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This webpage is the current version of rePatch ·6 (the reverse side of Chapter 6·) of Turning Signs, as of 30 April 2018. Each point is independent but some terms are hyperlinked to their definitions or to related contexts elsewhere. Tip: You can also search this page or the whole netbook or the gnoxic blog for any term.
Do not let the Evil One persuade you that you can have any secrets from him. [Laß dich vom Bösen nicht glauben machen, du könntest vor ihm Geheimnisse haben.]— Kafka, Die Zürauer Aphorismen, 19
When we first wake up to the fact that we are thinking beings and can exercise some control over our reasonings, we have to set out upon our intellectual travels from the home where we already find ourselves. Now, this home is the parish of percepts. It is not inside our skulls, either, but out in the open. It is the external world that we directly observe. What passes within we only know as it is mirrored in external objects. In a certain sense, there is such a thing as introspection; but it consists in an interpretation of phenomena presenting themselves as external percepts. We first see blue and red things. It is quite a discovery when we find the eye has anything to do with them, and a discovery still more recondite when we learn that there is an ego behind the eye, to which these qualities properly belong. Our logically initial data are percepts. Those percepts are undoubtedly purely psychical, altogether of the nature of thought. They involve three kinds of psychical elements, their qualities of feelings, their reaction against my will, and their generalizing or associating element. But all that we find out afterward. I see an inkstand on the table: that is a percept. Moving my head, I get a different percept of the inkstand. It coalesces with the other. What I call the inkstand is a generalized percept, a quasi-inference from percepts, perhaps I might say a composite-photograph of percepts. In this psychical product is involved an element of resistance to me, which I am obscurely conscious of from the first. Subsequently, when I accept the hypothesis of an inward subject for my thoughts, I yield to that consciousness of resistance and admit the inkstand to the standing of an external object. Still later, I may call this in question. But as soon as I do that, I find that the inkstand appears there in spite of me. If I turn away my eyes, other witnesses will tell me that it still remains. If we all leave the room and dismiss the matter from our thoughts, still a photographic camera would show the inkstand still there, with the same roundness, polish and transparency, and with the same opaque liquid within. Thus, or otherwise, I confirm myself in the opinion that its characters are what they are, and persist at every opportunity in revealing themselves, regardless of what you, or I, or any man, or generation of men, may think that they are. That conclusion to which I find myself driven, struggle against it as I may, I briefly express by saying that the inkstand is a real thing. Of course, in being real and external, it does not in the least cease to be a purely psychical product, a generalized percept, like everything of which I can take any sort of cognizance.EP2:62
And of course, the form of this ‘purely psychical product’ is partially determined by the physical form of the perceptual process, which depends on the perceiver's embodiment. The percepts of a color-blind person will not be the same as those of someone with normal color vision, although they will agree on the externality of the object they are perceiving, and will both attribute whatever color-qualities they see to that object, as neither of them has any control of those qualities. Yet through dialogue, they may become aware that their percepts differ, and thus become aware of aspects of perception internal to the nervous system.
These internal aspects of the perceptual process are themselves products of development and evolution, habits in the broad Peircean sense, varying somewhat from body to body. The process of habit development is mostly guided by factors beyond anyone's control. For instance, one who has no opportunity to learn language before puberty is unlikely to learn it later on in life, as the developmental “window” for taking on that set of habits has passed.
Another example is stereoscopic vision (the perception of depth resulting from the brain's ‘fusing’ of the two different images received by the two eyes). People vary considerably in the degree of stereoscopic perception they have, and some do not develop it at all because they lack an eye or normal alignment of the two eyes as babies. Usually, if the defect in alignment is corrected later in life, it's too late for the person to develop the habit of stereoscopic vision. But Oliver Sacks (2010, 111-143) describes the case of ‘Stereo Sue,’ who learned in middle age how to see in stereo depth, and had to work very hard at the eye exercises prescribed by her optometrist in order to maintain this ability even after she had learned how to do it.
The plasticity of the human brain allows for some limited conscious control even of perceptual processes, and although conceptual processes are much more malleable, there is no fixed boundary between them. Likewise there is no fixed boundary between the internal and external worlds; all phenomena involve some interaction or ‘coupling’ between them. Lack of control of psychical or mental phenomena is not an absolute criterion of external reality either. People who are subject to hallucinations may be fully aware that they are not external objects of perception, not real in that sense, and yet have no control of their appearance (Sacks 2012).
Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.— anon
The leading edge of revelation is what Peirce called the ‘breaking up of habit’ – which ‘will, according to the law of mind, be accompanied by an intensification of feeling’ (EP1:348). The intensity of feeling does not last forever, but one who enjoys it is more likely to learn from it.
The experience of revelation has its roots in the pre-conscious and pre-human, like all experience. Evolutionary biology can even account for it in terms of adaptive value:
The element of surprise is the revelation that a given phenomenon of the environment was, until this moment, misinterpreted. Animals who experience surprise as a pleasure are likely to recognize camouflage and leave more offspring than are their less perspicacious brethren. Selection as nature, filled with live, sensitive beings, is by no means blind.— Margulis and Sagan (1995, 165)
… in the sphere of culture the more unexpected something is, the stronger will be its influence on the cultural situation after it has come into being. An event that is quite unexpected (the appearance of an unpredicted text) radically alters the situation of the next one. The improbable text becomes a reality and subsequent development makes the fact of its existence a starting point.— Yuri Lotman (1990, 235)
can only articulate a paradigm, not correct it. Paradigms are not corrigible by normal science at all. Instead, as we have already seen, normal science ultimately leads only to the recognition of anomalies and to crises. And these are terminated, not by deliberation and interpretation, but by a relatively sudden and unstructured event like the gestalt switch. Scientists then often speak of the ‘scales falling from the eyes’ or of the ‘lightning flash’ that ‘inundates’ a previously obscure puzzle, enabling its components to be seen in a new way that for the first time permits its solution. On other occasions the relevant illumination comes in sleep. No ordinary sense of the term ‘interpretation’ fits these flashes of intuition through which a new paradigm is born. Though such intuitions depend upon the experience, both anomalous and congruent, gained with the old paradigm, they are not logically or piecemeal linked to particular items of that experience as an interpretation would be. Instead, they gather up large portions of that experience and transform them to the rather different bundle of experience that will thereafter be linked piecemeal to the new paradigm but not to the old.Of course the ‘ordinary sense of the term “interpretation”’ might itself be transformed by a revelation …— Kuhn (1962, 122-3)
The sense of anomaly and crisis leading up to a paradigm shift in science has its parallels in religion. ‘In the history of Kabbalism, the emergence of new ideas and systems was almost without exception accompanied by the belief that the last age was drawing near’ (Scholem 1946, 321). The same applies to the microcosm of individual life: a revelatory experience is usually foreshadowed by a sense of personal crisis or a heightened awareness of mortality.
