What follows is a bit of my own internal dialogue that’s been built into why it would even be worth the effort to launch an international tour to speak about how gnosis is a term that we should all have a good grasp of.
In the discussions of what our real ends are, some ideas have come up that have sent me into a back and forth about the actual value of any of it.
Have you ever felt yourself slip into an existential funk in which ask, “Why the fuck should I even care? Why the fuck should I try?” I mean what’s the point? Many of us have been long disenchanted with Religion, Politics, Love and pretty much every other institution of this mad consensus reality that we call life.
Take for instance the viewpoint of Nisargadatta Maharaj, a Spiritual teacher in the Advaita Vedanta tradition in his exchange with an interviewer:
Q: There is suffering and bloodshed in East Pakistan at the present moment. How do you look at it? How does it appear to you, how do you react to it?
M: In pure consciousness nothing ever happens.
Q: Please come down from these metaphysical heights! Of what use is it to a suffering man to be told that nobody is aware of his suffering but himself? To relegate everything to illusion is insult added to injury. The Bengali of East Pakistan is a fact and his suffering is a fact. Please, do not analyse them out of existence! You are reading newspapers, you hear people talking about it. You cannot plead ignorance. Now, what is your attitude to what is happening?
M: No attitude. Nothing is happening.
Q: Any day there may be a riot right in front of you, perhaps people killing each other. Surely you cannot say: nothing is happening and remain aloof.
M: I never talked of remaining aloof. You could as well see me jumping into the fray to save somebody and getting killed. Yet to me nothing happened. Imagine a big building collapsing. Some rooms are in ruins, some are intact. But can you speak of the space as ruined or intact? It is only the structure that suffered and the people who happened to live in it. Nothing happened to space itself. Similarly, nothing happens to life when forms break down and names are wiped out. The goldsmith melts down old ornaments to make new. Sometimes a good piece goes with the bad. He takes it in his stride, for he knows that no gold is lost.
Q: It is not death that I rebel against. It is the manner of dying.
M: Death is natural, the manner of dying is man-made. Separateness causes fear and aggression, which again cause violence. Do away with man-made separations and all this horror of people killing each other will surely end. But in reality there is no killing and no dying. The real does not die, the unreal never lived. Set your mind right and all will be right. When you know that the world is one, that humanity is one, you will act accordingly. But first of all you must attend to the way you feel, think and live. Unless there is order in yourself, there can be no order in the world.
I bring this up because Maharaj is saying there is nothing to be done because there is nothing. “Set your mind right and all will be right” he says as the interviewer poses the images of death and catastrophe.
So what are we to make of this idea? IF this were true, then our daily activities and cares about what present to buy x, or the immediate bill due to y mean absolutely nothing. We would be better off using our time, ‘setting our mind right’. Who wants to join a monastery with me?
Let’s switch gears to Christian theologian, William Stringfellow who has this to say about our institutions, both great and small:
According to the Bible, the principalities are legion in species, number, variety and name. They are designated by such multifarious titles as powers, virtues, thrones, authorities, dominions, demons, princes, strongholds, lords, angels, gods, elements, spirits…
Terms that characterize are frequently used biblically in naming the principalities: “tempter,” “mocker,” “foul spirit,” “destroyer,” “adversary,” “the enemy.” And the privity of the principalities to the power of death incarnate is shown in mention of their agency to Beelzebub or Satan or the Devil or the Antichrist…
And if some of these seem quaint, transposed into contemporary language they lose quaintness and the principalities become recognizable and all too familiar: they include all institutions, all ideologies, all images, all movements, all causes, all corporations, all bureaucracies, all traditions, all methods and routines, all conglomerates, all races, all nations, all idols. Thus, the Pentagon or the Ford Motor Company or Harvard University or the Hudson Institute or Consolidated Edison or the Diners Club or the Olympics or the Methodist Church or the Teamsters Union are principalities. So are capitalism, Maoism, humanism, Mormonism, astrology, the Puritan work ethic, science and scientism, white supremacy, patriotism, plus many, many more—sports, sex, any profession or discipline, technology, money, the family—beyond any prospect of full enumeration. The principalities and powers are legion.
