Gurdjieff Quotes

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G. I. Gurdjieff

Gurdjieff's Question [La Interrogante de Gurdjieff]

Bequeathed for José Reyes

English hack from the original Spanish, still in process.


Spacecraft Earth

Taking from science-fiction and facts related to space travel, serious writers have introduced the concept of the "spacecraft-space Earth." But someone asks the question: "If this land is a spacecraft and humanity is its crew, who is the commander and where do you want to take us?"

Suppose that an organization has a highly qualified group of scientists and technicians, and takes possession of some machine manufactured by some competitor and so very innovative that nobody has seen anything that resembles it even remotely, it is delivered to the Technicians and after some time, they will report to the management what they have discovered and how it works. The comment could be: "Very good, but what is it for?"

They answer that this question had not occurred to them and that they can not be expected to give an answer unless they know the builder's plans. The Directorate could legitimately answer that it is useless to know how a machine works when it is ignored for what purpose it serves. Modern science is in this same situation. It is in the process of discovering how the Universe works but does not even ask what its purpose is. The Universe turns out to be a machine too big for us to consider together, we would always have to study the Solar System and even the "space-space earth".

So who asks the question "what is this extraordinary piece of mechanism for?" Man himself is another wonderfully constructed machine and much closer to us than any other machine. We ask ourselves: "What purpose does this ingenious device serve?"

Individuals and societies, scientific and non-scientific, are trying to remove the veil that hides the future. Everyone is clearly aware that humanity is going through a very serious crisis and there are even those who doubt whether we will survive it. In none of these studies will we find traces that the first question we must consider is whether the existence of the Earth and of humanity serves any useful purpose. Strange thing, since we constantly ask this question about subordinate entities such as organizations, activities and human constructions. In fact, we congratulate ourselves for our utilitarian attitude and we are willing to put aside and obstruct everything that does not serve a useful purpose and we are proud of the ability with which man transforms natural resources into useful things.

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Significance and Meaning of Life on this Earth

Life on this Earth is a highly unlikely condition. It is a mechanism so ingenious in its capacity, not only to maintain its own existence but to evolve into even more improbable and complex states; so it is really surprising that no one wonders what purpose it serves. If Gurdjieff had turned our attention only to this question and nothing else, he would have a right to a very outstanding place among the pioneers of human thought. The question was born in his mind at a very early age and became the fixed idea of ​​his inner world: What is the significance and meaning of life on Earth in general and of human life in particular?

This should be a natural question; but if we ask ourselves why it does not occur to every thinking being, we enter the depths of our human situation. We are so concerned with our subjective problems that we do not stop to ask ourselves objectively: "What is the purpose of my existence?" More than two thousand years ago, philosophers have been trying to answer questions such as: "What is Reality and how do we know it?" They have put aside the questions: "Who did it and why?", either considering it impossible to answer or delegating it to theologians to cover through revelation and faith, the deficiency of their knowledge.

Theologians agree that the first part of our response has been revealed: life on Earth and man himself have been created by God. The second part, "Why?" is set aside as inscrutable. A skeptic might echo the words of Anatole France: "If God did, he committed a most imprudent act."

Today this comment turns out to be more pertinent than it was eighty years ago. Those who are outside the religious tradition and especially those who deny and doubt the existence of God remain unanswered and are usually satisfied with rejecting questions about the origin and purpose by labeling them as foolish. Accepting that the purpose of creation is linked to the existence of a Creator, God and Purpose remain together or disappear together; But if God does not need anything, he can not have purposes either. We have something here that does not satisfy us. If we turn to Eastern religions and philosophies, we see that they do not give importance to the purposes and do not think they are necessary at all.

Buddhism in all its forms rejects such questions as useless and insists that the end of existence is man's own need to escape from the Duhkha, which does not mean suffering as much as the conditioned state of the embodied being. The only significant exception is that the ancient religion of Zarathustra taught that both life on Earth and man endowed with intelligence were created to be allies of the Spirit of Good, Ahura Mazda, who sustains an incessant struggle with the Power of Darkness. The Avestan hymns [a] give many references to the role played by man in the cosmic process. For example, Yasna 30.9 makes the evocation: "That we belong to those who renew the world and make it progress!".

[a. ]

I have given my reasons for believing that Gurdjieff found that the tradition of Zoroaster remained alive in Central Asia for a long time after it ceased to be a state religion. For some reason, this important myth was forgotten and for a long time the question "Why is there life on Earth?" Was lost sight of.

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The Question of 'Why?'

