Some may view the idea of man as a machine from a pessimistic point of view; that is definitely the spin that Ouspensky put on it when he reported on his discussions with Gurdjieff.
Nonetheless, what is often overlooked is that Gurdjieff clearly said the whole universe is a machine. Everything in it is a machine. The word itself means a construction, or contrivance, which denotes something invented skillfully, or created. So when Gurdjieff said that the universe is a machine—or that man is a machine—the actual meaning of the word (as opposed to our negative fantasies about it) simply means that man is a creation... it doesn't sound quite as exciting or alarming when you strip all of the nonsense that has been attached to it over the years away, does it?
The idea of “escaping” from our mechanical nature by becoming conscious seems specious to me. Think about it. Gurdjieff clearly said everyone is under laws and influences, and that a man can only choose which ones he is under, at best. There isn't any escape from the machine. The whole Dharma—the entire cosmos—is the machine, and we can't escape from it without leaving it. A difficult prospect, to say the least.
Just as this oft-discussed idea of the machine is, in fact, rather weakly understood, so is the idea of consciousness. Gurdjieff clearly told Ouspensky that there are different levels of consciousness. Inferences that there is only one level, or type, of “higher” consciousness are ridiculous. Consciousness inhabits a range of circumstances, all the way from the top to the bottom of the cosmos. This hardly needs explaining, yet the word is often used as though it were a two-dimensional entity.
One can, undoubtedly, become more or less conscious, but this is all within the context of the machine—within creation, which is what the “machine” is. Creation contains consciousness. It is not all apportioned equally, any more than matter is apportioned equally—look at all the empty space in the universe.
This is a rather long lead-in for a much more specific and interesting question. What we don't see is that our machine—a part of us that acts mechanically, that has an automatism in it—is absolutely essential. We need it. It actually forms a critical part of our inner being—it is closely linked to what supports, oddly enough, our essence.
Think of it this way: our mechanical part, including all our habits, is a part of the inner self. It may seem outward, because it manifests outwardly, but the origin of all mechanical behavior is from the deepest part of the innermost self. That part is not an artificial or unnecessary part; it is an integral part of what is needed for the interface with outer life. It performs many functions–such as braking a car before it's too late–that could never be done without it. So it is a part of our intimate self, not our constructed self.
I think we can probably agree that all the parts of intimate self are necessary. They simply need to be balanced. When the mechanical part of the intimate self dominates, we are creatures of habit and reaction. But the mechanical part is not the whole story of the inner self.
There can be no whole inner self (essence) without three parts to it, because it is under the law of three, like everything else. We could easily formulate the matter by understanding that the inner self has a conscious part, a mechanical part, and a reconciling part—the same affirming, denying, and reconciling forces found at all levels of the universe. Readers can put some thought into deciding exactly which role the mechanical unconscious parts might play. There are a number of intriguing possibilities.
In the same way, there is no outer self (personality) without three parts, and there is no reconciling self without these three parts either.
In a balanced inner work (see the next post, on Saturday), we mustn't aim to dominate our mechanical nature, and we certainly don't want to tyrannize it with "terrorist attacks" by what we think of, from our professedly unconscious state, as consciousness. (This is a colorful way of saying we don't want to force anything.) The mechanical nature needs to be integrated into a whole inner self.
In working on this, what is needed is a sympathy for, and understanding of, our mechanical nature. It isn't an enemy. It is there to support us. And it is there, whether we believe it or not, to support our efforts at consciousness, not undermine them. The difficulty is that because of its nature, it does not know how to do that. It is up to the other parts in us to develop an understanding of how to help it find its right place.
The culture of critique of mechanicality has, in my eyes, run its course. If we want to speak of a harmonious work, an integrated work, a work of understanding, we need to understand this idea quite differently than we do if we see it as an undermining factor to be expunged from our Being. And we do need to understand consciousness as an evolving and changing entity with many aspects, not some magnificent fixed state of enlightenment we are striving towards.
The conventional conception of machinery generally conveys something fixed and rigid; these properties can be useful, but in a changing environment, they quickly become outdated. That's why a technological society throws so many machines away. They don't know how to change.
If our ideas become fixed and rigid, they may suffer the same fate.
I respectfully ask you to take good care.
I respectfully ask you to take good care.