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When Virtue is Vice

Chapter 14 of the Gospel of Thomas for Awakening

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Jesus said to them, If you fast, you will give rise to sin for yourselves; and if you pray, you will be condemned; and if you give alms, you will do harm to your spirits. (14)

There is a Zen story of a man who gave an answer to a roshi’s question, and was told he had answered correctly. The next day the roshi asked the same question and the man gave the same answer. The roshi said his answer was wrong. When the man protested that the day before his answer was said to be correct, the roshi replied that the day before it had been right, but today it was wrong. The idea was that as we move forward in consciousness, Yes can become No, No can become Yes, and both can become Neither.

In the Father’s “house” are many “mansions” (John 14:2). In the field of relative existence, there are many strata, many realities. As a consequence, what is wise in one stratum can be folly in another. This is expressed in this verse of the Gospel of Thomas. Obviously, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are viable forms of self-purification. But Jesus is leading the disciples to a higher realm, a higher understanding, in which those things are no longer relevant.


Fasting is purely physical. Being in a material body, we are deeply influenced by its conditions and changes. The mind and body are so interwoven they are often indistinguishable. Therefore our eating patterns affect us greatly. Fasting is recommended as a means of lessening our body identity. This is certainly beneficial. But once a person develops skill in yoga, his center of awareness is shifted into higher mental levels, and a physical practice no longer has the efficacy it once had. In time it becomes irrelevant. A point is reached in which fasting is as silly as having a horse pull an automobile rather than turning on the engine. Therefore to continue fasting as a spiritual discipline is to act incongruously with our present status and can, through habit, cause us to revert to our former status in which fasting was relevant. So what was once an aid can become a detriment.


It is the same with prayer. It presupposes the absurdity that we need to inform God of our inner thoughts, feelings, and needs–that otherwise he will either not know of them or will not care about them. Furthermore, prayer assumes a dependency on another and denies our own innate power as spiritual beings. Jesus frequently told people that it was their faith, their conviction, that healed them (Matthew 9:22, 15:28; Mark 5:34, 10:52; Luke 7:50, 8:48, 17:19, 18:42). Yet, we steadfastly refuse to believe this fundamental truth: “According to your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:29).

In Greek, the language of the Four Gospels and parts of the Gospel of Thomas, two words are used which in English are translated “prayer.” One is deesis, which means asking for something. This is what Jesus condemns in this instance. The second word is prosevke, which means “to draw near.” This is a completely different matter, as it is a spiritual movement toward infinity. Even verbal formulas can effect this drawing near to higher consciousness. This form of prayer is not being censured by Jesus.

The much worse aspect of prayer (deesis) is its presupposition that we are separate from God. So when we pray we affirm this illusion and strengthen ourselves in it. The Chandogya Upanishad tells us: “Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else, that is the infinite. But where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else, that is the small [the finite]. Verily, the infinite is the same as the immortal, the finite is the same as the mortal” (Chandogya Upanishad 24:1). To affirm a non-existent separation from God is to doom ourselves to mortality, to death-in-life.


The situation is very much the same with almsgiving, if we see those we give assistance to as separate from ourselves. When we help others we are really helping ourselves, for in God we are at one with all that lives. Not only that, those with opened spiritual eyes see that whatever they do to others they do to God, the Indweller of Hearts (Matthew 25:40; Bhagavad Gita 10:20; 15:15, 17; 18:61). Through others we either give or take from God. This is an awesome truth. If God is the object of our almsgiving, then it is an act of supreme virtue that leads to the Supreme.

What to do?

Should we then immediately stop these three observances? Not necessarily. What is needed is for us to diligently apply ourselves to meditation and rectitude of life so we can ascend to that level of evolution in which the words of Jesus apply to us just as they did to the apostles.

Read the next section in The Gospel of Thomas for Yogis: Father in Heaven; Father on Earth

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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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