|The Five Strivings|
All the beings of that planet then began to work in order to have in their consciousness this divine function of genuine Conscience, and for this purpose, as everywhere in the Universe, they transubstantiated in themselves what are called the 'being-obligolnian strivings' of which there are five, namely:
The first striving: to have in their ordinary
The second striving: to have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being.
The third: the conscious striving to know ever more and more concerning the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance.
The fourth: the striving from the beginning of their existence to pay for their arising and their individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterwards to be free to lighten as much as possible the Sorrow of our COMMON FATHER.
And the fifth: the striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred ‘Martfotai,’ that is, up to the degree of self-individuality.
At this period when every terrestrial three-centered being existed and worked consciously upon himself in accordance with these five strivings, many of them thanks to this quickly arrived at results of objective attainments perceptible to others.
… A clue is found in Beelzebub Tales in what may be an esoteric alternative to the Mosaic Ten Commandments, Gurdjieff’s “Five Obligolnian Strivings.”
These were given by his spiritual teacher-figure Ashiata Shiemash for people to practice in order to “have in their consciousness ... genuine Conscience.”
It is necessary here to try to understand what Gurdjieff meant by “conscience.”
- He described conscience as being simutaneously aware of all of one’s feelings, feelings that are ordinarily experienced separately so that their contradictory nature is rarely noticed.
- In common with the ordinary meaning, conscience is a function in man from which he experiences “remorse” if he goes against it.
- But Gurdjieff always emphasizes the difference between subjective morality, which is different everywhere and for everybody, and “objective conscience,” which is an innate and essential function.
- This function has been relegated to the subconscious and it is necessary for man to make it conscious. Much more is said about conscience in Beelzebub’s Tales.
- It is the heart of Gurdjieff’s hopes for the development of man into what he is meant to be.
The five strivings are given in Beelzebub’s Tales.
- The first striving: to have in their ordinary being-existence everything satisfying and really necessary for their planetary body.
- The second striving: to have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being.
- The third: the conscious striving to know ever more and more concerning the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance.
- The fourth: the striving from the beginning of their existence to pay for their arising and their individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterwards to be free to lighten as much as possible the Sorrow of our Common Father.
- And the fifth: the striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred ‘Martfotai’ that is up to the degree of self-individuality.
A division is noted immediately between the first three, which seem to be directed toward oneself, and the last two which are directed outside oneself.
What is the meaning of the fourth striving?
- It is reported that Gurdjieff sometimes said that to “pay back” meant to work to earn one’s living, but as is often the case, he seems to have also meant something deeper.
- Is it to pay back one’s mentors in “the work” by actually becoming one’s own individual? And what is one “free” to do afterward, and why?
- Well, it seems that the great sorrow is that people in general are not “individuals” but, as explained in Beelzebub, spend their lives as machines, unconscious slaves.
- To pay back, and to lighten the sorrow, may be to do what is indicated in the fifth striving, to carefully assist other beings to develop “self-individuality.”
- The fourth and the fifth striving then describe an endless cycle of self-realization followed by assisting others to self-realize.
- Is this the charter for the community of “the work” that Gurdjieff left as his legacy?
In the previous post we considered the two being-Partkdolg duty, “conscious labors” and “intentional suffering.” In this post we will explore the so-called five strivings of objective morality. Like in the case of the two being-partkdolg duty, the emphasis will be on how to use the strivings to work in life.
Before we get into topic, it would be very illustrative to review what A. R. Orage had to say about the two being-partkdolg duty and the five striving Beelzebub’s Tales
- The Five Strivings of Objective Morality contain the essence of the Gurdjieff Method. But before we are able to strive in the right way, we must understand the meaning of conscious labor and voluntary suffering, for on these two basic principles — Being-Partkdolg-duty and the Strivings — hang all the law and prophesying of the Gurdjieff system. They form a basic octave, and nothing can be added to or taken away from them.(Orage, Commentaries on Beelzebub’s Tales, pp 125-126)
The five ‘being-obligolnian-strivings’ given to us by the Most Most Saintly Ashiata Shiemash is at the very heart of the organization He created for the welfare of humanity. These are the five strivings as He introduced them with the paragraph at the opening of their enumeration:
- “All the beings of this planet then began to work in order to have in their consciousness this Divine function of genuine conscience, and for this purpose, as everywhere in the Universe, they transubstantiated in themselves what are called the ‘being-obligolnian-strivings’ which consist of the following five, namely:
- The first striving: to have in their ordinary being existence everything satisfying and really necessary for their planetary body.
- The second striving: to have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being.
- The third: the conscious striving to know ever more and more concern the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance.
- The fourth: the striving from the beginning of their existence to pay for their arising and their individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterwards to be free to lighten as much as possible the Sorrow of our common father.
- And the fifth: the striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred ‘Martfotai,’ that is, up to the degree of self-individuality.”
These are strivings and no commandments. In the way of Conscience, we need no commandments; we need strivings. In Tales Mr. Gurdjieff raised Conscience to a level higher than the Conscience derived from the Ten Commandments. And then, and even more important, these are strivings for Life. These strivings are given for humanity and together with the two being-Partkdolg duty they represent all man needs for the fulfillment of life on Earth. They belong to what may be called “the school of life.” All this is very obvious from the paragraph that opens to the strivings and that is worthwhile repeating here:
- All the beings of this planet then began to work in order to have in their consciousness this Divine function of genuine conscience, and for this purpose, as everywhere in the Universe, they transubstantiated in themselves what are called the ‘being-obligolnian-strivings’ which consist of the following five, namely:
The strivings are for all beings, and not only for there-brained beings alone or any particular group of beings, as it is obvious from the fifth striving. We are now in the presence of a way of development that embraces the totality of life.
The first striving is about the needs of our planetary body. We have a body that must serve us in order not to function in life but in order to help in the fulfillment of the plan of Creation. But this by itself is necessary but not sufficient. This striving is followed by the second that calls for a self-perfection in the sense of being. The self-perfection is not only in the mind and the body but in the feeling as well. Then we have the totality of a being and not one-sided development.
Body and being are now in the process of development are a personal level, my body and my being. A connection or a bridge to the Cosmos is now in order. Otherwise our development is only for the service of the Trogoautoegocrat process of local character. The third striving is the required bridge. It is the striving bridging the personal with the cosmic.
The fourth and fifth strivings call for participation at the cosmic level. We are here on Earth not only to serve our individual egoism but more importantly to serve the Cosmos through our inevitable participation in the process of reciprocal feeding as well as the process of Creation initiated by the creator of that exist in the entire Megalocosmos or, as it is called in Beelzebub, God. Our function at the level of the fourth striving is to live our life from the very beginning consciously and intentional in order to alleviate the Sorrow of our COMMON FATHER.
Our participation in this process of Creation is in great part to help other beings to attain self-individuality, as it is the call of the fifth striving. The fifth strivings culminate with a call to serve others creatures of our common father and it reflects what Mr. Gurdjieff called the true aim and sense of existence on Earth:
- the highest aim and sense of human life is the striving to attain the welfare of one’s neighbor,’ and that this is possible exclusively only by the conscious renunciation of one’s own. (Tales, p. 1186)
Morality, as ordinary human beings understand it, is very different from the ethical sense that awakens with conscience and the development of a greater consciousness.
- The “mechanical morality” is a result of external conditioning, imitation and automatic (non-rational) learning, indoctrination, education, external rewards and punishment.
- This kind of morality differs from one individual, time, and country, to another: in many countries, killing an infidel wife is approved practice, different than in the Western societies where it is punished.
- In contrast, the Ethic is the same everywhere and involves a consciousness of the objective nature of one’s self, and the realities of life and the Universe.
- Ethic is a kind of “objective morality” that is based upon a deeper consciousness than people ordinarily know, and the “instinctual sensing of reality” and universal truths.
Gurdjieff, in his book Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, explains that humans can work in order to have the Divine function of conscience in their consciousness by “transubstantiating” in themselves the five “being obligolnian strivings” – duties.
- These being obligations (described in Gurdjieff’s book, p.386), are the components of a healthy Ethic.
- Let’s see briefly what kind of practices they require:
1. “The first striving: to have in their ordinary being-existence everything satisfying and really necessary for their planetary body!…”
- The first being-obligation refers to maintaining the physical body, and not being overly indulgent and conditioned by physical desires, the stomach, and sex organs.
- This implies a constant maintaining of correct attitude toward our physical vehicle; every man experiences daily a kind of exaggeration in relation to the physical body: abnormal assimilation of calories during eating, using every kind of drug, using every kind of practice to achieve a mechanical, material sexual pleasure.
- There is nothing wrong in trying to achieve a state of pleasure, but the mechanical and selfish nature of these practices that makes the difference in our attitudes is wrong: ‘alcoholism’, ‘cocainism’, ‘morphinism’, ‘nicotinism’, ‘onanism’, ‘monkism’, ‘Athenianism’, and others with names also ending in –ism. (Beelzebub Tales, page 382).
- Also it is correct to add that the abstinence of material sexual pleasure doesn’t mean “chastity”, but an omission of automatic association of thinking and emotions crystallized in ourselves by modern society.
- So, if a seeker wants to start on this path, he requires a moderate attitude toward the use of all drugs, sexual activities, and other attitudes, which can be deleterious for his physical body — all that ordinary people omit in their daily life.
2. “…The second striving: to have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being…”
- Self perfection in sense of being means the aim of obtaining an immutable “I”, developed by the attitude of Self-Remembering that must become a crucial factor in the life of the seeker.
- This attitude is a natural result of all the efforts done with “Self-Observation” that differ from “Self-Remembering.”
- The self-remembering is the crystallized attitude of being “here-now-whole”.
- It isn’t a practice, but a result of previous efforts.
- In that state, the seeker is not more than an ordinary human being, but an awakened man that acts as a three-centered being (that is able to act with his physical, emotional, and intellectual centers at the same time). This refers to the “buddhic” state of consciousness.
3. “…The third: the conscious striving to know ever more and more concerning the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance…”
- This involves the seeking of the truth about the self and the nature of the world.
- Struggling to understand the fundamental cosmic laws which create and sustain life: the Laws of Three, Seven, One, Mutual Maintenance.
4. “…The fourth: the striving from the beginning of their existence to pay for their arising and their individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterward to be free to lighten as much as possible the sorrow of our COMMON FATHER…”
- This means a development of Compassion: a seeker must pay for his arising in order to help lighten the Sorrow of our Common Father, overcoming egoism and striving to lessen the suffering and unhappiness in the world.
- This action generates the possibility of development, or rather, the connection with our higher emotional center.
5. “…And the fifth: the striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred “Martfotai”, that is, up to the degree of self-individuality…”
- The final being obligation of a seeker is to help others towards their self-perfection, to attaining the real “I”.
- Only by helping the other in this path, one can ascend further in his development.
- He doesn’t act only for the purpose of self-development, but for the development of all the beings surrounding him – an act of pure objective altruism.
“The Meaning of Existence, according to Ashieta Shiemash”
‘To sum up, we begin by asking, ‘what is the meaning and aim of existence?’. Ashieta Shiemash defined it in the Five Strivings of Objective Morality. As Belzeebub relates: “All the beings of this planet then began to work on themselves in order to have in their consciousness this divine function of genuine conscience, and for this purpose, as everywhere in the Universe, they transubstantiated in themselves what are called ‘the being-obligolnian strivings’.”
What must we do in order to have in our own consciousness the Divine function of genuine conscience? We must transubstantiate in ourselves the five obligolnian strivings.
- ‘The first striving is to have in our ordinary being existence everything satisfying and really necessary for our planetary body.’
‘Satisfying’ here has nothing to do with gratification. We have an obligation to strive to keep the body in health, to satisfy its need as far as we can in order that it shall be a good instrument for our use. That is, to maintain in a state of readiness this body which we have inherited. I have a body. This includes not only the health, but a kind of elasticity, so that the body is ready for the use of the intelligence. While it is necessary to be completely competent in some special field, a special skill obtained at the expense of elasticity is against Objective Morality. Gurdjieff said that in addition to his own special field, in which he was a master, he had worked at forty different crafts. In none of these was he a specialist, but he had two purposes — one, to give his instinctive-moving center the feel — the other to be ready for potential needs in pursuit of his aim. Most people have a feeling of criticism towards the extreme specialist — a vague feeling that the ideal development should be in the direction of wholeness.
- ‘The second striving is to have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being.’
This is not to be defined by what we ordinarily know or do, it is a state based on real KNOWING in order to DO. Individual growth consists in the growth of essence, in the achieving of ‘being’ — not exterior personality. What sort of being am I? We know when we have made ‘being-effort’. To be in a state of constant activity is not necessarily ‘being-effort’. A form of being-effort is compelling ourselves to do simple exercises morning and evening, not the usual physical exercises, but those given in groups. Or we can make being-effort by compelling ourselves to overcome physical or emotional inertia and doing a job that the body resents. Being is achieved through conscious efforts, by doing small things voluntary. In the sense life is a gymnasium — or as St. Paul says: ’Running in the great race’. Gurdjieff says that we must always be a little ahead of inclinations, but not to excess, then we become in Gurdjieff’s sense ‘spiritualized’, by which he means ‘spirited’ — not spiritual, but endued with life, spirit.
- ‘The third is the conscious striving to know ever more and more concerning the laws of World-Creation and World-Maintenance.’
The aim of true philosophy is the understanding of life, and this is not a privilege of the few, it is the function of a normal human being to ask ‘Why?’ We may not be able to give the right answers, but the dignity of man consists in this concern with the questions. In every situation there is material for questioning; with one faculty one is inquiring, while with others one is behaving ordinarily. There is no need to be aloof from life or to be idiosyncratic.
The effort made in pondering the working of the laws of World-Creation and World-Maintenance inevitably stretches the faculties of the mind; the attention, memory, concentration, real imagination increase, not by direct but indirect exercise. After half an hour’s pondering you may have not a word to say; worse, there may be merely an increased realization of ignorance, but according to Socrates: ’The realization of ignorance is the beginning of wisdom’. Gurdjieff says: ‘You will find that the more you realize you don’t know, the more you will understand’.
- ‘The fourth is the striving from the beginning of our existence to pay for our arising and our individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterwards to be free to lighten as much as possible the sorrow of OUR COMMON FATHER.’
