‘If you want to be spiritual, ask uncomfortable questions,’ Goddess News, Spiritual Blog, Divine Feminine,
Dr Joanna Kujawa, Spiritual Detective :).
The Gnostics and Esoteric Hinduism: The Same Story Told from a Different Point of View.
Firstly, I would like to apologise for a longer than usual silence. We have moved 2000km north from Melbourne to the subtropics for a change of perspective and change of lifestyle. It was an adventurous move, as the mover lost (and eventually found) our furniture and all our stuff and for 12 days or so we lived like two little hermits (three with Humphrey doggie). We had only a mattress, a change of clothes and two plates. Just two days ago everything was finally delivered and I have managed to set up my writing den to write the blog I have wanted to write for quite a while. So here we are!
As you perhaps have noticed, I often like to move from the personal to the scholarly and this is what I have in mind today. In my journey as I was moving away from organised religions, I eventually became very attracted to one form of esoteric Hinduism. Scholars call this Kashmir Shaivism, which is a scholarly branch of radical Hindu Tantra. One of the most prominent of the philosophers and scholars who study and write about this is Dr Mark Dyczkowski. He is not only a PhD scholar from Oxford University but he also lives and embodies the teachings. I had the good luck of attending his lectures (he has deep knowledge albeit with a patriarchal overtones which I omit here). I also studied the Tantraloka – the Light on Tantras – by the 10th century philosopher Abhinavagupta with Dr John Dupuche, the translator of the most controversial chapter (29) of this compilation on the philosophical Tantric teachings of Tantra.
This is not to brag but rather to show my long-term enthusiasm for the teachings and their practice.
However, thanks to very bizarre and, no doubt, synchronistic events in my life (I was a broke post-PhD graduate looking for a job as an academic), I was invited by two adventurers on a trip to Jerusalem and was handed the Gospel of Mary Magdalene to read. I describe the whole story in Jerusalem Diary: Searching for the Tomb and House of Jesus, the original title of which, by the way, was Travels in Holy Madness (I still think this first title is a much better reflection of the content of the book). But what I want to share here is that I was not looking for new teachings. In fact, I was in a deep state of bliss and awe (despite the pathetic situation I was in at that time, financially) of the teachings of Kashmir Shaivism. I had pretty much given up any interest in or hope for Western, and especially Christian, traditions. When … ooops! I was handed the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, translated by Jean-Yves Leloup. And the rest is history. I learned that this was a so-called Gnostic Gospel, rejected by the Church in early days of Christianity.
At the beginning, my strange fascination with such different esoteric teachings was a bit intellectually confusing. Yet I could not help but write about them together, and one of my first blogs was exactly about this: http://www.joannakujawa.com/two-secret-traditions-gnosis-and-tantra/
And this blog you are now reading is a continuation of the gradual insights that are impossible to explain without getting a rather lengthy personal explanation. To cut that long story short, I became as involved with Gnosticism as I did with esoteric Hinduism. I also made an intuitive decision that I would use my academic training but that my approach would be that a sincere seeker rather than that of an academic. I wanted truth, not another academic paper.
In my dialogue with these traditions I noticed that, firstly, they were both on the margins of institutionalised and organised religions. That in many respects they were not only an alternative to what was usually given to the innocents as spirituality but, often, both were secretive and forbidden. But this is only the beginning of their similarities. It has occurred to me that, in fact, they tell the same story but from a completely different point of view.
Let’s start with the story that Kashmir Shaivism tells, as I interpret it based on the works of Dr Mark Dyczkowski, Abhinavagupta’s Tantraloka, Shankarananda’s Consciousness is Everything and Kshemaraja’s Pratyabhijnahrdayam (The Secret of Self-Recognition), as translated by Jaideva Singh.
So … in the beginning was a Supreme Consciousness, which is not just intellectual knowledge but it is imbued with Supreme Bliss Energy known as Chiti or Shakti. In esoteric Hinduism, Shiva stands for the Universal Consciousness, which is primal but somewhat asleep. The Chiti-Shakti (the feminine aspect of the Universal Consciousness) is what keeps everything enlivened and filled with creative bliss. Thus, the Supreme Consciousness has no sense or concept of limitation. It is limitless.
But then something happens. It is not sinful or evil. It just is, and it is an inherent part of the Creative Process. As the Supreme Consciousness in its primal (or ‘Pleromic’ in Gnostic terms) state by some creative impulse decides to be many things. Perhaps just for fun. Perhaps just because. Perhaps it just wants to explore the ways of being through creating Itself as many. Anthropomorphising, It asks Itself, ‘How much fun would it be to hide myself in many?’ But in playing this divine hide-and-seek through multiple forms, it starts to contract. It forgets that It was (and still is) the Supreme and Limitless Consciousness filled with delicious Energy Shakti. And as it contracts and becomes many, it becomes jiva, which means a contracted individual being who has forgotten his/her divinity – in short, it becomes a human being, it becomes us. And, now, it is trapped in this limited perception of her/himself. It now does not remember anymore its true origin, indeed, it does not remember its true state of being, which is limitless. It stops identifying as the Supreme Chiti-Shakti and it thinks of itself as the limited rational mind (chitta). The rational mind with which it identifies for survival creates only more entrapment, and so it lives like a trapped animal!
