Healer, philosopher, psychologist, adventurer, composer, mystic - all describe a facet of who George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was, and what he did. And yet, he may also be called one of the leading figures in 'spiritual' growth that most people have simply never heard of. Gurdjieff's teachings, body of writing and the schools he started and taught were, and are, a profound testament to his insight and vision for a healthy and well functioning human being. On a personal level, he worked with hundreds of students in assisting them to not only see themselves as they really were, but to help grow the seeds of greater consciousness and conscience that would make them better people.

This week on MindMatters we discuss the life and times of one of the 20th century's most towering figures and ask, what drove him? Who did he work with? And what is the 4th Way school that has carried on his work in the generations after his death in 1949? In a world that insists that it is 'woke', why are Gurdjieff's ideas about self-awareness so relevant to the individual in the here and now?

Running Time: 01:02:03

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Here's the transcript of the show:

Harrison: This is from the final chapter of G.I. Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.

"Addressing those present, Mr. Gurdjieff then said, 'You have plenty of money, luxurious conditions of existence and universal esteem and respect. At the head of your well-established concerns are people absolutely reliable and devoted to you. In a word, your life is a bed of roses. You dispose of your time as you please. You are a patron of the arts. You settle world questions over a cup of coffee and you are even interested in the development of the latent spiritual forces of man. You are not unfamiliar with the needs of the spirit and are well versed in philosophical matters. You are well educated and widely read. Having a great deal of learning on all kinds of questions, you are reputed to be a clever man, being at home in a variety of fields. You are a model of culture. All who know you regard you as a man of great will and most of them even attribute all your advantages to the results of the manifestations of this will of yours. In short, from every point of view, you are fully deserving of imitation and a man to be envied.

In the morning you wake up under the impression of some oppressive dream. Your slightly depressed state that dispersed on awakening has nevertheless left its mark, a certain languidness and hesitancy in your movements. You go to the mirror and comb your hair and carelessly drop the brush. You have only just picked it up when you drop it again. You then pick it up with a shade of impatience and in consequence, you drop it a third time. You try to catch it as it is falling but from an unlucky blow of your hand, the brush makes for the mirror. In vain you rush to save it. Crack! There is a star of cracks on that antique mirror of which you were so proud. Damn! Devil take it! And you experience a need to vent your fresh annoyance on someone or other and not finding the newspaper beside your morning coffee, the servant having forgotten to put it there, the cup of your patience overflows and you decide that you cannot stand the fellow any longer in the house. It is time for you to go out.

The weather being pleasant and not having far to go, you decide to walk. Behind you glides your new automobile of the latest model. The bright sunshine somewhat calms you and a crowd which has collected in the corner attracts your attention. You go nearer and in the middle of the crowd you see a man lying unconscious on the pavement. A policeman, with the help of some of the, as they are called, idlers who are collected, puts the man into a taxi to take him to the hospital. Thanks merely to the likeness which has just struck you, between the face of the chauffeur and the man of the drunkard you bumped into last year when you were returning somewhat tipsy yourself from a rowdy birthday party, you notice that the accident on the street corner is unaccountably connected in your associations with a meringue you ate at the party. Ah, what a meringue that was!

That servant of yours, forgetting your newspaper today, spoiled your morning coffee. Why not make up for it at once. Here's a fashionable café where you sometimes go with your friends. But why did you recall the servant? Had you not almost entirely forgotten the morning's annoyances? But now, how very good this meringue tastes with the coffee. Look! There are two ladies at the next table. What a charming blond. You hear her whispering to her companion, glancing at you. Now he is the sort of man I like! Do you deny that from these words about you, accidentally overheard and perhaps intentionally said aloud, the whole of you, as is said, inwardly rejoices.

Suppose that at this moment you are asked whether it has been worthwhile getting fussed and losing your temper over the morning's annoyances. You would of course answer in the negative and promise yourself that nothing of the kind should ever occur again. Need you be told your mood was transformed while you were making the acquaintance of the blond in whom you were interested and who was interested in you? And its state during all the time you spent with her?

You return home humming some air and even the sight of the broken mirror only elicits a smile from you. But how about the business on which you had gone out this morning? You only just remember it. Clever. Well never mind, you can telephone. You go to the phone and the girl connects you with the wrong number. You ring again, you get the same number. Some man informs you that you are bothering him and you tell him it is not your fault and that with one word or another you learn, to your surprise, that you are a scoundrel and an idiot and if you ring him up again then...