The mystic believes in an unknown God, the thinker and scientist in an unknown order; it is hard to say which surpasses the other in nonrational devotion.— L.L. Whyte (quoted by Koestler 1964, 260). The scientific or religious seeker has to believe that the unknown is really out there, which in practice can only mean that it is knowable and not fictional). But neither is it factual: the sense of it is yet unmade.Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces molded by time, certain twilights and certain places – all these are trying to tell us something, or have told us something we should not have missed, or are about to tell us something; that imminence of a revelation that is not yet produced is, perhaps, the aesthetic reality.— J.L. Borges (1964, 5)
- A revelation, if anticipated, must first meet and then exceed the expectations of those who recognize it. It must fulfill the old law even by transforming it. As in Luke 16:16:The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom is preached, and every one enters it violently. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void.‘For heaven and earth to pass away’ is for historical time to become imaginary – as indeed it is, since all we know of past and future is what we know now. Revelation raises the body of truth, as resurrection raises the true body, from temporary or temporal presence (i.e. location on an imagined timeline) into eternal presence. At the apocalypse, the arrival of ‘the world that is coming,’ even the stone tablets come to life again.— (RSV)But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.Resurrection and revelation are not mere historical facts but actual present experiences. Such an experience, seen from the outside, would be a phase shift in brain dynamics, one that changes everything for the bodymind subject to it. Revelation could be triggered, for instance, by an analogy; the violence of which Luke speaks is the feeling of a mindquake shaking the foundations of meaning, destroying and making it new. Mark Turner describes the process thus (1991, 125):— Luke 20:37-8, RSVAnalogies can inventively induce us to construct new connections, and recast or tune others. A powerful analogy can restructure, disturb, influence, and change our category structures, and successful analogical connections (light is a wave) can ultimately become part of our category structures. Some of the connections that analogies propose might mesh with our category connections and thus be easily assimilated. Others might be deeply disruptive, with the consequence that their assimilation will be resisted by the conceptual apparatus we already have in place. A deep, surprising analogy that leads us to form weird but powerful connections that challenge our category structures will not settle readily into our conventional knowledge. It will remain suggestive, never achieving a location in our conceptual apparatus. It will not be used up – assimilated and naturalized – as we go through it repeatedly: we will be able to return to it again and again, and find it fresh, because the connections it suggests cannot be established in our category structures (or maybe even in our conventional conceptual apparatus) with impunity.
This is what Wallace Stevens (1957) calls ‘poetry,’ a ‘renovation of experience’ which ‘must resist the intelligence almost successfully.’ Turning signs are precisely those that we cannot assimilate, that is, cannot turn over to the unconscious in the form of habits, and thus they are always fresh. But sometimes we are not up to the challenge of reading them anew. Then, if we have a hunger for transformation, we are tempted to look elsewhere for the turning sign – anywhere but within ‘our conventional conceptual apparatus.’ Anything out there can potentially trigger the transformation, but unless the potential is realized, nothing happens. If the epiphany does occur, it is like being struck by lightning, everything is lit up. In either case the transformation cannot be located either in the transformed world or in time.The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Lo, there!’ or ‘Lo, here!’ Do not go, do not follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.As Northrop Frye says (1982, 133), the ‘ability to absorb a complete individual is, so far, beyond the capacity of any society … society will always sooner or later line up with Pilate against the prophet.’ Of course a revelation ‘will be resisted by the conceptual apparatus we already have in place’! If it were not, there could be no transformation, only minor adjustments. And as Turner also points out, it is this resistance which keeps a sign such as an analogy fresh. There are some truths you can never take for granted no matter how many times they are granted to you, because they challenge the very basis on which they are understood. For instance: Even though you know that the world is wholly contained in the bodymind and the bodymind wholly contained in the world, these inclusions continue to appear mutually exclusive, and thus to continue as revelations.— Luke 17:22-25 (RSV)
- A revelation is conventionally supposed to be given by an external agency. But a sudden burst of learning may be a fork in one's own developmental path. It is a sudden change of the living relation between the system inhabiting and the system inhabited. The source of the change is neither inside nor out – or it is both inside and out. Everbody wholly embodies transformity.All beings originate from the creativity of Heaven, so all are transformations of the path of Heaven. Being transformations of the path of Heaven, each has the great function of the whole body of the path of Heaven, and is not just a small portion of the effective capacity of Heaven. Therefore they can each correct nature and life.— Chi-hsu Ou-i (Cleary 1987, 118)
- Deep reading of an ancient scripture means hearing the primal voice with an original ear. Yet the voice can only speak in a specific idiom, marking a point in the ongoing evolution of the human guidance system. To find the turning word in ancient wisdom is to reclaim that evolution as your own. The deep reader therefore calls upon the help of scholars for access to ancient idioms; otherwise, she would be trapped in the cage of her own, and the revelation lie buried under the rubble of history. To read a scripture as turning word is to reclaim and resurrect that whole history – and to carry if forward: if it only repeats the usual monologue, then it can't be a turning word for you. Shake the dust from your feet and turn the page.
