What happened to Gurdjieff when he had his car accident?
The system of George Gurdjieff is a little bit strange, and it is certainly different from all other, old approaches. His whole work was concentrated on creating an absolute feeling of distinction between the body and consciousness – not just as a philosophical idea but as an actual experience.
It happens to everybody in death, but most people die unconsciously. The consciousness separates completely from the body to go on its pilgrimage which is eternal. The journey of the body is very small, but it all happens in unconsciousness. It is a natural surgery.
A surgeon cannot remove a small piece of your body while you are conscious. He has to make you unconscious, then he can remove anything. He can kill you; you will never know about it. But if you are conscious, then the pain of a deep-rooted identity being broken is so terrible, so unbearable, that you won’t allow him to do it. It has happened only once in India just at the beginning of this century.
The maharajah of Varanasi had to go through an operation to remove his appendix. The best surgeons from all over the world were attending him. But a great problem arose: he was not ready to take anything from which he loses his consciousness. His whole life’s work was exactly like Gurdjieff’s: he was trying to be conscious and to be separate from the body. And he said, “You can remove the appendix. I will not disturb you.”
But surgeons cannot believe a patient. And such an operation… removing his appendix while he is conscious! He may jump off the table, he may do something; he may destroy not only the operation but even his life.
But on both sides there was a problem. If the operation was delayed there was a danger that the appendix would explode and then death was certain. And because he was no ordinary man, they could not force him. He was ready to die, but he was not ready to take any anesthesia which would make him unconscious.
Finally the surgeons decided, “There is no harm in taking a chance; let him remain awake. Anyway he is going to die. If we don’t operate, he will die. But there is a possibility that perhaps he is right. He may have attained that quality of consolidation such that his consciousness is separate from the body and he may be saved. So it is worth taking a chance. And he is a stubborn man, he won’t listen; he has never listened to anyone.”
And the decision had to be made within minutes; otherwise it would be out of the question. So finally they decided to operate on him. He remained conscious. The operation was done, the appendix removed, and he remained as if nothing was happening. It was an unprecedented phenomenon in the whole history of medicine. It was a miracle.
Gurdjieff’s whole work consisted of separating the consciousness from the body and making the consciousness such a solid force that the body cannot drag it, that the body becomes only a servant and is not a master. And he was trying many kinds of experiments.
For example, he used to drink alcohol. One cannot imagine such a quantity of alcohol… but he would remain perfectly conscious. No quantity of alcohol was able to make him unconscious. His disciples and he, they all would start drinking together, and within a few minutes all were flat on the ground – and he was still drinking.
He was trying in different ways to feel where he was still attached to the body. He would fast, he would not eat for many days – and this was not anything religious, it was purely scientific experimentation. He would eat too much, so much that the whole body would be saying, “Stop!” and he would go on eating just to make the body completely understand that he was not under its control: he would do what he wanted, he was not going to listen to the body.
The car accident was the very culmination of his experiments. It is wrong to say it was an accident; it was not. He did it – purposely, consideredly, consciously. It looked like an accident to everybody.
He always used to drive very fast. All those who were sitting inside the car were just trembling: any moment the car was going to crash with something or other. But that day he was alone in the car, and he knowingly put it on full speed and crashed it into a big tree. He had multiple fractures – the car was completely finished. Doctors said it was unimaginable how he got out of it. He got out of it with all those fractures, blood all over his body, and he walked to the ashram – which was almost one and a half miles from there – and said, ”Call some doctors to check what has happened in the body.”
The doctors could not believe it when they saw the car. Nobody could remain alive after that; the accident was absolutely total. And with so many fractures, he was not unconscious; with so much blood gone, he was not unconscious. He managed to walk one and a half miles… which was absolutely miraculous. He was not supposed to be able to do it!
