In contemplating the nature of our relationship with things — which seems to be the main preoccupation of modern culture — it occurs to me that we equate things with the good.
By things, I mean material objects, that is, the necessities and luxuries of life. Not only in the West — readers may recall I've spent a great deal of time in Asia, including impoverished countries such as Pakistan and Cambodia — but all over the world, men and women are constantly bombarded with a barrage of advertisements that claim having things is what is good about life. If it's not the things that are good, then it's the ways in which we can get and keep them. The quality of life is defined not by the quality of relationships, the cleanness of the air and the water, the quietness of the environment, the living qualities of the creatures, but by the stuff we collect.
Getting stuff, collecting stuff, keeping stuff, have all weirdly become the aim of what is called the "good" life. It is as though the action of possession alone has merit. This has been taken so far down the path that even religion is a thing to have. The fact that this is an intensely blind and deeply stupid representation of the world seems to escape most people.
We have forgotten that goodness does not stem from things. Goodness is an inner quality that can only begin in and emanate from the human heart, and then only when the human heart is open to a higher influence. This divine spark we all have in us is where goodness begins and ends; if it is not expressed, there is no goodness. Assigning goodness to outer objects, events, circumstances, and conditions is only possible in so far as that goodness begins in human hearts and flows outwards from them.
Yet take a look around us at the advertising, the media, the culture we live in. If we actually pay attention to the garbage that is being shoveled at us constantly, we'll see that goodness, supposedly, always lies in the objects. This vacation is good; that cruise is good. This hospital is good. That food is good.
If one pays enough attention to it, it ultimately gets tiring. The real goodness is in the gentle touch of a hand from a loved one; the feeling you have when you see your child make an effort to move out into the world. The goodness is in a kindness done, a wealth shared; the extension of hope and support to someone who does not have enough.
Yet we are all victims of the disease of seeing goodness in things, rather than in humans. A good friend of mine whose brother died several years ago went to a memorial for him a few weeks ago, at which some objects from his parent's household which he was attached to and wanted were displayed. (One, ironically, was a Buddha.) He didn't end up inheriting them; and his brother, who did, left them to other family members.
This friend was able for one brief moment see the objects divorced from his desire, and he saw that the objects themselves had never had the values he assigned to them. They weren't good or desirable. It was the idea of having them that was good and desirable, to him.
So the limits of goodness were defined by his ego, not by anything objective. Once he saw this, it conferred a kind of relief — and freedom. It turns out that his understanding of things as good was a burden, not the blessing that he experienced it as when his desires were in action.
Perhaps it's just me, but there are times when I think that the majority of the world is, like my friend, completely hypnotized by this idea that goodness resides in things. I live in a world where the living quality of relationship is where goodness arises; and the majority of that is in the interactions of nature, not in the aberrant creations of mankind. This resides in an organic vibration and sensory experience of the world that is both emotional, physical, and intellectual. The world is quite different under these circumstances.
Now, I'll admit, it's true that there is goodness in everything that man does, from a certain point of view, but it isn't the kind of goodness we think it is. It is a goodness that emerges from the Dharma, from the absolute value of truth that each thing has — not the material wealth it represents to the ego.
The absolute value of truth, this quality of the Dharma, is the ground floor not only of goodness, but of Being. When Plato argued in favor of a higher good that stood above all things, surely, he was referring to this quality. And this absolute value of truth, of goodness, emanates directly from the divine and is what inwardly forms every material manifestation. Even the ones that outwardly manifest in ways that seem to be evil originate from within the good.
This leads us to a paradox, because we must accept the materialistic world we find ourselves in, and these perverse values, this grasping, even though they are clearly incorrect. The most we can do, in the face of this tidal wave of desire, is to manifestly and steadfastly attempt to represent our own inner values to the outer world according to the dictates of our understanding.
Everyone of us who seeks inner understanding finds ourselves on the horns of this dilemma, trying to navigate the treacherous waters between Scylla and Charybdis. Perhaps we even hear the voices that goad us in one direction or another. All of this is lawful; part of the yes and no that creates the inner friction which can transform a soul.
So perhaps we should be grateful to materialism and its excesses; after all, it gives us a yardstick to measure the value of life against. All it takes is a little separation from it to see it for what it is; and in that seeing, the wish arises to discover something more than this.
Recent discoveries point to a possible single origin for all of the known major human languages, which existed somewhere around 15,000 years ago just after the last major Ice Age ended.
Understanding that all languages probably shared a single cultural root, we can also see that almost all religious understanding stems from much more ancient times than we appreciate. Some of the earliest cultures derived from these linguistic roots appeared in the Indus River Valley civilizations; here, as well, we see some of the earliest roots of what undoubtedly evolved into yoga practice. (See Thomas McEvilley's The Shape of Ancient Thought.)
When we speak of ancient schools that taught the inner sciences, we aren't speaking of schools that existed 4,000 or 5,000 years ago, at the beginning of the Babylonian "origins" of middle eastern culture. By the time Babylonian culture appeared on the landscape, mankind's religious practices had been evolving from a common root and within even more ancient societies for many thousands of years. To me, it's entirely plausible that religious practices which might be recognizably familiar to us today — including the form and order of services, the nature of hymns and prayers, and so on — may stretch back between 10 and 15,000 years. Human beings that long ago were not just dirty, unshaven persons wearing animal skins — already, they were building temples and engaging in sophisticated religious practices that laid down the foundations for the inner sciences we study today.
Every modern religion comes down through history as an inheritor of all those traditions. Perhaps it can engender more respect in us to recognize that our collective spiritual practices extend back through time in an unbroken chain from individual to individual over many hundreds of generations. Mankind has been on a search for the spiritual seed within his Being ever since he acquired an awareness capable of understanding that such a seed existed; our culture's steadily evolving abandonment of that search in favor of materialism and technology can only end badly, since it is never possible for materialism and technology to create the inner conditions that feed a truly civilized society.
In a certain sense, the reliance on materialism and technology is in itself a form of barbarity. These forces teach no respect whatsoever for the inner life, and are incapable of suggesting or imposing a sound and responsible morality. They only feed the lower parts of man, and the more ascendant these forces become, the more we betray our heritage, our parents, grandparents, and every right-thinking man or woman down through those hundreds of generations who made a real inner effort to be a human being.
Materialism and technology does not make human beings; it makes things.
I frequently ponder this in the midst of my business life, which is a life in which I participate in the manufacture of things. It often seems as though human beings get forgotten during that process; it's all about thinking up the things, making the things, selling the things to people who want things.
It's much more interesting to pay attention to the people; yet so often, all of the people are forgotten. They are only measured by their desire for things; and they even measure themselves accordingly.
The human journey through time is supposed to lead to a landscape with much richer features in it; yet even the map for that landscape is being steadily erased. Google can't find it for us.
I think we need to help one another remember what is important.
Having done all this work on the interpretation of Bosch's paintings (I'm not finished — there are a number of paintings left to interpret, which I am working on and will wrap up at some point, possibly this year) the subject of heaven and hell has been much on my mind lately. After I finished working on the garden of earthly delights, I decided to read Emanuel Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell in its entirety. It still surprises me that this altogether remarkable man's work is so obscure in today's spiritual world.
Swedenborg's worthy summary aside, it might seem to the casual observer that we can't know anything definite about heaven and hell; yet the kingdom of heaven is truly within us, and exists in all its glory within the realm of conscious experience and action.
