Because there is so much speculation about the Essenes, who they were, what they represented, what their philosophy was..I decided to send along the ONLY first hand accounts of them as an introduction. I have been fascinated with the Essenes for over 30 years.
Philo's (first account)
"They do not offer animal sacrifice, judging it more fitting to render their minds truly holy. They flee the cities and live in villages where clean air and clean social life abound. They either work in the fields or in crafts that countribute to peace. They do not hoard silver and gold and do not acquire great landholdings; procuring for themselves only what is necessary for life. Thus they live without goods and without property, not by missfortune, but out of preference. They do not make armaments of any kind. They do not keep slaves and detest slavery. They avoid wholesale and retail commerce, believing that such activity excites one to cupidity. With respect to philosophy, they dismiss logic but have an extremely high regard for virtue. They honor the Sabbath with great respect over the other days of the week. They have an internal rule which all learn, together with rules on piety, holiness, justice and the knowledge of good and bad. These they make use of in the form of triple definitions, rules regarding the love of God, the love of virtue, and the love of men. They believe God causes all good but cannot be the cause of any evil. They honor virtue by foregoing all riches, glory and pleasure. Further, they are convinced they must be modest, quiet, obedient to the rule, simple, frugal and without mirth. Their life style is communal. They have a common purse. Their salaries they deposit before them all, in the midst of them, to be put to the common employment of those who wish to make use of it. They do not neglect the sick on the pretext that they can produce nothing. With the common purse there is plenty from which to treat all illnesses. They lavish great respect on the elderly. With them they are very generous and surround them with a thousand attentions. They practice virtue like a gymnastic exercise, seeing the accomplishment of praiseworthy deeds as the means by which a man ensures absolute freedom for himself."
Philo (second account)
"The Essenes live in a number of towns in Judea, and also in many villages and in large groups. They do not enlist by race, but by volunteers who have a zeal for righteousness and an ardent love of men. For this reason there are no young children among the Essenes. Not even adolescents or young men. Instead they are men of old or ripe years who have learned how to control their bodily passions. They possess nothing of their own, not house, field, slave nor flocks, nor anything which feeds and procures wealth. They live together in brotherhoods, and eat in common together. Everything they do is for the common good of the group. They work at many different jobs and attack their work with amazing zeal and dedication, working from before sunrise to almost sunset without complaint, but in obvious exhilaration. Their exercise is their work. Indeed, they believe their own training to be more agreeable to body and soul, and more lasting, than athletic games, since their exercises remain fitted to their age, even when the body no longer possesses its full strength. They are farmers and shepherds and beekeepers and craftsmen in diverse trades. They share the same way of life, the same table, even the same tastes; all of them loving frugality and hating luxury as a plague for both body and soul. Not only do they share a common table, but common clothes as well. What belongs to one belongs to all. Available to all of them are thick coats for winter and inexpensive light tunics for summer. Seeing it as an obstacle to communal life, they have banned marriage.
The first reference to the Essenes comes from Josephus, writing about the death of Antigonus in 103 B.C. Josephus relates that the Essenes had an uncanny ability to successfully predict future events, and that the death of Antigonus at the hands of his brother, Aristobulus, ruler of Judea, had been accurately forecast by an Essene named Judas.
Josephus states that 'Judas was an Essene born and bred, indicating that he had been born into the movement at least a few decades earlier.
On this occasion, according to Josephus, Judas was sitting in or near the Jerusalem temple with a number or his pupils, showing that he was an Essene teacher of the Law and that he was able to speak his views apparently quite freely in Jerusalem at the end of the second century B.C.
"The sect of the Essenes maintain that Fate governs all things, and that nothing can befall man contrary to its determination and will.These men live the same kind of life which among the Greeks has been ordered by Pythagoras."
