Thursday, August 7, 2014

The impulse of charity, part V

 I want to come back to an idea I don't think I treated sufficiently from the first installment in this series; that is, the idea that we aren't actually moral, that we just want to look moral to others.

Swedenborg made a great deal of this problem; and he couched it in the context of intentionality. We might, here, be called to remember that Gurdjieff made a great deal of intentionality; and to this day, those who follow his practice try to understand what it means to have an intention. The fact that Swedenborg made this a central part of his teaching is lost on most Gurdjieffians, who (in my experience) for the most part haven't ever read his material, if they have ever indeed heard of him at all; and yet it is in my eyes certain that Gurdjieff's teachings on the matter are directly related to Swedenborg's understandings.

One can, in other words, understand exactly why Gurdjieff placed such great emphasis on intention by reading Swedenborg.

 Swedenborg's contention was that the majority of people do things the way they do them outwardly simply because they don't want to look bad to others. There is a general agreement within relationships, societies, and cultures that one ought to do things in such and such a way; and people generally conform to them because they don't want to look like they are nonconformists. Morality, above all, forces people into these niches; no one wants to look amoral, so everyone behaves as though they were obeying the morality of the moment, the day, and the time. They do this not because of any fundamental belief in the morality; it is basically not much more than a form of codependency. Most people believe little or nothing of the moralities they are taught by rote, a fact that is illustrated over and over again by the overwhelming preponderance of crime in society, whether petty and white-collar, or violent. People obey the morality of the moment in their society in order to disguise their real feelings and actions, which are almost always selfish and crude. We are all like this; anyone who issues themselves a chit excusing them from this classroom is delusional.

Everyone has inward intentions that are different than their outer action; everyone lies. Gurdjieff's seemingly harsh statements about this subject, where he said that we lie about everything, were specifically aimed at the way that we conceal intentions and are not truthful about what we intend, either to ourselves or others. We wear masks; we pretend to be things we are not. We too often construct a shining, polished personality, that covers up a corrupted and perverted essence. Hieronymus Bosch's  Garden of Earthly Delights is, among other things, an allegory of this condition.

The point about our lying is that our intentions are all about what we really wish for; the fa├žade we present to people, our personality, is just a construction we use to conceal ourselves from others. Swedenborg reported that the personality evaporates after we die, leaving only our essence; and that the condition of our essence, which houses our real intentions, determines whether we go to heaven or hell.

So just conforming to what is expected externally is not enough when it comes to charity; we must never do things just because of how it looks to other people. Yet, if one examines one's inner conditions and actions carefully, I believe one will find — as I do — that so much of what takes place is done exactly to impress other people.

The distinction between this particular kind of action and a real action that is born of an intention that has a freedom, and independence, is a definite one that can be seen. That is to say, the action of the ego is specific enough to be identified, as long as one is not completely identified with it.

Morality and charity that depend on how things look are not real morality and charity. If mankind wishes to be moral and charitable, we must move past that which looks good into that which costs something; and the first thing it needs to cost is our illusions about ourselves.

Hosanna.

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