Mankind has reduced his functions to a primitive level, in which everything becomes a kind of intellectual argument, rather than the active exercise of Being. Heaven expresses itself to the extent that Being manifests; yet Being does not manifest in the fantasies of the mind, but only in organic perception. Secular materialism has become an exterminating influence; it is exterminating meaning and exterminating the understanding of life. Life, after all, consists essentially of love and of meaning, and atomistic materialism is unable to give any adequate explanations for these functions. We are hypnotized by our proclivity for turning everything into a thing, an object; in doing so, we steadfastly degrade the action of consciousness within man.
In the course of this deterioration of understanding, we confuse the material with the spiritual. Yesterday, I had to explain to someone that it's necessary to distinguish between the vessel which receives, which is material and earthly, and that which is received, which is spiritual and heavenly. The spiritual is what is received; and it comes in the form of understanding and impressions, which are personal and inward. No external experience can be called spiritual. No external manifestation can be called spiritual. The receiving of impressions can be spiritual, but it is not the impressions themselves that are spiritual, rather the receiving of them. So it is the action of the vessel which receives, its preparation to receive and its action of receiving, which makes it possible for the spiritual — which is essentially true and essentially moral — to manifest.
The collision between earthly manifestation and the receiving of the spiritual is ongoing and perpetual. All of us are, to one degree or another, unprepared; and confusion arises. Gurdjieff was wise enough to build his entire masterpiece, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, on this premise. His was the intellectual structure (at least, in terms of the legacy of this book) yet the practical structure was largely expounded by his pupil Jeanne de Salzmann. Both of them emphasized our need to locate ourselves in the middle of this interaction and experience it. De Salzmann was acutely aware of the confusion we find ourselves in, and asked us to demand of ourselves that we see this.
When Gurdjieff referred to the law of reciprocal feeding, it appeared to speak about a law regarding ordinary biology; yet the law applies to the relationship between the inner and the outer. All of the material world arises from and is fed by the higher, transcendental spiritual principle that is embodied by the flow of the divine into the universe. Yet all of the individual material arisings in the smaller cosmoses that consequently form feed on the conscious impressions generated by the material world, in order to feed the energy manifested back into the spiritual.
There is a mystery embodied here in which heaven feeds itself. The old adage that man is food for angels is true; but man is also food for devils, a point that I think Hieronymus Bosch made abundantly and even chillingly clear. As Swedenborg indicated, the system is exquisitely balanced.
Where we go depends entirely on where we want to be. We can want to be in hell; or we can want to be in heaven. All of us put ourselves in one place or the other by means of our conscious and unconscious manifestations, our intentions, our will, and our discrimination.
So what does this idea of an inner resident and inner suffering have to do with an inner eye?
The inner is the eye which sees. It is the only eye which has a true vision relative to the soul. All that we see with our physical, ordinary eyes is dimensionless, compared to the vision of the inner eye. The inner eye reveals the truth of situations both within and without, which knits the fabric of reality together in a manner that transforms the outer. This adds a dimension to the vision of life which cannot be described, but only sensed in an organic manner. Even drugs such as LSD, which purport to open the inner eye, do not fully open it, although they produce some spectacular— and unfortunately, often disruptive— results, due to the fact that it is an unbalanced opening.
A man whose inner eye is opened will discover suddenly that he has never actually seen life before. It is a terrible shock to those who believe they know what life is, only to discover that they may have lived 40 or 50 or even 60 or 70 years and actually never have lived before.
But this is what yogis work for; don't work if you aren’t willing to be shocked. In that case, you would be far better off doing nothing.
The outer is of a lower order, but it has a hypnotic quality that binds the attention to it. Only if the inner eye is opened can this hypnosis be counteracted.
The opening of the inner eye injects truth into life, in so far as the inward flow of the divine enters through it. We are vessels into which the world flows; this is the first truth. But indubitably, we are also vessels into which the Divine flows, yet only to the extent that the inner eye is open can this be organically sensed.
The inner resident eventually issues an invitation to the opening of the inner eye. If the inner eye does open, a conjunction begins to take place between the forces of the Divine inward flow and the ordinary outward flow of life.
Because our centers, or chakras, don't act in synchrony and are not harmoniously balanced, there is a functional discontinuity between these two forces. If the inner eye is opened, the adept will have specific experiences of this which verify the situation. At this point, certain meanings embodied in the enneagram will become much clearer.
The cause of suffering in man arises because of this disconnect between the flow of the divine and the flow of the ordinary. In a perfect arrangement, where everything flowed correctly, there would be no suffering, but such an arrangement is no longer available to human beings.
Only by suffering our lack of harmony can we begin to harmonize. That is to say, an attention that sits between the divine inward flow and the inward flow of life is the only agency that can mediate this problem. The lack of harmony between the two forces produces a type of anguish, which is the substance necessary in order to harmonize the system. This anguish develops throughout the course of a lifetime and is one of the most important properties a human being can carry into existence after death, for reasons that are too complicated to explain here.
Most of what I have written about over the last six years in regard to the question of developing an inner intimacy centers around the gentle attentiveness that needs to assert itself in the space between the divine inflow and the outward experience of the world. The quiet place within oneself where the breath is centered, the inner resident, the center of gravity, the opening of the inner eye — all of these are related factors which gently help to harmonize and open us.
Every single one of the actions is intimate, because only an intimacy, a willingness to become close to one’s inner Being in spite of one’s fear, and a willing to know oneself, will serve to foster the development of the energies that are needed to harmonize more deeply.
There isn't a perfect connection. Perhaps there isn't even much of a connection at all; and maybe I'm not quite sure what a connection is.
I've heard about all of these ideas regarding an inner, a higher, energy for many years, and yet perhaps I doubt that I am close enough to it; perhaps I haven't had an intimate experience of it that convinces me completely, or perhaps I think I don't have enough intimate experiences. Or they're not reliable. In any of these cases, I feel bereft and uncertain. I doubt, perhaps. I feel distant from what my inner work is, or what i think it ought to be.
Yet it's possible to know quite exactly what my work inside of Being is, and it is possible to be in precise relationship. Relationship is always there; it never goes away. I simply remain unaware of it, because my sensitivity is blunted. The divine essence that animates life, and Being, is always active within this experience of life. If even 1/10th of 1% of it is there, all of it is there, because truth cannot be divided.
Once one has 1/10 of 1% of the truth, the whole truth is equally available.
The question is how to make truth active within Being. How to understand at all times that there is this organic, intimate truth of vibration that animates Being. First and foremost, this must be trusted. The inner skeptics must be invited to take themselves somewhere else. My intimacy must be affirmed. The truth of Grace must be understood as inescapable, and this must be affirmed with all of Being.
Why turn one's face in the wrong direction? Do I want to see bad things, things that create evil or are destructive? I always have the choice within this moment to turn towards the good within me first; and to say yes, there is good within me. There may be much bad that arises in me, and I have to accommodate this fact; yet this does not mean that I should dwell on it, believe that it is supreme, powerful, or that I cannot be in the face of what is not. There has to be a constant inner effort to honor the Grace that is already given, and stand up within my work.
I can Be.
This cannot just be a thought; it must become organic. It must penetrate to the very marrow of the bones. Only through a constant effort and an affirmation can this take place. Just saying "I wish to be" is nothing. The words are not the point. The wish to be is a feeling quality, a comprehensively sensate action, that arises within the organism, and if even 1/10th of 1% of this is present, all of it is present.
