Gurdjieff 's Ideas About Man and the Universe
a lecture by Kevin Langdon, October 15, 1986
Copyright (c) 1986, 1992, 2000 by Kevin Langdon. All rights reserved.
The ideas I'll be presenting tonight are intended for those who have understood that there is something fundamentally wrong with them as they find themselves to be and who feel an urgent need for change.
I am not speaking about people who are psychologically dependent and wish for someone else to give them a way to feel more comfortable, nor about those who attempt to lay blame for their situation on factors outside themselves.
Instead, I am speaking of those who are commonly termed ``spiritual seekers''--people who understand that they need something more than what they have been able to come to on their own and who are actively seeking help, in one way or another, to reach an understanding corresponding to their need.
G.I. Gurdjieff was such a seeker from early childhood. Exposed to a great variety of Eastern and Western cultures as a boy, he was touched by mysteries which created in him a great hunger for knowledge. He organized expeditions through central Asia and the Middle East in search of schools where answers could be found to the questions that interested him.
The story of his search is told in his own book, Meetings with Remarkable Men. We do not have time to speak of it in detail tonight.
Gurdjieff began teaching in Russia in 1912 and subsequently established the center of his activities in Paris, working primarily with pupils from France, England, and America.
Gurdjieff brought a perspective which unites the disparate scales of our personal concerns, the life of humanity on the earth, and the cosmic scheme within which these and all other phenomena exist. His ideas provide a framework within which it is possible to think practically about one's situation and the development of attention and consciousness and actually carry out a program of inner work to realize this development, under the guidance of someone who has carried out this program of work in himself, up to a certain stage.
Gurdjieff's vision of the cosmic scheme places man within the film of organic life covering the earth, which is a part of the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the universe of stars and galaxies as it is known to science, and sets all of this within a framework of intelligence consisting of cosmoses one within another, from God down to the tiniest speck of matter. Within this scheme, there is a perpetual flow of energy up and down; each level is fed by something and feeds something else, and the whole system is planned to remain in harmony.
According to Gurdjieff, organic life on earth is not a mere chance arising with no significance beyond itself but has a definite function in transmitting influences up and down the great chain of worlds.
A man serves nature whether he knows it or not, voluntarily or involuntarily, contributing his small share of energy to cosmic purposes of which he has no conception.
In the overall scheme, there is also a need for a small number of conscious beings to occupy a different place--to assist in harmonizing the creation through a work of service within the cosmic hierarchy. This possibility begins with a man's relationship with a school where objective knowledge exists and is transmitted.
Such ``esoteric'' schools exist for those who see the importance of seeking something behind the veil of ordinary life concerns. As very few people are, have ever been, or are likely to become interested in anything less immediate than their next meal or their next conquest, such schools have never attracted large followings.
An esoteric school exists in accordance with cosmic purposes and not for the convenience of people who wish to be otherwise than as they have been created by nature. Man's possibilities depend on forces beyond the scale of his life which are able to make use of him. In serving the higher, man also serves himself, becoming free from many laws which are otherwise obligatory and which keep him asleep and unaware of his actual position.
Gurdjieff taught that four states of consciousness are possible for man: ordinary sleep at night; the habitual hypnotized state in which people live when they get up and go about their daily lives (which Gurdjieff called ``waking sleep''); self-consciousness, in which a man is awake to the whole of himself and sees himself as he is; and objective consciousness, in which he sees the reality behind the way the world appears.
In man as he is, self-consciousness appears only in rare flashes; objective consciousness does not exist for him. The two higher states of consciousness can be achieved on a more permanent basis only as the result of a prolonged work of self-study.
Man always identifies with what he sees, taking the focus of attention of the moment to be himself and forgetting the larger whole which is his real self.
Accordingly, an important place in Gurdjieff's method of study, known by his pupils as ``the work,'' is occupied by attempts to divide the attention, reserving a portion for awareness of one's existence, while placing the remaining attention on the phenomena at hand.
People always think that they are able to control their own lives and produce an outcome in accordance with their desires until they set themselves a serious aim--particularly one involving control over their own inner life--and try to achieve it. This effort produces a state of disappointment, as one cannot, in fact, do anything at all, and if results are achieved it is only through an accident of circumstances.
According to Gurdjieff, things happen in life as a result of influences originating at different levels of the universe, some of them far beyond the earth; nobody does anything.
Man is a complex machine, cleverly crafted by nature to be able to adapt to a great variety of circumstances, but in principle no different from an automobile, a radio, or a computer, except for the presence of certain possibilities of development which are quite unsuspected by the man himself, first of all because he does not understand that he does not possess a number of qualities he thinks he has. Most important among these are continuous consciousness, unity, and will, the ability to control the parts of himself and to act from himself rather than reacting from an identification with one side of himself.
If a man has not yet realized his helplessness in the face of life it means that he has never tried to do anything requiring real effort or that he is lying to himself about the results.
The most basic psychological need of human beings is for a sense of identity, but the most basic psychological fact is that people have no central ``I'' which is capable of maintaining dominion over their parts and regulating the harmonious work of the whole organism.
