Sunday, April 23, 2017

Always with the eating

Akbar's Tomb

Chatting this morning with my wife about the internal and external life of man.

Over the last Christmas holiday season, it struck me more than ever that everyone talks about outer life. What we are doing professionally; how our jobs and marriages, siblings and children, are treating each other; what we are eating — with Americans, oh my God, always with the eating. One would think that every bite we put in our mouth has some kind of sacred significance, especially if there is no gluten in it.

I did manage to mount a few conversations on shaky timbers where we exchanged about inner life; but they were brief. Every single one of them lacked focus and was interrupted by some kind of nonsense. This; when the most obscure forms of drivel are honored and discussed at great length. None of us seem to have a sense of ourselves; and none of us seem to have a sense of honoring those sacred inward parts of ourselves which ought to be brought first to every conversation.

Perhaps the standard I seek here is too high. My aim is not, in the end, to criticize the ordinary — but to ask myself whether any of us really understand what the inward life consists of, and how we bring a sensitivity to that to the exchanges we have with one another. In my own case, I had to field an endless series of questions, with one person after another, always the same: how do I manage to hold up under all the travel I am doing? Honestly, I’m tired of talking about it. I wish that this outer part of my life were less obvious, and that I could exchange with people about deeper questions instead of endlessly batting the shuttlecock of Asian travel back and forth across the badminton net.

Agreed; it’s selfish of me. This is the most accessible piece of information our friends and acquaintances have about me, and they are just seeking entry at a familiar point. No one can blame anyone for this; we all do it. Yet the entry point is where everything always stops.

What is it about us as a society, and as individuals; do we not have inner lives anymore? 

Have we failed to understand the difference between what is inward and what is outward?

During the conversation with Neal, I touched on the point that most of my acquaintances are determined to adjust their lives by eating differently. Either they have eliminated gluten; or they are eating more or less protein; or they are eating raw animals, or no animals — you get the picture. Every one of them reports how much better they feel through the magical eating practice, whatever it is. There are an endless number of them and they all contradict one another. Yet all of them attempt to manipulate both physical health and inner experience through the lowest kind of food we take in: the food we eat with our mouths.

The impressions we take in are a finer and far more powerful type of food; yet I watch those around me take in all kinds of impressions, willy-nilly, with very little discrimination about what those impressions consist of. Mindfulness, for what it’s worth, ought to involve a direct and caring sensitivity to what type of impressions we taken: and it ought to involve, first of all, an attention to our environment, which any monastic community understands by default. Yet I live in a world where people throw things together without any attention at all, and choose to live quite cheerfully in the midst of an absolute environmental disorder that shows little or no respect for anything, even folding the laundry.

Every impression that we take in is something we ought to become responsible for; this question of feeding ourselves goes well beyond any food we put in our mouths. The health of the soul is not attended to. A healthy body which commits evil is a worthless thing; but a sick one that nonetheless does some true good has immeasurable value.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Six Realms, Part IX: Summary

The teachings in the Genesis creation story, as interpreted by Swedenborg, reveal a consonant identity with Ibn Arabi’s teachings on the six realms and Gurdjieff’s teachings of man numbers one through seven. These teachings share a deeper identity with yogic chakra teachings; and we can thus see that all of the metaphysical understandings in these systems are closely related. Gurdjieff’s enneagram provides a useful tool for mapping the relationships between all of the systems. Given the definite relationships between the various systems, Gurdjieff’s contention that his teaching was completely self-supporting and independent of other lines and it has been completely unknown up to the present time” may be true — but only to the extent that it reflects on the teaching method, not on the ideas or metaphysical foundation it rests on. These are so demonstrably and absolutely shared with other important systems that it is possible to trace not just roots, but parts of the trunk and branches. 
In my experience, the work of all adepts ought to be aimed at bringing the world's religious practices together and reunite them with the understanding that “there is only one God.” Contests between metaphysical schools and systems in which scholars dismiss one another — a form of partisanship one can find almost everywhere—do not serve God or any of the practices well. A reunification needs to be undertaken.
The consistent use of the image of a Garden between Genesis, Ibn Arabi, and Swedenborg to describe both the process of man’s growth and man’s eventual destination (man number seven ends up in a garden) can't be fully appreciated without reading Swedenborg’s explanation of the esoteric meaning of the word Garden in Genesis as expounded in Secrets of Heaven; and it seems impossible to believe that Gurdjieff’s description of the Holy Planet Purgatory in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson does not owe a direct, profound, and as yet generally unrecognized debt to this heritage.
A critical feature of all these metaphysical systems revealed by the enneagram — but not iterated in any of the systems themselves, although it certainly should be — is that the interaction between all of the realms is dynamic, not linear. That is to say, the interaction between the realms proceeds according to Gurdjieff’s multiplications: the first state being 142857, then 285714, and so on. This means that all six realms are actually engaged in a complex exchange between states in which a man may at one time or another inhabit any one of them, and they inform one another. Lower states form the foundation for higher ones; higher ones lend assistance to lower ones. An astute student of Ibn Arabi’s system will understand that he was well aware of the dynamic interactions between the forces that drive the universe. The idea that the six realms are dynamically interactive is metaphysically consistent with the idea that they are all manifest on this level, that is, material reality. 
Swedenborg’s Secrets of Heaven constitutes an important contribution to the understanding not only of Genesis, but also Gurdjieff’s teachings and the origin of ideas presented in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, most particularly the chapter The Holy Planet Purgatory. Ibn Arabi’s Journey to the Lord of Power, when read in conjunction with this material, sheds further light on the connections. 
Links for free epub download of these two books are below. 

