An Inclusive Rather Than Exclusive Spirituality: Kirpal Singh and the Lesson of Nag Hammadi
By James Bean (Exploring the World Religions Column)
There are the great world religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, the Bahai Faith, Aboriginal/Indigenous/Native American/Sami People, etc. In addition to comparative religion there is also comparative mysticism, the study of various schools of spirituality or mystics that are, or once were, operating within many of these above-mentioned faith communities, East and West. Viewing religions through this particular “lens,” one’s list may include: Kabbalah, Gnosticism (Valentinians, Barbeloites, Nassenes, Manichaeans, Cathers, Bogomils), Hesychasm (Eastern Orthodox mysticism), Syriac and other forms of Monasticism, Quietism, the Beguines, Gottesfreunde or Friends of God, to name a few in the Christian category, Sufism, numerous lineages of Saints, Sant Satgurus and Bhaktas based in India.
The Gospel of the Egyptians
“The god of time (illusion, Kal, maya) has put a cover over the teachings of Saints and thus concealed them from humanity.” (Swami Ji Maharaj)
“And there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. There is nothing buried that will not be raised!” (Greek Gospel of Thomas)
"The great Seth wrote this book… He placed it in the mountain that is called "Charaxio," in order that, at the end of the times and the eras… it may come forth and reveal... the great, invisible, eternal Spirit… The Gospel of the Egyptians. The God-written, holy, secret book." (Gospel of the Egyptians, The Nag Hammadi Library)
In December 1945 a collection of ancient scriptures – fifty-two books – was unearthed near the village of Nag Hammadi in Egypt. These texts had been placed in a clay storage jar, sealed, and buried sometime during the Fourth Century AD. Monks who lived at a nearby monastery founded by Saint Pachomius most likely hid them there at the time. They would have been sacred texts once part of the library of this monastic community, one of several Pachomian monasteries operating in Egypt during those days.
Rather than confining themselves to only reading the Old and New Testaments or teachings exclusively from Orthodox Christian sources, these monks had a surprisingly diverse collection of writings that can only be characterized as inter-faith and multi-traditional. In other words, they were also studying the scriptures of other teachers, sages, religions and “cousin” esoteric mystical movements of their day.
The papyrus codices of the Nag Hammadi scriptures includes Christian texts such as the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of the earliest known sayings of Jesus, Dialogue of the Saviour, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Book of Thomas the Spiritual Athlete, Teachings of Silvanus, and Apocalypse of James (Parts I & II).
There are also many examples of mystical or Gnostic Jewish texts. Perhaps the oldest book of the Nag Hammadi Library, Eugnostos the Blessed, is one of many that originate with a sect known as the Sethians, who were affiliated with another line of living teachers in a different branch of Gnosticism that practiced a somewhat Kabbalah-like form of Jewish mysticism.
Several important Nag Hammadi books are part of the Corpus Hermeticum, sacred texts of the Hermetic tradition, an esoteric religious and philosophical mystery school or school of spirituality based in Egypt attributed to Hermes Trismegistus (“Thrice-Greatest Hermes”). These include: The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth Heavens or Planes, Asclepius, and The Vegetarian Prayer of Thanksgiving.
Scholars have noticed there is a strong influence of Neoplatonism, a philosophy based on the teachings of Plato, present in many of the Nag Hammadi texts and Gnostic gospels. Both the Corpus Hermeticum and Nag Hammadi Library refer to India on a couple of occasions, and one Nag Hammadi book by the name of Zostrianos mentions the Persian Prophet Zoroaster. The books of Nag Hammadi are in the Coptic language and are copied by monks from much earlier Greek manuscripts. Some of the writings seem to originate in Syria, just north of Israel, including the Gospel of Thomas (Sayings of Jesus) and Book of Mar Sanes.
The Sentences of Sextus is a Pythagorean text, a collection of proverbs popular with many during the early centuries C.E.. The Pythagoreans were, as the name suggests, followers of Pythagoras, a sect that had a fascinating combination of mathematics, mystical practices and beliefs including reincarnation, transmigration of the soul, and hearing the Music of the Spheres, the Harmony of All Harmonies. They also adhered to a vegetarian diet. In fact, for most of the last two thousand years in the western world the word “vegetarian” has been synonymous with “Pythagorean,” such was their influence on Pagan, Jewish, and Christian traditions. Vegetarians have been referred to as “Pythagoreans” up until recently, when the word “vegetarian” became fairly popular.
Some of the scriptures of Nag Hammadi are from a moderate, fairly mainstream Gnostic Christian movement called Valentinianism, founded by Saint Valentinus of Alexandria. Some suspect that many of the Pachomian monks had been followers of Valentinus and brought their scriptures with them when they joined the monastery near Nag Hammadi.
Jesus and the Ebionites (Hebrew Christians), the Mandaean Prophet John (the Baptizer), Seth, Pythagoras, Valentinus, and Hermes Trismegistus
From the point of view of the monks contemplating the words of these scriptures, their interest was not a schizophrenic or contradictory eclectic spirituality. All these writings do have much in common. They share common themes and threads, a universal contemplative wisdom that transcends narrow religious sectarian boundaries, a rich treasure-trove of spirituality. The names of the teachers and the schools of spirituality they founded varied, yet the principals and practices were essentially the same. The Tree of Gnosis had many branches.