Stringfellow continues on to death:
Death, after all, is no abstract idea, nor merely a destination in time, nor just an occasional happening, nor only a reality for human beings, but, both biblically and empirically, death names a moral power claiming sovereignty over all people and all things in history. Apart from God, death is a living power greater–because death survives them all–than any other moral power in this world of whatever sort: human beings, nations, corporations, cultures, wealth, knowledge, fame or memory, language, the arts, race, religion.
To me, Stringfellow is indeed a fellow with strings that tug on our existential feelings of futility. His observations have merit when we see that we do create a monster of sorts when we create the Ford Motor Company, or any of the other things in the laundry list. We can see the monsters all around and in our efforts to make something of ourselves just make more demons.
So to one learned man, Jesus is the answer and to the other a change of the perception of reality and our place within it is the answer. But both seem to show a very strong dislocation from the world in which we live and its edifices. So if by one hand we are exercising futility and by another creating new demons, why might we even make another effort toward anything? What’s it really worth? We’re just shitting ourselves right?
The chaos magician might say that life is our plaything and therefore we should ascribe meaning where we see fit and leave the rest to chaos, not necessarily without care, but understanding we can’t do everything and the sardonic smile of knowing we will all end up as worm food anyway.
But if one moves past the fear of death to where it no longer hold sway over us, then what? How does our fear of death control us and furthermore how do those most brooding about life as we speak of it head plunge headlong into it through the barrel of a gun, the top of a bridge, or the slice of the razor?
G. I. Gurdjieff has his own thoughts on the matter.
“There do exist enquiring minds, which long for the truth of the heart, seek it, strive to solve the problems set by life, try to penetrate to the essence of things and phenomena and to penetrate into themselves. If a man reasons and thinks soundly, no matter which path he follows in solving these problems, he must inevitably arrive back at himself, and begin with the solution of the problem of what he is himself and what his place is in the world around him.”
So for the sake of argument, we’ve purified ourselves and set our minds right, understood both the illusory and or demonic nature of our constructs and chosen a life of what? Asceticism? Quiet contemplation? The hero of the grimoir, The Black Pullet ends his story of achieving all power and wisdom with this statement:
My days passed between work, study, meditation, and walking exercise. I received a few visitors in my home, but nobody had an inkling of that which passed in my private life. To live happily, live concealed, as a Sage said.
After much dancing around with these ideas, I’ve come to respect each perspective and identify with a number of aspects of each, regardless of wisdom tradition which each is affiliated with, but it hasn’t made me feel any better or brought us any closer to what we should do with our lives in order to get the most out of it, so here’s my personal approach:
- In relationships to all other humans and other living beings as well: Increasingly improve your output of love and compassion. Make generosity the benchmark of your life in whatever way you can possibly think.
In relationship to work: Find something that you love to do and commit to it and lay out everything else around it. You can’t have a body without a frame.
In relationship to whether or not to participate: I believe it is each individual’s choice how they choose to do this, but for me I choose to pick up the paintbrush and paint and make the canvass of my life its own work of art. After all, art is not often seen as a necessity, but it can take you to new places and show you things you’ve never seen before. Whether real or illusory, the world is a better place with a couple ‘paintings’ on the walls.
Perhaps there is no world to be saved, no actual causes to fight for and no actual tragedies. Perhaps our mind is the only thing and our internal work is the prime thing for us to work on. If so,I choose for my actions to reflect my internal process coming to life and translate that to an experience of creation, evolution and art.
I choose to participate in this walking meditation of sorts because I have decided I wish to keep growing, learning, struggling and increasing in love and compassion. I can’t think of many better ways to do so than by getting into a vehicle and operating in exchange with all of you out there; people I will soon be unable to imagine myself without.
Yes, it is permissible to NOT go, to NOT participate, but I choose to and perhaps in my own way I can make the perfect demon of sorts.
Lastly, I owe a great debt of gratitude to the matchless David Metcalfe for sending me on this crazy trail of crumbs.
This has been posted with permission from Gabriel D. Roberts – who is a theological scholar, researcher and public speaker that specializes in discussions about the nature of perception and belief. Gabriel writes for VICE Magazine, Disinfo.com and Realitysandwich.com and is the author of three books. He is continuing his research at the University of Washington in his hometown of Tacoma, WA.