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Six Realms, Part VIII

Man Number Seven

Gurdjieff said, of man number seven:

Man number seven means a man who has reached the full development possible to man and who possesses everything a man can possess, that is, will, consciousness, permanent and unchangeable I, individuality, immortality, and many other properties which, in our blindness and ignorance, we ascribe to ourselves. It is only when to a certain extent we understand man number seven and his properties that we can under­ stand the gradual stages through which we can approach him, that is, understand the process of development possible for us. —Gurdjieff, ibid, p. 71.

Swedenborg’s remarks are as follows:

 A heavenly person is the seventh day. And since the Lord worked through six days, that individual is called his work. Conflict then comes to an end, as a result of which the Lord is said to rest from all his work. This is why the seventh day was consecrated and named “Sabbath,” from [a Hebrew word for] rest. In the process the human being has been made, formed, and created, as the words themselves clearly indicate. 
Lack of information is another reason why these secrets—that a person of heavenly character is the seventh day, that this explains the consecration of the seventh day, and that it was named “Sabbath” for the idea of rest—have continued to lie hidden. No one knows what a heavenly person is, and few what a spiritual person is. Inevitably, in their ignorance, people have considered a spiritual person the same as a heavenly one, when a rather large difference separates the two. —Emmanuel Swedenborg, ibid, §85. 

In Journey to the Lord of Power, Ibn Arabi presents the reader with a rather complex ascension narrative for the different levels of heaven which bears a relationship to the comments on man number seven. Unlike Swedenborg and Gurdjieff, he did not—in this book, at least—specifically name man number seven – or, as Swedenborg refers to him, heavenly man — as an aim or result of inner development.

Swedenborg’s citation of the seventh day come up a heavenly person, as the aim of spiritual regeneration shares a clear identity with Gurdjieff’s man number seven. Following on this, we can see where Swedenborg’s Secrets of Heaven provides a great deal of important information on Gurdjieff’s esoteric heritage which cannot be found in any of the Gurdjieff literature. The contention that Gurdjieff was not familiar with Swedenborg’s extensive esoteric writings seems, in the face of the evidence, staggering; as with any assertion that the two do not share a common source, from what Gurdjieff referred to as “influences C.”

Gurdjieff, after all, bragged about his voracious spiritual reading, and it would have taken a willful act of omission for anyone reading in the esoteric circles of his era to avoid Swedenborg. That being said, Gurdjieff mentions reading Blavatsky – who he says he dismissed as a fraud — but says nothing whatsoever about Swedenborg, at least so far as I know. Swedenborg’s stature, which exceeded that of Blavatsky.

Given the consonance of ideas between the two systems, in my opinion, it behooves both academics and the Gurdjieff community at large to conduct more extensive  investigations into the relationships here, in order to shed light on the peculiar vacuum of information that currently exists.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

This is perhaps the most unusual depiction of the crucifixion of its age. 

The austerity and minimalism with which the subject is treated emphasize both the spiritual gravity of the moment and the need for a focused attention on the matter of suffering and death. 

May we all remember our inner work today and devote ourselves to an active, intelligent service of Divine Love and compassion.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Notes from Shanghai, April 12. This morning, my friend P. sent an essay by Cynthia Bourgeault, below. It was published at the Center of Action and Contemplation web site. 

On the subject, in this post for the day before Easter, my own comments.

We are invited to come into the kingdom of heaven. It is a real force that can enter us. In doing so, everything changes, because we are invited to live in communion with Christ and the Father. That oneness of God is a real thing, not some hypothesis or scientific premise about the cosmos which translates into religious ideas. It isn't a concept or a theory. It is a real force that comes into us, and that force is Love.

Love isn't theoretical either; at its highest level, it is the glue that binds the physical substance of the universe together, and every particle in our bodies is bound by that. Our consciousness is created by it; our awareness is animated by it.

As I put it to P. in an email earlier this morning,

…this Presence of God is a normal understanding for me every day. It has been melting my soul for years now. Clearly, to me, everyone ought to be intensely focused on this question and the question of submission. 

We can live within the glory if we submit. This mystery is true even though we are these tiny, helpless, and greedy little creatures, because God is so generous.

