Monday, November 30, 2015

A Deconstruction of the Second Striving, part II

Stone, Confucian Temple, Shanghai
Photo by the author
To have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being.”

—the second obligolnian striving, G. I. Gurdjieff

As I said in my first critique of this statement, we can’t create a constant and unflagging instinctive need. An instinctive need can at best be uncovered, having been buried by other additive personality traits which obscure and impede it. In an animal, instinct is impossible to overwhelm; it’s an inescapable feature of being. A human being has far fewer instincts (as defined in the biological sense) to begin with — for example, we don't instinctively build webs, although some few superheroes do — and is consequently less subject to their action.

 Cosmologically speaking, there is an “instinctive" need for self-perfection in all matter, because of its wish to return to the Perfection, the source. This is instinct at a quantum level—which we can hardly extrapolate into all higher levels of the material in its original form, even though it is there as a very fine substance in the base fabric. Instinct, insofar as it exists at higher levels, needs to be sought in a more concentrated form, according to level. It’s formed from the material substance of Love, that most powerful substance in the universe, which always seeks to reunite with its original source in a loving and caring manner.

We might, in other words, describe “instinct” in the context of this statement as a concentration of Love, or what the Buddhists might call “loving-kindness.” Because of the nature of the cosmos, and the way that all of its substances are increasingly concentrated in consciousness according to level (this, in an ordered and lawful hierarchy) Love, if it is properly sensed, received, and concentrated— which is the whole purpose of being in the first place, by the way)— forms an increasingly powerful instinctive fabric of "returning-to-God", simply because it always materially embodies that property, and does so with increasing power according to its level of concentration.

A close reading of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson reveals numerous ( well, to be exact, 56) places where the word instinctive is used, often (and very inaccurately, given the precise meaning of the word)  to mean “something quite essential within Being;” and repeatedly indicating that we don't have it anymore.

The peculiar thing about this is that it powerfully suggests, given the meaning of the word, that there ought to be an automatic or mechanical impulse towards many of the religious feelings mankind ought to have. In a certain way, it makes absolute sense, because the mechanical wish to return to God is built-in to the fabric of the universe; but it also directly contradicts the impulse towards consciousness which Gurdjieff so frequently cites as an essential property of Being.

 Gluing the broken fragments of this critiqued statement back together, self perfection in the sense of being does finally come to mean something specific; certainly, more specific than it might appear at first glance. Self perfection is a return to a core experience, and organic sensation, of that Love which forms both the universe and ourselves; the Perfection, after all, is perfect Love, and any perfection that can lay claim to the nature described by the word itself must be a perfection of Love first, since all  objects, events, circumstances, and conditions can only attain perfection by reuniting within the absolute and foundational property of Love.

 A translation of the second striving suggests that it says, parenthetically, we have (buried deep down in us) an instinctive need to Love. Self perfection refers to a perfectly loving self; that is the only form of perfection that one can attain.

In realizing this, we see how very deeply Christian Gurdjieff's teaching actually was; and how carefully we need to read his words, and with what scope of understanding, in order to correctly intuit what he actually meant by them.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A deconstruction of the second striving, part I

Stone, Confucian Temple, Shanghai
Photo by the author
To have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being.”

—the second obligolnian striving, G. I. Gurdjieff

I got up this morning with my curmudgeon on, and was promptly greeted with an inquiry about the meaning of this striving.

In my more than 40 years of exposure to the Gurdjieff work, I have noticed that its adherents sometimes seem to skip the process of questioning everything, and instead just more or less swallow Gurdjieff whole; his statements have acquired, in many cases, a peculiar luster of invulnerability. Yet, having donned my curmudgeon so early in the morning, it seems necessary to do so, in the same constant and unflagging skepticism Gurdjieff himself demanded of his followers.

 The bar is already set very high here. To have a “constant unflagging” anything is on the order of an obsessive-compulsive focus; no one has a constant unflagging need of any kind, unless it is driven by an unusual level of emotion. Ordinary emotion, when it produces this kind of drive, is usually working with sex energy — and generally speaking, according to Gurdjieff himself, that produces bad results in ordinary people, although they may be, from the external point of view, impressive.

Secondly, no one can provoke or create an instinctive need in themselves. Instinct doesn't work that way. Anything instinctive arises automatically—without the participation or even the need participation of ordinary consciousness or any conscious parts at all. The whole point of the instinctive is that it is unconscious, hard-wired, automatic and mechanical. That is the exact meaning of the word. Hence, instinct seems particularly inappropriate as a choice when talking about enterprises that are meant, in one way or another, to reflect conscious effort.

I believe what Mr. Gurdjieff probably meant here is deeply rooted; penetrating down to the marrow of the bones. Either that, or he is referring to a buried primordial instinct in man, turned towards God, which arises from the quantum fluctuation of atoms themselves as they find themselves separated from the Perfection (which means the Absolute, as distinct from the way the word is used in the striving) and seek to return to it. While it’s true that this striving is built in the universe at large, embedded in its fabric, it certainly isn't built into to human beings anymore in their average conscious state.

There are more paradoxes built into the structure of the statement, because despite our deteriorated state of consciousness, that feature of mankind is lawful—perfectly arranged, according to the way the cosmos is designed. That is to say, in a cosmological context, all things already have perfect Being, even if that being is, in our case, apparently damaged and relatively unconscious.

 It's difficult to square this with the idea of having “self perfection in the sense of being.” On the one hand, everything is already perfect within its complete unity in God; on the other hand, nothing is perfect, because all that which is separated from God has lost a portion of its perfection, being fractional, rather than perfectly unified. This is a snarled wad of fishing line.—it's all part of one correct and consistent thought that is very, very difficult to sort out.

