aka The Hymn of the Soul aka The Robe of Glory
An ascetic allegory
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia
Explication of "The Hymn of the Pearl" as an ascetic allegory
The selected articles of Carl W. Ernst provide an indication as to these other known sources, in which "The Hymn of the Pearl" has been preserved. See particularly the article “Fragmentary Versions of the Apocryphal ‘Hymn of the Pearl’ in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Urdu.” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, vol. 31 (forthcoming in 2006), Franz Rosenthal Memorial Volume. From such articles, we may appreciate that the preservation of this text has been associated with the preservation of Hatha Yoga practices.
Here follows a draft explication of the translation of William Wright (1871):
When I was a little child, and dwelling in my kingdom, in my father's house, and was content with the wealth and the luxuries of my nourishers, from the East, our home, my parents equipped me (and) sent me forth; and of the wealth of our treasury they took abundantly, (and) tied up for me a load large and (yet) light, which I myself could carry, gold of Beth-Ellaya, and silver of Gazak the great, and rubies of India, and agates from Beth-Kashan, and they furnished me with the adamant, which can crush iron.
The Embodied SoulThe history of the lives of ascetic sages is ancient. If Buddha is the most well known in antiquity, his descendants are preserved in the ascetics and yogis of India, ex-Tibet, Nepal and elsewhere on the planet. The ancient authority was always an ascetic authority. However it important to emphasise that the ascetic practice needs to be understood as a multi-faceted practice, as a fractal form which has many faces, and a seeming infinite capacity to reflect an inner integrity in the detail. It thus is inclusive of the control of the senses by the embodied soul, and actions which arise from the senses.
having renounced all actions by the mind
dwells at ease in the City of Nine Gates,
neither working nor causing work to be done.
--- Bhagvad Gita 5:13
The ascetic path needs to be understood as a fractal form. Asceticism may be applied to a range of activities (and their renunciation) including, but not restricted to: self discipline in speech and communication, self discipline in diet (and the intake of food), self discipline in sensual touch, taste, olfactory, audio and visual (and its media environments). self discipline in sleep self discipline in actions in general.
First their is birth, then there is knowledge of the world, then at some time, for the ascetic, there is its renunciation. In the Hymn of the Pearl, the renunciation is presented as a traditional way of life. The elders have preserved the tradition of renunciation of all the knowledge gained in the progress of youth to maturity. This knowledge will necessarily include the knowledge of yoga practice(s), and the experience of the rudiments of ascetic practice, its requirements, its purposes, and its consequential rewards. Life was not projected as mere philosophy. At some stage the embodied soul needs to sit down and achieve a rudimentary understanding of the benefit of yoga practices(s), of meditation and of inner-peace which are not presented by the intellectual philosophy. Experiential philosophy provided in a way a path of enlightenment to the intellectual philosopher. Hence the process of renunciation of worldly experiences.
Apollonius of Tyana and the Seven JewelsIt occurs to me that this list of jewels at least a superficial similarity to the list of jewels described in the The Life of Apollonius of Tyana. Here it is reported that the chief Brahman Iarchas presents to Apollonius a gift of seven rings of differing jewels inscribed with the names of seven celestial bodies. Apollonius it then reported always wearing them in alternation between the astrological name for the day. Apollonius returns from India to spend a great deal of time domicile in Egypt and Upper Egypt, amidst what are reported as the "gymnosophists". These were ascetics. Philo of Alexandria reports them c.10 CE under the term Therapeutae. The jewels and gems so described and allegorised are the jewels of self-knowledge. Self-knowledge of the enlightened ascetic practitioner was a respected authority. A collegiate structure of ascetics formed a tolerant network of knowledge. There is to be found perhaps a correspondence to "The Nine Gem Jewel" of the Hindu literature. This is not to say the ascetic was not educated to the knowledge of the external world. The ancient Greek philosophy and its literature was preserved by a lineage of authors who were not only ascetics (of various degrees) but they preserved the knowledge of astronomy, and medicine and medical practices and healing, mathematics and science.
An ancient historian might speculate that the text of "The Hymn of the Pearl" was written by, or describes the life of, an ascetic adept who had attained self-realisation. One possible example of an historical figure in antiquity who might match both the chronology and the ascetic setting, is the figure of the philosopher and sage, Apollonius of Tyana. Was Apollonius instructed by the Brahmins of India to go to Egypt and strive for self-realisation near the healing temples of 'Imhotep/Asclepius', characterised by the ancient use of the symbol of the snake, coiled around the staff of Asclepius? The biographer of Apollonius, Philostratus, does not elaborate on whether some process of self-realisation occurred in the life of the sage. However, he does describe a treck to India, and a return to Egypt and the ascetic communities established in Egypt. Was the author of "The Hymn of the Pearl" Apollonius of Tyana? The references to the seven gems are perhaps the only This is at present simply speculation, and a whole host of other authors may yet be put forward. At the moment, noone knows who the author of this text was.
