Monday, March 25, 2013

The depths of sin

In what is perhaps a subtle and personal prelude to Parabola's upcoming issue on Heaven and Hell, a recurring dream I had the other night has prompted me to question exactly what the nature and depth of sin is.

The basic content of the dream is simple enough: I have murdered someone, long ago, and cleverly covered it up. I've had this dream a number of times over the course of my life. (The last time was probably some 20 years ago or so.) The salient feature of this dream is that I realize I have committed a mortal sin that I cannot cleanse myself of; I'm not that concerned about the authorities discovering me, but I'm very concerned about the stain that it has left on my soul, which is indelible. The other night, when I awoke at 2 a.m., it took a definite effort of will to remind myself that this was a dream, not the truth of my life.

For me, the dream actively represented the idea—or even the reality— that the roots of sin reach all the way down into my dreams. Sin is thus never superficial; it is inherent, and implies not only conscious but even subconscious violation of the Divine order. One might say that it is built into the very fabric of my reality as I experience it; and this is, indeed, the exact premise that Gurdjieff presents us with in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson— specifically, the chapter The Holy Planet Purgatory. Our transgressions are indelible; there is no obvious remedy for them, and, cognizant, the anguish that they produce will haunt us no matter how beautiful our surroundings are.

No wonder we choose sleep.

The implication is that the source of my contamination — my violence against heaven — lies too deep for me to come to grips with it. Given the relationship between the outer/overtly conscious self of personality and the inner/covertly (and innately) conscious Self of essence, the outer or overtly conscious is unable, by its very nature, to address this issue. This relates closely to Gurdjieff's concept of the inner affecting the outer, and the idea that the outer can never actually change the inner; and it follows closely on Swedenborg's contention that man has an inner and an outer part, and that only the inner part is divinely informed.

Either way, the dream implies that the part that violates Heavenly law is inaccessible to the ordinary mind. So the only recourse is a turning towards a higher deus ex machina, which becomes an axiom under these conditions: we must invoke a higher power, call on deity, since no other force contains the potential for resolution. If my dreams themselves oppose God, and godly things, where else do I turn for help?

  There are, I think we can all agree, elements of inner darkness which have haunted mankind throughout its history. Jungian explanations elucidate but do not suffice; and more than fear alone engenders these incubi and succubi.

Where are they from? And why do we encounter them?

Gurdjieff did not speak so much of the unconscious or subconscious except to say that conscience could be found there; of the darkness, he said little. He populated his Heaven with angels, but he largely failed to create a Hell or populate it with demons. While his cosmology shares much in common with that of Swedenborg, Ibn Arabi, and Dante, his Hell, if there is one, is definitely situated more in the inner life of man than anywhere else... which, come to think of it, does put it in close proximity to Swedenborg's Hell, and Bosch's, which is altogether, in many ways, not only a man's own creation, but where he wants to be.

And perhaps this gives us some insight into Gurdjieff's emphasis on wish: passive, a man may wish for anything he likes, but all he will get— begotten of his own desire— is an inner and outer hell. Active, in right possession of his senses (read: not hypnotized and ruled by desires), the first and most important wish a man or woman can have is to not be in hell; and since hell is of our own making, we must develop a responsibility for ourselves and a capacity to see where we are. 

There are greater metaphysical issues to be examined here. Are we under covert assault by destructive inner forces we do not understand and cannot parse using the conventional tools of science and psychology? The evidence suggests we are; take a look at the massacre at Sandy Hook. This did not spring from any identifiable territory; such incidents leave even the best and most expert of us baffled. We must look for the roots of these and other, less (thank Allah!) malignant maladies in a deeper, far more spiritual malaise than anything the surface of the question can reveal.

Is there a flaw at the heart of creation? Gurdjieff's discontinuity of octaves, requiring a set of peculiar shocks to overcome it?

...And why this material sorrow, which I can sense in the very marrow of my bones?

These odd questions, not raised or expounded on by any other recent spiritual master, leave me far more in the mood for asking questions than offering answers. My dreams may be closer to the root of the matter than my conscious mind; and if my dreams themselves contain the stuff of Hell, what refuge is there?

I find myself called to reach much deeper into myself than anything the outer world can offer, in pursuit of illumination regarding these questions.

May your soul be filled with light.


Note to regular readers: the follow-up post to knowledge and civilization, entitled "knowingness," will post midnight Eastern Central Time on March 27th. 

1 comment:

  1. You might have touched on the subject of Gurdjieff's concept of 'remorse of conscience'.

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