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George Ivanovich Gurdjieff(c.1867-1949) was a philosopher, mystic, spiritual teacher, and composer who founded the Institute for the harmonious Development of Man and the Fourth Way, a system of self-development that combines elements of fakirism, monasticism, and yoga (Wikipedia, n.d.).
He travelled extensively in the Middle East, Central Asia, and India, studying various spiritual traditions and seeking the truth about human existence. He claimed to have discovered a hidden esoteric teaching that he called “the Work”, which aimed to awaken people from their state of hypnotic “waking sleep” and help them realize their full potential as human beings (Britannica, 2023).
He taught his ideas to groups of students in Russia, Georgia, France, and the United States, using methods such as dialogue, music, dance, and ritual exercises. He also wrote several books, including Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, Meetings with Remarkable Men, and Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’. He was an influential and controversial figure who inspired many followers and critics. His legacy continues to be studied and practised by various groups around the world (Gurdjieff Club, n.d.).
Gurdjieff on man the sleeper
“A man must first of all understand certain things. He has thousands of false ideas and false conceptions, chiefly about himself, and he must get rid of some of them before beginning to acquire anything new. Otherwise, the new will be built on a wrong foundation and the result will be worse than before. To speak the truth is the most difficult thing in the world; one must study a great deal and for a long time in order to speak the truth. The wish alone is not enough. To speak the truth one must know what the truth is and what a lie is, and first of all in oneself. And this nobody wants to know.” G. I. Gurdjieff.
“Man as we encounter him is an automaton. His thoughts, feelings, and deeds are little more than mechanical reactions to external and internal stimuli.
He cannot do anything.
In and around him, everything happens without the participation of his own authentic consciousness. But human beings are ignorant of this state of affairs because of the pervasive influence of culture and education, which engrave in them the illusion of autonomous conscious selves.
In short, man is asleep.
There is no authentic I am in his presence, but only an egoism which masquerades as the authentic self, and whose machinations poorly imitate the normal human functions of thought, feeling, and will.” G. I. Gurdjieff
“There are a thousand things which prevent a man from awakening, which keep him in the power of his dreams. In order to act consciously with the intention of awakening, it is necessary to know the nature of the forces which keep man in a state of sleep. First of all it must be realized that the sleep in which man exists is not normal but hypnotic sleep. Man is hypnotized and this hypnotic state is continually maintained and strengthened in him. One would think that there are forces for whom it is useful and profitable to keep man in a hypnotic state and prevent him from seeing the truth and understanding his position.” G. I. Gurdjieff
“A considerable percentage of the people we meet on the street are people who are empty inside, that is, they are actually already dead. It is fortunate for us that we do not see and do not know it. If we knew what a number of people are actually dead and what a number of these dead people govern our lives, we should go mad with horror.” ~George Gurdjieff
Then, Gurdjieff said, “Come with me.” They were residing in a Russian town, Tiflis. Gurdjieff called him out, and they went into the street. Ouspensky writes in his diary, “For the first time I could understand what Jesus meant when he said that man is asleep. The whole city looked to me as if it were asleep. People were moving in their sleep; shopkeepers were selling in their sleep; customers were buying in their sleep. The whole city was asleep. I looked at Gurdjieff: only he was awake. The whole city was asleep. They were angry, they were fighting, they were loving, buying, selling, doing everything.”
One of the ideas that Gurdjieff taught was that human beings are not conscious of themselves and live in a state of multiplicity, meaning that they have many small “I”s that take over their centres of thought, feeling and body according to changing stimuli. He said: “Man has no individuality. He has no single, big I. Man is divided into a multiplicity of small ‘I’s, and each separate small ‘I’ can call itself by the name of the Whole” (Ouspensky, 1949, p. 60). This implies that humans do not have a consistent sense of identity or purpose, but are driven by various impulses and habits that are often contradictory and conflicting.
