[“This article is one of the many pieces collected together and published under the title
Perspectives – an Oral History of Exploration“]

At the Open Center, New York – Saturday August 12 1995

From the collection of talks and dialogues, ‘Perspectives’, to be published in 1997.

Some of the ideas which Gurdjieff brought to the west – which at the time that he brought them were thoroughly extraordinary and so radical that they were the prerogative of a very small group of people – have now become commonplace. One of his key ideas, for example, is that man has many I’s. These days it is put forward by neural physiologists as of recent discovery: of the mind as a community made up of different impulses with no single centre. This was thoroughly discussed by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky more than 70 years ago.

Another example of Gurdjieff’s teachings – once a radical and difficult one – is about buffers. It says that our experience is split into different domains which don’t intercommunicate and once these separated regions begin to contact one another, there is an intensity, a trauma which is usually so strong that any such interconnection is prohibited. This is becoming a commonplace in psychotherapy.

The ideas of Gurdjieff have penetrated into science fiction. The English writer Brian Aldis’ novel Barefoot in the Head is entirely based on the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky psychology. Interestingly enough, it is set in a Europe which has been bombed by LSD, and the Gurdjieff psychology is presented as the only possible psychology that can make sense of such a difficult situation. His name appears in the pop song of Kate Bush Them Heavy People. So Gurdjieff is a part of pop culture now, and his psychological ideas have penetrated, or rather not so much as penetrated, as merged with modern discoveries and changes in attitude.

There has been made, however unsuccessfully, a movie of the life of Gurdjieff: Meetings with Remarkable Men. Peter Brook didn’t really direct this film because he was under the thumb of an authority figure who made sure that he did everything in a hagiographic mode, that is in a way which elevated Gurdjieff into that of some kind of pious saint which, certainly, he was not.

So here is our situation getting toward the end of the 20th century reflecting things which he brought to the beginning of the 20th century. It is quite hard to reconstruct the radicalness of the vision that he originally brought. I believe it is important to make that attempt for reasons that I will try to bring out as I go along.

It is not only Gurdjieff who has brought a radical vision into the world. He operated like any other human being within a cultural context and the particular culture which came out of Russia was a ferment of ideas, some of which did not reach the West, except through him, for about 50 years. Even more importantly, we should realize the sort of games he was playing to present these ideas, the kind of challenge he was putting in front of people. It is the nature of this challenge that it is important to understand.

First let’s reflect on ourselves and our situation. Here you are as, Charles Tart was saying last night, “Well ladies and gentlemen, you got here, you weren’t run over, you managed to take a cab, you managed to find this place. Here you are, you are listening to me, you understand my words, you are reasonable people, you don’t suddenly go deranged and murder people in the street. You make a living, more or less. Some days you are quite happy and pleased with yourself. So what’s the problem?” You read the newspapers and you see the madness of other people, the politicians and the lawyers and the dreadful people who are in other countries, and the massacres and the suicides and all that. But that is not really you. So what is the problem? What’s niggling at us, what’s gnawing at our guts, what’s disturbing us in this fairly reasonable life we live? Even in New York you can live a reasonable life, approximating that of a human being.

You know you have fluctuations of state. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down; sometimes you’re closed in, sometimes you open up. Sometimes you connect with people, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you’re more smart than at other times. But, more or less, you keep going. So I ask, “What the hell is the problem? Why entertain the extreme ideas of some strange Caucasian figure of the turn of the century at all?” Then, why did we entertain the ideas of Nietzsche or Freud and all these other extraordinary people who occurred at the turn of the century? There may have been a common energy driving them. We know new things happened in music and painting and war everywhere. It was as if a new perception was trying to get through into the planet.

(It seems likely that this new perception was so radical that the World Wars that followed were a violent reaction attempting to block it out. I remember also in 1968 talking with JGB about what was then happening in Czechoslovakia. He called it an ‘experiment of the higher intelligence’. Again, what happened was that the tanks rolled in and destroyed the new movement. Europe does indeed represent the ‘old world’. Alice Bailey in her interpretation of the ‘Rays’ says that the First Ray came into the planet in this century, the Ray of Will-Power; and it was from this that communism and fascism sprang. It may well be that as we near the end of this century, the widespread denial of the new perception is dying away.)

