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3: The Perfect Number - Trinity Symbolism in World Religious Traditions

3: The Perfect Number - Trinity Symbolism in World Religious Traditions

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“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit...”

The concept of a Trinity or triadic nature of the divine has been a part of our psyche for thousands of years, and has appeared in creation tales, myths, religious writings and holy texts the world over. Yet to this day, the Trinity is always thought of as having its origin in Roman Catholicism—most notably at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, the first ecumenical council of Christian bishops where the consensus of beliefs was decided upon for all of Christendom, including the Trinity as the three-fold nature of the persona of God.

A representation of the Christian Holy Trinity. The persons of the Trinity are identified by symbols on their chests: The Son has a lamb, the Father, an Eye of Providence, and the Spirit a dove.

A representation of the Christian Holy Trinity. The persons of the Trinity are identified by symbols on their chests: The Son has a lamb, the Father, an Eye of Providence, and the Spirit a dove. ( Public Domain )

Yet references to the Trinity or something like it occur in many major and minor religions. Scholar Elaine Pagels studied sacred texts and wrote in The Gnostic Gospels (1979) that early Christian concepts of the Trinity were molded from Judaic terminology for the description of a genderless God, later “masculinized” by the Christians. In the ninth century AD Celtic philosopher Erigena challenged Augustine’s rather anthropomorphic Trinity view of Three-Persons-in-One-God with his far more philosophical views of God as Nothing and Everything.

According to Karen Armstrong in her seminal A History of God (1994), Christian church leadership struggled to maintain control of the doctrine it would present to the public, including a comprehensible interpretation of the Trinity as the personas of God, despite the resistance of those not capable of seeing God as any structure or “personage.” This struggle continues today in churches where the concept of the Trinity presents a vague understanding of who God is and why God must have three different “faces.”

Triple-formed representation of the Greek goddess Hecate. ( Public Domain )

The Trinity has remained one of the most elusive of holy mysteries in the body of Christianity, and one that draws debate in Catholicism even today as modern church-goers seek a more foundational understanding of why God’s “person” is three-fold and not singular, yet containing all. All is One. One is All.

The Trinity in Global Religions

Interestingly, Judaism would reject the Trinity based on their belief that giving Jesus divinity at all was blasphemous. To the Jews, Jesus was a man, not a divine persona or aspect of God. Islam had its own Trinity in the Father, the Son and Maryam or Mary and is the only religion to include a feminine aspect of the divine Godhead.

Trinities appear in eastern traditions as well. Modern translations of The Tao Te Ching (1996); The Essential Kabbalah (1995); The Bhagavad-Gita (1986); and The Tibetan Book of the Dead (1994) all serve to provide unusual insights into how this concept of a three-fold nature of reality, and our role in it, is seen and understood. Eastern traditions remove the aspect of a Godhead, or divine figure described by the Trinity.

In The Tibetan Book of the Dead, the “Three Bodies of Buddhahood,” present triadic levels of existence. A person is responsible for his or herself on all three levels. As Buddhahood, the triad becomes the Three Buddha Bodies; ordinary body becoming the Emanation Body, speech the Beatific Body, and the mind the Truth Body. The three Buddha Bodies correlate with body, mind and spirit, and we might go so far as to say with the concept of the Father as God, the Son as personhood and the Holy Spirit as the process by which a person becomes one with God, and also suggest a more unified and process-oriented explanation for the Trinity.

Statue of Buddha

Statue of Buddha (Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )

We even see parallels in The Tao Te Ching in the “Three Jewels” or “Three Treasures” of the Buddha, the Dharma (law or action) and the Sangha (community). The Jains recognize the Trinity of samyag-darsana (correct insight), samyag-jnana (correct knowledge), and samyag-caritra (correct conduct). 

In The Bhagavad-Gita , there is the threefold nature of the Self, as told to Arjuna by the Hindu God Krishna, and in The Kabbalah , the mystical branch of Judaism, we find similar concepts of Holy Breath as necessary for union with the Divine, and the three original emanations from Ein Sof , All That Is - Nothingness, Wisdom and Understanding. These three emanations serve as the basis upon which all other existence upon the Tree of Life was formed and the essence of which followers were urged never to try to understand. Perhaps the vague nature of the Catholic Holy Trinity is something followers are not meant to understand either, at least not on a conscious level.

