Metropolitan Museum of Art collection
The dictionary defines conscience as an inner feeling or voice which serves as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of behavior. Gurdjieff's understanding of the word does not appear to be that different, but a close examination of his treatment of the concept in Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson is well worthwhile.
The first place where we encounter the idea is on page 175, where he mentions that the priest Abdil– one of his early true friends on earth– did not have the property of conscience completely atrophied in him. The result, as Gurdjieff explains it, was that he was compassionate and sensitive to the beings around him.
We encounter the idea for the second time on page 184, where the awareness of conscience may allow men to observe the eighteenth commandment of our common creator: “love everything that breathes.”
Moving further into the text, on page 282, he mentions that the emblem of the Society of Akhldanns in the city of Samlios was a statue referred to as Conscience. Among its many unusual properties, its head, remarkably, was "in the form of the breasts of a virgin, meaning that "love" should predominate always and in everything during the inner and outer functionings evoked by one's consciousness..."
Lastly– at least for the purposes of this essay– the critical evaluation that the Very Saintly Ashieta Shiemash delivered under the title “The Terror of the Situation” definitively concluded that the only hope for correcting man's psychological aberrations was to allow the functioning of sacred conscience to pass from the subconscious, where some portion of it was still intact, into the functioning of man's ordinary consciousness.
I draw some distinct conclusions of my own from this very brief recap. (In point of fact, before writing this essay, I searched through the entire text of Beelzebub and extracted every significant explanation about the nature and action of conscience from the text–with some admittedly subjective editing, the document ran to over twenty pages long.)
From the beginning, we see that objective conscience, the only sacred feature still undamaged in man's psyche (submerged in the subconscious though it may be) is essentially connected to a quality of feeling that involves compassion. It is, also, inextricably intertwined with the idea that it evokes a feeling of what we might call objective love. The point is, once again, that love in one form or another is an essential quality in Gurdjieff's work. Far from failing to mention love, he links it directly to the only portion of man's being which might still function properly.
Man has, in other words, the potential to discover an objective love within him.
These statements in Beelzebub underscore the essential similarities between Gurdjieff's work, the Buddhist practice of compassion, and the Christian and Sufic understanding of love. Readers will recall that according to Gurdjieff, the Buddha himself introduced the idea of “intentional suffering,” an idea bearing more than a passing relationship to the question of remorse of conscience.
The connections between compassion, love, and conscience are, in my experience, rarely discussed in the Gurdjieff work, despite the fact that the essential nature of our inner work must inevitably be to awaken the roots of conscience and allow them to participate in our ordinary being. What else are we attempting, if not this? If we are not repeatedly and ever more deeply humbled by the action of conscience, we are not working– not in any sense. This is a question that every single human being in any spiritual work ought to be holding in front of them at every moment of their lives– and yet it is so easily dismissed.
There is no instant of such dismissal in which egoism has not triumphed over conscience.
This holds true more than anything for those in the Gurdjieff work, who profess to follow his ideas, and yet so often blithely ignore them in almost every routine action we undertake.
It's not that difficult to see when I lack. It is possible– in point of fact, if there is any real impulse to work, it is not even possible– it is probable.
One is left with the prospect that what is actually going on is that I do not want to see.
And this is why it was referred to as The Terror of the Situation.
I respectfully ask you to take good care.