Saturday, June 21, 2014
Meditations on Death, part II
If death, both literal and figurative, is the dominant force on the left, or spiritual, side of the enneagram, what does this tell us about the nature of life?
The enneagram’s divisions assign the notes re, mi, fa to birth and life; sol, la, and si are related to spiritualization and death.
This is logical enough to be considered obvious once seen, since these two opposing and reciprocally dominant forces are the two faces of the great engine of existence; and if the enneagram can explain “everything,” as Gurdjieff indicated, surely it must explain this cycle, not just implicitly, but explicitly.
In understanding this cycle, we find the note la, or purification, in the middle between being and wisdom, occupying a reconciling, intermediary position. Desire occupies this position on the other side of the diagram. This too makes absolute sense, since, in all the great teachings, we learn that desire corrupts; and corruption requires purification. The mirrored structure of the diagram locates both the sin and its ultimate solution in reciprocal, perfectly balanced positions.
The same balanced reciprocities exist on the other notes. Wisdom (si) surpasses and corrects for its reciprocal force of the material (re), and Being (sol) surpasses and corrects for power (fa.) In this way, the forces dominating the left side of the enneagram surpass, in all qualities, those of the right; and yet these forces relate to death, not life. In this way the enneagram illustrates the principle that dying to all that is represents the superior path, even though the process of death seems, to us, to be the negative one. In a sense, the diagram stands everything we believe about life on its head, because it turns out that the point of life is to die. Not a concept that will find much traction in today’s world, but in esoteric traditions it is a common one.
All the higher good belongs to the death of the material, the death of desire, the death of power; the higher good is embodied in the opposite of the material world and of earthly life.
We are born to surrender; but we must surrender consciously. That is to say, a surrender that is not made voluntarily has no value. Everything ultimately surrenders mechanically through the organic process of natural death; and this is clearly represented by the passage from si to do. Here, we meet the inevitable; not a proposition, but a fact: everything dies.
Let us remember that Gurdjieff wrapped up his magnum opus Beelzebub’s Tales with a soliloquy to the effect that only a constant sense of one’s own death could help mankind to evolve and escape their inner slavery; and that all of life was a preparation for death—an idea shared by other authorities from Swedenborg to Sufism.
The positioning of this selfsame shock of death itself in the wrong place on the enneagram indicates that the process of dying, and the need to die, begin in the passage from fa to sol; the passage from Power to Being.
Among the many explanations and interpretations of the enneagram, particularly the question of the incorrect position of the second conscious shock, this one stands as, for me, the most definitive one. The shock represents death; and we must die to ourselves in order to be born. One can’t think up a more logical or definitive point for the diagram to address; and it does so not casually, but comprehensively, since the entire structure of the cycles it embodies are turned to an ample illustration of the principle, not just in its gross outlines, but in the details of its particulars.