George Gurdjieff has said: “You are in prison. If you wish to get out of prison, the first thing you must do is realize that you are in prison. If you think you are free, you can’t escape.”
What are the prisons that I call “home”?
Rama Prem, George Gurdjieff is one of the most significant masters of this age.
He is unique in many ways — nobody has said things in the contemporary world the way Gurdjieff has said them. He is almost like another Bodhidharma or Chuang Tzu, apparently absurd but in reality giving great indications towards the liberation of human consciousness.
You are asking about one of his significant statements. He often used to say, “You are in prison.” Sometimes he was even deeper into the reality, and instead of saying, “You are in prison,” he would say, “You are the prison.” That is more true.
If you wish to get out of prison — or better to say, if you don’t want to be a prison — the first thing you must do is realize that you are in prison… or you are the prison. This is something to be always remembered as one of the first principles for any seeker of truth.
The tendency of the human mind is to deny those things which are ugly, to hide those things which he does not want others to know — to hide in such a way, in such depths of the unconscious that even he himself becomes unaware of them. This way he maintains his superficial personality.
Gurdjieff had a story about it…
There was a magician who used to live in faraway deep forests, and he had many sheep because that was his only food. In those deep forests he was keeping all those sheep just to kill them every day, one by one. Naturally, the sheep were very afraid of the man, and they used to run into the forest being afraid that any day can be their day. Their friends are gone, there is no reliability… tomorrow they may be gone. Out of fear they used to go far away, deep into the forest. And to find them was a tedious job every day.
Finally, the magician did a trick. He hypnotized all the sheep, and told every sheep, “You are an exception; everybody may be killed but you can never be killed. You are no ordinary sheep; you have a divine privilege.” To some he said, “You are not sheep at all; you are lions, you are tigers, you are wolves. Only sheep are killed. You need not hide yourself in the forest; that is very embarrassing, because a lion hiding himself in the forest in the fear that he will be killed… only sheep are killed.” And in this way, he managed to hypnotize all the sheep in different ways.
He even said to a few sheep, “You are men, human beings, and human beings don’t kill each other. You are just like me. Never be afraid and never escape out of fear.” Since that day, no sheep escaped and hid in the forest, although they all saw every day that one sheep was being killed, slaughtered. But naturally everybody thought, That must be a sheep; I am a tiger, a lion, a human being. I am special and exceptional, I have a divine privilege…. So many different stories he put in their minds.
Gurdjieff says that unless you realize the first thing — that you are in prison, that you are the prison — then there is no hope for freedom. If you already believe that you are free, you are a hypnotized sheep which believes himself to be a lion — exceptional, there is no need to be afraid — which even believes he is a human being. He goes on seeing other sheep being killed, and still remains in a hypnotized state, never being aware of his actuality. To be free, if you already know that you are free, there is no problem.
All the religions together, perhaps unintentionally, have created a tremendous hypnotic state. People believe they have immortal souls. I am not saying that they don’t have, I am simply saying that they don’t know what they are believing. And because they believe they have an immortal soul, they never discover that they already have it. They have been told, “You are the very kingdom of God”… and it is so comfortable and so consoling to believe. But then there is no way to seek and search and find whether your hypothetical belief has any truth in it, or is just a hypnotic trick used by the society to keep you unafraid of death, to keep you unafraid of disease, old age, to keep you unafraid of your loneliness.
Your God may be just a psychological hypnosis. It is not your discovery. That is true — that much is absolutely true. It has been implanted in your mind, and because you go on believing in it, your belief prevents any adventure in seeking the truth.
Ordinarily, you have been told continually that unless you believe, you will not find. But the truth is just the contrary. Belief is a barrier, it is not a bridge. Those who believe never find, because they never even begin the search; there is no need.
You are in prison and you think you are free.
You are in chains but you think they are ornaments. You are a slave but you have been told that you are humble, that you are simple, that this is the way a religious person should be. You are surrounded by many hypnotic strategies developed by society down the ages. And those hypnotic strategies are the root cause of your ignorance, of your misery, of your unenlightened state.
Hence the first thing to realize is that you are in prison. The moment you recognize that you are in prison, you cannot tolerate the prison. Nobody can tolerate it; it goes against human dignity. You will start finding ways to get out of it. You will start finding people who have already got out of it. You may start seeking and searching outside help beyond the walls, because there are people beyond the walls ready with every kind of help. But they are absolutely helpless if you believe that you are living in absolute freedom.
