Re: What is Gnosticism?
- Hi Judy,
I was drawn here initially because of the similarities between Zen koans and some of the GofT logions. I went back to DT Suzuki the Zen master and read his history of the development of the koan. He writes that the koans were employed to maintain the direct Zen experience that was being lost through excessive textual intellectualization; which is to say that there were so many different intellectual explanations of what Zen was that Zen got lost in them. The koans were created to provide a glimpse *of* the Zen experience rather than talking *about* what it was to maintain the target experience that was being lost in the multiplicity of philosophies that had proliferated to attain it.
"...With the growth of Zen literature it was perfectly natural now for Zen followers to begin to attempt an intellectual solution or interpretation of it... This was disastrous, yet inevitable. Therefore, the zen master who wished for the normal development of Zen consciousness and the vigorous growth of Zen tradition would not fail to recognize rightly the actual state of things, and to devise such a method as to achieve finally the attainment of Zen truth... The worst enemy of Zen experience, at least in the beginning, is the intellect, which consists and insists in discriminating subject from object. The discriminating intellect, therefore, must be cut short if Zen consciousness is to unfold itself, and the koan is constructed eminently to serve this end."
From Zen Buddhism, DT Suzuki, Doubleday, page 136
Suzuki relates the coming of the Bodhi-dharma to China from the west in AD 520.
"He [Bodhi-dharma] came to China with a special message which is summed up in the following lines:
'A special transmission outside the scriptures;
No dependence on words and letters;
Direct pointing at the soul of Man;
Seeing into one's nature and the attainment of Buddhahood.'
In Romans, Paul, like the founder of Zen Buddhism in China, also eschews the written law for the law written on the human heart:
"... a letter written not with ink but with the spirit of the living god; written not on stone tablets but on the pages of the human heart." 2 Cor. 3:3
Notice that Paul's faith is also 'a special transmission outside the scriptures.'
Hebrews 12:5 reads:
"You have forgotten the text of Scripture which addresses you as sons and appeals to you in these words:
'My son, do not think lightly of the Lord's discipline,
nor lose heart when he corrects you;
for the Lord disciplines those he loves;
he lays the rod on every son whom he acknowledges.'
You must endure it as discipline: God is treating you as sons. Can anyone be a son, who is not disciplined by his father?"
The gnosis is a self sacrifical state achieved through discipline. Gnosticisms are philosophies *about* the gnosis but not *of* the gnosis, so I think it is misleading to talk of a Sethian gnosis or a Valentinian gnosis. It is more helpful to say: Sethian gnosticism or Valentinian gnosticism, because at its core, the gnosis is the same regardless of the system (the -ism) created to explicate it.
It helps to separate the personal gnosis which is a state achieved via discipline from gnosticisms and their texts which contain cosmogonies and philosophies that purport to talk *about* a gnostic system but do little to portray the state *of* gnosis.
Here is where the the Gospel of Thomas logions, particularly the paradoxes, function like the Zen koans. They are literary devices that provide a glimpse into the state *of* gnosis which is achieved via self-sacrificial discipline; the same way Zen enlightenment is achieved.
"When such problems [as we find in koans] are presented to the uninitiated for solution, what is the object of the master? The idea is to unfold the Zen psychology in the mind of the uninitiated and to reproduce the state of consciousness, of which these statements are the expression. That is to say, when the koans are understood, the master's [Jesus'! /rf] state of mind is understood, which is satori (enlightenment) and without which Zen is a sealed book."
Zen is the "seeing into own's own nature." The Greeks from whom we get the word "gnosis" said "know thyself."
The Gospel of Thomas, in light of the history of the Zen koan, was apparently written by a religious man who was concerned that the essence of the Jesus experience had been allegorized and over-intellectualized and was in danger of being lost. He compiled these sayings, some of which also became Zen koans, to help a disciple get directly to the core of the self sacrifical experience without the impediment of intellectualization.