Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Soliloquies on sin, part I: difficult to redress

If you already know it is bad and do it, you commit a sin difficult to redress.

—G. I. Gurdjieff,  Views From the Real World

 Feed no man in his sinnes: for adulation
Doth make thee parcell-devil in damnation.

George Herbert, The Church-Porch

 There is no way to tread any path that leads to one's inner life, and the health of the soul, without seeing that one knows very little.

It's difficult to divorce sin from the idea of a morality; and, in terms of morality, most human beings think in terms of sexuality and puritanism. I see this tendency in myself; and I certainly see it in others. yet there can only be one morality, which stands tall like a firm post in the midst of the inner life; and that morality relates to intention.

 Sin is not so complicated, really. To intend towards God and the good is moral; to intend away from them is not. The above passages relate to the question of temptation; and, as we can see, far from being a relativist, Gurdjieff placed the idea of knowing what is bad, and sin itself, high enough in his practice to include it in his aphorisms.

It is, again, my intention that matters; and in my habitual routine, my mechanical reaction to things, there can be no intention. Intention is only formed if I am aware enough to know the difference between good and bad; and that is the point upon which all sin turns, because it is in this moment, when I intend an action that faces away from my responsibility to God, that the whole deal goes down.  Readers might for a moment think back here to my point about lying: it isn't that complicated either. Lying can only take place if I already know what the truth is, and then misrepresent it — so if Gurdjieff said that we always lie, in a certain way, he implied that we always, in our hearts, know what the truth is, and routinely go against it intentionally anyway.

When George Herbert penned the above words, he may have meant them outwardly, but this morning, when I was reading them in my hotel room in Shanghai, it occurred to me that this is above all an inner action — like all actions which, ultimately, spring from the mind. When sin is fed, it is fed within me; and this idea of adulation, that is, an excessive honoring or valuation, suggests that I willingly turn worship on its head.

Although I'm a believer in accepting my own sensuality — and all that implies, including an inner weakness and a natural tendency towards hedonism — I see there is a point where it becomes the center of gravity, rather than a factor subordinate to my perception and will.

And it is just here, in this place where intention is attracted by desire, particularly physical desire, i.e., desire as a craving, that intention gets turned on its head.

This produces an impressive and prolific series of inner contradictions which Gurdjieff urges us to so carefully examine. Rather than pursue a path of asceticism, a Buddhist or Christian path of renunciation, in which I try to escape sin by eliminating it, the aim in esoteric practice is to get into bed with sin, so to speak, and know it well. The idea did not escape the Protestants; to wit, my favorite quote from Martin Luther, who said, since we must sin, sin boldly.

This idea of becoming intimate with my sin, and honest about it, is interesting, because it is truly a part of my life; and perhaps, even, not an enemy; just a truth about the nature of where I am and what I do. To the extent that I acknowledge it and give it its place, sometimes it seems to have less power over me; and this is the paradox of it, because it seems that the more I attempt to resist it, the stronger it becomes, like a magical creature in some fairytale who grows ever more heads every time I cut them off.

 This experience of sin is in sharp contrast to the perfections, which are an exact mirror of sin, in the sense that they are inspired by sacred energies, not profane ones. The difference is not so great; and so there is a thin line between sin and religious ecstasy, something anyone who has taken drugs will know.

The difference is that sin loves itself, and ecstasy loves God. So once again it comes down to the question of selfishness.



  1. Lee, isn't sin, in Gurdjieff's sense, only possible for a man who can "do"?

    Would you agree that the Obligolnian Strivings indicate what Objective Morality might be in terms of Work ideas? I find Mr. Orage's commentary on the strivings very helpful in this regard:

    Mr. Gurdjieff takes pains in Beezebub's Tales to challenge -- and even mock -- the notion of "the good" offered by the major religions. I wonder if you might be misconstruing his use of the word "sin" in that aphorism.


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