G.I.Gurdjieff. Two rivers

This text is an extraction from Beelzebub Tales “The Additon”


What could be more horrible than death? What would happen if a person would really imagine to himself this horror of his veritable death? Could you imagine his horror for yourselves? It is not possible to imagine your own, even if you will it, but it is easier to imagine someone else’s.


In addition to this terror of death there are many other terrors of reality which are not perceived by people and could not be seen. If people would realize them to the full extent, then we would all hang ourselves from fright. But nobody sees this.


Why is this? Maybe someone would say that it is our will that protects us from seeing these horrors? But then why does it not protect us from small fears?


Imagine for yourselves that you return home, undress yourselves, lie down in bed, and then at the moment that you cover yourselves with your blanket something jumps from under your pillow, runs over your body and hides in the folds of your blanket. You toss your blanket aside, tucking up your legs under yourselves, and see a mouse! Imagine this picture to yourselves, and from one thought of this a shudder passes all over your body. But what is so terrifying about this? The household mouse is the least dangerous beast of all!


You do not feel terror of inevitable death, but you are frightened of a mouse, you are frightened of a thousand trifles, which might only happen in possibility. Those horrors which do not impel you to hang yourself are tolerated by nature as being harmless for your existence, inasmuch as they are necessary for us to undergo experiences of happiness and grief. And without them there could not be any emotional experiences of which our life consists…


But what if you find out and remember at least in your head that you are to die in a month?! Precisely in a month’s time. What would remain from that which constitutes our day? Everything that you own would lose its meaning and everything would become useless. The newspaper over the morning coffee, the polite bow to your neighbor on the staircase, your job, your things, the theater in the evening, your relaxation, your sleep – what use are they all?


Well, and what if death is to come to us even in a year’s time, or in two years? Even so, all of this would not possess the same sense as is brought into it. Unwittingly you ask: if it is so, then why live at all?


…[In life there are two directions, life presents two rivers]. All those that live on earth are subdivided into two currents – some float along one [stream] current, others are carried by the other.


Some are subservient to some laws which they have, others obey other laws. Both kinds of laws, constantly either clashing between each other, or intersecting, or go along each other, never crossing with each other, some supporting others, some being indispensable for others. This is how it was, this is how it will always be.


Now if we take the lives of the masses, their lives in totality of all together resembles [one of the two rivers] the first river, in which each life of each separate individual person, just as every living creature, presents a drop of this water. Of all these separate drops this common river is comprised, which in its turn forms one link of a universal chain.


The entire river is necessary for something, it serves a special purpose. The entire flow of this river is directed, in concordance with the common cosmic laws, in a certain direction. All of its turns, all of its windings, all of its transformations possess a definite purpose. For this purpose each drop plays its own particular role inasmuch as it forms a particle of this overall large river.


[Nonetheless, each water drop plays its part. Only its activity is purely mechanical. The law expresses itself here as everywhere else, but the law is present outside of the drop. One drop is not capable of creating, it is merely a small part – all the manifestations are not for it].


But the law of the river does not extend itself for separate water drops. The displacement of the drops, their direction and movement carry an absolutely arbitrary character.


Now the water drop is here, a minute later it is elsewhere; it either rises to the surface or sinks down below. It rises by chance, collides with another, likewise, by chance, either flows quickly or slowly. Wither it feels good or bad – that depends on where it will find itself. There is no separate law, no personal fate for it; fate exists only for the whole river, common for all the water drops.


Personal misfortune or happiness, joy or suffering, everything in this current happens by chance. However, each drop in principle has the possibility of going out of the general current and to jump over to the second, neighboring river. This is also a law of nature. But for this it must be able to make use of the inertia of the whole river, of the sudden thrusts, in order to reach the surface and closer to the bank of the river, from whence it is easier to jump over. One must choose the proper place and time. One must take advantage of the wind, the currents, the storm, if the latter happens. Then it will have the chance together with the splashes of water to rise up and to jump over to the neighboring river.


Having reached there, from that moment it is already in a different life and, consequently, already obeys new laws. In that river there are laws for separate drops, there is the law of turns. Whether the drop goes upwards or emerges downwards is not a chance occurrence, but happens as a result of a known law. This law is as mechanical as that of the river: having arrived on the surface, the drop grows heavy and falls down to the depths.


In the depths it loses its weight and rises up. Floating on the surface for it is a form of good, whereas staying in the depths is an evil. And here much depends on skills and on effort. In this river there are various streams; one must find the right stream for oneself, to float above for as long as possible, so that preparing oneself one could obtain the possibility of passing into another channel, etc.


And so we are presently situated in the first river. While we are floating in a passive current, it will drive us arbitrarily wherever it will, and while we will be passive, we will hang loosely and undergo all sorts of chance situations. We are slaves to such chance situations.


And at the same time we are given permission by nature to be able to leave this slavery. And so when there is talk of liberation, the issue is particularly of how to pass on to the other river. But, of course, it is not so simple: as if one just wished to jump over and did it. Lengthy preparation is necessary, as well as a strong wish for this.


An absolute renunciation of all the personal attachments present in the first river. For this one must die in the context of this river. This death is spoken about in all the religions.


“If you shall not die, you shall not resurrect.” This is spoken not about the real, bodily death: from that death there is no need to resurrect. If a soul exists, moreover, an immortal one, it could dispense without that [resurrected] body, the loss of which is called death. 


And this resurrection is not needed in order to appear before the Lord God at the Last Judgment, as the contemporary church fathers teach us. No, [even Jesus] Christ and all the others spoke about the death which could be even during life, of the death of the tyrant from which our slavery comes, and the only one on which depends the first [and] foremost liberation of man.


What I am going to tell you now may seem to you at a first impression as a raving of a madman, and may remain as such for some of you. Nonetheless, I shall tell you. And at the same time I consider it, according to my principles, to be a great sin to speak about this. If I have ever sinned in any way against nature, my foremost sin will be considered that which I am speaking now.


All the wars, all the arguments, all the misunderstanding, all the misfortunes, all sorts of anxiety which seem terrible to us, when they pass, turn out to be, as we could perceive, not worth a brass farthing, in the sense that we make a mountain out of a molehill, and then a molehill appears out of a mountain. 


The reason for this lies in the same characteristic in human beings to reflect reality in a topsy-turvy manner. During the course of such events all people turn into slaves, everybody turns out to be under a common hypnosis. Where is that virtue, ascribed to the human being, where is that man with his free will at that time? This is how it always was and will be with the masses, because if there are no slaves, there would be no masters and, hence, there would be no life. And at the same time isolated people are given the chance of being freed from this mass hypnosis.


People are imperceptible of this mass hypnosis to such a degree that whoever is more or less free to it is thought by them as a being of the lowest order. For instance, what is considered to be bravery in war is in reality a manifestation of the same hypnosis.


If a human being is bereft of his illusions, all that, which hinders him from see the true reality – all of these interests of his, all these worries, expectations, hopes – then with them all his aspirations will perish, everything will become empty, all the impulses of the psyche will be brought to a stop and an empty spot will remain – an empty body, living physiologically.


This is the death of the “I,” the death of everything of which one consisted, the destruction of all that is false, gathered from ignorance and from inexperience. All of this remains in him as material, but not as the substance of himself.


Only then is it possible, if one would have enough energy, to begin gathering new material, this time out of one’s personal choice. Then the human being takes what he needs himself, and not as previously, when he was being filled up with what was willed by outside forces.


This is difficult. However, this word is not appropriate. The word “impossible” is also not correct, since in principle this is possible. But it is a thousand times harder to become a billionaire out of nothing, simply by honest work.

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