However, Gurdjieff also suggested that there is a possibility of developing a real I, a higher self that can unify and harmonize the different aspects of human nature. He called this process “the Work” or “the Fourth Way”, which involves working on oneself through self-observation, self-remembering, conscious suffering and intentional effort. He claimed that this way was different from the traditional paths of the fakir, the yogi and the monk, who focused on only one centre at a time. He said: “The Fourth Way is not another system of self-development, it is a way of preparing for real service” (Gurdjieff, 1973, p. 39). This means that the aim of the
Work is not only personal transformation, but also serving a higher purpose that transcends one’s individuality.
There are some quotations from Gurdjieff’s writings and talks that support the idea that he supported the concept of human multiplicity and its possible resolution through the Work. For example:
“Man such as we know him, the ‘man-machine,’ the man who cannot ‘do,’ and with whom and through whom everything ‘happens,’ cannot have a permanent and single I. His I changes as quickly as his thoughts, feelings and moods, and he makes a profound mistake in considering himself always one and the same person; in reality he is always a different person, not the one he was a moment ago” (Gurdjieff, 1950, p. 59).
“Man has no permanent and unchangeable I. Every thought, every mood, every desire, every sensation, says ‘I’. And in each case it seems to be taken for granted that this I belongs to the Whole, to the whole man, and that a thought, a desire, or an aversion is expressed by this Whole” (Ouspensky, 1949, p. 59).
“The first step towards understanding oneself is to realize one’s nothingness, one’s absolute insignificance in relation to the world and especially in relation to other people. One must realize that one does not exist; that one is merely an automaton; that one has no will; no individuality; no initiative; no consciousness” (Gurdjieff quoted in Bennett, 1962, p. 71).
“The chief means for attaining self-consciousness is self-observation. It must be practiced as much as possible throughout the day and be combined with self-remembering” (Gurdjieff quoted in Ouspensky, 1949, p. 177).
“The Work is not for comfort; it is for liberation from slavery” (Gurdjieff quoted in Nott, 1961, p. 133).
Four states of consciousness
One of the central concepts in the teachings of Gurdjieff, a mystic and spiritual teacher of the early 20th century, is the idea of four states of consciousness that are possible for human beings. According to Gurdjieff, most people live only in the first two states: sleep and waking state. In sleep, we are unconscious and unaware of ourselves and our surroundings. In waking state, we are conscious of the external world, but not of ourselves. We act mechanically and habitually, influenced by external stimuli and internal emotions. We have no real will or choice, and we do not remember ourselves (Leeds Gurdjieff Society, n.d.).
The third state of consciousness is self-remembering or subjective consciousness. This is a state in which we are aware of both ourselves and the external world at the same time. We are able to observe our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and actions, as well as the events around us. We are able to exercise our will and make conscious choices. We are able to remember our aim and purpose in life. This state is not easy to attain or maintain, as it requires constant effort and attention. It is also not a permanent state, but a series of moments or flashes that can be prolonged with practice (Gurdjieff, 2021).
The fourth state of consciousness is objective consciousness. This is a state in which we can perceive things as they really are, without distortion or illusion. We can see the essence and meaning of everything, including ourselves. We can experience the unity and harmony of all existence. We can access higher knowledge and wisdom that transcends the ordinary mind. This state is very rare and difficult to achieve, as it requires a complete transformation of our being. It is also not a stable state, but a peak experience that can only be glimpsed occasionally (Springer Nature Switzerland AG, 2020).
Gurdjieff’s four states of consciousness offer a framework for understanding the potential and limitations of human psychology and spirituality. They also provide a direction and a method for self-development and self-realization. By studying and applying Gurdjieff’s teachings, one can hope to awaken from the sleep of ignorance and automatism, and to attain higher levels of awareness and being.
The fourth way
The Fourth Way is a system of self-development that was introduced by the Armenian mystic and teacher George Gurdjieff (1866-1949) in the early 20th century. It is based on the idea that there are three traditional ways or schools of achieving spiritual enlightenment: the way of the fakir, who works on the body; the way of the monk, who works on the emotions; and the way of the yogi, who works on the mind.
