Plate with Pseudo-Arabic inscriptions
Spain, 14th century
Metropolitan Musuem of Art (On loan from Hispanic Society of America, NY)
It's commonly agreed that a spiritual search is a search for Truth. The ragtag band of adventurers who set out through the remote parts of Asia to discover hidden esoteric knowledge in the late part of the nineteenth century, of which Gurdjieff was a member, referred to itself as the "Seekers of Truth."
Today I am going to introduce and discuss a fundamental concept in relationship to the nature of truth.
Everything is true, within the limits of its own range.
Those familiar with Gurdjieff's autobiography, “Meetings With Remarkable Men,” may remember the story of the Yezidi boy. Gurdjieff repeated this tale, which is actually a parable of sorts, because it bears on this particular question.
He reports as follows: "if a circle is drawn around a Yezidi, he cannot of his own volition escape from it. Within the circle he can move freely, and the larger the circle, the larger the space in which he can move, but get out of it he cannot. Some strange force, much more powerful than his normal strength, keeps him inside... if a Yezidi is forcibly dragged out of the circle, he immediately falls into the state called catalepsy..." (Meetings With Remarkable Men, p. 65, E.P. Dutton and Company, Inc., New York 1963.)
This isn't really a story about a primitive superstitious tribesman. It is a story about us, as we are, and the nature of identification– or, as the Buddhists might call it, attachment. It represents an inner action in man.
We are all victims of our own view about the truth. Truth exists in a continuum, which consists of all and everything– everything that is. There is no thing that is not true, as it arises and exists, within the limits of its own range. Falsehood itself is true within the range of its own falsehood. A lie lives within the truth of its own lie. There is, in other words, a totality of manifestation within which all that takes place is true. Delusional beliefs are absolutely true for those in the grip of delusion, and this is the story of the Yezidis.
I draw a circle around myself with the truths that I have, those that lie within my range of understanding. Anything that comes from outside that range, that circle, paralyzes me. I am asleep to it, catatonic, and unable to move once I come under its influence. My understanding and my ability to act lie only within the limited circle of "truth" which is drawn around me.
I identify with the beliefs that I have. I think that they "are" me... that my truths are true, and the truths of others are false. I'm not able to see that everything is true. So I react to the things I think are not true.
Even more to the point, perhaps, in the book, someone else draws the circle. So I am not even living within the circle of my own truth: I am living within the circle of what is circumscribed by external influences. If it were my own circle of truth, I might have some power over it; but it doesn't belong to me.
Within the horizontal range of manifestation, I am absolutely convinced that it's necessary for me to live within this circle in the sand and even defend it... at least I think it is. All of our culture and society is constructed on this idea. And it is indeed connected to the action of egoism, but not the action of conscious egoism, which is a healthy affirmation of Being. It is the action of what one might call negative egoism, denying egoism, which stakes its existence on the premise that there is only one circle.
Philosophies and religions draw larger circles, but they are still circles. Any astute student of these disciplines will notice that no matter how expansive a religious practice or philosophy becomes, it reaches a point where it breaks down and cannot explain one phenomenon or another. For example, the religious or moral principle that one must always unerringly tell the truth breaks down if you are a Dutch family during the second world war hiding Jews in your attic, and the Nazis come pounding on your door to ask you if you have any Jews up there... this is not in the least a hypothetical example. There are many situations like this in real life. A trip the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam can serve as a compelling reminder.
This principle of encirclement, which is in some ways an action that defines the ego, or the “I am” of any given system, can be seen acting on the level of solar systems and galaxies. Each one exists within the range of its own circle, and has its own complete truth within that range. So the phenomenon takes place on every level.
The action itself is both healthy and necessary, but a belief in the action as exclusive– which is how ego in human beings manifests– is pathological.
The idea of the Dharma as an all-encompassing, or transcendental, truth that is irrevocable and fundamental, superseding the act of encirclement– and thus, by definition, affirming what we might call “freedom,” or, inner action unconstrained by encirclement– is an idea common, in one way or another, to every religion. The idea, however, requires that we surrender our idea of the circle. As with the Yezidi tribesmen, our own idea of the circle is delusional–it is an artificial construct, a fantasy. Outsiders scratch their head in bafflement as to why the Yezidi can't break out of the circle, which is clearly an imaginary entity.
To remember that everything is true within the limits of its own range is actually an active stance that brings us to the threshold of compassion.
When we speak of self re-membering, we speak of reattaching the limbs of the self– putting its members back together. The self has limbs, arms and legs, which can allow it to move outside the circle, but they aren't connected. The self must recall that it has them, and know that there is a circle; furthermore, it must understand that the circle, although it is clearly there in the sand around it, is imaginary and limited.
The man who sees he stands within his own circle and is helpless invokes the prayer, “Lord have Mercy”–because, like the Yezidi, only the agency of an outside force which is able to see the circle can help him break free.
I respectfully ask you to take good care.