Esotericism (XIII): Gnostic and Upanishadic parallels

Esotericism (XIII): Gnostic and Upanishadic parallels

- in Esotericism


1. Let me start with phonetic exercises. Every cult or religion has its hymns and psalms. But here we have the sounding of vowels aaaa, iiii, eeee etc as found in the Gospel of the Egyptians (Robinson The Nag Hammadi Library 1988: 44:2ff) and Marsanes (Robinson, 28:20ff).

We find similar phonetic exercises in the Chāndogya and other Upanishads.

2. There are powers that impede man’s striving for liberation. So in the Apocryphon of John (20:8; 21: 4-13) the Archons in the higher realms want to keep man captive in the material world. But these are also forces within man, demonic powers experienced as desires, passions, ambitions, envy, greed, pride etc (Apocryphon of John 18: 20ff).

Bṛhadāraṇyaka Up says that the gods do not like man to escape from their control as a result of liberation: so they put obstacles in his path. Here also the gods are said to be forces within man: within man are contained earth and sky, fire and wind, sun and moon…. and all desires against which man must struggle (Chāndogya 8.1.1-6)

3. The Gospel of Truth says (18:11) that ignorance and oblivion will be dispelled for good once there is knowledge of the Father. Similarly, stress is laid in the Upanishads for the knowledge of the Self ātmajñāna or knowledge of the Absolute brahmavidyā. The Muṇḍaka Up says (1:1-5) that there is lower and higher knowledge. The higher one is that of truth or the Self or Brahman and this is in fact the basis for all other types of knowledge, like the sciences, languages and so on, which are lower.

Ignorance is dissolved with knowledge of Truth.

4. In Eugnostos (Robinson 227, 7;7) and Apocryphon of John (6:10) the first creative power of light to arise is called Autogenes “Selfborn”. This curious term is not met in Greek, Judaic, Egyptian or other Middle-eastern traditions. But it is found in Vedic Texts as svayambhū (e.g. Isa Up 8) ‘selfborn’/selfexistent’.

5. In the Gospel of Thomas (saying 50) Jesus tells the disciples to declare: “We came from the light, the place where the light came into being of its own accord… We are its children”. (cf the light in John 1:4,9ff).

The Chāndogya Up says (3.13.7): “Now far above… shines the light of heaven falling on all things… the very same light that is within man”.

6. A curious issue is that the Perfect Glory of the Godhead, the matrix of all creation is also termed “First Man” (Apocryphon of John 4:23). No other Near-eastern culture has this idea, that all the worlds and their multifarious phenomena evolve from primordial Man. But sure enough we meet it in the Vedic texts: “In the beginning this world was the Self in the form of Man puruṣavidha (Bṛhadāraṇyaka Up 1.4.1).

7. Another parallel but not in the Upanishadic texts is that of the dance. One Gnostic text, not in the Nag Hammadi collection, The Round Dance of the Cross or The Hymn of Jesus has Jesus singing and dancing: “He [=Jesus] began singing a hymn and declaring ‘Glory to you father’. We circled him and responded ‘Amen’ ”. Later Jesus sings ‘If you follow my dance/ you see yourself in me when I speak/… Learn how to suffer / and you’ll be able not to suffer… “ and so on.

In India god Śiva is known as naṭarāja ‘Lord of the dance’: he performs his cosmic dance before the (periodic) annihilation of the universe. Much earlier, in the Vedic period other gods are dancers and the worlds emerge out of their dance (Ṛgveda 10.72.6-7).

8. There are many other parallels: the sesame seed that becomes a large tree; the return to the childlike innocence in order to obtain wisdom or enter the kingdom; the attainment of solitariness or solitude indicating full liberation; the three bodies – carnal, subtle (psychic) and spiritual (causal); and so on.

Enough has been given here to show the great affinity between the two teachings – Advaita and Gnostic Christianity. But in this exposition we see also the affinity of these systems of knowledge with the modern esoteric teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

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