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.

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