If we turn to Gurdjieff’s own magnum opus on the subject,  Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, we'll note that even the highest being-bodies inhabiting the cosmos are flawed and make spectacular errors. It would seem, judging from this, that self perfection (a flawless and unerring self) is functionally unattainable; so perhaps we need to understand that the striving is good, even though its goal is impossible. In any event, once again, it sets the bar higher than any realistic expectation.

Does the striving mean that we should have unrealistic expectations of ourselves? It’s certainly possible to construe it that way.

Having deconstructed the statement, which is, like all deep thinking about the nature of being, filled with paradox, contradiction, and internal questions that will probably always remain unanswerable, we are left with a shell of fractured meetings that we become responsible for reassembling — and perhaps this is, in fact, the point of every statement Gurdjieff made, including the five obligolnian strivings. We can’t be passive in our interpretation of these statements and ideas; and we should definitely test their credibility. We're supposed to examine them carefully, challenging each fraction of them according to the abilities of our own critical mind, which needs both the exercise and the insights that may come from it. A religious attitude — an uncritical attitude, in other words — does not serve the teaching or its intentions well. It is better, in point of fact, to reject everything Gurdjieff said first, and then come back to it later, only after one has struggled to accept the various parts of it in one way or another.

 I don't think that the gist (the overall kernel) of meaning in this striving is faulty. But it is easy to misunderstand what it is saying, because it uses, in my opinion, misleading words to describe a subtle and unfamiliar inner state.

Now, it's only fair to Mr. Gurdjieff to point out that this is a typical problem in most statements about inner work, regardless of the esoteric tradition they come from — so if we have to approach his statements with great caution, it is no more than what we have to do with other like figures. We just need to remember to do it; and in this regard, unfortunately, we certainly don’t have a constant and unflagging instinctive urge to question everything, which is the first demand Gurdjieff himself impressed on his pupils.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Lawful Action, part III: Lawful action in Practice

Stone, Confucian Temple, Shanghai
Photo by the author
Law Within Practice

All of this is heady stuff; and I am not at all sure this in any way helps us to know how to live our lives. There can be, with understanding of these matters, a certain helpful way of intentionally conceptualizing one’s place within a given moment, because the matters discussed above are not abstractions; they are very real conditions which we are currently inhabiting. Nonetheless, even if we believe they are true, we don’t sense them directly or think about them. In order to do so, we must come into touch with a certain organic vibration; but only after many years of practice does that really become possible. At that time, as my dear friend M. once put it, one feels the work in one’s body

I like her way of putting it.

Yet perhaps the most important thing for me to understand within daily practice is lawful action; and while it’s easy enough to grasp, in an overall all sense, lawful action from the external point of view—if I am hit with a bat, my bones break, etc.—it is the inner nature of lawful action which matters by far the most to my inner work. 

The human body is a receiving organism, designed for the ingestion and transubstantiation of both coarse and subtle energies and substances from different levels. My inner Self forms its psychological and spiritual life according to a complex process of inner transubstantiation: the ingestion and digestion of food, air, and impressions. 

Without a lot of mumbo-jumbo, it is up to me to try and come to a practical, sensate experience of this reality not as a theoretical activity, but an active and living process in which I participate.

I say, “without a lot of mumbo-jumbo,” because the landscape of  yoga adepts is populated with any number of colorful distractions and extravagant complications. Few people who engage in inner practice can resist being attracted to embroidery, the more of it and the more colorful the better. 

In this way people fail to engage in the deeply subtractive and humbling process of shearing their inner sheep (cutting all the dirty wool from Being) and instead adopt forms with more and more buzzwords, attitudes, clothing, and other accoutrements. Innocently, and without ever intending damage, we aggressively externalize inner practice without ever seeing it. It is a cunning thing that looks exactly like real inner work, but isn’t—because it has found very sneaky ways to avoid the necessary suffering.  We don’t suffer enough—we don’t want to suffer enough—and even though this is the most important lawful action we can undertake, we don’t ever understand it from an inner point of view. Our conception of suffering is very nearly entirely outward.

The mind turns outward very easily. We need help from other parts in order to avoid it.

In order to experience lawful action in the most practical physical and chemical (“not with mathematik”) sense possible, I need to develop a personal sense of organic inner intimacy that, in its own sensory right, and within its range of possibility, mirrors the intimacy reflected by the interaction of law within creation. That is, I need to begin to develop an inner sensation that takes into account the lovingness and intimacy that gives rise to my Being. 

Gurdjieff alludes to this, for example, in the following passage:

“…one must change the way of working. Instead of accumulating during one hour, one must try to keep constantly the organic sensation of the body. Sense one's body again, continually without interrupting one's ordinary occupations—to keep a little energy, to take the habit…   Our aim is to have constantly a sensation of oneself, of one's individuality. This sensation cannot be expressed intellectually, because it is organic. It is something which makes you independent, when you are with other people.” Wartime Transcripts, Meeting #1

Yet it’s in Jeanne de Salzmann’s work, which picked up and carried on where Gurdjieff left off, that this idea begins to find its fullest expression; and she ties the action of law, both inner and outer, earthly and cosmological, together into a single inner practice dependent (at least at ground level) on this inner sensation of Being, which is (unsurprisingly, given its nature) intimately linked to the development of an inner gravity. 

This inner gravity is closely linked to the development of one’s own inner solar system, and it can attract powerful forces to help any inner work. The lawful action at the root of it is the power of attraction of Love, or “magnetic center,” as Gurdjieff called it. 