Pythagorean (Hellenic) AsceticismThe way of the Pythagoreans was an ascetic path to rather an extreme. Precepts that are commonly attributed to Pythagoras, and thus to his followers including the neo-Pythagorean and in many cases neo-Platonic philosophers and sages of antiquity. The precepts included the ascetic renunciation of eating meat (vegetarianism was espoused), speaking (in certain cases a vow of silence is undertaken), abstinence from sex, and abstinence from killing, or from taking life, and the seeking of dwelling away from the day-to-day activities of life. These Pythagorean precepts were well known to the Hellenic psyche and literature, and they are to be gathered together in this article, as various fractal forms of the practice of asceticism. Here I use the term fractal to enforce the understanding that asceticism is not a simple thing, able to be classified as black and/or white. It is a complex system of assessment that engages the examination of the use of all the senses which are used by a living human being: touch, taste, smell, hearing, seeing. Asceticism also extends into the examination of the actions: yoga and/or other practices including sleep and exercise. The concept of asceticism being fractal-like is enhanced by the understanding that the renuniciation of all these sensory pathways represents various levels of detail, in which the practices are scaled by their gradations of difficulty.
Citizenship in the City of 'Nine Gates'At the pinacle of the fractal of physical ascetic practice must stand the ascetic use of the mind itself. Many if not all yoga and meditation exercises emphasise that the process of calming the mind is mandatory to progress. Says the Nag Hammadi character Lithargoel:
"This is the name of my city, 'Nine Gates.'
Let us praise God as we are mindful that the tenth is the head."
--- TAOPATTA - The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles (allegory and parody!)
Here The City of Nine Gates is the human body, and we are told that Lithargoel (the healer) is a citizen of the human body. It has nine gates, but the control of the opening and the closing of the gate of the mind is a fundamental part of the ascetic gradation practices being presented. Awareness of other living beings, their thoughts, their mental state and their emotional and spiritual state requires that the mind be controlled, or be at least highly calm and pacific in its nature. "The flame of a windless lamp is never fitful" is attributed to the Gita, and refers to the cultivation of a calm and coherent mind, unperturbed by the chaos of external circumstances.
All previously assumed and learned human preconceptions need to be stripped away in order to make room for the new conception of the divine nature of the living soul. Irrespective of any form of worldly maturity, the process of the maturity of the embodied soul requires the world itself to be renounced.
And they took off from me the glittering robe, which in their affection they made for me, and the purple toga, which was measured (and) woven to my stature.
The Path of Ascetic RenunciationAt some stage, Buddha renounced the world. This is the message of the author of "The Hymn of the Pearl". Perhaps not literally, but allow me to explain. At some stage in the life of the ascetic, all that may be valued of the external world of that ascetic must be set aside, all the external appearances are to be reduced to nothing. The pathway towards the inner journey is to be commenced in earnest. Irrespective of the external stature of the incumbent ascetic the inner stature was now to be testing ground.
The thesis being expounded here is that subscription to the ascetic path was at least one traditional and viable option to the "citizens of antiquity", and that the civilisation at that time, particularly in Egypt (300BCE - 300 CE) made explicit provision for this. In saying that the civilisation made provision for this I do not mean that it was in any way part of any political or social legal system. The provision was manifest by the extant temple structures of various ancient Egyptian and Greek gods, the most popular of which perhaps was Ascepius/Imhotep. The collegiate tolerance between many many cults was founded upon recognition of the authority of ascetic practices. The Asclepia for example were staffed by attendants, temple attendants, who were known as the therapeutae of asclepius. The tenure was custodial, as the temples outlasted their incumbent priests. The priests, rising through the graduated levels of administrative attendents, were invariably themselves adept ascetics.
And they made a compact with me, and wrote it in my heart, that it might not be forgotten: "If thou goest down into Egypt, and bringest the one pearl, which is in the midst of the sea around the loud-breathing serpent, thou shalt put on thy glittering robe and thy toga, with which (thou art) contented, and with thy brother, who is next to us in authority, thou shalt be heir in our kingdom."
