Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Objective and Subjective Feeling

The emblem symbolizes purified spiritual energy through the use of simple lotus-like petals, rather than the more common elaborated acanthus motifs
Photograph by the author

Notes from Aug 17/18, part 7

 Gurdjieff, in The Meaning of Life, makes the following remarks about pure and impure, or objective and subjective, feeling:

Each emotion can be pure or impure; that is, mixed or unmixed. Jealousy, envy, love of country, fear--these can be pure feelings. There is even a sensuality which can be pure--as that of the Song of Songs, which gives the pulse of the physical movement of the universe. 
Love of science can be pure, or mixed with personal profit. The external manifestations of pure and impure emotions may be the same. For example., two men playing chess: their exterior aspect is the same, but one is only concerned with resolving a problem, and the other seeks a personal profit. The same is true in art, literature, etc.
The love of activity is a worthy sentiment when it is pure. But what happens, invariably, is that it becomes mixed. A person starts with a certain aim; but in the course of action the direction changes. Pride, vanity, personal ambition enter in. As soon as one wishes to draw a personal profit from his activity, the sentiment becomes impure. That is what happens to our most elevated feelings—love, faith, charity. They become mixed with personal elements; they become impure. And the purity of sentiment is not confined to goodness and gentleness. We see hate and violence in the gesture of' Christ when be drives the money-changers out of the temple. Hate can be a pure feeling. But it must have nothing personal attached to it.

Here Hadewijch has once again anticipated him, in Letter 12, The Jacob Letter, page 71.

But nowadays Love is very often impeded, and her law violated by acts of injustice. For no one wishes continually to renounce his emotional attractions for the honor of Love. All wish to hate and to love at their pleasure, and to quarrel and to be reconciled in accordance with their whims, not in accordance with the justice of brotherly love. 
They also depart from justice out of human respect; this is also a personal leaning. And they destroy justice by anger; this is a passion from which many ills take their rise. 

The first ill is: Wisdom is thereby forgotten. 
The second: The common life is thereby destroyed. 
The third: The Holy Spirit is thereby driven away. 
The fourth: The devil is thereby strengthened. 
The fifth: Friendship is thereby troubled and, while remaining in abeyance, is forgotten. 
The sixth: The virtues are thereby neglected. 
The seventh: Justice is thereby destroyed.

Further, the emotional attraction of hate and of nonvirtuous anger-which is not holy anger-deprives us of love and proud desires, drives away purity of heart, makes us look at everything with suspicion, and causes us to forget the sweetness of brotherly love; and anger has nothing to do with what exists in heaven, but envy readily accords with what exists in hell.

Like Gurdjieff,  who in Beelzebub’s Tales recounts the destruction of all objective perception and goodness of humanity through the progressive abandonment of virtue for selfish principles, Hadewijch attributes the destruction of the same principles for the same reasons. In both cases, it is the objectivity that suffers first.  Compare Hadewijch’s  no one wishes continually to renounce his emotional attractions for the honor of love  to Ashiata Shiemash’s contention that humanity’s non-desires need to learn to prevail over their desires. While one might make much mystery out of Ashiata Shiemash’s statement, it’s not that complicated. God’s desire is divine love in heaven, and brotherly love on earth; but man’s desire is his own, and it is neither divine nor brotherly, as we all know. If human being’s non-desires prevailed over their desires, love would be honored — God’s love – and everything would change.

It’s worth thinking deeply on the similarity between these two teachings, because it underscores the fundamental traditionality of Gurdjieff’s ideas. What was different about Gurdjieff was not so much that his ideas were new or were heresies; it was that he expressed them differently. Anyone familiar with the history of the Christian church will know that this in itself is viewed as a crime that led, more often than not, to folks being burned at the stake; and while one can’t imagine anything more contradictory to the Christian spirit that this cruel and depraved action, its existence alone illustrates exactly what Hadewijch spoke about. 

When people believe in themselves and not God, wisdom is forgotten, common life is destroyed, the Holy Spirit is driven away, the devil grow stronger, friendship is forgotten, virtues aren’t neglected and — and here we come part where they burn people at the stake – justice is destroyed. 

 Gurdjieff’s public trajectory as a spiritual teacher is best detailed in Roger Lipsey’s Gurdjieff Reconsidered.  He was given the modern version of burning at the stake in the media of his time; in this, he is not unlike his medieval predecessors who brought profound, important esoteric understandings into mainstream attention and were roasted for it. It seems certain that sufficient time scholarship will correct that situation; it takes concise intellectual scrutiny as well as actual practical experience in esoteric matters in order to understand the connections between Gurdjieff’s teaching at the powerful lines of  Esoteric Christian understanding that preceded it.

Gurdjieff, mind you, is hardly the first person to be thrown under the bus for taking old ideas and expressing them in a new way. Nothing, apparently enrages human beings more than difference from themselves. This is well worth considering, because it sharply defines the boundaries between selfishness and love of the other. That borderline is one we all walk in every day of our lives; and unless one remains acutely aware of every step we take, it is easy to stray and remain on the side of selfishness, which is the natural and even lawful tendency of our earthly and material parts. 

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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