachment to the results, and remaining calm in both success and failure.

(below are the screenshots of the Milky Way band, with the Ashvins on top and Upamanyu at the bottom of the well, without the annotated constellation outlines):

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Gospel of Philip and the Zodiac Wheel

images: Wikimedia commons link 1; link 2; link 3.

The previous two posts have attempted to demonstrate that ancient texts buried beneath a cliff near modern-day Nag Hammadi, likely placed there during the second half of the fourth century AD after authorities promoting what can generally be called a literalist approach as opposed to a gnostic approach had declared these texts to be heretical and suppressed their teachings, can be shown to be using esoteric metaphors to convey the very same ancient wisdom found in other myth-systems the world over.

In particular, the preceding posts argued that specific metaphors in the Gospel of Thomas, an extremely important text found in Codex 2 when the Nag Hammadi codexes were unearthed in the twentieth century, after spending perhaps sixteen centuries beneath the ground, are conveying the same message found in the ancient Sanskrit scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata concerning the nature of human incarnation, the constant interplay between the material realm and the realm of spirit, and the reality of each individual to have inner access to the infinite -- the higher self, the supreme self, the Atman -- at all times.

For those discussions, please see the previous posts entitled 
These discussions can be seen to be related to the larger pattern of the world's ancient myths, all of which can be shown to be very deliberately and intentionally using the celestial cycles to convey profound spiritual truths, most often within the framework of the great wheel of the zodiac and the great solar cross formed by the "horizontal" line running between the equinoxes (which generally relates to the "casting down" of the spirit into material incarnation in this life) and the "vertical" line running between the solstices (which generally relates to the "raising up" or "calling forth" of the spiritual aspect present -- though often hidden or forgotten -- in ourselves and indeed within every aspect of the apparently physical universe).

Numerous previous posts have discussed this overall pattern -- often relating it to the ancient Egyptian metaphor of the "casting down" and the "raising back up" of the Djed column: see for instance previous posts such as "The Zodiac Wheel and the Human Soul," "The Djed column everyday: Earendil" and many others.

Very significantly, there are passages in the Nag Hammadi texts which I would argue can be shown to explicitly declare the major outline of this very same mythological zodiac metaphor: the metaphor which forms the foundation for Star Myths from virtually every continent and culture around the globe.

In another important text from the same collection, the Gospel of Philip, which was also contained in codex 2 of the texts buried in the large jar beneath the cliffs near Nag Hammadi along the Nile River in Egypt, there is a specific passage in the subsection labeled (for ease of reference) as "Sowing and Reaping" by translator Marvin Meyer, which plainly tells us:
Whoever sows in winter reaps in summer. Winter is the world, summer is the other, eternal realm. Let us sow in the world to reap in summer. 
This passage is completely consistent with the metaphor-system which previous posts have alleged can be seen to be operating in myths literally around the world, stretching across time from the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Sumer and Babylon, all the way up through the present day in cultures where the connection to the ancient wisdom remains to some degree intact.

The system uses the "lower half" of the cycle of the heavenly bodies (from the daily cycle created by the rotation of the earth on its axis, to the monthly cycle of the moon and the yearly cycle created by earth's annual path around the great cross of the year, as well as some other cycles which are even longer than these) to describe our incarnation in "this world" -- that is to say, in the familiar, visible, material realm. 

The system uses the "upper half" of the same cycles to describe "the other, eternal realm" -- the invisible realm, the realm of spirit.

Each day the turning of the earth causes the stars (including our own sun, the Day Star) to appear to rise up out of the eastern horizon and arc their way into the celestial realm: the realm of the air, the realm of celestial fire -- a perfect metaphor for the realm of spirit, the invisible realm. But the same turning of the earth also causes the stars (including the sun) to plunge down again into the western horizon, disappearing into the "lower elements" of earth and water -- a perfect metaphor for this "lower realm" of matter, in which we find ourselves in this incarnate life.

And, using the annual cycle of the year (which has certain advantages over the daily cycle, because it is conveniently broken up into much smaller sub-sections which can be conveniently discussed using the twelve subdivisions of the zodiac signs which precisely indicate very specific parts of the annual cycle) we can use the same general metaphor. This time, the "lower half" of the year -- the half which runs from the autumnal equinox down through the winter solstice and up to the crossing point of the spring equinox -- represents the same thing that night-time represents for the daily cycle: the incarnate realm, the material realm, the imprisonment in a body of earth and water, plowing through the "underworld" of the physical universe. 

The "upper half" of the year -- the half which runs from the spring equinox up through the summer solstice and down again to the autumnal equinox -- represents the realm of spirit, the invisible realm, all that is eternal, unbounded and infinite.

The ancient Egyptian myth cycles depicted this same principle using the gods Osiris and Horus. Osiris, god of the dead, ruler of the underworld, represents the sun in the "lower half" of the cycle: when it is plowing through the lower realm of incarnate matter, "cast down" into incarnation. Horus represents the "upper half" of the cycle, when the sun soars upwards "between the two horizons" into the celestial realms of air and fire -- the realm of spirit.

Here in the Gospel of Philip, buried for those long centuries among the other texts in the Nag Hammadi collection, we find an explicit confirmation of this pattern: "Winter is the world, summer is the other, eternal realm." 

It could hardly be more clear if the text were to tell us: "The lower half of the wheel represents this world: this material realm -- the upper half, or the summer months on the annual circuit, are used as a metaphor for the other realm, the invisible realm, the eternal realm, the realm of spirit."

This in itself is remarkable, and it has tremendous implications for our understanding of the scriptures included in what today is called the Bible, but all of it might still be (mistakenly) dismissed by some as being of limited practical value. 

"So what?" they might ask. "How does this matter to my daily life?"

The answer, according to the Nag Hammadi texts themselves, is: plenty.

Because, just as we have seen in the previous examinations of the Bhagavad Gita or the Mahabharata, and just as Peter Kingsley has argued in his powerful book In the Dark Places of Wisdom, the ancient texts which were literally "driven underground" and buried in the urn at Nag Hammadi tell us something remarkable about the location of this eternal realm, and where we need to go in order to have access to it.

In section 3 of the Gospel of Thomas, for example, we find another explicit statement which can perhaps be profitably juxtaposed with this "zodiac wheel explanation" from the Gospel of Philip. There, giving the words which "Thomas" the twin has heard from his divine counterpart Jesus, the scripture tells us:
Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you. 
Notice how this passage can be interpreted, in light of all we have discussed above, as telling us that both halves of the cycle -- the upper half of the "sky" and the lower half of the "sea" -- are talking about something that really has nothing to do with physical location (neither sky nor sea). What is being discussed is the invisible realm with which we already have intimate contact, right inside of us. 

And, this same invisible realm with which we already have contact (within) is also present within and behind every single molecule of the seemingly physical realm all around us as well -- it is both "within you" and it is "outside you," the Thomas Gospel tells us.

And this is knowledge with absolutely world-changing implications for each of us. Because, as Peter Kingsley explains so powerfully in the beginning sections of In the Dark Places of Wisdom, western civilization has somehow been cut off from that truth (very likely, I would argue, by ancient events that were part of the very same chain of events which led to the burying of the Nag Hammadi texts that we have just now been considering), and because of being cut off from that truth has spent the better part of the past sixteen or seventeen centuries trying to find external substitutes for something that is already internally accessible, right now, in "the peace of utter stillness" (and see further discussion of this concept in the previous post entitled "Two Visions").

The previous posts and accompanying videos exploring the significance of the invocation of the goddess Durga in the Mahabharata (immediately prior to the Bhagavad Gita) and the significance of the relationship between Arjuna and his divine charioteer, who is none other than Lord Krishna whose form is shown to be without limits, impossible to define or delineate or describe or bound with words, also indicates the practical impact that this ancient wisdom can have on our daily lives. 

Because it would argue that we can have access to this divine higher self literally every day, at any time (and the passage in the Mahabharata containing the Hymn to Durga specifically advises making the calling upon her divine presence a daily habit -- first thing each day, in fact). For more discussion of this subject, see previous posts such as "Self, the senses, and the mind" and "The Bodhi Tree."

Below is a famous statue from ancient Egypt of the king Khefren or Khafra (who probably reigned for over two decades around the year 2560 BC), showing the king with the falcon-god Horus spreading his wings over and behind his head.

It is a powerful image, and one which can be interpreted as depicting the very teaching conveyed by the Gospels of Thomas and Philip above, as well as by the section of the Mahabharata dramatizing invocation of Durga or the Bhagavad Gita's dramatization of Arjuna and Krishna in the chariot, prior to the battle of Kurukshetra.