This fact has been overlooked in the West because, while Western culture places great importance on knowledge, it does not recognize that there is a complementary principle to knowledge, the principle of being.
A man's level of being is the power of consciousness which determines the extent to which he is in possession of all that he contains within himself. Western man has almost no being, and thus he is unable to make practical use of his knowledge for his inner development. His knowledge remains theoretical and fragmented.
Understanding depends upon an equal development of knowledge and being.
In the absence of a real self, people invent one, not once but many times. The psychic state of the moment surveys its field of vision and sets up a momentary self-image, which is swept away as soon as the attention shifts.
This process cannot be halted just by wishing for it to stop, but one who has realized the illusoriness of the identities created in this way can cease to believe in them, at least at some moments.
Of course, to be present to oneself spinning fantastic dreams of being someone while knowing that one is not who one pretends to be is unpleasant, but it is preferable to continuing to lie to oneself, if one wishes to know the truth.
Gurdjieff likens our position to that of a man who has been imprisoned with no prospect for release. When he looks about him and realizes his position, he sees that his fellow prisoners do not understand that they are in prison and therefore have no inkling that any other possibility exists.
Such a man can wish for nothing else but to escape. But how can this be accomplished? A man must find a way by which escape is possible, and this can be done only with the help of others who have escaped before and know when the guards are not looking and where it is worthwhile digging. He also needs material help from those who have access to tools which are not available within the walls.
Those who are capable of helping others to escape are always deeply engaged in their own work and value their time very much. Therefore, instead of helping one man, they organize schools in which a number of people can be helped to develop the means to escape. When people work together they benefit from contact with one another--because their wish for liberation is strengthened by the exchange of experiences of inner work which takes place in a school, because it is often easier to see unpalatable truths in others than in oneself, and because the development and execution of a viable plan of escape is a large undertaking beyond the power of one man.
Schools come into existence in accordance with the aim of the teacher and exist only as long as they serve the purpose for which they are intended. Only the teacher fully understands his aim, but it is an important part of school work for the pupils to try to understand the aim of the teacher and find a way to be useful to him.
In a school, conditions are created in which the work of self-study which leads to inner transformation is facilitated through the presence of energies which awaken the wish of the pupil to realize his own latent possibilities.
These conditions typically include meetings where members of the school exchange ideas and observations regarding their attempts at self-observation, exercises for the attention, work on various projects with others in conditions organized by the teacher, and other forms which place the pupil in front of himself and demand sincere efforts to remain open to what he sees, rather than turning away from himself.
The pupil is expected at the same time to think for himself and accept nothing that he has not verified personally, and to obey the indications of the teacher; clearly, this is possible, beyond some preliminary experimentation, only when one has verified that the teacher knows one better than one knows oneself and that following one's own opinions in these matters can actually retard one's progress.
The prison in which man finds himself is one of hypnotic sleep. Man lives in a state of hypnosis and is vulnerable to every kind of suggestion, from other people in the present and the past, from literature and mass entertainment, and from the myriad voices in his head.
When a man realizes that he is hypnotized by everything his attention touches and is ready to believe anything that does not trigger an equally mechanical defensive reaction of disbelief, he begins to question whether there is any correspondence between reality and the way he thinks of the phenomena around him.
This questioning is very useful for a man who wishes for inner development, as it turns him toward direct experience as a guide to reality. Real knowing is direct, without any intervention of thought, but unless one values the rare moments in which one experiences the truth directly traces of them quickly become lost in the associative noise.
By the time he reaches adulthood, everything in a man's inner world is arranged to keep him from seeing the truth about himself and his position.
He is shielded from seeing himself as he is through artificial appliances which Gurdjieff called ``buffers,'' which prevent him from feeling the contradictions which exist within him, as the buffers on a railroad car cushion the shocks when the train starts, stops, suddenly changes speed, or goes around a sharp curve.
In order to observe himself truthfully, a man must cease to be completely in the grip of buffers and confront the contradictions of his nature.
The conditions created in schools include shocks sufficiently strong that a man's contradictions become accessible to observation. Naturally, being shocked is not pleasant, but intensive conditions containing major shocks are only provided to those who want them and whose preparation, in the opinion of the teacher, is sufficient that they can make use of them for inner work.
When a man sees the contradictions within him, a wish for being which is more than mental can arise through the awakening of conscience, which exists in man but is buried and whose call to him falls on deaf ears. He feels the warring sides of himself together and experiences the low level of his being and the wish to become different.
Conscience has nothing to do with the morality which is a part of man's conditioning and which touches him only at the level of mechanical associations. It is a touchstone which unifies his disconnected parts and can lead to the development of his hidden possibilities.
Dependence on the indications of a teacher is a prolonged, but nonetheless temporary, stage in the Work. Sooner or later, through long and painstaking study, one must become able to make use of conscience as an inner guide, in order that one's work may continue after the teacher is gone.
