Sunday, September 14, 2014

Good, Bad, and Suffering


In the same way I say of virtue that she has an inner work: a will and tendency toward all good, and a flight from and a repugnance to all that is bad, evil, and incompatible with God and goodness. And the worse an act is, and the less godly, the stronger the repugnance; and the greater the work and the more godlike, the easier, more welcome, and pleasanter it is to her. And her sole complaint and sorrow - if she could feel sorrow - is that this suffering for God is too little, and all outward, temporal works are too little for her to be able to find full expression, realization, and shape in them. By practice she becomes strong, and by giving she becomes rich. She does not wish to have suffered and to have got over pain and suffering: she is willing and eager to suffer always without ceasing for God and well-doing.

Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, p. 540

I have recently been appointed senior editor at Parabola.

Readers familiar with my writing may already know that the Parabola mission is a central and essential element in my interests and work; for those that don't, I encourage you to check out, and subscribe to, the magazine. It serves as a vital extension of what we all search for; and the wide range of material it provides for seekers broadens questions I examine here in this blog on a daily basis.

In preparation for the upcoming issue on goodness, I have spent a deal of time contemplating the question. Now, it may seem odd to link this question of suffering with the question of goodness... and yet Eckhart does so without hesitation. He furthermore intimates that it is necessary to suffer for the good.

If I question God about the terror in the world, or blame Him for its suffering, or even—as a result of all the suffering I see—even deny that there is a God (however I may understand that term) I mistake myself. After all, there is goodness in the world—there is no denying it—and that goodness begins with an inner correspondence to what is good, not to the perceived goodness or badness in the outside world. In a very real sense, nothing in the outer world can be good or bad but for the inner correspondence to it: so good and bad begin in me, and in fact, yes, I know the difference... or at least I try to. What Eckhart describes above takes place not in some abstract heavenly hall of philosophy; it takes place in me, insofar as I struggle for the good and attempt to understand the good. It is, in a nutshell, my own soul that forms the good of the outer world; and the bad, too.

This is what responsibility consists of; to make an effort to know the good and suffer for it, because in knowing the good, I must come to know the bad as well. Gurdjieff put it thus:

Every deed of a man is good in the objective sense if it is done according to his conscience, and every deed is bad if from it he later experiences remorse.
Beelzebub’s tales to His Grandson, p. 315

So I cannot know what is good and what is bad without suffering; it is impossible, for the good is defined by the bad. In this way, I welcome suffering; it defines my wish for the good, which I cannot have without it. Thus, without engaging in a masochistic desire to torment myself with suffering—which is already an outward thing anyway, and ultimately useless—I become willing to suffer inwardly, in my essence.

This essence-suffering, if you will, is akin to Gurdjieff's intentional suffering—because it is suffering with an aim, suffering that helps me to develop conscience. The purpose of conscience is to sense and know the good; else why have it? Here I see how Gurdjieff's work in fact revolves not just around some ephemeral "consciousness," which might otherwise become some kind of clinical exercise in a higher intelligence, but around goodness itself, and my organic sensation of it.

When I begin to touch on these questions in myself, then my work becomes less theoretical.

Hosanna.

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