Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Words of Our Imperfect Teachers, Part III: The Cosmology of Imperfection

Sparkill, NY

“…this holy planet, which is called 'Purgatory,  called 'Purgatory,' is the heart, as it were, and place of concentration of all the final results of the pulsation of everything that functions and exists in the whole of our Great Universe. 

"Our Common Father Creator Endlessness appears there so often only because this holy planet is the place of existence of the most unfortunate of 'highest being-bodies' who obtained their coating on various planets of the whole of our Great Universe. The 'highest being-bodies' who have become worthy to dwell on this holy planet suffer as perhaps no one and nothing suffers in the whole of our Great Universe. 

"In view of this, our All-Loving, All-Merciful, and Absolutely Just Creator Endlessness, having no other possibility of helping these unfortunate 'highest being-bodies,' often appears there, so that by these appearances of His, He may soothe them, if only a little, in their terrible yet inevitable state of inexpressible anguish.”

—G. I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, Chapter 39, The Holy Planet Purgatory.

 I’ve sometimes discussed the vision of God within life as an experience of The Perfection. The Perfection is sometimes sensible to us—yet glimpses of it are only granted under special circumstances. Gurdjieff's above comments are a specific reference to The Perfection, which is a gift granted. The gift of The Perfection is so great, as I have pointed out before, that it would ruin us if we were to see it frequently; God, in His Wisdom and Grace, apportions this to us only exactly in accordance with our spiritual need. Those who have not experienced The Perfection may take heart; they can be sure it is not necessary for them, and perhaps that’s a good thing. We can't know; it may be that only those of us who are further fallen and in more desperate need are given the Grace to occasionally sense such things.

 In any event, this question of The Perfection is very important, because the idea of perfect teachers and perfect teachings is an improper and even damaging one. 

The only true Perfection lies in God, who is and will forever be unknowable; so the least and the most (worldly) perfections we encounter are always just pale shades and reflections of that true Perfection which lies beyond all knowing. 

The whole parable of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson is a tale of imperfections: our protagonist Beelzebub is imperfect; the Angels and Archangels planning the mechanical operations of the cosmos are imperfect; the results of their labors are catastrophic, and all of the efforts to fix them are equally imperfect. The book is, if nothing else, a chronicle of ongoing failure. One notes that any deus ex machina an author might rightfully be expected to contrive in order to fix the situation is entirely absent. While the book is founded on the absolute premise of an all-knowing and all-loving Endless Creator (God), He does not step in to fix what has gone wrong, even though one might presume it is within his power. One can extrapolate from this that perhaps even God has His limits; or, at the very least, His creation does, and He chooses not to interfere with that. 

It is a cosmology of imperfection.

 This sets Gurdjieff's cosmology apart from other cosmologies, and other teachings — because it is a teaching of imperfection. The 30,000 foot view of the book, and the teaching itself, brings us this teaching of imperfection, a way to see our lack: which is what Mme. de Salzmann repeatedly exhorted us to understand. It is not in the “perfection of our higher being-bodies” that we can attain any freedom or any liberation, any enlightenment; it is in the recognition of our imperfection, which is, in absolute fact, the task in which every inhabitant of the Holy Planet Purgatory is engaged. Indeed, it’s said that when Gurdjieff adepts working with Jeanne de Salzmann saw that she had come to something real, and asked her to help them, she said, "I will — as far as I am able.” Even she saw the limits of her ability. 

One can directly inferred that it was through her acknowledgment of her imperfection that she gained some degree of freedom. We do not become “more perfect” as we grow. We see our imperfection, and it is in the context of this seeing our lack that any liberation from our ego can come.

It’s very closely related to the Christian path of humility: in fact, the roots of it lie deep in this exact soil, although it may not be apparent to adherents without a sound Christian upbringing, who disdainfully eschew Christian teaching in favor of more, but superficially, exotic teachings from the east. A real understanding of esotericism honors all teachings equally, and recognizes the root of humility as the true stock from which growth can come.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

1 comment:

  1. These posts are v. helpful. I find it hard though, reconcile 'the perfection' being sensible...and god being completely unknowable. When G says 'god helps me' - he was presumably not making it up


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