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Seeking the Kingdom Realistically

Chapter 3 of the Gospel of Thomas for Awakening

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Jesus said, If those who lead you say to you, See, the kingdom is in the sky, then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, It is in the sea, then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty. (3)

Spiritual leaders?

The first problem the seeker encounters in spiritual life is lack of spiritual guidance. The second–and usually even worse–problem is when he gets spiritual guidance. This is no joke. If “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31), what is it to fall into the hands of incompetent or dishonest spiritual teachers and “gurus”?

I have to confess that I am continually appalled at the thought of what will happen today to the soul that decides to take up meditation or find a teacher of spiritual life. Like a reverse of the radio ads for Ivory Soap that I heard as a child, the entire situation is “ninety-nine and forty-four one-hundred percent” impure. In Chinese Buddhism they speak of the unlikelihood of a blind sea turtle surfacing directly beneath a floating log, and that is about how unlikely it is to receive competent spiritual instruction, especially in meditation. Bamboozled by the razzamatazz of the hawkers in the meditation market, people wander for decades in futility and confusion. Few find the way, particularly in the West, not that those who travel East manage much better. I do not even give thought to those who only want to learn intellectual “truth.” Their wandering and hopelessness is guaranteed by their very interest. That is why Sri Krishna tells Arjuna in the Gita (6:44) that a person who simply inquires about yoga goes beyond the scriptures.

Soul friend

In medieval Europe the expression “soul friend” was used for a spiritual advisor. How much better this is than the teacher/master expressions common today, for they imply a control and dependency that can only produce a spiritual pathology–on both sides. How rare is a friend of the soul that will teach the needful–and no more. It is only the incompetent teacher that keeps the student enthralled in a personality cult that substitutes for the spiritual development and experience the teacher’s instructions cannot lead to. My beloved friend Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh would advise a disciple to live with him only a few months and then go and attain something for himself and not turn Sivananda into some kind of private deity to be adored and served to the neglect of the disciple’s progress. Swami Ramdas of Anandashram was also insistent about this. In the May, 2002 issue of The Vision, the Anandashram magazine, the following words from one of his letters appeared on page 294: “You cannot deny the fact that those who attached themselves to the person of a guru did not rise up to the guru’s stature. The spiritual heroes are those who, through the contact of a saint, get inner awakening and by standing alone develop divine perfection. …whereas, a long, continued company of the guru is far from helpful and elevating. This has been Ramdas’ experience since our Ashram came into existence. The pearl oyster receives the drop and dives down to fashion it into a beautiful pearl by its own tapasya as it were.” Earlier in the issue he states that real service to the guru is doing spiritual practice and attaining enlightenment–not flattering the guru and running enterprises and projects in his name. Such honest teachers are rare, alas. Right now I know of only one, and his disciples are continually griping because he refuses to run their lives and dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s for them. They have no idea what a treasure they have, perhaps because they do not really want what he has to give: the path to liberation.

Blind

“And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?” (Luke 6:39). The idea is clear. So also is the statement of Saint Paul that “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). And before that Isaiah: “I am the Lord thy God, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go” (Isaiah 48:17). The internal guide–our own spirit in communion with the Supreme Spirit–can and will do the needful. Looking outward for lifetimes we have only become increasingly enmeshed in ignorance. Only when we look within will we find “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Remember the dictum of the teacher in the Chandogya Upanishad: “Thou art That” and act accordingly after finding your true “thou” through meditation and spiritual discipline.

If those who lead you say to you, “See, the kingdom is in the sky,” then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, “It is in the sea,” then the fish will precede you. The poet-saint Mirabai expressed this idea in one of her songs quoted by Yogananda in the seventh chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi:

If by bathing daily God could be realized
Sooner would I be a whale in the deep;

If by eating roots and fruits He could be known
Gladly would I choose the form of a goat;

If the counting of rosaries uncovered Him
I would say my prayers on mammoth beads;

If bowing before stone images unveiled Him
A flinty mountain I would humbly worship;

If by drinking milk the Lord could be imbibed
Many calves and children would know Him.

The error of all these views cited by Jesus and Mirabai is that God is far away–far from us in some inaccessible hidden depths. Such a view suits opportunistic religionists very well, because it necessitates a chain of intermediaries upon whom the aspirant must be forever wholly dependent.

Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. The divine kingdom is right at hand, not far away and unreachable or accessible only through terrible struggles. Yet, we do not see the kingdom, much less dwell within it on a conscious level. What must be done to perceive the kingdom?

When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known. Self-knowledge is essential and imperative. These words of Jesus are a distillation of a part of the Chandogya Upanishad which was surely well-known to him. Though a bit long, I am inserting it here in the excellent version by Swami Prabhavananda in The Upanishads, Breath of the Eternal:

When Svetaketu was twelve years old, his father Uddalaka said to him, “Svetaketu, you must now go to school and study. None of our family, my child, is ignorant of Brahman.”

Thereupon Svetaketu went to a teacher and studied for twelve years. After committing to memory all the Vedas, he returned home full of pride in his learning.

His father, noticing the young man’s conceit, said to him: “Svetaketu, have you asked for that knowledge by which we hear the unbearable, by which we perceive the unperceivable, by which we know the unknowable?”

“What is that knowledge, sir?” asked Svetaketu.

“My child, as by knowing one lump of clay, all things made of clay are known, the difference being only in name and arising from speech, and the truth being that all are clay; as by knowing a nugget of gold, all things made of gold are known, the difference being only in name and arising from speech, and the truth being that all are gold–exactly so is that knowledge, knowing which we know all.”

