Monday, March 31, 2014

Notes on Eckhart's sermon 53

Sermon 53. 

When the Father begot all creatures, he begot me, and I flowed forth with all creatures while remaining within the Father.

Also,

In the Father are the primal images of all creatures. This bit of wood has a rational image in God. It is not only rational, it is pure reason. Meister Eckhart Sermon 53, page 279.

The soul is a rational image in God; by obvious logic, all of God is conscious; and the wood, like all of creation, must share in this property to one degree or another.

Thus all things have a soul; this mystery has dimension not fully revealed to us. We mistake what "soul" means. Technically and functionally, the word has meaning well beyond our narrow concerns for the individual "I," an egoistic piece of territory which is the turf religious practice has usually assigned to it. This term is connected to the doctrines of the Names of God (al Arabi) and correspondences (Swedenborg) which are actually complementary expositions. The sermon is a ligament that connects these two doctrines. 

Note that the outward flow (for us, the inward flow) does not separate itself from God. (Quote 1.) We remain within the father; perceptions to the contrary are erroneous. 

Said perceptions serve a purpose, however; Eckhart, Swedenborg and al Arabi all assign them the ultimate role of being intended as a spur to drive us towards a will to return to the Lord. This striving of all creation is remarked on in other sermons (see the previous post, comments on sermon 42.) 

Gurdjieff's cosmology as described in Beelzebub proposes an identical purpose and action of a universal wish to return to the "prime source of arising." 

Note that "soul" has properties according to the level it expresses in. This question can be examined in much greater detail using the enneagram, which describes the applicable hierarchies.

Also,

God has done the same. He has created the soul according to His own perfect nature, pouring into her all His own light in its pristine purity, while Himself remaining uncontaminated. (ibid, p. 280)

The nothingness is the action of pouring into, the inflow. This is Eckhart's perfect nature, which becomes at once "contaminated", that means, partial. Correspondences and Names are by their nature degraded forms of The Reality (al Arabi's Name for the unknowable and transcendent God.) 


Thus, in a certain sense, everything that can be known is "corrupted," although once again this term has multiple levels of meaning. Ultimately one might say that it is an expression of the polarizations that instantly arise as the perfect initially pours itself outward. 

On our level we divide these into "good" and "bad"- originally, according to involutionary and evolutionary tendencies (the esoteric view) but now commonly to moral choices, the exoteric view. 

Hosannah.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Notes on Eckhart's sermon 42

There is a power in the soul, which is the intellect. From the moment that it becomes aware of God and tastes Him, it has five properties. The first is that it becomes detached from here and now. The second is that it is like nothing. The third is that it is pure and uncompounded. The fourth is that it is active and seeking in itself. The fifth is that it is an image. —Meister Eckhart, Sermon 42


This power in the soul is an intelligence. The intelligence is distinct from our ordinary mind; it's what Gurdjieff would call a conscious intelligence, because-unlike our ordinary intelligence, it can become aware of God. I think we can all agree that to become aware of God is to cross an invisible line, from belief (which is where we think from) to understanding- which consists of certainty. So until we are certain of God-to taste is to have actual experience, not a set of theories- we do not have this intellect, this intelligence, of which Eckhart speaks. And as we are, we cannot and do not become aware of God.

However.

Once this certainty, this Presence, of God is known, he says, five things ensue:

First, it becomes detached from here and now. This is confusing, because we have heard that to be present is to be in the here and now. Yet to be detached from the here and now is to know it, yet not be identified with it. We know thus that we are in the here and now, but not of it.

Second, that it is like nothing. And this description is quite exact; only knowing the state can we understand what this means; and if you know what "like nothing" means, then understanding exists. Otherwise, for all of the mind that is like this or like that, there is no understanding. So as long as you live within this moment where mind has a comparable quality, relativity, it is not like nothing. 

To be pure and uncompounded is like nothing. Nothing is pure because it has no qualities that can be adulterated; it is, equally, uncompounded because it empties itself of all foreign things, that is, it remains essential within itself.

This quality is active and seeking itself because this quality is within its very nature. And this can be explained when we understand the fifth thing, that it is an image. That image is the reflection of God, which explains all the qualities together at one time.

Within this certainty of God's presence is the absolute arousal of love; for that's all God is.

Eckhart goes on to say:

nature secretly and in her inmost parts seeks and aims at God. No man was ever so thirsty that, when offered a drink, he would not refuse it unless there were something of God in it. Nature seeks neither eating nor drinking, nor clothes nor comfort, nor anything whatsoever, unless God were in it; she seeks privily, struggling and striving ever more to find God in it. (ibid)

Hosannah.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Humility, part 2

TianZhuShan
Anhui, China
Photograph by the author

I said before that alone and without God, all we can conceive of is our own greatness.

