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the Mashal principle
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the Mashal principle
I would like to share with you an extremely important precept. It will help us to properly interpret those psychic-shamanistic revelations which became the opening chapters of our present book of Genesis.
The ancients wrote in a manner which reflected a particular linguistic culture, representing unique literary devices, a teaching style that is generally unknown to us today. Without this understanding, we of the 21st century will easily misinterpret their long-ago writings.
Mashal = comparison
Mashal is a Hebrew word. Its root idea suggests "comparison." The word "proverb," as in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, derives from this Hebrew word mashal.
Proverbs, essentially, is a collection of wise sayings; but these aphorisms are constructed in such a way as to invite a comparison of thought. Here is an example:
We are meant to compare and contrast the two halves of the couplet; as we do, a more complete picture presents itself to us: The seemingly benign courtesies of a fine woman can be a most potent force. She has a way of molding others, and reality, to her purpose; is as dangerous, and more, as the macho man who bullies his way to get what he wants.
Do you see how this game is played? The hidden meaning of the proverb, like the involuted rose, must be unfolded to see its entire beauty. This is accomplished by playing one thought against another; in so doing, "filling in the blanks," so to speak. This interplay of the couplet teases out subtle implications, innuendo, and hidden meaning. It is a fine literary game and will require all of our wits and attention to play it.
Why was the Mashal principle developed?
The dialectic "comparison" virtually forces one into a greater level of understanding. The Mashal principle is designed to lead one away from childish, literalistic, black-and-white interpretations of life and into a deeper wisdom.
I have never regretted my time, early in life, devoted to the study of Proverbs. Forty years ago, I produced this book:
The Mashal principle is employed in other parts of scripture
This literary device is often used elsewhere in scripture, and not just in its classic form, that is, the short sayings, expressed in the book of Proverbs.
For example, Jesus' parables are constructed according to this ancient Hebrew thought-form, the mashal. In his teachings, we often find a surface meaning, simple examples from daily life: planted seeds and plowed fields, birds and flowers, a young woman about to be married and sweeping a floor. But these mundane pictures are meant to take us to a deeper understanding of infinitely greater spiritual truths, which Jesus only hints at, requiring the listener to "fill in the blanks."
And this is why Jesus said that if one were not ready to receive a message, one would be blinded to his primary lesson. How would the transmission of insight fail? Quite easily. The recipient would merely refuse to perform the required homework of thoughtful "comparison." As Jesus said to those who did not understand, "that you may see, but not see."
Did you ever notice that Jesus rarely gave a straight answer to anyone?
Even his chosen students were exasperated by his seeming evasiveness. In John 16, his men say to him, "Oh, finally he's speaking plainly to us, with no more of those confounded proverbs [mashal]! We can be confident now. We understand!" To which brash assertion Jesus jabs with, "So, you think you got it all figured out now, do you? Confident, you say? Well, let me tell you something - even after three years with me, you are all so shallow and egoic, so insubstantial in your thinking, that every one of you will soon deny me and say that you never knew me."
There was reason for Jesus' teaching style which some deemed to be less than forthcoming. And there was reason why Jesus told them that "it is better for you that I leave." He meant to say, "You would forever live in the nursery if I stayed, expecting me to be your nanny or Dear Leader, spoon-feeding you. All this would keep you dependent, stunting your growth. But if I go, you will begin to think for yourselves; if I go, you will receive The Purified Consciousness."
baby chimps never cry in the night, mother is always there
Editor's note: The September 2010 issue of Smithsonian features an article about Dr. Tetsuro Matsuzawa, a Japanese research scientist who, for 30 years, has been investigating the intelligence of chimpanzees:
"Chimpanzee babies cling to their mother. But our babies do not cling; mothers must hold their infants or they will fall. It may seem like a small difference, but it changes the way adults and infants interact.
"Chimpanzees have babies once every four or five years, and those babies are constantly physically close to their mothers. But humans can reproduce more frequently and take care of multiple offspring at once. And a human mother is not the only possible caregiver. 'We changed the system of rearing children and giving birth,' Matsuzawa says. 'With the assistance of spouse, and grandparents, we are collaborating together to raise children.'
"Because human mothers separate themselves from their babies, human babies have to cry to get attention. 'Not many people recognize the importance,' he says. 'Human babies cry in the night, but chimpanzee babies never do because mother is always there.' This crying is a proto-language of sorts."
And I thought of Jesus' words, It is better for you that I leave. Dr. Matsuzawa suggests that a long time ago baby chimps continued to cling to mothers while a primordial version of ourselves developed an independence. The proto-human would now cry in the night, feeling alone and abandoned; but, inadvertently, in spite of itself, more individuated - which would lead the human species to higher intelligence; increasingly so.
The implications are profound. Dr. Matsuzawa's evolutionary theory may be correct, but, even if it's not, it provides a useful metaphor concerning our spiritual development - we come to this world and do a lot of crying in the night... and we notice that we are frequently alone... but the divine Parents know what our souls need to unfold. Without promptings to the contrary, we might cling to mother forever, accept a co-dependency; and, as the apostle Paul warned, might become a permanent resident of the nursery.
crying in the night: "It is better for you that I leave"
Jesus employed the mashal teaching style because you cannot directly give the truth to others. You can only encourage them to search for it themselves. And this is why Silver Birch said,
“You cannot convince people. They can only convince themselves. You cannot convert people; they can only convert themselves. Spiritual power must work its own will, and not until the soul is receptive can the individual accept the truth. Never forget that the supreme purpose of life is the unfoldment of the spirit. These are the important principles to keep in mind."
The mashal literary construction is predicated upon this great wisdom of how the soul will eventually blossom; but only when it is ready, when it chooses to do so.
the Mashal virtually shouts to us, whatever you do, accept no literal surface-meaning as primary; if you do, you will automatically be wrong.
John Genung is correct. The mashal form of teaching offers no literalistic pat answer; in fact, embedded within the mashal construction is the concept that the Truth is multi-faceted, forever out-of-reach in an absolute sense, suggests an ever "expanding horizon of ignorance," and will never be reduced to a single correct view.
How ironic. Traditional religion, with its insistence upon "true infallible doctrines," takes us in exactly the wrong direction. The mashal would speak to us that any answer must be considered tentative, as the message of the Truth is fluid and layered - "free to expand into a continuous and extended discourse."
Editor's note: Do you recall Marshall McLuhan's famous phrase, "The medium is the message"? The mashal, by its very form and construction, becomes a medium of the message. The structure, itself, influences how the message is received and interpreted.
With all this in mind, we now understand why, in the opening verses of the book of Proverbs, those called "the wise" - the psychic-shaman authors - refer to these cryptic aphorisms as "riddles" and "dark sayings."
Once we begin to catch on to the mashal, this Hebrew way of teaching, we find it used in many areas of scripture; even in the opening chapters of Genesis
Bernard Brandon Scott: The short, bifurcated couplet "proverb is the archetypal mashal;" but some "are [lengthy] narratives, usually told in the third person, that focus on the action of a main character and describe a general situation and not a specific past event. They are fictions."
"My, don't they make a lovely couplet?"
Scott's assessment very well describes the mashal-structure of the legendary origin of mankind - the archetypal male and female. The introductory chapters of Genesis are written in mashal form.
Editor's last word:
In “The Wedding Song” we find discussion from Hebrew scholars concerning how the entire universe, metaphorically speaking, was divided into halves, with Twin Souls at the apex of this dichotomy. It occurred to me that all of creation, with its polar opposites, becomes a kind of mashal device leading us into greater levels of understanding and wisdom.