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The sun has his simple robe of light. The clouds are decked with gorgeousness.Light is invisible— Tagore, Stray Birds 112
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 with | emerge from ‘the inner world which secretes its own light’ (Corbin 1971, 5).— The Báb (tr. 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, EP1:24) | all signs are in Thought. 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 the interpreting of one sign conceals other interpretants. 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 | describe the place before us. [next]
‘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.The primordial light is the eternal light by which ‘the righteous’ see the continuous act of Creation. In Peircean terms, ‘And there was light’ is a sign whose object is not merely in the past, and is not merely existing, but is the ongoing practice of creation – or in Dogen's term, being-time. [next]
we are inside a bubble. It is a bubble into which we are placed at the moment of our birth. At first the bubble is open, but then it begins to close until it has sealed us in. That bubble is our perception. We live inside that bubble all of our lives. And what we witness on its round walls is our own reflection.He goes on to explain that what is reflected by the bubble is ‘our view of the world.… That view is first a description, which is given to us from the moment of our birth until all our attention is caught by it and the description becomes a view.’ But the bubble can be opened, with the help of a teacher and a disciplined spiritual practice. In this book i use the term cognitive bubble in such a way that the ‘opening’ of it is like recovering ‘the sincerity and simple-mindedness of the child's vision,’ or discovering the inside-outness of the world. [next]— Castaneda 1974, 246
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.Peirce, 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 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 the use of 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 (Barry 2009).
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 the two types. Likewise there is no fixed boundary between the internal and external worlds; all perception involves 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 over their appearance (Sacks 2012). [next]
Still, if God is Creator of the natural universe, the laws of nature are also laws of God, which we creatures follow without being aware of them. We are not even aware of the grammatical laws of our language as we follow them, nor do we know how our bodyminds translate verbally expressed commandments into our behavior in the moment of obedience to them. The “following” of any law, like the following of an effect from a cause, or the logical following of a consequent from an antecedent, is an instance of semiosis. The living universe of “the truth” is perfused with semiosis, most of it going on beneath our awareness, and necessarily so, because awareness is grounded in it.
The links between sense and motion are indispensable to living, but the links depend always upon presuppositions that are commonly either absolutely inaccessible to consciousness, or momentarily left unexamined in the immediacy of action. There is no time for more than a little consciousness.— Gregory Bateson (Bateson and Bateson 1987, 95)
Chapter 13 used the example of a single cell's behavior to illustrate the pattern of mediation involved in semiosis. Bateson used the example of a neuron firing to illustrate the same pattern, though his formulation differs in terminology from Peirce's:
Warren McCulloch long ago pointed out that every message is both command and report. In the simplest case, a sequence of three neurons – A, B, and C – the firing of B is a report that “A recently fired” and a command: “C must quickly fire.” In one aspect the neural impulse refers to the past, in the other aspect it determines a future. B‘s report is, in the nature of the case, never totally reliable, for the firing of A can never be the only possible cause of B‘s later firing: Neurons sometimes fire “spontaneously.” In principle, no causal network is to be read backwards. Similarly, C may fail to obey B‘s injunction.Bateson's message is Peirce's sign; his report is Peirce's representation of the sign's object; his command is Peirce's determination of an interpretant. He does not say, as Peirce does, that the object determines the sign, but clearly the message mediates between what it reports and what it commands, just as the sign mediates between object and interpretant; and like Peirce, Bateson points out the indeterminacy involved in this mediation.— Bateson and Bateson 1987, 95
But Bateson's (or McCulloch's) example is oversimplified. Neural transmission does not occur in linear chains: most neurons have one output, via the axon of the cell, but many inputs, via dendrites. If neuron B fires, it is not ‘reporting’ that A has fired, but that its multiple inputs, plus its spontaneous activity, add up to the threshold value that causes B to fire. Likewise its firing can influence what neuron C does, but cannot ‘command’ it to fire as if it were part of a linear chain of command.
Due to the unreliability of neuron B's ‘report,’ Bateson says that ‘no causal network is to be read backwards.’ But this is an overgeneralization; all reading is semiosis, and there is a kind of reasoning that does read causal networks ‘backwards’: Peirce called it retroduction. This is usually the first step (but only the first) in a scientific attempt to formulate a “law of nature.” Of course this reading of nature has to be tested by experiment and observation before we can rely on it to guide our behavior. We need some evidence of its truth, its correspondence with reality. Reading a sacred text for guidance, on the other hand, requires faith and trust in the authority of its Author. But both kinds of reading rely on a deeper trust, a deeper faith in semiosis, the sacred source of all meaning and all guidance, the underground river that runs subconsciously, the water of life. This faith is deeper precisely because we are not aware of it.
