Saturday, April 29, 2017

The secret heart of the secret heart, part I

Detail from the Darius krater
Metropolitan Museum, NY

The most serious inner work draws its own curtain around itself.

Much is shared openly; and of that, much is well meant but ill conceived. We all share responsibility for this issue.

The heart of inner practice beats inside a body of Grace and compassion from which it cannot be separated or removed, because like the ordinary physical heart—which cannot be removed from the body and continue to function—it requires and depends on the entire body of inner practice in order to fulfill its functions.

In this way even the most esoteric work has a hidden heart that beats inside the practice: that is to say, an inner heart composed of work that is not discussed even among initiates. This work is invisible to mankind as a whole and will always remain so; not just because it must remain forever separate, sacred and pure—virginal—in order to perform its appointed tasks, but also because the work it does is impossible to describe with words.

This practice carries with it demands that cannot be described or circumscribed by glib proclamations and commonplace statements.  We too often use such and thereby impose the fragile limitations of our ordinary minds and experience on what we share amongst one another. We're creatures of habit; and we all—good folk, indifferent, and bad—repeatedly trudge across the same ground and make the same grand statements (which we've learned by listening to and imitating others) about how there are many paths, one truth, all masters are at the heart teaching the same things, etc.

This stuff is rich spiritual bullshit. All such statements are false: not in and of themselves.

Not simply because we've learned them by rote and repeat them to one another like parrots (who, by the way, are remarkably intelligent birds.)

No, the heart of the lie here is a much more complicated matter that begins within our inattention, and our assumptions that we understand.

We too often use the ideas of love and compassion to reassure ourselves and keep ourselves asleep, because we do not realize—or, for that matter, want to realize—how much a real understanding of these terms costs. Everyone wants to suffer selfishly as much as possible, but no one understands what it is to suffer unselfishly. Find yourself one instant in exchange with another person where you organically understand this term— to suffer unselfishly—and very much will become clear, even only in that one instant.

The soil this understanding grows in takes years to prepare and till, but the seedling only takes a single moment to sprout. All that while the seed lies dormant while we admire the beautiful qualities of its symmetry and its shining shell, never realizing that all that has to crack apart and be destroyed—at which point something quite green and living and entirely unpredictable bursts forth, changing everything.

So we can't speak truly of such truths. They're too sacred— and too religiously sexual, that is, intimately procreative—to belong outside the closed doors of the personal inner experience. Christ had Himself nailed to a cross to illustrate how much a spiritual life costs, and we still don't understand. We want the warm fuzzy version.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

right valuation

A close friend brought up the question last night of where, in the end, the meaning in my life will reside. This weighs on every generation, I’m sure, as it ages: we try to summarize how we've lived and what we've done, and understand what it all means. Why we've lived; what the actual significance of the trajectory has been.

I live in a house surrounded by serious books that attempt to explain this. I write about it myself. Some of the books are pretty good; and some of what I write is, I hope, at least respectable. The house also has many objects with imparted meaning; art objects, personal objects, ancient objects, natural objects, religious objects. Each one of those aspects — art, personal, ancient, natural, religious – is an assigned aspect that emanates from within me.

Without me, the object does not—cannot— have that character.

Without me, the books don’t get read and the pieces don’t get written.

So I am responsible for all the meanings. External events don’t assign them.

Last night I had many dreams that signified meanings of various kinds. In one of them, my sister Sarah was still very much alive; in another one, there were disturbing allurements; in a third, subtle esoteric adjustments were made to the physical mechanism by which I breathe.

So life is durable; there are temptations; and I need to remain connected to myself. There are some potential meanings for what were otherwise somewhat confusing dreams.

I awoke with an understanding I've had for many years: the meaning of life has to be imparted by an inner, an organic, relationship. Sometimes this understanding is more innate than others because the way it's connected in me is stronger; at other times it's a softer, less noticeable background current. Yet there's always a current of life that flows into Being through the physical body; and that prana—that life force—is what animates Being— and of itself already imparts meaning.

It has always been my impression that meaning comes first, in the context and through the presence of this life force which imparts Being. Meaning is, in other words, already organic and innate. We already start out with our meaning.

So maybe I tend to confuse things. What concerns me, perhaps, is not just meaning — which is already a given — but valuation.

During the conversation, my response to my friend was that all the meaning in our life derives from the love that we have for one another and for God. There is meaning to the extent that there is love. Yet love is not just a meaning; it’s a valuation as well. To love means that I value the other.

