Blog Elimination of the Egos Gnostic Christian Self-Observation

Self-Observation – Excerpts from the Book of Thomas the Contender

The Apostle Thomas

An depiction of the apostle Thomas. Engraving by Albrecht Durer (1514). Public domain image found here.

The Book of Thomas the Contender is a Gnostic Christian text from the Nag Hammadi Library that contains an interesting dialogue between Jesus and his disciple Thomas.

This text was buried by people who sought to preserve it during a time of persecution and was consequently unheard of for almost 2000 years, until it was re-discovered by a local farmer in Egypt, together with several other Gnostic texts, in 1945.

Throughout the text, Jesus illustrates how subconscious drives, desires, and inner states (also known as egos) are destructive and keep a person trapped in a low way of being.

Jesus stresses the importance of understanding these egos, in order to overcome them. He encourages Thomas to “examine himself,” to “learn who he is” and to learn “in what way he exists,” all of which are elements of self-observation.

The practice of self-observation is done when a person studies their thoughts, emotions, actions and desires, as they experience them.1 By doing this, a person is able to understand how each of the egos works within them. This is necessary to be able to overcome them, which allows someone to experience higher qualities of the consciousness, such as inner peace, empathy, love and compassion instead.

In the Book of Thomas the Contender, Jesus also explains how by knowing oneself a person can acquire more advanced spiritual knowledge and understanding, which Jesus refers to as the “depth of the all” in the passage below:

Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be.

Since you will be called my brother, it is not fitting that you be ignorant of yourself. And I know that you have understood, because you had already understood that I am the knowledge of the truth.

So while you accompany me, although you are uncomprehending, you have (in fact) already come to know, and you will be called ‘the one who knows himself’. For he who has not known himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself has at the same time already achieved knowledge about the depth of the all.

~ The Book of Thomas the Contender, translated by John D. Turner 2

At the end of this text, Jesus describes how in order to be free from the negative consequences of harmful inner states and to become more spiritual, a person needs to “watch and pray.”

“To watch” in this context can be understood as “self-observation,” while “prayer” as describing the inner prayer to the Spiritual Mother — a higher feminine spiritual force within a person that has the ability to remove the egos permanently.3

This inner prayer is done by appealing to the Spiritual Mother whenever an ego is noticed through self-observation, and asking her to eliminate it.

Watch and pray that you not come to be in the flesh, but rather that you come forth from the bondage of the bitterness of this life. And as you pray, you will find rest, for you have left behind the suffering and the disgrace.

~ The Book of Thomas the Contender, translated by John D. Turner 4


  1. The practice of self observation is described in more detail by Belsebuub in his book The Peace of the Spirit Within, Mystical Life Publications.  

  2. The Book of Thomas the Contender, translated by John D. Turner from The Nag Hammadi Library published by The Gnostic Society Library: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/bookt.html  

  3. The higher feminine spiritual part within an individual has been depicted in many cultures and traditions such as Durga and Kali in Hinduism, the Virgin Mary in Christianity, the Aztec Goddess Coatlicue, the Sumerian goddess Inanna, the Greek goddess Hecate and many others. Belsebuub and Angela Pritchard, The Path of the Spiritual Sun: A Guide to the Solstices and Equinoxes (Mystical Life Publications, 2016), 104-105  

  4. The Book of Thomas the Contender, translated by John D. Turner  

13 Comments

  • As others have said – I also feel that those words – watch and pray – have such an amazing power. A power to assist us in our daily battle against our own lower states. When reading it for the first time a thought came to me how easy this sounds but on the other hand, things are not so simple and while I sometimes struggle through my low states I could feel these words repeating in my head giving me some special power to work and try harder.

  • Very interesting text. I’ve always found it inspiring because it speaks of self-knowledge and the work on oneself in such a direct way. As if it is not only a duty but also a reward.

  • Thank you Vida, for adding this text here, and I hope it inspires many people who find it to use it in their life.

    And I feel that the words in the last passage you quoted to be so true. The ego states I have seen within truly do bring suffering not only in their effect but also in just being caught up in them where there is no peace in their presence. And it really does feel like a sense of disgrace, both as not having grace because of those states, and the shame that they cause us when there could have been a much more honest and respectful way of living.

    I appreciate your explanation of this text and it made me appreciate how much the practice of self observation can help appreciate and understand these texts, since they speak of that very thing. Watch and Pray can seem ambiguous without the practice of it.

    I hope your article may bring understanding to people who are wanting to understand these sacred texts deeper and from their way of sacred living.

  • I remember going to a wedding where a modern hymn was was sung in German that meant ‘watch and pray’. The bride and groom weren’t particularly religious, but yet they were drawn to this song – I felt like a deeper part of them knew what it meant.

    It’s always so incredible to remember the lengths that were gone to by people thousands of years ago to protect these profound teachings from being destroyed. To think the teachings of Jesus and his disciples were buried in the desert and then unearthed, it incredible.

  • A very powerful excerpt from Thomas the Contender interwoven in simplicity.

    “examine yourself, learn who you are, and in what way you exist…”

    A strong reminder for a very meaningful existence. Reading this passage again after so long feels like a jolt back to reality.

  • This is one of my favourite passages from the Gnostic Christian texts; glad to see it made it up here. Spot on explanation and background information – thanks for posting it Vida.

  • So full of meaning those quotes.

    I was first introduced to this text when Belsebuub had an audio talk on it where he went over and gave commentary on this text. This allowed more insights and it was quite moving actually, some of the wisdom contained in it felt ‘close to home’, as if that wisdom or ‘gnosis’ had a timelessness that carried through.

    Very clear these words and instructions. Wonderful addition to the practices page, thanks Vida.

  • The Book of Thomas the Contender remains one of my favourite ancient texts. It is so simple and clear. It is fortunate that such an important and profound text was saved by those who understood it’s value, even if hidden away for so long.

    The importance of self-knowledge is emphasised in Jesus’ words “since you will be called my brother it is not fitting that you be ignorant of yourself”.

    His message that “he who has not known himself has known nothing” reminds me of other profound messages throughout history, such as, “Man know thyself and thou shalt know the Universe and God” (Temple of Apollo, Delphi) and “an unexamined life is not worth living” (Socrates).

    Thanks for this inspiring article.

  • This is one of the first Gnostic Christian texts I felt able to connect with on a practical level. The message is so relevant and the way it is presented is so powerful.

    The ending in particular is always quite moving. Even though the text deals with such serious matters and in such a strong and direct way, those last lines carry such a meaningful hope and seem to communicate a sense of what it means to be re-united with those higher aspects of oneself.

    • This is one of the first ancient Gnostic Christian I was able to connect with too. It has such depth and profundity, but the message is so clear and direct. It really “hits” you within.

  • It’s interesting how a few simple words,”watch and pray,” can contain such a powerful instruction. Thanks for adding these extracts to the practices library, Vida.

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