G. I. Gurdjieff

Gurdjieff International Review

Selected Excerpts from the

Talks and Writings of G. I. Gurdjieff

Every branch of science endeavors to elaborate and to establish an exact language for itself. But there is no universal language. For exact understanding exact language is necessary.… This new language is based on the principle of relativity; that is to say, it introduces relativity into all concepts and thus makes possible an accurate determination of the angle of thought—making it possible to establish at once what is being said, from what point of view and in what connection. In this new language all ideas are concentrated round one idea. This central idea is the idea of evolution … and the evolution of man is the evolution of his consciousness.

G. I. Gurdjieff, paraphrased from page 70 of IN SEARCH OF THE MIRACULOUS

Philosophy and Religion

THERE DO EXIST ENQUIRING MINDS, which long for the truth of the heart, seek it, strive to solve the problems set by life, try to penetrate to the essence of things and phenomena and to penetrate into themselves. If a man reasons and thinks soundly, no matter which path he follows in solving these problems, he must inevitably arrive back at himself, and begin with the solution of the problem of what he is himself and what his place is in the world around him. For without this knowledge, he will have no focal point in his search. Socrates’ words, “Know thyself” remain for all those who seek true knowledge and being.


LIBERATION LEADS TO LIBERATION. These are the first words of truth—not truth in quotation marks but truth in the real meaning of the word; truth which is not merely theoretical, not simply a word, but truth that can be realized in practice. The meaning behind these words may be explained as follows:
     By liberation is meant the liberation which is the aim of all schools, all religions, at all times.
     This liberation can indeed be very great. All men desire it and strive after it. But it cannot be attained without the first liberation, a lesser liberation. The great liberation is liberation from influences outside us. The lesser liberation is liberation from influences within us.


RELIGION IS DOING; a man does not merely think his religion or feel it, he ‘lives’ his religion as much as he is able, otherwise it is not religion but fantasy or philosophy. Whether he likes it or not he shows his attitude towards religion by his actions and he can show his attitude only by his actions. Therefore if his actions are opposed to those which are demanded by a given religion he cannot assert that he belongs to that religion.


ONE MUST LEARN TO PRAY, JUST AS ONE MUST LEARN EVERYTHING ELSE. Whoever knows how to pray and is able to concentrate in the proper way, his prayer can give results. But it must be understood that there are different prayers and that their results are different. This is known even from ordinary divine service. But when we speak of prayer or of the results of prayer we always imply only one kind of prayer—petition, or we think that petition can be united with all other kinds of prayers.… Most prayers have nothing in common with petitions. I speak of ancient prayers; many of them are much older than Christianity. These prayers are, so to speak, recapitulations; by repeating them aloud or to himself a man endeavors to experience what is in them, their whole content, with his mind and his feeling.


THE COMMANDMENT INCULCATED IN ME IN MY CHILDHOOD, enjoining that “the highest aim and sense of human life is the striving to attain the welfare of one’s neighbor,” and that this is possible exclusively only by the conscious renunciation of one’s own.


ALL THE BEINGS OF THIS PLANET THEN BEGAN TO WORK in order to have in their consciousness this Divine function of genuine conscience, and for this purpose, as everywhere in the Universe, they transubstantiated in themselves what are called the ‘being-obligolnian-strivings’ which consist of the following five, namely:
     The first striving: to have in their ordinary being-existence everything satisfying and really necessary for their planetary body.
     The second striving: to have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being.
     The third: the conscious striving to know ever more and more concerning the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance.
     The fourth: the striving from the beginning of their existence to pay for their arising and their individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterwards to be free to lighten as much as possible the Sorrow of our Common Father.
     And the fifth: the striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred ‘Martfotai’ that is up to the degree of self-individuality.

