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AN 'ALIEN INTELLIGENCE'

       G.I. Gurdjieff, The Fourth Way, &
     “The Three-Brained Beings Of The Planet Earth”

by
 
James A. Moffatt


      He had a presence impossible to describe because I had never encountered another with which to compare it. ... we immediately recognized Gurdjieff as the kind of man we had never seen–a seer, a prophet, a messiah?  We had been prepared from the first to regard him as a man different from other men, in the sense that he possessed what was called ‘higher knowledge,’ or ‘permanent knowledge’.  He was known as a great teacher and the knowledge he had to offer was that which, in occult books and in the schools of the East, is given through allegory, dialogue, parable, oracle, scripture, or direct esoteric teaching. ... Gurdjieff presented his knowledge in a terminology which would not alienate the factual minds of Western thinkers. ....
     We looked upon this man ... as a messenger between two worlds, a man who could clarify for us a world we had hoped to fathom–the world which the natural scientists had revealed but not interpreted.
     ... what philosophers have taught as ‘wisdom’, what scholars have taught in texts and tracts, what mystics have taught through ecstatic revelation, Gurdjieff would teach as a science–an exact science of man and human behaviour–a supreme science of God, world, man–based on sources outside the scope, reach, knowledge or conception of modern scientists and psychologists.

Margaret Anderson
The Unknowable Gurdjieff  (pp. 78-79)

      In ‘An Alien Intelligence.’ James Moffatt examines the extraordinary life and teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff.  An enigmatic mystic and master, Gurdjieff was one of the most fascinating and remarkable figures of the twentieth century.  During the course of his more than twenty years of travel throughout the near and far East–which he spent searching for the sources of hidden wisdom that he believed contained secrets about the nature and purpose of human existence–Gurdjieff discovered an ancient, unknown esoteric teaching: the fourth way.  As a method of awakening consciousness through a process of psycho-spiritual transformation, ‘the fourth way’   is an astonishingly sophisticated, lucid, and complex system of thought and disciplines.  In revealing and articulating his teaching, Mr. Gurdjieff displayed a unique versatility and vitality by continually shifting the external forms and focus of his efforts.  From his appearance in Russia, in 1912, until his death in Paris, in 1949, he worked with various groups of pupils to awaken and bring into harmony their mental, emotional, and physical intelligences. 
     A controversial and frequently outrageous character, Gurdjieff has been variously described as a master, a fake, an avatar, charlatan, teacher, con man, magus, ignoramus, “rascal sage,” and, in his own words, “a teacher of dancing.”  James Moffatt argues that Gurdjieff was a man of higher being and consciousness who, as a “conscious actor,” thoroughly disguised himself and his intentions by playing a series of parts for his own unrecognized purposes.  As a result, most attempts to come to grips with Gurdjieff have failed precisely because they do not recognize the pitfalls in approaching him solely as a historical character.  Instead, Moffatt asserts that Gurdjieff’s unique being means that he should be understood as a figure who had ‘dropped into history from another dimension’–thereby revealing and transcending the limits of the traditional historical and psychological perspectives.  Therefore, he puts forth the idea that Gurdjieff should be regarded as an alien intelligence: that is, one whose level of consciousness and being differs in nature to the point of incompatibility with our normal understanding of what it means to be human.  In the same way, he also argues that ‘the fourth way’ is not simply another set of philosophical ideas, but rather impresses those who study and work on themselves, in terms of its teachings, as a conscious entity–in other words, an alien intelligence.
     From this unique perspective, James Moffatt presents a most provocative and fascinating assessment of G.I. Gurdjieff and ‘the fourth way.’  ‘An Alien Intelligence’ furnishes a portrait of Gurdjieff which captures the richness of his most colourful life, while providing a penetrating consideration of his mission and legacy.  Focusing on the psychological aspects of the teaching, Moffatt presents a detailed exposition of its essential tenets.  In doing so, however, he explains that the system’s singular comprehensiveness and organic unity means that any separation of the psychological and cosmological aspects is artificial.  Contrasting the teaching’s unparalleled combination of scope and exactitude with modern academic psychology’s obsession with increasingly trivial and isolated pursuits, he points out the latter’s abject failure to consider that which should be its most essential question: what is the nature of consciousness?  By framing  his exposition of ‘the fourth way’ in terms of his own thirty year study of the teaching, he reveals that the proper study of “consciousness” involves an intriguingly complex and mysterious process of self-study and self-discovery.  Nevertheless, his examination of Gurdjieff’s ideas is also conducted in terms of their universal implications and applications–conveying a sense of why Gurdjieff was not exaggerating when he described his system of thought as addressing the meaning of “all and everything.”
     ‘An Alien Intelligence’ is a significant addition to the ‘fourth way’ literature and will appeal to both those who are familiar with Gurdjieff and his ideas, and those who are seeking an introduction to this most remarkable man and his work.
 

 

Introduction

     Once upon a time ... in a place far, far away ... I was introduced to an extraordinary “esoteric” teaching–a system of ideas and practices designed to develop one’s consciousness and being through a process of psycho-spiritual transformation.  In the first year of studying this teaching’s  profoundly sophisticated psychological aspects, I lived through an annus mirabilis–a period of fantastic revelations–which had the effect of thoroughly challenging and overturning my grasp of the meaning of “all and everything.”  Thus, against all odds and expectations, my understanding of the nature of my being and the possibilities of its development was fundamentally, irrevocably, and miraculously altered.
     The teaching, which had so dramatically redefined my life, was called “the fourth way.”  G.I. Gurdjieff, an enigmatic mystic and “master,” brought this ancient system of knowledge and practices to the West when he began working with groups of pupils in pre-revolutionary Russia.  Through his efforts there, and later in France and the United States, Gurdjieff disseminated his teaching and established groups of pupils throughout the Western world.  Today, some fifty years after his death, there are numerous “fourth way” and “Gurdjieff” groups–some of which trace their lineage directly to him–that continue to pursue and promulgate his ideas and practices.  In addition, there are hundreds of books about Gurdjieff and ‘the fourth way’–including his own three part series, All And Everything, and several volumes by his most prominent pupil, P.D. Ouspensky, which include In Search Of The Miraculous, The Fourth Way, and The Psychology Of Man’s Possible Evolution.1
     Even though I gained most of my knowledge of Mr. G.2 and his system from these second-hand sources, the impact of discovering his remarkable ideas inspired and illuminated me with extraordinary feelings of awakening and self-discovery.  To say that my world had been turned upside down or that I was in the midst of a revolutionary re-evaluation of everything which I had taken to be my knowledge would be an accurate, but wholly inadequate description of that time.  For all superlatives and all words fail to capture the essence of that utterly magical period during which I began working to ‘know myself’ in terms of ‘the fourth way.’  Like a character in a fairy tale, I felt as if the spell–by which I had been ruled and deluded–had been lifted, and I had suddenly come to my senses.  The resultant intensity and richness of my experiences, imbued with the distinct vividness of seeing things and seeing through things, as if for the first time, amounted to a re-enchantment of the world.  And from the perspective of that amazing teaching, everything took on new meaning, everything promised to reveal or disclose significance beyond anything I had ever imagined possible.
     I was awakening to a new world, even as my old world was crumbling and dissolving.  In accordance with the laws of cosmogenesis, described by mystics and scientists alike, this new world seemed to have emerged from a point source of light.  Thus, out on an apparent void, Gurdjieff’s extraordinary teaching had manifested: its ethereal field emanating, radiating, expanding, illuminating, informing, and crystallizing as a new order of meaning.  And to the extent that I could remember to remember and actively affirm “The Work”–as ‘fourth way’ pupils refer to the teaching–“I” felt that “I” was resonating with its luminous coherence.
     In contrast to my knowledge of Mr. G.’s ideas, my understanding of his teaching–my application and practical grasp of its meaning–was shaped and directed by my efforts to study and “work on myself” in terms of its prescriptions, and through an ongoing dialogue with my friend, Chris Holmes, who had introduced me to Gurdjieff’s system.  As we both became deeply involved in and committed to pursuing that path, he had become my most trusted and influential confidante, and vice-versa.  We were both doing graduate work in Psychology at the time we began to study Gurdjieff and his work, and thus, we shared a common interest in exploring the significance of his psychological ideas for numerous topics within modern, academic psychology.  In our opinion, ‘the fourth way’ was, by virtue of its sophistication, coherence, and immense practicality, an unparalleled psychological teaching.
     Much to our amazement and chagrin, we discovered that we were essentially alone in believing that no other psychological theory, philosophical approach, or set of ideas with which we were familiar was even remotely comparable to Gurdjieff’s.  For none of our friends or colleagues shared our beliefs about this system’s astonishing significance.  Consequently, Chris and I entered into a unique partnership–one which involved a dialectical progression in the evolution of our knowledge and understanding of ‘the fourth way,’ specifically, and esoteric teachings, in general.  By sharing those observations of ourselves and others, drawn from our practice of Gurdjieff’s methods and disciplines, we worked together to develop our grasp of his teaching’s intriguing complexities and subtleties, and to deepen and expand our knowledge and understanding of its meaning.  And in doing so, we enjoyed the immeasurable blessing and satisfaction of participating in a truly astounding adventure of discovery and realization.

     My initial involvement with Gurdjieff’s psychological system constituted an ongoing shock treatment of such intensity that I soon came to regard modern psychology as a very deeply flawed enterprise.  Its concern with human beings–as it finds them or supposes them to be–seemed, in light of G.’s psychology of self-transformation, to be trivial and, essentially, illusory.  I did continue my graduate studies–mainly because Chris Holmes had begun to write his doctoral dissertation on the implications of Gurdjieff’s psychology for psychotherapy processes and objectives.  I assisted Chris with that work by serving as his research assistant, and began to collaborate with him in formulating a critique, derived from the ‘fourth way,’ of various aspects of modern psychology. 
     While Chris began teaching psychology at York University in Toronto, after he had completed his doctorate, I dropped out of graduate school.  As much as I believed in the radical re-evaluation of academic psychological thought that we were formulating, I was leery of the professional resistance and prejudice that I believed we would encounter in doing so.3  More importantly, I was dissatisfied with the prospect of reducing my sense of discovery and  awakening to something which would fit the straight-jacket formalities of academic discourse.  I felt that, as a result of our pursuit of ‘the fourth way,’ Chris and I had entered a new dimension of meaning and had embarked on a transforming journey which, in its richness and its mystery, existed in a scale of consciousness and being beyond anything that most psychologists could admit or even imagine.
     Although Mr. Gurdjieff had cautioned his pupils about the inadvisability of trying to write about his work before one was ready to do so, my conceit was that this prohibition did not apply to me.  Seeking self-knowledge and self-transformation, in terms of ‘the fourth way,’ had initiated a magical process of discovery and awakening.  In the birthing of this new “I”–this “stranger in a strange land”–I discovered the insight, coherence, and sense of unity which allowed me to find my voice as a writer and to sing my song.  Thus, filled with confidence and inspiration, I set out to write a book about Gurdjieff and my involvement with ‘the fourth way.’
     Unfortunately, I was to discover that, as Mr. G. had warned, I was not ready to write about his teaching and, consequently, it took me twenty-two years to complete my book!  As difficult as it is to admit that most strange and embarrassing fact, it is even more difficult to explain how things happened.  To say that I suffered from writer’s block for almost six years and that I was disheartened by my inability to work on my book in any meaningful way is the awful truth of those very hard times.  Nevertheless, when I attempted to resurrect my work in 1991–fifteen years after I had begun to work on it–I had come to understand how and why I had not been prepared to write about ‘the fourth way.’  Surveying my previous efforts and wondering how I might overcome the difficulties that had proved insurmountable–amongst them, most significantly, my failure to write about who Gurdjieff was–I felt that I had failed because of my inability to speak from my entire being.  While everything about my exposition of Mr. G.’s teaching was correct, in its own way, I was too readily inclined to rely on recapitulating that which I had read, to base everything I was saying on my intellectual grasp of The Work.  Everything that I wrote seemed to express my knowledge of the teaching; there was too little understanding in my appreciation and commentaries.  As such, I believed that as long as I was centred in my head, my writing would remain derivative and tellingly inadequate. 
     Thus, in seeking to make a new start, I resolved to avoid relying so rigidly on my knowledge of what I had found in assorted ‘fourth way’ books and to attempt to speak in my own voice, to feel and to sense what I understood to be essential in the matters that I raised.  And, as if by magic, I discovered that not only could I do so, but the effort of approaching my work in this way sounded a new note in its evolution.  The understanding, which emerged from this new octave of effort, added a coherence and comprehensiveness to my perspective that hitherto had not existed.
     Shocked to discover the extent to which I was now capable of integrating various aspects of ‘the fourth way,’ I realized that, just as Mr. G. had said, the same body of knowledge can take on much deeper and more lucid meaning if one works to develop those parts of one’s being other than one’s intellectual functioning.  During the years that my writing had been in limbo, I had not added significantly to my intellectual grasp of the teaching.  In fact, my reading of esoteric material had been comparatively modest, and I had not been actively involved in discussing or communicating ‘fourth way’ ideas.  However, I had continued to study and work on myself, and to apply the teaching to matters of all stripes.  So what had changed?  To what did I owe this transformation of understanding and the renaissance of effort it heralded?  Clearly, something had changed, with time, in my being.

