Friday, January 13, 2012
The question of outer action
When Gurdjieff described these three natures to Ouspensky, he called them the exoteric, mesoteric, and esoteric circles of a work.
While I was pondering this question this morning, it occurred to me that there are parallels in Buddhism–and in Christianity–that may help inform us on the structural nature of the question. The Buddhists have a well-known saying: “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sanga." The Christians refer to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Either way, there is the idea of a Trinity of investment: the inhabitation of three different aspects.
The inhabitation of three different aspects is a union of three different aspects. In the case of the Buddhists, the Buddha is an intercessor or–an intermediary–between the community (Sangha) and the absolute (the Dharma.) I believe we might agree that the concept of Christianity is not that different. Christ is the intercessor between the community of the Holy Spirit, and the Absolute, that is, God the Father. In each case, it is recognized that the full inhabitation and relationship of all three forces is necessary, and that a personified, objective, or intimate, intercessor or or agent is necessary. (I use the words personified, objective, and intimate because they each have a different nature, and all of them are true unto themselves, within context.)
Exoteric action is the action of the community. We can call it the Sangha; we can call it the Holy Spirit. Both are valid. In each case, there is an external action, an action of relationship in community, which we must inhabit in our spiritual work. In a certain not so abstract sense, this is actually is the locus of work for any Fourth Way work, that is, work in life. So we cannot ignore the community.
Mesoteric action is the action of the individual and the intercessor. An agency of help from a higher level that helps us see becomes an active force in the intersection of exoteric action and esoteric action. We are called to stand between two worlds: and we call on the example, or help of, the Buddha or Christ to support us in this work. It's another facet, another aspect, of the Lord have Mercy prayer. It is also the very work that Jeanne de Salzmann calls us to in The Reality Of Being. We are asked to stand between two worlds, to help join the inner and the outer, which need to be in relationship. This relationship cannot arise without the intercession of a third force– and we become personally responsible for the action of that third force. The two worlds cannot join and create a whole without our action. So we have to exert action in three directions: we are required to exert exoteric action, in the community; we are required to exert mesoteric action, which joins the community to the higher; and we are required to exert esoteric action, which is a deep inner personal effort to come into relationship with the highest possible principle.
Esoteric action is an action directed towards the higher. Of course this is essential, but it is powerless without the other two elements. It might as well be locked up in a cave. And this is hardly where it wants to be. The esoteric has every wish to come into a full relationship with the exoteric, but it can't do so without the action of the mesoteric- that is, our own effort.
I took up this line of questioning specifically because my question to myself this morning was exactly what the nature of the exoteric work the Gurdjieff work ought to be engaged in is. It strikes me that Christians and Buddhists both have a strong sense of what exoteric work in their community, in relationship to other communities, consists of. The exoteric face of a work may not be where the romance lies, but it is what confers cultural strength, and without cultural strength, a work dies.
We must ask ourselves whether there hasn't been a gradual weaking of vision in terms of the understanding of exoteric action on the part of the Gurdjieff work over the last thirty or forty years. Gurdjieff himself had a strong understanding of it, but corresponding shocks to maintain that didn't arise, even though shocks that preserved and grew the esoteric end of the work were consistent and powerful.
Consequently, while a deep understanding of the aim of esoteric work and what it means to the individual has grown considerably over the years inside the Gurdjieff community, there has been an overall lack of concerted attention to exoteric work, and there is consequent confusion about what it should mean and what it might consist of.
The work has deep esoteric aims related to higher levels; that is one thing. But, as the essay on escape from conditions points out, this does not issue an excuse from action in the ordinary world. We need to ask ourselves what our action here, in the ordinary world, on a horizontal level, ought to be. How do we put our community in relationship with the spiritual community at large? This needs to be understood from several points of view, not just the point of view of responsibility, but also the point of view of aim. What is the exoteric aim of the work? And if we don't quite know— well, isn't it our responsibility to form one?
Or should we just wrap ourselves in warm blankets and sit together quietly?
One exoteric aim of the work might be to help other paths see how we are all joined together. (And that is, indeed, the heart of the effort undertaken by Parabola magazine for over three decades now.) We are uniquely positioned at the heart of a higher understanding that emanated from what Gurdjieff called influences "C.” At this level of understanding, we're told, all religious efforts are one effort. A compassionate and intelligent exoteric action on the part of the Gurdjieff work could be to make every effort to help all works see one another as one. Of course it's a lofty goal, and an unattainable aim; yet every step in that direction intelligibly serves, and service must be one of the chief considerations in undertaking a legitimate exoteric work.
Because of its comprehensive nature, and its sensitivity to the question of wholeness and partiality, we're in a unique position to use our skills and insights in service to the religious community at large in this manner. There is no need to "sell" the Fourth Way or act as a recruitment center; instead, using our own efforts to understand in light of Mr. Gurdjieff's teachings and system, we may be able to help others in their own search, by connecting it to everyone else's. We may, with the tools and insights we've been given, be able to help put the humpty-dumpty of mankind's religious practice back together again.
Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson is, at least in some measure, a step in that direction; and since Mr. Gurdjieff clearly intended this book to be a serious part of the exoteric, public face of his work, part of his exoteric aim for this work must have leaned in that direction.
The ideas in the Gurdjieff work are like ligaments. Do we each personally represent agents and forces that can help those ligaments do their job to reconnect the spiritual parts of the body of humanity?
It's worth considering.
I respectfully ask you to take good care.
Next essay: Jan. 14: What is the inner life?