Gurdjieff claimed that these ways were incomplete and insufficient for modern people, who need to work on all three aspects of themselves simultaneously and harmoniously. He called his method the Fourth Way, which he said was “controlled by some particular laws of its own” and “disappears from the given place, disappears in its given form, continuing perhaps in another place in another form” (Ouspensky, 1949, p. 39).
The Fourth Way aims to awaken human beings from their habitual state of “waking sleep” and to develop their latent potentialities of consciousness, will, and essence. It teaches that human beings have a soul that is trapped by personality, and that they need to free themselves from mechanical forces and influences that keep them asleep. The Fourth Way also provides a cosmological framework that explains the place and role of humanity in the universe, based on the laws of three and seven (Gurdjieff, 1950).
Gurdjieff’s involvement in the Fourth Way was not only as its founder and transmitter, but also as its exemplar and catalyst. He travelled extensively in Asia and the Middle East, searching for ancient sources of wisdom and knowledge. He gathered a group of followers who became his students and collaborators. He established an institute for the harmonious development of man in France, where he taught his ideas through lectures, writings, music, and sacred dances. He also wrote a series of books, collectively titled All and Everything, which contain his cosmological and psychological teachings in allegorical and symbolic forms. Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way has influenced many thinkers and practitioners in various fields, such as psychology, philosophy, art, literature, and spirituality (Moore, 1991).
The law of seven
Gurdjieff’s Law of Seven, also known as the Law of Octaves, is a principle that describes the non-linear development of vibrations in the universe. According to this law, every process or phenomenon that involves vibrations, such as sound, light, heat, electricity, or life, undergoes periodic accelerations and retardations that deviate from a straight line. These deviations occur at two specific points in the octave, which Gurdjieff called “intervals” or “shocks”. These intervals are not symmetrical, but occur near the beginning and near the end of the octave. In order to continue the process in the same direction, an additional impulse or energy is needed at these intervals. Otherwise, the process will change its nature or direction, or stop altogether (Gurdjieff Club, n.d.).
An example of Gurdjieff’s Law of Seven can be seen in the musical scale, which consists of seven notes: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si. The first interval occurs between mi and fa, where there is a semitone gap. The second interval occurs between si and do, where there is another semitone gap. These gaps represent the points where the vibrations slow down and need an external shock to continue. If no shock is given, the musical scale will not be completed and the vibrations will either repeat themselves or change their quality (Systematics, n.d.).
Another example of Gurdjieff’s Law of Seven can be seen in human life, which Gurdjieff divided into seven stages: infancy, childhood, adolescence, youth, maturity, old age, and decrepitude. The first interval occurs between childhood and adolescence, where there is a drastic change in physical and psychological development. The second interval occurs between maturity and old age, where there is a decline in vitality and health. These intervals represent the points where human life needs an additional impulse or energy to continue its evolution. If no shock is given, human life will either stagnate or degenerate (Fourth Way Today, n.d.).
Gurdjieff’s Law of Seven is described as one of the fundamental cosmic laws that governs the universe and everything in it, it is an esoteric cosmology that describes the hierarchy of levels of existence, from the Absolute to the most mechanical matter. According to this theory, each level of existence is governed by a different number of laws and has a different density of matter. By understanding this law, one can observe how processes develop in nature and in oneself, and how to apply the necessary shocks to overcome the obstacles and complete the octaves.
This theory has influenced some modern thinkers who have explored the connections between music, mathematics, and metaphysics. For example, Bennett (1966) developed a systematics approach that used the law of octaves to classify different types of systems and their properties. Another example is Ouspensky (1949), who applied the law of octaves to explain the cycles of history and human psychology.
There are some comparable theories in other traditions that also use musical metaphors to describe the structure of reality. For instance, Pythagoras and his followers believed that the harmony of the spheres was based on the ratios of musical intervals. Similarly, Hindu cosmology posits that the universe is created by the sound of Om, which contains all the notes of the musical scale (Danielou, 1995).
