In the teaching he brought to the West, G. I. Gurdjieff introduced the ideas of body, essence and personality, as the three constituent parts of man. He insisted again and again that we must work on each of these three parts. This post is about working on essence and will limit only to considerations concerning this kind of work.
In the book Views from the Real World, a compilation of early talks from Mr. Gurdjieff, on page 136, essence is described as follows: “Essence is purely emotional. It consists of what is received from heredity before the formation of personality, and later, only those sensations and feelings among which a man lives. What comes after merely depends on the transition.” Further in the book we are told that “Essence is I—it is our heredity, type, character, nature.” In the book Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (BTTHG), Mr. Gurdjieff’s opus magnum, essence is not described explicitly but many things are said about essence, and related topics such as essence-anxiety, essence-doubt, essence-attitude, and so on. On page 487 of BTTHG we find this statement about essence: “”Hence it is that there just proceeds in them that particularity of their common presence which is that with one part of their essence they always intend to wish one thing; at the same time with another part they definitely wish something else; and thanks to the third part, they already do something quite the contrary.” This statement shows how contradictory our essence can be.
The first thing to do in working on essence is to identify the being-impulses (as they are called in BTTHG) that come from body and personality and separate them from those coming from essence. Most of the being-impulses coming from the body are related to basic instinctive body impulses such as hunger, thirst, instinctive fears, sexual drives, and others. But there are other body impulses related to what are called “desires of the planetary body” such as lust, gluttony, laziness, and others. Most of the being-impulses coming from personality are related to the crystallization of the consequences of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer. Among them are the being-impulses of vanity, pride, envy, hypocrisy, self-calming, self-love, lying, suggestibility, and many others.
Essence being-impulses are in general more noble being-impulses such as the being-impulses of essence-love, essence-faith, essence-hope, essence-compassion, essence-individuality, and essence-Conscience. But there are also essence-impulses arising from a mal-functioning essence, such as the majority of known addictions and psychopathy.
Many serious students of Beelzebub’s Tales claim that the chapter “The Legominism Concerning the Deliberations of the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash Under the title of ‘The-Terror-of-the-Situation’” is the central chapter in the book. When I asked Henri Tracol, my group leader in a Paris group and the person who aided Mme. De Salzmann with the French edition of Beelzebub, what his thoughts on the book were he replied quickly and succinctly: “The whole book is summarized in the chapter the terror of the situation.” And indeed this is true if one considers the tragic situation of man on Earth. But if we are concerned with the Cosmology Mr. Gurdjieff introduced in his Teaching then the Chapter “The Holy Planet ‘Purgatory’” is the one to be considered.
“The-Terror-of-the-Situation” is about how the essence impulses of genuine Love, Faith, and Hope deteriorated into similar but false impulses. What happened was very simple. These genuine essence-impulses mixed with certain unbecoming impulses arising from Kundabuffer and with a flavor or gusto similar to the genuine impulses of Love, Faith, and Hope. Now man no longer loves, believes, and hopes as it is proper to normal three-brained beings. As Mr. Gurdjieff said, the work is not so much about acquiring something new as it is about recovering what has been lost.
In the chapter “The-terror-of-the-Situation” we are given a very important hint as to how to proceed in order to recover the genuine essence impulses that have been lost. We are told that the essence impulse Conscience, the very foundation of the psyche of three-brained beings, escaped the deterioration that the genuine essence impulses of Love, Faith, and Hope experienced. The impulse Conscience became buried in the depth of essence, in the region of our psyche known as the subconscious. It is then a matter of penetrating the subconscious in order to retrieve the essence-impulse Conscience. Then the genuine essence impulses of Love, Faith, and Hope will remerge again because they are already there.
But from a practical point of view, how do we do it?
The first thing to do is to experience our nothingness with regards to the presence of these genuine essence impulses in us. We no longer possess them must be our full realization. Then, as a second practical approach, we must suffer our situation. We must feel Remorse of Conscience for the fact that we no longer manifest the genuine essence impulses of Love, Faith, and Hope. That is why Mr. Gurdjieff puts so much emphasis on the teaching of Remorse, being the only modern teacher to teach the practice of Remorse.
As a third step, we can follow the indications of the Most Most Saintly Ashiata Shiemash in the chapter “The Organization for Man’s Existence Created by the Very Saintly Ashiate Shiemash.” These indications are contained in what is known as the five “being-obligolnian-strivings.” Much has been said about them but it is better that each person forms his/her own opinion and proceed to practice them according to his/her own individuality.
Another aspect of working on essence has to do with changing essence or correcting certain essence- impulses that have been atrophied as a result of exiting on a planet in which the chemistry of certain beings has been inverted (certain chemical dependency, certain perversions, and certain deviations from normality). This a difficult work because, as Mr. Gurdjieff said, “essence is the devil,” implying that it is difficult to deal with. But it is possible because some men have done it and it is enough that one man does it for others to do it. In any case, this is a very subjective and individualized work because it is for each person to discover and then work on those essence-impulses that have been atrophied. One thing can be said in general, though, and it is the fact that this essence work always entails some form of essence suffering. Essence change demands a corresponding amount of Essence-Suffering and Essence-Hope.
In any case, either work through recovering the essence-impulses that have been lost and/or work through correcting the essence-impulses that have been atrophied, brings about essence purification. Essence then becomes the center of gravity of the initiating factors behind body and personality functioning. Body and personality become functions of essence instead of essence being a function of body and personality as it is the case before essence purification. Man (or woman) meets the Inner Master. Essence purification is also a good preparation for the Sacred Rascooarno or first death.
Good luck with your work. I wish you the best.