Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lawful Action, part II: Law on earth

Stone, Confucian Temple, Shanghai
Photo by the author

This post marks the ninth year since I began publishing this blog.

Law on Earth

The cosmological implications of Love and Law are beautiful and far-reaching; yet we find ourselves constrained on this level within a set of laws that are for the most part nowhere near as pretty. They appear to be quite rigid, unforgiving, and even mechanical, uncaring, and unmindful. 

A lot of what we see of law from our level appears to be reflexive and automatic. Some of it even appears to be punitive. For example, even though gravity itself arises from a quantum expression of Love and Perfection, which forever seeks to draw itself back itself and gather more force of Love, when we fall down and break our bones, gravity does not seem loving or friendly. It’s impersonal. Things that are impersonal (or, as Mr. Gurdjieff called them, objective) are often upsetting to us, generally speaking. At least they are to me — more highly evolved beings who have transcended their ego may feel differently. If you can, be my guest.

In any event, the constraint of law is inexorable on our level, because certain things simply must be, no matter what, if a ladder is to have rungs and one is to be able to climb it. The rungs, for example, need to be a certain distance apart from one another, and that distance quite certainly ought to be consistent — hence the law of octaves. Every position in the hierarchy has to have its requirements and consequences for failure to meet them, that is, lawful actions determine the course of events acting on objects according to circumstances and conditions. (This is why I refer to the environment we inhabit as one of objects, events, circumstances, and conditions. It's another way of saying we are constrained by law.)

 The Perfection — God (please be patient with me, I just like to keep reminding people that these are the same thing) has an essential, eternally (outside time) loving wish that we return to it and experience the Perfection directly — that is, God wants all of His creation to return to Him so that we can be reunited. He is a truly loving Father in this regard.

Unfortunately, the consequences of material creation basically forbid that, so there is what one might call an internal separation, leading to the Sorrow of God.  Gurdjieff attempted to paint a picture of this eternal separation in his book, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson,  in the chapter The Holy Planet Purgatory. It depicts a place subject to all of the laws, where every law, so to speak, save the last one has been transcended. 

That last law is the same law that Ibn al Arabi cited when he said that there is a lawful and permanent separation between material creation and, as he called it, The Reality. (i.e.,  the same entity as my Perfection.)  The Holy Planet Purgatory presents an impossibly loving, impossibly beautiful, and infinitely merciful environment created for souls who reach the final stage and realize there is no final way home. 

The chapter is accompanied with some unusually complex and detailed yogic insights into the nature of law both in general and on our level ; without getting into details (which would lead into many more necessarily boring pages of commentary and text) we can summarize by pointing out that Gurdjieff is saying (as he repeats often throughout the book) the constraints of law determine everything on the material level, which is, roughly speaking, “earth,” that is, planetary conditions on every planet ranging from the moon all the way up to the Holy Planet Purgatory. 

Gurdjieff calls these the “laws of world creation and world maintenance,” and, although he spendt a great deal of time defining them numerically to Ouspensky (see In Search of the Miraculous)  he told Bennett that one cannot ultimately know these laws through “mathematik” (see Idiots in Paris;  and this comment will eventually lead us to part III, Law Within Practice.)

 Law reflects a supreme intelligence in its order; and that supreme intelligence is perfectly reflected and accurately defined by all of the natural interactions on this level. That is to say, the marvelous results of evolution on the planet, and the extraordinary consequences of chemistry (leading to the crystalline forms that not only our minerals, but also the DNA molecule) are none of them accidental in the least. Accident implies (but does not necessarily require) a lack of intelligence—yet nature is supremely intelligent. 

Let’s examine that, because it relates to the nature of law itself. The expression of intelligence is mechanically consequential; that is, the rules follow one another without the apparent action of intelligence; but the intelligence is inherent and displayed in the arrangement of the rules themselves, not their outward actions. 

One can view it this way: a human being designs and makes computers. The computers are nothing more than machines which execute instructions (a mechanically consequential expression of intelligence) but the computer can only do this because of a pre-existing intelligence which has formed the laws (physical conditions, rules, and constraints) within which it operates. That is to say, before the mechanical operations of the computer can take place, an agency (extraneous and superior acting operative agent) has laid out the conditions under which the computer is built and operates.

On the level of earth those conditions are referred to as natural law; and the sciences have for generations engaged in an argument about whether or not God exists, that is, whether or not an agency above and beyond the laws of nature has designed those laws. Swedenborg, one of the consummate scientists of his own age, was adamant in his insistence that those who believe in nothing more than natural law have completely failed to grasp the nature of things. His arguments on this subject are not just compelling, they are entirely accurate and true; but one has to understand enough in order to grasp them, and this is precisely where many in the sciences are lacking. A priest is far more likely to understand him than any chemist.

Random laws, which is what atheism would have us believe in, cannot produce random results. Lawful action, on our level, is not in any way random; all we have learned of it demonstrates inherent predictability, which is in fact (and quite ironically, when you thin k about it) what all of the scientific method is based on. Experiments must be reproducible.  My own conclusion here is that since law is not random, its genesis cannot be random either. 