 That's my message for this week. Perhaps it doesn't square with the Gurdjieff work and all the things that are said about how we are, how we can't do, what consciousness is, and so on and so forth, but when God comes into me all that stuff goes out the window and I am just within Grace. 

That is what I live for, to try and be a worthy receptacle for that force. Maybe I will never amount to much more than that. I'm not sure what I am supposed to amount to, but I am sure of this practice.

Now, I rarely put things so exactly, because I'm sure it sounds like some sort of bragging. Yet in this case, I just want to make it clear to readers that I am witnessing, which is an ancient tradition in Christianity.

I am a witness to truth on this matter, and I think that every human being who cares about their inner work, their soul, and cares about others human beings and cares about God has the right to know that what Christ says about the Kingdom of Heaven is true.

It is real. I affirm it. It is my duty as a human being to affirm it, because so few voices speak out about this in the midst of the terrors we have created for ourselves on this planet.

Below is Cynthia's essay.

The Kingdom of Heaven
Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues exploring Jesus as a wisdom teacher.

Throughout the gospel accounts, Jesus uses one particular phrase repeatedly: “the Kingdom of Heaven.” The words stand out everywhere. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like this,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is like that,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Whatever this Kingdom of Heaven is, it’s of foundational importance to what Jesus is trying to teach.
So what do we take it to be? Biblical scholars have debated this question for almost as long as there have been biblical scholars. Many Christians, particularly those of a more evangelical persuasion, assume that the Kingdom of Heaven means the place you go when you die—if you’ve been “saved.” But the problem with this interpretation is that Jesus himself specifically contradicts it when he says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (that is, here) and “at hand” (that is, now). It’s not later, but lighter—some more subtle quality or dimension of experience accessible to you right in the moment. You don’t die into it; you awaken into it.
The other approach people have consistently tried is to equate the Kingdom of Heaven with an earthly utopia. The Kingdom of Heaven would be a realm of peace and justice, where human beings lived together in harmony and fair distribution of economic assets. For thousands of years prophets and visionaries have labored to bring into being their respective versions of this kind of Kingdom of Heaven, but somehow these earthly utopias never seem to stay put for very long. Jesus specifically rejected this meaning. When his followers wanted to proclaim him the Messiah, the divinely anointed king of Israel who would inaugurate the reign of God’s justice upon the earth, Jesus shrank from all that and said, strongly and unequivocally, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
Where is it, then? Author Jim Marion’s wonderfully insightful and contemporary suggestion is that the Kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it is not a place you go to, but a place you come from. [1] It is a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place.
Marion suggests specifically that the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus’ way of describing a state we would nowadays call “nondual consciousness” or “unitive consciousness.” The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. These are indeed Jesus’ two core teachings, underlying everything he says and does.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Six realms, Part VII

The Realms: Realm # 6
The note “si”

The sixth realm is referred to as the sand dune outside the Garden by Arabi.

This stage represents wisdom. The garden is the original garden of Eden, or, the absolute, that is, the place from which all growth comes.

Gurdjieff’s comment about man number six is: the knowledge of man number six is the complete knowledge possible to man; but it can still be lost.—Gurdjieff, ibid, p. 7

Swedenborg’s comments on the sixth stage of regeneration are as follows:

In the sixth stage, we act with conviction and therefore with love in speaking truth and doing good. What we then produce is called a living soul and a beast. Because we begin to act as much from love as from conviction, we become spiritual people, who are called [God’s] image. In regard to our spiritual lives, we now find pleasure and nourishment in religious knowledge and acts of kindness; and these are called our food. In regard to our earthly lives, we still find pleasure and sustenance in things relating to our body and our senses, which cause strife until love takes charge and we develop a heavenly character. Not everyone who undergoes regeneration reaches this stage. —Emmanuel Swedenborg, ibid, §12-13.

We are presented here with some slightly contrasting perspectives that need interpretation in order to co-join them.

The metaphysical identification of material reality’s apex—wisdom— as a sand dune is a complex but remarkable and quite ingenious one. The sand dune represents the complete knowledge possible to man.

In order to understand this, we need to see first of all the sand dune appears to us to be a single thing – a huge entity, that has reached great heights and is yet capable of movement by increments. It swallows everything in its path; yet it is composed of a seemingly infinite number of tiny things. It represents the entire summation of all material reality and the innumerable objects, events, circumstances, and conditions that a man can know.

Yet this entire massive entity is barren and worthless, and lies outside the garden — in other words, at the apex of man’s achievement after he completes the cycle of inner development, he both knows and comprehends everything, and is at the same time aware of the fact that all of this is worthless in the face of the source of life — the Garden, and God.