A rug slipping under your feet provokes a storm of indignation and you should hear the tone of voice in which you rebuke the servant who is handing you a letter. The letter is from a man you esteem and whose good opinion you value highly. The contents of the letter are so flattering to you that as you read, your irritation gradually passes and changes to the pleasant embarrassment of a man listening to a eulogy of himself. You finish reading the letter in the happiest of moods. I could continue this picture of your day, you free man. Perhaps you think I'm overdrawing. No. It is a photographically exact snapshot from nature."

So this is from George Gurdjieff who was, among other things, an author, a composer, a choreographer of dances, a gourmet chef, martial artist, healer, kind of a jack-of-all-trades, explorer/adventurer and a teacher. In his last years he would refer to himself as simply a teacher of dancing. But among all these things, he was also perhaps primarily an extremely insightful categorizer of humanity and he had a grasp of human nature that was not only far ahead of its time, that no one really can compare to in the history of philosophy, psychology. He had a vast insight into human nature.

As we see in this quote that he gave, it is somewhat sarcastic because here is a picture he's painting of a man well regarded by everybody, who has a high opinion of himself and who others have a high opinion of, but when it comes down to his daily life, he is totally at the whim of the forces around him. His mood is constantly changing, provoked by the merest of inconveniences. He stubs his toe when he gets angry and tells off his servant. A blond smiles at him and now he's in a good mood and thinking about all the good things.

So when Gurdjieff called him this free man, he wasn't free. This is the picture of everyone, of humanity in their normal state, how we are not free. We think we're free but we have little to no control over our emotional reactions, our opinions of ourselves and we really don't know the truth. Gurdjieff was famous for saying that man is asleep. This came out of what was one of the first and probably the most important still, expositions of his ideas and teachings and that is from Piotr Ouspenski's In Search of the Miraculous. This is an old copy, still in print.

So he said man is asleep and what he meant by that is that humanity, as they ordinarily are, as we think of ourselves, as we experience ourselves in everyday life, are in a state that is akin to a sleep. For Gurdjieff, he separated consciousness into different levels. So you had the level of sleep which was actual sleep, at night when you fall asleep. But then the ordinary state of consciousness in which we find ourselves during the day he called waking sleep. It's almost like in a dream state. It's a subjective dream where the images are formed completely from our own subjective consciousness and in the waking life it's an objective dream state. We're still dreaming but we're surrounded by the objects of the world. But he said that there are states of consciousness above that and that real consciousness is a step above ordinary waking dreamlike consciousness.

So he brought his system in order to try to wake people up. That's what he's primarily known for even though his name isn't a common household name, you don't hear about him very often. Chances are if you talked about him on the street people probably wouldn't know who you're talking about. But if you say someone's asleep they'll get what you're talking about. It has even entered the popular discourse now, talking about being awake or "woke". Gurdjieff was probably the one who really introduced that concept into modern culture through the new age movement in the 1960s that kind of adopted his ideas, primarily I'm pretty sure through Charles Tart who wrote his book Altered States of Consciousness and had another book that had sections on Gurdjieff in which he talked about his ideas.

So we're going to be talking about Gurdjieff today and next week. On this show we're going to try to give a bit of a biographical sketch, some of his basic ideas, maybe some funny stories about him, just to give a picture for those who aren't aware of him, of who he was and what he was like and hopefully for those who are aware of him, perhaps a few tidbits of information that you maybe haven't heard or are not aware of.

As a quick background, Gurdjieff was born in what is now modern Gyumri in Armenia. He was born to a Greek family. His father was Greek and his mother was Greek/Armenian. In that area, the trans-Caucasia area, it's a melting pot. There are all kinds of different cultures there. This was in the Russian empire in the last quarter of the 19th century. No one's really certain when he was born. It was either 1866, 1872 or 1877. Somewhere in there Gurdjieff was born in Armenia to Greek/Caucasian parents. He grew up speaking Greek, Armenian, of course learned Russian, learned Persian. He knew several languages.

He's got one book that we'll mention later on where he gives his version of his childhood and growing up and you can never be quite sure how much is fantastical and how much is true. He said that 90% of it was true, 10% was fantasy, but sorting out which was which is hard because at a young age, when he became an adult, late teenager, early 20s, he travelled a lot. This much is verified. He travelled all over the place. He went all over the Middle East, India, northern Africa, into central Asia, Mongolia, Tibet because he was looking for the answers. He wanted to find out if there was secret knowledge, if anyone had preserved the pristine, perfect knowledge of everything and self-development primarily and what the cosmos is and what man is and what are humanity's possibilities.