The Inner Discipline of the ascetic pathThe ancient authority of the ascetic path and gnosis is summarised. It is a compact with the ancient way, and it is innate. At the time this text was written - in antiquity - the land of Egypt was a host to perhaps the leading network of respected ascetic monks, both male and female. The "pearl" is the perfect knowledge of the embodied soul to be realised by the ascetic journey.
The Pearl in the midst of the sea is associated with the loud breathing serpent. The serpent of Asclepius is to be associated with the serpent of the yoga kundalini energy in the spine of the yoga practitioner. The serpent is closely associated with the breath. Breathing and yoga are fundamental - integral - to the ascetic path.
The family structure referred to is the collegiate brotherhood of ascetics, and those on the path. It is assumed that the journeyer is simply repeating a journey which has already been made by those who have gone before him, or her. The inheritance being described is the greatest form of material inheritance -- that where the embodied soul understands its own condition, and awakes from the "sleep of external life" to become self-realised. The inheritance is self-knowledge, gnosis, buddhahood, living self-realisation, "Awake"!
I quitted the East (and) went down, there being two guardians, for the way was dangerous and difficult, and I was very young to travel it. I passed through the borders of Maishan, the meeting-place of the merchants of the East, and I reached the land of Babel, and I entered the walls of Sarbug. I went down into Egypt, and my companions parted from me. I went straight to the serpent, I dwelt in his abode, (waiting) till he should lumber and sleep, and I could take my pearl from him.
Egypt, near the Healing temple of Imhotep/Asclepius;
The journeyer travels direct to Egypt.
To the abode of the serpent.
Temples of Ascelpius were ubiquitous in the
ancient Roman empire in the period BCE,
as is attested by a great many citations.
It would appear that Egyptian physicians were revered from at least
the time of Pythagoras and Hippocrates. Michael Grant, in his well-respected
'The Rise of the Greeks' makes note that the cult of Thoth/Hermes and its
equivalent 'Imhotep/Asklepios' was the main intellectual belief
during the time of Pythagoras. These were also healing centers,
for the body and the mind. The ascetic disciplines by which the
temple attendants, priests and followers bound themselves, were
instrumental in the art of healing both the body and the soul.
In many contexts we here of these ancient collegiate network
as being physicians of bodies and souls. To reiterate, early
in the first century the reliable witness Philo calls these people
the therapeutae, a word perhaps derived from the Sanskrit
for "son of a monk" or "son of an elder". However it should be
flatly stated, that the group consisted of both female and male
members, who had vowed a celibate life as part of their ascetic
And when I was single and alone (and) became strange to my family, one of my race, a free-born man, and Oriental, I saw there, a youth fair and loveable, the son of oil-sellers; and he came and attached himself to me, and I made him my intimate friend, and associate with whom I shared my merchandise. I warned him against the Egyptians, and against consorting with the unclean; And I dressed in their dress, that they might not hold me in abhorrence, because I was come from abroad in order to take the pearl, and arouse the serpent against me. But in some way other or another they found out that I was not their countryman, and they dealt with me treacherously, and gave their food to eat. I forget that I was a son of kings, and I served their king; and I forgot the pearl, for which my parents had sent me, and because of the burden of their oppressions I lay in a deep sleep.
Knowing that the Buddha Sleeps withinBut the incumbent adept ascetic falls asleep in his or her quest. He (or she) is entranced by the local customs of life. The quest of the hidden pearl has been put to the side. The material maya shrouds the quest, and it becomes hidden. Yet even then, asleep to the conscious self, elsewhere in the universal psyche of the incumment adept ascetic, also sleeps as yet unrealised knowledge and memory.
But all this things that befell me my parents perceived, and were grieved for me; and proclamation was made in our kingdom, that every one should come to our gate [kingdom], kings and princes of Parthia, and all the nobles of the East. And they wove a plan on my behalf, that I might not be left in Egypt; and they wrote to me a letter, and every noble signed his name to it: "From thy father, the king of kings, and thy mother, the mistress of the East, and from thy brother, our second (in authority), to thee our son, who art in Egypt, greeting! Call to mind that thou art a son of kings! See the slavery,--whom thou servest! Remember the pearl, for which thou was sent to Egypt! Think of thy robe, and remember thy splendid toga, which thou shalt wear and (with which) thou shalt be adorned, when thy name hath been read out in the list of the valiant, and thy brother, our viceroy, thou shalt be in our kingdom." My letter is a letter, which the king sealed with his own right hand, (to keep it) from the wicked ones, the children of Babel, and from the savage demons of Sarbug. It flew in the likeness of an eagle, the king of all birds; it flew and alight beside me, and became all speech. At its voice and the sound of its rustling, I started and arose from my sleep.
