I think that two understandings grow together: understanding of how we should develop in accordance with the divine plan, and how we should not. Traditionally, Christians have always studied both virtue and vice. Gurdjieff does not do the same, but rather approaches from the perspective of the state in which we act. Yet, I think, it amounts to the same thing. I am not sure that the great wealth of ideas he brought about this (and he has a great deal to say about the Hasnamuss in All and Everything), is really appreciated.
In a future blog, I shall return to All and Everything on Hasnamuss individuals. But for now I wish to mention Ouspensky’s very important contribution to this question: a contribution which I think that very few people, even those well-acquainted with the Gurdjieff tradition, will know about. However, it is presented with Ouspensky’s trademark lucidity, and well repays the time invested in studying it. Some of what he has to say is found in The Fourth Way, but all of that material, and more besides, is in A Record of Meetings.
What is, I think, essential, is that the concept of the Hasnamuss arises from the need to understand what normalcy is in everyday life: that is, we need to know how to recognise normalcy within ourselves. So the Hasnamuss is actually at the bottom of a ladder of normalcy:
1. Normal Man = Householder
Speaking about this in a general way, Ouspensky said: There are many states below ordinary man. People who are ill, or too identified, or hypnotized by formatory ideas are more machines than ordinary man. (A Record of Meetings, 73)
We need to stop in the middle of this passage to let it sink in. When we are too identified (there are degrees), or possessed by formatory ideas (political theories, utopians, and ideologies of complaint, including feminism) we are actually more mechanical than an ordinary man (one who confirms to the ordo which is the divine plan).
Ouspensky continues: Ordinary man is already a very high state, because from this state it is possible to move. All these religious and theosophical teachers are really below normal. They hypnotize themselves by words. … Normal man is a man who understands that it is all nonsense. … Usually people are below normal, they are lunatics, tramps or sincere scoundrels. Lunatics have many variations. Only from the level of ordinary man does possibility begin. (A Record of Meetings, 73)
Then, speaking of the householder (called the obyvatel of In Search), Ouspensky says: …householder means simply man who leads ordinary life … The Russian word translated means simply inhabitant, nothing more, with an ironical meaning in ordinary life. But at the same time one must first of all be an inhabitant or householder. Then this man can have doubts about ordinary things, he can have dreams about possibilities of development, he can come to school, after some time, after a long life or at the beginning of life, he can find himself in a school and work in a school. (A Record of Meetings, 425)
I think it is just as well to be clear about this, because there is a prejudice in favour of younger people joining the groups. It even exists within the Church. It is understandable, and of course young people are valuable, but the point is that all people are. Sometimes an older person will be of great use to a group. And of course each and every person is of intrinsic value in and of themselves. But many mistakes are made in order to attract and keep “young people”, to give them what they want. Perhaps what they need is often not the same thing. But an older person who has tasted something of value has a great deal of experience, and they bring it with them. I would also note that Ouspensky speaks of a householder “having doubts”. That is, he has started to question the lies of the contemporary culture: but he has not allowed this to fester into an “ideology of complaint”.
Ouspensky goes on to speak about “tramps”, people who have no values, and “lunatics”, people who have wrong values ( A Record of Meetings p.426). But I repeat, the meaning of these terms – and of the pertinent traits within ourselves – stems from the chief point that, as Gurdjieff said: … no way can begin from a lower level than the obyvatel. This is very often lost sight of on people who are unable to organise their own personal lives … and because this, so to speak, justifies their weakness and their inadaptability. A man who can be a good obyvatel is much more helpful from the point of view of the way than a ‘tramp’ who thinks himself much higher than an obyvatel.
This was one of the differences between being with Mr Adie, and what came afterwards, when we were directed by Paris to work with Jim Wyckoff from New York. Mr Adie always had the most tremendous knack for finding the best way to do anything, to salvage what could be retained when things had to be thrown away. He was, to be brief, the most intensely practical person I have ever known. After him came the New York City hippies. Mr Adie had taken so much trouble to plan the work, to labour effectively, to be clear, to follow through … all gone with the wind in the name of “being open to the moment”. I recall one period after Mr Adie’s death, when we were away in the country, and menus had been prepared. Jim W. suggested they throw the menus away and “sense” what people needed. Of course, his “suggestion” was taken as law. The quality of the meals and even the amount of the food plummeted. There was not even time to go out and get the food if they “sensed” it was needed. I was intrigued to see that one of the “free spirits”, a woman I always found to be particularly aggressive, returned her plate to the waiter at lunch one day, saying she wanted more. She got more, but she left it uneaten. Someone else could have benefitted. One person needed a special dietary item and volunteered to buy it: “No,” they said “the team will do it. It will be their work.” Of course they bought just the wrong item. He developed tongue ulcers, but did not complain. One person needed a room by himself, another person did not. The person who needed his own room was put with someone who snored, while the other had an individual cabin. The next day those two just swapped rooms. But the planning committee had no shame, let alone insight.
Part of the issue was that under the influence of Jim Wyckoff, many of the ideas were simply ignored (such as the central concept of aim: aim and planning are of course related). In connection with all this, it is fascinating to read how on 15 September 1938, when Ouspensky was asked a question about producing good and bad people, he said: Self-remembering cannot produce wrong results, though again it is necessary to keep the connection with everything else. If one omits one thing and takes another thing from the system, if one seriously works on self-remembering without knowing the idea of the division of ‘I’s, takes oneself as one from the beginning, then it will give wrong results and can even produce wrong crystallisations and makes development impossible … You see, there is the possibility to work on this line or parallel lines (Yogi, religious) and … for work to be based on false personality and on struggle against conscience.” A Record of Meetings, 381)
Joseph Azize, 16 September 2016
To be continued