Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The island kingdoms, part I

We live in a world that carries the perception of divisions.

The natural tendency within us is to perceive everything as a whole that breaks down into individual parts, rather than as individual parts that assemble themselves into a single whole. There’s an important point to be understood here relative to the question of our higher and lower natures, and what they consist of.

It has been remarked that Ouspensky once said that Gurdjieff told him the struggle between multiple “I”s in a human being eventually comes down to a struggle between only two “I”s, a so-called “good” I and a bad one. Indeed, it’s easy for us to perceive the struggle between our higher and lower natures as one of opposition; and it is natural to presume, in what is a relatively crude perspective from a metaphysical point of view, that we want the good or higher nature to prevail over the bad or lower one. This is the mechanistic and relatively worldly model of most average religious understandings.

Gurdjieff, however, pointed out that the lower develops just as much as the higher does when spiritual development takes place; that is, growth proceeds in both directions. We should thereby understand that there is a growth in both the lower and the higher nature if inner development takes place. In other words, we need our lower nature—the universe needs our lower nature. It serves a purpose.

It will confuse the issue more as I explain to you that there are, in fact, no divided natures. We only have one nature, and that is God’s nature. It is our perception of nature (both our own and that of other things and beings) that divides it into hierarchies. This is a natural consequence of incarnation; because all of material reality is structured in apparent hierarchies, according to law. The tendency to see the subtractive or dividing properties rather than the additive or uniting properties is strong in human beings, because it is much easier for us to look down at things and discern their individual natures than to look upward at what is above us — that which exists on a level we cannot actually understand, any more than bacteria understand us. We should remember, while we are considering this analogy, that bacteria in our gut exert a considerable amount of control over the way we manifest — in other words, even the bacteria get a say about how things proceed on levels higher than themselves. With human beings in relationship to the angelic kingdoms it is not that different.

In any event, our higher and our lower natures are, for practical purposes (that is, given the very narrow perspective available to us) separate entities, regardless of the fact that each one is a partial manifestation of the single whole Being which The Perfection consists of. Individualized fragments do not perceive themselves as fragments: each one perceives itself as a whole, because it is entirely unable to see the way it serves a larger purpose. The emergence of conventional intelligence as mankind understands it, which only takes place on our level of material reality — requiring a great deal of re-concentration of particulate matter, along with its consequent emergent organization, which regenerates a fragmentary consciousness that can intuit, but not fully understand, the whole — is privileged to see this, but only with effort.

In practical terms, as we experience our lives, it is as though our higher and lower natures were separate island kingdoms, one of them a tropical kingdom with great wealth and abundance, sensuality, and exuberance, and the other one an Arctic kingdom of great majesty, restraint, austerity, and intensity of purpose. Both of the kingdoms (I will let you decide which is the higher or the lower, which may add up to an amusing pastime) trade with each other; but of necessity, many of the trade items in each kingdom are either useless or meaningless to the other kingdom.

Nonetheless, they are surely capable of sensing each other’s potential: each one has items of enormous importance that may change many things in the other kingdom. These two kingdoms may, of course, envy one another and go to war; but when they do it does neither one of them any good, because neither one is capable of governing the realm of the other kingdom Their conditions, landscapes, territories, temperatures, and the action of both materials and living forms, are completely different one from the other.

So our higher and lower natures are separated in just this way, and it takes an intelligent counselor to find the materials that are of use for exchange between the two kingdoms.

This essay will be concluded in part II on Feb. 24.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

We Die Tomorrow, Part IV

Capital at Basilique St. Madeleine, Vezelay, France
Photograph by the author

Continued from Feb. 15.

In examining the root of the word pornography, we discover that it comes from a Greek root combining the words for prostitute and write, hence, writing about prostitution.

Yet prostitute itself comes from a root that simply means “exposed publicly, offered for sale.” So most properly put, pornography is not about sex, but about being too public. At least sexual pornography has a certain honesty to it, because it is willing to look shamelessly on the animals we really are. Personal pornography, that is, the ostentatious display of one’s ego- activities for all to see, is perhaps more disgusting and dishonest—yet our media-obsession celebrates it with a level of aggression hitherto unmatched by any other society. The Internet has made unwitting pornographers of almost all of us.

Obviously, there are some activities that can be public without being pornographic — but those activities are activities that relate to honorable behavior, respect for others, love of one’s neighbor and of God, and so on. The celebration of hatred and violence, of divisiveness and cults of personality, are all worse forms of pornography than the sexual form, yet they are not just widely tolerated — they have become the status quo. Perhaps this gives you an inkling of why Gurdjieff hated journalists so much.

Of course we are speaking here of the external matters in the way society is formed, and that is not quite my point, so let me get back to it. No matter what context we find ourselves in—even in small groups with a few people—putting the most intimate details of our innermost spiritual life on display is just not how things ought to be done. Once again, my teachers, Henry and Betty Brown, set the standard for that.

One needs to quietly much of what takes place within oneself in relationship to one’s spiritual practice and inner quest and not share it too much with others. As Epictetus said, when at a banquet, one should never tell others how they ought to eat, but instead attend to eating properly in the way one ought to eat oneself. Real Being is taught by example, not instruction.

It is, furthermore, a messy task. It involves a great deal of inner suffering and direct forgiveness of others. This kind of work has to be done quietly as well, because the pain of forgiveness is worthless if it is not suffered alone.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

We Die Tomorrow, Part III

Capital at Basilique St. Madeleine, Vezelay, France
Photograph by the author

God is required to consume death at every moment of His own existence; it is built into the very fabric of creation, and because God’s food for His own Being consists of the experiential flow and concentration of all creation throughout eternity, God is forever condemned to consume death as an intimate part of his own Being – experience.

