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.
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 In today’s world that admonition would be considered stodgy and outdated.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.