According to Gurdjieff, the categories commonly used by psychology, philosophy, and religion to represent the organization of man's psyche confuse phenomena of different types and draw distinctions based on partial and incomplete observations.
Making use of these categories, various subjective theories, psychotherapeutic methods, and moral doctrines have been developed, on which people base their views of themselves and their attitudes toward the world around them.
Because these views are based on wrong divisions, they lead to nothing but the chaos we see everywhere in modern life.
Gurdjieff spoke of man as possessing both an essence, which is himself--the functions and inclinations he is born with--and a personality, which is composed of material assimilated from those around him: his parents, teachers, peers, the mass media, and other influences which reach him by chance or design.
A newborn baby is pure essence. During the first few years of life a child is bombarded with messages which indicate the expectations and demands of those around him. He is helpless and he has no choice but to adapt to these voices, either by conforming or by resisting; in either case, his view of who he is becomes more and more conditioned by outside influences.
In older children and adults, it is the personality which is active; essence, when it has not already died, is passive and participates to a relatively small extent in a man's values, decisions, and reactions.
Essence and personality are intermixed in our experience of ourselves; it takes considerable study to begin to distinguish them reliably, but it is necessary to distinguish them, as essence is that in us which is capable of development while personality contains knowledge which is needed for the work to develop one's possibilities as well as the principal obstacles to development.
It is reasonable to ask how one can begin to study one's own structure without falling into the confining mold of the old categories. For this to take place, one must begin, very simply, by observing oneself as one is, in the situation of this moment.
But we do not know what it means to observe. It is not easy to watch what is taking place in oneself without believing in the constant stream of judgement and inner commentary which is produced by personality, and watching in this way can be done only for brief moments until one has accumulated more knowledge of oneself and of the many ways one identifies with and disappears into what one sees.
For this, sincerity with oneself is necessary, and sincerity is one of the qualities man believes he possesses when in fact he does not. In order to acquire sincerity, work in a group with a leader who understands the pitfalls of self-study and can help one to see the appropriation of every insight by the usurper in oneself that claims the place of the absent ``I'' is indispensible.
Observation must begin with the psychic functions in operation, in moments in which it is possible to see them simply and clearly and to assign what one sees to categories corresponding to the actual organization of the human machine.
When one observes, one sees at the same time elemental psychic functions which exist in essence and ``content'' manufactured by personality. Man ordinarily is immersed in and identified with the content of what he sees; everything has a meaning within a system of symbols which take the place of real experience of his existence.
Right observation involves making a separation between what appears in the moment and oneself. Although at first one has very little which can be taken as belonging to oneself--only the experience of ``I am'' in the moment--an effort of separation is possible which, at times, brings new impressions of oneself and eventually leads to the state of self-remembering, in which one is present to oneself in the moment through the force of the effort of separation.
In observing, one attempts to distinguish impressions of the various functions in operation, not through analysis but by taste. Each function has a distinctive signature.
Gurdjieff spoke of seven psychic ``centers'' in man, four of which are directly observable: the instinctive center, the moving center, the emotional center, and the intellectual center.
The instinctive center includes the senses, simple and complex reflexes, and the regenerative processes of the body that work without awareness at the cellular/biochemical level. All the functions of the instinctive center are inborn.
The moving center is responsible for the body's perception of motion and for control of all impulses of movement. The functions of the moving center are learned through imitation and through early experimentation and adaptation.
The emotional center is responsible for all the varieties of emotional states, positive and negative, but the negative states arise only through mixing of the energy of the emotional center with the energy of the instinctive center. It is possible to develop an attention which is capable of discriminating among and separating these energies.
The intellectual center compares, calculates, and reasons.
The relative weight of the centers is not the same in the psychic life of different individuals. Gurdjieff spoke of three different types of men: man number one, in whom the moving and instinctive centers predominate; man number two, dominated by the emotional center; and man number three, in whose constitution the intellectual center takes the lead.
These centers, which Gurdjieff terms collectively the lower centers, because they operate with relatively coarse energies, work according to habits acquired over a lifetime and are generally not in balance with one another. They are lazy and do not want to do their proper work, borrowing energy from one another, which they are poorly adapted to use; they try to do one another's work, which they are not designed to do and do not do efficiently or without undesirable side effects.
In addition to the tendency of the centers to shirk their own work and do the work of another center, they also exchange energy with the fifth center, the sex center, which works with a very fine energy corresponding to the subtle perceptions of which this center is capable. The sex center is much more difficult to observe than the four centers we have spoken of previously, due to the subtle energy which animates it.
The energy of the sex center, active in the lower centers, causes whatever work is undertaken to be done with a useless vehemence and intensity. The sex center, robbed of its own energy, is then coarse and sluggish.
Observation of this ``wrong work of centers'' occupies an important place in Gurdjieff's method of self-observation.
In addition to the centers so far described, Gurdjieff speaks of two more centers in man, the higher emotional center and the higher intellectual center, fully developed and functioning, but cut off and inaccessible to man as he is due to the disharmony of the lower centers.
It is through the finer energies belonging to the higher centers that man is capable of realizing his highest possibilities and playing a conscious role in the administration of the universe.
