Sunday, January 26, 2014
Servants of Truth
The unjust man is the servant of truth, whether he likes it or not, and he serves the world and creatures, and is a bondman of sin.
—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, P.130 (Sermon 17.)
In this quote, Eckhart uses the word Wahrheit which, although it is a noun, implies a condition of Being. Truth, in this instance, is equivalent to what the Buddhists refer to as Dharma; it is a fundamental element of which the world is composed, a universal condition.
At the beginning of the sermon, Eckhart states: all God's commandments come from love and from the goodness of his nature, for if they did not come from love they would not be God's commandments. This statement is perfectly aligned with Swedenborg's remarks on the nature of God and his manifestation, so much so that we can rightly discover no difference whatsoever between the two masters. And this fundamental love and goodness of nature, which is on the order of a transcendental mystery, is equivalent to truth.
The goodness of God's nature is distinct from material creation; notice that the unjust man serves both truth, and the world and creatures.
Eckhart goes on later in the sermon to say: In created things — as I have said before — there is no truth. There is something that transcends the created being of the soul, not in contact with created things, which are nothing; not even an angel has it, though he has a clear being that is pure and extensive: even that does not touch it.
Truth, in other words, is a transcendental property greater than all things, which once again directly corresponds to the concept of dharma.
The unjust man serves truth regardless of his opinions or his unjust nature. We are all in this position. One has no choice but to serve truth; that which is unjust serves truth in exactly the same way as that which is just.
Here we see some essential remarks that relate to sermon 15, in which Eckhart says, I declare roundly: all good works that man ever did or ever will, as well as the time in which they occurred or ever will occur — works and time are totally lost, works as works, time as time. In this sermon, Eckhart clearly states that works and time are only of meaning in so far as they turn the soul towards God; the fruit of all work, the essential aim of all work — this is what he means when he says fruit — is to turn the soul towards God.
The work itself, as well as the time within which it takes place, are lost — they disappear forever. He reiterates: ... I declare: they are lost altogether, works and time, evil and good, works as works, time as time — they are altogether lost eternally.
We believe we live in a world where all works and time, evil and good, have meaning and value throughout eternity. Eckhart radically proposes a world where none of these have meaning, and that the only real eternity is within God and the relationship to God... in this unfamiliar world, the unjust and the just are equally valid.
It is a proposition that annihilates our fundamental concepts of the world; and once again, this is very similar to the Buddhist conception of the Dharma. This idea that the truth which is served transcends our opinions and desires is radical; it comes before all the rest.
And indeed, the annihilation cannot extend just to concepts.
Again, from sermon 17: "You must give you up yourself, altogether give up self, and then you have really given up. A man once came to me — it was not long ago — and told me he had given up a great deal of property in goods, in order that he might save his soul. Then I thought, alas! How little and how paltry are the things you have given up. It is blindness and folly so long as you care a jot for what you have given up. But if you have given up self, then you have really given up.
Of particular interest to students of the Gurdjieff method ought to be this comment from the sermon:
I once thought — it was not long ago — that I am a man is something other men share with me; that I see and hear and eat and drink, that is the same as with cattle; but that I am, that belongs to no man but myself, not to a man, not to an angel, not even to God except in so far as I am one with him. It is one purity and one unity.
The remark brings us close to one of the two key prayers in the Gurdjieff work — I am, I wish to be. This uniqueness of Being is an important principle in understanding what the Sufis call Tawhid, that is, unity. And this concept of unity with God within Being—which is fundamentally and radically transcendental—is strongly shared between the Sufis, Eckhart, and Swedenborg.
Gurdjieff touched on it parenthetically, but did not necessarily make it central to his teaching. His impression of students was that everyone was at too low a level to approach this idea; and (as evidenced in some of his exchanges in the transcripts of meetings from 1941 through 1946) overarching metaphysics were not at the heart of his work. He was far more interested in how questions touched people's Being personally and immediately.
This reminds me of a conversation I had this morning with a friend of mine who was at the Davos conference. People, he pointed out, find it easy to have great ideas that see the world from 50,000 feet; but if we wish to raise the dialogue, raise the level of anything, it has to take place one small step at a time; and we need to know how tall the steps are.
In a sense, we all begin at the bottom of the ladder, as bondsmen of sin. Meister Eckhart's remark, which places us in the service both of truth and the world and its creatures, is a direct indicator of our two natures, another prime feature of Gurdjieff's teaching.
As is so often the case, we find ourselves here in the confluence of all many great traditions, all struggling with the same questions about the nature of the inner Being of man. And, although none of us believe it, it is far more practical (and necessary) to discover ourselves within the reality of our actual position at the bottom looking up, than to imagine ourselves on the top looking down.