Friday, November 6, 2015

Love, Mercy, and the Good: Part I: Mercy and the Good

Leaves: Piermont, NY
Photograph by Lee van Laer

 Gurdjieff mentions four specific sacred impulses in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson. They are, respectively, Faith, Love, Hope, and Conscience. Of the four, however, only two are referred to as Divine — belonging to God — in other places in the text, and only twice does Gurdjieff mention Divine Love; Divine Conscience gets far more air time.

 Yet mention it he does; and despite the fact that this concept plays such a central role in mankind's understanding of spirituality, the subject of Love is, within the range of my own experience at least, under-represented and under-discussed across the entire range of literature in the Gurdjieff oeuvre.

 Pondering this got me to thinking about the relative importance of such matters to one's inner search; and as it seems to me to tie in so firmly to the question of good and bad, I was prompted to think of the difference between three major esoteric thinkers in their estimation of the most important quality of God.

Dionysius the Areopagite says that Good is the most essential manifestation and quality of God.
Ibn al 'Arabi ( and, I think, Islam in general) says that the most essential quality of Allah is Mercy.
Swedenborg says that the most essential quality of God is Divine Love.

Let us move on now to the name "Good," which the sacred writers have preeminently set apart for the supra-divine God from all other names. They call the divine subsistence itself "goodness." This essential Good, by the very fact of its existence, extends goodness into all things.

Pseudo-DionysiusColm Luibheid,  The Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist press 1987, P. 71

Readers sharing a deeper interest in this subject ought certainly to read all of chapter 4 of this book, in which Dionysius expounds at length on the manner in which Goodness is transcendent, emanates from the divine Godhead, and penetrates all things. This is a fairly high level doctrine that does not, in its essence IMO, distinguish itself from Sri Anirvan's contention, in Buddha and Buddhiyoga (see Inner Yoga) that all actions in the universe ultimately emanate from, and serve, Good — even actions that appear, on our own level, to be perfectly awful. While this contention is without any doubt extremely difficult for us to swallow, Sri Anirvan does present (for me) a compelling argument on the subject. I think we can all agree that this contention does not, at its heart, deviates substantially from Christian doctrine, whereby all things serve God, and God is understood to be Good.

In any event, I'm left with the question of whether the name and quality "Good" truly surpasses the qualities of Love or Mercy. Are they truly separable from one another? And can one outrank the others in terms of a hierarchy of values?

Sufic thought is,  I think, unambiguous in its assignation of Mercy to God (Allah) as His most supreme and dominant quality. While Ibn al 'Arabi admits that no one Name can technically dominate over the others in the hierarchy, since all Names are ultimately One Name, he still says that Mercy outranks and outweighs all other qualities in God. 

In the past, I've pointed out myself that I don't see it as possible for God to be anything except infinitely merciful. In this sense, Sri Anirvan's universe—in which His Will eternally and perfectly moves everything in the absolute final direction of the Perfect Good—is also a world of Perfect Mercy, since Perfect Mercy must forever supersede, outrank, and outperform all forms of badness in order to attain the Perfect Good.

 Yet I am sure that Swedenborg's argument on this matter is the correct one; as I pointed out in Chakras and the Enneagram, Divine Love created and rules the universe and is the origin of all other things. 

As such, I consider this position on Love to be entirely unimpeachable, regardless of other authorities and sources; and whatever I may say on the matter, wherever it is incorrect, keep in mind, is incorrect only because of me and my inevitable fallibilities —not because of the Truth from which it emanates, in an absolute and forever unadulterated form.

 I will do my best to keep it as straight as I can.

More about this in the next post.

Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

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