If you believe this imprisonment is your home, then of course it is absolute nonsense even to think of getting rid of it. The wall that keeps you a prisoner, you think is a protection. Then there is no question of making a hole in the wall and getting out, or finding a ladder, or taking some help from the outside. A rope can be thrown from the outside, a ladder can be arranged from the outside, but this is possible only if the basic thing, that you are in prison, is recognized. George Gurdjieff was consistently insisting, “This is a basic realization. Without it, there is no progress towards enlightenment. If you think you are free, you can’t escape.”
“What are the prisons that I call `home’?” Rama Prem, all the so-called homes are nothing but prisons, because they don’t give you freedom, they only give you security, safety, and in place they take away your very being, your freedom, your joy, your dance. But certainly they give you security, safety — and naturally you have to pay for it.
The price that one has to pay is immensely great in comparison to what you get. You have to sell your very soul. But then what is the point of safety and security? You were searching for security and safety for your being, and in the very search you have sold your being. Now you are secure and safe, but what is the point? For whom is the safety and security? It does not serve you, it serves those who have managed to convince you that “If you give your soul, your being, we will take care — then you need not be worried, then we are responsible for your safety and security.”
The moment you give up your responsibility, you give up everything. Then you are just an empty shell, without any meaning and without any essence. Your homes are nothing but beautiful prisons made by you, decorated by you. You think they are protecting you; they are destroying you. Certainly they protect you from the rains and they protect you from the winds and they protect you from the sun, but for these trivia they destroy you completely. You lose all joy, you lose all freedom, you lose all sense of direction. You lose the very purpose you are here for. You get lost in your own home. You become too much concerned about the furniture and about the decorations, and you forget yourself completely. This forgetfulness is a kind of deep psychological sleep.
Your wife, your husband, your children — nobody is yours. All are man-made, arbitrary relationships — even your own children are not your own. They come through you; they don’t belong to you. You belong to the past; they belong to the future. There is no connection, there is no relationship; hence, as man has become more and more intelligent there has come a great generation gap.
One great Russian novelist, Turgenev, has written a book — perhaps his best, his masterpiece – Fathers and Sons. The whole book is about the struggle between the fathers and the sons, because the fathers would like the sons just to be their replicas. Naturally, they will not allow the sons any freedom. Obedience they expect; they expect their sons to be their carbon copies. […]
Religions have created all kinds of crimes in the mind of man, just by prohibiting them. They have also created ideas which prevent man from any search. They say, “Believe” — and belief is cheap. You don’t have to do anything. Gurdjieff had to go to such extents that he started saying to people, “You don’t have souls. It is a wrong idea, implanted within you by religions, that everybody has a soul.”
He had to say such a thing just to wake you up to search whether it is true or not; otherwise, everybody was perfectly asleep. What is the need to search? You already have it; God is within you! So do other things which, if you don’t do, you will not get — become a president, prime minister, become the richest man in the world, conquer the world — because these things will not happen on their own. As far as God is concerned you already have him; he is within you, you don’t have to go anywhere. Any day, any rainy day when you can’t go anywhere to conquer the world, and you don’t have anything else to do — to correct the mechanism of your car, or to open your wall clock, or to open your radio or television even though they are functioning perfectly well, but you don’t have anything else to do…. Any day, when you don’t have anything to do, you can find God. He is within you, in your pocket.
Gurdjieff is perhaps the only man in the whole of history who insisted against all religions that you don’t have a soul — that a soul has to be created, then you have it. You are not born with it, you are born only with the possibility. If you make a great effort, perhaps you may achieve it. Otherwise most people are born and die; there is no soul that survives.
He was telling a compassionate lie. He was not right, but I cannot say that he was telling the lie for any other reason than compassion. It is true you are born with the soul, but it has become such an accepted fact that you don’t even look within yourself. Somebody needs to shatter your idea that you are born with a soul, to tell you that inside you are just empty, hollow. Perhaps this may shake you up, wake you up. Perhaps this may give you the idea to look inside at least one time, whether there is a soul or you have been deceived.
And George Gurdjieff helped more people in this century than anybody else, because he created a great longing: “Don’t die before you have created a soul; otherwise nothing will survive the death. Crystallize your being so that death cannot destroy it. But you are not born with it, you have to create it.”
The idea of all the religions, although true, has not been helpful; it has become a hindrance. Gurdjieff’s compassion is great. All the religions were against him, obviously, because that is the one point they all agree on — that everybody is born with a soul. But Gurdjieff’s point is more psychological, and more effective in creating liberation. He says you are just empty, and you will remain empty unless you make the effort, with a determined will, to create a center within you. There is possibility, potential, but you have to make it an actuality. His insight was great.
And since Gurdjieff, people have forgotten it completely. He was alive just thirty years ago and just within thirty years people have forgotten the great teacher who was compassionate enough even to lie, just to make you shocked; just to create an opening in you so that you can start searching whether what all the religions have been saying has any truth in it or not.