It was not an accident; he did it on purpose, and within three weeks he was perfectly okay. He wanted to know death before death. That was the purpose of the accident. He wanted to know that even if the body goes through such torture, it is not going to affect his consciousness. And he was immensely happy that he had succeeded, that he had attained what, in his terminology, is ‘crystallization’. Now death meant nothing and now he could die consciously, watching what was happening.
The way he had chosen was a long and hard way. But he was a strange type of man: for him, it was neither long nor hard, for him it was perfectly natural and normal. The car accident should be remembered as a voluntary entering into death. He had almost died, but just through his crystallized consciousness he managed not to die. He refused to die. It is a beautiful experiment, although outlandish.
What he tried to do with it can be done very easily by just becoming aware of your day-to-day activities: walking, sitting, eating, sleeping. They will not be so dramatic, but they will be more simple, more human, more sane.
And Gurdjieff is not a normal human being. He should be taken as an exception, not the rule. Nobody should try to follow him because he will be in trouble. That kind of person cannot be followed, that kind of person is born. You can understand much from their life, but you should never try to imitate them.
And it is not only so with Gurdjieff. There have been many other people in the East, who have died unknown… A few are known, but even the normal Eastern humanity has tried to forget them because their experiments looked outrageous.
In India there are eighty-four siddhas. In the whole history of India there have been eighty-four people who could have talked with Gurdjieff in the same language, who tried all kinds of experiments. Perhaps in a few experiments Gurdjieff may not have been able to compete with those people.
I have been to one of the monasteries of the siddhas. Their monasteries have gone underground. Because of their experiments, the masses were so against them that they have burned their literature, killed their masters, tried to erase… saying that they are not part of the heritage of the East.
In Ladakh, in the Himalayas, there is a small monastery hidden deep in the mountains. They don’t tell anybody that it belongs to the siddhas. There are a few others in India. But unless they trust you, they will not tell you about other monasteries. They are all linked.
In this monastery I saw one experiment that will help to explain Gurdjieff’s experiment to you. They start drinking poison in small quantities, and slowly, slowly they increase the quantity every day. The poison is so dangerous that just a single dose is enough to finish a person. But they come to a point where they can take any quantity of poison and it does not affect their consciousness at all. They remain absolutely normal. And they have absorbed so much poison that if they bite you, you will die; they are full of poison.
And in the monastery they keep big cobra snakes, which have the most dangerous poison. Out of one hundred snakes there are only three percent which have real poison; ninety-seven are just hypocrites, they don’t have real poison. But they can make you freak out if you see them because they look like real snakes. They are snakes, only one thing is missing: they don’t have the poison.
The cobra is the best as far as poison is concerned. And these siddhas, as they are called, have come to a point where drinking poison from the outside, ordinary poison, is just meaningless. They make the cobra bite on their tongue, and the cobra turns upside down and pours all its poison in their mouth. And you will be surprised that the cobra dies! – because that man is so full of poison. The cobra has only very little poison in a small bag attached in his mouth. That’s why the Chinese eat snakes just as a vegetable. Just cut the head off and it is all vegetable!
There is a famous story about a master who was sitting with his disciples and a guest master. And as the cobra is a very delicious dish, cobra was prepared. But the master was suddenly shocked, seeing on the guest master’s plate, the head of the cobra. So he took away the plate and called the cook, who was also a monk and proved to be not only a monk but a master.
The master was very angry, but before he could show his anger the cook said, ”What is the matter?”
The master said, “Look what the matter is. You have cooked even the head of the cobra!”
The cook said, “Don’t be worried.” He took the head and gulped it down in front of everybody else.
And he said, “Now you can eat. Don’t be worried; I have taken care of the head.” There was utter silence and shock. But perhaps he was connected with a certain secret school of siddhas in China too, so there was no danger. He did not die.
These experiments are certainly outrageous, but they have proved that a man is capable of becoming so conscious that there is nothing that can make him unconscious again. He has achieved the ultimate in consciousness. That’s the meaning of Gurdjieff’s experiment. Don’t call it an accident.
From The Path of the Mystic, Discourse #35
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