Awareness Awakes, Memory is RestoredSooner or later, the incumbent adept will awake in the world of the quest, and will at that point understand that until then he or she had simply been asleep to the true pathway, which existed still, and by which the ancients and the fathers and the brothers had prevailed within to the pearl. It is suggested that the struggle for existence is focussed towards this process of becoming more and more aware. This evolving awareness includes the ascetic awareness of the human body to which one has been born, and includes the progress to a state of a self-realised soul.
Some commentators describes this process like the life of a bird, which spends early life inside a hard shell of various forms of ego, until it breaks though this stage, to be born a second time into the external world. Hence the imagery of the eagle - king of birds. And hence the imagery of being born a second time, or rather, simply awaking from the sleep of the worldly appearances, to the reality of the soul in the body.
I took it up and kissed it, and I began (and) read it; and according to what was traced on my heart were the words of my letter. I remembered that I was a son of royal parents, and my noble birth asserted itself. I remembered the pearl, for which I had been sent to Egypt, and I began to charm him, the terrible loud breathing serpent. I hushed him asleep and lulled him into slumber, for my father's name I named over him, and the name of our second (in power), and the of my mother, the queen of the East. And I snatched away the pearl, and turned to go back to my father's house.
The Extended Moments of Intense WakefulnessThe yogic path requires the command over the breath. The breath stands between the body and the mind. Inside the body also is the serpent energy. The power of the Kundalini energy in the spine. This is the terrible loud speaking serpent. The ascetic must show control of his or her own Kundalini energy. This energy is healing and is powerful, and the ascetic in understanding himself or herself, thus automatically can perceive in others around about, the ultimate bodily causes of certain ailments. And hence the great cultural association of ascetic practitioners with those who were revered as physicians, and healers, during antiquity.
After ardent striving, with perfect memory and cognition of all faculties, the moment finally arrives for the adept at which he or she becomes a fully enlightened soul, such as Buddha is recorded to have done, or many before Buddha, and many after him also. The chacteristics of the self-realised soul include asceticism in all cases and without exception. The ascetic path is one ancient honored road to immortality. This text "The Hymn of the Pearl" is an ode to this specific road ... the ascetic path, which at the time this text was written, often required the pilgrimage to the land of Egypt. (Again, see the ancient description by Philo).
And their filthy and unclean dress I stripped off, and left it in their country; and I took my way straight to come to the light of our home in the East. And my letter, my awakener, I found before me on the road; and as with its voice it had awakened me, (so) too with its light it was leading me. It, that dwelt in the palace, gave light before me with its form, and with its voice and its guidance it also encouraged me to speed, and with its love it drew me on. I went forth (and) passed by Sarbug; I left Babel on my left hand; and I came to the great Maisan, to the haven of merchants, which sitteth on the shore of the sea. And my bright robe, which I had stripped off, and the toga that was wrapped with it, from Rantha and Reken[?] my parents had sent thither by the hand of their treasures, who in their truth could be trusted therewith. And because I remembered not its fashion,— for in my childhood I had left it in my father's house,— on a sudden, when I received it, the garment seemed to me to become like a mirror of myself. I saw it all in all, and I to received all in it, for we were two in distinction and yet gain one in one likeness.
The Body as a Robe of Glory
No longer were the different yogic centers of the body functioning
at below optimium levels, for it would appear (I conjecture) to the
self-realised embodied soul, that the correspondence between the
components of the inner world, mentally, physiologically and at the
most fundamental living levels, had become integrated to one.
Whatever these external riches were once presented as, they are now
perceived to be naturally endowed upon the self-realised embodied
soul. He or she is covered by the clothing of rich communication.
Each of the words and saying and the external actions of the self-
realised soul is perceived as a series of different gemstones.
Yet they are all, each of them, integrated and unified by the
body of the self-realised soul.