BEELZEBUB’S TALES, pp. 385–386

IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO EXPLAIN WHAT TAKES PLACE IN ME when I see or hear anything majestic which allows no doubt that it proceeds from the actualization of Our Maker Creator. Each time, my tears flow of themselves. I weep, that is to say, it weeps in me, not from grief, no, but as if from tenderness. I became so, gradually, after meeting Father Giovanni.…
     After that meeting my whole inner and outer world became for me quite different. In the definite views which had become rooted in me in the course of my whole life, there took place, as it were by itself, a revaluation of all values.
     Before that meeting, I was a man wholly engrossed in my own personal interests and pleasures, and also in the interests and pleasures of my children. I was always occupied with thoughts of how best to satisfy my needs and the needs of my children.
     Formerly, it may be said, my whole being was possessed by egoism. All my manifestations and experiencings flowed from my vanity. The meeting with Father Giovanni killed all this, and from then on there gradually arose in me that “something” which has brought the whole of me to the unshakable conviction that, apart from the vanities of life, there exists a “something else” which must be the aim and ideal of every more or less thinking man, and that it is only this something else which may make a man really happy and give him real values, instead of the illusory “goods” with which in ordinary life he is always and in everything full.

Professor Skridlov, MEETINGS WITH REMARKABLE MEN, pp. 245–246

YES, PROFESSOR, KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING ARE QUITE DIFFERENT. Only understanding can lead to being, whereas knowledge is but a passing presence in it. New knowledge displaces the old and the result is, as it were, a pouring from the empty into the void.
     One must strive to understand; this alone can lead to our Lord God.
     And in order to be able to understand the phenomena of nature, according and not according to law, proceeding around us, one must first of all consciously perceive and assimilate a mass of information concerning objective truth and the real events which took place on earth in the past; and secondly, one must bear in oneself all the results of all kinds of voluntary and involuntary experiencings.


FAITH CAN NOT BE GIVEN TO MAN. Faith arises in a man and increases in its action in him not as the result of automatic learning, that is, not from any automatic ascertainment of height, breadth, thickness, form and weight, or from the perception of anything by sight, hearing, touch, smell or taste, but from understanding.
     Understanding is the essence obtained from information intentionally learned and from all kinds of experiences personally experienced.


ALL RELIGIONS SPEAK ABOUT DEATH DURING THIS LIFE ON EARTH. Death must come before rebirth. But what must die? False confidence in one’s own knowledge, self-love and egoism. Our egoism must be broken. We must realize that we are very complicated machines, and so this process of breaking is bound to be a long and difficult task. Before real growth becomes possible, our personality must die.


THE SOLE MEANS NOW FOR THE SAVING OF THE BEINGS OF THE PLANET EARTH would be to implant again into their presences a new organ, an organ like Kundabuffer, but this time of such properties that every one of those unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests.
     Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can now destroy the egoism completely crystallized in them that has swallowed up the whole of their Essence and also that tendency to hate others which flows from it—the tendency, namely, which engenders all those mutual relationships existing there, which serve as the chief cause of all their abnormalities unbecoming to three-brained beings and maleficent for them themselves and for the whole of the Universe.


WILL IS A SIGN OF A BEING OF A VERY HIGH ORDER OF EXISTENCE as compared with the being of an ordinary man. Only men who are in possession of such a being can do. All other men are merely automata, put into action by external forces like machines or clockwork toys, acting as much and as long as the wound-up spring within them acts, and not capable of adding anything to its force.


Faith of consciousness is freedom
Faith of feeling is weakness
Faith of body is stupidity.

Love of consciousness evokes the same in response
Love of feeling evokes the opposite
Love of body depends only on type and polarity.

Hope of consciousness is strength
Hope of feelings is slavery
Hope of body is disease.


Science and Psychology

IN RIGHT KNOWLEDGE the study of man must proceed on parallel lines with the study of the world, and the study of the world must run parallel with the study of man. Laws are everywhere the same, in the world as well as in man. Having mastered the principles of any one law we must look for its manifestation in the world and in man simultaneously.… This parallel study of the world and of man shows the student the fundamental unity of everything and helps him to find analogies in phenomena of different orders.


AS EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE IS ONE, so, consequently, everything has equal rights, therefore from this point of view knowledge can be acquired by a suitable and complete study, no matter what the starting point is. Only one must know how to ‘learn.’ What is nearest to us is man; and you are the nearest of all men to yourself. Begin with the study of yourself; remember the saying ‘Know thyself.’