Generally speaking, all of us are parasites; Gurdjieff constantly uses this expression at the Prieure. Not one of us has discharged his debt to nature. To be alive is a unique miracle — to have the possibility of Being in place of Non-Being. Think of what it has cost Nature in the preparation of planetary conditions, the long periods of experiment perhaps, so that, in addition to serving her, we might become Sons of the Father. And in return, what do we do? We behave in the family of Nature like self-indulgent children whose only object is to enjoy ourselves. If you will not only ponder seriously for half an hour on the way we exploit natural resources, land, forests, and animals, for the gratification of abnormal desires, you cannot help but be appalled. Emerson said: ‘Earn your living’ — earn the right to live. It is sometimes astonishing that Nature permits the members of the human race to continue their existence, and does not render them harmless or discontinues the human species as she has done with other species.
- ‘The fifth striving is always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of sacred Martfotai, that is, up to the degree of self-individuality.’
We must discriminate between gratifying the weaknesses of others in order to obtain their good opinion of ourselves, and helping them to become what they wish to be. But we can only become ‘hard’ on others when we have learnt to be ‘doubly hard’ on ourselves. The one real service we can render to others is a service that will help them discharge their functions as human beings.
There is a key here of what is sometimes called Gurdjieff’s ruthless behavior to others. He is completely indifferent to what others think of him. When he has humiliated you before others, called you offensive names, treated you ‘abominably’, then, a week after, or perhaps a month or a year, there will come to you a feeling of gratitude to him and an awareness of increased inner strength.
The Five Strivings of Objective Morality contain the essence of the Gurdjieff Method. But before we are able to strive in the right way, we must understand the meaning of conscious labor and voluntary suffering, for on these two basic principles — Being-Partkdold-duty and the Strivings — hang all the law and prophesying of the Gurdjieff system. They form a basic octave, and nothing can be added to or taken away from them.
Notes Taken by Charles Stanley Nott from Orage’s commentaries on Belzeebub’s Tales to his Grandson. From chapter 3 of his book, Teaching of Gurdjieff by C.S. Nott, Routledge & Kegan Paul - 1961, London.
From: Richard Lloyd's Solasishock
If I may, I would like to point out some considerable differences between Mr. Gurdjieff and the Buddha, both in their actions and in their teachings.
First I should talk about the Buddha, whose name was Siddhārtha Gautama. When he was born his father who was a ruler of a small kingdom had an astrologer throw his horoscope which told that Siddhartha could have either of two paths in life; either he would be a great political king or or he would become a great spiritual teacher.
His father, wanting to install him as his heir, had a large wall built around the entire palace, which saved Siddhartha from viewing any of the world's calamities. After he was married and had a child, he became curious and snuck out and had his charioteer drive him through town. First he saw a leper, and couldn't understand until his charioteer explained that he had a terrible disease. Then he came across a man tattered in rags who was begging. Again, always having plenty, Siddhartha needed the charioteer to explain poverty. They passed a prostitute cutting a deal with a customer, and again, the charioteer had to explain that man had vices which needed gratification. Everywhere he looked he saw suffering, and decided that he would run away from the palace and seek a solution to this pervasive unhappiness which seemed to run the world.
After kissing his wife and son, he climbed over the wall never to return. He traded his valuable clothing for the vestments of a "forest dweller" and obtained a begging bowl, and began to practice yoga and visiting holy men and listening to their various teachings. He gathered a group of about five other young man who practiced very strenuous austerities for several years. At the end of 5 years, and dying of starvation, Siddhartha separated from his friends and allowed himself to be nurtured back to health by a woman who spent 6 weeks feeding him and tending to his sores and self-inflicted wounds, which the group had decided would aid them in their aim of release from suffering and the attainment of permanent bliss.
Siddhartha, soon to be the Buddha, found a nice Bodhi tree to rest his back against and to begin his contemplations. The first question he asked himself was if he could remember a time when he was perfectly happy. In fact, he remembered himself sitting under a similar tree when he was nine years old with no unhappiness in him to be found. Instead he found four virtues that arose within him and radiated outward, having no outward cause:
Buddhism's four brahmavihara ("Divine States") can be more properly regarded as virtues in the European sense. They are:
- Mettā/Maitri: loving-kindness towards all; the hope that a person will be well; loving kindness is “the wish that all sentient beings, without any exception, be happy.”
- Karuṇā: compassion; the hope that a person's sufferings will diminish; compassion is the “wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering.”
- Mudita: altruistic joy in the accomplishments of a person, oneself or other; sympathetic joy — “the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings.”
- Upekkha/Upeksha: equanimity, or learning to accept both loss and gain, praise and blame, success and failure with detachment, equally, for oneself and for others. Equanimity means “not to distinguish between friend, enemy or stranger, but to regard every sentient being as equal. It is a clear-minded tranquil state of mind — not being overpowered by delusions, mental dullness or agitation.”
Siddhartha also came to the realization that all existence experiences suffering, but by practicing these four virtues so that nothing is based on impressions coming from the outside, but that these virtues are inherent and invested in the human being, they may be radiated outwardly in all directions, thus bringing happiness, joy, bliss and contentment.
The Buddha, as he was now known, is directly translatable from the Pali or Sanskrit as “One Who Is Awake”, being derived from the root “Chitta”, which is most simply translated as awareness. There is an apocryphal story of the other Gurus who were losing students to the Buddha going to him and ask him a series of questions:
“Are you a God?”
“Are you an Avatar?” (An incarnation of an attribute of the Godhead).
“Are you then a Saint?”
“What are you then, that all our disciples are flocking to you and abandoning us?”
Reply: “I AM ONE WHO IS AWAKE”. This is the literal transliteration of the word Buddha into English.
The significant difficulty I find in the Buddhas subsequent teachings is that he advocated what he called “The Middle Way”, Containing 8 Right Methods such as right vocation, right this, right that and so on — right attitude etc.
But this is not the path that the Buddha himself took. He may have thought that he was doing his disciples a favor by giving them a shortcut past the austerities, and studies and yoga, and this is where the Buddha and myself find ourselves separating paths.
Now let's study the path of Mr. Gurdjieff. It also recognizes that all of existence is suffering, but instead of radiating happiness right off the bat (when we probably can't really find any within ourselves), he advocates studying ourselves as we actually are without changing anything except to look, through a separation of an acting self and a witnessing self.
And he claims that this seeing of ourselves as we actually are, while deconstructing the imaginary perfect self which we have generated in our ability to lie to ourselves and hopefully to other people; he claims that this seeing, which he equates to light, produces changes – real chemical changes in the structuring of the organism. In its blood will change the hormones and neurotransmitters. It also brings the clarity of our own suffering of ourselves as we actually into a focus which attenuates or ceases the sieve - like leaking of energies which we need for our work, but which otherwise are squandered – wasted.
Even though the Buddha never advocated that there is no real Self (the doctrine of annata) but only constituent desires and aversions, Nirvana does not translate as “nonexistence”. Nirvana directly translates into English as “No Wind”, meaning that the authentic individual Self is no longer subject to any Push or Pull from the outer world and its sense – objects. It is the exact same thing as Carl Jung's
“Individuation” or Gurdjiefff's “Higher being Bodies”.
However, in Mr. Gurdjieff cosmogony he is closer to Orthodox Esoteric Christianity than to any other belief system, agreeing with St. Paul's assessment that “the entire Creation as from the beginning until now, has groaned as if in the sufferings the pangs of childbirth, eagerly awaiting the birth of the sons of men.”
The “Sons of Men” being a highly charged phrase, essentially meaning the perfect man such as the Adam Kadmon, or Christ Jesus — and Gurdjieff not only advocates a conscious and laborious suffering of oneself without any illusions, vanity, or self-love, but he places in the teachings of Ashiata Shiemash what are known as the “Five Strivings”, which place man in a position of responsibility not only to himself and his physical well-being, but to the promise of an endless study of the laws which govern Creation, as well as being willing and able to shoulder some of the Suffering of the Creator himself, and thereby lightening his burden.
And the last or 5th striving brings us human beings into a relationship of reciprocal help, to attain the necessary degree of objective reasoning which would allow us to serve the needs of each other at the same time as shouldering some of the burden of the creator. Mr. Gurdjieff lays great emphasis on utilizing consciousness to unearth the divine spark of conscience which lay embedded in our subconscious and unconscious parts, having been covered over by the incredibly incorrectly named “education”, which has more to do with babysitting and surrogate parenting with no harmonious educational aim having been designed, and leaving the children to learn useless competition with no moral rectitude.
Whereas Buddhism acknowledges all existence as forms of suffering, in its dogma of the “4 Noble Truths” It alleges that this suffering can be attenuated and eliminated through the following activities:
- All existence is suffering.
- It is craving disguised as desire or aversion which create this suffering.
- Suffering can be alleviated by renouncing craving, desire or aversions.
- Cessation of suffering is accomplished by 8 noble paths, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
Mr. Gurdjieff, on the other hand, advocates intentional or volitional suffering, and relates trying to avoid suffering as simply another mechanical suffering which intensifies this suffering itself, which being mechanical, it is quite useless.
He advocates conscious labors and intentional sufferings as a methodology for increasing consciousness so that it renders the subconscious and unconscious to a retrieval of conscience, which Gurdjieff defines as a spark of the Divine Creator Father Endlessness. Gurdjieff is very careful to delineate ordinary conscience, which is changeable in different cultures, and which is also malleable, with true conscience, which is the same in all men – the surety of what is right and wrong.
While Gurdjieff does not describe consciousness as a light switch, but rather in degrees or along the lines of a rheostat, conscience never changes. Being divine in origin, it participates in the certainty of creation itself and the phenomenological Cosmos we find ourselves in.
In addition, Gurdjieff describes the conscience of the common or ordinary man as one which is filthy, taken for granted and abused. It thus needs cleansing, and Mr. Gurdjieff hints that a man with a clean conscience can experience all of his emotions at once, with no buffers between opposites, and which open the flood gates of positive emotions, which have no opposites. So that in fact, the beginning of the work being on self observation and self remembering and enlarging the faculties of consciousness are all designed for the single purpose of retrieving and cleansing the true conscience which exists in all men except those unfortunates who have either sullied their own conscience, or as sociopaths, have an atrophied or dead conscience, so that these what are called Hasmanuss (several languages together which roughly translate as “Soul of Shit”) have lost their chance at rehabilitation altogether.
When Mr. Gurdjieff talked about conscience he stated that the possibilities for mankind are nearly unbelievable, because whereas consciousness can the horizontal, conscience is nearly always vertical and acts as a conduit for signals and instructions and revelations from above, which begin to set the man's house in order. The house is given him so long as he cares for it as though it were belonging to some far more important person who, being away on business, has left the house and equipage (horse and buggy) in the care of this servant.
Whereas all the major spiritual dispensations which have emerged during the history of mankind, all of them, with perhaps the goals of Buddhism, have recognized that human beings are rightfully servants; whether of above or below matters not. What is important is to recognize our servitude and the existence of absolute and permanent abiding RELATIONSHIP in creation. Everything in CREATION IS IN RELATIONSHIP, RECIPROCAL RELATIONSHIP
THE SOONER WE LEARN THIS FACT THE BETTER THE EARTH WILL BE.
To put this paper in context, let us begin by considering a quotation from Chapter XXVI of Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, entitled ‘The Legominism Concerning the Deliberations of the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash Under the Title of “The Terror-of-the-Situation”’, in which Ashiata Shiemash, having described his lengthy deliberations on the state of the Earth, and of humanity, says the following:
- … it was just then that I indubitably understood with all the separate ruminating parts representing the whole of my “I”, that if the functioning of that being-factor [which engenders Objective-Conscience] still surviving in their common-presences were to participate in the general functioning of that consciousness of theirs in which they pass their daily, as they here say, “waking existence”, only then [my emphasis] would it still be possible to save the contemporary three-brained being here from the consequences of the properties of that organ which was intentionally implanted into their first ancestors. (page 359)
Or, to put it more succinctly, the only hope for humanity is for the impulse of Objective Conscience to participate in our ordinary waking consciousness. Now let us consider two paragraphs from the ensuing chapter, and I want you to imagine that you’ve never read Beelzebub’s Tales — you don’t know anything about it at all, but you read these two paragraphs. Here’s the first of them,from chapter XXVII, entitled ‘The Organization for Man’s Existence Created by the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash’:
- All the beings of this planet then began to work in order to have in their consciousness this Divine function of genuine conscience, and for this purpose, as everywhere in the Universe, they transubstantiated in themselves what are called X.
And a little later on (remember that you haven’t read Beelzebub; you don’t know anything about it) you read:
- At this period when every terrestrial three-centered being existed and worked consciously upon himself in accordance with this X many of them thanks to this quickly arrived at results of objective attainments perceptible to others.
If all you knew about Beelzebub were these two paragraphs, wouldn’t you want to know what X was? Of course, having read the book, we all know what it stands for; it’s the five being-obligolnian-strivings. I have left them out on purpose to draw attention to what Gurdjieff is actually saying here. The paragraphs tell us, quite clearly, that all the beings of this (our) planet began to use a certain practice or method to have in their consciousness the Divine function of genuine conscience, and that the practice worked.
Here I would like to address a point that is perhaps moot now, but was put to me very strongly when I was last at an A&E Conference, in Toronto in 2009. I gave a paper on Conscious Labor and Intentional Suffering, and it was suggested in the discussion that ‘conscience is way beyond me’ — and by implication, all of us. In support of this assertion, the speaker cited the devastating description of Conscience reported by Ouspensky in In Search of theMiraculous. Here Gurdjieff is quoted as saying that Conscience is a state ‘in which a man feels all at once everything he in general feels or can feel’. And he goes on to say that this state would not only be literally unbearable, but is mercifully very rare.
This is so at odds with what he writes in Beelzebub’s Tales that the contradiction needs to be addressed. It is possible, and indeed probable, that Gurdjieff’s own thinking and understanding evolved in the interval between the meetings reported in Fragments and the completion of Beelzebub, but it is also possible to see Ouspensky as describing ‘Remorse of Conscience’, rather than Conscience itself, which would go some way to resolving the anomaly. The way the being-obligolnian-strivings are presented makes it clear that work on Conscience is possible, which is not the message you get from In Search of the Miraculous. Moreover, in Beelzebub, Gurdjieff says clearly that the results of such work are attainable.