While this has been understood in some general terms by numerous esoteric schools throughout mankind’s existence, and was accurately summarized as a parable through Christ’s actual crucifixion, perhaps one example of an entire people that understood this is the Mayan culture of Central America, whose esoteric practice is now mostly lost to us. The complexities of that culture may be difficult to extract, and a great deal of it may seem sadistic or morbid, but any lengthy exposure to their arts and architecture leaves one with the inescapable impression that they understood how intricately death and life are interwoven into the fabric of the universe, and how God consumes this material as a form of suffering. Consciousness swallows life while it lives; but it swallows death at the same time, because the two are inseparable.

Of course the greatest angelic Being of Gurdjieff’s cosmology, Ashiata Shiemash (the name means Ray of light from the Sun) told his followers that life consists, in all parts, always and everywhere, of suffering. It cannot be any different; we are made of the body of God, we are all part of a single thought in God’s mind, and that thought, in its conscious aspect, consists not just of life and consciousness — the re-concentration of God’s particles of Being — but also death, that is, the cyclical, and not just circular but fundamentally spherical, inhalation and exhalation of the consciousness of Being, which is the breathing in and out of the universe. In consuming death as part of His Being-food, God must endlessly suffer not just the life of His own creation, but also the death of it. We become participants in this action and we cannot avoid its consequences any more than God can, because we are part of Him.

In this sense, Gurdjieff had Buddha’s teaching exactly correct: in the beginning, when Buddha brought it, it consisted specifically not of the cessation of or escape from suffering, but the practice of intentional suffering — that is, a willingness to take on God’s burden with Him, which is a way of becoming one with Him.

So let us acknowledge for a moment that right now we are in a universe in which death is perpetually occurring, and that God has no choice but to swallow the substance of that suffering and sorrow, not “tomorrow,” but now and forever.

This bestows a much better sense of the sobriety incumbent upon us. Even though we die “tomorrow” (that is, at some later time we would prefer not to think about) everything actually dies, right now, forever—let us again consider just how precious all moments are in light of it.

 This kind of information needs to be digested quietly and without reference to magical experience. I am not saying that there can’t be magical experience, or that one should not have it; what I am saying is that magical experience comes only in service, and it is always in service, if properly understood, to a deepening of the understanding of suffering. There is only one path to anything one might call “liberation;” if there is a real liberation theology, it is liberation from the delusion that we are immortal and excused somehow from the suffering that is necessary in order to create and maintain the universe. Real liberation consists of understanding the obligations attendant upon us, should we choose to make an effort to consciously participate in this process.

This is why, coming back to the original questions posed here, spiritual life is a most private matter and needs to be treated that way. The displaying of most parts of one’s life in a very public manner is an unfortunate form of pornography.

This series will conclude on Feb. 18.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, February 12, 2018

We die Tomorrow, Part II

Capital at Basilique St. Madeleine, Vezelay, France
Photograph by the author

Continued from Feb. 9.

When my wife asked me what this matter of inner measurement consisted of — what I meant by it — I said to her, the yardstick is death.

This isn’t being overly dramatic; we must measure every moment and our action in it relative to our mortality if we want to understand how much sobriety is necessary in our action. In point of fact, a great deal of sobriety is necessary; it is nearly unlimited, because we are tiny, mortal creatures and in the perspective of the universe, its scope, and our temporary nature, we ought to feel a sense of what Gurdjieff called organic shame in relationship not just to our whole lives (we always love to see these things on some grand scale) but in regard to the molecular, granular nature of our action, of each small thing we do.

Gurdjieff, of course, offered this formulation of always remembering our own death in the last few paragraphs of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson; yet one can find the exact same formulation in the discourses of Epictetus. The idea was not, in other words, a new one at all, so there is no need to dramatize Gurdjieff’s adoption of it. He simply saw what was true and had been known to esoteric schools for thousands of years, and reported it.

I will say it again in a slightly different way: in the landscape of attention, death is the yardstick by which we measure.

We think that we die tomorrow; but we die always. It is not a matter for some other time; and the path to understanding our own death is through the organic sensation of Being. There is no other way to approach this. Intellectual formulations are useless in this regard, so until one develops an organic sensation of Being, the question will always remain theoretical. The development of that sensation and the consequent understanding of death as a living force lead to some radical rearrangements in Being; and even then, they are only a beginning. These are not, furthermore matters that bring any comfort; and since we often seek comfort first when it comes to spiritual matters, it can be quite disturbing to discover that real inner work does anything but.

In pondering this further this morning, in a later conversation with my wife—on my China trips, these talks get broken up  into discreet little packages by breakfasts, hotel checkouts, taxi rides, and airport waits— a question of the larger picture emerged.

While it’s true that our experience of death as an active force in life needs to become absolutely organic, intimate, and personal, understanding it from a much larger scale is still important in order to put a perspective on Gurdjieff’s comments about the suffering of God, and the place of our own suffering in relationship to it.

The universe exists on death.

This series will continue in part III on Feb. 15.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, February 9, 2018

We Die Tomorrow, Part I

Capital at Basilique St. Madeleine, Vezelay, France
Photograph by the author

Notes from Hangzhou and Yantai
December 3, 2017

Over the course of the past few days, I’ve been thinking about the question of just how public — or private — our spiritual lives are, or ought to be: what we say to one another, whether in private, at retreats, in groups, or in social media.

I wonder where the center of gravity on our innermost spiritual search ought to lie in relationship to this.

Of course all of this is conducted not without a dash of irony, in light of my own public life as a writer on spiritual matters. What exists in me… believe it or not… is a significant landscape of spiritual practice behind my writing that I don’t talk about much. Occasionally someone asks me something specific about that world of private experience; more often than not, I’m reticent. In some ways I resist the world of reporting one’s marvelous spiritual experiences.

Sitting in front of my icon of Christ this morning, I was reminded quite forcefully, from within sensation itself, that our innermost spiritual work truly ought to remain secret and private. Our relationship with God is not supposed to be worn on our sleeve, and our prayers and supplications ought not be a public matter.

We should not, furthermore, display any outward enthusiasm for our religious practice, whatever it is. As I explained to my wife during our conversation this morning, spiritual practice is a matter of measurement, not enthusiasm. In prayer, one measures from within, quietly and silently, and enthusiasm takes one away from this. It’s perfectly okay to have enthusiasm about outward things; but enthusiasm about our spiritual work or the inward is not so helpful.

