No matter where you go “in” the Gurdjieff work, you always encounter the statement that man is a machine. People in the Work make this statement as though it were some miraculous revelation, even though biologists recognized this a long time ago, and it is commonly understood in all the sciences. Why we make such a big deal about this concept is a question for me.
What is frequently forgotten is that Gurdjieff told us the entire universe is a machine–which, in fact, is another hard-core revelation that the sciences came to a long time ago. Gurdjieff was, in fact, quite enamored of the sciences, had an interesting grasp of them, and displayed a Socratic and scientific mind of a high order. His cosmology, peculiar though it may be to some, was essentially scientific in nature. It presumes a fractal organization in which consciousness is an emergent property. I've explained this many times in earlier pieces; anyone who wants to can do a search on the terms within the blog posts and come up with plenty of material to bore themselves with.
The ramifications of this recognition–that the machine is the whole universe, not just man–dovetails neatly into some of Gurdjieff's other teachings. People often speak about "attaining consciousness" as though it amounted to “escaping" mechanicality. If we rightly understand his cosmology, however, there isn't any escape from mechanicality, because we live within the machine and will always be a part of it. We have the potential to dwell on a different level of the machine–we have the potential to develop an awareness which is superior to the automatized awareness of this level–but in one sense or another, that awareness is always still a part of the machine. One would have to literally leave the universe in order to completely escape the consequences of being within the machine, and a part of the machine.
What we are able to do–as he explained–is put ourselves under different sets of influences. We will always have to be under one influence or another; what we do have is the ability to make a conscious choice of which influence we fall under. This idea of “free” will–the ability to choose our position–is common to most religious practices, and even atheists believe that there is such a thing as free will. Gurdjieff's contention was that our will can't be free on this level–we are trapped in a set of automatic reactions, and it is only by putting ourselves under influences from a higher level that we can be less trapped, under less automatic reactions. (Don't forget that according to Beelzebub, when the universe was originally created, consciousness itself evolved automatically. It was only after a cosmic disaster referred to as the "chootboglitanical period" that the automatic evolution of consciousness was forever suspended.)
Astute readers will be able to easily substitute the word "laws" for “automatic reactions.” The influences we are under are, after all, laws, and the laws are what create the mechanical nature of the universe. On each level, a specific number of laws affect the way things work, and one is under more and more laws as one descends by level. The analogy of the “weight” of the ray of creation applies here.
I'm bringing all this up because it strikes me that this fact–that we will always be a part of this vast machine, and that we are always under one set of laws or another–is almost forgotten. There is a zeal to believe that we are going to break on through to the other side and burst forth like a butterfly into some cosmically wonderful new world of love.
Unfortunately, the sorrow of His Endlessness–which was what Gurdjieff described, more or less, as the basic and most essential quality of the universe–more or less precludes the idea of glorious cosmic perfection. (Lest you wish to argue the point, refer back to Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, in which terrible things are constantly going wrong, and even the highest being bodies make the most atrocious mistakes.) Underneath the fabric of material reality, there is an essential suffering that must always be faced and cannot be escaped.
This is not to say there is no joy, or that there is no love. I am saying, however, that although I value and crave the experience of these things, I cannot afford to be hypnotized by the idea that they are going to overwhelm "evil" and save the universe. We live in a complex system where suffering and joy are both elements of the same energy. They need one another; efforts to eliminate one in favor of the other are doomed to failure.
Readers who follow this space regularly will know that I have spoken on any number of occasions about my highly personal observations regarding the nature of sorrow, and its place in work. In my own experience, the deepest and most true experience of the higher always has an extremely powerful element of this sorrow in it, which is also a form of joy. Sorrow and joy are, in fact, perfectly blended in the Godhead.
The nature of the machine is that it is a whole. Efforts to live within one part of it or extract one part from another fail to take the conditions or consequences of existence into account. The earthy, pithy, contact-based encounters with Gurdjieff, as recounted by those who knew him, underscore the fact that Gurdjieff was not one to avoid conditions and consequences.
Instead, he created them.
It takes a bold man to do that. I'm hardly made of that stuff. I can, however, recognize and admire a man who has the courage to live that way. That's one of the reasons I am in this work.
May the living Light of Christ discover us.