Similarly, if we were aware of the processes whereby we form mental images, we would no longer be able to trust them as a basis for action. They say the centipede always knew how to walk until somebody asked it which leg it would move first.— Bateson and Bateson 1987, 88
If we had continual awareness of our image-making processes, our images would cease to be credible. It is indeed a merciful dispensation that we know not the processes of our own creativity – which sometimes are the processes of self-deceit.[next]— Bateson & Bateson 1987, 96
the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”.However, the risk is worth it; we need not succumb to apophenophobia. If ‘the logic of human discovery parallels the divine logic of creation’ (Raposa 1989, 127), and all creation is a continuous evolution, it would follow that natural processes must share the inherent creativity of semiosic processes. Hence Peirce's insistence that causation itself must be regarded as analogous to reasoning. Hulswit and Romanini (2013, 104), in their study of ‘Semeiotic Causation and the Breath of Life,’ develop this Peircean line of thought further:In statistics, apophenia would be classed as a Type I error (false positive, false alarm, caused by an excess in sensitivity). Apophenia is often used as an explanation of some paranormal and religious claims. It has been suggested that apophenia is a link between psychosis and creativity.
Peircean processes are creative in a triple sense: (1) each event involved in the process contains an element of irreducible novelty; (2) the end state of a process can be reached in different ways; whenever one way or line of causation be blocked, it may originate new lines; and (3) the end state toward which a process tends, may evolve spontaneously.[next]
When we hear a Dharma talk or study a sutra, our only job is to remain open. Usually when we hear or read something new, we just compare it to our own ideas. If it is the same, we accept it and say it is correct. If it is not, we say it is incorrect. In either case, we learn nothing. If we read or listen with an open mind and an open heart, the rain of the Dharma will penetrate the soil of our consciousness.— Thich Nhat Hanh (1998, 12)
Todd Lawson (1997, 174-5) quotes a ‘more or less standard Muslim guide to reading the Qur'án’ which is formulated differently from Thich Nhat Hanh's guidance, yet the actual practice of reading which follows from it may be essentially the same.
Be fully convinced that it is God's revelation.Compare also this Tibetan Buddhist intimology:
Be aware that you are always in God's presence.
Feel as though you hear the Qur'án from God.
Feel as though the Qur'án addresses you directly.
Consider each verse as relevant today, not as a thing of the past.
Strive to live by the teachings of the Qur'án, since it is God's guidance for mankind.
This is the way to get close to the Qur'án and to grasp its meanings.…
Those who have the essential concern to practice the stages of the path of enlightenment must understand that all the Victor's teachings of Sutra and Mantra are exclusively methods for their own attainment of enlightenment, thinking, ‘That compassionate Teacher taught this Dharma for the sake of liberating me personally from the suffering of the hellish states and the life-cycle in general and to establish me in the exaltation of Buddhahood.’— Tse Chokling Yongdzin Yeshe Gyaltsen (Thurman 1995, 93-4)
Of course there are differences among traditions in the way they conceive the reader's relationship to scripture. The Qur'án is perhaps unique in the degree to which believers venerate the Book itself as ‘co-eternal with the divine essence’ (Lawson 1997, 199) – though the Torah is similarly venerated in some Jewish traditions. In any case, the universal key to whole-body reading of scripture is an open-hearted trust in the text. [next]
Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.[next]— 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.[next]— 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.In Peircean terms these ‘illuminations,’ when taken up as hypotheses, are abductions or retroductions which change the very standards by which they are tested.— 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 often foreshadowed by a sense of personal crisis or a heightened awareness of mortality. [next]
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.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.— L.L. Whyte (quoted by Koestler 1964, 260).
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.[next]— J.L. Borges (1964, 5)
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 history and memory into 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, RSV
Analogies 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 taken-for-granted, 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 continue as revelations. [next]— Luke 17:22-25 (RSV)
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.[next]— Chi-hsu Ou-i (Cleary 1987, 118)
The deeper levels of your being express themselves through the time of your life, but 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, waiting to sprout new meaning. [next]
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? [next]
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)
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.][next]— Kafka, Die Zürauer Aphorismen, 19
‘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 is the difference or polar tension between the Angel and the individual, or between universal and particular personality, which makes 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.[next]— Corbin (1971, 131)
She'll confess it by her figure and she'll deny it to your face.[next]— Finnegans Wake, 271
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. ‘The world’ could be the people capable of knowing their Creator, or (more inclusively) nature as the scripture through which the hidden Creator is revealed. Or the revealed Word, the sacred text, can be seen as 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 Bardo Thodol 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’ may symbolize for the concentration of meaning in Scripture, or the concentration of time in the field of Presence. 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 (and reveal) that Presence by their separateness, their Secondness, their Otherness to each other. [next]
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 (Thomas 8). In this context we can read size as symbolic of quality. But why place such value on the quality of being unusual? What is taken for granted is “buried” in familiarity just as the unknown is “concealed” by our non-acquaintance with it. But there is nothing hidden that cannot be revealed. Nothing hides behind the phaneron. [next]
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.[next]
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.’ A literal translation of 23 by Michael Grondin 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.’ [next]— Aitken (1991, 128)
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. Only the indeterminate can be determined. Like the cycle of breathing, we live through a cycle of finding and letting go, grasping and releasing ..... [next]— (Lambdin)
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.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. What is the ‘glorious body’ of Jesus if not the primal buddha-body? [next]— Philippians 3:20-1 (RSV)
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, if we only wake up to it. [next]
According to some ancient 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 is eventually hurled into the lowest abyss. But Elaine Pagels relates another ending to the story:— (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 Hypostasis of the Archons, where Samael claims to be God and then is cast down from his delusion of exaltation. If you're 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.