Each of the lower centers is subdivided in several ways. We will speak briefly of one of those ways. Each center has an intellectual, an emotional, and a moving--or mechanical--part. The intellectual part works with consciously directed attention, the emotional part with attracted attention, and the moving part with distracted or dispersed attention.
In man as he is created by nature--whether number one, number two, or number three--the moving parts of centers predominate and produce aimless activity in which associations of a type corresponding to the particular center involved proceed randomly and his energy is wasted, producing nothing constructive for his being.
The mechanical part of the intellectual center has a special name: it is called the formatory apparatus, because, in the right functioning of the human machine, it is intended to set up forms for the higher parts of the center to operate upon.
In man as he is, the formatory apparatus has run wild and dominates psychic life. Its constant din of associations makes it almost impossible for a man to become quiet and observe himself as he is.
Because modern life is filled with formatory associations, even man number one and number two are often far from direct experience of their bodies and feelings. Consequently, a very important place in the Work is occupied by attention to the sensation of the body. This sensation is a stable point which can be of great help in developing sustained self-remembering.
In addition to man number one, number two, and number three, Gurdjieff spoke of four additional categories of man.
Man number one, man number two, and man number three all stand on the same level of being and all are equally mechanical.
Man number four is a man who has acquired a permanent center of gravity, consisting of his understanding and his valuation of the Work. He is no longer blown about by the wind, but refers everything to his aim of self-development.
Man number five is a man who has attained unity in himself. All his functions belong to the whole of him; nothing in him operates independently and without coordination. He possesses functions and powers which ordinary man does not possess, and he has crystalized an astral body, consisting of very fine energies, which is capable of surviving the death of the physical body.
Gurdjieff taught that immortality is a relative matter. The physical body dies and that is the end of it. The astral body can survive for some time after the death of the physcial body, then it also dies. But this is not the end of the matter; still higher bodies are possible.
Man number six has objective consciousness, powers beyond the powers of man number five, and a mental body. Man number seven possesses a causal body. Of course, we can have very little understanding of the meaning of these higher bodies, but full development of man's possibilities lies in this direction.
If a man begins to work on himself seriously, sooner or later he will come to the conclusion that his energy is not sufficient for the efforts which are required.
While the work of self-study is difficult and demanding, there is enough energy in the machine as it is to begin to work on oneself. Eventually, in order to go further, more energy must become available for work, but work itself increases one's energy, through capturing in the form of impressions energy that would otherwise be lost.
An important part in the work is also played by a struggle against certain manifestations through which very large quantities of energy are continually wasted. Principal among these manifestations are lying to oneself and others; useless and repetitious imagination about present and past, possible and impossible happenings, with or without any relationship to oneself; unnecessary talking; and giving expression to all kinds of negative emotional states.
The human organism is very complicated; attempts to change something in oneself usually give rise to unanticipated compensations in other parts which may be even worse than the situation one started out to change.
Struggling with the energy-wasting manifestations enumerated above is an exception to this rule; efforts of this kind do not result in unexpected and undesirable compensations in other areas.
To realize one's possibilities, one must be practical and not be deceived by unrealistic expectations. One must especially not expect that one will be able to preserve every pet notion on the way to self-knowledge.
What is required for success in work on oneself is common sense, particularly about what is useful and what is not, willingness to engage in sustained hard work, and the ability to look beyond what one knows and actually take in new impressions in the moments when the energies appear that make this possible.
This work is for those who value the truth enough to relinquish their insistence that they know exactly who they are and what they're doing at every moment, that their opinions carry the weight of revealed truth, and that their decisions are invariably for the best.
We are interested in your questions and your experiences, but we are not interested in your opinions. We are particularly not interested in hearing how you've managed to overcome all your problems and become satisfied with yourself.
I do not mean that we are opposed to your having your own opinions. Opinions are necessary; one does not always have the luxury of acting on anything more substantial. But opinions are necessary only when one must take action. To give your opinions a solid form and treat them as if they are more than tentative approaches to reality is to close yourself off from the possibility of experiencing anything new.
I've talked for a long time. Now you must decide whether to stay and listen and, perhaps, to work with us, or to go on your way and devote your time to something else.
Questions and Answers
Q: You spoke about sustained self-remembering and about self- observation, and it seems to me that when you spoke about self- observation you limited it to observing the operation of the various centers. Did I get that right?
KL: Certainly the centers are an important category, in that we're composed of seven centers and the functions of these centers. At the same time, to look at everything in accordance with that one division is to miss a great deal, so there are various other points of view from which we wish to observe ourselves.
Q: What does self-observation have to do with sustained self- remembering, or is it the same?
KL: There are various ways to observe oneself. People observe themselves, in a way, all the time, and the results that they come to vary greatly. Some kinds of self-observation really boil down to attempts to find a way of representing to oneself that everything is all right. People spend a great deal of time in that kind of self-examination. Or, on the contrary, in trying to find ways to castigate themselves when they feel guilty and inadequate. But the observation that is interesting from the point of view of these ideas is an observation which takes a direct impression of oneself, and in order for that to be possible on more than a very rudimentary level, a certain amount of self-remembering is necessary. Gurdjieff said that self-observation without self-remembering is only a kind of imitation work, that one has to bring oneself into one's observations.