Swedenborg brings this point across from the point of view not just of wisdom and intellect, but of the whole Being. It’s interesting to note that Ibn Arabi and Gurdjieff both focus on the level of knowledge obtained in this realm; whereas Swedenborg focuses rather on the level of Being. The contradiction is explicable; both Ibn Arabi and Gurdjieff were fascinated with man’s pursuit of knowledge and understanding, and their interpretation of the realms and levels of development center around this kind of attainment. Swedenborg’s interest was primarily a man’s alignment with God, and because his teaching follows the emotional center of gravity that governs this spiritual trajectory, his description of his sixth stage of regeneration, Gurdjieff’s  man number six, or Ibn Arabi’s sixth realm, he gives us a somewhat different picture. The snapshot is, however, of a man who is overwhelmingly compassionate and loving, not one who is overwhelmingly intelligent.

His emphasis is not misplaced; because we can see quite clearly that Gurdjieff understands man number six has not attained a permanent value: what he has can be lost. At the same time, his remarks about the nature of man number six are at best cryptic, if one wants to presume there is anything at all there aside from a description of how much he knows. Ibn Arabi, on the other hand, chooses a brilliant metaphysical analogy — the sand dune — to let us know that man number six has achieved a fullness of knowledge consisting of as much understanding and knowledge as there are grains of sand in a sand dune (his equivalent of a beach, I might point out); yet that sand dune represents, in the end, an objectively worthless and useless pile of material. So both Gurdjieff and Ibn Arabi understand that man number six, in comparison with God and the absolute, is in a certain sense nothing. All of that knowledge has almost no value.

Swedenborg gives us, instead, what indubitably does have value from that state; the attainment of a real and wise compassion and love, which alone represents true knowledge, quite distinct from all those grains of sand in the sand dune. Gurdjieff and Ibn Arabi, in an ironic twist, tell us what Man number six has; Swedenborg tells us who he is and how he behaves. Our
Take further note that unlike man of the other levels, Swedenborg’s man is able, in Gurdjieff’s words, to do.

Ibn Arabi refers to the subordinate nature of octaves, which form a nested circumstance of multiple levels, with each note representing an entire octave at the level below it. He says the realization of their multiplicity is not within human power because the iterations expressed are essentially infinite once the interactions between and throughout all the levels are taken into account. The nested nature of octaves and the levels yields us yet another meaning for the allegory of a sand dune: even though all of the meaning is there, it is ultimately hidden, despite its absolute presence.


Special offer:

Chakras and the Enneagram
The Universal Enneagram

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This offer is also available in the itunes bookstore, where each book has been individually priced at $7.50 for the duration of the sale.

If you are an apple user, the iBooks version is definitely recommended. 

Limited time through April 16, 2017.

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

an affirmation

In this lead up to the Easter weekend, I just want to affirm that every object, event, circumstance, and condition is sacred.

The feeling part of human beings was designed to sense this. Unfortunately, it does not work well at all in most people; and it takes many years to undertake repairs on that.

Nonetheless, the process of faith, which can help, asks us to affirm that this is true even if we can't sense it directly. Sometimes our heart can open a little bit and we may see that the universe is composed of an infinite number of blessings which cascade atop one another endlessly, such that every single instance and every single moment is filled with Grace and Mercy.

Well, when people die and other awful things happen, it certainly doesn't feel that way — but the astonishing and impossible thing is that all of it is made of Love.

How can this be, you might ask? It doesn't make any sense. Well, it doesn't. I will just give it to you that way. If the heart opens it sees it; and that is all I can report. Even the greatest anguish is made of Love; I know this, because I have felt great anguish and the Love in it was never separated from the truth of the anguish itself.

It's peculiar and mysterious that I live — that all of us live — in a universe with this paradox at its root. There are times when one has to throw everything out the door and just go forward filling one's sails with the faith that is available. There are no constructions, exercises, forms, or practices that impart this wind; yet one must trust it when it comes.

Maybe the mistake we make, rational little creatures that we are, is that we are always trying to separate the love and mercy from disaster, as though it needed saving.

It doesn't need saving; it knows its way without us.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Six Realms, Part VI

The Realms: Realm # 5
The note “la”

This acquisition of Being serves as the foundation for purification, which takes place in the fifth the realm of Ibn Arabi’s progressive system. He calls this realm the realm of the Garden and the Fire.
The realm has a dualistic nature, because it is, first of all, a garden — a place in which spiritual growth takes place, furthermore, a place that is vested in abundance. It is also a place of fire because everything is tested here. The growth can only take place through purification. So the fifth realm is a realm of both worship and trials.

Swedenborg’s description of man number five, the man who must purify himself, says:

In the fifth stage, we speak with conviction and, in the process, strengthen ourselves in truth and goodness. The things we then produce have life in them and are called the fish of the sea and the birds in the heavens. —Emmanuel Swedenborg, ibid, §11. 

This appears to edit out the essential characteristic of this realm, or note on the octave, which is purification according to the yogic systems. Yet we notice that he says “strengthen ourselves in truth and goodness.

