Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

G. I. Gurdjieff's teaching, research, books, conferences


From: Joseph Azize

Part One

At the combined meeting of 2 August 1978, Mr Adie spoke about the development and coating of the astral body, the vehicle of the soul (“Body Kesdjan” from the Persian “self-soul”) which is in the book George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia. He said that as the astral body forms, the fine particles which comprise it can escape into the body, and there they are felt as discomforting if not explosive. They are, in fact, a finer fuel than the body is adapted to, and it is quite an effort to remain calm when experiencing this process of coating.

There is a general principle here, the importance of which can hardly be overstated: before all the endless diversity of uncomfortable and even painful life processes, the best advice is always to first acknowledge them for what they are, and to experience them, impartially. Then one may know or sense in what direction to move, and whether they should be ameliorated, changed, removed, embraced, enhanced or just endured.

On this night in 1978, after that reading, some questions, and an exchange on certain rules to do with the group, Mr Adie was about to end the meeting when Eddie said: “I want to know how we can use sex for our work.”

“That’s a good question to ask at the end of our meeting”, Mr Adie replied. “Well, you have already been told tonight. If you speak of when we come here, then the essential thing is not to forget that we are brothers and sisters in the work. The first question really is your aim.” I will pause to emphasize this: the first question is always aim.

“Sex is a force, a tremendous force,” he continued. “How can one use any force? If you could remember yourself a bit, if you could control your manifestation a little bit, then you could commence to use it. But perhaps this is not your question. How would you propose to use it? How would you like to use it?”

“What I find is that often after sex I feel very relaxed, and very free flowing.”

“Well that’s nothing special,” said Mr Adie. “After a good meal you feel very full and relaxed. After going to the lavatory you feel light and relaxed.” The meeting was interrupted by laughter.

“It’s the same thing. Sex is the same as everything else. You cannot increase that feeling, neither can you diminish it: it’s there. So? A person could come to believe that they must have sex before a preparation, and invent theories about it. When you ask a question like that, it’s like the sex they talk about in books. There’s no such sex. Try and understand how you speak about it.” Mr Adie paused and evidently addressed the group: “He wishes he hadn’t asked it now.” This was greeted by proverbial gales of laughter.

“You do not use it, you are used by it. That is sex for you.” Mr Adie stressed these last words. “Work on the three centres that you have got, moving-instinctive, emotional and intellectual, leave sex until a lot later. You will notice that if you are negative, sex relations are not much good, but then neither is anything else. What you can say about sex you can say about almost anything.”

“Sex exists between everybody, there is sex between every single person here, in a minute or in a greater degree. To use sex, I would have to be a man, would I not? To use anything, I would have to be a man, but you want to use sex, the most difficult of the lot. I don’t see that I am used by sex, and made to do absurd things. I am sure that hasn’t satisfied you.”

“You ask: how can I use sex, and you ask as if everyone knew what we were talking about. But this is not so: what is sex for you? Going to bed for an hour? Sex is all the time. Until we can see that it is always operating in us, our view of it must be a partial, keyhole one.”

“Your chief mistake is that you ask how you can use it, but you can’t use it. The first question is to be present, and then maybe I can see and study. Then I will understand that as I am I cannot use it. Ah, now this is interesting! Can you use emotional force? No, you’re completely at the mercy of your emotions. Can you use the force of your thought? Hardly at all – the thoughts arise.”

“In the absence of “I” there is no question of using anything at all. That is what was good about your question, it is an impossible one unless “I” and responsibility enter into it.”

Part Two

In Voices in the Dark, p. 46 (transcripts of a meeting of 8 April 1943), Gurdjieff is quoted as effectively saying that questions of sex are individual. On the next page he goes on to add: “Love is love. It has no need of sex. It can be felt for a person of the same sex, for an animal even, and the sexual function is not mixed up there.” Although sex and love can be mingled, he added that “it is then difficult to remain impartial as love demands.” Then, a little later comes this statement: “The sexual act originally must have been performed only for the purpose of reproduction of the species, but little by little men have made of it a means of pleasure. It must have been a sacred act. … this divine seed, the Sperm, has another function, that of the construction of a second body in us …”.

