Ceiling detail, Alhambra
"It is divine wisdom, acting on behalf of divine love, that has omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence belong to divine wisdom acting on behalf of divine love, not to divine love acting through divine wisdom."
"This is a secret from heaven that has never yet dawned on anyone’s understanding, because before this no one has known what love is in its essence, or what wisdom is in its essence, much less how the one flows into the other."
"Love, with everything that belongs to it, flows into wisdom and takes up residence there..."
—Emmanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity
"Spirituality" is a fusion of intellect with superior emotions. A new order of receptivity comes from the union of intellect and superior emotion, but is not created by them."
—G. I. Gurdjieff, "The Meaning of Life," a lecture from the early 1920's.
“Nature may have done something, but I am sure it must be essentially assisted by the practice of keeping a journal.”
— Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
Gurdjieff gave an early lecture on the meaning of life; although perhaps not at once evident, with study and reflection, one will see Swedenborg's comments share more or less identical premises with Gurdjieff's.
Having read and then re-read Gurdjieff's lecture, I should like to work on my own understanding, which may be a bit less overarching and cosmological than Gurdjieff's. Nonetheless, it is composed of, I think, both consonant and harmonious tones.
That being said, this series of essays isn't in any way meant to be an evaluation or critique of Gurdjieff's comments on the matter, so put such thoughts aside, if you have any.
Here, then, in my own words... and a bit more personally, since I like to try and work these understandings out for myself in my own type of detail.
Everything begins with Love; all things are created from it.
Creation itself—that is, its action, not just its results—is the expression an essentially loving transcendental Presence. This root nature—and it is very important for the reader to attempt to understand this word, root, from a practical and organic (inward) point of view— of creation is usually hidden from us. It exists in the manifestation of reality itself, since reality is an emanation of The Reality, which is nothing more or less than Love itself.
We have the capacity to receive this understanding directly from time to time, a capacity which I call The Perfection.
Most recently I encountered The Perfection a few days ago on Thanksgiving day, in the form of a large, flat, and entirely pedestrian piece of bluestone on the hill behind our house. I've been past that piece of stone and stepped on it (it's a flagstone) countless times.
This simple ordinary stone has always been and ever will be, like all other things, a complete and indivisible expression of The Perfection—itself eternally complete and indivisible. Yet it's only this once, for that brief moment, that its essential nature became temporarily (within time) evident; and that through Grace alone. In a single immeasurable instant, its presence penetrated me, not just to the marrow of my bones, but down to the molecular presence of my inner Being. That instant of penetration lies outside of time.
One can't force or invoke an experience (it isn't a vision, but an inner impression) of The Perfection. Furthermore, to experience the Perfection in anything but the tiniest of doses would kill a human being, since the powerful—no, overwhelming—natural tendency is for souls exposed to The Perfection to be dissolved directly back into it. Hence Swedenborg's comment that souls are unable to perceive God and His Love directly, as it would "kill" them... well, actually he doesn't mean this in the way we understand the word, but it will have to do for now, as I have no time to explain it further here. I'll just throw a tidbit to readers interested in cosmology and mention that yes, black holes do have a relationship to this tendency.
Mystics refer to The Perfection (if they know it) as a mystery, but really it's just a fact. The Perfection only exists as a mystery within the limited capacity we have for receiving and understanding it. Yet The Perfection is an objective state which anyone who has experienced it will agree on—within the context and limitations of how developed their understanding of such things is.
All human beings have been created out of Original Love to have a capacity to receive and understand The Perfection. Whether it is understood as a mystery or a fact is in some senses unimportant; it's the receiving of Divine Love's impulse and influence that matters, not the analysis of it. Love cannot express itself without relationship, you see; hence, our existence.
We are here to provide the context of relationship for Divine Love.
Mysticism often obfuscates such things; Gurdjieff certainly did. Perhaps this is because of the sensible call to a guarded, intense privacy in such matters. Every action of Love is, after all, an intensely intimate act of sexual procreation. When Gurdjieff said that "sex runs everything," he meant it, in the end, quite literally. It doesn't just run human affairs; sexual reproduction in the form of the union of Divine Love with creation is the eternal and universal condition—the engine which runs the universe (see below). Meister Eckhart's premise of the eternal and infinite fecundity of God rests on this fact. The fact that he (wisely) put limits on overt statements about its inherently sexual nature because of the times he preached in takes nothing away from the endless nature of God's procreation, or its essential sexuality. (Gurdjieff said, in The Meaning of Life, "there is even a sensuality which can be pure, as in the Song of Songs, which gives the pulse of the physical movement of the universe".)
This subtle yet everlasting refinement of sexual energy is infinitely more beautiful and perfect in its inner action (action within all created things) than any of the results which follow it may be; and indeed all such results (i.e., reality, as we encounter it) are "accidentally" corrupted—in the sense that they betray the secret of the initial sacred impulse... by revealing it.
Creation unclothes God; and although His nakedness cannot shame God Himself, who is forever perfect and shameless, all that which is less than God has at its core a dishonesty, in the sense that it represents the Lord but is not the Lord Himself.
So be careful to understand this correctly, and not through automatic association of words. By corrupt is meant, misrepresented.
All conscious Being within expressed reality (cf. Eckhart's creation) misrepresents God—not by intention, but because of its separated nature.
There is no final resolution to this dilemma. The "organic" and "instinctive" shame Gurdjieff speaks of in Beelzebub's Tales (—chapter 29; and rarely, if ever, commented on in Gurdjieffian circles) is directly related to this situation, which deserves much further thought. Whole books could be written on the subject. It might be worthwhile, however, to at least mention that all of mankind's misunderstandings of God are rooted in the misrepresentation, which is in its own sense the universal essence of original sin.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.