by Lee van Laer
Originally posted at the Zen, Yoga, Gurdjieff Blog, Sept. 23, 2012
Why is conscience, in Gurdjieff's system, such an important property?
In order to understand this question, we have to go back to his magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, and review what was said by the very saintly Ashiata Shiemash in the chapter "The Terror of the Situation."
Take clear note of the fact that the being-functions Faith, Hope, and Love, are all sacred being impulses, that is, these impulses or properties do not belong to the routine rotation of the law of seven in the enneagram, i.e., the ordinary quality of life. The only place that we can locate these three properties in the diagram is within the law of three: and indeed, they belong there.
These three sacred ways had always been used by previous Sacred Individuals as a means for correcting the deficiencies in man's consciousness, because each one of them provides a shock within the circumstances of life. Logically enough, Love is the greatest of these paths, as Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 13, and hence we find it located at the apex of the triangle representing the law of three, as it should be.
Nonetheless, it was the inescapable conclusion of Ashiata Shiemash that each of these sacred properties had deteriorated so much in man that none of them were any longer able to act in a sacred manner. In essence, the connection to them in man had been broken — their rate of vibration no longer provided a shock. They had descended, as the chapter so eloquently explains, to the coarse level of ordinary being, which enthusiastically apes their action, but can never correctly express it.
The three of them together, however, form a whole—as is inevitable, according to the laws of emergence and the law of three itself.
And that whole is Conscience.
Deeply linked to essence, this particular property is the emergent property of the interaction of Faith, Hope, and Love which produces a fourth, whole, new entity. See the chapter "From the Author," pages 1089 — 1091 for Gurdjieff's discourse on the lawful interaction of three such properties in man to produce a fourth.
We know we are very close to the bone here, because Ashiata Shiemash himself referred to it as "that being impulse on which, in general, the whole psyche of beings of a three brain system is based." It is, in other words, closely related, or coincident, to essence—which, as previous essays have demonstrated, is much closer to vibrations from higher levels than personality, and whose properties belong to the law of three, rather than the law of seven. The relationship between essence and conscience cannot be understated, as understanding Gurdjieff's premises about the repair of man's psyche greatly depends on it.
Conscience represents a unifying factor in man's psyche; its essential nature as the product of the three higher sacred impulses of Faith, Love, and Hope, actually gives it a primacy of place over them, because it represents a superior opportunity to any one of them, taken alone. As such — we might say, as luck would have it — this is the one part of man's psyche that was not permanently damaged. It is buried in our subconscious Being; located, in other words, in the same place as our essence, which is also buried. Both of these entities bear a strong allegorical relationship to Gurdjieff's numerous comments about a "map of pre-sand Egypt" and the sinking of the continent of Atlantis. The idea of ancient philosophical schools (and Christianity) that man has an "essential good" buried in him stems from a longstanding and probably even lawful intuition of this relationship.
The point is that there is something ancient and valuable buried within our Being. The representation in the diagram at the above link visually locates conscience as a concealed entity in the center of the triangle created by the law of three; thus, an esoteric part of our Being. It is intact, or untouched, by outer life; and because it begins and ends that way, being a product of the three sacred impulses (which unfortunately do have to touch outer life) it escaped the degradation they were ultimately exposed to. It is to man's good fortune that Conscience was doubly insulated: both a higher property, and one not in direct contact with ordinary life.
Ashiata Shiemash maintained that the function of sacred Conscience had the possibility of passing into the functioning of man's ordinary consciousness. This is a very high work; Conscience can provide the unifying factor which is parenthetically indicated in the passage on Faith, Hope, and Love.
This particular passage indicates the action of the law of three, in which consciousness occupies "do," or the apex of the triangle, in each case. In other words, Faith, Love, and Hope cannot act sufficiently in man if they are attached to his outer circumstances, and both feeling and the body operate within the context of outer circumstances. Only in their highest expression can they help us.
Of course, this theoretical discussion of the nature and action of conscience hardly begins to touch on exactly what conscience is or does. It's the action of conscience in a man that matters; and this is a higher principle which it does one little or no good to read about.
Mea culpa, if you wish.
I respectfully hope you will take good care.