Monday, September 30, 2019

Intentional Suffering

The image shows asian influences. 
This isn't in the least unheard of in medieval art. The stone craftsman guilds were well educated and had long- established worldwide connections.

  Notes from Aug 17/18, part 9

Notably, Gurdjieff brought the concept of intentional suffering to spiritual work, explaining it as the original (and lost) teaching of the Buddha. Yet this idea, as well, has direct sources in the middle ages, as we discover in Hadewijch’s Letter # 2: Serve Nobly:

…if a man knew God's will—that misery is dear to him—he would gladly be, by his will, in the depths of hell; but he could never make progress or grow in a place where he could taste no pains… It is much better for you, if you wish to walk the way of Love, that you seek difficulty and that you suffer for the honor of Love, rather than wish to feel love. (P. 50)

 Readers familiar with Catherine of Siena will find references to intentional suffering in her writings, as well. 

 This idea of engaging in spiritual development through inner trial provoked by outer sufferings is not just a consistent trope of esoteric spiritualism; it's part of the classic myth of the hero, deeply embedded not just in Gurdjieff’s metaphysics but metaphysics in general, according to my examination of the enneagram interpreted through the Arabic system of the Names of God, or forces, that drive the universe. 

The manner in which Gurdjieff reinvented a new mythology for modern man is further examined in Novel, Myth, and Cosmos. The question remains as to why the man reinvented all of these rather ancient ideas in his ambitious Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. I believe the point is that he wanted us to encounter these ideas in an unrecognized form, so that they could better penetrate into our subconscious. In Gurdjieff’s assessment of man’s psychological barriers to inner development, he determined that our habit of encountering the familiar and instantly assuming we understand it was a profound obstacle to absorbing traditional teachings about inner growth.  On this note, we re-examine part of an earlier quote from the book:

“This strange trait of their general psyche, namely, of being satisfied with just what Smith or Brown says, without trying to know more, became rooted in them already long ago, and now they no longer strive at all to know anything cognizable by their own active deliberations alone… 

Beelzebub’s Tales, First Edition, p 104.

 This one fragment of a sentence alone goes a very long way indeed towards explaining the reason we have the book in the first place.

We gain further clues to the way how our reflexive intellectual interpretations damage our ability to understand life in any direct way in Hadewijch’s  Letter Four, The Role of Reason, which could easily serve as a template for Gurdjieff’s ruminations on this subject. In particular, her comments on how human reliance on hope and charity are damaged by reason are strikingly reminiscent of Gurdjieff’s  myth about Ashiata Shiemash’s teachings, inscribed on a marble tablet that still survives:

Faith of consciousness is freedom
Faith of feeling is weakness
Faith of body is stupidity.

Love of consciousness evokes the same in response
Love of feeling evokes the opposite
Love of body depends only on type and polarity.

Hope of consciousness is strength
Hope of feeling is slavery
Hope of body is disease.

  While this does not exactly mirror Hadewijch’s comments in Letter Four, the piece – or a remnant oral tradition of it – could well have served as a template for Gurdjieff’s adages. Its emphasis on the great weakness of our material side and its fallibility has direct parallels to Hadewijch; and despite their brevity, her propositions of mankind’s naïveté in regard to these failings also bears comparison to Beelzebub’s Tales in its entirety.

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Chakras and the Enneagram--now in paperback

This material, originally published in 2003, lays out the connections between Gurdjieff's enneagram and the yogic system of chakras. 

It is intended for reading in conjunction with the later work,  The Universal Enneagram.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The North Slope

Notes from Aug 17/18, part 8

Gathering together various threads of this discussion, we propose the following:

  • Organic sensation arises from the concentration of finer substances within the human body (Gurdjieff)
  • Said sensation constitutes an intelligence of its own (G.)
  • This sensation, unattached to intellect, is objective (virtuous— Hadewijch)
  • It has a grounding effect (H.)
  • The combination of objective sensation and critical ( self-observing) intelligence opens a pathway to feeling (G.)
  • Feeling is also an intelligence of its own (Organic feeling—G.)
  • This feeling arises to balance the objective and subjective faculties (sensation and intelligence—G.)
  • Said feeling is rooted in charity and love for the other—i.e., deeply organic (H.)

