I say something else, and even harder. Whoever would exist in the nakedness of this nature, free from all mediation, must have left behind all distinction of person... As long as you favor your own person... you are assuredly not right and you have never for a single instant looked into this simple ground. You may indeed have seen a derived image of the truth in a picture, but it was not the best!
Meister Eckart, The Complete Mystical Works, p. 109
There is only one value in life, and it lies in the inflow of life itself as a manifestation of God.
The difficulty lies in this; that human beings are separated and apart from the intimate and daily experience of that inflow, and think themselves to be the source of their own value.
Now, this is a tricky thing; because of course each person does have a tremendous value, but that value begins in God and ends in God. Unless the inflow is active, however, a person always experiences their value as beginning in themselves.
From there, the presumption of value (and its consequences) can go in two directions: there are people who believe their value begins in themselves and ends in God, and then there are people who believe their value begins in themselves and ends in themselves. These are both external valuations that take place after we have gone astray—and herein, by the way, lies the esoteric meaning of the biblical parable of lost sheep.
Broadly speaking we call the first group religious people, and the second are what I call mechanistic rationalists. There’s some crossover; and the two groups often find themselves opposed on a wide range of issues. Society builds itself from the tensions and conflicts that arise as a result of these two ubiquitous streams of wrong valuation. And of course, the collapse of valuation creates a massive set of problems, because once one has decided one acts on God’s behalf, or that there is no God, one can do pretty much anything one likes. Although the premises appear to be opposite, they are actually identical, and produce identical results. And the blame begins.
Both of these streams of “understanding” are fatally flawed because they start from a premise instilled by egoism. Unless one clearly sees through an experience of the inflow that value begins in God, everything that takes place in personhood is automatically external. No internal, no inner or esoteric, experience of God exists to engender the feeling which is necessary for proper understanding of the nature and purpose of life.
That nature and purpose can’t be understood using the intellect. It is impossible. Nature and purpose can be hypothesized using the intellect; yet hypothesis by its nature opens the door to a huge range of possibilities and endless experiments and arguments. Collectively we call this “culture” and “civilization,” which of course are not at all cultured or civilized. Unless the participation of sensation and feeling as active forces emanating from the inflow inform our Being, we forever begins in the wrong place and assign a wrong value to ourselves.
Value of one’s self has, in other words, an inner center of gravity in Being. To think that one’s value begins with oneself is a dislocation of value. We are, generally speaking, wholly committed to the inner dislocation of value, because as we are we are unable to conceive of a value that doesn’t begin with ourselves.
This point is critical, because our entire premise of spiritual work, whatever it is and however we undertake it, begins right where this dislocation of value originates. The premise from which we begin is already incorrect.
Let’s look at it this way. Every mathematical system, including the one we currently use (there can be others) is built using postulates, that is, a set of a priori assumptions about how the world of mathematics works. A classic postulate from our own current mathematics is “parallel lines never meet.” Everything we understand in our mathematics is based on this and a few other postulates; yet it was shocking for modern mathematics to discover (as it did) that it’s entirely possible to construct a complete, internally consistent mathematics that begins with the opposite proposition. In the world of math, as in our inner world, everything depends on which postulates we choose.
The system derived from a set of postulates may or may not accurately reflect real-world conditions, yet still be entirely consistent within itself. Human beings create a countless number of entirely subjective inner mathematical systems because of this problem. The shooter in Las Vegas, for example, constructed exactly such a system; and we will never understand his motives because the incorrect postulates which lay at its roots—which were so subtly wrong that they allowed him to live what appeared to be an entirely normal life up until the end—are obscure to us. Yet we see how absolutely consistent his inner mathematics were.
This ought to worry us much more than it does.
Our inner mathematics of Being already begins with a wrong postulate, that is, that our value begins in ourselves. We construct absolutely everything that we think, sense, and feel from that postulate; so our entire mathematics is whole and consistent, but it isn’t accurate. It corresponds to a set of conditions in which we are the creators of our Being.
I’ve spent more than four decades in a range of spiritual work. My own inner center of gravity was relocated by fiat more than seventeen years ago; and since then I’ve devoted a great deal of observation and pondering in an attempt to understand the implications of this problem. In a way, one might say that everything I have ever written since 2001 is about that one issue, which illustrates the scope and complexity of the problem. Yet it just begins to scratch the surface.
In the end, it repeatedly boils down to a single thing. We think we are worth something. This is exactly why Gurdjieff said a man must first come to a sense of his own nothingness before anything else in his inner work can begin to bear fruit. The point here is extraordinarily subtle: it sounds like an exercise that begins in self, because that is the only way we can understand it when our sense of valuation is dislocated.
In point of fact even the exercise itself must already begin outside of the false valuation of self in order for it to bear any fruit.
If one reads Gurdjieff’s—or de Salzmann’s—essays and talks in which they rant about how everything in us is a lie, they are actually alluding to this exact issue. Those talks have never sat well with me; they come across as far too negative, even though their premises are entirely true. Everything in us is a lie; yet browbeating ourselves, or each other, about it isn’t going to go down any very productive path, in my experience. All it ever does is provoke reactions in ego which strengthen the opposition.
The subtle inner work that needs to be undertaken to better understand the matter is then pushed further away, instead of being gently drawn nearer.
My new book is now available in paperback, and as a PDF. While the book, in its first half, discusses Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson at considerable length, it also looks at the nature of the universe in some depth from a cosmological point of view in the second half, The Information of the Soul.
For the text of the introduction, see the PDF link.
Novel, Myth and Cosmos at Amazon (paperback)
PDF file for digital devices cab be ordered at:
Novel, Myth and Cosmos PDF format
An iTunes bookstore version will be available soon.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.