I went to bed last night questioning exactly where my valuations lie. One of the things that strikes me is how responsible to others I need to be in the context of love. This is the heart of it. I need to intelligently and mindfully offer myself to others and support them. This is complex and difficult in the context of a life which begins in me — as it does in almost all of us, I think – as an essentially somewhat childish, egoistic element that above all wants for itself. That's much of what drives the economic, social, and political engines we exist within... but does it have to drive me, myself?
Shouldn't I be me first—concentrate on having an intelligent center of gravity for value—and then make decisions from there?

Sorting that out and putting it in its right place has a lot to do with discovering valuation and creating what I would call right meaning. Because, after all, it’s not just the meaning of my life that concerns me at this age. It’s the question of discovering right meaning; that is, meaning with a right valuation, one that measures with love, and not with my usual selfishness, rejection, or anger.

Anyway, this organic sense of Being and these questions are what I’m concerned with this morning.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A pendulum

Sensation is a pendulum that provides both the meter and the gravity for the regulation of thought and feeling, which need that steady beat to measure themselves against.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Feelings Change

Notes on April 23rd

There comes a moment when feelings change.

This is not a time of change in the ordinary emotions of the day; it's a deep and penetrating change in the understanding of what feeling means.

Feeling can become organic.

In doing so, it does not just become feelings that one has of oneself, by oneself, or about oneself.

Feeling has the capacity to become feeling of the planet, and feeling of the sun. It does so through the vehicle of life, which is a singular gift that has the capacity of developing this connection and magnifying it.

Those of you who are familiar with Christian prayer may be familiar with the ancient phrase, we worthily magnify Your holy name. This is a prayer offered to the Lord.

The Lord’s holy name is a single vibration that encompasses all of Being; and every life, completely realized, lived, absorbed, digested, and understood, is a facet of that single vibration. Like light — which looks like a single “color,” white, but has all the colors of the spectrum in it — a single life has all of the Lord’s holy name in it, because His name is written eternally and endlessly within each manifestation of Being. The organic development of feeling is a conscious sensation of that truth.

If feeling becomes organic, a depth arrives which reveals the sacred aspect of every moment in life. Absolutely everything that exists, every single object, event, circumstance, and condition is much more than just prayer, as Conge puts it (see Inner Octaves.) All that exists is part of the body of God, and is consciously connected to the expression of the body of God within its own being.

Because the consciousness of God extends so comprehensively from the top to the bottom of the universe — that is, from the collection of all of the galaxies that exist down to all of the subatomic particles that make them up — God does not find His expression, on each level, within the context of what we might call consciousness.

Yet God manifests absolutely in every single situation.

In this sense, our own lives are so precious and extraordinary that it is nearly impossible to understand them without developing the organic capacities for sensation and feeling. Even if we do develop those capacities, we understand from feeling, which has no words, so it isn’t possible to explain exactly what this experience of the sacred consists of. To be sure, it consists of a vibration in every cell of being — an actual, physical vibration of substance.

But it consists of more than that, because the vibrations combine in a different way to create an awareness that is superior, in its own sense, to vibration itself.

This awareness is not bound to time but exists in eternity, containing all of time within itself. We have the capacity to develop this awareness; and at the same time, we must live, because it is only through life and its intersection with this capacity that God’s greatest gifts can be recognized.

Jesus Christ’s great gift to mankind was an invitation to participate in this wholeness of Being which penetrates all of reality. In entering the body of Christ, one enters irrevocably into a realm which is wholly formed by the sacred. 

We are, of course, already within that body; yet we don’t sense it unless feeling becomes organic.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Always with the eating

Akbar's Tomb

Chatting this morning with my wife about the internal and external life of man.

Over the last Christmas holiday season, it struck me more than ever that everyone talks about outer life. What we are doing professionally; how our jobs and marriages, siblings and children, are treating each other; what we are eating — with Americans, oh my God, always with the eating. One would think that every bite we put in our mouth has some kind of sacred significance, especially if there is no gluten in it.

I did manage to mount a few conversations on shaky timbers where we exchanged about inner life; but they were brief. Every single one of them lacked focus and was interrupted by some kind of nonsense. This; when the most obscure forms of drivel are honored and discussed at great length. None of us seem to have a sense of ourselves; and none of us seem to have a sense of honoring those sacred inward parts of ourselves which ought to be brought first to every conversation.

Perhaps the standard I seek here is too high. My aim is not, in the end, to criticize the ordinary — but to ask myself whether any of us really understand what the inward life consists of, and how we bring a sensitivity to that to the exchanges we have with one another. In my own case, I had to field an endless series of questions, with one person after another, always the same: how do I manage to hold up under all the travel I am doing? Honestly, I’m tired of talking about it. I wish that this outer part of my life were less obvious, and that I could exchange with people about deeper questions instead of endlessly batting the shuttlecock of Asian travel back and forth across the badminton net.