“But surely those venerable teachers of mine are ignorant of this knowledge; for if they had possessed it, they would have taught it to me. Do you therefore, sir, give me that knowledge.”

“Be it so,” said Uddalaka, and continued thus:

“In the beginning there was Existence, One only, without a second. Some say that in the beginning there was nonexistence only, and that out of that the universe was born. But how could such a thing be? How could existence be born of non-existence? No, my son, in the beginning there was Existence alone–One only, without a second. He, the One, thought to himself: Let me be many, let me grow forth. Thus out of himself he projected the universe; and having projected out of himself the universe, he entered into every being. All that is has its self in him alone. Of all things he is the subtle essence. He is the truth. He is the Self. And that, Svetaketu, THAT ART THOU.”

“Please, sir, tell me more about this Self.”

“Be it so, my child:

“As the bees make honey by gathering juices from many flowering plants and trees, and as these juices reduced to one honey do not know from what flowers they severally come, similarly, my son, all creatures, when they are merged in that one Existence, whether in dreamless sleep or in death, know nothing of their past or present state, because of the ignorance enveloping them–know not that they are merged in him and that from him they came.

“Whatever these creatures are, whether a lion, or a tiger, or a boar, or a worm, or a gnat, or a mosquito, that they remain after they come back from dreamless sleep.

“All these have their self in him alone. He is the truth. He is the subtle essence of all. He is the Self. And that, Svetaketu, THAT ART THOU.”

“Please, sir, tell me more about this Self.”

“Be it so, my son:

“The rivers in the east flow eastward, the rivers in the west flow westward, and all enter into the sea. From sea to sea they pass, the clouds lifting them to the sky as vapor and sending them down as rain. And as these rivers, when they are united with the sea, do not know whether they are this or that river, likewise all those creatures that I have named, when they have come back from Brahman, know not whence they came.

“All those beings have their self in him alone. He is the truth. He is the subtle essence of all. He is the Self. And that, Svetaketu, THAT ART THOU.”

“Please, sir, tell me more about this Self.”

“Be it so, my child:

“If someone were to strike once at the root of this large tree, it would bleed, but live. If he were to strike at its stem, it would bleed, but live. If he were to strike at the top, it would bleed, but live. Pervaded by the living Self, this tree stands firm, and takes its food; but if the Self were to depart from one of its branches, that branch would wither; if it were to depart from a second, that would wither; if it were to depart from a third, that would wither. If it were to depart from the whole tree, the whole tree would wither.

“Likewise, my son, know this: The body dies when the Self leaves it–but the Self dies not.

“All that is has its self in him alone. He is the truth. He is the subtle essence of all. He is the Self. And that, Svetaketu, THAT ART THOU.”

“Please, sir, tell me more about this Self.”

“Be it so. Bring a fruit of that Nyagrodha tree.”

“Here it is, sir.”

“Break it.”

“It is broken, sir.”

“What do you see?”

“Some seeds, extremely small, sir.”

“Break one of them.”

“It is broken, sir.”

“What do you see?”

“Nothing, sir.”

“The subtle essence you do not see, and in that is the whole of the Nyagrodha tree. Believe, my son, that that which is the subtle essence–in that have all things their existence. That is the truth. That is the Self. And that, Svetaketu, THAT ART THOU.”

“Please, sir, tell me more about this Self.”

“Be it so. Put this salt in water, and come to me tomorrow morning.”

Svetaketu did as he was bidden. The next morning his father asked him to bring the salt which he had put in the water. But he could not, for it had dissolved. Then said Uddalaka:

“Sip the water, and tell me how it tastes.”

“It is salty, sir.”

“In the same way,” continued Uddalaka, “though you do not see Brahman in this body, he is indeed here. That which is the subtle essence–in that have all things their existence. That is the truth. That is the Self. And that, Svetaketu, THAT ART THOU.”

“Please, sir, tell me more about this Self,” said the youth again.

“Be it so, my child:

“As a man may be blindfolded, and led away, and left in a strange place; and as, having been so dealt with, he turns in every direction and cries out for someone to remove his bandages and show him the way home; and as one thus entreated may loose his bandages and give him comfort; and as thereupon he walks from village to village, asking his way as he goes; and as he arrives home at last–just so does a man who meets with an illumined teacher obtain true knowledge.

“That which is the subtle essence–in that have all beings their existence. That is the truth. That is the Self. And that, O Svetaketu, THAT ART THOU.”

“Please, sir, tell me more about this Self.”

“Be it so, my child:

“When a man is fatally ill, his relations gather round him and ask, ‘Do you know me? Do you know me?’ Now until his speech is merged in his mind, his mind in his breath, his breath in his vital heat, his vital heat in the Supreme Being, he knows them. But when his speech is merged in his mind, his mind in his breath, his breath in his vital heat, his vital heat in the Supreme Being, then he does not know them.

“That which is the subtle essence–in that have all beings their existence. That is the truth. That is the Self. And that, O Svetaketu, THAT ART THOU.”

What more could possibly be said about self-knowledge?

There is one point of interest. Jesus says that when we come to know ourselves we will become known ourselves. Saint Paul wrote a little more fully of this, saying: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (I Corinthians 13:12).

And you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. The idea is that of conscious communication with God: God knowing us fully and us knowing Him fully. It is a matter of identity, of our oneness with God and His oneness with us.

But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty. In Revelation Jesus speaks to us all, saying: “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). This is the plight of those who know not themselves, to whom Jesus makes the stern indictment:

And it is you who are that poverty. Those without self-realization are poverty itself.

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matthew 13:44). The wise seek the inner treasure that makes all men more than rich.

Read the next section in The Gospel of Thomas for Yogis: The One Goal

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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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