On the level of earth (materiality), Love constrains lawful action to operate within the parameters defined by the limits of cause and effect. Causality proceeds from the requirement that all elements of the Perfection, no matter how many “atoms” (irreducible particles, as measured by levels) they  break down into, must completely retain the wholeness from which they were birthed. Hence quantum entanglement (see my related essay Into the Mind of God) and all other reciprocal symmetries and asymmetries within material creation. Information (the inherent nature of the Perfection, which is the sum of all information, both known and unknown, manifest and unmanifest) cannot be destroyed.

The preservation of information is, in a certain sense, the ultimate lawful action, since it is essentially inviolable. That which is of God cannot be destroyed or corrupted because it is, in its nature, eternal and perfect. Treasure “laid up in heaven” is inner understanding connected to this inviolable source. Nature has had to do some apparently impossible things (quantum entanglement being the best example) in order to comply with this law; and the places where those unique and remarkable phenomena arise (another example are the event horizons of singularities) are the locations where law comes closest to touching the Perfection.  

Inevitably, they lead to mystery.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lawful action, part I: Law and the Perfection

Stone, Confucian Temple, Shanghai
Photo by the author
What is Lawful Action?

A reader asked this question today, and I was delighted by how simple the question is, and how absolutely difficult it is to properly wrap one's mind around it.

The question can be viewed from so many different perspectives that it brings up recollections of Gurdjieff’s discussion of worlds — and perhaps it needs to be tackled that way. Unfortunately, I’m writing this in Guangzhou, without recourse to my favorite reference tools, that is, dictionaries of word etymology and the Oxford English Dictionary. So I'm going to have to think through this carefully on my own.

I find I want to discuss this idea of lawful action from three different perspectives. The first perspective is a universal perspective related to love, the Perfection, and the nature of the universe. The second is in relationship to law and its expression in the earthly realm and on this planet; and the third would be my personal experience of law within practice. So let's call these three sections Law and the Perfection, Law on Earth, and Law Within Practice.

Law and the Perfection

 in a way, it's impossible to understand anything at all without first trying to understand its relationship to the Perfection and to Love, which are the ruling forces in every manifestation of Being (“all that was, is, or can be”.) As such, all law is consequent to Love and the Perfection and flows outward from them. The Perfection is before law and beyond law; law is one of the names of God.

Mr. Gurdjieff once offered Ouspensky the seminary student’s comment in regard to law: “Even God cannot beat the ace of spades with a deuce.” This comment sounds important and clever, but Gurdjieff was here guilty of himself engaging in the kind of intellectual sophistry that, in another part of the book, he berates Ouspensky for. 

The simple fact is that the Perfection comes before the ace of spades, the deuce of spades, and cards themselves. We can't have a conversation about whether or not God is subject to laws governing material creation, because they are consequent. It is, in other words, necessary to reframe the question by understanding that it isn't that God can’t bring himself into the situation of law and interfere with it; it's that law can't raise itself to the level of God and be interfered with. Almost everyone understands Gurdjieff’s statement to Ouspensky backwards, and thus fails to see its ultimate implication.

Once we see this, and understand it properly, we may understand that all of creation and everything that lies within the identifiable range of thinking and experience is irrevocably and forever separated from God. Ibn al Arabi cites this absolute separation from the Divine as a lawful — & perhaps the first and most absolute — lawful condition imposed on creation. Meister Eckhart imposes a similar veil of insurmountable unknowing between us and the Perfection; so it's nonsense to speak of the Perfection in terms of aces and deuces. Or, for that matter, in any other graspable or material terms.

Law is a form of order. In the Perfection, which existed conceptually, at least in terms of the world of physics, in a singularity, a perfectly ordered world of, for all intents and purposes, zero entropy. I speak of the Perfection when I speak of this "place of God's existence.” (It is a misnomer, because despite Gurdjieff’s description of God's place of existence and its opposition to the merciless Heropass, the place of God's existence is just as much God as God is.) 

“Here” (i.e., essentially, no-where and no-time) in God there is only one single, perfect, and whole order, so no law is needed. 

Law, like every other concept, is one of the Names of God, a force—a derivative manifestation preceded by God within the Perfection. Law only arises, insofar as we can understand it, within the context of creation, where it is necessary in order to impose order in the absence of the Perfection, where it’s a default, rather than a striving. 

One can say that all law and material creation is ordered in such a way that all of material creation has a striving to transcend law and return to that Perfectly “lawless” and absolute condition of Divinity (Truth) represented by the Perfection. Law is, in other words, not just a set of rules, restraints, or constrictions: it is a ladder one climbs back towards the Perfection itself. All of the angelic and heavenly hierarchies arranged in enneads (eg. Dionysius the Areopagite, the Memphite Theology) are meant to represent the progressive orders of law. We should note that law is always progressive; even in modern science, law is defined by its postulates and foundational propositions, from which other laws derive. Mathematics works in exactly the same way.

When we use the phrase lawful action, therefore, we refer to an action based on foundational postulates, arranged in a hierarchy, that regulates progression through that hierarchy in an effect – cause – effect manner. Reciprocity is inherent; that is, all things find themselves in relationships constrained by the effects of the hierarchy and the location one occupies in the ladder it creates. The enneads of lawful hierarchy must be traditionally arranged in circular format, since there is no beginning and no end. 