Agreed; it’s selfish of me. This is the most accessible piece of information our friends and acquaintances have about me, and they are just seeking entry at a familiar point. No one can blame anyone for this; we all do it. Yet the entry point is where everything always stops.

What is it about us as a society, and as individuals; do we not have inner lives anymore? 

Have we failed to understand the difference between what is inward and what is outward?

During the conversation with Neal, I touched on the point that most of my acquaintances are determined to adjust their lives by eating differently. Either they have eliminated gluten; or they are eating more or less protein; or they are eating raw animals, or no animals — you get the picture. Every one of them reports how much better they feel through the magical eating practice, whatever it is. There are an endless number of them and they all contradict one another. Yet all of them attempt to manipulate both physical health and inner experience through the lowest kind of food we take in: the food we eat with our mouths.

The impressions we take in are a finer and far more powerful type of food; yet I watch those around me take in all kinds of impressions, willy-nilly, with very little discrimination about what those impressions consist of. Mindfulness, for what it’s worth, ought to involve a direct and caring sensitivity to what type of impressions we taken: and it ought to involve, first of all, an attention to our environment, which any monastic community understands by default. Yet I live in a world where people throw things together without any attention at all, and choose to live quite cheerfully in the midst of an absolute environmental disorder that shows little or no respect for anything, even folding the laundry.

Every impression that we take in is something we ought to become responsible for; this question of feeding ourselves goes well beyond any food we put in our mouths. The health of the soul is not attended to. A healthy body which commits evil is a worthless thing; but a sick one that nonetheless does some true good has immeasurable value.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Six Realms, Part IX: Summary

The teachings in the Genesis creation story, as interpreted by Swedenborg, reveal a consonant identity with Ibn Arabi’s teachings on the six realms and Gurdjieff’s teachings of man numbers one through seven. These teachings share a deeper identity with yogic chakra teachings; and we can thus see that all of the metaphysical understandings in these systems are closely related. Gurdjieff’s enneagram provides a useful tool for mapping the relationships between all of the systems. Given the definite relationships between the various systems, Gurdjieff’s contention that his teaching was completely self-supporting and independent of other lines and it has been completely unknown up to the present time” may be true — but only to the extent that it reflects on the teaching method, not on the ideas or metaphysical foundation it rests on. These are so demonstrably and absolutely shared with other important systems that it is possible to trace not just roots, but parts of the trunk and branches. 
In my experience, the work of all adepts ought to be aimed at bringing the world's religious practices together and reunite them with the understanding that “there is only one God.” Contests between metaphysical schools and systems in which scholars dismiss one another — a form of partisanship one can find almost everywhere—do not serve God or any of the practices well. A reunification needs to be undertaken.
The consistent use of the image of a Garden between Genesis, Ibn Arabi, and Swedenborg to describe both the process of man’s growth and man’s eventual destination (man number seven ends up in a garden) can't be fully appreciated without reading Swedenborg’s explanation of the esoteric meaning of the word Garden in Genesis as expounded in Secrets of Heaven; and it seems impossible to believe that Gurdjieff’s description of the Holy Planet Purgatory in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson does not owe a direct, profound, and as yet generally unrecognized debt to this heritage.
A critical feature of all these metaphysical systems revealed by the enneagram — but not iterated in any of the systems themselves, although it certainly should be — is that the interaction between all of the realms is dynamic, not linear. That is to say, the interaction between the realms proceeds according to Gurdjieff’s multiplications: the first state being 142857, then 285714, and so on. This means that all six realms are actually engaged in a complex exchange between states in which a man may at one time or another inhabit any one of them, and they inform one another. Lower states form the foundation for higher ones; higher ones lend assistance to lower ones. An astute student of Ibn Arabi’s system will understand that he was well aware of the dynamic interactions between the forces that drive the universe. The idea that the six realms are dynamically interactive is metaphysically consistent with the idea that they are all manifest on this level, that is, material reality. 
Swedenborg’s Secrets of Heaven constitutes an important contribution to the understanding not only of Genesis, but also Gurdjieff’s teachings and the origin of ideas presented in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, most particularly the chapter The Holy Planet Purgatory. Ibn Arabi’s Journey to the Lord of Power, when read in conjunction with this material, sheds further light on the connections. 
Links for free epub download of these two books are below. 