So in his PR image of himself that he brought after making these travels, this was a time when - unlike today where there's the internet and you can talk to someone in Mongolia by the internet - there was an allure that surrounded the east for westerners. He exploited that allure by presenting what he brought as the wisdom of the east. There's probably some truth in it because he did learn some things while he was over there. But I think primarily - an opinion shared by several historians that also are into the Gurdjieff stuff and have written books - he probably embellished and used this as a way of drumming up some interest in this system to get people to listen to what he had to say because at one point he told another of his most famous students, Alfred Orage, that when he went to Tibet that the monks really didn't know anything. If they knew something, they didn't know that they knew it. So he wasn't really impressed. But at the same time he presents the east and these monasteries as the source of this hidden knowledge.

He really had a mythical mind in that sense. He was creating and writing stories like the thousand and one nights, somewhat fantastical but in a believable framework because it is alluring. There is a mystique about it. But when you read his actual writings, especially In Search of the Miraculous, there's this weird phenomenon that happens where on the one hand, there is this mystification and there is, as Ouspensky called it, a search for the miraculous. There's that something that comes through. But on the other hand there's a demystification that goes on. Gurdjieff presents this very dry, even mechanical picture of the cosmos where humanity's place in the cosmos and its function is as a transformer of energies, that we are these machines that help the universe grow by transforming energies in our bodies and that's all we are. We are just fuel burners and we do so completely unconsciously. We serve the universe completely unconsciously, but that we have the possibility of learning our place in the universe and serving that purpose consciously and with that opens up the miraculous. That's where the potential for human development comes in.

That's a bit about the picture, a very loose outline of what Gurdjieff was actually doing. So how this came about was after his 20 or 30 years of travels, like I said he was born in the Russian empire, he went up to Moscow and started giving lectures on his system. This is where he found P.D. Ouspensky and eventually had a circle around him that formed in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Then, right as this is happening, as he's starting up, there's the Russian Revolution.

So things go haywire. Things go crazy and they have to get the hell out of there. By foot, they make it all the way back down to the Caucasus, Georgia, Turkey, stay there for a while, eventually make their way through Europe, finally settling in France. France was where he set up a more or less permanent form of what he'd started in Georgia and Turkey, the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. This was a chateau that he rented and started a school where he found pupils, people who were interested in trying out his system.

Again, in retrospect and based on one of his writings in particular, The Herald of the Coming Good, the first thing he actually published, it seems to me that this was still part of Gurdjieff's experimental phase. He was kind of like a lab technician and all the people coming to him to learn his system were still his lab rats. He was doing experiments on them, seeing what worked and what didn't because what he really wanted to do was find a way to introduce into daily life, daily western living, the techniques that you would find in monasteries of various sorts and make them applicable in real life, so to achieve something of the benefit and development that monks of various sorts and yogis, can get, but in real life in a balanced way. So not separated from life, not going to a monastery and isolating yourself to develop in certain ways, but to fulfill and manifest your full potential in the thick of it, in everyday life.

So I think that's what he was trying initially in France at the priory and then at this institute. According to him and I think objectively, you could say that that experiment was somewhat of a failure and he ended up getting in a major car crash and eventually having to sell the place, close it down, went through a period in the 1930s where he seemed kind of aimless, wandering, not quite sure he was doing what he should do. He did have a small group of pupils in the 1930s in Paris in his apartment, including some fairly well known writers of that time, Salita Solano, Kathryn Hume, Margaret Anderson. Kathryn Hume, by the way, is probably the most well known. She wrote a novel called The Nun's Story which was made into a film staring Audrey Hepburn, about her partner. I'm pretty sure the vast majority of these women at the time were lesbians so A Nun's Story was about Kathryn Hume's partner who had been a nun.

Then in the 1940s the war starts and Gurdjieff is in Paris. So he's in Paris during the Nazi occupation and throughout the occupation he is holding meetings with the group of French pupils. At this point some of his other students, some of the people from the UK and the US aren't even sure if he's still alive. Another one of his most well known students, John Bennett, a British guy, wasn't even sure if Gurdjieff was still alive. He had looked for him a couple of times but hadn't heard any news so after the war was ended he found out Gurdjieff was still alive and went to reacquaint himself with him. In the 1940s he worked with his French groups and then after the war travel was easier so his students from the US and the UK, among other places came and he ended up dying in 1949.

That's just a brief overview of his life. Did you guys want to add anything to that story?

Elan: Yeah. You said something interesting there Harrison. You said that he was working with his pupils in a kind of experimental capacity and trying different ideas about inducing a state of wakefulness or consciousness and conscience, as he would put it, the capacity for an individual to be aware of themselves in their daily movements, in their intentionality, in their awareness of their own motivations and intentions. I think that he was also experimenting on himself and this really comes through in books like this one. This is Life is Real Only Then When I Am where he goes into some detail about his own process and his own goals and aims that he had set for himself, which were considerable.

