Gurdjieff International Review

What Does Great Nature Require of Us?

Before, nature had a life and spirit of its own. The trees, skies, and rivers were living spirits. Now we are only concerned with how they can serve us.   –Phra Paisal Visalo

James George


he more challenging the conditions we face in life, the more, I find, we need to pay attention to Gurdjieff’s seminal teaching and do our best not just to study it intellectually but to practice it together as best we can from moment to moment. After all, we keep saying that this is “a work in life,” and in life we all confront the same distractions and temptations, whether or not we are connected with one of the Gurdjieff Foundations.

In our outer lives, global warming is without doubt the most challenging issue of the 21st century. It may indeed be a survival issue, not only for animals and birds, but also for us. Some of the world’s top scientists have begun to question whether humanity can survive this century. Lord Martin Rees, the President of the Royal Society, thinks that the odds are no better than 50/50. Stephen Hawkins seems to have given up on planet Earth and places his hopes on getting human DNA to Mars to start over. What a counsel of despair! Fortunately, most of the scientific experts on climate change still disagree with him, but all agree that the time for effective action is running out.

And what about our inner life? If human behavior is now accepted as responsible for a very significant part of the problem, how can we change what Gurdjieff calls our “abnormal behavior?” Can we reread Beelzebub’s Tales today looking for clues to a deeper understanding of Gurdjieff’s call to awaken, so that “the ‘sacred-conscience’ still surviving in (our) subconsciousness might gradually pass into the functioning of (our) ordinary consciousness?”[1] Ashiata Shiemash showed that it is possible to change human behavior in this way. “Only he will be called and will become the Son of God who acquires in himself Conscience.”[2] Now more than ever, we need to hear this call and to adapt our lifestyles and our technologies so that we can serve as stewards of Nature, instead of serving the greedy growth of consumerism and corporation profits that have been steering our economy over the cliff.

Already in the first chapter, “The Arousing of Thought,” Gurdjieff refers to human beings, including himself, as “biped destroyers of Nature’s good.”[3] Only on our peculiar planet, he says, do three-brained beings destroy each other and cause grave problems for Nature. That abnormal behavior must change. In the distant past, he warns us, Nature has shown that it can take drastic counter-measures when necessary to prevent such abnormalities from impinging on the common cosmic harmony:

When later ... they began to exist already excessively abnormally, that is to say, quite unbecomingly for three-brained beings, and when in consequence of this they had on the one hand ceased to emanate the vibrations required by Nature for the maintenance of ... their planet, and, on the other hand, had begun, owing to the chief peculiarity of their strange psyche, to destroy beings of other forms of their planet, thereby gradually diminishing the number of sources required for this purpose, then Nature Herself was compelled gradually to actualize the presences of these three-brained beings according to the second principle, namely, the principle ‘Itoklanos,’ that is, to actualize them in the same way in which She actualizes one-brained and two-brained beings in order that the equilibrium of the vibrations required according to quality and quantity should be attained.[4]

What a fate for three-brained beings to be reduced to functioning like one-brained or two-brained beings!

At the same time, he tells us that unless we begin to live our lives consciously, not automatically, we cannot hope to experience “impulses of self-satisfaction and self-cognizance in correctly and honorably fulfilling (our) duty to Great Nature.”[5] But instead of behaving normally, as “beings having in their presences every possibility for becoming particles of a part of Divinity,”[6] we turn ourselves into automatons, “merely into what is called ‘living flesh.’”[7] Remember Mullah Nassr Eddin’s cautionary injunction: “Better pull ten hairs a day out of your mother’s head than not help Nature.”[8]

So what is our duty—both inner and outer—to Great Nature today? What does Great Nature now require of us?

Though it was written many years before climate change became a problem, numerous examples are given throughout Beelzebub’s Tales of our unconscious human behavior that is causing Nature to “huff and puff’ in her attempts to redress the damage we humans are causing in our sleepy unawareness. Little do we realize, for example, that in making use of great quantities of electricity for our egoistic satisfactions we are destroying two of the three components of one of the most basic substances in the universe, “the Omnipresent Okidanokh,” which some elders in the Work have equated with Consciousness.

It has become indispensable for Nature that humanity stops behaving in ways that, in the next few generations, will, if we do not change, make Earth unfit for most species of animals, including ourselves. If we cannot awaken ourselves from our self-centered dreams, Nature will have to wake us up with shocks of increasing severity—hurricanes, earthquakes, plagues, forest fires, floods, droughts, and many other signs of the stresses to which unbecoming human behavior is subjecting planet Earth—or even by eliminating our species, if we fail to understand our duty toward Nature. The awakening of a critical number of human beings thus becomes a human and even a cosmic imperative, for, according to Beelzebub, our aberrant behavior is affecting the normal evolution of three-centered beings even on other planets of our solar system and causing what he refers to as a “cosmic stink.”

In 1995, my book Asking for the Earth: Waking Up to the Spiritual/Ecological Crisis,[9] was published. In that book I shared some of my experiences in the Gurdjieff work with Mme de Salzmann in New York and Paris, and with some of the great teachers of the last century—teachers like J. Krishnamurti, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, Thomas Merton, and the Dalai Lama in India and Iran. In that book I was warning, before it was fashionable to be “green,” that we were facing a dangerous ecological crisis that could only be remedied by an inner transformation.

