The empyreal sovereignty can be compared to a man who unknowingly had a treasure [hidden] in his field and, [after] his death, he left it to his [son]. The son did not know (either). He took over the field (and) gave it [away]; [and] whoever bought it went plowing and [stumbled upon] the treasure. He began to give money at interest to whom he loved.
The parable speaks of the owner of a field, his son who inherits the field, and a buyer to whom the later gives the field away. These three individuals represent the three orientations of the soul alternatively called angelic (the last owner), psychical (the second owner), and earthly (the first owner) by the Naassene (according to the second-third century Christian theologian Hippolytus of Rome) or pneumatici (“those of the Spirit,” the initiands or gnostici), the psychici, and hylici by the Valentinian Gnostics. In ABook to Free the Soul, I refer to them as the initiands (Gnostics), the easy believers, and the materialists.
The materialist is incognizant of the inner spiritual dimension. The easy believers have an inner spiritual life but do not probe its depths. They prefer to relinquish analytical thinking and surrender their mind to the purveyors of spirituality who will map for them the territory within. Only the initiand invests completely in the inner field where she finds the hidden treasure, the liberating gnosis revealed by the angel of the innermost. She then shares the sacred knowledge (metaphorically “the money,” because of its value) with those who are closest to her and reaps the benefits (interests) of passing on what she has learnt. Indeed, the reward is an even greater depth of knowledge. As Manly P. Hall wrote:
In things pertaining to occult philosophy, … if the lay instructor is actually in contact with the higher worlds he will learn far more while he is teaching than will those to whom he is explaining the subject under discussion.
And he said: “Man can be compared to a wise fisher who cast his net at sea and drew it up full of small fish from below (the surface). Among them the wise fisher found a fine, large fish. He threw away the fry back into the sea, and he had no difficulty choosing the large fish. He who has an ear to lend, let him listen.
—Gospel of Thomas
The first parable-like saying of Thomas breaks away from the author’s cryptic, mystifying style and surprises with its common-sense thrust, and simplicity. The wisdom of the fisher resembles the pragmatism of the child who discards his smaller treats in favor of the biggest one. Several logia in Thomas’ gospel play on the mystical theme of a return to childhood as a prerequisite for the liberation of the divine essence. If we are asked to lend an attentive ear, there must be matters of the foremost importance to be learned from the fisherman who chooses one large fish over many small ones. In the last paragraph of his massive epic novel Musashi, Eiji Yoshikawa offers a surprising conclusion to the readers who for months had been kept enthralled by the characters’ adventures (the novel was originally serialized): “The little fishes, abandoning themselves to the waves, dance and sing, and play, but who knows the heart of the sea, a hundred feet down? Who knows its depth?“ The philosophical wink is clever: we are the little fishes, preoccupied by trifles and frivolities at the surface while incognizant of the great, meaningful depths were the Spirit dwells. That is also the key to understand Logion 8. Unlike his counterparts, the fishers of men in the Gospel of Matthew (see Matthew 4:19), the gnostic fisher imagined by Thomas has no intention to turn the fry into a flock. His yearning is for the Spirit, the desirable fish in the inner depths of man. The fish of course was also an emblem for Jesus in early Christianity. So the parable is congruent with the idea that Jesus in Thomas’ writings is an allegorical figure for the indwelling, divine presence.
I enjoy visiting public aquariums, and when I do, I am always haunted by the gaze of the enormous fish dawdling silently, peering through the glass at all those humans they may find very foolish. I often think they epitomize the wise soul full of prudence and sagacity.
For an original interpretation of the Logia with a more esoteric or gnostic thrust in the Gospel of Thomas , see A Book to Free the Soul.
Jesus said: “There was a man of wealth who had many riches. He said: ‘I will use my riches to sow, reap, plant, and to fill my treasure-house with fruit, so that I will not need anything.’ These thoughts he had in his mind (alt. ‘in his heart’); and in the present night, he died. He who has an ear to lend, let him listen.”
Logion 63 of the Gospel of Thomas
Little spiritual discernment is needed to understand the implications of this logion. The message here—for once devoid of a hidden subtext—is urgently conveyed to anyone who has an ear to lend: our engrossment with materialism is dire foolishness. A man accumulates all the possessions he believes he might need in his life only to die the same day he completes his task. That is the irony of an existence spent in preparation for hypothetical necessities without a care for death who might come unannounced and swiftly.