Since the seventeenth century, European thinking has been more and more concerned with the natural and less and less with the supernatural. When it began to be understood that Nature is under the rule of laws and that man can discover and use them for his own purposes, the search for power and knowledge became an obsession. The answer to the question "what's the use of all this?" It seemed very simple to answer. "It's all to serve man and satisfy him." The very word "purpose" came to signify human purpose aimed at human ends.

At the end of the 19th century, when Gurdjieff began his own search, science and religion spoke to man in opposite directions; but neither one nor the other cared about the problem of the meaning and significance of human life on Earth. Each one would have said that they knew the answer but nobody could have explained what it meant. Today, 80 years later, when the twentieth century enters its last decades, we have to face the consequences that result from having neglected this point.

The very future of humanity is threatened by the feeling of insecurity born of the suspicion that life has no purpose and man has no reason to exist. Those people today are counted who could accept the doctrine that God created man to serve him and love him on Earth and then live in His bosom for all eternity. The naive notions of heaven and hell that satisfied our ancestors no longer have any meaning for modern man, not even in the sophisticated ways that theologians invented to keep step by step with science.

It is therefore strange that no more serious effort has been made to arrive at something more convincing about the meaning of life on Earth. And it's strange, because scientists know very well that science in and of itself can not satisfy questions of this nature, and they know that a concept about life that re-establishes trust in a perplexed world is desperately needed. The instrument amazes them but they do not ask what the raison d'etre could be.

It would be wrong to say that nobody asks: "What is life for?" Rather, we all have asked ourselves sometime, sometimes desperately, but sometimes with the hope of gaining some understanding. But, raised in this way, the question does not hit the target. Ostensibly objective is actually a personal "cri de coeur". We long for our personal life to have some meaning and if we are satisfied with our personal relationships and our human activities we tend to forget that they have nothing to do with the big question. The suffering of the World continues, whether the individual considers himself happy or miserable. The question of "Why is the world what it is like?" It lives present in our mind and, even when the answer fails, we can see how the wise men of the world have tried to give a satisfactory answer.

There are two main schools of thought. One of them is satisfied with the constant search for causal laws that allow us to see "how things work" and help us "operate" them for our convenience. They reject any question that has purpose except to increase human knowledge and power. The rest has no meaning. While they do not reject religious faith as a principle, they consider it useless in terms of its purposes. The other school tries to sustain the causal explanations in the natural order while maintaining the belief in supernatural purposes. In effect, they are dualistic, they accept two kinds of reality, one natural, the other supernatural, but without considering themselves as competent or obliged to form a bridge that unites them.

If such evasions do not satisfy us we have to recognize, however, that religious people have made a grave mistake in trying to give a reason to their belief. The disastrous failure of the various rational arguments about the existence of God has resulted in the equally misleading conclusion both to prove the existence of God and his nonexistence.

"The purpose argument" ["El argumento de finalidad"] still appears in books of theology. The pious believers still say: "Look at the world, see its marvelous functioning, how purpose and purpose animate every form of life." Could you doubt that this extraordinary work is the work of a Supreme Artificer? "Science has demolished one by one each example: first showing that the physical world obeys universal causal laws and without purpose, second, showing how life on Earth may have evolved by natural selection of simpler forms and these in turn by chemical combinations , at random, of inert matter. The argument based on the finality has lost its logical force and with it - for what it seems to be - the need to find a Creator has almost completely disappeared.

Neither philosophers nor scientists realize the trap in which they have fallen. The purpose argument was completely anthropomorphic. Man watched over living and non-living natural objects, as if they were human artifacts. He supposed that the bird had been endowed with wings because God wanted it to fly, or that the man had been given reason because God wanted him to think. When they came to realize that the wings and the brain could be considered as instruments for survival, in the struggle for life, another explanation was no longer necessary.

It did not occur to people to think that there could be something very different from human purposes but not necessarily beyond the limits of human understanding. Science has extended the horizons of man beyond his existence on Earth and neither scientists have observed that they have opened the way, or a new way of thinking about the world, which could account for the changes in scale that they have relegated geocentric philosophies to a field out of all serious consideration.

So, how could it happen that before the end of the 19th century Gurdjieff was considering that question that goes to the heart of the matter? Nothing that we have found in the technique or in the teachings of the Khwajagan and his successors justifies the opinion that Gurdjieff had found this question or his answer among the Sufis. He himself affirms emphatically that it was his own question and that, as already said, he became the "idée fixe" of his "inner world". If we accept this, it means that Gurdjieff was much more than a lucky explorer who found and brought to the West: "fragments of an unknown teaching".