The word enthusiasm derives from the Greek root enthous, meaning “possessed by a God.” In the case of outward enthusiasm, however, the God that possesses us is always an outward God; we are taken by it, and we forget who we are.

In mulling this over, I pointed out to my wife that my own spiritual teachers, Henry and Betty Brown, never engaged in this kind of enthusiasm in regard to matters regarding the Gurdjieff work. Extolling the marvelous virtues of the work or its personages, prattling on about special inner experiences, and so on, never went on. When people (including me) started to do so… they invariably remained quite still and silent until one was finished, and thereby set a different example.

The example always involved a certain respectability, a silence in regard to the outward, and a call to come back to an attention to where we were, together, in relationship in that moment. Confessional and testimonial were not meant to be part of that dialogue; and while one has to witness in regard to Grace — there is a certain deep obligation in that regard — one always has to remember that this witnessing is never in regard to one’s own virtue or blessedness, but only in regard to the virtue and blessedness of God.

None of the spiritual work that one engages in is about oneself. It is always about our relationship to others, and to God. The fact that we frequently turn this upside down and on its head is self-evident; it’s so often (and weirdly) about us and our hope for “progress.” As though we were engaged in the five-year plan of a socialist search for God.

Yet with Henry and Betty, it wasn’t about progress — where we were going — it was always about where we are now.

That involves the measurement of the moment, and attention is the measurement of this moment.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

No matter how bad

Capital at Basilique St. Madeleine, Vezelay, France
Photograph by the author

Here we come to an essential law difficult to grasp.

That which is absolutely bad must be absolutely forgiven.

That is to say, the worse things are, the more evil, the more forgiveness is demanded. This is a process better understood in heaven than on earth, because in the light of God forgiveness finds its most natural expression.

On our own level, it’s a weak thing in constant need of support, and it’s our job to provide that as best we can: but when souls “die” and return to the Lord, in that light their forgiveness is completed through the intervention of Divine Love.

Thus if you were to go to heaven (or angels came to earth) and you met the souls of those who died in the holocaust, you would find them perfectly loving and perfectly forgiving. Their Being is filled with the radiant Love of God, and the evil that was done to them is both forgiven and forgotten. Hell, insofar as there is one, consists for all of us in being so forgiven: for it is in the exposure and forgiveness of our sin that God’s Love finds its greatest expression. Hence remorse of conscience, which is what brings us closer to God. Hell is not a place of punishment—the spiritual primitivist’s vision of its nature—but education.

One of the most doctrinally difficult things to grasp is the objective fact that there is no evil which is not necessary. The cosmos is a creation governed by law, and law conforms without fail to what is necessary. There can be no unnecessary or deviant action in a universe of law.
Whether or not one is religious, this is a basic principle of the scientific process.

We should therefore understand that in this lawful universe, every element of evil that arises cannot be avoided and must exist. Of course we struggle “against” it; and of course on this level one must take a firm and even resolute stand to combat it. One must, however, do this not through hatred, anger, or resentment, which all represent standard off-the-shelf temptations we fall victim to — every last one of us. It is essential that we resist through Love. It’s the lack of love and our distance from love, the dissipation of Divine Love, that has created an environment where evil is “necessary” in the first place — so all evil can be basically categorized as a lack of love, and the only antidote for it is to go against it with what is missing.

These are highly conceptual propositions when one is confronted with personal evil. In our ordinary fallen state, that is, unless we have attained a greater unity of being, our response is inevitably at the same level as the evil that has provoked it in the first place. This is a normal and natural thing and should not be avoided, excused, or discharged as unimportant. We have to inhabit the truth of these reactions even as we seek a higher energy which will bring us into a greater alignment with true Being, thus more able to manifest a corrected, loving response.

If this is confusing, it ought to be; sometimes loving responses must be unusually forceful. They may even involve violence: on a certain level, even love has to fight its battles in order to manifest. It would take a divine metaphysician to sort out the many different threads of this fabric. But what we can know, from a personal point of view, that decent, intelligent right action is a requirement on our part. This involves making an effort to care for others and suffer with them. The worse the offense, the greater the demand on us to forgive it. This is not just the Christian path (and, irrevocably, it is the essence of the Christian path) it is also the Judaic path, the Islamic path, the Buddhist path, the Hindu path, and so on. All the great religions understand this requirement, even if their constituents forget it.

Put in more dramatic terms, one might say that it is better to die by the devil’s own hand than to do another person harm. While we may, on our own, find this to be an impossibly high standard to hold ourselves to, one has to note that this is an interpretation based on our ordinary experience of the ordinary energy of life. If we read the Bhagavad-Gita, and understand Krishna’s exchange with Arjuna, we are brought a different understanding of what can be necessary under the influence of divine energies, where even evil itself it is understood as necessary.

We're not to be excused from the participation in evil, even though we are called to a higher perspective. This brings us to the paradox where we may have to do violence in the service of God, even though it is a corrupting influence. One has to be at a completely different level of Being to avoid the consequences of this law.

In this context, it is not the participation in violence that condemns us, but our attitude and intention towards it. It is not the action, but the suffering attendant upon it, that makes a difference spiritually.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Becoming the devil

Capital, St. Lazare, Autun

Perhaps the most obvious aspect of Beelzebub’s Tales is also its most esoteric: it is hidden in plain sight, so glaringly obvious that it is impossible to see. It forms the core of the entire book and its cosmology; and it explains the meaning of the title, “All and Everything,” because it encompasses the entire purpose of existence and the cycle of creation.

Even the devil himself must be redeemed.

In the great glory of God’s Love, even the fallen—including Satan Himself—must be forgiven and redeemed. Gurdjieff made this the overarching element in his intricate story line. Our work as human beings is to redeem the devil—to redeem all fallen souls. In doing so, we are required to embody the fallen condition, in the same way that Christ became human.

