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The Gospel of Thomas for Awakening: A Commentary on Jesus’ Sayings as Recorded by the Apostle Thomas Paperback – March 24, 2015
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About the Author
Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri) is the founder and director of the Light of the Spirit Monastery (Atma Jyoti Ashram) in Cedar Crest, New Mexico, USA.
In his many pilgrimages to India, he had the opportunity of meeting some of India's greatest spiritual figures, including Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh and Anandamayi Ma. During his first trip to India he was made a member of the ancient Swami Order by Swami Vidyananda Giri, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, who had himself been given sannyas by the Shankaracharya of Puri, Jagadguru Bharati Krishna Tirtha.
In the United States he also encountered various Christian saints, including Saint John Maximovich of San Francisco and Saint Philaret Voznesensky of New York. He was ordained in the Liberal Catholic Church (International) to the priesthood on January 25, 1974, and consecrated a bishop on August 23, 1975.
For many years Abbot George has researched the identity of Jesus Christ and his teachings with India and Sanatana Dharma, including Yoga. It is his conclusion that Jesus lived in India for most of his life, and was a yogi and Sanatana Dharma missionary to the West. After his resurrection he returned to India and lived the rest of his life in the Himalayas.
He has written extensively on these and other topics, many of which are posted at OCOY.org.
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The concept of Sanatana Dharma applies especially to this book. It is a book that partakes of the best of the King James version of the Bible and combines it with the wisdom of the ancient Indian civilization with a view to understanding the recently unearthed Gospel of St. Thomas.
There has been plenty of forthcoming evidence to show that Jesus spent the earlier part of his life in India. It is also rumoured that he spent the later years of his life in India after his resurrection and that his disciple Thomas followed him there and recorded his teachings for posterity in a manuscript which got lost. This manuscript has only recently been retrieved (Dec.1945) and translated from the original Coptic edition in several versions. This book expounds mainly on Thomas Lambdins version of the English translation of the Gospel of St. Thomas, while drawing also from other versions.
It has also been an accepted fact that the form of Christianity practiced in the West has been corrupted, the Bible being more or less rewritten during the Dark Ages. Therefore, the Gospel of St. Thomas, (unearthed by an Egyptian farmer in December 1945) is quite likely to yield a more authentic version of the living word of Jesus as understood by his direct disciple St. Thomas
In this book, the author has taken Thomas Lambdin’s version of the Gospel of St. Thomas and for each of the 114 verses, presented a discourse on their meaning. Each verse forms the subject of a whole chapter and is accompanied by an analysis which relates it to a corresponding verse from the Bible, the Gita or some other text with a similar import. This analysis is commensurate with the concept of Sanatana Dharma, or eternal religion of the ages, a concept that goes above and beyond the external attendant rituals that blinds practitioners of contemporary religion to the reality of the illusion that is life.
The corresponding chapters in the gospel of St. Thomas are akin to those in the Bible, only the injunctions are stronger, more clearly defined and with less possibility of misinterpretation. For instance, it is made clear that seeking knowledge can lead to being temporarily troubled.
“Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished and he will rule over the All.”
“Men think perhaps that it is peace which I have come to cast upon the world. They do not know that it is dissension that I have come to cast upon the earth, fire, sword and war.”
The above implies that one person’s seeking could bring about discord in his/her extended family, the author calls it “Divine Discord”. Many psychologists are familiar with this, changing oneself has implications for the members of the extended family, who are confronted with the choice of either acceptance of the change, or departure from the family unit.
This discord is what Jesus came to sow, so the seeker who perseveres, despite being troubled, ultimately rules over all.
A specific aspect of this book, that I personally found interesting, is that it glorifies the Eastern Orthodox tradition of the Christian Church, in contrast to much of popular Western ecumenical texts which are mainly restricted to churches grounded in the Western traditions and deal with Western saints, or those who have moved to the West.
Reincarnation is an accepted fact in this book. It is also suggested that Jesus had incarnated earlier as Adam and King David. Dying on the cross helped him to atone for the karma of those earlier incarnations. Contrary to popular Christian belief, he did not die to save the world and its people.
There are many more injunctions to devotees in this book, recounting them all would be outside the scope of this review. But one exhortation stands out, we are strongly and repeatedly cautioned against false prophets and to be vigilant against them.
This book is very multifaceted and the author displays enormous erudition, especially on Hindu religious symbols and personalities. The Western outlook on comparative Indian philosophy is always like a whiff of fresh air when compared to similar tomes by Indian authors and that holds true for this book as well.