So all the pressures that he may have put on his pupils to do work and to push themselves to the limit and to experience this sense of struggle within themselves, the struggle between yes and no, the struggle between doing and sleeping, was something that he put himself through in quite a rigorous way, even at the expense of his own health and well-being. He writes about experiences of coming down with various illnesses in an exhaustive effort to push himself forward in the work that he felt that he had to do, that was his life's mission.

I was reminded of a first impression that I ever had of Gurdjieff given to me by a friend who had read, I think, In Search of the Miraculous and maybe some of his other material. What she had said to me at the time was "It's so cold". I think what she meant by that and what I've heard from other people in saying that is that there is the impression that's been created around Gurdjieff, which may be one reason why he hasn't reached the levels of popularity that he likely deserves, that he didn't have any kind of human regard for individuals. I don't know how that came to pass. Maybe her readings of his work were quite limited but my impression, having read several of his books, is that he understood that without struggle, without carrying the burden of the obyvatel as he would call it, which is the individual who could take on responsibility for oneself and others and very well have the capacity to support many people monetarily, materially, that this was a basic level that humanity should have in care of one another, that he expected of himself and that he delivered on.

So he walked the walk. He walked his talk. He lived those things that he was trying to impart on his students. He wasn't someone who was a harsh taskmaster, if he ever was that, out of any kind of gratuitous malevolent authoritarian streak. It was quite the opposite. It was all in the service of raising his fellowman upward, as he saw it. And this is apparent in all of his books and he does it in all different types of ways, from narrating his own struggles with his own process to laying it out in statements that were these macrocosmic, objective observations of humanity and the individual from a distance.

This is one quote of his that speaks to the quote that we heard at the top of the show.

"Man has no individual I but there are instead, hundreds of 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 eye 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."

In that quote what Gurdjieff is saying to us is that we are in such a state of dissociation, in such a state of sleep and hypnosis by the many things that contemporary society has surrounded us with, so many distractions, that there is very little left of us that has formed any kind of integrated, solid psychologically coherent sense of self and purpose. That to me is one of the biggest, if not the biggest kinds of contributions that Gurdjieff brought to at least those people in his circles, and later on through the schools that arose out of his teachings and out of his pupils in the decades to come, which still exists today and we'll probably get into that a little later. But there is this sense of sleep that he was all too painfully aware existed among humanity that he wanted to wake people up from.

It was this mechanical nature that he had noticed in people. He even writes that one of the things that had helped him the most in understanding the dross, the shit that existed in each person and humanity at large, one of the exercises that he did was, to whoever he met, he writes that he would press their corns hard. He said that he would find a vulnerability in a person, if not a vulnerability then a kind of dimension to a person's...

Harrison: A character flaw.

Elan: A character flaw, or a bit of self-importance that was easily recognized by him, and push it in such a way that they would respond with who they really were in recognition of his work and what he was trying to do. It was in this way that he got to understand people in an even wider sense. It sounds a little awful actually, because to be on the receiving end of having your self-importance pressed and pressured, it's not a pleasant thing in any sense. If there's any amount of work that you haven't done on yourself or if there are weaknesses or dimensions of your own thinking and vulnerabilities that you're not yet aware of, to have it brought front and centre, having feedback about yourself that isn't pleasant, that isn't a compliment, is unpleasant.

So what he was able to do in educating himself as to what the true state of humanity was, was to work with people in this way. It wasn't only about that of course. It was also about giving advice. It was also about being a mentor to individuals. So he wasn't just pointing out people's vulnerabilities and weaknesses to them. He was also proactively making suggestions about how they approached certain things or ways and perspectives that people could use to look at themselves. So in that sense he was kind of a profoundly insightful psychologist.

Corey: One example, I think it took place in the 1940s but one of his students had gone on to lead a group and she came back to visit him and when he saw the students he berated her and said, "You are worthless. You've done everything wrong with the system. You've failed spectacularly," and one of the students got up and he said to Gurdjieff, "If she's a failure it's only because you failed to teach her and she has done so many positive things for us that we're going to stand by her side no matter what." And the Gurdjieff looked at her and he said, "You have exactly one student." {laughter}

And then in another case he was having dinner and some story had been told and he made a show of being displeased by it. So he said to one of the individuals there, "I want you to go through this entire room and find out who started that story, who told that story." Then she was all aghast and frightened and then one of his other disciples said, "Just say that you told the story. It doesn't matter." He looks at her and he says, "You see how you always try and protect yourself? It's silly. You don't need to always try and protect yourself. You don't need to be afraid of everything." It was moments of insight where people get to see what they're truly made of and they get to prove themselves.