Truly, without God in us, we don’t have any humility; for true humility comes only through the Presence of God, and that comes only through the actual inward dwelling of God’s Presence as it contacts our soul.

As the heart opens towards God, so humility is born; it is the child of Grace within us. And it’s a relief; there is no greater gift than to lose our own greatness, which is an immense falseness we labor under, blindly.

This isn’t a movement upwards into heaven; it is of the earth and low places. The very word humility means to be of the earth, to be of what is low; and insofar as we obey the attraction of the earth- the attraction of humility- in this measure we are rewarded by God, who is drawn through His love to what is low.

There is no doubt that everything in us is of us; the idea of our inner work is imaginary; even the idea of God is imaginary. But there can be an indwelling. The innermost part of the soul is like a flower which opens to a receptiveness of God’s Grace; and this so far surpasses imagination that no sweetness can compare to it. When this indwelling occurs, we know the touch of the Lord in every moment; and we attend accordingly, for no one who is touched by the Lord has any wish other than to be with that touch.  Eternity is there in that touch; it is of Love, which lies outside of time.

That touch is so sweet that we pray not for more of it, but for the least of it; because no man or woman who knows this sweetness dare ask for more than just a little bit of it; we are incapable of taking more. On some rare occasions the Lord may open us to take a greater part of His Love in than we are able to bear; but this isn’t to be wished for, really. To even stand on the edge of it is to be overwhelmed with awe. No man who knows his way treads so lightly or evenly into God’s arms. Grace is given in small measures for a reason.

Let this Presence of the Lord flow into us daily, and insofar as we are raised up and lifted high, to that extent precisely are we lowered, gently lowered, into that humility which prepares us for Glory; which lies at every lowest point, even though the viewpoint there is as if from the highest mountains. That is because there is no space there; only closeness to the Lord, from which point all things are seen as if equal.

I know I speak here of mysteries that seem arcane; but they are not, rather, they are quite normal and ought to routinely be of this life we are in; yet they aren’t. But I assure you they are real, and stand as a natural consequence of Grace.

So seek with great faith.

Hosannah.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Humility

TianZhuShan
Anhui, China
Photograph by the author

Further observations on Sermon 50

Meister Eckhart makes much of humility in sermon 50; and indeed he speaks from understanding, because the organic experience of God begins and ends with this most profound humility, which emanates from the presence of God Himself, who is nothing but humble, despite His exalted station.

It may seem strange to equate this highest upon high with humility, which is the lowest of the low; yet Eckhart says to us:

...the height of the Godhead seeks nothing but the depth of humility, as I said at St. Maccabees. The humble man and God are one, the humble man has as much power over God as He has over Himself, and whatever is in the angels, that the humble man has for his own.

These words are confusing unless one knows God in the heart; alone and without God, we cannot conceive of greatness as anything but our own greatness, which isn’t true greatness but rather an inner poverty of greatness; that is, what we understand as great is the opposite of great. 

The smallest thing in the world is greater than all our ideas of greatness combined; for to be great is not to be important or to be large, but to have integrity and to be whole. Greatness is not a separation from the world and a standing out from other things, but a oneness with what there is; and that onenness begins and ends in the smallest measure.

What is great is humble, and what is infinitely great is infinitely humble. The Lord has no arrogance in Him; and the greatness of His countenance, along with its humility, is a mystery that must flow into the soul to be appreciated even in its least measure.

Once this flowing into the soul commences, it cannot die:

What is inborn in me, remains: God never departs from that man, wherever that man turns. Such a man can turn away from God, but however far he goes from God, God stops and waits for him, and stands in his path before he knows it.


Humility is an eternal quality; and God’s Mercy—which as we know is the most powerful and glorious of all God’s qualities—flows first through His humility, which is the principle vehicle through which it penetrates the universe.

If God’s great powers did not flow first and always through His humility, they would lose their power and would no longer be great; which is perhaps the unstated point of Eckhart’s sermon.

Hosannah.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The solar influence

TianZhuShan
Anhui, China
Photograph by the author

There is a star above the sun, that is the highest star: it is nobler than the sun and illumines the sun, and all the light that the sun has, it has from this star... This star does not only shine into the sun, it flows through the sun and through all the stars and flows into the earth and makes it fruitful.
-Meister Eckhart, sermon 50

Lest readers think that my own conception of the sun as an aperture through which divine influence flows into our universe is sheer invention, I offer the above passage from Meister Eckhart. This is not just an 'idea', but an esoteric truth which can be organically known through the connections that develop between a man’s physical body and the inward flow of God into the body, which takes place through the soul. These processes are not only analogous, but indeed directly related to one another; Eckhart understood this quite well, and compared them in sermon 50:

And it is just the same with a truly humble person who has subjected all creatures to himself and subjects himself to God: God in His goodness does not hold back, but pours Himself out fully into that man: He is compelled to do this and must do it.

