Tuesday, January 12, 2010

From THE TEACHERS OF GURDJIEFF by Rafael Lefort (Chapter 5)

There is a movement in the world that is called "the Fourth Way" that was taught by Gurdjieff somewhere between the 1920s and 1960s. The name "Fourth Way" emerged to distinguish this path from the three traditional paths of a yogi (physical culture), a monk (emotional culture or devotion), and a philosopher (mental culture). It is a path through consciousness done "in the world" rather than in a monastic setting and which aims to integrate the mental, emotional, and physical centers into a unified functioning whole. It is considered a "path of accelerated transformation" based on a small secret called "self remembering". This is a moment where you are aware of something, anything, and then you are also "aware that you are aware". In Gurdjieff's teaching of "objective chemistry", this moment of self remembering creates a small amount of "doh 48", an actual chemical and energetic unit, useful for our biological and spiritual evolution. This doh 48 is then subject to other possible energetic/chemical transformations, some of which proceed "automatically" and some which can only proceed with "conscious intention" applied to an exact place inside us. When we are "aware that we are aware", then we are awake enough to do something more than merely play out our automatic habits and conditioned reactions to everything around us. Gurdjieff made it a point, also made by other teachers, that humanity is generally asleep and living its life in a conditioned hypnotic trance. People do not really value "self remembering" and its power, because they imagine that they are already awake and that already have an unified sense of self, when in truth people have many different selves running them and none of them are the real master who is meant to be present. These selves are different clusters of thoughts, emotions, and reactions that often oppose each other and prevent us from easily achieving what we want to do in life.

I consider the teachings of Gurdjieff to be very useful even for Buddhists to study, even though the language that Gurdjieff used is very different from how Buddhists generally talk about life. Perhaps it is because his teachings are also a highly developed system that is in many ways very different from Buddhism that it gives us "stereo vision", seeing the same basic thing from two different angles helps us understand the truth more three dimensionally. The Buddha does actually mention "self remembering" in his teachings, especially in the Sutra on the Mindfulness of Breathing and in the context of how to watch each inhalation and exhalation. This is interesting, because there is a passage in IN SEARCH OF THE MIRACULOUS by Ouspensky (one of Gurdjieff's most brilliant students, but who did break away from Gurdjieff a little too early and therefore did not receive certain teachings, like "3rd shock" and "solar self remembering", though apparently those teachings were something he may have gotten after he dies and then teaches to his successor Rodney Collin who record them in the book THEORY OF CELESTIAL INFLUENCE, though in this form it is not connected with the Enneagram). In this passage, Gurdjieff wanted his students to not do pranayama exercises or breathing methods. Many students have taken this passage to heart and have not linked self remembering to conscious breathing, even though I feel it is essential to do so to further evolve oneself. If you look a the "food diagram", you will see a "shock" (place where conscious intention is essential) that relates directly to breathing.

What is also interesting is that another student of Gurdjieff, named John Bennett, did eventually find and study with some of the teachers of Gurdjieff. Some of the teachers he met were already over 500 years old and were essentially immortals. They shared to him that the entire set of Gurdjieff's teachings were a "teaching experiment" designed to bring humanity to a higher state of development where more would be possible for everyone. The ideas that Gurdjieff taught have influenced the development of modern psychology, particularly his idea of "identification" and the idea of "multiple selves". Fritz Perls, who developed Gestalt Psychology, did meet Gurdjieff and did record the essence of the conversation he had with Gurdjieff in one of the books that I had in my library (if I still have it, I will try to post the conversation in the blog). What is interesting about the conversation is that Gurdjieff was, at the time, following a Sufi rule which is still used by some students in some of the Gurdjieff groups. This rule is to only answer the point of any question that is asked by someone, rather than to share more than a person asks for. You trust that a person does his or her own inquiry in their own way and only help them within the limits of this rule. By following this rule, it requires the inquirer to take a certain kind of responsibility for his or her process from the very beginning.