     I have described these changes, in part, as a cautionary tale to the reader.  As my attempts to write about Gurdjieff and ‘the fourth way’ revealed, The Work is uniquely dynamic and, therefore, it is necessary to realize that there is really nothing fixed in one’s knowledge and understanding of its meaning.  A ‘fourth way’ pupil must always strive to be aware of the difference between what he or she does know and does not know.  By being mindful of that critical distinction, one prepares oneself to receive the teaching’s higher influences and “feed” on its refined impressions.  For The Work rewards such vigilance and effort with a commensurate growth in one’s knowledge, understanding, and consciousness.
     In 1991, when I renewed work on But I’ll Know My Song Well, I discarded a large part of the manuscript and began anew by writing a lengthy introduction to the book in which I provided biographical information on Mr. Gurdjieff, outlined the essential tenets of his teaching, and commented on his career and status as a most enigmatic historical figure.  I was most pleased with my efforts to portray Gurdjieff because, as I said, I had been completely frustrated and paralyzed by my initial attempt, years before, to address the great mystery: “Who was Gurdjieff?”  This is not to say that I answered the question satisfactorily.  Rather, I realized the futility of the question, and accepted the idea that, because Mr. G. had consciously disguised himself so thoroughly, he was unknowable and inexplicable as a historic figure.  However, when viewed as a figure who transcends and reveals the limitations of the historical perspective, Gurdjieff appeared in an entirely different light.4   I realized that, to me, he was an alien intelligence.
     I use the term, “alien,” as it is appears in Webster’s Dictionary: “differing in nature or character typically to the point of incompatibility.”5   Everything about Gurdjieff and his work emphasized the higher nature of his consciousness and being and, thus, the incompatibility of his understanding of reality with that of sleepwalking humanity.  All of human beings’ most cherished assumptions and conventional wisdom–regarding themselves, the universe, and the gods–were incompatible, he repeatedly stated, with an awakened individual’s knowledge and understanding.  By “intelligence,” I am suggesting what Webster’s defines as “an intelligent entity.”6  While I am not identifying Gurdjieff as an extraterrestrial, per se, I do believe that in order to capture his utterly unique essence and state of presence, it is necessary to consider him as an incarnation of and messenger from some higher dimension of consciousness. 
     As much as this characterization of Mr. G. may sound fanciful, bizarre, or melodramatic, this is the best I can do–after studying the man and his teaching for nearly thirty years–in conveying what I understand of him.  Furthermore, I believe that the term, “alien intelligence,” also captures the essence of my understanding of ‘the fourth way.’  Everything in my experience with this remarkable body of knowledge evokes a sense of wonder and assurance that, through my efforts to follow and serve The Work, I am in communion with an intelligence, so vast and so perfected, as to defy my understanding–even as it illuminates my being and dispels my ignorance.  The sense of awakening to reality, which I have experienced through my participation in The Work, and the sacred sense of humility it inspires in me leaves no doubt in my mind that this teaching comes to us from a higher plane of consciousness or dimension of reality.  This is not an idea I have concocted to imbue my existence with some fanciful, exaggerated sense of my own importance.  Quite the opposite.  I realize the nothingness of myself as I am, but feel and know, by its taste, that working to evolve consciously answers the calling of an essential striving to fulfill my purpose as a human being. 
     Because BIKMSW eventually grew to such a length as to be unmanageable, I decided to remove the Introduction and use that material as the foundation of a second book.  ‘An Alien Intelligence’ is the result of that decision.  While it is not intended to be a comprehensive exposition of ‘the fourth way,’ I believe that it provides a provocative introduction to the teaching and to the extraordinary life and times of G.I. Gurdjieff.  Having come to The Work as a Psychology student, I emphasize its psychological aspects and their impact on my re-evaluation of what Psychology should be.  However, as I will try to explain, any attempt to speak of the ‘fourth way’ psychology–to the exclusion of its cosmology and metaphysical aspects–limits one’s understanding of the teaching and is, ultimately, illusory.  Nevertheless, my presentation of G.’s psychology, supplemented by some discussion of his cosmological ideas, should provide the reader with an appreciation of the unique quality of The Work. 
     When editing BIKMSW, a little more than a year ago, I felt that I was being most appropriate in exercising caution and effecting humility when addressing the question of the meaning of Mr. G.’s work and the status of his legacy.  In trying to be mindful about what I did and did not know, I wanted to be responsible in my pronouncements and respectful of others’ ideas.  While I still aim to uphold those ideals, I realize that, during the past couple of years, I have experienced a fundamental change in my feelings about a number of matters concerning Gurdjieff and ‘the fourth way.’  Galvanized by these changes, I have devoted considerable time and effort to revisiting much of what I thought I knew about these subjects.  Sifting through the evidence and weighing the material, I have arrived at what I consider to be a more refined understanding of several important issues.  Whereas I was willing previously to undercut and understate my views, in the interest of striving for some degree of objectivity, I am more interested now in sharing my opinions and speculations–while admitting freely that much of what I am putting forth amounts to nothing more and nothing less than educated guesses and  informed supposition.  I do so, not because I have forgotten what I do and do not know, but rather to stimulate consideration of these important matters and, hopefully, to establish a dialogue with others who share these concerns.

     Finally, it is important to understand that I do not profess to be a ‘fourth way’ expert or teacher.  I am not now and have never been a member of any established ‘fourth way’ group.  As such, I have never worked with a teacher who is a part of the lineage established by Mr. Gurdjieff.  My knowledge and understanding of The Work is, therefore, second-hand and incomplete.  On the other hand, I am a seeker who believes that even his limited access to G.’s teaching has served to redefine his understanding of the nature and meaning of ‘all and everything.’  In my attempts to study, observe, and serve The Work, I have collaborated with Chris Holmes, for the past twenty-nine years, and Anita Mitra, his wife, for almost as long.  Along the way, we have been joined, at different times, by many others who have shared our Work aims and contributed to our efforts to fulfill them.  To each of those individuals and, especially, to Chris and Anita, I offer my thanks and hope that An ‘Alien Intelligence’ will aid you in your efforts to seek after truth and fulfill your most sacred “being-obligations.”  And to the readers–both those of you who know of The Work and those who do not–I do hope that my efforts will aid you in knowing yourselves more fully and realizing that which is, truly, your heart’s desire. 

       James Moffatt
       Toronto, Ontario
 

 

Chapter I

What Is Consciousness?

