Friday, January 16, 2009

The role of sorrow

It's bitter cold here in New York tonight. My wife Neal is in the city, leaving me to noodle about on my own. I took the dog out, and when we were half way around the block, I realized it was too cold to walk the dog all the way around the block -- not for me, but for the dog.

We did the second half of the walk in double time.

A good friend from my group came over tonight to do some creative brainstorming, and I saw once again how difficult it is to be present, to have attention. Even with people we love and work with, there is a constant impulse to turn away. One has to keep pushing one's courage to the sticking point, as it were.

We all live through that, if we are observing ourselves. There is a different question I was looking at the same time tonight, and that is the force that comes from above, and the sorrow that inevitably accompanies anything connected to the higher.

This question has been in the air generally. Yesterday I was speaking with a friend who had an overwhelming emotional experience along these lines -- not sentiment, or pity, but a real sorrow that is sent, that arrives from above and penetrates deep into the body. A sorrow that is relentlessly cosmological in nature.

Mr. Gurdjieff certainly understood that one of the main purposes of man's work -- if he put in the effort to make himself available -- was to help share a portion of the burden of the sorrow of His Endlessness. Gurdjieff was unique, so far as I know, in this particular religious understanding. Perhaps I haven't studied it enough, but I don't find it in Buddhism. Once again, I'm no expert on Hinduism -- perhaps rlnyc can help us here -- but it's not there either. Even in Christianity, which lays claim to the esoteric root of Gurdjieff's teaching, we don't really encounter this idea. There are certainly hints of it found in many religions, where humility and compassion play central roles.

But the idea of the essential sorrow at the heart of the universe, and the idea that man should help share that burden -- well, that's unique, isn't it?

This idea, from my own experience, lies at the absolute heart of any real religious understanding, and the sensation associated with it -- the emotion associated with it -- the intellectual understanding associated with it --are, for me, the highest aim that a man can have. There is no experience-- even religious ecstasy-- that compares to the sobering, sacred, humiliating, and deeply moving privilege of sensing even a tiny portion of this sorrow.

What is it that makes Gurdjieff's work different? Why is this idea found in his work and not elsewhere? Why does a diligent practice of his work ultimately bring us to these experiences?

I think the answer to the first two questions is somewhat straightforward. When Gurdjieff said that his work came from influences "C," that is, much higher influences than anything ordinarily found on the planet, he was telling the truth. He brought something from a higher level and offered us the chance to learn from it. Many people confuse his work with other spiritual works, as though they were roughly equivalent. That simply isn't true. Most spiritual work has been diluted, codified, and automatized until little of the real flavor is left in the soup.

This rather obscure man came along in the last century with a bag full of spices, and put the zest back into inner work. Those who know good cooking when they taste it are still eager to eat at his restaurant, even though few of the original cooks are left in the kitchen.

As to the last question -- why his work brings us to this state -- the answers cannot be so glib. Coming to this state of sorrow is no accident. I'm quite certain that Mr. Gurdjieff designed his work specifically because it would make this possible. What I am not certain of is where this leads us, other than to say that it leads us deeper and deeper into an understanding of what it truly means to be human.

In truly beginning to understand our humanity -- our organic composition, our connectedness to the rest of nature, our smallness and our need for help -- we can begin to understand the cosmos itself in a new way, because, as Mr. Gurdjieff reminded us, we are a reflection of it.

There are mysteries here that don't lend themselves to analysis. It's worth pondering the question of sorrow, and it is worth seeking the relationship with what comes from above, to see how vulnerable, how open we need to be to share. Real humility arrives with this force in a way that no theoretical understanding can convey. When we say that we wish to be open, I am convinced, this force and its consequences are what we need to become open to.

If we open ourselves to a force that transforms, we open ourselves to remorse. We open ourselves to suffering in an inner sense that has nothing to do with the ordinary suffering of the body within life. And if there was ever an image created to convey the depth of the suffering that we must all understand in an inner sense if we truly wish to develop, well, it must be the image of Christ on the cross.

That image is something we have become so habituated to that we don't understand it. If we do understand it, I think we understand it only sentimentally, emotionally. We never understand it the way a man who has been crucified could understand it.

But that man, Jesus Christ, actually had those experiences.

It is said he did so for us.

What does that mean? I ask myself that.

As usual, I have a lot of questions.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.


  1. "The Role of Sorrow" article immediately opened me and I "understood" finally, what
    this all means.

    This is something sacred to me, your post is excellent and enlighted people respect this universal truth. Many thanks.

  2. As I have been asked to comment (as rlnyc -- I have started using my first name which is Richard) on this particular blog post, especially concerning the Hindu concepts, I must first of all state that the post itself is a marvel of depth and understanding, and can only have been written by one who has found and is passing through the second conscious shock; that my attempts to enlarge on this post are substantively unimportant, because the tsizm of the post speaks for itself.

    That having been said, I will comment as asked:

    In the Sanatana Dharma, which is the unchanging and never ending wisdom which informs all other schemata of the Creation, the Universe is born of the thought of the Creator, who has the three faces of the Trimurti, or Satchitananda. This is a Sanskrit compound word (compound words in Sanskrit always become ONE word -- the same is true in English in such words as butterfly or wheelbarrow).