You get the impression that when you're around Gurdjieff, you're always in the middle of a storm and you're never quite sure when the lightning is going to strike, but when it does you get a gigantic flash of insight about your character and the character of others around you and you get a chance to actually see who you are and what you're made of. Then you get to know yourself in a very down-to-earth, truly fundamental way, who you are and what you have to work with because if you don't know that, you don't have anything to work with. Like he said, you're asleep. You're just a legion of different i's. just stumbling along.

In today's world, it seems like there's a crisis in just about every single area there possibly could be. There's political crises, climate crises, social crises, everybody's all up in arms. But Gurdjieff saw the fruits of this way back when. Like you said, he was a man far ahead of his time and he understood that this line of technical progress proceeding without a corresponding development of our being, of being, like you said, philosophically inclined, scientifically inclined, you're well red, you're smart, but then you're also petty, vain, egotistical, and useless in any other kind of way.

He noticed that if this trend continued, it would lead to exactly the kinds of gigantic, horrendous crises that we have today where it's just vain egotism running the show and putting on this big hurrah about utopian kinds of thinking, all of these different things that mask the little, weak "I" that exists within each of us.

Harrison: I want to say something about his methods. Everything with Gurdjieff was a test or at least it could be interpreted like that. In his early years he was a task master and I think one of his nicknames was even the Georgian devil or something like that. He'd comment on that in later years that he did mellow out in later years. It was in the 1920s that he was really at his prime in his task master mentality.

Corey: With the institute.

Harrison: Yeah. But I want to give another example of why everything was a test because if you were vain, if you were self-important, he would humiliate you. He would push your buttons, poke you in the most uncomfortable spots in order to elicit that manifestation of your own arrogance and self-importance so that you could then see it, so you could see your own reactivity and the high opinion that you have of yourself and that that high opinion that you have of yourself isn't justified, that really your own reactivity shows what a slave you are to your own mechanical nature.

There's one example that shows that Gurdjieff could be an asshole. With a lot of the things that he did, you could look back on and say, "That was mean. No one in polite society would do that". This was in one of the last decades of his life. He had asked one of his students to get some sugar cubes for him. I can't remember if he liked the square or rectangular ones but she couldn't find that type so she got a different kind which was a different size and shape than the ones he was used to and he was berating her, telling her she's worthless. Her husband was there and her husband {laughter} very timidly - you could see that he was upset, that he was offended, that he wanted to say something - so very timidly he said, "Mr. Gurdjieff, you can't speak to my wife like that." Immediately Gurdjieff got completely calm and said, "Bravo!" {laughter}

So here was an opportunity for this man to stick up for his wife, to stand up for her to this towering figure. You've got to understand, if you're not familiar with Gurdjieff, that he did have a magnetic personality. He was extremely charismatic. The people that met him and surrounded him did see him as this living saint because he had such will and lived by his system so much himself personally that he was like an exemplar for them. They all looked up to him because he was this master of living in a certain sense.

So for this timid man to stick up for himself and to stand up for his wife took a great amount of courage. That was a huge struggle. Who knows if he planned it or if he really was just pissed off that he got the wrong sugar cubes? But immediately in that moment, praised this man for having the courage to actually stand up to him. There's a similarity in the story you told Corey about Jeanne De Salzmann's student that stood up and said, "Well if she doesn't know, it's your fault for not teaching her" and he praised that.

One of the features of Gurdjieff at the time and his students was that no emotion was off limits, that you could manifest and express emotion but that you had to have some self-control. You should never allow the emotion to control you. Gurdjieff exemplified that. Whenever he was angry he could immediately calm himself down and especially as a teaching opportunity for someone. You could say that he was kind of an expert of both positive and negative reinforcement because he would praise good behaviour and positive developments in his students but also ruthlessly push their buttons in order to let them see how petty they were in order to change, to transform, to become less petty.

There was a progression in the way that Gurdjieff operated. Like I said, in those early years it was more like he was experimenting himself on what would work and what wouldn't. He found out a lot of things that didn't work. With the institute I think that he found out that his methods weren't introducing what he wanted to introduce. It wasn't the perfect method of achieving what he wanted to achieve. So he changed course and in the 1940s was much more mellow, laid back and more willing to answer questions. So this is what you see in his later talks.

We'll be talking about this book a few times. It just came out in 2017. It's called Paris Meetings 1943 and there are translations of transcripts from his French groups in that year. There are all kinds of examples of pupils sharing something with him that might seem confusing or even just mundane, but Gurdjieff could recognize progress in these things. At those moments he would praise these students in such a way that I can imagine it would have a lasting impact. If you can imagine a guy like this who could push your buttons so expertly and who was seemingly so prickly himself, to then recognize in you something that you're doing right and praiseworthy, that in itself is also a teaching tool and one of those moments that you can hang onto for the years to come and look back on as an indicator of actual progress.