What a fascinating otherworldly, meditative, and “Eastern” version of Christianity these Coptic monks of the desert had — “a faith once entrusted to the Saints”. (Book of Jude) Egypt once was a kind of “Tibet of the West,” complete with chant. It wasn’t “om mani padme hum,” but there are actually many amazing examples of a rather AUM-like vowel chant preserved in several of the Gnostic texts.
“Wisdom leads the soul to the place of God.” (The Sentences of Sextus, Nag Hammadi Library)
Attempted Planetary Lobotomy
The codices of Nag Hammadi were buried after Bishop Athanasius condemned the use of so-called “non-canonical” books in his infamous Festal Letter of 367 AD. As a new conservative sectarian hardline leadership, with its lists of “approved” and “banned” books, imposed itself upon the monastic communities of Egypt, it is believed that some monks took these forbidden books from the monastic library and hid them away, thus rescuing them from certain destruction, and this free-spirited act ended up preserving them for future generations. The collection of the sayings of Jesus known as the Gospel of Thomas, rather than being the victim of censorship and the book-burning hysteria of the Fourth Century, now has its own website, the Gospel of Thomas Home Page. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, illustrating the leadership role of women during the early days of Christianity, instead of being forever wiped from the pages of history, in the Twenty First Century is the subject of great interest by many open-minded spiritual seekers around the world.
“The tyrant will not be able to take away happiness.” (The Sentences of Sextus, Nag Hammadi Library)
The loss of the Nag Hammadi Library and the destruction of the Library of Alexandria represent two spectacular examples of "Planetary Lobotomy," the unrestrained wanton destruction of the knowledge of humanity. At least in the case of Nag Hammadi, a large percentage of the texts have been restored to us, and we can read them online.
The Lesson of Nag Hammadi
Beware of today’s “Athanasius-types,” the Archons (the rulers, the powers-that-be). The spirit of Athanasius lives on in each generation, desiring to take freedoms away, seeking to blow up statues of Buddhas and Saints, forbidding the study or public recitation of “unauthorized” books of the Masters – deliberately making these books go out of print, causing trouble for many seeking souls, ever thinking up new rules and regulations. The results of the imposition of over-reaching rule-making, control and censorship in spiritual organizations, despite the usual good intentions that are advertised, ultimately leads to the loss of knowledge and wisdom, a reduction in the quality of meditation practice — the dumbing down of a tradition.
“The Pharisees and the scholars have taken the keys of knowledge and have hidden them. They have not entered nor have they allowed those who want to enter to do so. As for you, be as sly as snakes and as simple as doves.” (Yeshua, Gospel of Thomas)
As I’ve written in the past, there is no permanent Institution or University of Mysticism, but a decline-renewal process, a continuous pattern of Masters making a fresh start in a new location, choosing to remain free, to exist in genuineness and authenticity. No need for a hierarchy of scribes or ever-growing caste of Pharisees to surround the Master, ultimately blocking him from our view. Let’s just stick with hanging out with the Master around the Bodhi or Banyen Tree of simplicity. The true Masters do spend time with their disciples. Personal interviews? Answering the mail? Absolutely. Yes. Make every effort to enjoy their company and communications whenever you can during this lifetime, while both you and they are in the body.
The Master says, “What your own eyes cannot see, your human ears do not hear, your physical hands cannot feel, and what is inconceivable to the human mind – that I will give you!” (Yeshua, The Gospel of Thomas – Wisdom of the Twin, Lynn Bauman’s translation published by White Cloud Press).
Administrative religious councils have been at war with enlightened souls since the beginning of time, and ultimately seek to retire and replace living Masters altogether. I remain suspicious of the institutionalization process, the eagerness on the part of some to build ever-larger buildings for themselves, and thirst for power, the creation of new leadership titles, committees and councils to rule over.
“Do not lay down any rule beyond what I ordained for you, nor promulgate law like the lawgiver, or else it will dominate you.” (Yeshua, Gospel of Mary Magdalene)
Only mystics care about mysticism.
The Modern-day Example of Master Kirpal Singh (1894–1974)
The spiritual Master from India, Sant Kirpal Singh, advised his students to follow a satsang template that included a long reading list of potential scriptures and sources of inspiration or Master-instruction: “For the subject of a talk, we may take up the hymns from any scripture, preferably from the Masters of the Sound Current. It may be supplemented by apt quotations from the parallel writings of other Master Saints. The Holy Gospels themselves are full of such material as may fit in with such a context. The illustrations from various Masters are essential so as to bring out the essential unity in the teachings of all the Saints.” (Instructions For Holding Satsang, by Sant Kirpal Singh)
“To fill the human heart with compassion, mercy and universal love, which should radiate to all countries, nations and peoples of the world. To make a true religion of the heart as the ruling factor in one’s life. To enable each one to love God, love all, serve all, and have respect for all, as God is immanent in all forms. My goal is that of oneness. I spread the message of oneness in life and living. This is the way to peace on earth. This is the mission of my life, and I pray that it may be fulfilled.” (Kirpal Singh)
Kirpal Singh was a prolific writer, publishing scores of books over the years, quoting from most every world scripture, mystic, poet, philosopher, and great Master that has ever existed spanning the centuries, very much embodying this same curiosity and inclusive universal spirituality we find present in the Nag Hammadi Library of Egypt. May the legacy of both always be remembered and honored for all time to come. ////////