THEOSOPHY, Vol. 55, No. 7, May, 1967
(Pages 204-209; Size: 19K)

THE WISDOM RELIGION(1)

GNOSTICISM: I

[Part 7 of a 12-part series]

THE real and hidden sense of this doctrine was known to all the initiates. The Tanaïm imparted it to their elect ones, Isarim, in the solemn solitudes of crypts and deserted places. It was one of the most esoteric and jealously guarded, for human nature was the same then as it is now, and the sacerdotal caste as confident as now in the supremacy of its knowledge, and ambitious of ascendency over the weaker masses; with the difference perhaps that its hierophants could prove the legitimacy of their claims and the plausibility of their doctrines, whereas now, believers must be content with blind faith.

While the kabalists called this mysterious and rare occurrence of the union of spirit with the mortal charge entrusted to its care, the "descent of the Angel Gabriel" (the latter being a kind of generic name for it), the Messenger of Life, and the angel Metatron; and while the Nazarenes termed the same Abel-Zivo, the Delegatus sent by the Lord of Celsitude, it was universally known as the "Anointed Spirit."

Thus it is the acceptation of this doctrine which caused the Gnostics to maintain that Jesus was a man overshadowed by the Christos or Messenger of Life, and that his despairing cry from the cross "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani," was wrung from him at the instant when he felt that this inspiring Presence had finally abandoned him, for -- as some affirmed -- his faith had also abandoned him when on the cross.

The early Nazarenes, who must be numbered among the Gnostic sects, believing that Jesus was a prophet, held, nevertheless, in relation to him the same doctrine of the divine "overshadowing," of certain "men of God," sent for the salvation of nations, and to recall them to the path of righteousness. "The Divine mind is eternal," says the Codex Nazaræus, "And it is pure light, and poured out through splendid and immense space (pleroma). It is Genetrix of the Æons. But one of them went to matter (chaos) stirring up confused (turbulentos) movements; and by a certain portion of heavenly light fashioned it, properly constituted for use and appearance, but the beginning of every evil. The Demiurg (of matter) claimed divine honor. Therefore Christus ("the anointed"), the prince of the Æons (powers), was sent (expeditus), who taking on the person of a most devout Jew, Iesu, was to conquer him; but who having laid it (the body) aside, departed on high." We will explain further on the full significance of the name Christos and its mystic meaning.

And now we will endeavor to define, as briefly as possible, the dogmas in which, with very trifling differences, nearly all the Gnostic sects believed. It is in Ephesus that flourished in those days the greatest college, wherein the abstruse Oriental speculations and the Platonic philosophy were taught in conjunction. It was a focus of the universal "secret" doctrines; the weird laboratory whence, fashioned in elegant Grecian phraseology, sprang the quintessence of Buddhistic, Zoroastrian, and Chaldean philosophy. Artemis, the gigantic concrete symbol of theosophico-pantheistic abstractions, the great mother Multimamma, androgyne and patroness of the "Ephesian writings," was conquered by Paul; but although the zealous converts of the apostles pretended to burn all their books on "curious arts," enough of these remained for them to study when their first zeal had cooled off. It is from Ephesus that spread nearly all the Gnosis which antagonized so fiercely with the Irenæan dogmas; and still it was Ephesus, with her numerous collateral branches of the great college of the Essenes, which proved to be the hot-bed of all the kabalistic speculations brought by the Tanaïm from the captivity. "In Ephesus," says Matter, "the notions of the Jewish-Egyptian school, and the semi-Persian speculations of the kabalists had then recently come to swell the vast conflux of Grecian and Asiatic doctrines, so there is no wonder that teachers should have sprung up there who strove to combine the religion newly preached by the apostle with the ideas there so long established."

Had not the Christians burdened themselves with the Revelations of a little nation, and accepted the Jehovah of Moses, the Gnostic ideas would never have been termed heresies; once relieved of their dogmatic exaggerations the world would have had a religious system based on pure Platonic philosophy.

Now let us see what are the greatest heresies of the Gnostics. We will select Basilides as the standard for our comparisons for all the founders of other Gnostic sects group round him, like a cluster of stars borrowing light from their sun.