"The Essenes are Jews by race, but are more closely united among themselves by mutual affection, and by their efforts to cultivate a particularly saintly life. They renounce pleasure as an evil, and regard continence and resistance to passions as a virtue. They disdain marriage for themselves, being content to adopt the children of others at a tender age in order to instruct them. They do not abolish marriage, but are convinced women are all licentious and incapable of fidelity to one man. They despise riches. When they enter the sect, they must surrender all of their money and possessions into the common fund, to be put at the disposal of everyone; one single property for the whole group. Therefore neither the humiliation of poverty nor the pride of possession is to be seen anywhere among them. They regard oil as a defilement, and should any of them be involuntarily anointed, he wipes his body clean. They make a point of having their skin dry and of always being clothed in white garments. In their various communal offices, the administrators are elected and appointed without distinction offices. They are not just in one town only, but in every town several of them form a colony. They welcome members from out of town as coequal brothers, and even though perfect strangers, as though they were intimate friends. For this reason they carry nothing with them ashen they travel: they are, however, armed against brigands. They do not change their garments or shoes until they have completely worn out. They neither buy nor sell anything among themselves. They give to each other freely and feel no need to repay anything in exchange. Before sunrise they recite certain ancestral prayers to the sun as though entreating it to rise. They work until about 11 A.M. when they put on ritual loincloths and bathe for purification. Then they enter a communal hall,where no one else is allowed,and eat only one bowlful of food for each man, ! together with their loaves of bread. They eat in silence. Afterwards they lay aside their sacred garment and go back to work until the evening. At evening they partake dinner in the same manner. During meals they are sober and quiet and their silence seems a great mystery to people outside. Their food and drink are so measured out that they are satisfied but no more. They see bodily pleasure as sinful. On the whole they do nothing unless ordered by their superiors, but two things they are allowed to do on their own discretion: to help those 'worthy of help', and to offer food to the needy. They are not allowed, however, to help members of their own families without permission from superiors. They are very careful not to exhibit their anger, carefully controlling such outbursts. They are very loyal and are peacemakers. They refuse to swear oaths, believing every word they speak to be stronger than an oath. They are scrupulous students of the ancient literature. They are ardent students in the healing of diseases, of the roots offering protection, and of the properties of stones. Those desiring to enter the sect are not allowed immediate entrance. They are made to wait outside for a period of one year. During this time each postulant is given a hatchet, a loincloth and a white garment. The hatchet is used for cleanliness in stooling for digging and covering up the hole. Having proved his constinence during the first year he draws closer to the way of life and participates in the purificatory baths at a higher degree, but he is not yet admitted into intimacy. His character is tested another two years and if 'ne proves worthy he is received into the company permanently.
They are sworn to love truth and to pursue liars. They must never steal. They are not allowed to keep any secrets from other members of the sect; but they are warned to reveal nothing to outsiders, even under the pain of death. They are not allowed to alter the 'books of the sect, and must keep all the information secret, especially the names of the angels. The name of the Lawgiver, after God, is a matter of great veneration to them; if anyone blasphemed the name of the Lawgiver he was sentenced to death. Those members convicted of grave faults are expelled from the order. In matters of judgement Essene leaders are very exact and impartial. Their decisions are irrevocable. They are so scrupulous in matters pertaining to the Sabbath day that they refuse even to go to stool on that day, They always give way to the opinion of the majority, and they make it their duty to obey their elders. They are divided into four lots according to the duration of their discipline, and the juniors are so inferior to their elders that if the latter touch them, they wash themselves as though they had been in contact with a stranger. They despise danger: they triumph over pain by the heroism of their convictions, and consider death, if it comes with glory, to be better than the preservation of life. They died in great glory amidst terrible torture in the war against the Romans. They believe that their souls are immortal, but that their bodies are corruptible. They believe the soul is trapped in the body and is freed with death. They believe that there is a place 'across the ocean' where just souls gather, a place reserved for the immortal souls of the just. The souls of the wicked, however, are relegated to a dark pit, shaken by storms and full of unending chastisement. Some of the Essenes became expert in forecasting the future."
Josephus (second account)
"The Essenes declare that souls are immortal and consider it necessary to struggle to obtain the reward of righteousness. They send offerings to the Temple, but offer no sacrifices since the purifications to which they are accustomed are different. For this reason, they refrain from entering into the common enclosure, but offer sacrifice among themselves. They are holy men and completely given up to agricultural labor."
Pliny the Elder
"To the west (of the Dead Sea) the Essenes have put the necessary distance between themselves and the insalubrious shore. They are a people unique of its kind and admirable beyond all others in the whole world; without women and renouncing love entirely, without money and having for company only palm trees. Owing to the throng of newcomers, this people is daily reborn in equal number; indeed, those whom, wearied by the fluctuations of fortune, life leads to adopt their customs, stream in in great numbers. Thus, unbeleivable though this may seem, for thousands of centuries a people has existed which is eternal yet into which no one is born: so fruitful for them is the repentance which others feel for their past lives!"
Eusebius (Bishop of Caesarea, writing around A.D.300)
"Even in our day, there are still those whose only guide is Deity; ones who live by the true reason of nature, not only themselves free but filling their neighbors witht he spirit of freedom. They are not very numerous indeed, but that is not strange, for the highest nobilty is ever rare; and then these ones have turned aside from the vulgar herd to devote themselves to a contemplation of nature's verities. They pray, if it were possible, that they may reform our fallen lives; but if they cannot, owing to the tide of evils and wrongs which surge up in cities, they flee away, lest they too be swept off their feet by the force of the current. And we, if we had a true zeal for self-improvement, would have to track them to their places of retreat, and, halting as supplicants before them, would beseech them to come to us and tame our life grown too fierce and wild; preaching instead of war and slavery and untold ills, their Gospel of Peace and freedom, and all the fullness of other blessings."
