Monday, September 8, 2008


Over the weekend, my wife was reading "In Search of the Miraculous" and she came across a passage that says something quite interesting.

In order to discuss it, I will have to offer you a quote. This is taken from page 161 of "In Search of the Miraculous", P.D. Ouspensky, Harcourt Brace edition, 1977.

"I mentioned before about fate and accident in man's life. We will now take the meaning of these words in more detail. Fate also exists but not for everyone. Most people are separated from their fate and live under the law of accident only. Fate is the result of planetary influences which correspond to a man's type. We will speak about types later. In the meantime you must grasp one thing. A man can have the fate which corresponds to his type but he practically never does have it. This arises because fate has relation to only one part of man, namely to his essence."

It seemed clear to me on reading this passage that Mr. Gurdjieff was using the word fate in a quite different context than others. So just what did he mean by this?

First of all, it seems clear that fate is the result of astral, that is, planetary, influences. So it operates in a much larger context than ordinary life. Usually, we take fate to mean the final result of everything that ordinary life leads up to, as in "he met his fate." But in doing so, we ascribe fate to the accidental happenstances of a life.

I draw a quite different meaning from Gurdjieff's interpretation.

When he says that a man can have the fate which corresponds to his type, he indicates that types play specific roles in the planetary sphere. In the same way that a liver cell does what a liver cell does, and a brain cell does something quite different, even though they share the same DNA and live in the same organism, so one type of man plays a role in terms of the transmission of energy that is quite different than that of another man.

Another way of viewing it is that different men occupy different notes in the octave of human life. If one is playing a concert piece that is in the key of A minor, for example, every note has a specific role within that context. If the note doesn't play its role, it does not serve the concert properly. One gets cacophony instead of music... much like "real" life is today on this planet.

This question might be further understood from a much larger point of view, that is, the role of biology on the planet.

Organic life on this planet fills a shock. As I have pointed out before, taken as a whole, it's not even a note in the octave of development of the solar system--just a shock, a mediator. (That does not separate it from functioning within the law of octaves, of course.)

All biological life represents (as everything material does) the interaction of electromagnetic forces. In the Gurdjieff work, we refer to this as "energy," but ultimately it all boils down to electromagnetism, or perhaps subtle variations thereof.

Now, within the context of human life -- which occupies a specific niche within the context of biology -- we are all transmitters and receivers of electromagnetic forces. Gurdjieff's remark is meant to explain, I believe, that the nature of the transmitter/receiver varies by type. This expands our understanding of the question of human types because we see that various types serve specific purposes within the context of the machine of organic life.

This model is entirely in keeping with the way that modern science understands organisms to be constructed. Not only that, although I have never heard it explained this way by anyone in the work before, it makes perfect sense, at least to me.

The types that we speak of only serve, however, if they are able to come into a fuller relationship with their essence. For those that do this, they can "meet their fate" -- that is, fulfill the specific purpose for which they were created. This implies that there is a logical and lawful endpoint for every human type if it fulfills its role. Taking the parable of the mustard seed--which appears to be, among other things, about exactly this question -- once again, we see that types who are dominated by personality are unable to grow into reproductive organs, that is, mustard plants. They don't flower and they don't set seed, which one might argue is the "fate" of organisms that grow in good soil.

Gurdjieff repeatedly emphasized the need for man's essence to grow. Now we see a reason for it. In the context of service on the behalf of the astral, or planetary, level, man cannot serve without getting in touch with his essence. Until he does so, everything is accidental. And indeed we see that the parable of the mustard seed presents the beginning of the enterprise in exactly the same way. Seeds are scattered, randomly. Accidentally. They fall where they fall. Every seed meets a unique set of challenges.

So "fate" as it is presented here relates to a much larger question than the results and end of an individual life. It touches on cosmological questions of a much larger nature, intimating that man is a tiny part of a far more comprehensive process. It also intimates that different types have different fates. That is to say, not only on this level, but in the passage to the next one, one type may serve in a very different way than the next.

