Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Gurdjieff and objective results

Today's post is a bit of a smorgasbord, but there have been a number of impressions that are relevant, and I would like to put them all down in one day within the context of each other.

Almost all of us who are in spiritual disciplines know that there is a great deal of new material arriving, many works available, and a great deal of mixing of works going on. The whole New Age movement is essentially a mixing of work.

Personally, I feel rather cautious about it. Take a look at the background.

The 20th century produced an endless number of theoreticians on the horizontal level who changed the way we handle imports, economies, politics, and so on, undoing several thousand years of traditional experience in the process. We ended up, instead, with the WTO and Marxism. Now, you might say that global capitalism and Marxism don't have much in common, but they do share one major feature. They are both stupidly insensitive, and make their way forward by sacrificing human beings and their values on an altar of ideas and money.

Gurdjieff referred to the new breed of theoreticians collectively as "learned beings of new formation." This was a polite way of explaining that they were smart young souls, acting like idiots.

Countless damaging forces arrived on the scene as a result of the theorizers, and they are still very much at work. I don't see much difference with the New Age movement. Most of the people mixing works exude charisma and authority, but aren't really clear about anything.

If there is one thing I am sure of by now, it is that Gurdjieff was quite certain of some things, and that he was right about almost all of them. At least as far as I have been able to verify.

I know that there are some who will ask here that Jeanne DeSalzmann changed the Gurdjieff work, wasn't that mixing? I think we can definitively say that it wasn't. When someone who is conscious changes a work, they know why they are doing it.

This leads us to the question of how appropriate it is for Gurdjieff students to mix other works into their work. It was, of course, strictly forbidden by Gurdjieff. He explained to Ouspensky that the commandment "thou shalt not commit adultery" was in fact a direction not to mix works.

Consequently, we are now in an era where some reactionaries wish to seek a "pure" Gurdjieff work. There are others who feel the work should be more open and mixed with other works.

All of this needs to be examined in the context of one specific thought: the Gurdjieff work has a specific aim, and within the context of that aim, it can produce objective results.

What are objective results? They are results that will be consistent. Gurdjieff pointed out that there are all kinds of work that produce all kinds of results, but they are erratic and unpredictable. And many of us have heard about the existence of so called "bad results."

I have so many friends who are in different works, or who are mixing their works up, sometimes aggressively. I have been pondering this this morning, and I see that the requirement for me is to respect their work. I may not agree with it -- in many cases, I certainly don't -- but I need to learn to respect the individual and the work they are doing. If I meet people who share my personal aim, and they ask me for help, I will give it to them. If I meet people who have things from their work which appear to inform mine, I may incorporate them. I must, however, remember that my own teacher brought me into this work with the specific admonition not to mix works.

We can study all we wish, but we must adhere to the tenets of the work we are in.

This does not mean being inflexible or stupid about it; it simply means recognizing where we are in a work, and how much we might dare change it. If the master chef sends you to the supermarket with instructions to buy a specific set of ingredients to make a dish, but, when you get to the supermarket, you start loading your cart up with all kinds of other attractive foods, the recipe you end up making may not be what the chef told you it was possible to make.

So if we want to obtain the results that Gurdjieff -- who brought us a conscious work -- intended for us to receive, we may try to be a little creative with the recipe, but we must adhere to its basic ingredients.

Another thing that I have been pondering. This is from yesterday's sitting.

I spend so much of my time trying to be. What I need to do, instead, is to allow being.

Following on the heels of that, today, within another active experience, I saw it as follows:

The entire edifice that we construct within us which is made from words is useless. The active engagement is a living creature, not a set of words.

To stand between the inner and the outer state is not about having words.

It is not about silence either.

There is a wordless place that has no silence in it. Can we find that place? It takes an active effort.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.


  1. This is a very interesting post, containing much which could be taken up by a gigantic seminar in which everyone would have an opinion and almost certainly at the end of the seminar everyone would leave exactly as they had arrived -- with the same opinion.

