An Introduction to the Teaching of Mr. Gurdjieff Based on Material Taken from Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.

Dedicated to Frankie Hutton.

Note 1: From October 2nd to the 4th, 2012, an international gathering of disciples of the Living Teaching of Mr. Gurdjieff will take place in Moscow.  Disciples will gather in that city to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff to that city in Russia. I will be attending the gathering and will present a paper with the title “a god walking among us.” Mr. Gurdjieff arrived in the streets and cafes of Moscow in the first months of 1912. He was coming form some twenty-five years of travels to inaccessible places in the Middle East, Central and Far Asia, and even North Africa, mainly to Egypt. During his many years of travels with a group he called “Seekers of Truth”, he was able to put together an extraordinary teaching that now he wanted to give to the Western World. In Moscow and later in Saint Petersburg, the not yet very young Gurdjieff gathered a number of people around him and to these groups of people he gave his teaching. One of his disciples in Russia was the newpaper journalist and mathematician P. D. Ouspensky. Later, towards 1947 and before his death, Ouspensky published a book with the titles Fragments of an Unknown Teaching or In Search of the Miraculous. His book contained a very faithfull transcription of the teaching Mr. Gurdjieff gave during his Russian years. Later, Mr. Gurdjieff traveled to Central Europe where he finally settled in Avon-Fontainebleau and later in Paris where he lived unti his death at the American Hospital in Paris on October 29th of 1949. . It was during these French years that he wrote what is now considered to be his Opus Magnum, a 1238 pages book with the title An Impartially Objective Criticism of the Life of Man or Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson or. It is from the content of this book that the material for this talk has been taken.  

Note 2: This is a talk I gave several years ago to the Baltimore Theosophical Society. Frankie Hutton has a small Gurdjieff group in Baltimore and invited me to give this talk. What I found very interesting and even amusing is that during the Questions and Answers section that followed my talk, a young man in his early twenties asked me three questions that showed me that his understanding of my talk was greater than the rest in the audience. After the talk we had a social refreshment and I approached the young man and asked him what group he belonged to. The young man said that he did not belong to any group and that he was walking by and saw a flyer announcing my talk and since he had nothing to do he decided to attend my talk. He said he was a musician in a local band. I then pressed him a little bit more and he confessed he had read two books on alchemy and that this topic had interested him for some time. I then asked him a very direct question: What was the part of my talk that most has impressed him? He thought for a moment and then in a very direct way he said: “If we have no “I” we are dead.” When you read the content of my talk you will see that this young man really understood my talk. And I would add that he understood it better than all the rest of the audience who were all theosophists.

On the way back home, while on the train, I thought about this young man who has never before had been exposed to the Teaching of Mr. Gurdjieff had so well understood the content of my talk. Then, by the inevitable law of associations, I thought about something Mr. Gurdjieff said in the Prologue to “Life is real then, when I am” about the writing of Beelzebub’s Tales. Here is (P. 5);

“During this common reading, by the way, I enlightened myself for the first time with regard to the particular form in which it would be necessary to write in order that it might be accessible to the understanding of everyone.”

I think that “everyone” means everyone. And the young man attending my talk showed to me that “everyone” really means everyone.


Note 3: The content of my talk is not very introductory for people who have read Beelzebub’s Tales several times. But for those who have never read the book, it will be a good introduction to the material presented in Beelzebub’s Tales.

Most introductions to the teaching of Mr. Gurdjieff are based on material taken from Ouspensky’s book, In Search of the Miraculous. This is understandable given that Ouspensky’s book presents a clear and concise introduction to the teaching of Mr. Gurdjieff.  For many people approaching the teaching for the first time, In Search is a good place where to begin. In this talk, I have opted to introduce Mr. Gurdjieff’s teaching straight from his Opus Magnus. It is probably more difficult to do but it has the advantage of introducing Beelzebub’s Tales from the very beginning and, as Mr Gurdjieff shows in his book, the beginning is the end and vice versa.

In Beelzebub’s Tales, Mr. Gurdjieff takes us as we are: We are abnormal three-brained beings. This is a very strong indictment that deserves further consideration.

First, we are three-brained beings, we know that. We have three brains:  the thinking brain, the feeling brain, and the moving brain. Each brain is a center of consciousness that participates in man’s global functioning and the exchange of substances constantly and continuously taking place between man and his environment which extends all the way to include the needs of Great Nature. We can expand on that but this is not the topic of this talk.

