Monday, June 15, 2009

On Mixing Work

A tree always knows where its roots belong, but a man needs to constantly remind himself.

Readers will know I routinely examine questions from multiple spiritual disciplines. At the same time, you won’t find me sitting Zazen at a Zendo.

Why not?

In a day and age where exploration and the mixing of works has become routine—some of my best friends in the Gurdjieff work are up to their eyeballs in Qigong, Tai Chi, Hinduism, Buddhism, and who knows what else—I don’t do it. Yes, I still attend Church from time to time—religious practices are respected and even encouraged in the work. Nonetheless. Although I support and endorse my various friend’s involvements in other works, personally, I have a different opinion on the matter.

When I was very young in the work, my group leader Betty Brown advised me she couldn’t accept responsibility for what was produced if I started to engage in esoteric practices from outside the Gurdjieff work. In today’s world that admonition would be considered stodgy and outdated.

So why did she say that?

Inside the esoteric circles -- certainly, in any event, inside the esoteric circle of the Gurdjieff work -- the commandment "thou shalt not commit adultery" refers specifically to the mixing of work. One is not supposed to mix different spiritual works.

There's a reason for that. The Gurdjieff work is different because of its particular aims.

Gurdjieff made it clear to Ouspensky early on that there were other works which might well be legitimate, within the context of the Way that they came from. Gurdjieff, however, proposed a different sort of work.

There is a specific intention behind this work. And that intention is not a small thing, limited to one man’s development. Real Schools, as Ouspensky called them, must have much larger aims.

So Gurdjieff did not establish this work solely for his own evolution, although it surely helped him in his own aim. And he didn't establish it for everyone else's individual evolutions. The man had a much greater vision.

Now, we all say we “don’t work for results,” and in an immediate sense that is and must be true, for reasons I won’t bother expounding on here. In the end, however, there are results, else no one, anywhere, would bother practicing the esoteric arts: first of all, the “results” (in the form of realized masters) are what attract us to works in the first place, and secondly, why even bother to work if one has no wish for any kind of “result?” Even Buddhist masters might well find it specious to argue that we work simply so that nothing whatsoever will happen.

It may be true that most of us succeed in that kind of work, but that's beside the point.

The point I am leading to here is that the Gurdjieff work was designed to produce a result unlike the results of other works. One can argue as one wishes as to whether this is good, bad, desirable, undesirable, misguided, and so on. It doesn’t matter. The simple fact is that there was this specific intention behind Gurdjieff’s Work which has not been fully realized yet. The intention may take generations to come to fruition.

The intention behind the work can only be achieved if worked at by many different individuals and groups over a long period of time: not just years, or decades, but perhaps even centuries. And the overall aim of the work is not an individual aim, although individual aims may well be served by the work in proportion to how much an individual’s aim serves the work itself. The work as a whole is an entity with an aim that can only be achieved collectively, and which is not, in certain senses, a public matter, even within the ranks of the work itself.

It’s possible, with enough inner work, to begin to intimate what that aim is, but only after many, many years of personal work, and even then only with the dawning realization that the work is not personal. Our practice of "self observation" can at first lead us to believe that the work is in fact intensely personal, but eventually, we may discover otherwise.

Those who mix work or leave the work do so out of an honest but, I believe, unfortunate impression that their own work is personal; in other words, there is a “contaminating” egoistic element inherent in their assumptions. First, that they are working “for themselves,” and second, that the Gurdjieff work is not sufficient unto itself for its own purposes, and that they are developed enough to render judgment on that question. (This second point is perhaps one of the most peculiar features that develop in many individuals during the course of their inner work.)

In this regard it might be wise to remind ourselves of what Gurdjieff said in the prelude to “Beelzebub” (friendly advice:)” "Any prayer may be heard and granted by the Higher Powers only if it is uttered thrice:

First--for the welfare or the peace of the souls of one's parents;
Second--for the welfare of one's neighbor;
And only third--for oneself personally."

In other words, one cannot even begin to work for one’s self before one has undertaken work, so to speak, “on behalf of the whole.” We cannot put ourselves first if we wish to develop.

We’ve reached a moment in time when the Work needs to open its doors wider, true; this is perhaps inevitable, and a breath of fresh air is surely needed. But this need does not contradict the overall aim of the Work, or its need to remain "pure." This is not a question of politics or externals; it’s an inner question within a question, lying close to the heart of why we are working.

To dilute the work with other works is to dilute the aim.

Every individual who enters the work needs to ponder this carefully before coming on board; and every individual who mixes, or leaves, needs to ponder this quite carefully as well. It is not a casual matter; any tendency to treat it as such, as though it were like changing one’s socks until they suited one’s sense of fashion, is unfortunate.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.


  1. i read you and i agree...But only God knows how many lentrohamsanins are running the show and making supreme efforts to rewrite the very Saintly Labors of Gurdjieff...What to do about the "good doers" and thier unconscious and maleficent destruction of what remains? Just wondering about the "Terror of the Situation" Thanks for the reminder to remember...e*

  2. Thank you Lee for the background on "mixing" different traditions of spiritual work--
    Your lucidity is again evident.
    I, for myself, have wondered about this topic, but more from a perspective of "different types of awareness", that we, as human organisms, have available to us.
    E.g., Trungpa Rinpoche's description of various awareness states in "The Myth of Freedom". So. . if I infer correctly, you're saying not to try to attain Buddhist types of awareness if one is engaged in Gurdjieff Work?

  3. Joe,

    I believe I understand your question... but I'm not sure how we can distinguish "Buddhist types of awareness" from other types.

    The aim of the Gurdjieff work is balanced development. Of necessity, "Buddhist awareness" would be "in there," along with Sufi awareness, Christ awareness, Krishna awareness and so on. I think it isn't the specific character of any one awareness we value, but rather to try to discover what it means when we refer to "harmonious development."

    A man who is harmoniously developed might be quite different than, say, a Buddhist master. In any event, we probably don't know what this or that kind of awareess is or is not. We can say that we understand Gurdjieff gave us a methodology which ought to be consistently pursued-- just as, for example, a man trying to mix a stoneware pottery clay body which fires to cone 10 ought not mix in a low fire earthenware, or a higher fire porcelain one. Nor should he use an inappropriate glaze.

    As to anonymous... well, I think there will always be revisionists. All we can do is do the best, within our own hearts, to remain true to Gurdjieff's advisory to question everything.

    Elders in the work who knew Gurdjieff personally (yes, one or two are still alive) keep bringing that principle up these days, and with good reason.

  4. Lee, Thanks-
    In order to distinguish the aim of Gurdjieffean Work from (other) traditions in the East: It seems to me that Gurdjieff focuses the effort to Waken by using a series of practices/techniques of Awareness by or through which one can remember one's Self or, alternatively, can create ones own "I".
    On the other hand, it seems Buddhism, although definitely connected with practicing mindfulness/awareness, leading to (perhaps!) Enlightenment, heads in the oppposite direction in terms of Gurdjieff's concept of Sacred Individuality.
    However, IMO,the concept of Buddha as an Enlightened Being (the only such??)is still nonetheless in the canon of Sacred Individuals, so Gurdjieff's spiritual model rings true for me, personally.



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