So he'd even be quite - what's the word? - formal about his praise. He'd turn to them and shake their hand and say, "You are now my brother" or "You are now my son" or something. Now we are on the same level to some degree. So he'd lower himself down to the level of the student in order to raise them up, which is a very stoic idea. That's one thing I wanted to point out to tie into our previous shows in the last couple of weeks about stoicism and early Greek philosophy. One of the things we pointed out back then is that philosophical schools were actual practical schools. You went there to learn a way of life, not just a theory. It's not like philosophy departments in universities today where you go and have a textbook and you just read what they thought, read their theories, all intellectual work. In the ancient schools like the stoics and the cynics it was a practical school. You went there in order to learn the practices to implement in your life to actually change yourself personally, to actually experience an inner transformation of one sort or another.

So Gurdjieff really is a modern example of someone who started a philosophical school where that was the purpose, to implement practical activities and exercises in order to bring yourself into alignment with that higher ideal. In the stoics it was the ideal of the stoic sage and there were various techniques that we talked about in order to get there. So Gurdjieff really is in that tradition of Greek philosophy. He wasn't a fan of philosophy. He wasn't a fan of speculative philosophy or theoretical philosophy. He did have a whole bunch of theory in his system, but for him the primary thing like with the stoics, was the practical implementation of that philosophy to have an effect on your life and on your being.

So that was the primary thing and in addition to his similarities with the stoics, he was very much a cynic too, not in the sense of having no possessions and living on the street but in the sense of the cynics, when they were on the street, living in their barrels or their rags, they were the ones that were constantly pushing people's buttons on the street, constantly pointing out all of their flaws as a way of holding up a mirror to the people around them, to see who they were. Because if Gurdjieff's philosophy and aim can be summed up, I think, in a phrase, it would be the Socratic one to 'know thyself', to know yourself.

You can't know yourself if you don't have a correct image of yourself. You need to have a mirror in order to see yourself because we have so many illusions about ourselves, so many ideas that are fantastical and imaginary. We create these images of ourselves that are so much higher and more idealized than we actually are and that holds us back. We need to have an accurate representation of who we are and where we're at in order to actually change. If we think we're already there, we'll never take the first step to actually get to who we could be.

So Gurdjieff, you could say, was an expert of holding up that mirror and then giving the practical advice and things to implement in one's daily life to actually progress from that state of inner multiplicity and to solidify that into one solid self. As he might call it, to actually grow a soul.

Corey: It's interesting because when you read about stoicism, Zeno the founder of what we know now as stoicism, said that the entire point of their philosophy was to live consistently and then that was later iterated upon and it became to live consistently with nature, and then every stoic sage had their own take on it. But when you read Gurdjieff, you begin to understand exactly what Zeno was talking about, to live consistently. Everything that we're talking about, the multiplicity of I's, the passions, one moment you're moody, the next moment you're this, you're that and you're completely a slave to all these things, well according to Zeno, by applying reason to your everyday activities of life, you're able to live consistently. Whereas in any other part of your being there's a constant conflict.

So I wanted to read a quote from Gurdjieff where he discusses this exact problem. It was when he was running the institute. He was giving public lectures and he said,

"Until now you have not been working like men. But there is a possibility to learn to work like men. Working like a man means that a man feels what he is doing and thinks why and for what he does it, how he is doing it now and how it is generally best to get it done, whether there is a better way. The essence of man's correct work is in the working together of the three centers, the moving center (which would be our physical body), the emotional center and the thinking. When all three work together and produce an action, this is the work of a man. There is a thousand times more value even in polishing the floor as it should be done than in writing 25 books."

So you see Gurdjieff and the stoics had a very similar value system. They placed much more value on the proper functioning to live consistently, to live as if you are a sovereign being governed by a rational process going on in your mind that is the unity of all of these other centers, that your thinking and your reasoning about why you're doing things and now you have the capability to consciously intervene when things start to go astray. So now you have the potential to have an aim. You are struggling. Like he said about his other students at the institute, that they were like chickens in eggs and that the institute only supplied the heat and yet the chicken still had to break out of the egg.

Elan: Well that is a common theme throughout a lot of his writing, and that is that conscious awareness and the expansion of one's being is actually a consequence of this struggle between yes and no and an exercise of pure will. So something that he says is,

"The evolution of man is the evolution of his consciousness and consciousness cannot evolve unconsciously. The evolution of man is the evolution of his will and will cannot evolve involuntarily."