Q: How does this differ from Zen?
KL: Zen is an authentic expression of Buddhism, which is a profoundly powerful tradition. In their innermost essence, all the real traditions are the same. But there is also a question about what form of study corresponds to us as we are in America in the last years of the twentieth century. Gurdjieff brought a way in which there is a place for the discursive intellectual investigation that Western man is very strongly oriented toward, while at the same time not making of that a structure which leaves no room for experiencing oneself.
There is a great deal in Zen. The emphasis on meditation without form and staying with oneself until real impressions appear is very good. I could go further, but we're not really here to speak about Zen tonight.
Q: I have a half-formulated question. Most esoteric systems seek to overcome conditioning, which is very difficult to do, as anyone who's really tried it knows. What's conditioned response and what's response from essence? By what means does Gurdjieff approach that?
KL: Gurdjieff approaches it, first of all, by observation of oneself in the actual conditions one finds oneself in, without attempting to change what's there. Even the work of struggling against mechanical manifestations such as the ones I mentioned is undertaken with the understanding that one will not be able to stop these manifestations, at least most of the time. But struggling with them makes it more possible to see them. What has the major transformative effect in the Gurdjieff Work is the energy that one takes in through the impressions that come when one makes efforts to see oneself. As a result of this, one begins to see various conditioned attitudes in a new light and recognize them for what they are. Gurdjieff said that there are many things that cannot function in the light; as one begins to see oneself and to know oneself better, certain forms of conditioning begin to disappear of themselves.
Q: To continue with that question in a sense, how do you teach someone how to do it themselves? Couldn't you fool yourself into thinking that you're observing yourself when in fact it's just your conditioning?
KL: The answer to that question is yes. It's very easy to fool yourself. And the process of fooling oneself has to become part of the field of study. The presence of people who've been studying longer is very helpful in this regard because they've been through the same process. They may be able to point out what one is failing to see oneself. Or, simply through listening to them describing their own experience, one may pick up pointers about how one tends to lose the thread of observation and how one finds it again.
Q: Can you give a concrete example of this experience? I'm still having trouble picturing exactly what happens. In the group, do people bring up problems from outside and describe them and you tell them where they're not seeing clearly, or what is it exactly that happens in the group?
KL: That's a good question, and of course there are many things that happen in the group meetings. But there is a pattern which they generally follow. Often we listen to readings from Gurdjieff's books or those of his pupils as a help to keep the ideas in front of us. These ideas have a transformative power. Additionally, we speak together about the work that people have been trying themselves and the questions they've come to--and sometimes an answer can be given. Sometimes, others speak about their own experiences stemming from observing similar phenomena in themselves. In addition to that, we work with certain exercises which are given as a means of seeing specific areas in ourselves and to provide more in common in our work together. So people come to a meeting and everyone will have had experience of working with the excercise for a given week. And, because of that, there is some support for the efforts of an individual.
Q: What are the exercises like?
KL: One of the exercises we worked with early on was to try, for the space of a week, to remember to open doors with our left hands. Clearly there's absolutely no merit in that by itself, but the idea is to get an impression of the extent to which one can remember to do a simple thing. Do I suddenly waken to myself on the other side of the door and realize that I didn't do it? When I do remember, what goes on in my body as I shift gears--as the right hand contracts and the left hand extends--is all part of the field of study. It's a simple example, but in a way it's typical of the way we try to work together.
Q: I've been thinking as you've been talking: to observe oneself requires a certain detachment; to the extent one can achieve that detachment, is that the process? The detachment that allows one to see oneself and in a strange way to become more attached. Am I reading you a little bit?
KL: A little bit, I'm sure. I think you're groping for a question which you feel, and I'm not sure that I've fully understood it at this end, but let me try to say a few things and see if they connect. First of all, it's right that there's a detachment that's required; one tries to observe oneself as if one were looking at another person, and to take in impressions of oneself which are not so colored by values and preconceptions and by the ordinary ways that we represent to ourselves what goes on in our lives. Since the very detachment that's required is one of the things that we're trying to work toward, it's a bootstrap enterprise to a certain extent. Nonetheless, there are moments in which observation is more possible, and I think that it is necessarily a matter of trial and error.
There are moments when you remember that you're interested in making efforts, and in some of those moments you find something in particular, something specific, to try. When you try, sometimes there's a result, sometimes there's none, sometimes the result is not what you expected, but it's all material; that is, anything that you observe in the context of trying to make an effort is a part of what we need to understand. There needs to be an observation that includes the whole process, and it's one of the most common ways that our minds operate to define a boundary and say, ``This is inside the boundary and all the rest is outside.'' And of course what that means is that we're taking what's outside the boundary as a kind of implicit self: ``I'm not here; I'm looking at what's on the screen.''
