Once upon a time there was a land known as the Land of the Donkey. Here, everyone travelled everywhere on a donkey. Their masters spent all their time in the inns: drinking, playing games, telling stories, dancing, and amusing themselves. And, it came to pass, that there came to this land a teacher, called Mr. Gurdjieff. He spent his time in the inns, drinking, playing games, and dancing, but as he did so he began to speak to these masters around him, secretly, telling them of another place they could get to, called the Miraculous City, and showing them the way to get there. One man who listened was called Ouspensky. After six years of listening, Ouspensky finally exploded, and said: Stop. Enough. How can you go on drinking, playing games and dancing, when you know the way to the Miraculous City? You must be mad ! We must take this seriously. We must organise.
And so Ouspensky left Gurdjieff and never saw him again.
But Ouspensky could not rest. He knew about the Miraculous City and he had to tell.
And so, while their masters were drinking, playing games and dancing, with Gurdjieff, he began to take their donkeys to a large field nearby ? sometimes over a thousand of them ? and he gave them lectures and he would tell the donkeys all about the Miraculous City, and how to get there. As time passed, he even wrote a book for the donkeys.
When Mr Ouspensky died, this book was read to Mr Gurdjieff for his comments. “This very accurate,” he said. “He write what I say.”
Once upon a time, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky were out walking in the countryside. They came across a donkey and its master. The donkey was willful and unruly, and the master had to spend all his time, with great difficulty,
tricking and goading the donkey to do what he wanted. He had no time left for himself. Gurdjieff, who was a teacher, walked across to the master and began
to speak to him, and tell him how to control the donkey. In time, the donkey was completely in the master’s control, and the grateful master now had
some time for himself.
Later, Ouspensky was out walking. He came across a donkey with its master.
The master was angry and exasperated because the donkey would not do what he wanted it to do. Ouspensky wanted to help and so he walked across to the donkey and began to whisper into its left ear everything that Gurdjieff had earlier said. The donkey could not believe its ear. It listened excitedly to everything that was said. And then suddenly, it brayed out loud, kicked its back legs in the air, and raced off over the horizon to the green pastures it now knew lay beyond.
The master was distraught. In a short time, the whole of his wordly wealth had vanished. He was ruined for life.
Gurdjieff, who had secretly watched this, was deeply shocked. For the first time, he saw the dangers. He stopped teaching, and thought very deeply about what he could do. He decided that the only thing to do was to write a book, and so he wrote a book, only in a language that donkeys would never ever be able to understand. He called it: The Stick and the Carrot.
Saturday morning I get up very early and walk the dog in the hills near my home until lunchtime. The discussion this week centred upon the ‘Lightning Process’ of Phil Parker, used to alleviate Chronic Fatigue, and other maladies. It became clear that many people encounter teachings in the pursuit of their aim, and then, forget that aim in becoming absorbed by the teaching.
I inevitably translated this discussion to consider the Gurdjieff teaching. Some of my best friends know someone who thinks that many of the problems of mankind are due to a failure to distinguish between the struggle with oneself and the struggle within oneself. This is fundamental to everything: the difference between heaven and hell.Gurdjieff teaches struggle with oneself, that is, having an aim, one strives to make the whole of oneself follow that aim. Struggle within oneself is the endless titillation Gurdjieff condemns, the friction within: should I eat the chocolate cake, or not. Should I read the book, or watch TV: struggle within oneself without reference to any particular aim. This leads to physical and psychological disease.
There are two kinds of teachings, those that are a help in pursuing one’s own aim, and the more darker kind whose aim is to draw you into the teaching and make you forget your aim.
As a result, a story formed, called the Sheep and the Wolves.
Once upon a time a man was walking in a far off land. The land comprised two kinds of people, those who had a need to tell other people what to do, and those who had a need to be told what to do, They were called the Wolves and the Sheep. The chief Wolf accosted the man as he entered that land. ‘You must choose now,’ he demanded. ‘Are you to be a Wolf or a Sheep ?’
The man loked around. He realised that he had no idea of the rules and customs of this strange and abnormal place. He decided it would be best therefore to begin as a Sheep. ‘I will be a Sheep,’ he replied.
The man then mingled with the sheep. As he did so, he noticed various other men also pretending to be Sheep.
As the night began to fall, these men gradually made their way towards him. ‘We are men who have an aim,’ they said to him. ‘We do not wish to be sheep.’ ‘We have formed a group with this in mind, so that we can help each other to escape.’ ‘Would you like to join our group ?’ they asked.
At this, the man looked around him. It was almost dark. ‘I too have an aim,’ he said. ‘My aim too is not to be a sheep.’ Having said this, he stood up, and walked purposefully away to disappear into the darkness, heading for the East.
The men looked after him, as he disappeared, in stupefaction. When they recovered from their shock, they huddled together. ‘The lecture this evening,’ said one ‘ concerns the three centres of man, and their reciprocal action within his common presence.’
I am pleased that my ‘idiotic’ stories provoke so many questions. Perhaps I should leave them as questions.
We all have many insights, intuitions, glimpses, for a moment, and then they are gone, forgotten. This is the importance of remembering. Long ago I started trying to capture these vague and fleeting things in sayings, maybe also paintings, and now stories. In capturing them, however imperfectly, we remember, recreate, and in time something more permanent arrives.
