‘Great Nature’ in The Fourth Way and Beelzebub’s Tales.

In the teachings of Gurdjieff and The Fourth Way, Man is regarded as taking part in a Universal process of exchange and development. In Gurdjieff’s epic, Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson,

the Universe itself is considered as being created so as to provide a means of generating the ‘energy’ needed by the Creator in order to maintain His ‘Place of Being’; which was perceived by Him to be diminishing in size due to the influence of ‘time’, or ‘The Merciless Heropass’, upon it. The Universe arises in order to fulfil a need, and this need is related to the influence of ‘time’. It may appear strange to put God, or at least His ‘abode’, in a position where there is concern as to the influence and effect of ‘time’, or in a position where ‘time’ must be negotiated. The use of the term ‘time’ here, in the ‘pre-universe’ realm, may be seen to give a different meaning to the term than that which we associate with it in our general experience and conception. Though this placing of time high up the pecking order may appear as strange to some of our modern conceptions, there is the presentation of Time as God in some of the ancient views, such as Zurvan of the Zoroastrians, who was sometimes referred to as ‘The Pitiless Zurvan’ and who was related to Absolute Time. We may see a connection here between the Merciless Heropass and the Pitiless Zurvan.

‘Prior to’ the creative act that births the Universe, God is given a term of expression which denotes His given form of self-governance, this term being ‘Autocrat’. With the act of creation, this term is changed to that of ‘Trogoautoegocrat’. A rough translation of these terms gives to the former the sense of ‘I maintain/rule myself’, and to the latter the sense of ‘I eat myself to maintain myself’. This change may be seen to express the difference in the operative form of Law, and we may associate this change with such as the difference between ‘closed systems’ and ‘open systems’. The form of ‘self-governance’ at work ‘prior’ to the creation may be considered as limited in regard of possibility. The ‘Autocratic’ law does not allow for what we might consider as real ‘novelty’, and hence there can only be a ‘one way’ action, proceeding from God to His creations. This one way action could be seen almost as a form of ‘determinism’, where the total rule of God governs all. God simply says ‘Be’, and ‘It is’. The exercise of absolute authority might be thought of as ‘boring’ perhaps, or we might consider that such a form of action can only proceed in the direction of ‘entropy’. Lacking some means of ‘feedback’ or some other source of response and initiative, things may become repetitive. If I get my way all the time, does this limit me in some way? The picture of creation, of creative action, as arising in/from a ‘singular’ source and authority may also be limited. The picture of creation as involving simply the actualization of ‘pre-existing’ possibility may also be limited. Gurdjieff’s creation story may be seen to mirror those of the ancients, in which the creation begins with ‘privation’ or an act of privation. The change from Autocrat to Trogoautoegocrat may be seen to enable something more, but it also comes at a price. For the Universe to serve as a means of real ‘feedback’ to the Source, it must have some independence. It is the act of privation and the nature of the independent feedback that brings ‘hazard’ and uncertainty into the picture, and these become a central feature of reality and a central means of its working.

Perhaps I think that God has unlimited or infinite possibilities from which to create, in which case we may ask if God is still limited to choosing one from among this infinity of possibilities to actualize? Does God only have the choice as to whether or not to actualize one of His infinite possibilities? Can He do no other than his infinite possibility allows, is there only the choice as to actualize a possibility or not, is such a choice a real choice if it is limited, what is an unlimited choice? Such questions may be crude, but we have to start somewhere, and this somewhere where we do start is often already too far down the road.

Gurdjieff begins his Creation story with what may appear to be a humorous mocking of our ideas about ‘why and how’, using what may appear as a childish notion of ‘God and Heaven’ etc. This childish notion involves the projection of our common experience and idea of ‘space and time’ upon God Himself, God then appears concerned with decay and preservation as met with in our common human experience. The ‘motives’ for God’s action are put into our common notion of motive; where we do A in order to achieve B, and the achievement itself is the only criteria by which the undertaking is judged. Gurdjieff’s simplistic presentation of the creation, via its very apparent childish simplicity, can bring us to the central question of ‘framework’. We may confront the question as to the operative framework that we are using when considering this question of creation. This framework is that which gives rise to our notions of such as purpose, reason, motive, meaning, intent, and creative action. Through the presented creation story, I may be given the chance to inquire into my current notions about purpose, motive, intent etc. It is these base notions, or framework, that condition our interpretation of such things as creation stories, as they limit what meaning we can conceive and recognize.

