One of the famous texts uncovered in the Egyptian desert, The Book of Thomas the Contender expresses a great deal of Gnostic wisdom. As with all of the written documents in the genuine mystical traditions, the story has multiple levels of meaning. The least important meaning is the literal one: that is, the historical or literal circumstances of the story. This of course, is all that most people see. The real meaning of the text can only be understood when one penetrates into the symbolic or hidden part of the story.
Gnosis, as an ancient and widespread mystical tradition, never presented the core of its wisdom in written words. The written word was used as a means to teach those who already know certain keys or codes, with which the real meaning of the text could be perceived. That is why modern scholars and intellectuals theorize and speculate continually about these texts, but never arrive at the real meaning.
This document is a work of Kabbalah and Alchemy, the two trees from the Garden of Eden. As such, it contains levels of meaning which cannot quickly be explained in a format such as this. To comprehend the full depth of this scripture requires meditation and study of those ancient sciences.
As in all the biblical scriptures, each apostle symbolizes a part of our own inner Divinity, our Being.
Thomas is the part of the Being who is related to the intimate sense of comprehension. – Samael Aun Weor, The Pistis Sophia Unveiled
Therefore this dialoge between Jesus, as a symbol of the universal Cosmic Christ, and Thomas, the part of our Being related to comprehension, represents a mystical dialogue in the depths of our consciousness. It is through the wisdom of our own inner Thomas that we as a soul become instructed in the laws of the universe and thereby understand how to ascend into the Light. Without an understanding of those laws, we remain as victims, tossed about in ignorance of the truth.
Here we present The Book of Thomas the Contender in a translation by John D. Turner (with apologies for some minor changes), and accompanying commentaries by instructors from the contemporary Gnostic tradition.
The secret words that the savior spoke to Judas Thomas which I, even I, Mathaias, wrote down, while I was walking, listening to them speak with one another.
The savior said, "Brother Thomas while you have time in the world, listen to me, and I will reveal to you the things you have pondered in your mind.
"Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be. Since you will be called my brother, it is not fitting that you be ignorant of yourself. And I know that you have understood, because you had already understood that I am (Christ) the knowledge (Gnosis) of the truth. So while you accompany me, although you are uncomprehending, you have (in fact) already come to know, and you will be called 'the one who knows himself'. For he who has not known himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself has at the same time already achieved knowledge about the depth of the all."
The foundation of Gnosis is self-knowledge. By knowing ourselves in depth, we discover the nature of the universe itself. The word Gnosis in itself means "knowledge," and by this is meant experiential knowledge, or the direct knowledge that is experienced by the consciousness. This type of knowledge has nothing to do with the intellect or with any belief, and is instead derived from one's own personal experience. The way to arrive at direct experience of the essential truths of the universe and ourselves is through intimate exploration of our own interior psychology.
Man, know thyself, and thou shalt know the universe and it’s Gods… - The Oracle at Delphi
“So then, you, my brother Thomas, have beheld what is obscure to men, that is, what they ignorantly stumble against."
Ignorant: (i-gno-rant) to be without Gnosis, or real knowledge.
Those who lack real knowledge of themselves continue stumbling in the darkness of their own mind and thereby deepen their own suffering. On the other hand, those who utilize the wisdom of Thomas (part of their own inner Being) transcend such obstacles and arrive at the perception of what previously was hidden. This is the entrance into the "occult" or hidden truths, in other words, the esoteric knowledge.
So long as we remain attached to beliefs, theories, ideas, and in general all that is within the mind, we remain in darkness. Real Gnosis is knowledge acquired without thought or belief.
The sense of self that we have is an obstacle to finding real Gnosis.
Now Thomas said to the Lord, "Therefore I beg you to tell me what I ask you before your ascension, and when I hear from you about the hidden things, then I can speak about them. And it is obvious to me that the truth is difficult to perform before men."