  I’ve attempted to outline the process of inner development as simply as possible here, drawing the connections between Hadewijch and Gurdjieff and attributing, quite roughly, each of the ideas to its source. It’s worth noting that the idea of charity, care and compassion towards the other, is exactly mirrored in Gurdjieff’s teaching as the practice of outer considering, which he considered essential. Given his definitions of inner and outer considering, it seems reasonably certain that these furthermore exactly mirror Swedenborg’s principles of selfishness and unselfishness. 

Gurdjieff's inner considering is above all essentially selfish. Examining this point makes the connections between Gurdjieff and Swedenborg’s cosmology clear; they emerge from the same root.

Yet this entire process, which would be easy to lay out on the enneagram as a circular process that begins in selfishness (the right side) and ends in the surrender of selfishness (the ascent on the left side) somehow encompasses, in its entirety, what Hadewijch refers to as love. She uses this word repeatedly throughout the course of all her texts; and it's distinct from what she calls “sweetness,” which is a benefit of Grace and can, according to her, be received either selfishly or unselfishly. This issue is easily discovered in any close reading of her material.

Hadewijch, like Gurdjieff, insists that great effort must be undertaken in order to avoid the selfish path:

To put it briefly, low-minded men are all those who are not enthralled by eternal Love and are not continually watchful in their hearts to content Love. (Letter 12, p. 70.) Compare "continually watchful" to Gurdjieff’s emphasis on self-observation.

In other words, God himself commands that we nevermore forget Love, either sleeping or waking, in any manner, with all that we are, with heart, with soul, with mind, with strength, and with our thoughts. (Letter 12, p. 73.)  Compare this to Gurdjieff’s adage to at all times, and in all places, remember yourself.

A friend and I frequently used to climb the Palisades in Tallman State Park at the entrance just off Ferdon Ave. in Piermont. It’s a short climb – probably no more than 300 feet up — on a very rough trail. We used to call it the North Face, because this section of the Palisades in the Sparkill Gap faces north. It is, of course, a reference to the traditional path of Everest – an ascent to the top of the world. In like kind, the left-hand side of the enneagram represents the North Face of spiritual work: a climb from the base camp of Being towards God. Rene Daumal equally likened such inner work to mountain climbing in his classic work, Mount Analogue.

Hadewijch offers equally intense descriptions  of the rigorous nature of this effort:

Oh! wisdom leads very deep into God! So there is no security of life here except in the deep wisdom that seeks to touch him. Alas! He is always untouched, and so deep to touch that he must be moved with compassion because so few men seek or long, with eagerness or by the force of ardent works, to touch him even slightly in his mystery: who he is, and how he works with love. (Letter 6, To Love Christ, p. 52.)

  Note her emphasis on the idea of no security in life – a theme to which she often returns, in which the idea of repose and comfort and a wish for ease of living yields obvious comparisons to Gurdjieff’s “Evil inner God of self-calming:”

“This strange trait of their general psyche, namely, of being satisfied with just what Smith or Brown says, without trying to know more, became rooted in them already long ago, and now they no longer strive at all to know anything cognizable by their own active deliberations alone… they themselves were personally to blame for it, and just on account of the abnormal conditions of external ordinary being-existence which they themselves have gradually established and which have gradually formed in their common presence just what has now become their inner ‘Evil-God’, called ‘Self-Calming’. 

Beelzebub’s Tales, First Edition, pgs104-105. Also see pages 610, 624-25, 783. 

We must be continually aware that noble service and suffering in exile are proper to man's condition; such was the share of Jesus Christ when he lived on earth as Man. We do not find it written anywhere that Christ ever, in his entire life, had recourse to his Father or his omnipotent Nature to obtain joy and repose. He never gave himself any satisfaction, but continually undertook new labors from the beginning of his life to the end. He said this himself to a certain person who is still living, whom he also charged to live according to his example, and to whom he himself said that this was the true justice of Love: where Love is, there are always great labors and burdensome pains. (ibid, p. 58.)