     There was no small amount of irony in the fact that Chris Holmes and I became involved with a psychological system, which had transformed the meaning of our lives, while we were doing graduate work in Psychology.  An outsider would most reasonably surmise that our academic studies were responsible for this revolutionary transformation in our self-knowledge–that is, of course, unless he or she knew anything about modern, academic psychology.  For the discipline of academic psychology, in its desperate and ill-conceived attempts to establish itself as a scientific enterprise, had long ago lodged itself firmly atop a foundation of what Mr. Gurdjieff would term “so much rubbish.”  As a result, everyone accepted then and, to this day, continues to accept the fact that studying psychology–even counting oneself amongst the field’s elite–in no way provides any special insight into or guidance for the realization of better mental health, improved familial and personal relationships, superior social adjustment, increased consciousness or awareness, or any of the other tangible benefits that one might suppose would accrue to those whose putative realm of expertise is the understanding of the human psyche and behaviour.
     Psychologists do not know or understand themselves.  That is because psychologists do not study themselves.  They study others–rats, cats, rats, bats, chimpanzees, rats, fruit flies, hedge-hogs, lunatics, rats, undergraduates, children, neurotics, psychotics, addicts, rats, dingoes, dolphins, rats, Siamese fighting fish–but never themselves.  As a result, the extent to which they know and understand themselves in no way surpasses that of the “unsophisticated” layman.  Rats.
     The situation is not, however, entirely hopeless.  The famous Eastern tale of “the blind men and the elephant” is instructive in suggesting how the state of contemporary Western psychological theory and knowledge should be understood.  In that tale, a group of blind men attempt to determine the nature of a mysterious, unknown beast: an elephant.  Each of the blind men touches a different part of the beast–the trunk, the tail, the ear–and on the basis of that incomplete  understanding, each of them concocts a conflicting description of the elephant.  Of course, none of the blind men’s interpretations is correct.  For, as Robert Ornstein says, in his re-telling of the tale: "Each had felt one part out of many.  Each had perceived it wrongly.  No mind knew all: knowledge is not the companion of the blind.  All imagined something, something incorrect ...."
     Within modern psychology, the plethora of theories, regarding human beings’ essential  attributes and fundamental psychological principles, are analogous to the conflicting descriptions of the elephant that the blind men proffered.  The proponent of each theory has managed to touch upon some part of the truth but, in failing to recognize that his description is devoid of its proper relation to a greater whole, does not understand that it is thereby limited and incomplete.  Adding to this confusion is the lack of a common language by which theorists can communicate clearly in elaborating a more comprehensive and unified model.  What little consensus that does exist is often obscured or lost in a confusion of mismatched terminologies and that intellectual myopia which is all too frequently attendant upon reputations and other such vested interests.  Without agreement as to the fundamental parts of humans’ being, psychologists’ efforts possess all the coherence and direction of the blind leading the blind.
     “Knowledge is not the companion of the blind.”  That was hardly an appealing characterization of the field in which one has chosen to make one’s career.  Stumbling and bumbling through life as a professional blind man was something less than that which I had envisioned when I decided to further my education.  From the time I began to study psychology seriously, until the end of my first year of graduate school, the schism–between my vision of what Psychology would and could and should be, and that which I had unhappily discovered it to be–had been a stone in my shoe:  a source of irritation, from which relief was always fortuitous and never more than short-lived.  “All imagined something, something incorrect.”  What kind of knowledge was this?  Who were these people, whose search for truth and meaning involved such bizarre machinations and abstruse imaginings?  What value or legitimacy could there possibly be in continuing in such a maze of roundabouts, one way streets, and cul-de-sacs?
     Certainly, I believed that something essential was absent in modern psychology.  It lacked that faculty or instrument of insight which would lead to the discovery of its missing link: the conceptual breakthrough which would unify and thereby illuminate the discipline’s bewildering complex of facts and facets.  The more I pondered this failing, the more certain I became that psychologists would not and could not ever make such a discovery.  They did not do so; they have not done so.  They could have done so and they should have done so. 
     It is ironic and instructive to note that, despite the proliferation of marvelous material resources used in research, the increase in the utility and precision of psychologists’ instrumentation has not resulted in a dramatic growth in the scope and sophistication of their knowledge.  To appreciate the exquisite subtlety of this irony, I put forth the following question for your deliberation: what would comprise the ultimate instrument or device for the study of psychology?
     Is the answer not: a mind perfectly conscious and aware of itself?  A fully conscious mind:  aware of its experiences and behaviors; aware of its physical processes and states of presence; aware of the entire field of circumstances, contexts, and influences associated with each and every thought, feeling, memory, and act; aware of the flow and the flux of all the events in one’s “inner” and “outer” worlds, such that the dynamics, connections, and forces mediating the two are apprehended accurately as they happen and, thereby, are  remembered.  A mind that faithfully, unerringly witnesses and remembers itself and the world.
     A perfectly conscious mind!  Quite a thought ... preposterous!  unimaginable! ... the stuff that dreams are made of ... a full-blown mind-blower!  Nevertheless, these dreams of perfection in an imperfect world aside, I would submit that understanding and perfecting one’s consciousness, through the systematic acquisition and cultivation of self-knowledge, is not only possible, but comprises the faculty and instrument of in/sight by which knowledge is transformed from something imaginary to something real.  In other words: a missing link.  Without placing “consciousness” at the forefront of its investigations and speculations, and without including systematic “self-study” as a legitimate method of inquiry, Psychology is doomed to remain an ill-disguised pseudo-science–all dressed up with no place to go.
     “Consciousness”–what do I mean when I use that term?  What is consciousness?  Well, that is the big question.  As far as questions go, it is pretty much in a class of its own.  It is the World Series, the Stanley Cup, the Superbowl, the Greater Intergalactic Open, and the heavyweight championship of the world of Big Questions all rolled into one.  People win Nobel Prizes, receive huge research grants, become knights of the realm, gain international acclaim and celebrity as scholars and thinkers, and much, much more–just for beating around consciousness’ bushes or hanging out under its porch light searching for its keys.  Mathematicians forge its signature; physicists trace its shadow.  Chemists scour its soup pot; biologists and physicians listen to its heart beat, draw its blood lines, and chart its pulse.  In the most remote ranges of the Himalayas, there are said to be monks who draw closer to consciousness’ door simply by chanting its postal code.  In those payments of homage and concerted acts of imitation, human beings seek to penetrate and decipher the most mysterious thing in the world: “consciousness.”
     Ah, consciousness ... the cosmic key that unlocks the doors to eternal mysteries ... the straw which stirs the universal fluids ...  the meaning of meaning ... the mirror with which God does His tricks ... but what, pray tell, is it?  You can know it–more or less.  You can lose it–without missing it–for the longest time. You can focus it, reflect on it, summon it ... elevate, expand, and divide it ....  You can refine it, define it ... you can wine & rhyme & divine it ... you can even make space and time for it ... but the one thing you can never do is to know consciousness when  you do not have it.  Pretty tricky business–trying to think of what consciousness may or may not be.  Questions about the nature of consciousness have stymied some major league thinkers, driven others to the intersection of Angst & Despair, and simply worn out the rest.  Kind of makes me sleepy ....
     Philosophers, psychologists, scientists, artists, mystics, and spiritual figures alike agree that human beings are, in some way and to some degree, self-conscious, and that this attribute
apparently distinguishes human beings from all other creatures and forms of life on this planet.  To be aware of or conscious of oneself seems to be a distinct and immensely important human attribute.  Beyond that widely endorsed supposition, however, a myriad of difficulties and differences arise in the innumerable attempts to ascertain its meaning and account for its significance.  Nonetheless, many modern thinkers–including several of this century’s most brilliant scientists–regard significant progress in their respective fields of study and humanity’s quest for meaning to be inextricably yoked with efforts to understand the nature of consciousness.
     Given its significance and obvious relevance to their discipline, one would expect psychologists to be a primary source of insights or hypotheses about the solution to this fantastic riddle.  Good luck.  According to the dominant theoretical perspective in modern psychology– behaviourism–the “mystery of consciousness” was solved some seventy-five years ago when the question was rudely, but scientifically, given the old heave-ho.
     Yes indeed, it is a most curious and revealing fact that psychologists, at one time, banned all discussions of “consciousness” and “awareness” from their domain in order to conform to what they imagined to be the demands of achieving scientific rigour.  Attempting to divorce “psychology” from its original meaning as “the science of the soul”–from the Greek science (logos) and soul (psyche)–and all the accompanying associations with such decidedly murky matters as religious and metaphysical speculations and queries, the discipline’s founding fathers sought to establish a “science of psychology” by defining its purview in  terms of  that which  was both measurable and quantifiable.  This quest for the “new improved” psychology took its “great leap forward” in the 1920s with the advent of behaviourism: a school of thought distinguished by its insistence on defining psychology solely in terms of that which was externally observable.  Ergo, out the laboratory window went all “experience” and any term referring to such “nonexistent” (i.e., unobservable) processes.  A hint, as to the profound insight from which this defining proclamation arose, may be gleaned from a remark made by John B. Watson, behaviourism’s progenitor: “No one has ever touched a soul, or seen one in a test tube.”  Likewise, extending the popular maxim, “out of sight–out of mind,” to “I don’t mind–I’ve no mind with which to mind,” and elevating it to the heady status of first principle, Watson established an approach which was to dominate Psychology for the next half century.  Hence, “consciousness” was discarded as being, in Watson’s words, “neither definable nor a usable concept ... merely another word for the soul” and, therefore, “just as unprovable (and) unapproachable.”
     In 1962, Sir Cyril Burt wryly described the results of Watson’s mindless manifesto to mean “that psychology, having first bargained away its soul and then gone out of its mind, seems now, as it faces its untimely end, to have lost all consciousness.”5  However, having eventually realized, after some forty years of wandering in the wilderness, how patently absurd and utterly untenable such a position was, some psychologists began to regain “consciousness” and “awareness”–albeit in a most confused, fragmented, dulled and disoriented state.  Sadly, despite this intention to come to and regain its senses, the discipline was neither revolutionized nor illuminated.  The lost souls, who proudly bear the behavioral legacy and perpetuate its ersatz science, continue to reign supreme in most areas and departments of Psychology, blindly resisting and denying the significance of consciousness–even though they have come to recognize the existence of “the mind.”
      Unfortunately, what meagre degree of respectability and legitimacy the subject of consciousness has assumed within Psychology, during the past thirty years, amounts only to superficial or cosmetic changes.  Those brave and bold enough to pursue the matter of consciousness directly have not fared particularly well.  And while it would be comforting and convenient to blame the resistance of the established orthodoxy for this lack of impact, it must be admitted that, even if there is some truth in such accusations, that which has been produced by those studying consciousness has not been–with a few notable exceptions–particularly important or interesting.  Indeed, within the so-called “consciousness literature” and psychologists’ more tangential references and allusions to the topic, there exist a host of commonly accepted assumptions and suppositions about the nature of consciousness which are either clearly wrong, or at best, moot points.  Certainly, there has been precious little of value or significance in the development of a sophisticated, systematic analysis of consciousness.

     Of course, one could hardly expect that some integrated, comprehensive, lucidly formulated psychological system, based on the study and understanding of the nature of consciousness, would “select itself” and suddenly evolve out of the void.  That, of course, could not happen.  No, as psychologists would be quick to point out, such an achievement would have to be the result of a long, laborious, and exacting process of careful deliberation, exploration, observation, and theorizing, submitted to and corrected by experimental testing.  Given the intrinsically mysterious and elusive nature of consciousness, it will surely be many, many years before psychologists begin to grasp even its most rudimentary properties or its essential significance.  All this seems quite clear and reasonable.
     On the other hand, one may walk into any reasonably stocked bookstore or library in the world, look in the “Religion” or “Philosophy” sections, and come across any number of “esoteric teachings,” wherein one would discover systematic expositions of consciousness and psychology distinguished by a clarity, sophistication, and significance which completely dwarfs and trivializes anything contemporary Western psychologists proffer.  (The plot thickens.)  While it is rather a tall order to explain why so few people make this extraordinary discovery, I will attempt to provide the basis on which that understanding might be realized.  To do so, I must begin by explaining what I mean by “esoteric teachings.”
 