On the one hand, Gurdjieff’s creation story in Beelzebub’s Tales can appear as a kind of sorry anthropomorphism tied together with a certain conception of the science of thermodynamics. On the other hand, this presentation may attempt to serve as a mirror to the current operative notions present in Man’s mind, being aimed at exposing the current limited framework therein so as to give the potential for a new conception. Through an apparent form of the anthropomorphizing of God, Gurdjieff may bring Man’s position more readily to his own eyes in order to question his current limits of conception and to highlight the operative notions and framework at work in such a conception. If I put what appear to be humanlike constraints and limitations upon God, then this may serve to bring the current notion of God into question whilst also highlighting the current notion of the human being. In Gurdjieff’s creation story, Man and God are intimately linked via their shared exercise of intent in regard to the pursuit of an aim in accordance with a perceived need or desire. This form of presentation begins with the question of ‘purpose’ and Man’s current conceptions of such, and we could also relate this question of purpose to that of ‘order’, or ‘order and disorder’. A question is put to our current understanding regarding the limitations in its perception and conception of purpose and order. This limitation may prohibit us from the understanding of, and perhaps participation in, any other form of purpose and order. Here, purpose and order are also central to ‘meaning’.

In The Fourth Way ideas, Life on Earth is considered as the means, or ‘organs’, of ‘perception’ of the Planet Earth itself. Life is expressed as a means of transmitting influences from the Sun and larger Cosmos to the Planet Earth. Life on Earth is then key to the fate of the Solar system and Planet Earth; which planet is then regarded as having its own ‘being’ and potential growth and evolution etc. In being a link between the Earth and Solar realms, Life is then considered as having something of both the Terrestrial and Solar natures. We may link these natures or realms with such terms as mechanical and creative respectively. This then meaning that Life has the properties of both ‘mechanism’ as well as ‘consciousness’, ‘inertia’ and ‘self direction’. We can see this notion reflected in the scientific study of Life, where there is the perception of bare material process but also something more than this which appears to distinguish Life from mere chemistry and physics etc. We are still hard pushed to provide an adequate definition of Life, particularly concerning the barrier or transition from ‘un-living’ to ‘living’. We may use such terms as ‘self-renewal’ to distinguish Life, but we may still have no understanding of what such an action of ‘self-renewal’ actually is or really means.

Our study of Life in the biosphere may not only be limited by our technological abilities, it may also be limited by our given conceptual abilities. When studying the interrelationship between forms of Life, as well as the behaviour of individual organisms, we are limited by our given conceptions of such as purpose, order, intent, choice, control, etc. These things are projected upon what we study, and hence they limit what can be found through such study. It is the relatively rare occasion when study provides significant unexpected results, results which demand some re-appraisal of the operative conceptual framework and the established ‘knowledge’. Life itself has actually provided some such shifts in conception, the study of Life has brought results which have demanded a re-think as to the operating conceptions. We can think here in terms of the parallel study of physics, where results, such as in the field of Quantum mechanics, have shattered the previously accepted ‘models’ of reality. These ‘unexpected’ and ‘radically contrary’ results provide the means of ‘evolution’ to Man’s conception, to the operative framework of his conception.

In the history of Man, we may see the line of development of his means for the perception of meaning, development of the kind of meaning that he can recognise and participate in. We might think of this development of Man as being presided over by Great Nature Herself, wherein Man is brought closer to an understanding of the true nature of Life, enabling a different form of participation in the action of Life. In Gurdjieff’s teaching, Man is said to be able to develop his means of the perception and participation in Life. Man can develop his potential to assimilate the information present in Life. For Gurdjieff, there was an informational aspect to everything, and this corresponds to his notion of the three foods of Man; these being physical food, air, and impressions. The information of Life was not then something limited to being encased in DNA, Life itself could be seen as an ‘atmosphere’ of information, an ‘atmosphere’ in which Man dwells and is part of. Man may then be literally swamped in his food of impressions, and yet he may lack the means to effectively ‘digest’ this informational food. Gurdjieff’s teaching, as a practical endeavour, was aimed at enabling this greater ‘digestion’ of the meaning that surrounds Man. This greater digestion was then linked with a more conscious participation and co-operation with the work that Life is engaged in.