  Although they lived at about the same time and attained spiritual maturity in the first half of the 13th century, it’s impossible to imagine Hadewijch having had any contact with the supreme Sufi master Ibn Arabi. Yet look at how similar what they say is:

“Know that since God created human beings and brought them out of nothingness into existence, they have not stopped being travelers. They have no resting place… Every rational person must know that the journey is based upon toil and the hardships of life, on afflictions and tests and the acceptance of dangers and very great terrors. 

“It is not possible for the traveler to find in this journey unimpaired comfort, security, and bliss. For waters are variously flavored and weather changes, and the character of the people in every place where one stops differs from the character at the next. The traveler needs to learn what is useful from each situation. He is the companion of each one for a night or an hour, and then departs. How could ease reasonably expected by someone in this condition?

“We have not mentioned this to answer the people fond of comfort in this world, who strive for it and are devoted to the collection of worldly rubble. We do not occupy ourselves with or turn our attention to those engaged in this petty and contemptible activity… Masters… are scornful of this ambition because it is a waste of time and a loss of true rank and dissociates the realm with that which is unsuitable to it.

… So it would be better for you if, at the time of your contemplation, you were engaged in labor outwardly, and at the same time in the reception of knowledge from God inwardly. You would then increase virtue and beauty in your spiritual nature, which seeks its Lord through knowledge received from him through works and piety, and also in your personal nature, which seeks its paradise. .. So it is until the last breath, when you are separated from the world of obligation and the round of ascending paths and progressive development. And only then will you harvest the fruit which you have planted.

—Ibn ‘Arabi, Journey to the Lord of Power, Inner Traditions International, 1981, p. 27-29

Both of these 13th-century spiritual authorities are highly significant predecessors in the line of spiritual teaching that Gurdjieff brought; and both of them indicate how much great effort needs to be made in the direction of surrender of selfishness. Indeed, if we substitute the word “selfishness” for “ego,” it immediately gives us a much clearer picture of what the essential problem ego in all its varieties consists of.

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Drawn Down Into God

Using acanthus leaves to detail elaborate levels and interactions of divine energies 

Notes from Aug 17/18, part 6 

Hadewijch’s  roots of Charity, the foundational source of love, are drawn down into God.

 What does this mean?

 Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that a human being must develop in both directions in order to become whole; no connection to the level above a human being can develop without a corresponding and equally powerful development to the level below him. In saying this, he touched on the many ancient mythologies which view the metaphysics of the soul as a tree whose branches reach into heaven and whose roots reach deep in the earth; yet those roots reach for God the below human being in exactly the same way that they reach for God above him, because God creates all levels and exists in equal measure within each one of them.

A human being cannot be charitable unless the roots of their being, the sensory contacts which feed themselves on the basis of a man’s or woman’s existence, are developed in love. That love must be fundamental as an inner source of nourishment, not a love of the world and its things, but a love that begins before the world exists.

 This is a delicate matter, this question of going down into God, but it brings us to the physical questions I raised in The Quantum State of Being. God is not just an abstract conception; God is the physical substance of which the universe is made — love itself – and that substance can be concentrated within any of the beings that exist on the various levels of the cosmos. Concentration, however, cannot develop without the attendance development of sensation and feeling, which constitute the root of the tree and its branches and leaves. Our own being becomes the trunk, a vessel which creates a relationship between what is below us and what is above us and allows the spiritual energies of the cosmos — embodied in our planetary and solar existences — to flow up and down, exchanging their materials. Gurdjieff’s law of reciprocal feeding comes to mind here; such work is our role. We are here to help the hanbledzoin, the essential force of the universe on our level — love — circulate. Gurdjieff contended that this concentration of force helps to form what he called the Kesdjan, or astral, body. Put in more straightforward terms, we form a connection between the moon and the sun which becomes an experiential conduit for sacred energies. The fact of this was well known to ancient societies and we see remnants of it widespread in their symbolism across the planet. It remains a completely misunderstood enigma to modern man, because the vehicles for developing this kind of sensation and feeling have been almost entirely lost.