Comparing a universe of octaves with a universe of fractals
One of the theories that describe the universe as fractal based is the fractal cosmology theory, which states that the distribution of matter in the Universe, or the structure of the universe itself, is a fractal across a wide range of scales (Wikipedia, n.d.). A fractal is a geometric object that displays self-similarity, meaning that it looks similar at different levels of magnification. A fractal dimension is a measure of how complex a fractal is, and it is usually a non-integer number between 1 and 3. For example, a smooth line has a fractal dimension of 1, while a plane has a fractal dimension of 2.
Fractal cosmology attempts to model the distribution of galaxies and other large-scale structures in the Universe using fractal patterns. Some studies have suggested that the galaxy distribution has a fractal dimension of about 2, implying that the Universe is not homogeneous or isotropic at large scales, but rather has a hierarchical structure (Pietronero et al., 1987). However, other studies have challenged this claim and argued that the Universe becomes smooth and isotropic beyond a certain scale, consistent with the standard Big Bang model and the Lambda-Cold Dark Matter model (Scrimgeour et al., 2012).
Another theory that involves fractals in cosmology is the chaotic inflation theory, which proposes that the Universe is composed of many bubble universes that are created by quantum fluctuations in an inflaton field (Linde, 1986). The inflaton field is a hypothetical scalar field that drives the exponential expansion of space-time in the early Universe, known as inflation. According to chaotic inflation, different regions of the inflaton field can have different energy levels, and some regions can tunnel to lower energy states through quantum processes. This creates bubbles of space-time that expand rapidly and form new universes with different physical properties. The process is eternal and self-reproducing, resulting in a fractal multiverse with infinite diversity (Guth, 2007).
According to Gurdjieff’s theory, the forces of creation follow a law of octaves, which means that they deviate from their original direction at certain intervals, creating gaps or discontinuities in the cosmic order (Gurdjieff on the Law of Seven, n.d.). Fractals, on the other hand, are mathematical objects that exhibit self-similarity at different scales, meaning that they have the same structure regardless of how much they are magnified or reduced (Fractal, n.d.). Fractals can also be used to model natural phenomena such as coastlines, clouds, trees, and galaxies (Fractal geometry in nature, n.d.).
One possible way to compare Gurdjieff’s universe of octaves theory with other theories that describe the universe as fractals is to examine the similarities and differences between them. One similarity is that both theories suggest that the universe has a hierarchical structure, with different levels of complexity and organization. Another similarity is that both theories imply that the universe is not random or chaotic, but follows certain patterns or laws that can be discovered and understood. However, one difference is that Gurdjieff’s theory emphasizes the gaps or discontinuities between the levels of existence, while fractal theories emphasize the continuity or self-similarity between them. Another difference is that Gurdjieff’s theory assigns different qualities and properties to each level of existence, such as laws, forces, and matter densities, while fractal theories do not make such distinctions. Therefore, one could argue that Gurdjieff’s theory is more qualitative and metaphysical, while fractal theories are more quantitative and mathematical.
Comparison with density-based theories
The law of octaves is a metaphysical theory that proposes that all processes in life, including spiritual development, occur in waves or cycles of seven stages, each with its own challenges and opportunities (Gurdjieff, 1950). Other metaphysical theories talk about creation existing within different densities, and include the seven planes of nature and consciousness, which express the quality or soul of the Absolute (DK Foundation, n.d.), and the seven chakras or energy centres, which correspond to different levels of awareness and vibration (Leadbeater, 1927). These theories share some similarities and differences in their views of reality and the path of evolution.
One similarity is that they all recognize the existence of higher and lower realms or states of being, and that human beings can access or transcend them through various practices and methods. For example, the law of octaves suggests that one needs to make conscious efforts to overcome the intervals or gaps between the stages of an octave, where the energy tends to decline or deviate (Phillips & Phillips, 2019). The seven planes theory implies that one can ascend to higher planes by developing the corresponding vehicles of consciousness, such as the mental, causal, buddhic or atmic bodies (DK Foundation, n.d.). The seven chakras theory indicates that one can activate and balance the energy centres by working on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of oneself (Leadbeater, 1927).
