Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Introduction to Gnosticism: The Pistis Sophia, part 1 (Blavatsky)

Blavatsky is well-known as a pioneer in the study of Jewish and Christian Gnosticism and towards the end of her life, delivered a masterful set of lectures on the Pistis Sophia, the great mystical classic of Christian Gnosticism.  (with the able assistance of Hermetic/Gnostic scholar G.R.S. Mead) Her comments can be quite complex and intricate; however, the selected passages presented in the next series of posts form a solid explanation of some of the general concepts underlying this great work.

The reader should carefully study the recital of the “Fall” of Sophia, as told in the Philosophumena (p. 107) and compare it with the allegorical drama of the text which follows. It will be noticed that the first and last of the female Aeôns of the Dodecad, are respectively PISTIS and SOPHIA. The Soul was the one subject, and the knowledge of the Soul the one object of all the ancient Mysteries. In the “Fall” of PISTIS-SOPHIA, and her rescue by her Syzygy, JESUS, we see the ever-enacted drama of the suffering and ignorant Personality, which can only be saved by the immortal Individuality, or rather by its own yearning towards IT. In reading this portion of the Pistis-Sophia, the mysterious Duality of the Manas should always be remembered, and this key applied to every line.

As Wisdom was the end of the Gnôsis, so the pivot of the whole Gnostic teaching was the so-called “Sophia-Mythus.” For whether we interpret the allegory from the macro- or from the micro-cosmic standpoint, it is always the evolution of MIND, that the Initiates of old have sought to teach us. The emanation and evolution of Mahat in cosmogenesis, and of Manas in anthropogenesis, was ever the study of the One Science. The dwelling of Sophia was in the Midst, between the Upper and Lower Worlds, in the Ogdoad. Below was the Hebdomad or Seven Spheres, governed by seven Hierarchies of Rulers. Truly hath “Wisdom built for herself a House, and rested it on Seven Pillars” (Proverbs ix, 1 and again: “She is on the lofty Heights; she stands in the midst of the Paths, for she taketh her seat by the Gates of the Powerful Ones (the Rulers), she tarrieth at the Entrances” (Ibid., viii, 2).

Moreover, Sophia was the Mediatrix between the Upper and Lower Region, and at the same time projected the Types or Ideas of the Plerôma into the Universe. Now, why should Sophia, who was originally of a Pneumatic or Spiritual Essence, be in the Middle Space, an exile from her true Dwelling? Such was the great mystery which the Gnôsis endeavoured to solve. Seeing again that this “Fall of the Soul” from its original purity involved it in suffering and misery, the object that the Gnostic teachers had ever before them, was identical with the problem of “Sorrow,” which Gautama Sâkyamuni set himself to resolve. Moreover, the solution of the two systems was identical in that they traced the Cause of Sorrow to Ignorance, and to remove this, pointed out the Path to Self-knowledge. The Mind was to instruct the Mind: “self-analyzing reflection” was to be the Way. The Material Mind (Kâma-Manas) was to be purified and so become one with the Spiritual Mind (Buddhi-Manas). In the nomenclature of the Gnosis, this was expressed by the Redemption of Sophia by the Christos, who delivered her from her ignorance (agnoia) and sufferings. It is not then surprising that we should find Sophia, whether regarded as a unity, or as a duality, or again as cosmic mind, possessed of many names.

Among these may be mentioned the Mother, or All-Mother, Mother of the Living or Shining Mother; the Power Above; the Holy Spirit (all from the macrocosmic standpoint); and again She of the Left-hand, as opposed to Christos, He of the Right-hand; the Man-woman; Prounikos or the Lustful-one; Matrix; Paradise; Eden; Achamôth; the Virgin; Barbelo; Daughter of Light; Merciful Mother; Consort of the Masculine One; Revelant of the Perfect Mysteries; Perfect Mercy; Revelant of the Mysteries of the whole Magnitude; Hidden Mother; She who knows the Mysteries of the Elect; the Holy Dove, which has given birth to the two Twins; Ennoia; Ruler; and The Lost or Wandering Sheep, Helena. In the Valentinian System, Sophia gives birth to the Christoswith a Shadow.”

The above terms are taken from Smith and Wace’s Dictionary of Christian Biography, art. “Sophia,” where we read: “In the Syriac text of the Acts published by Dr. Wright (Apocryphal Acts of Apostles, pp. 238-245) we find the beautiful Hymn of the Soul, which has been sent down from her heavenly home to fetch the pearl guarded by the serpent, but has forgotten here below her heavenly mission till she is reminded of it by a letter from ‘the father, the mother, and the brother,’ performs her task, receives back again her glorious dress, and returns to her old home.” (Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 13, pp. 40-41)

Part 2 

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Through the Gates of Gold - Chapter 3 – The Initial Effort - Part 1

The first part deals with the transcendent, universal nature of the spiritual dimension, and the
paradoxical way in which one can encounter it, often when one least expects it:
But that there is no one pathway to it is immediately perceived from the fact that this soul must from its very nature be universal. The Gates of Gold do not admit to any special place; what they do is to open for egress from a special place. Man passes through them when he casts off his limitation. He may burst the shell that holds him in darkness, tear the veil that hides him from the eternal, at any point where it is easiest for him to do so; and most often this point will be where he least expects to find it.
It is observed how religion, philosophy and ascetic practices can lead to narrow-minded, dogmatic attitudes that can ultimately limit one’s progress:
Men go in search of escape with the help of their minds, and lay down arbitrary and limited laws as to how to attain the, to them, unattainable.”

It is hard to express what the nature of the spiritual world is without materializing it in some way; the following, I think succeeds in avoiding this pitfall:
“Spirit is not a gas created by matter, and we cannot create our future by forcibly using one material agent and leaving out the rest. Spirit is the great life on which matter rests, as does the rocky world on the free and fluid ether; whenever we can break our limitations we find ourselves on that marvelous shore where Wordsworth once saw the gleam of the gold. When we enter there all the present must disappear alike, — virtue and vice, thought and sense.”
The importance of having an inner fire that overcomes obstacles is stressed:
“The man who lifts the latch of the Golden Gate must do so with his own strong hand, must be absolutely positive. This we can see by analogy. In everything else in life, in every new step or development, it is necessary for a man to exercise his most dominant will in order to obtain it fully. Indeed in many cases, though he has every advantage and though he use his will to some extent, he will fail utterly of obtaining what he desires from lack of the final and unconquerable resolution. No education in the world will make a man an intellectual glory to his age, even if his powers are great; for unless he positively desires to seize the flower of perfection, he will be but a dry scholar, a dealer in words, a proficient in mechanical thought, and a mere wheel of memory. And the man who has this positive quality in him will rise in spite of adverse circumstances, will recognize and seize upon the tide of thought which is his natural food, and will stand as a giant at last in the place he willed to reach. We see this practically every day in all walks of life.”
The difficulty of developing a free, open, flexible mind while remaining focused and decisive is explained:
“Undoubtedly it is the hardest task we have yet seen set us in life, that which we are now talking of, — to free a man of all prejudice, of all crystallized thought or feeling, of all limitations, yet develop within him the positive will. It seems too much of a miracle; for in ordinary life positive will is always associated with crystallized ideas. But many things which have appeared to be too much of a miracle for accomplishment have yet been done, even in the narrow experience of life given to our present humanity. All the past shows us that difficulty is no excuse for dejection, much less for despair; else the world would have been without the many wonders of civilization.”
The analogy of the creative act to described the spiritual path is often used:
“Every inventor fastens his interest firmly on the unseen; and it entirely depends on the firmness of that attachment whether he is successful or whether he fails. The poet who looks on to his moment of creation as that for which he lives, sees that which is invisible and hears that which is soundless.”

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Mose Cordovero's Ethics of the 10 Sefirot (Tomer Devorah)

From The Palm-Tree of Deborah
For Keter, see:
Tomer Devorah, part I
Chapter III: Attaining the Qualities of Chokmah
How should a man train himself to possess the quality of Wisdom? Behold, Supernal Wisdom, though it is hidden and exceedingly exalted, is spread over all creatures. Concerning this it is said: 'How manifold[1] are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom Thou has made them all.' So, too, it is proper for man that his wisdom be ready to benefit all. He should be an effective teacher of men, to each according to his powers, influencing each as much as he possibly can without in any way preventing him. Behold, Wisdom has two faces. The higher face turns toward the Crown, it does not gaze downwards but recieves from above. The second face, the lower one, turns downwards to control the Sephiroth, emanating of its wisdom to them. So, too, man should have two faces: the one, his solitude with his Creator in order to add to his wisdom which the Holy One, Blessed is He, has poured upon him.

Chapter IV: Attaining the Qualities of Binah

How shall a man train himself to acquire the quality of Understanding? It is to be acquired by returning in perfect repentance[1], than which nothing is more important, for it rectifies every flaw. Just as it is the function of Understanding to sweeten all judgments and to neutralize their bitterness so man should repent and rectify every flaw. He who thinks of repentance all his days causes the Supernal Understanding to illumine all his days so that all his days are in repentance, that is to be included in Understanding which is Repentance, and the days of his life will be crowned according to the secret of the Supernal Repentance. 

Chapter V: Attaining the Qualities of Chesed

How shall a man train himself to acquire the quality of Lovingkindness? The main way in which man can enter into the secret of Lovingkindness is to love God with perfect love so as not to forsake His service for any reason whatsoever for nothing has any value at all for him compared with the Blessed One's love. Therefore, he should primarily attend to the requirements of God's service and the rest of his time may be for other needs. This love should be firmly fixed in his heart whether he recieves good at the hands of the Holy One, Blessed is He, or whether he recieves sufferings and rebukes. These latter, too, he should look upon as tokens of God's love. As it is written: 'Faithful are the wounds of a friend[1] .'

Chapter VI: Attaining the Qualities of Gevurah

How should man train himself to acquire the quality of Power? Know that all actions which excite the evil inclination actually stir up the strong Powers. Therefore, man should not excite the evil inclination, so as not to awaken the Powers. The reason is that man is created with two inclinations, good and bad: the one belongs to Lovingkindness, the other to Power. However in the Zohar to the first section of Genesis[1] it is stated that the good inclination was created from the sake of man himself, the evil inclination for the sake of his wife. See how sweet are his words. Behold Beauty, the merciful quality[2], turns to the Right and all its conduct is with the Right, the good inclination. But the Female[3] is of the Left and Her conduct is with Power. It is, therefore, proper not to bestir the evil inclination for man's own sake because this bestirs the Power in Supernal Man and so destroys the world. Hence, every excitement of man towards Power and the evil inclination makes a flaw in Supernal Man. From which one can observe how ugly is anger and such-like, for it causes the strong Powers to prevail. In truth the evil inclination should be bound and tied down so that it is not incited to any bodily act whatsoever, not for the desire of cohabitation, not the desire of money, nor towards anger, nor towards honor in any way.

Chapter VII: Attaining the Qualities of Tiferet

How should a man train himself to acquire the quality of Beauty? There is no doubt that the quality of Beauty is to be found in the study of the Torah[1]. However, great care must be taken that man does not exalt himself in pride because of the words of the Torah, in order that he does not cause great evil. For just as he elevates himself in pride he causes the quality of Beauty, which is the Torah, to elevate itself and remove itself upwards, God forend. But he who abases himself over words of Torah causes Beauty to descend and lower itself to pour out its influence upon those beneath. Now behold, there are four Sephiroth[2], embracing three qualities, below Beauty. First, he who proudly exalts himself over his pupils causes Beauty to raise itself and be exalted over Endurance and Majesty, for they are those learned of the Lord[3], the pupils of Beauty. But he who lowers himself to teach in love causes Beauty to lower itself to the Pupils and give of its influence to them. Therefore, a man should be pleasantly disposed towards his pupils, to teach them as much as they can absorb and, in his merit, Beauty will pour its flow into the Pupils according their capacities, in fit measure. 

Chapter VIII: Attaining the Qualities of Netzach, Hod, and Yesod

How should a man train himself to acquire the qualities of Endurance, Majesty, and Foundation? With regard to the Tikkunim of Endurance and Majesty some of the qualities apply to both of them together, others to each one distinctively. Behold, first of all it is necessary to help students of the Torah and to support them either with money or deeds, so as to provide them with the things they require for their work, to prepare their food, and to fulfill all their desires, so that they do not cease in the study of the Torah. He should take care not to disparage their learning so that they do not weaken in their study of the Torah, but should honor them and praise their good deeds in order to encourage them in their work. And he should provide them with books with which to work and with a house of study. All such aid and support to those who study the Torah depends on these qualites; each person should do all he can, whether little or much. In short, whatever he does to honor the Torah and to strengthen it with speech, which his bodily actions and with his wealth, and to arouse people's hearts to the torah that they engage in its study, all this is firmly held and rooted in these two Sephiroth for they are known as 'them that lay hold upon her' and 'that holdeth her fast'[1]. 

However, how should man train himself to acquire the quality of Foundation? A man must be on his guard against the kind of speech which brings to thoughts of sin, so that he should not be visited by a seminal emission. Needless to say, he should not speak obscenities but he should take care not to utter even clean words if they give rise to sexual thoughts. And this is contained in a careful examination of the verse: 'Suffer not[6] thy mouth to bring thy flesh unto guilt,' this is, take care not to suffer the mouth to give speech which can bring sin to the holy flesh, the sign of the covenant[7], with seminal emission.

Chapter IX: Attaining the Qualities of Malkuth

How should a man train himself to acquire the quality of Sovereignty? First and foremost he should not be proud in his heart[1] because of all that is his, but he should behave constantly like a beggar, standing before his Creator as a poor man begging and offering supplication. Even if he is wealthy he can train himself to behave in this way by considering that none of his possesions are attached to him and that he is forsaken requiring the mercies of Heaven at all times, for all he has is the bread he eats, and he should humble his heart and afflict himself. Especially at the time of prayer[2], for this is a wonderful aid. Of the opposite it is said: "Then thy heart[3] be lifted up, and thou forget..' For the forgetting belonging to the Outside Ones[4] is found there. David behaved in this way to great extent when he said: "For I am solitary[5] and afflicted." For all the people of his household have themselves to consider. What are they all to him? What can even his wife and children do for him when he is judged before the Creator or when his soul departs? Can they accompany him beyond the grave? Of what use are they to him from the entrance of the grave and onwards? He should therefore humble himself and perfect himself according to the secret of this quality. A second method is explained in the Zohar[6] and it is very important. He should exile himself from place to place for the sake of Heaven and in this way he will become a chariot to the Exiled Shekinah. He should imagine: 'Behold I have gone into exile but, behold, my utensils go with me. What shall be with the honor of the Most High seeing that the Shekinah is in exile without Her utensils which are lacking as a result of the Exile?' Because of this he should be satisfied with as little as possible, as it is written 'Prepare thee stuff for exile'[7] and he should humble his heart in exile and bind himself to the Torah and then the Shekinah will be with him.