It appears to indicate the state in which we are in contact with, in communion with, in harmony with, and under the guidance and protection of the higher self, the supreme soul, the infinite and unbounded principle which both Durga and Krishna declare themselves and reveal themselves to be, and which the Gospel of Philip plainly says is symbolized by the "upper half" of the great annual wheel: the summer half, the Horus half.

The infinite to which we each have access, within ourselves, in the peace of utter stillness, without going anywhere.

This is the truth of which the world's ancient scriptures and myths all testify.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Gospel of Thomas and the Everlasting Spring

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

We're currently engaged in an examination of some of the ancient texts found buried at the base of the Jabal al-Tarif near Nag Hammadi in Egypt, for evidence of teachings which resonate with the teachings conveyed by other Star Myths around the world.

The previous post examined the Gospel of Thomas, found in Nag Hammadi codex 2, and argued that it is using a powerful esoteric metaphor to teach us that we are beings composed of two natures, that we are like a "set of twins," but contained within one being. We have our human, incarnate, doubting side -- but one privileged with the gift of direct access to and intimate communication with the divine, the Christ within, who declares in another manuscript contained in Nag Hammadi codex 2 that Thomas is indeed his twin, his true companion, and the one who will be called his brother.

In section 13 of the Gospel of Thomas, we find the following exchange:
Jesus said to his disciples, "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 teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the 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 to you?"
Thomas said to them, "If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you." [link to this translation].
This passage is noteworthy for many reasons.

First, it is very clearly a parallel to an episode found in the canonical gospels (those which, unlike those texts buried at Nag Hammadi, were included in the "approved list" of texts that eventually came to be called the "New Testament"): specifically, the mountaintop experience recounted in Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9, in which Jesus asks "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" and then "But whom say ye that I am?" 

In the versions included in the canonical gospels, it is Simon Peter who gives an answer that Jesus approves. In this version, it is Thomas -- and the answer that Thomas gives is different from that given by Peter in the canonical gospels. Thomas here says, in answer to the question, that his mouth is "utterly unable to say" what Jesus is like.

This answer is actually very profound, in that it is expressing the idea that the one with whom Thomas is conversing cannot be defined, cannot be labeled, cannot be delineated: he is utterly unable to be framed or contained by the faculty of language. This answer immediately points to the previous discussion in the posts: "Self, the senses and the mind," in which a distinction is made between the mind (with its endless attempts to define and describe and discriminate and delineate) and the infinite and ineffable Supreme Source which is behind and above mind, and of which Sri B. K. S. Iyengar, in commenting upon the teaching of the Vedas upon this subject, declares:
The mind cannot find words to describe the state and the tongue fails to utter them. Comparing the experience of samadhi with other experiences, the sages say: 'Neti! Neti!' -- 'It is not this! It is not this!' The state can only be expressed by profound silence. The yogi has departed from the material world and is merged with the Eternal. There is then no duality between the knower and the known for they are merged like camphor and flame. Light on Yoga, 52.
Note how well the above statement reflects the sentiment dramatized in the Thomas Gospel. Thomas declares that he can only say, "I am unable to say!" In other words, he must declare "Neti! Neti!" like the sages described by B. K. S. Iyengar and the teachings of ancient India. 

Further, in the description of Sri Iyengar, we see the assertion that there is in fact a merging of the yogi with the Eternal: there is no duality between the two; they merge like camphor and flame. The previous post makes the argument that the Nag Hammadi texts express this same idea by declaring that Thomas and the one who is ineffable, who cannot be described, are in fact twins. They are, in some mysterious sense, merged. There is no duality between them. In the words of the Hebrew scriptures in the book of Proverbs, the heavenly friend is the one who "sticketh closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18: 24).

In other words, the Nag Hammadi text of the Thomas Gospel is trying to convey to us that in our incarnate condition we are like Thomas: we are intimately connected to the infinite, the ineffable, the Eternal -- so closely that we are "twinned;" we are "merged like camphor and flame." 

And, this one with whom we are so close is in fact the un-namable, the undefinable: the Ultimate. In the Bhagavad Gita, this is expressed by Arjuna's divine companion and confidant, the Lord Krishna, who declares that: "The entire universe is pervaded by me" (section 9),  "I am the origin of all. Everything emanates from me. [. . .] There is no end of my divine manifestations" (section 10). Krishna then displays his ultimate form, and shows Arjuna that his divine companion is indeed unbounded, unlimited, unable to be described with words, endless and infinite.