Inner work is meant to grow a root into the depths of Being that alway stays connected to the tree. If the work is nourished, the root is strong; and if the root is strong, the tree can grow leaves and will bear fruit. These are lawful things, not matters of opinion or subjective judgments. We can know our work by the leaves on our trees and the fruits of our labors. But we cannot live in doubt or fear if we wish to know such things.
It is sometimes said that words can never truly transmit knowing or knowledge; and there is some truth in this. But there is a knowing of the soul that consists of words without words; and this is the knowing that we are called to in an effort to come into relationship with the Mercy that is offered.
When I think of man having two natures, I sometimes conceive of this idea of man getting from one nature — this lower nature I inhabit — to the other one, as though it were a journey. It's forgotten that these two natures simultaneously inhabit the manifestation of consciousness, and that they aren't mutually exclusive.
In this way, there are manifestations — I usually refer to them as objects, events, circumstances, and conditions — and a relationship to them. On this level, the relationship is formed by my personality, my intellect, my opinions, my emotional reactions. No matter what the objects, events, circumstances, and conditions are, everything that "I" is is attached to them. It can't help interpreting them or trying to assign meaning to them.
Yet the objects, events, circumstances, and conditions do not have my opinions. They don't have my intelligence, my awareness, or anything else. They just are. They are, in other words, objective. The entire manifestation of reality and the Dharma is objective. Each "unique subjective" — each manifestation of "I" — is an individual encounter with that objectivity. The responsibility of material embodiment is to manifest this, in the guise of what we call the ego.
Yet in the second nature, the unique subjective is surrendered. Having firmly committed myself to the inhabitation, interpretation, and understanding of the material, I must now dare to move past that into unknown territory, in which my own ego existence is uncertain. Paradoxically, the material manifestation of ego exists side-by-side with my higher nature; and in this higher nature, none of the things that take place in the ego are going on.
In a certain sense, there is nothing happening here. Everything is still happening; yet in an inner sense, there is nothing at all happening. Things are quite still. There's a separation between all of the activity that is still taking place in ego, and this still quality that is connected to an inner expression of Truth.
In this place, there is a quality of waiting. Perhaps one discovers an intimate contact with this place; if so, one decides quite gently and easily that one could inhabit that; and one just sits down there and waits.
The outer action of Zazen, that beautifully disciplined form, is nothing more than a mirror of this action, expressed externally. The action is to go there inside and sit. One sits because one sits; one doesn't sit for any particular reason, or to get anywhere. One just sits there. There is no specific reason to sit or not sit, but one sits. We have heard Zen masters say such things; yet we attach them to the outer action of sitting, rather than seeing that there is a place inside in which this action is undertaken — no matter what else one is doing. One can be walking up a hill or driving a car, and still sitting. One can be yelling at one's child and still sitting.
This is because to be still sitting is to be still sitting anywhere.
This activity may be unfamiliar, because the lower parts are accustomed to the idea that they ought to be doing something. They need to be allowed to do that, and not interfere with sitting. It's a most peculiar thing; on the one hand, everything is going on. On the other hand, there's nothing happening.
Practicing in this way, one may eventually begin to find that aside from the definite necessities, there is no need for a lot of the other external activities. One can just be there. Being there is enough. There is no need to make things or undertake artificial entertainments. It's a most curious situation. Typically, it makes the lower parts uncomfortable, because they discover that they are quite satisfied, but still think they ought to be "doing" something.
But they quiet down when they see that things are just fine as they are.
When this state is available, everything is completely sufficient. I remember my teacher, Betty Brown, telling me about a day like this that she had a year or so before she died. She found it quite astonishing; everything was completely sufficient, and there was absolutely no need to do anything. Her children and her family were over to visit her, and she was completely contained, sitting within herself, not needing or wanting anything — completely invested and satisfied with the simple truth of everything that was around her.
Any day can have moments where this becomes more apparent. But only if one comes into relationship with the inward flow that is attracted by the action of an inward sitting.
One of the characteristics of heaven is that all things have an affinity for one another. Divine Love has the property of causing affinities to lawfully arise. In the material world, we call this physics and chemistry; yet our understanding of them needs to be different, and much more than material.
The ability to perceive Love is an affinity; we perceive spiritually in so far as we perceive affinities. If one perceives with Love, one perceives with affinity. Dust on a counter top becomes a loving presence. The expression of a single color reflected from a single pebble becomes a loving presence. In this way, we see that every manifestation within the universe is a loving presence.
Because we tend to focus on the gross particulars of the objectively insane interactions between human beings — which are attached to the actions of the human consciousness involved, not to the affinities of the things or objects that humans are forever manipulating — we think that this or that is bad. But no results can ever be bad; results are simply results. It is intentions that are bad, and when we find something to be horrible — murder or war, for example — it is the intentions that are at fault, not the explosions or the deaths and so on.
One could ponder this at great length, and I fully expect that some readers will not understand exactly what I am saying here. We prefer to see the results as bad, because we do not want to admit that the intentions are the problem — after all, we all share to one extent or another in these bad intentions. Even more confusing, we want to believe that all of our own personal intentions are good, for one rational reason or another, no matter how bad they may be. In this case, bad is always determined by selfish.
What is far more interesting to me than a detailed examination of our flawed understanding of morality is our ability to perceive affinity. This ability to perceive affinity is one of the structural foundations of Love, which is expressed on our level by the manifestation of aggregated affinities.
Aggregated affinities, which are all heavenly in nature, create increasing degrees of complexity, and each one expresses more and more beauty. This is why a crystal that precipitates from a superheated fluid is more beautiful than the fluid itself; it is why a series of molecules, married by the action of DNA and affinity, becomes a kitten, which we find adorable because — well, because kittens are adorable.
The point is that all of these affinities arise and provoke correspondences in us because they are heavenly. The material reductionists who try to explain this using "science" (i.e., the constrained belief set of atomistic materialism) will always and forever be unable to explain these principles, because they come from a higher level, a conscious (emergent) level.
In so far as the organism is prepared to receive the impression of affinities, so does it participate in heavenly action. Heavenly action is not restricted to some other sphere, but is ubiquitous and takes place everywhere, at all times. It takes place with or without the conscious participation of individuals. We are privileged enough to be capable of participating; yet we can't participate without some effort.
The study of affinities and the understanding of affinity relative to the meaning of one's individual life is well worth undertaking. With discrimination and attention, we begin to see that affinity affects everything. My taste buds have an affinity for the taste of bacon in the morning; the cells in my eyes have an affinity for the color of an iris, and on a larger scale, my emotions have an affinity for my wife, the dog and our cats, and so on. The study of meaning and the study of life itself ultimately ends up being a study of affinities. This is a study that needs to be taken up with great intimacy and great care. Very simple things are far more interesting if this is properly understood.
What I find equally interesting is that in the midst of this effort to perceive and participate in heavenly affinity, we form a great deal of rejection in us. Because we are too active in our personality, we reject a good deal of the affinity that is offered; if we become passive in personality, and active in essence (which is actually a certain and very specific kind of passivity) we are much better able to receive the affinities that come our way.
This can be a quite astonishing experience, if it takes place.
Having embarked on this series of essays about various inner actions, it seems appropriate to wrap things up in one way or another with a final essay that centers on the question of Love, which, after all, is the Divine motivational force for all of Being.
An extraordinary and intimate observation is necessary, from an inner point of view, because we need to see that we are not loving. To the extent that we see this, we may become loving; yet we only become loving through a willingness to suffer ourselves, surrender ourselves, and give ourselves up to become agencies of the Lord.