I categorically dismiss any interpretation that renders this understanding of the sun as some form of obscure, medieval allegory. Eckhart was not, as some may think, citing earlier authorities, or espousing preexisting cosmologies; he was speaking from inner experience. Man receives God through the inward flow in the same way that the solar system receives God through the sun.  A man or woman, in other words, needs to allow a sun to form in themselves so that the light of God flows inward into them. These impressions of life are the inner 'cloud of dust' which, given a sufficient center of gravity, will coalesce and ignite the soul so that the radiance of the Lord can arrive.

We can know from this sermon something specific as regards just how far Eckhart’s inner development had come, because this truth arrives only as a direct consequence of a personal inner connection to this higher solar influence. One can, of course, read about it and parrot it, but Eckhart speaks not only with a great conviction about such matters, he does so correctly, and with authority- which illustrates the inner influences that formed his understanding.  This inward flow of God and its comparison to the solar influence is the source of much of his understanding, which is, it must be said, utterly reliable insofar as it derives from that place.

I urge readership to make inner efforts to understand this from a practical point of view, since little of value can be inwardly received unless a reliable and ever-present opening to this level of influence takes place. Otherwise, inner work remains mired in the realm of theory and doesn't confer the organic changes which are necessary in order to understand the esoteric, or inner, meaning of many of Mr. Gurdjieff’s principles, notably, intentional suffering and remorse of conscience.

Regarding the inner (and, once again, we can rely on his words) Eckhart furthermore says, again in sermon 50,

This means God is brought down, not absolutely but inwardly, that we may be raised up. What was above has become inward. You must be internalized, from your­ self and within yourself, so that He is in you.

This is actually a concise statement about the entire aim of Jeanne de Salzmann’s teaching in The Reality of Being, distilled into a brief and encapsulated in Christian doctrine- which does not, by the way, in the least diminish its value or accuracy.

Being well versed in the sciences cannot possibly confer this particular understanding, because the literalism of science, accurate though it is to the extent that it is, is limited in its ability to sense the spiritual scope of the matter. Its limits begin and end within the rigidity of ordinary matter, a phenomenon which exists only at this level, and dissolves quite readily at the levels both above and below it. This is a portion of what Gurdjieff was getting at when he described things in the cosmos as “crystallizations;” each one is removed from the essential fluidity of the Lord.

Hosannah.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Unbounded— Resignation and the will of God, part three


God cannot do divine works in the soul, for whatever enters the soul is ruled by measure. Measure means inclusion and exclusion. But it is not thus with divine works: they are unbounded, and are included but unen­closed in divine revelation.  —Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, P. 247

 Although it may not appear to be so at first glance, this question of what is measured — of what is included and excluded — is critical to understanding the idea of resignation and the Will of God.

The soul — that is, that which we are, a created thing, a creature — always falls into the realm of inclusion and exclusion. The good and the bad, and our perception of it, belong to this realm, and the soul, being a fragment of the whole, has no way to understand outside of its own realm.

Yet divine works — the divine understanding, the inner understanding — are unbounded. By this, we understand that they have no limitations. It is impossible to constrain them with our ideas, including the ideas of the good and the bad, so as soon as we fall victim to this, already, we cannot understand.

Divine works are included in divine revelation — that is, they exist there — but they are unenclosed. This means that they have a complete freedom that is not affected by the measurements applied by the soul.

 All of these things may sound like lofty metaphysical concepts, but actually, they pertain quite exactly to the daily, even momentary, inner experience of the divine flow, the influence. This higher influence is unbounded; it is untouched by the world, sacred, and holy. It is virginal; and I am not worthy of it. But nonetheless, it arrives.To know this is to know that one does not know; and, at the same time, to know that there is a knowing that transcends knowing.

All of the gentleness that ought to belong to a correct inner attitude flows from this understanding; and we cannot speak of it here in words, because the only way to understand is to receive, and to receive is to melt.

My father — my real, biological father — is reaching the end of his life and having frightening lucid dreams that always comprise more or less the same scene.  He told me about these hallucinations early this morning.

He is in a hotel, a place where many people live, and he is usually in the basement. The crowd around him are a rough crowd, as he describes them; they are all frightening types who he fears will harm him. They are bullies. Food is always on the way, about to be served, and everyone in the room is taking care of themselves first. They intimidate him, and they always get the best food for themselves, leaving him out, and not paying attention to him. He is afraid to speak, because if he says the wrong thing they will attack him.