We might ask why law exists on our level. Why do we have it at all? Physics and science have hypothesized the possibility of disordered, non-universes, where the laws of physics as we understand them do not function, matter is never created, etc. 

I think these propositions are, once again, a callous form of sophistry. Once we understand the Perfection for what it is, that is (as near as we can approach it, given its unapproachability) an inviolable and supreme unity beyond all hierarchies and orders, we understand that it cannot and does not emanate and create subordinate realms (in our case, our universe) that do not perfectly reflect its own nature. The Perfection, being above all else perfect Love, creates not only that which is perfectly Loving — it can never and will never create anything else — it also only creates that which is perfectly ordered. This, by the way, explains the perfect refinement of the cosmological constant and its companion values for manifestation of matter in the universe, whose exquisite fine tuning has been a subject of marvel and wonder among physicists and mathematicians for nearly a century now.

 Law, in other words, is a consequence of Love, and it is also a material result. Just as Love is absolutely material and gives birth to everything we perceive as material, so is law, at its root — in its essence — perfectly loving and perfectly ordered, endlessly branching into an infinite number of very fine roots that grow in to the material essence of Being and of the substance and essence of the universe itself.

One of the interesting consequences of this fact is that sentient beings, parts of creation reflecting consciousness, and most especially the potential for self-consciousness, which is one of the higher orders of consciousness, are able to sense these very fine roots of Perfect Love and Perfect Law that extends into every crevice of creation. Being is inextricably intertwined with Perfect Love and Perfect Law, because they form, in their own way, a Trinity which is a mirror of the holy Trinity in the Christian world. 

We embody that Trinity as the basis of our arising, and we carry it within us in our cells, our organs, our brains, and all of our manifestations. We are cosmological extensions of Perfect Love and Perfect Law, and every single one of the things that we do—even the ones that appear destructive and chaotic—must, as Sri Anirvan points out (see Inner Yoga)  ultimately conform to the original requirements of that Love and that Law.

Human beings do not sense this in themselves and have forgotten it, which leads to extraordinarily tragic consequences which are, nonetheless, (and, to us, paradoxically) absolutely lawful and loving.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Love and the universe

 Stone, Confucian Temple, Shanghai
 photograph by the author

  Real love is the basis of all, the foundations, the Source... It was by love that Jesus performed miracles... All accumulated vibrations create a current. This current brings the force of love. 

Real love is a cosmic force which goes through us. If we crystallize it, it becomes a power—the greatest power in the world.

—Gurdjieff, Wartime Transcripts, meeting 18.October 21, Hong Kong

Caveat: as an editor, if anyone ever sent me an essay or a poem entitled "Love and the Universe," I would immediately discard it. 

The incredible hypocrisy with which I issue myself an exception on this title is quite simply appalling. You, as the reader, will just have to deal with my shamelessness.

 Today happens to be the fourth anniversary of my sister's death, but as most readers know, my diary tends to be written out weeks or months, which is in the nature of an enterprise that takes place almost daily but publishes every other day.

I've been pondering the nature of our existence. In particular, I am pondering the nature of what we are as spiritual beings in relationship to Einstein's ideas about the universe.  (This pondering led to an essay, Into the Mind of God.)

The nature of space time and our spiritual beings cannot be separated. We are intricately and irrevocably creatures of mathematics; we are, equally, creatures of a mystery we will never penetrate. 

The only weapons we will ever have to wield in that battle is our love for life, and for one another. 

One of the more common things that one hears say is, "I will love you forever." The implication is that love is somehow subject to time. In order to understand how this is not true — that love is eternal — one needs to consider the phenomenon of quantum entanglement. Read the link; because the principle is a very real one, an actual property of the universe. 

The phrase physicists use, quantum entanglement, poorly chosen, because what they are actually observing is quantum intimacy, which is a manifestation of Love. Because Love exists outside of time — it is eternal, without beginning and without end—of course it acts instantly over distances. This is not a surprise property of physics; it is an expected property of the eternal, and here we have a perfect example of the manifestation of the eternal, in its most literal sense — affecting matter itself.

I'm not sure how much more of an example people require of the existence of these forces; but if one insists on mislabeling it with incorrect scientific terms, of course, one can't identify it for what it is. In point of fact, Gurdjieff said many decades ago that human beings were unable to distinguish between radiation, which takes time to get from one place to another, and emanation, which is divine and acts instantly on all the matter that it encounters, regardless of distance. 

We should discuss this quality of intimacy a bit more, because it is the exact nature of the relationship God, who is Love, and his creation. Creation is intimately made of Love — that is, the finest particles of creation (quantum particles) are made of Love. Love has an eternal (outside of time) quality of attraction, that is, those things which love one another are mutually attracted. Readers who understand this matter for more than a theoretical point of view will begin to understand at once that this is why matter bends material of space time towards itself in an attractive force we call gravity. Gravity is, at its root, physical action of love on the material world, expressed at its most intimate level.