To underline this point, let us go back to the two short paragraphs I have just quoted. They appear in the book immediately before and after the description of the five being-obligolnian-strivings themselves, and I think this serves to emphasize the importance of considering the strivings in a practical way. So, before we begin discussing them in detail, I’d like us keep in mind that they are presented as a practical tool for producing a specific outcome.
Moreover, they are shown as a method, or practice, that brings widely beneficial results beyond people’s own personal transformation. Not only did many individuals who worked with them quickly arrive at objective attainments themselves, but war also ceased and life expectancy increased, as people started producing the vibrations expected of them by Great Nature. In other words,the human race started to live, and produce energies, as it was intended to do. In that light it is difficult to overemphasize the importance of the strivings themselves, and the work that goes into them.
One other point to notice about the two paragraphs is that they make clear that work on the five strivings is for everybody. Gurdjieff has Beelzebub say that ‘all the beings’ of this planet began working with them, ‘as everywhere in the Universe’ (my emphases). This is not some arcane practice available only to a few initiates; still less are the strivings presented as beyond our understanding, or our ability to engage with them. Furthermore, Beelzebub explains that people ‘transubstantiated’ in themselves the being-obligolnian-strivings’ in themselves. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to ‘transubstantiate’ means to ‘cause a thing to change in substance’. I suggest that, in this context, this describes the process by which we move from considering the strivings as an idea, to giving them substance as a practice. It was by transubstantiating the strivings in themselves that people in the Ashiatian epoch achieved such beneficent results.
Since the strivings are presented as a means of having genuine conscience in our ordinary consciousness, and as having universal applicability, I propose to look at each of them in turn to look for ways in which they can be turned toward such a positive outcome. In this endeavor I will draw on the text itself, and also on practical work carried out at various times in groups I have been engaged with. My aim is to anchor this in practice, as well as in what we can read.
Going back a little bit, a few pages before the five obligolnian strivings,Gurdjieff has Ashiata Shiemash say the following:
- In all three-brained beings of the whole of our Universe without exception, among whom are also we men, owing to the data crystallized in our common presences for engendering in us the Divine impulse of conscience, “the-whole-of-us” and the whole of our essence, are, and must be, already in our foundation, only suffering.
I have emphasized the words ‘without exception’ to reiterate the point I made earlier, that the work on conscience is universal, and available to all.Gurdjieff goes on to explain that the suffering arises because the actualizing of the manifestation of conscience can be brought about only by the constant struggle between what we could characterize as our lower and higher natures.He then further clarifies this to say because we all have in us the ‘factors for engendering the Divine impulse of Objective Conscience’, we must constantly struggle between ‘desires’ and ‘non-desires’ (p. 373). Since the strivings are presented as a prime means for engendering in us the impulse of conscience, we can look at each of them in turn as a means of setting up in ourselves astruggle between ‘desires’ and ‘non-desires’.
In approaching each of the strivings as a practice it is useful to have a clear intention in respect of each of them. Unless I have an aim, my conscience can have no purchase. Without an aim there is no criterion by which to judge any action, and therefore no means by which conscience may be awakened and, indeed, no need for it to be. This is as true of a small aim as for a great one. Gurdjieff reiterates that having an aim is essential to work on oneself; without an aim there is no impulse to work, and conscience can continue to slumber untroubled in our sub-consciousness. So I want to look at each of the strivings in turn and look at some possible ways we can set up this struggle between desires and non-desires in respect of each of them.
Let us start with the first striving:
- The first striving: to have in their ordinary being-existence everything satisfying and really necessary for their planetary body.
We can easily see that some things are ‘really necessary’ for our planetary body– proper food, exercise, shelter, etc — but the word ‘satisfying’ may be more elusive. We all know that what the body might ask for is not necessarily what really satisfies it. The first striving really demands self-knowledge and discipline about when a particular need is actually met — when enough is enough. Moreover, if we include in the phrase ‘planetary body’ and ‘being-existence’ all aspects of our ordinary being existence — including our mind — the word ‘satisfying’ may become clearer. We need impressions, for example — mental, emotional and physical — in order to be satisfied in our planetary existence as a whole. We can also recognize that things that seem satisfying in the moment often turn out to be quite unsatisfying in retrospect and particularly if we have this first striving in front of us.
Looking at the first striving through the lens of conscience, and focusing that lens on the struggle between desires and non-desires, we can very simply set up a struggle that will bring our conscience to bear. Take the simple idea of denying ourselves some form of food — snacks between meals are an obvious example. When I set myself the aim to refrain from eating between meals, and I am tempted to do so, it is my conscience that both reminds me of this aim and gives me a reason not to give in to the temptation. This may seem too trivial a matter to be worthy of conscience, but it is not so. This is an objective situation — not eating a snack has nothing to do with social convention, or loosing weight, or looking good on the beach. On the contrary, it is a question of standing by my own decision and is therefore a matter of respecting my own will. We all should probably recognize that such small aims, carried through, strengthen something in us that we can recognize as conscience. It should be equally clear in the experience of all of us that when we ignore the promptings of conscience, its voice is weakened.
Clearly there are any number of ways of setting up a conflict in respect to our planetary body between desires and non-desires, and they don’t always mean denial. Order, for example, is satisfying to our planetary body, taken in the wider sense I have suggested. When we take something disordered in our lives, even something as mundane as our bedroom or a kitchen sink full of washing up, and return it to order, something in us finds it satisfying. What’s more, the order we give to it raises its potential; a tidy kitchen has a greater potential for making a new meal than an untidy one. Whether or not we actually do restore something disordered to order when we see the possibility of doing so, can become a matter of conscience. Do I take this opportunity, or don’t I?
Sometimes we need to be active in a different way towards our body, particularly in modern times, in terms of taking exercise and using the body for other purposes than as a means of transporting our head-brain to meetings (an image I’ve stolen from Sir Ken Robinson). The details needn’t detain us; what matters is that there are many ways of using the first striving to set up a struggle between yes and no in respect of our planetary body, in which our conscience can find a purchase.
Let us move on to the second striving:
This seems altogether more challenging. For a start, what is meant by an ‘instinctive’ need? Gurdjieff says, through the voice of Ashiata Shiemash,
- … the completed actualizing of manifestation of such a being-impulse [the Divine impulse of conscience] in us can proceed only from the constant struggle of two quite opposite what are called “complexes-of-the-functioning” of those two sources which are of quite opposite origin, namely, between the processes of the functioning of our planetary body itself and the parallel functionings arising progressively from the coating and perfecting of our higher being-bodies within this planetary body of ours …(p. 372)
We might reasonably suppose that instinct is on the side of the planetary body, which acts as the denying force in this arrangement. How can work on oneself be ‘instinctive’ if it is, as Gurdjieff asserts elsewhere, ‘against nature’? And you probably noticed this little small point at the beginning of the Skridlov chapter in Meetings With Remarkable Men, when Gurdjieff talks about the change in Skridlov’s inner work. He says that this now comes from instinct and feelings and not from the head.
In trying to understanding this I appeal to experience, both my own and that of many people with whom I have worked in groups and elsewhere. All of them report that after some period of establishing various practices of the Work, particularly morning sittings, but also many exercises connected with presence or mindfulness and so on, they become an established part of their daily existence. To such an extent that if, for any reason, they fail to do such work (miss a morning sitting, for example) something seems wrong with themselves and with their day. In other words, such practice becomes ‘second nature’, or ‘instinctive’ — when the urge to do such exercises become more natural than to do without them. In short, the ‘need for self-perfection’ has become (or is becoming) instinctive. Another way of approaching this is to consider the possibility that it is in our instinctive nature to have a striving for perfection in the sense of being; that we three-brained beings may have this need in our essential nature, and it’s only in our present state that we have lost contact with it.
Then the problem arises of how we can represent in practical terms the idea of ‘a constant and unflagging need for self-perfection’, not least because most of our existence is passed in sleep. Here it is important to go back to the way the strivings are written as a present participle, ‘striving’. They are not presented as a completed act (except, apparently, the fourth, which we will consider later). Instead they are a continuing process. Gurdjieff says quite clearly that conscience is acquired by the striving, not by the ‘having striven’. In the case of the second striving, he doesn’t require that we have to start by having ‘a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being’, he says we have to strive towards it. Can we, therefore, set up a struggle between desires and non-desires in relation to this second striving?
When we are asleep we can do nothing to further any one of these strivings; we act only on the automatic level. When we wake up, or as it seems to me, are woken up, everything is different. Now we are in a position to work on ourselves, and in these moments we have a choice, to work or not to work; ‘to be or not to be’. And it’s not a forgone conclusion that we will choose to work. I would be surprised if anyone fails to recognize the times when we wake up, see the opportunity to do something intentional, and fail to do it. And we may tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter, it was only a trivial opportunity, and there’s always a next time. However, if we set ourselves to work with the second striving, to have a ‘constant and unflagging need for self-perfection in the sense of being’, then every one of these moments of choice is significant. This changes the picture completely, and every one of them becomes an entrée for conscience. Given this opportunity, will I work according to the second striving, or won’t I?
On a practical level, some people find it useful and even necessary to have something prepared for those occasions. To have the intention, or even the decision, that in moments of wakefulness I will do this or that exercise; watch my breathing, sense a limb, say a prayer etc. Something so that the moment isn’t gone before we can act. But evidently even this is not enough, in the light of what Gurdjieff tells us, through the voice of Ashiata Shiemash in the paragraph I have just quoted from page 372.
Our planetary body is destined to be the denying force in our work, and the conflict between it and ‘the parallel functionings arising progressively from the coating and perfecting of our higher being-bodies’ is necessary and unavoidable if we wish Conscience to manifest in our ordinary waking consciousness. So we should expect every moment of waking to bring with it both the impulse to work and the impulse not to, and that is where and how conscience gets a foot in the door.
Finally, let us consider the phrase ‘self-perfection in the sense of being’. I have always valued Madame Ouspensky’s concise description of ‘being’ as ‘the measure of what you can bear’, and here it is particularly useful in suggesting a line of work with the second striving. I can set myself to bear something I find difficult to deal with, and this doesn’t have to be complex to be real. For example, I can work on being able to bear being wrong. In an argument I can back down, or concede the point, rather than insisting on my rightness. When I see the possibility of doing this I have a moment of consciousness and a moment of choice, and when I choose to concede, rather than insist, something in me strengthens. The same goes for any form of sacrifice. You can consider sacrifice as an act of will, but it also needs strength of being to make it possible. By practicing the art of sacrifice, I strengthen my being, and the connection with my own will. In both these ways, I can work towards ‘self-perfection in the sense of being’, in accordance with the second striving.
Now let us consider the third striving:
- The third: the conscious striving to know ever more and more concerning the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance.
Some years ago I asked our late friend Med Thring why it is necessary to know ‘ever more and more’ concerning the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance; why couldn’t we have just a good working knowledge? His answer had a clarity and simplicity that I have found useful ever since. He maintained that the reason was simple: the more we understand the laws, the more clearly we can see our own part in them, and the more that strengthens our wish to Work. This takes the third striving out of the academic realm and into the practical need to work on oneself. It also links theoretical understanding with practical experience.
In the critical chapter, Form and Sequence (chapter XLVI of Beelzebub’s Tales), Gurdjieff describes the difference between ‘reason of knowing’ and ‘reason of understanding’. Only the latter has lasting value, in that the results of the reason of understanding become a part of ourselves, whereas the results of reason of knowing are insubstantial, and require constant renewal. Reason of understanding, he says, comes from the interaction of new impressions or new information with the results of our own inner work. The pursuit of permanent knowledge is thus linked directly with the results of our own struggles and sacrifices — our own work on ourselves — and, consequently, with conscience. As our own inner work deepens, so our understanding of the world can change.
Any knowledge or understanding is therefore provisional, and we have to be prepared to modify or even jettison something we think we know in the light of further work and research. Maybe that’s what Gurdjieff was doing when he changed his picture of conscience. One of the aspects of this particular tradition that’s attractive to me and to many people is that we should not take someone else’s authority as final; everything we are told can, and should, be tested in the light of our own work and our own experience. This follows directly from the striving to ‘know ever more and more’ concerning the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance. If we strive always to question what we know, and to open ourselves to new understanding through our own conscious labors and intentional sufferings, then we work in accord with the third striving.
A useful example here is one of the fundamental laws of world creation and world maintenance, the Trogoautoegocrat, or the Law of Reciprocal Maintenance, which is certainly germane to Med Thring’s explanation of the third striving. The more we understand the Law of Reciprocal Maintenance, the more we can see the truth of Beelzebub’s assertion, on page 130 of Beelzebub’s Tales, that “the fundamental aim and sense of the existence of these beings is that there must proceed through them the transmutation of cosmic substances necessary for what is called ‘the common-cosmic-Trogoautoegocratic-process’.”
Once again we are presented with circumstances in which conscience plays a role. Faced with the requirement that we transmute cosmic substances however we see that to be, will we work on ourselves or not? Conscience not only helps us recognize the moments of choice, but it can also help us choose rightly. In short, working with the third striving makes us aware of our responsibility to play our part in the cosmic process. This was awakened in Hassein in very early in Beelzebub’s Tales (chapter 7), when he saw how much work others had done to contribute to the benefit of future beings ‘quite unknown and entirely indifferent to them’.
To summarize, we have to strive both to do the work necessary to increase our understanding of the laws and to act in accordance with that understanding.
The fourth striving has an added complexity, in that it says explicitly that certain work has to be accomplished in us before we can fully engage in it.
- The fourth: the striving from the beginning of their existence to pay for their arising and their individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterwards to be free to lighten as much as possible the Sorrow of our COMMON FATHER.
This appears to present us with an insurmountable hurdle, and it seems to me that there are at least three problems of interpretation here. How do we strive from the beginning of our existence to pay for our arising and our individuality; what does it mean to pay, and how do we know that we have so paid; and how could we lighten in any way — let alone as much as possible — the Sorrow of our Common Father?
If we accept the idea that these strivings are presented as a practice, accessible to all, that produces desirable and necessary results, it must be possible to find a way past these interpretative challenges. We can speculate what is meant by paying ‘from the beginning of our existence’, but in practice we can’t do anything about the time before this present moment. Moreover, we might reasonably surmise that the striving puts a specific responsibility upon parents and godparents — a relationship Gurdjieff acknowledges as significant when he has Beelzebub talk of his ‘Kesdjanian-result-outside-of-me’, his godson Gornahoor Rakhoorkh — but in practical terms this doesn’t change the situation we find ourselves in right now. Only ‘now’ can we work.
