Thursday, May 9, 2013
In the habit of ruling — morality, part three
He did not — and we know this by way of allegory and subtlety that may not be fully appreciated without some careful examination.
In the chapter, "Beelzebub in Russia," we come across his passage about people who are in the habit of ruling. This intriguing allegory paints a picture of a world where, truly, mechanical action is better than no action, or, rather, action of an even lower nature. He even gives mechanical action the possibility of improvement in this passage; and— as always in this masterpiece of subtle understatement— the passage is an allegory for our inner state.
The hereditary rulers he cites are analogous to the traditions that the religions bring us; they may not be perfect, and they may have lost their conscience, but they at least know, even if mechanically, how things ought to be arranged. In the abandonment of tradition, every imaginable vice arises; and so one is actually far better off with a mechanical tradition than the inventive and perverse replacements we permit ourselves when we throw away the traditions.
Conventional morality, in other words, has a distinctive value, and a definite place. Whether or not Gurdjieff was able to practice such morality himself — and we can reasonably presume he went through a long series of his own struggles (as we all do) with such questions during his lifetime — he was certainly well aware of their value. As we all ought to be.
There is no way, in other words, that one can abandon conventional morality under the excuse that some magically higher force will eventually infuse one with a correct and conscious morality. To believe such a thing is sheer arrogance; a religious aberration of the type that Alastair Crowley advocated. The idea is purely selfish; it bears a relationship to the kind of thing that Ayn Rand tried to sell us, a hobo's pushcart filled with self-love and greed which even she herself discovered she could not actually trundle down the street with any credibility.
Traditions are traditions for a reason. Gurdjieff had enormous respect for them; and we abandon them at our peril. Allowing our sciences or our materialistic culture to dismantle our traditions one by one as though they were worthless is a perilous activity. The individuals doing these things have little understanding of real morality, or the impact that tradition has on the cohesion not just of society, but the soul itself.
We cannot, under any circumstances, allow materialism of any kind—including a false assessment of life that excludes us from the ultimate spiritual requirements of steadfast morality and selfless action, inner and outer— to distract us. It is the duty of everyone on the spiritual path to keep their inner eye unwaveringly turned towards the countenance of God, to represent to the very best of their ability the best possible qualities in a human being.
We will fail; but our failure should be heroic, not the failure of a coward who did not try in the first place, or claimed it to be unnecessary.
May your soul be filled with light.