The Savior answered, saying, "If the things that are visible to you are obscure to you, how can you hear about the things that are not visible? If the deeds of the truth that are visible in the world are difficult for you to perform, how indeed, then, shall you perform those that pertain to the exalted height and to the pleroma (the Kabbalistic World of Atziluth) which are not visible? And how shall you be called 'laborers'? In this respect you are apprentices (imitatus; beginners on the Path), and have not yet received the height of perfection (Initiation into the higher mysteries)."
Now Thomas answered and said to the savior, "Tell us about these things that you say are not visible, but are hidden from us."
The savior said, "All bodies of the beasts are begotten as irrational creatures…”
All creatures which exist in the Wheel of Samsara lack Objective Reasoning.
The spark of the soul (the Essence) evolves through millions of bodies from the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, until earning the right to enter the humanoid kingdom. But those souls are still trapped in the bodies of beasts, for the humanoids still have the same mind developed through the lower kingdoms, with the addition of Subjective Reasoning, the capacity to analyze and compare.
I said in my heart with regard to the children of men that God is testing them to show them that they are but beasts.
For the fate of the children of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man (better said: humanoids) has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity.
All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again (evolution and devolution, the wheel of Samasara).
Who knows whether the spirit of man (humanoid) goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down to the earth? - Ecclesiastes 3: 18-21
Humanoids are called Intellectual Animals, because they are "seeds" which have evolved through the lower kingdoms, have developed animal mind, and then received the intellect.
To become a Human Being is the goal of Gnosis. To become a real Human Being, one must create the Soul; that is, the spiritual seed (the consciousness) must give birth to an illuminated Tree of Life (the Being). A real Human Being has removed from himself all that is animal, and become a conqueror of his own animal nature.
“It is evident like [...] this, too, those [beings] that are above [do not live like] those that are visible, but they derive their life from their own root (the sexual energy), and it is their fruit that nourishes them."
To transcend the Wheel of Suffering requires that the animal mind be removed, and with it all animal behavior. This is why the Lord emphasizes the need to be “perfect, as your Father in Heaven in perfect.” The beings who live in the superior kingdoms have chastity: they do not waste their sexual energy like the beasts. Real Human Beings are nourished and fortified by the proper use of the sacred sexual energies.
“But these visible [physical] bodies survive by devouring creatures similar to them, with the result that the bodies change. Now that which changes will decay and perish, and has no hope of life from then on, since that body is bestial. So just as the body of the beasts perishes, so also will these formations perish. Do they not derive from copulation like that of the beasts? If it, too derives from copulation, how will it beget anything different from beasts? So, therefore, you are babes until you become perfect."
By continuing to behave as beasts, trapped in the cycle of birth and death, evolution and devolution, we remain enslaved to the painful cycle of transmigration, and are victims of suffering. The key to escaping this cycle is within the sexual organs.
If we continue to behave as beasts, then we will continue to reap the fruit of those actions. Only by changing our behaviors can we change our lives.
And Thomas answered, "Therefore I say to you, lord, that those who speak about things that are invisible and difficult to explain are like those who shoot their arrows at a target at night. To be sure, they shoot their arrows as anyone would - since they shoot at the target - but it is not visible. Yet when the light comes forth and hides the darkness, then the work of each will appear. And you, our light, enlighten, O lord."
Jesus said, "It is in light that light exists."
The animal mind cannot comprehend the Christic Wisdom. Only the consciousness can comprehend and receive Gnosis. However, the consciousness is asleep in the intellectual animals. The humanoid creatures worship the animal mind, and are attached to beliefs, theories and ideas. Thus, in this way they remain without Gnosis, that is, they remain ignorant.
The animal mind, as a product of beatial nature, is filled with darkness. It is the mind of pride, anger, envy, fear, jealousy, and all manner of desires. This mind lacks the light of the Christ, and thus remains in darkness.
People do not understand the Christic Wisdom because they remain within their own interior darkness. Only by awakening the consciousness can the true understanding of Religion (re-union) occur.
That is why all the sacred scriptures insist on the need to awaken the consciousness, and purify the animal mind.