    In Views from the Real World page 203, Mr. Gurdjieff states the following: "I have studied about 200 religions, but if they are to be classified, I would say that there exists only four ways."

    Interesting. I myself have studied many religions and spiritual disciplines from every nook and cranny of the world and it has been my main interest since the moment I was born, but I never submitted to any of them wholeheartedly. Perhaps it is better to say that I never submitted to a particular person or expert or group or cult, until...

    First I practiced Yoga (not the yoga of the West, which is a form of Fakirism, but what is called classical or Raja Yoga -- the way of inner silence and meditative contemplation).

    Then I practiced religion, mostly what is stated on my birth certificate -- that is, Roman Catholicism, which I approached again after a long lapse and as an adult served as a lector in a local parish and taught catechism and sponsored acolytes.

    Then I practiced Fakirism, and studied Tantras and Hatha Yoga. I then studied and was immersed in Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Taoism, Alchemy, Hermeticism, and others as I looked under every rock for small flecks of gold which I could collect. I stood in the river of every kind of New Age nonsense with my little pan and I panned for gold. I got quite wet and I sifted through an awful lot of mud, while at the same time accumulating quite a bit of gold as well as lodestones. I had an aim and a direction.

    Which led me to Mr. Gurdjieff.

    Mr. Gurdjieff is the only personage to whom I have submitted wholeheartedly and unequivocably in my 56 years of searching.

    As far as I am concerned, his Work CANNOT be mixed with any other work, because there is no other Work like it on the entire earth.

    I trust my judgment in this matter because I have searched for loose change under every spiritual cushion and "flying" carpet on earth, as well as having squeezed every possible religion and spiritual discipline extant, in order to extract the juice therefrom, and all of it pales in comparison to the flood of reorientation which Mr. Gurdjieff's Work allows -- a completely original and never before known understanding of the function and purpose of men and breathing creatures within the structure of the universe.

    When I joined the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York, I took a vow that I would put aside everything I already knew and any practices which I already had engaged in for a period of 10 years, and for a decade I would put everything else on the shelf and I would submit only to being a student of Mr. Gurdjieff through his writings and the persons of those in his direct lineage.

    I took other vows as well -- sacred vows which I kept as though the fate of the entire universe depended upon them. As each vow expired I was given more permission to begin collating my other knowledges and experiences along with the ideas and practices of Mr. Gurdjieff.

    After 15 years with the New York Foundation my relationship with them was severed, which means that now I am what is called "a loner."

    But as you and I both know, I remain completely dedicated to Mr. Gurdjieff and to no other master.

    You mention that there are some who want to recover a "pure" work, while others think that the work should be opened and mixed with other works.

    Personally I think that neither approach is possible. What will be, will be. Even though by law the "Work" will become its opposite (and has already begun to turn, perversely -- the etymology of the word perverse actually meaning to turn without direction), but Mr. Gurdjieff's actual teaching is so strikingly authentic and different from any other spiritual tradition or religious message, that it itself cannot be "turned".

    It is independent, and comes directly from above and is not anthropomorphic whatsoever except to describe man's condition and position precisely, as well as to offer a unique line of work for men (not gender specific - men means mankind).

    Unlike you, I do believe that Madame De Saltzmann changed the work and brought in some admixtures from both Zen and some other lines, along with the then president of the NY foundation, who was deeply into Zen.

    Although personally it drove me to distraction during my years with the Foundation (which allowed me a constant external reminding factor to work with), I do not blame her, for her own work was a gigantic elephant task of finding cohesion amongst the various divided factions each thinking they were practicing Mr. Gurdjieff's work, and who were quite willing to disparage each other.

    If she brought sittings and other permutations that did not exist under Mr. Gurdjieff's direction, perhaps she was right to do so, given the state of being found in all the various followers of Mr. Gurdjieff.