The same is declared in the Hymn to Durga which is found in the Mahabharata immediately prior to the Bhagavad Gita, in which the goddess Durga is also declared to be "identical with Brahman [. . .] the unconsciousness [. . .] the beauty of all creatures [. . .]" (Book I, section 23). The fact that she appears to Arjuna immediately upon his meditation upon her and his hymn of praise to her indicates the same teaching that we have been exploring above: there is so little distance between the human being and the deity that they are as close as the camphor and the flame, they are closer than even the closest of brothers, they are twinned: the mortal with the immortal (like Castor and Pollux).

After Thomas declares that his mouth is utterly unable to say what the divine one is like, Jesus then declares to him that: 1) Jesus is not his teacher, and 2) that Thomas has drunk from the spring which Jesus has tended, and it is this spring which has made Thomas drunk.

This aspect of the passage is also extremely noteworthy. Thomas began his "confession" by saying "Teacher," but Jesus in a sense rebukes him and says "I am not your teacher." This might be interpreted as telling us that he is not separate from Thomas: there is not an external one to whom Thomas must look for guidance. The divine is within Thomas himself.

This interpretation might be seen as comporting very well with the declaration of Paul in the epistle to the Galatians, in chapter 1 and verse 16, in which Paul can be interpreted as saying that when God revealed the Christ in him, he did not confer with any teacher. 

This interpretation is strengthened by the next metaphor, in which Jesus declares that Thomas has obtained this insight because Thomas has drunk from the spring which Jesus has tended. In other words, according to this passage in the Nag Hammadi text, Jesus is here declaring that his role is as the one who tends to the spring (almost like a barista who tends to the coffee that is given to those who come looking for it). 

This declaration is very interesting in light of the passage in the canonical gospel of John describing the episode of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (at Jacob's well, in fact): Jesus tells her that he has living water that one can have and never thirst again, and then explains that this living water is within her. In verse 14 of John 4, Jesus says that this water can be in anyone a well of living water (unending water, unlimited water), "springing up into everlasting life." In other words, he is tending a spring which is infinite in nature, but which is available to each person internally

Based on this declaration found in John 4:14, and the declaration found here in the Thomas Gospel section 13 that Jesus is tending the spring, it does not seem too far of a stretch to conclude that the spring from which Thomas has drunk is the everlasting or infinite and Eternal spring within himself (within Thomas). Thomas is connected with the infinite, not externally but in himself.

Again, it bears repeating that this passage of ancient scripture is not intended to be understood as describing some ancient enlightened being named Thomas, who was different from ourselves. It is intended to convey to us a truth about each and every human soul who comes into this material life: we, like the "Thomas" in the text, are actually a composite being, a dual being -- a "set of twins," in which we usually identify with only the human aspect but which has a hidden or forgotten connection to the divine or the infinite or the eternal: a "divine twin," but our divine twin is not external to ourselves. 

Switching to a different metaphor, the text shows us that the divine or infinite or Eternal is already within us, like an everlasting or unending spring, from which we can drink.

In the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus declares: "When you know yourself, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty" (section 3). This parallels the metaphor discussed in the previous post regarding the Gospel of Thomas, which says we are like one who has a field but is unaware of the treasure buried within that field.

Ultimately, then, the purpose of this ancient text seems to be identical to the famous dictum of the temple at Delphi: "Know thyself." 

Note that the temple at Delphi was closed under the reign of the Emperor Theodosius, after the literalists took control of the Roman Empire, in the year AD 390 -- during the same second half of the fourth century AD in which scholars believe the Nag Hammadi texts were hidden and buried, possibly due to persecution by the ascendent literalist hierarchy.

The Gospel of Thomas is telling us that if we know the truth, we are actually connected intimately with the ultimate -- with the divine. We are, like Thomas, a twin: a twin to divinity (like Castor was a twin to Pollux). We contain within us a bubbling spring which is connected to Eternity. But, if we remain in ignorance of this fact, we are like the one who had a treasure buried in his or her own field, and never knew about that treasure.

Peter Kingsley, who writes about the ancient knowledge of this internal connection to the infinite, says that when we are disconnected from that infinite source, we become impoverished indeed -- filled with a longing we can never satisfy, and with a hollowness that drives us to chase after substitute after substitute for what we perceive to be missing. This hollowness and chasing after substitutes, not surprisingly, characterizes western civilization (because western civilization almost by definition is directly descended from those cultures that are heir to the Roman Empire which had shut down the temple at Delphi and declared heretical the texts buried at Nag Hammadi). 