(I will add as an aside that one can see something like this happening with food. The chief purpose of food is nourishment. The pleasant taste of food is partly a providential way of encouraging good eating. But today, one can see how food is often treated as a sensual adventure. In retrospect, this was happening in aristocratic Rome and Athens, but the process of decay was arrested in the Middle Ages.)

When he was asked why religions “forbid the sexual act” (which is a rather severe overstatement), Gurdjieff replied that “originally we knew the use of this substance, whence the chasteness of the monks”.

In some unpublished material, Gurdjieff insisted that celibacy does have a value, but it should go with restraint in all centres. That is, one must be able to watch one’s thoughts and feelings, and to exercise some degree of control over them.

Part Three

Today’s culture is so saturated with sex and erotica that it is effectively impossible to prevent thoughts of sex from coming into one’s head. However, if one can see that these are merely associations evoked from without, and if one has the aim of not being carried away by sex, these associations can even call one. To put it another way, one does not have to assent to the associations.

Providing only that one has an aim or a religious purpose (let us say, to use sex energy for conscious development), then one can speak intelligently of sex: and one can research it. But most of what passes for research is merely the more or less accurate gathering of statistics and describing of trends. Further, I am sceptical of tantric ideas such as Leadbeater is said to have employed (see G. Tillett’s The Elder Brother : A Biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater). To me, this is self-delusion. Without knowing a person’s individual circumstances, and knowing that person, the best advice is simply to repeat Mr Adie’s words above.

What Mr Adie said throws a light on what Shakespeare called “the sovereignty of reason”. “Reason” is more than logic: it is balanced understanding in its practical aspect. It is, perhaps, the fourth cardinal virtue: “prudence”; or conscience and consciousness taken as a whole. Shakespeare’s plays illustrate the desirability of reason ruling human passion, and the possibility, but difficulty of realising this. “Othello” is a parade ground example, but the idea is found so frequently that it may even be the main motif in Shakespeare’s oeuvre: it may be the fundament and the firmament of his perspective.

By saying the “fundament”, I mean that the struggle between reason and unreason is the ground of so many of his plays, such as “All’s Well That Ends Well”, “Hamlet” (where the phrase ‘sovereignty of reason’ is found), “King Lear”, and “Measure for Measure”. these plays make more sense when this is taken into account. “Reason” is so large a concept that it can be mistaken for “virtue”, and there is overlap, but whereas virtue connotes an ingrained habit of thinking and action, reason is the guide which directs virtuous thought and action. Also, reason is Shakespeare’s firmament, because the good fruit of all the struggles and catastrophes is the re-establishment of a new rational order: this is reflected in the history plays, but most of all in the last plays: “The Winter’s Tale”, “”Pericles”, “Cymbeline” and “The Tempest”, perhaps his supreme accomplishment.
This may partly explain why these plays have such a fairy tale character. But the theme is present even in his earliest work, consider the turn which “The Comedy of Errors” takes upon the intervention of the Abbess. It is as if one could say that heaven is reason and hell is unreason.

There is a Latin proverb, apparently children used it in skipping: “Tu, si animo regeris, rex es; si corpore, servus”. This means: “You, if you are ruled by your mind, are a king; but if by your body, a slave.”

Once at Newport, someone made a comment, and Mr Adie in reply simply asked: “How high is that on the scale of human reason?” It needed no more. If we are climbing that scale, we can deal with anything, including sex. And the starting point is to see it impartially just as it is, no more and no less. Seen like that, sex energy plays a critical role in our lives, even if we are perfectly chaste. It is, indeed, amenable to reason. One has the power of choice whether to have sex, and if so, under what conditions. Often, we implicitly consent to be compelled.

I mentioned Shakespeare, which strikes me now as interesting not least because I think a lot of our problems with sex are caused by over-dramatizing it. We allow it a power it simply does not possess in itself, because we lend it the power of imagination.

When Mr Adie spoke of the astral body, and how its fine energies leaked into the physical body, he could also have been speaking of sex. But if the mind, emotions and body work, subject to the sovereignty of reason, then they at least being in their bounds, they allow a chance for the sex centre too, to work within its proper limits.

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