Basilides maintained that he had had all his doctrines from the Apostle Matthew, and from Peter through Glaucus, the disciple of the latter. According to Eusebius, he published twenty-four volumes of Interpretations upon the Gospels,(2) all of which were burned, a fact which makes us suppose that they contained more truthful matter than the school of Irenæus was prepared to deny. He asserted that the unknown, eternal, and uncreated Father having first brought forth Nous, or Mind, the latter emanated from itself -- the Logos. The Logos (the Word of John) emanated in its turn Phronesis, or the Intelligences (Divine-human spirits). From Phronesis sprung Sophia, or feminine wisdom, and Dynamis -- strength. These were the personified attributes of the Mysterious godhead, the Gnostic quinternion, typifying the five spiritual, but intelligible substances, personal virtues or beings external to the unknown godhead. This is preëminently a kabalistic idea. It is still more Buddhistic. The earliest system of the Buddhistic philosophy -- which preceded by far Gautama-Buddha -- is based upon the uncreated substance of the "Unknown," the A'di Buddha.(3) This eternal, infinite Monad possesses, as proper to his own essence, five acts of wisdom. From these it, by five separate acts of Dhyân, emitted five Dhyani Buddhas; these, like A'di Buddha, are quiescent in their system (passive). Neither A'di, nor either of the five Dhyani Buddhas, were ever incarnated, but seven of their emanations became Avatars, i.e., were incarnated on this earth.

Describing the Basilidean system, Irenæus, quoting the Gnostics, declares as follows:

"When the uncreated, unnamed Father saw the corruption of mankind, he sent his first-born Nous, into the world, in the form of Christ, for the redemption of all who believe in him, out of the power of those who fabricated the world (the Demiurgos, and his six sons, the planetary genii). He appeared amongst men as the man, Jesus, and wrought miracles. This Christ did not die in person, but Simon the Cyrenian suffered in his stead, to whom he lent his bodily form; for the Divine Power, the Nous of the Eternal Father, is not corporeal, and cannot die. Whoso, therefore, maintains that Christ has died, is still the bondsman of ignorance; whoso denies the same, he is free, and hath understood the purpose of the Father."

So far, and taken in its abstract sense, we do not see anything blasphemous in this system. It may be a heresy against the theology of Irenæus and Tertullian,(4) but there is certainly nothing sacrilegious against the religious idea itself, and it will seem to every impartial thinker far more consistent with divine reverence than the anthropomorphism of actual Christianity. The Gnostics were called by the orthodox Christians, Docetæ, or Illusionists, for believing that Christ did not, nor could, suffer death actually -- in physical body. The later Brahmanical books contain, likewise, much that is repugnant to the reverential feeling and idea of the Divinity; and as well as the Gnostics, the Brahmans explain such legends as may shock the divine dignity of the Spiritual beings called gods by attributing them to Maya or illusion.

A people brought up and nurtured for countless ages among all the psychological phenomena of which the civilized (!) nations read, but reject as incredible and worthless, cannot well expect to have its religious system even understood -- let alone appreciated. The profoundest and most transcendental speculations of the ancient metaphysicians of India and other countries, are all based on that great Buddhistic and Brahmanical principle underlying the whole of their religious metaphysics -- illusion of the senses. Everything that is finite is illusion, all that which is eternal and infinite is reality. Form, color, that which we hear and feel, or see with our mortal eyes, exists only so far as it can be conveyed to each of us through our senses. The universe for a man born blind does not exist in either form or color, but it exists in its privation (in the Aristotelean sense), and is a reality for the spiritual senses of the blind man. We all live under the powerful dominion of phantasy. Alone the highest and invisible originals emanated from the thought of the Unknown are real and permanent beings, forms, and ideas; on earth, we see but their reflections; more or less correct, and ever dependent on the physical and mental organization of the person who beholds them.

Ages untold before our era, the Hindu Mystic Kapila, who is considered by many scientists as a skeptic, because they judge him with their habitual superficiality, magnificently expressed this idea in the following terms:

"Man (physical man) counts for so little, that hardly anything can demonstrate to him his proper existence and that of nature. Perhaps, that which we regard as the universe, and the divers beings which seem to compose it, have nothing real, and are but the product of continued illusion -- maya -- of our senses."

And the modern Schopenhauer, repeating this philosophical idea, 10,000 years old now, says: "Nature is non-existent, per se. ... Nature is the infinite illusion of our senses." Kant, Schelling, and other metaphysicians have said the same, and their school maintains the idea. The objects of sense being ever delusive and fluctuating, cannot be a reality. Spirit alone is unchangeable, hence -- alone is no illusion. This is pure Buddhist doctrine. The religion of the Gnosis (knowledge), the most evident offshoot of Buddhism, was utterly based on this metaphysical tenet. Christos suffered spiritually for us, and far more acutely than did the illusionary Jesus while his body was being tortured on the Cross.