There are inexpensive and superficial forms of charisma which create an outward, interpersonal magnetism; more often than not it manifests in destructive ways. Most of us have encountered this kind of thing, and it is often mistaken for real magnetic center, which is exclusively an inner phenomenon. 

A person with real magnetic center in them will often be entirely without outer charisma and there may be no sign whatsoever that their inner work is drawing this kind of force into them. Usually, in fact, the more powerful such force becomes, and the more one suffers inwardly, the more secret it must become. This is because the lawful action of inner suffering is strictly between a person, an individual, and God. Exchanges made in this realm are made public only at the expense of one’s soul.

The true adept knows this and does not reveal their own work, even though they must be generous with the results of it. Lawful action requires that what is earned must at once be given away; generosity is on the first order of law in this regard.

My personal inner relationship with myself has everything to do with these possibilities. If my sensation is not an active and living presence—if I have to invoke it and “force” it to participate in the effort of Being—there is a natural resistance. The organic sensation of Being must be respected enough and given enough latitude of its own that it arrives of itself to support the effort. 

This is a different understanding than the yoga of “doing things,” which prevails in today’s understanding of inner yogic effort. It ought to be noted that despite his essential admonition, man cannot do, Gurdjieff did little to help dispel these misconceptions; far too much of the written material surrounding his work (including some of his own) invokes will in ways that aggressively invite misinterpretation. Readers need to turn to de Salzmann’s notes in  The Reality of Being for the beginnings of a correction to these many attractive misconceptions.

Lawful action within Being, then, consists of an organic “I am—I wish to be” that comes not just from the words and the mind, but also from body and feeling. The organic sensation of being is the I am of the body; and there is an equally (well, in point of fact, more) powerful I am—once again, wordless— that arises in feeling, if the proper connections are made.

I think I wish to stress here that understanding the laws of world creation and world maintenance is an inner action, not an outer one; it’s the lawful actions creating and maintaining my inner world that govern me (read Ibn al Arabi’s Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom.) So my view of law as pertaining to outward actions needs to be turned upside down and inside out. 

A Summary

The fundamental nature of reality is such that all action is, in its essence, lawful, so in a certain sense, when we use the word “lawful” to describe “action” it is completely redundant. There can be no action that is not lawful, by simple virtue of the fact that all action ultimately derives from lawful sources, and, indeed, from Love itself, which is the Alpha and Omega of all actions small and large. 

Perhaps, when we refer to actions as lawful, it is just a way of reminding ourselves that we live under law, always and everywhere.  In a similar vein. devout Muslims, whenever they refer to a future event, invoke the phrase Insh’Allah: if God wills it. Things take place solely in accordance with the Will of Allah alone; 

that is, law.

We forget this at our peril.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lawful Action, part II: Law on earth

Stone, Confucian Temple, Shanghai
Photo by the author

This post marks the ninth year since I began publishing this blog.

Law on Earth

The cosmological implications of Love and Law are beautiful and far-reaching; yet we find ourselves constrained on this level within a set of laws that are for the most part nowhere near as pretty. They appear to be quite rigid, unforgiving, and even mechanical, uncaring, and unmindful. 

A lot of what we see of law from our level appears to be reflexive and automatic. Some of it even appears to be punitive. For example, even though gravity itself arises from a quantum expression of Love and Perfection, which forever seeks to draw itself back itself and gather more force of Love, when we fall down and break our bones, gravity does not seem loving or friendly. It’s impersonal. Things that are impersonal (or, as Mr. Gurdjieff called them, objective) are often upsetting to us, generally speaking. At least they are to me — more highly evolved beings who have transcended their ego may feel differently. If you can, be my guest.

In any event, the constraint of law is inexorable on our level, because certain things simply must be, no matter what, if a ladder is to have rungs and one is to be able to climb it. The rungs, for example, need to be a certain distance apart from one another, and that distance quite certainly ought to be consistent — hence the law of octaves. Every position in the hierarchy has to have its requirements and consequences for failure to meet them, that is, lawful actions determine the course of events acting on objects according to circumstances and conditions. (This is why I refer to the environment we inhabit as one of objects, events, circumstances, and conditions. It's another way of saying we are constrained by law.)

 The Perfection — God (please be patient with me, I just like to keep reminding people that these are the same thing) has an essential, eternally (outside time) loving wish that we return to it and experience the Perfection directly — that is, God wants all of His creation to return to Him so that we can be reunited. He is a truly loving Father in this regard.

Unfortunately, the consequences of material creation basically forbid that, so there is what one might call an internal separation, leading to the Sorrow of God.  Gurdjieff attempted to paint a picture of this eternal separation in his book, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson,  in the chapter The Holy Planet Purgatory. It depicts a place subject to all of the laws, where every law, so to speak, save the last one has been transcended. 

That last law is the same law that Ibn al Arabi cited when he said that there is a lawful and permanent separation between material creation and, as he called it, The Reality. (i.e.,  the same entity as my Perfection.)  The Holy Planet Purgatory presents an impossibly loving, impossibly beautiful, and infinitely merciful environment created for souls who reach the final stage and realize there is no final way home. 

The chapter is accompanied with some unusually complex and detailed yogic insights into the nature of law both in general and on our level ; without getting into details (which would lead into many more necessarily boring pages of commentary and text) we can summarize by pointing out that Gurdjieff is saying (as he repeats often throughout the book) the constraints of law determine everything on the material level, which is, roughly speaking, “earth,” that is, planetary conditions on every planet ranging from the moon all the way up to the Holy Planet Purgatory. 