  Human beings, across the planet, grow up in the remains of our religious societies believing that man needs to reach out to God. Never, aside from Gurdjieff’s teachings, do we hear that we need to be drawn down into God; yet in any sane model of the cosmos the sustaining force of God’s being must, inevitably, be just as present beneath us as it is above us. The image of the Virgin Mary standing on the lunar crescent, a common symbolic trope in the Catholic Church, is a reminder of this.

 This idea of God as a sustaining force that supports us physically in our manifestation as creatures needs to become a living experience for. It becomes an organic reminder of our subservient position on this planet, rather than a theoretical proposition. 

 Our charity, if we have any — our  intelligent compassion, our intelligent generosity, which ought to be part of the birthright of every human being – is rooted in this condition of being drawn down into God. That is to say, real feeling,  real intelligent feeling, which is what charity consists of, has its roots as well and the experience of sensation.

 Virtue and charity are grounded and have roots. The expressions themselves, most certainly chosen by intention when Hadewijch used them, bring us closer to the earth, like the ancient Sanskrit terms for spiritual work: tantra, the loom— always made of wood –, and kunda,  the vessel, always made of clay. 

Spiritual work is grounded. It has gravity. The relationship to God begins within our spiritual gravity. This brings us back, once again, the relationship between actual gravity as it manifests within the universe and the nature of gathering its sacred materials back into spiritual centers of gravity. In the case of human beings, these spiritual centers of gravity are intelligent and have the capacity for agency. That agency, according to all the great teachings, ought to be virtuous and charitable – that is, it ought to be good, and it ought to be sharing and caring for others. Agency that goes in the other direction, that of selfishness, is, as Gurdjieff would characterize it in his essay on the meaning of life, unintelligent – he called it mechanical, but one might just as easily label it stupid. Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Question of Charity

Cloisters at L'Abbaye Fontevraud

Notes from Aug 17/18, Part 5 

 In our exploration of the connections between Hadewijch,  Swedenborg, and Gurdjieff, it’s worthwhile considering virtue as objectivity. Charity, on the other hand, may be construed as conscience; and the two qualities taken together, virtue and charity, form an equivalency to Gurdjieff’s conscious labor and intentional suffering. We cannot consider the virtue of conscious labor without considering objectivity, which is an effort to see things selflessly; and we cannot consider charity without considering intentional suffering.

 These two faculties serve as the inward and outward breath of the development of the soul: the inward breath, an impersonal effort to be objective, to take in the world around us without the personal inflections that contaminate our understanding. This is the food that we feed on.

On the other hand, intentional suffering is the outward breath of the soul: the results of our labors, in which we offer ourselves to others and the world in an equally selfless way. This is charity; and I think you will readily see how we cannot be charitable if the food that we take in is not taken in objectively in the first place. We cannot form a right outward intention of charity if the inward intention from which it is formed does not form correctly. Hence Gurdjieff’s conscious egoism; an “I”,  a personhood, which is formed objectively through virtue and unselfishness not through self interest and the pursuit of base pleasures. Only this “I” which is so formed can be charitable – intentionally (consciously) suffer on behalf of others, offering the results of their inner and outer labors objectively and supporting the collective enterprise of other people and humanity.

This particular proposition is so essential to the human condition it hardly bears mentioning; it is the premise both of humanism and metaphysical humanism. It is also, by the way, essential to the premise of Walt Whitman’s poetry, and all the questions that Kerouac and other more secular writers of a so-called “progressive” (humanitarian) mindset raise about our activities. If we wanted to cast it in the terms of Gurdjieff’s enneagram, we would characterize the left-hand side of the diagram as being about people (real beings) and the right hand side as being about things. This has always been the essential dilemma of mankind: what takes precedent, the things or the people? The so-called “revolutions” Kerouac  brings up in his diary were all about, in one way or another, things; even a church or a political institution can be a thing in this regard. Each one proposed to satisfy human desire (unspeakable desire) by changing the material circumstances in which people live; whereas Metaphysical Humanism begins with the premise that we must change the inward lives of the people, and not their outer circumstances. Even the touchingly naïve lyrics of the Woodstock generation — “we have got to get ourselves back to the garden” — somehow ring more true, capture a greater essence of the human soul, than the ring of the cash register. That generation, of course, has failed just as spectacularly as every generation before it, and fallen prey to every speakable desire that can be imagined. Yet the longing persists, even without a path to guide it.

