Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Attachment and Sin

Last night, I was at it again, editing audio files of "Beelzebub in America," pages 922-928, in which Gurdjieff delivers one of his more spectacular and long-winded diatribes--this one, regarding the evils of masturbation. And this morning before sitting I was reading Paul's Letter to the Romans, which also contains its fair share of commentary on so-called "evils of the flesh."

The juxtaposition of the two texts, combined with some impressions of my own state this morning, got me to once again pondering the question of attachment.

The sensory input that we experience from the five ordinary senses forms a "collective of information" within us, which Gurdjieff referred to as personality. Personality may be static in some senses, because it's very resistant to change, but in other senses it is dynamic indeed, because it is generally responsible for providing the short-term responses we have to offer the ordinary world.

Essence--the inward form--has to operate at deeper levels and on longer-term turn arounds, so its response time is not usually up to the day-to-day. (Which lends a new twist to the amusing old saying: "sin in haste-repent at leisure.") Sin arises in the operative sphere of the personality, whereas repentance belongs to essence. We might say that balancing essence and personality consists, in part, of synchronizing--or blending-- their response times so that they can participate equally in the experience of life.

What occurs to me today-- watching several of the more reprehensible parts of my personality inwardly expressing their usual inanely stupid opinions, which, if acted on, would lead to downright destructive outward behaviors--is that none of us have any inkling at all as to just how much we are occupied with, and dominated by, the material formed as a result of the outer senses, i.e., personality. Identification purely prevents us from seeing it.

When we read Mr. Gurdjieff's Beelzebub, for example, because of his "status" as a teacher or spiritual master (a status that, from the moment he died, became forever "no longer directly verifiable," but just more tracks in the metaphysical sand) we forget that he was--like all of us-- filled with opinions, prejudices and ideas that were formed in him as a result of his contact with the outside world. Once these elements were formed, they became an inevitable and inescapable part of his Being.

Remember the principle: once material falls onto our inner planet, it cannot escape the gravity well until death.

The external-sensory parts in question influenced everything G. wrote, and thought, and said. Now, it's true: rambling episodes in Beelzebub which express (variously) Victorian or tribal ideologies, rampant sexism, and objectively absurd medical advisories and "scientific" observations have their shock value. We can grant them that--but perhaps not too much more.

Over the years, I have heard some senior members of the Gurdjieff Foundation rightly disavow some of this reprehensible material. Praise be unto Allah. As the Gurdjieff "organization" (a.k.a. "first tool of the devil," per a joke Dr. Welch was fond of telling) evolves, we may sense losses, but we haven't all lost our senses.

For that matter, I recall one first-hand report in which Gurdjieff proposed something insultingly preposterous to a pupil. The person in question rightly rejected it--to which he then said "Bravo." So some of Mr. Gurdjieff's tests of our mettle are perhaps aimed not at determining what we are willing to swallow, but what we refuse to.

By his own confession, Gurdjieff himself struggled against his own nature for most of his life and never quite overcame it. None of us do; the lesson here is that even the master is not infallible.

It appears to me that Gurdjieff, for all his development, found himself right here with the rest of us--locked in the struggle of the flesh, the struggle with the outer, which Paul speaks of at great length in Romans. (Paul raises a number of ideas that find distinct and unmistakable echoes in Gurdjieff's writings.)

Let us consider our own dilemma in regard to what forms through the senses in light of Paul's assessment of sin.

Our outer senses, and our personality, are inescapably attached to the world, and the worldly.

Christ's call to man, according to Paul, was to discover freedom from sin through an abandonment of the sensual (the flesh) and an adoption of the spiritual--hence the reference to spiritual circumcision I cited last week. Sin in this context is attachment to the outer.

The idea has its partner in Buddhism, to be sure.

Spiritual circumcision requires a major degree of separation from personality, one I fear none of us are up to. We can certainly see chinks in the armor, but we are so throughly permeated by attachments to personality that essence, which senses in far different ways and contains the potential for a completely different element of experience than personality, never gets much of a chance to surface in us in daily life.

Just clearly seeing that these two elements, with their different constituent elements, sensory abilities, natures, and lives, exist within us at all is already quite a big thing.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

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