An obscure gospel

May.27. 2017

I’ve referred to a rather obscure gospel a few times.

Why my preference for this particular gospel? Instead of the other four (the synoptic gospels as they are known)?

It goes back to my research scholar days.

Whenever a work exists in different versions and had undergone editions and revisions, it is always preferable go to the earliest version.

But how do we determine chronology when it is not clearly established as is the case with these gospels?

We look for other clues to help us find it.

The first is the leaner is better theory.

Editors and revisers tend to add rather than subtract. So a leaner version is usually an indication that it is an earlier one and truer to the original source.

The second is consistency of content.

Let’s say there are two versions of one work and both have content that are the same and content that are different.

First, we conclude that the content that is present in both works is probably reliable and authentic since it appears in both versions.

And that the content that is present only in one version is added material.

Then we examine the added content for consistency.

We determine if the added material in each version is consistent with the content that is present in both versions and which we have established to be reliable.

If it is consistent, the version with the consistent content is probably more reliable and vice versa.

The Gospel of Thomas is written in sutra form, basically a list of about 110 wisdom sayings. There are almost no narratives of any kind.

About 60% of the wisdom sayings in the Thomas gospel are also found in the four synoptic gospels.

The rest are mostly narratives and attempts to legitimize the great teacher as a divine being.

Using the lean theory, we can establish that the Thomas gospel is earlier, which means it is probably more reliable.

This is supported by the consistency clue.

One can surmise that the following happened.

After the great teacher had died, his followers began to collect his teachings and assemble them into compilations.

In time, probably a few compilations emerged and circulated, among them, the Gospel of Thomas.

As his followers expanded, an organization grew around his legend and persona and as is common with many great people after they died, a process began to deify him.

Within the organization, efforts were made to standardize his teachings as well as to solidify his new status as a divine being.

And so the four gospels were born, each with their own attempts to establish his divinity with many reverse prophecies and supernatural accounts.

It is possible that as his deification process began, accounts of his “supernatural” exploits began to be circulated and the four scribes were just adding these accounts to the text. Or they might have simply made them up.

Whatever the case might be, we’ll never know.

The true history of what really happened is forever lost to us (unless we happen to build a time machine one day).

But using the plausibility test and considering all the factors, and looking in from the outside, this is really the only plausible explanation for the two differing types of gospels.

And if it were not for some brave monks in the desert of Egypt, the true original gospel might have been lost to us forever, so effective was the establishment machinery in quashing all dissenting literature.

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The problem

May.26. 2017

The problem with using metaphors to teach deep concepts is that shallow people will invariably start to take them literally.

Suppose you want to teach the concept of giving.

So you make up this fictitious character who will embody the concept of giving.

(There was actually a St Nick back in medieval times but you can rest assured he bore no resemblance to the guy we know as St Nick.)

Now imagine that some people actually start to believe in this character.

They get so inspired that they start to build a cult around him with an elaborate system of rituals and dogmas.

As their numbers grow, the cult gain general acceptance and is now known as a “religion.”

And maybe along the way, one of their so-called guardians of their laws (known also as theologians) decide that his famous white beard is 5 inches long.

And so everyone starts to grow 5 inch long beards and they start to persecute men who do not have beards.

Nothing wrong of course in all this child play (if it’s all innocent).

Except that the original message of giving is now lost.

Now it’s all about following elaborate rules and rituals and arguing about how many reindeers were hauling his sled instead of being more charitable.

That’s the problem with metaphors.

Some people actually take them literally.


A question of nomenclature

May.25. 2017

I’ve used a few different words to refer to the Creator.

Creator–that’s one.

The Force is another (apologies to GL).

Some people use the word–the Source.

An old Master called Her the Way and Mother.

You can of course use the word God–but that word has been coopted so much by evildoers and opportunists that it doesn’t mean much these days any more.

Yes, you can also use the A-word but there’s a group of people who believe they have the exclusive right to use that word. (I think they own the trade mark.)

Then it came to me, the best word to describe the force, the energy, the spirit of the universe, the one who created and filled the world with life and energy and love and beauty.

Father.

(Which brings us back to the genius of the wise man who first used this word to describe Him.)

“Father” describes Him perfectly.

It explains and describes the one who gave us life and the love in that creation.

(Not human love of course, as many would try to project onto Him. As the Old Master also said, The Way is not Humane.)


Perceptions

May.21. 2017

I am often perplexed by the political correctness in our national discourse these days.

Much of it seems naive and lacking in a basic understanding of the human mind.

Take the concept of profiling.