That is one way of describing it. Gurdjieff himself referred to it by one of his neologisms, as solioonensius, the time of planetary tension which energizes the earth so people strive for freedom – then turn that striving for freedom into war or the equivalent of war, into destruction. It is, according to Gurdjieff’s own theory, a time when certain new directions can be implanted into general culture. This has been done before.

It is important, at least for me, to understand this in context. If we go back to the Hindus we think about them as having this extreme asceticism of the sannyasin and the meditator in the cave, the person who renounces and so forth. But that was a fairly recent invention, about 2-3000 years old. It was developed about 2000 years ago by specific interventions. Why? Why would anyone come up with the idea that it was sensible to renounce all ordinary physical and emotional ties, starve oneself, wander with no home and meditate about the oneness of the universe? This was extraordinary behaviour for any human being.

I am putting this example in front of you in order to give some kind of comparison with what Gurdjieff did. Gurdjieff didn’t come, in my view, to teach a self-improvement program. I think there’s another side to it. And that’s a thread that I want to emphasize. If you think of Gurdjieff’s ideas and what came out of them in terms of just giving a few hints about self-improvement, then I think one loses most of the story because a lot of it is not about self-improvement at all. It’s almost in a sense the opposite, making things so much more tricky. It’s adding an extra demand, an extra perspective on what we’re doing. Because it questions everything we assume about the self that is supposed to be improved.

Remember that the initial people that Gurdjieff dealt with were very competent people, with developed intellects who were very strong-willed. They were almost the cream of the cream of Russian intelligentsia. This was his first audience. They had no problems with life in the ordinary sense at all. And then Gurdjieff came to them and said, “You, you’re nothing. You don’t exist. You pretend to exist. What you decided to do this morning you’ve already forgotten. You’re asleep. You’re just like a wound-up clock-work mechanism.” And so on. And he sold it to them: this picture. Eventually people were saying, “Yes Mr. Gurdjieff, I am a piece of clockwork. Please save me from being just a piece of clockwork.”

He’s creating a challenge to people to do something which in a sense they need not do: something creative and original. I think it was one of the quite extraordinary events of our century. You see, when you present people, like yourselves, with this picture: “You are asleep. You are mechanical. We are mechanical. They are mechanical.” you start looking at the world in this novel way. When you first come across these ideas they can be explosive. It happened to Ouspensky, it’s happened to me, it’s probably happened to you: because of the impact of his ideas you go out on the street and you’re right in the middle of a horror movie. They’re zombies! You see them like that, they’re zombies! It’s true, like in the John Carpenter film, They’re Alive and suddenly you can see aliens everywhere. But this is not a simple empirical discovery, it is a kind of creative kind of perception which raises the stakes for us. You step into the parlour of Mr. Gurdjieff and you are taking something on for which there are no ordinary reasons. It’s not going to make you any richer, any happier, or any healthier, that’s for sure. You don’t get out of it the usual kinds of things you expect to get out of self-improvement: fame, money, power, peace of mind. It is quite something, to have a message coming to persuade people to consider a way of being which really is new. That was the feeling I got myself when I first came across these ideas in the writings of Colin Wilson (who I later met and when he tried to tell me about the ideas of Gurdjieff I could see that he didn’t understand anything about them).

Because I was so poor as a student, I used to read All And Everything in my lunch hour – because I often couldn’t afford lunch either. As I read it, I could see that he was absolutely correctly pointing out what was happening in my psyche as I was reading the book. It was almost like it was happening, just in that moment. It was not an interpretation. Sometimes when you get freshly into something, for the first time, there is what I would call a ‘specific energy’ which enables you to really penetrate into it in a way which afterwards you are going to find extremely difficult.. You may know that book by Ouspensky, that wonderful book In Search of the Miraculous? When you first read it, a thrill of recognition goes through you and you pick up the stuff about ‘self-remembering’ and you can do it in the first moment. Then, later on, you join a group or something and it all becomes obscure again. You lose that original innocence, that shock of surprise, which gives you the creative energy to make it real.