 To be charitable means to surrender something, to offer something. The word has its original roots in Latin carus,  that which is dear, costly, or loved: and of course it means to offer what is loved to another. To offer what is valuable to another. We’ve already established the idea that one thing that’s valuable in the marketplace of spiritual exchange is objectivity —  and another is, of course, love itself. Yet it is impossible for us to offer love itself, or any attendant objectivity, if we only love ourselves and not others. Hence we discovered that the very premise of “love” itself is tainted from the beginning by selfishness; and perhaps this gives us some insight into why Gurdjieff renamed his essay on “pure and impure emotions” to The Meaning of Life.

 In order to be charitable, to have acts rooted in charity, we must first understand what this word means. It means, in a nutshell, love: yet it also means, in Gurdjieff’s terms, intentional suffering. The connection between love and suffering leads us at once — and inevitably — to the premise that Christ died for our sins, a supremely loving action of absolute intentional suffering. Here we see the manner in which Gurdjieff’s teaching is so firmly and irrevocably embedded in Christian ethos, Christian pathos, Christian mythology, and Christian metaphysics. These are the same roots that Hadewijch speaks of — all of them are grown down into God.

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Meaning of Life

Sculptural element from the Cloisters at L'Abbaye Fontevraud

Notes from Aug 17/18, Part 4 

One of the more interesting early documents from Gurdjieff is a document titled The Meaning of Life

While this particular document – attributed, but not conclusively, to Gurdjieff – is available in Early Talks of Gurdjieff, my discussion here references the copy in Louise March’s collection.

 I’ve been privy to arguments that this document was not actually by Gurdjieff; but its presence in the collection of his personal secretary, who was there in the early days, along with many other early Gurdjieff documents which are unassailably by him, argues strongly in favor of the proposition that he wrote it. It is prominently marked, in Louise’s copy, BY Gurdjieff, in capital letters, as though to emphasize the fact that it is indeed his voice and not someone else’s.

It seems reasonably certain, moreover, that this is something Gurdjieff wrote, rather than notes from a meeting. This is because the document carries the subtitle, “ Originally read to us as “pure and impure emotions.”

 What is perhaps more significant is that the original title of this document was changed. This must have been at Gurdjieff’s direct instruction, since it is impossible to imagine any of his pupils making a change of that nature without his direction. What we are left with here is the strong impression that Gurdjieff felt that the subject of pure and impure emotions was so essential to the central questions of his work that it was ”the meaning of life.”

 Gurdjieff’s contention, in the document in question, begins with the idea that emotion and intelligence are not separate faculties:

 We oppose emotion and reason. We speak of cold reason, of intellect superior to emotion. This is an error in definition. Intellect taken as a whole is also emotion.

 What Gurdjieff alludes to here, allowing for the vagaries of transcription and translation, is that emotion is also a whole form of intelligence. This is connected with the idea that the intellect, the sensation, and feeling all consist of whole minds that create, in their entirety, Gurdjieff’s “three-brained being.”

 What I think most essential, however, in examining this text is Gurdjieff’s connection between the personal (subjective) experience of emotion and the impersonal (objective) experience. There is no clarity, no light, no virtue in the personal experience: such emotion is impure; it lacks Hadewijch’s virtue.

The sign of growth of the emotion is the liberation from the personal element. Personal emotion fools, is partial, unjust. Greater knowledge is in proportion to fewer personal elements. The problem is to feel impersonally. Not all emotions are easily freed of the personal. Certain ones by their nature corrupt, separate. Others, like love, lead man from the material to the miraculous. There can be an impersonal envy; for example, envy of one who has conquered himself. An impersonal hate: the hate of injustice, of brutality. Impersonal anger--against stupidity, hypocrisy.

It is current to talk about "pure" and "impure" emotions; but we do not know how to define their difference. A pure emotion is one which is not mixed, which never seeks personal profit. An impure emotion is always mixed, it is never one; it is mixed with personal profit, with personal elements; it has sediments of other emotions.