These are fairly high-minded ideas, but they can be easily applied to the intimate and merciless examination of each separate thought and action we have, all day long. Look, look, look; every single manifestation needs to be seen. If we do not suffer and question our selfishness and our relentless ego-manifestations on a nearly constant basis, without judgment, but with a willingness to see and move on, the action of love cannot enter.
Love always begins with a question: not loving? One must prepare oneself and consider every outward action from this point of view.
One is bound to fail. Yet one must try. If one asks, always, not loving? in regard to one's outer action, one is actually issuing a call for help, since this is a form of confessional; yet not a rote form of confessional, rather, an active form of confessional that goes hand-in-hand with the daily practice of prayer consisting of Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.
We are helpless in the face of our sin and iniquity. The belief that we have power is part of our sin and our iniquity. In the same way that the lamb must be sacrificed, and the sheep shorn of its wool, all of these things have to go in order for Love to manifest.
In what will sound like a paradox, opening to one's suffering — one's inner suffering — will invariably and inevitably lead to the highest expression of Love that is possible for a human being, on this level. This is a mystery that cannot be explained any further here, because each human being must reach a certain level of understanding within themselves and for themselves in order to discover what it means. Even though one could write a detailed description of it, it would be a pale shadow of what actually takes place. Sacred things of this kind must be earned.
We are here to express the action of Love through suffering. Once again, this is one of the meanings of Christ's crucifixion. It is talked about in church; and held up as a symbol. But what we are meant to do is live it; and that action of living it involves an inner sacrifice which we must come to understand in our personal covenant with God.
The word freedom is used a great deal. In doctrines of liberation, it is the sine qua non of attainment, what we wish to have, even though we are instructed to become unattached and are definitely not, according to the great Zen masters, supposed to “attain” anything.
For most people, the concept of freedom and liberation in an inner sense is just that. A concept; but a concept they want. I’ve spent a good deal of my adult life listening to people who don't know much of what they are talking about, or know a little bit, expounding on it as though they had some higher level of understanding. For the most part, from what I've seen, the more adamant anyone is, the more certain it is that they know little or nothing about this question. Because arguing about these things is entirely pointless, I rarely say anything to them; it is like giving oars to mountaineers. The certain thing is that the error of understanding on this matter is disturbing; and the more deeply vested individuals become, the greater the likelihood of error.
For my own part, I underwent a distinctive and extended experience a number of years ago in which the nature of this inner condition was revealed to me, along with other material I'm not permitted to repeat in writing. I won't describe it in any detail — or the circumstances under which it was given to me — but I will say that understandings about this state as we read about it or hear it talked about are comprehensively false. The falsehood does not stem strictly from the descriptions, which are already primarily hearsay, and generally inaccurate, but from the idea that this state is the goal of one’s inner work.
Let me state categorically that the state of complete inner freedom is not appropriate to this level; and more so, it isn't enough. Human beings have been sent here to suffer the conditions we are in for reasons, and we are not all meant to be avatars—far from it. On very rare occasions, higher individuals do show up on the planet who embody a much greater level of freedom, but — as in the case of Christ (whose example ought to serve as a dire warning to everyone who thinks they want liberation)— they do not live lives in which they suffer less than other human beings, but in which they suffer more, sometimes, even a great deal more. One must say that on the path to liberation and inner freedom, once one is liberated and free, things get much worse before they get better.
But don’t take my word for it. Read on.
Bad is, of course, relative; one of the characteristics of inner freedom, to whatever degree it arrives, is that help is sent. This doesn't excuse anyone from continuing to suffer. For human beings, it is only the extent to which we suffer during this lifetime that matters; and I don't speak here of an ordinary or an external suffering.
The pursuit of inner liberation is, thus, in a certain sense a false doctrine, in so far as it may be construed as bliss, nonattachment, satori, and so on. This is what Christ meant when he said, "I bring not peace, but a sword," and, equally important, "the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.” There have been some few uncompromising and unflinching Christian and Buddhist masters who reminded people of this, and some rarefied Sufis who hardly anyone pays attention to anymore these days, but they are few and far between.
The path towards Love is beset by fire on all sides. The one who walks it must suffer it. We live, unfortunately, in an age when the struggle we need to undergo is constantly whitewashed until it can’t be recognized anymore.
Inner liberation of the kind that is appropriate to us on this level is a liberation from the attachments that prevent us from growth. If that is attained, it is just a beginning, because a great deal more suffering and effort is needed from that point onward. Liberation and freedom, in other words, are a starting point, not the aim of an inner work, after which one can rest.
I stress again, that the suffering is an inner suffering. Understanding this question has little or nothing to do with outer circumstances. It's quite possible that outer circumstances will improve more and more until a person is in absolutely wonderful outward conditions, but inwardly in the midst of the most terrible anguish and suffering. Gurdjieff cleverly painted an elaborate allegory in order to explain this quite exactly in his chapter on the Holy Planet Purgatory; and there is your supporting evidence for why, "liberation or no liberation," things get much worse before they get better.
Hence, when Jeanne de Salzmann speaks of freedom and inner liberation, I believe, she speaks very specifically of a certain level of these qualities which must appear in order to continue one's work. Not an endgame of some kind. I'm not sure those who read her writings quite understand what she is getting at, because most of the references she makes to freedom and inner liberation actually relate to a kind of nonattachment that will not remove suffering, but make even greater suffering possible. She was not trying to lead us to the end of any path, but rather, to set us on the beginning of one. The inner center of gravity — a vital understanding which must be attained in order to move any further — and the quality of inner invulnerability are properties that can assist in this.
Those whose understanding of these questions is theoretical or formed by reading books will undoubtedly continue to believe that what I say here is incorrect. The very idea that anyone would want to make even greater suffering possible in themselves escapes the average seeker, and violates the accepted definitions of the inner path which incorrect understandings have sold us, most especially in the present age. But then again, it is easy to misunderstand if one doesn’t know what is meant by the word suffering.
Mr. Gurdjieff most certainly understood this question, uncompromisingly so, and turns out to be one of the few voices one can listen to and trust in this matter.
Completing yet another trip to China, I find myself wrapping up yet another long period of contemplation, which is what always seems to emerge when I spend several weeks in a foreign environment with a good deal of time to myself.
Coming to it at this moment, I'm struck by how little I know about myself. I, like everyone else, tend to project myself confidently, as though I knew who I was or what I was talking about. I find it surprising that people consider me intelligent, even professorial. I am acutely aware of my own limitations and spend a great deal of every day examining my inner processes, which appear to me to bear little relationship to how others perceive me from the outside.
Perhaps one difference between me and others I know is that I don't believe in what I am doing. Every instance of action becomes an occasion for questions; the things that I say with confidence are not my own, they don't belong to me, but were all given through revelation. So there isn't anything there that is mine, even though people ascribe these things to me.
The only purpose that we have on this planet is to serve others, and yet an enormous amount of the way each one of us lives turns out to be a life in which we want to serve ourselves first, and others second. Any reasonably incisive degree of self remembering or self observation will quickly reveal how many tens of thousands of instantaneous turns of thought go in that direction. If we want to see anything about ourselves, it would be most useful to see our selfishness; and yet we don't.
A person needs to find a quiet place in themselves in which they can sit down at all times and see what is going on. Everything still has to go on; but one must also be sitting down inside themselves and asking questions. One can't stop things from going on, or try to alter the circumstances, because if one does so, one interferes with the behaviors one is attempting to learn about; so one must, in a sense, violate the basic principles of inner decency in order to understand why there is a violation in the first place. Patching it over won't help.
