Detail from The Hermit Saints
by Hieronymus Bosch
If you have not by nature a critical mind your staying here is useless.
—G. I. Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World, aphorism 27
This idea is interesting to me, because Gurdjieff himself said that for those who did not have a critical mind, attempting inner work was, essentially, useless.
If we turn to the Oxford English dictionary, we discover that critical means, first and foremost, given to judging; especially given to adverse or unfavorable criticism, fault-finding, censorious. (The quote is exact.) Given the precision with which Mr. Gurdjieff usually chose his words, we realize that he was suggesting we have to reject things. In point of fact, we have to judge and reject things first, which is more or less — we might think — an unloving action.
Why on earth would he suggest that?
The question is of great interest to my inner process and my state of Being. As I am, I'm gullible. I believe just about anything that comes along, especially if it tickles my emotions in the right way. This is true of everyone, and applies to nearly everything. What I believe in first and foremost is materiality and the material world. If I examine this carefully, and understand the ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg — who had a very good grip indeed on this particular problem and man's relationship to it — I see that this coerces my entire being, from the beginning, to believe in what he called a naturalistic explanation for everything. That is, instead of being in immediate and direct relationship to a divine energy, the inward flow of that energy, and understanding all of the world in relationship to the hierarchy I find myself in, I take the things around myself for granted, and think that the point of life lies in the material substance of things, rather than the divine inspiration which creates them.
If we turn to Ibn al Arabi and Meister Eckhart, we find that they have exactly the same understanding. No surprises there; for every human being who achieves a proper critical insight understands that we must reject the world and the things in it in order to understand things from a different and higher point of view. This rejection comes in terms of an attitude, an inner position, not an actual and literal rejection.
The rejection is a spiritual rejection.
This is a tricky thing, because unless one comes into relationship with a finer energy, one doesn't know what this is. It's very easy to form a material and literal rejection, which actually represents a form of negativity that is destructive. People confuse this subtle point all the time; and consequently they reject the world in ways that cause endless troubles.
The spiritual rejection — which only the critical mind can produce — represents a positive rejection, that is, a rejection in favor of God, in favor of the higher. The critical mind judges the world first in order that none of it may contaminate the mind, most especially, the mind of the soul. All of the world is rejected up front and at once, so that the soul can then use its intuition and its understanding to accept those parts of the world that are real and true, but only in relationship to their value in terms of understanding God.
One must start out not believing in anything. Mr. Gurdjieff represented this in all of his actions towards his pupils and the world; in doing so, he represented a genius of a kind that is easily misunderstood, since it was based on demonstration, not intellectual argument.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.