As the Gospel of Thomas tells us, if we do not know this truth, this treasure, then we will live in poverty, and will in fact be that poverty (clearly describing spiritual poverty, rather than material poverty, since the rushing after substitutes which Peter Kingsley describes can in many cases produce material wealth, although without corresponding release from the spiritual hollowness).

The worst part about this situation is that the actual solution is already within our grasp: the bubbling spring is already available to each of us. It is that Tao which cannot be named, that Krishna who declares that there is no end to his manifestations, that one of whom Thomas says the mouth is utterly incapable of describing or defining.

But that is also the best part, as well.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Gospel of Thomas and the Divine Twin

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Why was an entire "library" of ancient texts carefully sealed in a large storage jar at the base of the steep cliffs of the massif known today as the Jabal al-Tarif, along the banks of the Nile River in Egypt not far from the ancient city of Thebes, sometime during the second half of what we label today as the fourth century AD (the fourth century being the years in the 300s, since the first century AD consists of the years with numbers below 100, such as for example AD 60 or AD 70, causing all the subsequent centuries to have numbers "one higher" than the "hundred multiple" on the year-numbers, which is why the years in the 1900s were the "twentieth century")?

What would be the purpose of carefully sealing an upside-down bowl over the top of the large jar containing these texts, and burying them some distance from the city, underneath the talus at the base of the cliffs?

What was so important about the texts that someone would want to bury them? Were they worried about the texts being stolen? Or was there some other reason?

After this ancient jar was rediscovered in the 1940s (more details about that, along with some maps showing the location of the discovery, are in this previous post), and scholars began to decipher the ancient manuscripts, one possible reason these texts were buried began to suggest itself: these were ancient texts that were not included on the lists of approved writings that church authorities began to publish in the second half of that same fourth century -- and texts that did not make it onto the list of approved writings were no longer safe to have in one's possession (often texts excluded from the approved list were specifically denounced as heretical and spurious by the authorities).

Thus, it is quite possible that someone or some group who personally treasured these texts and their teachings, but did not feel it was safe to keep them in their immediate possession as the pressure against "heretical" texts ratcheted up during the second half of the fourth century, took them up the Nile to the cliffs away from the city and buried them there, fully intending to come back to them at some point in the future.

Apparently they never got the opportunity to go back.

These ancient texts, along with some others that have come to light in more recent discoveries, as well as a very few other fragments and manuscripts that had been found or preserved prior to those found in the jar at the Nag Hammadi, suggest to some researchers a very different history of the early centuries of the Christian church than has traditionally been taught. Some of the evidence can be interpreted as indicating that early teachings very different from what we today think of as "Christian teaching" were forcibly suppressed and driven underground (literally driven "under ground" in the case of the texts buried at Nag Hammadi) during the second, third, and especially fourth centuries, and replaced by an "approved list" of texts and teachings, which were to be interpreted from a primarily literalist perspective. 

In the next few posts, let's briefly examine a few of the ancient texts that were pretty much lost to history for nearly 1,600 years, surviving (as far as we know) only inside that sealed jar buried under the earth beneath the cliffs of Nag Hammadi and safely out of the way for the spread of literalist teachings until that jar was unearthed again in the twentieth century.

When we do so, we will find some teachings which seem to strongly resonate with some of the themes we have been examining recently in our examination of some of the "Star Myths" in the Mahabharata of ancient India, and in the Bhagavad Gita that is part of the Mahabharata. In fact, we will find teachings in some of those long-buried Nag Hammadi texts that I believe have clear affinity with much that is found in the ancient wisdom preserved in myth and sacred stories literally around the world -- and indeed, that is even found in the texts of what we think of today as the Bible (the texts that did make it onto those approved lists), but which are more evident in those Biblical texts when they are understood as esoteric allegory rather than as literal accounts.

Previous posts have presented evidence that the stories of the Bible were not intended to be understood as literal history but as esoteric allegory, and that forcing a literal reading onto them has resulted in an interpretation that is pretty much the polar opposite of their intended teaching -- see, for example, this discussion of the Easter cycle, or this discussion of the specific parts of the Easter cycle between the Triumphal Entry and the Betrayal, or this discussion of the Judgment of Solomon.