The deeper levels of your being express themselves through the time of your life, but as each expression is called forth by a specific context, and contexts are constantly shifting and changing, words and deeds may come to conceal what they once revealed, or vice versa. Likewise the deep reader of an ancient text could say that implicit truths are buried in it, awaiting resurrection. Or you could say that the text itself is a seed, or is made up of seeds, waiting to sprout new meaning.
- ἓν τὸ σοφὸν μοῦνον λέγεσθαι οὐκ ἐθέλει καὶ ἐθέλει Ζηνὸς ὄνομα.Is the Creator unwilling or willing to be called by the name of God?
The wise is one alone, unwilling and willing to be spoken of by the name of Zeus.— Heraclitus (Kahn CXVIII, Diels 32; Clement, Stromateis, V, 115, 1.
- The revelation of the Divine Reality hath everlastingly been identical with its concealment and its concealment identical with its revelation.The act of meaning a verbal revelation collides and colludes with the limits of language. Revelation and creation merge and emerge with ‘the inner world which secretes its own light’ (Corbin 1971, 5).— The Báb, c. 1850 (1976, 112)For with the appearance of the light, the universe expanded. With its concealment, all existing things were created according to their species.… This is the secret of the act of Creation. One who is able to understand will understand.— Ketem Paz on Zohar 1:47a (Matt 1983, 214)
From the Valentinian Gospel of Truth, 32:Understand the inner meaning, for you are children of inner meaning.… Speak from the heart, for you are the perfect day and within you dwells the light that does not fail.— (Meyer 2005, 106)
All thought is in signs (Peirce); all messages are coded (Bateson) – including revelations. The actual encoding of a message conceals all the other codes that could have carried the same message, and even conceals the fact that other codings are possible. The implications of one encoding always diverge to some degree from the implications of another, and those of the unused encoding are concealed along with it. These concealments are inevitable because one inhabits one meaning space at a time, even when we know that other spaces are no less habitable and other codes might just as well prescribe the path (or describe the place) before us.
Specification misrepresents the implicit by making it explicit. Revelation conceals by articulation.
Zohar 1:31b:‘Let there be light!’ And there was light (Genesis). Every subject of the phrase and there was exists in this world and in the world that is coming.Matt (ZP I.194) explains:The Zohar alludes here to the primordial light, which appeared briefly in this world and was hidden away for the righteous in the hereafter. Bahir 106 (160) identifies the hidden light with the world that is coming, which it takes to mean ‘the world that already came.’ The phrase And there was light is similarly taken to mean ‘There already was light,’ i.e. the primordial light.
- Every religion, insofar as it subordinates the well-being of individual members to that of the group itself, tends to replace the inner law of conscience with outer laws which are applied to all indiscriminately. But ‘One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression’ (Blake, MHH, 24). In these conditions, a human conscience can turn to an esoteric subculture within it; otherwise the individual may be cut off from true fellowship when the exoteric religion loses its feel for the core experience which is the living source of its own laws, and the guidance embodied in them sinks to the level of superstition.
The esoteric side of scripture is not limited to early Christianity, or even to the Abrahamic religious tradition. As Steven Heine explains, it also appears in ‘esoteric Buddhist training that is characterized by intense subjectivity. This dimension includes the profound intimacy of the master-disciple relation based on intuitive insight and hermetism, as well as an aura of secrecy and inscrutability projected toward outsiders’ (Heine 2001, 8).
What i have called the conscience would correspond to the Buddha-nature in Buddhism, and in Persian Sufism to the Perfect Nature, the Angel who guides the ‘man of light.’ To paraphrase Henry Corbin, this relationship of guidance depends crucially on perfecting the individuality of each person, which cannot happen if that individuality is swallowed up in a collective being or will.‘The power which is in thee,’ in each one of you, cannot refer to a collective guide, to a manifestation and a relationship collectively identical for each one of the souls of light. Nor, a fortiori, can it be the macrocosm or universal Man which assumes the role of heavenly counter-part of each microcosm. The infinite price attached to spiritual individuality makes it inconceivable that salvation could consist in its absorption into a totality, even a mystical one.It was the difference or polar tension between the Angel and the individual, or between universal and particular person, which made each of the pair meaningful. In this vision (as in the enactive model of cognition), the act of seeing is ‘an interaction, a reciprocal action’ (Corbin 1971, 140). You could even say that you are God's secret and he is yours. As Ibn Arabi put it,— Corbin (1971, 16)Ana sirr al-Haqq: ‘I am God's secret,’ the secret, that is, which conditions the polarity of the two faces, the face of light and the face of darkness, because the divine Being cannot exist without me, nor I exist without Him.— Corbin (1971, 129)
In Corbin's account of Iranian Sufism, the true self is ‘the organ and place of theophany’ (Corbin 1971, 129).This is the state of the ‘friend of God,’ of whom the divine Being can say, according to the inspired hadith, so oft-repeated by the Sufis: ‘I am the eye through which he sees, the ear through which he hears, the hand by which he touches … ’… and, we may add, the mind by which he reads revelation:the theophanic figure of the Angel of Revelation in prophetology … is here the Angel of spiritual exegesis, that is to say, the one who reveals the hidden meaning of previous revelations, provided that the mystic possesses the ear of the heart.— Corbin (1971, 131)
- Esoteric traditions often turn the distinction between the Word and the world inside out, or upside down, reading both as revelation. The Zohar (1:5a) tells us that the blessed Holy One contemplated Torah four times ‘before actualizing his work of art,’ i.e. before creating the world; and this is the model to be emulated by the ideal reader.
An Islamic hadith beloved of the Sufis goes something like this: I was a hidden treasure and I desired to be known, and I created the world in order to be known. In other words, nature is the scripture through which the hidden Creator is revealed; and scripture is the seed in which Creation is concealed.
The seed is planted in the ground. The archetypal sacred text is dug up from underground, like the mysterious letter in Finnegans Wake, or the Book of the Dead in Tibet, where such texts are known as terma, ‘hidden treasures’ (Fremantle and Trungpa 1992). Sometimes the text is burned (like the Blue Cliff Record) and later resurrected or reconstructed by dedicated readers.