We are in a similar situation in considering what is meant by paying for our arising and our individuality as quickly as possible. Speaking for myself, I have no idea how close I am to paying — though I have a shrewd idea — but even if I did know, and had paid, what difference would that make to my actions? I would still be obliged to actualize being-partkdolg-duty. Nowhere in Beelzebub’s Tales is anyone — however exalted — ever presented as having ‘made it’. Even Beelzebub, in his transfigured glory at the end of the book, remains one degree of reason away from the sacred Anklad — the highest degree of reason ‘which in general any being can attain’. Note incidentally, the words ‘in general’; even the sacred Anklad is not inevitably the final step.
All of which is to say that if we wish to work in accordance with the fourth striving, we have to make those efforts and sacrifices that are involved in conscious labor and intentional suffering, and to do so awakens conscience within us, both to show us what is required and to prompt us to undertake it. One suggestion that has proved fruitful in practice is to take on the attitude of the ‘impeccable warrior’ described by Carlos Castaneda. This, too, has an everyday application. To be impeccable, for example, means to finish what we start, to do anything to the best of our ability, to put ourselves at the service of others and so on. All of these are aims we can recognize and strive to achieve and, just as important, we can see when we fail to live up to them.
So finally, can we make anything concrete from the striving to lighten as much as possible the sorrow of our Common Father? We can only speculate what such sorrow might be, though Gurdjieff gives us a clue when he has Ashiata Shiemash say:
- …only he, who consciously assists the process of this inner struggle [between desires and non-desires] and consciously assists the “non-desires” to predominate over the desires, behaves just in accordance with the essence of our COMMON FATHER CREATOR HIMSELF; whereas he who with his consciousness assists the contrary, only increases HIS sorrow.
At the very least, therefore, if we wish not to increase the sorrow of our Common Father, we have to assist the inner struggle between desires and non-desires, but is it entirely beyond us to consider lightening the sorrow, without having first paid for our arising and our individuality? I’m suggesting that even if we knew that we’d paid for our arising, it wouldn’t change our situation, and I would certainly consider it very bold to be able to say, “I’ve paid for it, it’s all done.”
The fourth striving says specifically that we must strive to pay for our arising, etc in order afterward to be free to lighten the sorrow of our Common Father. Can we be free at any time before this happy state of affairs is reached, and if so, how? I suggest that one way of approaching this is through sacrifice. We can probably recognize from our own experience that when we are able to sacrifice something, we gain a moment of freedom, and this freedom seems to be proportional to the scale of the sacrifice. In these moments of sacrifice, something new is possible for us, for as long as the moment lasts. We are able to act, and even to be, somewhat less enslaved to the reactions that ordinarily direct us; things that usually matter to us temporarily lose their power. How we use such glimpses of freedom is a matter of conscience.
And finally, we can work with negativity. This is a constant source of work for us, and one that we can turn to account. If I strive to transform negativity in myself, using one or another practice, I am moving something from the negative to the positive side of the scale; replacing a negative energy with a positive. It’s at least plausible to suggest that this will lighten the sorrow of our Common Father, and even if the effect is negligible on the cosmic scale, it is not so on our local level, nor is it trivial. We should be able to see that working to transform negativity in ourselves has a positive effect on people we are with, on the environment in which we find ourselves, and on ourselves too. It can be seen as an act of service, and often involves sacrifice of some inner habit or attitude that we are used to indulging. It may not be glamorous but it contains the essence of being-partkdolg-duty.
And finally the fifth:
- …the striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred “Martfotai” that is up the degree of self-individuality.
It may appear self-evident that we should assist others in any way we can, at any level of their development and, more important, at any level of our own, but what form can such assistance take? How can we assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings when we may feel ourselves to be, and probably are, a long way from the sacred Martfotai? What practical steps can we take, and how can we work with the fifth striving in a way that brings conscience into our ordinary waking consciousness?
Let us start with assisting those beings similar to ourselves. This certainly includes how we raise our children, both individually and collectively and, apart from the ordinary concerns that arise in bringing up children, there is much to be said about how spiritual matters could or should be part of that process. Let us leave that aside, however, and consider how we can help each other as adults. The first thing we can do is to maintain a supportive attitude towards the spiritual work of others, even — and perhaps particularly — when it doesn’t look the same as our own. Leave aside the notorious and continuing enmities between adherents of the great religions, what about those of us who have taken inspiration from Gurdjieff himself? I am sure I am not alone in finding that I criticize the work of others, instead of giving it my support, and this goes not only for my attitude to people in different traditions derived from Gurdjieff, but even to members of groups I am involved with. If I wish to engage with the fifth striving, it seems to me that a minimum condition for assisting the most rapid perfecting other beings, is to wish them well in their efforts, and to wish that their work goes as it should. When I find myself criticizing others — internally or out loud — I can strive to replace such criticism with the wish that their work goes well. This is clearly an area where conscience can have a voice. Once again, when we see this criticism in ourselves, we have a choice between indulging it, or of replacing it with something positive.
If the fifth striving involves assisting others in their spiritual work, we may have found, as I have, that trying to take the initiative in helping others doesn’t work. What does seem to work is responding positively to requests for help. We all need help, both in the form of grace that comes from beyond our ordinary level of existence, and from each other. Such mutual assistance may be nothing more than to give encouragement for the efforts and projects of others, or it may be more specific. In some cases it may involve working with others in groups or gatherings. Here we can immediately set up a situation in which conscience can enter, if we set ourselves to be honest and to share only what we actually know to be true, and when we don’t know, to be explicit about our ignorance.
Putting ourselves at the service of others is possible regardless of whether or not we have experience in the spiritual path, and how much; in fact if we attempt to measure such experience we’re likely to get into trouble, and in any case it’s not necessary to do it. What matters is whether the person we assist is, in fact, assisted. We can strive to be of assistance when asked, and set ourselves not to go beyond the bounds of the request. Above all, we can set ourselves to take no credit for any help that is able to come through us. It’s not hard to see how conscience becomes involved in all of this.
Assisting the most rapid perfecting of beings of other forms may see mmore intangible than assisting beings similar to ourselves, but we could consider it simply as assisting, or allowing, other beings to be what they were meant to be. This can then inform our whole relationship with beings of other forms, both animals and plants. How we treat animals, or support other’s treatment of them, becomes a matter of conscience in the simplest terms. Factory farming of animals, for example, might be something our conscience doesn’t permit, and we can act according to conscience every time we enter a grocery store. This even extends to how we treat the soil, and the beings of other forms — down to microscopic organisms — that inhabit it. Does the way we exploit the soil, or have others exploit it on our behalf, conform to the fifth striving or not?
In short, there are practical ways to approach the fifth striving. Conscience can enter through this striving, not least because it opens up so many minefields in which conscience can speak to us.
In considering all five of these strivings I have sought practical ways to work in accordance with their descriptions, and in line with the explicit statement in Beelzebub’s Tales that they are a means ‘to have in their [our] consciousness this Divine function of genuine conscience’.
To summarize my suggestions:
- The fifth striving requires support and good wishes toward the efforts of other people, and just attitudes and actions towards beings of other forms.
- The fourth striving involves sacrifice here and now, and particularly sacrifice of our own negativity.
- The third striving is towards increasing our understanding of the laws governing the world, in order that we may better understand our part in them, and be motivated to act accordingly.
- The second striving involves taking every opportunity we are given to work on ourselves.
- The first striving implies struggling to maintain a conscientious equilibrium between what our planetary body thinks it wants for its ordinary being existence, and what it actually needs.
Separately and together, the strivings can produce situations in which conscience plays a role in our ordinary waking consciousness.
Throughout this enterprise, I have been guided by certain assumptions, which I maintain are supported by what Gurdjieff writes in the chapters concerning Ashiata Shiemash:
- All the strivings involve just that, a commitment to strive. That commitment is an aim, and aim gives an entrée to conscience.
- We should not think that conscience is concerned only with the big things in life. As with all faculties, its exercise has to start small.
- The word is ‘striving’ — a continuing effort; it’s not something of which we can ever say, ‘the work is finished.’
- And therefore though the sequence of the strivings may be significant, in practice it doesn’t change anything; we may work more intensively for a period on one or another of the strivings, but all of them require a long-term (or life-long) commitment.
- Finally, Gurdjieff makes it clear, as I described at the beginning of this paper, that everybody has the seeds of conscience within them, and that the strivings are for everybody. We cannot let ourselves off the hook by arguing that they are beyond us.
If we do see the being-obligolnian-strivings as a practical blueprint, we have to find our own way to work with them in our daily lives. I have suggested a few avenues, based on my own understanding, and I hope that you can suggest a whole lot more. Thank you.
Q: Of the five strivings, the third one is a conscious striving, and the other four are not. I just wondered if you had any comment to make on that?
GB: As opposed to the others which are by implication unconscious?
Q: Well, I think consciousness is referring to a state.
GB: I’m not sure that I know what to say about that, because I’m not sure that I have such control over my consciousness that I can say, “Now I’m going to be conscious and work on this.” So that if I do have moments of consciousness, they don’t seem to be at my command. I can certainly be as intentional as I can and make decisions about it and so on, but I’m not sure that I can say anything very intelligent about the use of the word ‘conscience’ here, as opposed to the other strivings, which don’t include it in them. It certainly requires an intellectual engagement, but in my view that is only the beginning. Not a satisfactory answer, I apologize, but that’s about the best I can do.
Q: I have a practical question relating to some of your experience working at the Village School, working with 4th-6th graders who certainly have some ability to understand some of what you’re talking about. My question is, what have you worked with in terms of this (probably not directly) with students to try to open up some possibilities for them, and at the same time, what might you have gained from your students?
GB: I’ve learned a great deal from teaching my students simply about the facts that we’re engaged with, but what I think is really important in teaching is being honest with oneself, and with them, and being an example of honesty. For example, I think it’s very important to point out when I’ve made a mistake, so that they see that it’s OK to make a mistake, and that they value it. I think it’s important that they are not afraid of making mistakes, because fear of mistakes is really debilitating, and it’s very common for children to be brought up, or to be taught in schools, to think that they’ve got to get the right answer. Trying to be just, and have the children be just towards each other — all those sorts of things are part of teaching. We can sit here for days talking about how to do this with children, but it should start with one’s own inner work. One has to be present, and that’s very difficult with a classroom full of kids. I think the most important thing is to try to be as present as possible, and even when we’re not present, at least to be honest.
Q: I just wanted to make a comment that’s kind of a textual comment. I know that we’re primarily focusing on the English text here, but it is interesting that in the French text of Beelzebub’s Tales the word is not ‘striving’, but tendences, or tendencies. What interested me about that is that a tendency is something that’s innate, whereas a striving sounds like it comes only from your own intention and effort. My understanding is that the original Russian word contains both those meanings.
GB: That’s good, because I was about to say that it sounds as if it should be both together.
Q: It should be both together.
GB: So if it originally started out as having both these meanings, and they became separated by the vagaries of French and English, then I’m very glad that you point this out. It seems to me that it’s exactly that. You could have a tendency but it also needs to be intensified. I think that tendency is a good word to hear in terms of what Beelzebub says about the second striving involving an ‘instinctive’ need for self-perfection.
Q: Thank you very much for bringing the strivings to our attention, and making them so important. I was very struck when you used the word ‘attitude’, because it made me realize as you were speaking that the directions for so many religions are ‘thou shalt not’ — ‘Thou shalt not do this, thou shalt not do that,’ ‘this is a sin’ and so forth. Whereas the directions of the strivings are positive statements; every single one of them is positive. The power of attitude is where I’ve always seen the change in myself. When I’m doing something that’s so difficult and I’m resisting it and I really want to give it up, my body wants to give it up, but something pushes through. It always comes when I’m able to say that it just doesn’t make any difference the way I feel, or ‘it’ feels, it doesn’t make any difference the way my body’s responding. When I hit that point of acceptance of ‘this needs to be done’, I become positive. In other words my attitude shifts.
I want your opinion on the difficulty that came up for me as you were speaking, that these would be the strivings of every person on a normal planet where there is normal consciousness, but I have an abnormal conscience, so there is something in me that needs to be able to hold that. That these strivings are within me already like a five pointed star, one within the other, because I don’t see how you can work on one without working on the other. I think they’re that locked in. I’ve tried looking at how I can work on one without working on the other, but at the same time we have an abnormal consciousness, so how do we reconcile that? We are abnormal beings.
GB: That’s a long question. The first point is that Beelzebub says very clearly that all the beings began to work, at a period when every terrestrial three-centered being had presumably been existing unconsciously. They were in this abnormal state, and they all began to work. So I think we have to be careful about letting ourselves off the hook by saying that we’re all abnormal. We have to start somewhere, and we can start with all of the strivings. I’ve had long discussions with my friend Jan Jarvis — one of the people setting up a conference about the strivings in Seattle this June — about the significance of the order. I’m sure this is significant, but that doesn’t change the situation, which is that I need to work on all of them. So I can spend a lot of time discussing the significance of the order, or I can start working with them.
One thing that seems clear in Gurdjieff’s presentation is that this work doesn’t have to have a perfect situation in order to begin. Presumably everybody was imperfect, and in this abnormal state, before Ashiata Shiemash came on the scene, and a state of normality began to emerge from the work they did with these strivings.
To me, the essence of Gurdjieff’s message is that there is hope. We don’t have to accept that we’re stuck in a situation; we can work with it, and here are some methods for doing that. It’s made explicit that this is work that we can do, and that it’s available to all of us. That is what’s so remarkable about these chapters; Gurdjieff emphasizes over and over again that the seeds of conscience are in all of us. He says it a dozen times in about thirty pages. That’s why I come back to this; we can get ourselves into the position of thinking it’s all too hopeless, but it isn’t.
Q: That’s where I was headed, and I think that’s what linked in my mind; to remain positive about our possibilities. Whatever we see, we should to continue to be interested in it, and be positive, even if it’s painful and difficult. This is connected with the reconciling force; it’s the positive attitude, and that’s what you brought.
