Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho, Bangkok—
Photograph by the author
When Gurdjieff wrote about the five obligolnian strivings, he actually described all of the wish – sensations connected with real spiritual happiness.
If one engages in all five of the strivings, one discovers happiness; or, rather, one discovers the path towards it, which is in fact different happiness itself flows into us through Grace; and it always takes the form of the sorrow of God. It's connected to what Madame de Salzmann called “a nostalgia for Being;” yet that expression hardly begins to do it justice, even though the longing it embodies is quite correct.
One might consider, as well, that one can be unusually happy and joyful inside within the spirit and not at all show this outwardly. This is a common condition within the receiving of Grace; an initiate learns that this condition must be received and valued in secret. As Jesus pointed out, there is much in the way of prayer that needs to be secret; just as Grace and Mercy need to be received, as well, secretly. This is because the outward display and expression of God's relationship to a person almost instantly becomes vanity and attaches itself to every material thing around it. Hence the reason that a person ought to pray in secret and be rewarded thus in secret. When one receives God’s happiness, that is, when the sorrow enters and one sees the ineffable and immeasurable joy of God's love through that sorrow, one cannot put it on public display. It is a thing without words to begin with; and when God gives us such treasure, we mustn't hang it in the parlor room. There are many ways to express God's gifts and joy outwardly, but all of them consist of establishing ordinary and correct outward conditions of three brained being — that is, performing one's task rightly and treating people decently is already the correct expression. Racing about waving one's hands in the air talking about how glorious God is is just about the wrong thing to do every time. God's glory does not need advertisers.
Working thus, for many years I've been at a loss of exactly how to explain the question of happiness relative to spiritual development. I have never been happier in an inward sense since I first knew God; yet it's quite likely that my outward parts—which are constrained by law to behave outwardly and are, to a fault, not well aligned with Godly works and Being—don’t always make me appear to be happy.
Or even nice.
It's quite possible for the inward and outward parts to be in direct contradiction on this subject. One can, for example, be receiving the inward flow of God's divine Grace while one is at the same time outwardly quite angry. This is an important form of work, because one can't understand exactly what one is until one sees these two quite different streams within oneself and begins to understand that it will always be this way.
This balance of beatific and material influences is exactly what Gurdjieff and de Salzmann called us to. It's definitely different than religions of yogic bliss and inward perfection of Being on earth. It is, in point of fact, decidedly Christian, because you'll notice that Jesus had to endure terrible trials and was not — emphatically not — perceived as some magical, glowing, angelic person by all those around him. His practice was inward; and it took people of commensurate development to see and appreciate that. The reason that there is no tradition of laughing portraits of Christ, or stories about jokes that Christ told, or the drinking parties he hosted, or records of his bloopers, is because his work was not about happiness as we understand it outwardly.
It was about seeking heaven; and that is not, in the end, not at all about happiness as we generally understand it.
Readers should be careful not to think that I am in any way against happiness. Even I — shockingly! — act like I am happy from time to time, and also go through commensurate bouts of depression. We're all subject to these laws in an outward sense.
Yet I feel it's quite important to distinguish between all of these outward activities and the outward influences of life, and an inner relationship that cultivates the higher energy that can receive God's Grace in a very different way, so that our inward appreciation of life —as opposed to outward search for happiness—grows into a quite different creature than our outward one.
Perhaps one might say that on this path, what we need is to let happiness find us—in the way that God intends it—
which is not our way.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.