Second, we are abnormal because our three brains do not function in harmony with each other and as a totality. Most of the time, we function from one brain and we are super-abnormal. Sometimes we function from two brains and we are less abnormal. Very rarely we function from the three brains and we are normal. So, normality can be defined as the functioning of the three brains in harmony with each other and as a totality. There is no better definition of normality.

Observe that our abnormality is all we need in order to live a successful life. We can see examples of this in our everyday ordinary life. A person functioning exclusively from one brain can have a very successful life. One example is people in sports. Just by functioning almost exclusively from the moving brain, a person can become a millionaire and even a very admired and respected person, an example to be followed, while in reality this person is an abnormality. The same can be said of an artist (feeling brain) and an intellectual (thinking brain). Observe that normality excludes any form of genius.

Why are we abnormal? The answer to this question, as the answer to all questions, is in Beelzebub’s Tales. We are abnormal because of two main reasons

The first reason has to do with the operation of Nature. It has to do with the implantation in our ancestors of an organ possessing two strange properties. The first property is that implantation of the organ made three-brained beings to perceive reality topsy-turvy. The second property is that “every repeated impression from outside should crystallize in them data which would engender factors for evoking in them sensations of ‘pleasure’ and ‘enjoyment’” (B.T., p. 88).

The immediate consequence of the singular properties of this organ was a modification of three-brained being’s psychic functioning, to the point of a quite abnormal psychic functioning. Particularly, the power of integration of the three brains became impaired. This organ is the organ Kundabuffer. Whether implantation of this organ is a reality or part of a myth, we do not know. But we know that it is the contention of many serious thinkers that “something” took place in the past that radically affected man’s normal psychic development, rendering it quite abnormal and even absurd.  This central idea is also found in many myths and allegories symbolically describing mankind’s early growth and development. Man’s absurd behavior can only be attributed to a malfunctioning in the course of man’s natural development.

It is not very difficult to see how the two properties of the infamous organ contributed to our abnormality. We will discuss two concrete examples. Due to the property of perceiving reality topsy-turvy, we now perceive reality not as it is but upside-down, as dictated by the abnormal functioning of our brains. That is why it is so easy for each and every one of us to see the defects in others and so difficult to see our own defects. “Why do you see the mot in your neighbor’s eye and not the beam in yours?” asked Jesus two thousands years ago. Well, nothing has changed. Due to the second property of how repeated impressions from outside evoked sensations of “pleasure” and “enjoyment,” we now have a super-abundance of unbecoming being-impulses such as “vanity,” “pride,” “arrogance,” “self-conceit,” “swaggering,” “ambition,” and many others.

The first reason of our abnormality is Nature-made. But the second reason is man-made. The fact is that later, during man’s natural evolution, Great Nature removed the organ from man’s presence. However, due to the operation of a law of Nature, the law of repetition, establishing that every repeated action nurtures crystallization, within every being, of remnant independent formations, most of the consequences of the singular properties of the organ remained, and still remains, inherent to man’s ordinary psychic functioning. But the important point is that one freed from the consequences of the properties of the organ, men had the possibility of eradicating these consequences and become normal, as three-brained beings should be. And to a certain extent men succeeded in doing so. However, later and under the influence of the consequences of the properties of the organ, men began to create abnormal conditions of shared-common existence and these abnormal conditions in turn favored the crystallization in man’s psychic functioning of the consequences of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer.

Two events heavily contributed to the creation of abnormal conditions of common-shared existence and the crystallization of the consequences of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer. One was the sinking of the impulse Conscience in the depth of man’s being. The second was the further dispersion of man’s three centers of consciousness or brains. These two events are allegorically represented in Beelzebub’s Tales by the sinking of the continent Atlantis on the one hand and the dispersion of the three great centers of civilization (Maralplicie, Tikliamish, and Pearl-Land) on the other hand.

We have seen how and why in Beelzebub’s Tales we are presented as abnormal three-brained beings. It would now be appropriate to go deeper into the book in search of signs of this abnormality. Well, there are many signs of our abnormality in the book. Great part of the book is a narrative of our abnormality, although great part of the book deals with the question of how to return to normality. But there is a narrative in the book that many people consider to be the strongest sign of our abnormality and the central message in the book. It is the chapter “The Terror-of-the-Situation.”

