A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: Gurdjieff

09 May 2000
You know I can't sleep, I can't stop my brain You know it's three weeks, I'm going insane. You know I'd give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind. -Beatles, I'm so tired

Sleep, rest of nature, O sleep, most gentle of the divinities, peace of the soul, thou at whose presence care disappears, who soothest hearts wearied with daily employments, and makest them strong again for labour! -Ovid

Have you ever stood and stared it? Marvelled at its beauty? -Agent Smith

I should first commend you for your effort towards skepticism. I should second be skeptical of your own reading of Gurdjieff, if I would be congruent with your own efforts. So, I will point out in a logical way the flaws in your argument against Gurdjieff, which you may post on your website if you wish to be humiliated to the general public you pretend to serve with your diatribes.

I will begin with the major points. You state:

Their current disciples presumably ignore Gurdjieff's more ridiculous claims, such as the following comment on the moon: "All evil deeds, all crimes, all self-sacrificing actions, all heroic exploits, as well as all the actions of ordinary life, are controlled by the moon."

Indeed, it is you who are ignorant. Gurdjieff refers not to the physical moon orbiting Earth but rather to a cosmological concept that the moon represents in his metaphysical system. The moon to Gurdjieff is a complex symbol, perhaps too complex for people like you who take things literally and discredit any meaning that they don't understand. The moon represents the denser aspects of life, those extremes and norms which Aristotle referred to in The Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle said that the virtuous man lives "in the mean," the reasonable median between extremes, or "the middle place" that Gurjdjieff refers to. Jesus also refers to this as "the narrow place." The moon represents the extremes that are the norm in our world, since the incontinent man (I.E. yourself) obeys and trusts his senses and impulses, seeking not after rationality and truth but rather after what feels right and what is comfortable to his basic self. This man won't challenge his own deeply held notions and easily dismisses anything that isn't part of his moon, his own lunacy.

You continue to misrepresent his teachings throughout your essay:

What makes a guru such as Gurdjieff attractive as a spiritual conquistador is rather his more cynical beliefs, such as the notion that most human beings who are awake act as if they are asleep. Gurdjieff also observed that most people are dead on the inside. I think he meant by these claims that most people are trusting, gullible, easily led, very suggestible, not very reflective or suspicious of their fellow.

Gurdjieff is not a cynic, but an optimist. His analysis of the state of most people is not a condemnation but rather a suggestion of hope. No one in their right mind would say that most people are fulfilling their potential or are as open minded, conscientious, moral, or good as they could possibly be. Gurdjieff only invites people to take a look at their own lives and gives them a system by which to do so, just as many philosophical teachers in history have done. Indeed, elements of Gurdjieff's teachings bear uncanny resemblance to the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Lucretius, as well as many others with hundreds of years of philosophical instruction. Gurdjieff claims to have synthesized as much of this wisdom as he could into his system, and any in depth analysis of it yields credibility to this notion.

Your analysis that Gurdjieff thought most people to be trusting, gullible, easily led, etc. is a product of your imagination, of fitting Gurdjieff into your pre-formed idea of what a sophistic, swindling wise guy must be like. What he means by "mankind is asleep," is that most people have a system of built-up habits of thought and behavior from which it is nearly impossible for them to deviate, primarily because they identify with this system, taking it to be themselves. They do not consider that they learned these habits in the same way that they learned language: by imitation. They acquired this system, called the personality, mostly when they actually _were_ impressionable, gullible, and easily trusting: when they were children. Gurdjieff offers a system by which a person my non-identify with this system in order to study it and determine which parts of it are not virtuous or beneficial to the individual as a whole, for any study quickly reveals many conflicts of interest within the self which impair the overall willpower.

Gurdjieff definitely recognizes that such ideas as this are dangerous and could be used for the wrong reasons, which is why he emphasizes that the work he teaches must be done according to a certain attitude of lightness and love, I.E. exactly the opposite of an intention to take advantage of someone and use them for something as petty as monetary gain. Perhaps you should add McDonald's to your dictionary, with such a theme in mind.

Your misinterpretation continues:

Gurdjieff obviously had a powerful personality, but his disdain for the mundane and for natural science must have added to his attractiveness.

Gurdjieff did not hold the mundane nor the natural sciences in contempt. Actually he emphasized the importance of melding the science of the West with the wisdom of the East. If anything, he held in disdain the secular view that religion and science are inherently separate and sought to find a way to reconcile the conflict between two otherwise valid ways of interpreting reality.

In any case, I have a biology final to continue studying for. I leave you with the following passages from the New Testament, which you probably also have a propensity for being skeptical towards.

