Gurdjieff International Review

The Word as Spoken and Written

Excerpts from Gurdjieff’s Writings

For an exact study, an exact language is needed.

For an exact study, an exact language is needed. But our ordinary language in which we speak, set forth what we know and understand, and write books in ordinary life, does not do for even a small amount of exact speech. An inexact speech cannot serve an exact knowledge. The words composing our language are too wide, too foggy and indefinite, while the meaning put into them is too arbitrary and variable. Every man who pronounces any word always attaches this or that shade of meaning to it by his imagination, exaggerates or puts forward this or that side of it, sometimes concentrating all the significance of the word on a single feature of the object, that is, designating by this word not all the attributes but those chance external ones which first spring to his notice. Another man speaking with the first attaches to the same word another shade of meaning, takes this word in another sense, which is often exactly the opposite...

For every man the meaning of his own words and the meaning which he puts into them changes in accordance with his own thoughts and humors, with the images which he associates at the moment with the words, as well as with what and how his interlocutor speaks, for by an involuntary imitation or contradiction he can involuntarily change the meaning of his words. In addition, nobody is able to define exactly what he means by this or that word, or whether this meaning is constant or subject to change, how, why and for what reason.

If several men speak, everyone speaks in his own way, and no one of them understands another. A professor reads a lecture, a scholar writes a book, and their audience and readers listen to, and read, not them but combinations of the authors’ words and their own thoughts, notions, humors and emotions of the given moment...

Our wrong use of words and the qualities of the words themselves have made them unreliable instruments of an exact speech and an exact knowledge, not to mention the fact that for many notions accessible to our reason we have neither words nor expressions...

The teaching whose principles we are going to expound here has as one of its tasks the bringing of our thinking nearer to an exact mathematical designation of things and events and the giving to men of the possibility of understanding themselves and each other.

If we take any of the most commonly used words and try to see what a varied meaning these words have according to who uses them and in what connection, we shall see why men have no power of expressing their thoughts exactly and why everything men say and think is so unstable and contradictory...

For example, if we say the word “world” in front of ten hearers, every one of them will understand the word in his own way...

This teaching says that if the question of what the world is were approached in the right way, we could establish quite accurately what we understand by this word. And this definition of a right understanding would include in itself all views upon the world and all approaches to the question. Having thus agreed on such a definition, men would be able to understand one another when speaking about the world. Only starting from such a definition can one speak about the world...

We live at one and the same time in six worlds, just as we live on a floor of such and such a house, in such and such a street, in such and such a town, such and such a state, and such and such a part of the world.

Views from the Real World, pp. 60–67

Without Partkdolg-duty, a teaching will be interpreted literally.

“It is interesting to notice that even in this totality noted ‘from-bits-here-and-there,’ which your favorites call the Holy Writ, there are many precise words and even whole phrases, uttered at that ‘Lord’s Supper’ by the Saint Jesus Christ Himself, as well as by those directly initiated by Him who in this same Holy Script are called ‘disciples’ or ‘apostles,’ and which words and phrases your favorites, particularly the contemporary ones, also understand, as always and everything, only ‘literally,’ without any awareness of the inner meaning put into them.

“And such a nonsensical ‘literal’ understanding proceeds in them, of course, always owing to the fact that they have entirely ceased to produce in their common presences Partkdolg-duty, which should be actualized by being-efforts, which in their turn, alone crystallize in the three-brained beings data for the capacity of genuine being-pondering.

“That is why, my boy, in the given case also they could not ponder at least only about the fact that, when this Sacred Individual Jesus Christ was actualized among them and when this same existing Holy Writ of theirs was compiled, so many definite words were not used by beings similar to these compilers as are used at the present time.

“They do not consider that at that period ‘being-mentation’ among the beings of this planet was still nearer to that normal mentation, which in general is proper to be present among three-brained beings, and that at that time the transmission of ideas and thoughts was in consequence still what is called ‘Podobnisirnian,’ or, as it is still otherwise said ‘allegorical.’

“In other words, in order to explain to themselves, or to any others, some act or other, the three-brained beings of the planet Earth then referred to the understanding of similar acts which had already formerly occurred among them.

Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, pp. 737–738

A dervish exposes a young man’s presumption of knowledge gleaned only from books.

[The dervish] expressed himself very simply, in unpolished language, and at the beginning gave the impression, at least to me personally, of being an ignorant man, that is to say, uneducated in the European sense of the word...

It was dinner-time. A pupil came bringing the dervish his food—rice in a bowl made out of a gourd. Continuing the conversation, the dervish began to eat. As we had eaten nothing since we had risen and started on our way early in the morning, we opened our knapsacks and began to eat also.

I must remind you that at that time I was an ardent follower of the famous Indian yogis and carried out very exactly all the indications of what is called Hatha Yoga, and when eating I tried to masticate my food as thoroughly as possible. So, long after everyone, including the old man, had finished their simple meal, I continued slowly eating, trying not to swallow a single morsel without masticating it according to all the rules.

Seeing this, the dervish asked me: “Tell me, young stranger, why are you eating like that?”

I was so sincerely astonished by this question—which seemed to me very strange and to say not very much for his knowledge—that I even had no desire to reply to him, and thought that we had made such a long detour in vain, to meet a man who was not worth talking with seriously. Looking into his eyes, I felt not only pity but also ashamed for him, and replied with self-assurance that I chewed my food carefully so that it might be better assimilated in the intestines, and, referring to the well-known fact that properly digested food gives the organism a larger quantity of calories necessary for all our functions, I repeated all that I had extracted from various books on the subject.

Shaking his head, the old man slowly and with conviction uttered the following saying which is known throughout Persia:

“Let God kill him who himself does not know and yet presumes to show others the way to the doors of His Kingdom.”

Meetings with Remarkable Men, pp. 184–185

The same word calls up a different picture in different places.

In the brains of people of different races and conditions dwelling in different geographical localities, there are formed about one and the same thing or even idea, a number of quite independent forms, which during functioning, that is to say, association, evoke in their being some sensation or other which subjectively conditions a definite picturing, and which picturing is expressed by this, that, or the other word, that serves only for its outer subjective expression.

That is why each word, for the same thing or idea, almost always acquires for people of different geographical locality and race a very definite and entirely different so to say “inner-content.”

In other words, if in the entirety of any man who has arisen and been formed in any locality, from the results of the specific local influences and impressions a certain “form” has been composed, and this form evokes in him by association the sensation of a definite “inner content,” and consequently of a definite picturing or notion for the expression of which he employs one or another word which has eventually become habitual, and as I have said, subjective to him, then the hearer of that word, in whose being, owing to different conditions of his arising and growth, there has been formed concerning the given word a form of a different “inner content,” will always perceive and of course infallibly understand that same word in quite another sense.

Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 16

Copyright © 2012 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2012 Issue, Vol. XI (1)
Revision: April 1, 2012