I think we are all put here to develop this quiet place inside ourselves, from which we can see what we are. The noise and distraction of life very nearly prevents this from happening in human beings; only an intentional engagement, the undertaking of a life with a meditative practice, can begin to form this quiet place. Even then, it is constantly disturbed; because we interfere with everything, the moment there is a quiet place, well, we want to interfere with that. Nothing can be left well enough alone, even though this particular place ought not to be touched. The resident should sit down in it very quietly and be left alone to do the work that needs to be done.
If there is any sense of the sacred, any sense at all that there is something more precious in life than the battering of each other for wealth, sex, fame, and glory, it needs to have this quiet place which isn't interfered with. The development of the soul needs to be an untouchable action, off limits to our ordinary being.
I suppose if one wants to discuss joyful manifestation (which only becomes possible through the toleration of a great deal of suffering) one also ought to consider the question of applying inner energies.
What is the point of opening to a higher energy? Do we want to attain freedom or liberation? If so, what do we want to be liberated or free of? And why should we be free of it?
Opening to a higher energy cannot just be a form of inward narcissism, in which one blissfully merges with the Divine. There is a direct responsibility to mediate the inner forces of higher energy with outer life, and to offer them generously and unstintingly to others. This does not mean we dissipate ourselves, or spend energy foolishly; it does mean we learn to actively act with kindness and compassion, that is, actively in the sense that we attentively come closer to the Divine kernel within ourselves, bring it into relationship with the ordinary body and our personality, and express it outwardly in a natural and gentle form that considers others.
You can tell how much people are working by whether or not this is taking place in them. Every kind of cruelty, criticism, or faultfinding that manifests is the result of a failure to correctly channel a higher energy into a situation. These manifestations masquerade as some kind of authority, but each one of them is a falsehood. The truth is discovered within the loving manifestation between human beings as they encounter one another. A manifestation that is not loving is, at its essence and ultimately, untruthful. It does not acknowledge the higher; it falls into the lower and consumes itself. When Gurdjieff said that we all live through lies, this is what he spoke of.
One might think that this sets an impossibly high standard, and from the point of view of this level, it does. But we are speaking of levels here, and the truth of a higher level has this standard as its ordinary condition, not a special one. We measure everything by this level — as I said before, we live in the age of false measurements — and thus we do not understand what the manifestation from a higher level consists of. There are so many within our society posing as ones with authority who do not manifest properly that one can't even count them. This includes spiritual as well as political and social leaders, artists, and so on. (It's often the simplest and most unpretentious of people, the ones who aren't trying anything special, who most effectively get out of the way of a higher energy and allow it to do the work it is supposed to be doing. The irony is apparent.)
In attending to my inner energy, I asked this question of myself constantly, because I must suffer, tolerate, and interact creatively with my negativity in every step I take. It is ubiquitous and unyielding; if I go against it directly, I can't find a way around it. I have to be a sly man, a clever man; I need to ignore it, in a certain sense, and to even actively tell it to go back down to the place where it came from, recognizing that it is not me. So, as I converse — I am taking a real example here — at dinner, and see one selfish or unkind thought after another arise, produced by the machine that generates these things, I tell each one of them quietly, responsibly, and gently to go away. I don't have to believe in them; they aren't me. But I do need to take the energy of Grace that I have been gifted with and actively use it to wag my finger and say "no" to each of these little demons as it arises. There are times when they are going to be stronger rather than I am; but the more I come into relationship with an energy that informs — that inwardly forms — the more I am able to say no to these things.
And I have to be innocent myself. There is a need to show up in the midst of life, untouched by my own paranoias, concerns, and the usual nonsense I dream up about how everything is wrong, and just ignore all of that stuff and be with the people I am with.
See them as human beings. Who are they? What are they doing?
They want to be touched by something positive, and I may be able to give that to them, if only I am a little more attentive. I can help them by offering some of this energy I have so carefully cultivated and tried to become open to. It wants to be with everyone; it doesn't belong to me. It is my duty to share it.
But first I have to be there, and then I have to see that I must offer it generously, without attaching it to my negativity.
This, in any event, is how I see the practice. Others may disagree.
Although it is objectively true that we need to intentionally suffer ourselves, we have a parallel responsibility to manifest joyfully. This is a difficult task, because most of us manifest according to our emotional attitudes, and most of our emotional attitude is negative.
Nonetheless, opening to an energy that is selfless — available through the offering of oneself in a simple and natural way to the conditions of life — can help us to open to the possibility of joyful manifestation. This means not thinking of ourselves, but thinking of others, and of acting directly through the best kind of compassion and kindness that we can find available within ourselves. In these instances, we are transparent; we aren't asking for anything, all we are doing is offering ourselves, who we are, the way we are, to the other.
This kind of gentle and attentive correspondence to others, in which we consider their well-being and offer a kindness of one kind or another, can be transformative in itself. In this kind of attention is the essence of what Mr. Gurdjieff called outer considering, a practice which he appears to have mastered (along with many other remarkable personal manifestations which were, to say the very least, unexpected.)
In any event, there is much to be said for showing up in life and just trying to be joyful. We need not be overly earnest; the first requirement is to be gentle, and to see the other person. Ideally, in encountering another person, we put aside all those nasty little prejudices which we nurse so assiduously to our bosom when we are thinking in private. We have all these bad parts, to be sure; but they are not necessarily an essential part of what we are. They are incubi and succubi, evil sprites that can be rightly banished to the lower hells of our being if we are attentive and know them for what they are.
In this attentive inner banishment of the bad, and intentional inner turning towards the good, we do our best to discover our inherent and natural good feelings towards others; to value others, to offer them everything we can of a joyful exchange, a positive exchange, one based on friendship, support, and brotherly or sisterly love. This doesn't have to be some idealized exchange; it's quite simple, and can only take place in the moment, uncontaminated by our ideologies, politics, or religious beliefs. It's just two human beings, being human.
Because human beings are vicegerents, or earthly representatives, of God, the natural human state, stripped of all the egoistic pretensions we carry in us, is one of selfless and loving expression. If we were to abandon our own will and inhabit the will of God, this is the only kind of expression we would be capable of. God, after all, is merciful above all and loving above all; and he expects us, acting at our best, to express exactly these qualities, and none of the evil or petty qualities that we are usually filled with.
I've spent some time on this trip (I'm writing this in China, although it won't post until well after I am back) contemplating the enormous amount of gossip, pettiness, and outright ill wishes that we all harbor in even the most casual exchanges amongst one another. We forget ourselves; and in forgetting ourselves, we don't manifest joyfully, as an offering towards life. Instead, we manifest selfishly, according to our inner considering.
I keep encountering difficult situations during this trip, and I keep reminding myself over and over again that my job is to tolerate and suffer the conditions, and to move forward in an effort to manifest the positive. This requires a constant vigilance and a constant application of the inner energies acquired through work to intelligently navigate life without damaging others, and finding good solutions. It's like shooting the rapids on a river; and one does hit rocks, there is no question about it. Every day, I slip and fall; I find myself being a slippery political animal instead of a straightforward and decent human being; and to be true to the matter, business sometimes requires that, no matter how unsavory it may be. One learns to be flexible; one learns to change one's direction over and over again as rocks appear and one must maneuver around them, but one attempts to remember not to do any harm — above all, to do no harm.
I don't know of any better action one can offer in life than to be decent, kind, and loving towards others, no matter the circumstances. It is the individual and collective shame of every man and woman — and I emphatically include myself in this category — that we fail so miserably in this effort.
