Saturday, September 8, 2007

Narcissim, egoism, conscious egoism, and the three ways

Today we're going to examine various levels of self-interest, and what motivates them, from a somewhat unique point of view.


The mythological character Narcissus fell in love with his own image as reflected in a pool of water. His love was a love of the body and its perceived beauty, a love of the physical nature of things and of appearances. One might say there was an attachment to the self born of the body.

We can perhaps examine this in contrast to the Gurdjieffian "legominism," or wise teaching, passed on by the (historically unknown) avatar Ashieta Shiemash:

"Faith of body is stupidity, Love of body depends only on type and polarity, Hope of body is disease." (Beelzebub, p.330, new edition.)

Narcissus fell victim to a form of self-interest connected to the physical. We might also compare his love to the first way, the way of the fakir, who attempts to perfect himself through work with the body.

As Gurdieff told Ouspensky, the first Way is fundamentally incomplete:

Faith of the body is stupidity. Whatever one develops through this facility, it is not informed through intelligence.

Love of body depends only on polarity and type. Because the emotional center has not been developed, the emotional foundation of this work is unstable.

Hope of body is disease. The body is a temporary vessel. "...Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal...." (matthew 6:19). Expecting our salvation through it is delusional.

As with the way of the fakir, Narcissus' self-interest was not a conscious love. It was informed by the body, but not by the emotions or the mind. His love manifested, rather, within his subconscious mind, as symbolized by water.

In our rush to condemn narcissism, we sometimes forget that it isn't all bad. Narcissus' fate, after all, was to end as a beautiful flower. In keeping with the idea of "Inner outer considering"
we might want to remind ourselves that in everyone, there is a place for this kind of self-interest. Denying that it exists would be sheer foolishness. It is in the knowing of the place it has that we take the measure of its value.


Now we come to egoism. In a clinical sense, the word " Ego" is defined as meaning "the self," but in general usage the term egoism is usually used to denote excessive preoccupation with one's own well being and interests.

It occurred to me this morning, as I was walking the famous dog Isabel, that most of us would probably agree egoism as we generally understand it arises from an emotional motive force. Strong egoists usually manifest as powerful emotional promoters of their own interests. So here we see attachment to self through the emotions.

Hence egoism might be compared to the way of the monk, the way of self-love as understood not through the physical--or moving-- center, but the emotional center.

At its best egoism can produce wonderful results. In the Gurdjieff work, it is certainly agreed that everyone needs it. In Ashiata Sheimash's aphorisms (once again from Beelzebub, see link,) excessive involvement with feeling--or emotion-- is characterized as follows:

"Faith of feeling is weakness; love of feeling evokes the opposite; hope of feeling is slavery."

In other words, as with excessive reliance on the way of the body, you can't run and you can't hide. each effort applied to the emotions, each effort that comes through an attachment to the work of ego, produces an effect that is quite the opposite of the intended one.

Faith of feeling is weakness. Exactly as Gurdjieff told Ouspensky, the way of the monk produces an emotional perfection without the strength to support it.

Love of feeling evokes the opposite. It's self evident that excessive egoism engenders negative reactions in others.

Hope of feeling is slavery. To become enmeshed in and rely on on the emotional impulse of life is to lose one's self in a powerful form of identification.

Conscious egoism

Conscious egoism is the force Gurdjieff felt a man truly needed in life if he wished to develop. We can easily find comparisons to the third Way, the way of the yogi, which Gurdjieff advised was the most powerful of the three ways, explaining that a man who mastered the yoga of the intellect would, at least, know what he needed to do to perfect his other centers.

Conscious egoism
is emotional force informed by intelligence. In a sense, we're applying a "cheat" here, because we're already speaking of two centered work, but the bottom line is that the beginning of conscious egoism begins with consciousness, or, an intelligent awareness. Again, from Ashiata Shiemash's legominism:

"Faith of consciousness is freedom; love of consciousness evokes the same in response; hope of consciousness is strength."

Faith of consciousness is freedom. Confident belief in consciousness is liberating.

Love of consciousness evokes the same in response.
Awakened awareness does not provoke polarity.

Hope of consciousness is strength.
Informed by intelligence, weaknesses can be overcome.

Yes, conscious egoism can be construed as attachment to self through the intelligence, but I think Gurdjieff's point was that in his ordinary state, man cannot avoid attachment to self.

Of course it's true, the idealism of the buddhists presumes an ability to develop "non attachment to self" but this is a very lofty goal. From where we begin, attachment to self is always present.

One might say, it was Gurdjieff's contention that since we will always have a devil we have to make a deal with, best that the deal be an intelligent one.

Unless all three ways are informed by intelligence--unless there is an intelligent three-centered work--we may get the "bad results" that Jeanne De Salzmann repeatedly warned J. G. Bennett about, as recounted in his book "Idiots in Paris."

The Fourth Way

I'm pondering here, thinking out loud. This is far from a conclusion.

It's a tricky thing, this Fourth Way of Gurdjieff's. Although a combination of the three traditional ways, it is so clearly born of an intelligent understanding-- that is, the third way--that we are forced to give the third way its due. In the fourth way, we might consider the idea of the body as denying force, the emotions as affirming force, and the intelligence as reconciling. That is to say, unless conscious intelligence intervenes as third force, the fourth way cannot be born.

Once again, we revisit the idea that both Master Dogen and Gurdjieff saw spiritual effort as requiring, above all, an intelligent effort: one that asks us to combine "the science of the West and the wisdom of the East."

Then we seek.

I planned to say a few words about essence here, but the piece is long enough. We'll save it for tomorrow.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.