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Opposites attract?

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  • Gerry
    ... some ways the exact opposite of Gnosticism. Anybody feel strongly one way or another?
    Message 1 of 53 , Feb 7, 2003

      >>I was primarily curious what PMCV meant by eastern religion being in
      some ways the "exact opposite" of Gnosticism.

      Anybody feel strongly one way or another?<<  Cari  #7129

      Evidently I did, though it’s taken me some time to get my ideas together.  I think my train of thought jumped track once the discussion diverged in the direction of disagreement that Gnosticism had its origins in eastern thought.  Frankly, I hadn’t even noticed that the subject had arisen before it was beaten down. 

      BTW, forgive my use of “eastern” above, but as there’s already been a fair deal of generalization going on, I really don’t feel that it’s out of line.  After a two-page post admonishing care in using the term, I’m almost afraid to ever again tell anyone that I’m from “eastern” North Carolina.  Brushing aside the proscriptions of Political Correctness, I still couldn’t refer to this area as “oriental” as there is already a town in the region by that very name.  What’s a fella to do?  Besides, as Ernst was generous enough to point out in post #7128 (and as witnessed in previous argu-. . . er . . . conversations here), depending on who’s involved in a given discussion, even the term “Gnosticism” can be laden with ambiguity. 

      Anyway, it was only in backtracking through this entire thread that I actually finished reading the link Cari posted by Herbert Christian Merillat which compared Buddhism and Gnosticism.  O-kay then, now I see it——in the very last line: 

      The Indian systems regard such reunion as a liberation from the round of rebirths on this earth, and in this sense take a negative view of the cosmos -- as "Thomas" frequently did and as Gnostics generally did. This is one of the surest sign of an Indian influence on Thomas and other forms of Gnosticism.  [sic] 

      Indeed, while I agree with the first part of that assertion, I see no reason to jump to the author’s conclusion that such similarity establishes any sort of provenance.  At the same time, having said that, I also have never liked having my options closed.  I’m reminded of Central and South American archaeology classes I took with a certain professor who was adamant that there was no “need” for transoceanic voyages to account for similarities in such things as art and architecture among distinct cultures.  While I agree with that opinion (technically), I always resented his implication that evidence of prototypes within a particular cultural setting unequivocally negated the possibility of such explorations ever having occurred.  Just because it wasn’t necessary doesn’t mean it never happened. 

      It took a while to convince many supposed experts in the field that the westward expansion of Norsemen wasn’t confined to Iceland and Greenland.  Today the notion is far more commonly accepted.  Now, discoveries in Brazil point to the Americas being inhabited by humans (racially related to the Australian Aborigines) long before the opening of the Bering land-bridge that gave access to the first Mongoloid arrivals——possibly predating those peoples by as much as 35,000 years.  If a stone-age seafaring people could cross the ocean 50,000 years ago, I wouldn’t at all be nonplussed to learn of proof that more advanced Chinese junks or Phoenician ships had made similar journeys in our far more recent history——or, for that matter, that the ancient flowering of metaphysical thought might possibly have involved some degree of cross-pollination.  Again, that’s merely the potential for such interaction that I’m not willing to rule out, and otherwise, I fully agree with the following comment: 

      >>Certain motifs crop up time and again in religion and philosophy...
      without having to be directly gained from one particular source or
      another.<<  PMCV  #7116

      Absolutely, and both Cari and Tony also echoed my thoughts on this phenomenon (#7126, 7133, -4).  In fact (in a peculiar synchronicity), not two minutes before reading Terje’s post #7107, I had been looking at the same bowl he mentioned as pictured in Kurt Rudolph’s Gnosis and was wondering about the prevalence of “winged serpent” imagery throughout the world.  To go a step further with the notion of independently occurring ideas, I’d venture that as “necessity is the mother of invention,” the concept would apply not just to spiritual innovations but material ones as well.  I wonder if that’s what Ernst was getting at when he said he thinks “being human is enough” to find the commonalities between us (#7141).  If not, I might argue that Tony’s “universal nature of mystical experience” is part OF our being human. 