“The Terror-of-the-Situation” is a legominism within a legominism. A legominism, we are told, “is one of the means of transmitting information about certain events of long past ages through initiates.” The “Terror-of-the-Situation” is a legominism describing the deliberations of Ashiata Shiemash, a prophet from the past and from the future and the central personage in Beelzebub’s Tales. In essence, the legominism says that we no longer are able to love with the Love of Consciousness, to believe with the Faith of consciousness, and to hope with the Hope of consciousness. In other words, the “Terror-of-the-Situation” tells us that the data necessary for engendering in us the genuine being-impulses of Love, Faith, and Hope is already atrophied. The atrophy, as always, is due to the crystallization in us of the consequences of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer as well as the abnormal conditions we have created during the process of common-shared existence.  All this means that we cannot longer make use of the way of Love, the way of Faith, and the way of Hope, as valid ways for the process of self-perfection, as it was possible in the past.

The “Terror-of-the-Situation” ends on a high and hopeful note. If it is true that the data necessary for engendering in us the genuine being-impulses of Love, Faith, and Hope, is already atrophied, it is also true that the data necessary and sufficient for engendering in us the Divine Impulse of Objective Conscience, still remains intact in us. This data is now submerged in the depth of our being, in the region known as the subconscious. The book explains in great details how this data escaped the process of atrophy and degeneration as it was the case with the data for engendering the impulses of Love, Faith, and Hope. For us now the important point is that we possess the necessary and sufficient data in order to become normal again. Otherwise, our situation would entirely be one of total hopelessness. Fortunately, it is not. There is hope, Real Hope.

The question then is: How do we become normal again? We must begin by seeing our abnormality. Seeing here means suffering. We have to suffer our situation in life, namely, our situation of abnormality. This is the absolute first step, without which nothing else could be accomplished. We have to suffer our situation not only once but a hundred times. This is so because the abnormal conditions of life prevailing all around us always exert tremendous pressure on us. We cannot escape that easily, we must understand that. When we think we have escaped, we are brought back again. It has been said that Kundabuffer is very tenacious. That is why we have to suffer our situation of abnormality again and again.

The constant and continuous suffering of our of abnormality leads to remorse, real remorse for our situation in life; we experience remorse, not guilt. We experience what is called organic shame. Organic shame is fear of abnormality. This fear, contrary to a false fear such as the fear of insecurity, is real and it is healthy. We must experience this fear in our lives if we want to become normal again. In Beelzebub’s Tales, Mr. Gurdjieff presents a complete teaching on remorse. He is probably the only teacher in modern times who goes deeply into the question of remorse. According to Beelzebub’s Tales, there exists in the Universe one fundamental cosmic second-degree law known as the “Sacred Aieioiuoa” or Remorse. The idea is that under the effect of this cosmic law, when we are in the presence of the emanations of the Sun Absolute or any other sun (like the presence of a Teacher), one of our brains “revolts’ and ‘criticizes” the former unbecoming perceptions and the manifestations of another brain. Remorse is a material process, as it is the case with any other process of the Universe. When Remorse takes place in us light and heat are produced. The light translates into understanding. We understand. Real Remorse leads to being-understanding. Heat manifests in the form of well-being. We feel well.

The experience of Remorse takes us to a real search. We begin to search for the real aim and sense of existence. We are no longer duped by the abnormal conditions existing around us. Our search, if it is a serious search, eventually takes us to the awakening in us of the Divine Impulse of Objective Conscience. We must understand that Objective Conscience is higher than the conscience derived from the Ten Commandments and the moral conscience we are taught by our parents and teachers. Since we cannot really talk about what Objective Conscience is, we will have to wait until we have a real experience of what it is or may be.

The “Terror-of-the-Situation” is a sign of abnormality, as we have seen. We must now search in Beelzebub’s Tales for signs of normality. Well, there are many signs of normality in the book. Normality is never defined explicitly. However, we can infer that a definition of normality is the harmonious functioning of man’s three brains, as we said at the opening of this talk. One sign of normality that is related to this inference is presented in the last chapter of the book, Chapter XLVIII, under the title “From the Author.” In this chapter Mr. Gurdjieff steps out of character and tells us, in not allegorical form, how he sees things. In essence what he tells us is that only a man in possession of his “I” is a Real Man, a “man without-quotation-marks,” as he so picturesquely puts it. Before further elaboration, we must notice that “I” is described in the first chapter of the book (p. 38) in two ways: The first as a “relatively transferable arising, depending on the quality of the functioning of thought, feeling, and organic automation;” and the second as “the compound result of consciousness, subconsciousness, and instinct.” We must reflect on these two descriptions of “I.”

