George Gurdjieff

George Gurdjieff was a 19th and 20th century philosopher and teacher who introduced a number of profound ideas around humankind’s role in the universe.

George Gurdjieff
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Jul 28, 2021
George Gurdjieff was a 19th and 20th century philosopher and teacher who introduced a number of profound ideas around humankind’s role in the universe.
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"Man is immersed in dreams... He lives in sleep… He is a machine"
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (13 January 1866 – 29 October 1949) was an Armenian philosopher, spiritual teacher and writer. Gurdjieff developed a method for working towards a unified and higher state of consciousness and achieving full human potential. He called this "The Work" and its teachings are called the "Fourth Way". He said that the teachings he brought to the West came from his own experiences and were influenced by Sufi, Zen and Yoga mystics he met in his early travels. At different times in his life, Gurdjieff started and closed various schools around the world to teach the work.
I personally think that Gurdjieff was a special kind of genius. Not a genius in the usual sense of intellectual virtuosity, but a genius in the sense of a powerful ability to recognise profound “truth”. His intuition of primordial laws from which the universe is formed was profound. I don’t know here these insights came from. He claimed they came from wisdom shared with him by Sufi brotherhoods and other sources. Possibly he said this to lend what he thought would add mystery and authority to them, or maybe he just gleamed them himself. Either way he recognised them as profound and spent his life sharing and serving them.

Waking sleep

Gurdjieff taught that most people live their entire lives in a state of hypnotic "waking sleep":
"Speaking frankly... contemporary man as we know him is nothing more than merely a clockwork mechanism, though of a very complex construction"
"A modern man lives in sleep, in sleep he is born and in sleep he dies".
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Gurdjieff said that people hold a number of beliefs that he questioned;
  1. they are conscious,
  1. that they possess a constant selfhood,
  1. that they can act intentionally (they have a will)
  1. and in some cases that they are in possession of an immortal soul.
He challenges these beliefs saying that people are trapped by their
and faulty identification.
Gurdjieff‘s primary psychological assertion is that ―we do not remember ourselves. This is because we are absorbed in or identified with what we are doing, or, more precisely, what is happening to us. We are asleep, in a state of “waking dreaming” and we pass through our lives only partially aware of our existence.
There is always “I” even though the “self” to which it refers is continually different. He says:
"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."
Everything under here “under construction”

From Witness

"I understood these principles to be that the human Organism and all the psychic functions of sensation, feeling, thought and desire are no more than a very complicated machine, incapable of independent action. The true man, the “permanent unchanging I” should be the master and ruler of the machine. But in nearly all people this inner ruler is asleep or absent Thus, although outwardly they appear to be human beings, in sober fact they are automata, acting only in response to the stimulations that come to them through their senses. The illusion, for it is surely such, of having an ‘I’ comes from the nature of consciousness, which gives the taste of reality to whatever it touches. What people believe to “I” or “myself” is no more than the ever-flowing stream of consciousness."

Our guiding forces are back to front

We being driven by “Bounding-habituality” to “Meaning-potential”
::(I should recreate my own version of this in terms of living processes directed by “bounded-habituality” vs serving “meaning-potential”)::
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We are not responsible

  • An important consequence of man‘s inability to remember himself, his inner disunity and his lack of will is that, from an objective‘ point of view, he cannot be held responsible – either collectively or individually – for his actions; nor can he be expected to maintain a genuine ethical standpoint
  • All mankind‘s experience simply happens to him, and while he remains inwardly mechanical he can do nothing to change this.

Your body should be a servant

Now only your mind is awake; your heart and body are asleep. If you continue like this, soon your mind also will go to sleep, and you will never be able to think any new thoughts. You cannot awaken your own feelings, but you can awaken your body. If you can learn to master your body, you will begin to acquire Being. “For this, you must look on your body as a servant. It must obey you. It is ignorant and lazy. You must teach it to work. If it refuses to work, you must have no mercy on it. Remember yourself as two - you and your body. When you are master of your body, your feelings will obey you. At present nothing obeys you — not your body, nor your feelings, nor your thoughts. You cannot start with thoughts, because you cannot yet separate yourself from your thoughts.
The general principle here is that lower-order “holonic agents” should be servants of higher-order ones.

  • Gurdjieff said that having an aim was an essential prerequisite of transformation

Gurdjieff on our potential

“Our starting point is that man does not know himself, that he is not,” he used to say, stressing that undeveloped man utilised only a fraction of his capacities and powers.Undeveloped man was an unfulfilled potential, a carriage without a driver or a house without a master. Practical work had to focus on becoming, for with man’s coming into being, ::he would acquire remarkable powers such as will, consciousness and unity::.Foremost, he would become real, like the wooden Pinocchio transforming into a real boy. A fully developed man would shed the mechanical strings of stimulus-response and become master of himself."