We are intimately bound to God, and to one another, through this attracting force of love which lies at the quantum root of the reality we inhabit. There is nothing spooky about quantum "entanglement;" if one understands why it is there, one realizes it is predictable and lawful, and exactly what ought to be there, exactly where it is. It is a foundational quality.

One might say that quantum intimacy, the eternal binding of forces together in relationship, expresses, in an unexpected way, the sentimental romanticism of the idea that we will love one another forever. Given that there can be no "forever" in Love, which exists both before time and after it (explaining, by the way, what came before the Big Bang) we cannot use that word. But we can say that God Loves the world eternally, and that Love is eternal. All of creation is invited to participate in the experience of that in so far as we come into intimate relationship with the material nature or creation.

Oddly enough, our organisms are built to do exactly that, because our sensory ability extends to levels we cannot imagine — even the quantum level. This is what Gurdjieff meant when he said that one can only sense the higher by reaching upward within consciousness in so far as one reaches lower into levels beneath oneself within that same range of consciousness. We are meant to build a ladder from stars to the quantum level; consciousness is an action that binds all of reality together.

 I know that it sounds presumptuous to say it, but this is not a grandiose theory with no means of proof. Proof lies in our ability to develop the organic sensation of being, and the organic sensation of feeling. We can combine these two organic sensations with the organic sensation of thinking, which is mindful or conscious thinking; and if the these three parts function properly, there is no doubt that we will fully sense questions I am discussing above in a very practical and direct manner.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The inflow

There is an inflow from God into us.

This inflow comes into our souls because the soul is the inmost and highest part of us. The inflow from God reaches that part first and then comes down into the things below and enlivens them, depending on our openness to what flows in. 

Of course, truths that will become part of our faith do indeed flow in through our hearing and are implanted in our mind, which is below the soul; but all these truths do is prepare us to accept what flows in from God through our soul. The quality of that preparation determines the quality of our acceptance and of the transformation of our earthly faith into spiritual faith.

The notion that there is one God flows into our souls from God because everything that is divine, as a whole and in every detail, is God. 

—Emmanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity, pages 9-10.

This inflow is the selfsame higher energy that we seek to open to. 

It is a material influence, a substantial material that flows inward to us; not a psychological transformation, but a physical one.

We submit to the will of God only to the extent that we receive; this is a different task and calling  than tasks and callings of the mind and of the natural world.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Whose trust?

Shanghai Confucian Temple
Photograph by the author

Xiamen, October 20

 The third thing that occurred to me this morning is that I'm not going to be able to trust.

Regular readers will know I have asked this question about trust for some time, because I see all of my fear arises within me because of a bad relationship between who I am, my Being, and my trust God. I am fundamentally unable to trust on my own; that's the issue. Trust doesn't arrive until I am in relationship with something higher. 

Yet somehow I always want to build all of my trust on what I am here.

I think there is a mistaken idea here about building my inner church, and what the foundation ought to be. In my own case, I feel certain that my church does not need to be built on faith; one doesn't need to have faith when one knows that it is true God exists. Faith is for a human being before that understanding arrives; and for people in that position, one could wholeheartedly say that faith is exactly right. But in the case where one knows, faith has already been superseded by something much greater; and whereas one might think (foolishly and blithely) that that was going to be the answer to everything, it definitely isn't. 

Once one knows, one must confront one's lack of trust, which is in many ways much more disturbing than any lack of faith could be.

I'm beginning to see that I'm never going to have any trust. It only arises in me as a gift, reciprocally, in relationship to a higher energy. When the energy is present, it trusts me; when there is no relationship, I can't trust anything — especially myself.

That isn't entirely true,  actually. One thing — perhaps the only thing — that can be trusted in me is suffering and remorse of conscience (yes, they are one thing expressing multiple aspects.) 

Remorse is the only part of me that doesn't lie. That, actually, I can and do trust. This may be the only part of me that I can trust. 

I hadn't thought of that before, but I do see that in this one regard, I have trust here. 

I trust in my suffering and my remorse for my life.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Going deeper into the Good Truth of life

I'm increasingly struck by how outwardly we live; and how absolutely determined we all are to measure ourselves by what we achieve in the world. All of us are like this, I think; we're excited by outward achievements, set benchmarks by them, believe in everything that happens as though it were important. 

The transitory nature of life and achievements are forgotten in the rush to seize them.

This morning, I recall the simple things I did the day before; helping a friend clean out his garage, cleaning wax off bee frames. My friend thanked me for helping him clean the garage; I thanked him for the privilege and opportunity of working together. These days, it's the relationship, the activity, and the effort that always seem to have the ultimate value. Setting things into order has always been satisfying for me.Yet the setting into order of outward things is always just a mirror for me to try and create a parallel inward order inside this confusing person I call myself.

 Myself lives in a confusing world, where people do bad things. The weight of this war—the murder, the refugees—bears down on my soul, bears down hard like a great stone that must be carried. There is an anguish in the air that goes beyond any subjective feelings I can muster. Indeed, all of my subjective feelings seem artificial when faced with the truth of this difficulty, this tragic world moment. 