Swami Nirmalananda even understands some sayings that NOBODY has understood. In Saying 16 about the “two against three” he misses (like everybody) that it is about the Father and Holy Spirit of Judaism against the Trinity of Christianity which ends in “they will stand solitary (or alone)” but he GETS that God is not in favor of this division: They are each ‘alone’. He also understands why the blaspheming of the Holy Spirit in Saying 44 is not forgiven. Wrong mental ideas are forgiven but violating the Holy Spirit with your actions entails a karmic response from the universe that can only be changed by the person. (This is indicated by the context of the next saying talking about “brings forth evil things”). In Saying 11 Swami Nirmalananda with his Eastern background understands that the two heavens which will pass away are the earth and that of the lower astral planes. Most importantly, he understands the identity of the “true mother” of Saying 101: “Our Father is eternal Spirit and our Mother is eternal power that embodies itself in creation and moves us along the evolutionary path from life to life.” This is consistent with the Wisdom-Sophia-Holy Spirit of Thomas
Despite the Holy Spirit sense that Abbott George has as in the leaven in the dough in Saying 96 and the “Creator Mothers, the Elohim” in Saying 86, he doesn’t penetrate to the yoga of Thomas which speaks of the seven day old’s “place of life” in Saying 4 which has to be the breast of the Holy Spirit. In Saying 5 one should “know” or gnosticly love the breast of the Holy Spirit which is in your sight to coax out the milk of knowledge to make the hidden manifest. Just as the baby nurses, Thomas in Saying 13 is intoxicated by the “bubbling spring” which would be that of the Holy Spirit which is to “drink from my mouth” in Saying 108. Again in Saying 22, infants are being suckled to the intensity of total unity between subject and object which is like the cattle munching their feed in Saying 102. I am surprised Burke missed the doublet of Saying 56 referring to the world as a corpse but in Saying 80 referring to the world as a “body”. A “body” is animated by a spirit—the Holy Spirit—which we know by the context since “rich” in 81 and “fire” in 82 refers to the Holy Spirit.
Despite referencing the atman, the personal image of God, and in Saying 48 telling the story of Ramakrishna killing his “man of evil” within, Abbott George misses many of the references to the higher self. The “man of evil” story would have been PERFECT for Saying 98 where a man practices with a sword (of the Spirit) to kill a “powerful man”. Swaying 84 is the most clear in making a distinction between your physical “likeness” and your spiritual “image” which gives the impression of being more happiness than one can stand. Yet, Burke can only ruminate about disturbing psychic images he is trying to dispel that disturb his meditations. He also doesn’t understand that the ‘Son of Man’ doublet of sayings 48 and 106 refers to being outside of time and space in the ‘move mountain’ verbiage in watching mountains rise and fall naturally. Abbott George misses the point in Saying 111 about the “heavens and earth will be rolled up in your presence” in that it doesn’t refer to the final “general cosmic dissolution” but to experiencing the higher self that is outside of space and time in meditation.
Swami Nirmalananda misses some key points about Jesus—perhaps from too much exposure to conventional Christian theology and contemporary scholarship. The funniest saying is 60 about the Samaritan carrying the lamb to Jerusalem which is a very wicked parody on the Good Samaritan who is going to kill and eat the lamb instead of ‘saving’ it! Burke shows humility which is extremely rare in scholarship in refusing comment on some sayings such as Saying 71 about Jesus saying “I shall destroy this house and no one will be able to rebuild it.” There can be only one explanation, though. The Jesus of Thomas is not a hell-fire-and-damnation guy. He is talking about destroying his body and saying nobody (Like Roman Christians) will be able to conjure Jesus back into a physical body. Abbott George also misreads Saying 105: “He who knows the mother and the father will be called the son of a harlot.” This refers to the gnostic Sophia Mythos where Sophia created without a male consort. This is related to the next saying about knowing the Father and Mother (in the Bridal Chamber) and becoming the ‘Son of Man’ outside of time and space where mountains can be witnessed to rise and fall.
Using the sayings context from Saying 85 to 90 provides a better picture of how we came here and where we are going. Burke doesn’t quite grasp that Saying 86 about fox holes and bird nests is a sexual reference to Adam not being “worthy” or ‘wise’ from Saying 85. This is indicated by the “Wretched is the body dependent upon a body” in Saying 87. The positive alternative is given in Saying 88 about “Angels and prophets will come to you” spiritually rather than being obsessed with sex. The yoga of this is explained in saying 89 about “He who made the inside of the cup” which is about scrying into a cup of water. Leloup indicates he may intuit this with his commentary on it: “The space inside the cup is the same space that contains the Universe. One moment of true silence, and we are in the heart of that Silence from which all creative words arise.” Saying 90 confirms the scrying suspicion: “Come unto me , for my yoke (yoga) is easy and my Lordship is mild, and you will find repose for yourself.” Divine rest or repose is another indicator of the scrying or psychomanteum spiritual practice.
Though he misses some of the background meaning, the commentary of Swami Nirmalananda is highly recommended for his generic spiritual understanding and scholarship exhibiting a tremendous number of great God stories from Western Christian, Orthodox Christian, and Eastern tradition.
For more understanding of each saying in its context I recommend my new ‘The Integral Gospel of Thomas Made Easy’ on Amazon.
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