Saturday, January 25, 2014

On narrow terms

I would recommend every reader pick up a copy of "The complete mystical works of Meister Eckhart" as translated by Maurice O' C Walsh and published by the Crossroad Publishing Company.

Is it worth the relatively enormous purchase price? Readers should refer to sermon one; if this is the only sermon you ever read from the book, it will have been worth it.

In this sermon, Eckhart brings up everything I've tried to discuss over seven years of writing in this space. I won't recapitulate his findings; he does quite well enough himself, try though many have to help him out on explaining such issues. But I want to use it as a point of departure for my own observations on some of the points he raises.

 I recall Michel de Salzmann once referring to The Cloud of Unknowing as a book of tremendous value that can best be understood only by transcending its "narrow" Christian terms.

The irony in his remark is implicit; even Gurdjieff's own formidable grasp of esoteric principles and Christianity itself are nothing if not narrow.

In point of fact, everything that takes form is narrow; and in this way all forms represent the eye of the needle, and all of us are camels. For any one work to call another work narrow is essentially ludicrous; yet hubris is a great force with power over all men, most especially those who think they are not already the victims of it.

Eckhart's point is that all of creation is unable to understand the Lord. This is absolutely consonant with Ibn al Arabi's formulation of the issues (cf. Chittick's The Sufi Path of Knowledge.) And indeed, it's true.

So in an absolute sense, the assertion of any form is a path is a mistaken one. Yet here we are, stuck within forms.

Readers will have to accept my apologies for encapsulating a vast number of important concepts in a few brief paragraphs there.  I will now fast-forward over what should be hours of discussion in order to point out that the essence of the question comes down to what we are willing to give up.

 I've been examining the question of my relationship to the Lord in daily detail, many times a day, for what is now over 12 years. These examinations have taken place in direct juxtaposition to the eternal and ever-present possibility of a direct contact with God. In inner work, we do not deal with or undertake hypothetical approaches to this question; the matter is and must be practical and real. And the difficulty, I repeatedly see, comes down to the fact that everything created — that is, everything, including ourselves — is incapable of understanding. We think that the outer world is what is created; but our inner life is equally created. That is, everything we can touch or encounter, by any faculty, through any degree of intimacy, intelligibility, or interpretive mechanism, is created.

And the instant that anything is created, it is separated from what al Arabi called The Reality.

Although none of us would want to admit it, we always seek relative enlightenment; that is, everything we see and everything we are willing to give up is measured relative to who we are what we have, and we are most incontrovertibly unable to give ourselves up. We always want to keep something. This is, of course, the dilemma of the rich man; and in this case, a man who has ten trillion things, and gives nearly all of them all up, but still wants to keep just one, and the man who has only two things, but will only give one of them up, are in exactly the same position. It doesn't matter that the first man has sacrificed far more; in the end, when he comes up against the cloud of unknowing, he and the man who gave up only one thing both end up still wanting to keep something.

We're all rich men, in this regard.

What we seek is absolute enlightenment; and that has no part of ourselves in it. It is, furthermore, a technical impossibility; because for as long as we approach it from our end of the telescope, it remains unattainable.

In order to understand at least this aspect of it better, one needs to engage in a long and relatively merciless intimate seeing from within of exactly where one is. In order to do this, we need not dispense mercy towards ourselves, because mercy is automatically given by the Lord in such activity,  though it will always take remarkable and miraculous forms which we do not know and can never anticipate. Our own mercy will not suffice; and although we need not be cruel, we do need to be demanding. The demand is not in judgment, but in a willingness to look.

And when we are willing to look, we discover how narrow the terms we negotiate—yes, negotiate— on are.  We aren't ever going to discover God in this manner when we look; but we will see an infinite number of places where he isn't. All of them lie within ourselves; and perhaps it isn't until we have opened the very last door we can find or believe that we have in us that we are finally convinced of this.

One can, to be sure, the absolutely convinced of this by the Lord himself well in advance of such a search; but I can personally attest to a dogged perversity in continuing this search even long after one has become well acquainted with the facts.

There is an enormous generosity in the Lord which announces itself in subtle but ever present ways. Grace is ubiquitous; Mercy is assured. And yet I conduct myself like a miser that doesn't trust either of these two fundamental truths. This is why my work constrains itself to the tiny forms I encounter or create; and this is why fear and greed dominate my own inner — and not necessarily outer — landscape, a fact I refuse to admit to myself.

The emphasis on confessional in most religions originally centered around and turned on this question; and I ought to return to it far more often in my daily life. It isn't, after all, an anachronism in these libertine days and this libertine era; it is an inner necessity that I ignore at my peril.



  1. 'truth is a pathless land' (dear old krishnamurti)...Brahmin and English country gentleman...also Californian occas resident...I never quite understood the non-sequitur conclusion to "Gurdjieff: In the light of the tradition" (Whitall N. Perry) "in order to situate g. and his movement, the one and only question the seeker has to resolve is whether or not God is Omnipotent. If the answer is in the affirmative, then gurdjieff and his hosts are doomed." But he may have been right......The house in Paris is worth 10's of millions of Euros....I wonder who actually owns it? I bet the de Salzmann's

  2. I remember distinctly a year of speaking with a Franciscan brother, and subsequently asking to join and the head of the monastery accepting me. I told him that I could leave everything of the world behind but asked his indulgence for one thing: my electric guitar which I could play without an amp and be very quiet.

    I saw his face fall as he explained that the cell walls between cells were paper thin and that even unamplified it might disturb those next to me who might be in contemplative silence. And I remember the road before me, and chose the guitar, and walked away saddened by also knowing that the Holy Spirit had made the choice for me -- being a guitarist was part of my destiny -- not all but close to the bone of it. Walking the path of Religion or Yoga is to walk on a "razor's edge".

    Mr.Gurdjieff once called his Work, (probably to get the Russian Orthodox off his back), that "For he who already knows, if you like, you may call this "Esoteric Christianity"

    Notice the caveats and modifiers. But he called his work "Haida Yoga" far more often in the historical record. Haida (or Gaita) meaning super quick, like the clicking of the fingers or the rubbing of the lamp he brought. I study other traditions, but have placed my chips squarely on Mr.Gurdjieff's notch in the roulette wheel of spiritual paths. Books,of any virtue or substance, can only remind us if, as Gurdjieff put it, "If we already know".


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