Profiling is a dirty word these days and often associated with bigotry.

But profiling is actually very much a part of our human DNA.

It’s a defense mechanism that’s been hardwired into us through thousands of years of evolution.

Perhaps one of our ancestors met a snake one day, and the snake happened to bite him.

So what happened the next time he met another snake? He would avoid it. He had learned his lesson and formed a certain profile in his mind of snakes.

Now we all know that not all snakes bite and that not all snakes are poisonous.

But tell that to our ancestor. Once bitten twice shy. Why take the risk again?

This is profiling. It’s a useful defense mechanism and one which had perhaps ensured our survival over millenia of evolution.

It doesn’t even need first hand experience. Profiling can occur through word of mouth too. You can hear of someone being bitten by a snake and you would also learn to avoid them.

There’s actually another side of profiling and it’s called branding. Branding is the pretty side of profiling (as opposed to the ugly side).

Take a particular lady’s accessory that has the initials “LV” as its logo.

For some odd reason, many women (and maybe some men), even those who seem to possess good intelligence, will fork over large sums of money to own one of these bags.

Why are these products so desirable?

Because they associate it with a certain quality or life style (or who knows what else they associate it with).

It’s a fact we can’t deny.

Profiling or branding is hardwired into our genes and there’s no use whining about it.

But we can do something about it.

For instance, I belong to an ethnic group that is often perceived as being weak and submissive. I have noticed that this perception can sometimes lead to some misguided individuals trying to take advantage of the situation.

So what do I do? I found that I had to change that perception when I am met with those situations.

Now, snakes can’t do anything about their bad reputations.

They can’t play victim and cry snakophobia and demand that people stop profiling them.

But we human beings, we can do something.

The first thing is to recognize that the human mind works through associations, through grouping like items together.

When someone does something, good or bad, it immediately affects everyone else who is linked to him/her in whatever shape or form.

If you happen to belong to his/her group and you want to erase or reverse that bad perception which his/her actions have created, you’ll have to do something about it. (In other words, you’ll have to reverse the “karma” of his/her actions.)

Sure it is not fair, why do you have to be responsible for some nutcase’s actions?

But ask yourself, why do people continue to waste their money on certain overpriced products simply because of a logo?

That’s not fair too and very foolish, but will people change simply because you tell them to change?


The plausibility factor

May.10. 2017

So how do we decide what is literal and what is metaphor when it comes to the teachings of this great teacher?

To answer this question, we first establish that metaphors are a part of his language.

In this regard, we don’t have to go far.

In the Gospel of Thomas, he said, I have thrown fire on the world.

A clear use of metaphor–fire to represent the revolutionary ideas he was teaching and not real physical fire.

Similes are closely related to metaphors and his teachings abound with them.

The most famous one–the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.

The difference between simile and metaphor lies in the word “like.” Take out the word “like” and it becomes a metaphor.

I can go on but those will suffice.

Once we establish that metaphors are indeed a part of his language, the next step is to determine which of his teachings is to be taken literally and which metaphorically.

For this, we rely on the plausibility factor.

At one level, this may seem to be a matter of personal opinion. Plausibility, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

But at another level, it’s pretty clear cut.

Take Santa again.

Is it plausible that there’s a workshop up in the North Pole where a bunch of elves are making toys to keep young kids happy during a festive season?

Is it plausible that there’s an old guy riding around on a sled drawn by reindeers dropping down chimneys with a bag of gifts during that season?

If that doesn’t sound plausible, how about this?

There’re 18 levels of hell and each one is filled with a special torture chamber?

Not too plausible? How about this?

There’s a place somewhere where people are being burned 24/7 for eternity in a fire that never goes out?

And on the other side where other people are living in a paradise dressed in white robes and being serenaded by angels?

There’s one common denominator in all these imaginative scenarios–they all point to the physical realm.

And therein lies the source of the confusion.

Physical metaphors are often used to explain spiritual concepts.

Unfortunately, these physical metaphors often take on a life of their own and what was meant to be spiritual has now become physical.

Ultimately, we come back to the plausibility factor.

We have the freedom to choose what to believe.

If a flat earth is plausible to you, you have every right to continue believing in it.


The adversary

May.9. 2017

By adversary, I don’t mean to imply that there’s a real physical horned creature somewhere creating mischief and making life difficult for us.

Like many other things, this mythical creature is a metaphor toofor evil.

Because like heaven, evil exists only in our minds.

(This does not make it any less real. In fact, you don’t have to look far these days to see its handiwork.)