BUT OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE, THE IDEA OF UNITY INCLUDED, belongs to objective consciousness. The forms which express this knowledge when perceived by subjective consciousness are inevitably distorted and, instead of truth, they create more and more delusions. With objective consciousness it is possible to see and feel the unity of everything. But for subjective consciousness the world is split up into millions of separate and unconnected phenomena. Attempts to connect these phenomena into some sort of system in a scientific or philosophical way lead to nothing because man cannot reconstruct the idea of the whole starting from separate facts and they cannot divine the principles of the division of the whole without knowing the laws upon which this division is based.


EVERY PHENOMENON, ON WHATEVER SCALE and in whatever world it may take place, from molecular to cosmic phenomena, is the result of the combination or the meeting of three different and opposing forces. Contemporary thought realizes the existence of two forces and the necessity of these two forces for the production of a phenomenon: force and resistance, positive and negative magnetism, positive and negative electricity, male and female cells, and so on. But it does not observe even these two forces always and everywhere. No question has ever been raised as to the third, or if it has been raised it has scarcely been heard.


ALL THIS AND MANY OTHER THINGS CAN ONLY BE EXPLAINED WITH THE HELP OF THE LAW OF OCTAVES together with an understanding of the role and significance of ‘intervals’ which cause the line of the development of force constantly to change, to go in a broken line, to turn round, to become its ‘own opposite’ and so on.
     Such a course of things, that is, a change of direction, we can observe in everything. After a certain period of energetic activity or strong emotion or a right understanding a reaction comes, work becomes tedious and tiring; moments of fatigue and indifference enter into feeling; instead of right thinking a search for compromises begins; suppression, evasion of difficult problems. But the line continues to develop though now not in the same direction as at the beginning. Work becomes mechanical, feeling becomes weaker and weaker, descends to the level of the common events of the day; thought becomes dogmatic, literal. Everything proceeds in this way for a certain time, then again there is reaction, again a stop, again a deviation. The development of the force may continue but the work which was begun with great zeal and enthusiasm has become an obligatory and useless formality; a number of entirely foreign elements have entered into feeling—considering, vexation, irritation, hostility; thought goes round in a circle, repeating what was known before, and the way out which had been found becomes more and more lost.
     The same thing happens in all spheres of human activity. In literature, science, art, philosophy, religion, in individual and above all in social and political life, we can observe how the line of the development of forces deviates from its original direction and goes, after a certain time, in a diametrically opposite direction, still preserving its former name.


I ASK YOU TO BELIEVE NOTHING that you cannot verify for yourself.


THE EVOLUTION OF MAN CAN BE TAKEN AS THE DEVELOPMENT IN HIM of those powers and possibilities which never develop by themselves, that is, mechanically. Only this kind of development, only this kind of growth, marks the real evolution of man. There is, and there can be, no other kind of evolution whatever.…
     In speaking of evolution it is necessary to understand from the outset that no mechanical evolution is possible. The evolution of man is the evolution of his consciousness. And ‘consciousness’ cannot evolve unconsciously. The evolution of man is the evolution of his will, and ‘will’ cannot evolve involuntarily. The evolution of man is the evolution of his power of doing, and ‘doing’ cannot be the result of things which ‘happen.’


BUT THE BEING OF TWO PEOPLE CAN DIFFER from one another more than the being of a mineral and of an animal. This is exactly what people do not understand. And they do not understand that knowledge depends on being. Not only do they not understand this latter but they definitely do not wish to understand it. And especially in Western culture it is considered that a man may possess great knowledge, for example he may be an able scientist, make discoveries, advance science, and at the same time he may be, and has a right to be, a petty, egoistic, caviling, mean, envious, vain, naïve, and absent-minded man. It seems to be considered here that a professor must always forget his umbrella everywhere.


THERE ARE TWO LINES ALONG WHICH MAN’S DEVELOPMENT PROCEEDS, the line of knowledge and the line of being. In right evolution the line of knowledge and the line of being develop simultaneously, parallel to, and helping one another. But if the line of knowledge gets too far ahead of the line of being, or if the line of being gets ahead of the line of knowledge, man’s development goes wrong, and sooner or later it must come to a standstill.