Gurdjieff’s description of this stage says that “Man number five has already been crystallized.” In this realm,

“the knowledge of man number five is whole, indivisible knowledge. He has now one indivisible I, and all his knowledge belongs to this. He cannot have one I that knows something which another does not know. What he knows, the whole knows. His knowledge is nearer to objective knowledge than the knowledge of man number four.”—Gurdjieff, ibid, p. 72.

We can compare this comment to Swedenborg’s remark that in the fifth stage, we speak with conviction. Any reader can easily see these are essentially the same statements.

 The fact that intentional suffering characterizes the passage from sol to fa, even though the shock is in the “wrong” place in the diagram, indicates that there is a struggle afoot, crystallized or not. It is fair enough to say that all of this purification relates directly to Gurdjieff’s description of the Holy Planet Purgatory, the place human beings and sentient, three-brained beings end up in the process of trying to free themselves from that which is not Godly in order to gain entry to the kingdom of heaven. This process is an equivalent to Swedenborg’s strengthening one’s self in truth and goodness.

Gurdjieff’s Holy Planet Purgatory, by the way, shares an exact identity with Ibn Arabi’s realm of the Garden and the Fire. The Garden is the planet itself with all its beauty; the Fire is the anguish that all the beings on it feel. Interestingly, even though this is a metaphysical place, it also shares an identity on this level, which means that the process of man’s development in this life mirrors the metaphysical and cosmological implications of the Holy Planet Purgatory. My discussions of the precise nature of religious ecstasy have a bearing on this, but there is no time to go into it here.


Special offer:

Chakras and the Enneagram
The Universal Enneagram

PDF format only

This offer is also available in the itunes bookstore, where each book has been individually priced at $7.50 for the duration of the sale.

If you are an apple user, the iBooks version is definitely recommended. 

Limited time through April 16, 2017.

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, April 10, 2017

notes from shanghai april 10

Notes from Shanghai, April 10, 2017

I'm 44 floors above the city streets in the business lounge. It is raining hard; and there is perhaps no spring so cool and gray as a rainy one in Shanghai. Being this high thrusts one up against the clouds; one comes to know water in a different way.

I don't know why God is so consistent. Once He moves in, He never really leaves; always there is a reminder of His Presence. And this, mind you, without instruction; just Grace. If there ever was an evidence of His abundance and His Mercy, it is here, in the way that Grace flows endlessly and without a specific reason.

Grace needs no reason; it comes from its own heart and affirms its own blessing.

Something changed in me; I am not the same as I was. Yet what this means is, as ever, not so clear. In one way I am exactly the same as ever; in the next, I am absolutely different. Both things are true. How does one speak about such matters? There is no literature; there are no precedents. It is the lyric of a foreign tongue from foreign shores, more foreign than the ones I find tonight. There are places in the universe right next to us of which we have no sense; and yet we live in them at the same time we live here, where we are, where everything looks so ordinary and so normal that we give ourselves permission to ignore it. Perhaps this is the difficulty; we give ourselves permission to ignore everything, because the only interesting thing, it seems, is our own desire. What a powerful creature it is! And yet it builds its own cage and lives in it so happily, when it might have the whole world if it wished.

Sometimes a person can touch the other worlds, and be touched by them; in me, the fabric ‘twixt is grown thin. There are angels everywhere; and though I cannot see or hear them — they have no need of images or sound to make them real — they penetrate my bones, inspecting me. I never know why they have this task, but they exercise it in such a way that I feel only gratitude. The moment that arises in contact is a moment of purity and goodness. Such moments are everywhere, and in all of time; what foolishness to speak of time as though it were an enemy, when it contains the Love God gives.

One is afraid it will run out; but such fear is sheer stupidity, because both Love and time come in endless measure.

Do we know that?

Or do we merely mark the inches on our soul in consternation of its finite length?

Really, there are better things to do. I have found them; or, perhaps, I should say they have found me. They find me in the most casual way, when there is nothing special going on.

I spend my days waiting to be discovered in this way, because it is so absolutely fascinating.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Six Realms, Part V

The Realms: Realm # 4
The note “sol”

Ibn Arabi referred to the fourth realm as the Resurrection on the awakening earth and the return to the original condition.

Both of these phrases are essential to understanding the transition from fa to sol, which represents a critical stage in Swedenborg’s regeneration from non-Being — the spiritual condition — to Being, a heavenly one. The note sol represents both the heart, or love, and the sun. It represents a point where God’s personal influx initiates the emanation of genuinely loving action, which does not belong to the initiate but only to God. It furthermore represents not just the influx of this action, but an awakening of the awareness of the initiate to the fact that the action belongs to God and not himself.

The awakening earth represents the passage from Earth (the spiritual, as in Swedenborg’s regenerative interpretation of the Genesis creation story) to the heavenly (awakened) state distinct from sleep, or slumber, both of which figure prominently in Gurdjieff’s teaching and Swedenborg’s explanation of man's state before regeneration. In addition, Ibn Arabi has called it the return to the original condition, that is, the condition of a creature of heaven which perceives itself as a creature of heaven,  and not one that perceives himself as belonging to himself.