Another similarity is that they all acknowledge the influence of cosmic laws or principles on the manifestation and evolution of creation. For instance, the law of octaves is based on the law of seven or the law of vibration, which states that everything in the universe is in a state of constant motion and change (Gurdjieff, 1950). The seven planes theory is based on the law of correspondence or analogy, which states that there is a correspondence between the macrocosm and the microcosm, or between the higher and lower planes (DK Foundation, n.d.). The seven chakras theory is based on the law of attraction or resonance, which states that like attracts like, or that one’s vibration determines one’s reality (Leadbeater, 1927).
A difference between these theories is that they have different origins and sources of inspiration. The law of octaves was developed by George Gurdjieff, a mystic and teacher who travelled extensively in the East and claimed to have learned from various esoteric schools and traditions (Ouspensky, 1949). The seven planes theory was derived from Theosophy, a modern occult movement founded by Helena Blavatsky and influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism and other ancient wisdom teachings (DK Foundation, n.d.). The seven chakras theory was adapted from Tantra, a branch of Hinduism that focuses on the use of energy and sexuality for spiritual awakening (Leadbeater, 1927).
Another difference is that they have different emphases and applications. The law of octaves is mainly a practical tool for understanding and enhancing one’s personal growth and transformation. It helps one to identify the stages and challenges of any process or endeavour, and to apply appropriate methods or interventions to overcome them (Phillips & Phillips, 2019). The seven planes theory is mainly a theoretical framework for understanding and exploring the nature and structure of reality. It helps one to comprehend the diversity and complexity of creation, and to relate to different levels of existence (DK Foundation, n.d.). The seven chakras theory is mainly a holistic system for healing and balancing one’s body, mind and spirit. It helps one to diagnose and treat various physical, emotional, mental and spiritual issues, and to harmonize one’s energy flow (Leadbeater, 1927).
In conclusion, the law of octaves is a metaphysical theory that can be compared and contrasted with other metaphysical theories that talk about creation existing within different densities. They share some common themes and perspectives, but also differ in their origins, sources and applications.
Contrasting the law of seven to new age theory
The law of octaves is a concept that was developed by George Gurdjieff, a spiritual teacher and philosopher, who claimed that it was a universal law that governed the processes of nature and consciousness. According to this law, every process consists of seven stages or notes, which correspond to the musical scale of do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si. However, between some of these notes, there are gaps or intervals, where the process can lose its direction and momentum, unless an additional effort or force is applied to maintain the ascending octave. Gurdjieff used this law to explain the challenges and opportunities of spiritual development, as well as the cycles of creation and destruction in the universe (Fourth Way – Wikipedia).
The law of octaves can be compared and contrasted with other metaphysical theories that also propose that creation exists within different densities or levels of vibration. For example, some New Age teachings suggest that there are twelve dimensions of reality, each with its own frequency and characteristics, and that human beings can evolve and ascend through these dimensions by raising their consciousness and activating their DNA. These teachings often draw from ancient sources, such as the Kabbalah, the Hindu Vedas, or the Egyptian mysteries, as well as from modern channellings and scientific discoveries (Practice for spiritual development: the law of octaves | NewCenturyBooks).
One of the similarities between the law of octaves and these theories is that they both acknowledge the existence of a higher order and intelligence that guides the evolution of life and consciousness. They also both recognize the importance of personal effort and intention in overcoming the obstacles and limitations that prevent one from reaching one’s full potential. They also both offer a holistic view of reality that integrates the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of existence.
One of the differences between the law of octaves and these theories is that the former is more focused on the practical application and verification of its principles, while the latter is more based on speculation and intuition. The law of octaves requires a systematic and disciplined approach to self-observation and self-remembering, as well as a connection with a teacher or a school that can provide guidance and support. The other theories tend to rely more on personal experience and subjective interpretation, as well as on external sources of information and inspiration. The law of octaves also has a more dynamic and cyclical view of reality, while the other theories have a more linear and progressive view.
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