Gurdjieff International Review

The Plight of the Soil

All life is one. — And everything that lives is holy. — Plants, animals and men, all must eat to live and nourish one another. — We bless the lives that have died to give us this food. — Let us eat consciously, resolving by our work to pay the debt of our existence. — Amen.[1]

John G. Bennett


s Gurdjieff presents it, all modes of existence in the universe can be grouped into essence classes so that each of these classes provides for the maintenance of another and in its turn is maintained by a third class. Although man appears in the scheme, this does not refer to man as an individual being or even to all humanity, but rather to man as a being with a particular kind of essence able to transform energies of a corresponding quality and, therefore, to play a specific role in the universal maintenance. An essence class is not defined in the way a biologist would classify plants and animals. It is characterized by a pattern of possible experience....

We have a strange propensity to look upon the human race as apart from the natural order. We have accepted man’s evolution from the primates and the entire phylogenetic history of life from its first beginnings two or three thousand million years ago. We recognize our dependence upon the earth’s crust for the raw materials and energies needed by our technology and upon animal and vegetable life for our food; but it does not occur to us that this dependence is mutual, that we are so closely integrated into the natural order that we cannot harm it without hurting ourselves. For this error, we have only our self-centered egoism to blame....

In the course of hundreds of millions of years, the minerals of the earth’s crust have been concentrated in huge deposits that we now draw upon relentlessly with little thought for the consequences. At most, we are concerned that our grandchildren may find themselves deprived of sources of energy and raw materials of manufacture. The truth is that the great mineral deposits play a vital part in maintaining the balance of forces acting upon life on our planet and particularly upon mankind. We are already encountering strange results from the disturbances we are causing....

The intensely active thin layer of colloidal matter that covers the [earth’s] surface ... includes what we call soil which has the special property of allowing matter in the three states, solid, liquid and gaseous to interact with high concentration of energy. The soil is less than one millionth part of the earth’s mass and yet, with the equivalent surface layer of the oceans, it is the scene of nearly all the transformations upon which life depends....

We know that our life is dependent upon the soil. The deserts produced by the ‘rape of the soil’ are a constant reminder of the precarious hold that we have upon life. Without life, soil degenerates and loses its dynamic character. Without simples: air, water, carbon dioxide and salts, the soil perishes. When the soil is ‘treated’ with substances incompatible with its essence pattern—such as various chemical agents that we are now using on a large scale—its place in the universal maintenance is disturbed, and it gradually ceases to liberate the energies that are needed for the evolution of our planet. We are already beginning to observe the consequences of creating an ecological imbalance on the level of the soil essence. If we look more deeply we would discover that we are violating the laws of our own existence and perhaps understand that this must bring its own retribution.

Modern man ignores cosmic laws even when they are revealed to him. He does not see that he is already involved in the retributive consequences of his irresponsibility. We cannot plead ignorance, for even if we are unable to grasp intellectually the universal scheme, we can be sensitive to its working by the prompting of conscience. Hundreds of thousands of men and women are deeply distressed by what is being done to our Mother Earth. They may interpret this distress in superficial terms, but they do make great efforts to preserve our heritage. They half understand that by poisoning the soil, we introduce psychic poisons into ourselves. It is an observed fact that all countries which use a maximum of artificial fertilizers are subject to the maximum of psychic disorders. People refuse to admit that the connection is more than accidental. This refusal to face reality enters at every stage of our involvement in the world process.

The next class is that of the plant essence. This is static. It produces an extraordinary range of substances. Not only do all the chemical elements enter vegetable life in the form of crystalline salts, but some plants have the power to synthesize substances with a powerful action on the human psyche. All life on the earth, all the possibilities of experience, depend upon the substances produced by the vegetable essence. We have an obligation towards this marvelous bio-chemical system which maintains the balance of air, earth and oceans and provides us with all our chief needs. While we recognize that the destruction of forests and the loss of vegetable plankton due to pollution of the seasto cite but two examplesare threatening all life on the planet, we do not see that mankind is going to pay the price of all this destruction. We make the terrible mistake of treating nature as an alien power, instead of recognizing that we are wholly involved in the well-being of the plant life of the earth. □

John G. Bennett, Gurdjieff: Making a New World (1973) NY: Harper Row, pp. 204–209.

[1] A prayer that Mr. Bennett created in 1973. Sources: Anthony Blake and Elan Sicroff.


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Featured: Winter 2019/2020 Issue, Vol. XIV (1)
Revision: August 13, 2020