The Mosaic of Mutual Correction

I speak about a mosaic here as a general metaphor for a type of organisation that does not suppose that there is a hierarchy, or that there is some central position of control towards which others are in a state of subservience or subordination. I think this making of new or unfamiliar metaphors, paradigms or images, for what is being worked through or engaged in by the human race, is quite important.

I mentioned right at the beginning of this seminar that there is a tendency in occult traditions towards fascism of some kind, and spiritual oligarchy. Most of them tend to be predicated on the sense of having some centralised authority representatives on this planet. One version of it is around the myth of Shambhala, the hidden central Asian city sometimes regarded as being underground, in which the direction of history is prepared. For the theosophists it is the Himalayan master. Eventually they got names even, and people who came from that tradition, such as Alice Bailey, spoke of a particular master who was instructing them.

Then later one got Gurdjieff. He became affiliated with the notion of powerhouses, ancient brotherhoods in Central Asia, supposedly in Afghanistan. One form of this was the notion of the Sarmoun Brotherhood. I have associated with teachers who say that there is a fundamental source, a prime source that is being invested into all forms of teaching on this planet. One form of that which I learned about took the shape or name of a figure called Dattatreya. Dattatreya is the three-fold ‘gift’ (datta), who synthesises the attributes of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

There are, in contrast, those who say that there is no such thing as a central authority on this planet, either singular or plural, and that one can bypass all of that and go directly to some more undifferentiated state. This tends to be the approach of people such as Krishnamurti, but even there one has a whole series of background questions which, with him in particular, will only, I think, really surface in some of his conversations with David Bohm, in the brilliant published collection ‘The Ending of Time.’ Krishnamurti’s passion was the notion of detecting and correcting an error as it crept into human existence. This error he called thought. Some of his investigations go into at what point or in what way does this error creep into human existence. This in itself is very interesting because it’s rarely appreciated. Gurdjieff’s particular form of this is his doctrine of the organ Kundabuffer that is echoed in other traditions and by other teachers. All of them are concerned with addressing this kind of question. What went wrong? And how?

I started this talk with a reference to the term mosaic, to begin to offer an image or a metaphor in which one does not have to suppose that in order to have any kind of organised evolutionary process on this planet, it has to be conducted by means of a central controller. The displacement of such an image, of central control, out of our thinking, is paralleled also by ways of looking at ourselves individually. The image of man that we have inherited has looked for a central controller. In talking with people and seeing what they wrote and how they express themselves, that is people who follow Gurdjieff’s ideas, often I got the impression that what they were looking for in trying to have an “I” or find an “I” that was some kind of central authority force in themselves who could in some way compel all the other fragmentary selves or “I’s” or impulses and make them coherent.

Here we have a question of a real issue of projection, from one’s psychological understanding into one’s socio-historical understanding. The one reflects the other, and very seriously!

Now, with a mosaic you can picture elements being side-by-side and influencing each other in a kind of mutual way. We’ve touched upon this very difficult area, subtle area, to do with our disputes about connection, for example, and in which one can see or hope that one can see that the element of thought in this is to do with one thing having an effect upon another, or one person having an effect upon another person, or one element sending something to another element, and this is the standard way in which we explain everything. It may seem at first rather elusive and difficult to get hold of, the notion you can have independent elements that mutually create something between them. So for the moment I simply use the word mutuality and so, it will be improper to speak of one doing something to the other.

Gurdjieff himself had his doctrine of the reciprocal maintenance of everything existing and the concomitant expression that ‘everything is issuing from everything and again entering into everything’. This representation, this description, has very profound practical consequences. For example, Gurdjieff speaks of the tradition in certain times of Tibetan culture, when it was essential, at least once a year for those who had acquired wealth, to disburse it throughout the society because the holding of any kind of material or wealth in one place was instinctively felt to produce sickness. So, there is a background in which there is a sense of flow, that every element whether we treat it as a substance or as an energy or even as information, cannot be held but has to be passed through. Even that little thing in the Carpet movement yesterday [1] about passing the thread along, is a very powerful metaphor for this.

It’s possible to look at the reciprocal feeding, reciprocal maintenance, as a substance issuing from me and passing through you and again back to me or through to some others, and constantly as it’s doing this, being changed. So it’s not as if something comes out of me and enters into you as such. No, we are part of one process, one movement, called in physics the holomovement [2], so the total ecological inter-feeding is a total holomovement which maintains the whole.

Now let’s look again at this mosaic. The elements of the mosaic are individuated, partial, but mutually equivalent in status and in significance. What is significant? We have to have a richness of varieties in the elements of this mosaic, otherwise wholeness is not possible. It will break up into mechanism. Mechanism is in a sense overcome when there is enough richness of independent elements reciprocally entering into each other and becoming part of each other.