I find it necessary to write another post following up on this question of Christ, which is the essential question for every Western religious person, if not the whole world, and which ought to be at the center of every sincere follower of the Gurdjieff method.
Understanding on this question has been degenerated over centuries, and because human understanding no longer corresponds to a rational (what Gurdjieff would call three-centered) understanding, people are unable to sense a right position in regard to this question, even if they profess to be Christians. This includes radical Christians and fundamentalists, who are just as mistaken on the issue as those they believe themselves superior to.
As I said in the earlier post on the subject, one cannot pick and choose in this matter. To paraphrase Gurdjieff, if one thing is true, everything is true. In this sense, one cannot just take a part of Christianity, the part one prefers, and have it be whole. Even one single fact which constitutes actual inner understanding that reveals the truth of Christ verifies and renders the entire question of Christ true. One cannot have part of Christ or the Christian story; it's an all or nothing proposition. So let us begin by understanding that we cannot make compromises on the matter.
This is not a proposition that manifests or can be found in the outward world. Although all of the outward manifestations are, in one way or another, real reflections of the Dharma of Christ, each one is just a fraction or a fragment. The entire truth of Christ is found within the living heart of human beings, in the Divine center that was mercifully given to each being when they were born. This Divine seed is a mystery that every human being carries in them that can be born into the light of Christ. But it is not opened unless it is properly tended to.
We are all separated from Christ by our entire nature; and it is our entire nature that must go if we are to become open to Christ. Even the most earnest and ardent seeker must spend decades and perhaps even lifetimes before that opening becomes completely possible, because it only takes place on a level where we have completely subjected ourselves to the humility of the Christian practice. That is, we must entirely and completely admit the whole of Christ into our heart, not just the fraction which we are pleased with or which satisfies us.
This idea of pleasure and satisfaction is exactly why Gurdjieff rejected the idea of pleasure, calling it "shit." Our pleasure — and this does not just mean physical pleasure, it extends to the entire idea of pleasure in all three centers — is what we reward and flatter ourselves with in our effort to avoid submitting to the authority of God. We spend almost all of every day inventing little fantasies of one kind or another that put pleasurable images in front of us, and each one distracts us from the dire circumstances we have put ourselves into our failure to make dutiful and right efforts toward submission. Every human mind and soul is eternally, it would seem, preoccupied with such nonsense, which can only be dispelled by an active and—let me put it this way—aggressive practice of prayer.
All of the Tantric and yogic practices that attempt to expunge desire from the heart of man center around this particular question. When they became attached to outward ethical and moral questions, they lost force, because they were never intended to target the outer results of our inner failings. It is the inner failing that must be addressed. The secular attempts of Western (and, let's be fair, Eastern as well) civilizations to externalize and codify these practices into laws and ethical systems have always been upside down, since it is impossible for them to manifest properly without the development of the inward attitudes that create the unethical situations in the first place.
Nonetheless, we see man continuing to make efforts to invest the power of transformation in his institutions, not his Being. (Only a few unique statesmen such as Dag Hammerskjöld have, in modern times, begun to understand that a transformation of inner Being is necessary if institutions are ever to succeed in efforts to change conditions for human beings.)
Gurdjieff definitely understood all of this quite well, and cleverly — even brilliantly — designed an entire practice that acts on the deeper part of the Being by sidestepping and avoiding the many thousands, even tens of thousands, of ordinary parts that insist on manipulating and interfering with its development. The development of Being is the development of the divine seed in man, and, in fact, represents the opening to Christ, which only becomes possible if real Being is acquired. To the extent that a man or a woman resists the idea that one should open to Christ, already, the entire inner work has failed in them. And only to the extent that one accepts this and understands that real Being is the opening to the Lord and to Christ (which, let's be clear, may go under quite different names, according to culture and practice, but are always the same thing) can one progress. So you see, in regard to this question, a decisive and essential threshold must be crossed, and a human being can spend an entire lifetime pursuing inner growth without stepping over it.
Progression is not a journey upwards towards heaven. It is a journey downwards into the very depths of being, in which we progressively strip away all of the elements of ego and personhood that insist they are superior to God. It is like digging up a rock in the garden that gets bigger and bigger as you dig more and more, the further down you go. Eventually one discovers that the rock is huge and in fact so big that it cannot be moved out of the garden by one person, or maybe even a team (or group, or school.) This is how big the ego is, how hard and resistant it is to the idea of opening Christ. Eventually one realizes that one must appeal for help from an outer agency in order to move this rock.
In any event. Let me make it clear once again that one cannot have a part of a Truth. Truth is a whole thing, and one cannot carve it up into bits and pieces and selectively take what one wishes. The truth of Christ as a whole thing just like this, and it constitutes the entire Dharma and all that is.
One must begin to see the difference between what one wants to be true and what is actually true. This is called discrimination.
One cannot embrace one's inner work without eventually embracing this understanding.
Christ brought the greatest esoteric teaching in the history of mankind; and billions of human beings have searched for an understanding of it for the past 2,000 years.
There are those who might feel that one can conduct the Gurdjieff work in a bubble that isolates and excludes the question of Christ; I'm not one of them. In my experience this is categorically impossible. After years of inner investigation I've concluded with certainty that any such path is not only profoundly mistaken, but even, ultimately, aligned against the Gurdjieff work itself and all of its aims.
The Gurdjieff work is fundamentally Christian- that is, its radical form is of Christ; and anything that is in any part of Christ is completely and absolutely of Christ, since any fraction of Christ is at once and forever wholly of Christ. One can't segregate Christ and parse Him out according to opinion, whim, or desire.
The work therefore is deeply in, of, and for Christ; which is not to say that it stands in opposition to or in contradiction of any other religious tradition, since Christ is in, of, and for us all; as He is in Buddha, Mohammed, Hinduism, Judaism, and so on. Christ is not an exclusive Being but a comprehensive one; not a division, but a unification. To understand Christ as exclusionary is already to not understand. Despite the apparent interfaith contradiction, one must see that Christ and the Dharma are functionally inseparable.
Attempting to understand this from the narrowly secular view of self-observation and self-remembering is simply not enough. This is a steadfast matter of the heart. Such questions cannot be approached through the atomistic presumptions of materialist foundations, no matter how much entirely valid emphasis Gurdjieff placed on them. (The matter is one analogous to process ecology; it is of the flow of energies from the top down. Interested readers should refer to the book "A Third Window" for insights into this concept.)
Hence one's work must be opening towards Christ, because, no matter what Name He is called by, the only path is through the Heart of Christ.
The mystery of Christ is just that, a mystery; and it calls us to question both our assumptions and our understanding on each and every step of the path. We cannot know; and in unknowing, in helplessness and in submission, we present ourselves to a Grace which offers an avenue towards that spiritual home which every person seeks.
Those who claim to already know, stop where they are and beckon others to them.
Those who have a wish to know depart forever from this moment into the next one, and thus never have a place to rest their head. Each one who does not know travels alone on paths uncharted; and this takes the kind of courage that Christ showed in accepting his conditions. May your soul be filled with light.
In discussing cause and effect, there is a belief that cause and effect lie outside of Being. Yet there is no cause or effect outside of Being. To ascribe cause and effect to anything that lies outside of Being is to misunderstand the nature of what arises.
Everything arises naturally within Being. There are many aspects, but no obstacles. Obstacles may be perceived, but they are illusory. There cannot be any obstacles to Being. Even that which appears to be an obstacle is just another aspect of Being; thus, included.
