I suppose that in embarking on such commentaries, one might as well point out that all published books are subject to critique and evaluation. Few are left who knew Gurdjieff the man personally; not only have I worked with a number of people who did, there are some few still alive who are friends of mine. Yet in the increasing absence of any living people at all who have spent time with him, it is left to us to try to understand him primarily from the records that are left.
Of necessity, and inevitably, these evaluations arise from opinion; any pretense to objectivity is foolishness. Nonetheless, those of us who have followed Mr. Gurdjieff's teachings for many decades, and who stand in a direct line of work that descended from him personally (I am a member of Dr. Welch's group) have a responsibility to carry on the efforts of understanding the work and passing what we can glean on to others.
As such, readers will have to understand that what follows is derived from my own understanding, which is, once again, inevitably partial. Nonetheless, having spent many years and countless hours not only pondering the sense and aim of existence, but living within it according to the principles, intentions, and manifestations which the work attempts to passed on to individuals, I have at least some meaningful sense of these matters.
Each of the transcripts contains a wealth of material that could be commented on; and, as loquacious as it appears I am — there is no sense in denying it at this late stage of my life — I could probably comment at great length on individual sentences in the book, and probably on most of the sentences, at that.
I will attempt to restrain myself, and keep my comments to the things that strike me as most interesting.
Let us begin with an overall observation about the first paragraph in the book, on page 1. Mr. Gurdjieff says, "...you must learn to work. Not only for yourself alone, but for others... You must work for yourself through the aim of being able to help them."
He follows this on page 2 with "Love of your neighbor; that is the Way."
The theme of love of others comes up more than once in this book. The overarching premise is that our egoism is a damaging factor, that our selfishness destroys; and this principle is identical to the principle which Swedenborg advances in his description of heavenly versus hellish behavior. Gurdjieff's doctrine, which is an essential doctrine of unselfishness, can't possibly be divorced from Swedenborg's understanding of what the forces of the divine wish for us.
A second point that struck me in meeting number one derive from the following comments: "I will explain, but it is for later. In our solar system certain substances emanate from the sun and the planets, in the same way as those emanated by the earth, making contact at certain points in the solar system. And these points can reflect themselves and materialized images which are the inverted images of the All Highest — the Absolute."
Gurdjieff goes on to describe these manifestations as, among other things, personalized. And he ascribes astral powers to them. But there can be no mistaking the initial premise, which is the doctrine of correspondences, an ancient doctrine which Swedenborg also wrote about at considerable length. Everything in the material world is, in one way or another, a reflection of the divine; this is a Sufi understanding as well, but is generally taken to be allegorical. There are much more literal interpretations of this doctrine which have deep roots in the sciences, roots which Swedenborg understood. Gurdjieff, a man also deeply interested in the sciences, manifested enough genius to grasp the principles which Swedenborg expounded on in more detail.
The point I wish to make here, a point I have made before on many occasions, is that the connection between Swedenborg and Gurdjieff runs unusually deep, and has never been subjected to sufficient critical analysis, especially inside the ranks of the Gurdjieff practice itself. This is a work that ought to be undertaken by a group of people willing to dedicate themselves to examining the connections, as it will perform a great service to esoteric understanding in general. I would undertake it myself at greater length, but I currently have too many tasks on my plate, most of which involve drawing threads from an even wider range of fabrics together.
Perhaps the most important and singular remark made in this first transcript is a comment that corresponds to my own understanding of the organic sense of being, a subject that has been mentioned so many times in my essays readers probably feel it has been beaten to death.
On page 5, Mr. Gurdjieff remarks, "...one must try to keep constantly the organic sensation of the body... Our aim is to have constantly a sensation of oneself, of one's individuality, this sensation cannot be expressed intellectually, because it is organic. It is something which makes you independent when you are with other people."
It has come to my attention that almost everyone I speak to has little or no understanding of the type of sensation that Gurdjieff speaks of; that is, an organic and a voluntary sensation, such as described by Jeanne de Salzmann in The Reality of Being.
This kind of sensation is not like ordinary sensation, and I do not try to have it. If I do not have it, I must try; because the effort is necessary. But I can't "do" it: and de Salzmann's efforts and writings stand as the most important coda and testimony to Gurdjieff's remarks on the matter, since she spent so much time trying to impart this foundational understanding to her pupils.
I know for a fact that the idea of voluntary and organic sensation is poorly understood, simply because I heard about such things for decades and did not understand them — although I thought I understood them. I'll never forget the time my own teacher challenged me on this in the 1980s, and managed to transmit something to me which made me see, for a moment, that I definitely didn't know what she was talking about. She definitely understood this question, at least from a particular point of view — and there is more than one. But at that time, I didn't, and I realized that. It took me another 15 years to gain a direct understanding — that is, a permanent understanding, not a temporary one or a flash of insight — on this matter, and it was only after suffering almost unbearable conditions in life, and absorbing them.
It brings to mind one of the other comments in this particular transcript, "without fire, there will never be anything. This fire is suffering, voluntary suffering, without which it is impossible to create anything. One must prepare, must know what will make one suffer and when it is there, make use of it."
The difficulty in understanding the organic sense of being lies specifically in the fact that it cannot be expressed intellectually. One must be within the experience; and the experience of the organic sense of being emerges from what I call the second mind, that is, the mind of the body, which does not express things intellectually. It is unable to express things intellectually; and although the intellect can serve as a translator for it, translation is in many ways functionally impossible, because the languages are so fundamentally different that they are describing not different continents, but different planets, or perhaps even solar systems or universes. That is, ordinary sensation and voluntary sensation are completely divided by the difference between unconscious sensation and conscious sensation.
Conscious sensation is conscious by itself; I do not make it conscious. And this is the point Mr. Gurdjieff attempts to make here.
This essay is running a bit too long, so I will have to take up the question of the last sentence — it is something which makes you independent when you are with other people – in the next post.