Now what I believe has happened in the world is that we are at a stage where there has been an accumulation of emergent elements of a mosaic, the wholeness of which has hardly begun to be appreciated. Many years ago I began to think and investigate and consider, what on earth was the context of Gurdjieff and get away from the idea that Gurdjieff appears and has been treated almost in isolation. There are all these stories that he tells of himself and of his friends. Who did he in fact talk to? We realise more and more that no-one, of however high a stature, creates something as profound and complex as the ‘fourth way’ by himself.

Did he talk with Lenin in Moscow? Why didn’t he meet Jung in France? While he was in Paris, did he actually exchange, or why didn’t he exchange, with the great Russian scientist Vernadsky? Did he have any contact with Delacroix when he was in Germany? There was also Rudolf Steiner in Germany, to whom Gurdjieff refers disparagingly in his ‘Beelzebub Tales’. We suddenly realise he could have had all these influences. I always feel he was a man who did not cease to learn.

While Gurdjieff was in Moscow, the Sufi Inyat Kahn performed his music in Moscow. A tremendous surge of influence from East to West started in the beginning of the nineteenth century, through such things as British colonialism, which opened up channels for eastern ideas to reach the west. There was Vedanta, and the arising of that great universalist Ramakrishna. This was tremendously significant in people’s attitudes throughout the world. Locked in India he was just a relatively insignificant saintly figure, but represented by Vivekenanda, and brought over to America, he had a profound effect on world culture.

We had the Hindu element, the Sufi element and then coming afterwards the Buddhist element (but this was already inherent in Theosophy). The English, French, German, Americans all tapping into and bringing out of the East these elements so that in a sense now you have a state of affairs in which you have forms of Zen Buddhism, or Sufism that are particularly American or European. In a sense they are flourishing more here than they are in their native lands because we also have to recognise in their native lands there is a rising tide of oppression, censorship, general fascism and fundamentalism. So they cannot flourish in their home lands as they used to. We have the example of the Chinese and the Tibetan Buddhists.

I must add a name I mentioned before into this medley. That’s Krishnamurti. It’s amazing how many people I knew connected with Mr. Bennett’s work and Gurdjieff’s work, used to faithfully attend Krishnamurti’s meetings. They would always say that he does not really understand the necessity for a school, as they did, but they would go to him because there was something he provided which was quite unique. Similarly, I knew people working with Bennett who would have very complicated inner practice life that would combine Gurdjieff exercises with the Subud latihan and transcendental meditation as well. Some of the schools that started after Ouspensky incorporated such things as transcendental meditation and other Hindu methods. This is not sheer eclecticism, mixing up of things, but it’s to do with the arising of elements of a mosaic and beginning to move in it.

At the beginning of the century there was one of the most amazing explosions in human perception I think in recorded history. What hit the planet in 1900 was literally like some kind of blast from a supernova explosion, a psychic blast. Everywhere, in every field of human endeavour, new doors were opened, every single one. Some of it struck bourgeois ears as cacophonous and terrifying, frightening. It certainly was very disturbing. Nietzsche seemed to practice and advocate the death of God. His whole treatment and investigation of religion and evocation, the image of a superman influenced Ouspensky, who was looking for a completely pure original state of consciousness. Nietzches’s ideas of recurrence also influenced Ouspensky tremendously. Nietzsche was extraordinarily important. He was the key destroyer of old ideas, in a sense so much so that my friend John Allen says it’s really necessary to, before you get into Gurdjieff, to appreciate Nietzsche. Gurdjieff starts where Nietzsche leaves off. There is the other side of total nihilism.

So then, in every realm: In music, tonality disappeared. In painting, perspective, representation disappeared. In psychology, the unconscious appeared. We also have this stirring up of massive social revolutions such as Bolshevism, the residue of Marxism. Gurdjieff was a master who operated against a background of the *starets*, of the religious masters of Russia! There was Soloviev who was the teacher of Dostoevsky, and Dostoevsky himself. They were tremendously powerful people! And then the mixing in with the theosophy and then the mixing in with the Marxism. Gurdjieff was right in the middle of this for God’s sake! He probably had dialectical materialism coming out of his ears.

