Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

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


Joseph Azize Page


I have referred elsewhere to “The Four Ideals” exercise which the Adies worked on, at Gurdjieff’s direction, for a period of five months from October 1948 to March 1949. They had other exercises at the same time, particularly the “I AM” exercise. But this one is of some significance, for several reasons. The four ideals of this exercise are Muhammad, Buddha, Lama and Christ (although the diagram made by Adie shows, if I read it correctly, that there are also many other ideals). Other of Gurdjieff’s exercises mention these four ideals, and sometimes also Moses. The exercise is given to facilitate in the person who attempts it the conscious absorption of higher hydrogens. It is effectively, I would say, a prayer of a very unusual type.

There is something literally ‘wonder-full’ about these exercises. According to the transcript of a meeting in Paris of 7 December 1941, someone asked Gurdjieff how he should pray. Gurdjieff replied that this is for later, but there are substances which emanate from the sun and planets (in this respect, see “Purgatory” at pp. 760-1). These emanations, he said, make contact at certain points in our solar system, and can reflect in materialized images which are themselves images of the All Highest, albeit they are what he calls “inverted” images. There are always, he averred, materialized images in the atmosphere, and if only we could sufficiently concentrate, we could enter into contact with the image and receive the substances.

Another aspect of the Four Ideals’ prayer-like nature is that religiosity is not usually associated with Gurdjieff. He is occasionally quoted expressing something like religiosity, but not often. However, in Beelzebub (especially the 1931 edition), in his music, and in the movements, there is rather more. Much of his piano music bears titles such as “”, “The Story of the Resurrection of Christ”, or “Reading from a Sacred Book”. There are even pieces with titles such as “Vespers Hymn” and “Tibi Cantamus”. There is the entire series of “Hymns from a Truly Great Temple” and “Sacred Hymns”. The solemnity and gravity of these pieces is almost overwhelming. In fact, it takes most of us some time before we can bear to open to the music, so powerful is it. Such sublimity requires courage to stand before it. It is easier to subliminally shut down. Then there are movements with titles such as “The Big Prayer”, and “Sense of the Sacred”, which invokes the names of the four ideals. One cannot say much about this teaching without words. But it exists and is an important part of Gurdjieff’s heritage.

Gurdjieff gave directions for prayer, even while warning that it was not prayer such as we ordinarily understand, and that to be significant it has be attempted with all three centres. In Ouspensky’s ‘In Search of the Miraculous’, Gurdjieff is reported saying that the action of conscious praying could itself do for the person what they sought from a higher power.

However, neither here nor in the transcripts of Paris meetings does Gurdjieff say that prayer is ineffectual let alone not to pray. On the contrary, he actually and explicitly gave instruction in how to pray and enjoined it. In other words, prayer is one of Gurdjieff’s methods.

A particular form of prayer which he insisted upon is what might be called “well-wishing”. In one of the Paris groups, someone related to Gurdjieff that he had seen some poor children, and was distraught because he could do nothing to help them. But you can, said Gurdjieff, even if you have no resources: you can wish well for them, and then, it is a law that someone who can help shall do so. The questioner continued in the same vein, he could not assist them. Gurdjieff stopped him: you have not heard what I say. You can, do as I suggest.

Mr Adie said little about this, he placed the emphasis upon changing oneself, but he did sometimes state that we are all related. He would often speak of being in relation. We are connected by subtle threads, and so to what are the others connected? An evolving part of humanity? Mrs Staveley said more about this, and about prayer, and she was correct to.

But whatever one has learned about this, I would suggest that once more, the key lies in Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. At page 569 of ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson’, Beelzebub goes so far as to state that the soul is made up of substances exclusively obtained from the art of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. Gurdjieff taught that only through the crystallization of the higher bodies do we acquire immortality; and immortality, Gurdjieff said, is the goal of all religious teachings, including his own.

To someone who practices the art as the three-centred basis for engagement in life, prayer and well-wishing come naturally. The circumstances of life suggest them. The practitioner knows that prayer is no fantasy, even if it works in ways we find mysterious. But there is a wisdom and even a wonder in that mystery. A high valuation of the art of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation will bring a valuation of prayer, and a low valuation of the art a correspondingly low evaluation of prayer and well-wishing.

Gurdjieff advised his students to have an ideal: for example, in the meeting of 16 January 1944, with his disarming common sense, he counselled that one cannot recapture the faith of childhood, one is adult now and that faith is not necessary. Yet, he stated, if one does not have an ideal, if one does not believe in God, then one’s parent or teacher can serve as an ideal. As mentioned, on 9 December 1946, Gurdjieff advised that when finishing an exercise one could make a prayer to one’s ideal to help guard what one has received or attracted until the next exercise.

This concept of the ideal is referred to several times in the Paris groups, and it is worth studying. Many of us have found that what we thought of as ideals whether religious, political, social or otherwise were idols (ideals with which we became identified), and we came to see our idolatry as a foolishness. To an extent, Gurdjieff’s methods enabled us to see both idol and idolatry with more clarity. But it does not follow that there are no ideals or that there can be no service, no genuine being-faith. To take one’s teacher as “ ideal” does not mean to pretend that our teachers were perfect. In so far as they represent a teaching, they represent an ideal. The ideal himself, as Gurdjieff said in the Four Ideals, is high above the earth. We approach the ideals by stages. We ourselves are flawed, and are far from God, but we can take an ideal which corresponds to our situation and raise ourselves by steps.

Finally, in the Four Ideals exercise there is an order given to the movement of higher hydrogens through the body. Some of the Paris groups meeting transcripts refer to this passage of energies. Other traditions, especially from Asia, give very precise indications of how different forces move through the body. While there is no doubt that there is a sort of psychic circulation system which follows its own laws, these laws are not on our terrestrial level. The blood of the astral body (Hanbledzoin) does not behave like the blood in our veins and capillaries: it possesses a greater degree of consciousness. Hence, as Vaysse says, even if one has a skeletal deformity, one can use the preparation. If one brings consciousness to the body and the movement of the breath, that very consciousness will assist the passage and transformation of the energies.

I think that there is a danger in the reports of the Asian systems, such as those of Hinduism and Buddhism. They are so clear and precise that they almost suggest that the higher hydrogens flow like water through copper pipes. I cannot say that this is wrong, but neither is it the whole of the truth. They move with a passage which defies description even when it is experienced. What we experience of this movement we have to account to ourselves. Our account is necessarily influenced by what we already believe and have previously experienced. What seems to us to be an entry of forces may in fact be the manifestation of forces which are within: the feeling of entry may, on occasions, be a trick of the eye. What seems to us to take time may not: it may be instantaneous but presented to our experience as if sequential, and the sequence may even be the opposite of what we think. That is, the movement of these energies may be first noticed by the conscious mind when it is completing. Then the very last of a chain of unconscious or superconscious experiences is the first to impinge upon our awareness, and our awareness but sometimes, but not necessarily always, reconstruct the order and so present it to us in reverse order. Something like this happens with our visual impression of lightning.

This is all said so that one does not trust too much in second hand accounts whether oral or written, but rather in one’s own experience. Having said that, certain of the preparations which the Adies had taped do provide some very valuable information. They would warn us not to imagine what they referred to, but to watch for it. It is rather as if an experienced astronomer advised in which section of the heavens one should watch to see a very faint star.

Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book “The Phoenician Solar Theology” treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.


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