Representational image of Ein Sof and angelic hierarchies in Kabbalah.

Representational image of Ein Sof and angelic hierarchies in Kabbalah. ( Public Domain )

Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ (1995) compares Western and Eastern concepts of the Trinity. After meeting with Christian clergy, Hanh remarked, “I told the Priest that I felt all of us have the seed of the Holy Spirit in us, the capacity of healing, transforming, and loving. When we touch that seed, we are able to touch God the Father and God the Son.” Hanh powerfully presents the idea of the Trinity as the process of direct knowing of the Divine that transcends all religious labels and names. He claims the safest way to approach the Holy Spirit is through the concept of mindfulness and that “someone animated by the energy of the Holy Spirit…is the Son of Man and the Son of God…” a concept not alien to Buddhists who are familiar with the nature of non-duality.

The Buddhist Trinity, as Hanh calls it, of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha presents the Trinity as accessible to all followers.

Buddhist symbol representing the Three Jewels - Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.

Buddhist symbol representing the Three Jewels - Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. (Christopher J Flynn/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Many Catholic churches continue to use the Holy Spirit as a tool to hold over the heads of their followers like a threatening specter that picks and chooses whom it will “descend” upon. Catholicism separates believers from the Godhead, whereas eastern concepts unify believers with the breath of life itself and presents a trinity more focused on “process” not “persona.” Buddhism teaches believers that spirit is available to everyone; that we are all infused with the power of the holy breath.

3: The Perfect Number

The number three is considered the perfect number, the unifier of dualities. Kabbalists refer to the number three as the number of integration. Human beings are three-fold in nature: body, mind and spirit. Perhaps our ancient ancestors understood the triune nature of existence on the deepest level of the subconscious, which then translated into symbols and archetypes found in our origin stories, myths and religious texts. 

Perhaps the Trinity itself is nothing but a symbol for the process of creation itself, and not the actual persona of the divine, which is why it has continued to cause so much frustration and debate in the Catholic Church. They are, to put it simply, looking for God in all the wrong places.

The Catholic Trinity, circa 1450, France.

The Catholic Trinity, circa 1450, France. ( Public Domain )

If we look at the Trinity as a process of union with the All, then perhaps God the Father is the Creator, the Son is Creation, and the Holy Spirit is the holy breath that brings life to the physical manifestation, thus, the process of Creating.

Creator Creating Creation. Father. Holy Spirit. Son. And because we are said to be made in the image of the divine, we ourselves are walking, talking trinities; creators creating creation.

Marie Jones and Larry Flaxman are co-authors of “ The Trinity Secret: The Power of Three and the Code of Creation ”, exploring the concept that the Holy Trinity is not limited to a single religion or belief system.

Featured image: Deriv; Statue of Buddha (Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0 ), Triskele Symbol, Ein Sof 

By Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman

References

Armstrong, Karen. 1994. A HISTORY OF GOD.  New York, New York:  Alfred A. Knopf.

Hanh, Thich Nhat. 1995. LIVING BUDDHA, LIVING CHRIST.  New York, New York: Riverhead Books.

Jones, Marie D. and Larry Flaxman. 2011. TRINITY SECRET. Franklin Hills, New Jersey: New Page Books.

Mair, Victor H.   1990. TAO TE CHING – MYSTICAL CLASSICS OF THE WORLD. New York, New York: Bantam Books/Quality Paperback Book Club.

Matt, Daniel C.   1995. THE ESSENTIAL KABBALAH – MYSTICAL CLASSICS OF THE WORLD. New York, New York: Bantam Books/Quality Paperback Book Club.

Miller, Barbara Stoller. 1986. THE BHAGAVAD-GITA – MYSTICAL CLASSICS OF THE WORLD. New York, New York: Bantam Books/Quality Paperback Book Club.

Pagels, Elaine. 1979. THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS.  New York, New York: Vintage Books Edition/Random House, Ltd.

Thurman, Robert A. F.   1994. TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD – MYSTICAL CLASSICS OF THE WORLD.  New York, New York: Bantam Books/Quality Paperback Book Club.