As you sit there listening to me, you poor people listening to me, you must feel that you are aware, you are aware of me, you are hearing these words. What more is there? What more could you possibly do? And yet there is this theory, this teaching that you’re not really listening. What on earth are you going to do about this? You may say to yourself: “I am sleeping. I’m just a robot, an android, a replicant, doing the human simulation.” Maybe it is so. Maybe it’s all been programmed, or pre-arranged. What can we do about it? How can we act in the face of this?

Now I am going to pause and describe another area of Gurdjieff’s teachings which is particularly germane to what I am trying to explain. He spoke of there being A, B, and C influences (See In Search of the Miraculous pp.199-204). That is: we live in a certain social environment, in which we have books and people and radio stations and TV and Internet, etc. Every culture has its artefacts from the past, works of art, teachings, religions, etc. etc. Gurdjieff distinguished the forces acting on an individual, as of three kinds, A, B, and C. A influences are just those which are circling around the culture as such. B influences are transmitting ideas derived from outside that culture, something of a different order; and C influences come directly from outside the culture. Now this particular part of his teaching is in fact very significant and I am going to make a step sideways here into physics to point something out about evolution.

There is a notion of evolving to get to a higher level of organization or to get into a deeper level of perception, more intelligence, whatever. Some step, some progressive step is what we mean by evolution. Now, what is the ‘substance’ which is used to make that evolutionary step? The idea is that you do not make the evolutionary step without importing order, a material of organization, from outside the system. To give the analogy of evolution on the earth: this works because it draws on the organizing energy from the sun. This is just plain physics. In fact you can treat the sun not so much as a source of radiant energy, but as a source of information, a kind of raw information stuff; such that the biosphere becomes more and more adept at absorbing and transforming this into itself. Similarly for us people: if we have an evolutionary possibility then this requires taking in stuff which gives us that step up, that substantial assistance. Unaided, you don’t make the ‘quantum leap’ so to speak.

By and large, we are under the A influences, in other words going round and round in circles, always moving within this cultural plane in which we imitate each other. In Gurdjieffian terms, nothing develops. It’s all the same, of the same kind.

Once we see that this is so, we begin to think of what can come in from another source than our own culture. There is a whole branch of interest in the world now concerning aliens, including alien abductions, which started from the early days of UFO sightings and so on. Another branch focuses on angels, and you have the channelers and all those people. And there is the third kind that’s to do with secrets hidden in monasteries, or ancient manuscripts. They are all realizing in their own particular way the same basic principle that, in order to get the ‘oomph’ to make a step in yourself, to break free of this cycle of conditioning in your culture, you need an input from outside the culture of a different order. Without that it is unlikely, though not impossible, that the step is made.

The Gurdjieff teaching itself represents an example of itself: it is self-referential because it comes from somewhere extraordinary. I suggest you entertain this possibility without getting fixated on any particular model for it. Gurdjieff himself was a very good master of dissembling about his own personal history and from where he obtained his ideas. The point is to see whether you can appreciate that you have to have some element which is not given to us with our ordinary upbringing, education, circumstances, culture — that there is some ingredient which has to be imported. This ingredient, is sometimes described as an energy, sometimes as a certain kind of information.

