A. R. Orage

Gurdjieff International Review

My Note Book

by A. R. Orage

April 1934

Blinds and Breathing—A Respectful Suggestion to Gandhiji—Life, Nature and Art—Western Materialism an Ancient School—Leisure and Yoga—Kali-yuga and Man.

[A. R. Orage, Editor of The New English Weekly, passes on a very helpful “tip” to the readers and students of old Indian texts. There are people who read the Bhagavad-Gita and Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali upside down, and there are those who read too literally. Much damage to mental balance and even to bodily health results. Breathing, or Pranayama, about which Mr. Orage writes, awakening of Kundani and the development of the Chakras, etc., are undertaken without even a proper comprehension, let alone competent personal guidance. Thus, we know of one person, among those who have practiced meditation according to some verses in the sixth chapter of the Gita, who succeeded in becoming somewhat cross-eyed as a result of “the gaze directed to the tip of his nose without looking in any direction” (verse xiii), and then blamed the Gita! Carefully read, this description is but a picture of how the true contemplator seems to an outside observer—he is not gazing at the tip of his nose, he only appears as if he were. The same explanation holds good for verses 27–28 in the fifth chapter of the Gita. Instances can be multiplied.

“As above, so below,” is a recognized fundamental of Esoteric Philosophy; from within without is ever the course of progress—cosmic and human. When the order is reversed in practice, idolatry results; since the inner meaning of the symbol is not recognized the outer object is taken as real. Forgetting that man is made in the image of Deity, people conceive God in human form. A special feature of the men of this hard iron age, to which Mr. Orage also refers, is that they mistake beauty of form for Beauty of Soul, outer personal consciousness for the Inner Ego, and maya for Reality.—The Aryan Path Eds.]

The appearance of a fourth edition of M. K. Gandhi’s Self-Restraint and Self-lndulgence, while gratifying to all of us who realise Gandhi’s greatness, is a little disturbing to those who would fain follow the high Aryan Path. It was many years ago that Mme. Blavatsky communicated to the present writer, via the late great Gnostic scholar, Mr. G. R. S. Mead, the clue—I might also say the tip—that the precise instructions laid down in many of the ancient Indian works were what she called a “blind”—that is to say, something to be read with particular care. In many such works, she said, effects were substituted for causes, and for the subtle reason that the causes in question could not be communicated in words. Let us take a simple case. Every state of consciousness, it is well known, has its own characteristic form and rhythm of breathing. Anybody can observe this for himself. When we are excited our breathing is irregular and staccato. In states of peaceful reverie our breathing is correspondingly regular and smooth. And, similarly, every state of consciousness, up to the very highest, is accompanied by a form and rhythm of breathing which is peculiar, typical and characteristic. But now let us suppose that a teacher wishes to induce in his pupil this or the other state of consciousness—how could he set about it? According to Mme. Blavatsky, he could set about it directly or indirectly; directly by personal contact when possible; but indirectly, when contact was not possible, by prescribing the effects for the causes; that is to say, by giving directions as to the form and rhythm of breathing in the anticipation that the special mode of breathing would induce the corresponding state of consciousness. The “blind” to which Mme. Blavatsky drew attention lay in precisely this fact; that the substitution of the effect for the cause was in lieu of something better, namely, personal instruction: and, secondly, that the cause when thus, so to say, artificially evoked, was not real, but, as she suggested, as moonlight is to sunlight.

I am reminded of this profoundly important warning of Mme. Blavatsky’s by M. K. Gandhi’s present work. In his Preface to the Second Edition, he lays down in nine “commandments” the proper rule of life in respect of Sex. Most of his recommendations are of the order of Do or Don’t. Do, for instance, seek the society of the good. Don’t go to theatres and cinemas; and so on. What I would suggest, with all due respect, to M. K. Gandhi, is that these forms of behaviour are on a par with the modes of breathing already referred to. Their performance or avoidance, while perhaps appearing to produce the state of continence, does, in fact, produce not the reality but only a bad imitation. In short, the prescription of rules of this kind is not what I conceive to be the high Aryan way. M. K. Gandhi himself, I think, is aware of this, since, in his last “commandment,” he urges that a man should remember that, as God’s representative, he must express God’s dignity and love. How much more “Aryan” this is—to be so intent on becoming God-conscious, that continence and the other virtues naturally follow. At the same time every teacher must realise the difficulty of inducing the effort to become God-conscious. And hence the temptation to prescribe effects as rules.