As the teacher taught in the Gospel of Thomas:

When the disciples asked him if heaven is in the sky or in the sea, he said, neither in the sky nor in the sea, but within us.

The disciples were simple peasant folk. They thought that the teacher was referring to a physical place when he talked about the kingdom of heaven.

But he was really referring to our spirit, to what’s inside us.

It reminds me of what my mother used to teach me when I was a child about the devil sitting on my left side and my guardian angel on my right.

As a child, the two metaphors were useful in teaching me about good and evil.

But like the Santa story, I soon outgrew those stories and began to understand them at a deeper level.

Yet there are many adults these days who still believe that the horned creature exists. They might not believe in Santa but they believe in this creature.

(It can be useful to believe in these old children stories. Because it takes the pressure off you. You can always blame it on the devil.)

It’s an interesting disconnect but it does beg the question.

How do you decide what is metaphor and what is meant to be taken literally?


Internal evidence

May.5. 2017

One of the things that evangelists, especially televangelists, like to do is claim that “God” spoke to them.

It’s easy to be skeptical. Anyone can claim that God is speaking to them.

But I’ve since discovered that what they really mean is that they have an intuition or inspiration about something and they’re saying it’s God speaking to them through these intuitions.

And in a sense they are right. Inspirations do come from a mysterious place which no one can explain and the best thing is to attribute it to the Force in the universe.

This fact is not lost on the ancients.

For instance both the words inspire and spirit are derived from the same word “spirare” which means “breathe.”

To be inspired is to hear from the Spirit.

But what if the voices they heard are not from God but instead from the other guy?

In other words, what makes them so sure that what they’re hearing is the voice of God and not the adversary?

(Adversary here refers to the troublemaker, the downshifter, the one who destroys rather than build.)

From the content.

Among research scholars, it’s called internal evidence.

Let’s say you have a dubious work that is claimed to be the work of a great master, but there’s no external or physical proof to establish that.

So what do you do? You examine the work and try to determine if the content matches the content of other authenticated works of the master.

You determine authenticity through content.

In the same way, if someone claims that God spoke to them, look at the content of the message.

If the voice is telling them to do good, to make the world a more joyful place, it is likely it is coming from who they think it is.

But if it’s telling them to wreak havoc on the world and bring misery to their fellowmen, then it’s likely it’s from the other guy.

And if they still think it’s God’s voice telling them to do all these bad stuff, maybe they’re actually worshiping the wrong guy, they’re worshiping the troublemaker.


Deciphering 2

May.4. 2017

The concept of metaphor is key to understanding ancient wisdom.

Take the passage in one ancient book which claimed that the Creator made man out of dust and breathe His spirit into him.

The passage is clearly telling us that we are all made of dust (which is true), but that there’s another dimension within us which is spiritual.

If you look around, the metaphor of dust and spirit applies to the rest of the universe as well.

Dust represents the material (physical) world and spirit the hidden energy within.

This differentiation applies to energy as well.

When we think of energy, we think mostly in terms of physical energy, but there’s another energy which is even more powerful and it’s spiritual.

It’s this spiritual energy that is at the heart of this wise man’s teachings.

The key to creating a good life here on earth, which he refers to as the kingdom of heaven, is to harness this spiritual energy.

Kingdom of heaven is a metaphor for a life that is filled with joy, meaning, and fulfillment. (Heaven being a metaphor for joy, its antithesis, hell a metaphor for joyless and pain.)

Again, his genius is in summarizing this energy into one simple line, “love your neighbor.”

Love is positive energy.

It creates and produces positive outcomes, it uplifts the world.

Most of all, it creates good positive outcomes in your life. In other words, it enables you to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

It’s easy to see how this works.

If you love your neighbor, they will love you back. When they love you back, they create a positive environment for you for you to grow and thrive.

Contrast that to negative energy.

Negative energy produces negative outcomes.

If you do something negative to someone, you cause that person to feel pain and anguish. In some cases,you might even cause resentment. And it’s never good to cause resentment because one day, that person will want to pay you back.

Not to mention that if the negative thing you did breaks the law, you might suffer the pain of being locked up one day.

This is all simple common sense.

According to this great teacher, the key to a good positive life is to fill the world with positive energy.

This however, doesn’t work all the time.

You might have heard of the perversity of human nature. Sometimes the more you give out positive energy, the more people will exploit you and your “stupidity.”

So what’s the wise man’s answer to this?

He has two: the first solution–offer the other cheek.

Presumably this would soften the other person’s heart but unfortunately, he did not live in the 21st century, and he hadn’t seen the depths of the perversity of human nature. In the eyes of those who will exploit your “stupidity,” this solution will make you look even more like a fool.

For those of us living in the 21st century, his other solution is more realistic–shake the dust off your feet and don’t bother going back into that town again.

Again a great metaphor for writing off those who would exploit your positive energy or who don’t deserve it.

Interesting that despite love being at the heart of his teaching, he would also advise us to give up on some people.

Most of the time, however, his message of the positive energy of love will create a world filled with love for you.

Love your neighbor and they will love you back.

Love what you do and you will accomplish anything you want.

In other words, fill your heart with the positive energy of love and you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.


Deciphering the teachings of a great master

May.3. 2017

Ancient teachers tend to teach in symbols and metaphors.

Most of the time, their teachings are not meant to be taken literally, but to be understood it at a deeper level, a spiritual level.

This is particularly true of the great teacher who lived two thousand years ago.

Teaching to simple peasants and fishermen, he had to distill his wisdom into simple stories and allegories.

His genius was such that he was able to frame his understanding of the universe into simple concepts.

It’s these concepts he taught that have preoccupied me.

At one level, these concepts are Santa Claus type metaphors.

We all know that there’s no overweight white guy dressed in a red suit living up in the North Pole. But we also understand that this fictional character is really a metaphor for giving.

So we celebrate this fictional character every year understanding it’s the spirit, not the figure behind the metaphor that is important.

But a Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

(Interestingly, the concept of the Trinity was created by early church bureaucrats. From references to a spirit of God, they somehow extrapolated that God must be made out of three entities.)

At a deeper level, it’s easy to see that Father here is taken to mean the Creator, the One who gave life to us all.

Which makes us all His children, or in the male dominated world of the time, His sons. Son here is not to be taken literally. It just means we are His creations, which of course is absolutely true.

So when the teacher said he is the Son of God, he’s saying that he’s a creation of God, like the rest of humanity.

Taken literally however, it implies he’s asserting he is God himself. If you were to read the few books chronicling his teachings (including those banned by the early church bureaucrats, you will see that he never claimed to be God himself.)

Now the Holy Spirit is a bit more problematic.

Often depicted as a dove which symbolizes purity and goodness, the Holy Spirit is often seen as something outside of us, a separate entity.

But going back to the material vs the spiritual.

What happens when we see the light? When we are “born again” (in itself another metaphor, not to be taken literally to mean to re enter the womb) into goodness.

Our spirit becomes holy.

Or that goodness have entered into our hearts.

So when they say, the Holy Spirit descended upon them, it’s really a figure of speech to mean that goodness has entered into their heart and their spirit has become holy.

Which brings us to what the term “holy” means. Some people seem to think that being holy is to pray a lot. (I know people who pray more than four times a day but their spirit is not necessarily holy.)

(The physical act of praying belongs more to the material world rather than the spiritual, especially when it’s done as public spectacle or when it becomes a ritual.)

Holy, as I’ve written earlier just means not doing anything to downshift our reality and the reality of those around us.

Seen in this way, the three metaphors begin to assume a special meaning.

They summarize our very essence and existence (which is the genius of this great teacher).

God comprises the Creator, his creations and the spirit of goodness which creates rather than destroy.

(This is really the difference between good and evil. Good creates and evil destroys. Good uplifts and evil downshifts.)

Next, how he explains a basic energy of the universe and teaches us how to harness this energy to create a “kingdom” of “heaven” here in this world.


The biggest lie

May.2. 2017

I’ve said it before, there’s no such thing as unconditional love. In fact it’s the biggest lie and myth of all.

It goes against the very law of the universeyou get what you put in. Put in nothing and you get nothing. Put in no love and you get no love.

Even the Bible seems in agreement.

As the great sage/poet Mr. Zimmerman paraphrased it.

“God said to Abraham, kill me your son
Abe said, Man you must be putting me on
God said no, Abe said what
God said, you can do anything you like but the next time you see me coming, you better run.”

Unconditional love of course is a relatively new invention, mostly to legitimize another equally new inventionentitlement.

The concept of entitlement is based solely on unconditional love.

You don’t have to put anything into the universe and you expect everything from the universe.

This sense of entitlement is particularly prevalent among younger people who have been indoctrinated with the idea of unconditional love from birth.

And when they find themselves facing the harsh reality of the nonexistence of unconditional love, they become bitter and start railing against the world.

Whatever problem they face, it’s always somebody’s fault, never their own.

There’s an age-old saying which goes something like, “The world does not owe you a living.” Or to put it another way, “The universe does not owe you any love.”

Which basically reaffirms what I’ve been saying all along.