The Sermon on the Light— the Light Motif in Gnostic and Other Western Sacred Texts
By James Bean — Exploring the World Religions, Copyright, August 2013 — All Rights Reserved
I begin by sharing this unique arrangement of passages on the theme of spiritual-mystical “Light” attributed to Jesus found in the New Testament Gospels, the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (discovered in Egypt), Dialogue of the Saviour, and the book of Pistis Sophia (Faith-Wisdom). I call it, “The Sermon on the Light”, since it really does read, and when said out loud, sounds…….. like a spiritual discourse on the theme of Light spoken long ago in antiquity by a spiritual Master to some of his students.
The Sermon on the Light
“Trust in me. Look to the Living One while you are alive, lest you die and seek to see Him and be unable to see. Understand what the Great Light is.
“I am the Light that is over all things. I am all: from Me all came forth, and to Me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find Me there. I am the Light of the world; anyone who follows Me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the Light of Life. Walk while you have the Light, so darkness won’t overpower you. Those who walk in the dark don’t know where they are going. Since you have the Light, believe in the Light, so you will become Children of the Light.
“I will give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has felt, and what has never occurred to the human mind.
“When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like children and trample them, then you will see the Son of the Living One and you will not be afraid. When you remove ill will from yourselves, then you will clothe yourselves with Light and enter the wedding chamber.
“Whoever does not know the work of perfection does not know anything. If one does not stand in the darkness, one will not be able to see the Light. There is a Light within a person of Light, and it shines on the whole world. If it does not shine, it is dark. If then the Light inside you is darkened, what darkness that will be! For this reason I say, if one is, one will be filled with Light, but if one is divided, one will be filled with darkness. If your eye becomes single, your whole body shall be full of Light.
“When I have gone to the Light, preach to all the world and say to them: ‘Do not cease seeking day or night and do not let yourselves relax until you find the Mysteries of the Kingdom of Light, which will purify you and make you into pure Light and lead you into the Kingdom of Light.’
“Do not let heaven’s Kingdom become a desert within you. Do not be proud of the Light that enlightens. Rather, act toward yourselves as I myself have toward you.
“[In the Beyond?] if they ask you, ‘Where have you come from?’ say to them, ‘We have come from the Light, from the place where the Light came into being by itself, established [itself], and appeared in their image.’ If they say to you, ‘Is it you?’ say, ‘We are its children, and we are the chosen of the Living Father.’”
The Light Motif in Gnostic and Other Western Sacred Texts
There is a strong Light motif in the Gospel of Thomas, the other Nag Hammadi Gnostic Gospels of Egypt, Dead Sea Scrolls, Kabbalah, Mandaean texts….most all the mystical writings. It gets metaphored to death here in the Protestant West, but these people had the goal of seeing a literal Divine Light. Rather than, “I see the Light”, meaning, “I intellectually understand”, the Gnostic mystics desired to connect themselves to the Divine Light during life as a way to be attached to the Light during the afterlife. Even some Catholic and Orthodox mystics were Light-mystics reporting that they saw visions of Light.
There is a passage in the New Testament that goes, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The cultural filter in this part of the world transforms and deforms that into meaning, “If I’m good enough during this life, or when the rapture happens in the future, I will see God after death. No Light possible now, but in a future after-life only.” To ancients in the Middle East however, they viewed that as meaning, if one reaches a certain level of purity of heart and stillness, conditions will be right making it possible to see God, literally. They believed God to be bright Light, like the Light of many suns. In the east this is called Theosis, becoming God by contemplating his Light. This is something we human beings can do right now.
The Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas has a message closer to Quakerism, that “the Light of God is within everyone” (George Fox). The Light is within you, within all. What the Gospel of John did was to change the message, making it more exclusive as in, “Christ as a person of history and earthly language is now the one-and-only Light, Copyright 90 AD, All Rights Reserved”, so to speak.
In the Thomas tradition, the Master — a living teacher as opposed to a book, served as a catalyst and spiritual guide, leading them into their own direct experience of the Inner Light. I find saying 17 of Thomas to be as revealing as it gets. The actual spiritual practice is never written down in Thomas. It has always been an oral tradition from Master to disciple. Still is even now, but Saying Seventeen is: “I will give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, and what has never occurred to the human mind.” We have another kind of seeing and hearing. With that available, we can then explore the Heavens, go up the tunnel to the Light.
The Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas had no interest in future prophecies of a kingdom of God coming down from the sky. Rather, the Book of Thomas always presents the interest in speculations about future Kingdoms and second coming(s) to be a distraction from the experience of the real Kingdom of Heaven, which is available right now in the Present Moment for those who have learned how to see it and hear it spiritually. Thomas teaches a present-tense Kingdom of God or spiritual dimension, whereas the masses always get entertained by hearing about some new “exciting” or at least mentally agitating theory about the end of the world instead of focusing on living a spiritual life “in-the-here-and-now”. We really are, as the saying goes, spiritual beings having a human experience.
The mystics are developing receptivity to the present-moment Kingdom of Heaven and seek to see it via a contemplative meditation practice. In many of the Gnostic gospels and other apocryphal texts are examples of out-of-body travel or ascension through the heavens. They had a system of several planes or heavens. There were different schools of spirituality, each with it’s own living Master. Some taught there were seven heavens, some eight, others ten. One Gnostic Master by the name of Basilides had a system of 365 heavens! It all depends on how you divide and subdivide the heavens: lower astral, upper astral, lower causal-akashic, and so on. In any case, they all presented a cosmology of several heavens, each progressively more luminous with less maya (illusion) and more spirit, till you get to the “top” or Real-Reality, which has no matter or illusion, and is All-Spirit and Truth; also Timeless. The Music differs in each of the heavens also.
Caught Up to the Third Heaven
In his second letter to the Corinthians (chapter 12) the apostle Paul wrote to his followers about a mystical or out-of-body experience he had, saying he believed he ascended to the third heaven. Saint Paul seems to have known he had been caught up to the third heaven as opposed to the second or fourth heaven. In the system he apparently followed, the third heaven was called ‘Paradise’. The Book of Enoch, a Jewish mystical text very popular back then also calls the third heaven ‘Paradise’. Probably not a coincidence. Paul’s terminology was evidently based on some form of Jewish mystical understanding about the nature of the heavenly realms. Certain Visions, Lights and Sounds, “not lawful to utter” or disclose to the uninitiated public, are associated with each of the heavens and serve as markers along the way. In spiritual traditions such as Sant Mat, Sufism, Kabbalah and Gnosticism (and no doubt others in antiquity), there are passwords (mantras or sacred names associated with various heavenly regions) given by a living teacher during one’s initiation in order to help the soul pass from heaven to heaven during inward mystical journeys of ascension.
13 Realms of Matter, Mind, and Spirit According to one Branch of Gnostic Christianity: