The religion of the Sufi is not separate from the religions of the world. People have fought in vain about the names and lives of their saviors, and have named their religions after the name of their savior, instead of uniting with each other in the truth that is taught. This truth can be traced in all religions, whether one community calls another pagan or infidel or heathen. Such persons claim that theirs is the only scripture, and their place of worship the only abode of God. Sufism is a name applied to a certain philosophy by those who do not accept the philosophy; hence it cannot really be described as a religion; it contains a religion but is not itself a religion. Sufism is a religion if one wishes to learn religion from it. But it is beyond religion, for it is the light, the sustenance of every soul, raising the mortal being to immortality.
–Inayat Khan, in The Spiritual Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Vol. I, The Way of Illumination, Section I – The Way of Illumination, Part III : The Sufi; courtesy of Wikiquote
Starting this past Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve been reading The Gnostics by David Brakke, Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Christianity by Birger Pearson, and Voices of Gnosticism, an anthology of interviews with scholars of Gnosticism, edited by Miguel Connor. For the last year, I’ve been periodically reading The Secret Revelation of John, Karen King’s study of the Sethian scripture The Apopcrypon of John. Alongside this, I’ve been re-reading some of the so-called Gnostic Gospels and related scripture, such as the aforementioned Apocryphon of John, The Gospel of Thomas, The Thunder, Perfect Mind (the basis of the above short directed by Jordan and Ridley Scott), the Tripartite Tractate, and others. I have been running an ongoing series, Towards a Gnostic Orthodoxy, in which I’ve been comparing little-o orthodox Christian thought and Gnostic Christian thought, towards the purpose of seeing what insights can be derived from each, and to what extent the two can be harmonized. Given this, and the relatively heavy reading in Gnosticism I’ve been doing of late, I thought it would be worthwhile to post a few thoughts I’ve had in this regard. Nothing systematic; just some thoughts and impressions.
First, over here I said, “None of the schools that we call “Gnostic” ever, as far as we know, used the term of themselves.” After reading Brakke’s book, I retract this. He argues, persuasively, in my view, that the school known to modern scholars as Sethians did, in fact, use the term of themselves. Briefly, he points out that “gnostic” (gnōstikos) was, in the first couple Christian centuries, a positive term, which some of those later considered orthodox (what Brakke calls the “proto-orthodox”) used of themselves. Brakke argues that Irenaeus, the first to refer to his theological opponents as “gnostics”, would hardly have used a positive term for a group he so roundly condemned, unless they actually used it of themselves. Irenaeus, in fact, rather snarkily calls their teaching “so-called gnosis”–recall, that though his famous work is usually referred to simply as Adversus Haereses (Against the Heresies), it’s full title is On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis. This seems to me a cogent argument. Brakke goes on to note that of all the groups Irenaeus attacks, there is only one whom he describes as “Gnostic”, and that these, based on his description of their beliefs, is most likely those that we now call Sethians. This is the group that produced, among other scriptures, The Apocryphon of John, The Trimorphic Protennoia, and the recently discovered Gospel of Judas.
I believe that the Universe is one being, all its parts are different expressions of the same energy, and they are all in communication with each other, therefore parts of one organic whole. (This is physics, I believe, as well as religion.) The parts change and pass, or die, people and races and rocks and stars, none of them seems to me important in itself, but only the whole. This whole is in all its parts so beautiful, and is felt by me to be so intensely in earnest, that I am compelled to love it and to think of it as divine. It seems to me that this whole alone is worthy of the deeper sort of love and there is peace, freedom, I might say a kind of salvation, in turning one’s affections outward toward this one God, rather than inwards on one’s self, or on humanity, or on human imaginations and abstractions — the world of spirits.
I think it is our privilege and felicity to love God for his beauty, without claiming or expecting love from him. We are not important to him, but he to us.
–Letter to Sister Mary James Power (1 October 1934); published in The Wild God of the World : An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers (2003), edited by Albert Gelpi, p. 189; also partly quoted in the essay “Robinson Jeffers, Pantheist Poet” by John Courtney; courtesy of Wikiquote
- What do I know about God and the purpose of life?
I know that this world exists.
That I am placed in it like my eye in its visual field.
That something about it is problematic, which we call its meaning.
This meaning does not lie in it but outside of it.
That life is the world.
That my will penetrates the world.
That my will is good or evil.
Therefore that good and evil are somehow connected with the meaning of the world.
The meaning of life, i.e. the meaning of the world, we can call God.
And connect with this the comparison of God to a father.
To pray is to think about the meaning of life.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Journal entry (11 June 1916), p. 72e and 73e; courtesy of Wikiquote