In the ideas of the Christians, Christ is but another name for Jesus. The philosophy of the Gnostics, the initiates, and hierophants understood it otherwise. The word Christos, like all Greek words, must be sought in its philological origin -- the Sanscrit. In this latter language Kris means sacred,(5) and the Hindu deity was named Chris-na (the pure or the sacred) from that. On the other hand, the Greek Christos bears several meanings, as anointed (pure oil, chrism) and others. In all languages, though the synonym of the word means pure or sacred essence, it is the first emanation of the invisible Godhead, manifesting itself tangibly in spirit. The Greek Logos, the Hebrew Messiah, the Latin Verbum, and the Hindu Viradj (the son) are identically the same; they represent an idea of collective entities -- of flames detached from the one eternal centre of light.

"The man who accomplishes pious but interested acts (with the sole object of his salvation) may reach the ranks of the devas (saints);(6) but he who accomplishes, disinterestedly, the same pious acts, finds himself ridden forever of the five elements" (of matter). "Perceiving the Supreme Soul in all beings and all beings in the Supreme Soul, in offering his own soul in sacrifice, he identifies himself with the Being who shines in his own splendor" (Manu, book xii, slokas 90, 91).


COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

THE ETERNAL NOW

Short is the reach of their thinking who suppose that what before was not comes into being, or that anything perishes and is utterly destroyed. For it is inconceivable that anything should arise from that which in no way exists, and it is impossible, and a thing unheard of, that what exists should perish, for it will always be wherever one in every case puts it. 


--EMPEDOCLES

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THE WISDOM RELIGION
GNOSTICISM: II
[Part 8 of a 12-part series]

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SIX (6) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:

(1) NOTE.--This series began in the November, 1966, issue. Source of this section: Isis Unveiled II, 154-59.
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(2) The gospels interpreted by Basilides were not our present gospels, which, as it it proved by the greatest authorities, were not in his days in existence.
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(3) The five make mystically ten. They are androgynes. "Having divided his body in two parts, the Supreme Wisdom became male and female" (Manu, book i., sloka 32.) There are many early Buddhistic ideas to be found in Brahmanism.

The prevalent idea that the last of the Buddhas, Gautama, is the ninth incarnation of Vishnu, or the ninth Avatar, is disclaimed partially by the Brahmans, and wholly rejected by the learned Buddhist theologians. The latter insist that the worship of Buddha possesses a far higher claim to antiquity than any of the Brahmanical deities of the Vedas, which they call secular literature. The Brahmans, they show, came from other countries, and established their heresy on the already accepted popular deities. They conquered the land by the sword, and succeeded in burying truth, by building a theology of their own on the ruins of the more ancient one of Buddha, which had prevailed for ages. They admit the divinity and spiritual existence of some of the Vedantic gods; but as in the case of the Christian angel-hierarchy they believe that all these deities are greatly subordinate, even to the incarnated Buddhas. They do not even acknowledge the creation of the physical universe. Spiritually and invisibly it has existed from all eternity, and thus it was made merely visible to the human senses. When it first appeared it was called forth from the realm of the invisible into the visible by the impulse of A'di Buddha -- the "Essence." They reckon twenty-two such visible appearances of the universe governed by Buddhas, and as many destructions of it, by fire and water in regular successions. After the last destruction by the flood, at the end of the precedent cycle -- (the exact calculation, embracing several millions of years, is a secret cycle) the world, during the present age of the Kali Yug -- Maha Bhadda Calpa -- has been ruled successively by four Buddhas, the last of whom was Gautama, the "Holy One." The fifth, Maitree-Buddha, is yet to come. This latter is the expected kabalistic King Messiah, the Messenger of Light, and Sosiosh, the Persian Saviour, who will come on a white horse. It is also the Christian Second Advent.
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(4) Tertullian reversed the table himself by rejecting, later in life, the doctrines for which he fought with such an acerbity and by becoming a Montanist.
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(5) In his debate with Jacolliot upon the right spelling of the Hindu Christna, Mr. Textor de Ravisi, an ultramontane Catholic, tries to prove that the name of Christna ought to be written Krishna, for, as the latter means black, and the statues of this deity are generally black, the word is derived from the color. We refer the reader to Jacolliot's answer in his recent work, Christna et le Christ, for the conclusive evidence that the name is not derived from the color.
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(6) There is no equivalent for the word "miracle," in the Christian sense, among the Brahmans or Buddhists. The only correct translation would be meipo, a wonder, something remarkable; but not a violation of natural law. The "saints" only produce meipo.
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