Swedenborg’s comment on man number four is as follows:
In the fourth stage, love stirs and faith enlightens us. Before this time we may have spoken devoutly and yielded a good harvest, but we did so in a state of trial and anguish, not at the call of faith and kindness. In consequence they are now kindled in our inner self and are called the two lights. —Emmanuel Swedenborg, ibid, §10

Gurdjieff says:
"Man number four is not born ready-made. He is born one, two, or three, and becomes four only as a result of efforts of a definite character… Man number four already stands on a different level to man number one, two, and three; he has a permanent center of gravity… In addition his psychic centers have already begun to be balanced; one center in him cannot have such a preponderance over others as is the case with people of the first three categories. He already begins to know himself and begins to know whither he is going. —Gurdjieff, ibid, p. 71 

We find some interesting clues here regarding the nature of Gurdjieff’s Man number four, when we compare his description to Swedenborg and Ibn Arabi. Ibn Arabi explains to us that man not only awakens, but “returns to the original condition.” Referring to Swedenborg, we understand that the original condition is a condition where “love stirs and faith enlightens us.” We thus see that man number four has acquired a level of emotional enlightenment. One can hardly infer this from Gurdjieff’s dry comments, as recounted by Ouspensky.

His report of the state is almost clinical; but anyone who has had tastes of it will readily report that is nothing like that at all. To know oneself involves, among other things, exactly what Swedenborg reports: love stirs and faith enlightens. The situation sheds some light on Ouspensky’s own nature: a professed skeptic in matters of faith, he was predisposed to edit such intimations out of his reports, and it’s also likely that Gurdjieff skirted the issue knowing who he was dealing with. Nonetheless, this critical piece of information comes into sharp focus once we understand what Ibn Arabi and Swedenborg said about the situation.


Special offer:

Chakras and the Enneagram
The Universal Enneagram

PDF format only

This offer is also available in the itunes bookstore, where each book has been individually priced at $7.50 for the duration of the sale.

If you are an apple user, the iBooks version is definitely recommended. 

Limited time through April 16, 2017.

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Six Realms, Part IV

The Realms: Realm # 3
The note “fa”

The third realm is the interval through which we travel after greater and lesser deaths. (Arabi, ibid, p.27)

This is indeed a mouthful, because it embodies the fact that a shock is necessary here, as well as the transitional nature of this stage, which is divided from movement into the sphere of heavenly being until the shock is applied. In its entirety, this third realm is the one of Gurdjieff’s conscious labor.
It’s interesting to compare Ibn Arabi’s statement, after greater and lesser deaths, to Swedenborg’s:

The second stage rarely comes into play without trouble, misfortune, and grief, which enable bodily and worldly concerns… to fade away and in effect die out. The things that belong to the outer self, then, are separated from those that belong to the inner self… 

His understanding of the second stage, in other words, is identical to Swedenborg’s— it is a place where, if the path is pursued, egoistic cravings lessen and die, at which point man finds himself at an interval. Of course that interval is the interval between mi and fa, but one cannot pass to sol before completing that interval with the shock of conscious labor.

The passage from the third realm, which represents power, or, action on the material plane, to the fourth realm is an essential one, because the first three realms are capable of containing all natural and spiritual action without functional awareness: that is to say, everything about them can be what Gurdjieff called mechanical, or, from a philosophical point of view, theoretical. It is only once one passes from the third to the fourth realm that “real”, that is, heavenly action with the force of true spiritual insight, can begin to take place. It is, furthermore, only the combination of the action of all three of the first three rounds together – what Gurdjieff called three-centered being — that the interval from fa to sol can be passed. It represents a fundamental change in state. This is Gurdjieff’s work of conscious labor.

Gurdjieff, in his description of man number three, points out that the center of gravity of his psychic life is in the intellectual center. In this man, “the thinking functions gain the upper hand of the moving, instinctive, and emotional function; the man of reason who goes into everything from theories, from mental considerations.”  —Gurdjieff, ibid, p. 71

Swedenborg says the third stage …is one of repentance. During this time, at the prompting of the inner self, we speak devoutly and reverently and yield a good harvest (acts of neighborly kindness, for instance). These effects are lifeless nonetheless, since we suppose that they come of our own doing. —Emmanuel Swedenborg, ibid, §9

While the two premises regarding the nature of man number three may appear to differ in some points, the fundamental point — that the work of the intellect, power, and action, is “lifeless.” Gurdjieff uses the word mechanical; they are the same thing. Neither one of them is imbued with the sacred energy, the life force, of God. The actions are still dominated by egoism and a certain emptiness that arises from a belief in the agency of man and his own being. Because everything in realms 1 through 3 is dominated by what Gurdjieff called the “mechanical” world, the descending force on the right-hand side of the enneagram, effects are lifeless.