    My own belief is that a great deal depends upon preparation. For those who are prepared, the Work can proceed rather quickly -- perhaps a man has worked on himself for a very long time but only has a missing element, or needs to be reoriented -- he only needs to see a compass to get his bearings and set out to reach his aim. For others, most of whom do not really know what their aim is except in a diluted general sense, they need the structure that Madame De Saltzmann brought to the various Gurdjieff foundations.

    My own first contact person in the Gurdjieff work, who has been in the Gurdjieff work for more than 50 years, and who had met him in 1948, went ahead and wrote a book "of new formation" which mixes the Gurdjieff work, Tai Chi (sic), Jungianism, the Alexander work, and something called "prayer and meditation." And the whole thing concludes with the chapter called "finding your own path."

    Finding your own path to what?

    This is what Mr. Gurdjieff called a "Schmackermacker table", where you can pick up whatever delights you and build your own ladder to Heaven.

    That is not at all Mr. Gurdjieff's Work, so far as I am concerned. His work was concerned with two things, so far as I am able to tell.

    First, for a man to restructure himself so that he is worthy of the name "Man", a three brained being who is in fact an image of his Creator, our most gracious Father/Mother/Breather of the Cosmos; such restructuring bringing about the creation of second and third bodies within the physical frame of the earthly body to the degree of dignity that allows the "Master" to visit his property -- the horse, carriage and driver all in tip top shape; and secondarily (perhaps primarily -- they are equally important), for a man to recognize and realize all the way down into his bone marrow, his place and function in the universe, which is specifically as a conduit or transformer of energies both upwards and downwards, so that he serves both the Sun and the Earth, by transforming the earth responsibly, and by allowing a communication from the earth to reach the other planets and the solar system, if not the galaxy.

    He is thus a servant, a nail set in place, an employee in the government of the cosmos. Otherwise he is nothing but manure.

    It is a dangerous work. Without preparation and understanding it leads to the insane asylum -- remember Mr. Gurdjieff's descriptions of the lunatic and the tramp? We never hear about that anymore, but one of the definitions of lunatic is one who mixes lines of work willy-nilly, while a tramp is a person who does not take the terror of the situation or anything else seriously enough.

    I think you see the dilemma we are in, and it is right for you to point it out. The only thing that matters is the work itself, which needs workers. The community of seekers and learners and workers is also important, as we are all in relationship. But as we look around we are bound to see a herd not with floating feet or cloven hoofs but with feet of clay, and if we look down we will see that our own feet are also made of clay. Didn't Gabriel tell Mohammed to declare that God made man out of mud? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we had better work while we can.


    ps... I also agree with you about language and words. I have an aphorism called the three ruins:

    Talking ruins Breathing;
    Chairs ruin Posture;
    Language ruins Thinking.

  2. Hi Lee,

    Here's something that would have been better on the other blog but anyway....

    There is one simple truth: when the master dies, the teaching passes into literature. Following on the heels of that, the teaching (now literature) becomes dogma guarded by a priest class – OR it becomes internalized. In the case of internalization, there then exists as many interpretations of "the work" as there are individuals pursuing it. Admixture is not just possible, it is inevitable.

    It is extremely interesting to consider that any "Gurdjieff" organization, particularly those that are "closed", have become a magisterium; a priest class dedicated to their own "pure" form of practice. Now, I feel the rising irritation and potential anger of many in the work out there when I say this – but honestly, consider this. That by wanting to maintain purity, it can only ever be the maintenance of dogma. The thing that G students most likely left behind (Christian or Jewish faith) as being hidebound and negative, is what they themselves now recreate.

    This happens everywhere actually. Take a look at Paganism and you'll more often than not find a priest class, a hierarchy, and ritual – it's fascinating. The Hare Krishna movement that Bhaktivedanta Swami brought to the West was largely Catholicism in Hindu clothing – right down to women as damaged, rosary beads, a male priest class and highly inflexible doctrine. 95% of the original Western adherents have fallen away for those precise reasons.