The book THE TEACHERS OF GURDJIEFF created a bit of a stir when it came out. The writer of the book, Rafael Lefort, presents himself as a seeker who is frustrated with the dryness of some of the Gurdjieff exercises and the dogmatism of some of the later Gurdjieff groups. It then purports to have also found some of Gurdjieffs teachers and puts what Gurdjieff taught in an interesting light. The reaction to this book in the Gurdjieff community was mixed. Some shared that it was a work of fiction and that the person who wrote it was ignorant of certain Middle Eastern customs. Some shared that the real writer of the book was Idries Shah who was an advanced Sufi spiritual teacher associated with the Naqsbandi Sufis and who had attained the level of a "Hadrat" (one who is established in the divine presence). Both reports are a little contradictory, since Idries Shad would know Middle Eastern customs very well. I have not been able to verify any weaknesses in the understanding of Middle Eastern customs in the book, since the floating rumor that was mentioned did not come with an exact reference to anything specific that could be tested. When I did read the book, there was not much custom either way mentioned in various passages, but some level of detail about various parts of the Middle East. One interesting rumor that appeared in one book (I think it was AMONG THE DERVISHES by O. M. Burke, but I am not sure) was that "Rafael Lefort" was code for "real effort" and that the main purpose of the book was to illuminate what was and was not happening in the Gurdjieff groups at the time. This code was linked with the idea that Idries Shah had written the book under this pen name. There is a passage in THE WAY OF THE SUFI by Idries Shah that showed that he was aware of the Gurdjieff groups and gave some advice to reorient the groups that were receptive to what he wanted to share, and also that he was aware of "third shock". In one passage he said, that beyond a certain point, "self remembering" needed to be replaced by "God remembering" (solar self remembering) or it would start to produce some wrong results. This is something that I do align with from my own practice. This is because humans already have a "delusion of self" that the Buddha wanted to dispel and it is important that this delusion does not "crystallize" into a relatively permanent feature of our feeling of who we are. When efforts to self remember are made without the medicine of the Buddha's teaching about "no self", this is likely to happen.

Gurdjieff did not teach much about 3rd shock himself, though he hinted about in the 3rd series of his writings LIFE IS ONLY REAL WHEN "I AM". The reason why he did not do so was because his approach to teaching was influenced by the Sufi idea of "time, place, and need". You only teach what students need to do and are able to do at any stage of their growth. People were not ready for the third shock, because they were too busy with the first shock and the second shock, with regular self remembering and noticing how automatic their habits were. I am confident that if more people reached a place where it was necessary that he would have taught this level more deeply. The 3rd shock is roughly equivalent of Buddhist Dzogchen enlightenment and is indirectly referenced in the Heart Sutra in the passage, "the Bodhisattva [awakened being] clings to nothing at all, NOT EVEN WISDOM [emphasis mine]."

Chapter 5 of the book THE TEACHERS OF GURDJIEFF is interesting, because it purports to be about the Sufi master who taught Gurdjieff how to breathe. It is my favorite chapter in the whole book and one which I found to be loaded with a lot of subtle hints to mature the breathing practice over the years. I am including the whole chapter here:


Back in Jersusalem I sought out my friend in the Tourist Police and asked him where I could find Sheikh Hassan.

"Every day at the Mosque of Omar and every evening at the Zawiyah Hindi hear Herod's gate. But his much I tell you; he is not a man to answer a string of questions. He is a disciple of the great Muhsin Shah the inheritor of the robe of Sultan Fatih himself. Seek him out by all means but take care!"

As a non-Moslem I could not enter the Mosque of Omar, so I located the Zawiyah Hindi, which is a rest house for Indian pilgrims; all manner of people stay t5here for short or long periods.

I left a letter there after having explained my reasons to a very obliging Indian lady who spoke English. She assured me that the Sheikh would get the letter.

I waited several days until a messenger brought me a reply. It said in English: 'You wish to see me, but what prompts you to suppose that I want to see you?'

I had discovered by this time that this is a classic Sufi technique by which means Sufis discourage random enquiries by off-putting rudeness. I replied, 'My desire to add to my knowledge prompts me.'

Back came the reply, 'Can you use knowledge?'

I replied, 'Not yet, but I aspire to.'

The answer, 'Come to the Zawiyah at sundown.'

I went.