Chapter II

Everything Happens



     In A New Model Of The Universe, P.D. Ouspensky argued that “esotericism” and its significance in human history is the idea least understood by most people–including (and often especially so) those considered by the standards of contemporary culture and civilization to be well educated.1  Very few people would be able to volunteer the identity of those teachers and teachings subsumed by the term “esoteric.”  Yet, strangely, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who has not heard of an esoteric teaching or “master,” and who has not come in contact with the external (“exoteric”) content of an esoteric teaching.
     According to Ouspensky, the idea of esotericism runs throughout the course of human history:  that there exists a secret knowledge–superior to all “ordinary knowledge”–which certain highly evolved individuals have apprehended by perfecting their consciousness and being.  Such knowledge is said to contain secrets about the essential nature of human beings and the cosmos.  Moreover, this ancient wisdom, which is based on modes and realms of inquiry essentially unrecognized by and unknown within modern science and education, is said to provide meaning which surpasses and subsumes solely intellectual knowledge.  Such is the profundity and power of this knowledge that it is concealed in various ways and degrees: being revealed only to those who submit to the long and arduous preparations and tests necessary for its acquisition and the responsibility of its trust.
     For this purpose, there have existed, for thousands of years, numerous esoteric “schools”: organizations in which the knowledge, methods, and disciplines, comprising this ancient wisdom, have been accumulated and passed on by direct tuition from generation to generation.  From these schools, there have emerged, at indefinite intervals in history, remarkable leaders and teachers who have created and left as their legacy a new religion, a new system of thought, philosophical school, or art form which, in terms appropriate to the peculiarities of the time and place of its appearance, provides a method of conscious evolution.
     Zoroaster, Moses, Gautama the Buddha, Lao Tsu, Pythagoras, Jesus Christ, Socrates, and Plato–as well as many less celebrated prophets, sages, and masters–are said to have belonged to esoteric schools.  That the possibility of such an association appears so rarely, in the numerous accounts of these extraordinary figures and the interpretations of their works, indicates the extent to which even the idea of “esotericism,” let alone its significance, remains hidden for most people. To understand why this is so and why esoteric schools intentionally cultivate this relative obscurity, one need only examine the distortion and defilement of their teachings which inevitably transpires when they become popularized by entering the “exoteric” or “outer” circle of life.  The institutionalization and popularization of religions represent such instances.
     According to the esoteric tradition, religions consist of an esoteric and exoteric aspect–an inner and outer circle, respectively.   Esoteric schools, according to this view, are the source of religious teachings.  However, as such teachings are disseminated and become increasingly popular, a new external organization, meaning, and purpose is imposed upon them–diverging significantly from that of the original inner circle.  As a result, the established exoteric organization comes to bear little resemblance to the esoteric group.  In many cases, once the exoteric organization has established its doctrines and activities, it comes to regard its esoteric cohorts as being heretical; thereby legitimizing their expulsion from and persecution by “the church.”  The preservation of the esoteric group’s activities continues then in either hidden or disguised ways, and proves to be another reason necessitating that such schools be organized as secret orders of initiates.  Thus, such esoteric groups as the Essenes and Kaballahists, the Gnostics, the Sufis and dervishes, lamas, Vedantists and yogis have been associated with Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, respectively.
     If one accepts the idea of the existence of a “hidden” or “secret” knowledge, one’s interpretation and meaning of essentially “all and everything” must be examined in a new light.  It becomes clear that, as Ouspensky says, there exist two histories of humanity.  There is the history of the exoteric, or outer circle–that with which we are familiar and regard as being established in fact.  And there is also the history of the esoteric, or inner circle–of which we know practically nothing.  Yet, it is the inner circle which, according to esoteric teachings, guides the most significant manifestations of  the outer circle’s activities, particularly its evolution.  Evolution, in esoteric terms, does not refer to the random, mechanical unfolding of biological and physical change that modern science describes.  Instead, it comprises processes of purposeful, conscious development and realization of higher levels of consciousness and intelligence.  Taken in its highest sense, the esoteric conception of evolution allows for the possibility of an individual perfecting and transforming his or her consciousness and being to such a degree as to realize enlightenment.  Such actualized beings are said to achieve union with God.
     What do I mean when I speak about “perfecting” and “transforming” one’s level of consciousness and being?  Well, I do not know exactly–existing as I do in a very imperfect state and as a decidedly ordinary being.  I can only say that esoteric teachings claim that human beings possess dormant faculties of “higher” consciousness and intelligence which may be awakened.  Those who have developed conscious awareness and control of these faculties are said to be beings of a superior order.  They are capable of feats which are, for us, literally miraculous.  They live in this world, but in accordance with the percepts and precepts of other realms and orders of meaning and intelligence.  Having liberated themselves from the bonds of humans’ lower nature– that which, in our “normal” state, enslaves and imprisons us–they assume the sacred obligations of bearing those responsibilities and duties appropriate to their elevated levels of being.
     Of course, this description is nothing more than the crudest caricature of a consciously evolved being.  Such luminaries apprehend and exist in such a radically different order of reality that it is literally beyond not only the ordinary’s individual’s comprehension, but also his or her imagination.  According to these perfected individuals, we fail to perceive or understand the true nature and significance of ourselves and our world–our reality–because we are unaware of the existence of higher realms and our intimate connections to them.  That which remains unknown and unconscious in the minds of normal men and women, they apprehend consciously.  From the vantage point of those experiencing the coherence of superior dimensions of existence, life–as we normally live it–and reality–as we normally define it–are revealed to be shadowy worlds of appearances.  Deprived of all its relations to these higher levels of consciousness and intelligence, which are its source, our normal reality is not recognized as a projection of these greater realms of illumination.  Hence, we live in a world of illusion: a desultory and ultimately insubstantial play of our imaginations and personal, subjective interpretations and constructions.

     When I began graduate school, the concept of “esotericism” meant nothing to me.  And nothing that I learned there redressed my ignorance about the subject.  Nevertheless, I was keenly interested in any ideas that would both challenge the orthodoxy of behaviourism and forward a theoretical position which would meaningfully address the overwhelming complexity and richness of the normal waking experience: that which psychologists commonly referred to as “the stream of consciousness.”  In keeping with that orientation, I was fascinated by the so-called “altered states of consciousness”–the catch-all term for the myriad of experiences which depart from and reveal the arbitrary nature of our definitions of “normal” experience and consensual reality.  Similarly, I was also sympathetic to the essential legitimacy of various “paranormal phenomena”–although I maintained a healthy skepticism as to the validity of many of the alleged instances of “supernatural” events and their putative explanations.  Nevertheless, my interest in these fringe areas of Psychology simply added to my belief as to the essential inadequacy of the discipline’s established theoretical positions.
     Chris Holmes had strongly influenced and shaped my thoughts and perspectives on many of these issues and, in fact, he was largely responsible for my decision to pursue a post-graduate degree in Psychology.  During our undergraduate years, he had majored in Psychology, while I had studied Sociology.  Nevertheless, his enthusiasm for his work and our many conversations about his studies had piqued my interest and led me eventually, after I had graduated, to return to school to take up the study of psychology.
     During the time that Chris was completing his Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo, he chanced, due to his growing interest in the paranormal, to come across P.D. Ouspensky’s book,  In Search Of The Miraculous.  A noted Russian mathematician and journalist, Ouspensky had pursued his interests in mysticism and philosophy by traveling extensively throughout the near and far East, during the early 1900s, seeking to discover a system of “higher knowledge.”  He was convinced that such knowledge did exist, and that there must be teachers somewhere who were the bearers of this esoteric legacy.  Although he had witnessed many interesting phenomena and encountered many intriguing and fascinating characters in connection with his search, Ouspensky returned to Russia, disappointed by his failure to realize his aim.  Ironically, it was in Moscow in 1915 that, through a series of apparently fortuitous events, Ouspensky met the teacher he had been seeking in his travels: a man whom he quickly came to regard as being, if not an emissary of a school of higher knowledge, at least one who had made significant contact with such a group.  The mysterious, charismatic teacher was George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, a Caucasian of Greek-Armenian parentage, who had also apparently traveled for many years throughout the East on a quest akin to Ouspensky’s.
     By the time Ouspensky met him, Gurdjieff had already been working with several groups of pupils in Moscow and St. Petersburg–the beginnings of his efforts to bring his teaching to the West.  Neither the nature nor the significance of Gurdjieff’s teaching can be meaningfully described with a convenient phrase or neat label.  In Search Of The Miraculous, for instance, consists almost exclusively of an exposition of various aspects of Gurdjieff’s system–primarily through Ouspensky’s brilliant recounting of the former’s lectures and discussions with his pupils in the years 1915-1917–yet it represents only an introduction to serious study of Gurdjieff’s work, indicative of his teaching’s intricacy and complexity.
     With that caveat in mind, one may consider the ideas and practices that Gurdjieff taught as being a method of awakening and developing those higher faculties of human consciousness and intelligence which are normally dormant.  His system begins with the study of human beings, as they are, in order to suggest the miraculous possibilities of what they are capable of becoming through a process of conscious evolution.  This conscious transformation of a human’s being demands that he or she obey the ancient esoteric dictum: “Know thyself.”  To know oneself, according to G., demands the parallel study of oneself and the world.  For such study, a system is necessary; self-study undertaken willy-nilly or in terms of any arbitrarily selected or determined approach is useless.  Instead, a system of ideas and practices linking the study of oneself and that of the world–with the aim of allowing the individual to “know oneself, the universe, and the gods”–is necessary.  Essentially, that was the nature and purpose of Gurdjieff’s teaching.
     The term, “the fourth way,” denotes both the teaching’s connections with and distinction from the three classic esoteric paths or ways of conscious development–those of the fakir, the monk, and the yogi.  The way of the fakir involves the transformation of one’s being through the discipline of the body, resulting in the attainment of will.  The path of the monk focuses on mastering worldly desires through faith and devotion.  The yogi’s way of self-realization is through knowledge, concentrating on the development and control of the mind.
     While acknowledging that each of these ways can yield significant results, Gurdjieff contended that each also imposed formidable limitations on most aspirants’ efforts.  The ‘fourth way,’ he explained, was a method designed to surmount the respective deficiencies of the other three paths by co-ordinating the simultaneous awakening of the distinct intelligences of the body, the emotions, and the intellect.  As a result, the student’s development was at once accelerated and economized–especially so, because the pattern and focus of effort, which the teacher prescribed, took each individual’s unique characteristics into account.  Other differences between the traditional methods and ‘the fourth way,’ which make the latter seem particularly well-suited to Westerners, are the system’s emphasis on the development of understanding through self-study–rather than simple obedience to authority–and its accessibility.  To follow the ‘fourth way’ teaching, there is no need to isolate oneself or retire from the rounds of daily life by entering a cloistered community.  Instead, it is the path of “the sly man,” who is, as the Sufis say, “in the world, but not of it.”
     At the very heart of Mr. Gurdjieff’s teaching is his claim that human beings are “asleep.”   What we take to be our normal waking state of consciousness, he says, is a “waking sleep”–not sleep as we normally understand it, but rather a state of hypnotic sleep and mechanical, associative existence.  That virtually no one believes or even suspects this to be true reflects both the extent to which our lives are lived out in this sleep, and the existence of several other unrecognized psychological illusions that are critical in maintaining our characteristic state of ignorance.  In addition to “consciousness,” man also ascribes to himself the properties of unity, will, and freedom.  According to Gurdjieff, humans’ apparent possession of such attributes is an illusion.  Man–a sleepwalker sleepwalking through a sleeping world–is a machine: an automaton who is not properly conscious, unified, able to do anything, or free.  Nor does he know himself.  Unable to recognize how he mistakenly assumes that he possesses unity, will, and freedom, man is lost and imprisoned by the many grand illusions and conceits he entertains about himself.  Unable to WAKE UP, he does not realize that he is asleep; he does not understand that his lack of consciousness profoundly limits his understanding of his existence, that of the universe, and the gods.
     In our lives, as we live them “normally,” everything happens.  All our great ideas about what we do and what we should do are just so much fanciful dreaming and hot air, according to Gurdjieff.  In a conversation with Ouspensky, he spoke of man as a machine who cannot do:? 
“... man’s chief delusion is his conviction that he can do. All people think that they can do, all people want to do, and the first question all people ask is what they are to do.  But actually nobody does anything and nobody can do anything.  This is the first thing that must be understood.  Everything happens.  All that befalls a man, all that is done by him, all that comes from him–all  this happens. ....
     “Man is a machine.  All his deeds, actions words, thoughts, feelings, convictions, opinions, and habits are the result of external influences, external impressions.  Out of himself a man cannot produce a single thought, a single action.  Everything he says, does, thinks, feels–all this happens.  Man cannot discover anything, invent anything.  It all happens.
     “To establish this fact for oneself, to understand it, to be convinced of its truth, means getting rid of a thousand illusions about man ....  Everything happens. ... 
     “But no one will ever believe you if you tell him he can do nothing. This is the most offensive and the most unpleasant thing you can tell people.  It is particularly unpleasant and offensive because it is the truth, and nobody wants to know the truth.”? 
     In addition to this seemingly preposterous statement, Gurdjieff makes the equally radical assertion that there is an absence of unity in man–that is, that he possesses no permanent “I”