Groups, Gurdjieff Societies, Gurdjieff Foundations are important, they must be strong, to remind us to remember our aim. ‘Remember why you came here’ Gurdjieff said. Once we remember our aim, we no longer need the group. But here is the strange thing. When a man leaves a group to follow his own aim, then, around him, a new group forms, only of a different kind: looser, more fluid, more vague, more like family. And so there are two kinds of group.
In my opinion, it is very difficult for anyone to understand Gurdjieff who has also read Ouspensky. And so, sometimes I even wish that Ouspensky was dead. But here is the other end of the stick: Ouspensky type groups are essential so that people can learn the Gurdjieff ‘bon ton,’ and maybe come to remember their aim. Then, when they move on, to pursue their aim, around them forms a different kind of group, more like Gurdjieff group: at a different level. Very loose, whoever is present is a member ? With a different kind of teaching.
Most of my stories are not about Gurdjieff at all. Just a quick insight, to remember, and to provoke questions.
Once upon a time there was a rich and powerful king. He governed a land where everyone lived in ignorance and in poverty. But, a baby boy was born in that land who grew up to manhood and was known as the wisest man in the land. The king marvelled at this and wanted to know where his knowledge came from. So he sent his two investigators, two scientists, to examine the matter.
They reported back to him that the wise man had a book.
The king demanded that his two scientists acquire the book and bring to him the knowledge contained in it.
The two scientists reported back. ‘ We have conducted the most thorough and exhaustive scientific and forensic tests, your highness, on this book, and we have discovered that it is composed of paper and of ink, and of these things only. After all these thoroughly scientific tests using the latest methods we have not found anything resembling knowledge in this book.’
The king thought about this for a moment. ‘If the knowledge is not in the book,’ he reasoned logically, ‘ then it must reside in the man himself.’
He demanded that the two scientists examine the man and bring to him, the king, the knowledge so contained.
The two scientists reported back. ‘We have conducted the most thorough and exhaustive scientific and forensic tests, your highness, on this man, and we have discovered that he is composed mainly of water, and also a large number of other chemical substances and minerals detailed in this most thorough scientific report which we now present to you. But of knowledge, we did not find even a trace, your highness.’
The king listened. To test the book, it had been destroyed, and to test the man, he had had to be also destroyed. Nothing remained, and so the king moved on to other matters. But in his heart, he secretly pondered this matter. Originally, there had been no knowledge, and then the wise man had had knowledge, and now again there was no knowledge. Where had that knowldge come from, and where had it gone ?
As he pondered this matter deeply, there began to proceed in him a process of remorse. The book had been destroyed and the man killed. And the remorse deepened and changed into a desire, in the king, for repentance, a desire to make amends for what he had done.
The king himself went out to a remote hillside in his kingdom and built there a small chapel and hermitage, and began to live there himself, whilst pondering this question: Where does knowledge come from, and where does knowledge go.
He handed over the governance of his kingdom to the two scientists and, in the course of time, they reduced everything to dust.
For the king himself, days passed, the months passed, the years passed, even centuries passed, and he happily pondered his question: where does knowledge come from, and where does knowledge go.
Gurdjieff’s sense of humour was truly sublime. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area known as ‘self-remembering.’
In his early teaching, before Beelzebub’s Tales, his emphasis was on providing constant ‘reminders’ to his pupils to ‘wake up.’ His humour, in so doing, was superb.
The doubling-up of attention, implied in ‘self-remembering,’ as we now know, produces a sort of hilarious ‘buzzing’ in the mind, rather like some inner alarm clock, hence, the call to ‘wake up.’
In his writings, however, ‘self-remembering,’ as an activity, is never mentioned.
‘Self-remembering’ is mentioned only twice in his books: once, in Beelzebub’s Tales, as the definition of a level of being, not as an activity, and, in Remarkable Men, he adds the following phrase:
that ‘ a certain relative cognisance of (our) own individuality alone leads to what we call ‘remembering oneself’ – that absolutely necessary factor ( not an activity we note ) in the process of self perfecting.’ (Remarkable Men I have Met. P. 18 ) That is, the development of the consciousness of our own individuality leads to – Gurdjieff’s own words – the factor known as ‘remembering oneself,’ and, we note further, not the other way round, as so many in the ‘Gurdjieff bon ton,’ including myself in the past, mistakenly thought.
We each have to tell the story of our own lives.
When I first encountered Gurdjieff’s teaching, nearly 40 years ago, I read about ‘self-remembering’ and tried assiduously to practice it, in the firm belief that it had energetic consequences for man.
I have since managed to sum up some of what I learned in the following ‘idiotic’ taleThe Bee and the Eagle:
Once upon a time there was an Eagle sitting quietly upon the branch of a tree. And, it came to pass that a Bee came and landed on his shoulder.
‘Hello,’ said the Bee. ‘ I’m a great teacher.’
The Eagle did not respond.
‘If you like,’ continued the Bee, ‘I can teach you to fly.’
Again, the Eagle did not respond.
‘I can teach you a very secret way of flying. It is called the Gurdjieff Method, of flying, and you just have to remember yourself at all times and make a very high and very loud ‘buzzing’ sound, and, of course, if the buzzing sound is of the right pitch and of the right intensity – well, you just fly away. It’s obvious, isn’t it ?’
At this point, the Eagle simply shrugged his shoulders, stretched out his enormous wings, and flew silently up into the immensity of the blue sky.
‘No, No, No,’ buzzed the Bee behind him. ‘You’re doing it all wrong !’