Christ and the Virgin
Robert Campion (Master of Flemalle)
Philadelphia Museum of Art
We say we wish to be free. But we don't know what freedom is; so to say we wish to be free is like saying we wish to live in some city we've never been to, and know nothing about.
Gurdjieff speaks a great deal about obedience. He does not always use the word, but if one understands this question, one sees it crop up repeatedly in his teaching. It's one of the central concepts in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism.
There can be no freedom except through obedience. Man is under laws at this level of the universe; cosmological laws which cannot be violated. True, man can come under the influence of different laws than the ones he usually encounters—but this is not by avoiding or discarding the obligatory laws that affect his existence. The reason that Gurdjieff introduced obligatory movements was, in part, to illustrate this principle. And many of the movements illustrate the inexorable action of law, which penetrates everything, no matter how we would like to imagine it. Every movement, every position, properly understood, demonstrates a law. The study of the movements language in anything other than an immediate physical form has, regrettably, been almost completely abandoned, even though it is quite possible to understand the ideas and even laws behind many of the positions.
In our imagination, somehow, we can get around the question of obedience and be free according to our own ideas. In reality, there is no intention whatsoever in us to do the will of God; we may express the idea in prayers, but our actual intention is to do our own will, and for anyone who truly examines themselves, this point will eventually become quite clear. If you look around you in the world you will see this fact expressed on a moment to moment basis; and if you examine your inner state with any honesty, you will see that the entire action of lying consists of exactly this action—one excuse after another for why we need not obey.
Above all, as we manifest outwardly, we overly emphasize an outer obedience. Obedience becomes an habit and an identification, and takes on the forms of theater and pride; asceticism, conformity, the unintelligent adherence to rules that we don't understand or perhaps even agree with. The entire practice of adopting and following form—endemic in every religious practice, esoteric or otherwise—is part of the outward expression.
Yet this is absolutely not enough.
Yet this is absolutely not enough.
What is necessary is an inward obedience. This obedience is an obedience that a man learns within himself in relationship to God. Any effort to put it on display in any way is already a corruption and betrayal. It is the practice that must be undertaken in secret. And it is a deadly serious practice, because it is intimate—it goes right to the heart of a man's essence and helps to spin the thread that can connect his soul to a higher influence. This action is so hidden that unless a man is working, he will never see it taking place—and even those who work may see it rarely, or only after years of effort. Part of what we work for is to see this so that it becomes clear to us that there really is a higher influence at work in us; one that depends not on our attitudes, but on the material in us.
Outward obedience, like outward compassion, has no force, no power, no conviction, and no truth without the proper forming of an inward obedience. All of the questions of discipline in religion begin here. If we do not attend to an inward obedience, if we do not attend to and inhabit the laws that govern our rising, there can be no hope for the slavish pursuit of outward obedience. Outward obedience must arise from and begin in essence. In all of us, however, outward obedience has its center of gravity in personality, and this is exactly the problem.
One of the reasons we are given intelligence is so that we are able to discern the laws and choose obedience. As was mentioned in the comment on the post humility and compassion, we must trust and question in equal measure. One might say our trust must be directed towards our inner work—and our questions towards our outer.
Freedom is born within obedience. And one must forget, for the time being, the outer obedience. It's a good thing, but it's simply a mirror in which the real action of inner obedience is reflected. If there's no inner obedience, outer action is empty. It's good to put the outer house in order, but the outer house needs to be put in order from an understanding of what order is, not by following rules someone posted on the kitchen cupboard centuries ago.
I respectfully ask you to take good care.