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A Zen Jesus for Christmas

In 1945 an Arab peasant in the upper Egyptian desert near Nag Hammadi made a spectacular discovery. Buried in earthenware were 52 papyrus texts, some dating from the beginning of the Christian era and presenting a Jesus who said things that could have come out of the mouth of a Zen Master, or even the Buddha himself.

Professor Helmut Koester of Harvard University has made the observation that one of these gospels in Particular, “The Gospel of Thomas” includes traditions even older than the Gospels of the New Testament, earlier than Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, and also closer to the actual life of Jesus.

These are known as the “Gnostic Gospels”, from the Greek word “gnosis”…meaning “to know”…to know oneself, to have an insight into oneself in an intuitive sense.

“To know oneself is to know God”…says Jesus in these gospels. The self and the divine are identical and one. The living Jesus in these gospels speaks of an enlightenment, the same type that is taught by Zen Masters and Taoists. Jesus is never presented as Lord, but rather as a spiritual guide. The living Buddha could easily have said, and did, everything attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas and other texts.

These texts, with Jesus talking in this manner, were seen as a danger to the developing ecclesiastical structure because they encouraged insubordination to the authority of bishops, priests and deacons. Church father Ignatius warns the laity to “honor and obey the bishop as you would God.”

He continues: “The Bishop presides in the place of God.” It is quite easy to see why the church councils did not choose these gospels for their bible. It was purely political. Bishop and Priests “can’t get no respect” from the common people if the common people read that Jesus said they don’t need bishops and priests and that “the Kingdom is all within everyone, and all are sons of God.”

Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas: “if you bring forth what is within you..what you bring forth will save you…for the lamp of the body is the mind.” And again: “the mind is the guide, but reason is the teacher. Live according to your mind. Acquire strength for the mind is strong. Enlighten your mind…light the lamp within you.”

Jesus also ridicules those who think of the Kingdom of God in literal terms, as if it were a specific, actual place. Jesus uses these words: “if those who lead you say to you, ‘look, the Kingdom is in the sky, then the birds will arrive there before you do’. If they say to you ‘look, it is in the sea’ then the fish will arrive there before you do. The Kingdom is a state of self discovery. The Kingdom is inside of you and outside of you. When you come to know yourself, you will know that YOU are the Son of God…but if you do not learn this, you will live in poverty.”

“Do you not understand?” asked Jesus…“what you look forward to has already come but you do not recognize it. The Kingdom of Heaven is spread out upon the earth…NOW…and men do not see it.” The Kingdom, in other words, is a state of transformed consciousness.  The creation and God are ONE. Humans and God are ONE.

Jesus says in these Gnostic gospels: “split wood and I am there. Lift up the stone and you will find me there.” Jesus insists in these gospels, again and again, on the primacy of immediate experience as a guide to truth, even as in Zen or Taoism No one else can tell another which way to go…or what to do… how to act…or what path to follow. “When you become mature” said Jesus, “you will no longer rely on outside human testimony.” This thought expressed by Jesus in these gospels, is at the heart of Buddhism and Taoism.

There are many scholars today that are synthesizing the great themes found in the Eastern religions of Buddhism and Taoism with the sayings of a Gnostic Jesus who was, quite obviously, far more oriented toward their view of life and reality than we have been led to believe.

For those of you wanting to pursue this subject further, may I suggest THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS by Dr. Elaine Pagels…OTHER BIBLES, ANCIENT SCRIPTURES, GNOSTIC GOSPELS.,.Edited by Willis Barnstone…SILENT MUSIC, written by the Roman Catholic Jesuit William Johnson. He studied with Zen masters for years in Japan, integrating the great themes. He writes of the time that truth broke through to him about the nature of reality..the reality of the Oneness of everything.

When that jar was smashed at Nag Hammadi, that Arab peasant could not have dreamed what far reaching implications his discovery would have.

As Dr. James Robinson of the Institute of Antiquity and Christianity put it: “The entire history of the origins of Christianity, including the life of Jesus, are going to have to be rewritten.” Those 52 scrolls unlocked a Zen Jesus and a Zen Christianity. They set Jesus free from the man made prison of the doctrines, dogmas and creeds of a power obsessed church.

These Gnostic gospels set Jesus free to live as the healthy, sexual human being he was and so long covered up by the church.

From the Gospel of Philip: “there were three who walked with Jesus at all times..Mary, her sister Salome and Magdalene who is called his partner.” In another sentence, Mary Magdalene is referred to as the “spouse” of Jesus. From the same Gospel are these words: “The companion of Jesus is Mary Magdalene. Jesus loved her more than all of his disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth. Jesus said to the other disciples, “why do I not love you as much as I love her?”

Orthodox Christianity is drowning today in words…arguments…apologetics…talk…defenses…ranting and raving sermons…theological bickering..chatter…hay rides and bingo nights…skating parties and all combined with the bigoted judgements as to who is going to be “saved” and who is the real, 100% Good Housekeeping approved Christian.

This Christmas…what a blessed relief it is to know that there was a Zen Jesus…who said…this is it… its all now…its all here…experience the moment…wake up…seize the day…