It was a tremendously rich time. In dance, Diagaliev. Going to painting in particular, I was very pleased when I heard Norman Mailer talk about his book about Picasso saying the apogee of Picasso’s work was his cubist period and there is no doubt about it. Picasso himself, at the time of his work with Bracque wanted to be a person equivalent to Einstein. This breakthrough, equivalent to the vision of Einstein’s relativity, he wanted to achieve in painting. What you see in his painting during this period was an attempt to actually rip through the old perceptions and create, or forge, a new way of perceiving. It is suggested he lost sight of this later on, as so many people did, and then only retained a haunted concern with the creative process, bequeathing many of his works to the French nation in the hope that someone would use them to discover something! (Which, of course, has been largely forgotten).

William Pennsinger, a novelist, [3] talks about what Gurdjieff gives the name solioonensius [4] a kind of planetary tension, as a rift in human perception which, at that time, produced what can be called an ‘abreaction’. It’s almost as if this blast of new perception evoked the first World War and the succession of world wars that ripped through the world in this century. There is something similar said by Alice Bailey, whom I respect greatly. Some of you might know her system of the seven rays that she took from theosophy [5]She says that in this century there awoke the first ray of will, the will power ray. From the way she speaks, it’s almost inevitable that both fascism and communism developed. These movements were to do with totally destroying the old institutions. This is the nature of that first will power ray. It’s the Shiva ray, involving both destruction and creation.

All of this is metaphor and description. Maybe, we do not realise the effect of these changes of perception. Why do native American teachers such as Joseph Rael put their people through great physical ordeals? Because they are anxious to change their physiology so that they can receive new information. If you put that new information in without the changed physiology, their bodies would react terribly. Having insights seems really cool and nice, but , the stuff we casually call insight is made of material that might have a detrimental effect on our system.

Here is a parallel with what might have happened historically. The first world war in a sense carried on right up until now. It carries on through economic warfare at present. Terrible struggles are still ensuing, absolutely brutal struggles that deal with the whole states of economies being controlled from massive organisations. I say, only half-jokingly, that the present European Union is still an expression of the world war. It’s still Germany seeking control over Europe with French collaboration, resisted by the British. The whole century has been saturated with the same struggle. It’s a struggle to do with imposing control. This thing we mock at the Germans for is very evocative and you find it caricatured in the movie ‘The Magus’ where the German officer says: “Our purpose is the German historical purpose, to bring order into the chaos which is Europe.” That attitude is not just a feature of the German culture, but the whole thing that is threatened by this new wave of perception.

This whole thing being that which looked for: the central authority, the means of control, the centre as against the periphery, the singular as against the many, the predictable, the certain, the known. This was the very thing that was challenged by this wave of new perception, literally a wave of information-energy that threatened the old order at its foundations. What happens if there is no center, or no final authority? How do we understand what is going on if there is no hope of a convergent ideology that encompass all the divergences?

Even Hegel had fallen into the total trap of supposing that the progression of the spirit lead to the German Republic; which then helped to evoke the Marxist idea of historical necessity. We hear principles, which Gurdjieff took in one way, all present in Marxism in another way. The Marxist concern with *production* goes side by side with Gurdjieff’s materialism. In Gurdjieff an angel is a state of matter! And humans can only exist because they produce an energy needed for the function of the cosmic state! So back to this mosaic which I called the mosaic of mutual correction. Imagine that we expand our vision. We have not only these elements, these different spiritual elements, in their variety, but also elements from the arts, psychology, economics and science. Think how, in the stream of art and literature, what was being worked at was actually providing new languages, new means of expression for perceptions which were only beginning to form in people.

Nearly all of the pioneering breakthrough has been suppressed for the greater part of this century, or avoided. Every single human institution on this planet is derived from thinking at least two hundred years old. There is hardly any new kind of institution on this planet. Writer Larry Pensinger tells me that the only social system that got near anything new was with the Southern Vietcong, and they were deliberately destroyed by the northern Communists through engineering the Tet offensive. Wherever new forms of organisation appear, they are destroyed.

So this has a lot of historical implications as we go on. Functionally I think what is in front of us is something interesting. For example, in front of spiritual ways and so on, there is no single way that is workable now. This may seem an extravagant claim to make, but I say that no single way, whatever it is, is viable now. Why? Because every single way is necessarily partial and in fact exists in a world side by side with other forms so that there is this implication, that only these various forms side by side and together constitute the whole, the genuine whole. Therefore it can only be by some conscious participation in their mutuality that one gets the sense of the whole.

Just take, as a particular example of what I mean, that every spiritual path has to have its own kind of economic system to support it. The sannyasins of India have to have a system of begging that is supported by the culture. Begging is a very serious part of every culture and often critical in its economy. Gurdjieff talked about this aspect in his marvellous chapter on ‘The Material Question’ in his book ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’. So, the real whole includes both the spiritual practice and how it is materially supported!