     “One of man’s most important mistakes ... one which must be remembered, is his illusion in regard to his I.
     “Man such as we know him, the ‘man-machine,’ the man who cannot ‘do,’ and with whom and through whom everything ‘happens,’ cannot have a permanent and single I.  His I changes as quickly as his thoughts, feelings, and moods, and he makes a profound mistake in considering himself always one and the same person; in reality he is always a different person, not the one he was a moment ago.
     “Man has no permanent and unchangeable I.  Every thought, every mood, every desire, every sensation, says ‘I.’  And in each case it seems to be taken for granted that this I belongs to the Whole, to the whole man, and that a thought, a desire, or an aversion is expressed by this Whole.  In actual fact there is no foundation whatever for this assumption.  Man’s every thought and desire appears and lives quite separately and independently of the Whole.  And the Whole never expresses itself, for the simple reason that it exists, as such, only physically as a thing, and in the abstract as a concept. ...  Each minute, each moment, man is saying or thinking ‘I.’  And each time his I is different.  Just now it was a thought, now it is a desire, now a sensation, now another thought, and so on, endlessly.  Man is a plurality.  Man’s name is legion.
     To this less than flattering depiction of man’s sleeping, mechanical existence, Gurdjieff adds one potentially positive element: that it is possible to awaken and escape this imprisonment.  He often said that, for a serious person, this possibility of escape can be the only thing of real importance.  But few people give any thought to escape–for the simple reason that hardly anyone realizes that he or she is in prison, and would not believe you if you told them so.  And even fewer people are interested in making an effort to escape, because to do so means long and hard work.
     Escaping means not only awakening from sleep, but also beginning to develop consciousness and to acquire those other properties that most people believe they already possess: unity, will, the capacity to do, and freedom.  Escape and awakening begin with self-study, Gurdjieff taught, and self-study begins with self-observation.  In order to overcome one’s mechanicalness, one must first study oneself as a machine: learning to identify the structures, functions, and laws governing the organism.  Proper self-observation is essential to understanding oneself as a machine, G. emphasized, because of the complexity involved in establishing the various parts, their connections, and relations.  Understanding the machine’s operations requires a correct understanding of the division of its functions: in order that one may define and know them–not simply in words, but by their inner “taste” or “sensation.”
     Gurdjieff describes two types of self-observation: analysis, and recording.  The former consists of attempts to answer questions; the latter, simply registering in one’s mind that which is observed.  Initial attempts to self-observe should never involve analysis, according to G.  One uses self-observation as a method of recording–in order to study and know oneself as a machine.  Having acquired an understanding of the fundamental principles operative in the human machine’s functioning, one begins to self-observe and to acquire real self-knowledge.

     My first attempts to self-observe quickly convinced me of the great truth and wisdom contained in Gurdjieff’s contentions about man’s psychological illusions.  Self-observation provided an abundance of evidence for the validity of his claims.  I saw how I was indeed asleep–how my normal state of consciousness was, for the most part, a hypnotic spell!– ... how I was a machine, a mechanical man to whom and in whom everything happened! ... how I could not do! ... how there was no permanent “I” to say “I” truthfully, and how, as Mr. Gurdjieff said, once one learned to observe the multiplicity of one’s “I”s, there was no longer any need to go to the cinema ....  I saw how I was in prison.
     Those astonishing discoveries shocked me so thoroughly and so deeply that it is impossible to convey the sense of wonder and awe that they inspired.  In Gurdjieff’s extraordinary ideas and practices, I had discovered a psychological system which was, to me, unequivocally and dramatically superior–light years beyond–anything and everything in modern psychology.  Even this most cursory examination and application of ‘the fourth way’ had convinced me that this was a theory which comprised psychology’s missing link!
     The immense value of self-observation immediately impressed itself upon me; an appreciation which increased in direct proportion to the effort I afforded the practice.  Likewise, I soon understood that the proper study of consciousness must, as G. said, include self-observation.  On one occasion, Ouspensky expressed the view that consciousness is indefinable.  Gurdjieff disagreed:? 
     “All this is rubbish ... the usual scientific sophistry ....  Only one thing is true in what you have said: that you can know consciousness only in yourself.  Observe that I say you can know, for you can know it only when you have it.  And when you have not got it, you can know that you have not got it, not at that very moment, but afterwards.  I mean that when it comes again you see that it has been absent a long time, and you can find or remember the moment when it disappeared and when it reappeared.  You can also define the moments when you are nearer to consciousness and further away from consciousness.  But by observing in yourself the appearance and disappearance of consciousness you will inevitably see one fact which you neither see nor acknowledge now, and that is that moments of consciousness are very short and are separated by long intervals of completely unconscious, mechanical working of the machine.  You will see then that you can think, feel, act, speak, work, without being conscious of it.  And if you learn to see in yourselves the moments of consciousness and the long periods of mechanicalness, you will as infallibly see in other people when they are conscious of what they are doing and when they are not.”4
 ? 
     By observing myself, I came to see how “I” could and did think, act, speak, and work without being conscious of it, and that, as Gurdjieff stated, moments of consciousness were extremely short and infrequent.  Furthermore, I also began to see how others too were not conscious–that this was the norm.  It was an amazing discovery–a very great shock–to realize that this sleep and mechanical working of the machine is the definitive feature of people’s so-called “waking consciousness.”  Before reading Gurdjieff, there had been nothing to prepare me for this; certainly, no one in Western psychology or philosophy put forth such a view.  And yet, just as Gurdjieff predicted, observing the appearance and disappearance of consciousness in myself led inevitably to recognizing it in others.  To me, it became clear that we are sleepwalkers.
     There was one other fundamental principle of Gurdjieff’s psychology which struck me as indisputable evidence of the  profundity of his teaching; forcing me to call into question everything that I had believed I knew.  Like many other aspects of ‘the fourth way,’ this principle elucidated something which seemed, on later reflection, to be undeniably true, something which I had somehow sensed but never really understood, and something which had eluded my initial attempts at self-observation.  In the latter respect, I was not alone. Ouspensky describes a meeting at which G. asked each of the pupils present to describe the most important thing that he or she had noticed during self-observation. There were various interesting observations offered in reply, but no one stated what should have been most obvious, as Gurdjieff explained:? 
     “Not one of you has noticed the most important thing that I have pointed out to you ....  That is to say, not one of you has noticed that you do not remember yourselves.”  (He gave particular emphasis to these words.)  “You do not feel yourselves; you are not conscious of yourselves.  With you, ‘it observes’ just as ‘it speaks,’ ‘it thinks,’‘it laughs.’  You do not feel: I observe, I notice, I see.  Everything still ‘is noticed,’ ‘is seen.’ ...  In order really to observe oneself one must first of all remember oneself.”  (He again emphasized these words.)  “Try to remember yourselves when you observe yourselves and later on tell me the results.  Only those results will have any value that are accompanied by self-remembering.  Otherwise you yourselves do not exist in your observations.  In which case what are all your observations worth?” 
      What did Gurdjieff mean when he asserted that “you do not remember yourselves?”  How does “self-remembering” relate to “self-observing?”  Ouspensky made the following distinction:? 
     Self-remembering is an attempt to be aware of yourself.  Self-observation is always directed at some definite function: either you observe your thoughts, or movements, or emotions, or sensations.  It must have a definite object which you observe in yourself.  Self-remembering does not divide you, you must remember the whole, it is simply the feeling of ‘I’, of your person.? 
     Viewed from another perspective, the elusive concept of “self-remembering” may be construed as “self-forgetting.”  That is, it involves “being present” in such a way that one is removed from and free of the continual stream of thoughts, dreams, images, and concerns by which one is usually carried through the waking hours ... the host of feelings and concerns about oneself and the world in which one is normally invested ... the plurality of interests and the parading legion of changing “I”s with which one is identified ... the habitual physical postures and processes which unconsciously govern the body and determine its states of presence ... in sum, all that in which one’s consciousness and experience of one’s “I” is almost wholly absorbed and embedded.  To the extent that one can free oneself of attachment to these usual constituents and configurations of one’s normal self (or, more correctly, selves) one forgets one’s usual self.  And in that sense, “self-remembering” consists of “self-forgetting.”  With time and effort, a radically  different “I” emerges and is realized in the novelty and wonder of simply sensing and feeling “I am here.”  In such rare instances, one’s experience of oneself and the world is especially vivid and unforgettable.  For most people, such experiences typically arise involuntarily–frequently in unusual or unfamiliar circumstances, such as when traveling, or in conditions of great stress or danger, when even the very impression of time’s flow may be dramatically altered.
     This act of remembering oneself–such that one attempts to do nothing more than hold the sensation and feeling of “I am here”–is much more difficult than, at first blush, it might seem.  Having repeatedly failed to do so–other than for the most fleeting moments–Ouspensky soon concluded that G. was neither exaggerating the extent, nor the importance of people’s inability to remember themselves.  In addition, he realized that the concept of “self-remembering” was the key to understanding Gurdjieff’s other comments about consciousness: that one can know it when one has it, and one can know–when it comes again–that it has been absent for a long time.  Somewhat chagrined by his experiments with self-remembering, Ouspensky related his observations to Gurdjieff, who replied:? 
     “What else do you want? ...  This is a very important realization.  People who know this” (he emphasized these words) “already know a great deal. The whole trouble is that nobody knows it.  If you ask a man whether he can remember himself, he will of course answer that he can.  If you tell him that he cannot remember himself, he will either be angry with you, or he will think you an utter fool.  The whole of life is based on this, the whole of human existence, the whole of human blindness.  If a man really knows that he cannot remember himself, he is already near to the understanding of his being.”? 
     Attempting to practise self-remembering–even when one fails to do so–is of unparalleled importance in the study of consciousness and oneself.  ‘Real psychology begins,’ Ouspensky argues, “when a man realizes and bears in mind that he does not remember himself, and that nobody remembers, and yet there is a possibility of self-remembering ....”8  In this way, a critical dimension of consciousness–one which is generally ignored or granted only the most oblique acknowledgment in Western thought–is identified.  Between the poles of “waking sleep” and “self-remembering,” there exists a continuum of degrees and gradations of self-awareness.  Once one becomes aware of this dimension, begins to observe its contents and fluctuations, and attempts to actively alter one’s experience of it by trying to remember oneself, one undertakes the study of a new psychology.

 

 

Chapter III:

“A Figure Who Drops Into History ... ”