The ‘hidden treasure’ as another symbol for this concentration of meaning in Scripture also appears in Thomas 109:Jesus said, ‘The 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. 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.’The buyer's practice is contrary to the precept given in Thomas 95: Jesus says, ‘If you have money, do not lend it at interest. Rather, give [it] to someone from whom you will not get it back’ (Meyer). But the point of the parable is the loss of the hidden treasure by the father and son because they did not realize their likeness to ‘the kingdom.’ Matthew 13.44-46 gives a different version of the ‘hidden treasure’ scenario:— Thomas 109 (Meyer)Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.(KJV)
The point of the merchant's act is not to appropriate to himself the gift, the eternally given, but to ‘sell all he has’ for that which is given to all who can receive it. For once all that is given is concentrated in that pearl, that mustard seed which is the kingdom of heaven and the point of creation, all things are of value only insofar as they reveal that treasure. Prior to that concentration of Presence, outside of that event horizon, things can only conceal that Presence by the separateness which is their absence from it.
- In Thomas 8, the essential ‘human being’ or the core of humanity is said to be like a rare sort of person. This is comparable to the Mahayana Buddhist doctrine (especially as formulated by Hui-Neng and Dogen) that everyone is already a buddha, but very few realize their buddha-nature.
Thomas 8 has a parallel in Saying 107, which tells the story (familiar from other gospels) of the one sheep that was lost and was valued more than the 99 who didn't stray. In the Thomas telling, it was ‘the largest’ sheep who went astray, so the shepherd who left the 99 others to look for this one is comparable to the fisherman who threw back his whole catch and kept the biggest fish. In this context we can read size as symbolic of quality. But surely one point of all these stories is our failure to value what is taken for granted; it is ‘buried’ in familiarity just as the unknown is ‘concealed’ by our non-acquaintance with it.
‘Nearly all religious symbols, to some extent, cultivate opacity, ambiguity, elusiveness, and enigma in order to create an indirect communication triggering a subjective realization of truth’ (Heine 1994, 94).
- The event of revelation is not fixed on the timeline of history: rather each presenting is a flash that lights up the whole world. Enlightenment is universal. The primal person, like the bodhisattva, has no concern for private salvation. If you have her ears, you can hear her voice, even through one reporting his own experience, like St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4:I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.Northrop Frye (1982, 231) comments on this testimony by Paul:
And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.(KJV)He feels a certain reluctance in stressing the experience, mainly, no doubt, because of his strong revolutionary slant: he wants the world as a whole to wake up, and individual enlightenment is useful chiefly because it may be contagious, which it cannot be if it is incommunicable.
- In historical terms, perhaps the most well-attested sayings of Jesus are those included in both Thomas and Q. Since about half of the sayings in the Coptic Thomas belong in this category, that would make it the most concentrated extant record of what Jesus actually said. But again, there's a big difference between gospel truth and historical truth: a gospel's authenticity is deeper than its factuality. If Jesus had cared about the accurate preservation of his exact words, would he not have written them down himself, or taken more care to get them recorded? Instead, he ‘cast his bread upon the waters,’ encouraging those who heard him to pass it on to the next round of listeners, in whatever form was most meaningful to them.
- Thomas 23 is a bit strange in its shift of focus from second to third person:1Jesus says: ‘I will choose you, one from a thousand and two from ten thousand. 2And they will stand as a single one.’This may be due (as DeConick proposes) to a latter ‘accretion’ being added to a ‘kernel’ saying without sufficient attention to grammatical continuity. On the other hand, what's wrong with saying that you are chosen, but they (the many from whom you are chosen) ‘stand as a single one’? The Coptic verb here could suggest an act of standing up rather than a unified state of being; indeed it is phrased much the same as in 28, where Jesus says ‘I took my stand in the midst of the world.’ Michael Grondin's literal translation of 23 reads ‘they-will-stand to-their-feet.’ Perhaps this is how the bodhisattva (a very rare being, remember) fulfills her vow to save all sentient beings: at the moment she is ‘chosen’ (or ‘enlightened’), they all spontaneously arise as one, as in a single resurrection of the all. Robert Aitken says something like this:— Thomas 23 (5G)Standing up before realization is the same as standing up after, yet they are not the same. Once you find intimacy with vast emptiness – the genuine Tao – your act of standing will be the act of the entire universe standing. And in the same act you will be standing alone.Perhaps Heraclitus said it even more succinctly (Kahn LXIII): εἷς μύριοι, ἐὰν ἄριστος ᾖ – ‘One is ten thousand, if he is the best.’— Aitken (1991, 128)
- For a parallel to Thomas 2, on becoming ‘king over the All,’ see Dogen's Dharma Hall Discourse at Eihei Koroku 4.269. A couple of excerpts:The ancient Buddha Hongzhi said, ‘The Buddha within the land manifests a body everywhere. The lands within the Buddha are also all like this in every particle. Can you thoroughly experience this?’If you can, then you will quickly experience the body of the Dharma-king (Nishijima/Cross 1994, 120).
The ancient Buddha has spoken like this, but why should I not say more? The Buddha of the land pervades the body and is the entire body. The lands of the Buddha are the suchness of reality, and their non-suchness. Can you thoroughly experience this?— (Leighton and Okumura 2004, 260-61)
Emily Dickinson (508) expresses the experience of being Queen over the All:I'm ceded – I've stopped being Theirs –
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I've finished threading – too –
Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace –
Unto supremest name –
Called to my Full – The Crescent dropped –
Existence's whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.