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Evolution and Involution

Gurdjieff gives his own message clearly in: All and Everything, and especially in the chapter "Purgatory". The key passage reads as follows: "The evolution and involution of the active elements that update the Trogoautoegocráta Principle of the existence of everything that exists in the Universe through the reciprocal maintenance and sustainment of existence between one and the other. (All and Everything, page 192. Book Two.) Almost everything that Gurdjieff's admirers and critics have written has concretized particularly his psychological ideas and his way of life, both of which are important but would not justify the opinion of Denis Saurat, a referred to in the fourth chapter mentioned above, that there is strong evidence that some of Gurdjieff's concepts are of "extraterrestrial" origin. I propose to examine some of these concepts and consider the place that would correspond to them in a New System of Values ​​that could win the acceptance and alliance of all humanity.

Values ​​and purposes are inseparable. If all classes of things were of equal value, we would have no purpose. When a certain state of affairs represents some value for me, I will strive to achieve it with a zeal proportional to the importance it represents for me at a given moment. The great defined values ​​are born of powerful needs. We need security and food for us and for those who depend on us, and our primordial efforts are born of the purpose that arises from this need. We do not know for sure what we need apart from the means of preserving life and, therefore, we do not precisely conceive of any other purpose of greater importance.

If we are offered a state of affairs as necessary or desirable - that is, as a value - and convince us or condition its presentation, we try to put it into practice and it becomes a purpose. In the past, man did not recognize to what extent his purposes were dictated-by social pressures or by animal instincts formed by habit and the conventional. One of the primary contributions of behavioral science in the last 20 years has been the demonstration of the extent to which human purposes are controlled by conditioning, suggestion and other social pressures. This has increased the general feeling of uneasiness, especially among very young people, who have so far managed to escape from the conditioning influence of society.

The result is a very serious situation in which a large number of people realize that they can not accept value systems that lack foundation, but can not invent their own values ​​because this would give rise to a subjective and divisive system. One man's food is poison to another. We can not accept that there is any absolute purpose in human life, as postulated by religion, since we already see clearly that such a purpose will be both meaningless and impossible to prove. We can not accept our personal purpose and nothing else: this would be equivalent to facing one man against another. We can not find a general human purpose that stops putting man in conflict with nature, as it actually is already.

We only have one possibility, that is, to look for the purpose and meaning of life on Earth - and particularly of human life - in the vast but not infinite content of the Earth, the Solar System and perhaps the galaxy in which Our Sun is a particle of dust. If there were a larger and more important purpose that transcended the limits of human experience, our life, like all life on Earth, would be related to that purpose. If we had the security of this, we would have a system of values, free of the defects of those values ​​for which we strive to live today.

Gurdjieff must have considered objections of this nature and it is probable that the problem had taken shape in his mind around 1902, when he was 25 years old. This is a significant age, when creativity reaches its maximum development in those who think in the abstract, like mathematicians. The admirable precocity of Gurdjieff could explain his surprising understanding of the problem, but not the discovery he made of his solution, which contradicts all modes of thinking-both religious and secular, philosophical and scientific-as universally prevailed at the beginning of this century and still prevails in our days.

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Reciprocal Maintenance

Gurdjieff's answer to the question "What is the meaning and meaning of life on Earth?" differs radically from any other ordinary point of view. Gurdjieff affirms in All and Everything that the doctrine of reciprocal maintenance comes from an "ancient Sumerian manuscript" that was discovered by the great Kurdish philosopher Atarnakh. The passage quoted goes like this: "According to all probabilities, there reigns in the world a law of reciprocal maintenance of everything that exists, it is obvious that our lives also serve to keep something big or small in the world."

This passage occurs in the description of a Central Asian fraternity called "Assembly of the Illumined", which had existed since the Sumerian era and flourished openly in the Bactrian kingdom when Zoroaster taught. After Zoroaster, it disappeared for a hundred generations and only now has he begun again to direct his "Unknown Teaching" to the world. I have suggested that this must be the Sarman Society. [Sarmoung Brotherhood] [b]

[b. ]

These 24 centuries belong to what I have called the Megalantropic Era (El Universo Dramático, Vol. IV, Ch. 49) characterized by the Primordial Age that the individual, the man, represents the fundamental value. With the transition to the new age of cooperation with the Higher Powers, which I have called the synergistic epoch, the ancient doctrine of Reciprocal Maintenance will recover its central meaning understanding of human destiny.

