The Light Motif in Gnostic and Other Western Sacred Texts
by James Bean
Copyright July 2005
There is a strong light motif in Thomas, the other Nag Hammadi books, Dead Sea Scrolls, Mandaean texts....most all the mystical texts. It gets metaphored to death here in the Protestant West, but
these people had the goal of seeing a literal Divine Light. Rather than, "I see the Light", meaning, "I intellectually understand", the Gnostic desired to connect themselves to the Divine Light during life as a way to go into the Light during the afterlife. Even some Catholic and Orthodox mystics were Light-mystics reporting visions of Light. There is a passage in the New Testament that goes, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." The
cultural filter in this part of the world transforms that into meaning, "If I'm good enough during this life, or when the rapture happens in the future, I will see God after death." No Light possible now, but in a future after-life only. To ancients in the middle east however, they viewed that as meaning, if one reaches a certain level of purity of heart and stillness, conditions will be right making it possible to see God, literally. They believed God to
be bright Light, like the Light of many suns. In the east this is called Theosis, becoming God by contemplating his Light. This is something we can do right now.
Thomas has a message closer to Quakerism, that the Light of God is within everyone. The Light is within you, within all. What the Gospel of John did was to change the message, making it more
exclusive as in, Christ as a person of history is now the one and only Light, copyright 90 AD.
In the Thomas tradition, the Master -- a living teacher as opposed to a book, served as a catalyst and spiritual guide, leading them into their own direct experience of the Inner Light. I find saying 17 of Thomas to be as revealing as it gets. The actual spiritual
practice is never written down in Thomas. It has always been an oral tradition from Master to disciple. Still is even now, but saying 17 is: I will give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, and what has never occured to the human mind." We have another kind of seeing and hearing. With that available, we can then explore the Heavens, go up the tunnel to the Light.
The Jesus of Thomas had no interest in future prophecies of a kingdom of God coming down from the sky. Rather, the book of Thomas always presents the interest in speculations about future Kingdoms and second commings to be a distraction from the experience of the real Kingdom of Heaven, which is available right now in the Present Moment for those who have learned how to see it and hear it spiritually. Thomas teaches a present Kingdom of God or spiritual dimension, whereas the masses always get entertained by hearing about some new theory about the end of the world, Henry Kissenger's name adding up to 666, and on it goes.
The mystics have the present-moment Kingdom of Heaven and seek to see it via a contemplative meditation practice. In many of the Gnostic gospels and other apocryphal texts are examples of out of body travel or ascension through the heavens. They had a system of several planes or heavens. There were different schools of spirituality, each with it's own living Master. Some taught there were 7 heavens, some 8, others 10. One Gnostic Master by the name of Basilides had a system of 365 heavens! It all depends on how you divide things: lower astral, upper astral, lower causual, and so on. In any case, they all presented a cosmology of several heavens, each progessively more luminous with less maya and more spirit, till you get to the top, which has no matter or illusion, and it's all spirit and truth; also Timeless. The Music differs in each of the heavens also. Saint Paul seemed to know he had been caught up to the 3rd heaven as opposed to the second or fourth heaven. In the system he followed, the 3rd heaven was called Paradise. The Book of First Enoch, a Jewish mystical book very popular back then also calls the 3rd heaven Paradise. Certain Visions/Lights and Sounds are
associated with each of the heavens and serve as markers along the way. I follow something very much like that now, called Surat Shabd Yoga. In Thomas and other related books, there were also passwords (mantras or sacred words) given in order to help one pass from heaven to heaven during these journeys.