Q: I would like to go back to Robin’s question about the word ‘conscious’. I’ve been working with these strivings for the past couple of years, as you mentioned that many people have been, and I’ve been trying to get a purchase on this word. The first stage of consciousness is referred to many times in Madame de Salzmann’s book, and it’s a stage where the three centers come into balance. At that point there is a different consciousness available, so simply to approach the laws of world creation and world maintenance from three centers would be a way to begin working with that.
GB: Thank you; makes good sense to me.
Q: My question fits in with that nicely. The example you gave of being with children and admitting that you’re wrong. I think you were saying that you’re in front of them and you’re present from an inner work standpoint. You are present and you are choosing in that moment to be an example through being, and then there’s the detail of admitting that you’re wrong and letting the children see that.
Through maintaining your presence and engaging in that action you are actually creating a world for that child. You are maintaining a world and it’s done consciously. It’s a moment of striving, a moment of conscience, a moment of acting. I know this because it’s possible for me as a performer to get a lot of laughs in my children’s shows, but I don’t do this at the expense of anybody. Of course, we can have that same fun where things go wrong, and things break and fall apart, and the children are having a blast, without the person who’s up on stage with me getting embarrassed. That’s the key; the conscious striving is learning how to engage the children and have that fun, but without the embarrassment.
GB: Well, I wish I lived up to your description of being present all the time infront of my children at school, but certainly that’s a sixth striving!
Q: Thank you so much for emphasizing the practicality of the strivings. I think a question that’s always haunted me with this is the fact that this potentially existed, this practice was begun, results occurred, and it disappeared in a generation, thanks to one mama and papa’s darling. So, one thing I’ve tried to keep in mind, as the other end of this stick of the strivings or the tendencies (I think it’s good to use both words) is the ‘Naloo-osnian spectrum of impulses’.
He gives these adorable seven aspects of the Naloo-osnian spectrum of impulses, and there seems to be a call for a kind of intelligence. My question is how do we again bring together these two parts, the desire and the non-desire? Because the non-desire is very well laid out in this spectrum of impulses. Does that need to be included, how does it need to be included?
GB: I just look at my own experience, and I really can’t talk from anything else. I notice, for example, that I can set up a particular dyad to work with, as I described earlier. Then there’s another choice that comes up when I have a moment of wakening. I wake up — or I am woken up — and now I’m present, and can actually work. In that moment the same struggle between desires and non-desires is there. You think I’d say, “How wonderful, I’ve woken up and I always wanted to work, so now I’m going to work.” And I don’t. So it simply narrows down to every moment that we have this opportunity, and the same struggle exists. That’s how I see it. I spoke earlier about how important the second striving is, and how the striving to have an ‘unflagging’ need changes one’s attitude to those moments. If we set ourselves to have an unflagging need for self-perfection, then every one of those moments counts; we can’t just say, “I’ll put it off until later, or until tomorrow.” I’m not sure whether or not I’m answering your question, but that’s the way it looks to me: it comes down to yes or no in this moment. But there are lots of people here with much more wisdom and intelligence on this than I have.
Q: But my question is, is it yes and no?
GB: You mean that one says them both together, or that they’re both present?
GB: The way I experience it is that both the yes and no are present, but then I have to choose. That is where conscience comes in, because I have a choice. It looks small, and it may be small, but it’s not insignificant. In those small moments I have a choice and it’s exactly in such moments that conscience enters. The trouble about these moments is just that they are so small, but we are still really on the hook. Oddly enough, we can sometimes do the big things,but the challenge is in these tiny instances where nobody is watching, except this conscience that we’re trying to wake up.
Q: I want to thank you for your paper this morning. For some reason it filled me up, particularly this business of assisting our Common Father. I’ve been grappling with that for several years now, and to answer the question that you posed a couple of times in your talk, it involves bringing light to others. I think you answered the question after you posed it, but I’m a dowser (a member of the American Dowsing Association) so sometimes when I have dilemmas, I dowse. I’ve been working with a group in Baltimore for a few years now, and there have been times when I wanted to just let this group go because it was getting into a lot of heavy stuff. There have been people with tremendous issues in their lives, who may not always be good householders, in the Gurdjieffian sense. So a lot of stuff is on the table, week after week. I said to myself, “I think I’m just going to let this group slide, and switch to once a month instead of every week, because it’s exhausting.”
So I dowsed it, and the answer came back, no, you must go every week. And I said, “Well, do you understand that I’m going broke? This is getting to be very expensive; Amtrak is not cheap. You still want me to do this?” Yes, I want you to do this. So the point I’m making here is that our Common Father knows when a real effort is being made.
There have been times when I have been broke and the conductors on the train have miraculously walked by and not asked me for a ticket. It’s as if I’m invisible; they’ve actually taken the ticket from people next to me and not asked for mine. And I think this has got to be some kind of divine intervention; I just feel like our Common Father knows. There have been times when there were storms and I’ve slept on the floor at the lodge where we meet. A really nasty storm that just whipped up, and I ended up being thankful that there was heat in the lodge that night, as I slept on my overcoat. So I think this business of assisting our Common Father is doing whatever we can do to bring light to others, and to live the light, and to try to be the light.
GB: There is a source of help; I think we can all know that. We don’t have to get into too much detail about where this source of help is, but it’s clear that there is help. Sometimes we have to ask for it, sometimes it just comes, but help is always there. This work would be impossible without it; we all know that — at least I assume we do.
Q: If I’m not mistaken, this is the only place in the Tales where Gurdjieff speaks about desires and non-desires. It’s quite extraordinary that my experience is, “What is a non-desire? Who is non-desiring?” It’s the biggest question about the strivings. To me the strivings are thought forms, but this approach of living with my desire and non-desire leaves it as a much larger matter. It seems easy to speak about, but to actually live like that is, I find, very very rare. Yet, in those moments, something wholly new arrives. So I just want to add this element of difficulty, or the truth of the difficulty, at least for me anyway.
GB: I’m not saying it’s easy, but what I wanted to bring out is how explicit this is in the book. And I think it can also become clear in one’s experience of working on this; that this is actually possible work. Beelzebub (a.k.a. Gurdjieff) makes it explicit that this work is available; it is not beyond us. That’s why I said at the beginning that this work is for everybody. Everybody can do it, and when everybody does, these good things happen. In the light of that, we have to find some way to make these strivings work for us.
Let us remind ourselves about what it says in the two paragraphs either side of the strivings themselves, which I quoted earlier: everybody started working with the strivings, and the results were universally beneficial. In the face of that clarity, we have to find some clarity about how to work with them. I’m just suggesting ways of doing it. I’ve grappled with what desires and non-desires mean — do they mean attachments and non-attachments, or can I just turn it into a struggle between yes and no in myself? However I think about them, I have to find a way to work with them. When I commit myself to one or another of the strivings, and I find in the moment that I don’t want to work with them, then I have an entrée for conscience.
So how can I take each of these strivings and set up that situation with respect to them? Because, going back to what Beelzebub says about transubstantiating, I think it’s really important that we take the step from considering the strivings as ideas, to putting them into practice. That’s what transubstantiating means for me. Of course there’s no one answer to this; everybody’s work with this is going to be different, but there may be similarities too.
Then we have to go back to this really important part about assisting the most rapid perfecting of other beings. I think there’s more to this than meets the eye, in terms of wishing each other’s work well, whoever we are. There are people from this or that group, or the Foundation, or the people that listen to Bennett, and the people who listen to Ouspensky; they’re all out there and we’re all the same, and we can all support each other’s work. We shouldn’t be worried about all this personality nonsense. The minimum condition for working on the fifth striving is to wish each other well in our work.
Q: Thank you, George. I think your comment on wishing each other well is so vital, and important for A&E. I have a comment on the third striving, just an impression as to why Gurdjieff may have put such emphasis on the word ‘conscious’. Gurdjieff also puts tremendous emphasis on the lack of proper education, and that what we know, we really don’t know. We have been informed by all kinds of gibberish and this is what our education has produced. So what we think we know about the laws of world-creation and world-maintenance is really all nonsense. It’s all literal stuff that we have had poured into us through education, and the educational process, and we really don’t have a conscious understanding of those laws. So my impression is that here in the third striving, he’s really putting emphasis on the conscious striving to come to understand more and more about the laws of world-creation and world-maintenance. That would be a totally different enterprise from simply accepting what has been poured into me; it would be my search, my endeavor to understand the laws.
GB: Thank you. I agree. But I also think this aspect from the Form and Sequence chapter is important. In order to have reason of understanding, knowledge has to be set against our own inner work. That maybe also where this word ‘conscious’ comes in.
Q: I think this is our last question
GB: Oh, good!
Q: You’re not getting out of it yet! My further comment is on the desires and non-desires. For me it’s a puzzle, how can a non-desire be involved in struggle? On the one side there is struggle, which is the realm of desire, but from the side of non-desire there is no struggle at all. That’s for me the meaning of the non-desires. Seen from that side, there is no struggle.
GB: Well, that sounds a bit like the difference between struggle and sacrifice. The struggle is constant, but when you make a sacrifice and it’s an act of decision then it’s done. Then it becomes simple, because it is done.
Q: I just wanted to make a comment on that last point. To keep this non-struggle alive, how can one do that without making any kind of effort?
GB: Good luck with that! You can’t; I assume that’s a rhetorical question!
I often hear people speak of the system of self-study, amalgamated from a variety of sources, by GI Gurdjieff, as the Work — and refer to themselves as being “in the Work” or ‘Working on myself.” The presumption of agency here is by the person speaking. Yet, in my experience over time, I have found that such a statement is naive at best and, in most case, patently false. Quoted by JG Bennett, in his book, Gurdjieff, Making a New World, Gurdieff declares about Fontainebleu that “The programme of the Institute, the power of the Institute and the aim of the Institute can be expressed in one sentence: The Institute can help a man to be able to be a Christian — Simple! That is all!” Of course Gurdjieff goes on to define this as not Christian in ‘quotation marks’, defining real Christianity as that of loving all men. But, indeed, there is a more subtle aspect to this quote which needs attention. It is clearly stated that the Work has aim.
What do we mean when we talk about aim? If we were to use it in an ordinary sense, we could say it was to hit something dead on — a bulls-eye in darts or archery. In a more esoteric, perhaps spiritual sense, we could say that aim is the underlying motivation to struggle with one’s self, to wake up from the mass hypnosis that is the world. We do that by engaging in a system of self-study, a religion, psychology or any number of paths that have been devised and if we follow the teaching with persistence and sincerity, may come to a place where we can view ourselves and our world with objectivity, the bulls-eye, so to speak. To have aim, means that we perceive a end or a recognized goal. What does it mean to say that the “Work” has aim?
The Work, as devised by Gurdjieff, is such a system of self-study. One can state that it is a ‘training’ that brings us to a certain point, to be that real ‘Christian.’ However, in my experience, this is not something ‘I’ do but by following the training, it is done to me. In this, not only is it the work that has aim but also agency, an aspect of an entity. This idea that the work is a training implies that an end result ensues. For instance, if one were to train for a marathon, one would achieve more stamina and be able to run faster. Learning how to use one’s body more efficiently, to pace oneself would all be part of such a training as would persistence and practice. If one were training for any contest of any sort, there would be the steps. The Work, according to Gurdjieff, has an end product in mind before we begin to pursue it. Perhaps not viewable at the beginning, or even valued, but as one persists, we come to see that it is perhaps not about ourselves, that the primary movement and wish for self-knowledge, perhaps a Kesdjan body or whatever, has subtly shifted away from self to a greater aim. In fact, the work has taken our spiritual ambition, fraught with naivety and ego, and made it into something else. We have been worked upon.
So the Work has aim and agency. Working with the techniques, the inner exercises, the movements, the practical work and textual study, group work, themes, and all the richness that the Work offers it seeks to produce a person who is capable of something more than a man, woman or Christian ‘in quotation marks'. When we engage in these techniques, struggle in the movements, some energy is produced that allows us to go further into ourselves, remember ourselves, see ourselves as we are. Group work keeps us engaged with others who share our desire to be something else, more than what we were, as well as providing useful irritants. It is the first desire that lead us to inner work, the idea and belief that we can transform ourselves into something better, a higher state than which we are born into naturally. It seems that everyone, myself included, began their tenure in the Work with that hope, that wish, that aim, presuming that we were the agents of our own lives. However, as with any training, the view from the beginning is not the same as from later in the process. These steps are patent in the Work, for all to see. Here’s an example:
Suppose you have a superior coach in any sport or endeavor, that person or entity will have a good knowledge of what is the path one should pursue. An excellent trainer of race horses might start with breaking the colt to being just ridden, getting it used to guidance of someone or something other than pure instinct. Next, the colt is learning to respond to cues, to be motivated to run. Other aspects follow, knowing how to judge distance, to pace and condition the colt to its highest and best ability, to know whether he will be best as a sprinter or a distance horse. A good trainer knows about nutrition, psychology, conditioning and nurturance, when to be tough and when to be soft. As the training progresses, the horse or athlete begins to like the disciple, the feeling of specific organization and direction. They begin to see that the training is bringing them to a better, more competent self. The steps are working through them and the manifestation is palpable, especially in its archeology.
So it is with the Work itself. Although we have a ‘teacher’ or perhaps more accurately, a facilitator, we begin with the Work itself as trainer or coach. We pursue the Work and its practices, the sittings, the movements, inner exercises devoted to attention and presence in the moment, practical work, with its attendant work on negativity and attitude. We read the primary and secondary texts, looking for hints about how to proceed. We sit in groups and work on themes, all, in the beginning, with the intention of self-development. It is this primary motivation, this first goal, that inspires and keeps us in pursuit of an untestable goal, that we might become those in the know, the possessor of a Kesdjan body that will allow us to live on. The fear of our demise and the desire to be super-human, free of the foibles and weaknesses that afflict us, keeps us going. We have been fed and trained, using these goals as motivation, yet, in the end, something else enters.
The Work itself becomes manifest. In the chapters of Gurdjieff’s book, All and Everything, the chapters covering the Golden Age, named after the saint who brought the work to earth, Ashiata Shiemash, Gurdjieff plainly states that the result of this inner training becomes apparent to others. Can this mean that the individual was able to sit with straight face and heavy hands surrounded by the brouhaha of life? I believe that Gurdjieff meant something far more active than that. He spoke of the work as being ‘esoteric Christianity' as opposed to the exoteric, or orthodox sects that make up what the world sees as the Christian religion. Gurdjieff even saw esoteric Christianity as preceding Jesus, a truth behind all religions. Again, in the prospectus of the Prieure, Gurdjieff states that the purpose of the institute was to help people ‘be able to be a Christian'. To limit our look, we can use the Biblical text to see what may have been his intent.