This dream is about inclusion and exclusion. In the dream, the bullies, those who are selfish, include themselves and exclude generosity and compassion. They are greedy and they want all the food for themselves. This is how we actually are. All of the food in life belongs to the Lord, to the higher principle which is manifested; yet we somehow want to swallow it all, even until our bellies burst, and keep it for ourselves, instead of sharing with others in a loving way.

So this gentleness of correct inner attitude simply doesn't exist; instead, both inwardly and outwardly, the bullies rule our inner cafeteria.  Like all bullies, they specialize in creating doubt; and so the right parts of myself are afraid to speak.

Much more could be said about this dream, which is actually an exact replica of some of Swedenborg's images of hell, but enough for now. The point is that we ought to be receiving this higher influence; yet it is appropriated, stolen, by a rough crowd. That rough crowd is our outer self; it is the part that wants to set limits on things, to rule things by measure. The soul, oddly, which ought to function in a much better way, has fallen prey to these parasites.

To come closer to the intimate experience of an inner life is to begin, quite slowly and over many years, to understand what it means to not be ruled by measure. This is not something a man comes to in a moment, or even a year. One must submit over and over again for many years in order to approach this idea in an inward and meaningful sense.

Hosannah.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Resignation and the will of God, part two


 We don't examine this question of resignation and the will of God from some external or hypothetical position. It's all very well to try and consider it from the philosophical angle, where we analyze the outside world and its slings and arrows, and decide that accepting it is unacceptable. 

But in actuality, there's nothing hypothetical about it. We struggle with this question of resigning ourselves to what actually is every day, as the inner truth of our life meets the outer truth of circumstances.

Without a real inner life, a connection to that living truth which causes all Being to arise, there is no real life. There is just a set of events and things. They encounter one another and clash. If one has no real being, one is simply caught in the middle of objects being crashed together in this manner, and of course it's bewildering. This is how our life is most of the time. We live in an endless series of collisions between an unformed inner life and outer circumstances that make no sense. There is a difference between Being and existing; and one needs to develop an inner taste of the difference.

The inner sensation of support from a higher energy, which is what Jeanne de Salzmann devoted her life to attempting to bring us to, is sublime and can have, in point of fact, nothing to do with the idea of fixing outer circumstances or correcting us, repairing what we are. While all of those questions might flow from it in one way or another, the presence of God transcends these questions, because it is primary. This influence must come first in us; and in point of fact, everything Meister Eckhart writes about equally deals with this question. Despite the fact that his sermons clearly tread in territory we are spiritually unfamiliar with, we have an inexorable impulse to pull them down into ordinary life and interpret them from that point of view. "Alas, how many are there who worship a shoe or a cow and encumber themselves with them - they are foolish folk!" (Sermon 11.)

My own life only has meaning in relationship to the sensation of this divine inward flow which I so often refer to. I am either closer to it, or further from it; and thus I sense either the proximity or distance of God. To the extent that God is closer, so I understand better; and to the extent that I am less open, I understand less. I have found, over the course of a lifetime, that to be drawn outward into a belief in the outer or the natural as the primary source of life is to understand less; to begin from the inward nature which lives through the manifestation of God, is to understand more. If one begins there, the understanding of the natural unfolds into a much greater glory than it can when one begins outward and this outer world is folded in upon itself, which is the way the world is arranged for the most part.

I realize that saying these things may be confusing to readers; words are at best a dirty mirror of the actual circumstances. 

 Meister Eckhart continually exhorts us to understand the inner; and in a certain way, we must forget about trying to understand the outer until we have a better mastery of this subject, because the outer is impossible to understand without it. If we want to figure out why the world is a bad place and people do bad things, we cannot understand it through outward philosophies, sciences, politics, economics, and so on. All of the problems we see around us, to the last one, begin inside mankind and manifest outwardly from that point. The inner must change; the outer cannot. Getting caught in the confusion of the outer is a distraction from the inner understanding that alone can transform us.  

This requires a change in our inner inclination — in our inner attitude.

Hosannah.




Monday, March 24, 2014

Resignation and the will of God, part one


Meister Eckhart makes a great deal about how absolute the will of God is, and how thoroughly we ought to submit to it; absolutely, in point of fact, such that no other alternatives are to be wished for or considered. His difficult proposition is that everything that is, should be and ought to be, exactly as it is; and that if we were aligned with God's Will and Purpose, we would accept this not with resignation, but with joy.

I think this is a fair summation of his principle; yet it seems abhorrent to us, because it implies a passivity towards life and a lack of choice or free will. Why should we bother, under such conditions, to do anything  at all? We become, according to the facile or literal interpretation if this doctrine, mere puppets.

Taken in its most obvious sense, this is of course the case.  Even worse, the idea demands that we accept what we feel are perfectly awful things, and accept them not only wholeheartedly, but even enthusiastically. The idea seems, quite frankly, impossible, doesn't it? The idea causes many to reject the idea of God Himself; first, because any such demand seems utterly cruel, and second, because it seems impossible that any divine Will could possibly require things that appear to be awful to us.

