When the gnostics were labeled as heretics and their writings banned from Christian texts instead of incorporated into them, Christianity lost its own form of mysticism. In yestereday’s post Vipin Tyagi at the Speaking Tree blog highlights the similarties between some of the gnostic texts found at Nag Hammadi and Hinduism.
By: Vipin Tyagi
A fascinating spiritual aspect from Christianity resembling with truth espoused in Indian spiritual texts (Upanishads):
Many Indian mystics have described the human body as a house or a city of nine (or ten gates) or doors – there being nine sensory portals through which attention is spread into this material world. These are two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, the mouth and two lower apertures. The inner door, the eye centre or third eye, has consequently been called the tenth door and gate. Nine doors lead out while one leads within.
The metaphor appears in two places in early Christian texts. The most definite mention comes in a Gnostic allegory found among the Nag Hammadi collection of texts. [Named after the region in Egypt where they were discovered in 1945, these ancient books have become the most important source for the understanding of Gnosticism.] The story concerns a certain Lithargoel, symbolic of the saviour, who invites Peter, the apostles and all the poor people of a certain place called “Habitation” to his own city. His purpose is to give them the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:46), the treasure of spirituality. Everything in this book is symbolic, much as it is in other spiritual romances like the ‘Acts of Thomas, and when Peter asks Lithargoel for the name of his city, the reply is metaphorical.
“What is the name of the place to which you go, your city?” He said to me.”This is the name of my city, Nine Gates, Nine Gates. And let us praise God for we are mindful that the tenth is (in) head.”
“Habitation” means this world, which souls inhabit, but where they do not permanently dwell. However it is the realm where the Saviour, Lithargoel, finds his souls. The place to which he is taking them is the city of the nine gates, within the body; and the gateway to this city lies in the head – the inner door. The story continues, and the meaning is further clarified when the companions find themselves seated outside this gateway to Lithargoel’s city:
“A great joy came upon us and a peaceful carefreeness like that of our Lord. We rested ourselves in front of the gate, and we talked with each other about that which is not distraction of this world. Rather we continued in contemplation of the faith. (Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles 8)
The writer is alluding to concentration of the attention at this inner gateway. “Great joy” and “peaceful carefreeness like that of our Lord” comes over them, and they keep their minds focused on the inner reality, avoiding all distractions of the world.
The other reference to this metaphor is to be found in the “Acts of Thomas” in an episode where the soul, in human form, is being likened to a beautiful dancing girl at a marriage party. Each part of her body is given a symbolic meaning, among them being the observation that her ten “fingers point out the gates of the city” of the human form.
“The damsel is the daughter of light, in whom consists and dwells the proud brightness of kings. And the sight of her is delightful; she shines with beauty and cheer…Her fingers point out the gate of the city. (Acts of Thomas 6)
It is difficult to say where the metaphor came from; perhaps reference to the ten portals of the body was a common but secret part of Jesus’ esoteric teachings. Nevertheless, its presence among the early Christian literature is intriguing. Maybe it arose spontaneously as a self-evident observation of human structure. However, the expression is found in the Indian spiritual literature, Upanishads, which were extant at the time. So through Buddhists missionaries in Alexandria, as well through contact along the Eastern trade routes to India, China and the Far East, Indian philosophy and expressions could have reached the Middle East and the West. Also some Middle Eastern mystics, such as the Apollonius of Tyana are known to have visited the holy men of India and, through them, Indian terminology could have found its way back into the Middle East.