Modern astronomy appears to offer us small hope of any living company on the other planets; and, of course, still less hope of life on planets outside our Solar system—if any exist. The Moon, we are told, is certainly completely inorganic. Mars may have a little vegetation on it. But as for the rest of the planets, nothing of the nature of any life we know could possibly exist upon them. Even in respect of our own planet Earth, the disproportion between the inorganic and the organic is tremendous. Seen imaginatively from a distance, the Earth would appear to be an immense globe composed of minerals and gases, upon whose mere surface, like a very thin skin, all that we call life would be spread out—and even then over only about a fifth of its entire extent. What a tiny fraction, even of our own planet, is the sum of what we proudly call the organic kingdom! Nevertheless I do not feel the oppression at the spectacle that other thinkers often appear to feel. In the first place, modern Science knows absolutely nothing of the possible relation between the inorganic and the organic processes. Life, in fact, may stand in the same relation to Matter, as, let us say, the brain-cortex to the human organism. And, secondly, we have an example of a similar disproportion in the comparison of Nature and Art. Taking the whole of the organic kingdom as Nature, and only very special works of Man as Art, it can truly be said that as the planet is to Nature, so Nature is to Art. In other words, there is nothing more terrifying in the disproportion between Matter and Life, than in the comparable disproportion between Life and Art. And just as certainly as it appears to be the human task to make all Life Art, so it appears probable that the divine task is to make all Nature Life.

In the “materialism” of the West I see nothing necessarily anti-spiritual, given a sufficient perspective. It has often been remarked that the greatest physicists have almost invariably been highly religious men. And the combination of the qualities is by no means inconsistent or paradoxical. The mind of Man desires certainty about Truth above everything else in the world. “There is no Religion higher than Truth.” Certainty, however, appeared to be unattainable by the ancient way of psychology; or, rather, the certainty attained by the individual appeared to be incommunicable and, therefore, unprovable. But the kind of certainty the human mind looks for is not merely private certainty, but public certainty; truth, that is to say, that can be both communicated and proved by demonstration. From this point of view, I regard Western materialism as, in a sense, merely one of the ancient Schools—the School devoted to the effort to establish certainty about Truth experimentally and communicably—the School devoted to demonstration. No doubt many of its pupils have been misled; many have forgotten, if they ever knew, their real object; and others are under the impression that no truth of any other kind than their own can conceivably exist. But not only, as I have said, have the greatest physicists always kept their spiritual objective in mind; but, happily for mankind, they have begun to discover that the same truths lie at the end of Matter as were discovered before by the more ancient Schools at the end of Mind. By whichever road the search for Truth is made, the end is the same; and it is now certain that in future there can be no quarrel between the masters of either School.

I have sometimes asked myself why India, the Aryan East, developed Schools of Contemplation, while the Aryan West has developed the Schools of demonstrable and communicable Truth. In an exceedingly able recent work entitled The Heyapaksha of Yoga by P. V. Pathak, of Bombay University, the answer, it appears, is given. Thanks to the fact that the ancient Vedic law enjoined upon the individual two distinct and separate duties—his duty to his caste, and his duty to himself—and, moreover, apportioned three-fourths of his life to the latter, “it was only natural that under such circumstances of leisure man should be given to reflections about the nature of the self,” and of his relation, not with Society so much as with the Universe. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of leisure to the spiritual development of Man. Not only is leisure the condition of time to contemplate, but it is the condition of the mood to contemplate. The discovery of practical truths useful to society is undoubtedly stimulated by the activity of work. Strangely enough, however, even this activity of work is justified by its promise of the provision of leisure. On the other hand, it is quite certain that, without leisure, even the discovery that Matter in the end is Spiritual will lead to no real change in Western thought; but the continued activity of work for three quarters of life will only leave the Western mind unsatisfied and at the same time helpless.

The question is very troubling whether, in terms of Yugas or Great Ages, Man is developing or degenerating, evolving or involving. Indian tradition, as we know, affirms that in the Great Year of the life of Mankind we pass through successive declining stages, of which the present Age is the most involved of all. The greatest among us today must therefore be less great than the greatest of preceding ages; and there were not only great men before Agamemnon, but there were greater. Without daring to express an opinion upon this tremendous matter, I would merely note its bearing upon the question: What is the nature of Man? Assuming for the moment that, like the creature that begins life as an egg, passes through the stages of worm and chrysalis, and finally becomes a butterfly, the being “Man” passes in reverse order through stages, defined in time as Yugas, what is the definition we can give of the complete being? Those who saw him in his first phase must have had one definition; those who see him today must have another. But where is the mind that can “see” all the stages and, assembling them as merely phases of development, define the being whose nature they manifest? Again without venturing out of my depth, I merely record the doubt whether anybody knows what Man is.

Copyright © 1934 The Aryan Path
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