The Bible is a divided text, between the old Testament and the New. The word ‘testament’ has the connotation that what we are reading is true yet the division in the Bible is profound and often contradictory. We can look at both parts as having different purposes, yet are taken by some as one text, divinely written or, at least, inspired. The Old Testament, which is, in fact, the Hebrew bible, begins with the Pentateuch or the Torah, which contain the teachings fundamental to Judaism. Out of these five books , taking the reader from the creation myths in Genesis to the death of Moses, arises the Mosaic laws. The rest of the Old Testament includes history chapters, some apocryphal and some perhaps accurate, of the Hebrew people as well as chapters of prophets and Wisdom books such as Song of Solomon and Proverbs, However, the main purpose of the old Testament was to give the Hebrew people an identity as, first, slaves, and then freed people and later conquerors of the so-called promised land. The function of a body of laws and cultural identity is to knit disparate people, especially in times of stress, together. The Mosaic Law as well as any laws, whether it be organizational, religious or civic, form a body of behavior that is agreed upon by the majority in order to maintain social cohesion and stop egregious behaviors which tear at the fabric of the social order. The Law, in this case, was extensive and controlled everyday life, from eating, dressing, making sacrifices and sexual behavior. The Old Testament is cited today for the same purpose, a form of religious morality, although most sects pick and choose. Few sell their daughters into concubinage.
The New Testament, although containing language which supports the law, as in Matthew, chapter five, however the Biblical stories have Jesus doing acts which were unacceptable to the Hebrew social order. Jesus brought a teaching that centered on the poor and disenfranchised of society. The teaching asks more of individuals than civic duty and love of family. It demanded sacrifice of personal animus towards others, required that one forgive transgressions and to work on oneself rather than point out the ‘mote’ in one’s neighbor’s eye.
It is in this teaching, as opposed to the law, that Gurdjieff saw as the truth behind all spiritual practice. His repeated criticism that the people of this planet do not behave in ways becoming to three-brained beings can be equated with the failure to follow such a teaching. Perhaps we can all agree that if we and our fellow species members behaved in ways that we delineating in the words and work of Jesus, the prophet and the words of other prophet, major and minor, we would create a more becoming world. Just as an example, the Golden rule is reflected in many cultures and across time — to do unto others as we would haver done to us, as Hillel would have it “All else is commentary.” It is unfortunate that those who wish control turn to the law, rather than to the inner work required by the teaching, as do we all when asleep.
So all of the inner teaching of ‘esoteric Christianity’ and all mystical traditions ascribe to the same basic values when the 'law', the orthodox practice is removed, or, at least, put in a subordinate position. How does the Work, with aim and agency, lead us to a place where the teaching can manifest over the needs of the ego and the herd instinct to be in control? What could give us the help we need to proceed along this path, to cooperate with the aims of this Work rather than our own? How does one really leave the binding dictates of socially constructed ‘law’ and move to a position of freedom?
Identification is the hallmark of herd instinct. We identify with what supports ourselves in our sense of belonging and reject evidence that there is a greater reality. We withdraw into sects, tribes, social groups of all sorts and say to ourselves and others “I am this” with the unspoken caveat of “and not that”. It is even so in the Work. “I am in the Gurdjieff/Nyland/Bennett/Osho work” is a frequent statement among those who were influenced by strong teachers but as with strong parents, there comes a time when each must step out of the shadow to be cooperators with the Work itself, for it is in the training that one develops, not in the borrowing of certain energies and the hearkening back to past experiences. This is surely as stultifying an identification as any, because it gives the illusion of progress, but not one’s own.
So how did Gurdjieff intend us to proceed? He left a body of work, much describing how it is with humanity with the intention of ‘burying the dog’ among many run-on sentences filled with tongue-twisting neologisms and created a metaphorical cosmology that one must parse through experience. It is this experiencing where one can come to something new. No amount of reading and discussing can do that. Gurdjieff did leave a roadmap of sorts in his Ashiatan chapters. They are remarkably free of jargon and neologisms and follow a clear, five-step path. They are know as the Being-Obligolnian Strivings.
There has been much attention paid to this formulation lately and much discussion. I am going to assert here that I have come, through experience and efforts to view these Strivings as central to the Work, perhaps to a point of ‘All else is commentary'. Although there are many who will disagree here, I will try to logically make my case. Let us look first at the language of the strivings and attempt to see them through not just signifiers but also through syntax. The Strivings are numbered by ordinal numbers, a syntactic difference from lists of one, two, three, etc. There is an implication that, by the use of ordinal numbers, there is a coherent step-by-step process, indeed a necessary order of action. An example I used when teaching ESL to adults was simple: How to make a sandwich. First, (ordinal number) a person gets two slices of bread.
Second, one adds mayonnaise and mustard. Third, fourth and so on follows. There is significance and intention in the fact that the Strivings are written in an order; if we are to take Gurdjieff seriously, we must presume so. So, if we regard the Work as a training, whether we ascribe that agency to ourselves or to the system, as with all trainings, we need a place to start.
So beginning with “The First Striving: to have in their ordinary being-existence everything satisfying and really necessary for their planetary body." The Work begins, for beginners, with the body, as it does from our metaphorical colt learning to be a race horse. We must be brought into contact with the body. But even before that can happen, something else must be in place, in ordinary being existence, made clear here. There must be some freedom from want. One can ask questions later about what is “really” necessary but as with Maslow’s Hierarchy Needs, some things must be present to begin (although may haps not to continue, witness Gurdjieff’s trek over the Caucuses away fro the Bolshevik revolution). Safety, sufficient nutrition, shelter are very basic necessities. One can speculate deeper on material desire and other factors but it seems common sense that one will have difficulty self-remembering if pursued or threatened. So Gurdjieff sets a beginning set here, a condition that must be present to start.
The second striving: to have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being. I have addressed that rather daunting condition in other writings on “constant and unflagging” as a barrier to many, who recognize their own laziness and sleep. It is in this recognition, however, that one struggles, as against conditions in the training. A long-distance runner will recognize barriers, some physical, like pain and some psychological, "I don’t have a constant and unflagging need to run.” This is the time in the training when one does what the tasks are, believing in the pie-in-the-sky, superhuman promises that the work holds out — super-efforts, three hours of movements, gives up one’s weekends and time, travels long distance in order to achieve this “Being” and never knowing quite what it is, except that we must be able to ‘bear’ unpleasant or unpleasing manifestations of others. However, we continue to do these activities in order to achieve something we are told is of value, that is becoming for us, as three-brained, beings to attain, something that is lacking in others. And, of course, we wish to be different, better, special.
The Third: the conscious striving to know every more and more about world creation and world-maintenance. This is the last striving that clan be said to be part of the ‘iinduction’ training, giving us a language and a culture in which we can relate and use the experiences of others to our benefit. It might be useful here to point our that there are five strivings and yet this one has become a dominant trait in many Gurdjieff groups. Recently, a collection of writings by Robert DeRopp (a student of Ouspensky’s) came out in which he listed a set of behaviors he termed “Fantasy work”. The first one (and there are several others, I will leave it to you to read the text) was the ‘Talk-Think’ trap. We all know about this in groups and the world. It is very similar to the old school task of ‘read and discuss’. Nothing in this work can be talked about in reality without experience. This is the point of training — there is accretion of impressions that can be informed by reading and reading can help direct attention but it cannot substitute for the experience of effort and the contemplation and assimilation of the effects of that effort. We should never fall into the assumption that the parsing of texts replaces effort, even when it is seen to be an effort in itself. As we have seen, these steps in the training are steps towards an aim, That aim is made clear in the fourth and fifth strivings.
The fourth: the striving from the beginning of their existence to pay for their arising and their individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterwards to be free to lighten as much as possible the Sorrow of our COMMON FATHER. Here, again is the linguistic construction that denotes significance. There is a before and there is an after. If one is to argue against this construction, one would argue against Gurdjieff’s intention here and so the rest of the text become relative and slippery. Before and after, before and after — it is very clear that there is aim here and that this aim is sequential.
I have found, over my nearly forty years practicing this Work, that my resolve has waxed and waned. Something happened, however, about seven years ago, that changed work for me forever. I was facilitating a group which was on the verge of breaking up due to members moving to other places and all the other reason why a group ends. I found at the end of this tenure of three years, that my focus had changed significantly, from emphasis on my own work (especially the ego distortion that is inevitable in sitting before a group, very fraught with pitfalls) to serving the needs of this group. It was not that inner tasks and aims had left, rather that whatever energy was produced by such had been mainly replaced by an indifferent interest in my own progress (or lack thereof) to the interactions and insights in the constellation of individuals. In one way,, I felt I had given birth to the future. I also had another experience that even more sharply focused my direction. I came to the conclusion that I am not a candidate for enlightenment and so my own desire (or greed and ambition) for inner development was unimportant compared to what I could be in service to, including and most importantly, the work itself. I cannot convey what a liberating notion it was to give up on myself. It has improved work for me no end.
Being Partdolg-Duty, Conscious Labor and Intentional Suffering is defined as service and sacrifice — what we owe to the world. JG Bennett would have it, in his lecture on such that “This is the first conscious labor. It is doing what has to be done because it has to be done and FOR NO OTHER REASON.” (emphasis mine) The is the nature of the afterwards in the fourth striving, in that we are called to do something, to lighten the burdens of this world in whatever way we are called to do, for no other reason other than it ought be done. This is what we are “obliged to do”; this is what the strivings are aptly named “Obligolnian.” It is not an accident that they are so named. The unbecoming behavior that humans engage in are those which ignore obligation, eschew some sort of mutual duty and indulge in license of many kinds. As JG Bennett further points out, that this kind of work is without reward. If we work solely for our own spiritual ambitions, then that is a reward in itself. Giving up, entirely, one’s concern for one’s own demise is necessary here.
Intentional Suffering becomes the second aspect of Partdolg-Duty. Part of this is to bear (to suffer) the unpleasant manifestations of actions unpleasing to oneself. We bear many things but often with quibbles and resentments, anger and other negative reactions. It seems to me that these reactions, as with all inner considerings, have manifestations that impact negatively. I once had a teeshirt that said ‘If mama’s unhappy, everyone’s unhappy' which I had bought when trying to teach my boys to pick up their Legos. Later, I came to see that this is a statement of how discontent with circumstance and others is allowed to affect those around me. Things, circumstances, events, both positive and negative, can be borne because they must be borne; in the same way that tasks are done, because they also must be done. This is to bring as little negativity into the world, and, although it seems to be impossible in many cases, those of extreme events, griefs and disasters, we can practice non-manifesation. This work is a practice, not a done deal. By not manifesting, while not on the precision of bearing, we at least can keep the world a little safer from our inner turmoil and, perhaps, to cause less Sorrow to our world. As Gurdjieff says, to bear, to suffer with intention is to answer what our duty, our obligation is, to behave becomingly and to asset in mitigating sorrows in the world. We each have a role to play.
And the fifth: the striving always to assist the most repaid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred ‘Martfotai’ that is up to the degree of self-individuality. That we are obliged to assist others seems obvious, not from a space of herd cooperation but from a place of genuine conscience. If the work is to be about the future, that it has use and aim to do something that is becoming and proper in this work, then it must become obvious to others, not just those in our spiritual path but to all. The results of efforts in the first three and the evolutionary step that is stated in four and five must be, as Gurdjieff, through Ashiata Shiemash says, “perceptible to others.” The one neologism in the Strivings is ‘Marfotai' derived, I have heard, from an Armenian word meaning ‘being of light'. Again, to refer to the esoteric sayings of the Bible, to let that light be shared ‘by all that are in the house'.
So I have come to see, through work, that the duties and obligations that are owed for existence can be discharged. The Strivings tell us how and, as Gurdjieff states, they are the only way for men and women to fulfill these life debts. Perhaps it may be argued that we cannot recreate the enlightened epoch of Ashiata Shiemash but we need to try to take these teachings to heart, the whole heart. The strivings are straightforward, not couched in hidden language to be parsed over Calvados. They are, without any doubt, written in language that is sequential, indicating that we begin at a real beginning and, if followed assiduously, lead to a revolutionary transition from self to other — a break with the past efforts to move ahead into service and sacrifice. This revelation occurs when one sacrifices one’s own self-importance and fear of demise and looks to what can be invested in a future that is still being made.
Even as we take up this work and follow its dictates, techniques, events and reflections, the Work, with its own aim and agency, works upon us. We are all the sower, the seed and the ground. It may be possible in the strivings to look ahead to four and five but until there is sufficient time for the Work to have its effect, we cannot really work in a future we have not bought and paid for through efforts, and sacrifice. These strivings are sequential and cumulative. They should and will, given a willingness to see and accept one’s own insignificance and ephemeral nature, lead us what we wish to become.
Throughout Gurdjieff’s tome, Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, we are told that the inhabitants of this planet do not act in ways which are "becoming to three-brained beings.” Humans, rather than fulfilling their lawful role in the cosmic and universal scheme of Reciprocal Maintenance, according to Beelzebub, are subject to negative behaviors such as “cunning, contempt, hate, servility, lying, flattery and so on.” (pg. 384) How we got this way is described repeatedly as the “consequences of the properties of that maleficent organ, Kundabuffer, which unfortunately their ancestor possessed.” (pg. 119) Although relieved of this organ, we still operate in ways, which do not recognize our place in the universe, and so have no 'genuine conscience'.