 The aim of pure emotion, according to Gurdjieff, is a certain kind of knowing, intelligence: an understanding. And that understanding is only pure if it is unselfish. Impure emotion, that emotion tainted by self interest, is worthless:

An impure emotion does not give knowledge, or gives only confused knowledge. It sheds no light.

Hadewijch has important commentary on this matter in Letter 10: Virtues the Measure of Love.

Desire for God is sometimes sweet; nevertheless it is not wholly divine, for it wells up from the experience of the senses rather than from grace, and from nature rather than from the spirit. This sweetness awakens the soul more to the lesser good and less to the greater good, and lays deeper hold on what it likes than on what it needs: for it has the nature of what gave it birth.

 Here Hadewijch  explains quite clearly that superficial or underdeveloped spiritual experience has a character of selfishness: it lays deeper hold on what it likes than on what it needs, for it has the nature of what gave it birth.  This explains that our impulses and desires are firmly rooted in our attachment to the material; and we cannot help what we are — a subject that she brings up repeatedly in her discussion of human frailty and sin.

Such sweetness is experienced by the imperfect man as well as by him who is perfect. And the imperfect man imagines he is in greater love because he tastes sweetness; yet it is not pure but impure. Besides, even if the sweetness is pure and wholly divine, and this is a delicate question to decide, love is not to be measured by sweetness but by the possession of virtues together with charity, as you have heard.

Hadewijch makes the distinction between pure and impure and unambiguous terms here: only the “perfect,” or complete (completed, fully made), man is pure. The idea of “perfect” man is a predecessor to Swedenborg’s invocation of spiritual regeneration, a remaking of being in the image of God — which is of course a fundamentally Christian concept embodied in the existence of Christ himself. It’s the contamination of our own self interest that leaves us impure; and surely this is the one defect that seems impossible to remove in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, leaving those who develop spiritually consigned to the eternal torture of purgatory:

“…from this time on, that these sacred arisings began to have in their presences special properties which were obtained from this, that certain manifestations of other parts of the given being, in whom these sacred arisings were coated, began to enter and to be assimilated in the composition of the presences of these higher parts and to give results which came to be called ‘sins-of-the-body-of-the-soul’.

“These same results served as a cause that these cosmic formations, even if they had in their perfecting reached the required gradation of Objective Reason, had ceased to correspond in their common presences to the conditions of existence in the sphere of the Most Most Holy Protocosmos, and from that time on they lost the possibility of being deemed worthy to unite themselves with it.

—All and Everything (First Edition), Page 800 (edited for brevity)

 We may conclude, in other words, that Gurdjieff’s view of the idea of sin centered around the impurity of selfishness; and that it is the one stubborn factor that continues to persist no matter how much a human being purifies their sense, their aim, and their will. It is the original sin: not the wish to have knowledge — that in itself is a good thing, a virtue, perhaps the best thing, as his essay points out – but to have it for myself. And indeed, Hadewijch repeatedly draws the distinction between wanting to have things for oneself and have things in God. They are not at all the same thing; and we confuse them repeatedly.

 Gurdjieff felt that understanding the difference between the personal and impersonal, the selfish and unselfish, constituted the meaning of life. This understanding is, in other words, at the very core of understanding what it means to be a human being in a virtuous way. It emphasizes the deep connections between Swedenborg’s teaching and Gurdjieff’s.

 One of my oldest mentors in the Gurdjieff work has reported to me that they, as they in their own words prepare themselves for death, are reading Emmanuel Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell

This text, along with Hadewijch’s letters, ought to be considered as essential reading for those in the Gurdjieff work if they wish to deepen their exposure to the important esoteric roots from which the leaves and shoots of Gurdjieff’s teachings emerge.

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Virtue and Charity

Cloisters at L'Abbaye Fontevraud

Notes from Aug 17/18, Part 3

 Metaphysical Humanism embraces the idea of an intelligence that senses: an intelligence that is able to experience, grasp, and comprehend the world simultaneously, at the same time, in just as complete a way as intellect does. 

This ability is an innate property of the human organism: it’s installed in the nature of Being itself through a metaphysical intelligence that—for obvious reasons—has no words of its own to explain it. It explains itself through its own property of organic sensation.