Gurdjieff calls these the “laws of world creation and world maintenance,” and, although he spendt a great deal of time defining them numerically to Ouspensky (see In Search of the Miraculous)  he told Bennett that one cannot ultimately know these laws through “mathematik” (see Idiots in Paris;  and this comment will eventually lead us to part III, Law Within Practice.)

 Law reflects a supreme intelligence in its order; and that supreme intelligence is perfectly reflected and accurately defined by all of the natural interactions on this level. That is to say, the marvelous results of evolution on the planet, and the extraordinary consequences of chemistry (leading to the crystalline forms that not only our minerals, but also the DNA molecule) are none of them accidental in the least. Accident implies (but does not necessarily require) a lack of intelligence—yet nature is supremely intelligent. 

Let’s examine that, because it relates to the nature of law itself. The expression of intelligence is mechanically consequential; that is, the rules follow one another without the apparent action of intelligence; but the intelligence is inherent and displayed in the arrangement of the rules themselves, not their outward actions. 

One can view it this way: a human being designs and makes computers. The computers are nothing more than machines which execute instructions (a mechanically consequential expression of intelligence) but the computer can only do this because of a pre-existing intelligence which has formed the laws (physical conditions, rules, and constraints) within which it operates. That is to say, before the mechanical operations of the computer can take place, an agency (extraneous and superior acting operative agent) has laid out the conditions under which the computer is built and operates.

On the level of earth those conditions are referred to as natural law; and the sciences have for generations engaged in an argument about whether or not God exists, that is, whether or not an agency above and beyond the laws of nature has designed those laws. Swedenborg, one of the consummate scientists of his own age, was adamant in his insistence that those who believe in nothing more than natural law have completely failed to grasp the nature of things. His arguments on this subject are not just compelling, they are entirely accurate and true; but one has to understand enough in order to grasp them, and this is precisely where many in the sciences are lacking. A priest is far more likely to understand him than any chemist.

Random laws, which is what atheism would have us believe in, cannot produce random results. Lawful action, on our level, is not in any way random; all we have learned of it demonstrates inherent predictability, which is in fact (and quite ironically, when you thin k about it) what all of the scientific method is based on. Experiments must be reproducible.  My own conclusion here is that since law is not random, its genesis cannot be random either. 

On the level of earth (materiality), Love constrains lawful action to operate within the parameters defined by the limits of cause and effect. Causality proceeds from the requirement that all elements of the Perfection, no matter how many “atoms” (irreducible particles, as measured by levels) they  break down into, must completely retain the wholeness from which they were birthed. Hence quantum entanglement (see my related essay Into the Mind of God) and all other reciprocal symmetries and asymmetries within material creation. Information (the inherent nature of the Perfection, which is the sum of all information, both known and unknown, manifest and unmanifest) cannot be destroyed.

The preservation of information is, in a certain sense, the ultimate lawful action, since it is essentially inviolable. That which is of God cannot be destroyed or corrupted because it is, in its nature, eternal and perfect. Treasure “laid up in heaven” is inner understanding connected to this inviolable source. Nature has had to do some apparently impossible things (quantum entanglement being the best example) in order to comply with this law; and the places where those unique and remarkable phenomena arise (another example are the event horizons of singularities) are the locations where law comes closest to touching the Perfection.  

Inevitably, they lead to mystery.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lawful action, part I: Law and the Perfection

Stone, Confucian Temple, Shanghai
Photo by the author
What is Lawful Action?

A reader asked this question today, and I was delighted by how simple the question is, and how absolutely difficult it is to properly wrap one's mind around it.

The question can be viewed from so many different perspectives that it brings up recollections of Gurdjieff’s discussion of worlds — and perhaps it needs to be tackled that way. Unfortunately, I’m writing this in Guangzhou, without recourse to my favorite reference tools, that is, dictionaries of word etymology and the Oxford English Dictionary. So I'm going to have to think through this carefully on my own.

I find I want to discuss this idea of lawful action from three different perspectives. The first perspective is a universal perspective related to love, the Perfection, and the nature of the universe. The second is in relationship to law and its expression in the earthly realm and on this planet; and the third would be my personal experience of law within practice. So let's call these three sections Law and the Perfection, Law on Earth, and Law Within Practice.

Law and the Perfection

 In a way, it's impossible to understand anything at all without first trying to understand its relationship to the Perfection and to Love, which are the ruling forces in every manifestation of Being (“all that was, is, or can be”.) As such, all law is consequent to Love and the Perfection and flows outward from them. The Perfection is before law and beyond law; law is one of the names of God.

Mr. Gurdjieff once offered Ouspensky the seminary student’s comment in regard to law: “Even God cannot beat the ace of spades with a deuce.” This comment sounds important and clever, but Gurdjieff was here guilty of himself engaging in the kind of intellectual sophistry that, in another part of the book, he berates Ouspensky for. 

The simple fact is that the Perfection comes before the ace of spades, the deuce of spades, and cards themselves. We can't have a conversation about whether or not God is subject to laws governing material creation, because they are consequent. It is, in other words, necessary to reframe the question by understanding that it isn't that God can’t bring himself into the situation of law and interfere with it; it's that law can't raise itself to the level of God and be interfered with. Almost everyone understands Gurdjieff’s statement to Ouspensky backwards, and thus fails to see its ultimate implication.

Once we see this, and understand it properly, we may understand that all of creation and everything that lies within the identifiable range of thinking and experience is irrevocably and forever separated from God. Ibn al Arabi cites this absolute separation from the Divine as a lawful — & perhaps the first and most absolute — lawful condition imposed on creation. Meister Eckhart imposes a similar veil of insurmountable unknowing between us and the Perfection; so it's nonsense to speak of the Perfection in terms of aces and deuces. Or, for that matter, in any other graspable or material terms.