Q: Right, so there's a presupposition there. It's a challenge.
KL: Yes. But it's very difficult. One attempts to study, and after, usually, quite a short time, one finds onself caught up in the same thoughts and attitudes, the same points of view.
Q: I think your use of the word attention, if I understand you, is confusing, because I think you describe two things: having detachment combined with a kind of very present somatic approach. Are those two combined in some deliberate way?
KL: Yes. The usual state of affairs is that one is caught up in thoughts about who one is and the position that one is in in the situation of the moment, to the point where there's very little awareness left to take in what's really there. When one becomes a little bit freer from that, what's immediately in front of one at all times is the direct sensation of being inside of one's body. But, for us, that's an intermittent experience.
Q: You're suggesting that that's a question of having energy free. It does seem to me like a very strong shift of attention.
KL: Well, it works both ways round. Putting attention on the body is a very helpful technique for coming to one's presence.
Q: From what I understand from the lecture, the state of being for any real self-observation or gain is intermittent. Is that correct?
KL: That is correct, in a way. But let's take an analogy. Let's say that someone is not able, due to some handicap or malfunction, to taste anything. His taste buds aren't working. Then, through some kind of medical procedure, he becomes able to taste again. What real difference would it make if he had that ability to taste every tenth of a second or if he had it continuously? So it's a matter of relativity.
But the problem with the ability to be present to oneself is not only that it's intermittent in some logical sense but that one's presence appears very infrequently, much less frequently than one would like it to appear. We find ourseves operating on automatic a good deal of the time. And the more we study the matter, the more pervasive we see that automaticity is. The Work brings one to the possibility of being present to oneself more of the time.
Q: Kevin, did you study under anybody when you were first learning this philosophy?
Q: Do you still consult them?
KL: There are still people I work with.
Q: That you study from?
KL: Yes. Now, that's as relative as anything else. When it's a matter of people who have just heard of these ideas coming and sitting down with someone who's been working with them for ten, twenty, or thirty years, there's a very definite vertical rela- tionship. When it's a matter of someone, say, who's been working for eleven years sitting down with someone who's been working for ten, it's more of a collegial relationship, more of an exchange between equals. So a certain amount of my work at this point is of that character. I work with other people. But there certainly are people who are enough ``older in the work'' than I am that my relationship with them is, on the whole, a relationship of pupil to teacher.
Q: Why would you pick the Gurdjieff Work as opposed to Vipassana meditation or transpersonal psychology? I don't mean that to be a baited question.
KL: No, I won't take it that way. From a very early age there were questions that interested me very much. I felt that there was something missing in me that I needed to find. Given that I had an intellectual bent and access to literature of various kinds, I thought a good deal about these questions and developed my own way of looking at them. Then, when I met and listened to people who were teachers of this or that, or read about new systems of thought, I naturally would bring these new ideas to bear on my questions. It was the Gurdjieff ideas that seemed to me to correspond to the questions that are real for me.
I first heard them at a discussion group that I used to go to years ago. I was completely electrified by what I heard, but, of course, that was just the first step. The next step was to meet people who had achieved something that seemed to me to be in the direction I wanted to go and talk with them about my questions, and I discovered that they were able to bring new ideas, a new viewpoint, to bear on my questions. The third step was to actually apply Gurdjieff's ideas myself and to see what came of that for me--and my experience, over a number of years, was that I began to understand things I'd always wanted to understand. Of course, I'm not satisfied with where I've gotten so far. I wish to go further. But I'm convinced that the Gurdjieff Work is a genuine path through which real development is possible.
Q: What are the primary questions that you were interested in?
KL: One of them was the question of the organization of the human psyche. I wanted to know how the parts of myself fit together. I wanted to be able to make sense of the various observations of myself that I had made and the various fragmentary models of what I saw that I had been able to come to. I also wanted to understand some way in which I could be a part of some meaningful enterprise--something that mattered--and for me it wasn't enough just to work at a job or raise a family or any of the normal things that people do. I wanted to do something that was connected with a larger scale, and in the Gurdjieff Work I found something that was large enough that it satisfied me. That's not all my questions, but it will be enough.
Q: If this philosophy is so persuasive, why isn't it more widely disseminated?
KL: It's made sufficiently available that those who are seriously seeking a way of understanding will be able to find it. Disseminating it too widely would actually make things more difficult for people who have a sincere need for it.
Q: Would it be reasonable to say that this is, in effect, a Western translation of Zen?
KL: No. It's a different line. Gurdjieff's work is a part of what he calls the Fourth Way (which he opposes to the way of the fakir, the way of the monk, and the way of the yogi, emphasizing the physical body, the emotions, and the intellect, respectively). The Fourth Way is a way of working with all the centers at once, in the ordinary conditions of one's life. And Fourth Way schools have existed for a very long time. But the Fourth Way is less well-known than the other ways, though it goes back thousands of years.
Q: So, what you're saying is, this is what is the essence of Zen. Are there other esoteric schools along this line besides these two?