And said unto them, “Why sleep ye? Rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” - Luke 22:46
For this cause many [are] (spiritually) weak and (psychologically) sickly among you, and many sleep. - 1 Corinthians 11:30
Wherefore he saith, “Awake thou (consciousness) that sleepest, and arise from the (spiritually) dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” - Ephesians 5:14
Therefore let us not sleep, as [do] others; but let us watch (consciously) and be sober (rather than drunk with desire). - 1 Thessalonians 5:6
Observe, and take good heed, for thou walkest in peril of thy overthrowing: when thou hearest these things, awake in thy sleep. - Ecclesiasticus 13:13
Thomas, spoke, saying, "Lord, why does this visible light that shines on behalf of men rise and set?"
Or rather, "Why does the solar light rise and set in the human organism?"
The savior said, "O blessed Thomas, of course this visible light shines on your behalf - not in order that you remain here, but rather that you might come forth - and whenever all the elect abandon bestiality, then this light will withdraw up to its essence, and its essence will welcome it, since it is a good servant."
The Christ, the Sun, manifests only to call the soul to the Light. To remain enslaved by the current of life has no purpose. That is why the Sun, the Christ, will soon close the current of life, in order to begin a new cycle of manifestation.
If we sublimate the sexual force, the Solar Absolute Light will shine on our consciousness so that we might come forth through the Initiation into the kingdom of heaven. And by annihilating our bestiality (ego), the consciousness (the essence) withdraws up to the Being, and the Being with its Diamond Soul is welcomed by its essence (the Ain Soph Aur), since this Monad is a good servant.
Then the savior continued and said, "O unsearchable love of the light! O bitterness of the (passionate) fire that blazes in the bodies of men and in their marrow, kindling (more passion) in them night and day, and burning the limbs of men and making their minds become drunk (with lust) and their souls become deranged (with desire) arousing men and women day and night, and moving [arousing] them, [...] secretly and visibly. For the males move (with lust) upon the females and the females upon the males. Therefore it is said, "Everyone who seeks the (objective) truth from true wisdom (Chokmah, Christ) will make himself (spiritual) wings so as to fly, fleeing the lust that scorches the spirits of men." And he will make himself wings (the Mercabah, the soul) to flee every visible spirit (and be awake in the internal worlds)."
“With patience ye will possess thy souls.” – Jesus.
The soul is created through the work with the cross, and alongside the elimination of the animal, bestial mind.
And Thomas answered, saying, "Lord, this is exactly what I am asking you about, since I have understood that you are the one who can help us, as you say."
Only the Christ (the solar light) can save the soul from suffering.
Again the savior answered and said, "Therefore it is necessary for us to speak to you (Thomas), since this is the doctrine of the perfect."
Thomas represents the capacity of comprehension, that is, the ability to understand with the consciousness. This is beyond the intellect, the emotion, or sentiment.
“Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the occult wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of (Hod) glory.” - 1 Corinthians 2:6-8
“If, now, you desire to become perfect, you shall observe these (Christic) teachings; if not, your name is 'Ignorant' (that is, “one without Gnosis”).
The apprehension of the LORD (‘s light) is the beginning of knowledge (Gnosis): but fools despise wisdom (Chokmah, Christ’s light) and instruction. - Proverbs 1:7
“It is impossible for an intelligent man to dwell with a fool, for the intelligent man is perfect in all wisdom.”
Intelligence in Hebrew is Binah, the third sephirah on the Tree of Life. Binah is the Holy Spirit, who is the sexual fire behind all creation. The “intelligent man” is one who aligns himself with the Holy Spirit, and becomes therefore perfect in all wisdom. Wisdom in Hebrew is Chokmah, the second sphere of the Tree of Life. The intelligent man, therefore, must renounce his own inner fool, the Arcanum 21 of the Tarot, the one who foolishly abuses the sexual energy through fornication and adultery.
The intelligent man is the gentle man, the resurrected man who dwells in Eden (the fourth dimension), for the intelligent man incarnated Binah (intelligence) after having achieved perfection in all the Venustic Initiations (Chokmah). The fools live in the third dimension (Malkuth).