THE POWER OF CHANGING ONESELF LIES NOT IN THE MIND, but in the body and the feelings. Unfortunately, however, our body and our feelings are so constituted that they don’t care a jot about anything so long as they are happy. They live for the moment and their memory is short. The mind alone lives for tomorrow. Each has its own merits. The merit of the mind is that it looks ahead. But it is only the other two that can “do.”


DURING THE PERIOD OF MY YEAR OF SPECIAL OBSERVATIONS on all of their manifestations and perceptions, I made it categorically clear to myself that although the factors for engendering in their presences the sacred being-impulses of Faith, Hope, and Love are already quite degenerated in the beings of this planet, nevertheless, the factor which ought to engender that being-impulse on which the whole psyche of beings of a three-brained system is in general based, and which impulse exists under the name of Objective-Conscience, is not yet atrophied in them, but remains in their presences almost in its primordial state.


THE GENERAL PSYCHE OF MAN IN ITS DEFINITIVE FORM is considered to be the result of conformity to these three independent worlds. The first is the outer world—in other words, everything existing outside him, both what he can see and feel as well as what is invisible and intangible for him. The second is the inner world—in other words, all the automatic processes of his nature and the mechanical repercussions of these processes. The third world is his own world, depending neither upon his “outer world” nor upon his “inner world”; that is to say, it is independent of the caprices of the processes that flow in him as well as of the imperfections in these processes that bring them about. A man who does not possess his own world can never do anything from his own initiative: all his actions “are done” in him. Only he can have his own initiative for perceptions and manifestations in whose common presence there has been formed, in an independent and intentional manner, the totality of factors necessary for the functioning of this third world.


ONE OF MAN’S IMPORTANT MISTAKES, one which must be remembered, is his illusion in regard to his I.
     Man such as we know him, the ‘man-machine,’ the man who cannot ‘do,’ and with whom and through whom everything ‘happens,’ cannot have a permanent and single I. His I changes as quickly as his thoughts, feelings and moods, and he makes a profound mistake in considering himself always one and the same person; in reality he is always a different person, not the one he was a moment ago.
     Man has no permanent and unchangeable I. Every thought, every mood, every desire, every sensation, says ‘I.’ And in each case it seems to be taken for granted that this I belongs to the Whole, to the whole man, and that a thought, a desire, or an aversion is expressed by this Whole. In actual fact there is no foundation whatsoever for this assumption. Man’s every thought and desire appears and lives quite separately and independently of the Whole. And the Whole never expresses itself, for the simple reason that it exists, as such, only physically as a thing, and in the abstract as a concept. Man has no individual I. But there are, instead, hundreds and thousands of separate small I’s, very often entirely unknown to one another, never coming into contact, or, on the contrary, hostile to each other, mutually exclusive and incompatible. Each minute, each moment, man is saying or thinking, ‘I.’ And each time his I is different. Just now it was a thought, now it is a desire, now a sensation, now another thought, and so on, endlessly. Man is a plurality. Man’s name is legion.


TRY TO UNDERSTAND THAT WHAT YOU USUALLY CALL “I” IS NOT I; there are many “I’s” and each “I” has a different wish. Try to verify this. You wish to change, but which part of you has this wish? Many parts of you want many things, but only one part is real. It will be very useful for you to try to be sincere with yourself. Sincerity is the key which will open the door through which you will see your separate parts, and you will see something quite new. You must go on trying to be sincere. Each day you put on a mask, and you must take it off little by little.


FROM MY POINT OF VIEW, HE CAN BE CALLED A REMARKABLE MAN who stands out from those around him by the resourcefulness of his mind, and who knows how to be restrained in the manifestations which proceed from his nature, at the same time conducting himself justly and tolerantly towards the weaknesses of others.


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These excerpts were previously published as part of a program booklet issued for the “Ideas of Gurdjieff Conference” sponsored by Far West Institute in San Rafael, California in November 1996 and are reproduced with their kind permission.

Copyright © 1996 Far West Institute
This webpage © 1999 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Fall 1999 Issue, Vol. III (1)
Revision: October 1, 1999