Gurdjieff postulated an ideal age, called the Ashiatian Epoch, after his divine messenger, Ashiata Shiemash. During this time, human organization changed for the better, so that all the “chiefs, directors and specialists“ were chosen by “objective merits which they personally acquired and which could be really sensed by all the beings around them.” (pg. 385) Gurdjieff makes it plain that whatever the manifestation of this personal work was, it was perceptible to others. Although not specified there, some examples are given before and after. For instance, and of great meaning to those of us who purport to ‘work', is the following. During this more appropriate era, humans began to "pay respect to each other only according to the merits personally attained by means of ‘being Partkdolg-duty,’ that is by persons of personal conscious labor and intentional sufferings.” (pg. 384) This had the effect that people now looked upon each other, not as separate, but as beings "bearing in themselves particles of the emanation of the Sorrow of our Common Father Creator.” To perceive oneself as part of the problem, if only a small particle, is to stop comparing one’s worth, through personal interaction or assumption of superiority due to being in the “right” group whether large or small, such as nationalism, classism and all the other divisions that one can name all around in the world. We can all see the tendency in ourselves, or if not, in others, to seek to gain ascendancy over others, whether by having more money, being of a higher caste, taller, more attractive sexually, more light-skinned, not this, not that, ad infinitum. It is all around us, this need to see ourselves as better or different, smarter or even more accomplished at being what we all are, human. Even in spiritual pursuit, the hankering to ‘rank’ oneself, to be a more favored student or have a ‘better’ teacher of the Way, all fall into the same disrespect that occurs when the ego is in control.
I have gone to great lengths to quote from a small amount of pages in order to set up several points about the Strivings, which have occurred to others and myself over a period of study. The first point is that this Work is for all people. During the Ashiatan epoch, again just before the Obligolnian Strivings, Gurdjieff says that “All the beings of the planet” began to pursue the course of self-study. To keep the work ‘hidden’ as has been done in the past is obviously not on point here. On this path, the results of inner work will appear as “objective attainments, perceptible to others.” (pg. 386) It is inner work made manifest in one’s behavior and being, behavior which then was in accordance with what was “becoming to three-brained beings” that must be overt. The standard Gurdjieff sets is that the results of inner work is perceptible to those around us. This is reminiscent of the Biblical exhortation to "let your light so shine before men, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, which is in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) The Work as source is praised and not the individual. I hope, along this path, we all have met individuals to whom we are attracted because of their being and demeanor. Kinder, more attentive and accepting, engaged with the world and a beacon to the sore at heart, these are qualities I have experienced in individuals who have come some way along this path. These and other qualities are perceptible, even palpable even to those who are not seeking.
Besides the diminution of the tendency to affiliate with social groups and become identified with such, what other behaviors could be a manifestation of the acquisition of genuine conscience? Beelzebub states that one manifestation was that war ceased in Asia and continued in places only too distant from the center of the teaching. In addition, both the death rate diminished as did the birth rate, rather different than on our planet where the death rate is diminished but the birth rate is rising, out of balance with the equilibrium of our planet.
Items that are more specific can be postulated in accordance with little effort. The statement about equilibrium of vibration resulting in human balance with the planet gives rise to the many other ways we are out of balance. We drive large gas-consuming cars, eat food that is factory farmed, resulting in air, water and soil pollution. Our industries pour poison into the seas as do our biological waste and the detritus of factory fishing practices. Humans work for money, of which there is never enough. The Catholic Church long ago recognized (if not practiced) that there are behaviors, which prevent attainment of conscience and therefore a balanced, becoming, ‘right life.’ Sloth, greed, wrath, gluttony, lust, envy and pride are delineated but there are many others that slow or prohibit becoming behavior based on conscience. Perhaps the venial sins can include shopping in venues for cheap prices when we know that the company pays low wages. Even the just man in Proverbs sins seven times a day. We need a functional conscience to keep it at that low number.
Another issue, which has arisen for me, is that the practice of the Obligolnian Strivings, which sit in the middle of Gurdjieff’s teaching, do not make us ‘special.’ The secrecy, the identification with lineage, all these issues have given an ‘esoteric’ edge to the Gurdjieff work, which Gurdjieff himself did not promote. Gurdjieff was known to talk to anyone and to literally pull people off the street to come see Movements demonstrations. He manifested towards both his students and the people in his world with great kindness, even when that kindness took the form of ranting at someone. By undertaking the practice of the Obligolnian Strivings, and the beginning of the workings of genuine conscience, we become 'normal' human beings. Remember that the ‘three-brained beings', those slugs, are functioning abnormally and are not fulfilling their role in Reciprocal Maintenance. Application in the real world of the aspects of the strivings makes us as we should be. The tendency to suppose that one is living a higher spiritual life, one that is deeper or more in touch with the wishes of ‘Endlessness’ is another function of ego.
All the above points are to predicate the study of the strivings in context. First, the strivings are the ONLY way to conscience. Because of this, they sit in the middle of the chapter about when humans acted according to their role in Reciprocal Maintenance. Two, we are told that the strivings are for everyone, that all beings began to work in such a way. Three: the strivings produced effects that were easily perceived by others and those individuals were a source of inspiration to all. Therefore, the fruits of our work (as opposed to the techniques, which are rightfully doled out in their proper time) should not be secret or hidden, thought of as too difficult for others to understand but by our actions and attitudes we produce a change in the world. And Four: following the strivings as our main practice does not make us special. We work to be normally human, in equilibrium with our fellows and the planet.
1. The first striving: to have in their ordinary being-existence everything satisfying and really necessary for their planetary body.
While this first striving may seem the most straightforward, it is anything but. One tends to see these words in a context such as Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, but what indeed is satisfying about just food, shelter and warmth? In the West, most of us have achieved such, even if our financial issues may be fraught. There are other necessities, exercise, impressions and community, which act to be satisfying in a psychological sense. Do these qualify as part of the planetary body? I believe so, since the brain is a physical structure and is subject to pressures that are psychological as well as physical. We say in the Work that worry is a negative emotion, yet it has impact. We can stay awake worrying and so lose necessary sleep. So psychological health is as important as physical needs.
Impressions, too, have an impact. There are qualitative differences in impressions of even simple items. High quality food, well-prepared with attention and intention, for instance, imparts a different impression than eating frozen corn-dogs or fast food. Wearing natural fibers as opposed to polyester or nylon also affects our being. We can make choices, not out of specialness, but because the attention implicit in the act of choosing and the effects on the greater environment that is shared by all. In Ayurvedic medicine, certain substances are considered to impart more favorable impressions, including gold, silver, ivory and more. Art and beauty also could be said to be necessary for the planetary body and its impressions. There are many more aspects that one individually could choose but it's enough to know that it is not just animal needs that are indicated in the first striving.
2. The second striving: to have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfecting in the sense of being.
No one feels that they have achieved a "constant and unflagging instinctive need” to be self-evolving beings. This is one of the barriers that I find people encounter and, feeling not ‘cooked’ enough, put themselves back into the crucible of sittings, movements, super-efforts in practical work and all the other techniques they have been shown or developed in order to achieve this aim. However, it is time to note that all the strivings are just that, efforts that we come back to again and again. What keeps us coming back could be seen as instinct, a small pricking of the conscience that Gurdjieff says happens to us. Unflagging is more difficult as we all find our efforts are sometimes superseded by impatience, anger, sleep and all the other ills that the flesh is heir to. However, my experience is that one keeps coming back to the taste of the real. If one makes efforts, one does have feedback, experience energies that are not normally available to oneself, especially in group work. Perhaps this ‘coming back’ to the practice, even if one takes a hiatus that can be said to be unflagging. Unflagging does not necessarily mean always active but in one’s awareness.
The definition of (large B) Being itself is hard to determine. As noted elsewhere, Madame Ouspensky defined Being as ‘what one can bear.’ Of course, we all know about ‘bearing the manifestations of others unpleasing to oneself’ or sometimes written ‘the unpleasant manifestations of others.’ These two phrases have different implications. The first one says that the psychological repugnance lies in oneself, a problem of intolerance in ourselves. The behaviors may have no or little effect on others but we find that person and his or her manifestations unpleasant. I usually find that it is because some aspect of myself that I have repressed is mirrored in that person and so, as well as denying that such exists in me, I actively dislike it in others. The second phrase implies that the behavior of a person is objectively unpleasant and yet that behavior may arise out of problems that the individual is unable to deal with effectively. It is our work, in this case, to bear the behavior, even if it is unpleasant because of the opportunity to work. A person like this serves our own inner work tremendously and, as Gurdjieff reminds us, we should thank them. Bearing their unpleasant manifestations is a golden opportunity. There is a further issue here also, that by being borne, the individual or situation has an opportunity to perceive a better way to be and so, without resistance, can change more easily. Putting negative energy into an already unpleasant situation or person compounds rather than smoothes the moment. It is in the moment that we have an opportunity to change the energy to one of greater possibilities and pleasing outcomes.
With our group’s work with this second striving, there appeared a common theme. Most all of the observations about working on our own being is in relationship to others. I have come to believe that one can sit in meditation for years, work diligently on the study of self, and acquire huge powers in effort, counting, inwardly reciting the Kyrie, zikr or the Lord’s Prayer and still be without being. Being is both acquired and manifested in our treatment of others, both those like ourselves and one’s of other forms. Gandhi once said that the measure or moral progress of any civilization is how they treat animals. A quick look at American factory farming will be instructive in our national level of being. As is said in the Tales, real being is perceptible to others. Perhaps another Biblical quote (since Gurdjieff referred to his system as esoteric Christianity) can show us the meaning. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he says about our relationship to others, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.” Love in this case is translated as caritas or charity. If we cannot hold charity in our heart towards our fellow beings, of similar or other forms, then all the spiritual practices in the world will not avail. We are empty of the one of the most, or according to St. Paul, THE most necessary aspect of being, charity.
3. The third: the conscious striving to know ever more and more concerning the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance.
Why should this be? The laws as presented by Gurdjieff frequently sound arcane and inaccurate according to high school science books and to emotional or body-centered types pose obstacles to pursuing them deeply. Other types, especially those predisposed to the intellect do nothing but study the laws. I have found this to be the case in much of the Work, which seems to attract those with a taste for the esoteric detail in which study and individual effort in techniques replaces the emotional experience of insight and sacrifice. Along with this tendency to ‘hide one’s light under a bushel’, I view such as a flight from the messiness of humanity, those ‘sleepers’ who are not part of the hidden world of the spiritual cognoscenti. Indeed, I have experienced many times, those with compendium knowledge of the text use such as a way of putting others down and thus support ego. Obviously, the striving exists for a much more serious and practical reason than ‘angels on a pin’ arguments. The questions are universal and should stun us all with their impact.
Where do I belong in the universe? What is my role as a human species member? Can I, as a person who takes these strivings seriously, use them to behave becomingly? For instance, when one reads of Reciprocal Maintenance, and takes the time to study a simple ecosystem on earth, one can see interconnectedness. So to take such a concept further is not a huge step but to SEE how one personally can act in ways which are a benefit and not a negative, both act upon but with the right attitude and experience how the atmosphere changes. One can begin to extrapolate from experience upward and downward, to see how one thing impacts another, both physically and in ‘atmosphere’ or energy.
Many people today are beginning to understand that their impact on the earth is far more than what they give. The ‘debt of our existence' is huge. In the soil beneath our feet are micro-organisms who are also ‘feeding and breeding’ on the planet Earth. These organisms, in their processes, enrich the soil in a variety of ways. Working with sunlight, water and mineral earth, which has been formed by geological processes, microorganisms break down the organic materials available to them, dead plants and animals, creating humus, which holds minerals together to form soil. The greater the number of organisms, the richer the soil formation and the more fertile the land is to grow grasses, forests and shrubs, which in their turn, transform carbon dioxide into oxygen. . These in turn are eaten by herbivores, which then become prey to carnivores or complete their existence and die, returning to the soil via the same microorganisms, beetles, worms etc. This transformational cycle enhances the planetary life-carrying ability and serves all species.
Man has broken the cycle. Although he partakes of the abundance provided by the cyclic transformation and in some instances, enhances it, through good husbandry, more often, he is a drag on the earth, taking more than he provides. Even by being cremated, he denies worms their food, as Gurdjieff said, was proper. We deny to these ‘primary producers’ their due. If , indeed, we have to pay our debt quickly, in order to fulfill our purpose, how can we begin?
Many people ascribe to certain behaviors, recycling, composting, vegetarianism and more in order to lessen their consumption. Perhaps they have given up their vehicle, or choose an electric hybrid car, use pubic transport or ride share. All these behaviors lessen our impact but do not put a positive movement towards our debt. It is like a loan that we struggle to cover the interest but the balloon payment awaits, at the moment of our death. What is this pay now or pay later debt? And how can it be discharged? It is only but finding our purpose, in the Kirkegardean sense of making a meaningful decision about one’s use in the world and discharging it. It is not that all the above small efforts, which require a conscientious approach, are not without value but they are preparatory, a keeping of that debt before us. They are indeed practices that we choose but insufficient in themselves. We need to do more. Understanding the Laws allow us the chance to take up our position as co-creators of this world, as Gurdjieff himself saw the work. J.G. Bennett called his introductory book Gurdjieff: Making a New World. We indeed, as the people in the Ashiatan Age, need to make this world new by our manifestations. Our understanding of the Laws allow us to see our place in that task.
4. The fourth: the striving from the beginning of their existence to pay for their arising and their individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterwards to be free to lighten as much as possible the Sorrow of our COMMON FATHER.
The fourth striving has several demanding aspects, which I shall attempt to parse. Perhaps the first note should be to speculate on what it means "from the beginning of their existence.” We, of course, exist from birth in this world and could not have taken up the work at that moment. Nor can we be blamed as schoolchildren of having shirked this exhortation. (Although we could speak about how we ‘educate’ our children and to what real end). However, there is a hint in Gurdjieff’s book title, Life is Real, Only Then, When I Am. Gurdjieff marks the beginning of ‘real’ life when one has gotten a taste of “I Am”. This is the beginning of real existence and where we become responsible beings. Now it up to us to work on ourselves, ‘as quickly as possible’ in order to move to our real purpose. There is a certain pressure here not to immerse oneself in one’s own interests; there is a greater task awaiting. This does not imply that we need to be done with the work of transformation, to be enlightened or wise or to have finished paying for our arising and individuality, only that there should come a time — quite early in our Work — where the focus must shift from ourselves and our personal transformation to our lawful and intended purpose, being-Partk-dolg Duty, conscious labor and intentional suffering
Take a moment to contemplate the frank ‘before and after’ construction of this striving. It tells us that we have done the beginning work of the first, second and third strivings and that “afterwards” comes a pivotal moment of focus. The strivings are constructed in an order, using ordinal numbers which delineate sequential movements and the fourth striving gives us not just a feeling of accumulation of effort but also direction. Direction is aim. Nothing happens without aim. The aim is genuine Conscience. Conscience allows us to function becomingly, and act according to our purpose in World Creation and World Maintenance . Becoming behavior also lightens the ‘Sorrows of our Common Father’, however you choose to define such and parenthetically creates a better world for all of us.