Yet that, as well, is outward — and it is the inward suffering and anguish that seems to carry all of the meaning in this moment. Something is taking place cosmologically on a scale that I don't understand, and all of the unrest and horror manifesting here is a reflection of that. The actions are material, but the disturbance is spiritual.

Yet there is a Good Truth in life; and it penetrates me through both the subjectively good and the subjectively bad events that take place. That Good Truth constructs itself of many tiny events that I don't pay enough attention to; and it makes itself whole through the Presence of God in all actions. 

This, as well, is confusing to me, because I find the Presence of God everywhere, both inside me and outside, and don't really understand it at all. I have to accept all this Grace through a kind of foggy stupidity; I wish I understood much better, but I don’t. The only things I know how to do are to keep returning to prayer for help, and to keep returning intentionally to the sense of sorrow that comes so often in a day.

 This Good Truth is freely given. I think that if all of us could sense it, we would give up the evil that we do and turn toward the good much more often. Yet the apparatus that ought to make it possible for me to know this Good Truth doesn't work properly anymore. Even when I try to turn towards the good, I think I always try through my outward parts, never reaching deep enough into the spirit and the soul. My own fear keeps me away from that; to go deeper into that Good Truth would require me to give something up. I think that whatever it is I would have to give up is too much; and yet when it is ever so gently taken away from me through Grace, I see how useless it was, and how foolish I was to resist.

I don't really know how else to say this. This Good Truth is present in me in the small details of garage cleaning and beeswax; it is present in a single leaf or in the sound of a plate on the counter in the kitchen downstairs. 

All of these things are sacred; and all of them make me wish I knew better how to serve. This question of service comes down to such small things and is constrained within such a small circle of awareness; it doesn't have anything to do with the big outward things I think I can grapple with.

This morning, I hope to keep my finger on the pulse of this Good Truth in life, and try to go deeper into it.

Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.


Monday, November 16, 2015

it's the water

 Incense burner, Shanghai Confucian Temple
photograph by the author

Xiamen, Oct. 20

The second thought that I had this morning came while I was reading Gurdjieff's Wartime Transcripts.

He gives some very good and specific advices in this book, especially — in meeting 17, I think, I'm not going to look it up right now — how to distinctly sense your individuality. In any event, my point is not about these specific devices. It is a general one.

It doesn't do us much good to read these books if we don't know how to actively live within our inner being. The advice that he gives always needs to be taken in organically, at a deeper level than the formatory mind— that is, the mind that we generally use for everything we do, which we call "waking consciousness," which is really quite automatic and habitual (as he points out.) Taking things in at that level involves swallowing them in a different way, not letting them sit in the front the ordinary mind. So the advice is excellent, but almost everything that we hear goes into us superficially.

The deceptive part of this is that the superficial parts that take in inner teaching always think that they are the ones that understand it, and they have a real expertise in pitching that position to the rest of our being. We believe in it. The next thing you know, everything that takes place in relationship to it takes place quite superficially as well, all of it constructing an attitude that occupies most of the understanding we think we can muster in relationship to it.

It's very important (he makes this point, obliquely, in the text) to learn how to take things in organically, so that they live within the body is something more than just a passing thought. There has to be a sobriety way that we take things in — and this sobriety is an allegorical one, since it means we step back from the drunkenness of the ordinary mind and abstain from it. We stop drinking water thinking it is wine. It's the water that is making us drunk.

 There is no doubt that the ordinary parts have to continue to function, that we need to give this dog considerable play on the leash. But that doesn't mean that the dog decides where we are walking, or when we have to stop and pee on things. If we let the dog stop us everywhere, we just end up marking our lives with the urine of our superficial being all day long.

This may seem like a rather repugnant metaphor, but it is actually like that. Our vanity is the urine we mark things with. (Once again, read the transcripts.)

In any event, it's quite impossible to understand any of what Gurdjieff said until we begin to digest differently. Then the words look like different words, the ideas seem to be different ideas, and we can accept what he is saying about ourselves in a different way. It's like forming a different relationship to death. 

Given that we are all trapped in this superficial part of our Being most of the time, I'm not sure what one ought to do to really come taste of what I am getting at here. At the very least, a different kind of energy has to be in me in order to take this properly.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Solioonensius, redux again

Readers may remember the correlation I drew between the events of the Arab spring and the pronounced sunspot and solar flare activity just before that took place.

I was in China on October 30 when the above significant solar flare event took place. Although it was on the far side of the sun, I felt this particular flare very distinctly as it took place — it was a powerful one that had a very strong effect on spiritual energies.  Its aftereffects have reverberated through the planetary atmosphere for several weeks since.

I predicted  to several friends immediately after that that we would see a major war or terrorist event within the next few weeks, in keeping with Gurdjieff's explanation of Solioonensius.

 Regrettably, exactly that came to pass in Paris day before yesterday, underscoring once again that Gurdjieff was not making these things up.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Relationship With Death

A note to readers:

I wrote this post Oct. 20  in Xiamen, China, and set it up for publication this morning — my posts usually publish several weeks after I write them. Little did I know how on topic this post would be: it was never meant to be a commentary on any current event.

Nonetheless, we are in the midst of absorbing the awful deaths in Paris. God bless those souls who died; and God bless those they left behind.