     Over the course of the many years that we have studied ‘the fourth way,’ Chris and I have had ample reason and opportunity to ponder why Gurdjieff’s thought has had such an insignificant impact on Western academic psychology.  Stated most simply, the answer is that almost no one in Psychology has ever heard of Gurdjieff.  That raises, in turn, the question of accounting for his virtual anonymity.  The answer, as we have come to understand it, is complicated, and often exceedingly subtle–perhaps more so than we are capable of supposing.  However, I think it can be asserted safely that, as one studies and comes to understand the essentially contrary histories, methods, aims, and functions of modern Western psychology and the esoteric tradition of which Gurdjieff was a part, what originally seems a great, inexplicable mystery soon becomes comprehensible, if not sensible.
     Above all else, academic psychologists have ignored the teachings of Gurdjieff and other esoteric masters and sages because they equate the latter tradition with “mysticism.”  Mysticism, psychologists reason, involves the mysterious romancing of the unprovable and the ineffable: the cultivation of superstition and lunacy.  Such activity is hardly compatible with science.  Ergo, there is neither room nor reason, within the scientific approach to the study of psychology, for the exploration of mystics’ teachings.  Unfortunately, such views are based on a serious misunderstanding and misrepresentation of mysticism as being nothing more than vague, insubstantial, idiosyncratic, metaphysical musings–in contrast to scientists’ precise, concrete, verifiable observations, measurements, and pronouncements.  The extent to which this view of  mysticism prevails amongst contemporary psychologists and scientists clearly documents how`widespread and thorough ignorance of the subject is within their numbers.
     For instance, nowhere in this stereotyped conceptualization of mysticism is there any hint of recognition of the esoteric tradition’s existence, or suspicion that mystical insights are not necessarily to be relegated to the realms of personal visions and intuitive perceptions.  And yet on that misinformed basis, psychologists have deemed mysticism to be not only irrelevant, but also antagonistic to the development of scientific psychology.  As Charles Tart, a prominent psychologist, observed: “One of the most deprecating remarks you could make about a scientist’s work is to say that it shows signs of being ‘mystical.’”1  For this reason alone, it is not surprising that a mystic, like Gurdjieff, has remained largely unknown within academic psychology.
     As a result of my study of ‘the fourth way,’ I soon came to agree with Ouspensky’s view that modern thought is completely misinformed and misguided in its appreciation of mysticism and esotericism, consequently, seriously misunderstands and misrepresents the history of the scientific study of psychology.  Ouspensky argues that all psychological doctrines and theories can be divided into two basic categories.  The first consists of systems that “study man as they find him, or such as they suppose him to be.”2  All of modern “scientific” psychology falls into this category.  The second type is comprised of those systems that study man in terms of “what he may become, that is from the point of view of his possible evolution.”3
     According to Ouspensky, there are numerous ancient systems and teachings which belong to this second category.  Therefore, he claims that psychology is not, as is commonly said, a new science–established in William Wundt’s laboratory in the latter half of the nineteenth century–but, rather, is perhaps the oldest science.  Throughout the ages, numerous psychological doctrines and disciplines have appeared under different guises and have been associated with various religions, philosophical schools, mystery cults, and symbolic teachings.  (The latter include alchemy, astrology, and magic in ancient times, and more recently, occultism, Masonry, and Theosophy).  While the common bond of these varied paths and pursuits is not readily apparent, Ouspensky insists that they are all essentially systematic psychological methods for the acquisition of self-knowledge and the realization of self-transformation.  Moreover, he states that, despite the variety of approaches and manifestations of these teachings and disciplines, each is premised on the same understanding of the nature of psychology as “the study of the principles, laws, and facts of man’s possible evolution.”4 In light of Ouspensky’s argument about the scientific study of psychology’s unrecognized history, there is nothing really very surprising about the lack of recognition, within the circles of learned modernity, of G.I. Gurdjieff and ‘the fourth way.’ 
     Ouspensky’s characterization of esoteric psychologies as being concerned with human beings’ “possible evolution” points to perhaps the most important reason why Western psychologists have failed to appreciate the importance of ‘the fourth way.’  The wisdom of esoteric teaching consists of revealed knowledge.  By merely reading and/or listening to lectures, it is possible to acquire knowledge of a system such as Gurdjieff’s, but to apprehend its truth demands an understanding which can only be realized through practical application of the teaching’s methods and ideas, and the transformation of consciousness and being that those disciplines and observations effect.  This is an idea and a method which is alien to Western thought.
     Nevertheless, without making the long and difficult effort to study oneself and the world in terms of the system, it is impossible to properly weigh the significance of Gurdjieff’s claims.  There is no other fair or meaningful means of investigating his teaching.  “Believe nothing!” he repeatedly admonished his pupils; warning them that the willingness of most people “to believe any old tale” was but another mechanical reaction–a sign of sleep.  There was no room for belief or disbelief in considering what he was saying, Gurdjieff explained, because the knowledge he was seeking to transmit was “higher knowledge,” and in order to realize the essence of higher knowledge, one must develop one’s being accordingly.  In one’s normal state of consciousness– at the mechanical level of being–one cannot apprehend the full truth contained within an expression or manifestation of higher knowledge.  One cannot even imagine the real meaning of the term “higher knowledge.”  Only by developing one’s being, such that the dormant faculties of higher consciousness and intelligence are awakened, can one grasp the substance and significance of higher knowledge.  The level of one’s knowledge, Gurdjieff asserted, is dependent upon the level of one’s being.
     For all intents and purposes, no one in Psychology grants any credence to the idea that knowledge is dependent upon being.  How could they?  Virtually no one gives serious consideration to the possibility that higher knowledge exists or that consciousness and being may be developed.  Therefore, there is little chance and less inclination within the ranks of psychologists or any other scientific wiseacres to examine impartially the ideas of Gurdjieff or any other such “mystical mumbo-jumbo.”  They will not do so because they are incapable of  suspending their disbelief and impartially assessing that which they assume they understand already.  The extent to which Gurdjieff’s teaching so thoroughly and radically upends or violates the most fundamental and unquestioned assumptions and principles upon which contemporary psychology is premised practically guarantees that the discipline will be untouched by his thought and methods.  And then there are some other kinds of reasons ....
     Ironically, Gurdjieff, regarded the pursuit of knowledge, without a concomitant development of being, as the greatest failing of modern education and culture.  The imbalance in the development of knowledge and being, he asserted, is one of the most powerful and pervasive sources of mechanicalness and slavery.  Furthermore, as long as one’s being remains undeveloped–that is, leaving one in waking sleep, without unity, the capacity to do, or being able to remember oneself–then all of one’s knowledge remains superficial, and its acquisition simply fosters and reinforces one’s manifold psychological illusions.
     Shortly after they had first met, Ouspensky asked G. about the value of reading “occult” or “mystical” literature.  Mr. Gurdjieff replied that a great deal could be gained from reading, especially if one understood what one read.  G. explained that if Ouspensky really understood all that he had read, or even had written in Tertium Organum–a book the latter had recently published to great acclaim–then he, Gurdjieff, would bow down and beg Ouspensky to be his teacher.  The problem, G. said, is that no one understands anything: our knowledge exists in our heads, but it does not touch the entirety of our being and, thus, is never our own.
     Knowledge and understanding are two different things, according to G.  Most people would acknowledge that, in practical matters, there is a significant difference between “knowing” and “knowing how” to do something.  For G., there is a parallel in the difference between knowing, in which one apprehends something intellectually, and understanding, in which one not only knows something in one’s head, but feels and senses all that is connected with it.  I may read that I am a machine which functions in sleep, and may be able to provide an accurate exposition of the ideas associated with that claim, but until I also feel it emotionally, sense it physically, and experience it practically, I can not understand what “being mechanical” means.  Furthermore, understanding involves making connections between one thing and something more inclusive.  Thus, my understanding of “being mechanical” will grow the more frequently and deeply I feel and sense such instances, and the more I am able to integrate those particulars into a more coherent and comprehensive framework of understanding.
     Typically, when people are confronted with something that they do not understand, they attempt to “name it,” G. says, and once they have named it, they assume that they understand it.  Thus, people who can name a great number of things are regarded by themselves and others as understanding a great deal.  Such knowledge is not only useless but dangerous, in G.’s view.  Knowledge, which does not develop in tandem with being, can produce nothing of value–only more mechanicalness, more slavery, more illusions, more lies, more fine words.  In contrast, the development of being in concert with knowledge leads to understanding and the beginning of everything that properly belongs to a human being: consciousness, unity, will, the capacity to do, and freedom.
     Unfortunately, there is no recognition in modern Western psychology or culture that “being” is something that can be developed and that man, as he is normally, lives at a very low level of being.  We recognize variability in knowledge, G. says, but think that “being” is essentially just another term to denote existence.  Thus, we think nothing of it when people, celebrated for their great knowledge and achievements, behave, in other aspects of their lives, in ways which clearly express a very low level of being.  The bum and the Nobel laureate may share the same repugnant quality or common failing, and we are not all that surprised–just more willing to rationalize its existence in an “accomplished” person.  In some cases–particularly with intellectuals and artists–we expect them to be weak or troubled in certain ways, as it seems to be a part of the make-up of such types.  Hence, as Gurdjieff slyly notes, it seems to be axiomatic “that a professor must always forget his umbrella everywhere.”

