Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Objective reason and intellect, Part 1

Gurdjieff refers to the property of Objective Reason approximately thirty-four times in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson; and he extols this property as an essential virtue for three-brained beings.

Yet what, exactly, is objective reason? The comment seems to relate, perhaps, to Meister Eckhart's intellect, which is a very high property of consciousness not to be confused with what we call our day-to-day intelligence.

I searched the text at length for a better definition of Objective Reason; one quickly discovers that the term is, more often than not, merely used as a descriptive, something one can have in one's Being, without an explanation as to what it consists of.

Now, we might decide to agree that the book's numerous allegorical and sometimes covertly yogic descriptions of three-brained Being, iterated in details of the interactions between various cosmic substances, does provide us with an accurate summary of just what Objective Reason consists of; but truthfully, I think not. The subject is a complex one and doesn't yield a facile answer; or, at least, not the answer we might expect.

I collected all uses of the term and classified them into three types: Non-descriptive, which means a use which sheds no light on the properties of Objective Reason; indicative, which means the usage parenthetically defines the term through its relationship to other terms, and descriptive, in cases where the usage is accompanied by definitions that may shed direct light on the meaning of the term.

Depending on interpretation, there are approximately six indicative and five descriptive instances in the book, leaving us with twenty-three examples that do nothing more than refer to the property of Objective Reason as "normal," or desirable. This leaves us within a narrower and more manageable field of inquiry. (Readers interested in reviewing all the text's usages of the term are invited to do so at this link: Objective Reason in Beelzebub.)

The most succinct descriptive for Objective Reason may be this one:

...that Reason which should be in the common presence of three-brained beings of all natures and all external forms, and is none other than the 'representative of the Very Essence of Divinity.' (Beelzebub's Tales, p. 815.)

We find an intelligible—and perhaps even extraordinary—comparison in Meister Eckhart's sermon thirty-two:

But we will speak of yet another servant of whom I have spoken before: That is the intellect in the circuit of the soul, where it touches the angelic nature and is an image of God. In this light the soul has community with the angels - even with those angels who sank into hell and have yet retained the nobility of their nature. There, this spark stands bare, untouched by any pain, directed to God's essence.  The spark of intellect resembles these good angels, being created without distinction by God, a transcending light and an image of the divine nature and created by God. The soul bears this light within her. (The Complete Mystical Works, page 188.)

In both cases, the property—whether we call it intellect or reason—fulfills an extraordinarily high function; one, furthermore, which is not reflexive, that is, it requires degrees of inner progress in order to attain. Eckhart points out, in sermon thirty-seven,

When a man is dead in imperfection, the highest intellect arises in the understanding and cries to God for grace. Then God gives it a divine light, so that it becomes self-knowing. Therein it knows God. I say the intellect alone can receive the divine light. The other powers of the soul are tools and instruments to bring the intellect to its maximum lucidity. (Ibid, p. 214.)

Eckhart's other powers of the soul equate well enough with Gurdjieff's version of a progressive development leading to qualification for the Holy Planet Purgatory:

At the beginning, when all the higher being-parts arose and were perfected in beings up to the required sacred gradation of Objective Reason, that is to say, when in accordance with the 'lower mdnel-in' of the sacred Heptaparaparshinokh the 'kessdjan body' was formed in beings, thanks to the second being-food, and in accordance with the 'higher mdnel-in' of the same sacred law the third and 'highest being-body' was coated and perfected, thanks to the third being-food, then these completely perfected highest being-parts, after their separation from the lower being-parts, were deemed worthy to be immediately united with the Most Holy Prime Source and began to fulfill the purpose divinely foreordained for them. (ibid, p. 897)

It's worth noting that Eckhart refers to the intellect as that property which becomes self-knowing. Here we have direct reference to Gurdjieff's self-remembering, which is for all intents and purposes the same quality.

It seems reasonable to infer from the above that Gurdjieff's Objective Reason and Eckhart's Intellect are one and the same creature. Interestingly, Eckhart repeatedly relates the property of the intellect to the soul, of which he says it is a part:

The spark of intellect, which is the head of the soul, is called the husband of the soul, and is none other than a tiny spark of the divine nature, a divine light, a ray and an imprint of the divine nature. (ibid, p. 187)

It seems difficult to believe that an esotericist as adept as Gurdjieff could have missed Eckhart's sermons in his perusal of esoteric literature; and even more difficult, in the end, given his own references to his work as "esoteric Christianity." A smoking gun, then; and one that gives us a soul, whether Gurdjieff would have one for us or not. We can also, I think, now allow ourselves the luxury of viewing Eckhart's commentaries on intellect as a welcome extension to Gurdjieff's scant observations on the nature and properties of Objective Reason.

Objective Reason, however, is not in the least a spotless entity in Gurdjieff's cosmos; there are bear traps here, and perhaps there is no greater example of that than the character we'll examine in part 2 of this inquiry, which will be in a few weeks.



  1. and isn't it only in 'life is real... that we get this one statement about not having souls...p.170.. this, in a 'bk' published by relatives for purely financial gains? We shouldn't take these occas. pronouncements that seriously...all this early 'theory'.....

  2. To my understanding, G. regularly dismissed talk of such things as it took them away from realising them (i.e. Work). Also, many people were filled with delusions inherited from the various forms of "spiritualism" at the time so that perhaps is another reason to speak of souls/other bodies in the way that he did.

  3. Yes, maybe....of course the idea that we don't have a soul or not the right kind is nothing new....see e.g. 'The gospel of Judas' and 'Sethian' gnosticism'. But as you note it's all wiseacring for 'will-less parasites'. If we didn't have the 'mesh-like' body mme de S talks about we would up shit creek without a paddle :)


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