Looking Anew: The Gospel of Thomas

by Robert Wolfe on February 21st, 2011

[The following is a selection from The Gospel of Thomas: The Enlightenment Teachings of Jesus]

Throughout history, spiritual traditions of all kinds have employed certain designations in common: principal among these are the words “relative” and “absolute.” The meanings which these words represent are fundamental to the comprehension of the spiritual message. To understand the second of these two words, one must clearly understand the implications of the first word.

That which is relative, according to a dictionary definition, “depends for its identity on some other thing,” and therefore is--as a limited form--“not absolute.” (A discussion of “absolute” follows our consideration of “relative.”)

Anything, in the entire universe, which we have named (or will someday name) derives its existence--as a separate, definable condition or form--by comparison with what it is not; we say that something is “hot” because it definitely is not “cold.” The degree of its “hotness” (e.g. boiling) is in direct relationship to the degree of its “coldness” (e.g. freezing). And the subtlety of each relative term can be dependent upon a comparison with more than just one other thing: for example, the distinctive interrelationships in the triad, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We would say that you are uniquely “you” not just because you are not “me,” but also because you are not any other person in the entire world.

The point of this is that for even one relative category to achieve being, there has to be at least two or more relative categories that “separately” (but co-dependently) also assume being. For “right” to exist as a particular condition, for example, we are dependent upon a condition which we perceive to be its opposite: “wrong.” This “either/or”--relative--bias (in our fundamental process of thinking about what we perceive as “realities”) is what is referred to in spiritual texts as “duality.” This is our customary, habitual, learned pattern of thinking: to think of all things--whether material or immaterial, general or particular--in a relative (or “dualistic”) context.

The question here is: Is it by way of this conventional, dualistic viewpoint that the verses of the Gospel of Thomas--reputed to have been uttered by Jesus--are intended to be understood? If not, what would be the alternative?

What do the particular things (any being, object, or condition), in our conceivable reality, comprise in sum? A whole; totality. For example, one particular thing is the star nearest to us, which we’ve named the “sun”; and such things that orbit around it, we have given other names--such as Venus, Earth, Mars, etc. Another of the named things, relative to this cosmology, is Earth’s galaxy, which has been designated the Milky Way. Taken together, all such classes of things--and their entire constituent elements--are subsumed in the overarching totality that we call the “universe.” The limited, relative entities--suns, planets, galaxies, etc.--are viewed by us as a subset of an all-inclusive cosmic wholeness which is unlimited by any of its comprising forms. The very meaning we’ve attached to the word “universal” is that which “occurs everywhere,” and as such is “all-inclusive.”

The word all has itself historically been used as a prefix in referent phrases depicting “supreme being”--as indicative of “god”--such as the Almighty. The word all is nuanced to mean “any whatsoever,” but also “more than,” and additionally “lone” (or “sole”).

It is this utmost, or ultimate, condition which is the focus of the awareness of the mystic whose sayings the Gospel of Thomas are the record. Jesus, here, is not speaking in the accustomed, dualistic terms of one who emphasizes the importance of the “many,” but of one whose own consciousness is immersed in--and identified with--the “all.” Throughout this Gospel, he makes it abundantly clear that his perspective is that of one who senses an immediate and direct interconnectedness with the supernal totality; and he invariably speaks of this with complete authority.

He views himself not merely as one of the “many” limited entities or forms which give the “all” its reality, but as that fully-encompassing reality itself in its wholeness. Unequivocally, he says; “It is I who am the all.” (77)"* Perceiving his own being as ultimately intrinsic with, and essential to, the universal totality, he adds: “From me did the all [every conceivable thing] come forth, and unto me did the all extend [in form].”

He is clearly indicating that he knows this all as his own being, and that therefore not anything is absent from such an all-inclusive reality.

“If one who knows the all still feels a personal deficiency,” he remarks, “he is completely deficient.” (67)

Thus, deficient is any person whose perception of reality is limited to an awareness of the “many,” the relative aspects of the apparent universe, rather than recognizing the all- encompassing supercedence of the universal wholeness which knows of no insufficiency.

And the implication--since he is presumably speaking to interested disciples--is that not just he, Jesus, is the “I who am the all,” but that everyone (any other “I”) “who knows the all” will also no longer be personally deficient.

There is no doubt on the part of the addressed disciples, throughout the Gospel, that they clearly recognize that Jesus does indeed maintain a spiritual perspective which is different from their accustomed one. In fact, that is clearly the precise reason that they have been drawn to him as disciples. Like all such who have similarly quested, throughout world history, they desire to discover how the individuated “me” interrelates with the unlimited “all.” They each seek to be for themselves--as with Jesus--“one who knows the all,” in the same direct and immediate way that one knows oneself.

His disciples said to him, “Show us the place where you are, since it is necessary for us to seek it.” (24)

Jesus is evidently intimately familiar with the plight of the seeker and he has a reassuring attitude toward it, in more than one of his responses.

Seek and you will find. (92)

Blessed are the hungry, for the belly of him who desires will be filled. (69)

He compares what is to be found to a “pearl.” He tells of

…a merchant who had a consignment of merchandise and who discovered a pearl. That merchant was shrewd. He sold the merchandise and bought the pearl alone for himself. (76)

And, similarly, he speaks of

…a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of small fish. Among them the wise fisherman found a fine large fish. He threw all the small fish back into the sea and chose the large fish without difficulty.

Lest this point concerning the “many” and the “one” go unnoticed, he then emphasized,

Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear. (8)

Jesus, in this gospel, takes quite seriously the importance of the teachings he offers. He makes it clear that only one who clearly sees the way is in a position to point out the way:

Jesus said, ‘If a blind man leads a blind man, they will both fall into a pit.‘ (34)

And he assumes the responsibility for such guiding leadership; he says of Mary, in response to a criticism by Simon Peter,

I myself shall lead her… (114)

Even more to the point that he has the rare authority to speak firsthand of the transcendent reality, Jesus said,

‘Many times have you desired to hear these words which I am saying to you, and you had no one else to hear them from.’ (38)

He urged his listeners to seek the “unfailing and enduring treasure” (76):

Whoever finds himself is superior to the world. (111)

He holds out this promise:

Jesus said, ‘He who will drink from my mouth will become like me [who am the all]. I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.’ (108)

* A reminder that parenthetical numeration refers to the ordering of verses as found in the Thomas O. Lambdin translation.
† Bracketed constructions are mine.

Posted in Living Nonduality, Gospel of Thomas, Selections    Tagged with gospel, Thomas, Jesus, advaita, Absolute, Enlightenment, scripture, duality


Jana - November 5th, 2011 at 5:28 PM
Hi Robert! I just found your website and am really enjoying exploring it. I am very interested in the gospel of Thomas and its connection to A Course in Miracles. My favorite quotes are Jesus saying " Split a log and you will find me; lift a stone and I am there." and “It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying ‘here it is’ or ‘there it is.’ Rather, the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.”

Thank you and God Bless

Rafael Stoneman - January 3rd, 2013 at 7:02 PM
Hey Robert, I just came across this:
The Gospel of Thomas In the Light of Ramana Maharshi
and felt you may like it if you've not already seen it.
It is at this link: http://bhagavan-ramana.org/RamanaThomas.html

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