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Six Realms, Part VIII

Man Number Seven

Gurdjieff said, of man number seven:

Man number seven means a man who has reached the full development possible to man and who possesses everything a man can possess, that is, will, consciousness, permanent and unchangeable I, individuality, immortality, and many other properties which, in our blindness and ignorance, we ascribe to ourselves. It is only when to a certain extent we understand man number seven and his properties that we can under­ stand the gradual stages through which we can approach him, that is, understand the process of development possible for us. —Gurdjieff, ibid, p. 71.

Swedenborg’s remarks are as follows:

 A heavenly person is the seventh day. And since the Lord worked through six days, that individual is called his work. Conflict then comes to an end, as a result of which the Lord is said to rest from all his work. This is why the seventh day was consecrated and named “Sabbath,” from [a Hebrew word for] rest. In the process the human being has been made, formed, and created, as the words themselves clearly indicate. 
Lack of information is another reason why these secrets—that a person of heavenly character is the seventh day, that this explains the consecration of the seventh day, and that it was named “Sabbath” for the idea of rest—have continued to lie hidden. No one knows what a heavenly person is, and few what a spiritual person is. Inevitably, in their ignorance, people have considered a spiritual person the same as a heavenly one, when a rather large difference separates the two. —Emmanuel Swedenborg, ibid, §85. 

In Journey to the Lord of Power, Ibn Arabi presents the reader with a rather complex ascension narrative for the different levels of heaven which bears a relationship to the comments on man number seven. Unlike Swedenborg and Gurdjieff, he did not—in this book, at least—specifically name man number seven – or, as Swedenborg refers to him, heavenly man — as an aim or result of inner development.

Swedenborg’s citation of the seventh day come up a heavenly person, as the aim of spiritual regeneration shares a clear identity with Gurdjieff’s man number seven. Following on this, we can see where Swedenborg’s Secrets of Heaven provides a great deal of important information on Gurdjieff’s esoteric heritage which cannot be found in any of the Gurdjieff literature. The contention that Gurdjieff was not familiar with Swedenborg’s extensive esoteric writings seems, in the face of the evidence, staggering; as with any assertion that the two do not share a common source, from what Gurdjieff referred to as “influences C.”

Gurdjieff, after all, bragged about his voracious spiritual reading, and it would have taken a willful act of omission for anyone reading in the esoteric circles of his era to avoid Swedenborg. That being said, Gurdjieff mentions reading Blavatsky – who he says he dismissed as a fraud — but says nothing whatsoever about Swedenborg, at least so far as I know. Swedenborg’s stature, which exceeded that of Blavatsky.

Given the consonance of ideas between the two systems, in my opinion, it behooves both academics and the Gurdjieff community at large to conduct more extensive  investigations into the relationships here, in order to shed light on the peculiar vacuum of information that currently exists.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

This is perhaps the most unusual depiction of the crucifixion of its age. 

The austerity and minimalism with which the subject is treated emphasize both the spiritual gravity of the moment and the need for a focused attention on the matter of suffering and death. 

May we all remember our inner work today and devote ourselves to an active, intelligent service of Divine Love and compassion.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Notes from Shanghai, April 12. This morning, my friend P. sent an essay by Cynthia Bourgeault, below. It was published at the Center of Action and Contemplation web site. 

On the subject, in this post for the day before Easter, my own comments.

We are invited to come into the kingdom of heaven. It is a real force that can enter us. In doing so, everything changes, because we are invited to live in communion with Christ and the Father. That oneness of God is a real thing, not some hypothesis or scientific premise about the cosmos which translates into religious ideas. It isn't a concept or a theory. It is a real force that comes into us, and that force is Love.

Love isn't theoretical either; at its highest level, it is the glue that binds the physical substance of the universe together, and every particle in our bodies is bound by that. Our consciousness is created by it; our awareness is animated by it.

As I put it to P. in an email earlier this morning,

…this Presence of God is a normal understanding for me every day. It has been melting my soul for years now. Clearly, to me, everyone ought to be intensely focused on this question and the question of submission. 

We can live within the glory if we submit. This mystery is true even though we are these tiny, helpless, and greedy little creatures, because God is so generous.

 That's my message for this week. Perhaps it doesn't square with the Gurdjieff work and all the things that are said about how we are, how we can't do, what consciousness is, and so on and so forth, but when God comes into me all that stuff goes out the window and I am just within Grace. 

That is what I live for, to try and be a worthy receptacle for that force. Maybe I will never amount to much more than that. I'm not sure what I am supposed to amount to, but I am sure of this practice.

Now, I rarely put things so exactly, because I'm sure it sounds like some sort of bragging. Yet in this case, I just want to make it clear to readers that I am witnessing, which is an ancient tradition in Christianity.