The entire "library" of texts that have survived from the discovery of that jar at Nag Hammadi (apparently, not all of the texts found in the jar survived, because when they were first found a few of the texts were actually burned as fuel for a cooking fire, according to stories surrounding the discovery) can be found online here, as well as in print form in various translations and collections (such as this collection edited by Nag Hammadi scholar and translator Marvin Meyer).

Out of that collection, we'll just look at a few passages from a couple of texts over the next few days or weeks. However, those interested in learning more can go straight to the Nag Hammadi texts themselves -- although the passages often appear cryptic at first, sometimes quite strange and alien, and even downright off-putting, remember that they are intended to be understood (I believe) as esoteric allegory and that as such they are intended to convey spiritual truths which our literal or rational mind would "choke on" or reject, but which can often be best absorbed through powerful stories or metaphors.

Remember also that these texts were considered precious enough by someone living in ancient times to bury them, possibly at some risk to themselves, because they couldn't bear to see them destroyed -- and remember as well that the teachings in these texts was apparently considered so dangerous by those trying to spread a different system that these specific texts were literally unavailable after a certain point; they were completely or nearly completely eradicated. 

And, it should be noted, these texts were not marginal or unimportant texts: some of them (such as the one we will discuss in a moment) were mentioned quite often by ancient authors (including literalist Christian authorities, who were denouncing the texts), and so their titles were know to modern scholars even though -- until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library -- their contents could not be consulted (except, in a few very limited cases, in a few fragments that survived, including in one case fragments which survived in a rubbish heap).

One of the most well-known and important of the texts found in that long-buried jar from Nag Hammadi is the text known as The Gospel of Thomas, which introduces itself as a record of the "secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded" (this is the translation version found here, by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer; there are several other versions of English translations available and linked from that location, and it is interesting to read the different translations to try to get additional perspectives on the ancient text). 

This opening line itself offers us some extremely important insights, based on the name "Didymos Judas Thomas" -- the title "Didymos" or "Didymus" for Thomas is also found in the canonical gospel of John (in chapters 11, 20, and 21) and it means "Twin" (as does the name Thomas itself, apparently, but Didymos comes from the Greek word for "Twin" and Thomas comes from the Aramaic word for "Twin").   

Of course, a character specifically identified as a Twin might suggest a connection to the Twins of Gemini, to those who have become familiar with the patterns found in Star Myths around the world, and it is certainly possible that the Thomas character has some connection to the zodiac constellation of Gemini.

However, it is also quite possible that something even more interesting is at work here, something related to the previous discussion entitled "Why divinities can appear in an instant: The inner connection to the Infinite." That post argued that the ancient Star Myths are intended to convey the knowledge to us that even in this incarnate existence, we have inside of us a connection to the infinite: a connection to the divine, what is also described as the "hidden divine spark" or the "god within" (and see other related discussions on this very important subject, such as "Namaste and Amen," or any of the many previous posts about Osiris and the casting down and raising-up-again of the Djed).

How does the character of "Didymos Judas Thomas" convey a related message? The answer comes when we ask, "if Thomas is a twin, who is the other twin in the pair?" After all, that is a natural question to ask if we are reading a story and we are told that a character is a twin, but we are not immediately introduced to the other twin.

Interestingly enough, in another of the Nag Hammadi texts -- and in fact in a text which was bound up together with the Gospel of Thomas in the book-form or "codex" known to Nag Hammadi scholars as "Codex II" -- a text called The Book of Thomas the Contender, we get a startling answer as to who the other twin of Thomas might be (in the esoteric allegory).

In Section II of The Book of Thomas the Contender, which is called "Dialogue between Thomas and the Savior," we read these words in a sub-section regarding the subject of ignorance and self-knowledge:
The savior said, "Brother Thomas, while you have time in the world, listen to me and I will reveal to you the things you have pondered in your mind. Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be. Since you will be called my brother, it is not fitting that you be ignorant of yourself . . ."
Did this text just say that the Savior addressed Thomas as "my twin"?

Yes, that is what was asserted in this text. Now, if you are one who wants to interpret literally ancient texts about what the Savior said, then you are probably going to reject this text as being heretical. If you try to take this text literally, it will cause big problems with other texts, such as the scriptures describing the birth of the Savior (in which it is never said that he was born as one in a set of twins, for instance).

