The topics that are to be focused upon in this series of articles, which is to be presented over the course of the next three months, will be: ‘Ecology’, the ‘Environment’, and the ‘Axis Mundi’ or ‘World Soul’.
These topics will be looked at from the perspective of the ‘Spiritual’ teaching called ‘The Fourth Way’. This is the teaching that was brought to the modern ‘western world’ by the Greek-Armenian ‘Mystic’ G.I. Gurdjieff (1) around a hundred years ago today. There are various books available that present the teachings and ideas of Gurdjieff and ‘The Fourth Way’; the main corpus consisting of the books written by Gurdjieff himself (2) and those written by his immediate students. Some of the books which are considered to compose the main ‘canonical’ material will be referenced in these articles (3).
The intention behind the articles is to provide contemplative material regarding the topics discussed, as well as presenting an introduction to the ‘Gurdjieffian’ perspective on these particular topics and a basic introduction to the overall body of teachings and ideas called ‘The Fourth Way’(4).
We will consider questions such as: What is the nature of the current apparent ‘environmental crisis’? What does the presence of this situation say about the nature of Man and Existence? What can be done in the present situation and current conditions, what is called for from those concerned? What is the nature and meaning of ‘Ecology’? What is the nature of Man’s relation to the ‘Natural’ and ‘material’ worlds, his potential and possible responsibility towards such? What is the ‘Axis Mundi’ or ‘World Soul’? What is the relation between the ‘natural’ and ‘material’ worlds, and the ‘Divine’ world? Is there a ‘Divine’ purpose to Life, and particularly to the Life of Man?
~ What has ‘Crisis’ got to do with it? ~
Well then, ‘Dear Reader’, it appears that I have set my task and aim before us both. But, having done this now, how am I to actually proceed next?
The question, apparently ‘ages old’, appears; ‘’Where, and how, to Begin’’? In asking this question, it appears that in order to ‘Begin’, I have to ‘Begin somewhere’. This seems like some kind of ‘limitation’, does it not? Though it is also seen to be necessary. Having set my aim and task, I am immediately met with the appearance of a limitation, and this apparent limitation seems to be connected with the nature of the ‘medium’ and ‘means’ through which the aim and task is to be realized and achieved.
This situation of having an aim and wish, and also having a present limitation in the ‘means’ and ‘medium’ to the realization of such, can be considered as a ‘problematic’ or at least ‘concerning’ situation. It is a situation which appears to require some degree of attention and effort in order to address and resolve. If there is also some realization of a sense of uncertainty as to how to proceed in the face of such limitation, so as to achieve one’s aim, then this situation can also be considered as a ‘Dramatic’ one.
The presence of a wish, aim, or need, in conjunction with uncertainty as to its achievement and completion, gives rise to a dramatic situation, and this situation can also be considered as a ‘Crisis’. In my own task and efforts here, I may be in the midst of my own crisis, though some might well agree that the word ‘crisis’ would appear as a great exaggeration when used in this particular context.
The exaggeration would appear to be related to two aspects; one being the level or degree of apparent ‘need’. This meaning that the ‘need’ for me to achieve my task and aim here appears to be relatively small, if considered as a ‘need’ at all. A second aspect is that of ‘value’, and this to say that the possible ‘value’ present in the achievement of my aim appears to be of relatively little value. If I achieve my aim or not appears to be of little ‘real concern’, because ‘failure’ doesn’t appear to give significant consequences and neither does ‘success’. However, at least in terms of ‘subjectivity’, this situation may indeed be experienced by me as a ‘great crisis’.
A study of the history of the word ‘crisis’ itself, can reveal various connotations to its meaning and use. Crisis has not simply been used to refer to a ‘bad’ and/or ‘unwanted’ situation, it has also been used with connotations of ‘opportunity’. Crisis can refer to a moment of real change, whether actual or potential. The change, or possible change, that comes with crisis can give different outcomes; one of which is related to the idea of ‘loss’ and one of which is related to that of ‘gain’. Typically, crisis is regarded in a ‘negative’ way, in the sense that the ‘best’ possible outcome from it is seen as simply the ‘re-establishment’ or ‘preservation’ of the ‘given’ or ‘status quo’ etc. There is not generally the sense of the ‘positive’ potential and ‘opportunity’ that crisis brings.