Essene Technique of the Great Gratitude
One of the keys of respect, and therefore of inner happiness and enlightenment, is to learn to be grateful and to say thank you with gratitude and right understanding. You will certainly tell me that sometimes there is really nothing to say thank you for, and that it cultivates a naive, passive, and weak attitude. In truth, gratitude is everything except weakness. It opens the door to a higher knowledge and science. An act which comes from gratitude is always beneficial and beautiful. Not knowing how to say thank you is absolutely not a strength; it is a weakness. One who is a prisoner of discontent is plunged into negative states of mind which steal his force and energy from him. The phrase "thank you" is not merely a polite convention; it is above all a truly magical phrase, a sacred incantation, a powerful mantra which was transmitted to all peoples by the greatest spiritual teachers and their enlightened students. Yes, many customs of life that we practice unconsciously were originally instituted by beings of light who wanted to help humanity. The phrase "thank you" has the power to open the consciousness and to awaken into true wealth. Those who know to say thank you when they are plunged into trials prove their inner value and connection with the higher consciousness. Such a thank you should come from a clear consciousness and a perfect knowledge of the laws of life. Then, it possesses the alchemical power to transform situations and states of mind.
Correctly pronounced, it has also the virtue of purifying the terrestrial soul and the relationships among beings. To say thank you to someone is to purify the atmosphere between you and this person. It sometimes clears up karmic links and difficult situations. "Thank you" has a liberating power; it makes detachment, letting go, and pardon possible. It can become a true blessing for oneself and others; it can be a bulwark against dark forces which often want to interfere in our lives in order to slyly perturb, complicate, and destroy everything. A solid foundation--on which it becomes possible to build a useful, harmonious, rich, and conscious life--can also be established in the psychological life through gratitude.The virtues of gratitude are too numerous to describe them all; it is simplest to know them from experience by putting gratitude into practice. Indeed, we need a new perception of the world, much more spiritual and subtle. It is in the invisible world that "thank you" takes on all its dimensions. Of course, if we live without spirituality, without consciousness, if we turn our backs on the invisible world, then I admit that "thank you" can become a weakness: for a brute, to say thank you is to die. But I think we haven't come to that yet.
For those who are aware of their spirituality, and therefore of the subtle part of their beings and of life, to say thank you is to increase the intensity of life. Discontent narrows life, whereas gratitude dilates, enlarges, increases happiness, and opens the doors of infinity, of love. Those who receive love with gratitude receive it twice, whereas one who is discontent loses it. Gratitude is an art of tasting life with relish; it is also an intelligence of acceptance and work on oneself. The pampered child cannot be joyful, as it believes that everything is due to it. To live a lie is to sentence oneself to misfortunes and disillusion.
I am convinced that happiness depends on our attitude with life. If your "thank you" contains all of heaven, then it can become a fabulous prayer and gift of love. One who pronounces such a "thank you" understands that nothing belongs to him on the earth, and that everything is a gift from higher beings who take care of him. Even his body, his thoughts, his desires do not belong to him. To say thank you for all of these blessings is to enter the path of acquiring them truly, and of making something positive from them. When "thank you" is transformed into prayer, it acquires the power to triumph over all of the dark forces and negative states of mind which poison life. More and more, the world resembles a jungle infested with insects and strange animals. To find oneself in situations where dark states of mind invade the consciousness and the sensitivity like a cloud of mosquitoes happens more and more frequently. We do not know any more how to escape these destructive states. The great "thank you"--the one which knows the path to the higher invisible world--can deliver us. I repeat myself, for it is important for me: the "thank you" which soars toward the heavens with respect and gratitude is the most beautiful prayer. Now it is the efficient prayer that delivers human beings from the ascendancy of dark forces and negative states of mind. The word "gratitude" also means rebirth to oneself. We must finally understand that we have allowed an artificial way of life which increases the negative to develop. This is why, in the future and even in the present, the techniques of inner alchemy will be more and more indispensable. Without them, it will be impossible to struggle and to keep one's dignity, one's treasure of soul, one's beauty. We must reinvent a new way of living on the earth in order to regain the forces of soul which open the doors of heaven and illumination. This is a necessity for the future.
When human beings carry heaven and earth within themselves, no negative forces can enter them. Understand me well: for me, discontent is a negative force. Of course, there is a beneficial discontent which allows us to get down to work again and to reach perfection, but this discontent is temperate and controlled; it is a tool of creativity. I am not speaking about this one, but about the one which gets into the soul and leads it to servitude, by closing the doors of higher intelligence."Thank you" is a word which unites heaven and earth. When the "thank you" is sincere and filled with the force of life, it has the power to touch and awaken the intimate center which is in the stomach and that the Japanese call the "hara". Real force comes from the deep "thank you" which touches the center of the being and unites heaven and earth. One who knows how to say thank you to the earth finds the foundation of psychological life. The earth cleans, purifies, and heals him of many psychological troubles, and even of physical diseases, for both are basically linked.
