Posted April 1, 2018
The most striking aspect of Gurdjieff’s method of self-study is that it approaches the inner life in a scientific spirit. It holds up no dogmas to be blindly accepted; only statements to be examined and used as material for experiment. In effect, Gurdjieff said, “Believe nothing, including what I tell you, until you have found it true in your own experience.”
Thus, the first requirement of Gurdjieff’s teaching is to put in question everything one has previously taken for granted – one’s whole store of ideas, beliefs, convictions, principles and ideals. For without such a housecleaning, how do we know what is our own? If we are sincere, we shall discover that almost everything we have is, in fact, borrowed. And this laborious job each person must do for himself.
(Is There a Way in Life?)
"Are there any conditions for joining your group?" I asked.
"There are no conditions of any kind," said G., "and there cannot be any. Our starting point is that man does not know himself, that he is not" (he emphasized these words), "that is, he is not what he can and what he should be. For this reason he cannot make any agreements or assume any obligations. He can decide nothing in regard to the future. Today he is one person and tomorrow another. He is in no way bound to us and if he likes he can at any time leave the work and go. There are no obligations of any kind either in our relationship to him or in his to us.
"If he likes he can study. He will have to study for a long time, and work a great deal on himself. When he has learned enough, then it is a different matter. He will see for himself whether he likes our work or not. If he wishes he can work with us; if not, he may go away. Up to that moment he is free.
(G.I. Gurdjieff; In Search of the Miraculous; p. 14)
...you will have to make a choice, to decide —to seek either to become completely mechanical or completely conscious. This is the parting of the ways of which all mystical teachings speak.
(G.I. Gurdjieff; London, 1922)
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Posted May 8, 2018
[Man as he is] makes a profound mistake in considering himself always one and the same person; in reality he is always a different person, not the one he was a moment ago.
"Man has no permanent and unchangeable I. Every thought, every mood, every desire, every sensation, says 'I.' And in each case it seems to be taken for granted that this I belongs to the Whole, to the whole man, and that a thought, a desire, or an aversion is expressed by this Whole. In actual fact there is no foundation whatever for this assumption. Man's every thought and desire appears and lives quite separately and independently of the Whole. And the Whole never expresses itself, for the simple reason that it exists, as such, only physically as a thing, and in the abstract as a concept. Man has no individual I. But there are, instead, hundreds and thousands of separate small I's, very often entirely unknown to one another, never coming into contact, or, on the contrary, hostile to each other, mutually exclusive and incompatible. Each minute, each moment, man is saying or thinking 'I.' And each time his I is different. Just now it was a thought, now it is a desire, now a sensation, now another thought, and so on, endlessly. Man is a plurality. Man's name is legion.
"The alternation of I's, their continual obvious struggle for supremacy, is controlled by accidental external influences. Warmth, sunshine, fine weather, immediately call up a whole group of I's. Cold, fog, rain, call up another group of I's, other associations, other feelings, other actions. There is nothing in man able to control this change of I's, chiefly because man does not notice, or know of it; he lives always in the last ‘I.’ Some I’s, of course, are stronger than others. But it is not their own conscious strength; they have been created by the strength of accidents or mechanical external stimuli. Education, imitation, reading, the hypnotism of religion, caste, and traditions, or the glamour of new slogans, create very strong I's in man's personality, which dominate whole series of other, weaker, I's. But their strength is the strength of the 'rolls' in the centers. And all I's making up a man's personality have the same origin as these 'rolls'; they are the results of external influences; and both are set in motion and controlled by fresh external influences.
"Man has no individuality. He has no single, big I. Man is divided into a multiplicity of small I's.
"And each separate small I is able to call itself by the name of the Whole, to act in the name of the Whole, to agree or disagree, to give promises, to make decisions, with which another I or the Whole will have to deal. This explains why people so often make decisions and so seldom carry them out. A man decides to get up early beginning from the following day. One I, or a group of I's, decide this. But getting up is the business of another I who entirely disagrees with the decision and may even know absolutely nothing about it. Of course the man will again go on sleeping in the morning and in the evening he will again decide to get up early. In some cases this may assume very unpleasant consequences for a man. A small accidental I may promise something, not to itself, but to someone else at a certain moment simply out of vanity or for amusement. Then it disappears, but the man, that is, the whole combination of other I's who are quite innocent of this, may have to pay for it all his life. It is the tragedy of the human being that any small I has the right to sign checks and promissory notes and the man, that is, the Whole, has to meet them. People's whole lives often consist in paying off the promissory notes of small accidental I's.
"Eastern teachings contain various allegorical pictures which endeavor to portray the nature of man's being from this point of view.
"Thus, in one teaching, man is compared to a house in which there is a multitude of servants but no master and no steward. The servants have all forgotten their duties; no one wants to do what he ought; everyone tries to be master, if only for a moment; and, in this kind of disorder, the house is threatened with grave danger. The only chance of salvation is for a group of the more sensible servants to meet together and elect a temporary steward, that is, a deputy steward. This deputy steward can then put the other servants in their places, and make each do his own work: the cook in the kitchen, the coachman in the stables, the gardener in the garden, and so on. In this way the 'house' can be got ready for the arrival of the real steward who will, in his turn, prepare it for the arrival of the master.
"The comparison of a man to a house awaiting the arrival of the master is frequently met with in Eastern teachings which have preserved traces of ancient knowledge, and, as we know, the subject appears under various forms in many of the parables in the Gospels. But even the clearest understanding of his possibilities will not bring man any nearer to their realization. In order to realize these possibilities he must have a very strong desire for liberation and be willing to sacrifice everything, to risk everything, for the sake of this liberation."
(G.I. Gurdjieff; In Search of the Miraculous; pp. 59-61)