My second Rank – too small the first –
Crowned – Crowing – on my Father's breast –
A half unconscious Queen –
But this time – Adequate – Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown –
Something like the ‘king’ of Thomas 2 also appears in this passage from the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch:The physical body of man in this world is itself a city. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body are the gates to the city. Outside there are five gates, inside there is the gate of consciousness. Mind is the ground; self-nature is the king. If there is self-nature, there is a king; if self-nature departs, there is no king. If there is self-nature, the body and mind exist; if self-nature departs, the body and mind are destroyed. Since Buddha is made by your own nature, do not look for him outside your body. If you are deluded in your own nature, Buddha is then a sentient being; if you are awakened in your own nature, sentient beings are then Buddhas.Tao-ch'uan says in a commentary on the Diamond Sutra that ‘we leave the world millions of times, but never the palace of the King of Nothing’ – that is, the Buddha (Red Pine 2001, 68).— tr. Yampolsky (1967, 158)
Saying 81 in the Gospel of Thomas tells us more about kingship:Jesus said, ‘Let him who has grown rich be king, and let him who possesses power renounce it.’Here we have a definitive contrast between ‘being a king’ and holding political power. Moreover, since the second part of the saying prescribes renunciation of power, perhaps the first part likewise prescribes a renunciation of wealth. To be king means to live the kingdom of God, to be ‘king over the All,’ to know your world as wholly your world and to take responsibility therefor. Alternatively, as suggested by Valantasis (1997, 161), we could read this as a sequence (like that in Saying 2): grow rich, then be king (and have power), then renounce it. And then? Start again: another cyclic process.— (Lambdin)
Saying 110 is quite similar:Jesus said, ‘Whoever finds the world and becomes rich, let him renounce the world.’But perhaps ‘finding the world’ to be your world is precisely what it means to ‘become rich’ in the spiritual sense; and then the next step is to let go of it, or stop clinging to it, by realizing its ‘emptiness’ (and your own), as a Buddhist would say. Only what is empty can be filled. Like the cycle of breathing, we live through a cycle of finding and letting go, grasping and releasing .....— (Lambdin)
- Hamlet knew of his original identity as ‘king over the All,’ yet knew he was usurped:O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.The ‘bad dreams’ are nothing but other people caught in samsara. If you're not caught by their being caught, you're free to roam in nirvana eternally.— Hamlet, II.ii.251To men such as these, how could there be any question of putting life first and death last? They borrow the forms of different creatures and house them in the same body. They forget liver and gall, cast aside ears and eyes, turning and revolving, ending and beginning again, unaware of where they start or finish. Idly they roam beyond the dust and dirt; they wander freely in the service of inaction.But the trap here is the delusion that you have found your way ‘beyond the dust and dirt’ while others are still trapped in it. Enlightening beings and buddhas do not congratulate themselves on being awake while others remain asleep; the light dawns on all or none. The Kingdom, if it is anywhere, is in the dust and dirt, each particle revealed as no more or less than a sign along the Way, each meaning the means of beginning and ending here.— Chuang Tzu 6 (Watson 1968, 87)The World-Honored One by resort to the power of expedient devices preaches the wisdom of the Thus Come One.— Lotus Sutra 4 (Hurvitz 1976, 89)
- In St. Paul, the kingly power is concentrated in Jesus as the Christ, but he uses it to raise us all to the level of his own embodiment:our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.What is the ‘glorious body’ of Jesus but the primal buddha-body? This is not so different from the role of Jesus in Thomas, except that Paul projects it into the future. For him it was the future resurrection (ἀναστασις) that mattered, at least for those in search of salvation. In 2 Timothy 2:18 he urges Timothy specifically to avoid people who ‘have swerved from the truth by holding that the resurrection is past already’ (RSV). Since he has just a few verses previously warned against logomachy or ‘disputing about words,’ and shortly afterward against ‘stupid, senseless controversies,’ it is clear that he does not put the issue of resurrection-time in that category. But if there is a difference between Paul and Thomas on this point, it may amount to a difference in emphasis, like the difference between recognizing the buddha-nature as inherent and affirming that one must aspire to realize it. Seekers differ in what they need to hear in the current situation.— Philippians 3:20-1 (RSV)
- When we speak of ‘finding the meaning,’ as in Thomas 2, we typically assume that ‘the meaning’ is a finished thing lying around somewhere, waiting for us to pick it up, or pick up on it. If we found such a thing, it would then mark the end of the quest – like a tombstone with its epitaph. But what if we find instead the act of meaning? Perhaps Thomas is emphasizing that such a ‘finding’ has no taste of death in it, unlike the finding of a finished meaning. If we discover the act of meaning as part of a semiosic life cycle, then we can see that it never becomes inert: meaning must stabilize long enough to change our habits, to guide our practice, but this stability is only a part of a larger living, like the human skeleton which provides an internal frame for the ongoing articulation of the body. The act or process of meaning is not a dead letter but the spirit that giveth life, never ceasing to surprise us.
- The sequence in Thomas 2, from seeking to finding to dismay to astonishment to kingdom, has a strikingly inverted parallel in the teachings of the Justinians; but this needs a bit of explaining.
According to some gnostic sources, the ‘demiurge’ or creator of the material world, referred to as ‘the Lord’ or ‘the God of Israel,’ was the son of a higher being called Sophia (‘Wisdom’), but was unaware of his subordinate status. In The Hypostasis of the Archons, one of the Nag Hammadi texts, he is the head of the ‘archons’ or ‘authorities (exousiai) of the universe.’… and he became arrogant, saying, ‘It is I who am God, and there is none other apart from me.’ When he said this, he sinned against the entirety. And a voice came forth from above the realm of absolute power, saying, ‘You are wrong, Samael’ – which is, ‘god of the blind.’ And he said, ‘If any other thing exists before me, let it become visible to me!’ And immediately Sophia stretched forth her finger and introduced light into matter …In this version of the story, ‘Samael’ continues in his blind arrogance and eventually gets hurled into the lowest abyss. But Elaine Pagels relates another ending to the story, the one which parallels Thomas 2:— (NHL, 167-8)The gnostic teacher Justinus describes the lord's shock, terror and anxiety ‘when he discovered that he was not the God of the universe.’ Gradually his shock gave way to wonder, and finally he came to welcome what Wisdom had taught him. The teacher concludes: ‘This is the meaning of the saying, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.”’— Pagels (1979, 70)
Likwise in the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus speaks to one who is at first shocked, and later exalted (‘king over the All’), to discover that the phenomenal universe is his world. This reverses the sequence of events in the gnostic The Hypostasis of the Archons, where Samael claims to be God and then is cast down from his delusion of exaltation. For a solipsist the shock (and the wonder) is to realize that you are not ‘the God of the universe’ because there are other selves who are ‘sole heirs’ as well as you.
