Traditions in light of Mr. Gurdjieff

Suppose that we approach the diversity of the world’s traditional modes of living, belief and aspiration from a personal point of view. Could the approach to understanding, the ancient traditions of the world, the world’s great religions, lie in the exacting and exciting work of understanding myself? Could it be that inner work and observation of oneself is the missing key to unlock ancient traditions? Through the prism of work on ourselves we may hope to begin to turn the lock and begin to perhaps not unravel, but deepen the impact of the venerable traditions of the past on us today.

Mr. G.I. Gurdjieff is said to have brought the essence of traditional practice, thought and ideas in a contemporary form to the western thought and his work is replete with references and illuminations with respect to the traditions that have made us what we are.

There is a great deal of work being done in the on the very beginnings of the Great Religious Traditions of the world in the scholarly community and they still inform the daily lives of all of us. Yet for modern psychological thought, and popular culture, their impact on human development seems irrelevant. In very real sense we could say that the key to these ancient, yet familiar traditions has been lost. They remain a closed mystery; their ability to transform our lives seems far away.

Esotericism was defined by Aristotle as knowledge that is hidden in such a way that it only becomes evident to those that truly need it. Knowledge may be hidden by virtue of the fact we have no interest, and such knowledge only becomes apparent when it is needed for personal development. Once understood, the previously hidden knowledge appears to be obvious, much as we age childish notions fall away.

It has been one hundred years since Mr. Gurdjieff appeared in the west with his teaching, and his impact has been widespread. Drawing some of his followers from the pinnacle of French and English literary society between the wars while he was alive, those who acknowledge his influence include some of the best Theatre, Film and Opera directors of our contemporary theatre and cinema. His world view has shaped our culture in deep and profound ways. The influence on our culture continues to be felt.

Central to his teaching as the idea that man is undeveloped, and has vast potential. All religions are fundamentally engaged, at least in their origin, in the project of the development of man. What are the insights of the traditions into our psychology? Rather than take the point of view that all religions are one, one could take the view that man is one, or at least our humanity is radically shared, and hence our approach to the religions is through a search for the reality of what is (wo)man? How does one develop? What does each tradition bring to that these real questions? That is to say what are the unique insights into the human condition that each differing tradition bring? What does Mr. Gurdjieff reveal in this direction?

The astonishing fact, as pointed out by Mr. Gurdjieff, is that,we are unconscious of our sensations in a vital way, that we are unconscious of our eating and breathing, unconscious of our emoting. In fact we don't even know what we think. This is even more astounding in the light of the fact that this lack of awareness of ourselves, it is said, leads to all sorts of physical and psychological difficulties. In essence awareness of oneself is necessary for development, much in the same way learning to talk and walk is. It seems that this need for, and practice of essential awareness has been lost. It takes a subtle effort, but once undertaken, may be the lightest thing in the world. This self-awareness is like vitamin C; without it we get a subjective scurvy and have all sorts of emotional and mental problems.

In relation to traditional knowledge, the knowledge of our great grandparents, we must ask ourselves is it that we became incredibly smart in the last few hundred years? I think the rule of modesty would suggest that we are probably no smarter than our forefathers. What was their enterprise? It was not often practical matters such as we have been focused on.

A sincere study of history of human thought teaches us that most ages focused on matters of the human heart. We would call them primitive religions, but in a sense, a religion is something someone else believes in. For us, we of course know the truth, so we have no religion, or if we do, it is because it is true above the others. Mr. Gurdjieff's writing outlines what it is they knew that is true.

It is becoming apparent that the “religions” are not necessarily what we have projected onto them from our deeply modern world view; interchangeable ideas that can be worshiped in the privacy of our homes and temples. In fact for a great part of the world, they remain a way of living that informs belief; so for a devout practitioner, the practice of her way of life, we title her “religion”, may produce her belief, rather than the other way around. This leads us to misunderstand great swaths of fundamentalism in the world. Mr. Gurdjieff posits that at root these practices are deeply psychologically effective ways of developing the hidden feeling side of our humanity that needs be understood, and can indeed inform our own development.

In some of the pages that are to be linked shortly, rather than an apology for the traditions or for the ideas of Mr. Gurdjieff we are hoping to stimulate new thought about these ancient traditions and how they can help us understand ourselves. In looking at the traditional approaches to the development of man, we may begin to find things necessary for our own lives to be more whole.

Mr. Gurdjieff has much to say about the semetic traditions beginning with Moses, including what became Christianity, and winding their way through Muhammad and including Islam. When regarded from the point of view of inner development the three Monotheistic religions have more in common with each other than other traditions. Indeed Jesus was a Jew, and did not seek to found a new religion, but animate Judaism. So, too, with Muhammad, who revered both Moses and Jesus, placing what became Islam as developments of these traditions. Muhammad considered both Christians and Jews “People of the Book”. All of these traditions have bibles, the “word” of God, believe in One God, and value Charity, among many other commonalities. However it is not on these externals that Mr. Gurdjieff focuses on, but on the internal direction for inner development. What can these traditions today tell us about our own necessary psychological development? Curiously, these traditions arose within eight hundred miles of each other, basically less than the distance from London to Rome. Yet each responded, 500 or 800 years apart to a different culture and background.

Mr. Gurdjieff has much to say about the seminal Buddhist tradition, that is at its inception, the Buddhism as preached by the Buddha. Not much is written by Mr. Gurdjieff about Hinduism, but some Hindu’s consider, or considered Buddha one of their own, and, in the words of one scholar, not entirely tongue in cheek, Buddhism is “Hinduism for export”.

Mr. Gurdjieff writes at great length about the Tibetans and the ancient study of sound by the Chinese. We hope to shed some light on Chinese thought, the tradition of Confucius, which tradition is being revived by the current government of China as a model for their development. Arguably the Far East is primarily Confucian in outlook, in a way that the West is primarily Judeo-Christian.

It would be remiss to leave out the most pervasive tradition of all, our “new” tradition of modernity, now arguably 300 hundred or so years old. What is the relation of science as a discipline, and what Mr. Gurdjieff has brought, “Objective Science”, which has as its fundamental basis man as subject. This is taken as point of departure for some thoughts on the nature of truth, the subject and subjectivity, and of course the development of man which will soon be appended. here

Along the way, tying all of these disparate threads together is that central concern, What is man, and how can we develop to our potential?

to be continued.....