Xiamen, Oct. 20

Last night, I was having dinner with a Chinese vendor and a number of younger people from my office, both Chinese and American. Ages ranged from the late 20s to the mid-40s. Somehow, the subject of dying came up, and there was general agreement that dying would be a terrible thing that no one wanted to do it.

I tried to explain that it is impossible to understand death when one is young. One has to take in a sufficient number of impressions in order to digest the idea of death itself properly; and in general, because human beings don't take in impressions very deeply, they often don't reach into the soul where they need to form the necessary relationship. Folks can sometimes live their whole life determined not to die, living in some impossible and imaginary world where they will become immortal by exercising, doing yoga, eating the right foods, taking the right medications, seeing the right doctors, and so on. Americans are probably more obsessed with this idea of eternal youth than any other culture I have seen; but every culture has it. This is one of the inevitable consequences of the increased emphasis on materiality in popular culture.

In any event, I told the group that one has to form a new and right relationship with one's death. "Right now, "I told them, "you have a bad relationship your idea of your death; and unless you form a good one, when the time comes, you will have a bad death."

 This statement stopped everyone at the table for a moment. A few of them understood that there was something here they needed to take in properly.

People have bad deaths because they don't spend any time digesting what is necessary to understand how important death is. Mr. Gurdjieff understood this very well indeed, and advised his pupils to engage in their inner work so as not to "die like a dog."

 Death is part of what gives us life. You can't understand this unless you form an organic connection to your sensation; and even after that takes place, it takes some time to understand the relationship between death, which actually supports life as it takes place, and the actions of living. I can't really explain this very well in words. It is one of those parts of inner work that must be tasted and digested on one's own, quite subtle, really.

 Well, that is one of three thoughts for this morning, I think that I will leave that here, even though much more could be said in the general sense about the subject.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Love, Mercy, and the Good: Part IV—Not knowing what God is

Trees: Piermont, NY
Photograph by Lee van Laer

Shanghai, October 18.

Students of esotericism are well familiar with the via negativa, a Way defined by the idea that one seeks only for the unknown, and defines God only by what He is not. We are separated from God by a cloud of unknowing; any name by which we call Him is incorrect.

One of the byproducts of this way is a habit of coming up with an endless list of descriptions of God, and then saying, one after the other, that each description isn't what God is like. If one were able to truly savor and deeply penetrate a specific instance here, and spend years contemplating it, the practice might prove useful, but simply writing lists of things that God is and then contradicting them by saying, He isn't this and isn't that is, in my experience, a grotesque waste of time, even though it looks impressive on the surface of things. It affirms a perverse (and negative, or inverted, but still very real) sense of power in the person who does it.

One of the potential yet very real hazards of the via negativa is that we instantly reach a result where we say God isn't loving, merciful, or good, because these are human concepts embedded in the material arising of the world, and thus disqualify themselves at once from being what God is. Even Being itself, which is clearly on the order of the essential nature of God, becomes something that God isn't. Although there is a deep truth in the idea that we can't know God in His entirety, denial of specifics and the rejection of qualities as they manifest creates a falsehood of its own.

I say that you can know God. And you can know God, to the extent that you have God in you. 

This knowledge, this understanding, will always be fractional, because part of the Truth related to the manifestation of the material and the receiving of the emanations of God is that God's sorrow comes from His loneliness in the knowledge that he has the deepest wish for relationship with all of His creation, which He loves beyond all human knowledge, and the irrevocable fact that none of his creation will or forever can know Him fully. 

We are all perfect reflections of this truth in our own way, because we share this deepest wish, buried underneath the layers of protection that we grow over ourselves. If we receive the particles of God's sorrow and concentrate them in ourselves, eventually we can understand much more of this; but the essential point here is that we do quite exactly and precisely know God, without denying Him, through this substantial (made of substances, material) receiving of God's Being and God's nature—through our ability to take in impressions more deeply.

 This should be a daily thing that begins with our organic sensation when wake up; but I've written much about that elsewhere. Just think on it. We need to take God into us as we live and breathe.

In any event, this idea of the rejection of God and the impossibility of knowing God becomes an intellectual exercise that unmasks itself as a misunderstanding, a form of sophistry, if one is not careful. Very careful. Because it is so easy to do, people love it; yet the first and simplest contradiction is found in the organic sensation of Being, and the second and deeper contradiction is found in the arising of remorse of conscience. These are divine qualities that come without words, and although they are ever unknown through words, they are ever known through sensation and feeling, which are languages that belong more to God than the ones we have invented.

So mark well here in the marrow of your bones: God is Loving, and Merciful, and Good, and you can know this. There may be much that remains unknown, but if you reject the Good, and the Loving, and the Merciful in favor of some non-imaginary higher ground, your Hope goes with them. 

Hope, let us remember, is a sacred property of consciousness as well as Faith and Love. Don't throw it out in order to find a way to think yourself important and knowing through a sophisticated unknowing. Unknowing is a thing of the material world, and, like everything else, easily turns into a kind of vanity before one notices it.  