- If meaning is a connection to reality, and the real is the sacred (as Mircea Eliade says), to mean is to consecrate. But ‘men are not free to choose the sacred site’ (Eliade 1957, 28). It must be a discovery, not an invention, not a merely conscious creation. Humpty Dumpty's claim (‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’) disqualifies his word as a turning word. The ‘sacred site’ as dynamic object must determine the sacred sign to its interpretant.
- Another of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and colours. There truly are signs in this for those who know. Among His signs are your sleep, by night and by day, and your seeking His bounty. There truly are signs in this for those who can hear. Among His signs, too, are that He shows you the lightning that terrifies and inspires hope; that He sends water down from the sky to restore the earth to life after death. There truly are signs in this for those who use their reason.— Qur'an 30:22-4 (tr. M.A.S. Abdel Haleem)
- According to the Liddell and Scott Greek lexicon, the word σημεῖον (derived from the older word σῆμα) was used in reference to conventional signals, ‘signs’ from the gods (omens or portentous events), and elements of reasoning (‘proofs’). The usual sense of σημεῖον in the New Testament, where it occurs frequently, seems to combine the ‘proof’ sense with the sense of ‘signs from the heavens.’ But the NT frequently warns us to beware of false prophets bearing great ‘signs’! In Matthew 24, the disciples of Jesus ask him what will be “the sign of his coming and of the close of the age” (σημεῖον τῆς σῆς παρουσίας καὶ συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος). His answer takes most of the chapter and includes various cataclysmic events; he also says (24:24) that ψευδοπροφῆται (false prophets) will arise (ἐγερθήσονται, the same verb used for resurrection!) and give great signs (καὶ δώσουσιν σημεῖα μεγάλα). But then will appear the sign of the son of humanity in heaven (24:30, φανήσεται τὸ σημεῖον τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν οὐρανῶ), the true sign.
And how does one know the true sign from the false? We don't know the ‘day and hour’ when the Son of man will come, but according to the gospel, the coming will be as undeniable and irresistible as the flood of Noah's time that swept everyone away (Matthew 24:39). In that light, how do we read the statement of Jesus to his contemporaries that ‘this generation will not pass away till all these things take place’ (Matthew 24:34)? The ‘proof’ of that theorem is left to the reader.
- Why must we see only through a glass darkly? We can understand this as a natural result of all cognition being semiotic – but Rumi explains it in different terms: it would not serve the divine purpose for us to see ourselves as God sees us.Is there any place our King is not? But his sorcery has blindfolded the viewer.In the last of these verses, Rumi alludes to two passages from the Qur'án. The first refers to unbelievers being rendered blind and deaf by God/Allah:
He blindfolds your eyes such that you see a dustmote at midday, but not the Greatest Sun,
A ship at sea, but not the ocean's waves.
The ship's bobbing tells you about the sea, just as the movement of people tells the blind man that it is daytime.
Have you not read the verse, God has set a seal … ? It is God who sets the seal, and it is He who removes it and lifts up the coverings.— Rumi, Diwan-i Shams-i Tabrizi 2633-37 (Chittick 1983, 59)Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering.The second refers to the apocalyptic vision in Surah 50 (Qaf):— Qur'án 2.7 (Pickthall)15So were We incapable of the first creation? No indeed! Yet they doubt a second creation. 16We created man— We know what his soul whispers to him: We are closer to him than his jugular vein— 17with two receptors set to record, one on his right side and one on his left: 18he does not utter a single word without an ever-present watcher. 19The trance of death will bring the Truth with it: ‘This is what you tried to escape.’ 20The Trumpet will be sounded: ‘This is the Day [you were] warned of.’ 21Each person will arrive attended by an [angel] to drive him on and another to bear witness: 22‘You paid no attention to this [Day]; but today We have removed your veil and your sight is sharp.’The point here is that only God can remove the veils which He has placed over the eyes, hearts and minds He has created – and the resulting dis-covery would mean the end of the old habitual world and creation of a whole new one. In the meantime – that is, in historical time – God's creatures must remain veiled from their own true nature. It is necessary for them to sleepwalk through their roles in the divine play, just as one must first be asleep in order to wake up (see Chittick 1983, 58-60). How would the play ever get performed if every role-player recognized herself as the whole show?— Haleem, M. A. S. Abdel. The Qur'an (Oxford World's Classics) (pp. 340-341). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.
The ‘driving’ angel in Verse 21 of Qaf might recall the saying of Heraclitus that ‘Every beast is driven to pasture by a blow’ (Wheelwright 1959, 37). The ancient writer who quoted that fragment apparently understood it as referring to a divine blow (Wheelwright 1959, 57). In Peircean terms, the ‘driver’ might be identified with the Secondness which motivates inquiry and learning: no one learns unless his expectations are contradicted, more or less violently, by the reality beyond them. The ‘witness’ then is the voice of Experience itself.
- The way of inquiry – which includes (but does not end with) revelation, as explained in Chapter 6 – is essentially the last and best of four methods outlined by Peirce in his 1877 essay on ‘The Fixation of Belief.’
In the light of current usage, and considering Peirce's own commitment to fallibilism, this title is remarkably ironic: both ‘fixation’ and ‘belief’ seem best suited to describe the first and crudest of the four, which he calls the method of tenacity. It consists of simply clinging stubbornly to whatever belief you already have and refusing to change it. Peirce concedes that this method ‘yields great peace of mind’; but it is quite incompatible with Peirce's view of thinking as ‘necessarily a sort of dialogue, an appeal from the momentary self to the better considered self of the immediate and of the general future’ (SS, 195). Why should the ‘better considered self’ insist on deferring to an earlier stage in its own development?
