Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Coming on the heels of Monday's post about Matthew 6, another set of questions.
Everyone with an interest in the Gurdjieff work eventually discovers that Gurdjieff referred to it on more than one occasion as "esoteric Christianity."
Might we say that the Gurdjieff work is, in other words, inherently Christian?
And if it is, why don't we hear more about Christ in the Gurdjieff work? Why aren't Christ's teachings ever discussed? ...Can we study an elephant and try to understand it--without ever mentioning an elephant?
Memoirs of exchanges while Gurdjieff was alive indicate that questions on Christianity were often raised and discussed, but in over twenty-five more or less uninterrupted years of work within the Gurdjieff foundation, I can probably just about count the number of times Christ has been mentioned in a group or a meeting on the fingers of my two hands.
On the first point, it's evident, one can discover disagreement. In the first place, there's little doubt that the Gurdjieff work owes more than a passing nod to Islam, and, perhaps more specifically, Sufism. (One can, of course, mount a cogent argument suggesting that Sufism and even Islam in general owe more than a passing nod to Judaeo-Christianity. But let's not run in circles.)
The other apparent non-Christian source of genesis for the Gurdjieff work is Tibetan Buddhism. Here again we find interesting correlations, parallels which are not too surprising, given the indications that Gurdjieff spent time in Tibet.
Above all, however, Gurdjieff's roots lie in his Eastern Orthodox childhood. There can be no doubt that the origin of his religious impulses began here, and that (as I have pointed out before in other posts) he never abandoned them.
The intricacies, majesty, and glory of orthodox Christianity (be it Roman or be it Eastern) find direct parallels in the extraordinary iconography, ritual and outright magic of both Hinduism and Buddhism. In my own view, all of the planet's "great religions" are one religion. Born and raised a Christian, I openly admit my Christianity and embrace it wholeheartedly. My own personal experience defaults me back to Christ over and over again, regardless of my interest in and respect for other practices.
Thus I find myself asking why we don't discuss Christ's words more in the Gurdjieff work. Over the years, I have discovered, it is a common practice for apologists to explain that this is because we are not a religion. This despite the fact that some aspects of the Gurdjieff work seem to suggest we are trying to become one ...albeit rather clumsily. So far, the formal branches of the Gurdjieff work haven't even qualified as a decent cult. We are too disorganized-- and, of course, we should probably be thankful for that, even as we scoff at ourselves, and each other.
In any event, it's not just discussion of Christianity that is missing in the Gurdjieff work. We don't discuss a lot of important concepts when we meet in groups. One rarely hears discussions, for example, about love. I've heard all kinds of excuses about that, primarily one that suggests we don't discuss it because we don't really understand what it means. The argument is an unfortunate one, because if group discussions were restricted to subjects we truly understand, there wouldn't be any group discussions, would there?
This lack of attention to the question of love seems bizarre to me, given that love lies at the very heart of this work. Many people have left the work because they determine, in the end, that (for them at least) there isn't enough emphasis on love. It seems to me that the Work may be doing a poor job of communicating this by remaining a bit too silent on the subject. Perhaps it would be all right to talk about love, if we are willing to blather on about so many other things we don't really understand, such as "silence," "energy," and so on.
What do you think?
In the same spirit, perhaps it would be all right to actually study and discuss Christ's words. The man said the most extraordinary things, things no other man has ever said. If the literalist Christians, the fundamentalists, and the organized church are the only institutions laying claim to Christ's words and examining them, then we have only ourselves to blame for what we get. It may be that esoteric organizations such as our "famous" Gurdjieff work ought to be paying more attention to the question of Christ.
If the work is esoteric Christianity, it is inherently Christian. And if it is inherently Christian, should there perhaps be a bit more time spent examining the questions of Christianity itself? Not from the point of view of the books that Gurdjieff wrote, but from the perspective of the New Testament? After all, despite the disturbingly fawning reverence with which the book is treated in the Work (but don't get me wrong here-- I feel it is an extremely valuable piece of work), Gurdjieff did not ever say that his teaching was "Esoteric Beelzebubianity."
This raises yet another awkward question: the quintessentially disturbing dilemma that Gurdjieff mischievously shrink wrapped his entire enterprise in.
Can one be an admirer of Beelzebub and a follower of Christ at the same time?
This question, in and of itself, invites its own special brand of trouble. In the interest of avoiding a tongue-in-cheek endnote, I will try to summarize in a less flippant manner.
The work is inherently Christian. We cannot sign on to the Gurdjieff work and avoid this question. If we consider ourselves Gurdjieffians, it behooves us to study what Christ said, and study it carefully. It not only behooves us from the point of view of our own inner work -- which definitely needs to be informed, that is, inwardly formed, by effort at a relationship with Christ. It is also our solemn responsibility, as members of this work, to strive with all of our being to understand what Christ called us to, to penetrate the mystery he presented us with, so that the words of Christ are not left to be prostituted solely in the hands of the circus acts, the ignoramuses, and the jailers.
One of the most stunning revelations in recent years was Frank Sinclair's memoir ("Without Benefit of Clergy") of Gurdjieff exhorting his followers, one Christmas Eve, to seek Christ and to call on him as though he were real and could come to help us.
If it was good enough for Mr. Gurdjieff to call on Christ, I think it is good enough for me.
I may not get an answer, but to be humbled by the mystery as I call is enough.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.