The first thing he says is to realize you are in prison. The first thing that can also be said is, you have to realize that you are not yet. You have to be. You are a seed, but you have to find the right soil, and nobody else can do it for you. If you go on depending on priests and your so-called saints, you will miss this great opportunity that life has given to you. And one does not know whether a second chance is being given or not. It has to be made emphatically clear to you that there is a possibility — once missed, you have missed it forever.
Gurdjieff created a great turmoil in a few intelligent people, and he put them to great work in finding themselves. I don’t agree with George Gurdjieff as far as his methods are concerned, but as far as this statement is concerned I agree totally. It is simply a psychological fact.
There are people who believe they are intelligent. In fact, it is very difficult to find somebody who believes he is unintelligent. If you can find somebody who believes he is unintelligent, there is a possibility for him to be intelligent. But for all those who already believe they are intelligent, you can’t help them. And certainly this whole humanity is not intelligent. Their actions show it, their behavior shows it, their misery shows it — it shows nothing but their retardedness.
But their belief is that they are geniuses — life is just not giving them the right opportunities to show their talents; otherwise, they could have been Picasso, or Sartre, or Bertrand Russell, or Martin Buber; there is no problem. It is just because life is preventing them; otherwise, they have everything. It is not so.
Now education is universal, particularly in advanced countries, but even universal education does not create universal geniuses. Everybody is educated but even that does not give you the same talent. Man is living in a kind of half-awake and half-asleep state, and it is very easy to believe that you are great – great in intelligence, great in beauty, great in everything — rather than finding greatness, creating greatness, because that will require effort, tremendous effort. And enlightenment is the ultimate intelligence. If you already believe you are intelligent, you have stopped yourself from growing.
Just watch exactly where you are. Be very impartial about judging yourself. See exactly, even if it hurts, that you are a slave — of some political ideology, of some religious theology, of some racial stupidity. Just watch and be very impartial and objective about yourself, and you will find what Gurdjieff calls your prisons. And once you recognize your prisons, it is not difficult to get out, because they are your own creations.
Bernstein died and went to hell. The receptionist asked, “Where do you want to go?”
“Do I have a choice?” asked the surprised Bernstein.
“Certainly! This anteroom is surrounded by closed doors. Just listen at each one and decide which you want to enter.”
Bernstein listened at the first door and heard horrible shrieks of agony. He went to the second, then the third — always hearing screams, cries, and yells. Finally, at the seventh door, he heard nothing but gentle murmuring.
He said quickly, “I’ll take this one.”
The door was flung open and he was propelled inside. He found himself up to his lower lip in a vast sea of shit. With him were millions of others, standing on tiptoe, muttering, “Don’t make waves! Don’t make waves!”
Whatever you have made your life is your own choice. Even in hell you have a choice – everywhere you have a choice. Your life is your own creation. Once you recognize it, then every change is possible.
Churchill’s commentary on man was: “Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on.” Man is a very strange animal, strangest of all the animals you see. He goes on believing in things which are not, he goes on believing in things which he has not. He never makes any effort, even in finding one very fundamental thing: who he is, from where he comes, and what is his destiny, where he is going.
People discuss all kinds of things, and people read about all kinds of things, but generally they never bother about themselves. It seems they take themselves for granted, and that’s what Gurdjieff wants to stop: Don’t take yourself for granted. Look inside, search for who you are, and whether you are or if there is just emptiness and something has to be done to bring the seed to sprout, to take care of the seed so that one day it can blossom.
Sinking uneasily into the depths of the psychiatrist’s couch, the patient sighed, “Doctor, I have a problem.” He loosened his collar and continued, “I’ve got one son in Harvard and another at Yale. I’ve just gifted them with twin Ferraris. I have a townhouse on upper Fifth Avenue, and a summer home at East Hampton, and a sprawling ranch in Venezuela.”
“Well,” smiled the psychiatrist, obviously impressed, “either I missed something or you really don’t have a problem.”
“Doc,” the harried chap croaked, “I only make seventy-five dollars a week.”
Naturally you will have problems! You make seventy-five dollars a week, and you imagine all these things: two Ferraris, two sons — one in Harvard, one in Yale — a townhouse, a house in the hills, a big ranch in Venezuela, and seventy-five dollars a week! People create their problems. People are utterly poor in their consciousness, and go on believing that the kingdom of God is within. In your poor consciousness, you can have only a very poor God — seventy-five dollars a week. Your God is as rich as your consciousness is, because the God is another name for your consciousness.
Excerpt from The Invitation, Chapter Four
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