     In part, G. attributes the poverty of man’s being to the differential development of “Personality” and “Essence.”  This distinction between the parts of humans’ being knows no place in modern psychology.  Yet, it is another critical concept in the ‘fourth way’ account of the profound differences between what humans are, and what they can and should be.
     In broad terms, a person’s Essence consists of that which is his own; Personality is what is not his own.  Essence is that with which one is born: one’s heredity, nature, physical features, aptitudes, disposition, proclivities, and the like.  Personality is all that which comes from outside one: that which one acquires or is imposed on one through the chance and circumstances of one’s upbringing, surroundings, culture, education, and life experiences.
     A small child lives in its Essence. All her desires, tastes, likes and dislikes are her own.  They directly express her being.  However, as the child matures, Personality begins to develop and is basically established by the age of five or six–through the influence of others, by imitation, and by resistance to others (including the attempt to conceal and preserve that which is one’s own).
     Ideally, Personality and Essence would develop together in a harmonious balance, but this very rarely happens.  Due to the myriad sources of imitation and suggestion–family, school, friends, grown-ups–the child’s Personality grows rapidly and she is filled with ideas, feelings, and sensations that are not her own.  In this way, Personality grows over Essence like a crust or shell.  Essence becomes less and less frequently manifest, and is more and more feeble when it does so. Therefore, Essence is deprived of contact with the world and cannot grow.  Personality grows at its expense–assuming a malignant quality–and becomes dominant in one’s interactions and commerce with the world.  The artifice of Personality is then unconsciously and unconscionably active, while the plenum of Essence is reduced to the stasis and paralysis of passive isolation.
     Gurdjieff is not stating that Personality is bad and Essence is good.  Each is necessary and each must grow if one’s being is to develop properly.  Certainly, there are many things that must be learned and acquired through Personality’s interactions in the world.  As Mr. G. says, it may even be underdeveloped in those uneducated, simple people who live close to Nature and in whom Essence is relatively strong.  But more typically, Personality’s dominance arrests the growth of Essence at a very early age.  As a result, Gurdjieff maintains, it is not unusual to find that a sophisticated, cultured person–even the President of the United States–has the Essence of a child.
     Of course, the term “Personality” refers, not to one thing, but rather to all the personas one assumes or the masks that one wears in various rounds of life.  These personas or masks, acquired involuntarily by the chances of one’s conditioning and contact with sleeping people, appear and disappear according to equally involuntary and accidental dictates.  Thus, Personality is asleep.  The problem, according to Gurdjieff, is that Personality wants to be hypnotized and remain asleep.  Essence, on the other hand, is asleep, but it can be awakened.  Doing so, however, demands that Personality be changed consciously, such that it becomes more passive. Without such conscious direction, Personality remains superficial and is subject to constant unconscious changes.  One set of experiences drives out another, which are, in turn, driven out by another.  One aspect of Personality says ‘I want’ or ‘I like’ or ‘I do not like’ and then gives way to another set of different appetites and desires.  Consequently, people go through life existing as multiple, frequently antagonistic personages.  There is never anyone home.  In such circumstances–the life of the sleepwalker in the sleeping world–there is no control or real will.  Everything happens and will continue to happen unless Essence is awakened.  Only when Essence begins to experience and grow can its proper balance with Personality be restored, and the possibility of developing being and real will be realized. 
     A.R. Orage, one of Gurdjieff’s most prominent pupils, underlines the importance of developing one’s Essence by distinguishing it from Personality in these stark terms:     ‘Essence is truth about oneself in contrast to social and expected opinions of oneself.  Essence is truth irrespective of time, place, and the feelings of anyone.  It is what one would dare to avow if no consequences were to follow on a statement of the truth.  It is truth before God.  Personality is truth before men–before the world, conditioned by “What will people think?” 
     Ouspensky tells a story which is most instructive in considering some of these claims about being, Personality and Essence, and knowledge and understanding.  He describes how it was a practice of G.’s pupils in Moscow “to keep silence”–that is, to avoid unnecessary talking–when they gathered at G.’s apartment. Unnecessary talking is one of Personality’s most automatic and common activities and, hence, an important habit to oppose by trying to make it more passive.  Ouspensky relates what happened when he wanted to introduce some of his Moscow friends to G.  Only one–VA.A.–produced the impression of “being sufficiently alive” to be considered.  When his friend expressed an eagerness to meet Gurdjieff, he was invited to have lunch with him.  G. seated Ouspensky’s friend next to him and was the perfect host.  However, as Ouspensky belatedly realized, G. was testing his friend:? 
     ...  The fact was that everyone kept silence.  A. held out for five minutes.  Then he began to talk.  He spoke of the war, of all our allies and enemies together and separately; he communicated the opinions of all the public men of Moscow and St. Petersburg upon all possible subjects; then he talked about the dessication of vegetables for the army ... particularly the dessication of onions, then about artificial manures, agricultural chemistry, and chemistry in general; about “melioration”; about spiritism, “the materialization of hands,” and about what else I do not remember now.
   Ouspensky goes on to describe how his friend was so carried away with his own talk and his need to express his attitudes, opinions, and beliefs that he was essentially oblivious to everything and everyone around him.  He was completely unaware that no one else had said a word.  As such, his friend had been revealed to be a fool.  Gurdjieff had used him to prove a point to his pupils.  After A. had thanked Mr. G. for a “very interesting conversation” and had departed, Gurdjieff laughed slyly and said:? 
     “There, you see ....  He is called a clever man.  But he would not have noticed it even if I had taken his trousers off him.  Only let him talk.  He wants nothing else.  And everybody is like that.  This one was much better than many others.  He told no lies.  And he really knew what he talked about, in his own way of course.  But think, what use is he?  He is no longer young.  And perhaps this was the one time in his life when there was an opportunity of hearing the truth.  And he talked himself all the time.”
     It is very difficult to read this account without laughing at A.’s ridiculous behaviour–I can never get past the dessication of vegetables, particularly the dessication of onions–but the laughter is that of recognition.  We are all much more like Ouspensky’s friend than we care to admit or realize.  In our lives, Personality runs amok with unfailing dependability, such that–like A.–we are oblivious to its automatic manifestations.  If A.’s behaviour seems far-fetched, one need only observe what happens when one maintains silence or speaks only when necessary in a social context.  So much of what passes for conversation, the exchange of ideas, and repartee– even of the most clever and entertaining variety–is the automatic yammering of sleepwalkers.  It happens mechanically.  And one can prove that to oneself beyond doubt simply by struggling to go against this activity.  It would seem that nothing could be so simple, but that conceit merely reflects the extent to which we are hypnotized and spellbound by our psychological illusions.
     As Gurdjieff says, A. is what is called a clever man.  He is a man in whom Personality is very well developed–he knows a lot about a lot of things–but what good is it?  Placed in a situation in which a seemingly innocuous contrivance–people not talking–creates an unbearable friction in him, his Personality cannot remain still.  And so he talks until he is so engrossed in talking and being clever ... that he is not only unaware of what is happening but is literally deluded.  Can such a man be conscious?  Does he understand things, or is he more like a clever parrot who is able to name things?  Is he a free man choosing to act from the essence of his being?  Or is he an automaton–a clever machine–being controlled and moved by forces he neither suspects nor would recognize if he was told of them?
     The great irony of the entire episode lies in the fact that A. had impressed Ouspensky as the person most likely to be interested in G.’s ideas, expressed enthusiasm about meeting him, and thanked G. profusely for a “very interesting conversation.”  But even if A. had heard some of Mr. Gurdjieff’s ideas, his behaviour would probably have not been much different.  I never cease to be amazed by people’s reactions when they are exposed to Gurdjieff’s teachings and other esoteric ideas.  How quick they are to dismiss the entirety of the ‘fourth way,’ for instance, on the basis of the most superficial exposure to its tenets, to distort and reduce everything to the familiar and mundane, and to assume that they know and understand immediately things that they have just heard for the first time and could not possibly have given the careful consideration necessary to weigh them properly.  What is equally shocking is to discover that, no matter how well I know someone–or believe I do–there is just no predicting who will see something in this work and who will not.
     When I first entered The Work, the one aspect of the teaching which had bothered me was its apparent elitism.  It was clear that ‘the fourth way’ was not open to everyone–that, in fact, only a select few could or would pursue its path.  However, I soon came to understand that there was nothing unfair or unjust about the teaching’s supposed exclusivity.  Instead, I understood what Mr. Gurdjieff meant when he stated that esoteric knowledge is not, as is commonly supposed, “hidden.”  On the contrary, it is quite open and available to anyone interested in it–but, quite simply, most people have no such interest in acquiring this extraordinary knowledge.  However, this is not to say that it is free.  In fact, it is the nature of the payment involved in attaining esoteric wisdom that is truly hidden.  For the seekers of truth must pay for its treasures, at every step, through conscious service, suffering, and sacrifice.  And many of those who declare themselves to be committed to pursuing that path of self-perfection discover that they are either unwilling or unable to submit and surrender themselves wholly in paying for that which they acknowledge is priceless.

     Gurdjieff’s lack of impact on modern psychology and that of the esoteric tradition is attributable, in part, to the peculiar dynamics that divide those who hear something new and profoundly significant in such teachings from those who hear nothing extraordinary or noteworthy.  I see now that Ouspensky was correct when he stated that, to be receptive to ‘the fourth way,’ one must have experienced some substantial measure of dissatisfaction and disillusionment with the established ideas and explanations of life.  That observation certainly applied to Chris and me.  Through our years of discussing psychology and philosophy, we had developed similar views about the essential shape and nature of what Psychology should and must be.  We shared an unspoken conviction that, as interesting as the theories and ideas of some psychologists were, they had only touched some parts of the elephant.  Of course, we did not know the true nature of the beast–but we suspected it to be much larger, more mysterious, and quite unlike the picture of it that psychologists had drawn.
     To then come across the psychology that Gurdjieff taught was astonishing.  Here was someone saying that the beast was nothing like that described by the blind men, and insisting that such efforts were condemned to failure until people understood that they could and would know an elephant only when they could see it.  According to Mr. G., people are blind–yes–but they possess the capacity to see.  Like anything else it is a matter of education.  This is not a matter of conjecture, it is a fact.  Certain individuals have transformed their blindness and developed the capacity to see; they have come to their senses and awakened.  The differences between what modern psychologists and Gurdjieff say human beings are, and can become, are that dramatic.
     When it comes to knowledge, psychologists–in fact, all scientists–are true democrats.  Some people have better ideas than others, express themselves more effectively, are better experimenters and observers, and are regarded, therefore, as possessing superior intellects.  However, even the best and the brightest are not regarded as “higher beings.”  They are not.  In contrast, Gurdjieff states that not only can people be differentiated in terms of the level of their being, but failing to recognize this and to understand that higher being can be cultivated comprises the blindness of modern science and education.  A psychology, which seeks to understand man as he is–without understanding what he can become–is upside down and empty.  Psychologists develop psychology in sleep; scientists practise science in sleep.  All this happens ... and as long as it does, science and psychology–and our conceptualizations of what they entail–will remain tied to the limited understanding and senses of sleepwalkers and blind men.  Those rare individuals who have developed consciousness and being–that is, those who are “awakened” or “enlightened”–proffer a radically different psychology and science.  They describe realms of higher knowledge and being–domains of intelligence qualitatively superior to all knowledge and understanding established and limited by the level of normal consciousness and being–and claim to apprehend their luminous truths.  Perhaps someone should look into this.