Gurdjieff is not the first spiritual teacher to have been misunderstood:

"And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them." - Luke 2:50

But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask him about this saying. - Luke 9:45

But they understood none of these things; this saying was hid from them, and they did not grasp what was said. - Luke 18:34

This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. ... ... Many of them said, "He has a demon, and he is mad; why listen to him? - John 10:6, 10:20

He supposed that his brethren understood that God was giving them deliverance by his hand, but they did not understand. - Acts 7:25

... they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning him. - Acts 13:27
Jonathan S. Gilbert

reply: Blessed are the meek, for they shall get what they deserve.

11 Aug 2000 
I was reading the "Skeptic's Dictionary" and found some inaccuracies with your treatment of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. One of the first ones is that, even though Gurdjieff brought the enneagram to the west, it had nothing to do with personality types. Unfortunately, people have gotten hold of the enneagram, not knowing what it means, and have used it for some purpose not related to the original one. The enneagram, which is a very ancient symbol, is a "book". It is very much like a physicist who understands the symbol E=MC2, and all its implications. It describes the psychology and cosmology of man as a specific "process" under various laws. These laws by the way are compatible with "all" scientific laws up until now. It is just the terminology that differs. Another point is that Gurdjieff never proclaimed himself a prophet or dismissed science as nonsense. What he did say was that the current "gaps" in science are made, not by the principles or methods of science, but by the way science approaches the "gaps" in question. His mission, was to try and merge "the wisdom of the east with the science of the west". He thought both were equally important. Also, you treat Ouspensky as a cult icon. This is not true. Ouspensky himself, when he was teaching in America, realized that people were starting to treat him like a cult symbol. This disturbed him, and during the last few years of his life he made all attempts, even telling people he never taught any system, to relinquish the image created. Both Ouspensky and Gurdjieff thought that the scientific method was the correct one to investigate the phenomena of the world. The reason why they wanted to merge western science with eastern wisdom was for one simple fact: science then, and now, regards "experience" of our psychology as less "real" than the "world out there", but as Kant pointed out, because of our perceptual apparatus, we "create" a picture of the world before us, and from this, if we are to fully analyse man's situation, one must start of our investigations here, how man experiences the world, not from a sensuous point of view (though important) but from a psychological view of himself. This is because even scientists have a perceptual apparatus, and will interpret "facts" as they perceive. Just look at quantum theory, it is one of the most accurate theories of the world we have, yet one of the most unexplainable!

P.S. I would like to know your thoughts on Thomas Kuhn's criticisms of science. As a sceptic, wouldn't it be prudent to be sceptical about science also?

(name withheld by request)

reply: Kuhn was not a critic of science. He was an historian of science. Science requires a healthy skepticism. I don't know what you are talking about when you say quantum theory is accurate but unexplainable.

7 Apr 2000
Thanks for the essay on Gurdjieff. It's more in line with his teachings than the efforts of some who insist they are students. There are probably more anecdotes along the lines of the "inter-planetary traveler and the prostitute" than we both could fathom. A lot of them make me laugh. It's funny in that it highlights the extent to which people are, and can be, gullible. It's a necessary component of spiritual teaching to expose the student's weaknesses (in Gurdjieffian terminology, "false personality") and the effort can manifest itself in otherwise abnormal ways.

While I read your article, I observed a crowd of inner disagreers who felt and spoke like the ones in the two responses you published. As I was reading their responses, several things came to light. One respondent claimed that you had no right to write what you did. The only right I have ever heard mentioned in the Gurdjieff teachings came through the work of Dr. Maurice Nicoll. It is "the right to not be negative." The respondent was not exercising his right at that particular moment. Instead, his claim asserted that somehow, the system of Gurdjieff's teachings, which the respondent apparently appreciates, somehow did not account for you or your efforts. On the contrary, the core of the teachings, quite distinct from the bizarre anecdotes that are routinely filtered through subjective lenses, are

"Believe nothing; verify everything" "A healthy skepticism is a must."

The second respondent spoke of your having been gravely offensive. What a load to carry around, isn't it? These teachings are quietly taught, person-to-person, in settings so private that you wouldn't be able to tell your local grocery from a Fourth Way school. Gurdjieff's teachings are not affected by the surface debates, and the personality injuries and sufferings that the exoteric world seems to thrive upon. The teachings are evaluated by their effectiveness to actually transform a person's being from an unrefined patty of emotional, mental, and physical by-products to something completely different and much finer.