"To the fool, however, the good and bad are the same…"
The Fool, blinded by passionate desire, is only interested in satisfying his brutal lusts. He is blind to the result of his actions, and abuses the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad: DAATH, the hidden sphere of the Kabbalah, which teaches the sacred science of sexuality. The Fool does not know this science.
Only Binah (Hebrew for "intelligence" - the Third Logos) can set our consciousness beyond good and bad.
“Indeed the wise man will be nourished by the truth and (Ps. 1:3) "will be like a tree (of life) growing by the meandering stream (of sexual waters)"
The Tree of Life (the Being, our own Inner God) is fed by the rivers of living water which flow within our endocrine system.
“…seeing that there are some who, although having wings (of internal development), rush upon the visible things (due to attachment to material things), things that are far from the truth. For that which guides them, the (passionate) fire, will give them an illusion of truth (due to Maya, illusion), and will shine on them with a perishable beauty (the fatal beauty of Nahemah), and it will imprison them in a dark sweetness and captivate them with fragrant pleasure (like Circe in the Odyssey). And it will blind them with insatiable lust and burn their souls and become for them like a stake stuck in their heart which they can never dislodge (due to karma, the law of cause and effect). And like a bit in the mouth, it leads them according to its own wishes.”
The Kundabuffer Organ, the tempting serpent, hypnotizes the intellectual animals, the humanoid souls, through desire. All the human beings are blinded by their own desires, and destroy themselves in pursuit of illusions.
“And it (desire) has fettered them with its chains and bound all their limbs with the bitterness of the bondage of lust for those visible things that will decay and change and swerve by impulse."
All sensation arises and passes away. Attachment to sensation is like trying to capture a cloud or hold a bubble in the hand. It is a fools pursuit. Yet, humanity remains enthralled by the visions of desire, and march resolutely on the path of pain.
“They have always been attracted downwards; as they are killed, they are assimilated to all the filthy beasts of the perishable realm."
Those souls who do not use their opportunity in a human birth are recycled by nature, and thrown back down the Wheel of Suffering, into animal then plant and mineral bodies. This is the Klipoth, the Averno, Hell.
“Thomas answered and said, "It is obvious and has been said, 'Many are [the fools...] those who do not know [the light of the...] soul.'"
And the savior answered, saying, "Blessed is the wise man who sought after the truth (his Inner God), and when he found it, he rested upon it forever and was unafraid of those (egos) who wanted to disturb him."
Thomas answered and said, "It is beneficial for us, lord, to rest among our own people (or conscious parts of our Being)?"
The savior said, "Yes, it is useful. And it is good for you, since things visible (out of the Being) among men will dissolve - for the vessel (matter) of their flesh will dissolve, and when it is brought to naught it will (through devolution) come to be among visible things, among things that are seen (in Klipoth). And then the fire which they see gives them pain on account of love for the faith they formerly possessed. They will be gathered back (through evolution) to that which is visible. Moreover, those who have sight among things that are not visible, without the first love (God) they will perish in the concern for this life and the scorching of the fire. Only a little while longer, and (again, throughout 3,000 cycles) that which is visible will dissolve; then shapeless shades will emerge, and in the midst of tombs they will forever dwell upon the corpses in pain and corruption of soul."
Thomas answered and said, "What have we to say in the face of these things? What shall we say to blind men? What doctrine should we express to these miserable mortals who say, "We came to do good and not curse," and yet claim, "Had we not been begotten in the flesh, we would not have known iniquity"?"
The savior said, "Truly, as for those, do not esteem them as men, but regard them as beasts, for just as beasts devour one another, so also men of this sort devour one another.”
Humanity has not engendered the soul, thus they remain as animals with intellect. This why humanoid creatures destroy one another continually, and destroy themselves and their environment, without awareness of their own stupidities.
“On the contrary, they are deprived of the kingdom since they love the sweetness of the (passionate) fire and are servants of death and rush to the works of corruption (or devolution).”
Everyone thinks they are innocent, yet remain filled with animal passions, pride, vanity, jealousy, anger, and hatred. As slaves of desire, we are bound to the service of the ego, who is death to the consciousness.
“They fulfill the lust of their fathers.”
