parabola magazine related to my work last year on the art of Hieronymus Bosch.
Having done all this work on the interpretation of Bosch's paintings (I'm not finished — there are a number of paintings left to interpret, which I am working on and will wrap up at some point, possibly this year) the subject of heaven and hell has been much on my mind lately. After I finished working on the garden of earthly delights, I decided to read Emanuel Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell in its entirety. It still surprises me that this altogether remarkable man's work is so obscure in today's spiritual world.
Swedenborg's worthy summary aside, it might seem to the casual observer that we can't know anything definite about heaven and hell; yet the kingdom of heaven is truly within us, and exists in all its glory within the realm of conscious experience and action.
Mankind has reduced his functions to a primitive level, in which everything becomes a kind of intellectual argument, rather than the active exercise of Being. Heaven expresses itself to the extent that Being manifests; yet Being does not manifest in the fantasies of the mind, but only in organic perception. Secular materialism has become an exterminating influence; it is exterminating meaning and exterminating the understanding of life. Life, after all, consists essentially of love and of meaning, and atomistic materialism is unable to give any adequate explanations for these functions. We are hypnotized by our proclivity for turning everything into a thing, an object; in doing so, we steadfastly degrade the action of consciousness within man.
In the course of this deterioration of understanding, we confuse the material with the spiritual. Yesterday, I had to explain to someone that it's necessary to distinguish between the vessel which receives, which is material and earthly, and that which is received, which is spiritual and heavenly. The spiritual is what is received; and it comes in the form of understanding and impressions, which are personal and inward. No external experience can be called spiritual. No external manifestation can be called spiritual. The receiving of impressions can be spiritual, but it is not the impressions themselves that are spiritual, rather the receiving of them. So it is the action of the vessel which receives, its preparation to receive and its action of receiving, which makes it possible for the spiritual — which is essentially true and essentially moral — to manifest.
The collision between earthly manifestation and the receiving of the spiritual is ongoing and perpetual. All of us are, to one degree or another, unprepared; and confusion arises. Gurdjieff was wise enough to build his entire masterpiece, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, on this premise. His was the intellectual structure (at least, in terms of the legacy of this book) yet the practical structure was largely expounded by his pupil Jeanne de Salzmann. Both of them emphasized our need to locate ourselves in the middle of this interaction and experience it. De Salzmann was acutely aware of the confusion we find ourselves in, and asked us to demand of ourselves that we see this.
When Gurdjieff referred to the law of reciprocal feeding, it appeared to speak about a law regarding ordinary biology; yet the law applies to the relationship between the inner and the outer. All of the material world arises from and is fed by the higher, transcendental spiritual principle that is embodied by the flow of the divine into the universe. Yet all of the individual material arisings in the smaller cosmoses that consequently form feed on the conscious impressions generated by the material world, in order to feed the energy manifested back into the spiritual.
There is a mystery embodied here in which heaven feeds itself. The old adage that man is food for angels is true; but man is also food for devils, a point that I think Hieronymus Bosch made abundantly and even chillingly clear. As Swedenborg indicated, the system is exquisitely balanced.
Where we go depends entirely on where we want to be. We can want to be in hell; or we can want to be in heaven. All of us put ourselves in one place or the other by means of our conscious and unconscious manifestations, our intentions, our will, and our discrimination.
May your soul be filled with light.