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.