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The Awakening

Introduction to The New Man and The Mark

Jungian psychologist and student of G. I. Gurdjieff and P. D. Ouspensky, Maurice Nicoll is best known for his six-volume series, Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. Among many other published works, Dr. Nicoll has authored two magnificent books exploring the inner psychological meanings of the Gospel teachings in The New Man and The Mark.

Gurdjieff's teachings have been referred to as a system of "Esoteric Christianity". The New Man and The Mark show how Gurdjieff's psychological model of man parallels the teachings of the parables.  Nicoll refers to an "esoteric" Jesus, whose teachings reveal the possibility of evolution into a "new man," a process which Nicoll says, "runs against the grain of natural life" leading the seeker to higher levels of spiritual development.

The fundamental ideas are: man can undergo a process of inner psychological development through a right understanding of the living Word of God; within man is the potential to consciously participate in the evolution of his own understanding; that man can will himself into a level of development known as the "Kingdom of Heaven."

Nicoll's writing is suffused with kindness, forbearance, compassion, and love.  He is neither sentimental nor does he try to justify his or others' interpretations of the Gospel parables.  "If you don't like the word God," he writes, "then say meaning, instead.  The word 'God' shuts some people's minds; the word 'meaning' cannot.  It opens the mind."  A man's search for meaning and quest for truth involves a lengthy process of discovery and interpretation of the universe in which he finds himself.  Nicoll's interpretation of the Gospels found in The New Man and The Mark uncovers priceless treasures of "inestimable value."

"The parable," writes Nicoll, "is a transforming-machine between two levels of meaning", between the sensual and the psychological, and provides a practical path to self-transformation.  He further elaborates:

There is a process of half-thinking and half-imagining which is very intimate. It is partly a conversation with oneself, partly being oneself, partly seeing oneself, and partly listening to oneself—to new meanings that are entering. If we notice ourselves when reading, three people are concerned. There is the reader, the person inside listening to him, and a judge. These three people are all present when we read. In order to recreate the world, that is, to create the world in oneself, to give it meaning, form, interpretation, order, and significance, it is the listener who must learn. One takes one's ideas, one's thoughts, one's feelings, and one's power of imagination, and works internally with them, realizing that no matter what other people know, or have said, or have written, or have done, nothing, as yet, has happened in oneself of any value.

Reading becomes a psychological and spiritual process that draws one away from the "false personality" (the egoic, "Imaginary I"), away from the surface materiality of things, and into a higher world of objective reality which can be experienced by one's "inner listener."  Becoming acquainted with this listener through self-observation lies at the core of Gurdjieff's teachings.  Esotericism begins not with the observation of the external world, but with self-observation and the invisible world of oneself.  "This internal shift is the vertical dimension, an inner ascent that develops at right angles to the flow of temporal events, to the push and pull of getting and spending, of trying to achieve and satisfy the projected image of the self within the confines of observable space-time." Contrary to conventional beliefs that it is possible to "do God's will on earth," Nicoll observes that man's life on earth is just the way it is—because it is the only way it can be given man' level of understanding; moreover, material evolution has nothing to do with spiritual evolution.  Nicoll's vision runs contrary to conventional views of mainstream religions that hold to moralistic and political ideas about changing and redeeming the world.  "Is it not a fact that most of the savage cruelty, torture, bitterness and evil that marks religious history is based simply on the fundamental error of seeing God's will done on Earth and so imagining that one knows what God's will is?"  Nicoll's writings, instead, point toward a possible evolution of man, not in a linear movement through time, but rather through a transformation in man's psychological and spiritual state of mind.

Nicoll proclaims that this vertical shift in the individual's perspective is the essential meaning of metanoia, a "renewing of the mind," frequently translated by the moralistic term "repentance" in the Gospels.  "The goal of the Gospel teachings," writes Nicoll, "is to bring a man to the point where, instead of saying blindly to himself 'This cannot be true,' he undergoes an "awakening", a momentary sense of the unreality of what is happening in the world, and the unreality in its connection with himself."  This awakening results from a man emerging from his imagination about himself and a realization of the meaninglessness of "ordinary consciousness", an emergence absolutely necessary for a man, for it offers him the possibility of transformation into a higher level of being.

"There is no worse sickness than meaninglessness," writes Nicoll, "but life can become meaningless in two entirely different ways. It can become simply without any interest, so that all one is doing or has done seems useless and without purpose, and one's own existence without any meaning. But there is a quite different experience, in which, in view of greater meaning, all ordinary meaning ceases to have any value. In such an experience, which happens at one time or another to many people, a man is drawn back from all the meaning in life. This experience comes when a man, in a flash, suddenly feels that he is different from all that he sees, hears and touches. He becomes aware that he himself exists. His existence is no longer an existence merged with life. He becomes distinct from all that surrounds him. He realizes that he is himself—not what he has been taking himself as—and he ceases to feel himself only through comparison with others as better or worse than others. He sees that he is alone, one, and unknown to others, and invisible. He sees that he is himself, and that others see only his body. He knows that if he could keep this state, this new sudden consciousness of himself, life could never hurt him and nothing in life would ever seem unjust, and he could never be jealous or envious or hate. In such a moment, a man comes to himself."

In both The Mark and The New Man, the symbolic language of the parables comes brilliantly alive, a literary analogue of the fundamental "rebirth" that takes place within the mind and heart; the process of becoming "born again," says Nicoll, "is Christ's core teaching."  This rebirth involves dying to oneself and to the world, but not in an ascetic or moralistic sense.  Instead, it is a step toward a freedom in consciousness through the marriage of a man's understanding and his will.

The New Man

An Interpretation of Some Parables and Miracles of Christ

In The New Man, Nicoll examines the idea of sin which he takes in its original Greek meaning of missing the mark, as in a spear thrown at some object and failing to hit its target. Subjects dealt with include the Parable of the Sower, the Grain of Mustard Seed, Metanoia, War in Heaven and Esoteric Schools.  Read The New Man.

The Mark

Further Elucidation of the Themes Explored in The New Man

In The Mark, Nicoll examines the New Testament Gospels to reveal the esoteric teaching beneath their surface interpretation. Subjects include the idea of temptation, the Marriage at Cana, the Good Samaritan, Laborers in the Vineyard, Judas Iscariot, Sermon on the Mount, Necessity of Prayer, and the Kingdom of Heaven.  Read The Mark.

Recommended Reading

The Kingdom Within: The Inner Meaning of Jesus' Sayings

The Kingdom Within explores the significance of Jesus' teachings for our interior life—that inner reality that Jesus called the "Kingdom of God." It is Sanford's conviction that contemporary Christianity has overlooked this inner dimension of Jesus' teachings, and so, has lost touch with the human soul.  The Kingdom Within by John A. Sanford.

 

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