We fulfill the mechanical laws of nature, our "fathers."
"Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." - John 8:44
We continue the mistakes of our parents, and believe we do no wrong. We vainly believe we will never be like others, as if somehow we are better people, but inevitably we fall into the same mistakes, because we do not renounce the animal mind.
We do the actions of our "fathers" - the many Satanic egos that in habit our minds.
“They will be thrown down to the abyss (Klipoth) and be afflicted by the torment of the bitterness of their evil nature.”
In order to purify the Essence of ego, the Lord will send the Essence into the inferior worlds to be cleansed of our evil habits.
“For they will be scourged so as to make them rush backwards, whither they do not know, and they will recede from their limbs not patiently, but with despair. And they rejoice over [...] madness and derangement [...] They pursue this derangement without realizing their madness, thinking that they are wise. They are attracted by the beauty of the body as if it were beyond corruption. Their mind is directed to their own selves, for their thought is occupied with their selfish pursuits. But it is the fire that will burn them."
And Thomas answered and said, "Lord, what will the one thrown down to them do? For I am most anxious about them; many forces oppose them."
The savior answered and said, "What is your own opinion?"
Judas - the one called Thomas - said, "It is you, lord, whom it befits to speak, and me to listen."
The savior replied, "Listen to what I am going to tell you and believe in the truth. That which sows and that which is sown will dissolve in the fire - within the fire and the water - and they will hide in tombs of darkness. And after a long time they shall show forth the fruit of the evil trees, being punished, being slain in the mouth of beasts and men at the instigation of the rains and winds and air and the light that shines above."
All evil actions, being a result of the inverted Tree of Life, the Klipoth, are purified by the forces of nature. This is the Law of Karma.
Thomas replied, "You have certainly persuaded us, lord. We realize in our heart, and it is obvious, that this is so, and that your word is sufficient. But these words that you speak to us are ridiculous and contemptible to the world since they are misunderstood. So how can we go preach them, since we (Gnostics) are not esteemed in the world?"
The savior answered and said, "Truly I tell you that he who will listen to your word and turn away his face or sneer at it or smirk at these things, truly I tell you that he will be handed over to the ruler (of the Law of Karma) above who rules over all the powers as their king, and he will turn that one around and cast him from heaven down to the abyss, and he will be imprisoned in a narrow dark place. Moreover, he can neither turn nor move on account of the great depth of Tartaros (the abyss) and the heavy bitterness of Hades that is steadfast [...] them to it [...] they will not forgive [...] pursue you. They will hand [...] over to [...] angel Tartarouchos [...] fire pursuing them [...] fiery scourges that cast a shower of sparks into the face of the one who is pursued. If he flees westward, he finds the fire. If he turns southward, he finds it there as well. If he turns northward, the threat of seething fire meets him again. Nor does he find the way to the east so as to flee there and be saved, for he did not find it in the day he was in the body, so that he might find it in the day of judgment."
Then the savior continued, saying, "Woe to you, godless ones, who have no hope, who rely on things that will not happen!”
We who do not have the Spirit incarnated are truly without God (a-theos-tic). We remain instead believing in visible things, which will inevitably pass away, and we rely on beliefs and hopes and dreams, which are vain, empty, and without reality. Truly, we need to incarnate the Being, and that can only be accomplished through tremendous inner revolutions.
"Woe to you who hope in the flesh and in the prison that will perish!”
The physical body is truly a prison for the soul, yet we foolishly believe it is our only reality.
“How long will you sleep?”
Our consciousness, the Essence, trapped within the desires of our animal mind, sleeps deeply. We need to awaken the Sleeping Beauty of the consciousness, in order to see the frightful realities in our own mind.
“And how long will you suppose that the imperishables will perish too? Your hope is set upon the world, and your god is this life! You are corrupting your souls!
"Woe to you within the fire that burns in you, for it is insatiable!
"Woe to you because of the wheel that turns in your minds!
"Woe to you within the grip of the burning that is in you, for it will devour your flesh openly and rend your souls secretly, and prepare you for your companions!