Knowledge and Being

There are two lines along which man’s development proceeds, the line of knowledge and the line of being. In right evolution the line of knowledge and the line of being develop simultaneously, parallel to, and helping one another. But if the line of knowledge gets too far ahead of the line of being, or if the line of being gets ahead of the line of knowledge, man’s development goes wrong, and sooner or later it must come to a standstill. People understand what “knowledge” means. And they understand the possibility of different levels of knowledge. They understand that knowledge may be lesser or greater, that is to say, of one quality or of another quality. But they do not understand this in relation to “being.” “Being,” for them, means simply “existence” to which is opposed just “nonexistence.” They do not understand that being or existence may be of very different levels and categories. Take for instance the being of a mineral and of a plant. It is a different being. The being of a plant and of an animal is again a different being....But the being of two people can differ from one another more than the being of a mineral and of an animal. This 1s exactly what people do not understand. And they do not understand that knowledge depends on being. Not only do they not understand this latter but they definitely do not wish to understand it. And especially in Western culture it is considered that a man may possess great knowledge, for example he may be an able scientist, make discoveries, advance science, and at the same time he may be, and has the right to be, a petty, egoistic, caviling, mean, envious, vain, naive, and absentminded man...
And it is forgotten that the level of knowledge is determined by the level of being. Actually at a given level of being the possibilities of knowledge are limited and finite. Within the limits of a given being the quality of knowledge cannot be changed, and the accumulation of information of one and the same nature, within already known limits, alone is possible. A change in the nature of knowledge is possible only with a change in the nature of being.Taken in itself, a man’s being has many different sides. The most characteristic feature of a modern man is the absence of unity in him and, further, the absence in him of even traces of those properties which he most likes to ascribe to himself, that is, “lucid consciousness,” “free will,” a “permanent ego or I,” and the “ability to do.” It may surprise you if I say that the chief feature of a modern man’s being which explains everything else that is lacking in him is sleep.
  • This speaks to a key distinction that is not recognised-valued in the West. The quality of a person himself. Versus what he knows or is known for.
  • It also speaks to the architecture of perception as knowledge is processes via our value-theories.
  • It will also speak to deeds and what “he” is capable of, and to this later angle does self-authorship emerge.
  • What is needed is not continuous or life-long learning but life-long Being development

My response to

What is missing from Gurdjieff that I think is important is greater emphasis on:
  1. meaning
  1. choice
  1. authority
  1. The present moment

Gurdjieff on schools and super-efforts

Schools are imperative," he once said, "first of all because of the complexity of man's organisation. A man is unable to keep watch on the whole of himself, that is, all his different sides. Only school can do this, school methods, school discipline—a man is much too lazy, he will do a great deal without the proper intensity, or he will do nothing at all while thinking that he is doing something; he will work with intensity on something that does not need intensity and will let those moments pass by when intensity is imperative. Then he spares himself; he is afraid of doing anything unpleasant. He will never attain the necessary intensity by himself. If you have observed yourselves in a proper way you will agree with this. If a man sets himself a task of some sort he very quickly begins to be indulgent with himself. He tries to accomplish his task in the easiest way possible and so on. This is not work. In work only super-efforts are counted, that is, beyond the normal, beyond the necessary; ordinary efforts are not counted."
In search of the miraculous

“A man must have an aim”

He may not, can not, see beyond this life, therefore his aim in a concrete sense cannot go beyond his death. But he can set himself the aim to die honorably, that is to say, not to give up. He reiterated this whenever he spoke about aim, and he spoke about it nearly every day. The whole point is that the aim to keep on trying, to work on oneself, admits of no doubt. All philosophical and even religious questions can remain open for us but as to whether it is better to go on trying or to give up, there can be no doubt. Therefore the practical issue for us does not concern what is beyond death; it concerns the approach to the moment of death. How shall I die?

“I wish the result of my weakness to become my own strength”

“Each time you feel the beginning of weakness, relax and then think seriously: “I wish the result of my weakness to become my own strength.” This will accumulate in you for your future work. Each man knows which weakness he has in him. Each time this weakness appears in you, stop yourself and do this exercise”.

We must "pay the price" of our existence

Gurdjieff constantly insists that the same service and sacrifice by which we play our part in the Reciprocal Maintenance transforms our nature from "thinking animal" to "free individual" and creates on earth a society that is in harmony with Nature. Man's nature is dynamic: in order to be, he must become. In order to become, he must pay the price of his existence. When he has done so, unlimited vistas of cosmic realization open to him. He can become the trusted ally of the Supreme Power by which the world is governed.
Mitch Olson

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Mitch Olson