This is the nature of alchemy. This is how we find our deck of playing cards, and our periodic table. The outer world does take and use the things of the inner world for its own purposes and those living solely in the outer world are, fortunately, protected from this ignorance. Only something of a shocking nature can change this, but then we open up the floor to the debaters again when we talk this way. What kind of a shock do you mean? Is it ethical? How do I know that a person isn't going to do something abusive and justify it as a shock?

So many voices, all clamoring for the microphone. What to do...what to do? Well, anyways, that was a very nice essay indeed. And I thank you dearly for it, on behalf of myself and the other respondents who apparently forgot Gurdjieff's teachings at that moment.

reply: I'm sure they are as thankful to you as I am.

13 Sep 1999 
First of all, I understand that all sides of any argument deserve to be heard, especially within this ever growing information glut known as the Internet. I do appreciate the balance you bring to the forum with your unobjective scepticism...it rightly balances out the equally unobjective "mooniness" of the "true believers", and god knows there are enough of those out there. I suggest, as I'm sure many others have before me, that you do away with the name "Skeptic", as you obviously rely on it's somewhat vernacular popular meaning, and in no way reflect true skepticism (in my opinion, of course!).

reply: Actually, you're the first to make this suggestion. I was going to call it the Doubter's Dictionary, but the alliteration was too urbane. Anyway, you obviously have not taken the time to read either the entry on skepticism or the Introduction to The Skeptic's Dictionary. Otherwise you would have a better idea of how I use the work 'skeptic'.

In regards to the "entry" Gurdjieff in this dictionary of yours, I see nothing but undocumented slander.

reply: I usually document my slanders, but got lazy with the Great One. In any case, slander would require me to defame the Great One with lies and thereby do damage to his reputation. Referring to Gurdjieff as a con man is a compliment to his abilities to gull many otherwise quite intelligent and respectable people to respect his intellect and talent so much that they would gladly work for him for nothing in return for the privilege of being allowed to stay in the Great One's presence.

To call someone a "Con Man" without any sort of proof (and if you think the anecdote you post is any sort of evidence, I suggest you try to look a little bit harder at what is really being demonstrated within it), or evidence to back up such a claim is just simple minded.

reply: You might have done better to demonstrate that the proof I give is inadequate, false, misleading, etc., instead of simply asserting that I have no proof.

I am sorry to hurl little expletives like this, it is not out of a lack of respect. I just feel that you've done a disservice to something that is, I believe, a mite bit more complex and interesting than you've deemed worthy to investigate for yourself. There ARE serious thinkers out there, who propose ideas that might, on the surface, seem to contradict your world view....but not everyone speaks as "directly" as you think you do, I'm sure. Some, including the initiators of some of the worlds great religions, think that some truth is best occluded, just a little, below the surface of the words. While you might not deem this "Scientific", I don't think you have the right to hold such an argument against anything you dislike, as your own judgement and opinion of the things you write about in this forum is certainly very far from scientific or objective, or anything of the sort.

reply: I have no right to write about things I disagree with? Now there's an interesting concept. Is this an inference you draw from one of the Master's aphorisms: write not but that thee be right, or left, as the case may be, depending upon the position of the moon.

All that said, I know you've put the caveat of "My Opinion" on many of this site's disclaimers. The next disclaimer you need to make, in my small opinion, is to remove the word sceptic. It is, perhaps, unethically misleading.
With respect, 

Jordon Flato

reply: I don't recall making any disclaimers and I don't plan to start with the one you suggest.

What is obscure, obscures what is.

31 Aug 1999
I came upon your entry on the topic of G.I. Gurdjieff in your "Skeptics Dictionary". I suspect your criticism of his words and his colorful history is a surface reaction to information designed to cloak the real content behind his teachings. I suggest you find a genuine guide who is knowledgeable about his methods, who can perhaps bring you to an understanding of your own mental aberrations which cause you to sit in judgment of things, of which you have no knowledge or experience of. Your remarks are offensive and inflict an injustice to those who have studied his intent with serious consideration. Some of these individuals who are familiar with these teachings, occupy very high positions in our society. You are obviously not ready for that crowd yet. I hope you find your way out of the illusions of your own mind and stop spreading these idiot statements that you may consider your own personal knowledge.

Any psychologist can enlighten you that madness has a logic all its own. Your self image of being a Pontifical Skeptic is healthy only to a point, beyond that point, without direct experience your knowledge is self delusion. You must seek understanding as a primary goal. Understanding has durability, knowledge is provisional at best.
Raymond J. Burke

reply: Thank you for the inspiring comments. I see things much more clearly now.

larrow.gif (1051 bytes) Gurdjieff

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