Next is the method of authority, about which enough has been said in this netbook; it amounts to a method of collective tenacity, and public character constitutes its advance over the private method of tenacity. The third method essentially involves dialogue among reasonable people, i.e. those who admit their own ‘natural preferences’ and those of others as both valuable and questionable, and use honest reasoning to work toward a more universal and consistent belief system. This is certainly more promising than the method of authority in which some people impose beliefs on others, and is the best method available on questions that can't be settled on factual grounds alone. But where observable facts are crucially relevant, it is much inferior to the method of science. This, Peirce's fourth and highest method, is the collective public form of the meaning cycle itself. This way of inquiry is the only one which incorporates the best features of insight, reason, critical thinking and learning from experience.
- In addition to hermeneutic, the name of Hermes also spun off another term relating to hidden wisdom, namely Hermetic, defined by Peirce in the Century Dictionary as follows:1. Of or pertaining to Hermes.
2. Pertaining to Hermes Trismegistus, or to the theosophy, cosmogony, and later alchemy and astrology associated with his name; alchemic. Thoth, the Egyptian Hermes, was supposed to have written certain sacred books of the Egyptian priests, which treated of the doctrine and ritual of religion and various natural sciences. In the second century after Christ, these true Hermetic books having been forgotten (for they were always kept secret), other books appeared, containing a jumble of incongruous theosophical and philosophical ideas, bearing the name of Hermes Trismegistus as their author, and assumed to be the ancient sacred books of Egypt. They were doubtless written by Alexandrian Neo-Platonists. To them were added alchemical and astrological books attributed to the same author.
Knowing instinctively that anything revealed must first have been concealed, we are primed to look for the profound in anything that has been hidden. This explains the allure of the occult, of wisdom or gnosis which is ‘wrapped in an impenetrable and indecipherable enigma so as to protect it from the idle curiosity of the vulgar multitudes’ (Eco 1995, 154). The trickster can exploit our addiction to mystery by claiming knowledge of such hidden wisdom, or if he is also a huckster, offering to reveal it for a price.
- He prophets most who bilks the best.— Finnegans Wake, 305Then after you've paid for ‘The Secret’ you may well find it's nothing you didn't already know. Some books really have been ‘hermetically sealed,’ as we say in another context, but opening them up is not necessarily worth the trouble. On the other hand, how will you ever get the answer if you never ask a single question?
- Chapter 6 shows the degree to which current scholarship supports the Gospel of Thomas's claim to represent the actual words of Jesus. When it comes to history, however, the Gospel's own explicit claims to that effect hardly count at all as evidence. In literate cultures the world over, including the milieu of Thomas, writers have often concealed their own authorship, attributing the text instead to figures of earlier times whose authority was already recognized. For instance the Zohar, the greatest of the Kabbalistic texts, attributes itself to followers of a noted rabbi of 2nd-century (CE) Palestine. But research by Gershom Scholem and other scholars has placed its author in 13th-century Spain: Moses de León, who even wrote in Aramaic (the main spoken language in Palestine around the time of Jesus) rather than any language current in his time, no doubt to enhance the illusion of antiquity in his text. Similar cases abound in every literate culture; so any explicit claims to represent the actual words of Jesus (or Buddha, etc.) should be taken as evidence of scriptural intent, not of historical fact. Confusing the two does a disservice to both realms of inquiry, reducing the value of each to the other. The polysemy which is a curse to history is a blessing to scripture.
- As mentioned in Chapter 6, neither Thomas nor Q provides any evidence that Jesus spoke of himself as ‘Christ.’ Davies (2002, xxxiv) also points out that like Thomas, ‘Q shows no significant interest in the motif of crucifixion and resurrection or salvation through grace and faith.’ These motifs can be regarded, historically, as ‘accretions’ to the teaching of Jesus, elevated to creedal status by the ‘church fathers.’ But this is not necessarily relevant to their value for the deep reader.
Chapter 6 also presents the Gospels of Thomas and John as polar opposites. This may seem strange, especially with specific reference to Thomas 13, of which DeConick says (based on some rather oblique references in the Acts of Thomas) that its ‘Christology is quite cogent with that expressed in the Gospel of John’ (2007a, 85). It is true that the two gospels share a reference to stoning as a reaction to a highly disturbing utterance of Jesus, and share the image referred to in John as the ‘water of life.’ But how can we speak of ‘Christology’ in reference to a Gospel from which the word ‘Christ’ is entirely absent?
DeConick's approach to Thomas and other texts of that time is a purely historical one: in other words it deliberately sets aside any pragmatic meaning the text may have for the present reader. The ancient text is taken strictly as evidence of what other people believed at some other time. What could be a turning sign is treated as a museum piece, its effect on the reader subordinated to a theoretical reconstruction of the ancient audience. The historical specialist, relieved of any responsibility to relate the text to primary experience, tends to cut its meaning to fit some Procrustean framework, asking only how to label this particular exhibit. We study the text to learn about it, or to fill in some details in our picture of a fossilized past – never considering that we might learn something from a scripture that could still be a turning sign.
This purely historical approach is so anxious to avoid bending the text to the reader's beliefs that it sometimes uses extremely strained logic to rationalize a more conventional reading, one that bends the text to suit the historian's habitual category structures. With reference to Thomas 13, DeConick guesses that the ‘words’ spoken privately to Thomas by Jesus include the ‘unpronouncable [sic] Name of God.’ She returns to the subject in her more recent book on the Gospel of Judas (The Thirteenth Apostle, 2007). Here again she is referring to Thomas 13:Thomas' confession is quite remarkable in that it overrides two of the confessions of the other disciples (Peter and Matthew), who understand Jesus in terms of angels and sages. Since stoning is the punishment for blasphemy in early Judaism, it is quite certain that the secret words Jesus confided to Thomas included the pronunciation of the unutterable divine Name of God, Yahweh. So Thomas' confession places Jesus on the level of God, bearer of his great Name. This is quite consistent with the opinion of the author of the Gospel of John.I think any reader who tries to follow this reasoning step by step will see how contrived it is. It seems to me a dubious rationalization of an eisegesis, or reading of DeConick's own (highly specialized) idea into the text – in this case an idea which is not explicitly expressed anywhere in the Gospel of Thomas. (The way of inquiry, on the other hand, could hardly be more explicit in Thomas in its opening verses.)— DeConick (2007b, 97)
DeConick's historical approach to the reading of scripture does not necessarily produce a more reasonable understanding than other approaches. DeConick's work may be essential reading for anyone deeply interested in the Gospel of Thomas or other texts from that era; but a sound reading of scripture must be grounded in both one's own primary experience and the historical facts about the culture which generated the text, as gleaned from the work of specialists in the field.