KL: Yes, there are many. For example, there are certain Tibetan Buddhist teachings that are unmistakeably esoteric. Certain Sufi schools also, although these are not as easy to find.
Q: Do you think it's possible to independently seek this particular path and do it by oneself, and achieve to some degree what one might do in a group or with a teacher, with a vision that comes not from a teacher, but from one's own observation?
KL: I'm not going to say it's absolutely impossible, but the best known exceptions are rather of the kind that prove the rule. Take Krishnamurti, for example. Krishnamurti was force-fed Indian philosophy and religion from an early age by Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater; he didn't exactly sit at the feet of a single guru. But somehow, making use of the material at hand, he came to his own understanding, sufficiently that he was able to give those people who were setting him up to be the next world messiah a hell of a shock--because, when he gave the talk where he was to proclaim himself the messiah, he told people not to follow leaders, anticipating Bob Dylan by several decades. But Krishnamurti was an extraordinary case; he was a man who had been given private tutors and many other kinds of exposure to Eastern ideas, and probably was an unusual type to begin with. For a Western person who has grown up in the ordinary way, full of the ideas and images that we're all walking around with, for all practical purposes, there are no real possibilities outside schools.
Q: Let me expose myself a little bit and tell you what's going on in my mind right now; maybe I can get a feeling for how you work by doing it. I'm having thoughts about whether I should stay or not and having these different parts of me telling me what I should do. One part says, ``I don't really want to stay, but I should stay, because if it's scary, maybe that means I need to do it.'' And another part says, ``Well, it isn't because it's scary; it's because it's too dry and intellectual and boring.''
KL: What do your feet say?
Q: Anyway, the basic thing is: how do I know whether this is right for me? On what basis do I make a decison? Do I make it because it feels right, or do I make it in spite of the fact that it doesn't feel right?
KL: That's a real good question, and I don't want to give a simple answer to it, because it goes right to the heart of the matter. We know from decades, now, of experience that things that feel right for us at one moment don't necessarily feel right at another moment. So the snap-judgement-from-an-intuition model is not so good. At the same time, we really have nothing other than our feeling to go on, even when it passes through a lot of intellectualizing. Sooner or later it has to come back to my own perceptions, my own direct experience. Now, in relation to the possibility of becoming engaged in something like this, which is a long-term enterprise and which involves a great deal of effort and study, on the one hand, there is a kind of urgency. We are not in a very favorable position. But, in another way, there's no reason to be in a hurry; it's much more important to take the time to come to a decision that's right than to force the process of deciding either yes or no quickly. I think that probably the best thing for you, if you are feeling on the edge, would be for us to get together to talk privately, at which time you could go into much more detail about your questions and I could perhaps give you a more satisfying answer.
Q: When do you usually have your meetings?
KL: Normally, they're on Wednesday nights at eight o'clock; they're open to anyone with a sincere interest.
Q: Do you charge?
KL: We ask for a monthly contribution.
Q: How large a group is it?
KL: About half a dozen people.
Q: Is there a publishing house that puts out literature on this philosophy?
KL: There are a number of publishers that publish books by Gurdjieff and his pupils.
Q: Would there be ongoing people who have been studying and working for a period of time or would the people in the class all be new?
KL: It's a little of both. In practice it's not very feasible to find twenty new people all at the same time and start a new group, but the groups are composed in such a way that one is generally with people who have been studying for approximately the same length of time that one has oneself.
Q: Are there people in this room right now who are in the group that we would be in?
Q: They're the people who have been quiet, I gather.
KL: That's true, although not everyone who's been quiet is in the group. Maybe some brave soul would care to identify him- or herself as a member of the group.
Group member: I'm part of the group, and I have lots of questions to ask, but I can ask him later, so I've been quiet so that you could ask your questions.
Q: How long have you been in it?
Group member: About three months.
Q: Was there any one place where Gurdjieff found what he was looking for or was it a combination of influences?
KL: In Meetings with Remarkable Men, he wrote about searching for, and eventually finding, the Sarmoung Brotherhood, though there were certainly other influences. Gurdjieff didn't leave a real clear trail, so we don't know exactly where he met the people he studied with. On the other hand, the well-known Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa was Abbot of the ``Sarmoun Monastery'' in Tibet; whether or not that's the same thing . . .
Q: According to the movie, it was in Egypt, wasn't it?
KL: Gurdjieff was in Egypt, but that's not where the monastery was. The part of the film where he goes to the monastery was shot in Afghanistan; the implication was that it was located somewhere in the highlands of central Asia.
Q: To what degree would you say people are attracted to this group by the implication of special powers and elite qualities of being a member of such a group?
KL: Very little. There may be people who are attracted by that at first, but mostly they don't stay with it. It's true that, in a certain way, the work speaks of an elite--people who've achieved higher levels of consciousness--and there are people who wish to be a part of that very much, who want to be special. But it's said that we all come to the work for the wrong reasons, and it's perfectly normal for someone to approach the work with something like that in mind and to come to a quite different attitude later, or, on the contrary, to come with that in mind and find that his expectations of glory are not satisfied because, for the most part, what one finds is hard work.