      Anyway, getting back to the question of the East/West “exact opposite” debate, I stumbled across another post that convinced me that there wasn’t so much disagreement after all: 

      >>Sure there are similarities Klaus... as there are with nearly every
      religion. I will even conceed that there are some very interesting
      similarities in this particular case, but that does not mean there
      are not very important differences as well. . . .<< PMCV  #7116

      Similarities here . . . differences there——that actually worked for me until I got back to the post which attempted to explain the diametrical opposition between the two generalized philosophies: 

      >>Besides (or actually, still related to) these obvious difference,
      there are subtle, but very important, differences that I believe many
      people actually feel are similarities. For instance, the whole world
      as illusion concept is not the same in spite of the fact that they
      look the same. In the East we see the admonitions to not take the
      world seriously, not to fear, it's illusery nature is quite literally
      so. . . .<<  PMCV  #7136

      Hmmmm.  Again, I’m not well-versed in Buddhism OR Vedic Brahmanism, but what I’ve read honestly didn’t indicate that we should expect to find language employed any less figuratively than in Gnostic texts.  For instance, Winthrop Sargeant offers this from his translation of The Bhagavad Gîtâ (BTW, for anyone interested, this is an excellent paperback study edition with original Sanskrit, Romanized transliteration, interlinear literal translation, prose translation and separate glossary for each stanza): 

      Divine indeed is this illusion of Mine made up of the three qualities,
      And difficult to penetrate;
      Only those who resort to Me
      Transcend this illusion.  VII—14 

      Now, the three qualities referred to are the gunas, which have been likened to the pneuma, psyche and hyle.  All are part of what constitutes the “material” aspect of Man.  In the previously cited work, this is said with regards to their nature: 

      The three gunas—sattva, or illumination and truth, rajas, or passion and desire, and tamas or darkness, sloth and dullness—were originally thought, by the Samkhya philosophers who first identified and named them, to be substances.  Later they became attributes of the psyche.  (pg. 331) 

      Furthermore, the same work says the following of this particular yogic school of thought: 

      . . . Samkhya does not recognize gods or sacrifices.  It is said to have influenced Buddhism.  It is known as “the way of knowledge,” and it proposes knowledge as the principal means of salvation.  (pp. 124-125) 

      Well, there certainly seems to be a real, physical dimension to that Illusion, and the means taught to escape it sound rather reminiscent of gnosis.  In fact, for the dialogue-nature of the book and especially the content, I find it difficult NOT to see similarly expressed thought as in the Gospel of Thomas or Gnostic texts in general. 

      I see mention of the Infinite: 

      Neither the multitude of gods
      Nor the great seers know My origin.
      In truth I am the source of the gods
      And the great seers.  X—2 
      He who sees Me everywhere,
      And sees all things in Me;
      I am not lost to him,
      And he is not lost to Me.  VI—30 

      …of gnosis: 

      When your intellect crosses beyond
      The thicket of delusion, then you shall become disgusted
      With that which is yet to be heard
      And with that which has been heard (in the Veda).  II—52   
      No purifier equal to knowledge
      Is found here in the world;
      He who is himself perfected in yoga
      In time finds that knowledge in the Self.  IV—38 

      …of being caught up in material attachments and delusion: 

      When the mind runs
      After the wandering senses,
      Then it carries away one’s understanding,
      As the wind carries away a ship on the waters.  II—67 
      The Lord does not receive
      Either the evil or good deeds of anyone.
      Knowledge is enveloped by ignorance.
      By it (ignorance) people are deluded.  V—15 

      …of gnosis overcoming those attachments: 

      Out of compassion for them,
      I, who dwell within their own beings,
      Destroy the darkness born of ignorance
      With the shining lamp of knowledge.  X—11
      The sage whose highest aim is release;
      Whose senses, mind and intellect are controlled;
      From whom desire, fear and anger have departed,
      Is forever liberated.  V—28 