What is this doctrine? Reciprocal maintenance in its special sense connotes that the Universe has a structure or design in its interior according to which all kinds of things that exist produce energies or substances that are necessary for the maintenance of the existence of other kinds of things.

Gurdjieff uses the terms involution and evolution to describe this process. Involution is the process of transformation by which a higher energy level acts on lower energies by means of an apparatus that provides the necessary conditions and environment. The human body is similar to an apparatus, just as every living organism is. Earth also provides an environment for high-level energy - such as solar radiation - to act on the most passive elements of the earth's crust and atmosphere. Involution is entropic, meaning that the total energy level always decreases in every involutive change.

Evolution is the reverse process. It is the production of a high level of energy coming from a lower level source. This also requires an apparatus, but of a different kind, because this energy is not likely to manifest unless a higher energy level is present. Life is an evolutionary process that goes in the opposite direction to all probability. The work by which man transforms is evolutionary. It goes against the current of life. Here is the meaning of what Gurdjieff said, as Ouspensky quotes: "The Work is against nature and against God."

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Help from Above

However, the work would be impossible without the "Help from Above", such help given because "these relatively independent formations are also necessary". Within limits, the evolutionary process can begin at some given point thanks to a random combination of favorable circumstances, but this promising beginning would vanish if the Higher Power denied its intervention. This is a very significant concept to understand the evolution of man, both as a race and as an individual. In most cases, the initial movement comes from an accidental but sufficient combination to awaken the desire to escape the involutional current that leads to stagnation; but this impulse is equally predisposed to involute and may lose its direction. However, it can take us under conscious and creative influences and start a movement of true evolution.

According to Gurdjieff, this is what happens on planets where formations capable of automatic movement accidentally arise. The Creator observes these events and only after they have taken place does he intervene to guide and help the process continue forward. The accidental period is within the field of possibilities that set the natural laws on the transformation of energies. Subsequent states require supernatural action.

This is not arbitrary, but depends on the relationships between beings, so that each maintains the existence of others, in a kind of universal system of mutual aid. Each order of beings is endowed with a form of energy that allows it to fill its role in the cosmic process. This establishes the value and purpose of life in a completely new concept; here we have Gurdjieff's special contribution to a new key concept for the coming age.

This process can obviously be observed in the chemistry of the Earth. The minerals of the earth's crust and the gases of the atmosphere produce the substances that form every living body. The green vegetation is produced using carbon dioxide and water with the help of solar radiation, oxygen and carbohydrates without which there could be no animal life. Plants also produce nitrogen compounds that are the key to the processes of life represented by the reproduction, regeneration and transformation of energies of more complicated forms of existence. If this were all that the doctrine of reciprocal maintenance explains, it would not be a revolutionary idea. The key point of the doctrine is that man is included as a kind of being "whose life also serves to maintain something big or small in the world".

Gurdjieff developed this theme postulating that like every living or inert thing, "man is an apparatus for transforming energies" and that it is required of him, specifically that he produces sensitive and conscious energy, which is needed for the maintenance of harmony of the solar system. You can produce this energy voluntarily or involuntarily. In the first case, he has to "work on himself", that is, make efforts to perfect himself. In the second, it is through death. Here is the relationship between reciprocal maintenance and war. Gurdjieff also relates the need for conscious energy with the population explosion.

Under the primordial law of the conservation of matter the conditioned Universe manifests loss of order and final dissolution with the passing of time; but Gurdjieff taught that high-level energy is generated at a level of unconditioned being as a correction to the entropy process and this energy makes evolution possible. (The term Trogoautoegocrático, which in the Greek vernacular means "as and thus I maintain myself." It applies to the law that governs this unconditioned part of creation, so that it does not violate any of the universal laws, which are the conditions of existence in time and space).

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Transformation of Energies

The other important concept that Gurdjieff introduces is what he calls Iraniranumange, which "is called by Objective Science the common cosmic exchange of substances" or transformation of energies. The transformation of energies depends on mechanisms, of which the most studied example is the thermal machine. In the thermal machine, the low-grade energy-heat, in the form of molecular motions, is converted into high-grade mechanical energy. In the electric generator the mechanical energy is converted into electricity. In the living organism the chemical energy of the food is converted into mechanical energy, exactly the same thing that happens in the thermal machine.