Thomas 13, by the way, has a parallel in the Zen story where Bodhidharma asks four disciples to state their understanding of the Dharma. The first three express themselves philosophically or metaphorically, and Bodhidharma responds to the first, ‘You have my skin’; to the second, ‘You have my flesh’; and to the third, ‘You have my bones.’ The fourth, Huike, bows and remains silent, and to him the Patriarch responds, ‘You have my marrow.’ Huike then becomes the Second Patriarch in the Chan/Zen lineage. Dogen, who alludes to this story frequently, reads Bodhidharma's replies as approving of all four expressions, not preferring one to the others.
- The Valentinian Gospel of Philip draws upon the root meaning of ‘Christ’ to elucidate some ideas which are reminiscent of the Gospel of Thomas. One passage contrasts the external ritual of baptism with the transforming intimacy of ‘Chrism’ or ‘anointing’:Chrism is superior to baptism. We are called ‘Christians’ from the word ‘Chrism,’ not from the word ‘baptism.’ Christ also has his name from chrism, for the father anointed the son, the son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us. Whoever is anointed has everything: resurrection, light, cross, holy spirit. The father gave all this to the person in the bridal chamber, and the person accepted it. The father was in the son and the son was in the father. This is heaven's kingdom.This has a certain affinity with Thomas 14. Another passage in the Gospel of Philip speaks of the image of ‘resurrection’ and links it in an almost Thomasine way with the idea of becoming Christ:— (Meyer 2005, 74)Truth did not come into the world naked but in symbols and images. The world cannot receive truth in any other way. There is rebirth and an image of rebirth, and it is by means of this image that one must be reborn. What image is this? It is resurrection. Image must arise through image. By means of this image the bridal chamber and the image must approach the truth. This is restoration.Those who receive the name of the father, son and holy spirit and have accepted them must do this. If someone does not accept them, the name will also be taken from that person. A person receives them in the chrism with the oil of the power of the cross. The apostles called this power the right and the left. This person is no longer a Christian but is Christ.— (Meyer 2005, 67)
- Marriage is exemplary of a unification where ‘the two shall become one’ (Genesis 2:24, quoted in Ephesians 5:31). St. Paul calls this ‘a great mystery’ and reads it metaphorically: the real marriage is between ‘Christ and the church,’ and the husband-wife relationship is at best an emulation of that. If this relationship really makes the two one, you might well ask why it is asymmetrical, the husband having authority over the wife like that of the head over the ‘body’ or Christ over the church. This is another mystery, given that the risen Christ is ‘far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’ (Ephesians 1:21).
But this unification is ambiguous: is it the unification of parts into whole, of members into one body, or is it unification under one head, so that unity depends on one part presiding over the others? Likewise in other metaphors, Christ is sometimes the whole building and sometimes the cornerstone of it, ‘in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord’ (2:21). Here organic growth is blended with artificial construction in a single image, and ‘the law of commandments and ordinances’ is at once ‘abolished’ and replaced by another form of authority, a more organic form. (For a psychoanalytic and Blakean perspective on all this, see Brown 1966.)
- On the question of what it means to ‘taste death’ (or not to) in the Gospel of Thomas, Saying 85 is intriguing:
- The ‘twin’ motif at the beginning of Thomas may be related to the ‘heavenly twin’ figure in Mandean and Manichean religion (Corbin 1971, 33-36) – the ‘Perfect Nature’ or angelic guide of each individual, a heavenly counterpart who turns out to be identical to the person herself when her vision is cleansed of conformity so that she can contemplate reality directly.
The beginning and end of dialog is the realization that this heavenly twin is none other than the Other, the Umwelt, the world.
- Turning once again to the passage from Dogen's Genjokoan quoted in Chapters 2 and 5:When you see forms or hear sounds, fully engaging body-and-mind, you intuit dharma intimately. Unlike things and their reflections in the mirror, and unlike the moon and its reflection in the water, when one side is illumined, the other side is dark.— (Tanahashi 2000)
The Sufi homologue to the ‘darkness’ of this ‘other side’ is elucidated by Corbin (1971, 99ff.) in his chapter on ‘the black light.’ In this mystical idiom, the ‘inessence’ or ‘spiritual poverty’ of all beings corresponds to their ‘emptiness’ (anatta, sunyata) in the Buddhist idiom.This is the final end toward which all mystic ways converge; it is the spiritual abode where the gaze of the one who contemplates the beauty of the Witness of contemplation in the manner of the inner eye, the eye of the heart, is none other than the gaze of the Witness: ‘I am the mirror of thy face; through thine own eyes I look upon my countenance.’The ‘darkness’ is transparency itself, the other side of impermanence.— Corbin (1971, 106)
- Q (Luke 10:21, Matthew 11:25):… he said: I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for you hid these things from sages and the learned [ἔκρυψας ταῦτα ἀπὸ σοφῶν καὶ συνετῶν] and disclosed them to children [ἀπεκάλυψας αὐτὰ νηπίοις].— Robinson et al. (2002, 103)
- Blue Cliff Record, Case 39:You must realize that this matter does not rest in words and phrases: like sparks from struck flint, like the brilliance of flashing lightning, whether you reach it or not, you still will not avoid losing your body and life.— Cleary and Cleary (1977, 242)
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