Bernard Metz, circa 1930

Gurdjieff International Review

On Man's Place
in the Scheme of Things

Between the Planets and the Moon

by Bernard Metz

[This review of P. D. Ouspensky's, In Search of the Miraculous, was first published in The Christian Register, Boston, Vol. CXXIX (1), January 1950. Bernard Metz was one of Gurdjieff's translators and personal secretaries at the Prieuré for about a decade. Recalling the essential questions of human existence, he describes Gurdjieff's approach to these questions and conveys a sense of the tremendous scale and range of subjects surveyed by Gurdjieff.]
Who has not at moments of "awakening" stopped to ponder on the meaning and purpose of existence; of this inescapable round of little pleasure, much pain and more monotony to be ended only by death; of working to have the means to eat and eating to have the strength to work; of laboring to rebuild what we destroy and destroying what we rebuild?

And our personal life? Has it an aim, a direction, or do we just drift in a state of "sleep," not knowing why, whither, wherefore? Are we slaves to external influences, personal and collective? Are we satisfied with ourselves as we are, with our inadequacy, our inner emptiness? Do we know anything about our true nature, the motives of our actions, the origin of our thoughts and the reasons for our feelings? Are we even aware of our movements, our postures, or the tone of our voice? Or are we merely a haphazard disorganized collection of whims, desires, wants, hungers, prejudices, borrowed convictions, second-hand ideas and associative thoughts, all of which control our daily life and imprison our real self within?

Since time immemorial men have pondered on these and kindred problems and some set out to seek the answers. P. D. Ouspensky, a mathematician and philosopher, author of Tertium Organum and other works, unable to find the answers in the academic knowledge of the West, traveled throughout the East in search of ancient esoteric schools where he believed he could find real knowledge. Shortly after his return in 1914 to his native Moscow, unsuccessful and disillusioned, he met George Gurdjieff, who had spent his life in the East. He immediately felt that at last he had found the teacher who had the answers. He stayed and studied with Gurdjieff several years.

In his book, Ouspensky records verbatim his conversations with Gurdjieff covering a tremendous range of subjects, from the Absolute to the atom. In simple and clear language, Gurdjieff explains how the study of man is parallel to the study of the universe; how the laws governing the growth of worlds, the transformation of man's energies, the digestion of his foods, the vibrations of the musical scale, all obey the same law; how the evolution of energies within us can be furthered by our struggles against physical habits, emotional weaknesses and mental laziness; the energies thus employed being invested for further use, whereas, through slothfulness, negative emotions and mind-wanderings, they are wasted and lost forever—so that "unto him that hath shall it be given, but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."

The conversations dwell on man's place in the scheme of things between the planets and the moon; his sorry state and latent possibilities; how he can free himself from the slavery to his own automatism, external influences and life forces by traditional methods which are not easy—the Kingdom of Heaven is not for weaklings, "it is taken with violence by men of force." Man "must die to be reborn," his false outerself must be destroyed to liberate his essential inner self—he must "become as a little child." Only then can man really begin to grow and to develop his birth-right—his God-given possibilities. Only by struggling with himself, by choosing between his likes and dislikes, his active and passive forces, good and evil, can man acquire something really his own. Then, as his essential self grows so does his being, and correspondingly his understanding. Otherwise, all his learning remains mere mental concepts, head-information.

Among other subjects referred to in these conversations between the author and Gurdjieff are: what causes wars, can they be stopped; does humanity evolve or only the individual; why do people not understand each other; the role of sex in life and in inner growth; the Last Supper; materiality of everything in the Universe; can prayer help; the meaning of suffering; subjective and objective art; the way of a fakir, a monk and a yogi; is the moon a dead planet; fate, accident and will; can one be a Christian; different states of consciousness; man's energies; air and impressions as food; the Seal of Solomon; significance of rites; initiation and the mysteries; esoteric schools in the East.

The subtitle of the book is Fragments of an Unknown Teaching. They are, indeed, fragments. Gurdjieff died in Paris October 23, 1949, amidst a group of his pupils (there are groups in France, England, the United States and elsewhere) after having completed three series of books, the first series of which, entitled An Impartial Objective Study of the Life of Man, will shortly be published by Harcourt, Brace & Co.

Copyright © 1950 Bernard Metz
Photo © 1998 Emily Mayne
This webpage © 1998 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Summer 1998 Issue, Vol. I (4)
Revision: May 1, 2000