This is another esoteric meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection; just as God cannot redeem His fallen creation and His creature, humanity, without becoming human Himself, we ourselves can’t help in the redemption of the devil without becoming the devil. Put in other terms, it means we must become evil, immerse ourselves in evil, and overcome it personally in order to participate in the great work of redeeming evil on a cosmic scale.

We are thus tasked, in our individual lives, with recapitulating Christ’s effort and sacrifice. Christian understanding has deviated very far from this path, and become its own opposite; for although (per Christ’s own words and teachings) it is doctrinally impossible for a true Christian to adopt any spirit of condemnation or vengeance whatsoever, those attitudes absolutely prevail in fundamentalism today.

This paradox cannot be resolved without understanding the conceptual meaning of the Antichrist: a creature (creation, means of existence) which cleverly poses as Christ’s teaching but actually has nothing to do with it. This has given us the world as we see it today; and it truly is the world of the Antichrist.

Of course there are further deviant elements of Christian doctrine that would have us believe there are sins that cannot be redeemed; and it’s certain the idea that even the most grotesque forms of evil should and must be forgiven basically repels us.

But the nature of Divine Love is such that all of creation, and every angelic force, even the most fallen ones, must be redeemed and returned to God’s Love. I’ve had personal angelic revelations of this matter which leave no room for doubt; but there is no point in recounting them here except to say that the matter is quite certain.

The Buddhist doctrines, in ancient times, interpreted this work of redemption as the Bodhisattva vows; and in the Hindu tradition reincarnation serves as the vehicle for the effort of redemption.

In fact both have elements of truth in them; we are born again and again, lifetime after lifetime, and in each lifetime the elemental nature of our soul works towards a deeper understanding of the nature of Divine Love. In Gurdjieff’s obligolnian strivings, the fifth striving refers to this process:

the striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred ‘Martfotai’ that is up to the degree of self-individuality.
*(“Martfotai” may be derived from the Persian معرفتی— marifati, an epistemic or higher degree of Knowledge.)

The work of a soul is to reach a point, over many lifetimes, where one develops a conscious experience of the need for absolute forgiveness and absolute redemption.

One also needs to see the inherent contradiction between our lives as they are on this level—with all the degenerate elements that cannot be expunged—and this higher purpose which is given to all of us, even if we choose not to embrace it.

If one examines the core of every legitimate esoteric doctrine one will find the seeds of this truth embedded in it. We can’t escape our humanity; but inhabiting it is what offers us a chance to see the contradiction in such a way as to understand what Love and Forgiveness (in their Divine nature) actually require: a sacrifice on the order of Christ’s.

There are functional, structural reasons for this situation embedded in the nature of the cosmos itself, as described in Novel, Myth and Cosmos: The Information of the Soul; and they have of course to do with the nature of relationship, which begins as a “fallen” (dissipated) entity in need of reformation through conscious effort. The fall of Satan is the ancient mythological analogy that cultures developed to personify this cosmological process; and they did this because they understood that although the challenge of the reconstruction of the soul is cosmological, the process is personal. That is, without agents (even Satan must serve that purpose) the process has no representation and no witness. So Adam and Eve ate the apple; Satan fell; and so on. In each case the descent into the material, with its concrete literalism (manifestation as material, subject to law) represents a loss of the Perfection; a fall from Grace.

Paradoxically, it is only in the law of reciprocal feeding—which is, in its cosmological form, the law of the reconstruction of the soul—that God can feed Himself through the exploration and reassembly (redemption) of His particles.

Redemption, however, is not just a myth we tell each other or carve in temple walls. It is a process we're called on to participate in now; and Christ’s message of forgiveness, Love, turning the other cheek is all part of this process. If we examine all the great religions we discover that the redemption of the devil lies at the heart of the question—and in the same way that all of us are a tiny fraction of god, so do we all equally embody a fragment of the devil—who is also a part of God. 

We can’t embody the universal process of redemption unless we understand—and suffer— this relationship through human experience.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Exchange Dec.10

Capitals at St. Lazare, Autun
photograph by the author

From an exchange on Dec. 10: in reply

It’s true that “no” is part of the process; so all of “no“ is both necessary, and true; think of it as an ingredient without which bread cannot be made. It’s the salt; but as soon as you put too much salt in your dough, the yeast won’t rise.

Real change is syncretic and incremental; above all, one can be certain that it will go in directions you never anticipated and produce results you never could have imagined. So when we reach what we have anticipated and get the results we have imagined, already, we have not gone far enough.

What you are saying is rather lengthy and contains a real question. But take a look at the character it acquires in its evolution: It becomes involuted, and convoluted. It is smart and complicated, folded up against itself like a cerebral cortex.

These are appealing and attractive features, and because they denote a real (albeit partial) form of intelligence you are enjoying it— probably a bit too much.

There is a way to simplify from where you are. That’s the question to put in front of yourself.

How do I simplify the experience instead of analyzing it? Clear out the brush.

I was discussing this question with a young woman tonight. I explained to her that we try in our inner experience to discover a way to stay one step ahead of our ordinary intelligence and our intellectual experience. So, I told her, when the mind says, “blah blah blah“ —that is, it comes up with its usual analysis and commentary and agonizing over things — one doesn’t say to it, “yes, but...”

one says , “yes, and...”

That is, we acknowledge the truth and the validity of what the mind does so that it understands it is included, not rejected, and a friend, not an enemy. We then go one step further by adding to it and reminding it that there is more there than the mind alone.

We move on in the midst of the turning thought even as we acknowledge it.

…This question of how long one has to bear one’s own mechanical nature before one knows there is a God also comes on the order of a demand that excludes.

Don’t begin with the presumption that you don’t know there is God.

We can go back to something I said to the young woman tonight. She asked me how to develop compassion in herself, and I told her,

“It’s already there. You are just looking in the wrong direction.“

God is exactly like that.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Intelligent compassion

A Capital from the Cathédrale Saint-Lazare d'Autun, France.
Photograph by the Author
from The Reconstruction of the Soul (not yet published.)