Now what can be said about this? I want to point out that Gurdjieff when he first started teaching in Russia was in a cultural environment where there were extraordinary people around, such as Vladimir Solovyov who taught Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (See ‘Perfect Religion’ in Lapis, Summer 1995). There was Mendeleyev who revolutionised chemistry. The intelligentsia was either going towards Marxism or towards spirituality. Most of those Gurdjieff captured were of the spiritual camp, and he was faced with a problem. The Theosophists had evolved an incredibly complex arcane mythology about Masters in the Himalayas, Rays, the inner bodies, the Cycles and the Rounds, and so on. It was such an edifice as to become a monster of fantasy. What he did was to radically reduce all this language and made it stark and materialistic. He said this is not ethereal, this is not some sublime possibility on other realms, or other cycles, or other planets, or other ages, or other spheres or what the hell it was supposed to be. Even the angels, if there are angels, are composed of a certain matter. Everything is material. There is nothing at all but matter and energy. He said, “Let’s cut out all the crap. Let’s do such things as calculate how much more intelligent Jesus Christ is than a table.” This is it. This is the world he was inviting them into, an incredible world which has this one main feature to it that he was trying to establish intelligence as part and parcel of the physical universe: the physical existence of planets and stars, galaxies, living forms, minerals. This is one totality in which the presence of intelligence is integral.

In some of his group discussions and meetings he doesn’t make this only a kind of pseudo science. He has the sense of the sacred too. He speaks of appearances of the Absolute or God coming into the solar system which one can tune into; and, if several people tune into it together they can co-operate and be energized together. But he was always very careful about this. He had to hide it amongst his writings because he always saw the tendency of all of us to fantasize about it, to make something weird and wonderful about it.

As we’re sitting around for a bit, if you want something to occupy yourselves, you can just try to remember exactly how you entered the room as you came in this evening. See if you can physically reconstruct for yourself, how you came through the door, where you went, how you sat down. Just to give you something to do otherwise than listen to my voice.

We get into fancy language now about ‘higher levels’, a ‘higher source’ and all that holy stuff which Gurdjieff himself tried to be very clear about. He was not at all emotional about it, but very clear. It is to begin to accept that in some way there is an order of intelligence which is over and above the human and which can enter into human life. Now this side, all this side of Gurdjieff’s teachings, has almost vanished from sight among most of the followers of his teachings. That is to say, all of that side of Gurdjieff’s teaching which has to do with the cosmology, to do with the sense and purpose of human life on earth and which was actually about the nature of this planet and the nature of the solar system. That side of his teaching has been put into the background and, into the foreground in a very unbalanced way, has come a concern with people and their individual development. It really is an imbalance. Gurdjieff himself at different points of his life used to remind people that there was a ‘total package’ whatever it was. He’d look around and say the Greeks would be doing the triads, the French would be doing the movements, the Americans would be doing the psychology, the English wouldn’t be doing much and so on and so on. They would each pick up the little bit that they liked best and do it and then say “Hum, we can do this bit.” But the wholeness of it is missing. The wholeness of it, the integrality of it, is itself of a higher order and it cannot be reduced to any one part or to any one technique or to any one idea whatsoever. It really is the wholeness which comes from this realm which Gurdjieff says you have to be in connection with. It’s the ultimate stuff.

I myself have considered that it is useful to criticise Gurdjieff and say that he was limited in some respect in what he taught because there isn’t just matter and energy, there is also information. Most people have some instinctive sense that what matters is to find a certain insight or a certain key. All of us can make efforts of some kind. All of us can study ourselves and make some kind of experiments with ourselves. But what exactly to do when, and in what manner? This we don’t know. So we tend to do in our effort only things in general. We learn, as Charles Tart was showing us last night, to do such things as sensing our hands. You put attention on your hands, become aware of this and it helps you become more alert to what you are doing and what is happening. Yesterday Charles also said, “Listen to the sounds, to the voice, the air conditioning, the rustling of people moving and so on,” and you get this kind of attention, an open attention developing in yourself. But if you go on doing this and doing it and doing it and doing it you eventually get quite dulled out. The biggest secret is to know when to do it and for what purpose. It is not generally understood.