If there is the potential for something ‘more’ than just the ‘re-establishment’ and ‘preservation’ of the ‘status quo’, the potential for actual real ‘gain’, ‘progress’, or ‘development’ through the engagement of crisis, then it need not be regarded in its ‘typical’ negative fashion. The realization of this possible ‘positive’ potential that is inherent to crisis, does not simply consist of a change of in ‘perspective’, in the sense of ‘seeing the glass as half-full instead of half-empty’. The realization is more along the lines of a practical grasp of how reality itself operates, and this gives the motivation and means for a different kind of approach and engagement of reality.
If crisis, and the opportunity therein, is actually seen to be something like a basic means or mechanism of operation for reality, then this seeing can give knowledge and direction as to how to engage reality in a more ‘fruitful’ way; in regard of realizing one’s aims by utilizing and working with the mechanism and laws of reality. This shift in ‘perspective’ is not one that is simply an ‘emotional’ ‘re-alignment’, it is also a shift in the understanding and practical engagement of life.
~ Have We Begun Yet? ~
Now, Dear Reader, you may quite rightly be asking ‘Why on Earth is he talking about ‘beginnings’ and giving a convoluted ‘definition’ of ‘crisis’?
Well, the line of thinking appears to be something like this; one of the questions to be asked here in these articles is ‘’What is the nature of the present Environmental Crisis, considered from a ‘Fourth Way’ perspective’’? This question itself could be seen to be ‘leading’, in the sense that it implies that there is in fact such a ‘crisis’, that the present situation in regards to the ‘Environment’ can indeed be defined as a ‘crisis’.
Why highlight and appear to question whether or not the given situation, in relation to the Environment, can actually be defined and classified as a crisis?
In the majority of the Religious and Spiritual teachings, Man is depicted as being in a situation or state of crisis. This crisis may be placed in the past, present, or future in the various conceptions of the different teachings, but such crisis is still ‘there’ and present in some form, having a significant role to play. This is still the case in teachings where crisis itself may be regarded as an ‘illusion’. Crisis is given a different role and domain in different teachings.
In some teachings, crisis is regarded as something which only applies to Man, only being present in himself, and thereby, his immediate realm of experience and action. In other teachings, crisis is stated to be something which is also present in ‘higher realms’, something that is a concern and reality not just for Man. This may be portrayed in terms of saying something like ‘higher beings’, such as ‘Angels’, ‘Devils’, ‘the gods’, and so on, are also subject to crisis in some way. In other teachings, crisis is extended further by being applied to the ‘Supreme God’, ‘Godhead’, or ‘Absolute’ itself. Creation itself can sometimes be depicted as arising due to the presence of a crisis. This may be seen to be a different attitude towards God than that which is more common today, where God is seen to be ‘unlimited’ and not subject to such things as a could be called a ‘crisis’. Here we can see notions suggesting that Creation is not only ‘purposeful’, but also ‘needed’ and ‘necessary’, if not ‘vital’, for/ to something.
The crisis, or realm of crisis, that is specific to Man is mentioned in terms of such things as ‘Sin’, ‘Egoism’, ‘Maya’, ‘Karma’, ‘Samsara’, ‘Sleep’, and ‘Ignorance’ in various traditions. Here, crisis is expressed as something which can appear to be both the property of Man himself, his given nature and functioning, and also the property of the ‘world around him’. This latter aspect being related to the idea that there are ’Laws’ of existence and reality which Man is subject to. The ‘world around Man’ also includes factors related to the idea that Man is subject to actions coming from ‘higher beings’ etc.
