Yesterday, I proposed the premise of hope without naïveté.
In pondering the question of hope bit more, and considering the question of death, I cannot help but run up against the many comments Mr. Gurdjieff made about the nature of man's soul.
Gurdjieff maintained, contrary to standard Christian belief, that man does not have a soul unless he earns it. This idea also contradicts Buddhist beliefs about the eternal nature of consciousness, and the standard belief in reincarnation.
Gurdjieff was, of course, a rebel. He delighted in upsetting conventions and challenging beliefs. And he was well known for asking his students to do things which, on examination, they knew they should not do, only offering a "bravo" when they came to him and said: "No, Mr. Gurdjieff, I can't do that."
So we see that his practice included active misdirection, in the hopes that his pupils would find the strength in themself not be so influenced, but to find their inner backbone and stand up straight.
On top of that, I know at least one person (now deceased) who knew Mr. Gurdjieff personally as a young adult and was in his presence when she heard him answer a question about whether or not reincarnation actually took place. She repeated the story to me several times: Mr. Gurdjieff, when asked, said something to the effect that words could not properly explain what happens after death, but that it was "something like that."
So, from the horse's mouth, and not on sheets of paper, an admission that the idea of the soul may not be so ridiculous after all.
We can add to that Madame DeSalzmann's famous statement: "there is no death."
So is it possible, in the end, that Mr. Gurdjieff challenged our beliefs about the soul simply because he wished us to not approach the idea as "taken for granted?"
In most religions, after all, we grow up with the idea that the soul is an absolute. This idea is a peg that the hat of many different hopes in mankind gets hung on. Most religious belief revolves around it in one way or another. Even in religious practices which appear to be more "philosophical" -- Zen Buddhism comes to mind -- the idea of an eternal element which is ever-present in manifested consciousness plays a central role.
Perhaps the most characteristic feature of all these beliefs is that they are mechanical, automatic. Human beings who practice religions with such beliefs agree with them by reflex. They are not examined with a critical mind.
That's perhaps the most remarkable feature of Gurdjieff's denial of the "soul owned by default." He dared to look at the question and offer not belief, but a critique. A challenge to the established order which may, in the end, be as profound as the challenges Martin Luther issued to the church.
This, without a doubt, alienates many mainstream Christians, Buddhists, and so on. First of all, it is scary; it implies a finite end to consciousness which none of us want to accept. Second of all, it appears to be arrogant. Who was this one man, to swim against a tide so strong and ancient?
Did Gurdjieff challenge this belief in order to force us to stop accepting the idea mechanically, and to consciously discover and affirm what the soul consists of?
There is certainly a chance of this. In the process of transformation, a real, organic, and tactile awareness of this question must be developed, as opposed to a passive, intellectual, and unexamined one. And in the development of such a tactile awareness --ah! there lies the miracle of life itself.
As I said to my wife this morning, there is far more hope buried in the rich earth of the Gurdjieff teaching than anyone suspects. It is hard-won hope; hope that is not given, but must be earned.
Nonetheless, for all the effort taken to earn this hope, it is worth so much more than a hope that is born without eyes to see.
May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.