Thursday, October 25, 2012

Work, Suffering, and Grace

A good friend of mine made the following remark today about a general criticism leveled at the work of Jeanne de Salzmann. I felt the remark was worthy of some observations.

What he said was this:

"It seems counter-strategic to say 'we have worked enough'—if people believe that, why work any more? "It has been accomplished", to quote Jesus Christ, all that remains is to receive grace. A criticism that has been leveled against Mme De S is that that she converted the Work from a way of work and suffering to a religion of grace."

In my response, I told him that the principles of work, suffering, and Grace were consonant; in other words, that nothing essential had been changed.

He asked me why. Below is my reply, with a few judicious edits.

Work, Suffering, and Grace

Work, suffering, and Grace are all—to an absolute certainty— conventionally understood elements of the Christian path.
Christians, for the 2,000+ years since Christ, have never stopped working, and it has always been understood that Christians suffer in this life—not drawing Gurdjieff's distinctions on the how, where, or why. For them, the principle is perhaps more universal in nature—less a matter of consciousness and more one of karma.
In any event, work and suffering can attract Grace. Mme. says essentially the same thing throughout her teachings, if they are properly understood. 

The idea that a man number 5, 6, or 7 is being sent to help us has nothing to do with whether or not anything is "accomplished" or not. Man will still always have work to do; all of the universe, "saved" or "unsaved," works and will always work. The matter of Christ's accomplishments for mankind on the astral plane (where He performed the absolutely traditional job of a guru by taking on the karmic debt or "sin" of His charges, in His case, because of His level, all mankind) is a different matter. What this did (from the traditional yogic point of view) was to free mankind from the law of karma, opening much greater possibilities- but not alleviating suffering or eliminating the need to work. It's difficult to conceive of how Christians (or anyone else) could be confused about this after looking at the example of Christ himself, who worked, suffered, and died, but somehow, some manage it. Don't ask me how; I don't have enough expertise in the art of the obtuse to explain it.
In any event, all work done is done within the body of God- thus, both its origins and actions lie within the domain of Grace, which is an originating element emanating directly from Love— a second-order phenomenon of the all-pervading universal. All matter and all action are suffused by it. 
Al Arabi would have described Grace as a second-order attribute or name of God. The distinctions between his definitions and G's are actually minor, once one understands the principle. The (major) disconnect in the Gurdjieff work is that people don't understand that "energies" are attributes, that is, not just sensations, but tangible actions of intelligent forces we can recognize, as I have tried to explain in numerous recent essaysWhen people hear the word "energy" they often don't seem to understand it in these terms. There is a terrible imprecision in the language people use when discussing these matters. The word "something" is used almost obsessively. Really, we ought to try and do better than this.  If it were absolutely forbidden to use this word in discussions, something more practical might finally begin to take place.
  As to sensation, it's not enough. One can work on sensation, (possibly) arrive at bliss, and stop there. But it's a partial result; only one third of an understanding, at best.
Anyway, because of this unity of all manifestation, work and suffering- which are arising phenomenon within the body of God- are all structural elements of Grace. Actually, they are Grace: Grace originates them as gifts for man, and is, not incidentally, concentrated by their action. Hence, if a man works and suffers, the substance of Grace concentrates, or, as G might have said, the fundamental material of Grace acquires intelligence, that is, greater desire, power, agency, and an ability for action at the level we are on. It's necessary to understand that the increase of rate of vibration represents an increase in intelligence. Not just a change in the quality of a sound, as in music.
We don't see work and suffering as gifts because we're attuned to oppositional understandings of things, and don't understand that imperfection itself is a gift sent to us to help us. Al Arabi does a rather impressive  job of explaining this in The Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom. I don't find anything in his teachings on this contradictory to Eckhart's teachings on the same subject— and both teachings are, by the way, patently true in my own experience. 
We exist within the objective, or factual, manifestation of these principles. Mme. was sensible of the situation and saw that there is a "middle path" that focuses on the Grace, rather than the work or the suffering. Although all three are connected, an excessive emphasis on work and suffering is unhealthy and easily leads to negative results, since the emphasis exaggerates the action of subordinate principles (work, suffering) and loses sight of the principle elemental action involved (Grace.) 
If we actively inhabit the elemental condition (Grace) and stop considering work and suffering as requirements conceptually or functionally separated from it, we open the possibility of understanding that all actions are actions of Grace—which, in a sense, is what Conge meant when he said the entire universe was prayer. 

De Salzmann's understanding—which she did not express outright in words, perhaps because she may not have been able to articulate it concisely— is that our opposition to Grace, which arises through a radical misunderstanding of the existence and purpose of adversity, suffering, and the need for work effort, may be overcome by what the Buddhists call skillful means. These are the means she expounds at length in The Reality of Being.

  This is another meaning of the acceptance of work and suffering, and tied to the understanding of intentional suffering.  Intentional suffering is intentional because it emanates from the Divine Will; imperfection and the consequent suffering are both sent by God, and are part of His Will. To accept this is to align with His Will and see them as gifts, at which point we intentionally invest ourselves in these conditions, instead of resisting them. It requires a considerable degree of consciousness to truly absorb this as anything more than an idea. 

  An incomplete understanding of Mme. de Salzmann's premises and methods can result in a serious misreading of her teachings, which were highly refined and based on an extremely sophisticated— in fact, divinely informed— understanding. Because she was so eminently practical, she didn't spend that much time trying to explain the theory—but there is a theory; it's entirely unified; and the idea that there could be separation between these principles is incorrect.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

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