Many small groups of sannyasins are forming around the world. Would you comment on Gurdjeff’s words, that people who want to wake up, and who are living together in a group, can function as alarm clocks for each other?
George Gurdjieff is right, but right only about his own system. It is true: if you are following Gurdjieff’s ideology and his methods, then a group is an absolute necessity; you cannot work alone.
Then people can function as alarm clocks to each other. If somebody starts falling asleep, somebody can shake him up. When you are starting to fall asleep, somebody else can shake you up and wake you.
Gurdjieff’s method is a school method. He himself was trained in different schools of the Sufis. They are all school methods. School methods have a difficulty – that you have to depend on the group, that if the group is not the right group they can function in just the opposite way: rather than being alarm clocks, they can all become drugs for each other. You may have watched it: if one person starts falling asleep, immediately something in you also starts falling asleep.
Sleep is contagious.
Awakening is not.
It is possible that twenty people may remain asleep and one person awake, but his awakening is not going to be contagious. Most probably, seeing twenty people asleep he will himself fall asleep. So unless you have a very awakened master, the group method is not going to help much.
But in Gurdjieff’s system the group is absolutely necessary; alone you cannot do it. For example, he had his school near Paris…. He told one of the new disciples to dig a trench. The whole day, from the morning – from sunrise to sunset – he was not allowed to go to eat or leave for anything; he had to dig the trench. That was the most important thing.
Now, it needs somebody to watch; otherwise the man may rest sometimes. The whole day is a long time, a hot day… he may go to have a drink or to eat something; or under the tree there is such beautiful shade and coolness… he may fall asleep.
Gurdjieff himself walked continuously the whole day, just by the side of the man. Now, when Gurdjieff himself was walking by his side continuously, the whole day, of course the man could not leave. By sunset he had made the big trench. And Gurdjieff said, “This is only half the work: now you fill it, and then you can go and sleep.”
This was too much. Through great effort the whole day, against all temptations to leave it, he managed, because of Gurdjieff’s presence, to continue, knowing one thing, that it could not kill him: “I cannot die by just not eating for one day or not drinking water. I cannot die – that much is certain. So let us try.”
Now Gurdjieff says, “It is only half the work – you have now to fill it completely, as it was before you started digging. Then you can go and do whatsoever you want.” And Gurdjieff remained there. It took a few hours for the man again to fill the trench – by midnight he was freed.
That new disciple remembers that that night was the most precious in his life; and only after that night could he understand Gurdjieff’s methods.
Man’s energy has layers. The first layer is for day-to-day work. It is soon exhausted, and you start feeling tired. If you don’t listen to this tiredness, and you continue, then the second layer of energy – which is an emergency reservoir of energy – starts functioning. Suddenly you will feel an onrush of new energy becoming available to you, which refreshes you continuously. You cannot believe what has happened: all tiredness is gone. You are more fresh than you were before you started the work.
But the emergency reservoir also is not very big; it is only for emergency situations which don’t last for long. So for one hour or two hours you will be full of energy, more than ever; then again the tiredness comes – and this is a greater tiredness than the first one.
If you don’t listen to this tiredness… it is really difficult not to listen to it, almost impossible. But if you manage not to listen – and that’s what Gurdjieff wants, that you continue – then you touch the third layer, which is vast, which is universal. And once that layer becomes available to you, you are a new man. Just within a day Gurdjieff could take you to the emergence of the basic power, of the basic energy, the universal energy in you.
But for this kind of method you need a group. If twelve persons are working, then everyone is watching you. Then each person is watched by eleven persons; you cannot escape easily. Alone, it is impossible; you will stop after your day-to-day energy is finished, and you will feel immensely tired, hungry…. That will be the stoppage because there is nobody who can prevent you or whose presence can prevent you; nobody is watching you. So for Gurdjieff’s methods it is perfectly true that groups are needed.
My method can be used in a group, but the group is not necessary; you can use it alone. Any group can become a dependence – so that you can work only in the group. Out of the group, you are back to your usual self. When you are in the group you are a certain person; when you leave the group you are a different person.
I don’t want my sannyasins to be dependent.
It is perfectly good to have small groups, but the methods I have given to you are individual; you can work alone. You don’t need anybody to watch you, because my method is that you have to be the watcher.
Under somebody’s watching eye, out of fear of somebody – and of course when Gurdjieff himself is watching you, you cannot escape – but it is something like slavery. Although he is taking you towards deeper layers of your energy, there is some kind of violence, some kind of enforcement, enslavement.
It is possible for you to do almost the impossible in such a situation. But once Gurdjieff is not there, you will become an ordinary person as you have been before. That has happened to almost all his disciples. Even though they have small groups, they are all mediocre, the same.
Rather than helping each other to be awake, they help each other to fall asleep. When one starts snoring, rather than being an alarm clock, he helps you to snore too.