They all still represent a movement away from God.


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Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Six Realms, Part III

The Realms: Realm # 2
The note “mi”

Ibn Arabi says, of the second realm, that it is the world we are now in.

This realm is the realm of desire or craving, which is the realm that all sanity and being finds itself trapped in after it separates from God. Human beings do not simply find themselves in the realm of the material. Stones, water, and other inanimate objects belong to the first realm and experience no cravings, at least as we understand them. It is only when we reach the level of sentient beings — that is, beings which must make a choice between God and themselves — that the world of desire arises; and this is a critical metaphysical point, because the choice between self craving and the craving for not-self— which is a desire to return to God— is the essential point of the path in its entirety. The question arises as soon as material reality is created, and becomes the entire resident tone of the note mi, which mimics the word me, that is, myself — an individuality that sees itself as distinct from God.

Swedenborg emphasizes the lower nature of individuals invested in this belief, who have not succeeded in progressing to a full realization of their spiritual nature, which requires what Gurdjieff called three centered being, that is, the embodiment of the physical (material), emotional (desirous), and intellectual (powerful) aspects of being—the notes re, mi, and fa. (The note fa is the first syllable of the word fa-ther, denoting the fractional and divided (separated) ego of the lower self.)
Swedenborg says,

in the second stage, a distinction is drawn between the things that are the Lord’s and those that are our own… The second stage rarely comes into play without trouble, misfortune, and grief, which enable bodily and worldly concerns — things that are our own — to fade away and in effect die out. The things that belong to the outer self, then, are separated from those that belong to the inner self…
—Emmanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven, §8 

Gurdjieff defines man number two as “man in whom the center of gravity of his psychic life lies in the emotional center; the man of feeling, the emotional man.” (ibid, p. 71)

Once again we need to open this question up in terms of its larger metaphysical perspective. We lie in the emotional world, the realm of craving; and it is (perhaps paradoxically) within our essential identification with this second-realm nature, the nature of desire, that all of man’s spiritual aspirations begin. Emotion, after all, is where all of the force (the horse that draws the carriage and the driver) that propels man’s being comes from; and at the lower, or mechanical level (the level of the first three realms of development) that motive force is self-centered (egoistic), rather than centered on understanding God as the origin of all force.

Readers may recall that in his early talks, Gurdjieff said that pure emotions are non-egoistic; and of course this distinction draws the line between self-desire, that is, desire for oneself (Swedenborg’s selfishness, a characteristic of hell) and desire for God, which constitute same. Within this realm, a human being is caught in the struggle between the two forces of egoistic and non-egoistic desire; this is where Gurdjieff’s separation of self from self begins (see Swedenborg’s citation above, where he says exactly the same thing) and it is that selfsame world of struggle which Ibn Arabi describes in Journey to the Lord of power:

Know that since God created human beings and brought them out of nothingness into existence, they have not stopped being travelers. They have no resting place from their journey except in the Garden or the Fire, and each Garden and Fire is in accordance with the measure of its people. Every rational person must know that the journey is based upon toil and the hardships of life, on afflictions and tests and the acceptance of dangers and very great terrors. It is not possible for the traveler to find in this journey unimpaired comfort, security, or bliss. (ibid, p. 27)


Special offer:

Chakras and the Enneagram
The Universal Enneagram

PDF format only

This offer is also available in the itunes bookstore, where each book has been individually priced at $7.50 for the duration of the sale.

If you are an apple user, the iBooks version is definitely recommended. 

Limited time through April 16, 2017.

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The trigonometry of Love

 Metropolitan Museum, New York

Notes from April 1, 2017

Last night a major sunspot formed, out of nowhere and quite suddenly. 

I didn't know that, of course, until this morning, when I got up and looked at the space weather website; but it woke me up at 2:30 in the morning and I was under powerful energetic solar influences for at least an hour before I fell back to sleep. For me, this is a rather common experience, so I knew something was up; despite its abrupt appearance, in and of itself, the sunspot was not really a surprise. It had already announced itself.

There is consequently a much deeper availability in terms of a sensitive and intimate access to one's Being. This only means that it is more possible to receive; and what it is possible to receive is true feeling, that is, real feeling. 

Of course this solar event is in preparation for Easter, which comes in about two weeks; and the sun is sending earth the sacred influences that are needed to prepare the planet for this vital, annual celebration of sacrifice and suffering on behalf of both mankind and God. Seeing how this has just unfolded, one perhaps senses how this will be an unusually important Easter from a spiritual point of view, and on the astral plane. It calls us all to intensify our efforts to work on behalf of both ourselves, our fellow human beings, and God. If ever there was a time to truly sense the loving emanations of the Lord and receive and share them, it is this time. May we all, insh'Allah, for the next two weeks, do as Dogen advises us and practice as though our hair were on fire.