One who knows how to say thank you to the intelligence of heaven finds the direction and the goal of his life. It is a light which enlightens with true knowledge. All we need is to get down to work. Many things in our lives depend on the way we direct our energies. Intelligence absolutely does not rest in swallowing in parrot fashion, but in the ability to understand the positive meaning of one's life and to walk in this direction for the good of oneself, others, and the world. Everyone on earth should offer their sincere and warm thanks to all beings--not to the little artificial self in them, but to the Nameless One, who is present everywhere. The acknowledgement of the divine, of the sublime, of the infinite, of the immortal, through human beings and through the Whole, is the perfection of the "thank you".I am now going to teach you an old Essene technique.
Old Essene Exercise of Purification and Health: Stand in living nature, between the earth and the sky. Feel the earth under your feet; feel how the earth carries you and holds you up. Feel the infinite sky above you; it inspires, straightens, and elevates you. In the sky, think of the origin of your spirit and of your intelligence. In the sky, think of the origin of your eternal soul, of the higher universal consciousness. In the earth, think of the origin of your terrestrial soul, of your individual consciousness. Feel yourself as a living union of the forces of the sky and the earth, of the infinite and the development. Kneel on the ground, and with your right hand, dig a little hole in the earth. Put your hands together in front of the center of your chest (mystical heart), in the sign of prayer and inner union with heaven and earth within you. In this sacred posture, let a beautiful light, a force, a presence of the heaven flow through you: the omnipresence of the Father of all living beings. You can imagine a diamond light, transparent like pure water. Bend down with love before Mother Earth, and place your hands around the little hole. Bend down completely so that your mouth is laid on your hands. Offer then by your word the "thank you" of heaven to Mother Earth; offer also the "thank you" of your heart, and, through it, the "thank you" of the heart of humanity.
Pronounce the words:"Mother Earth, I offer you the "thank you" of my heart and, through it, the "thank you" of the heart of all men and women. May all beings that you carry within your bosom, nurture, protect, and let grow be blessed."Stretch yourself out on the ground and abandon yourself totally to the earth. That your body and your soul born from it be one with the Mother-Earth and her hidden splendor.
Think and say:"Mother Earth, take all of my illnesses and my faults according your will, so that I may receive the blessing of the heavenly Spirit to transmit it to all living beings according his will."Remain in silent communion while letting the earth purify you completely. Rise to your knees again, and put your hands together in front of the rose of the sun of the heart. Think in your spirit, feel in your soul, and say with your force of life:"With love and gratitude, I offer my loving "thank you" filled with light. To the Mother Earth, thank you; To the water of life, thank you; To the precious air, thank you; To the sacred fire, thank you; To the stable minerals, thank you; To the plants, thank you; To the animals, thank you; To humanity walking on the path of evolution, thank you; To all of the angels, thank you; To the cosmic intelligence which created my thought, thank you; To the ocean of love which created my sensibility, thank you; To the universal life which impregnated my future with the seed of individuality, thank you; To all of the beings of the world, I give my "thank you" within Him, the unique Source who unites all beings within the origin and the goal."Fold your arms on your chest, bow slightly your head, and pronounce the word of conclusion: "Amen".Then, refill the hole that you had dug to speak to the Mother of the world.
By practicing such exercises, which are totally suitable for our contemporary life, you will notice that you receive a force of balance and harmony which lets you remain more centered and be more yourself in life. The technique of gratitude allows one to develop a finer sensitivity to the higher world. Not an unhealthy sentimentality, but an awakening which makes one become more lucid, more strong, more fair. Our life is our life; it is we who have to live it, and no-one else. But it is obvious that, in order to live it in a beautiful way, we need force and lucidity. The technique of gratitude allows one to gain these and more. One is generally afraid of sensibility, because one thinks that the more sensible a person is, the more he/she is unhappy and ill. Of course, if the "thank you" is not right, it can make one ill, because the energies are not directed toward the sky of the spirit, but remain unconscious and too personal. The one who thinks he/she is the center of the world while saying thank you only expresses a dead conventional polite phrase in order to hide the true being he/she is, for the sake of appearances. The true "thank you" opens the perception of beauty, wisdom, greatness, and love. If the human being no longer perceives the reality of this omnipresent higher world, then he is lost. It is only a matter of time; downfall is inevitable. Only a right cultivation of a higher sensibility can lead humanity toward a real evolution of light and harmony, and enable it to overcome all trials and temptations. A source of well-being and intense beneficial life is to offer oneself moments of solitude when harmony with all of the forces of original good can be cultivated in silence and calm, and when the magical phrase of the great "thank you" can be spoken. One can then share all this with others through simple acts, friendly words, smiles filled with a light and a warmth which come from a world where the human reigns.