“We have good and evil angels. The former work through our voluntary active nature, and the latter through our passive nature.”
—Notes from a meeting with Gurdjieff, June 30 or July 17, 1922
There’s an implicit assumption… a default position, if you will… that the universe is built with bliss "at the top," and suffering at the bottom. This presumption rests on the simplistic! assumption that it's nicer on the top than the bottom; a vertical directionality dominates much allegedly sophisticated spiritual thinking. Despite the ultimate and inviolable metaphysical requirement of unity—an underlying (that is, outlying) cosmic condition of transcendental oneness—this dualistic up-and-down model roughly mirrors our sentient experience of material reality, which readily divides itself into polarized constituencies, no matter how great our psycho-spiritual and philosophical efforts to eradicate them may be. One feature both theistic and non-theistic (eg., Buddhist) systems share that underscores their common belief in an “above" and “below” is the use of winged angels in their iconography.
Here, then, a simplified version of various classical cosmologies in both flavors: bliss, the ultimate state of divinity (or enlightenment, in non-theistic liberation practices) emanates “above” us, descending from on high; “down” here on earth, we experience suffering as this primordial bliss decays into innumerable dark shades of its former self.
Spiritual evolution, in this common model, consists of rising “upwards” and going back towards the bliss. Said cosmologies thus presume verticality; yet in a universe where "up" and "down" are— at least physically—wholly arbitrary, we're left seeking a new understanding outside of verticality. One which rests, perhaps, on structure; or, better yet, Swedenborg's proximity through intention (spiritually speaking, he says, the soul is ever most proximate to that closest to our intentions.)
There's an alternate, as well, to the idea of suffering as the foundation and bliss as the object of an enlightenment ascension.
Let's propose, instead, that the universe as we know it is built on a fundament, a foundation, of bliss and ecstasy; and the heavenly hierarchy of ascent—which still by the way, does lead back towards God— leads us into suffering, instead of away from it.
This upside-down cosmology may smack of some devilish or demonic premise; yet we need to examine this question if we take Gurdjieff at his word in matters regarding the eternal suffering of God.
—New Delhi, December 2016
More on this in the next post on Feb. 15.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.
Most readers are well familiar with Gurdjieff's formulation of human beings as "three brained beings."
My new book, Being and Impressions, consists of brief and practical discussions on the subject, along with observations about impressions and how we take them in.
The book was written to address some questions that have been directed at me over the last few months on the subject, which helped me to understand that many folks still struggling with these concepts—even after many years of effort to understand them.
Most moving was a friend of mine—a true genius of talent with extraordinary outer accomplishments to his credit—who still after most of a lifetime, feels he cannot understand why impressions don't fall more deeply into him.
His comment touched me in ways that theoretical discussions of these matters never do. I felt it was necessary to undertake an effort to grapple with these questions more directly, in a contemporary language, rather than the material we are all familiar with and have been reading for many years.
The aim in this book is to simplify and clarify some of these matters. It remains to be seen whether I have succeeded. Readers will have to judge.
Interested readers can purchase the book by clicking on the link in the above text.