Image from Ajit Mookerjee's "Kundalini," 1986 edition.
Reproduced with permission of Destiny Books
Having recently picked up a copy of Harish Johari's "Chakras," a reasonably definitive work, also published by Destiny books (see the above link), I found so many of the remarks he makes about the yoga system consistent with Gurdjieff's teachings that I thought a number of specific passages were important to recognizing the relationship between the two systems.
Johari, a staunch traditionalist, delivers a straightforward modern interpretation of classic yoga understandings. One need not go further than the introduction. He begins with the already cited reference that we take in through breathing on page 1: "...our organism draws prana into our nostrils as we breathe...".
On page 5, Johari states: "...one of the two hemispheres in the human brain is visual and the other verbal." one cannot help but cross references to Gurdjieff's statement in Beelzebub, found on page 14, which, although characteristically convoluted, says essentially the same thing.
On Page 6, Johari states: "the aspirant has to see himself or herself as a microcosm." This material was repeated so many times in In Search of the Miraculous that citing specific references is unnecessary for anyone who has read the book.
On page 7, he states: "for balanced functioning, proper harmony should exist between the two brains: the upper brain (the organism of consciousness) and lower brain (the seat of the subconscious mind.) Here he touches on two principal premises of Gurdjieff's teaching: first, that harmonious development is necessary, and second, that the subconscious mind plays an important role in this kind of work. He goes on to say "a basic requirement for spiritual development is a systematic study of the activities and functions of the human organism at work."
Once again, this so precisely mirrors the texts in ISOTM that there seems to be no point in citing the many references to this. In essence, it's the whole point of the book.
Johari continues on as follows: " The word yoga is described from the Sanskrit root yum, which means "to unite," "to join," "to add." If considered at the gross physical level, the union is between the upper brain and the lower brain, the conscious with the subconscious. At a subtle level union is between one's individual consciousness and cosmic consciousness... According to yoga, individual consciousness is an expression of cosmic consciousness... in essence, cosmic consciousness in individual consciousness are one, because both our consciousness which is indivisible. But the two are separated by subjectivity, the I - consciousness of the individual." (page 8.)
After 40 years of study, I'm hard put to find any significant difference between this and any of Gurdjieff's system. in order to argue that these two systems are not the same, one has to begin by wanting them to not be the same; and this is never a good premise from which to begin when one is testing a question. One must never first want one thing, or another thing; one must only want first for that thing which is true, and then search for it.
So one must never search for things; one must search for truth.
I think it's certain that Gurdjieff was an innovator in yoga — and yoga, like all spiritual systems, needs constant reinvention, for it is an evolving entity. Practices that remain in the same place go nowhere. In particular, the fact that Gurdjieff gained access to some of the most important esoteric knowledge from the hidden yoga schools, especially the enneagram, marks him as the preeminent yogi of any recent generation.
Why, then, might we ask, did he change all the language in his work and obscure its origins? The answer is not so difficult to come by. Yoga, over the thousands of years of its existence, became a practice contaminated with any number of confusing and erroneous doctrines, folk beliefs, fairy tales, and shamanistic practices grafted on to the original structure. A grotesque amount of manipulative nonsense and bizarre physical practices wormed their way into what was once a pure and extraordinary doctrine; and why should we be surprised at that? Every religion falls victim to influences of this kind. If we can truly believe that swallowing rags and drawing water into our anus (see Johari's book) can really lead to spiritual enlightenment, well then, we get what we deserve.
Gurdjieff's work was not a derivative work of yoga; nor was it an abandonment of yoga. It was a restoration of yoga to something much closer to its original form. He prudently changed all the language because he knew that associating it with the language in its current form could never serve such a purpose. There are times when the only way to heal is through divorce.
Ultimately, though, Gurdjieff's efforts to distance himself from the yoga schools was as impossible as his attempts to expunge the roots of his Christian practice from his work. Both these influences form undeniably powerful currents in his direction; and he furthermore managed the at first glance unlikely task of unifying both of them with the understandings of the dervishes, an unabashedly Islamic source.
We have, in other words, an entirely new conjunction of three of the world's most important teachings in this work. And perhaps it's no coincidence that Jeanne de Salzmann, working with William Segal, reestablished deep ties to Zen Buddhism, folding another main world tradition into Gurdjieff's effort to reunite the world's religions. Some have argued that this was a corrupting influence; yet Buddhist teaching is deeply integrated into the structure of his work, beginning with the fact that he ascribes the origin of the work of intentional suffering to Buddha. How, then, could integrating valid Buddhist practice into the work be anything but common sense?
Reuniting the world's religions? An impossible task, you may say. Yet I'm reminded of the famous saying: "The difficult, we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer." Gurdjieff, coming from schools where work was measured not in generations, but millennia, was willing to take a little longer, even though he said his version of yoga was "hurry up" (haida) yoga. And, of course, correcting mankind's exigencies is without a doubt an impossible task. Yet he took it on.
Reuniting the world's religions was almost surely one of Gurdjieff's aims — none which he ever laid out in plain words to the general public. And, judging from the results of his work, it was certainly his exoteric aim — that is, the aim he set himself as a service to humanity at large.
This leads us to another essential question.
There always has been, of course, an esoteric aim to the work, but that aim had a more immediate, urgent, and far more important goal, whose conditions have now been met.
Whether that means that the Gurdjieff work as it exists today will actually disband remains to be seen. Gurdjieff said the following:
"“But no matter what the fundamental aim of the work is, the schools continue to exist only while this work is going on. When the work is done the schools close. The people who began the work leave the stage. Those who have learned from them what was possible to learn and have reached the possibility of continuing on the way independently begin in one form or another their own personal work." - In Search of the Miraculous, P. D. Ouspensky, Paul H. Crompton Ltd. edition, P. 313.
We may well have reached that point. This does not mean the end of the teaching; it represents a new beginning, but it may not continue in the way we expected to, or the form we are accustomed to. Once the aim of the school is met, those who cling to the old are merely constructing an imitative entity, as he points out later in the same passage.
I respectfully hope you will take good care.