I am a witness to truth on this matter, and I think that every human being who cares about their inner work, their soul, and cares about others human beings and cares about God has the right to know that what Christ says about the Kingdom of Heaven is true.

It is real. I affirm it. It is my duty as a human being to affirm it, because so few voices speak out about this in the midst of the terrors we have created for ourselves on this planet.

Below is Cynthia's essay.

The Kingdom of Heaven
Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues exploring Jesus as a wisdom teacher.

Throughout the gospel accounts, Jesus uses one particular phrase repeatedly: “the Kingdom of Heaven.” The words stand out everywhere. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like this,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is like that,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Whatever this Kingdom of Heaven is, it’s of foundational importance to what Jesus is trying to teach.
So what do we take it to be? Biblical scholars have debated this question for almost as long as there have been biblical scholars. Many Christians, particularly those of a more evangelical persuasion, assume that the Kingdom of Heaven means the place you go when you die—if you’ve been “saved.” But the problem with this interpretation is that Jesus himself specifically contradicts it when he says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (that is, here) and “at hand” (that is, now). It’s not later, but lighter—some more subtle quality or dimension of experience accessible to you right in the moment. You don’t die into it; you awaken into it.
The other approach people have consistently tried is to equate the Kingdom of Heaven with an earthly utopia. The Kingdom of Heaven would be a realm of peace and justice, where human beings lived together in harmony and fair distribution of economic assets. For thousands of years prophets and visionaries have labored to bring into being their respective versions of this kind of Kingdom of Heaven, but somehow these earthly utopias never seem to stay put for very long. Jesus specifically rejected this meaning. When his followers wanted to proclaim him the Messiah, the divinely anointed king of Israel who would inaugurate the reign of God’s justice upon the earth, Jesus shrank from all that and said, strongly and unequivocally, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
Where is it, then? Author Jim Marion’s wonderfully insightful and contemporary suggestion is that the Kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it is not a place you go to, but a place you come from. [1] It is a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place.
Marion suggests specifically that the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus’ way of describing a state we would nowadays call “nondual consciousness” or “unitive consciousness.” The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. These are indeed Jesus’ two core teachings, underlying everything he says and does.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Six realms, Part VII

The Realms: Realm # 6
The note “si”

The sixth realm is referred to as the sand dune outside the Garden by Arabi.

This stage represents wisdom. The garden is the original garden of Eden, or, the absolute, that is, the place from which all growth comes.

Gurdjieff’s comment about man number six is: the knowledge of man number six is the complete knowledge possible to man; but it can still be lost.—Gurdjieff, ibid, p. 7

Swedenborg’s comments on the sixth stage of regeneration are as follows:

In the sixth stage, we act with conviction and therefore with love in speaking truth and doing good. What we then produce is called a living soul and a beast. Because we begin to act as much from love as from conviction, we become spiritual people, who are called [God’s] image. In regard to our spiritual lives, we now find pleasure and nourishment in religious knowledge and acts of kindness; and these are called our food. In regard to our earthly lives, we still find pleasure and sustenance in things relating to our body and our senses, which cause strife until love takes charge and we develop a heavenly character. Not everyone who undergoes regeneration reaches this stage. —Emmanuel Swedenborg, ibid, §12-13.

We are presented here with some slightly contrasting perspectives that need interpretation in order to co-join them.

The metaphysical identification of material reality’s apex—wisdom— as a sand dune is a complex but remarkable and quite ingenious one. The sand dune represents the complete knowledge possible to man.

In order to understand this, we need to see first of all the sand dune appears to us to be a single thing – a huge entity, that has reached great heights and is yet capable of movement by increments. It swallows everything in its path; yet it is composed of a seemingly infinite number of tiny things. It represents the entire summation of all material reality and the innumerable objects, events, circumstances, and conditions that a man can know.

Yet this entire massive entity is barren and worthless, and lies outside the garden — in other words, at the apex of man’s achievement after he completes the cycle of inner development, he both knows and comprehends everything, and is at the same time aware of the fact that all of this is worthless in the face of the source of life — the Garden, and God.

Swedenborg brings this point across from the point of view not just of wisdom and intellect, but of the whole Being. It’s interesting to note that Ibn Arabi and Gurdjieff both focus on the level of knowledge obtained in this realm; whereas Swedenborg focuses rather on the level of Being. The contradiction is explicable; both Ibn Arabi and Gurdjieff were fascinated with man’s pursuit of knowledge and understanding, and their interpretation of the realms and levels of development center around this kind of attainment. Swedenborg’s interest was primarily a man’s alignment with God, and because his teaching follows the emotional center of gravity that governs this spiritual trajectory, his description of his sixth stage of regeneration, Gurdjieff’s  man number six, or Ibn Arabi’s sixth realm, he gives us a somewhat different picture. The snapshot is, however, of a man who is overwhelmingly compassionate and loving, not one who is overwhelmingly intelligent.