A continuation of material from Nov. 26 2017. (see the last post.)

Intelligent compassion is a solar force.

It can’t be born of a force that which is to take and keep. That is outside its nature; and the forces that wish to take and keep for themselves, while they have a certain inalienable right to do this (it is lawful and natural for them) cannot understand intelligent compassion because it lies completely outside the realm of their being and nature.

If I don’t come under a new set of influences, I can talk about intelligent compassion all I like. I can read the Vedas and the Stoics and Plato and Swedenborg and Gurdjieff, and I will probably — if I am attentive and make an effort — be able to say a lot of clever things about these matters. There is a habit among men of doing exactly that; reading philosophy and thinking they know something. Our whole society is built on it. But reading philosophy is useless. The only way that one can employ philosophy of any kind as a help in inner work is by suffering it. It is this practical action of suffering, of feeling humility and remorse, within the action of philosophy — not the idea of it — that can change Being. And the action of philosophy, oddly enough, does not take place in the thinking, but rather in the sensing and the feeling.

Too few philosophers understand this in the first place; philosophy schools have popped up all over the place through the centuries, but for each of the real ones, there is an inner or esoteric core in which this question is understood, and it isn’t so often discussed in words, because it is wordless. Now, among the ideational philosophers (people who wish to work with their minds first and then everything else later, if they have time) it is fashionable to say we shouldn’t name this or we shouldn’t name that — which is utter nonsense. A true philosopher is required to name everything they possibly can, because unless one does so, one is unable to see and identify and know within oneself the truly nameless things when they finally appear.

This dilemma underscores how seductive and misleading philosophy can be, and how often human habits use it to misdirect what is actually necessary.

This idea of intelligent compassion is one which knows its place. It is a distinctly solar force and the instant that any Being comes under it, it exerts an action that entirely subjugates self-love and vanity, because they are lower forces without any power whatsoever to manifest when a higher force aligns them. They may still be able to exert a certain mechanical action, but it is essentially powerless.

One needs to re-align one’s Being in a certain way in order to understand this, of course, but there you are. A human being must make every effort to first prepare themselves for the receiving of solar influences within being, and then worry about the place of self-love and vanity. One cannot do this the other way around. If one uses the mind to say “I am vain and self loving,” the fact may be established in that center, but the solar system that wishes to orbit around this center of gravity lacks mass.

Mass is acquired through sensation and feeling.

We prepare ourselves for intelligent compassion through the inflow. This is the flow of the divine particles of Being which are perpetually emanated by our own sun and all the other suns of the cosmos. Unless Being opens to the inflow, everything that takes place in a human being is theoretical.

This sacred inflow must be prepared for by many decades of difficult inner work in which one ruthlessly observes one’s habits and weaknesses, and allows them to be what they are.

This does not mean that one entirely succumbs to them or says to oneself, “okay, do anything you want.” It is an action whereby one is present as they take place, which already does more to change them than any intellectual intention. But the point is always to become open to the energy, not manipulate the conditions of Being.

If we are fortunate and angelic forces notice us enough to lend assistance, eventually we do open to the energy. Even then, self-love and vanity have their own way with things a good bit of the time. But intelligent capacity grows in direct proportion to our willingness to suffer what we are and be honest with ourselves about it.

Intelligent compassion is a universal force, that is, it is not sent in one direction, “from” myself towards everyone else in an action of unselfishness — although that is of course a component of its nature. Intelligent compassion is directed in every direction, and emanates from the center of one’s personal inner sun towards oneself as well as others.

This is because it is formed of elements of particles of the Creator, as Gurdjieff would have called them, that is, those particles that engender remorse of conscience and a sense of the sorrow of the Creator.

Intelligent compassion, in other words, is the seed of becoming a representative of the creator, what Ibn Arabi called a vicegerent, or appointed official, of God.

As such an appointed official, exercising intelligent compassion, the intelligence we are privileged to acquire is one which sees our place; and the compassion we are privileged to acquire is to suffer along with the rest of creation.

We suffer ourselves for what we are; and we suffer on behalf of others because they cannot help what they are any more than we can.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Vanity and Self Love

Frieze from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II
Metropolitan Museum, NY

Nov. 26th, 2017

A long-time and most valued friend in the work reminds me,

The two biggest enemies of a man in the Work, the two giants never spoken of, are Vanity and Self Love. "Our greatest enemies" warns Mr. Gurdjieff. Jean Claude exclaims this every time he comes to New York. They "go ahead of us," these two giants and, the Work says, "they prepare everything," the elephants in every room and yet never seen.

These two enemies are self-created forces, that is, they are forces within being that have an action on its center of gravity.

While there are a lot of ways to look at this, and many snazzy quotes could be deployed, perhaps it's useful to understand it from a cosmological point of view and then relate that directly to practical work.

It’s true that “I” am exactly like this, these forces are active in being within what I call myself. But these forces are not myself. They're usurpers that form a kernel and then grow themselves within being in order to manifest what we would call lunar forces. That is to say, they are forces from the descending ray of creation, which moves from the top of the universe, where love is infinitely abundant and powerfully concentrated, down towards the bottom, where there is relatively little of it (that is, it is poorly concentrated) and everything needs to be fed constantly.

Lunar forces have a certain kind of greed to them. They are takers and keepers, not givers and sharers. This is a rightful action in a certain way appropriate to their place in the universe; they have a real and objective need for what is sent, and they wish to grow from it. The problem is that the wish is a selfish one in human beings. A planet like the moon can perhaps be more objective in what it receives, because it is at such a level that it doesn’t have an intellect of the same kind that we do; its intellect is more mechanical and has no free will. This is, perversely, a better and easier condition that mankind finds itself in, because it is governed by mechanical laws that prevent vanity and self-love from becoming the destructive forces that they are in a human being, where choice has become far more active.

So I have come under lunar forces. The fact is that I am under them anyway, and must serve that part of the ray of creation whether I like it or not. The point is how I serve it.

