Readers should definitely pick up a copy of William C. Chittick's Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul. The questions it raises are pertinent not just to Islamic cosmology and thought, but to the questions of the modern world in general.
Delving into Islamic cosmology and its relationship to the enneagram — which properly contextualizes any cosmology, if it is rightly understood — reveals some interesting relationships. I think the diagram above (also available at the link) says most of what needs to be said on the subject, at least in terms of the structure and the relationships.
Yet I think that it is only by understanding what we call, in the Gurdjieff system, the "multiplications" that we can begin to understand the complexities that face man in his attempt to re-inhabit his Being and find a place on the ascending arc, back into spiritual unity.
We always find ourselves trapped in the threefold world of material, power, and desire (1, 4, 2). Only aim — a wish, which is related to desire (2) — can bring us into contact with something higher that can help us. Amazingly, that wish has to first recruit an extraordinarily powerful and much higher force, wisdom (8). If we are fortunate, wisdom from a higher level can help us discover Being — which must then purify itself (7) in order to have any actual effect on the material (1.)
Every force which is truly active in the modern world attempts to skip the ascending arc and have an effect on the material world without touching the spiritual one. Chittick's book is, essentially, about this problem; but it also unveils many of the relationships between Gurdjieff's work and Islam.
Mankind believes that wisdom resides on the right-hand side of the enneagram, in the descending arc; that is, that science and transmitted knowledge alone contain the answers to where we come from, who we are, and where we are going.
Chittick points out, on page 19, "We need to keep in mind that the only universally accepted dogma in the modern world is the rejection of tradition."
He goes on to say, with style and flair that reminds one of Mr. Gurdjieff himself:
One name for this God of newness is "originality." He rules by ordaining new styles and models, and his priests are found everywhere, especially in advertising and mass indoctrination. The fashion mujtahids tell women what to wear, but they change their fatwas every year. The world of art blatantly and openly worships originality is the highest God. Or take the modern university, where professors often adopt the latest theories as soon as they arrived from Paris. (ibid, page 19.)
The essential difficulty here is that we attempt to solve all the temporal and material questions of the world using temporal and material faculties; whereas the whole point of Gurdjieff's pondering the sense and aim of one's existence is not a temporal, material, or scientific activity, but rather a philosophical, moral, and spiritual one — in short, an activity that belongs to the ascending arc of understanding and right action.
Have at it, my friends.
Another book I pass on to readers for this holiday season is Adin Steinsalz's The Thirteen- Petaled Rose. This fine book, firmly grounded in the Kabbalah, reveals essential connections between Judaism and other esoteric systems, as well as describing the angelic hierarchies and their operation nearly every bit as well as Swedenborg, although in a different way. Highly recommended.
Both of these books are relatively short and well worth reading. They demonstrate that books about cosmology need not be excessively complex or obscure in order to get the point across.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.