We convince ourselves that there are obstacles, causes, and effects. Yet what arises, arises inwardly, and simply arises. The outward is simply a reflection of what arises inwardly. We think that the outward creates what arises inwardly, but actually, the situation is reversed. Within every instant of Being, all that is created is created outwardly from the original inwardness of Being itself.
So in reality, everything is much less complicated than it appears to be.
To perceive obstacles is to fail in relationship. If we accept relationship without assuming, the power of cause and effect becomes much less. We aren't attached to it; Being does not have a need for cause and effect. It simply acknowledges the arising of things within itself.
It's interesting to suggest that life arises naturally, and that there are no obstacles. Things simply are what they are. If one arrives in the moment prepared, nothing else actually matters. What is necessary will appear; what is unnecessary cannot appear, since the manifestation in the given moment is always sufficient unto itself. Reality never manifests in excess of need, because it is unable to.
There are times when the energy within the self is capable of aligning so that these things are naturally understood. There are other times when one is not open to an energy that can inform Being in such a way. Both conditions are also natural. One can inhabit either condition naturally, in so far as one is present; thus, even when one is not present, one can be present to that, and in this way, one already aligns with the natural and lawful conditions.
Our contradictions arise because we don't align ourselves properly with the inner energy or with our lives. Almost all of this is the result of tensions of various kinds; yet these too are lawful. I can't get away from them. I have to suffer them within myself, even as I see that this also arises naturally.
If I perceive them as obstacles, they are obstacles. If I simply inhabit the condition, then they are conditions.
In the same way, something that I feel negative about and don't want to do can be an activity instead of a burden, if I understand it as an activity. The activity is an engagement, an opportunity for the self to keep itself occupied within conditions. The self can keep itself occupied within conditions by exercising a concise observation of the conditions. This doesn't mean that the conditions need to be changed or manipulated; but one can see them, and already, this is enough work to keep one busy even in rather unpleasant conditions.
One of the things I don't see is that almost all of me is negative.
This can be corrected, through Grace; but it cannot be corrected by me, because the cause cannot correct itself by itself.
What I am, manifested, is already in complete opposition to the Lord; and this opposition in me is unknown, unexamined, and unconscious. This complete opposition is a direct consequence of my material manifestation, which lawfully places me in a denying position relative to The Lord from the very first instant of my arising. (Those who don't understand this fundamental principle of materiality are encouraged to study the question as it's expounded at the enneagram resource.)
To the extent that I surrender myself, my negativity can dissipate; and indeed, to the extent that I manifest such that there is no self present, to that extent, and that extent alone (through the Grace of The Lord) life and manifestation become transparent, and the Light and Will of The Lord are made manifest.
This can never happen by me but only through me to the extent that I am not me; and indeed I must become other, which is only possible through Grace.
One of my convictions is that I am positive in one way or another. I'm unable to sense the fundamental untruth of this, except by a very long and radical practice of seeing. Even that which appears to be positive is never positive at all, in any way, except to the extent that Grace infuses and suffuses it and to the extent that Christ (whose Name is Grace itself) is present.
I am a long way from Christ. Mary's Grace is immanent; Hers is the First Grace which can be encountered and made manifest. Christ's Grace is transcendent; and although this Grace is the True Grace to which we are all ultimately called, it's only through Mary's Grace that we can approach it, and then only through long and arduous inner labors.
To this end I pray; and in our age, the most efficacious prayer I can apply is, "Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy," a prayer Gurdjieff understood quite well as essential to inner work.
I must pray constantly; because I am perpetually in negativity, only the Divine agency of a higher energy can deliver me from this condition.
These are mysteries which must be lived, and need no proofs.
One of the things that Gurdjieff told Ouspensky was that the knowledge in ancient Egypt and Babylon came from much older cultures that we know nothing about.
Anyone who doubts his stories of schools passing down esoteric knowledge through millennia from culture to culture should read Thomas McEvilley's influential the shape of ancient thought, which details the influence such schools had on both East and West with a thoroughness that ought to satisfy serious academics as well as laymen.
These schools exercised influence for many thousands of years, leaving traces that echoed down all the way into the late middle ages in Europe, as reflected in the architecture of cathedrals such as Chartres and paintings such as Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of earthly delights. The inner technology of spiritual work has never existed in completely isolated bubbles; undercurrents of practice and esoteric knowledge have been secretly exchanged between monastic communities all over the world for thousands of generations. It was only in the liberating light of the 20th century, when many conditions on the planet changed, that it was safe for this information to emerge into the world at large.
Viewers might opt to exercise enough patience to watch the entire video, and while they are doing so, think and ponder just how extraordinarily sophisticated the architectural underpinnings of this building are, how much the builders knew about structural foundation and the correct preparation for wall supports, sealants, concrete, etc.
It's also worth thinking about the sophisticated ceramic technology required to make the mosaics which covered the walls, and the educated and highly skilled workforce that would have been needed to put this building together.
This building did not spring from nowhere out of the ground. The people who built it had extensive experience in this kind of architecture, which, to all appearances, probably dates back to thousands of years before this building was built — yet no record of them exists, anywhere in archaeological history. Similar things can be said about the even more ancient temple at Göbekli Tepe. In both cases, a stunning architectural achievement emerges from out of nowhere, springing full-blown into the archaeological record — and displaying a level of sophistication that then proceeds to deteriorate over the next few thousand years.
The building at Uruk raises questions about ancient societies that relate directly to Gurdjieff's stories about much earlier cultures. If one combines questions raised by structures such as this one — which is truly without precedent, anywhere in the world — with McEvilley's exhaustive investigation of traditions from extremely ancient, and essentially unknown, cultures which influence both Eastern and Western philosophy and religious practice, perhaps we begin to realize that Gurdjieff was not just a spinner of tall tales. His contentions have proven himself out in both philosophical and physical research.
What remains is a discovery that would point to where this ancient knowledge came from. While a steady stream of charlatans, hoaxers, and all-too-credulous investigators have provided us with far too many debunkable and even ludicrous claims about the lost city of Atlantis, it does appear that there is a lost culture somewhere from which what we see as the roots of both Eastern and Western civilization emerged.
We are competitive creatures; it seems to be in our nature. There are arguments about whether it is biological, or whether there's actually some spiritual basis to it; yet despite the idea that getting into heaven is some kind of contest, the conception of spirituality as any kind of competition is, more or less, anathema.
Yet we are all involved in a competition within ourselves. There are in fact two competitions; and in life, we choose one or the other. The first competition is to see whether we will be the greatest of Demons; the second, to decide whether we are willing to be the least of the Angels.
We are unaware of these competitions in us, even though being and life is the battleground for either one.
The ego always wants to be the greatest of demons. It is better, the ego thinks, to be the king of hell than a lowly servant in heaven, and on this level, in this life, it conducts itself exactly according to this principle. This is why Ibn Arabi called it "the evil-commanding ego;" it sees no flaw in this kind of reasoning.
Yet spiritual individuals who have a real wish begin to develop a kernel in their being that understands it would be better to be the lowest servant in heaven than the king of hell. This kind of attitude is an entirely different attitude which has nothing to do with worldly things, or the gain we can realize by pursuing them. The kernel is tiny; and because its aspirations are ones of humility — which is a delicate thing that can barely be pursued, if at all, only sensed or acquired — it appears to have little power over the forces of life or, if you will, hell. If one remains unaware of it, and does not nourish it, it is easily batted aside in the rush to get for oneself.