Yet Eckhart takes this question into territory subtler than any obvious analysis.

Firstly, we are, according to him, already God, in the most refined and esoteric sense. As such, God's Will IS our will, if we could only see it; and this penetrating truth, so inaccessible to the ordinary mind, is the understated and underlying principle behind the idea of this absolute surrender. We are, as God's vicegerents, the ultimate agents of all that takes place; in the end there can be no separation between His will and our expression of it.

Yet we don't see it that way, not at all; and of course the ego—our belief in our own, as it were, entirely microcosmic entity—is the agent of this persuasion.

How, then, to understand it better? In particular, how to remain active in life while absorbing this lesson?

This question of surrender reaches into territory we tend to confuse. Eckhart, I think, is speaking exclusively to our inner life and experience here, not the outer; and yet, because (as he himself says) we "are not at home there" (Sermon 40)- in the inner, that is- we don't understand his message.

It's the inner conditions that create the outer; and that creation, that arising of relationship, takes place in our attitude. Not in the actual flow of outer events and our response to them. 

This focus on the inner, on attitude, and how it creates relationship with life does not obstruct the question of an outer response to outer conditions; and it does not strip us of a freedom of action here, either. Rather it confers freedom, in the sense that our attitude is free of the attachments formed by a presumption of agency. 

In turning toward the perception of another quality, I see that my usual thinking, feeling and sensation cannot help, and I give up my ordinary attitude and my illusion about myself. I can "do" nothing. Nevertheless, I can become conscious of how things take place in me, and I can find an attitude, an inner posture, that will allow opening to a higher energy. (The Reality of Being, P. 83)

 In opening to this higher energy, the divine influence, we  cease to be combatants in life. We become participants; and in participating, all of the tension created by the presumption of our own agency sloughs off. 

As participants, we embrace; as participants, we include. Nothing is excluded or forbidden, from the outer action we incline to or the inner experiences we are subject to. They all exist; as we do. Yet this existence is informed by this inward freedom which is in, and of, God.

Yet, I think, we persistently misunderstand this question of the inner and the outer, and we somehow think that one can fix the other. It is this idea of fixing, which we are (you will excuse me here) fixated on, that's actually useless; nothing can ever actually be fixed. To suffer is to allow, and if we want to truly understand what Gurdjieff meant by intentional suffering, this understanding of what it means to allow must eventually enter the picture.

Hosannah.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The quality of time


My father, Nick, was a successful international businessman and a vice president at Colgate-Palmolive before his retirement some 30 years ago. He's been living on the Outer Banks of North Carolina since then.  He has recently had a series of health setbacks, culminating in a stroke that has left him weak but still mentally competent, for the most part. 

I made a visit to see him this weekend, because none of us are sure how long he will continue to hold his own against age, and things are objectively quite dicey at this point.

 I don't feel any particular fear for him, or the end of life, because I know that all of these things are well managed in the hands of forces much higher than we are. Despite the gravity of the situation, I feel a sense of peace and rightness; consequently, it's possible to include all of the current conditions in life without any anxiety or anguish. My father and I have a great relationship (it wasn't always that way, when I was young and impetuous) and I love him deeply; I know he feels the same way about me.

Despite the fact that he is exhausted, unable to communicate much, and living with one foot in worlds not quite connected with this one, spending time with him was a wonderful experience. It was enough to just sit there in the room within the presence of my father, within the presence of the sense of life itself, and take the situation in the context of the unconditional love that filled the room. My wife and my mother were there; we all simply sat with dad, while he faded in and out of consciousness and delivered a series of very humorous, somewhat whacko non sequiturs involving the fairly colorful hallucinations he seems to be experiencing these days. He has a sense of wry self-awareness about the situation; and there were some truly hysterically funny moments as he blurted out impossible visions and situations, which we all took in stride. Periodically, he reached out and held my mom's hand, and one was reminded of how extraordinarily gentle he really is, inside the hardened exterior he cultivated during his business career.

It was possible to see how thoroughly he is pared down to his essence. The essential love he has always expressed, the generosity and big-hearted attitude that he takes towards people and life, was there in spades, while the combative, argumentative, right-wing-conservative executive I grew up with seemed to have checked out of the room for other parts.

 It's interesting to see how events at the end of life can peel away all the layers of personality on us, under such circumstances, and leave us with the person themselves: no-frills, none of the nonsense that life adds to who we are, but just us, as ourselves.  The experience was reminiscent of what Swedenborg says happens to us when we reach the afterlife; but it begins now, before we leave.