The ruling elite of the Etruscans, the Celts, and the Vikings, the potentates of the ancient Chinese kingdoms, the Pharaohs and priests of Egypt were entombed surrounded by their earthly belongings in a vain hope to perpetuate their privileged status in the afterlife. You would think our modern consciousness has transcended such limited outlook, but what sort of highly conceptualized metaphysics can you really expect from the average person who cannot part with his smartphone for more than 20 minutes at a time. Instead, we witness the ever increasing popularity of pseudo-spiritual schemes such as the “Law of Attraction,” or the “Prosperity Gospel,” that conveniently allow for greed to be justified through a metaphysical perspective. Far from renouncing our attachment to materiality, we have grown more dependent on the rich variety of its dubious gifts. The contemporary individual may scoff at the poor spiritual foresight and awareness of his ancestors but he is hardly more enlightened than his predecessors. In our days, we simply ignore our impending demise and give ourselves entirely to the “pursuit of happiness” (the most inventive euphemism ever concocted for our obsession with property and the accumulation of the useless). Our “needs” are constantly pushed farther so that there is no possibility of fulfilling them: a blind intent that is the basis for industrial societies epitomized in capitalist America by its underpinning middle-class. In his essay On the Vanity of Existence, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer remarks:
How insatiable a creature is man! Every satisfaction he attains lays the seeds of some new desire, so that there is no end to the wishes of each individual will.
Crass materialism was made acceptable under the guise of an ideal to which we attached many values (including religious or spiritual ones), but we are fooling ourselves: we left in the distant past our legitimate yearnings for comfort and rushed headlong in a greedy chase after persistently receding aims. Oblivious to its annihilating power, we revel in the insatiability that devours us. The rich man in Thomas’ story uses his money to increase profits; Georges Bernanos wrote that spiritual values will never be restored as long as profit is honored, when it should only be tolerated and controlled. Our descent in the bottomless ravine of greed begins the moment we seek to multiply gains beyond the requirements of our well-being. Tragically, we cannot discern the lies we are telling ourselves, and each step we believe is taking us closer to achieving our goal of “happiness” is in reality leading us away from the richness of a mystical sovereignty. In Logion 110, Thomas drops the parable in favor of a straightforward approach:
Whoever has found the world and become rich, let him renounce the world.
There is no ambiguity in Thomas’ views about wealth: it is the fastest road into the trapping of the physical world. Even more dangerous to our soul than excess wealth is the power it yields:
Whoever has become rich, let him become king, and he who has power, let him renounce (it)
Logion 81 of the Gospel of Thomas
The final snare of excessive wealth is that the plutocrat cannot conceive of something loftier for the soul. He loses the ability to think abstractly and favors a notion that there isn’t really anything better than what can be accumulated physically. In Thomas’ philosophy, money rules the world, and the rulers of the world are the rich. Anyone finding himself in such a mighty position should weight his priorities: One cannot serve God and mammon. For the gnostic, the material plane has nothing of authentic value to offer. She seeks not the rewards of the world but an empyreal sovereignty through a knowledge of herself.
The disciples said to him: “Your brothers and your mother are standing outside.” He replied: “Those here who do the will of my father, these are my brothers and my mother; they are the ones who will enter the empyreal sovereignty of my father.”
(The soul) contemplates itself and tells the story of itself as in search of its kindred, as foreboding a family of beings of light who draw it toward a clime beyond all climes thitherto known. Thus rises on its horizon an “Orient.”
Henry Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
Lone was I there, yea, all lonely; To my fellow-lodgers a stranger. However I saw there a noble, From out of the Dawn-land my kinsman, A young man fair and well favoured, Son of Grandees; he came and he joined me. I made him my chosen companion, A comrade, for sharing my wares with.
The hymn of the robe of glory, translated by G. R. S. Mead, 1908
It is by awakening to the feeling of being a stranger that the gnostic’s soul discovers where it is and at the same time forebodes whence it comes and whither it returns. … This motif of return … [implies] … the feeling of kinship with the divinity, with celestial beings, forms of light and beauty, which for the gnostic are his true family.
In the canonical Gospel of John, Thomas is a doubter. Unlike Peter though, he is not unsteady or wavering: he must doubt everything and question all things before the truth can be manifested through him. Elaborating on Descartes’ original thought, Antoine-Léonard Thomas reformulated the cogito as “since I doubt, I think; since I think, I exist,” which suggests that the path to indubitable realization does not begin merely with thinking but by doubting. Likewise, it is always doubt, not faith, that is at the origin of genuine spiritual insight. Faith is the relinquishing of knowledge, whereas doubt is the threshold of knowing. The person of faith decides what God is not and finds it unnecessary to know what He is. The person of understanding seeks to know herself in order to comprehend the nature of her god.