Comments

Barry Sears's picture

It is a fascinating concept and I believe there is interpretation variations as with everything, especially when you look globally. The most efficient research on the subject is to captivate the messages from the time and the cosmological beliefs from around the whole region. By gathering these stories then you can grasp the messages of the era. I fully respect the multiple ideas we give the stories thousands of years later. Hopefully I am able to open the doors to the possibility or consideration to another interpretation. Once you are familiar with this message then many other messages become logical and clear also. 

Traditionally the study was about establishing an understanding of life and how it works or evolved. This was studying the relationship of life on Earth with the motion of the Earth itself. The Earth passes through different zones or energy systems as it rotates through it's circular path. 

Beside Israel is Egypt and it is recorded, by studying life on Earth you obtain information about the corresponding connective regions of our Celestial order. The zodiac is about body parts and Earthly observations, they all combine together to represent the complete body from head to toe. The twelve regions of the Earth connect to the twelve regions of our Celestial surroundings and these connect to the twelve parts of our body. This was established by thousands of years of previous observations and research. The concept developed and the human form was used to represent the connections and so each realm became human personalised. The Holy spirit is well seeded as Mother Earth the life force to all of life on Earth. The Father is clearly defined as living or residing in the Heavenly realm. These are clearly defined as only parts of God, but by removing the cosmological structure to life it is easy to amalgamate them.

I am fully aware of this interpretation and it is fine but it is my mission to let you know it is not necessarily the true original intention. Mr Christ defined the land of Israel as the land of Virgo, this sits beside Egypt the land of Leo. These are anatomical regions defining the zones of Mother Earth, the Holy spirit. The great debate that gathered priests and experts from around the World for the Trinitarian Homoousian God of Nicene Christianity discussions, didn't complete the discussion and the subject about the Holy spirit was missed. The emphasis was given to focusing on the Son of God. 

I also fully agree with the comments that they are all parts of God, but these are also clearly defined as cosmological parts, images of God. They, as parts, can also be considered like specks of dust if you consider God to be the complete Universal structure of which there is only one, as we know the size and vastness of the Universe today.

Barry Sears's picture

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I suggest you do more research on the perception of the Trinity taught as part of the Catholic faith.
There is not " much frustration and debate in the Catholic Church", iIt is one of our cannons and doctrine.
Take a banana, peel it, put your finger at the top and gentle push. The banana will split evenly into 3 parts. Each separate, yet all banana. Got it ?
God is three persons in One, Father, Son and Holy Spirit..............Amen
Interesting parallels with other 'religious' teachings.
Martha

Barry Sears's picture

Most cultures have a cosmological structure and this correlates to the bodies of life represented in a level of the trinity. It is apparent many trinities are evident of which I am familiar with the progressive structures and bodies traditionally and globally described. Bodies are different from personalities of one. The Universal design known by many names is macro cosmically projected by studying life closer to home. As life forms on Earth are a product of parental figures, it was traditionally projected that life as larger structures were to.
I can appreciate that we can be both Father and Son, we can be Mother and daughter, we can't be Mother Father and Son and Daughter. Father here refers to the heavenly or Celestial energy of our surrounding body who is a traditional partner to the Earth body. These are physically recognised by studying life. I love the Geb and Nut example, although I am liberal with gender. The Celestial body of Nut is broken down into anatomical signs represented by Earthly observations. These two structures are compared to the form of the human body and this is considered the Universal template.
The same template or pattern passes through each of these structures like a Russian doll similarity. The Geb and Nut concept is well known but the zodiac signs are all individual anatomical parts and together form the full body. The Earth zones are the same and were recorded by ancient civilisations confirming global communications. Look at my picture and look at the twelve zones around the equator of Earth. The heads of Easter Island, to Stonehenge as Cancer, to the Sphinx as Leo, the Virgin Mary and Christ as Virgo, the scales of Buddha and other Icons. These examples correlate to the same Celestial order, considered a full body broken down into anatomical parts.  ( please refer to the gallery for numerous pictures )
The human body representing life on Earth blends into the World body and correlates to the Celestial body; a cosmological trinity each as a different scale of the Universal pattern and each only a part of the Universal structure.   
Quote "the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God."
 

hi. great subject matter, and respect shown by members to each other

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