I have a good deal of contact with people who are or once were in Gurdjieff groups. I will not comment here on whether the places they were attending can be called “groups”, in the sense of a purposive association where there is more than ordinary understanding and people are in consciously produced conditions which allow for inner development, and a relationship exists between the members which is directed, at least, to being. But even with genuine teachers and genuine seekers of being, such as many of those who were with Gurdjieff, there were people who attended who nonetheless were not really in the group – they attended but did not engage often or deeply enough.
This itself raises an important question: how is this possible? How can it be that people could attend meetings with people like Jeanne de Salzmann, and yet not progress, and yet be at each other’s throats? How can people be immersed in Gurdjieff’s ideas and some at least of his methods, and yet become not more awake but rather more deeply asleep?
I think that one matter, at any rate, is that after a certain period, the basics are passed over if not forgotten. I know people who have said things such as that their “group leaders” were “beyond” the fundamental ideas and practices, no longer needing them. I must say without apology, I believe that this is rubbish. No one is ever beyond the first principles if only because those principles are true.
Another factor is this trait we have, which Gurdjieff commented on frequently, from many perspectives: our tendency to become accustomed to conditions and anything in our environment. Time and again we learn from experience that we fail to implement the knowledge we have. I may know that other people do not consciously intend evil, that they are machines, and so on; but still something in me gets upset as if they had any choice in the matter, and as if I had some valid expectation that they should be different, and even a right to be offended when they are not.
I could continue along this line, but the basic point is clear: we too often neglect the basics and get tangled in pointless complexities. This is why I am publishing some of the extraordinary material which has been published from Jane Heap. There are two books, each titled Notes, by the Two Rivers Farm. These are essential reading, but just recently I have started to think that perhaps the most significant material from Jane is not in fact her notes, it may be her table talks (occasional comments) and her letters. Some of her remarks are of course found in the two books. But the most important material could well be that in Margaret Anderson’s two books The Fiery Foundations and The Unknowable Gurdjieff.
I refer to material “from” Jane Heap because she would not publish anything about her engagement with the Gurdjieff work. However, when Margaret Anderson published some of her letters and her sayings, during Jane’s lifetime, it must be supposed that if this was not with her permission, at least it was not over her strong disapprobation. Here is a first instalment of comments from The Unknowable Gurdjieff, pp.48-50.
1. “Three Centres”
1.1 “We are flatteringly called three-centred beings, but we have no future because we have two centres filled only with our past habits.”
1.2 “Our centres are empty because we haven’t filled them consciously. Everything is passive. The effort of this method is to make the three centres work together.”
1.3 “Any activity for a human being that is less than three-dimensional is sub-human.”
1.4 “We spend our lives wandering – escaping from one error into another.”
1.5 “Life always becomes a discussion between three centres: like or dislike, yes or no. All our time and energy is wasted by this discussion.”
1.6 “Man is three different person, three different upbringings, three different contents. We grow up lop-sided – with each centre out-balancing the others.”
1.7 “Only a small part of our life is under control. As we are, we have no will. Will is a state of development – a possibility in a higher centre.”
1.8 “All we call development now is but an extension of one of the three centres. All our art is but an extension of the emotional centre, etc.”
1.9 “By wishing you can’t add anything to your three centres – ‘By wishing a man cannot add a cubit to his stature.’ You must have a method, a technique. Christianity was put into the Bible, but no technique for development was given. The technique is never written down.”
1.10 “Christ’s public teaching was given in parable, leaving out the theory and the technique.”
1.11 “(In Gurdjieff’s private teaching he presented both theory and technique.)”
1.12 “Every science has to draw upon a special vocabulary. The Gurdjieff vocabulary is as precise as that of any other science. All the terms in the Bible were once precise scientific terms: ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions’, ‘Turn the other cheek’, ‘An eye for an eye’, ‘The cross …”
1.13 “This method: a mathematical and material explanation of the creation, maintenance and purpose of the universe, man’s place in that universe, his function and duty.”
1.14 “Man’s obligation: to operate with the laws which operate the universe. Because man has a unique place. The obligation goes with that.”
There are more texts under this heading, but these 14 suffice for the moment. The first point to make is that as I worked on this I was reminded time and again of Boris Ferapontoff’s notes of Gurdjieff’s teaching, now available in a book I had the privilege to edit and comment on: Constantinople Notes on the Transition to Man Number 4 (Beech Hill, 2017). The two opening chapters of that book are entitled “Attitude to Psychology” and “Centres.” Among more superficial similarities is the terse power of Ferapontoff and Jane Heap, thus Ferapontoff opens: “Everything is from outside.”
In an effort to keep this post close to 1,000 words, I will just note the importance of paragraph 2.13 from Ferapontoff on the principles of passionlessness in religion, and my comments on it (p.22), referring to Gurdjieff’s talk “The Meaning of Life”.
Joseph Azize, 27 November 2018