Monday, November 26, 2012

The anvil of unknowing

  I've noticed that in spiritual works such as Buddhism and Christianity, there is an eagerness to know, to understand, to strive, as Gurdjieff put it, to understand the laws of world creation and world maintenance.

 Yet one of the most common observations I hear from Gurdjieff people is that we can't know, we don't know, and so on. The Gurdjieff work sometimes seems to have actively adopted a veritable via negativa of not knowing... Perhaps not a cloud of unknowing, but an anvil of unknowing.

 The last time I heard someone speak in this way, I almost interrupted them (I didn't,  because I was uncharacteristically being a good little doobie at the moment) and said, "Excuse me, but would it be all right if we knew one or two things? ...say, just two?"

 When I hear people speak in this way, perhaps they aren't actually seeing themselves—or anything else—very clearly...  I'm just suggesting it, mind you, because I don't want anyone to get the idea I think I know anything about it.

Well, we do know some things. To argue otherwise is, in the end, absurd. And there are things that we can know. God did not create the universe just to populate it with sensate, feeling idiots. (As it happens, He has all the two-centered beings you could care to wish for to do that for him.) It is the responsibility of all of His three-centered creations to make efforts, to ponder, and to understand. You can't do this without knowing a few things.  Gurdjieff's principal character, Beelzebub, evidently knew quite a bit. He made no bones about it.

If we perpetually harp on our inability to know anything, and how helpless we are, we will all just sit here in a quagmire. One can mill about endlessly in such a manner, proclaiming one's inability — which is emphatically not the same as one's nothingness — and look very humble indeed. But it doesn't increase one's knowledge, or anyone else's. It is, in fact, a form of conceit and vanity, if it is indulged in too much, and we all teeter dangerously on the edge of that sin when we indulge in this kind of nonsense.

Perhaps this is the confusion. Our nothingness is not the same as our ignorance. Nothingness has few remedies; ignorance has many. And if we ignore the remedies — the efforts that we must make to try and know more, both about ourselves, and the universe, with our ordinary parts – then we earn our ignorance, and deserve it. For those who are satisfied with such an action, let them be, but I am not.

Our ordinary parts are here for a reason. They can't be banished or denigrated; they must be inhabited and valued. Part of what the ordinary parts do is to know, as best they can, and within the context of their level, what's going on. Another thing that they are made for is to constantly strive to raise their level. One can't do this if one knows nothing. One should know as much as one possibly can, all the while keeping an eye on the fact that one knows very little. This is a practical approach, which Socrates applied in most circumstances. While it's true that he asked many questions — he may well have been the master of this art— he didn't shy away from drawing conclusions from them.

Did they lead to more questions? Of course they did. You will notice, however, that he didn't sit about with his pupils confidently proclaiming "there are no answers." An answer is a response. The idea of answer and responsibility are consonant.

Think about that.

 To lack understanding is not the same as to lack knowing. Knowing is not useless; but one or two centered knowing is partial. Only with three centered knowing can we begin to understand; and understanding is, after all, the aim of inner work. One cannot banish the intellect from this work and then expect to reach good results. One cannot banish the activity of the lower centers with a wave of the hand and expect to reach good results, either.

 The evolution of consciousness is the evolution of intelligence. This principle is demonstrated by basic biology alone. It holds true at every level of the universe. You can't have intelligence without an intellect; and at every level it manifests on, the intellect has responsibilities that must be fulfilled, one of which is to know some things.

It isn't a question of not knowing.

It is a question of what to know.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

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