Yet this wish to serve is not so easily destroyed. It is strong in the hearts of good men and women; resilient, unyielding, steadfastly turned towards an inner light that cannot be broadcast over media, and is not attracted by the material. One can nourish it; and the rewards for nourishing it turn out to be so much greater than all of the rewards being the king of hell might give one, there can be no comparison, because the rewards are inner ones.
These rewards are not well known to Madison Avenue or the media. You can't buy or sell them on eBay; it might even be difficult to find them in church, because they don't stay in church waiting for you; au contraire, if you have them, you might bring them to church, and it would be grateful to you for doing so.
Why are we so steadfastly focused on outer rewards in this life, leaving us bereft and dissatisfied? We have lost our connection to an inner vision; we are too busy competing to be the king of hell. And, one can see from the way outer affairs are conducted in humanity, there is no shortage of those who want to rule as demons. They have never tasted the sweetness of heaven; and I suppose they never will.
There needs to be an awareness, a consciousness, of the fact that life is a battleground where these two struggles take place. If one just shrugs the whole matter off as a philosophical question, it's impossible to gain understanding. We need to have a direct, tangible, emotional and physical insight into this question in order to make it immediate for us.
It's worthwhile to think about the attitude necessary for these two competitions. What kind of attitude does it take to be the king of hell? And what kind of attitude does it take to admit to oneself that one would be willing to be the lowest servant in heaven? This might define a human being, if the question were asked.
And we need to carefully examine we define ourselves, because the definition we assign to our Being may well relate to this question.
So did Gurdjieff ever actually abandon the idea of conventional morality, throw it away like the baby with the bathwater?
He did not — and we know this by way of allegory and subtlety that may not be fully appreciated without some careful examination.
In the chapter, "Beelzebub in Russia," we come across his passage about people who are in the habit of ruling. This intriguing allegory paints a picture of a world where, truly, mechanical action is better than no action, or, rather, action of an even lower nature. He even gives mechanical action the possibility of improvement in this passage; and— as always in this masterpiece of subtle understatement— the passage is an allegory for our inner state.
The hereditary rulers he cites are analogous to the traditions that the religions bring us; they may not be perfect, and they may have lost their conscience, but they at least know, even if mechanically, how things ought to be arranged. In the abandonment of tradition, every imaginable vice arises; and so one is actually far better off with a mechanical tradition than the inventive and perverse replacements we permit ourselves when we throw away the traditions.
Conventional morality, in other words, has a distinctive value, and a definite place. Whether or not Gurdjieff was able to practice such morality himself — and we can reasonably presume he went through a long series of his own struggles (as we all do) with such questions during his lifetime — he was certainly well aware of their value. As we all ought to be.
There is no way, in other words, that one can abandon conventional morality under the excuse that some magically higher force will eventually infuse one with a correct and conscious morality. To believe such a thing is sheer arrogance; a religious aberration of the type that Alastair Crowley advocated. The idea is purely selfish; it bears a relationship to the kind of thing that Ayn Rand tried to sell us, a hobo's pushcart filled with self-love and greed which even she herself discovered she could not actually trundle down the street with any credibility.
Traditions are traditions for a reason. Gurdjieff had enormous respect for them; and we abandon them at our peril. Allowing our sciences or our materialistic culture to dismantle our traditions one by one as though they were worthless is a perilous activity. The individuals doing these things have little understanding of real morality, or the impact that tradition has on the cohesion not just of society, but the soul itself.
We cannot, under any circumstances, allow materialism of any kind—including a false assessment of life that excludes us from the ultimate spiritual requirements of steadfast morality and selfless action, inner and outer— to distract us. It is the duty of everyone on the spiritual path to keep their inner eye unwaveringly turned towards the countenance of God, to represent to the very best of their ability the best possible qualities in a human being.
We will fail; but our failure should be heroic, not the failure of a coward who did not try in the first place, or claimed it to be unnecessary.
Christ said, the kingdom of heaven is within you. (Luke 17:20-21.) He also said, if thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be filled with light. (Matthew 6:22.)
Both of these statements relate directly to inner yoga, and the action of the heavenly spirit within man.
If the inner eye is awakened, the kingdom of heaven becomes a constant presence within man. Man is not removed from his humanity; he is wedded to it. This is a marriage between the inner and outer parts. Like all marriages, it involves compromise, because two differing Beings form a union that gives birth to a different sense of life. Readers should contemplate the idea that the action of marriage in ordinary life is a reflection of the marriage that takes place in an inner and an outer life. Much thought and attention can be devoted to this question.
Christ explained things in these terms to the Pharisees, not because they were incapable — in fact, they were highly educated men — but because human beings tend to understand the kingdom of heaven as a psychological state.
It cannot be a psychological state; and to think of it is an unhelpful thing, because thinking already destroys the truth of what it is.
Psychological states flow from it and result from it, but the kingdom of heaven itself is an inner revolution that begins with sensation of a new kind. It is an organic event, not a mental one. The mind cannot produce the kingdom of heaven; as Christ said, no one can produce the kingdom of heaven and show it to another person.
But the kingdom of heaven can shine with light within a human being as surely as the sun shines with light in the daytime.
It is a very different kind of light. Light does not just consist of what we see radiating from the sun. Light is a substance that informs and creates everything that there is, and some forms of light are, to our organic perception (that is, our eyes) completely dark. It is this light within darkness that transforms the inner Being. The attention must be carefully attuned and intimately engaged if one wishes to understand this question of light within darkness.
In inner yoga, we confront a mystery of Being. The kingdom of heaven is Being; and all that is Being, comes from light. All darkness-in-life — I speak here of the darkness of our ordinary manifestations — is dark exactly to the extent that it is separated from this inner light.
Men and women see and lament their own dark inner and outer deeds, but understand no connection here. That which is disconnected from the inner eye, and cannot see, can only work in darkness. To the extent that the inner eye is open, and the inward flow of the sensation of heaven reaches a human being, to that extent deeds may become more illuminated, and outward action more harmonious.
But thinking of this does one no good. One can think this into the ground without good results. The opening of the inner eye must become permanent, so that it is always feeding life in one way or another. In this way, the inward flow from the kingdom of heaven into life can raise the correct questions, gradually dissolving the hardened kernels of negativity that prevent a man or a woman from receiving their life properly. In order for this to happen, the kingdom of heaven must become an active force within life, not an idea of some magical place that is out there somewhere.
The kingdom of heaven is everywhere, and can arise and express itself anywhere, at any time — for example, right now, in you.
I was walking the famous dog Isabel (who, alas, grows ever older) with my wife earlier this morning, and got onto the subject of these hardened kernels of negativity that people form. Most of mankind is composed of these hardnesses: crystallizations, as Gurdjieff might have called them. One rejects this; one rejects that. Politics, religion, economics, whatever you want: all of it is to be rejected in one way or another.
But above all, we reject people. An inner eye that is closed and shut off from the kingdom of heaven can have no real honor or value of others. This is where the danger lies; because in rejecting humanity and rejecting relationship, rejecting the other, and acting without an active attitude which is inwardly formed through Love and the action of the kingdom of heaven — this is where we take our first step through the gates of hell. Heaven and hell never come later — they are both with us right now.
This is why seeking an organic sensation of Being is such a vital act, and why Jeanne de Salzmann's work is so absolutely essential to understanding what Gurdjieff was trying to convey to us. The reality of Being — the reality of presence — is nothing other than the opening of the inner eye so that the kingdom of heaven can begin to act within a man, secretly, in the sacred place where he forms a covenant with God.