I was extra-excited when our series on G.I. Gurdjieff was released as I missed participating in the recording, hence, I got to experience the show fresh as it came out…which was amazing! Gurdjieff and his teachings are fascinating and I found myself spell-bound hearing about them. I hope you have a similar experience (let us know in the comments)!
And thanks again to Bishop Lainie Petersen for guest hosting!!! Not only is she the-host-with-the-most AND Gnostic clergy–she’s long studied the Gurdjieff work making her extra-super perfect for this episode.
Our guest is Richard Hodges (click here to know more about him and his work) and we waste no time getting into it with Bishop Petersen asking, “Who Was G.I. Gurdjieff?”. He was of Greek background born in the late 19th Century in the Caucuses in what was then part of Russia.
In his youth he lived in a crossroads of culture where a millennia of trade brought together a diverse mix of people, traditions, and religions. He became convinced there was an original esoteric knowledge that had been shared by many people—now lost and existing only in hints in modern religions. His father was also a traditional bard who had memorised a vast number of ancient tales. One of his father’s stories was The Epic of Gilgamesh. Most people didn’t know of this epic till archaeologists discovered it inscribed on 4000 year-old cuneiform tablets in Iraq. It’s one of our earliest surviving great works of literature, and when Gurdjieff found out about the discovery he realized this story, this knowledge, had been passed down orally for several thousand years.
The story made an impact on Gurdjieff: Gilgamesh is an esoteric teaching story about a man searching for immortality. He’s told if he can stay awake for 7 days he’ll be granted his wish but of course he falls asleep.
Bishop Lainie asks about Gurdjieff’s teachings and system being known by a number of different names: The Work, The Fourth Way, The Method, The System, and Esoteric Christianity. The different names are often used by different sects within this movement to differentiate themselves from their peers. The Fourth Way title comes from Gurdjieff’s disciple Ouspensky. There’s three other “ways” or approaches in religion—the way of the body, the way of the feelings, and the way of the mind. While Gurdjieff’s approach combined all three to make an effective and dynamic fourth way.
Most people only live in one of all those centers, while a fully developed person will be fully alive in all. The vast majority of us can’t leave our lives to go live as a monk or a fakir or a yogi and dedicate ourselves to being truly alive so Gurdjieff’s way is meant to use day-to-day life to awaken people and allow them to live fully present in their body, emotions, and mind.
Father Tony asks about his extensive travel. Richard said he went from Egypt to Tibet and many other places. The exact chronology and list of places is unknown. Gurdjieff was something of a “scoundrel,” but only because he wanted to free himself and others of empty conventional morality and religion AND of the materialist pursuit of money and power. His shocking behavior made those around him examine themselves, their world view, and morals.
Bishop Lainie explains that he saw most people living in a state of “waking sleep,” going about our lives like machines, not truly aware of our intentions, motivations. Therefore one method of truly waking people up, at least temporarily, is with a shock to their system.
The Work is often taught and practised in a group setting, Richard explains how this can be beneficial to advance in working on one selves through the support of others. and mutual exchange of knowledge.
Father Tony opens up part 2 with a bang by asking about a concept we both find profound and fascinating: Didn’t Gurdjieff teach we’re not born with souls but can develop one over time?
Richard explains this is a subtle and multi-levelled concept. We contain in ourselves other “bodies” and other identities more than what we think of as the self and body. There’s one composed of the organic energies flowing in us at all times, generated by our desires and sensations and wishes and hopes etc. But they’re not organised, they come and go. We tell ourselves our identities our stable, you are who you are, but in reality we all contain many I’s. There’s a you that gets angry in traffic and a loving you devoted to your partner.
We contain many fluctuating selves but none of them add up to a stable, concrete, identities. Through work and awareness we can develop another body, a self coming from the awareness and uniting of the selves. That body even has some kind of existence after death, it’s closer to what we think of as a “soul”.
Most of our deepest needs and impulses have been driven into the subconscious, into a deeper essence that lays behind the many I’s and we must bring these into our consciousness. Then these impulses can flourish and develop. Doing this can bring about a powerful presence, noticeable to those around them and impactful. However, this must be in balance too, the essence and the personalities in sync. We must feed the subconscious to allow it to flourish.
The shocks of life when truly taken in and experienced. Be it fights, losses, tragedies, usually cause us to close up. But by truly feeling these experiences and not running from them will make us more human. The Work and it’s practices are meant to develop the essence and give it what it needs.
Kundabuffer?!? What’s a Kundabuffer? Well, it’s one of Gurdjieff’s “tall tales” as he liked to present important ideas and teachings in the form of stories that create an image: effective, but perhaps not all that literal. Certain high beings implanted in humans an organ at the base of the spine, the Kundabuffer, that stopped humans from properly perceiving reality and their place in it—giving humans a destructive ego.
The Kundabuffer was later removed,but by momentum it still has it’s effect of making people not see themselves and the world for what it is. The consequences of the organ Kundabuffer is all the terrible aspects of human life: greed, war, oppression, you name it.
Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson is G.I. Gurdjieff’s 1238 page allegorical opus composed of stories to communicate with the subconscious mind by evoking images, feelings, and sensations. Full of made up words and difficult concepts and experimental structure it’s meant to transform the reader by being an exercise in its self.
Father Tony asks about “food for the moon.” First, Richard explains the difference between a symbol and a metaphor. A metaphor stands for something else. It could have been expressed in different words. But a symbol isn’t a representation of something else, it’s its own thing. In a way it exists independent of being applied to anything else or not. In Gurdjeiff’s system the moon is a symbol for the mechanical part of life. The misdirected energies of human existence, misspent in their confusion, “feed the moon” giving it the continued power to regulate people in their automatic, unthinking, lives. We must all create our own moon inside ourselves to send our energy to instead.
Honestly folks, I don’t quite “get it” but it is an evocative concept, one that really grabs my imagination.
The next difficult concept we ask about is The Law of Seven. This is the part of the article, which I include every month in these roundups, where I’m going to beg you to watch the above video…because there’s no way I can do the explanation justice.
Part 4 opens up with the Eanneagram one the most widely known of Mr. Gurdjieef’s ideas that many of the general public have heard of. It’s a diagram charting The Law of Seven and The Law of Three allowing the user to make new interesting connections. It’s a symbol, like a mandala, to ponder and contemplate.
It’s also related the Gurdjieff Movements (aka Sacred Dances), a series of dance-like movements where one moves in patterns determined by the Eanneagram.
I’ve mentioned that the Eanneagram is broadly known and that’s due to it being used as personality test, however, Gurdjieff never used it in this way and Richard and Bishop Lainie are not huge fans of this approach.
Then it’s onto The Sacred Dances, which are done together in groups, lead by an experienced person who knows them well, and accompanied by music, usually music written by Gurdjeiff or his students. They have a very precise choreography and they’re meant to make one fully in the body, in the moment, and in the movement. Some of the specific motions are even called prayers and others have inner work and visualisations to do along with them.
This leads to a discussion about the benefits of working in a group, and then to the question we’ve all been waiting for:
Are there similarities and overlaps between the The Work and Gnosticism?
Richard does say there are connections and he points out there’s numerous references in Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson to cosmic beings making the universe, but doing so imperfectly. And there’s an emphasis on achieving Gnosis in The Work (even if that exact term isn’t used).
Richard generously offers at the end of the show to assist anyone who wants to know more about The Work to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s it for the round up, again endless gratitude to Bishop Petersen for guest-hosting. We’ll meet you in the comments section below (or in the Pleroma, your pick).