Thursday, April 12, 2012

Permission to Be

So many practices are exclusionary. Religions, in particular, tend to come with a long set of rules. You can't do this: you must do that. As if it weren't difficult enough that we are already under the inexorable weight of a relentless range of cosmic laws, all of which restrict activity in and of themselves.

The next thing you know, we men proclaim ourselves representatives of God, and start making up our own “special” laws, which everyone else ought to follow... should be forced to follow, in point of fact, if they should happen to disagree.

 Practices of this nature are religions of negation. They don't start out affirming God; they start out negating man,  thus unconsciously and unintentionally rejecting God's creation, such as it is. What one might call the doctrine of sufficiency—the Dharma is sufficient unto itself, the universe is in a state of  Gleichgültigkeit, or comprehensive validity—is thrown away up front. This isn't good enough; that isn't good enough. Man isn't good enough.

There is truth at the root of the recognition that we are insufficient; everything less than the whole Being of the universe in its totality suffers from a lack, induced by partiality. Men's rules and laws, however, have little or nothing to do with actual efforts at reunion. Instead of encouraging men to be what they are and as they are, at the root and the heart of their lives, they encourage both self-destructive behavior and behavior that destroys others.

The empowering, positivist nature of the Fourth Way stems from its inclusionary nature. The Fourth way doesn't suggest that men shouldn't be this or shouldn't be that; it suggests that men should be, and see what they are. One does not, in other words, have a long list of restrictions on one's activities or manifestations. One is, to be sure, expected to behave responsibly; practice of this kind is not an excuse for running amok, although the potential for abuse among the uninitiated is always there. One is expected to behave responsibility within the context of the actual arising of one's life; to observe it; to inhabit it, and participate.

The active participation in itself is considered to be a religious practice—religious in the sense that the participation of consciousness in the manifestation of material reality is the connection between higher and lower levels.  Put in the other terms, in so far as we see on behalf of God, act on behalf of God, and do on behalf of God—without changing what we see, how we act, and what we do—then we participate. This is what service consists of.

In our being, acting, and doing, all of which does not belong to us, but belongs to God—which, if we see with Feeling (as opposed to intellect) is how we sense and what we sense as we see—we fulfill the will of God. Only in this sense, in which life is lived fully, uncompromisingly, unconditionally, and without judgment, including all of what men call good and what they call bad, do we fulfill the will of the divine, because the will of the divine sees all action and all life as equally valid.

To be sure, one doesn't have to be some kind of esoteric genius to come to this realization. Father Gregory Boyle touches directly on this question in his excellent book, Tattoos on the Heart, without ever stating it in esoteric terms.Yet the practice, lived outwardly, reveals the core of a willingness to engage in what one might call complicit suffering—being in the midst of everything that happens, some of it right, some of it inarguably wrong—and practicing compassionate presence, a willingness to be there.

 There is not much room for this kind of practice if your aim is to fix everything outwardly. Even though it's necessary to engage outwardly—and without a doubt men are called to act on their conscience outwardly as well as inwardly—one has to begin, in a sense, without judgment, and within the context of the fact that we all fail. We have failed before; we fail now; we will fail later. It's the courage to carry on in the face of this repeated failure, to continue to see, to witness, and to participate, that renders the act of living sacred, in so far as we fulfill this responsibility. And the knowledge that we will inevitably fail must not paralyze us—we are charged with consciously inhabiting our weaknesses in equal proportion to our strengths.

Gurdjieff gave us permission to Be.  To be as we are; without pretending to be something special or something higher or something better than others, but to suffer ourselves as we are. Not any other way that we ought to be.

 Suffering ourselves as we are causes us to continually question what we are, where we are, and why we are. Without the friction of what we are rubbing up against our awareness of what we are— as distinct from the identification with what we are—no fire will light the way on our inner path.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.


  1. always helpful - to put it mildy...

    curious about the translation of ' Gleichgültigkeit, or [as] comprehensive validity' - I don't know german but I get 'indifference' as a trans.

    I am not trying to be 'clever' here and totally agree with the post (altho I guess the person known as 'jesus' might also agree) but I did once see Pauline de Dampierre almost 'lose' her temper. She thought pork had been cooked in the Paris centre 'la maison'...
    I never asked about it - and have never seen dietary rules mentioned elsewhere in the's a strange world.

  2. ok, now I find the link you have to gleich.... it wasn't working before - je comprend.

  3. The difficulty with the word Gleichgültigkeit is that it doesn't actually mean indifference... that's just the best translation English can offer, and—as you can see from my analysis— it's a poor one.

    German is well known for its portmanteau words, that is, the outright ability to "glue" words together and form new ones. This propensity gave German translators working on Buddhist texts in the late 19th and early 20th century a decided edge over those using other languages. German actually allowed translators to "manufacture" brand new words that more closely approximated the original meaning of the texts.

    In any event, the concept of equal validity not only makes far more SENSE in the understanding of Eckhart's use of the word (after all, how could God be "indifferent" to his creation?—the idea is clearly absurd), it also corresponds powerfully to the understandings from Buddhist tradition, in which the conception of the dharma is that of the great equalizer of all dualistic modalities (I positively hate that word, but I'll use it just this once.)

    Perhaps it ought to be mentioned that I am not an "armchair translator" of German. I grew up in Germany and speak it with great fluency—I studied German literature for four straight years in college. Readers will perhaps understand that "indifference" was chosen as a translation because it is a bit less wordy than "the property of having an equal validity."


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