[Rafael Lafort has, through his previous encounters with Sufi teachers, learned some humility and learned to be honest with his answers. One Sufi parable has an interesting line in it which says, "Why do you seek more knowledge when you do not use what you already have?" I remember when I had read this parable, a long while ago, that it struck a chord in me. I wrote down some key pieces of knowledge that I had gotten in an outline and realized that I was not using them fully, not applying them to my life, and yet I was seeking more! I found that when I started to practice what I had already received, it attracted more knowledge very naturally to me, like one step leading to another, and realized that the other pieces of knowledge would not even make sense to me had I not used what I already had and brought the process along enough to reach the next point.]

Hassan Effendi was sitting in the shade of an orange bush in the courtyard. A disciple sat behind him and to his left. The Sheikh was obviously a man of very advanced age, yet his face was smooth and unwrinkled, his eyes penetrating and his hands firm and rough. He wore a white Saudi robe and the pink and gold headdress of the Nakshbendi Order [alternate spelling of "Naqsbandi"].

He politely inquired as to my health and fell silent.

I broached the object of my quest.

'Know, my friend,' he replied, 'that I am a teacher of my Order, not a stimulus for your imagination or an oracle for the credulous. You comb the world looking for the teachers of Jurjizada [Gurdjieff], and here sits one of them; yet it will profit you little to pose me questions that are flooding your mind. I taught Gurdjieff to breathe. I say this and burst into a flood of how's, why's, and ifs, and buts and can I teach you? This answer is, I can but I will not.'

[In the book LEARNING HOW TO LEARN by Idries Shah and in THE BEGINNINGS OF LEARNINGS by Krishnamurti, there is an emphasis on what it takes to really learn something new, not merely to mentally capture ideas and memorize them, and how to give the right answers on tests. Many of the points that have been made so far and which will be made which have been emphasized by Idries Shah. He has communicated and illuminated about these things in his own teaching dialogue with European and American students in particular, to get beyond a certain kind of believerism and dogmatism that seems to plague our culture and which is partly implied in our educational system, where the teacher in placed in a certain authority position and where we are in some sense graded by how well we agree with the opinions of the teacher. There is another kind of inquiry where we learn directly from our experience and where the mental part is only one aspect of a larger learning process. This mental part needs to be kept in perspective. In the Heart Sutra, this mental part is negated by the Buddha in order to help reach intuitive wisdom.]

'May I ask, Sheikh, why only breathing?'

'Only! Only! Stupid question! More stupid than to have asked why or how. Do you think that to learn to breathe correctly is easy? Does your shallow panting do more than supply your blood with the minimum amount of oxygen needed to keep that portion of your brain that you use alive? One of the functions of correct breathing is to carry the baraka to the farthest recesses of the deep consciousness. Undeveloped men try to use thought or random action to affect the consciousness. Neither of these works as the dose and the direction and the intensity are not known to them. Only to breathe! Do you know how long it takes before you can be trained to take your first real breath? [italics is the author's]. Months, even years, and then only when you know what you are aiming for.

[In the Rebirthing tradition, there is something called "breath release" where the conventional ego finally releases its control grip on the breathing process. As long as we have the wish to repress our emotions and not feel them, then we are inhibiting our breathing and keeping it shallow. In the Buddha's breathing yoga, he would have students focus on this egoic control of the breathing and learn to let it go directly by learning to merely watch the breathing without changing it in any way. If a person is sensitized to this process properly, it can very rapidly lead to an experience of "no self" and enlightenment. The Buddha said that if a person could be aware of each breath [without controlling the breath] he or she takes for one hour that he or she would be enlightened. Breath release usually happens after we open up fully to our first repressed emotion and ride it to full feeling of our emotion. We can then be aware of how we always inhibit our breathing in order to not fully feel our emotional life and learn to let go of this inhibition into breath release. It takes about as much time to do this as Hassan mentions, depending on the motivation to become enlightened that the seeker has. Learning to release the breath allows us to learn how to "breathe from the breathe itself" which is the key phrase that Leonard Orr, the founder of the Rebirthing tradition used to describe the core process.]

