I Am He; That Thou Art
Texts: Mark 4:30-32; Luke 17:20-21; John 15:1-8
Chandogya Upanishad III:14:2-3
(Vol. I, p. 48); VI:6:1:1-7 (p. 92); 10:1-3 (p.
(p. 102-103); 12:1-3 (p. 104); Kaushitaki Upanishad
3:1 (p. 293-294)
Scholarly discussion of the mustard seed parable in Mark:
what does it mean? Examples, implying an eschatological
framework. But what if it means the same as in the Chandogya
Upanishad? It would be equivalent to Luke 17:20-21. We are making a big mistake
if we look outside us for what can only be found inside--and is
already there! Hidden in plain sight, like the purloined
An example, an allegory of reading: note another
Protestant controversy over the same passage: is the mustard seed the smallest
of all? Retranslate? Can't they see that to try thus to vindicate the authority
of an external scripture is to make the appearing the divine kingdom appear on
external miraculous signs such as Jesus rules out? The only religious authority
you can trust is inside; that is the "kingdom" of God, the real
How can this kingship, like a mustard seed, be too small
to see? Because, as Panikkar says, it is a symbol surpassing itself: the
"interiority" of the Kingdom is still a metaphor of otherness, as if
the kingdom is a foreign body contained within, like a bullet lodged inside.
But the real interiority is identity.
What is Svetaketu's problem?
What prevents him from seeing the truth that is so obvious the seeker is blind
to it? His problem is conceit. He is conceited because of all he
"knows", i.e., all the external facts he has absorbed into his mind. But this, this information that can be known, his
father says, is not the most important. The most important instruction is that which
teaches what cannot be taught, makes us know what
cannot be known? What is this? Word-play? No, I think
of a similar father-son scene in Gurdjieff's Meetings
with Remarkable Men. G.'s dad says we must come to the point where
not even a thought separates the knower from the known. That is, the revelation
of self: "That thou art." We seek the truth only on the assumption we
do not have it. But in fact, we are the truth.
The image of vine and branches occurs both in John and in
the Upanishads. H. Koester suggests that John has Christologized
various Gnostic statements, making true only of Jesus as an object of worship,
a vicarious savior, what the Gnostics had Jesus, as the Revealer, tell people
was equally true of themselves. "You are the light of the world" becomes "I am the light
of the world".
But I wonder if he is not missing the point. Maybe John
means the Jesus figure to be speaking as the voice of the Light that enlightens every one
that comes into the world, the Logos. Thus when he declares himself to be the
Light, and that we must follow him or else walk in darkness, I suspect he is
like Indra, a literary mouthpiece representing the prajna, the life-force. This would be no different than
Proverbs where Wisdom is personified.
Jesus or Indra or al-Hallaj could say "I am the Truth" or "I am
the Way" because what they did not mean was that this was a predicate of
themselves as individuals! As if he is the way and you are not. He is the Light
and you are not. He has discovered his identity with God, with the Truth, and
is speaking with its voice. And you may do the same. You are the branches, and
so is Jesus. But he speaks with the voice of the vine because its new wine
flows through him, as it flows through you. Heidegger said it well: only in
human beings does Being become self-aware, so I might say "I am
Being." I would be a madman if I meant "I am Being, I am that I am,
and you are not."
Have you noticed that John seems to satirize the crazy
notion that Jesus was making himself, personally the Truth of God, the Bread of
Life. He has Jesus' unsympathetic hearers, trying to
trap him in a twist of his words, construe him as saying, "How can he now
say, 'I came down from Heaven'?" "How can this man give us his flesh
to eat." "You are not yet 50 years of age,
and Abraham saw you?" "We stone you not because of any good deed, but
because you, a mere man, make yourself equal to God." "Are we not
right in saying you are mad?" How ironic that these statements of the Logos,
that might have been made by anyone who recognized the Light dwelling in him,
have been sanctified and canonized in Christian doctrine! The church took its
lead from the Pharisees, not from Jesus, in this as in so many other things.
When Jesus in Thomas says "I am the All, the All came forth from me," he is making a statement of
identity between himself and yourself and all things. When you drop the
illusion of your ironclad selfhood as qualitatively different from all others,
you throw off the blinders, and what emerges? Like water flowing through a pipe
long blocked but now clear, the All rushes forth!
Surely this is what he means. He says "If those who lead you say to you,
the Kingdom of the Father is in the heaven, then the
birds will precede you there. If they say the Kingdom is in the sea, the fish
will precede you there. But the Kingdom of the Father is within you. If you
will know yourselves, you will know yourselves as children of the Living
Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you are in poverty, and you are poverty."
That is what
the Upanishads (and the Gospel of John?) means in its parable of the vine and
the branches. You are a branch without sap as long as you are not aware of your
connection to the larger organism of the Vine. The life-force runs through you,
but you know it not because of your imagined self-isolation. You are wearing the
blinders still. The All has not yet come forth from you.
Why is this Gospel called the
Gospel of Thomas? Because of the early Christian belief that Thomas was the twin
brother of Jesus! It means that anyone may become like Jesus by learning what
he learned: "Do not call me Master," he said to Thomas, "for you
have drunk from the spring of my mouth." "Whoever drinks from the
spring of my mouth shall become like me, and I shall become him!"
Let me give one or two hints of what this insight might
actually mean in your life, besides a mystical trance state. First and most
obvious, it means you must not cut yourself off from other people, thinking
yourself sufficient. In a sense you can make yourself independent, but only by
truncating your needs. You won't need to go to the shoemaker anymore f you cut
off your feet, but why take such an extreme measure? "I have no need of
friendship; friendship causes pain. It's laughter and it's loving I disdain. I
am a rock, I am an island. Safe within my womb, alone within my tomb, I touch
no one, and no one touches me." That is a hymn of bitterness. You become
alienated not only from other people but from your own self as well for the
simple reason that your Self includes these others you want to shun!
Buber said this: "There is no I alone. There is only I and Thou." Berger and
the symbolic interactionists said it, too. You form
your personality in the process of social, emotional, intellectual interaction
with others. Lacan speaks of the mirror stage of ego
development when we first learn to differentiate ourselves from others by
seeing ourselves in a mirror alongside others and saying, "I'm one of
them!" But we never exit this mirror stage. We are
always understanding ourselves through the mirror, the prism of others.
And if we cut ourselves off from them, we are cutting ourselves off, period!
That thou art! Is it so esoteric? Not at all! Don't you
see? There is no line to be drawn between you and what happens to you, as if
you are an outside observer. As if your life is taking place behind a two-way
mirror, and you are seeing it without being seen! You may think so, but that
only means it is you who are the object of surveillance! You cannot see
yourself as others can only too plainly seeing you.
Another way to put it is to say that there is no
difference between your "self" and your "life." In Greek,
they are both included under the same word, "psyche." Indeed, what
could be the difference? Ta tvam asi! That thou art!
June 2, 1996
Copyright©2007 by Robert
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