It was possible, sitting in the room with my father, to truly savor that experience, and to discover a newness of purpose in the relationship; that purpose being nothing more or less than just being together. The communication was taking place on levels other than what we said; it was organic, even cellular. An energy filled the room; despite the mundane, everyday conditions, the situation seemed to be sacred.

The experience reminded me all over again of how essential love is to our inner and outer life. Putting that, the question of presence and love, a relationship to an inner energy, at the forefront of this exchange between my father and myself gave me the opportunity to have a real relationship within this moment.

I can't ask for more than that; in fact, it is more than I ever expected in life to be able to understand such things.

Moments like this are the ones where we discover what inner work is really worth; and nothing is more precious.

Hosannah.



Saturday, March 22, 2014

The embroidered universe

We live in an embroidered universe; and we have to be careful to distinguish the fabric from the embroidery.

The universe itself has a group of fundamental truths — or, to be more exact, a single fundamental truth — at its foundation. But as it arises and unfolds, it iterates itself into an infinite number of entities — objects, events, circumstances, and conditions — that represent what Ibn al Arabi called the Names of God.

Because this infinite set of variations that arises within truth can't all be expressed materially, many of them remain forever imaginary. Now, this doesn't affect their existence; Truth is no less the real for being imaginary. This is because the universe includes not only everything that materializes from God's truth, but also that which He only imagines. The imagination of God is, in other words, even greater than the material fact of the universe (of all universes) simply because His imagination exceeds all creation.

To put it in other terms, everything is a thought in the mind of God; but His thoughts will express more or less material substance, according to how they manifest.

Because we are not able to discriminate well due to the level we live on, and because of the necessarily narrow viewpoint available to us, we are often tempted to mistake the embroidery for the fabric. That is to say, the imaginary appears to be real to us, in the same way that we often imagine reality is quite different than its actual nature, whether acquired or essential. So we can easily fall under what are called glamours, imaginary raptures that seem entirely real to us. Because any contact with God ultimately has a strong ecstatic component, these raptures are actually quite commonplace within the realm of real higher religious experience. It is their validity relative to inner work that becomes he question, not their existence as such.

The power of discrimination is there in order to distinguish between reality and imagination; and when Gurdjieff said that man must have a critical mind — a point he made often, not only in his writings, but in his groups — it was exactly this that he spoke of.

While higher energies are quite real, they can represent a significant danger to a man without a critical and discriminating mind, because they tend to produce embroidery perhaps more easily than they reveal the fabric. The embroidery is always enormously attractive; although the flat fabric, the absolute in the central support of the fundamental truth, is what we all most need within our Being and our life, the embroideries are far more attractive — whether they represent something fundamental or not. The danger is in the falling in love with the embellishment, rather than valuing the fundamental support. 

The blank sheet of paper, you se, is actually more interesting than the art you paint on it. Empty, in itself it contains everything; yet the minute one begins to draw on it, everything is gone, and the paper shrinks down to nothing more than what it can contain by itself.  

When Meister Eckhart says that the soul can perceive God in his nakedness, in His robing room, he means precisely this kind of fundamental truth which is stripped of all the embellishments and embroidery. We should, perhaps, remember that all the great masters say that we can know what God is not — He is not anything we are able to name — but that we can never know what He is:

When the soul pronounces God, this utterance does not comprise the real truth about His essence: no one can truly say of God what He is. Sometimes we say one thing is like another. Now since all creatures contain next to nothing of God, they cannot declare Him...

St. Augustine says whatever we say of God is not true, and what we do not say of Him is true. Whatever we say God is, He is not; what we do not say of Him He is more truly than what we say He is.

The Complete Mystical Works, Page 192

In this sense, all the embroidery is not God... cannot be God... no matter how fabulous it looks. And this experience of the nakedness of God, without the embroidery, is the one we seek.


One should remember that if one ever has this experience, one ought not then decide to embroider it. The plain fabric of truth is already the best we will ever achieve.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The inmost part

I once said whatever can be truly put into words must come from within, moved by its inner form: it must not come in from without, but out from within. It truly lives in the inmost part of the soul. There all things are present to you, living within and seeking, and are at their best and highest. Why are you unaware of this ? Because you are not at home there.

Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, P.225 (Sermon 40)

 This inmost part of the soul is the place where being arises. Inside of us, there is a living quality that is eternal and generative which begins at the point where the sacred force of the divine, of love, flows into what Eckhart calls the soul, which is the part of us that actually lives. Without this part, we would be dead; it animates everything that we are and everything that we do.

Yet we are not at home there. 

What does this mean?