'Gurdjieff came to me with a capacity to breathe and I taught him how to do it and how to breathe with his system, his consciousness and his entire being. You breathe to sustain your level of existence. Higher man breathes to maintain the breakthrough that he has made into a superior realm of being. Your ignorance, while not surprising, terrifies me. Gurdjieff stayed with me for twenty years. Yes, twenty years! Five months in Erzurum and the remainder of the time in rapport with me wherever he was learning to use his breath. Do you know what can be carrried into your consciousness by your breath? Do you know why a Sheikh will breathe on a disciple? Do you know why a Sheikh breathes into the ear of a newly born child? Of course you do not! You put it down to magic, primitive symbols representing life, but the practical reasons, the deadly serious business of nourishing the inner consciousness, passes you by. Flows over your head, bent as it is over physiology, psychology, causative phenomena, theoretic ecstasies. You blind yourself, life does not blind you. You call out in your pitiful arrogance for enlightenment, you claim your right to it as a birthright. You earn it, my friend, your earn it by dedication, toil and discipline. A hundred years must a body travel until it is seasoned. A seeker does not become a real Sufi until the very marrow of his bones has been seasoned in the oven of reality! Talk less of "only breathing" and how pitifully unprepared you yourself are even to approach the concept of Existence! Your capacity to profit from anything is directly proportionate to the efficiency of your system.

[There are several things about this passage that I find interesting. One is that the Shiekh calls him "my friend" which means he has taken him in and acknowledged him as a Sufi student. He is working on him behind his seeming rudeness. Many teachers, both Sufi and Buddhist, are only rough on students who have potential. Otherwise they are merely kind and do not expect the person to do much with what they are given. I personally do not use the method of "rudeness" as a teaching vehicle. It seems that we are growing out of a harsher patriarchal world where the divine feminine is making itself more felt. A certain kind of nurturing kindness and sensitivity to needs will be more dominant in the teaching style from this point on. What is also interesting is that Jesus breathes on his disciples (John 20:22-23) and shows that he was trained in Sufi breathing methodology. He transmits the power to "forgive sin" aka burn karma aka heal.]

'This is true physiologically as well as esoterically. You cannot, and you know it, expect your body to extract and process sugar if you have no pancreas, and yet, in your arrogant, intellectual way, you expect to be able to profit from the knowledge that others have bought for you. You want to use what you call the "process of thought or logic" to pick over the whole and eat the parts that you consider nourishing. At best your thought processes are surface reactions, at worst you cannot absorb a reaction or thought before it is fallen upon, diluted, dissected and malformed by the infernal process that you call academic reasoning. Reason, you call it! Do you call it reasonable to gulp down great pieces of wisdom and regurgitate them in the form of theory, the speech and the drivelling of a raw mind? The so-called Age of Reason in Europe produced less reason, less real intellectual progress, than one day's activity by a developed man.

[Here Hassan hints that you can breathe in wisdom, digest it inside oneself, and then release it into our system on our exhale. It parallels the Tantric Buddhist principle of the "unity of mind and prana" which is at the heart of the Tumo yoga. Have found that those who are used the kind of mental chewing that is part of the academic approach sometimes get impatient with Tumo yoga, because it requires attention to subtle changes in sensation that are going on in the body and how to nourish them. When we have been with the process for a longer while, then the subtle changes in sensation become waves of peaceful bliss/wisdom/love moving through our body and emanating out into the world. There is also a coordination of mind and breathing that is essential behind this. There is also the awakening and building of organs that psychically and emotionally process energies that flow within us.]

'You aspire, you dream, but you do not do! Tenacity is replaced by hair-splitting, courage by bluster, and disciplined thought by narrow, pedantic attempts at reason. Bend what little you have left of your intellect to practical activity, realising your severe shortcomings. Cease you diabolic "examination of self". Who am I? How many I's do I have? You have not the capacity at all to understand the concept of true self-examination. Follow a valid philosophy or condemn yourself to join the generations who have drowned themselves in the stagnant pools of slime that they call the reservoirs of reason and intellect!

'You have no reason, no intellect, do you understand? Even less have you of the catalytic substance that would allow you to use the reason and intellect that might just have survived the conditioning you have so warmly welcomed.