I am talking in terms of what Mr. Bennett pointed out. He was so important in this respect. We have these kinds of minds that say, “Being aware is good. Being more aware is better. Therefore the best is being maximally aware all the time.” Now this is actually nonsense, because you need to be aware when you need to be aware. This deeper awareness which is possible for us is a wonderful and precious substance. Imagine: it’s worth more than uranium, plutonium, gold, diamonds. Why would it be available to us? It’s only if we are completely insane and start looking at ourselves as divorced from the rest of nature and the rest of the universe. That we can even think like this, and can think of acquiring more and more of this stuff just because we fancy doing so is a sign of cosmic insanity. Again, this is where a part of the cosmological picture counts. This substance will be given to us if it can be utilized for a purpose which is so to speak ‘objective’. It is not just for us. Increasing our awareness only works in the context of the whole pattern of transformation. If you can begin to see this it would be wonderful. You will be going against the subtle temptation you get when you become more awake and it captures your feeling, your longing. It’s true: it’s so wonderful, and the contrast of not having it is so dreadful. It is extremely hard to get over – to use a piece of Gurdjieffian jargon – ‘identification’ with a state of consciousness.

This confrontation that Gurdjieff has put us in front of has several levels to it. You can become more awake, and then you want to have more awakeness and so on. In a way there is no end to it, and the partial awakening is then a barrier because we are then in a more subtle field of temptation. So what is needed is that a higher order of things should rule. Sooner or later the Gurdjieffian canon of ideas begins to collide with those of orthodox religion and this whole issue comes up: of God’s will, a higher will, a purpose beyond that of mankind. and how we will relate to it. There is a practical side teaching in Gurdjieff’s teaching which says, “OK, there is a devil. Poor devil, most of the time he is so bored because people are uninteresting. They are not worth tempting because they are not there at all. So they do a little piece of work on themselves and they become interesting to the devil. Ha! There’s someone worth tempting, and so they are tempted, with arrogance, pride, greed, all the things that come in.” They come in only for the person who has done a bit of work on himself. There is this wonderful idea, this wonderful teaching, this wonderful liberation, this wonderful invitation to open yourself, your attention and concentration in a different way, and people become bigger ass holes than they were before. This is almost inevitable because they are subject to temptation, which is an old Zoroastrian idea, one of many things which Gurdjieff taught, as he has assimilated so much of the Zoroastrian teachings.

Now I mentioned the cosmological side and the psychological working together. One of the purposes of the cosmological side was to provide at least a rationale for doing this stuff which wasn’t just one’s private fancy. For example, Gurdjieff says two hundred conscious men and women could stop wars. Why? Because they could transform energies which ordinarily require the extinction of large numbers of people on the planet. Why? Because these energies are needed for the functions of the biosphere. People see the crime and the violence that’s breaking out. Where is it breaking out from? It’s because certain energies have got to be released. If people don’t do them consciously, then they have to be done unconsciously. And this can be very tricky. How the hell could I know whether this idea is true or not? It certainly makes you stop and think. If enough people voluntarily transformed energies within themselves, let us say, our cities would change. The whole way that human affairs on the earth are run would change.

There is a further conundrum then: how to get people to do this? It can only be done through persuasion, not by force, not by fooling them, and his own book All and Everything is about this radical history. The whole world’s in shit. So what do we do about this? In the early stages you can produce all these weird mythologies and religions and so on just to fool people into doing something which meant that they didn’t have to slaughter so many animals. And his book is a brilliant exposition of all this. In fact it is partly derived from the life of Buddha who was himself concerned about the practice of animal sacrifice. He was already a deeply compassionate man, not only compassionate emotionally. He saw the significance of what people do to other people and other life forms because they are not transforming themselves. We are potentially such extraordinary beings, such extraordinary structures, that everything we can see in the universe outside us, in the world outside us, we can perform within ourselves. We truly are a microcosm.

So then this realm is that of motivation: “Why?” And this is where there is a threshold which makes it all very difficult. Because without the understanding, without the penetration into motive, into purpose, all these various possibilities which are being offered – say something from the Gurdjieff work — become polluted. Or, as Charles was saying yesterday, they have a kind of built-in safety valve. They just run themselves down, and so people get disillusioned and leave it. There are thresholds to go through.