"Woe to you, captives, for you are bound in caverns! You laugh! In mad laughter you rejoice! You neither realize your perdition, nor do you reflect on your circumstances, nor have you understood that you dwell in darkness and death! On the contrary, you are drunk with the fire and full of bitterness. Your mind is deranged on account of the burning that is in you, and sweet to you are the poison and the blows of your enemies! And the darkness rose for you like the light, for you surrendered your freedom for servitude (to the ego)! You darkened your hearts (with lust) and surrendered your thoughts to folly, and you filled your thoughts with the smoke of the (passionate) fire that is in you! And your light (the Essence) has been hidden in the dark cloud of [ignorance...] and the (lunar) garment that is put upon you, you have grown fond of.”
We have grown to love our suffering, and would not give it up for anything.
“And you hold onto a hope that does not exist. And whom is it you have believed? Do you not know that you all dwell among those who that [...] you as though you [...]. You baptized your souls in the water of darkness! You walked by your own whims!"
We have ignored the commands of our own inner Divinity; that is why we suffer incessantly.
"Woe to you (fornicator) who dwell in error, heedless that the (transmuted sexual) light of the sun which judges and looks down upon the all will circle around all things (and set in your spinal medulla) so as to enslave the enemies (your egos). You do not even notice the moon (your mind), how by night and day it looks down, looking at the bodies (or trapped consciousness) of your slaughters!
"Woe to you who love intimacy with womankind and polluted intercourse with them!”
"When a man has an emission of semen, he must bathe his whole body with water, and he will be unclean till evening." - Leviticus 15:16
That is, one must never spill the sexual energy.
“Woe to you in the grip of the powers of your body, for they will afflict you!”
The body is the domain of Pluto, the ruler of the underworld, who influences us through instinctive desire. We must conquer the animal mind and control the desires of the body in order to return once again to Eden.
“Woe to you in the grip of the forces of the evil demons (the egos)! Woe to you who beguile your limbs with (passionate) fire!”
“Who is it that will rain a refreshing dew on you to extinguish the mass of fire from you along with your burning? Who is it that will cause the sun to shine upon you to disperse the darkness in you and hide the darkness and polluted water?”
"The sun (Christ) and the moon (Divine Mother) will give a fragrance (Ambrosia, food of the Gods, the result of transmuted sexual energy) to you (the Essence) together with the air (the mind, Netzach) and the spirit (Chesed) and the earth (the physical body) and the water (Yesod). For if the sun (Christ) does not shine upon these (internal) bodies, they will wither and perish just like weeds or grass.”
“If the sun shines on them (weeds and grass), they prevail and choke the grapevine…”
In certain periods, false doctrines (weeds) fill the world with pain, and the souls suffer in the confusion on the mind.
"But if the grapevine (the soul) prevails and shades those weeds (false doctrines) and all the other brush growing alongside (false science and materialistic ideologies), and spreads and flourishes, it (the soul) alone inherits the land in which it grows; and every place it has shaded it dominates. And when it grows up, it dominates all the land (of the spirit) and is bountiful for its master (the Innermost), and it pleases him even more, for he would have suffered great pains on account of these plants until he uprooted them. But the grapevine alone removed them and choked them, and they (the false doctrines and beliefs) died and became like the soil."
Then Jesus continued and said to them, "Woe to you, for you did not receive the (Christic) doctrine, and those who are [...] will labor at preaching [...]. And you are rushing into [...] will send them down [...] you kill them daily in order that they might rise from death.
"Blessed are you who have prior knowledge of the stumbling blocks and who flee alien things.
"Blessed are you who are reviled and not esteemed on account of the love their lord has for them.
"Blessed are you who weep and are oppressed by those without hope, for you will be released from every bondage.
"Watch and pray that you not come to be in the flesh, but rather that you come forth from the bondage of the bitterness of this life. And as you pray, you will find rest, for you have left behind the suffering and the disgrace. For when you come forth from the sufferings and passions of the body, you will receive rest from the good one, and you will reign with the king, you joined with him and he with you, from now on, for ever and ever, Amen."
Selection made from James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library, revised edition. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1990.<