If the majority of the traditions and teachings give some significance to crisis, then what can be learnt about crisis, itself, through their study? If the present ‘Environmental crisis’ is just part of a larger working of Man and reality, just one expression of a larger action, then the concern can become that of Man’s understanding of crisis itself, its reality and role, so as to develop the means to meet all and any crisis that may occur in a more effective way. If crisis is something which is pervasive to Man’s experience and reality, then it may be the case that the common approach towards resolving a crisis, which often involves ‘dealing with one problem at a time’ so to speak, may not be effective or suitable. If the nature of crisis is something that is ‘systemic’ to reality, then it requires a similar kind of systemic approach in order to be addressed.
There is the idea that Man’s ‘problems’ come from his form and level of ’intelligence’, so the ‘solution’ to his problems may then be considered as impossible to find whilst he is still operating according to the same form and level of intelligence. The kind of ‘thinking’ that we may consider to have led to the problems in the first place, may be seen as ineffective when used to attempt rectify those problems. In the various Religious and Spiritual teachings and traditions, a common feature to the crisis to which Man is subject is expressed in terms of Man’s own ‘perception’ and ‘conception’ of reality and truth. This is seen to be ‘faulty’, askew, and at odds with reality and its actual operation and purpose.
This ‘mal-functioning’ of Man, combined with the fact that the ‘world’ around Man is one which appears to permit, and to operate via, change, limitation, and uncertainty, means that Man’s actions can have the tendency to ‘make things worse’ rather than being either ‘preservatory’ or ‘developmental’. Actions taken to rectify or resolve an apparent problem or crisis, will tend to produce consequences that lead to further problems and issues. These latter consequences will often be unforeseen, and even when they are directly present, they can be missed. Man has a limitation is seeing the consequences to his actions that may not manifest or actualize until a future occasion, and he also has limitations in seeing the immediate present effects of his actions that are counter to his intentions.
If we took a ‘technological metaphor’, we could say that Man is said to have too little a ‘capacity’ and ‘processing power’ when it came to handling and processing/computing the ‘data’ of reality. Man may not be able to ‘keep up’ with the ‘pace’ of reality and its change, in regard of negotiating apparent emerging crises and the consequences to his actions and aims. Not only may Man ‘mis-perceive’ and ‘mis-conceive’ the nature and reality of a given crisis, he may also be ‘too slow’, and thereby ‘impotent’, to act positively upon a crisis even when it is seen for what it is.
Though there is then an element of Man’s crisis that may be removed or addressed, at least to some degree, and this being that which is considered as part of his own given nature and functioning, there is still the previously mentioned aspect of crisis that it considered to be ‘ever-present’ and not something which is to be completely ‘banished’ or ‘conquered’ etc. Man may be able to develop in relation to his own functioning and nature, and thereby address and resolve a certain amount of what would be ‘unnecessary’ issues and problems. However, there may still be a present reality of crisis, and so the common picture of ‘Spiritual’ or ‘Religious’ work, as something which will remove or solve all crises and issues and produce a ‘Utopia’, may be a misleading representation of the nature of ‘Religious/Spiritual work, its true character and aim/result.
If the different traditions and teachings point to the reality of crisis, then they may also point to the reality of what can be done, and to the means of the development of Man that may possibly be required. In the further content to the articles, we will go more into the specific ideas and teaching of Gurdjieff and ‘The Fourth Way’ regarding the crisis of Man. We will discuss the ideas in the Fourth Way that concern Man’s relation to the Material, Natural and Spiritual/Divine worlds, his relation with God and Creation, and his possible ‘Spiritual’ development and potential.
In terms of the topic of ‘Ecology’ and the ‘Environment, it can be said that Gurdjieff was one of the first to bring the idea of ‘systemic action’ to the West, at least in ‘modern language’. He was to bring a new, ‘systemic’ way of looking at the world, the world of nature, science, and Spirituality/Religion. This was part of the movement that led to looking at such as nature and the living world in terms of relationships rather than in terms of ‘things’ (5). The study of systems of relationship and exchange led to the notion of the mutual inter-dependence and reciprocal maintenance of existing phenomena.