'Yes, I only taught Gurdjieff to breathe! No more, no less. If you can start to have the vaguest impression of what that could really mean, then you have promise. I am not prepared to explain to you further your incapacities, brought about by your positive, negative, and neuter selves and the control and effect that they have on your already fragmented consciousness. You may write a book about your search, but note me well. Quote me if you will, but do not interpret me. I am speaking ot your mother tongue so there is no room for impressions of or intellectual interpretation of what you may think I have said. If you cannot profit from it, do not try to "explain" it to others or attempt to expound your "feelings and emotions" and the attitudes that our talk has engendered in you. There are no hidden meanings in what I have said, you have all the necessary facts to assist you. Do not interpolate and do not parenthesize where I have done neither.

'The curse of the western world has alays een the scholar with the burning drive to interpret, comment and explain. Translation to him was a means of producing a trend of thought that had, more often than not, not existed in the original manuscript. If he, as was too often the case, did not pick up the original train of thought, he introduced his own, often deliberately, to prove a point or to use it as proff of his favourite theory.

'Due to the paucity of bi-lingual scholars in the west, these abuses went unnoticed often for centuries, sometimes for ever. Thus theories, sayings or treatises of considerable value were lost to the west. Sad? Unfair? You think so? Yet where is the blame if society has a lack of trained men? Their own or another's? To allow whole theories and traditions to be built up on the vagaries of one expert is rank irresponsibility. With your own right hand you throttle yourself while protesting that there is no one to protect you.

'Western scholarship has canonized its own saints, elevated its own self-perpetuating hierarchy of high priests, not having the critical faculty of being able to examine their qualifications. So you are stuck with them. If you overturn them now, have a pogrom and a burning of the books, with whom will you replace them? Whole schools of thought have been built on one man's aberration. You may say that that is the way scholarship operates in the West. You call it theory leading to a basis of understanding. True, yet there is dishonesty here, for why should not the translator or interpreter declare his real interest and not pass off the text as an embodiment of the real manuscript or text?

'What has this to do with Gurdjieff, you are thinking to yourself? Quite a lot.

"Those who have eyes to see, let them see the connection, those who have ears to hear, let them hear the truth from amidst the tangled skeins of falsehood, but let them first develop the faculty to know the texture of truth, to feel the truth, to speak the truth and create a climate in which truth is the accepted norm and not something out of the ordinary.

'Gurdjieff was to teach certain things for a certain circumstance. That his teaching was to be adulterated and carried out long after its effectiveness had gone, under circumstances which were in any case changed, was inevitable and predictable. His role was a preparative one, but most of the progress that was made was diluted beyond measure by the activities after his death. How, you may ask, could those who had profited continue the contact unless they were assocated with the school that he had set up? quite easily. It must have become clear as time went by that there was a lack of texture in the repetition of former activities. At that time it would have been easy to detach and follow the particles that one had absorbed.

'Activities, real activities, in the West never lost their contact, althought physically they may have appeared to do so. Malformed theories held within them the seeds of their own destruction. This is an immutable law and one which is proving itself. There are activities now that take care of those to whom real reality has not lost its taste.'

'Do you mean there are activities in Europe now?'

'I mean exactly what I say. If I had meant to add "in Europe" I would have said so. I am not given to slipshod conversation. You have you national failing of trying too hard to understand things, even to the extent of introducing extraneous facts or words into a passage to clarify it for yourself. This is an abhorrent trait and I strongly advise you to eschew it. It is not difficult and does not demand heroic effort, soul-searching and heart-burning. Just do not do it. If you have any pretensions towards discipline at all use it on yourself. If you need to cajole and bribe yourself to do a thing then better not do it, because you will only not it on the sufferance. I have little or no patience with those who are basically unprepared to take themselves in hand and take a long, cold look at themselves.

'You either can or you cannot. If you cannot it generally means that you will not. If you can then why do not do it?

'Ask me one more quesiton, my young friend, and ony one. I will answer it and then you must and may Truth be your guide!'

'Where, Sheikh, may I take up the trail next?'

Unhesitatingly: 'Haleb, if you wish. Mahmed Mohsin the Merchant will make you welcome -- Isk Bashad,' and he was gone.

[I do find that some of the focus on how we are taught to learn and how it does not serve is part of breath training. Many times, when people sit with the breathing, they will feel restless and that "nothing happened", even though a thousand things are happening, and there is a way of listening to the breath and watching the breath that can reveal the whole life story of the person and where they are heading, and even how they are aging and dying. It takes some time to shut off the analyzer so that we can get fresh impressions of our life and learn from them. When the analyzer imprints on our experience, it creates a layer of oldness over the present moment, and blocks us from learning something new. This is partly why Jesus talked about becoming converted and to become "like a child" again, so that we can learn. Many people, after sitting with their breathing during a week long Vipassana retreat begin to feel another way of learning and do meet themselves, and then can understand on a deeper level a phrase from Dogan Zenji: "To study Buddhism is to study yourself, to study yourself is to forget yourself." The thought created self, the analyzer, does not really exist, what it looks at does not exist and what it looks from does not exist. When we look inside we see a little door that swings one way when we breathe in and another way when we breathe out, and lots of thoughts arising and dissolving in inner space, then lots of emotions doing the same, as sensations become energy waves and become more refined in the body, then even the little swinging door disappears. Every thought and emotion has a kind of breath to it and as each disappears the breathing reflects this. It is interesting, too, because Buddhism has finally been getting some decent bi-lingual scholars, Tibetan Lamas whose understanding of English is getting better and American and European students who understanding of Tibetan and other sutra languages is getting better too. Much of the good translation has emerged from meditation retreats where the understanding needs to be practical to keep the process on track. It takes some actual practical understanding on the part of the translators of the actual processes mentioned in the texts in order to be able to translate well. Then they can share what they have learned within the language and culture they were raised in and keep the words alive enough so as to point to the understanding and experience that is relevant and at the heart of what is being shared.]


  1. There is an interesting phrase about Hassan and Gurdjieff being "in rapport". I suspect that this is a translation of the Sufi term "tassawara" means a kind of attunement and rapport, usually telepathic in nature, which allows the flow of baraka between student and teacher. When the baraka flows both ways, returns back to the teacher, then it means that the student has understood something on a heart level, and not merely intellectually. At this point in the learning process, meeting each other on the physical plane is not as necessary. There is a kind of flowing in intuitive wisdom that happens at this point, with only occasional visits on the physical plane being important. In one passage of IN SEARCH OF THE MIRACULOUS by Ouspensky, near the end of the book. Gurdjieff shows Ouspensky some postures that if resumed naturally induce correct breathing. Although they are not described, they remind me of some Chi Kung exercises, where you hold stationary postures in a horse stance with hands in exact positions over the heart and belly chakras, and then the breathing does happen as we go "sung" (deeper into the pose and into the Earth). Some Hatha Yoga Asanas also can function in a similar way. There is also a page of instruction in LIFE IS ONLY REAL "I AM" by Gurdjieff that goes into an attention exercise which has a similar flavor to the inner aspect of the Chi Kung exercises mentioned. I call this page the "practical page". I studied with a 4th way teacher who led a similar attention exercise and shared the G said that those who mastered this exercise had attained a very important understanding of his work.

  2. Very good post i must say.

    In Vigyan Bhairav Tantra first 6 sutra's are based on Breathing only and also the whole of Vipassana , i never able to understand the exact science behind this true breathing. What i read here is the indication toward the same.

  3. Dear Attila, The Vigyana Bhairava Tantra is also one of my favorite sutras and seems to have the essence of every technique of meditation that every religion has ever used. It is seems to be also the most concise expression of the methods too, leaving out nothing essential and adding nothing unnecessary. I was already planning to do a commentary on the 6 verses in regard to breathing from this sutra and am happy to find someone who feels their relevance as well. My insight into those verses is that they are more than six different methods, but a step by step progression, where you practice them in the order presented, get a certain enlightenment from each one along the way, and then go deeper with the next one. One of the methods directly relates to physical immortality and is the one where you move the breath essence (prana) to the third eye (pituitary and pineal gland). The sensitivity required to do this is not really possible without some time practicing the previous breathing methods. It mentions immortality, though some scholars have taken the immortality reference to be a metaphor for enlightenment. I take this part of the passage more literally. In Kriya Yoga, physical immortality is gained in "Soruba Samadhi," so there is a kind of enlightenment that happens when we shift into physical immortality. Blessings, Will


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