Detail from Hans Memling's Annunciation-Mary
Metropolitan Museum, New York
photograph by Lee van Laer
The question of the particles of God's sorrow is an interesting one, because it leads us straight to the passion of Christ, which was so precisely designed to put this question in front of mankind in a way that could not be ignored.
In point of fact, one has to ask oneself why one needs Gurdjieff at all, when the lesson has been so accurately taught, so perfectly expressed, and so thoroughly expounded in a single action that came from a much higher level. We should, without doubt, note that Gurdjieff himself devoted a considerable amount of material to the life and death of Christ in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson; his complete omission of any extensive commentary on the life of the Buddha, or Mohammed, or anyone else besides the cryptic, proto-mythological figure of Ashiata Shiemash, along with the extensive (and exclusively Christian) angelic infrastructure and cosmological superstructure of the book, firmly nailed down the lid on the coffin of any pretense that the book is something other than a Christian allegory, no matter how heretical it may appear to the orthodox. Gurdjieff himself, was, after all, raised in the Greek Orthodox Church; and even the most cursory familiarity with Greek orthodoxy underscores how absolutely and completely Christian his early education must have been. It formed the core of everything he encountered and wrote about later in life.
I think, in fact, that it is essential to understand Gurdjieff first from the Christian perspective; not to pretend that there is a different angle one can take on it. And I furthermore think that we must not put our faith in Gurdjieff — he himself insisted we not do so, a fact that seems to be willfully and even arrogantly ignored by those who followed him. If we are going to put our faith anywhere, we must move past Gurdjieff and into Christ, because this is the direction in which faith must inevitably go: not in men, but towards God.
There has to be a practical turn of faith inward in life, that moves past all of the trappings that our teachers have hung on the walls around us; we have to get past the tapestries that insulate us from the fact that our inner walls are cold, and we must make efforts to survive on our own. We make our own warmth; and we do that by turning inward toward the warmth that radiates from God and the soul, which is that one spark that can ignite a fire that sustains us. Others do not light that spark for us; we light it ourselves. It isn't lit in a book; it is lit by the friction of our own inner fire as we confront the desires and non-desires that Gurdjieff spoke about. We have to, in a perfect sense, completely stop thinking about Gurdjieff, as though he never existed, and take only the ideas into ourselves as real and living things. This is what he would have wished for us; and of the cult of personality that has arisen in its place is a distraction to us from our real inner work, which is — as Gurdjieff himself said — one of perpetual suffering.
These realizations are, for me, hard won, and have required many years of suffering, both inwardly and outwardly, a process that I can now see will not end in this lifetime. But I see that one cannot choose to be a Gurdjieffian first, and then decide later whether to be a Christian, or a Jew, or a Buddhist or a Hindu or a Muslim; first, I have to know that I am a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, Hindu, or a Muslim — for whatever religion or faith I am, I must fully embody and be that, not fool about like an idiot — and only then, once I have deeply and irrevocably accepted the very difficult and demanding tenets of my fundamental religious practice, only then can I begin to look at Mr. Gurdjieff's ideas and find value in them.
I'm not sure those of us in the Gurdjieff community understand that properly. But I believe we ought to try.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.