Law is a form of order. In the Perfection, which existed conceptually, at least in terms of the world of physics, in a singularity, a perfectly ordered world of, for all intents and purposes, zero entropy. I speak of the Perfection when I speak of this "place of God's existence.” (It is a misnomer, because despite Gurdjieff’s description of God's place of existence and its opposition to the merciless Heropass, the place of God's existence is just as much God as God is.) 

“Here” (i.e., essentially, no-where and no-time) in God there is only one single, perfect, and whole order, so no law is needed. 

Law, like every other concept, is one of the Names of God, a force—a derivative manifestation preceded by God within the Perfection. Law only arises, insofar as we can understand it, within the context of creation, where it is necessary in order to impose order in the absence of the Perfection, where it’s a default, rather than a striving. 

One can say that all law and material creation is ordered in such a way that all of material creation has a striving to transcend law and return to that Perfectly “lawless” and absolute condition of Divinity (Truth) represented by the Perfection. Law is, in other words, not just a set of rules, restraints, or constrictions: it is a ladder one climbs back towards the Perfection itself. All of the angelic and heavenly hierarchies arranged in enneads (eg. Dionysius the Areopagite, the Memphite Theology) are meant to represent the progressive orders of law. We should note that law is always progressive; even in modern science, law is defined by its postulates and foundational propositions, from which other laws derive. Mathematics works in exactly the same way.

When we use the phrase lawful action, therefore, we refer to an action based on foundational postulates, arranged in a hierarchy, that regulates progression through that hierarchy in an effect – cause – effect manner. Reciprocity is inherent; that is, all things find themselves in relationships constrained by the effects of the hierarchy and the location one occupies in the ladder it creates. The enneads of lawful hierarchy must be traditionally arranged in circular format, since there is no beginning and no end. 

We might ask why law exists on our level. Why do we have it at all? Physics and science have hypothesized the possibility of disordered, non-universes, where the laws of physics as we understand them do not function, matter is never created, etc. 

I think these propositions are, once again, a callous form of sophistry. Once we understand the Perfection for what it is, that is (as near as we can approach it, given its unapproachability) an inviolable and supreme unity beyond all hierarchies and orders, we understand that it cannot and does not emanate and create subordinate realms (in our case, our universe) that do not perfectly reflect its own nature. The Perfection, being above all else perfect Love, creates not only that which is perfectly Loving — it can never and will never create anything else — it also only creates that which is perfectly ordered. This, by the way, explains the perfect refinement of the cosmological constant and its companion values for manifestation of matter in the universe, whose exquisite fine tuning has been a subject of marvel and wonder among physicists and mathematicians for nearly a century now.

 Law, in other words, is a consequence of Love, and it is also a material result. Just as Love is absolutely material and gives birth to everything we perceive as material, so is law, at its root — in its essence — perfectly loving and perfectly ordered, endlessly branching into an infinite number of very fine roots that grow in to the material essence of Being and of the substance and essence of the universe itself.

One of the interesting consequences of this fact is that sentient beings, parts of creation reflecting consciousness, and most especially the potential for self-consciousness, which is one of the higher orders of consciousness, are able to sense these very fine roots of Perfect Love and Perfect Law that extends into every crevice of creation. Being is inextricably intertwined with Perfect Love and Perfect Law, because they form, in their own way, a Trinity which is a mirror of the holy Trinity in the Christian world. 

We embody that Trinity as the basis of our arising, and we carry it within us in our cells, our organs, our brains, and all of our manifestations. We are cosmological extensions of Perfect Love and Perfect Law, and every single one of the things that we do—even the ones that appear destructive and chaotic—must, as Sri Anirvan points out (see Inner Yoga)  ultimately conform to the original requirements of that Love and that Law.

Human beings do not sense this in themselves and have forgotten it, which leads to extraordinarily tragic consequences which are, nonetheless, (and, to us, paradoxically) absolutely lawful and loving.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Love and the universe

 Stone, Confucian Temple, Shanghai
 photograph by the author

  Real love is the basis of all, the foundations, the Source... It was by love that Jesus performed miracles... All accumulated vibrations create a current. This current brings the force of love. 

Real love is a cosmic force which goes through us. If we crystallize it, it becomes a power—the greatest power in the world.

—Gurdjieff, Wartime Transcripts, meeting 18.October 21, Hong Kong

Caveat: as an editor, if anyone ever sent me an essay or a poem entitled "Love and the Universe," I would immediately discard it. 

The incredible hypocrisy with which I issue myself an exception on this title is quite simply appalling. You, as the reader, will just have to deal with my shamelessness.

 Today happens to be the fourth anniversary of my sister's death, but as most readers know, my diary tends to be written out weeks or months, which is in the nature of an enterprise that takes place almost daily but publishes every other day.

I've been pondering the nature of our existence. In particular, I am pondering the nature of what we are as spiritual beings in relationship to Einstein's ideas about the universe.  (This pondering led to an essay, Into the Mind of God.)

The nature of space time and our spiritual beings cannot be separated. We are intricately and irrevocably creatures of mathematics; we are, equally, creatures of a mystery we will never penetrate. 

The only weapons we will ever have to wield in that battle is our love for life, and for one another. 

One of the more common things that one hears say is, "I will love you forever." The implication is that love is somehow subject to time. In order to understand how this is not true — that love is eternal — one needs to consider the phenomenon of quantum entanglement. Read the link; because the principle is a very real one, an actual property of the universe. 