    From the Creator's (or MahaPurusha) thought all things come into being for his delight (Lila, Bhoga), but at the same time all things are soaked though and through with Tapas (English: heat, ardor, work, suffering. agony, asceticism).

    Here is the beginning of the long form of the most Sacred mantra of the Brahmans or priests, the Gayatri, which is the Hindu version of the Lord's prayer:

    Om Bhur, Om Buvaha, Om Svaha,Om Maha, Om Janaha, Om Tapaha, Om Tat Yum.

    Going upwards and in as delicate a translation that can be made of these dense and multivalent Sanskrit words (A Sanskrit word may require 18 English words to approximate it's meaning, which is multivalent and harmonious, being considered the Divine Tongue)

    Earth realm,
    Atmosphere realm
    Space (self) realm
    Great realm
    Generating or Categorizing realm
    Ardor (heat and divine work realm)
    "IS"ness realm

    Now if we work out way back down you can see that as soon as something IS, it requires heat, work, ardor and effort to exist, otherwise it would be nonbeing.

    So tapas is at the very top of the scale of being. And just as in the Chakra system, there are really only six Chakras IN the body and the seventh is ABOVE the crown of the head and ABOVE the body proper, so "IS"ness exists ABOVE the actual Creation, which requires heat to exist.

    In pysics this is easily explained -- although we have reached very close to absolute zero degrees kelvin, we can never reach it, because to devoid any area of all energy (heat), would take more energy than exists in the known universe, and take longer than the age of the known universe to perform.

    So there is a barrier that is Absolute: 0 degrees kelvin, or the absence of any heat energy (and as matter is congealed energy, a pure vacuum at zero degrees kelvin could have no matter in it either.

    Now all Fakirs and Yogins preform austerities, as do the Gods such as Shiva, and bring upon themselves Intentional Suffering, both for their own progress, as well as to participate in the creation's very "will".

    Some are within the purview of Hatha Yoga, and many are within the Tantra. There are rituals where a man will sit in the 100 degree summer surrounded by five fires -- the four compass nodes and one on his head. There are real beds of real nails to be laid upon. THere are the fakir's austerities such as standing one one leg or pointing one's finger to the sky for 12 YEARS! These sufferings are replicas of the sufferings of the gods and the creator, who creates through suffering (Tapas). When such a man takes it uppon himself to suffer in such a manner, he is gifted with the replica of the divine suffering's reason de etre; that is, the Yogin is granted powers over the regent of the creator, Great Nature.

    Why do you think Mr. Gurdjieff alluded to being able to kill a Yak from a distance of 10 miles in the third series? What gave him such authority? According to what I have just reported, it is entirely due to suffering and austerities and a complete alignment with the forces that govern the Creation. Those forces SUFFER. And along with that SUFFERING COMES DIVINE BLISS.

    They are two sides of the same coin of Creation.

    Now Jesus came along and performed an austerity unparalleled, as did his disciple Judas, but Jesus took the greater role, as the Creator takes the greater role than the Cosmic Sacrificing Satan does.

    His was entirely an Intentional Suffering, and intentional suffering is without question taking a load off the Creator, who can only create through tapas, or the pain of ardor.

    The Desert fathers learned their austerities from the ancients, like Simon the Stylite, who lived on the top of a pole. This is the way of the Fakir.

    Others wore wool garments so as to suffer relentless itching, as a permanent reminding factor, and the Arabic word for will is "suf", which is the likely root of the word Sufi.

    When Jesus taught, there was no science as there is today, so his cosmology and cosmogony were unnecessary for the sacred Impulse he brought.

    Now there is a division between science and the religious Impulses, which is slowly being bridged by science as it delves into the fabric of the creation (Tantra is a word derived from a root meaning "weave or Loom, so that the ancients knew that if they learned the warp and woof of ANY part of the Creation, they could know ALL the Creation).

    What Mr. Gurdjieff has brought is a new dispensation, weaving together the wisdom and science both of the ancient and the current, which is catching up to him.

    His cosmology and cosmogony allows us to see ourselves in scale, where we become as nothing. In your apartment you are big; in your building you are too; in your neighborhood you are quite small; in your city you are a tiny point; in the country you have disappeared unless you are on the national stage, but even then, on the Earth you are a minuscule part of the slime of organic life that is as thin as a micron thick gold plating, and within the Solar System, well... The Galaxy and farther, you don't exist.

    And yet, we are given to be an instrument of reason, and a useful part of the entire creation. Without us it is all for naught, but we are lowly servants, at a fulcrum of necessity, so we must suffer, and if we change our relationship to that suffering, we enter into another role entirely, and are promoted, and given a raise.

  3. The Buddha taught the truth of suffering. He did not teach “life is suffering” as many suppose - that would be a sad and hopeless teaching. Instead he taught that there IS suffering and his teaching offers a method to penetrate this truth. When one embraces this suffering whole heartedly and does not turn from it, there is the birth of the “one who hears the cries of the world” - Kannon Bodhisattva with her ten thousand hands and eyes who is available to help all beings. I wonder if this is what Mr. Gurdjieff was teaching as well - and how to put an end to suffering, right here and right now in this very body.

  4. Simply thanks.Great piece of writing,specially with such understanding.

  5. wonderfull piece of writing,with such a wisdom.Thanks.

    And yes,in Hindu scriptures consult "BrahmN sutra".There are some parallel sayings.Beutifull.


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