His emphasis is not misplaced; because we can see quite clearly that Gurdjieff understands man number six has not attained a permanent value: what he has can be lost. At the same time, his remarks about the nature of man number six are at best cryptic, if one wants to presume there is anything at all there aside from a description of how much he knows. Ibn Arabi, on the other hand, chooses a brilliant metaphysical analogy — the sand dune — to let us know that man number six has achieved a fullness of knowledge consisting of as much understanding and knowledge as there are grains of sand in a sand dune (his equivalent of a beach, I might point out); yet that sand dune represents, in the end, an objectively worthless and useless pile of material. So both Gurdjieff and Ibn Arabi understand that man number six, in comparison with God and the absolute, is in a certain sense nothing. All of that knowledge has almost no value.

Swedenborg gives us, instead, what indubitably does have value from that state; the attainment of a real and wise compassion and love, which alone represents true knowledge, quite distinct from all those grains of sand in the sand dune. Gurdjieff and Ibn Arabi, in an ironic twist, tell us what Man number six has; Swedenborg tells us who he is and how he behaves. Our
Take further note that unlike man of the other levels, Swedenborg’s man is able, in Gurdjieff’s words, to do.

Ibn Arabi refers to the subordinate nature of octaves, which form a nested circumstance of multiple levels, with each note representing an entire octave at the level below it. He says the realization of their multiplicity is not within human power because the iterations expressed are essentially infinite once the interactions between and throughout all the levels are taken into account. The nested nature of octaves and the levels yields us yet another meaning for the allegory of a sand dune: even though all of the meaning is there, it is ultimately hidden, despite its absolute presence.


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Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

an affirmation

In this lead up to the Easter weekend, I just want to affirm that every object, event, circumstance, and condition is sacred.

The feeling part of human beings was designed to sense this. Unfortunately, it does not work well at all in most people; and it takes many years to undertake repairs on that.

Nonetheless, the process of faith, which can help, asks us to affirm that this is true even if we can't sense it directly. Sometimes our heart can open a little bit and we may see that the universe is composed of an infinite number of blessings which cascade atop one another endlessly, such that every single instance and every single moment is filled with Grace and Mercy.

Well, when people die and other awful things happen, it certainly doesn't feel that way — but the astonishing and impossible thing is that all of it is made of Love.

How can this be, you might ask? It doesn't make any sense. Well, it doesn't. I will just give it to you that way. If the heart opens it sees it; and that is all I can report. Even the greatest anguish is made of Love; I know this, because I have felt great anguish and the Love in it was never separated from the truth of the anguish itself.

It's peculiar and mysterious that I live — that all of us live — in a universe with this paradox at its root. There are times when one has to throw everything out the door and just go forward filling one's sails with the faith that is available. There are no constructions, exercises, forms, or practices that impart this wind; yet one must trust it when it comes.

Maybe the mistake we make, rational little creatures that we are, is that we are always trying to separate the love and mercy from disaster, as though it needed saving.

It doesn't need saving; it knows its way without us.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Six Realms, Part VI

The Realms: Realm # 5
The note “la”

This acquisition of Being serves as the foundation for purification, which takes place in the fifth the realm of Ibn Arabi’s progressive system. He calls this realm the realm of the Garden and the Fire.
The realm has a dualistic nature, because it is, first of all, a garden — a place in which spiritual growth takes place, furthermore, a place that is vested in abundance. It is also a place of fire because everything is tested here. The growth can only take place through purification. So the fifth realm is a realm of both worship and trials.

Swedenborg’s description of man number five, the man who must purify himself, says:

In the fifth stage, we speak with conviction and, in the process, strengthen ourselves in truth and goodness. The things we then produce have life in them and are called the fish of the sea and the birds in the heavens. —Emmanuel Swedenborg, ibid, §11. 

This appears to edit out the essential characteristic of this realm, or note on the octave, which is purification according to the yogic systems. Yet we notice that he says “strengthen ourselves in truth and goodness.

Gurdjieff’s description of this stage says that “Man number five has already been crystallized.” In this realm,

“the knowledge of man number five is whole, indivisible knowledge. He has now one indivisible I, and all his knowledge belongs to this. He cannot have one I that knows something which another does not know. What he knows, the whole knows. His knowledge is nearer to objective knowledge than the knowledge of man number four.”—Gurdjieff, ibid, p. 72.