The phrase physicists use, quantum entanglement, poorly chosen, because what they are actually observing is quantum intimacy, which is a manifestation of Love. Because Love exists outside of time — it is eternal, without beginning and without end—of course it acts instantly over distances. This is not a surprise property of physics; it is an expected property of the eternal, and here we have a perfect example of the manifestation of the eternal, in its most literal sense — affecting matter itself.

I'm not sure how much more of an example people require of the existence of these forces; but if one insists on mislabeling it with incorrect scientific terms, of course, one can't identify it for what it is. In point of fact, Gurdjieff said many decades ago that human beings were unable to distinguish between radiation, which takes time to get from one place to another, and emanation, which is divine and acts instantly on all the matter that it encounters, regardless of distance. 

We should discuss this quality of intimacy a bit more, because it is the exact nature of the relationship God, who is Love, and his creation. Creation is intimately made of Love — that is, the finest particles of creation (quantum particles) are made of Love. Love has an eternal (outside of time) quality of attraction, that is, those things which love one another are mutually attracted. Readers who understand this matter for more than a theoretical point of view will begin to understand at once that this is why matter bends material of space time towards itself in an attractive force we call gravity. Gravity is, at its root, physical action of love on the material world, expressed at its most intimate level.

We are intimately bound to God, and to one another, through this attracting force of love which lies at the quantum root of the reality we inhabit. There is nothing spooky about quantum "entanglement;" if one understands why it is there, one realizes it is predictable and lawful, and exactly what ought to be there, exactly where it is. It is a foundational quality.

One might say that quantum intimacy, the eternal binding of forces together in relationship, expresses, in an unexpected way, the sentimental romanticism of the idea that we will love one another forever. Given that there can be no "forever" in Love, which exists both before time and after it (explaining, by the way, what came before the Big Bang) we cannot use that word. But we can say that God Loves the world eternally, and that Love is eternal. All of creation is invited to participate in the experience of that in so far as we come into intimate relationship with the material nature or creation.

Oddly enough, our organisms are built to do exactly that, because our sensory ability extends to levels we cannot imagine — even the quantum level. This is what Gurdjieff meant when he said that one can only sense the higher by reaching upward within consciousness in so far as one reaches lower into levels beneath oneself within that same range of consciousness. We are meant to build a ladder from stars to the quantum level; consciousness is an action that binds all of reality together.

 I know that it sounds presumptuous to say it, but this is not a grandiose theory with no means of proof. Proof lies in our ability to develop the organic sensation of being, and the organic sensation of feeling. We can combine these two organic sensations with the organic sensation of thinking, which is mindful or conscious thinking; and if the these three parts function properly, there is no doubt that we will fully sense questions I am discussing above in a very practical and direct manner.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The inflow

There is an inflow from God into us.

This inflow comes into our souls because the soul is the inmost and highest part of us. The inflow from God reaches that part first and then comes down into the things below and enlivens them, depending on our openness to what flows in. 

Of course, truths that will become part of our faith do indeed flow in through our hearing and are implanted in our mind, which is below the soul; but all these truths do is prepare us to accept what flows in from God through our soul. The quality of that preparation determines the quality of our acceptance and of the transformation of our earthly faith into spiritual faith.

The notion that there is one God flows into our souls from God because everything that is divine, as a whole and in every detail, is God. 

—Emmanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity, pages 9-10.

This inflow is the selfsame higher energy that we seek to open to. 

It is a material influence, a substantial material that flows inward to us; not a psychological transformation, but a physical one.

We submit to the will of God only to the extent that we receive; this is a different task and calling  than tasks and callings of the mind and of the natural world.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Whose trust?

Shanghai Confucian Temple
Photograph by the author

Xiamen, October 20

 The third thing that occurred to me this morning is that I'm not going to be able to trust.

Regular readers will know I have asked this question about trust for some time, because I see all of my fear arises within me because of a bad relationship between who I am, my Being, and my trust God. I am fundamentally unable to trust on my own; that's the issue. Trust doesn't arrive until I am in relationship with something higher. 

Yet somehow I always want to build all of my trust on what I am here.

I think there is a mistaken idea here about building my inner church, and what the foundation ought to be. In my own case, I feel certain that my church does not need to be built on faith; one doesn't need to have faith when one knows that it is true God exists. Faith is for a human being before that understanding arrives; and for people in that position, one could wholeheartedly say that faith is exactly right. But in the case where one knows, faith has already been superseded by something much greater; and whereas one might think (foolishly and blithely) that that was going to be the answer to everything, it definitely isn't. 

Once one knows, one must confront one's lack of trust, which is in many ways much more disturbing than any lack of faith could be.

I'm beginning to see that I'm never going to have any trust. It only arises in me as a gift, reciprocally, in relationship to a higher energy. When the energy is present, it trusts me; when there is no relationship, I can't trust anything — especially myself.

That isn't entirely true,  actually. One thing — perhaps the only thing — that can be trusted in me is suffering and remorse of conscience (yes, they are one thing expressing multiple aspects.) 

Remorse is the only part of me that doesn't lie. That, actually, I can and do trust. This may be the only part of me that I can trust. 

I hadn't thought of that before, but I do see that in this one regard, I have trust here. 

I trust in my suffering and my remorse for my life.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Going deeper into the Good Truth of life

I'm increasingly struck by how outwardly we live; and how absolutely determined we all are to measure ourselves by what we achieve in the world. All of us are like this, I think; we're excited by outward achievements, set benchmarks by them, believe in everything that happens as though it were important. 