The cosmological ideas which Gurdjieff introduced in broad outline suggest this. There is this creation, and different worlds obeying different laws, making different regions throughout the universe. It needs to be restored into one whole, so there has to be communication between these various regions. He said that therefore it is necessary for influences from the higher worlds to enter into the lower regions. This may seem strange to us: for example, that the being of the sun has to enter into the being of the earth. It sounds like an ancient mythology. If we accept at all that there are other possibilities other than the human possibility in another region, then for the sake of the whole what is within this entire region must eventually enter into communication with us. Gurdjieff presented the existence of life on this planet as a means of connecting the sun with the earth, a similar idea to that of the materialist scientist Vernadsky in Russia. You can see for yourself that, following these ideas whether you can verify them or not you see yourself as immersed in an omnipresent universal action. Then what this is about is not just what you do on a Saturday or Sunday, like going to church. It actually is an omnipresent universal action. The more you can connect with this action in its objective sense, the more power that accrues to your own work.

As long as you take this as simply of personal concern, the more you are cut off from the energy sources which can enable you to make it happen. You see, all religions have something about ‘enabling energies’ in them. In Sufism you have baraka, in Hindu shaktipat. They are usually associated with saints who transmit it out of their own bodies directly to energize, to enable something to happen. There are sacred sites which are gatherings of subtle energies which can energize and enable you to do things. There are more inward ways of connection, there is for example Gurdjieff’s own exercise of ‘conscious stealing’ where you can tap into the energies of the sacred sites and bring energy into oneself. You can only do this if you realize that this whole planet is orchestrated in a meaningful way in spite of the human noise and chaos which may dominate our present perception. We have exotic ideas such as that of the ‘chink in the world’, the ‘crack in the cosmic egg’, and all kinds of mythical and dramatic portrayals, including the sorcery books of Castenada that point to the need for making a connection with other worlds. This is all about the realization that whatever act you do yourself will require a special extra energy, and in order to get this energy you have to tap into where it originates. If you do this consciously there is no crime in doing so. You are not simply taking. You are performing the truly human role. You need to get a grip on what’s happening, on what reality is, because you need a certain amount of substance. If this certain substance is shared out among all people equally, no one person would have enough to do anything meaningful. So the situation is that most people don’t want it. So there’s plenty around for you if you really want this substance. If it is going to give you a perception of reality, then there is a chance.

Now, I’ll just briefly talk about Mr. Bennett’s work in this regard, because he attempted to explicate this kind of thing, to create an image of the universe which would provide an access to the energy sources and help that is needed for our transformation. It is very difficult for people to understand this because he introduced it in his monumental work, which I helped him a little bit on, The Dramatic Universe in four volumes which deals with the levels of existence, the nature of history, systems of thinking, structures of society, the nature of mind, all these things. It looks like a total encyclopaedia of the structure and nature of the universe. Its function is to enable us to tap in to the higher regions and powers. If we were living in ancient Egypt we would have the Neter or ‘gods’ portrayed in pictographic form. In the 20th century, we have a four volume book. It’s the same function. The problem always is that was is produced in these lines of teaching become ends in themselves and not doorways through which we can pass.

Bennett set himself to open up the doorways. Gurdjieff described conscience, this still residual power left in ourselves, one of the divine doorways, as like feeling everything that one can feel, all at once. In a similar fashion, consciousness is like knowing everything that one can know, all at once. As a word, ‘conscience’ itself means ‘together, to know’. This takes us back to the enigma which I mentioned about Gurdjieff’s teaching. People took what they liked, and followed that part. It was another thing to do all the parts, to be able to do all the actions; because this presents us with a challenge which we can’t in the ordinary way do at all, which in the ordinary way we are constantly justified in not doing. But, you have to grasp it all at once because unless you do that you cannot see the significance of any of it.

(One of Gurdjieff’s most famous aphorisms ran like this: “To know means to know all. Not to know all means not to know. In order to know all, it is only necessary to know a little. But, in order to know this little, it is first necessary to know pretty much.”)

If you keep yourself to that challenge, then something different can happen.