The main premise of my latest book, The Little Green Book of Awakening,[10] is that Nature is telling us in no uncertain terms that we must wake up. Gurdjieff said it years ago, and now the situation is critical. If you look into my book, you will see that the latest findings of our best scientists reinforce Gurdjieff’s statement, which I quoted earlier. We humans have truly become “biped destroyers of Nature’s good.” If global warming is not to become catastrophic, Nature clearly requires that we change our energy technologies and our environmental legislation and much of our wasteful way of living. But above all, I believe, Nature requires that we awaken, that we change ourselves consciously, and that we ourselves must become, as Gandhi put it, the change we wish to see in the world.

To change ourselves, we need a new morality, an objective morality. In one of his lectures at Fontainebleau in 1922, Gurdjieff told his pupils that almost everyone lives with a kind of automatic morality established in him by his culture, his parents, education, and so on. He went on to explain that it is possible to have a quite different kind of morality. By opening up the possibility of a morality that is not automatic and not based on associations, he put this requirement to change ourselves in an even larger context. Let me quote from this little known lecture:

The objective feeling of morality is connected with certain general, orderly and immutable moral laws, established over the centuries, in accordance both chemically and physically with human circumstances and nature, established objectively for all and connected with nature (or, as is said, with God). [author’s italics.]

The subjective feeling of morality is when a man ... forms a personal conception of morality, on the basis of which he lives. Both the first and the second feelings of morality are not only absent in people but people even have no idea of them. What we say about morality relates to everything.[11]

As reported by Ouspensky in In Search of the Miraculous, Gurdjieff tells us that Nature gives us life and motion—everything. “The flow of impressions coming to us from outside is like a driving belt communicating motion to us. The principal motor for us is nature, the surrounding world. Nature transmits to us through our impressions the energy by which we live and move and have our being.”[12] So how can we imagine that we are here to dominate Nature, not serve her?

Gurdjieff tells us, at the beginning of the First Series, that he is writing All and Everything with the aim of solving “three cardinal problems:”[13]

First Series: To destroy, mercilessly, without any compromises whatsoever, in the mentation and feelings of the reader, the beliefs and views, by centuries rooted in him, about everything existing in the world.

Second Series: To acquaint the reader with the material required for a new creation and to prove the soundness and good quality of it.

Third Series: To assist the arising, in the mentation and in the feelings of the reader, of a veritable, non-fantastic representation not of that illusory world which he now perceives, but of the world existing in reality.

In other words, his aim is to make a clean sweep of the old certainties in order for the new to penetrate the armor of our inherited and acquired misconceptions and transform us, so that, instead of dreaming, we may become aware “of the world existing in reality,” or Nature. What better occasion for such a huge inner shift of consciousness than a time of unprecedented outer changes that are fast eroding our faith in the old and opening our hearts towards the new, the unknown, both inner and outer? It is a package deal: for there to be a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, there must be a new humanity, or at least a critical mass of humanity, able to serve as a channel for heaven and earth to be related, for God’s will (or Nature’s will) to be done on earth. Without this vital connection, Mme. de Salzmann warned us many times, “the Earth will fall down,” that is, the Earth will no longer be ecologically sustainable. Two hundred conscious people, Gurdjieff told Ouspensky, could, if they found it necessary, change the world. This is the time for that great evolutionary leap, of which all the traditions have spoken and for which, I believe, Gurdjieff was the herald.

Whenever two or three are gathered together with that intention to change, as we are now, then what we call in the Work “special conditions” may be temporarily created. Special conditions can be said to exist, I suggest, whenever two or three are gathered together to search sincerely for a more direct contact with the energy of presence or life that can animate us, at least at moments, when we are inwardly acknowledging our lack of presence, our need for wholeness, and the insufficiency of our direct experience of “the world existing in Reality.” At such moments, a strong wish for being can suddenly surprise us, together with an unflagging awareness of the inevitability of our own death.

So here we are, confronting the fact that our current abnormal human behavior is creating ecological havoc and that if we do not change, and change quickly, if we do not indeed awaken, then our grandchildren may see the end of the human experiment on this planet. Here we are, realizing that both the external and the internal changes that are needed are already known and available, so how can we not feel a powerful instinctive awakening response? This catastrophe need not and must not happen. It will not be our inheritance to our children. It would be too stupid for our civilization to be the first to disappear while knowing in advance exactly what we needed to do and to be, and having at hand all the means for making the necessary changes in how we think, and feel and act!

Can we hear again, and in a new way, what Beelzebub says at the end of the Tales, when asked a similar question about what can save us by his grandson, Hassein?

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 these 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.[14] □

This text is from James George’s book, Last Call: Awaken to Consciousness, pp. 161–167. It was previously published in the All & Everything Conference Proceedings, 2009. James George died in February 7, 2020.

[1] G. I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (1950) NY: Harcourt, Brace, p. 360.

[2] Ibid., p. 368.

[3] Ibid., p. 5.

[4] Ibid., p. 131.

[5] Ibid., p. 39.

[6] Ibid., p. 452.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p. 431.

[9] James George, Asking for the Earth: Waking Up to the Spiritual/Ecological Crisis (1995) Rockport, MA: Element, Inc.

[10] James George, The Little Green Book on Awakening (2009) Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press.

[11] G. I. Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World (1973) New York: E. p. Dutton & Co., p. 172.

[12] p. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching (1949) New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co, p. 181.

[13] Beelzebub’s Tales, p. v.

[14] Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 1183.


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