If we look at ancient Babylonian art, we see, for example, eagles — rapacious predators — anointing the tree of life (which is a model of the universe and the energies that flow in it) with the pinecones of wisdom. They pay homage to the structure and the laws, and understand their place. Put in biblical terms, they render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. So if we were aware of who we are and what our role is, we would render unto lunar forces what is due to them; but instead, they seize us and more or less extinguish our consciousness, which is weak, with their own impulse, which is strong. Unless I am willing to watch this process relentlessly over course of many years — not work weeks or weekend yoga workshops — I will not be able to see how active this is in me, or how much it influences me.

Then again, let’s suppose that I spend all of these many years observing this. Of course it’s essential; and eventually I begin to understand that there's a difference between this thing called self-love and this thing called vanity which act within me, and my own Being, or "real self." (I put it in quotation marks because the only Real Self is God.) That is to say, I see them as forces rather than as who I am. For as long as I'm identified with how beautiful I look and how wonderful my manifestations are, I think that’s who I am. Once one creates a separation of self from self then one sees that these forces are active, and quite a mess; and perhaps one even manages to develop a sense of shame about them, at least at some times. Epictetus reminds us that we must not put the center of gravity of our being in forces like this. The idea of stoicism is to develop a sense of skepticism towards subjective forces.

There is another force which I need to come under, and that is the solar force.

This force comes from above me, not below me, and emanates a higher energy which feeds Being. Unless the molecular structure of my body becomes more receptive to this, I can't acquire and concentrate the force that is needed to understand more clearly the difference between myself and my vanity and self-love; and once I do acquire this capacity, I will quickly see that when I am apart from the energy, I am helpless.

This is a moment in which I truly understand my own nothingness, because I see that I am subject to forces larger than me — whether they be selfish or unselfish, lunar or solar — and that I am required to act as a servant, whichever capacity I discover myself in.

I can serve unconsciously, that is, through self-love and vanity and lunar forces; or I can begin to serve more consciously by developing the capacity for accepting solar influences more actively, sensing them physically, participating in the remorse and humility that they bring, and understanding that my role must be one of intelligent compassion.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Enneagram of G. I. Gurdjieff, by Christian Wertenbaker

This new book on the enneagram is written by my longtime friend and fellow Gurdjieffian Chris Wertenbaker.

Chris presents a range of interesting insights regarding the mathematical relationships in the diagram, including an exploration of its fractal nature. 

The book includes a simplified version of my illustration of the fractal enneagram.

My own most recent book on the subject, The Universal Enneagram, will soon be available as a paperback book on Amazon. I'll publish an announcement when that takes place.

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Great Sense of the Soul

There ought to be a gentle love that infuses each action of a human being; yet it cannot be there without a different kind of sensitivity.

I wonder whether we see how we are given no choice but to live within the contradictions of life, in which our aspirations towards the great sense of the soul are tempered by the realities of our own inner limitations. We will, for example; hurt others; and so much of that hurt comes from inadvertent expressions of the way objects, events, circumstances and conditions endlessly recombine themselves so as to challenge us.

One also might call it fate and karma; it doesn’t matter. The fact is that the configurations of the universe contain both good and bad; they cannot be any other way—and we are caught up in it. The theoretical territory of higher metaphysical planes where everything is “good” (as though that were even possible without measuring against an opposing bad) is unhelpful and even deceptive; on this level, evil is evil. No use in whitewashing it. All of us are required to inhabit this polarity and even the best of us are forced at times to navigate waters beset with every kind of reef and sandbank. Rare indeed is the man or woman who never does anything completely free of evil; just as every evil person also paradoxically embodies good, in some small action or another. It is rather a question of who and what inside us chooses, and which force predominates.

Those of us inclined towards the great sense of the soul hope always and forever to not be evil; yet so often that hope finds its fundamental expression in seeing the evil we already have, not that which is headed for us as we stand here like deer in the headlights. Today—not in some theoretical or hypothetical other time or territory—we will meet evil in ourselves and others and be forced to deal with it. There are, forever, choices on the table.

Sometimes, as in matters of love, one person’s evil will be another person’s good—and this is even more confusing. Yet love on our level is also like this; while it still wields ultimate power (as Swedenborg points out, every man’s own love, good or evil, is the substance and fabric of his whole Being) it cannot exercise the temperance God is able to bring to it. Indeed, because of this, love suffers—because it knows itself better than we know it, and suffers for the ends it cannot help being turned to in this material universe.

Love, then, needs our help. First of all, it cannot be without us: we are the agents of Love on this level, and must help it find both its way and itself within us.

Second, we are responsible; and if we can respond to the presence of love—its very material, molecular, and organic existence within us as an active force—we can perhaps bring to this life a little bit of that gentle expression which ought to infuse each moment.

We can, in summary, inhabit life today; we can be more gentle and caring; we can attempt to understand.

These may seem like big ideas, but they can find the reality of their own Being within the small and utmost daily actions of the moment.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Manifesto of Grace

St. Dorothy and St. Catherine
Museé des Beaux Arts, Dijon
Master of the Passion of Darmstadt, circa 1440

There is an eternal Grace that is forever present within us.

God sends so much goodness, and so much beauty, and so much of His Perfection into the world at every moment that no matter how much evil humanity engages in, it is impossible to overwhelm it. Do you see this? I have seen it every day.

Grace is the power of Love; and everything in creation, even the worst of it (whatever that is) is made from that beauty.

When we open our hearts to receive Grace—through long and diligent action, through obedience and submission— eventually it rushes in so quickly and so deeply and profoundly that no force in heaven or on earth can stand against it; for we are the children of the Lord and One with Him, and He does not forget us, no matter how much we may forget Him.
There is a just and righteous obedience that’s necessary, that’s true; and we must submit to it in the midst of our sin and confession, because it is only through this humility of knowing nothing and a confession of sin (which is nothing more or less than turning away from the Lord) that we can render ourselves vulnerable enough to receive the Great, and Good, and Just Grace that is afforded unto us, as God’s creations.