 Feeling is equally 1/3 of my innate intelligence; yet the only intelligence I tend to rely on is my intellect, with my sensation and feeling functions left as paupers who go begging from one moment of my life to another to pick up what’s left for them.

Going back to this fundamental humanity that Jack Kerouac described—that same fundamental and divine humanity that Hadewijch discusses—is where the root of our Being begins. She reminds us:

 Love is not in each person according to what he feels, but according as he is grounded in virtue and rooted in charity. (Ibid, Letter 10.)

 Love, in other words, begins in a place in us that is grounded and rooted

Hadewijch uses the word grounded in order to indicate the idea that love is in us according to how grounded we are in sensation, which is objective. Anyone who has had the experience of the center of gravity grounded in sensation will already understand the relationship between this experience and the objective nature of goodness, or virtue. 

 For Gurdjieff, that which is objective is that which is superior. That is to say, objective consciousness and objective being mentation are superlatives: they are excellent, virtuous, and represent the good. This is because they have been purged of everything personal. This is what excellence meant to Gurdjieff, and the manner in which he explained the difference between pure and impure emotion in his early essay The Meaning of Life.

Hadewijch expounds at length on objectivity in other passages, in which she anticipates Meister Eckhart’s spiritual virtue of Gleichgültigkeit—the equal value of all things:

Do good under all circumstances, but with no care for any profit, or any blessedness, or any damnation, or any salvation, or any martyrdom; but all you do or omit should be for the honor of Love. If you behave like this, you will soon rise up again. And let people take you for a fool; there is much truth in that.
Ibid, Letter 2: Serve Nobly, page 49

Hence we understand that virtue, with both Hadewijch and Eckhart, is objective; and we see that Hadewijch is asserting that real love, spiritual love, is grounded in objectivity.

Lest there be any doubt about this, take note of the fact that she follows this by saying love arises in an individual according to how much they are rooted in charity

This reference of being rooted in charity refers to the deep growth of spiritual roots within being that emerge through a lasting relationship with sensation. Combined, the action of sensation in the roots that it grows create an inward experience of the objective goodness of life which has a great deal to do with the spiritual experience that Hadewijch attempts to describe to us. It is directly related to Gurdjieff’s practical work on this matter of sensation.

 She reminds us that love is not in each of us according to what we feel simply because we cannot rely on the emotions to tell us where our center of gravity lies. That’s the job of sensation. She reminds us of this in other letters, for example, Letter Four, The Rule of Reason, where she says the following:

In seeking spiritual sweetness, people err greatly; for there is very much emotional attraction in it, whether toward God or toward men.

And this:

In hope many people err by hoping God has forgiven them all their sins. But if in truth their sins were fully forgiven, they would love God and perform works of love. Hope leads them to count on things that never eventuate, for they are too lazy and do not pay their debt either to love or to God, to whom they owe pains to the death.

 Let it be noted here that all of Letter Four concerns various subjective inadequacies of the intellect in comprehending the nature of Being. It’s thus well worth reading in its entirety. The point that I’m trying to make here is that Hadewijch well understood the subjective nature of the intellect, as well as the subjective nature of emotion, which she calls feelings here.

I don’t think that we can, in the end, in any way separate the idea of an intelligence of sensation from what it means to be fundamentally human; nor can we separate it from what it means to truly love, since true love is objective and has as its aim only love itself, which is ruled by conscience, instinct, and awareness, not selfishness and greed. Almost everything we consider to be “love” in our ordinary life is moved by one of those two latter passions; and the only way that we can move away from that is to “grow a new organ,” as Gurdjieff’s protagonist Beelzebub said, which is our sensation of Being.

  It’s so important to understand that this faculty of sensation is an intelligence. We mistake intelligence as something limited to words and the intellect; and in this we err greatly, because we never discover the intelligence of sensation in its active nature. Make no mistake about it, it has one; and every animal’s intelligence of sensation is an embedded and irrevocable part of its active nature. Only man has lost the capacity to be directly invested in this faculty as a default; he has lost the ability to manifest this way. In this sense, it is the exact birthright that Esau sold Jacob. As the hairy (externally oriented) child, he was unable to sense inwardly in the same way as the smooth skinned Jacob.

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.