It's not for me to say what that might mean. There are very big questions implicit in what is being discussed, and of course a few paragraphs barely scratch the surface. It's interesting (to me in any event) that a single paragraph from Gurdjieff can indicate so many questions that need to be investigated. One sometimes finds that it's as though a single phrase of his has somehow managed to encapsulate an entire universe.

Like some of the other investigative posts on this site, one might take it as a theoretical question. But it isn't. Even now, as I dictate this piece -- and again, now, as you read it -- we are all serving something higher, whether we know it or not.

Perhaps one difference between fulfilling the will of the Lord -- "thy will be done --" and our own will is the difference between being invested in our personality, which is of this world, and our essence, which corresponds to a responsibility which has little to do with the ordinary events of daily life.

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

1 comment:

  1. Nice picture. Is that a "magic" mushroom? Nice post too.

    Man is the only animal who doesn't follow his essence. All other animals when young play at the same thing that they are going to be doing when they are older -- i.e., learning to hunt and learning the social structure of their species.

    Children of men play, and some like playing with the erector sets; others like playing in the dirt with plants and insects; others play with toy soldiers while others play with construction toys or toy trains.

    This is the expression of essence, but when human children grow up they put all those things away and instead of following their inclinations, they end up in careers and jobs that they detest. Some people say that man is the only animal that uses tools in such a manner that it separates him from the animals. Others say that it is man's language that separates him from the animals.

    I would say that man is the only animal that grumbles all day long, and it is clear to anyone with objective vision that man has betrayed himself, his essence. By social learning he develops greed and ambition and learns how to lie.

    Mr. Gurdjieff stated clearly that a group, a proper group, a real group, needs various different types of people.

    Within his own circle he had an intellectual, Ouspensky; he had a musician, De Hartmann; he had a doctor, Dr. Z.; he had a visual artist, Andre DeSalzmann; he had a dancer in Madame DeSalzmann; he had a couple of aristocrats, a couple of teachers, a professional wrestler, and a couple of layabout louts.

    This is a real assortment of types, who could all rob each other the wrong way but act as sandpaper on each other's faults and flaws. In the work we are asked to engage in crafts which we may be unfamiliar with, a musician might be required to help an electrician, an actor might be asked to paint barns, a writer might be asked to dig ditches or use carpenter's tools.

    I myself am horrible at a number of these vocations -- I make a crappy carpenter, a lousy electrician, but I found that I was a good cook whereas before I didn't know. At one work period I was just about useless at everything except in the kitchen, when I was called upon to go out across the lake and chop down some trees using a huge double-edged loggers ax. Everybody was having trouble with this task because we're being asked to clear a bramble as well as chopped down some humongous old trees that hung out over the lake. There were about half a dozen of us and I suddenly noticed that the person using the large ax was wasting a lot of energy and getting very little done. I asked for the ax and began to chop, in large coordinated movements with my breathing.

    One of the elders who was in charge was sitting behind us. I had run up against him before with my usual lack of respect for any person and unsentimental feelings about the value of being taught by anyone using quotes from anyone else, up to and including Mr. Gurdjieff or Madame DeSalzmann. I only except authority when it comes directly from a person's own being -- not from dogma or quotes or handed down hearsay.

    Anyway, this elder had dressed me down a couple of times about my posture and a few other things. He didn't have one nice thing to say about me, although he continued to try politely to "correct me".

    Anyway, my chopping with this huge ax was quite successful, helping the clearing group quite a bit and I was working up quite a sweat while taking these huge back-and-forth swings into the tree coordinated with deep breathing.

    Behind me, I heard this man say, "you work very well. I have been mistaken about your value. You have something real."

    It was a remarkable moment for me. I'm still a moron in many things, but my essence knows things I don't. I am not a logger, or construction worker, but one of the best times of my life was using a pneumatic drill while creating an underground cave to be used as a sauna in Canada.

    But I am also very lucky, if you believe in luck, because my career is also connected to my essence, and to my task in life. I have a job where the word for work is play. I am a musician in outer life, and when I was very young I used to sit at the piano and strike one note and listen to it diminishing volume until I couldn't hear it anymore and I used to try to follow it, because I knew that once struck, a note can fade, but never go away.

    -- rlnyc


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