That is of course particularly difficult for a man with as little hair as I have, but I intend to do my best.

Over the last few weeks, a number of people have asked me how to tell the difference between emotion — that is, ordinary feeling, the feelings we have every day — and true feeling, that is, real feeling, or feeling that comes from the individual authority of emotional intelligence.

I want to be quite clear in explaining that the individual authority of emotional intelligence is the organic sensation of feeling, that is, true feeling that is under the whole influence of feeling center only. Not “feeling” that has been provoked or manipulated under the authority of the intellect or (perhaps) the body. These two latter kinds of “feelings” are what we most commonly experience, and have nothing to do with real feeling. 

Real feeling is at the highest level of vibration that can be expressed by the organism under what we call "ordinary" circumstances, that is, circumstances related to the level we are on and the hierarchy we exist in. (Ordinal circumstances.) Because of this higher rate of vibration, real feeling has the opportunity to correspond to influences — energies that flow in — from higher emotional center. There is a parallelism or a mirroring that takes place here, in which all of the organism on this level can be realigned to correspond to the sacred influence of higher emotional center, which is connected to the angelic levels.

Don’t mistake this to mean that it is "from" angels. Angels are intermediary beings; but humanity is designed to receive these higher influences directly, without angels, under the right circumstances. While the receipt of such energies raises the sensitivity of Being into the angelic realms, it expresses and helps develop the individuality of the person receiving the energies, not an angel.

The energy of real feeling arrives as a sacred sense of the organic presence of God within our lives. The Psalms of praise in the Bible were each written by an individual under that influence; and each experience of this influence is an experience of the wholeness of God's love and His Mercy towards us. These are quiet and very private states, but I feel it necessary to write about them simply because so little is said today that legitimately springs directly from this organic sensation of feeling, which is objective and produces quite precise and absolutely consistent conditions within Being.

 In attempting to explain the difference between emotion and feeling to people I work with, I recently said that the difference is that we have emotions, but receive feelings. 

Individuals interested in understanding what the difference is, and whether they "know" what real feeling is, should begin by understanding that emotion is always colored by self-interest and relates to things of this level. This doesn't mean that emotion is bad or in any way unnecessary or ought to be avoided; what it does mean is that it is distinctly of this level and truly invites a powerful impulse towards identification. That is, I am unable to remain separated from my emotion, and I think that it is what I am, that it belongs to me. In thinking that emotion belongs to me, what I don't see is that actually the exact opposite is true; I belong to it. (For those who are intrigued by Mr. Gurdjieff's somewhat cryptic aphorism, like what it does not like, look here first.)  If one understands the difference it is quite impossible to confuse feeling with emotion. They are as different as apples and oranges.

We receive feelings. Feelings clearly demarcate the separation between ego and Being; and in doing so, they also clearly mark the line between what “I” am and what God is. 

That is to say, I know my place.

This understanding of place is essential in regard to any objective sense of Being. Real feeling instantly and wordlessly describes location, which is — as I explained in an earlier set of essays — an understanding that arises from feeling, not from geography or geometry. If we wanted to use analogy, we might say that the mind is adept at geography (maps); the body at geometry (the calculation of area and forms) — but feeling is adept at trigonometery— a science that emerged from astronomical studies.  

Feeling is an understanding  of a cosmological principle: where I am within the context of Love.

This is a critical question, because all of the universe arises from Love and entirely depends on it for the very fact of its existence. In the sense of what is real about the soul—the spiritual life of Being—that can only be determined by its proximity to Love and its ability to receive it. This is why this question of feeling is so essential to real inner work. One can work on sensation for many years; and one must. It is part of a hierarchy in which the rate of vibration within Being must be intensified before real feeling can be received: otherwise the chicken runs through the kitchen where the water is boiling, and we think we have chicken soup. 

But there’s no chicken soup unless the pot is well prepared and the chicken is received.

Well, this is a cute analogy, and a delightful one. We should thank Mr. Gurdjieff for both its ingenuity and lightheartedness. Yet the facts remain: first intellect; then the organic sensation of Being; then the organic feeling of Being. No three-toned cord can be whole without each note in its right order; and each note has a rate of vibration, from the lowest to the highest. You can't skip one note and then expect the chord to be whole.

I write these notes because I want to remind myself, as well as my readers, that there is nothing more sacred, more satisfying, or more nourishing for the soul than to know one's place and give thanks to God for where one is.

The sunspot that appeared today out of nowhere on the surface of the sun, facing directly towards Earth, after weeks of an absolutely spotless sun, is a sign of intention and an emanation of vibrations for the spiritual assistance of mankind. It will undoubtedly produce "bad results" in the general body of mankind due to the effects of solioonensius; but for those who work and pray, it sends help. 
Once again, this is such an important time to engage in real inner work and to attempt to practice Christ's most important instruction: 

Love one another as I have Loved you. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.