And the treasurers too, who brought it to me, I saw in like manner to be two (and yet) one likeness, for one sign of the king was written on them (both), of the hands of him who restored to me through them my trust and my wealth, my decorated robe, which was adorned with glorious colors, with gold and beryls and rubies and agates and sardonyxes, varied in color. And it was skillfully worked in its home on high, and with diamond clasps were all its seams fastened; and the image of the king of kings was embroidered and depicted in full all over it, and like the stone of the sapphire too its hues were varied. And I saw also that all over it the instincts of knowledge were working, and I saw too that it was preparing to speak. I heard the sound of its tones, which it uttered with its (illegible word), (saying): "I am the active in deeds, whom they reared for him before my father; and I perceived myself, that my stature grew according to his labors." And in its kingly movements it poured itself entirely over me, and on the hand of its givers it hastened that I might take it. And love urged me too run to meet it and receive it; and I stretched forth and took it. With the beauty of its colors I adorned myself, and I wrapped myself wholly in my toga of brilliant hues. I clothed myself with it, and went up to the gate of salutation and prostration; I bowed my head and worshipped the majesty of my father who sent me,— for I had done his commandments, and he too had done what he promised,— and the gate of his (illegible word), I mingled with his princes, for he rejoiced in me and received me, and I was with him in his kingdom, and with the voice of (illegible word) all his servants praised him. And he promised that to the gate too of the king of kings with him I should go, and with my offering and my pearl with him should present myself to our king.
The Journey Home - the Royal PathThe self-realised soul rejoices in the new instrument of his or her body - the city of the Nine Gates - and his or her mind - the tenth gate. Citizenship of the body is the result of self-realisation; the soul is fully aware and the body shines with the light (and the healing powers) of the self-realised soul.
This concluding section of "The Hymn of the Pearl" suggests that the path of the self-realised soul is one of the integrated expressions of the higher powers of the soul, love and peace and healing being perhaps uppermost in these qualities. The path of the enlightened soul is here characterised by the process of using the current life incarnate in the "toga of brilliant hues" (cf: coat of many colours) which is understood --- to the ascetic path --- to mean the embodied soul.
The journey is not there ended, but is continued through the progression of further gates, of the ancients, of the kings, and of the kings of kings in the spiritual sense. The Pantheon of the ascetics is a living pantheon of past and present ascetic adepts, which include all the great and small spiritual masters. This is the ancient authority which was not to be removed from the world, but which was historically overthrown by the political intervention of the implementation of christianity as the authoritative and authodox universal Roman state religion under Constantine in the fourth century. See further the thesis in ancient history at this site.
Chronology of "The Hymn of the Pearl"
A similar situation is found in the Syriac Acts of Philip, the Nag Hammadi Acts of Peter and the (11, 12 or was it 13?) Apostles, The Acts of Andrew and Matthew, The Acts of Peter and Andrew, and The Act of Peter. With the C14 results (c.348 CE +/- 60 years) associated with the Nag Hammadi codices containing the Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, the chronology of all these texts might reasonably be conjectured to be mid-fourth century. They were written in defiance of the authority invested by Constantine in the canonical texts bound into his Constantine Bible, which was lavishy published c.331 CE with a distribution of at least 50 copies, but which may have had earlier precedents dating from 325 CE.
My thesis is that the authors of these non canonical texts were the ascetic priests of the temple structures associated with Asclepius, which tradition Constantine sought to destroy. He legislated against Asclepius and the ancient temple orders in the form of a prohibition of sacrifice c.324 CE (Eusebius VC). Up until the time of Constantine a total of forty six Roman emperors, from 54CE through 324 CE, had sponsored the appearance of Asclepius or Salus on the imperial Roman coins of the realm. Constantine did not continue this practice. He clearly was out to destroy the cult of the snake, and he destroyed the Asclepia.
In 324 CE, the ascetic Pachomius felt compelled to travel to the wilderness and desert of Upper Egypt, far removed from Constantine's agressions in and around Alexandria, and possibly Karnak, and to establish provision for the dwellings of hundreds, and then thousands of ascetic monks. By the time of Pachomius' death c.348 CE, the figures being reported are becoming far larger.
The authors of the non-canonical texts may have been such wandering ascetics, skilled in literature and writing, dispossessed of their temples by Constantine's new state religious policy involving the canonical story of JC, the new Healer in town.
Consequently, the dating of "The Hymn of the Pearl" might be as early as the period BCE. Many commentators note that the Parthian references in the text imply that it therefore must have been written when the Parthian civilisation was extant, and thus before c.220 CE. On the basis of his biographer's account of his journey to India and Egypt, and on the basis of the specific account of the seven different gemstones given to Apollonius of Tyana, I have speculated above that the text may be somehow related to Apollonius. However, at the end of the day, there is insufficient evidence at the moment to either know precisely when "The Hymn of the Pearl" was written, or to know who its author may have been.
It is my thesis however, that the author was an ascetic adept,
and that "The Hymn of the Pearl" is an allegory of the journey
on the path of the ascetic sage, a journey towards "self-knowledge"
and towards the awareness embodied in the self-realised soul.