Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of September 21, 2020


Conscience

(The Ladder of Will: 7)

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Sometime around 1970, the head of the house of worship that my family attended introduced me to a young man who had just received his credentials as a religious leader. When I looked at him, I had to avert my gaze. His eyes were crystal clear, guileless and innocent. I had the distinct sense that he was pure, through and through. I could not bear to face him. He did not do or say anything to prompt that. It was just that the shame I had for my own secret misdeeds suddenly came to the fore, spotlighted by and recoiling from the purity before me. It was a stunning moment.

On the ladder of will, the rung of conscience is our lifeline to higher will, to the sacred. We can define conscience as the intuitive perception of wisdom as it applies to a specific inner or outer action. Ideally, our conscience prompts us prior to acting or failing to act, while the situation is still in potential. Sometimes we overlook or disregard that prior prompt. In those cases, conscience may intrude after the fact as remorse for what we did or failed to do. And sometimes we miss it altogether.

Conscience is not alien to us, not separate from us. It is not a nanny scolding us. Nor is it our superego or any kind of ego. If we allow our own reality to deepen, if we drop the aberration of self-centeredness, if we allow the purifying action of true seeing to enter us, if we accept the truth we see, and if we act in accord with its promptings, then conscience reunites with us as who we are, as our own will, in direct contact with the wisdom of higher will. Abraham Lincoln so aptly called this the better angels of our nature.

The Third Fana opens the door to conscience, removing the principal barrier we had to hearing the voice of conscience and acting in accord with it. When our ego still held sway over us, it would sweep the promptings of conscience under the cacophony that passed for our inner life. Ego and conscience are incompatible. The former is centered on our self, while the latter serves the greater Self that includes us all.

The great process of spiritual purification is the purification of our will. Conscience plays a key role. If we live by conscience, we will have a clear conscience, which opens an unobstructed path to the sacred. With a clear conscience, we are not burdened by remorse or guilt or shame. With a clear conscience, we can trust ourselves to recognize and follow the promptings of conscience, whenever they do arise.

But the work here is in the details of life. Beyond observing basic morality, as well as the laws and norms of our society, there is a vast gray area of action, of how we live. Are we sensitive enough to the needs of the people around us and the effects we are having on them? Are we friendly enough, or are we intrusive, or just cold? Are we failing to live up to our promises or, for that matter, to our promise, to our potential as a human being? Is there something more we should be doing, or something we should not be doing? Does our lifestyle reflect our values and to what degree are those values objective? Are we wasteful? Can we be more efficient or effective? Can we live in a more meaningful and satisfying way? Is there something more we should be giving? How far short of our highest possible destiny will our lifestyle leave us?

All such questions pertain to our will and are within the domain of conscience, as long as we do not turn our backs, or put on blinders, or plug our ears. As long as we still breathe, it is not too late to listen, to hear, and to act.

Conscience puts us in touch with wisdom, with objective values that can guide our life. The beauty of conscience is that it offers specific guidance for the circumstance confronting us. There are, of course, general principles to guide our values. Many such guidelines can be found in religions, philosophies, and spiritual paths. The most well-known of these is perhaps the Ten Commandments. Here are two others, both worthy of long and deep contemplation.

The long-lived Indian sage known as the Shivapuri Baba (1826-1963) taught the way of Right Living, which may be summarized as fulfilling our responsibilities in three broad areas: physical duty, being duty, and spiritual duty. Physical duty refers to our outer responsibilities. It means acting with intelligence, dexterity, and excellence for our body, for our family, for our profession, for society, and for the Earth. Being duty addresses our responsibility to develop our inner life, to develop a strong heart-mind-character-being, through wisdom, presence, and virtue. Spiritual duty consists of directly seeking God. [1]

Another powerful set of guidelines was offered by G.I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949) as the Five Obligolnian Strivings:

The first striving: to have in their ordinary being-existence everything satisfying and really necessary for their planetary (physical) body.
The second striving: to have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being.
The third: the conscious striving to know ever more and more concerning the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance.
The fourth: the striving from the beginning of their existence to pay for their arising and their individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterwards to be free to lighten as much as possible the Sorrow of our COMMON FATHER.
And the fifth: 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. [2]

Guidelines like these and others can help us shape our values and our lives. Yet as long as they remain something external to us, their impact is limited. Moral codes can help keep our behavior in check, but do little to put us in touch with the Sacred, with the higher will. The voice of conscience, the voice of our higher self and of the wisdom behind such objective guidelines, is at once our own unique individuality and our connection with the universal oneness.

One approach to opening to conscience is to decrease the noise within us. Silent meditation, allowing our thoughts to settle down, our emotions to calm down, creates an inner environment more able to perceive the promptings of our conscience. This is not to say that conscience will speak to us in meditation. Rather, silent meditation develops an inner stillness that can stay with us throughout our day, at first in the background and gradually in a more pervasive manner as a quiet and calm mind. That inner space allows room for our conscience to manifest and for us to recognize it as such.

It is important and instructive to notice moments when we resist what our conscience is telling us, when it is inconvenient or unwanted. We may simply disregard our conscience, pretending to ourselves that we did not hear it. Another way we resist it is by self-justification: making arguments and excuses to ourselves about why doing some particular thing really is OK. When we see such justifying going on in us, it is a signal that we may be resisting our conscience, a signal to look carefully at the forces at work in us at that moment. Justifying can occur in a wide range of situations, from questions of morality to relationship issues to matters of self-control. These situations make it clear that conscience is a potent purifying force within us, so much so that the practice of conscience in itself could be considered a spiritual path: the Way of Conscience.

For this week, please note any instances of what might be your own conscience knocking on your inner door. How do you respond?

[1] Bennett, J. G. with Manandhar, Thakur Lal, Long Pilgrimage: The Life and Teaching of the Shivapuri Baba

[2] G.I. Gurdjieff: Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, Chapter 27


     

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