Archive for October, 2011

The Work II

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Since posting some brief observations on the Gurdjieffian “Work” earlier this month, I have received quite a number of comments.

Some have come from those who’ve actually practiced the methods of the Fourth Way and who are critical of me for slighting their “system” without having had any personal experience of its specific practices; while others have come from those who believe G. to have been the very “personification of the devil”, of whom nothing good should, or could, be said and who are therefore critical of me for mentioning him at all.

An example of the former:

“To read books regarding The Work, engage in discussions with people from The Work, indeed to observe the activities of The Work as a non-participant is no substitute for participating in The Work, just as, for example, reading books and having discussions about cars is no substitute for the experience of driving a car.”

And an example of the latter:

“You say you are trying to provide help for seekers, but tolerance of a satanic false master to any degree can only lead someone to perdition. I wish I could state this less bluntly, but the gravity of the matter prevents me from doing so.”

It’s clear I must clarify.

On the one hand, I admit I’ve never participated, nor do I intend to participate, in the Work as such. Nonetheless, if words are of any use at all in such matters—and Gurdjieff and his disciples did speak and write, after all, in addition to modeling various movements and other exercises—then it seems to me obvious that what they describe in their books can be seen to have important analogues in authentic Tradition, notably (as I pointed out in the earlier post) in the Hesychast lineage.

On the other hand, I also admit that I do not know, or even have much of an opinion, about G. the man, and I therefore must remain an agnostic as to whether he was as irredeemably evil as some have suggested. Schuon called him a “fake”, and I certainly have no wish to gainsay that evaluation. But of course it was never my intention to recommend G., but simply to say that his teaching, or—more precisely—the teaching of those like Ouspensky who claimed some association with him, contains true ideas.

As I had already emphasized in another post on this topic back in 2009, these truths must clearly be “sifted” from the chaff, whatever one might think of their proximate source.

The Work

Monday, October 17th, 2011

I’m well acquainted with Gurdjieff and “the Work”. Though I’ve never managed to make my way all the way through Beelzebub’s Tales (and, yes, I realize there are those who will tell you this means I’ve missed the essential), I have read and reread the books of Nicoll, Ouspensky, and the other writers you mention a number of times.

There are many good things to be found in these teachings, but I believe very strongly they remain all but inoperative outside the initiatic and sacramental context of the Orthodox Church. As you may know, Gurdjieff is reputed to have told his disciples, shortly before he died, that they should go to Mount Athos. Whether this is the case or not, it’s certainly true that many of the most important elements of the Work are to be found in the teachings of the Hesychast fathers. An interesting (though most uneven) book on this subject is A Different Christianity by Robin Amis.

In turning to Orthodoxy, you would lose nothing of what you have found in this modern distillation, while at the same time you would gain something the Gurdjieffian system does not provide: access to the “uncreated energies” of the sacramental Mysteries and an unbroken tradition of contemplative prayer that still bears the fruit of deified men.