This is a powerful mask for vanity; if she wears it, she can rule us.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Love, Mercy, and the Good: Part III: The Sticking Point

Tree: Piermont, NY
Photograph by Lee van Laer

 Shanghai, October 16

Love can be defined as a deep affection, or — more superficially — as a romantic attraction. In the sense of the first definition, that is, the religious one, it penetrates to the bone. It is a form of caring; indeed, it is care above all, objective care. By this word objective I mean care that cares not for the subject or for care itself, but only towards the object that is cared for. It is a perfect care, that is, it has no taint of the self or egoism in it.

So Love is caring above all, and it emanates endlessly from the heart of God, which is beyond utterance and beyond conception. All things begin with this emanation of particles, which are then received by all that is material. Love can't exist without an object that is loved, of course; because care must be for something. 

In the case of the universe and God, care is for creation, which is that thing which emerges from the wordless in order to receive the care that is sent to. This sending is Grace; a caring that is undeserved and unearned, but nevertheless exists and is given freely, without any preconditions or attachments. 

 I don't think that we can begin to understand what Love, Mercy, and the Good are before we organically understand the very physical and absolutely solid nature of the emanations of Love and the way they form everything that is. There is so much Love in even the tiniest object, event, circumstance, or condition that if we become sensitive to it and begin to receive its vibrations organically, it can easily overwhelm us. In point of fact, we generally understand Mr. Gurdjieff's admonition to come to a sense of our own nothingness in terms of an intellectual understanding of how tiny we are, and how little each of us means relative to the universe, whereas the most perfect and absolute sense of our own nothingness comes when we sense the Love within creation around us in even the least measure as an actual organic vibration that affects our Being—at which point the staggering nature of our existence may become, at least for an instant, clear.

Nothing can bring my understanding of the world, of life, of Being, and of creation more pointedly to this sense of nothingness than a sensation of the Love that creates and supports me. It's only in those instants that I can truly begin to suffer remorse of conscience, which takes place on a scale that erases all of the efforts I have ever made and puts me squarely in the light of how far short I fall, and how impossible it is for me to do any better. 

This is the instant in which I truly understand Grace, and see how undeserving I am. In such moments, one has all the lies and nonsense cut away from them like so many soiled and torn garments, and one stands naked before the Lord. I pretend, in the broken love I profess for God, to wish for such moments, but they are terrifying. 

One has to screw one's courage to the sticking point of one's own soul to face such things.

Mercy cannot be itself unless Love comes first, because Mercy must be caring before it is itself. And goodness can't be itself either unless Love comes first, because there can be no goodness unless Love makes it itself in the first place. What could Mercy unformed by Love consist of? What could  Goodness unformed by Love consist of? While both are essential qualities of God, they would have no Being if Love had not made them. Everything gains its Being first through Love, and only afterwards becomes itself. It cannot have Self without Love, which is the secret heart of all Self.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Love, Mercy, and the Good, Part II: Divine Love

Leaf: Piermont, NY
Photograph by Lee van Laer

 Real love is the basis of all, the foundations, the Source... It was by love that Jesus performed miracles... All accumulated vibrations create a current. This current brings the force of love. 

Real love is a cosmic force which goes through us. If we crystallize it, it becomes a power—the greatest power in the world.

—Gurdjieff, Wartime Transcripts, meeting 18.

Well then, here I am firmly ensconced in my hotel room in Shanghai (today's date is October 15) having finally wrapped up the introductory essay on the questions of Love, Mercy, and Grace.

Divine Love is what one might call the atom of our universe. Readers may recall Gurdjieff telling Ouspensky that an atom, in esoteric systems, represents the smallest particle on any level:

" 'Matter' may be regarded as consisting of 'atoms.' Atoms in this connection are taken also as the result of the final division of matter. In every order of matter they are simply certain small particles of the given matter which are indivisible only on the given plane. The atoms of the Absolute alone are really indivisible, the atom of the next plane, that is, of world 3, consists of three atoms of the Absolute or, in other words, it is three times bigger and three times heavier, and its movements are correspondingly slower."
— In Search of the Miraculous, P. D. Ouspensky, pg. 87.

Inevitably, we must understand by this that the entire universe consists at its root of "atoms of God." These are the exact same particles of Divine Love which Swedenborg spoke about, and which I wrote about in Chakras and the Enneagram. Said particles are the fundamental building blocks of the universe, which have the highest rate of vibration—the least density—and recombine in a literally infinite number of ways to produce all the material phenomenon of this universe as we experience it.

One of the interesting consequences of Gurdjieff's above remarks is, we can see, that Love is less and less animated and less and less vivified as it moves down through successive levels in the universe — for example, world three, where Love has less total freedom of movement because it has already been bound by Law. (At the level of the absolute, everything is unbounded.) 

Freedom from laws on a given level, in other words, consists in a general sense of moving towards Love, rather than away from it. 

This is precisely consistent with Swedenborg's conception of both God and Heaven, in which those turning towards heaven always turn towards God, that is, towards Love. This movement towards Love is what people always actually mean when they talk about "freedom" in spiritual works of one kind or another, because there is no other kind of freedom, and nothing except Love can be free. Even Love is subject to law at all levels short of the absolute; but because all levels are composed of and created by Love, Love and freedom are actually synonymous from any practical point of view.