      …and of becoming passersby: 

      He is to be known as the eternal sannyasi [one who renounces]
      Who neither hates nor desires,
      Who is indifferent to the pairs of opposites, O Arjuna.
      He is easily liberated from bondage.  V—3
      For the born, death is certain;
      For the dead there is certainly birth.
      Therefore, for this, inevitable in consequence,
      You should not mourn.  II—27 

      As for the “certainty” of that last passage, in the same edition, Christopher Chapple writes this in the forward: 

      Part of the appeal of the Gîtâ, both at home in India and abroad, lies in its multivalent quality:  it explicitly advances numerous teachings, some of them seemingly contradictory, and has been used in support of various others that have arisen since its composition . . . In this brief introduction, a sketch of the story line is given, followed by an assessment of how the many possible construals of the text in fact reflect the uniquely Hindu worldview that tolerates and in some cases requires holding together multiple positions simultaneously.  (xiii) 

      As stated before, I certainly recognize that there are distinctions to be made here, even important ones, but as far as I’m concerned, the perceived differences between East and West merely arise from different criteria than would be used in my declaration that Gnostic Christianity were the “exact opposite” of Orthodox Christianity. 

      Generally speaking, we don't see the Gnostic philosopher sitting under a boddhi tree and suddenly going "viola!".  [sic]  PMCV  #7136

      Agreed.  At the same time, I doubt that we would see an Indian philosopher sitting under a tree and exclaiming, “viola!”

      . . . or “pansy!”. . . or “cello!”. . . or for that matter, even “voilà!”   ;-) 




    • lady_caritas
      ... different ... much ... the ... Gnostic; ... Will, if you re still reading, you should know that I certainly am aware that you are describing a shift in
      Message 53 of 53 , Mar 14, 2003
        --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, "Will Brown" <wilbro99@y...>

        > >>Willy, I'm seeing you list different "selves" or at least
        > descriptions of "self" or aspects of "self." Defining "self" is a
        > philosophical exercise I don't care to get into. lol<<
        > I do think this defines our central difference better than I did;
        > shorter and to the point. I see the shift in terms of a change in
        > sense of self, and you see what I am doing as a philosophical
        > exercise. Place chuckle here! If we are speaking to the same
        > experiential process, our views of it are of such a different order
        > that we have been going in circles. Reminds me of a merry-go-round.
        > I'll get off here. Thanks, Alice, for the education on things
        > it's been the most! ----willy

        Will, if you're still reading, you should know that I certainly am
        aware that you are describing a shift in sense of self based on your
        life experience, and I do not see what you are doing as being just a
        philosophical exercise. You are making an incorrect assumption most
        likely based on my frustration that we cannot seem to come to agree
        on a common lingo. And because of that, I don't want to get into a
        trap of just general philosophical definition debates instead of
        agreeing on a common language for discussion.

        Since this is a Gnostic group, I have tried to use Gnostic terms, so
        when you read what I say and reinterpret it to your understanding and
        vocabulary, sometimes your interpretation of what I have said is
        either not understandable to me or it is possibly even skewed. For
        instance, when you say, "I think the first problem is that I find the
        spiritual self in that place and you find the temporal self in that
        place," I don't understand you. "Self in that place?" I could in
        return try to translate into Gnostic lingo what you say, but I feel
        that is not appropriate. I feel that is your job in order to
        eliminate misinterpretation that I might make as a mere translator of
        your experience. IOW, if you were indeed interested in whether your
        experience relates to classical Gnosticism (which is what our list is
        about), it would help to first understand terminology, etc.
        Continuing to speak in two different languages and you trying to
        guess what our differences or similarities are becomes certainly very
        much like a merry-go-round. It would help if *you* could see if your
        experience translates into Gnostic terms during discussions in our

        In any case, I do enjoy our conversations. Thank you for the
        exchange of ideas and experiences.

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