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Eat Or Be Eaten

Chapter 7 of the Gospel of Thomas for Awakening

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Jesus said, Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man. (7)

The lion-faced power

It would be impossible to figure out the meaning of this by mere reasoning, however symbolical we might try to be. We must understand the historical situation in the Mediterranean world at the time these words were spoken. More than one school of esoteric thought spoke of “the lion-faced power.” Some schools meant the negative power within the cosmos, also called Satan. Saint Peter had this in mind when he wrote: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith” (I Peter 5:8, 9). Others meant the raw power of the cosmos with which we can do as we will, as long as we can control (master) it–for if we cannot, it will overcome us instead of us overcoming it. Others considered the lion-faced power to be both the raw material of the universe and at the same time an intelligent Providence which reacted according to the motivation or purpose of those who would tap it. That is, those whose intention was negative or foolish would be reacted to in a way that might appear to be punishment or retribution, but was really only a mirroring of their inner mind and outer deeds. If they were destructive then they would be destroyed; if harmful they would be harmed; if beneficial they would be benefited; if divine they would be divinized. Those who approached matter in the consciousness or perspective of spirit would find the world to be spirit. Those who treated it as dead or unconscious would themselves become dead–unconscious. So to approach the power was hazardous for the ignorant or the ill-intentioned.

There is no such thing as a pure object. That is, everything within the cosmos is within us, is subjective to a very real degree. Whatever we do to an external object occurs to its counterpart within us–occurs to us. In a way that has already been outlined above, but it is good to express it in a different way so we get the idea: nothing is trivial; we must approach life and the world within which we live with utter seriousness of intention.

Whenever we interact, even mentally, with the world, we devour it in the sense that we assimilate it through the reaction that takes place inwardly. Just as we assimilate and utilize the food we eat, so it is with any contact we have with the world–and especially if we tap into the deeper levels of existence.

Christian perspective

Christians also were aware of the lion-faced power and its dilemma for the actively questing soul, as the text known as the Pistis Sophia shows. A very much later indication of this awareness is to be found, interestingly enough, in the tarot deck designed by A. E. Waite, the English nineteenth/twentieth century Christian esotericist.

Perhaps the most common and perilous approach to the lion-faced power is the contracting of relationships. For then we are integrating with another living reflection of the cosmos in all its complexity and perplexity. Superficial, sex-oriented people think that the favoring of monastic life within a spiritual tradition is based on a rejection of sex, when in actuality it is the solitariness of the untouched and untouching celibate monastic life that is the real secret of its spiritual power and safety. The same is true of the dedicated yogi. “The yogi should fix his awareness constantly on the Self, remaining in solitude” (Bhagavad Gita 6:10). “[Have] unswerving devotion to me with single-minded yoga, living in secluded places, having distaste for association with many people” (Bhagavad Gita 13:10). “Dwelling in a solitary place,… he is fit for union with Brahman” (Bhagavad Gita 18:52-53). Knowing this, the celibate Waite designed the card known as The Two of Cups accordingly. He directed the artist Pamela Coleman Smith to show a man and woman standing facing one another and exchanging cups. The scene is very tranquil and shows both depth and delicacy of feeling–both rare in most instances, and therefore all the more relevant to those evolved enough to be seeking understanding of human life so as to aspire to divine life.

But there is something else in the picture. Right between the two cups is seen a caduceus, the staff of Aescalepius, the healer of the gods, with its two intertwined serpents symbolizing the inner power of both the lovers as well as the positive and negative force inherent in all things, deeds, and thoughts. Above the caduceus, borne aloft on powerful wings, broods the face of a lion, a face both powerful and ominous, even threatening. However tranquil the picture may be, it reveals tremendous risk and danger. It is the character and intent of the two cupbearers that will determine the reaction of this overshadowing Presence. And this is true of us in all situations. None of us can legitimately say: “It is my life; I will do with it what I want.” It is not our life at all. It is only borrowed from the power, and we must live accordingly every moment.

Blessing or cursing

So now, with this as background let us look at the words of Jesus: “Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.”

The sole purpose of the creation is the liberation of the individual spirits within it. Even though we may smile with genteel contempt at the earlier idea that the sun goes around the earth, which is the center of the entire cosmos, and that everything upon the earth is for either the domination or the enjoyment of human beings, the bedrock truth is this: the entire range of relative existence, including this planet, has been manifested for the liberation of the evolving spirit. Of course, that includes every single atom, each of which is a potential divinity. Human beings are but a part of creation’s intent. The Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote:

A stone I died and rose again a plant.
A plant I died and rose an animal;
I died an animal and was born a man.

Why should I fear? What have I lost by death?
As man, death sweeps me from this world of men
That I may wear an angel’s wings in heaven;

Yet e’en as angel may I not abide,
For nought abideth save the face of God.
Thus o’er the angels’ world I wing my way

Onwards and upwards, unto boundless lights;
Then let me be as nought, for in my heart
Rings as a harp-song that we must return to Him.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of many great Americans whose belief in reincarnation is overlooked, wrote in his poem, The Chambered Nautilus:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!

Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

Eat or be eaten

It is true: relativity either eats us or we eat it. We consume it or are consumed by it. The first is growth and eventual liberation, the second is a sliding backwards and increased bondage.

There are three processes of the spirit-intelligence in relation to relative existence: involution, evolution, and devolution. First we enter fully into relative existence and take on a vehicle for function therein. This is involution. Hopefully we so function as to develop our awareness and move onward into increasingly complex body-vehicles which increasingly express our consciousness-nature. This is evolution. If we malfunction within creation, we stagnate and regress. This is devolution. Those who “eat” the lion master it (or at least the part of it that they are working on at the time) and make it part of their expanding manifestation. Those who are “eaten” by the lion are lessened or contracted by it and expelled back down the path of evolution. It thus increases (regains) its mastery-dominance to some degree and is “blessed” while the devolved soul is “cursed” by its very situation.

From this we can see that it is the lion-faced power which we mistake for both God and the Devil (Satan). Both experiences are illusions, Divinity being completely beyond that power. And yet it is a manifestation of Deity. It will take a great deal more evolution on our part before we comprehend this fully. Until then we must keep on “eating” and nevermore be “eaten.”

Read the next section in The Gospel of Thomas for Yogis: Fishing Wisely

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Chapters in The Gospel of Thomas for Awakening

  1. The Open Secrets
  2. Seeking Is More Than Just Finding
  3. Seeking the Kingdom Realistically
  4. The One Goal
  5. From the Seen to the Unseen
  6. What Jesus Wants Us To Do
  7. Eat Or Be Eaten
  8. Fishing Wisely
  9. The Inner Field
  10. Guarding the Flame
  11. What Will You Do?
  12. Who Shall Lead?
  13. The Unspeakable
  14. When Virtue is Vice
  15. Father in Heaven; Father on Earth
  16. Divine Discord
  17. The Divine Gift
  18. The Origin is the End
  19. Original Being
  20. A Mustard Seed
  21. Disciples of Jesus
  22. How to Enter the Kingdom
  23. Unity of Vision
  24. Where is Christ?
  25. Love and Protect
  26. Seeing
  27. The Fasting and Sabbath of the Spirit
  28. How Jesus Saw the World
  29. Hidden Treasure
  30. One
  31. The Power of Unbelief
  32. Spiritual Strength
  33. Speak It Out
  34. The Blind
  35. The Secret of Spiritual Security
  36. Live Carefree
  37. Unashamed Before God
  38. At the Source
  39. The Religion of Ignorance
  40. Within God
  41. Spiritual Gain and Loss
  42. Move On
  43. Challenging the Master
  44. The Source of Good and Evil
  45. Great in the Kingdom
  46. Impossible Duality
  47. Peace That Moves Mountains
  48. Back to the Source
  49. Children of the Light
  50. Here and Now
  51. Seeing Yet Blind
  52. Outer Ritual or Inner Growth?
  53. Infinite Transcendence
  54. “Hate”
  55. True Understanding
  56. Wheat and Weeds
  57. Finding Life
  58. Live and Die Not
  59. “Lest Thou Also…”
  60. Who Will Die; Who Will Live
  61. The Path of Unknowing
  62. Awakened by Death
  63. Turning Ourselves Away
  64. Gullibility
  65. The Rejected is Truly Accepted
  66. All–and Nothing
  67. The Blessings of Persecution
  68. Life or Death Lie Within
  69. Admission
  70. Not a Divider
  71. Seeking the Harvest
  72. Thirsting in Vain
  73. Who Shall Enter?
  74. Unfailing Treasure
  75. The All Speaks
  76. Well-dressed Ignoramuses
  77. True Blessedness
  78. A Duplication
  79. Balancing the Inner and the Outer
  80. Near and Far
  81. Seeing the Unseeable
  82. Seeing Your Unknown Side
  83. Our Forefather Adam
  84. Blessed Homelessness
  85. Doubly Wretched
  86. Onward and Upward
  87. Twofold Life
  88. The Yoke of Christ
  89. Knowing the Unknown
  90. Asking and Hearing
  91. Give Not…
  92. Seeking and Knocking
  93. Right Generosity
  94. The Expanding Kingdom
  95. The Fulfilled Universe
  96. Taking Stock
  97. The Spiritual Family
  98. Three Debts
  99. Father and Mother
  100. Exoteric Religion
  101. Ready for Invasion
  102. Penitential Discipline, Anyone?
  103. Daring to Know
  104. Ending Duality
  105. “I Love You More…”
  106. At the Source
  107. Finding the Hidden Treasure
  108. Having Come to the End
  109. Immortal and Above the World
  110. Body and Soul
  111. Where is the Kingdom?
  112. Male and Female?
  113. In Conclusion
  114. Glossary
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