Gurdjieff International Review

The Symbolic Mountain

Hugh Ripman

Therefore, Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves, be ye a refuge to yourselves.

Betake yourselves to no external refuge.

Hold fast to the Truth as a lamp; hold fast to the Truth as a refuge.

Look not for a refuge in anyone beside yourselves.


The followers of different religions are like bands of mountain climbers who all wish to get to the top of the same mountain. The summit of this mountain is hidden in the clouds. None of them can see it clearly, but the mystery of the highest peak calls alike to them all.

The different bands of climbers have started from different points around the base of the mountain. To each band the mountain has presented a different face. Each band has studied what it could see of the mountain and the problems that would face the climber. Each has developed the special techniques required to surmount the obstacles that were visible. Each band has produced training manuals for new recruits.

If a member of one band were to start reading a training manual prepared for the use of another, he would find many differences from his own manual. The description of the mountain would be different. The obstacles and the techniques for overcoming them would not be the same. “But the mountain simply isn’t like that,” he would exclaim. “These people are ignorant; they don’t see clearly. Our technique is the right one. Many people have tried it. It’s been proven to work.” So there can normally be no agreement, and if members of different bands meet, their attempts to convince one another usually end in a fight.

This is the way it goes on the lower levels. But as the different paths rise to the higher reaches of the mountain, they get nearer together, and the view from each of them overlaps more and more.

Men familiar with the higher reaches of the symbolic mountain are hard to find in any country. I used to have the idea, like others who know of the East only from books, that saints, holy men, teachers, and gurus are easy to find there. This is not so. The first time this was brought home to me was in Pakistan, where I became acquainted at one time with a number of members of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. On the eve of my departure I had a long conversation with the first of these men whom I had met—a highly placed civil servant, with whom in a short time I had established rather close relations.

“Tell me,” I said, “in this country of yours, which has fifty or sixty million inhabitants, how many people would you say there were for whom their religion, their relation to God, is the most important thing in their life?”

He sat back in his chair, looking up at the big ceiling-fan which made life bearable in his office in a temporary government building. “Oh,” he said finally, “it’s very difficult to say. Perhaps four hundred. Perhaps five hundred.”

Religious charlatans can be found in plenty, men who have found an easy way to live without working, taking advantage of the simple piety of the common people, exploiting for their own benefit the pupils who are attracted to them. But men of real stature are rare everywhere.

Where the countries of the East differ from those of the West is in the general respect that people have for the man who dedicates his life to the search for God. But this respect, along with many other traditional values, is declining as men’s minds become more and more affected by Western points of view.

During the last ten years 1951–1961, I have had some opportunity for travel, and in each country that I have visited I have done my best to find travelers whose path led up the mountain. Often I have been unlucky, sometimes in the quality of the men I have met, sometimes because of the difficulties of language. But I have also been lucky enough to meet, in the course of my search, men who had advanced much farther up the mountain than I had myself, which is always an encouraging thing for the climber.

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This excerpt is from Hugh Brockwill Ripman’s book, Search for Truth, Washington, DC: Forthway Center Palisades Press, 1999, pp. 58, 71–72. Hugh Ripman began as a pupil of Ouspensky, then went on to study directly with Gurdjieff in 1948. After meeting Gurdjieff, Hugh Ripman gathered a group of people in the Washington, DC area.

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Featured: Fall 2013 Issue, Vol. XII (1)
Revision: November 1, 2013