We can compare this comment to Swedenborg’s remark that in the fifth stage, we speak with conviction. Any reader can easily see these are essentially the same statements.

 The fact that intentional suffering characterizes the passage from sol to fa, even though the shock is in the “wrong” place in the diagram, indicates that there is a struggle afoot, crystallized or not. It is fair enough to say that all of this purification relates directly to Gurdjieff’s description of the Holy Planet Purgatory, the place human beings and sentient, three-brained beings end up in the process of trying to free themselves from that which is not Godly in order to gain entry to the kingdom of heaven. This process is an equivalent to Swedenborg’s strengthening one’s self in truth and goodness.

Gurdjieff’s Holy Planet Purgatory, by the way, shares an exact identity with Ibn Arabi’s realm of the Garden and the Fire. The Garden is the planet itself with all its beauty; the Fire is the anguish that all the beings on it feel. Interestingly, even though this is a metaphysical place, it also shares an identity on this level, which means that the process of man’s development in this life mirrors the metaphysical and cosmological implications of the Holy Planet Purgatory. My discussions of the precise nature of religious ecstasy have a bearing on this, but there is no time to go into it here.


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Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, April 10, 2017

notes from shanghai april 10

Notes from Shanghai, April 10, 2017

I'm 44 floors above the city streets in the business lounge. It is raining hard; and there is perhaps no spring so cool and gray as a rainy one in Shanghai. Being this high thrusts one up against the clouds; one comes to know water in a different way.

I don't know why God is so consistent. Once He moves in, He never really leaves; always there is a reminder of His Presence. And this, mind you, without instruction; just Grace. If there ever was an evidence of His abundance and His Mercy, it is here, in the way that Grace flows endlessly and without a specific reason.

Grace needs no reason; it comes from its own heart and affirms its own blessing.

Something changed in me; I am not the same as I was. Yet what this means is, as ever, not so clear. In one way I am exactly the same as ever; in the next, I am absolutely different. Both things are true. How does one speak about such matters? There is no literature; there are no precedents. It is the lyric of a foreign tongue from foreign shores, more foreign than the ones I find tonight. There are places in the universe right next to us of which we have no sense; and yet we live in them at the same time we live here, where we are, where everything looks so ordinary and so normal that we give ourselves permission to ignore it. Perhaps this is the difficulty; we give ourselves permission to ignore everything, because the only interesting thing, it seems, is our own desire. What a powerful creature it is! And yet it builds its own cage and lives in it so happily, when it might have the whole world if it wished.

Sometimes a person can touch the other worlds, and be touched by them; in me, the fabric ‘twixt is grown thin. There are angels everywhere; and though I cannot see or hear them — they have no need of images or sound to make them real — they penetrate my bones, inspecting me. I never know why they have this task, but they exercise it in such a way that I feel only gratitude. The moment that arises in contact is a moment of purity and goodness. Such moments are everywhere, and in all of time; what foolishness to speak of time as though it were an enemy, when it contains the Love God gives.

One is afraid it will run out; but such fear is sheer stupidity, because both Love and time come in endless measure.

Do we know that?

Or do we merely mark the inches on our soul in consternation of its finite length?

Really, there are better things to do. I have found them; or, perhaps, I should say they have found me. They find me in the most casual way, when there is nothing special going on.

I spend my days waiting to be discovered in this way, because it is so absolutely fascinating.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Six Realms, Part V

The Realms: Realm # 4
The note “sol”

Ibn Arabi referred to the fourth realm as the Resurrection on the awakening earth and the return to the original condition.

Both of these phrases are essential to understanding the transition from fa to sol, which represents a critical stage in Swedenborg’s regeneration from non-Being — the spiritual condition — to Being, a heavenly one. The note sol represents both the heart, or love, and the sun. It represents a point where God’s personal influx initiates the emanation of genuinely loving action, which does not belong to the initiate but only to God. It furthermore represents not just the influx of this action, but an awakening of the awareness of the initiate to the fact that the action belongs to God and not himself.

The awakening earth represents the passage from Earth (the spiritual, as in Swedenborg’s regenerative interpretation of the Genesis creation story) to the heavenly (awakened) state distinct from sleep, or slumber, both of which figure prominently in Gurdjieff’s teaching and Swedenborg’s explanation of man's state before regeneration. In addition, Ibn Arabi has called it the return to the original condition, that is, the condition of a creature of heaven which perceives itself as a creature of heaven,  and not one that perceives himself as belonging to himself.