If we awaken to this inward quality, absolutely nothing changes — but at the same time, absolutely everything changes. And it is this change of everything into nothing, and nothing into everything, that reverses the confusion we live in in our lives, where everything just happens outside of us and we respond to it. We are caught in the literalism of what is outside; and it confuses us mightily inside, because the outside doesn't seem explicable. It never occurs to us that we start out with a telescope and (like a child) at once look through the big lens because it looks big, not realizing that all the big lens does once it is done with us is shrink everything down to a tiny and inexplicable image.

In a certain sense, the little lens is the lens we need to look through, and that lens begins in every cell. If we could learn to see through our cells first, then through our body, our ears and eyes, our view would be far more precise and unusual. Suddenly, seeing through our cells first, events are magnified and we can see quite exactly what they consist of; whereas the other way around, events are so tiny they nearly cease to exist, and whirl around us like midges or gnats that we can't get a grip on. Individually, they are still tiny, but collectively, they form a swarm we bat at frantically, or spray repellent at, metaphysically speaking, that is. Taking the metaphor one amusing step further, our negativity is the insect repellent. Think about it.

This organic state of being, this cellular means of perception, begins with the energy that flows into the body at the point where the divine meets the material. 

Now, it is absolutely true that every object has this property: 

In the Father are the primal images of all creatures. This bit of wood has a rational image in God. It is not only rational, it is pure reason. (Sermon 53, p. 279)

Yet not all objects manifest this property in the same way, because life is expressed on many levels, each one of which carries its own responsibility. Man's level carries a much greater responsibility than the level of a crystal, or of wood; and to the extent that the divine energy is imparted and can be digested, so to that extent is the responsibility formed. 

Mankind, in other words, has a much greater responsibility. Yet he is not at home in that responsibility. Strangely, wood or stone is more at home within its portion of the divine Presence, because it is unable to choose and unable to abandon its relationship with God. Much of creation is like that; angels can't abandon relationship with the ease that mankind can, either. It is at this level, where agency emerges and first arises, that the possibility of choice is made; below it, the possibility of choice does not exist yet, and above it, choice has already been exercised.

Dwelling within this inmost part, we come to a relationship where choice can make quite the difference. And this is what we need to see.

Hosannah.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A power in the soul

There is a power in the soul, which is the intellect. From the moment that it becomes aware of God and tastes Him, it has five properties. The first is that it becomes detached from here and now. The second is that it is like nothing. The third is that it is pure and uncompounded. The fourth is that it is active and seeking in itself. The fifth is that it is an image. —Meister Eckhart, Sermon 42


This power in the soul is an intelligence

This intelligence is distinct from our ordinary mind; it's what Gurdjieff would call a conscious intelligence, because—unlike our ordinary intelligence—it can become aware of God

I think we can all agree that to become aware of God is to cross an invisible line, from belief (which is where we think from) to understanding— which consists of certainty. 

So until we are certain of God— to taste is to have actual experience, not a set of theories— we do not have this intellect, this intelligence, of which Eckhart speaks. And as we are, we cannot and do not become aware of God. (Not too many of us bop around from moment to moment in our lives, saying to ourselves, "Oh, yeah. I'm so aware of God now.")

However.

Once this certainty, this Presence, of God is known, Eckhart says, five things ensue:

First, it becomes detached from here and now. This is confusing, because we have heard that to be present is to be in the here and now. Yet to be detached from the here and now is to know it, yet not be, as Gurdjieff would say, identified with it. We know thus that we are in the here and now, but not of it.

Second, that it is like nothing. And this description is quite exact; only knowing the state can we understand what this means; and if you know what like nothing means, then understanding exists. Otherwise, for all of the mind that is like this or like that, there is no understanding. So as long as we live within this moment where mind has a comparable quality, relativity, it is not like nothing. 

To be pure and uncompounded is like nothing. Nothing is pure because it has no qualities that can be adulterated; it is, equally, uncompounded because it empties itself of all foreign things, that is, it remains essential within itself.

This quality is active and seeking itself because this quality is within its very nature. And this can be explained when we understand the fifth thing, that it is an image. That image is the reflection of God, which explains all the qualities together at one time.

Within this certainty of God's presence is the absolute arousal of love; for that's all God is.

Eckhart goes on to say:

...nature secretly and in her inmost parts seeks and aims at God. No man was ever so thirsty that, when offered a drink, he would not refuse it unless there were something of God in it. Nature seeks neither eating nor drinking, nor clothes nor comfort, nor anything whatsoever, unless God were in it; she seeks privily, struggling and striving ever more to find God in it.

I'll say more on this later.

Hosannah.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Intending

I know I have spoken about this before, but it seems important today to remember that to intend is to have a purpose.

We are told that we should have an intention in our work; and that intention is a conscious force. Yet exactly what does it mean to have an intention?

There is only one kind of intention, in the gross sense of the word, that one can have, and that is towards the good. Mankind is created in the middle Kingdom, poised between good and evil, and it is the intention of God and all the creative forces in the universe for him to choose the good.