The information present in Life, present in the environment of Man, may be regarded as vast, and may not be limited to terrestrial affairs and history. In accessing the common repository of information, such as Life itself may be considered to be, there was a means for ‘organic’ and ‘objective’ learning. A Man could access this informational field of Life and use this for his own accelerated development and for a means of direction when it came to co-operating and contributing to the ongoing work of Life. Man could more consciously commune with the intelligence of Nature, being directly informed by such. There is the potential here for a synergic relationship. To be able to open more to this potential communion, and to be able to receive more in the way of the food of impressions, there was the requirement for a Man to develop his given nature and potential, his total capacity. Part of this work involved the process of overcoming the established ‘conditioning’; which worked so as to limit the kind of ‘meaning’ that a Man could receive, a kind of immune system functioning in regard of meaning that varied too much from an established parameter.

In relation to Man’s mentioned three kinds of food, it can be said that Man lives in three environments. The environment of impression is one of communication, and hence, through his impressional nature, Man is in constant communication with everything within this environment or world of impressions. A Man may work so as to become more ‘literate’ and articulate in this world, and for Gurdjieff, this world extended practically to God Himself. Through his impressions, Man was afforded a vast realm of communication, and this realm extended up to and perhaps beyond the origin of the manifest Universe itself. Just as Life has been regarded as both ‘living’ and ‘un-living’, Man has also been regarded as only partially a ‘living’ Being. Man is regarded here as having a living nature and also a nature that is beyond or above life. It was the utilization of his living nature, his position in Life, that enabled him to achieve something that was related to this side of his nature that was beyond Life. This something related to Man’s higher nature was called the Soul, or Highest Being Body, in the teachings of Gurdjieff. To develop the Soul, required the conscious participation and co-operation in the work of Life.

Gurdjieff mentioned that Man had been given a ‘natural’ mode of mind which was suited to this needed communion with Nature and Life. This ‘Mentation by Form’ could be developed in Man, but for the most part it operated ‘subconsciously’, having little conscious influence and use. This mode of mind could more readily assimilate the information present in the impressional environment of Nature because its ‘construction’ and operation was a closer mirror to the working of Life and Nature. Gurdjieff mentions that this mode of perception and conception is informed by the natural environment surrounding a given individual. The ‘forms’ of Nature in-form this mode of mind or mentation in its growth and development and use. There is a correspondence between the ‘laws’ of Nature, as expressed in the forms, patterns, and cycles of Nature, and the operative laws of this ‘Mentation by Form’. This mentation provides a different means of contemplation and communication of meaning. In part, this mentation operates through something akin to ‘proprioception’ and ‘body language’, and we can think here of the knowledge that our body possesses in relation such as the laws of physics. This knowledge remains ‘subconscious’ to us in general, and may only be encountered with more attention and awareness when learning, or engaging in, certain physical activities. This knowledge of the body, and its means of perception, may be made more conscious and accessed with greater intention. Greater connectivity and communication may be established between the general ‘rational mind’ and this mode of mind that is more related to the body and subconscious etc. Practices such as Gurdjieff’s ‘Movements’ may be seen as partly concerned with making this connection and communication with what is already present in the body; both in terms of its knowledge and also its form of perception and conception.

To truly enter a world and be a denizen of it, requires that we are able to speak the language of that world, being able to make meaningful articulations in the language of such a world. It is the speaking of the language that gives a meaningful entry and participation in the related world. To truly enter Life and Nature, a Man must become articulate in the language of Life and Nature.

Written by

Joshua was born to parents and family members interested in the Work and teachings of Gurdjieff. He consequently began engaging with the material and ideas of Gurdjieff from a young age. Joshua has been mainly influenced by the work of J.G. Bennett, pupil of Gurdjieff. Joshua's parents were involved with groups in this line of the Work. Joshua has made connections with many different individuals in the Work over the years, including those in the American groups as well as the English groups. Joshua, and his parents, have also had connection with Anthony Blake, pupil of J.G.Bennett. Joshua pursued a career in Joinery and Construction before moving into the world of Social Care and therapy for children. Joshua is currently exploring ways to incorporate the ideas of the Work into social care reform, also with a view to bringing the Work to into mainstream schools in the form of educational programs involving practical work, drama, and inner exercises. Joshua currently attends a small work group based in Cumbria, England. Joshua has an interest in music of all genres and enjoys playing the Guitar. Joshua also has a passion for Nature and for walking and climbing Mountains. Joshua has an interest in the Sciences, Arts, Philosophy, Mythology, and Religious studies, also taking an interest in works of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

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