So through these exercises, through his own work on himself, there was this sense that you couldn't be an armchair philosopher or psychologist and entertain ideas of growth without this experiential sense of pain, without this conscious struggle that, in the moment when you were tired and perhaps hungry and annoyed at the task at hand, you were still pressing forward, you were still with a vision of what you were aiming to accomplish, using all of your willpower to accomplish it and to do what it was that you had set out to do in your own sense of goal-oriented behaviour. This gets back, I think, to a lot of the information that we're receiving today from Jordan Peterson about carrying your own load, choosing the responsibilities that you are taking on for yourself that are doable, that perhaps stretch you to some limit, to some degree of discomfort outside of your comfort zone, that will not only help you to grow your own being but to help those around you who you say you care for.

Taken to its logical extension, if everyone put this into some practice, into the goal of being this obyvatel, of just taking on the responsibility consistently, as you said Corey, with some amount of dedication, we would have a very different world I think, as opposed to a world that exists to satisfy one's whims, to gratify one's own sense of pleasure and enjoyment which adds nothing to the net value that's created for people.

So one of these ideas was, if you ain't struggling, if this isn't difficult, if this activity of yours that you've chosen for yourself doesn't have some level of difficulty, then you're not really working on yourself. You're not really spurring yourself to any kind of significant growth. These are great things to reflect upon, especially in light of all the information that we've been hearing from Jordan Peterson in this regard, about personal responsibility. Perhaps in a later show we'll get into how this manifests or doesn't manifest into the types of thinking that are destructive for a society, taking all of the individuals' behaviour into aggregate.

I'd like to read one last quote I think that speaks a little bit to this as well. He says,

"A man must first of all understand certain things. He has thousands of false ideas and false conceptions, chiefly about himself and he must get rid of some of them before beginning to acquire something anew otherwise the new will be built on a wrong foundation and the results will be worse than before. To speak the truth is the most difficult thing in the world. One must study a great deal and for a long time in order to speak the truth. The wish alone is not enough. To speak the truth one must know what the truth is and what a lie is and first of all in oneself and this nobody wants to know."

So speaking truth about what we see in the world, what we think is the correct ideology, the correct way to have a perspective on a particular world event, almost can't seem to happen without a real understanding of oneself and one's own perspectives and the lies one tells oneself as a kind of a filter for the truths that come to us about the world.

Harrison: I think to close out the show I want to talk about one thing and read a couple more of the excerpts from these talks in 1943. On the subject of truth and the finding of the truth, for Gurdjieff there were no sacred cows. So you had to eliminate all of the false things you believed about yourself, about the world and start from scratch. He was actually quite reassuring that you could do this and it was possible and even a good thing and you wouldn't lose anything of value because we hold onto our opinions to tightly and so deeply, they become a part of ourselves. We become identified with them. Our ideas become us in a very real sense and it is a painful process to get rid of them. You can see this in politics, religion, self-image, that these ideas that we have are held so strongly and so emotionally and there is a reticence, even more than a hesitation, there's a total unwillingness to question them.

But for Gurdjieff it was almost as if he was saying it's okay to question them, in fact it's okay to completely obliterate them. Nothing bad is going to happen. In fact if you were right to start out with, you will find out that you were right and you can come back to those original ideas and values and they'll have even more meaning than they did originally because you'll know them to be true. They won't just have been implanted into you by society, your parents and your own emotional whims here and there, to actually forge something for yourself, to construct it for yourself. It'll have so much more meaning and value in your life to do that than to have it just willy-nilly come into your consciousness and become a part of who you think you are.

So this is what I was referencing earlier when I talked about the de-mystification process. I'll read one thing that Gurdjieff said that's kind of related. This is on the topic of religiousness and religiosity. Gurdjieff said,

"In this work you must do everything the other way around. You must even kill sacred impulses. He who wishes to be free must kill everything within himself. Even if you love god or the virgin Mary, you must kill them in yourself, even the idée fixe of believing in a saint. You must send it to the devil and the saint won't hold it against you."

Something to consider. I think about this too. When people are worried about questioning god or religion or questioning their upbringing and their faith, really if you think about it, if these figures that we idolize and look up to, whether it's Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha or whoever, will they really be offended if we question them, if we say, "I'm not quite sure." If they're anything that we think they are, they'll support that process because they'll understand it. Did you want to say something?

Corey: Yeah. I was just going to say unfortunately we have a very backwards idea of faith, a completely different idea of faith than Gurdjieff has. It's illustrated in that passage. He says the saint won't hold it against you. He's not saying that these higher ideas aren't real. He's just saying that in order to prove your faith, you have to be willing to abandon it in order to actually find it.