Q: You talked about essence as opposed to personality. As you've been involved in this work and, I assume, become more aware of your essence, has your personality changed or has it just become less important to you?
KL: I wish there were someone in this room who had known me for twenty years or so, because, when this question has come up in other contexts and there were people like that present, there was a very strong reaction from them. I was a really quite obnoxious person twenty years ago. Not just commonly obnoxious, but very difficult, and certainly there's been a kind of smoothing of the rough edges.
Q: Would you say it's directly attributable to the philosophy you've been studying?
KL: Well, of course, that's a hard question to answer. And yet, for myself, the answer is yes. It's very difficult to convey the grounds on which I would make such a determination. But for me it's quite clear.
Q: I have a bad day at work and when I come to meetings on Wednesday nights I'm still going to have bad days--right?
KL: Probably, for a while.
Q: Is studying going to help me to get rid of the bad days?
KL: I think so, eventually. But what's needed to get through the bad days is not to feel better, but to find a way of making use of those days--the time of your life--for study and for doing the work which can lead to transformation, not in a day but in your whole life. When one begins to really feel that change of perspective and to remember at a moment when things aren't particularly pleasant that this is just one moment--this moment is a part of today and today is a part of this week and this week is a part of this year--there is a kind of detachment that begins to appear. But not at every moment. If you hit your thumb with a hammer, you may find yourself not at all interested in getting detached but cursing a blue streak. So it's a gradual process, but what can be achieved makes it very much worth doing. I'm speaking here about what Socrates called ``the examined life,'' not just within the context of the Gurdjieff Work. But unless a person is engaged in a study of himself, he is simply lost in himself.
Q: So just opening the door with your left hand, for example. What is the application to the day? I'm just curious.
KL: Ordinarily, one sleeps through one's day. If one is trying something, it creates the potential for waking up more often. Let me give another example of something we've tried together. There was one week when we were working with the expression of negative emotions, which is a tremendous subject. What we did was to pick a particular person that we knew we were going to see to whom we characteristically had a particular negative reaction and tried not to express that particular reaction.
Q: Not to express it, or not to feel it?
KL: Not to express it. The feeling is there. It appears. Negative emotions are not necessary for the functioning of the organism, but transformation of negative emotions is something that takes a long time. Eventually, one reaches a point where, when the energy that ordinarily fuels the negative emotions arises, that energy can be made use of for inner work instead. But, at the beginning, we work with the expression because that's what's accessible.
Q: Is the awareness of death something that ties into this? The sense that only with a full awareness of death and the abyss can there be a sense of a real presence.
KL: Gurdjieff placed great emphasis on awareness of the inevitability of one's own death. And he also suggested that it is useful to remember the mortality of everyone on whom, as he put it, ``your eyes or attention rests.''
Gurdjieff said that people live as if they were going to live forever. In the back of their minds, they have the assumption that they're immortal, even though they know intellectually that it's not true. But if one has moments of feeling one's mortality, it begins to create that sense of urgency which is needed in order to remember to make efforts.
Q: Is there also, in this group, a focus on dreams? I'm not thinking of dream workshops, et cetera--I'm saying this separate from any of those kind of settings. But, in my own awareness, my dreams have become significant, inasmuch as they sometimes speak after consciousness or before consciousness, alternating. Is this something that you also work with? The shadows, the different look, separating completely from any particular school of dream thought . . .
KL: I understand your question, and it's a very good one. People differ a great deal in how much connection they feel with their dreams. There are some people who never remember their dreams at all. There are other people for whom they are very significant. There is a difficulty working with dreams, in that our ordinary waking life is subjective enough. It's very difficult to make real contact even with that. And yet, Gurdjieff said that the life of dreams continues under the surface during our ordinary waking state.
KL: And, of course, one would wish to include that in one's study. Generally, the work does not place an emphasis on dreams at the beginning because they're difficult to observe directly.
Q: I don't understand why or how a philosophy can be based, in part, on knowledge of any sort concerning the existence or non- existence of some sort of afterlife. You can't really know one way or the other what happens after they close the box on you. How can you create a philosophy incorporating some point of view about what happens afterward?
KL: No one knows what happens after death--at least, not ordinary people like us. You see very few people coming back. But that may not be the whole answer. I think that any of us here would be convinced in a very profound way of something beyond the materialistic view of what happens when we die if someone he knew well who has passed away were to appear in ectoplasmic form and begin conversing with him in a way that showed the typical manifestations of that person. That hasn't happened to me. And I'm not sure I believe the people who say it's happened to them. But the people who have passed on to me ideas which I have verified, on a smaller scale than the idea of the possibility of a second or third or fourth body, have turned out to be right on the money on things on a small enough scale that I have been able to verify them. And consequently I can't dismiss and must view as having a strong likelihood of truth what they've had to say about matters on a scale which I have not yet become able to see. The question clearly is important. But Gurdjieff said that what is necessary in order to achieve a concentration in oneself which is capable of surviving death is exactly what's required to become master of oneself in this life.