At the very outset of Chapter XLVIII we are told that the whole individuality of every man who has reached responsible life must consists of four definite distinct personalities. The first of these four independent personalities is the totality of automatic functioning most people ignorantly name “consciousness” or, at best, “mentation.” The second of the four personalities consists of the sum of the results of the data deposited and fixed from perceptions gathered by man through his six organs (six and not five) functioning in accordance with newly perceived impressions and the sensitivity of which depends upon transmitted heredity and the conditions of the preparatory formation of the given individual for responsible existence. This second part of man is his feeling center or brain charged with channeling his emotions. The third independent part of man’s whole being is what is known as his organism, the quality of which also depends on heredity factors and the circumstances during man’s preparatory formation.

     “And the fourth, which should also be a separate part of the whole individual, is none other than the manifestation of the totality of the results of the already automatized functioning of all the personalities independently formed and independently educated in him, that is to say, it is the part which is called in being-“I” (B.T., p. 1190).

It is interesting to notice here that the above description of “I,” taken from the last chapter of The Tales (p. 1190), closely resembles the description given in the first chapter of the book (p. 38) and already stated. In certain way the book closes onto itself: it ends with the beginning and it begins with the ending.

In relation to his formed and independently educated personalities, man is exactly comparable to that organization for conveying a passenger, which consists of a carriage, a horse, and coachman.

In this analogy, the difference between a real man and a pseudo man (“man-in-quotations-mark”), that is between the man who has his own “I” and one who has not is indicated by the personage sitting in the carriage. In the first case, that of a real man, the personage is the owner of the carriage; and in the second case, he is simply the first chance passer-by who pays a fare for the ride.

In the analogy, the organism or body of a man (third personality) corresponds to the carriage. All the functioning and manifestations of feeling of a man (second personality) corresponds to the horse harnessed to the carriage and drawing it. The main characteristic of the horse (emotions) is to kick; when the horse kicks man becomes the slave of negative emotions manifested in him. The coachman directing the horse corresponds to the first personality, that is, to what is known as consciousness or mentation. And finally, the personage seated in the carriage and commanding the coachman is that which is called “I” (fourth personality).

Let us now see how Mr. Gurdjieff sees us. Here is what he had to say:

     “The fundamental evil among contemporary people is chiefly that, owing to the rooted and widespread abnormal methods of education of the rising generations, this fourth personality which should be present in everybody on reaching responsible age is entirely missing in them; and almost all of them consist only of the three enumerated parts, which parts, moreover, are formed arbitrarily of themselves and anyhow. In other words, almost every contemporary man of responsible age consists of nothing more nor less than simply a “hackney carriage,” and one moreover, composed as follows: a broken-down carriage “which has long seen its day,” a crock of a horse kicking at random, and on the box, a tatterdemalion, half-sleepy, half-drunken coachman whose time designated by Mother Nature for self-perfection passes while he waits on a corner, fantastically daydreaming, for any old chance passenger. The first passenger who happens along hires him and dismisses him just as he pleases, and not only him but also all the parts subordinate to him” (Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 1192-1193).

From all that have been said, we can see that a sign of a normal man, a normal three brained being, is to be in possession of his “I.” Probably the best and only definition of a normal man is given on page 1202 of the book: “Man is a being who can do and to do means to act consciously and by one’s own initiative.” In other words, only a man in possessing of his “I” can do.

Let us try to be real here. We do not have “I.” That is still for the future. For instance, we are wrong if we think that when we speak is real “I” speaking. Most of the time, almost all of the time, what speaks in us is one of the three already mentioned independent personalities and what is even worse, each personality speaking for itself, without regards and considerations for the other two. We have to work harder and longer in order to have the right to have “I.” Meanwhile, the place of “I” in us is taken by group work or by the guidance provided by the teaching Mr. Gurdjieff brought to us.

To be in possession of one’s “I” is a sign of normality. Two other signs, according to Beelzebub’s Tales, are the awakening of the Divine Impulse of Objective Conscience and the attainment of Objective or Divine Reason. For a better understanding of these two important aspects of the teaching of Mr. Gurdjieff, see my article “The Awakening of Objective Conscience and the Attainment of Objective Reason” in this collection of views on Beelzebub’s Tales.

I would like to conclude this talk with a vision of the real man as I think is presented in Beelzebub’s Tales. Real man is a free and independent individuality of the Great Whole, in the service of the Whole, directed by “I,” guided by the Divine Impulse of Objective Conscience, and subordinated to the functioning of Objective or Divine Reason.

Thank you for your attention and consideration, and for giving me the opportunity to expose myself and to work on myself.

About willmesa

I have been studying and working with the ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff exposed in his Opus Magnum Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. The intention of this blog is to share these ideas with people around the world. For more information about me, please search in Google for Will Mesa
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