Intention is a choice for the good. The idea is to inwardly tend.

In real inner work, one cannot intend to have things, or get something, or do so and so. These are all material actions directed at the outer world; and above all, an inward tendency, and in tension, means that within oneself, one must exercise discrimination and tend towards the good. To have attention means, in an overall sense, to not allow outward intentions to be one's center of gravity.

The question is an important one, because in discussing the idea of seeing, and being objective, it's often said that we should just see and not judge, that we should not discriminate — at least, that's the implication. Yet in the end, this is foolishness; for what good man, with a good heart, could watch evil and not intend against it? What good man cannot judge against evil, when he encounters it and sees it manifesting? If there were such a man, we wouldn't call him spiritual; we would fault him, as well we should.

Meister Eckhart has a few important things to say about the matter of discrimination in sermon 52.  We ought to attend to his words carefully, for they are well chosen. In point of fact, the entire passage  relates directly to Gurdjieff's teachings on impressions, and how they feed Being. The very idea that any old impression is good for the soul is an absurdity.

I think the point is, we are supposed to inwardly tend towards the good, to instinctively sense what is right, and to go in that direction — not to just accept everything as equal, and somehow unimportant. With my whole Being I reject such a proposition, and assert that the whole point of intention is choice—to go towards the good. Why else have choice? Why else have discrimination? There is no point to an intention that does not tend — that is, take a direction — and care for.

 So we want to take a direction in life, and we want that direction to care for life, to care for goodness, to care for others, and for love. Do we truly see how we betray that in most instances? Even the greatest of souls has this weakness, and struggles with it. It's in the nature of what we are.

Hosannah.

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.

Hosannah. 





Monday, March 17, 2014

The Divine Intellect, Part 3

Bosch, the greatest master of esoteric symbolism in the history of western art, invented this extraordinary image in order to show the intellect (the owl) and the spiritual (the pink egg) mastering temptation (cherries) under the influences of life (branch, blue flowers).

The Lord sent forth His servants. St. Gregory says these servants are the order of preachers. I speak of another servant, who is the angel. 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.

Meister Eckhart, Sermon 32 (b), The Complete Mystical Works

This is not the only sermon where Eckhart alludes to the physical contact between the intellect, the soul, and God. (See Sermon 39, for example.) This contact occurs in a place. That is to say, Eckhart assigns it a location, the circuit of the soul. In other places he indicates that one ascends to this place; here, it is located in a circulation.

The place Eckhart presents us with is not a corporeal location. It is an inner realm; so we understand that both the angelic nature and the image of God exist within this inner realm. Man, in other words, acts as a container or vessel for this intimate point of contact between the divine and the worldly. Consistently, in his teachings, the intellect (the "head" of the soul) serves as the point for this contact. Yet the intellect he refers to cannot be what Gurdjieff called the associative mind, that is, the mind of words and associations, the worldly intelligence which we use to conduct our daily affairs. Indeed, he advises, The place has no name, and no one can utter a word concerning it that is appropriate. (Sermon 39).

Eckhart alludes here to inner mysteries that don't concede to analysis; they are hidden places inaccessible to our rational analysis, exactly like the disguised face of the master in Bosch's painting of the magus with the owl. What can truly be known is sacred, private, intimate, and inner; it has no outward face. Indeed, it must be protected from the influences of the outside world (the spines around the pink egg) because they all represent temptation. It is not going to far to explain that all ordinary thought is the enemy of this sacred realm and this divine contact; in a certain sense, the virgin is the feminine soul, which must remain untouched by this male, or penetrating, influence.

Thought, ordinary, rational thought, seeks to inseminate the soul; yet for the soul to open itself to the highest influences and touch the angelic realm, it must remain untouched and inviolate. So here we have another allegory for understanding the story of the nativity. Bosch's image represents an ideal of the soul hidden from earthly influences and untouched by outer events; in this state, it receives the higher knowledge made possible by contact with the divine (the owl.)

The proposition that contact with God arises within an inner realm is, perhaps, extraordinary; for we're accustomed to literalist interpretations of God and heaven, where heaven is a physical place of some kind, and God is a separate entity residing with it.

Yet Eckhart reminds us repeatedly that God has no place; God is nowhere. We can be, perhaps, reminded of his remark,

But some people want to see God with their own eyes as they see a cow, and they want to love God as they love a cow. (sermon 14 b, Ibid.)

We are always, when we read Eckhart, dealing with more than just cows. There is no room for the ordinary world of thought within the inner action that seeks God, just as we can't stuff a cow into ourselves. But it is this very act of cow-stuffing that we engage in every time we try to think of God, instead of reaching to God through an understanding bereft of the ordinary senses and the ordinary mind.

Hosannah.