Parakeet at Akbar's Tomb
If we understand this question of an inherent and necessary inner tension—one which swims against the stream of available, yet passive, bliss—we begin to see where and why the classic struggle against desires, common to Christianity, Buddhism, and the Gurdjieff work, is an operable premise. Bliss, desire, represent a downward movement. This is, practically speaking, still a movement towards God; yet it's a movement that surrenders the very agency God needs to be active in order to engage in the creative movement of self-remembering, which alone can serve the utmost purpose of creation. Non-desire, in this model, is a movement towards greater intelligence.
—New Delhi, December 2016
Some further notes, on levels
Of course, the connection between “higher” and “lower” inevitably rubs us up against the idea, in Gurdjieff’s teaching, of levels. This idea is common to most metaphysical systems; yet in Gurdjieff’s system, all the levels penetrate one another: they aren’t physically separated, but integrated, at various rates of vibration.
The “higher” and “lower” aspects of levels in Gurdjieff’s metaphysics, therefore, are not about height but about speed: they’re dimensions not of space, but time: rate of vibration is determined by fluctuations in state over a given period of time.
This interesting thought, perhaps obvious once one has it, is perhaps also not so obvious until that point.
If we recall the essay “Glimpses of Truth” found in Views from the Real World, the protagonist ultimately discovers that in Gurdjieff’s world, “time does not exist.” Viewed in light of Gurdjieff’s system of cosmological vibrations, the statement amounts to a form of contradiction; the only way to measure rates of vibration, after all, is over time.
I’ve pointed out in other essays that from Gurdjieff’s point of view, the universe was created and consciousness arose strictly to counteract the effects of time, that is, slow it down; and one could take a wild stab into the darkness here by inferring that insofar as consciousness acquires a higher rate of vibration, so it “extracts” higher rates of vibration from the material world, concentrating them and concurrently slowing the passage of time down in the material universe.
This is admittedly out-of-the-box thinking and would need a great deal more examination before I could offer anything more meaningful on the subject. What I’m interested in here is that levels are not necessarily arranged vertically, but actually exist in three dimensions — just as the circulation of energies (vibrations) depicted in the enneagram is not two, but rather three, dimensional. All the indicators point here once again to the idea that the universe can’t be considered, in any strict sense, as arranged vertically — this is a convenience adopted because it is so difficult for us to think dimensionally on this matter.
In this hypothetical three-dimensional model, love/bliss still forms a foundational ground from which everything arises; and there is a dimensional development of intelligence in all directions that co-evolves out of this ground, achieving greater and greater levels of emergence whereby more intelligence, more knowing of the Divine by itself, more Divine self-remembering, takes place.
Yet in this evolving and emergent, self intelligent universe, the consequence of evolution and self-knowledge is an increase in the level of suffering. That suffering consists in turn of both acceptance and remorse. The evolution of an individual soul out of the ground of bliss and into the mysteries of acceptance and remorse of conscience represents a departure from God (the ground floor of love/bliss) in order to acquire understanding and knowledge and then return to him. Although conventional yogic intellectual models this are either vertical (stacked chakra diagrams) or circular (enneagrams) the actual relationships are far more dimensional and inter-penetrated, a secret that the embedded circular forms preserve through their roundness, which imply wholeness, and thus dimensionality.
The idea that the universe, this dimensional field of emergent self-knowledge, evolves through suffering represents perhaps a radical departure, especially from the tenets of Buddhism, which contends that escape from suffering is the whole point of existence and spiritual evolution. It’s quite notable, in this regard, that Gurdjieff turns Buddhism on its head in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson by contending that Buddha was the first saintly individual to introduce the idea of intentional suffering to mankind; in light of the above, that makes perfect sense.
It’s absolutely necessary, here, to make one last reference to Victor Frankl’s ideas in Man’s Search for Meaning:
"Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being. We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill. It is only thus that we evoke his will to meaning from its state of latency.
I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, "homeostasis," i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him."
Frankl explores the question of suffering from an intensely personal, yet ultimately magnificent universal, point of view. No discussion on the subject and its relationship to man’s inner development would be complete without a mention of his book.
And, last but not least, a recent article on the subject from the scientific community:
avoiding spiritual struggles is linked with poor mental health
—Sparkill, NY Dec 2016
—Sparkill, NY Dec 2016
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.
Most readers are well familiar with Gurdjieff's formulation of human beings as "three brained beings."
My new book, Being and Impressions, consists of brief and practical discussions on the subject, along with observations about impressions and how we take them in.
The book was written to address some questions that have been directed at me over the last few months on the subject, which helped me to understand that many folks still struggling with these concepts—even after many years of effort to understand them.
Most moving was a friend of mine—a true genius of talent with extraordinary outer accomplishments to his credit—who still after most of a lifetime, feels he cannot understand why impressions don't fall more deeply into him.
His comment touched me in ways that theoretical discussions of these matters never do. I felt it was necessary to undertake an effort to grapple with these questions more directly, in a contemporary language, rather than the material we are all familiar with and have been reading for many years.
The aim in this book is to simplify and clarify some of these matters. It remains to be seen whether I have succeeded. Readers will have to judge.
Interested readers can purchase the book by clicking on the link in the above text.