Capital at Basilique St. Madeleine, Vezelay, France
Photograph by the author
God is required to consume death at every moment of His own existence; it is built into the very fabric of creation, and because God’s food for His own Being consists of the experiential flow and concentration of all creation throughout eternity, God is forever condemned to consume death as an intimate part of his own Being – experience.
While this has been understood in some general terms by numerous esoteric schools throughout mankind’s existence, and was accurately summarized as a parable through Christ’s actual crucifixion, perhaps one example of an entire people that understood this is the Mayan culture of Central America, whose esoteric practice is now mostly lost to us. The complexities of that culture may be difficult to extract, and a great deal of it may seem sadistic or morbid, but any lengthy exposure to their arts and architecture leaves one with the inescapable impression that they understood how intricately death and life are interwoven into the fabric of the universe, and how God consumes this material as a form of suffering. Consciousness swallows life while it lives; but it swallows death at the same time, because the two are inseparable.
Of course the greatest angelic Being of Gurdjieff’s cosmology, Ashiata Shiemash (the name means Ray of light from the Sun) told his followers that life consists, in all parts, always and everywhere, of suffering. It cannot be any different; we are made of the body of God, we are all part of a single thought in God’s mind, and that thought, in its conscious aspect, consists not just of life and consciousness — the re-concentration of God’s particles of Being — but also death, that is, the cyclical, and not just circular but fundamentally spherical, inhalation and exhalation of the consciousness of Being, which is the breathing in and out of the universe. In consuming death as part of His Being-food, God must endlessly suffer not just the life of His own creation, but also the death of it. We become participants in this action and we cannot avoid its consequences any more than God can, because we are part of Him.
In this sense, Gurdjieff had Buddha’s teaching exactly correct: in the beginning, when Buddha brought it, it consisted specifically not of the cessation of or escape from suffering, but the practice of intentional suffering — that is, a willingness to take on God’s burden with Him, which is a way of becoming one with Him.
So let us acknowledge for a moment that right now we are in a universe in which death is perpetually occurring, and that God has no choice but to swallow the substance of that suffering and sorrow, not “tomorrow,” but now and forever.
This bestows a much better sense of the sobriety incumbent upon us. Even though we die “tomorrow” (that is, at some later time we would prefer not to think about) everything actually dies, right now, forever—let us again consider just how precious all moments are in light of it.
This kind of information needs to be digested quietly and without reference to magical experience. I am not saying that there can’t be magical experience, or that one should not have it; what I am saying is that magical experience comes only in service, and it is always in service, if properly understood, to a deepening of the understanding of suffering. There is only one path to anything one might call “liberation;” if there is a real liberation theology, it is liberation from the delusion that we are immortal and excused somehow from the suffering that is necessary in order to create and maintain the universe. Real liberation consists of understanding the obligations attendant upon us, should we choose to make an effort to consciously participate in this process.
This is why, coming back to the original questions posed here, spiritual life is a most private matter and needs to be treated that way. The displaying of most parts of one’s life in a very public manner is an unfortunate form of pornography.
This series will conclude on Feb. 18.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.