transcript of meeting number one, Dec. 7, 1941 is the following:
Love of your neighbor, that is the Way. ( The word Way is italicized in the original.)
Gurdjieff expounds in some detail on the need for what he called outer considering in this passage. In earlier stages of his teaching, although he mentions the concept, one might conclude that he had little interest in outer action towards others or charitable acts; in fact, the legacy of his work has been a deeply unfortunate turning inward, away from the world, in a peculiar form of cloistered monasticism which tries to separate itself specifically from the outer world in a bell jar. This is been accompanied by a denial that such action is taking place; and a failure to examine the failure this represents, in terms of the fact that the work is supposed to be conducted in life.
In point of fact, late in life, Gurdjieff not only quietly ran a soup kitchen for poor and unfortunate people — something he rarely advertised to his students — he definitely understood something that Swedenborg emphasized over and over again, that is, pointedly, that outward action towards others is absolutely essential in terms of the spiritual path. We get a direct, specific, and important taste of how central this is to understanding in this particular transcript; yet the point is generally glossed over in terms of the current practice.
To pretend that one can work without intelligent, intentional, and meaningful charitable outward effort towards others is like pretending that one can get married and raise a family without having a woman in the house. Swedenborg explained in considerable detail (read Heaven and Hell) that outer action towards others is one of the essential characteristics of spirituality and a turning towards God, and one of the elements that qualifies a soul for heaven. When Gurdjieff told his students to practice outer considering, he never explained why; he simply said it was necessary. It seems, on consideration, that he didn't tell them why simply because he didn't want egos engaged in outer considering to congratulate themselves and think they were going to heaven because of all the good deeds they did.
This is a complicated subject; if we do good deeds because we think we are going to earn something—that is, if they don't come from the heart and the heart alone, if they are not done without a real struggle in which we see the way our egoism battles with such deeds—they are worthless. The whole point of outer considering is that it juxtaposes right action against our central egoism; and if we practice this correctly, we find ourselves engaged in constant conflict in which we see how the lower part of our nature struggles to assert itself against right action.
This kind of inner work can highlight our separation from God, and the oppositional nature of what we really are. Over time, it can begin to dispel all of the imaginary motivations we ascribe to ourselves in our supposed goodness.
Love of one's neighbor is not cheap and does not come without struggle. It has, as well, both an inner and an outer meaning, each one of which must be confronted and digested in order to acquire understanding on this question.
In any event, this practice of outer considering ought to be a far more vital question in everyone's work. Gurdjieff didn't refer to it as the Way in any casual manner — the appellation is a definitive one, assigning it priority.
There's an irony implicit in the fact that the Buddhists — and many Christians — have got this quite right, while esotericists smugly (and weirdly) presume they occupy some higher ground.
It's exactly this belief that one occupies any higher ground that the action of outer considering is supposed to combat; and if any effort at this direction is real, humility always rides directly on the heels of every effort to outwardly consider.
For as long as one believes one is good, and one's actions are good, one hasn't seen much of anything. Those who want to argue Gurdjieff's point of view on the matter might turn to the third series, where he reminds us that in ancient times, after a man died, everyone spent three days recounting all the terrible things he did during his lifetime. Today, instead, when someone dies, no matter how horrible they are, it seems we hold a service in which acquaintances stand up and extol their virtues.
One must admit. We certainly do things differently these days.
PS, note to readers. The Universal Enneagram is now available in the iTunes bookstore.