God rushes us into us then in the same way that air rushes in to fill a vacuum; for there is no more natural place for God’s Love to dwell than in a man’s or woman’s heart, and no worthier receptacle was ever created for that Love.

One can know this immediately and personally; there is no need to wait or to argue, to hypothesize or engage in conjecture. The Lord’s Grace is already present within us, in that secret place where the Great Sense of the Soul resides.

There are times when I am so close to all this beauty that the rapture it induces seems impossible; yet I am tasked to live this life in an ordinary way, and have no privilege to celebrate it, no matter its intensity. Rather that rapture becomes a daily companion that informs (inwardly forms) the absolute goodness of everything that takes place. Indeed, the greater my acceptance, the more honest my admission of how God walks with me in every footstep, the deeper that inward formation.
One might ask, why witness such things in this way? Well, we live in a world where so much evil witnesses; every man, woman and child witnesses for his or her self, and nowadays men and nations become the bearers of dark torches and prophets of woe. The devils have many voices, and loud; and they are unloving, for devils use all love for themselves. It is in their nature.

Someone must stand against them and speak for truth and goodness; everyone who stands on the side of God must speak out in truth and goodness, against these numerous damnations.

Don’t despair; because no matter how many devils speak, they cannot overcome love. The more it is tried and tested, the stronger it becomes; and it is the duty of every good religious man and woman to stand here, in the midst of God’s Beauty, Grace, and Goodness, and to bear those trials together.

It’s true, in doing so we must confront our own fear and sins and anger; but we never do this alone, because God’s love is always here to help us, if we wish it.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A senstivity to contradictions

From the Altarpiece of St. Margaret
Museé des Beaux Arts, Dijon
Master of the Cobourg Roundels, end 15th century 

I’m filled with contradictions.

The difference between awareness and the lack of awareness is the difference between seeing the contradictions as they manifest, and believing that there is nothing contradictory in me.

In reality, I’m made of many competing forces. My awareness occupies a place in the center of them, if it is there.

I have many different wishes and desires. All of them are partially intelligent and wish to satisfy themselves. It takes a greater intelligence to help align them with a greater vision; and even then, they are persistent, because they do contain some fraction of the truth within them. Often, that fraction is close enough related to legitimate motivations and needs of the soul that it gives up its independence reluctantly.

So in a certain sense, I can entertain wishes and desires and even celebrate them, as long as I don’t become their victim. I become their victim if these elements of partiality begin to dictate courses of action that harm others (first) or myself (second.) I put others first because if I harm myself, at least the damage is limited, whereas if I harm others—especially in conditions where I am responsible for their welfare—my sin is grave indeed.

Nonetheless, I will find it inevitable, at times, that I contradict even this, after I know it intelligently. If I do that, I commit a sin which is difficult to redress.

So I am here in Hong Kong, reading Epictetus, digesting his stoic material, and examining my own contradictions. Yesterday in the elevator, I was surrounded by many Chinese people who were doing their best to do what people in elevators do: ignore each other, and be polite when we had to acknowledge one another. It occurred to me at that moment, as I saw the contradictory and abstracted flow of associations moving through my mind, and the impressions that were coming in in the elevator, that every other individual in that elevator had an equally contradictory and abstracted flow of associations taking place at the same time.

All of us were, collectively, in relationship and in community in that elevator, yet the relationship was incomplete and the community was fractured. We live, in this sense, in isolation, each one bringing their own contradictions collectively to each moment in time, which we then experience together. The community is tangible; yet the contradictions we nurse are invisible.

This particular moment may not seem very useful, yet it illustrates quite strikingly how isolated I am. How isolated we all are. No wonder we yearn to discover a loving relationship with other people; to come into relationship in a way that is free, that has a genuine spirit of goodness to it and is unhesitating and uncritical. We are even willing to do harm in order to get such relationships (think of what happened to Troy, which is fresh on my mind as I read Epictetus.)

Following on my earlier meditation on the nature of love on this trip, and of the inevitable contradictions that arise within the context of this question, I’m interested in exactly what our sensitivity to contradiction is. We are required to inhabit it, whether we want to or not; what is not required is that we see it.

To see it — or to even wish to see it — is a higher level of effort, will, and aspiration than to just let the contradictions run my life.

They can run my life; they do, in many cases, run my life.

Yet I need to be in front of them and ask them why they are so insistent, why they have such a great wish to exercise power.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

On self remembering

Now our Lord says, "Whoever abandons anything for me and for my name's sake, I will return it to him a hundredfold, with eternal life to boot" (Matt. 19:29). But if you give it up for the sake of that hundredfold and for eternal life, you have given up nothing; even if you give it up for a thousandfold reward you are giving up nothing. You must give up yourself, altogether give up self, and then you have really given up.

—Meister Eckhart, sermon 17

What does self-remembering mean?

The self, experienced from our perspective, is a complex object. Any opinion that the self can be “observed” in a context that limits it to the status off what can be observed is already insufficient; in reality, the self expands to fill the available space, when considered from this angle. So there is no theoretical or practical limit to what can be observed; and conventional imagination is unable to grasp both the scale and scope of the matter.

I think the first time I had an inkling of this was at the age of nine when I first saw Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights; and although it’s impossible to comprehend the vast nature of the teaching which that painting attempts to impart, it implants a seed. It is, in its own way, the late medieval version of Gurdjieff’s All and Everything; our psyches embody not only the possible, but the impossible, and the soul has no definable boundaries from within which we can accurately measure its nature. Certainly not, in any event, from within; yet in the practice of self-observation and self-remembering, that is where it’s proposed we begin.

Eckhart’s contention, then, that we should “give up self” implies an abandonment of our attempts to measure that which cannot be measured; his exhortation here is very nearly Buddhist in its scope, and seems to fly in the face of the whole idea of self-remembering.

Having spent the greater part of a lifetime engaged in a discipline which is, in large part, based on this selfsame activity, the practical experiences by now outweigh the philosophical conundrums; and the question still remains. There is an apparently inexhaustible reservoir of advice and direction from which folks pump “self-remembering help” materials for the public; and it is burned like so much fossil fuel, filling the atmosphere of the inner planet with spiritual smog. Perhaps it is more in the naming of things than the doing of them that the devil collects his dues; for the moment we name what we do, we presume some mastery over it, whereas it would seem the whole point of self-observation is, in the end, to see that we do not have any mastery.

In this way, perhaps the living of life with an inner eye turned towards it ought to remain nameless; and in this sense we ought to forget about both self-remembering and self-forgetting. A presence that accepts the material of life as it flows inwards does not need definitions of the mind; it creates its own parameters which are composed more of wordless feelings and sensations than of the words that capture them.

Reading Jeanne Salzmann’s comments about imagination of self (The Reality of Being, # 72) it’s possible to intimate how much imagination plays a role in this situation; and in the contact of that compound essay, especially its last few lines, perhaps we catch a glimpse of Eckhart’s direction:

“The imagined "I," my imagination of "I," will continue to be reinforced even in the most unconscious layers of myself. I must honestly accept that I really do not know this. Only in accepting this as a fact will I become interested and truly wish to know it. Then my thoughts, feelings and actions will no longer be objects for me to look at with indifference. They are me, expressions of my self, which I alone am here to understand. If I wish to understand them, I must live with them, not as a spectator but with affection, and without judging or excusing them. It is necessary to live with my thoughts, feelings and actions, to suffer them, from moment to moment.”

To live with and to suffer is to sense and to feel; not to think over. It is the immediacy of the inner action that connects us to a greater sense of being, not the intellectual inferences.

Earlier in the passage Salzmann says,

“But today the controlling influence is the idea of myself, and this imagined "I" desires, fights, compares and judges all the time. It wants to be the first, it wants to be recognized, admired and respected, and make its force and power felt. This complex entity has been formed over centuries by the psychological structure of society.”

We don’t really see it, but it is this exact entity that thinks it can observe; this entity which thinks it can see, and remember. 

And it’s this particular “self” which Eckhart refers to when he speaks of abandoning the self.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Obligate consciousness, and duty

Auberive, France

I recently coined the term “obligate consciousness” in order to try to better define the nature of the relationship between man and God. This term embodies an ancient idea that man and God are dependent upon one another and not actually separated.

While there are texts all the way from the Vedas through to relatively modern times (Ibn Arabi, Gurdjieff, Swedenborg, Sri Anirvan, etc.) that allude to this, it seems worthwhile to investigate the term in the context of this expression.

Obligation, in the Oxford English dictionary, means the binding together of one thing with another. The word derives from the same root as ligature, that is, a tether that binds. The idea that we are bound to God is embodied in the Catholic and Episcopalian ritual of prayer:

it is meet, right, and our bounden duty at all times and in all places to give thanks unto the Lord.

Of course, this is a formalized version of Gurdjieff’s subtle adage to remember oneself “always and everywhere"; —it means much more than it sounds like it means—but more important, it expresses the point of our duty to God, and the fact that we are bound to Him, not at all in the sense of bondage, but in the sense of reciprocity.

It is impossible to be separated from God, even if one denies God and disclaims His existence. Even that action is, paradoxically, of God, because all things are of God. If it sounds confusing to you, consider the fact that you are your own God; yet undoubtedly, you have parts of yourself that are confused and reject the others. This is a normal condition, and every person with a conscience is plagued by it. One can’t sort one’s psychology out without confronting it.

In any event, we are obliged towards God: that is, we are bound to God by the very nature of consciousness itself, which is a manifestation of God’s Being and Presence. Even the relative ignorance and darkness of the human intellect, which is tiny, cannot dispel this condition or entirely cut the tether. We are bound to God through duty; we are God’s representatives, and our conscious nature and Being itself are already microcosmic and fragmentary representations of God’s entire Being.

The part of a human being which is most supposed to be able to sense this organically (rather than think about it) is one’s feeling part; and it does this through the sensation of sorrow and remorse, whereby it relocates its sense of value so that one understands one’s relationship not to oneself — this, of course, is what we are always obsessed with, even though it is unimportant in the end — but to God. And coming around to that point, feeling has a powerful tool that is supposed to help realign our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to others and to God.

It is called shame.

It is from a German root, Scham; and worthy of examination from that perspective alone. The Oxford English dictionary describes it as follows:
the painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonoring, ridiculous, or indecorous in one’s own conduct or circumstances (or in those of others whose honor or disgrace one regards as one’s own), or of being in a situation which offends one’s sense of modesty or decency.

Now, the Germans have a word which means, roughly, brazen or outrageous: unverschämt. We could also say, unashamed, but that doesn’t quite convey the sense of violation that the German word has built into it.

If one forgets ones obligation to God, if one loses the ability to sense that, this particular faculty of Unverschämtheit—outrageousness— can exercise itself without restraint. And we see a very great deal of that in the world today.

It is, basically, the opposite of humility, which derives from the word humus, for earth. To be humble, in other words, means to know where one is — in a very low place, on earth. Once one forgets that, one has mislocated one’s value and thinks that one is God.

Perhaps we could roughly equate that with egoism; yet egoism is no longer sufficient to describe modern human behavior, because egoism has recently undergone an inflationary event much like the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe. It has expanded to proportions that in its own "eyes" release it from obligation — it is no longer, in its own vision, bound by any sense of obligation or duty towards something higher.

It would be putting it mildly to say that this will not end well for humanity. 

Yet here we are.


My new book is now available in paperback, and as a PDF.  While the book, in its first half, discusses Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson at considerable length, it also looks at the nature of the universe in some depth from a cosmological point of view in the second half, The Information of the Soul.

For the text of the introduction, see the PDF link.

Novel, Myth and Cosmos at Amazon (paperback)

PDF file for digital devices cab be ordered at:

Novel, Myth and Cosmos PDF format

An iTunes bookstore version will be available soon.

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.