Bennett says that, in all the previous epochs, there were the authorities, there were the systems, there were the absolutes which governed human culture, but the time is coming when these could no longer govern human culture. He prepared for the future in which we now find ourselves. In the situation in which we now find ourselves – which really is new on the planet – we realize the psychological truths of Gurdjieff in a general historical sense. As the human race is becoming more united in its external affairs, it is becoming more fragmented mentally. The culture has produced cognitive values which war against each other because they are incomprehensible to each other. Each region or faction is taking one part of the whole and ignoring the rest. Hardly anywhere in the world is there anybody looking to the whole situation. Everybody is biased, everybody is subjective and parochial. We can be aware of this because of certain technological changes in communication and transport and so on. But I am trying to say to you that at this time you are not getting any intelligent policy- making throughout the world in any sphere whatsoever, or putting together different ideas into one coherent whole, anywhere. This is because the only source from which that can come is from individuals who are able to do that in themselves. I want to suggest to you a picture of turning this whole perspective of Gurdjieff’s quite round to the other side by saying that though people say his work is coming from ancient sources, his work comes from the future, from now. You see, time is a strange beast. You can accept this as a fanciful speculation if you like, but a need is growing in the world now for which only the kind of radical techniques from the researches of Gurdjieff can work. It was this that Bennett tried to keep hold of. He also demonstrated the need to constantly renew the work – partly because he was a physicist and mathematician – and he understood that all systems fall to lower levels in time. If you go down any one path for a period of time, or for more than a certain period, it begins to turn into its own opposite. It is only by facing oneself with repeated challenges which change the whole structure of one’s approach that we can go on evolving.

So he was faced with the difficult situation of perpetuating the Gurdjieff work in a way which seemed to violate the Gurdjieff work. Because in a sense there never was such a thing as the Gurdjieff work. There was just an injection at a certain point in history that connected with other injections at other points of history which communicate with each other which are worked out in people like you and I. There isn’t any kind of system out there for all of this.

There are books, there are Gurdjieff movements, there are exercises, but this isn’t the work, none of it. Why? Because all the time it’s starting from where it came in the first place, if you believe the kind of picture I presented in the first part of my talk. The work doesn’t work simply by some people making efforts, being clever or remembering a lot of things. There is no substitution for listening; as portrayed in the old myths such as that of Ziusudra the Sumerian who listened by the wall by to the voice of the gods, and was able to know what to do.

You see, the kind of challenge inherent in Gurdjieff’s message is an ever-renewed challenge to us as individuals to grasp and to make sense of it, to put it into practice, and to find our own contribution to it. Gurdjieff was most remarkable in uniting the East and the West. He took elements from the East such as its inherent despotism and authoritarianism which imposes on people and he produced for our century the image of what the guru should be like. Simply to imitate him is wrong.

The way we can find our own place in this nexus which is stimulated by his assertion is bound not to be straightforward. There is so much in this that we have to create for ourselves, to find out for ourselves. Gurdjieff went from his first book All And Everything to his second book, which appeared so simple in comparison, Meetings with Remarkable Men, his autobiographical account of his friends. Why were they remarkable men? Not because they had special powers, or were saints or geniuses or anything like that. It had nothing to do with that. It was because they were able to work together in their search for reality. That was what made them remarkable. That was the paradigm he was putting in front of people, in all of his writings. If, even for a short period of time, people can get together and do some genuine research into reality, this is the major contribution.

You don’t have to accept it from the past. You don’t have to cobble together teachings from the things you like. We can actually find out and do it for ourselves. But, the path is dramatic and uncertain – as Mr Bennett showed in his own life search. He had a ruthless struggle with himself under the direction of other people, believing that only sustained and ruthless effort could lead to anything. It then became born on him more and more the need to confront something of a different order. For all of the efforts in driving oneself, in striving, this can all amount to nothing. He had to challenge the very core of what he had been taught from the Gurdjieffian teachings. He had to find for himself what was coming from outside of life, and to come into communication with that.

