The Riddle of the Sphinx

by Richard Hodges

"Who is the creature that goes on four legs in the morning, on two at noon, on three in the evening?" Oedipus' answer "man" is a typical mama's-darling sort of answer. Was Oedipus Man in full? No—Oedipus was still incomplete man. Oedipus could not be other than he was, and being true to that, he gave us the prototype of the tragic situation, which has conditioned the human world and its womb-seeking aspirations ever since. The Sphinx was so annoyed with this answer, despite its apparent correctness, that she was said to have devoured herself, and asked no more, forever.

The answer the Sphinx really wanted was: "I am". Not just the "I" of 3 plus 2 plus 4, which adds up to 9 and equals "Man"; but 3 plus 2 plus 4 and then—One. Total of 10. An arc around the circle of 9 with a return to point One. The true posture of Man is to balance on one point of consciousness which unifies the life of man into a single arc, passing from childish dependence on others, through self-individuality, concluding in Consciousness riding home upon the dying animal.

What if Oedipus had been able to give the full answer? Then he would not have mythically fulfilled his assignment, and our whole human world would have been deprived of the possibility of knowing, through tragedy, what we are, and what we ought to be. The great Tragedies, by Sophocles, Shakespeare, and a few others, are a mirror held up for us to see ourselves. The gift of the Sphinx.

In Gurdjieff's great book Beelzebub's Tales, the tragic figure is "three brained beings of planet Earth."

In Gurdjieff's Sacred Dances, "The Movements", Man as adult is evoked—"I am", standing and moving on two legs working as one. The resting position has the feet locked together as a single support for stillness; and in many movements there is the further demand to balance on one foot; and not only to balance but to consciously enter the dynamic passage where each single foot in turn provides support to the whole. Not automatically, as we usually do unconsciously, mechanically, while walking, falling forgetfully from footfall to footfall—a very clever adaptation that can be done these days by a cleverly programmed robot—but consciously, with the full awareness of the balance-being (located in the higher part of the moving center) active under the vision of conscious sensation, consciously renewed from microsecond to microsecond. "I"—active, conscious attention; "am"—passive, the organism, in constant movement even when still, made radioactive by the attention upon it, and thereby in communion with other nearby radioactive organisms.

Copyright © 2011 Richard Hodges
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