Gurdjieff was one of the first to bring an idea of a ‘Spiritual Ecology’ and ‘Spiritual Food Chain’, suggesting that Man, Nature, the Material world, and God were all united and connected according to a form of mutual, systemic, inter-relation and inter-connection. Not only was nature mutually interconnected through an intelligent relationship and action, but Man was also called to play an intentional and conscious role towards the material and natural worlds, not to mention having a ‘spiritual’ role and direction of work as well. Gurdjieff suggested a ‘materiality’ to ‘spirituality’, using what can appear to be a ‘material science’ kind of outlook and approach to ‘Spirituality/Religion’ (6).
Man’s experience itself was considered to be composed of energies which were used for the running of the Creation and the fulfilment of its purpose. In this sense, there was an ‘alchemical’ approach to the various ‘substances’ of experience, to the ‘substance’ of thought, feeling, sensation, and states of consciousness etc. There was the requirement for the ‘economic’ use of the ‘substances’ and ‘energy’ of the experience and consciousness of Man. Man had a responsibility not just towards his outer actions, but also to his inner states. He had to be ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘carbon-neutral’ in both his ‘inner world’ and his outer world in order to fulfil his potential and serve his purpose.
A Soul, for Gurdjieff, was something that was not given to Man, but was instead something which had to be ‘made’ by the Man himself, though requiring some kind and degree of ‘help’ of course. The ‘Making of a Soul’ was seen to be the result of an action that could be expressed as something like ‘internal eco-friendly action’. This meaning that the substance of experience was transformed and utilized without needless waste. There was such as the ‘up-cycling’ and ‘re-purposing’ of experience, the means of the ‘processing’ of experience were developed. The Soul, rather than simply being taken as some kind of ‘eternal’ or ‘immortal’ ‘possession’ or ‘state of being/existence’, was considered in terms of a possible function and purpose, and not as something that was ‘merely’ there to ‘please’ Man or even simply to ‘save’ Man himself alone.
The ‘Fourth Way’ has been expressed as the ‘Harmonious’ and ‘balanced’ means of development for the modern Man in his given conditions of life. In this direction, the teachings and ideas therein have been considered to include and embrace those of the various other Religions and Spiritual teachings. To this extent, ‘The Fourth Way’ may be considered as something like and ‘ecology’ itself, an ‘ecology of Spirituality’, an ‘ecological approach’ to Religion and Spirituality. This allows for diversity, novelty and richness, co-operation and creativity, rather than ‘dogma’ and ‘stagnation/degeneration’ in the Religious and Spiritual Environment.
In the teachings and ideas of the Fourth Way itself, the value and reality of ‘diversity’ is emphasised. One expression of this, is expressed in terms of the idea of there being ‘different worlds’ or ‘different cosmoses’ that reality is composed of. These different worlds or realms each have a value and role, and each also has a degree of independence, though they are also mutually related and inter-dependent in a certain fashion. Man participates in these different worlds and has different a different action to perform in each, and balance is here again emphasised.
All these different aspects highlight a ‘dynamic’ and ‘evolving’ perspective on the nature of Man, God, and Reality. Gurdjieff gave a simple expression to his aim for his writings and ideas, which was to provide Man with a ‘New Conception’ of God, Man, and Reality. This ‘New conception’ was intended to provide Man with a means and basis for the ‘Creation’ of a ‘New World’. This ‘New World’ certainly concerned Man’s relationship to nature and the material world, but also went beyond this into addressing Man’s relationship to God and to the larger Creation and its purpose. Man was called to come to participate more consciously in the very running of the Creation, to have more responsibility and participation in the running of the Creation at every level.
The teaching of the Fourth Way is one which highlights the real threat of the possibility for the loss of ‘meaning’ and ‘value’. In the teaching, it is said that those with some degree of ‘Wisdom’ are responsible for the preservation and development of such, as well as its transmission and sharing. This wisdom could be ‘physical’ or ‘spiritual’ in nature, and simply concerned something which was of present value and worth.Those with a knowledge that was considered as valuable had a responsibility to preserve this knowledge, because reality was seen to operate according to periodic crises which could lead to the destruction of what was valuable and needed. The preservation of this knowledge needed to be done in various different forms, in order to give multiple forms of expression and varied means of possible engagement and transmission of this valuable knowledge. Not only were new and varied means of expression needed to be found, but there was also the need to develop an understanding of how Man himself received and processed meaning and information. This being needed so as to have an understanding as to how to best preserve and communicate information in a form that would be able to be understood; with as little a chance for mis-understanding, mis-translation, and error etc as possible (7).