As long as you’re kind of concerned with yourself, or trying to make efforts to improve yourself, it’s all coloured by yourself. It’s extremely hard to get the sense of being engaged in an action which is coming towards you. There really is something that wishes to communicate with us, to give us wisdom, to give us insight. But in order for this to happen there has to be established the right relationship between ourselves and this wisdom. And it is a very hard for us to do. In the very last years of his life Bennett had this theme of wanting to develop a new sacred image for people. He wanted to make a sacred image of Unconditioned Nature and he spoke of this in a very radical way. He was not saying, “Oh, we should start loving nature.” which is what everyone thinks of. He said that we should realize that nature loves us. This is the radical contribution he made.

I shall finish on this occasion with a few more remarks and a personal note. I was a very despondent individual lacking completely in self-confidence. I went to see him once a few years before he died and I started to wail as people do who start in this kind of work. “Oh Mr. Bennett, I cannot work on myself. I am failing.” And he said, “That doesn’t matter. Just do a bit of work on yourself, it’s like keeping up muscle tone.” He said that there are supernatural energies which work. Our job is to connect with them. There really is something working. It has produced the whole universe. This life on earth. It’s extremely effective, and very positive. You can be positive idiotically or you can be positive consciously. So Bennett tapped into the central issue from which Gurdjieff began. There is something which can call on all our energy, all our intelligence, our heart, and everything. It demands all of our everything. Gurdjieff’s book, All and Everything was not really to show how clever Gurdjieff was at understanding the laws of the universe. Its purpose was to completely freak out your mind. He delved to the limit of what you could think, just right to the edge of what you could possibly conceive of. That was the point of the book. Take your thinking as far as you can. It cleans you out. We are thinking beings, regardless. We’ve got to come to terms with different things like the creation of the universe, its structure, with the origin of human life, what happened forty thousand years ago – not by reading the Scientific American, but by considering it in ourselves, by finding it in ourselves. We must do this, constantly do this, otherwise we are simply being driven by our culture. We must try to get back to the origins of things, to ask the questions, to find the help we need. Even while immersed in this, one isn’t sure. There can’t be any guarantee. Who is going to give you the guarantee? If somebody comes forward and tells you “You’re doing great!” why should you trust him?

This is an extraordinary time, less than a hundred years after Gurdjieff first appeared, in which the external world is becoming like a vast seething laboratory of problems. And we’re confronting our inner complexities and contradictions outwardly. This is what is happening. The more of reality we can grasp and act according to the whole of the issue then the more we share. But in advance we can never know. This is the final thing that I can say about this path as far as I understand it. It’s not applying work-type techniques which have been developed in some Afghanistan monastery. It’s a path of constant discovery. I spoke to you just now of putting sensation in the right hand. I think it’s wonderful. Then tomorrow when I do this it is different from today. Tomorrow I will say: “What is this sensation? I don’t know. I want to discover it now.” We don’t need these fixed methods, we don’t need these fixed patterns of thought; but unless we’ve gone into them, really shaken the guts out of them, deeply, fully we can never get beyond them. We’ve got to grapple with the fundamental questions for which there are no agreed answers. We must deliberately apply our minds to these questions or this mind will poison us inadvertently. The same for all of our parts. Gurdjieff’s injunctions about us being mechanical, and all the rest is a challenge. It is not really a factual description. It is a challenge to create something in the face of.

I think you have to get so upset by Gurdjieff’s ideas that you ask yourself, “Really, how did this mad Greek come to know these things, why is he so sure about it?” As soon as you take it on for yourself then it changes. In fact the one sure way of waking up is to realize that you are asleep. That’s all. If you really know you are asleep you are awake. So it’s only the non-mechanical who can see that they are mechanical, it’s only the awake who can see that they are asleep. And I speak of this because it was very important in my relationship with Bennett about all this: he said there was such a major misconstruing of Gurdjieff’s teaching, such an emphasis on the downbeatness of it. So that people exploited Gurdjieff’s teachings to beat people up, depress them and oppress them. This was done to people when it wasn’t really useful, and really hurt them.

The work was for him a thing of joy. It was like hearing angels. It was really joyful thing because it was like opening the door to cosmic possibilities for people, and these doors can be opened only by something extraordinary, something beyond reason, something which you can only suspect and never have any guarantee of because it comes from a different order of things.