The transitory nature of life and achievements are forgotten in the rush to seize them.

This morning, I recall the simple things I did the day before; helping a friend clean out his garage, cleaning wax off bee frames. My friend thanked me for helping him clean the garage; I thanked him for the privilege and opportunity of working together. These days, it's the relationship, the activity, and the effort that always seem to have the ultimate value. Setting things into order has always been satisfying for me.Yet the setting into order of outward things is always just a mirror for me to try and create a parallel inward order inside this confusing person I call myself.

 Myself lives in a confusing world, where people do bad things. The weight of this war—the murder, the refugees—bears down on my soul, bears down hard like a great stone that must be carried. There is an anguish in the air that goes beyond any subjective feelings I can muster. Indeed, all of my subjective feelings seem artificial when faced with the truth of this difficulty, this tragic world moment. 

Yet that, as well, is outward — and it is the inward suffering and anguish that seems to carry all of the meaning in this moment. Something is taking place cosmologically on a scale that I don't understand, and all of the unrest and horror manifesting here is a reflection of that. The actions are material, but the disturbance is spiritual.

Yet there is a Good Truth in life; and it penetrates me through both the subjectively good and the subjectively bad events that take place. That Good Truth constructs itself of many tiny events that I don't pay enough attention to; and it makes itself whole through the Presence of God in all actions. 

This, as well, is confusing to me, because I find the Presence of God everywhere, both inside me and outside, and don't really understand it at all. I have to accept all this Grace through a kind of foggy stupidity; I wish I understood much better, but I don’t. The only things I know how to do are to keep returning to prayer for help, and to keep returning intentionally to the sense of sorrow that comes so often in a day.

 This Good Truth is freely given. I think that if all of us could sense it, we would give up the evil that we do and turn toward the good much more often. Yet the apparatus that ought to make it possible for me to know this Good Truth doesn't work properly anymore. Even when I try to turn towards the good, I think I always try through my outward parts, never reaching deep enough into the spirit and the soul. My own fear keeps me away from that; to go deeper into that Good Truth would require me to give something up. I think that whatever it is I would have to give up is too much; and yet when it is ever so gently taken away from me through Grace, I see how useless it was, and how foolish I was to resist.

I don't really know how else to say this. This Good Truth is present in me in the small details of garage cleaning and beeswax; it is present in a single leaf or in the sound of a plate on the counter in the kitchen downstairs. 

All of these things are sacred; and all of them make me wish I knew better how to serve. This question of service comes down to such small things and is constrained within such a small circle of awareness; it doesn't have anything to do with the big outward things I think I can grapple with.

This morning, I hope to keep my finger on the pulse of this Good Truth in life, and try to go deeper into it.

Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.


Monday, November 16, 2015

it's the water

 Incense burner, Shanghai Confucian Temple
photograph by the author

Xiamen, Oct. 20

The second thought that I had this morning came while I was reading Gurdjieff's Wartime Transcripts.

He gives some very good and specific advices in this book, especially — in meeting 17, I think, I'm not going to look it up right now — how to distinctly sense your individuality. In any event, my point is not about these specific devices. It is a general one.

It doesn't do us much good to read these books if we don't know how to actively live within our inner being. The advice that he gives always needs to be taken in organically, at a deeper level than the formatory mind— that is, the mind that we generally use for everything we do, which we call "waking consciousness," which is really quite automatic and habitual (as he points out.) Taking things in at that level involves swallowing them in a different way, not letting them sit in the front the ordinary mind. So the advice is excellent, but almost everything that we hear goes into us superficially.

The deceptive part of this is that the superficial parts that take in inner teaching always think that they are the ones that understand it, and they have a real expertise in pitching that position to the rest of our being. We believe in it. The next thing you know, everything that takes place in relationship to it takes place quite superficially as well, all of it constructing an attitude that occupies most of the understanding we think we can muster in relationship to it.

It's very important (he makes this point, obliquely, in the text) to learn how to take things in organically, so that they live within the body is something more than just a passing thought. There has to be a sobriety way that we take things in — and this sobriety is an allegorical one, since it means we step back from the drunkenness of the ordinary mind and abstain from it. We stop drinking water thinking it is wine. It's the water that is making us drunk.

 There is no doubt that the ordinary parts have to continue to function, that we need to give this dog considerable play on the leash. But that doesn't mean that the dog decides where we are walking, or when we have to stop and pee on things. If we let the dog stop us everywhere, we just end up marking our lives with the urine of our superficial being all day long.

This may seem like a rather repugnant metaphor, but it is actually like that. Our vanity is the urine we mark things with. (Once again, read the transcripts.)

In any event, it's quite impossible to understand any of what Gurdjieff said until we begin to digest differently. Then the words look like different words, the ideas seem to be different ideas, and we can accept what he is saying about ourselves in a different way. It's like forming a different relationship to death. 

Given that we are all trapped in this superficial part of our Being most of the time, I'm not sure what one ought to do to really come taste of what I am getting at here. At the very least, a different kind of energy has to be in me in order to take this properly.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Solioonensius, redux again

Readers may remember the correlation I drew between the events of the Arab spring and the pronounced sunspot and solar flare activity just before that took place.

I was in China on October 30 when the above significant solar flare event took place. Although it was on the far side of the sun, I felt this particular flare very distinctly as it took place — it was a powerful one that had a very strong effect on spiritual energies.  Its aftereffects have reverberated through the planetary atmosphere for several weeks since.

I predicted  to several friends immediately after that that we would see a major war or terrorist event within the next few weeks, in keeping with Gurdjieff's explanation of Solioonensius.

