Henri Tracol

Gurdjieff International Review

Let Us Not Conclude

Some Reflections on the Specificity of This Teaching

by Henri Tracol

If specificity means what is “unique” in Gurdjieff’s teaching, let us quickly set aside a possible preliminary misunderstanding: “specificity” is not inevitably, as one might fear, a doctrinaire claim to exclusivity. Because what is unique in any path of spiritual search is its own particular way of approaching and perceiving reality. And this teaching offers us a feeling of just that: something which goes beyond suggested forms of experience and investigation.

Mightn’t we say that one of the clearest vocations of this teaching is that it tends to give birth in us to this faculty of orienting ourselves? And wouldn’t this faculty be a fundamental necessity for such a teaching, as its natural position with respect to the major traditional structures, and yet, at the same time, reducible to none of them?

From the vantage point of such an orientation, I know I am nearer to what is “specific” to this teaching inasmuch as I feel invited to place myself inwardly in relation to whatever presents itself from the outside.

If sufficiently nurtured, this spiritual flair might allow us, over time, to recognize the degree of authenticity of any form of experience which offers itself to our search.

Let us suppose that this form seems to be the bearer of a truth of the same nature as the one which Gurdjieff’s direct influence enabled us to actually live. Such a relation could hardly fail to capture the best of our attention and interest, spurring us on to further study. This similarity, however, would in no way authorize us to conclude there is an identity or a common heredity. Even less would it condone our playing the sorcerer’s apprentice in order to establish, on an artificial basis, an assimilation or some sort of synthesis.

And in the opposite case, if this particular form seemed aberrant, illusory, or dangerous, this would in itself be a precious aid to become more aware of what is essential to preserve, as well as the risks we constantly run of making grievous errors and falsifications in our interpretations.

Forewarned of the danger—and faced with the endless number of guises through which what is “unique” in this teaching might appear to us—we will feel the need to rediscover, there again, the guarantee of a right orientation—and we will naturally look to find it at its very origins.

Gurdjieff’s teaching belongs to what he calls the fourth way. As an embodiment of a fourth way school, it does not have a form defined once and for all—which means: neither dogma nor ritual, strictly speaking.

It ceaselessly disappears, and ceaselessly must be discovered and rediscovered.

It imposes no preliminary renunciation but requires, within the frame of ordinary life, a set of appropriate conditions in view of a genuine work upon oneself.

It opens upon the perspective of a profound transformation of being through awakening and self-knowledge.

It presupposes in oneself a sincere quest for truth, the realization of one’s own “nothingness,” the recourse to effort—and to super-effort—toward the development of his power of consciousness.

It also allows the individual to discover and realize certain hidden possibilities, by means of simultaneous and coordinated engaging of one’s intellectual, emotional, and physical capacities toward a voluntary concentration upon the struggle which takes place within the self between one’s positive and negative tendencies.

This perpetual struggle is carried on within every seeker according to the principle of relativity which regulates the relations among the different energy levels in human nature, as in the universe.

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But among these lines of force inherent in the fourth way, what is an altogether essential component of this type of teaching, is that above all, “the principal demand is the demand for understanding;” that the individual “must do nothing that he does not understand;” that he must “satisfy himself of the truth of what he is told.”

However, this primary requirement is the source of many misunderstandings: we must unfailingly return to the meaning that Gurdjieff gives to this imperative necessity for a living comprehension, in which our being totally engages itself. We are far from the false requirements of the ordinary individual who arrogates to himself the right to reduce any truth to a mental construct governing the movement of his associative thinking.

Moreover, the emphasis is placed upon the person, on the individual search for knowledge, upon the work that one must do to know oneself in order to transform and fulfill oneself.

The doctors in tradition have been quick to brand this primacy accorded to individual experience—“each person must initiate himself”—as a tendency toward “humanism,” which spawns the most nefarious deviations.

Indeed, regularly forgetting its cosmic and metaphysical perspective risks depriving this search of any possible breadth and reducing the Work, for some people, to a kind of flimsy psychological inquiry, while it encourages in others their latent predilections to a “pseudo-mysticism” devoid of any real content.

Gurdjieff thus reserves an important place for profound meditation, for silence, as a return to the source of all knowledge.… We are there before a truly spiritual practice, wherein the indispensable theoretical vision is not arbitrarily separated from a vivifying contact with ongoing experience, just as it is lived and felt.

The errors too often voiced with regard to the meaning given both to “individual search” and to “practice” serve to show the urgency of an imperative task: to try to digest what is essential in the ideas so as not to distort them, and to understand as quickly as possible the master’s aim, the principle of balance without which the Work could not exist.

Efforts to understand and to test the ideas: this is what gives this teaching its dynamic character: the growth of being indeed demands both a direct knowledge and a gradual mastery of the movements of our energy as it manifests itself on different levels.

Ultimately, however, what is unique and irreplaceable in Gurdjieff’s teaching is Gurdjieff himself.

Certainly, nothing could be more obvious to someone who lived this experience at his side, and who naturally feels called upon to bear witness.

A few years later, Gurdjieff—as a man—left us forever.

And yet … How not feel his intimate presence within us as a permanent source of self-remembering?

What at is it, then, that allows a master’s influence to perpetuate itself once he has disappeared?

It is not so much an orthodoxy as a mode of perception inherited from him and which should appear through all things, in the heart of the most intimate experiences as well as on the level of everyday life.

We are quickly overwhelmed on every side, however … and it is the unknown which wins out.… In the long run, this calls upon us to perceive such a gift as an enigma—and as a challenge.

This is what is ceaselessly suggested, in countless ways, in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, from the “Friendly Advice” to the reader—

Read each of my written expositions thrice:
Firstly—at least as you have already become mechanized
to read all your contemporary books and newspapers;
Secondly—as if you were reading aloud to another person;
And only thirdly—try to fathom the gist of my writings.

—to “The Arousing of Thought,” through the last chapter “From the Author.”

The adventure continues—in depth. It keeps alive in us the evidence of a hidden continuity: consciousness offers itself to us endlessly. But to welcome it, to take part in it, to sustain it, to bear witness to it, so many efforts must be attempted, must be renewed—so many “super-efforts.” It is just that which Gurdjieff calls the “Work.”

to be continued …

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This essay was previously published in Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teaching, New York: Continuum, 1996.
Copyright © 1996 Henri Tracol
This webpage © 1999 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Fall 1999 Issue, Vol. III (1)
Revision: October 1, 1999