Does this mean that one can only work on one striving at a time and only in sequence? Of course not, however, some issues apply. It is very hard to work, for instance, if one is without life necessities, food, shelter and safety. Gurdjieff postulated the role of the obyvatel, the good householder as a beginning place for work. A Czech word, meaning peasant or inhabitant, the obyvatel, according to Gurdjieff, is one who can ‘support twenty'. Perhaps this may be objective, but consider, in our family and community, how many you, yourself, support. We pay taxes that support those less fortunate and help our elders to appointments and social interactions. Supporting twenty is not really that hard, even if one is not deeply invested in volunteerism or has a large family. Beginning with the first striving, we can work toward not just satisfying our own needs but support the needs of others. Such behavior opens the door to the second striving as does practice in sittings, movements and practical work in groups. Experiencing the different energy produced by these practices gives rise to the desire to study how the world of energies and our role in them functions. Indeed, the first three, coupled with the drive to reach a higher level of understanding for oneself, dovetail nicely.
None of these, however, in my opinion, are what is the aim and the direction of the strivings. Wanting enlightenment or personal control over emotions or a kesdjan body are still about self. The fourth strivings calls us to turn away from our own self-interest to what is our real function in the cosmos. It is only in doing so, this whole-hearted volte-face that anything further can be reached for us. In fact, sacrifice of spiritual ambition is the ONLY thing that allows us to progress beyond a certain point. We may sit, do movements, attend meetings, make efforts but until the hoped-for result of such is truly sacrificed, we will go no further. Verily, our reward will be being good at movements or able to sit for long periods, leading to false self-regard and soi-disant ‘puffery'. One is even in danger of becoming an ‘Enlightened Idiot', an unenviable position.
5. And the fifth: the striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred ‘Marfotai’, that is up to the degree of self-individuality.
This striving, the fifth and last, holds danger even as we contemplate it. Helping can become a disease very easily and ego can take root as one does 'good'. I remember, many years ago when I was studying the Alexander Technique in London, being given a book entitled, The Zen of Helping, by Andrew Bein. The problem with any therapist, body worker, social worker or charity person is that they may fall into a pernicious form of self-congratulations. Yet we are enjoined to do just that, assist others on their way. How can be we work at this striving while being aware of the devil tempting us to vanity and self-love?
To me, the answer lies in the fourth striving, the sacrifice of personal fulfillment in the Work that we do. I am reminded here of what J.G. Bennett referred to as the Master Parable, that of the Sower and the Seed. He points out in this lecture how the sower is neither the reaper nor the eater of the products of his labor, another word for Work. Indeed, not only iare the results of his labor in the future but he demonstrates indifference to the result, casting everywhere. We cannot know what influence we have in these instances and so must not attribute virtue to ourselves by dint of what we do.
Probably the most common interpretation of this striving is that one moves up to being a group leader, perhaps giving lectures about the Work. Indeed, in my time with the Gurdjieff Work, I have met many who wish to see themselves as ‘teachers of the Work'. Most of these individuals, sadly, have come to some sort of hopefully reversible disaster in their Work. Here, too, the need or wish to be helpful needs mitigation with at least a ‘practice’ of being a sower, indifferent to outcome but sowing because he or she must. It is in indifferent imperative that we can find the narrow path. Then one is faced with the second temptation of gratitude, and must be also well-prepared for it.
However, there are other manifestations of Work that can be seen as ‘assistance.’ I have mentioned a few, for instance, bearing the manifestations of others unpleasing to oneself. In fact, in every moment, we have the opportunity to manifest in ways that bring help into the world as we function as conduits from the unseen world of values into this physical one. One can think of such systems of Karma Yoga, from the Bhagavad-gita, where one’s actions, when in tune with one’s Work, to surrender to what is conscionable without expectation of outcome, good or bad. We all can ascribe to such values as love, peace, patience, attention, kindness, and charity and yet find ourselves manifesting their opposite. It is in the present moment that we can assist others, both those like ourselves and those of other forms, by being true to those values we know are becoming to us.
Again, I will beg your attention for a short recap. As I have come to experience the strivings, and I am not done yet, if ever, these are tentative conclusions I have reached with the help of others.
1. This Work is for everyone. We can no longer be secret. That does not mean that all is revealed to everyone. The Work has a functioning system of groups but many are confined in their activities to those ‘similar to themselves.’ The Work needs to be inclusive, both of other paths and those whose life work lies in other areas.
2. This work does not make us special in any way. We begin as being abnormal and strive, through this teaching, to become as we should be, participators in the cosmic order; in many ways, co-creators of our world.
3. The strivings, while not entirely sequential, do have a pivotal moment in the fourth that is a profoundly necessary sacrifice, in order to proceed. There is no doubt in my mind that we need to give up all hope for personal spiritual attainment to actually reach such.
4. The Strivings are at the center of the teaching, the one guide, and everything else is very similar to Hillel’s quote, “All else is commentary.”
5. In addition, as the title suggests, the strivings are our human obligations.
What is it exactly that Gurdjieff calls "Sorrow of OUR COMMON FATHER CREATOR"
And this sorrow is formed in our
ALL-MAINTAINING COMMON FATHER
from the struggle constantly proceeding
in the Universe between joy and sorrow.
What is the "Sorrow"?
Below are the only references to it in Beelzebub's Tales, of which the quote from page 372 (at right) appears to be the best answer.
- Well, then, it was to those same Great Initiates who were first set apart that the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash, now aleady the Most Very Saintly, then among other things also elucidated in detail what this being-impulse ’objective conscience’ is, and how factors arise for its manifestation in the presences of the three-brained beings.
- And concerning this he once said as follows:
- The factors for the being-impulse conscience arise in the presences of the three-brained beings from the localization of the particles of the “emanations-of-the-sorrow” of our OMNI-LOVING AND LONG-SUFFERING-ENDLESS-CREATOR; that is why the source of the manifestation of genuine conscience in three-centered beings is sometimes called the REPRESENTATIVE OF THE CREATOR.
- And this sorrow is formed in our ALL-MAINTAINING COMMON FATHER from the struggle constantly proceeding in the Universe between joy and sorrow.
- And he then also further said:
- In all three-brained beings of the whole of our Universe without exception, among whom are also we men, owing to the data crystallized in our common presences for engendering in us the Divine impulse of conscience, ”the-whole-of-us” and the whole of our essence, are, and must be, already in our foundation, only suffering.
- And they must be suffering, because the completed actualizing of the manifestation of such a being-impulse in us can proceed only from the constant struggle of two quite opposite what are called “complexes-of-the-functioning” of those two sources which are of quite opposite origin, namely, between the processes of the functioning of our planetary body itself and the parallel functionings arising progressively from the coating and perfecting of our higher being-bodies within this planetary body of ours, which functionings in their totality actualize every kind of Reason in the three-centered beings.
- In consequence of this, every three-centered being of our Great Universe, and also we men existing on the Earth, must, owing to the presence in us also of the factors for engendering the Divine impulse of “Objective Conscience,” always inevitably struggle with the arising and the proceeding within our common presences of two quite opposite functionings giving results always sensed by us either as “desires” or as “nondesires.
- And so, only he, who consciously assists the process of this inner struggle and consciously assists the “nondesires” to predominate over the desires, behaves just in accordance with the essence of our COMMON FATHER CREATOR HIMSELF; whereas he who with his consciousness assists the contrary, only increases HIS sorrow.
- However it might have been, my boy, it then so turned out that almost all of your favorites—those strange three-brained beings—also wished and began to strive with all their spiritualized being-parts to have in their ordinary waking-consciousness the Divine genuine objective conscience, and in consequence, most of the beings of Asia at that time began to work upon themselves under the guidance of initiates and priests of the brotherhood Heechtvori, in order to transfer into their ordinary consciousness the results of the data present in their subconsciousness for engendering the impulse of genuine Divine conscience, and in order to have the possibility, by this means, on the one hand of completely removing from themselves, perhaps forever, the maleficent consequences of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer, both those personally acquired and those passed to them by heredity and, on the other hand, of consciously taking part in diminishing the sorrow of OUR COMMON ENDLESS FATHER.
- ...he causes in which way and why the crystallization of the mentioned factors obtained from the particles of the emanation of the Sorrow of OUR COMMON FATHER CREATOR for the actualizing of the Divine being-impulse of objective conscience, proceeded in their presences, that is to say, just in their said subconsciousness, and thus avoided that final degeneration to which are subject all the data placed in them for engendering in their presences the being-impulses Faith, Love, and Hope, and I was convinced that this strange anomaly there fully justifies one of the numerous wise sentences of our highly esteemed, irreplaceable, and honorable Mullah Nassr Eddin which states:
- Every - real - happiness - for - man - can - arise - exclusively - only - from - some - unhappiness - also - real - which - he - has - already - experienced.
- The fourth: the striving from the beginning of their existence to pay for their arising and their individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterwards to be free to lighten as much as possible the Sorrow of our COMMON FATHER.
An lastly, is the following from p. 723
- The existence of every being is equally precious and dear to our COMMON CREATOR GOD; therefore the destruction of these beings, so great a number of them too, would give no small grief to THAT ONE, WHO, even without this, is overburdened with the care and sorrow of all that exists among us on Earth.
Debt of Existence is a deriverative of the Sorrow of our OMNI-LOVING AND LONG-SUFFERING-ENDLESS-CREATOR.
Richard Hodges at Gurdjieff.org (tab# 2) offers the following:
- Well, it seems that the great sorrow is that people in general are not “individuals” but, as explained in Beelzebub, spend their lives as machines, unconscious slaves.
Bennett (tab# 7/sub6) proposes that, “We can only speculate what such sorrow might be, though Gurdjieff gives us a clue when he has Ashiata Shiemash say.”
- …only he, who consciously assists the process of this inner struggle [between desires and non-desires] and consciously assists the “non-desires” to predominate over the desires, behaves just in accordance with the essence of our COMMON FATHER CREATOR HIMSELF; whereas he who with his consciousness assists the contrary, only increases HIS sorrow.
The process of reciprocal feeding is mentioned by the Gospel According to Beelzebub (tab# 3).
- We are here on Earth not only to serve our individual egoism but more importantly to serve the Cosmos through our inevitable participation in the process of reciprocal feeding as well as the process of Creation initiated by the creator of that exist in the entire Megalocosmos or, as it is called in Beelzebub, God. Our function at the level of the fourth striving is to live our life from the very beginning consciously and intentional in order to alleviate the Sorrow of our COMMON FATHER.
Green Man’s creations (tab# 5) points out that “all of us are parasites”.
- Generally speaking, all of us are parasites; Gurdjieff constantly uses this expression at the Prieure. Not one of us has discharged his debt to nature. To be alive is a unique miracle — to have the possibility of Being in place of Non-Being. Think of what it has cost Nature in the preparation of planetary conditions, the long periods of experiment perhaps, so that, in addition to serving her, we might become Sons of the Father. And in return, what do we do? We behave in the family of Nature like self-indulgent children whose only object is to enjoy ourselves. If you will not only ponder seriously for half an hour on the way we exploit natural resources, land, forests, and animals, for the gratification of abnormal desires, you cannot help but be appalled. Emerson said: ‘Earn your living’ — earn the right to live. It is sometimes astonishing that Nature permits the members of the human race to continue their existence, and does not render them harmless or discontinues the human species as she has done with other species.
Richard Lloyd (tab# 6) observes that human beings are “servants”.
- Whereas all the major spiritual dispensations which have emerged during the history of mankind, all of them, with perhaps the goals of Buddhism, have recognized that human beings are rightfully servants; whether of above or below matters not. What is important is to recognize our servitude and the existence of absolute and permanent abiding RELATIONSHIP in creation. Everything in CREATION IS IN RELATIONSHIP, RECIPROCAL RELATIONSHIP, and THE SOONER WE LEARN THIS FACT THE BETTER THE EARTH WILL BE.
…the striving from the
beginning of their existence
to pay for their arising and
their their individuality
as quickly as possible…
Bennett's analysis (tab# 7/sub6) of the “insurmountable hurdle” is worth repeating.
This appears to present us with an insurmountable hurdle, and it seems to me that there are at least three problems of interpretation here.
■ How do we strive from the beginning of our existence to pay for
our arising and our individuality.
■ What does it mean to pay.
■ How do we know that we have so paid.
■ How could we lighten in any way — let alone as much as possible
— the Sorrow of our Common Father?
From another source it is said that,
To pay the debt of our existence is a core principle of the Fourth Way.
■ All that we are and have is given daily by our creator.
■ The gift of life makes us a debtor for which we must continually pay.
■ We pay not necessarily knowing we are doing this by transferring energies
to cosmological entities such as the moon, earth, sun and beyond.
From: The Tales Themselves
The choice between life and death as expressed in these terms is related to Gurdjieff’s Theory of Reciprocal Maintenance, which embodies his answer to the question, “What is the meaning and purpose of life on Earth, and in particular of human life?”
■ Like all organic life on Earth, human beings are apparatuses for
transforming energies which are required for some other purpose.
■ However, as a more complicated type of transforming apparatus than
plants or animals, human beings possess some choice regarding how
to supply the energies required by their existence.
■ They can transform energy consciously or unconsciously, in greater or
lesser quantities, and of varying qualities, thereby influencing the purpose
and outcome of their deaths.
From: The Fourth Way p. 203
Organic life is a sort of receiving apparatus for catching and transmitting influences coming from the planets of the solar system.
■ At the same time as serving as a means of communication between
the earth and the planets, organic life feeds the moon.
■ Everything that lives serves the purposes of the earth.
■ Everything that dies feeds the moon.
This sounds strange at first, but when we understand the laws which govern organic life, we will realize that it is based on a very hard law, the law that one class of living beings eats another class.
■ This not only makes organic life self-supporting but also enables it to feed
the moon and serve as a transmitter of energies.
■ Thus organic life serves many purposes — those of the greater worlds,
the planets, the earth and the moon.
Recap of above.
■ The gift of life makes us a debtor for which we must continually pay.
■ It is unknown — what does it mean to pay.
■ It is unknown — how do we know that we have so paid.
■ We pay not necessarily knowing we are doing this by transferring energies
to cosmological entities such as the moon, earth, sun and beyond.
Born into a Debt of Existence