 Regrettably, exactly that came to pass in Paris day before yesterday, underscoring once again that Gurdjieff was not making these things up.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Relationship With Death

A note to readers:

I wrote this post Oct. 20  in Xiamen, China, and set it up for publication this morning — my posts usually publish several weeks after I write them. Little did I know how on topic this post would be: it was never meant to be a commentary on any current event.

Nonetheless, we are in the midst of absorbing the awful deaths in Paris. God bless those souls who died; and God bless those they left behind.

Xiamen, Oct. 20

Last night, I was having dinner with a Chinese vendor and a number of younger people from my office, both Chinese and American. Ages ranged from the late 20s to the mid-40s. Somehow, the subject of dying came up, and there was general agreement that dying would be a terrible thing that no one wanted to do it.

I tried to explain that it is impossible to understand death when one is young. One has to take in a sufficient number of impressions in order to digest the idea of death itself properly; and in general, because human beings don't take in impressions very deeply, they often don't reach into the soul where they need to form the necessary relationship. Folks can sometimes live their whole life determined not to die, living in some impossible and imaginary world where they will become immortal by exercising, doing yoga, eating the right foods, taking the right medications, seeing the right doctors, and so on. Americans are probably more obsessed with this idea of eternal youth than any other culture I have seen; but every culture has it. This is one of the inevitable consequences of the increased emphasis on materiality in popular culture.

In any event, I told the group that one has to form a new and right relationship with one's death. "Right now, "I told them, "you have a bad relationship your idea of your death; and unless you form a good one, when the time comes, you will have a bad death."

 This statement stopped everyone at the table for a moment. A few of them understood that there was something here they needed to take in properly.

People have bad deaths because they don't spend any time digesting what is necessary to understand how important death is. Mr. Gurdjieff understood this very well indeed, and advised his pupils to engage in their inner work so as not to "die like a dog."

 Death is part of what gives us life. You can't understand this unless you form an organic connection to your sensation; and even after that takes place, it takes some time to understand the relationship between death, which actually supports life as it takes place, and the actions of living. I can't really explain this very well in words. It is one of those parts of inner work that must be tasted and digested on one's own, quite subtle, really.

 Well, that is one of three thoughts for this morning, I think that I will leave that here, even though much more could be said in the general sense about the subject.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Love, Mercy, and the Good: Part IV—Not knowing what God is

Trees: Piermont, NY
Photograph by Lee van Laer

Shanghai, October 18.

Students of esotericism are well familiar with the via negativa, a Way defined by the idea that one seeks only for the unknown, and defines God only by what He is not. We are separated from God by a cloud of unknowing; any name by which we call Him is incorrect.

One of the byproducts of this way is a habit of coming up with an endless list of descriptions of God, and then saying, one after the other, that each description isn't what God is like. If one were able to truly savor and deeply penetrate a specific instance here, and spend years contemplating it, the practice might prove useful, but simply writing lists of things that God is and then contradicting them by saying, He isn't this and isn't that is, in my experience, a grotesque waste of time, even though it looks impressive on the surface of things. It affirms a perverse (and negative, or inverted, but still very real) sense of power in the person who does it.

One of the potential yet very real hazards of the via negativa is that we instantly reach a result where we say God isn't loving, merciful, or good, because these are human concepts embedded in the material arising of the world, and thus disqualify themselves at once from being what God is. Even Being itself, which is clearly on the order of the essential nature of God, becomes something that God isn't. Although there is a deep truth in the idea that we can't know God in His entirety, denial of specifics and the rejection of qualities as they manifest creates a falsehood of its own.

I say that you can know God. And you can know God, to the extent that you have God in you. 

This knowledge, this understanding, will always be fractional, because part of the Truth related to the manifestation of the material and the receiving of the emanations of God is that God's sorrow comes from His loneliness in the knowledge that he has the deepest wish for relationship with all of His creation, which He loves beyond all human knowledge, and the irrevocable fact that none of his creation will or forever can know Him fully. 

We are all perfect reflections of this truth in our own way, because we share this deepest wish, buried underneath the layers of protection that we grow over ourselves. If we receive the particles of God's sorrow and concentrate them in ourselves, eventually we can understand much more of this; but the essential point here is that we do quite exactly and precisely know God, without denying Him, through this substantial (made of substances, material) receiving of God's Being and God's nature—through our ability to take in impressions more deeply.

 This should be a daily thing that begins with our organic sensation when wake up; but I've written much about that elsewhere. Just think on it. We need to take God into us as we live and breathe.

In any event, this idea of the rejection of God and the impossibility of knowing God becomes an intellectual exercise that unmasks itself as a misunderstanding, a form of sophistry, if one is not careful. Very careful. Because it is so easy to do, people love it; yet the first and simplest contradiction is found in the organic sensation of Being, and the second and deeper contradiction is found in the arising of remorse of conscience. These are divine qualities that come without words, and although they are ever unknown through words, they are ever known through sensation and feeling, which are languages that belong more to God than the ones we have invented.

So mark well here in the marrow of your bones: God is Loving, and Merciful, and Good, and you can know this. There may be much that remains unknown, but if you reject the Good, and the Loving, and the Merciful in favor of some non-imaginary higher ground, your Hope goes with them. 

Hope, let us remember, is a sacred property of consciousness as well as Faith and Love. Don't throw it out in order to find a way to think yourself important and knowing through a sophisticated unknowing. Unknowing is a thing of the material world, and, like everything else, easily turns into a kind of vanity before one notices it.  

This is a powerful mask for vanity; if she wears it, she can rule us.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.