Friday, January 2, 2015

The Arch Absurd, part I

Last night, a friend in the work, one whose work is close to my own, asked me about this challenging passage in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson:

…not only does nothing like 'light,' 'heat,' and so on come to their planet from their sun, but… this supposed 'source of heat and light' is itself almost always freezing cold, like the hairless dog 
of our highly esteemed Mullah Nasr Eddin. 

"In reality, the surface of their 'source of heat,' like that of all the ordinary suns of our Great Universe, is perhaps more covered with ice than the surface of what they call the 'North Pole.' 
Beelzebub's Tales to His GrandsonP. 130

 This passage has puzzled individuals throughout the Gurdjieff community for years, since it is so obviously and patently untrue, from a scientific point of view.

In order to understand this passage, and indeed the entire content of chapter 17, one must tread into dangerous territory where one presumes to explain the book. Nonetheless, this is sometimes necessary; and it must first be said that the book can't be understood unless one understands that it is an inner teaching, in its whole, not an outer one.

 The very title of the chapter itself directly points the reader to the understanding that, taken literally, the chapter will not be properly understood — some of the contentions in it, after all, are absurd. The word arch means playfully teasing, and so the author has already advised us that, in the midst of delivering a very serious parable about inner work, he is toying with us. Nonetheless, the temptation to get caught in the literal understanding of the text is still enormous; and perhaps never has there been a more telling illustration of our stubbornness to interpret literally, even when allegory slaps us right in the face like a spurned lover.

Yet it is absolutely impossible to understand what Gurdjieff is speaking about, so long as one insists on thinking of this as describing the surface of our actual sun, that decidedly material aggregation of superheated plasma at the center of the solar system.

 This particular chapter centers around the trogoautoegocratic process, that is, the process whereby we feed ourselves — and whereby the whole universe feeds itself. Also referred to as the law of reciprocal feeding, it involves the ingestion of impressions. 

Now, impressions have two different sources of arising — inner impressions and outer impressions.  When Gurdjieff describes emanations and radiation here, he likens them to the difference between the beard of Shakespeare and a bottle of Armangnac. It sounds like a tidbit of amusing sarcasm; but it isn't. It's part of an important distinction and teaching.

Outer impressions are like the beard of Shakespeare; these are external characteristics and essentially superficial. The beard appears to confer authority; but it's just hair. Inner impressions are, on the other hand, like Armangnac; a rich, glowing wine that goes deep into the heart and feeds Being. 

When we hear the discussion about the effects of the sun, emanation, and radiation, we need to reconfigure our understanding of the physical idea of the sun in the solar system and its material presence. The sun that is spoken of in this chapter is an inner sun; that is to say, it is the higher inner principle on which one's overall inner work is founded. It does, by the way, have a corresponding relationship to the physical presence of the sun in the solar system, and there are reciprocal and parallel processes here which mirror one another and also need to be understood; but in order to understand the comment that the sun neither heats nor lights, we need first to understand that this, in its entirety, refers first to that inner sun which illuminates the soul.

 In order to understand this, we need to relate the idea to the inward flow of divine energy which arrives to support one's work. This energy does not provide physical light; actually, it arrives from the void and from within a deep and endless darkness. It is a kind of light, but is is the light of creation and the light of intelligence, which are not the kind of light one sees with one's eyes. It is a light of understanding and a light of truth; this illuminates one's conscious nature, the field of being and the field of consciousness, not the physical locations we occupy and the things we see in them.

This light of Being is, in other words, a darkness within which a sacred truth is contained; and it penetrates into the roots of Being as it arrives. It does not, furthermore heat; heat, in this case, is a dissipation, a passion, craving, or desire. Heat is what we radiate when we are expending energy. The effect of the light of Being, that emanation which feeds the soul, is a containment, a taking in; and this is the opposite of heating, in fact, it corresponds to the "frozen" state of the sun which Gurdjieff describes.

 I'll expound on this further tomorrow.


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