A quintessential ‘myth’ of crisis can be seen in the tale of Noah and the Ark. Such a ‘myth’ would seem to be particularly relevant, considering the given topic of these articles, as there is particular blending of ‘Religion/Spirituality’ and what could be called ‘climate change’ involved in this tale. Part of Gurdjieff’s intention in his writing was to help form a corpus of people who were ‘sensitive’ enough to the given times and conditions such as to be able to see what was actually needed, what was most relevant and valuable in the given times and conditions. This required the development of the means of ‘perception’ and ‘conception’, the overall development and utilization of the various faculties and capacities of Man. After seeing what it was that was needed in a given time and place, or sphere/field of action, the work was then in order to preserve and promote this.
The Fourth Way Work was in order to produce intelligent, sensitive, ‘units’ that were in ‘sync’ with the needs and conditions of the times, and who could utilize the opportunities presented in order to work in accordance with a ‘higher intelligence’ and the greater action present and active in the purpose of Creation. This could be pictured in terms of a development of a ‘sensitive’ layer of material, such as living skin or organs, which could be responsive to some form of stimulus, calling it to grow. We could picture the change from ‘bare’ living ‘flesh’ to ‘sensory organ’. The development of Man was to provide a more ‘coherent’ and ‘ordered/organ-ised’ material through which the Divine could act and realize its purpose. In terms of the ‘Eco-system’, we could look to the nature of such as soil, a material between the ‘living’ and the ‘dead’ realms, between plant and rock. Its intermediary nature makes it dynamic and gives it its potential to be a means and support for ‘higher’ life, such as plants, animals and humans.
Man may be something like a ‘soil for the Divine’, for the Divine purpose at work in and through Creation. Such ‘natural metaphors’ used for expressing the nature of Man, God, and Reality, may not have been used by our ancestors simply because ‘they were the only forms of metaphor and expression that were available for such things’. They may have been used because they expressed a direct perception and understanding of our ancestors, that was natural to be expressed in such ways. The purpose of Man and working of reality may have been directly seen as present and active in the soil, field, and wheat etc. Not seen as something that was an ‘abstracted’ conception, which was then clarified/concretized and expressed through recourse to a natural means of metaphor, based upon natural processes etc.
In the further articles, we hope, if you are still with us Dear Reader, to address more of the specific ideas and teachings contained in the Fourth Way, devling more into the particular terminology used, and also looking to some of the Fourth Way’s attendant history and characters in the context of the subject and intention of these articles.
1) George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, 1866/77?-1949. Born in Alexandropol and trained in Kars as both a priest and physician. Opened his ‘Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man’ in 1922 in France.
2) Gurdjieff’s own writings; ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man’ published 1950 Routledge & Keegan Paul, ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’ published 1963 Routledge, ‘Life is Real Only Then, When ‘I am’ published Routledge & Keegan Paul 1975.
3) Some ‘canon’ material: ‘In Search of The Miraculous’ P.D. Ouspensky, published 1949 Routledge & Keegan Paul. ‘A.R. Orage’s Commentaries on Gurdjieff’s All and Everything: Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson’, published Two Rivers Press 1985, first present in C.S. Nott’s ‘Teachings of Gurdjieff’ Routledge & Keegan Paul 1963. Maurice Nicoll’s ‘Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky’, published Vincent Stewart 1952. ‘Gurdjieff: Making a New World’ J.G. Bennett, published 1976 Turnstone Books. ‘Deeper Man’ J.G. Bennett 1978 Turnstone Books. ‘The Dramatic Universe’, published Hodder and Stoughton 1956. ‘Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales’ J.G. Bennett, published 1977 Coombe Springs Press. ‘The Reality of Being’ Jeanne De Salzmann, published Shambhala 2010. Fritz Peters ‘My Journey with a Mystic’, Tale Weaver publishing 1986. ‘Towards Awakening’ Jeanne Vaysse, published 1979 Arkana. ‘Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim’ Keith. A. Buzzell, published 2012 Fifth Press. ‘The Intelligent Enneagram’ A.G.E Blake, published Shambhala 1996. ‘Gurdjieff and the Women of The Rope’, published Book Studio 2012. ‘Gurdjieff’s Early Talks’, published Studio Books 2014. ‘G.I. Gurdjieff: Paris Meetings 1943’, published Dolmen Meadow Editions 2016.
