Sunday, October 10, 2010


Yesterday my good friend Kathy Neall asked for an explanation of Gurdjieff's "system of hydrogens" suitable for non-Gurdjieff people, or beginners.

I'm not sure there is any easy explanation of this material. Even longtime members of the Gurdjieff work find this material very challenging, and eyes often glaze over when the subject comes up. Part of this, of course, is because the work has taken a very different turn over the last three quarters of a century, and technical material of this kind is no longer emphasized, at least within the confines of the Gurdjieff Foundation itself.

The other reason is because it's damned difficult to understand this material. Touchy-feely people hate it.

Readers are invited to take a look at "an alternative study of Gurdjieff's chemical factory" at for my essay on the subject. I wrote this a number of years ago, and I rarely tackle technical information in this much detail--or from such an intellectual point of view-- in this manner any longer. Nonetheless, it has some merit. And, disturbingly, I find that if the right switch is turned on in me, I can still babble about it ad infinitum in what sound like very intelligent ways. Sometimes it almost sounds like I know what I am talking about.

There's the danger.

I'm writing today about this subject because this morning--directly as a consequence of my friend Kathy's inquiry-- something rather magnificent and interesting occurred to me about the very term "hydrogen" itself.

Coming on the heels of Stephen Hawking's most recent book about the Big Bang (The Grand Design) in which he argues, disturbingly, perhaps, that the universe adds up to... nothing... (well, on an optimistic note, I suppose the Buddhists may not be disturbed) this question of creation, and what it means, may be more current than it has been for a while.

Mr. Gurdjieff used the term "hydrogens" to describe the key substances, occurring on various levels, or, in other words, vibrating at different levels of intensity, which create both the material universe and man's possibilities for evolution.

To be fair, he also included some obscure and technically even more difficult references to carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, with some peculiar and decidedly unconventional interactions between them, in order to describe the chemical factory. That material fell by the wayside; today, people both inside and outside the Gurdjieff Foundation who study these ideas -- which must clearly be taken allegorically -- refer almost exclusively to "higher" and "lower" hydrogens.

Ok. Why did he call them "hydrogens?"

What occurred to me this morning, which I want to pass on to readers as a subject to ponder further in both an inner and an outer sense, is that hydrogen is the fundamental element in the periodic table. That is to say, from a physics point of view, everything starts there, and complexities -- the complexity of the entire table of the elements, and the entire consequential development of the material universe, "evolves" from hydrogen. It's the cornerstone of the universe, so to speak.

Gurdjieff did not offer us a single hydrogen. His cosmology is composed of multiple "hydrogens" that move up in a scale of vibration. Since each "hydrogen" can be conceived of as forming the base of its own periodic table, what he has offered us -- what he offered us, in fact, many decades before physics took it seriously -- is a multiverse, that is, a universe of multiple universes. Hawking and his associates are now basking in the limelight of this idea, but Gurdjieff got there first.

Each hydrogen, in effect, creates its own universe and its own periodic table of the elements, with a completely evolved, adumbrating (branching) series of evolving interactions, relationships, and laws. These levels -- each of which constitutes, in essence, a universe unto itself -- are nested within one another, and, in fact, any level incorporates, and is built by, all the levels both above and below it. It is a fractal structure... an emergent structure... which i have pointed out many times before in this space.

This enormously sophisticated vision seems to me to effectively anticipate where modern physics has led us, right up to and including string theory, which poses that the entire universe is made out of vibrations-- undeniably, another fundamental tenet of Gurdjieff's teachings.

It's tempting to engage in further philosophical discourse about all of this, but I think it would be best to just let it percolate right now.

Instead, I am sitting here in the garden, in the late morning sun, listening to the birds, looking at the yellow dahlias blooming, and sensing the organism within the very real context of vibration that Gurdjieff proposed.

There is a tangible accessibility to his ideas, which can be experienced not just as ideas, but as facts, arising within the organism in relationship to my immediate conditions and the natural environment. There is a definite sense that just beyond the threshold of this consciousness, this level, there is a higher hydrogen-- a new "Do," the beginning of another octave, another universe -- which understands all of these questions in a single, comprehensive gesture of clarity.

Of course, I don't live in that place. I can taste it -- perhaps there is even a scent of it in the air -- but it is a hint, not a fait accompli.

It is good to think about these questions -- but not too much. It's much more important, I find, to actively seek the relationships within the body, and in the context of the organism's relationship to life... feeling my way forward, and I do mean feeling-- not thinking, sensing, or emoting my way forward-- like the blind men and the elephant, attempting to use the most sensitive parts of myself to come to a different understanding about my relationship to life.

Like most blind men -- and, I think, like all of us, because almost all of us are quite blind -- I am clumsy about it. Even my sense of touch -- which ought to be much better, given that I live so blindly -- is lazy from lack of use. It needs exercise. And too much intellectual dawdling -- wiseacreing, as Mr. Gurdjieff used to call it-- just keeps me planted in an armchair which is far too comfortable in the first place.

The ideas in this work are not ideas. They are potential realities; formal, or abstract, representations of forces that can become alive and transform inner understanding.

The difficulty is in stepping across the bridge between all this thinking, and a tangible experience of the organic sense of Being.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

1 comment:

  1. I have an extensive study of the four alchemical elements Mr.Gurdjieff used over at It renders the complete logic of those exact four elements: You can explications of H, C N and O there.


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