    I have not been part of a regular Gurdjieff group. My work with it has only been through what is available to the public. But I can tell you what any large G group looks like. It is largely aged 50 and above. The oldest members, those "disciples" with direct knowledge of the master are rapidly dying off. When new members come to join, they stay on average 3.5 years – and that window is declining. Members, and this is critical, are not able to interest their children in joining (this is the only way institutions stay afloat in the long run). This is the trend that we see nearly everywhere in spiritual practice, for instance, the decline of Northern Protestant and Catholic denominations. In the Middle East Sufi orders are experiencing the same trends (unless young people see them as a way to passive resistance, ie: Iran and Turkey). But this is also reflected in secular institutions as well.

    There's a reason for this. It is because the boomer generation has given their children the benefits of what they themselves have long struggled to find: internal authority – a break with institutions of all kinds. The youngest generations among us do not have to make the break; the boomers did that already. Now this trend is developing; by tracking "unchurched" demographics we see that it has progressed to about 35-40% of the US population. Unchurched are those that have left institutional practice (or were never a part of it) but still see themselves as interacting with the divine in some way. This is the first time in the US that such a large percentage of seekers, or mystics, have been present.

    I point this out because it is the nature of these new generations to synthesize. They are within themselves "authority". They will continually reach out to others with an ability to see themselves as connected across the ground of being to all. Their social groups will shift rapidly, amorphously even, as they encounter new circumstances in the world and test themselves through their actions in the world. This is the new age. This is the age of the mystic and it is on the rise. Tolerance, inclusion, and acceptance will be the ethics of the new age and will form the core of any test of the self in the world. This will look like idealism – but it is something far more powerful. It is the fearlessness of the adept on the path, writ large.

    Now, rlnyc brings up some interesting points but I would argue that Gurdjieff work is jnana work; this is the path of wisdom, and it has ever been narrow and rarely trod. The appeal of this kind of teaching lies in the ability of the individual to access higher intellectual center as a way toward tawhid, or unity with the divine, or realization. But in the new age, it is no longer necessary for the initiate to spend a lifetime studying on a path. The ease of walking this direction increases exponentially once enough individuals are aimed towards the goal, inheritance is passed down not in materiality or institutions but in the highly subjective emergence of the existential self.

    So, if the Gurdjieff institutions cannot see plainly that they are becoming the dinosaur of the age, they will decline and fade. They do however, if they recognize that they have work to do in the world that is changing in form and nature very rapidly, have the potential to continue for a while longer as a valuable resource for the new generations. BUT. They will have to open their doors, recognize the shift, and gear Gurdjieff to a much shorter gestation time. I am not arguing that the teaching itself should be modified, but that the adepts currently on the path are holding one foot back in the institutional age while they attempt to move forward. And likely, because of the advancing age of the Groups in general, any kind of change will be met with ego defense. But it is possible that the groups could adapt and leave as legacy to the new mystics the intellectual path G presented us with.

    Jeanne Salzmann did the same thing that JG Bennett did. Believe it or not. Without a master to guide the disciples, they could only ever begin to synthesize. JGB went all over the place, JS used zen practice – and at the end Bennett was experiencing Gurdjieff through the Sufi lens. And both of these syncretic practices move the INDIVIDUAL into a greater form of internal autonomy that inevitably moved the work into the new age.

    In a very real way, Gurdjieff as institution needs to be replaced with Gurdjieff teaching as shepherd, or counselor, or guide. And those of us who have become adepts over the years need to be generous with the new generation and ruefully accept that ok, yeah, we took the long road -- but that was necessary. The new adepts are already far ahead of us in some ways. And that's a good thing.

    The Kali Yuga is a time of transformation. It is built on the catalyst of rapid change. We can choose to embrace it. It's what we came here to do.



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