Thursday, December 20, 2012

Conscious labor and intentional suffering

One might be able to effectively argue that the ideas of conscious labor and intentional suffering dominate the intellectual and philosophical premises of the Gurdjieff work more than any other two subjects. This may not have been the case in earlier decades, but the terms are certainly dominant today.

Interestingly, these terms do not appear anywhere at all in P. D. Ouspensky's seminal work on Gurdjieff's teaching, In Search of the Miraculous, a striking omission, given that the book purports to be a relatively comprehensive review of Gurdjieff's major ideas. A text search of Views From the Real World, the posthumously published texts of some of Gurdjieff's discussions with pupils — which is also purported to be a major source of his teachings — contains these words in exactly one place. To be sure, they also crop up in some private and unpublished notes from meetings, but the publicly available literature is very, very thin on these concepts.

 The only text that introduces and iterates the concepts at any length is Gurdjieff's magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.

Given that these ideas are very nearly unique, talked about and found, by and large, in no other teaching or religious tradition whatsoever, at least not stated in this way,  I have the following questions:

Where did Gurdjieff come up with these two ideas?

Why they did not feature more prominently (that is to say, at all) in Ouspensky's extensive reportage on the teaching?

 Judging from their central role in Beelzebub, we must presume that Gurdjieff saw these two inner actions in man as being directly related to sacred forces. That is to say, every kind of relationship that human beings can form with sacred or higher forces requires these actions to one degree or another; they are indispensable. Yet he gave bafflingly few indications as to exactly what he meant by the terms, choosing instead to sling them about with apparent abandon in his text (the term conscious labor is used a total of 30 times,  and intentional suffering 21), as though everyone already knew what he was talking about.

Labeling them "Being-Parktdolg Duties," which, roughly translated from the original roots of Parktdolg, means "Being – duty-duty-duty," it is presumed he meant, by this, his famous "three-centered being." A reasonable presumption, to be sure, yet if so, why obscure the matter so thoroughly?

And why fail to explain this in greater detail, if it is so centrally important to understanding his work? He certainly went out of his way to explain many other subjects exhaustively, even to the point of redundancy. To this day, students of the Gurdjieff method continue to conduct discussions, investigations, queries, arguments, and rationalizations about these terms. No one ever seems to know quite what they mean; and, in fact, there are as many meanings as there are students of the method, because terms of this nature become uniquely subjective in the sense that each person who encounters them develops their own understanding of them, since there is no single doctrinaire definition available. The ambiguity, in other words, is built in—and that was, of course, perhaps quite intentional on Gurdjieff's part. Unfortunately, we may never know exactly what he meant.

 It's striking for an inner work to have unique and unusual features of this kind which can't be directly correlated with some ease to similar works and traditions; it's even more striking for a work to take them up as doctrine, even though the terms themselves started out without adequate parameters, and have not acquired any significant ones in nearly 100 years or so. Usually, people tend to latch onto things that are more recognizable. Instead, I often sit in rooms where the phrases are gravely pronounced as though one understood what they meant; when in fact, everyone ultimately admits that that is far from the case. It's more or less similar to scientists talking about dark matter.  All the evidence suggests it exists; but no one has ever seen it or proved it.

 Not that I'm a skeptic, not at all; but I have questions, many annoying and unorthodox questions... show me some conscious labor or intentional suffering, and we'll talk about it.

 I have studied these ideas myself for the majority of my adult lifetime, and I continue to have many questions about them. There are intelligible contexts I have discerned on my own, relative to my studies of the enneagram; but who's to say they are correct? The contexts I place them in do, at least, relate them to other traditions in an understandable fashion; to some, that will be an advantage, and to others, a heresy. So many people, after all, want Gurdjieff to be special — so special, in fact, that most average people have lost interest in his ideas and his work.

The fruit vendor can't just fill the cart with exotic fruit; he's got to have some bananas, or the monkeys won't buy.

Gurdjieff knew this. Do we?

 May your soul be filled with light.


  1. It has occurred to me that intentional suffering is the first conscious shock and that conscious labor is the second. Thus Ouspensky did indeed write about it, but not in those terms.

  2. actually, that's backwards. conscious labor is the first shock, intentional suffering the second.

    1. That's right Lee. You are not entirely asleep there. It was getting late here, so I ask you to intentionally suffer my unconscious labor. I wonder why you did not get into this angle in the first place. It does seem to explain why Beelzebub throws these terms around as if everyone ought to know what he is talking about.
      Now we may attempt to understand why Mr. G. would say to an extremely tired Mr. DeHartmann, who was working very hard. that he should not be so lazy, but put some effort into it. and why he would just turn away looking kind of sad if they reacted to his provocations.

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