Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gurdjieff, Pauls's first letter to the Corinthians, and sexual morality

It's possible to find multiple points of contact between Paul's letters and Gurdjieff's teachings.

One simple example is Gurdjieff's contention that if a man works, even if his wife is not actively engaged in her own work, she will develop spiritually in step with him. Paul says much the same in 1 Corinthians. There are enough examples of this kind to believe wholeheartedly in Gurdjieff's commitment to an essentially conservative Christian ideology, despite the obvious debts his work owes to Sufism, Yoga, and Tibetan Buddhism.

To me, one of the most striking similarities lies here: Paul's moralizing on relationship and sexuality in Romans and 1 Corinthians bears more than a passing resemblance to the commentary Gurdjieff offers in "Beelzebub in America."

In both cases, the authors offer us what appears to be a scathing condemnation of modern morality and sexual practices--a condemnation which indicates that the controversy over such issues has not changed very much in the past 2000 years. Inevitably, perhaps, their commentary reflects their upbringing in a traditional and conservative society. Both of them interpret the question of sexuality from a biblical point of view, with decidedly Old Testament overtones: in Gurdjieff's work, the fire and brimstone may be implied, but in Paul's Corinthians, we can smell it.

The question arises in me: are we required to take these texts literally? Or is there an underlying question of greater magnitude being presented?

Given Paul's repeated contention in his letters that he speaks primarily of matters of the Spirit, it's reasonable to presume that there may be more going on here than just preaching about who you should be allowed to have sex with, and when. Gurdjieff, too, was famous for saying "bury the bone deeper," that is, to make sure that the meaning not be made too obvious.

What, I ask myself, could these two authors be trying to get us to understand, in their remarkably similar tones, on a more or less identical subject?

The question leads us back to something that I have discussed many times over the past few months, that is, the question of the difference between the inner -- that which belongs to God-- and the outer -- matters of the flesh, as Paul would put it.

Paul himself points out that all things are lawful unto us, but that not all things are good for us (1 Corinthians 6:12-13. Here, "fornication" is probably intended to define outer sexuality in general.) More than once, in his discussions on law and faith, he offers us caveats of this kind to remind us that nothing is, in and of itself, "bad " (reminiscent of some discourses in Dogen 's Shobogenzo.) Gurdjieff offers no such points of comfort; his assessment is made of a harder wood. Nonetheless, his documented sexual behavior provides ample evidence that he supported Paul's point of view, in person, if not in writing.

Allowing for the idea that all reasonable forms of sexuality are not "forbidden by law," as traditional society would have it -- and still has it today, in the form of a literal morality the fundamentalists of every religious sect would have us adopt -- why all of the opposition to even rather ordinary sexual behavior?

This question plagues and vexes people in both the macrocosm of the Christian church and the microcosm of the Gurdjieff Work.

Should we throw out all the masturbators, fornicators, adulterers, lesbians, and homosexuals?

That would probably thin out the ranks a good deal, don't you think?

On pondering this question in a broader context, I believe that both Paul and Gurdjieff are advising not renunciation of sexuality but, rather, non-attachment.

In Paul's letters, the ideas of "non-attachment" to the flesh and faith are closely linked. In Gurdjieff's work, identification is to be avoided: the mistaken belief that "we are what we do." There are more than a few parallels to this idea in Paul.

It is not our indulgence in sexuality of any kind per se that becomes the issue here; it is our investment in it, our willingness to let it run our lives. Just about every human being with a sexual drive has experienced that aspect of sex at one point or another.

The center of gravity for sex exists "almost independently" of the other inner centers (chakras), because it creates what Gurdjieff called Si 12, a "higher hydrogen" with more power than just about any other substance the body ordinarily produces. Hence Gurdjieff's famous "struggle of five against one." We cannot let sex run the whole show; in the absence of real willpower -- which none of us have -- a set of rules is better than nothing.

Sexuality is an investment in the outer. It turns our reproductive impulses towards the service of biology alone. There is, however, an inner reproductive process which we thereby ignore. In both Paul and Gurdjieff, we find a call towards understanding of the inner reproductive process, that process whereby the soul becomes a seed for the presence of God within.

Hence Gurdjieff's contention that his Work was, in essence, "esoteric Christianity-" the inner practice of Christ's presence, the rebirth of man in the image of God.

He and Paul certainly would have understood each other on that point.

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

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