     I believe that Gurdjieff was a man of higher being and consciousness.  I say this, while fully acknowledging that, having read numerous books and articles about him and studied his system for many years, I know that I do not know who he was or what he was.  Churchill’s famous description of Russia–“an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, surrounded by a mystery”–suits Gurdjieff very well.  He seems to have very clearly gone to great lengths to hide himself, to cast doubt upon himself, and to make sure that those who studied under him were able to separate him from his teaching.  He should be more famous than he is; his ideas should be much more widely appreciated than they are.  And yet, when considered in terms of the greater context of this remarkable man’s extraordinary life and work, his legacy seems strangely fitting and just.
     An explanation of who Gurdjieff was–in terms of biographical information–is interesting, in that he led a fascinating life, even as it is understood at the most superficial level.  Ultimately, however, such information is of limited and dubious value.  He was outwardly something of a controversial, and sometimes outrageous character.  He has been called a master, a fake, an avatar, charlatan, teacher, con man, magician, ignoramus, “rascal sage,” and, in his own words, “a teacher of dancing.”  Time magazine said that he “seems to have been a remarkable blend of P.T. Barnum, Rasputin, Freud, Groucho Marx and everybody’s grandfather.”8  That’s pretty good–as far as it goes.  And that is about as far as many people do go. I have come across numerous derogatory references to Gurdjieff that either dismiss him as something of a madcap eccentric or, more commonly, attack him vehemently as being a great fraud.  Like reactions to his teaching, those statements tell me more about the commentator than they do about Gurdjieff.  But even those attempts to come to grips with Gurdjieff, that are sympathetic, seem to be guaranteed to fail.  In a peculiar way, it seems that to attempt to portray Gurdjieff is to enter a house of mirrors, in which everyone turns this way and that–only to catch glimpses of their own distorted reflections.
     What we know about Gurdjieff’s first forty years, before his appearance in Moscow in 1912, comes primarily from his own accounts.  These are pointedly unreliable and, in some cases, transparently false.  Nevertheless, we do know that he was born in Alexandropol in the Caucasus region of what was Russia and is now part of Armenia.  The year is uncertain–befitting a man of such great mystery.  His passport said 1877, but Gurdjieff sometimes claimed to have been born several years before that, and it is more likely that he was born in 1872.  Whatever the date, his family lost its fortune due to the upheaval caused by the Russo-Turkish war and was forced to move to nearby Kars when he was a boy.  Displaced by the war, the region’s unique diversity of cultural and religious groups became concentrated in towns such as Kars.  Armenians, Greeks, Turks, Tartars, Assyrians, Yezidis (“devil worshipers”)9,  Romanys, Esthonians, and gypsies all contributed to the area’s distinct multi-ethnic and multi-cultural character.  Thus, Gurdjieff grew up amidst an exotic variety of cultural and religious influences that were especially provocative for a precocious and curious lad.
     As a boy, he witnessed a number of unusual phenomena and found the accepted “explanations” for them markedly inadequate.  For instance, he once saw a Yezidi boy trapped inside a “magic circle” drawn in the dirt–literally, unable to escape–until someone rubbed out the line.  No one could tell him what this meant or how it was possible.  In search of answers to such questions, he began to read voraciously and to study psychology, neurology, and hypnosis.  His studies and the influence of his father and his tutor, the dean of the Russian military cathedral, instilled in him what he described as an “irrepressible striving” to understand the meaning and purpose of life on Earth, in general, and human existence, specifically.
     In pursuit of his quest, Gurdjieff traveled widely in Asia Minor and the Near East; paying special attention to sites of archaeological significance.  His searches eventually brought him together with other like-minded individuals who shared his belief in the existence of hidden sources of wisdom.  Together, they formed a group called “The Seekers After Truth”–fifteen to twenty men and one woman–each with his or her own special areas of interest.  In various combinations and sometimes alone, they travelled to the locations and ruins of ancient civilizations–Assyria, Crete, Egypt, Sumeria, the Holy Land–and visited numerous monasteries and spiritual communities from Africa to Central Asia.  As a result of their labours and hardships, they made contact with sources of higher knowledge, uncovering and penetrating great mysteries.
     If this sounds like a fairy tale or a romantic epic, perhaps it is.  The account comes from Meetings With Remarkable Men, a book Gurdjieff wrote many years after the alleged events he describes.  Corroborating his story amounts to an exercise in futility–the passage of time and the very inaccessibility of many of the places, that he mentions, would seem to prohibit any such effort.  More importantly, it really misses the point.  While Meetings With Remarkable Men may be grounded in fact, its language is myth.  The book is, in my opinion, an allegory in which Gurdjieff shatters all our sentimental and comforting notions about what searching for truth means, and reveals the heroic dimensions in which life must be lived if one is to venture meaningfully into the unimaginable realm that is the domain of eternal mystery.  Higher knowledge depends on being, but the development of being involves heroic effort, suffering, and sacrifice.
     Northrop Frye, the brilliant literary scholar, wrote that the life of Jesus–as it appears in the Gospels–is told in terms of myth.  Myth is not historical, Frye says, and Jesus is not presented in the Gospels as a historical figure.  Rather, he is “a figure who drops into history from another dimension of reality, and thereby shows what the limitations of the historical perspective are.”10 (emphasis added)  In trying to grapple with the loaded question of who Gurdjieff was, I realized that Frye’s comments about Jesus hit the mark.  That is not to say that I mean to equate Gurdjieff with Jesus.  What I am suggesting is that the idea of a figure ‘dropping into history from another dimension of reality’ conveys a sense of how G.’s unique being appears to defy the historical perspective.  Moreover, to say this strikes me as being no more preposterous or fantastic than trying to fit him into the mould of a historical figure, and then foisting him on the unsuspecting as the real McCoy.  Gurdjieff, to me, was and is an alien intelligence, whose being manifested itself in such ways as to both reveal and transcend the limits of any traditional historical or psychological perspective.
     Ouspensky said that G. used to laugh whenever someone expected him to do miraculous things.  Nonetheless, Mr. G. did claim that, during the years of his search and training, he had developed certain psychic powers.  However, the acquisition of these powers precipitated a crisis of conscience which led him to take a vow never to use those special capacities for selfish ends.  The fact remains that several of his pupils did witness or experience phenomena that appear to have substantiated G.’s claims regarding his special powers.  They are not easily dismissed or explained away.  For instance, Ouspensky–a genuine skeptic and a man of uncompromising discrimination–describes how G. communicated with him telepathically!  Others tell of Mr. G. transmitting energy to them or healing them psychically.
     More fairy tales perhaps.  I do not think so, but I believe that these are the kind of stories people want and expect to hear when speaking of someone as a “higher being.”  There are many such fantastic stories about esoteric teachers and masters–more than enough to give any truly open-minded seeker of truth cause to seriously wonder about ‘all and everything.’  On the other hand, placing too much emphasis on the miraculous is to lose oneself in appearances, to substitute titillation for truth.  As Jan Cox, a contemporary teacher and commentator on Gurdjieff, says that people want to be told how “Lamas fly through the air and turn yak dung into chocolate mousse.”11  What would be more useful would be to aim for something closer to home: to look to acquire all those attributes that people already believe they possess, such as a real, unchangeable “I,” consciousness, and the capacity to do.  In those terms, I believe that  Gurdjieff was a man who had attained higher being and realized those capacities.  Daly King, who knew G. but would never commit himself to being one of his pupils, provides a sense of the latter’s unique being as the basis of his authority:? 
     Gurdjieff manifested himself in ways never encountered by the writer, in ways so different from those of others that they constituted a plain and perceptible difference in level of existence upon his part ....  He is the only person ever met by the writer who gave the indubitable impression that all his responses, mental, emotional and practical, were mutually in balance and thus the further impression that everyone else was out of step, but not this man himself. 
     Similarly, Kenneth Walker, who did study with Gurdjieff, describes his protean nature and distinct presence:
He could create any impression he liked and would often supply whatever his visitors expected of him.  ...  It was not part of his work to disarm hostility and to make converts, but to give help to those who had already discovered that they were in need of help."
Everything Gurdjieff did seemed to originate from within.  ...  He never fumbled in his thoughts or his movements.  The latter were always purposeful and made with the strictest economy of effort ... and his immense capacity for work was due to this ability of his never to waste energy.

*  *  *

     The more I saw of Gurdjieff the more convinced I became of his uniqueness.  He had qualities which I had never seen in anybody else; profound knowledge, immense vitality and complete immunity from fear.
    How do we square these testaments to the greatness of Gurdjieff’s being, which so many others who knew him endorse, with his status within supposedly learned circles as nothing more than an eccentric cult figure, and his virtual anonymity among the general public?  In Walker’s observations, there are some important clues to be considered when interpreting this apparent contradiction.  The first is that Mr. G. never proselytized nor made the slightest effort to convince anyone about the validity of what ‘the fourth way’ teaches.  He taught only those who earnestly came to him as pupils, and that which he gave them was in proportion to the sincerity and extent of their efforts. 
     The second clue involves G.’s capacity to act–“to create any impression he liked.”  Like so many things about him, this “acting” needs to be understood, not in the usual way, but in terms of his being.  Ouspensky tells of how he and many of Gurdjieff’s Russian pupils understood early on that he was always “acting”: 
     Our feeling of this “acting” in G. was exceptionally strong.  Among ourselves we often said we never saw him and never would.  In any other man so much “acting” would have produced an impression of falsity.  In him “acting” produced an impression of strength, although ... not always; sometimes there was too much of it. 
     Many others shared Ouspensky’s impressions regarding Mr. G.’s acting.  And Gurdjieff himself stated that to be a “real actor” was a very great achievement because only a “real man” was capable of doing so.  In this vein, he wrote that:? 
The sign of a perfected man and his particularity in ordinary life must be that in regard to everything happening outside him, he is able to, and can in every action, perform to perfection externally the part corresponding to the given situation, but at the same time never blend or agree with it.
Gurdjieff claimed that, as a result of “enormous efforts and continuous rejection of nearly everything deserved in ordinary life,” he had reached a state in which “nothing from outside could really touch me internally ....”
     Finally, as Walker indicates, Gurdjieff did nothing to challenge or mitigate others’ negative attitudes, opinions, and beliefs about him.  In fact, he often engineered or encouraged such hostility and denunciations!  Hardly what one would expect of a master or perfected man.  However, within Sufism–the esoteric tradition of the dervishes which strongly influenced Gurdjieff–there exists a particular way of teaching called malamat, or the “path of blame.”  Its adherents instruct and illuminate by consciously behaving in ways that shock and contradict their pupils’ expectations and assumptions about everything–including their teacher.  Clearly, this was an important element in the way Gurdjieff taught.  ‘The fourth way’ is not a system of faith or belief.  It is a method of studying oneself and the world.  Given Mr. G.’s charismatic presence, it would have been easy and extremely tempting for his pupils to lose themselves in following him blindly.  Yet, doing so would involve and encourage the very state of suggestibility and lack of discrimination from which G. was trying to help people escape.  Thus, he was as unsparing in his remonstrances as he was ingenious in orchestrating events to remind his pupils to separate the teaching from the teacher.  Cynics and skeptics may satisfy themselves with seizing on some apparent impropriety or transgression in Gurdjieff’s behaviour as the basis on which he and his teaching may be safely dismissed.  Today, that type of nay-saying is something of a parlour game for the “discriminating intellectual”–a trend reinforced by many self-styled, contemporary gurus’ unhappy proclivity to embrace careers that fall karmically under the rubric of that most unholy trinity: Incarnation; Incorporation; Incarceration.  Nonetheless, these various considerations provide some insight into how and why all questions, involving Gurdjieff as a historical figure, lead ultimately to questioning the question.
    What we do know of Gurdjieff–after he brought his teaching to the West in pre-revolutionary Russia, until his death in Paris in 1949–comes from all the usual sources that inform biographies of public figures.  Among the many extraordinary men and women who studied and worked with G., there were many gifted writers.  They have left us numerous remembrances, reports, and commentaries about the man and his work.  Normally, one would expect that a life scrutinized and documented so carefully and skillfully would promise penetrating insight, revealing the essence behind the public persona.  But then there is a catch ....
     Mr. G.’s ‘acting’ never allowed anyone to see him completely.  All his behaviour and external manifestations–parts deprived of their relation to the greater whole–were the illusions that he projected.  The more people looked, without understanding this, the greater the deception.  This was a paradox that Gurdjieff not only enjoyed, but nurtured and lavishly embellished; the more you saw of him, the less he was revealed.  Like any good magician, he occupied and diverted onlookers’ attention with misdirection, patter, and their willingness and desire to see what they expected or were accustomed to seeing.  But behind this play of appearances, there was some serious business going on.  If the “real Gurdjieff” was and is unknowable, then he is not knowable as a historical figure–he can be neither reduced to nor encompassed by such terms–but rather is one who reveals “what the limitations of the historical perspective are.”
     Gurdjieff said that ‘the fourth way’ was an ancient teaching that had assumed various forms throughout history.  And though there was never anything more than some tantalizing hints about an esoteric school in Turkestan or Afghanistan, Mr. G. also stated that he had a teacher with whom he was always in contact.  Thus, while Gurdjieff was an extraordinary man, he was neither unique in his time nor throughout time.  Everything I have said here, in trying to suggest that people are capable of developing higher being and knowledge, stands on its own–with or without Gurdjieff.  That my study of Gurdjieff and his teaching led me to that conclusion attests to his greatness.  Discovering Gurdjieff moved me, in turn, to explore the esoteric tradition–the secret teachings of all ages–and to begin to realize the profound significance and implications of that material for all aspects of modern psychology, science, education, and, most importantly, my own life.

     To return to the blind men and the elephant ....  If we take the elephant to represent wo/man, we have two radically different approaches to knowledge and understanding.  Modern psychology is an intellectual undertaking grounded in the process of inductive reasoning–that is, from the particular to the general.  Discovering the elephant’s nature is pursued through an onslaught of essentially isolated and uncoordinated efforts; attempting to know the beast by blindly groping and touching its various parts.  Faith has it that, with a gradual accumulation and compilation of the described pieces, an accurate understanding of the whole will emerge.  In contrast, Gurdjieff– and other bearers of the esoteric legacy–claim that there are individuals who have made special efforts to perfect themselves, not simply by developing their intellects, but by awakening the intelligence of their entire beings.  By doing so, they have consciously developed the faculty of sight.  Hence, they have seen the elephant and understand that its individual features exist, not in isolation, but as parts of a whole.  To know and understand the elephant, the intellect alone is insufficient.  Seeing is a faculty of the whole human being, and only the education of the whole human’s being can deliver him from his blindness.  Such education aims to bring the intellect, the emotions, and the body into a harmonious balance, such that the dormant faculties of consciousness, being, and will are awakened.  To this end, learning consists of a great deal of “unlearning” and “undoing” of that which one has acquired in the realms of the sightless.  Only those, who are guided by the sighted, are capable of preparing the ground for the transformation of their being.  Modern science is premised and charted on the changing of ideas; esotericism provides methods of self-realization and spiritual union through the transformation of consciousness and being.

 

 

James A Moffatt, 
On the Problem of God's Contracting Universe

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