It can function both ways. The group can be a space where you can become more alert; it can be a space where you can become more asleep. And because people started becoming more asleep in Gurdjieff’s groups after Gurdjieff’s death, those groups have disappeared. People have moved alone. But alone you cannot do those methods.
This is a very spiritual kind of slavery.
The master cannot guarantee to be with you forever; sometime he will be leaving. Then you should not be left in a space where you cannot function without him. And for that, a preparation is needed: from the very beginning you work alone. Even if you are working in a group, you are not dependent on the group; your work, your method, is basically individual.
So my approach is individual.
I am not giving you school methods:
I am giving you individual methods, which can be done together with friends, which can be done alone. So you have freedom.
But there is nothing wrong if sannyasins are making small groups, because those small groups cannot hinder the methods that I have given to you or the work that you have to do upon yourself. It is available in both situations – alone or in groups.
But Gurdjieff had no idea – because he was trained always in schools. Sufis don’t have individual methods; all the methods are group methods. He was trained by Sufis, and he went from one school to another; he learned much from those schools, and he developed and polished many methods which had become old and were not contemporary.
But he could not help many people, for the simple reason that he was the only person who was really awake. All the persons were working under him, under pressure – not out of freedom and joy – working with the motivation that someday they will become awakened like Gurdjieff.
He was certainly a very strange and powerful man. When he was dying, he got up from his bed and started walking in the corridor. His disciples said, “What are you doing? You are so sick – it is better to rest.”
He said, “It is not sickness, it is death – and I don’t want death to find me a weak person. I want to meet death not lying on the bed, but walking on the verandah.”
He died walking. To the last moment he was still working. And he was certainly very awake because he could see death, he could see it was very imminent. But he was a very proud man – he did not like to die like every ordinary man, in the bed, he wanted to die in his own way.
Whenever he was sick, he would go driving, and he would drive as fast as the car could manage. And everybody in the car was just freaking out, afraid that, “Now there is going to be an accident; now it is going to be…” because he never cared about any rules, the lights on the crossroads or anything. He would just drive in a mad way.
Just ten years before he died, he had a very great crash. To avoid a truck, he crashed against a rock by the side of the road. He had so many fractures that it was an impossibility… doctors could not believe that a man with so many fractures could walk home. He came out of the car and walked miles with so many fractures. The doctors could not believe that a man could move even a few feet – and within fifteen days all those fractures were settled. He had immense power.
All his methods are to bring you to the basic source of power. If that basic source of power becomes available to you continuously, it will transform your whole being. But it was not continuously available even to him.
One of his disciples, Bennett, after the Second World War, went to him very tired. He was coming from the war, utterly tired, almost ready to die, willing to die.
Gurdjieff was very old, and it was just five years before he died. He asked Bennett to come close to him, and he took hold of both his hands. Bennett remembers in his biography that it was almost as if Gurdjieff was charging a battery from an electric source.
“I could feel the energy rushing through me, but I also could see that Gurdjieff was becoming pale. I was feeling full of energy, all my tiredness gone, as if I had never been to the war. And there was a great desire to live and a great desire to achieve the ultimate – within seconds. And then Gurdjieff staggered, pale, as if he was going to fall, and went into the bathroom. After ten minutes he came back. He was okay. He was back to his usual health.”
Bennett asked him, “What happened? You have given so much to me.”
Gurdjieff said, “I can give you energy, but I am not yet continuously in touch with the original source, so I gave my own energy to you. And then I had to do a certain exercise in the bathroom to get in touch with the original source; otherwise you can live – I will die!”
This is a totally different path than what I am teaching to you. It is a path of power.
What I am teaching to you is the path of awareness.
… Because the path of power has great dangers in it. It can crystallize your ego. It can make you feel very egoistic because you have so much power – you can do this, you can do that. And that is a danger.
To avoid the ego even in ordinary life is so difficult. If you get in touch with extraordinary sources of power, it will become more and more difficult to get rid of the ego, because the ego will take possession of all your powers.
My work is totally different: you have to be aware. And awareness is not a power. You have to be aware even of your powers. If you come across them, you have to be aware, and you have to remain detached, only a watcher.
That’s where Gurdjieff and I use different words. His methods can be described as “self-remembering.” That’s what he uses – the word “self-remembering.” I do not want to use that word. It is dangerous because the self can be just the ego – it is playing with fire. I simply use the word “witnessing,” with no place for self, ego, or even a faraway cousin.
Just to avoid the most probable possibility, you have just to be a witness. It may not lead you to power – there is no need – but it will lead you to understanding. That is what is needed.
Gurdjieff’s disciples became power-oriented and forgot completely about just being watchful. But he was not telling them to be just watchful. There is a possibility of somebody becoming enlightened through his path also, but it goes in a very zigzag way, with more possibility of being lost than of reaching.
What I have been telling you is something which cannot be misused in any way by you.
And witnessing is a purely individual phenomenon.
From Light on the Path, Chapter 29
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