The blindness of the Anthropocene is human “exceptionalism.” But as far as the universe is concerned, human lives matter no more than other lives. As the most blind and arrogant of human concerns, such as the greed for “growth,” have exploited and colonized the planet, and we begin to see the results, human fears about our future have also grown. Is this fear the beginning of wisdom, or is it just another face of our delusion? Only sentient beings limited by their embodiment have concerns, desires or fears. How could anything matter to the Creator of | or the universe?
Thich Nhat Hanh brings this question down to Earth in his commentary on the Heart Sutra:
As living beings, we have our needs, desires, and cravings, and we have our discrimination. So we see things in terms of good and evil, increasing and decreasing, defiled and immaculate.[next]Mother Earth does not discriminate. … So we can learn a lot from Mother Earth.Letting go of our notions about increasing and decreasing can be helpful as we think about caring for the environment. We have polluted our water, earth, and air. We have destroyed forests and wildernesses, the oceans are rising, and thousands of species are becoming extinct. This gives rise to anxiety and despair. We are concerned that the toxic elements are increasing and the healthy elements are decreasing. That is our mind of discrimination. From the perspective of nature, and of the universe, there is no worry and anxiety because the nature of everything is no-increasing, no-decreasing.…Our fear has the potential to destroy us. But if we are able to look from the point of view of Mother Earth, with the insight of no-increasing and no-decreasing, we have a chance to transcend our fear and wake up. By seeing from the cosmic perspective, from the perspective of the Heart Sutra, and by fully accepting that our civilization can be destroyed, we may yet have a chance to save it.— Thich Nhat Hanh (2017, 68-72)
The same goes for the sign as the medium linking discovery with habit-change. 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 in practice. [next]
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 (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)? You can read the signs if anyone can. [next]
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.[next]— Qur'an 30:22-4 (tr. M.A.S. Abdel Haleem)
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 realized the total presence of the one time or the fundamental point of it all?— Haleem, pp. 340-341
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. [next]
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.
Attributing one's own work to a legendary or mythical author is one way of inflating its value in the estimation of readers, especially those who believe that the work has been ‘kept secret’ by its custodians. (The Gospel of Thomas is not the only book claiming to contain ‘hidden words.’) In literate cultures the world over, 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 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 scriptural with historical study does a disservice to both realms of inquiry, reducing the contribution that each of them can make to the other.
Some writers take advantage of 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 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, 305
In the 21st century C.E., the appeal of the occult often finds expression in conspiracy theories. A conspiracy theory may be defined as a belief that some specific factual information has been deliberately concealed from public view by those who own or control the media channels. This belief generally implies a claim that the controllers (such as governments and corporations) must have conspired to accomplish this concealment, and have done so with intent to deceive and manipulate public opinion. But the term “conspiracy theory” is usually applied to the supposed information which has supposedly been concealed.
Conspiracies and cover-ups do happen, and whistle-blowers can sometimes present factual evidence of them to the public. But in the absence of such evidence, believers in the truth of a conspiracy “theory” can often maintain their belief by explaining away the lack of available evidence for its truth (as well as the lack of evidence, or even motivation, for the deliberate concealment itself). This kind of belief is often grounded in a generalized distrust of the ‘mainstream’ or ‘legacy media,’ reinforcing a reactive trust in sources who propagate contrary or ‘alternative’ information. This tendency lends itself to closed reasoning cycles which block out all evidence that would call the favored belief into question. The bubble of perception becomes opaque and rigid; the true believer's thinking becomes as “airtight” as a hermetically sealed vessel, blocking out all genuine dialogue, including the dialogue with nature. [next]
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 studies 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 the opening verses of Thomas.)— DeConick (2007b, 97)
DeConick's work may be essential reading for anyone deeply interested in the Gospel of Thomas or other texts from that era; but the reading of a turning sign ought to 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. [next]
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.[next]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)
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.) [next]
Jesus said, ‘Adam came from great power and great wealth, but he was not worthy of you. For had he been worthy, [he would] not [have tasted] death.’(The bracketed phrases here are guesses that fill gaps in the manuscript.) Of the various readings of Saying 1 mentioned in Chapter 6, some appear to be compatible with Saying 85 and others not. I leave it to you to decide which is which – or to come up with a whole new reading if necessary. [next]— Thomas 85 (Meyer)
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