Swedenborg’s comment on man number four is as follows:
In the fourth stage, love stirs and faith enlightens us. Before this time we may have spoken devoutly and yielded a good harvest, but we did so in a state of trial and anguish, not at the call of faith and kindness. In consequence they are now kindled in our inner self and are called the two lights. —Emmanuel Swedenborg, ibid, §10

Gurdjieff says:
"Man number four is not born ready-made. He is born one, two, or three, and becomes four only as a result of efforts of a definite character… Man number four already stands on a different level to man number one, two, and three; he has a permanent center of gravity… In addition his psychic centers have already begun to be balanced; one center in him cannot have such a preponderance over others as is the case with people of the first three categories. He already begins to know himself and begins to know whither he is going. —Gurdjieff, ibid, p. 71 

We find some interesting clues here regarding the nature of Gurdjieff’s Man number four, when we compare his description to Swedenborg and Ibn Arabi. Ibn Arabi explains to us that man not only awakens, but “returns to the original condition.” Referring to Swedenborg, we understand that the original condition is a condition where “love stirs and faith enlightens us.” We thus see that man number four has acquired a level of emotional enlightenment. One can hardly infer this from Gurdjieff’s dry comments, as recounted by Ouspensky.

His report of the state is almost clinical; but anyone who has had tastes of it will readily report that is nothing like that at all. To know oneself involves, among other things, exactly what Swedenborg reports: love stirs and faith enlightens. The situation sheds some light on Ouspensky’s own nature: a professed skeptic in matters of faith, he was predisposed to edit such intimations out of his reports, and it’s also likely that Gurdjieff skirted the issue knowing who he was dealing with. Nonetheless, this critical piece of information comes into sharp focus once we understand what Ibn Arabi and Swedenborg said about the situation.


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Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Six Realms, Part IV

The Realms: Realm # 3
The note “fa”

The third realm is the interval through which we travel after greater and lesser deaths. (Arabi, ibid, p.27)

This is indeed a mouthful, because it embodies the fact that a shock is necessary here, as well as the transitional nature of this stage, which is divided from movement into the sphere of heavenly being until the shock is applied. In its entirety, this third realm is the one of Gurdjieff’s conscious labor.
It’s interesting to compare Ibn Arabi’s statement, after greater and lesser deaths, to Swedenborg’s:

The second stage rarely comes into play without trouble, misfortune, and grief, which enable bodily and worldly concerns… to fade away and in effect die out. The things that belong to the outer self, then, are separated from those that belong to the inner self… 

His understanding of the second stage, in other words, is identical to Swedenborg’s— it is a place where, if the path is pursued, egoistic cravings lessen and die, at which point man finds himself at an interval. Of course that interval is the interval between mi and fa, but one cannot pass to sol before completing that interval with the shock of conscious labor.

The passage from the third realm, which represents power, or, action on the material plane, to the fourth realm is an essential one, because the first three realms are capable of containing all natural and spiritual action without functional awareness: that is to say, everything about them can be what Gurdjieff called mechanical, or, from a philosophical point of view, theoretical. It is only once one passes from the third to the fourth realm that “real”, that is, heavenly action with the force of true spiritual insight, can begin to take place. It is, furthermore, only the combination of the action of all three of the first three rounds together – what Gurdjieff called three-centered being — that the interval from fa to sol can be passed. It represents a fundamental change in state. This is Gurdjieff’s work of conscious labor.

Gurdjieff, in his description of man number three, points out that the center of gravity of his psychic life is in the intellectual center. In this man, “the thinking functions gain the upper hand of the moving, instinctive, and emotional function; the man of reason who goes into everything from theories, from mental considerations.”  —Gurdjieff, ibid, p. 71

Swedenborg says the third stage …is one of repentance. During this time, at the prompting of the inner self, we speak devoutly and reverently and yield a good harvest (acts of neighborly kindness, for instance). These effects are lifeless nonetheless, since we suppose that they come of our own doing. —Emmanuel Swedenborg, ibid, §9

While the two premises regarding the nature of man number three may appear to differ in some points, the fundamental point — that the work of the intellect, power, and action, is “lifeless.” Gurdjieff uses the word mechanical; they are the same thing. Neither one of them is imbued with the sacred energy, the life force, of God. The actions are still dominated by egoism and a certain emptiness that arises from a belief in the agency of man and his own being. Because everything in realms 1 through 3 is dominated by what Gurdjieff called the “mechanical” world, the descending force on the right-hand side of the enneagram, effects are lifeless.

They all still represent a movement away from God.


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If you are an apple user, the iBooks version is definitely recommended. 

Limited time through April 16, 2017.

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.