But, if you are not troubled with a need to force every ancient scripture into a literal mold, and if you believe that they were not intended to be understood that way, then you can ask yourself what this assertion that Thomas was the twin of the Savior might mean -- what it might have been intended to convey.

As you did so, you might remember that in other ancient mythologies, most notably perhaps in Greek myth, there are sets of twins in which one twin is divine or immortal, and the other twin is human and mortal. These Thomas narratives in the Nag Hammadi texts seem to be resorting to this same metaphor: we have a divine twin ("the living Jesus" as he is called in the opening line of the Gospel of Thomas, and "the Savior" as he is called in the Book of Thomas the Contender), and we have the mortal counterpart, the human twin: Thomas, the one who writes down the sayings for us, which he received from the divine twin.

Now, as we saw at the end of the preceding discussion regarding the "inner connection to the Infinite," there is a passage in the wisdom-book of Proverbs which declares "there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." As that post argued, and presented evidence from myth (particularly myths in which a god or divine being appears instantly, which also happens to be one of the characteristics of the risen Christ) this teaching may well be trying to convey to us the knowledge that our connection to the infinite, to the realm of the gods, is not external to us: it is within us already.

The metaphor of a divine twin and a human twin, such as the Gemini Twins in Greek mythology of Pollux (divine) and Castor (human), may well be referring to just such a concept or teaching. Expressing it in this way can convey this truth to us in a powerful, metaphorical, esoteric manner.

If that is the case, then what we see here in the Gospel of Thomas (and in the Book of Thomas the Contender) may well be conveying the very same truth, just in a slightly different form than it is found in (for example) the Greek myth of Pollux and Castor. In the Nag Hammadi texts mentioned here, Jesus is the divine twin and Thomas is the human twin, but they are not in fact two different entities. This is a teaching about the "Christ within" (which is a teaching also found in the writings of the apostle who called himself Paul, a name which the Reverend Robert Taylor points out is very much linguistically related to Pollux and to Apollo).

We are already, perhaps, getting a sense as to why these texts ended up buried in a large jar in a secret location, where the authorities who had declared such teachings to be "heretical" could not find them and destroy them.

There is much within the Gospel of Thomas itself to back up the interpretation that has been suggested above. In future posts we may have occasion to examine a few more of them, but for now let's just look at another metaphor, offered as a saying of Jesus, found in section 109 of the Gospel of Thomas.

There, in the translation of Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer, Jesus says:
The (Father's) kingdom is like a person who had a treasure hidden in his field but did not know it. And [when] he died he left it to his [son]. The son [did] not know about it either. He took over the field and sold it. The buyer went plowing, [discovered] the treasure, and began to lend money at interest to whomever he wished.
This is a very interesting metaphor, and one that suggests that the "treasure" of the infinite is buried away deep inside us like the treasure in the story that lies buried under a field, which can remain there our entire lives without our knowing it. But it is something which we actually already have, if we just knew.

The scriptures appear to be trying to break through our ignorance on this subject, to tell us that we already are connected to something that is actually inexpressible in its infinity (that cannot be quantified or defined or even named, as the opening lines of the Tao Te Ching declare, and that thus lies beyond all the quantifying and labeling and chattering of the part of us that we call our mind).

Thomas is telling us the words of Jesus, but perhaps "Thomas" received these sayings from a divine source that was not external to him (though none the less divine and none the less real for that). In fact, we should not think of the Gospel of Thomas as being about some "twin" who lived thousands of years ago: as Alvin Boyd Kuhn advised us in a passage quoted in several previous posts, we won't understand ancient texts unless we realize that they are about us. Each and every individual soul that incarnates in this world is, according to such a reading, like Thomas: a twin to a living infinite inner divinity, possessed of a friend that sticketh closer than any "external twin" (as close as literal twins are to one another, this twin is even closer).

This teaching is also portrayed in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita, with Arjuna and his companion and divine charioteer, the Lord Krishna (as well as in the episode in which Durga appears before the battle: see videos here and here and additional discussion here).

These are not the messages that are traditionally drawn from the scriptures of the Bible when they are approached with a literalist hermeneutic (because literalist readings necessarily start off by seeing the characters in the text as primarily external to us, since those characters are understood to be literal-historical figures). But they are messages which resonate strongly with all the other myths and sacred traditions of the world -- and they are in fact the messages which I believe these texts were intended to convey to us, before something happened and that message was all but wiped out, around the period of time that the Nag Hammadi library was being sealed away.