Sunday, March 8, 2015

Big benefits, part II: the blue whale

We think we are big creatures.

This aberrant thinking persists no matter how vast the universe may appear to us; and it exactly encapsulates, I think, the difficulty with creation itself.

Big creatures think they can get big things. We are plankton; and yet we think we are blue whales.

This is in the nature of creation itself; even angels think they are better than God, as Beelzebub's example illustrates. It seems self-evident that Gurdjieff consciously chose Beelzebub as the narrator of his great tale because of this single, most important fact; the book is a tale about ego, and has a heavenly arch-egoist as its narrator. Beelzebub, too, thought he was a blue whale.

One of the signature effects of ego is that it tells itself it isn't like this. Every single one of us is an unconscious victim of this reflexive aggrandizement, which sets a cornerstone in the foundation of every action. The only way for ego to be diminished — and, were we but fortunate enough, extinguished — is to suffer; and no one wants to do this. Suffering is a non-desire; and for non-desires to prevail over desires, we must suffer.

In the first installment of this set of ponderings, I pointed out that suffering is installed in the universe at the highest level: the "second conscious shock" of the enneagram, between the note si— representing wisdom — and the note do, representing the absolute.  This is the location of Gurdjieff's Holy Planet Purgatory,  a place where everything is beautiful, but the inhabitants do nothing but suffer unbearably. The passage from wisdom back into its source, in other words, requires an inexpressible amount of suffering.

 If one thinks it over carefully, one inevitably realizes that this must by law be the case in every octave of development, from the lowest to the highest.

What this means is that there is no escape from suffering; as one rises through successive levels of spiritual hierarchy, the culmination of every ascent within a particular octave requires a heroic level of intentional suffering. This moment must be reached again and again, level by level; and perhaps, here, we touch on a resolution of of the conflict between the idea of eternal recurrence and the idea of heaven and hell — a question one reader brought up for me yesterday, which we will come back to.

Those interested in such questions should carefully consider the cosmological implications of Gurdjieff's hierarchy of octaves. There isn't any escape from this conclusion without throwing the whole system out. He scattered hints and explanations about this throughout his works, yet never explained it so explicitly, probably because he realized no ordinary person could be attracted to an inner work that tells us we must do nothing but suffer, and, furthermore, intend to suffer. Ideas like this have, for the average religious consumer, a brief shelf life and do not move out of the spiritual supermarket. Every great sage who realized this has had to repackage his teaching to even get it to the checkout counter, and if he didn't, his followers did it for him. In repackaging, of course, the goods are spoiled, and so every religion today proposes, in one way or another, repose in a sea of enlightened bliss as the end result.

 So we plankton drift in the sea, dreaming that we are blue whales, huge, free creatures with vast ranges of action and ability; and we dream that right up until the real blue whale swallows us.


Part III publishes March 9.

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