There are, however, more interesting - though less understood - examples of energy transformation in our human experience. The sense of perception converts the energy of the electric impulses of sight, the gaseous vibrations of sound, the chemical changes in taste and smell, in the energies of sensation, thought and feeling. Every animal produces these energies, but only man has the capacity to increase, by voluntary own effort, the quantity of them and to improve the quality of the "psychic" energies that he emits.

This is the second essential element in the solution Gurdjieff gives to the problem: "What is the meaning and meaning of life on Earth, and in particular of human life?" He clarifies the point perfectly in his account of the Iraniranumange (All and Everything, Book Two, p. 192). The passage requires and deserves a very careful study. Since language is not easy and the meaning appears only when it is referred to many other passages, I will allow myself to give an interpretation as best I can.

There is an extraordinary convergence of two currents of thought of totally different origin. On the one hand, we get a coherent picture of the origin of the earth, its atmosphere, its oceans and the first dawn of life. The scientific cosmology and paleontology of our days differ markedly from those that existed fifty years ago when Gurdjieff wrote Beelzebub.

The current of his thought goes back thousands of years, but anticipates many of the modern "discoveries". In Gurdjieff's scheme, the planets that acquired atmosphere became the scene for an intense transformation, physical and then chemical, which resulted in more and more complicated combinations and finally developed the faculty of their own renewal. The crucial point came with the appearance of cells capable of aggregation to form multicellular organisms. This is the transition that happened on Earth, about two billion years ago, from protozoa to metazoa. With the property of existing with a certain degree of independence from the conditions of the environment (All and Everything, Book Two, pg 195), "the possibility of automatic movement appeared independent from one place to another on the surface of certain planets "

The concept is surprisingly anticipated by recent views about the origin of life on Earth. There is no indication in Gurdjieff's presentation of either an ad-hoc creation or a pre-established plan. The new forms of existence appeared spontaneously thanks to the organizing influence of superior structures. When Our Infinite Common Father observed what was happening, "there arose in Him the Divine Plan to use this to assist in the management of the growing world." (Ibid).

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Consciously Planned Evolution

Here Gurdjieff departs from theories of mechanical evolution. It proposes a consciously planned evolution scheme that finally leads to the appearance of conscious and intelligent activity. Man differs radically from animals, not by their origin but by their ability to continue their evolution that owes to the "special attention of the Creator whose own power operates in them." This gives man and fellow beings a triune nature: body, soul and spirit, and the potential for full individuality. The whole system deserves a more careful study of what is possible in this short summary. Its effect is to present us with a triune value system that contains:

  1. The interest of man for his own welfare in the light of his mortality.
  2. The place of man in nature and the obligations that this implies.
  3. The supernatural obligation of man, to fulfill the purpose for which he exists.

Gurdjieff sees the unification of these values ​​through the natural operation of the transformation of energy in man and by man himself. Man has the possibility, by his own choice, to accept the responsibility to transform energies of very high degree and to acquire in this way a "higher-being-body" or immortal soul, while serving at the same time the reciprocal maintenance process.

The principle of the transformation of energy is expressed in the sentence: "The superior is united to the inferior to update the intermediate". This implies a double source, that is, the descent from the fine to the coarse in the involutive process, and the refinement of the coarse when mixed with the fine in evolution. The world has been made in such a way that the energies are in constant involution and evolution as they pass through various structures and various systems. Life on Earth is one of these systems for the transformation of energies.

Man also participates individually in this universal exchange, all of which is included in the term Iraniranumange. The expression of Heraclitus "everything is in a state of continuous flow" acquires a new meaning of which there is no trace in the fragments that remain of the speculations of the first Greek philosophers, and yet reminds us emphatically that they were also looking for some key that would open the enigma of existence.

Gurdjieff offers in this way a hope of reconciliation of man and the Universe, between the material or mechanistic point of view with the religious or spiritual. The doctrine also suggests that man has an enormous responsibility. If the twin concepts of reciprocal maintenance and the intentional transformation of energy are valid, they provide us with a scheme of values ​​that does not depend on any particular kind of belief. They answer the question about the meaning and meaning of human life by telling us that this depends on our own decision. We can either transform energies mechanically at death, when we will automatically release higher quality energy but we will cease to exist as individuals, or we can transform energy by our own decision and live on progressively higher levels until we become immortal, free souls.

Gurdjieff says that the principle of the immortality of man is only a potentiality, which rarely materializes, and this only when the individual achieves a transformation.

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Compiled by: Ing. Carlos de la Garza P.

Integral Transformation of the Human Being

Transformación Integral del Ser Humano

Instituto Gurdjieff – Bennett, México, A.C.


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