Divine Love cannot be separated, either, in its conceptual nature from the emanations of the sorrow of His Endlessness, which was Gurdjieff's expression for the way that God's Love manifests perfectly throughout every level of the universe, if it is correctly sensed and understood. 

Christ's passion was a perfect expression of this fact; and for those to whom it looks abhorrent, I can only say, if it is correctly understood, it is the most extraordinary, perfect, and beautiful action that one will ever encounter — a gift that easily surpasses all human understanding. 

We've been left with a set of habitual repetitions of this in our highest traditional Christian religious services; what they are trying to describe relates directly to the experience of receiving the sorrow of God, which is the highest religious experience possible for a human being. Creation was made, in point of fact, to help take on this burden, as Gurdjieff explains. He fails, unfortunately, to draw the inevitable straight lines between this understanding and the passion of Christ, which ought to have been chalked in long ago, but for the obsession many people have with technical aspects of Gurdjieff's work, entirely misunderstanding the emotive qualities that are so inseparable from its inevitable consequences.  

In any event, the point of Episcopal, Catholic, and Orthodox religious services is to bring us to an active, living sensation of this truth, not just a theoretical acknowledgment of Christ's sacrifice; and words to that effect can be found right in the service.

We end up in a place where we may begin to understand that Love, Freedom, and Sorrow are all cosmologically bound together in the triad of the Absolute, Conscious Labor, and Intentional Suffering.

 I am rather jet lagged tonight, and I think I will end here for now.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Love, Mercy, and the Good: Part I: Mercy and the Good

Leaves: Piermont, NY
Photograph by Lee van Laer

 Gurdjieff mentions four specific sacred impulses in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson. They are, respectively, Faith, Love, Hope, and Conscience. Of the four, however, only two are referred to as Divine — belonging to God — in other places in the text, and only twice does Gurdjieff mention Divine Love; Divine Conscience gets far more air time.

 Yet mention it he does; and despite the fact that this concept plays such a central role in mankind's understanding of spirituality, the subject of Love is, within the range of my own experience at least, under-represented and under-discussed across the entire range of literature in the Gurdjieff oeuvre.

 Pondering this got me to thinking about the relative importance of such matters to one's inner search; and as it seems to me to tie in so firmly to the question of good and bad, I was prompted to think of the difference between three major esoteric thinkers in their estimation of the most important quality of God.

Dionysius the Areopagite says that Good is the most essential manifestation and quality of God.
Ibn al 'Arabi ( and, I think, Islam in general) says that the most essential quality of Allah is Mercy.
Swedenborg says that the most essential quality of God is Divine Love.

Let us move on now to the name "Good," which the sacred writers have preeminently set apart for the supra-divine God from all other names. They call the divine subsistence itself "goodness." This essential Good, by the very fact of its existence, extends goodness into all things.

Pseudo-DionysiusColm Luibheid,  The Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist press 1987, P. 71

Readers sharing a deeper interest in this subject ought certainly to read all of chapter 4 of this book, in which Dionysius expounds at length on the manner in which Goodness is transcendent, emanates from the divine Godhead, and penetrates all things. This is a fairly high level doctrine that does not, in its essence IMO, distinguish itself from Sri Anirvan's contention, in Buddha and Buddhiyoga (see Inner Yoga) that all actions in the universe ultimately emanate from, and serve, Good — even actions that appear, on our own level, to be perfectly awful. While this contention is without any doubt extremely difficult for us to swallow, Sri Anirvan does present (for me) a compelling argument on the subject. I think we can all agree that this contention does not, at its heart, deviates substantially from Christian doctrine, whereby all things serve God, and God is understood to be Good.

In any event, I'm left with the question of whether the name and quality "Good" truly surpasses the qualities of Love or Mercy. Are they truly separable from one another? And can one outrank the others in terms of a hierarchy of values?

Sufic thought is,  I think, unambiguous in its assignation of Mercy to God (Allah) as His most supreme and dominant quality. While Ibn al 'Arabi admits that no one Name can technically dominate over the others in the hierarchy, since all Names are ultimately One Name, he still says that Mercy outranks and outweighs all other qualities in God. 

In the past, I've pointed out myself that I don't see it as possible for God to be anything except infinitely merciful. In this sense, Sri Anirvan's universe—in which His Will eternally and perfectly moves everything in the absolute final direction of the Perfect Good—is also a world of Perfect Mercy, since Perfect Mercy must forever supersede, outrank, and outperform all forms of badness in order to attain the Perfect Good.

 Yet I am sure that Swedenborg's argument on this matter is the correct one; as I pointed out in Chakras and the Enneagram, Divine Love created and rules the universe and is the origin of all other things. 

As such, I consider this position on Love to be entirely unimpeachable, regardless of other authorities and sources; and whatever I may say on the matter, wherever it is incorrect, keep in mind, is incorrect only because of me and my inevitable fallibilities —not because of the Truth from which it emanates, in an absolute and forever unadulterated form.

 I will do my best to keep it as straight as I can.

More about this in the next post.

Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.