Wednesday, March 27, 2013


 Why is the amount of knowledge available to man limited?

 Gurdjieff explains that knowledge is material, and that there is only so much of it available anywhere. From a practical point of view, we can understand this quite simply by saying that no man can know everything; and since not every man is of equal intelligence, some men may know a good deal less than others.

But there are larger philosophical implications in this matter. The nature of material reality, which consists of the manifest, rather than the divine, has by default and automatically entered a condition of limitation upon its arising. Drawing on Ibn Arabi's extensive discussions on the transcendent and immanent natures of God, which appear to create a duality, we see that the immanent must always be limited. The transcendent stands by its nature alone distinctly apart from limitation, its only limitation being that it cannot be described. (cf. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge.)

So the absolute and transcendent nature of God is without limitation; everything else, all of the material expression of that transcendence, is limited.

One of the limitations of material expression is localization. In the universe, everything cannot be everywhere; everything is in one place, the universe, but it is distributed locally according to law. Although the names of God are all drawn together into one (ultimately unknowable) name at their root, they manifest distinctly, that is, objects, events, circumstances, and conditions manifest separately and, to conscious perception, sequentially. This creates an inevitable set of limitations regarding their relationship.

 In the same way that modern physicists and astronomers suggest the universe is apparently infinite, Ibn Arabi assigns the quality of infinity to the arising of the names of God, even though there is a hierarchy presided over by what is traditionally numbered at 99 "supreme" qualities or names. In the  Sufi philosophical tradition, not all of these names are known or even nameable; but many of them are. The point is that Gurdjieff's conceptualization of knowledge arises from what must have been contemplation of the same questions.

Knowledge, then, is both limited and localized; and no one human being can have anything more than a small fraction of it. The idiosyncratic, or unique, expression of a particular collection of knowings within an individual being is what gave birth to Gurdjieff's science of idiotism. The science of idiotism, is, in other words, an adjunct expression of the limitation of knowledge. Each arising manifestation of the names of God becomes an idiotic, or unique, expression of a certain set of knowingness, of knowledge.

Each arising manifestation of reality, is, in other words, in a condition of knowingness, that is, it expresses the known within the limitations of its own conditions and abilities.  It furthermore "sees" this expression of knowing according to its ability and its level. (Self-consciousness has a unique responsibility in this regard which is beyond the scope of this essay, but readers probably sense the implications behind the words.)

Readers may argue that Gurdjieff was somehow referring to a more esoteric form of knowing when he suggested that there was more of it available in times of cataclysm, when ordinary men did not take the share allotted to them. There is truth to this; and the esoteric implication is related to inflow, that is, the flowing of higher levels of divine knowledge into man, through the forces of Divine Love and Wisdom, which are also allocated according to the limitations of the material level. As I pointed out in the last post, the question of horizontal and vertical levels of knowledge are not unrelated, and must be integrated in order to stand between the two forces.

 The limitation of Divine Knowledge is not related to a functional limitation of the amount of it that actually exists (it, too, is inherently infinite within the transcendent), but, rather, to the extent that a human being is prepared to receive it. Both Gurdjieff and Swedenborg explain this concept in some detail; and those more interested in the questions of how Divine Wisdom affects mankind would be well advised to refer to Swedenborg's texts, which examined the question in far greater detail than Gurdjieff did when he spoke to Ouspensky.  Swedenborg's entire doctrine of correspondences (see Heaven and Hell) examines this question.

It is, by the way, impossible to believe that Gurdjieff, who confidently proclaimed he had studied a vast number of religions, would have overlooked Swedenborg.  His esoteric works were well known by Gurdjieff's time, and the striking correlations between the two can hardly be overstated.

May your soul be filled with light.

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