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.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.