Harrison: Right. Exactly. Elan, earlier you mentioned this impression of Gurdjieff as this cold guy. It's probably true to some degree, especially for people who experienced that side of him and didn't like what they saw. But keeping in mind this progression that Gurdjieff himself went through, by the end of his life he was much more warm and mellow than in those early years and you get a different picture of him in the 1930s and then in the 1940s. At one point even in In Search of the Miraculous Ouspensky quotes Gurdjieff as saying that his system, if it could be categorized, could be called esoteric Christianity.

So even though he was very anti-religious at times and constantly questioning religious beliefs, at the same time he was very religious and you could categorize his system as a form of Christianity, the essence, the kernel of Christianity. You see that in his talk about sleep. The state of sleep is pretty much identical to what the apostle Paul called the state of necrosis, of death, a state of deadness. This is the state of humanity without spirit. It is a state of deadness and mortality and entropy. For Gurdjieff, the same thing. That's what the state of sleep is. It is a state of mortality.

We could leave aside all the correlations between Christian thought and Gurdjieff's system for another time. But just to give a practical example of how not only Gurdjieff himself lived but also taught how to bring that religious impulse into life, what should be the mindset and the approach that we have in our daily living. How do we instill and manifest those Christian religious impulses in ourselves? I wanted to read one other quote from this book. Again, this is taking place during the Nazi occupation so there's scarcity, there's not a lot to go around. People are struggling to find food. So a participant at one of these talks in Gurdjieff's apartment tells him,

"'Mr. Gurdjieff, in this regard I made an observation this week. I found myself standing in front of some boys for whom I felt pity because they were hungry and poor and I felt uneasy. I didn't know what to think. At one moment it was pity but I saw that I couldn't do anything for them and at another moment...'

Then Gurdjieff, 'Excuse me. You could have done something. You could have given them food. Not your own food, but you could have done something so that they would have food, objectively, if you had loved them, objectively if you had wished that they had something to eat. That would have been enough. They would have left and automatically perhaps, they would have found someone who would give them something to eat.'

The same person says, 'Precisely. I became aware of my weakness and this pity turned into hatred.'

Gurdjieff says, 'That is not what I advise you. Perhaps you were thinking of this too lightly. But think like a man about helping your neighbour with all your heart, with real compassion. You wish for him to find something to eat. You influence by suggestion and inwardly you pray. I am. I wish to be for him. And believe me, those boys on leaving the school, ten steps down the street would meet someone who would have given them something to eat. It is a law. Or perhaps a week later they would win five million in the national lottery. It has such a force to have compassion, to wish, to love with one's whole presence.'"

So that's kind of where Gurdjieff was at in his later years, really more of a religious, mystical thing going on there, not the cold, harsh taskmaster of the early years but really trying to instill in the people around him, love of humanity. That's really what comes through in those later years, is Gurdjieff 's love of humanity. The things that he did in that regard, pretty much his entire life, aside from the mundane moments, was dedicated to love for humanity and he did so many things towards that end.

In those final years during the war, he had a stockpile of food in his place because he had supporters and money saved up. So during those years he supported tons of people. He cooked every day for not only his pupils but for the people in his neighbourhood in the streets. The poor people in Paris along these streets could come to his place, like a soup kitchen every day and get fed. He supported random individuals. There's one interesting account of a women who grew up during the occupation in Paris and she didn't even know who Gurdjieff was but in her memoir she included a story about him. She just referred to him as he was known to her at the time, as just a Georgian businessman. She said that he helped her family get through the war. Her mother didn't have a job and couldn't find food so he gave her food. He'd go to her apartment and give her food.

She was always thankful for this strange man, who everyone knew as Monsieur Bonbon, Mr. Candy, because he would give candy to the kids on the streets. When he died thousands of people came to his funeral, came to the Russian orthodox church during the services because he'd made an impression on so many people who didn't even know who he was, just knew him as this Caucasian/Georgian/Armenian businessman. In a sense he left several legacies. There's the works that he produced and the students that he taught but also the legacy of his humanity and the good that he did for random people he didn't know and who didn't even know him. He didn't do it for any recognition for himself. In fact he did it in disguise to a degree, playing a role. Playing a role was a big thing for him. He kept his inner life secret, didn't tell people that he was this master philosopher teacher and whatever. No, he was just a businessman who helped people out on the street and had a soup kitchen.

So that gives an idea of that aspect of his humanity that often gets lost in the portrayals of him in the literature. I think that's probably a good place to stop for today. Next week we're going to come back and again talk about Gurdjieff, but get into more of his ideas and see where it goes from there. We hope you enjoyed it everyone. Thanks for tuning in and we'll talk to you later.