But there is a way back. The first good sign is the realisation that we are trapped and that this is not our natural state. Then, like in the movie Midnight Express, the human being turns back and refuses to walk the path of the mind, refuses to look outside for salvation. She/he stops in her/his tracks and looks inward instead. The human beings look inward because they intuitively know in their ancient memory of themselves that this is the only place where the truth can be found. And as they look within, through witnessing, through meditation, through using the mind for liberation rather than for more entrapment, the human beings walk back to their original state as the Universal Consciousness, realising that they are the divine Chiti-Shakti that had become lost for a while in Her own play.
Now, what is the Gnostic Big Story, as I see it, in a very broad delineation?
In the Gnostic Story, there is also a ‘wrong’ turn of events. In mythological terms, this is the story of Sophia. I am not going to go through different versions here, as the Gnostic virtuoso Miguel Conner in his many podcasts re-tells these stories with great gusto. I want to focus on Sophia’s main narrative and its essence, without describing various versions and the imaginative additions of different Gnostic groups.
In many ways, Sophia is very similar to Shakti-Chiti the Supreme Consciousness imbued with Bliss. In her primary state of no differentiation, in what the Gnostics call the Pleroma (the place or a state of being). Like Chiti-Shakti, she is the first impulse to create, the first thought of God (Epinoia), or the ‘first born’ of God. And just like Chiti-Shakti, she ‘falls’ and ‘experiences passion, sorrow, fear, sorrow and ignorance’. (Please note that the ‘fall’ is a Western term and does not exist in Hinduism. In Hinduism there is only delusion, a wrong understanding; there is no ‘fall’).
In one version of the story she falls in love with Depth, her divine Progenitor and, deluded by this love, she loses the power of discernment. As Stephen Heller says in Jung and the Lost Gospels, Sophia ‘could no longer distinguish between the above and below’ – meaning, she could not distinguish between her original spiritual nature (or worlds) and the limited existence which comes from that forgetfulness or delusion. In all versions of the story, Sophia roams the earth as ‘Errant Wisdom’. She now wanders around (mythologically represented as a prostitute, as she has forgotten her original greatness or, alternatively, does not know how to return to her original greatness). In Gnostic stories, she is often the beautiful partner of a male sage such as Jesus (Sophia as Mary Magdalene) or Simon the Magus (as his partner Helen). To make things even more complicated, a new blind and arrogant god appears on the stage as the Demiurge, who is power-hungry and wants to enslave humans by creating oppressive rules, laws and rituals. This is why the figure of a Saviour is needed in the person of Christ or someone like Him.
As Stephen Heller repeats after Gilles Quispel, the Dutch theologian and historian of Christianity and Gnosticism, the complex story of Sophia is nothing more than a ‘mythologisation of Self-experience’ – which is a move from the limitless Self to a limited self. I would also argue that it is the movement of Consciousness outward. It is a psychological dance (both wonderfully creative and delusional) towards the external world, away from the spiritual oneness of the original state of being.
Some also argue, along with Jung, that this is a natural movement from an undifferentiated consciousness to a differentiated consciousness (from one to many), which, after the right turn is made, returns us to the same undifferentiated consciousness – but this time, with full awareness of our journey. I would also add that this could also be what all human beings are asked to do: to forget who we truly are, to answer the call to adventure by turning our awareness outward, and after much adventuring and suffering, we can return to our original state of being as the Universal Bliss-Consciousness.
That is all fine, you might say, but how do these two traditions tell the same story from a different point of view?
The way I see it, the tradition of Kashmir Shaivism (an esoteric Hindu tradition) tells the story of Chiti-Shakti (the Hindu version of Sophia) from the point of view of the Universal Consciousness (Sophia before the delusion or Sophia upon her return to her original state). From this perspective, everything is just the play of Shakti or a great spiritual adventure with many ups and even more downs. But eventually, and inevitably, it all ends well, as Shakti-Sophia returns safely to her origin, which is also her place of return. In both traditions, it is the movement inwards, either through meditation or Gnosis, that allows for this return.
The Gnostics, who were very imaginative storytellers, told the story from our – human – point of view. Yes, they said, we have a deep sense of our divine origin. Yes, we know there are paths that can take us through our acquiring the Gnosis (inner knowing and thus the movement inward rather than following the rules of organised religions). But, hell, this is probably too much to take! Also, there might very well be paths but there are also false gods and archonic (demonic) forces everywhere that are there to distract you from your understanding and your Gnosis.
So,I have come to believe that the story told by the Gnostics is the same story as esoteric Hinduism tells except that it is told in the midst and tribulations of the adventure. While esoteric Hinduism tells the same story from the point of view of the heroine/hero who has already safely arrived home.
What do you think?
I would love to hear from you via your comments.
Dr Joanna Kujawa, Spiritual Detective
Goddess News,©Joanna Kujawa