Monday, May 18, 2015

A brief history of inner work, part III: the experiment becomes fossilized

The fourth way differs from the old and the new ways by the fact that it is never a permanent way. It has no definite forms and there are no institutions connected with it. It appears and disappears governed by some particular laws of its own. 

“The fourth way is never without some work of a definite significance, is never without some undertaking around which and in connection with which it can alone exist. When this work is finished, that is to say, when the aim set before it has been accomplished, the fourth way disappears, that is, it disappears from the given place, disappears in its given form, continuing perhaps in another place in another form. Schools of the fourth way exist for the needs of the work which is being carried out in connection with the proposed undertaking. They never exist by themselves as schools for the purpose of education and instruction.

—In Search of the Miraculous, P.D. Ouspensky, page 99 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... 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. 

But it happens sometimes that when the school closes a number of people are left who were round about the work, who saw the outward aspect of it, and saw the whole of the work in this outward aspect.

Having no doubts whatever of themselves or in the correctness of their conclusions and understanding they decide to continue the work. To continue this work they form new schools, teach people what they have themselves learned, and give them the same promises that they themselves received. All this naturally can only be outward imitation. But when we look back on history it is almost impossible for us to distinguish where the real ends and where the imitation begins.

—Ibid, page 313

Perhaps I come here to the crux of the question my friend asked of me; because the many different organizations spawned by followers of Gurdjieff worldwide have, for the most part, continued to conduct their affairs in more or less exactly the same way for the last 50 or 60 years.  They exist, by and large, in sheer defiance of the above quotes. 

This is not to say the organizations and lines are no good, or don't serve any useful purposes — on the contrary. 

But as to whether they serve the purposes intended by Gurdjieff? Or those of the Fourth Way?

The matter is subject to question from many angles. They should perhaps, for that matter, not serve any prior purposes. 

More or less by default, new purposes must arise...

mustn't they?

A kind of fossilization may have set in; and it consists (among other things) of perpetually reminding each other that "Gurdjieff said this, Mme. said that, Mr. Bennett or Mrs. so-and-so said this other thing" and so on. To be entirely fair, this is characteristic of other works as well; folks hang on the words of the masters like a monkey swings on its bars. 

But in other works, that is expected: in this one, it is supposed to be antithetical.

One allows a voice to the disturbing question: are we all just imitators?

Instead of boldly daring to seize the banner of our own inner work as it stands, and go forward remorselessly to live the work and carry it on into the future that it needs to grow and breathe in, there is a tendency to lean on stale books that date from the Victorian era, and to rely on established formulas.

Never, somehow, to reinvent everything anew and to dare to be different, to make a new effort of our own. 

Perhaps all of this is predicated on Mme.'s remark that one should never change anything unless one knows why one is changing it; advice that it's quite clear Gurdjieff never employed, since he changed things constantly and never seemed to get quite the result he wanted. If he had, he would have found a place that worked and settled in it; and he didn't.

 This idea of never changing anything is clearly an absurdity; and yet it has glued itself so firmly into the matrix that there are times when one feels one is living in cement,  not a work that lives and breathes in a new way in every moment. We need to bring today's work to today, not yesterday's; and this involves taking some chances, even if they turn out to be wrong. 

 A refusal to believe that we can, both collectively and as individuals, meet the needs of a real inner work today, is tantamount to casting off our responsibility to the tradition. It leaves us aping former teachers and grasping at straws to find a living way to bring this work to new generations. 

These are radically new times, with radically new things happening; the planet is at a crossroads poised somewhere on the knife edge between life and death; media has changed communication until it is unrecognizable compared to the time when the work emerged in society; young people have a new and different set of expectations on what kind of work they will encounter, how they will serve it, and how it may serve them. One might fairly say that more than a few venerable elders in this work have found themselves, so to speak, with their pants down around their ankles and no idea of how to pull them up. 

It is a position we are all in perpetual danger of inheriting.


If I intended to say anything at all on the subject, in the end, I would say that we should all be bold enough to change things and make our own mistakes, or we will never learn anything new.



  1. funny, i wish I had had even more confidence in that conclusion 30yrs ago, but u live and learn...a new world...and a new 'good news'.

  2. inevitably the question arises as to whether the G foundation (partic the frenchies like Mme's grandson Alexandre de Salzmann) are aware of the this fossilization - or are they still v. deep in their galoshes. They of course do have that mansion in central Paris to deal with


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