4) ‘The Fourth Way’ was the name given to the spiritual tradition from which Gurdjieff was said to have gained his ideas and teachings. The term was first recorded in Ouspensky’s ‘In Search of The Miraculous’. The term references the idea that the Fourth Way varies from the tradition three ways which have hitherto been openly available to Man. These three ways were related to the practices and teachings of the ‘Fakir’, ‘Monk’, and ‘Yogi’. Each of these three ways was centered in one of the aspects of body, feeling, and mind. The Fourth Way was said to vary to these three ways by virtue of being a way which incorporated the simultaneous study and development of the three sides of Man.
5) See the notion of ‘Gaia’, as per James Lovelock. The Gaia hypothesis proposes that living organisms and inorganic material are part of a dynamical that shapes the Earth’s biosphere, and maintains the Earth as a fit environment for life. In some Gaia theory approaches, the Earth itself is viewed as an organism with self-regulatory functions.
6) See Gurdjieff’s idea of the ‘Trogoautoegocrat’ and ‘Reciprocal Maintenance’ in ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson’, such as for example in the chapter ‘Purgatory’. The notion of the materiality to all existence, to a scale of materiality, is not new to Gurdjieff and may be seen in such as the Patonists and Neo-platonists etc. Neither is the idea that Man is created to perform a service and role in the Creation and its maintenance something that is new to Gurdjieff, it can be found in such as the ideas of the Mespotamians and Zoroastrianism etc. However, Gurdjieff’s particular presentation may be seen to connect these ideas in a new way; one which brings together the ideas of the Monotheistic religions and those of the Ancient worlds in a new synthesis which also gives room for the ideas of modern science and psychology. A brilliant exposition of Gurdjieff’s ‘Theo-Cosmology’ can be found in ‘Gurdjieff: Making A New World’ by J.G. Bennett.
See also the idea of the ‘Noosphere’: ‘’The “noosphere”, is a philosophical concept developed and popularized foremostly by the biogeochemist Vladimir Vernadsky. Vernadsky defined the noosphere as the planetary “sphere of reason”. The noosphere represents the highest stage of biospheric development, its defining factor being the development of humankind’s rational activities. The word derives from the Greek νόος (‘’mind’, ‘’reason’’, or to ‘spin the thread of the mind’) and σφαῖρα (sphere), in lexical analogy to ‘’atmosphere’’ and ‘’biosphere’’. The concept cannot be accredited to a single author. The founding authors Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin developed two related but starkly different concepts, the former being grounded in the geological sciences and the latter, in theology. Both conceptions of the noosphere share the common thesis that together human reason and the scientific thought has and will continue to create the next evolutionary geological layer. This geological layer is part of the evolutionary chain. Second generation authors, predominantly of Russian origin, have further developed the Vernadskian concept, creating the related concepts: noocenosis and noocenology.’’ – Wikipedia
7) See Gurdjieff’s idea of ‘Legominism’ in ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson’ as present in the chapter ‘Art’. ‘Legominism’ was a method of transmitting valuable and higher information to future generations. It could be seen in the light of the idea of ‘coding’ and ‘de-coding’ information. ‘Legominisms’ were created by conscious individuals and there was the notion that ‘error’ and ‘inconsistency’ were intentionally implanted into such creations. The recognition of these ‘errors’ and ‘inconsistencies’ served as a means to ‘de-code’ the Legominism and to enable connection with the deeper meaning within it. See also ‘Conscious Art’ as mentioned in ‘In Search of The Miraculous’ by P.D. Ouspensky.