The Integration of East and West – maybe.

Recently I discovered the website of Tau Malachi and the Sophia Fellowship, a Gnostic Christian tradition with a long and secret lineage (according to the website). Now Mr Malachi has been a busy chap, ever since being made lineage-holder of his tradition at the tender age of sixteen. Recently I read one of Tau Malachi’s books, the Gnosis of the Cosmic Christ: a Gnostic Christian Kabbalah, which was quite good, so I went looking for more, and stumbled across their practices pages, including this one: Giving and Receiving.

As I read through it, I was mightily struck by its similarity to the Tibetan Buddhist Tonglen practice. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised since the Tibetan word literally means, “giving and receiving”. 🙂 However, the description, format and structure of the practice almost directly matches the Tonglen practices given in Sogyal Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (published before Tau Malachi’s website).

Now, call me cynical, but the implied (though never directly stated) influence on the Sophian tradition by Vajrayana Buddhism is one thing, but this similarity seems a little too pat. The Sophian version has four steps to precede the full practice:

  • Giving & Receiving in the Environment
  • Giving & Receiving with Oneself
  • Giving & Receiving in an Actual Life Situation
  • Giving & Receiving for Others.

Lo and behold, the four stages before the main Tonglen practice, as given by Sogyal Rinpoche are:

  • Environmental Tonglen
  • Self Tonglen
  • Tonglen in a Living Situation
  • Tonglen for Others.

From the Sophian Giving & Receiving in an Actual Life Situation:

“In this method bring to mind a situation in which you have behaved poorly and that is a cause of grief to you – one that merely thinking about might make you feel quite badly.”

From the (original?) Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Tonglen in a Living Situation:

“Imagine vividly a situation where you have acted badly, one about which you feel guilty, and which you wince to even think about.”

From the Sophian Complete Giving & Receiving Meditation:

“Then bring to mind a person you know who is suffering and imagine that person magically appearing in the space before you. Let your heart and mind open to this person, and imagine this person’s sorrow and suffering as fully as you can in complete detail. Envision that the person’s suffering and pain gathers together as a great mass of reddish brown or black smoke-like substance at his or her Heart Center, or, in the case of physical disease, at the place of the disease in the body. Now, when you breathe into the Spiritual Sun in your heart, envision the mass of smoke-like substance dissolves, seeing the negativity and darkness liberated and transformed into Fiery-Light. As you breathe out, envision Light pouring out to the person from the Spiritual Sun in your heart. When you breathe in and take the person’s negativity and darkness into your heart, it is as though any remaining self-grasping in you is dissolved, along with the person’s negative karma…”

From the Main Tonglen Practice in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

“2. Imagine in front of you, as vividly and poignantly as possible, someone you care for who is suffering. Try and imagine every aspect of the person’s pain and distress. Then, as you feel your heart opening in compassion toward the person, imagine that all of his or her sufferings manifest together and gather into a great mass of hot, black, grimy smoke.

3. Now, as you breathe in, visualize that this mass of black smoke dissolves, with your in-breath, into the very core of your self-grasping at your heart. There it destroys completely all traces of self-cherishing, thereby purifying all your negative karma.”

We could go on. I would like to think this is just a case of missing references, or an amazing case of inspiration producing the same results in Tibetan Buddhism and a secret (and therefore uncheckable) Gnostic tradition. However, I would expect the wording, form and structure to be different; after all the various English versions of Tonglen as composed different Tibetan teachers are different to each other.

So, if it is a case of plagiarism, it is very sad. As I mentioned previously there are authentic Christian mystical and esoteric traditions that work in the same way as the very compassionate Mahayana Buddhist traditions. There really is no need to look to the east, when the heart of compassion, the heart of Christ is right here in our culture and traditions.

7 comments

  1. morgana · April 28, 2008

    I would not jump to judgement. I have seen similar practises around over the years. And practises I have been putting together for myself recently, assuming that I was designing something specific and persnal have quite startling similarities to the first two. I cannot tell you how many times when I was creating pottery I thought I had come up with a new design, idea or glaze only to see it a magazine or exibition a few months after I had “discovered” it. Stuff is out there in the ether and various people just hook into it from time to time, or to use your words experience “amazing case(s) of inspiration.” Owernership of ideas is yet another illusion.
    Morgana

  2. Asher Fryer · April 29, 2008

    I suppose you could say several things:

    (1) A good idea/s, especially spiritual ideas, are not anyone’s property, and a truly motivated teacher would not mind anyone using it, even in the same language, as long as it is ‘out there’

    (2) I think there is reason to believe that the Sophian traditions are probably linked historically, or at least kin to, the Buddhist traditions. I see it as probable that a universal teaching is being touched upon, a wonderful thing in itself.

    (3) In typical Gnostic fashion, synthesis, borrowing, integrating, syncretism all come into their own. Isn’t this typical of today’s WMT, and possibly vital to its continued existence?

    Of course, given the fact that he is claiming to represent an authentic lineage (let us pray they exist!) then well, who knows? “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a darn!” 🙂

    Peregrin, I have four of his books if you are interested in having a read:
    -Gnosis of the Cosmic Christ
    -Living Gnosis
    -Mary Magdalene (tradition of the Holy Bride)
    -The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (meditations on)

    Asher!

  3. David · April 29, 2008

    I’ve seen many a person on the internet claiming to have some amazing lineage to some secret tradition. Its to easy to deceive people without verbal and visual means of communication.

    However whether this is the case or not is beyond me, though wouldn’t it be prude to judge a system of living by the lives the people following it live?

    Personally, if your gonna have a go at anyone take a pick at these guys http://www.gnosticweb.com. I know many people who have had huge problems with this group and they’re self proclaimed reincarnated and repented master Beelzebub(yeah the demon dude)……

  4. Peregrin · April 30, 2008

    Hi there,

    thanks for all these comments.

    I guess as a librarian i just like references 🙂

    Asher, will be in touch re your kind offer.

    peregrin

  5. Asher Fryer · May 2, 2008

    Naught a problem!
    🙂

  6. verewig · April 10, 2010

    Hi

    Tau Malachi mentored me for four years as a Sophian Circle leader. I can certainly vouch for the authenticity of Tau Malachi. He does not charge any fees for giving selflessly of his time to teach or imparting the practices. Unlike most teachers these days who charges huge amounts. The teachings and practices stretch back through several lineage holders. There are indeed many similarities with Vajrayana (openly acknowledged but not) but there are also countless more practices that are not. After four years of intensive learning and practice, it still feels that I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. It normally takes about 8 years for an initiate to become fully versant in the Sophian ways. You only have to look into the different orders to see. The Sophian way is the way of crazy wisdom; whatever works for the individual practioner is used. It is not a static tradition but a living tradition that is evolving all the time.

  7. verewig · April 10, 2010

    I must just add that there are several versions of the Giving and Receiving practice within the tradition, apart from the one under the basic practices. Personally it is one of my favourite practices because of its versatility, which I myself adapt according to my needs.

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