‘There is this and there is that and there is the other and you do this and you do that and you make this and you put this with that and make the other’. You know this kind of mechanical approach. I know that if you restrict yourself to that world view, you become sterile. You need something that complements that approach, because you yourself are something that has its reality in being whole. So it’s very good to step over into the shoes of Krishnamurti who talks, for example, about choiceless awareness. He says, “Why compound conflict?” Why talk of this and that at all?

It’s like stepping into a cold bath after a sauna or having a gin and tonic, whatever is the metaphor you want to use. The one without the other, I say is poison. There are a few Sufi stories that have this theme in them: a Sheikh is surrounded by his disciples and there is all this devotion and praise of him, when a visiting Sufi comes along into the room and starts berating the master. “You’re a load of shit. You don’t know your ass from your elbow. You’re leading all these people astray! What kind of reprobate are you!” Of course the disciples are horrified. They try to bundle him out. The master says “No. The atmosphere you were producing was so sickening, it needed his medicine.”

If you go along with any one way, what it does, I believe, is produce a kind of toxin . If you are a good Christian, or a Buddhist, they all produce their own toxins. The only way to relieve oneself of a toxin produced by one way is through another way that produces a counter-toxin. I had a vision when I was going through a very intense savage period when I was about nineteen. It was really nasty. I actually saw what I called the ‘battle of poisons’: because in a way all the teachings, all the ways are poisoned, that is, they come into your system and disturb its workings. We have an autoimmune system that rejects poison as far as it can. I use this word provocatively, but also because we used to say, around Bennett, that you are being poisoned by the Work. You get it into your system in such a way you cannot get it out any more and you become almost addicted. There is addiction too. I need to use these strong metaphors: poison, addiction and so on. What is happening is chemical. It is not just mental, it’s really chemical. It has chemical consequences. If you don’t feel this strong about it, then you can at least appreciate the saying ‘use a thorn to take out a thorn’.

So: a mosaic of mutual correction. Every one of these ways, whether they are in spirituality or not, or they be political, scientific, artistic, religious, mystical, medical, each is offering something unique and irreplaceable. What we can do is to participate more and more consciously in their reciprocal exchange. At first it may seem an awful prospect. This is like confronting oneself with total complexity. How am I going to know what to do?

I cannot really explain it, but I would say you do not have to know in advance what to do. There is this kind of flow, already in progress between them, that one can participate in, so they are already doing this themselves.

Again, I want to offer you an image. Presumably, most of you have heard about the holographic paradigm. People get excited about holograms because you can take just one portion of the hologram and it contains in it the whole, and so this is a very good holistic model. I want to do more than that and say, every part of this, what I call mosaic is intensely individual and unique, so that it’s representation of the whole is intensely individual and unique.

There is an ultimate mosaic that is us, humans on the planet. Imagine the mosaic of six billion pieces. Can you begin to entertain a world view in which every one of those six billion is significant, has a unique contribution to make to the whole? Did not you feel relieved when you read Gurdjieff and he talks about sleeping people and tells us that only a fraction of humanity is evolving? So you can now forget all of those other people, the ‘masses’, put them into the background, and just deal with us, the humble us who have the chance to wake up and get a soul. I have done this, and gone out into the streets and looked at ‘the sleeping people’. So you can forget all this complexity – after all, life is too short. What do I know? I have to follow one thing at a time. I cannot cope with all of this. I do not understand these other ways. It does not suit me, only certain things suit me. There are endless excuses for not even beginning to link with the mosaic!

However, we can come to see that the mosaic of mutual correction reminds us of the Stewart Brand printing of the first picture of earth taken from space [6] under the caption: “We do not need to put it together. It is together.” Let us ask again ‘What is the Work?’ Consider the Work as a process of deep and intimate communication that is concerned with a conversation, on this planet, about the meaning of this planet in which the essential manifestation is one of constant discovery.

Isn’t this rather different from the sense one may have inherited, of there being these wonderful people in the past who have created these systems which we are trying to live up to, such that we must constantly fail? Consider there might be now in progress a tremendous intoxicating action, of perpetual discovery, of coming to know, and that we are participating in this coming to know willy-nilly and can know it more deeply if we dare and care enough.


[1]A reference to one of Gurdjieff’s movements, one in which the actions of a carpet weaver are simulated.

[2]This term taken from the work of David Bohm. Cf. ‘Wholeness and the Implicate order’.

[3]Author of ‘The Moon of Hoa Binh’.

[4] See the talk of that title also on this web site for more details.

[5] See in particular her ‘Treatise on the Seven Rays’.

[6]This powerful image was first published in Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue.