How can one view these developments without falling into the dubious posture of outright disparagement or elitist disdain? One may naturally be inclined to harbor a chilling sense that something intrinsically precious is slowly and inexorably being eroded through this process of dispersion into the market place of that which has always been so carefully protected from the eyes of the casually curious and the acquisitively oriented—leaving in its wake a vague foreboding that the inner core of the teaching is inevitably approaching its demise.
Yet to succumb to such a despairing response is to forget a central premise of an authentic teaching—the very heart of which is the life within its life that is always in movement, never getting caught within doctrinal fixations of what was formerly passed down from the mouth of the teacher to the ears of pupils, expressing its essential vitality through the emergence and re-emergence of the living vibration of the teaching, leaving room for its intrinsic message to freely continue its passage, its movement of transmission, at the individual and communal level, in both seen and unseen dimensions.
As this perspective deepens we discover that our attention is less and less prone to getting caught up in distracting reactions of alarm at the outward signs of dispersion that are so abundantly in evidence, understanding that this dispersive downward spiraling is an inevitable movement that goes according to law, the law of entropic descent.
During the course of an interview that John Pentland unexpectedly granted in the last year of his life, a question was put to him regarding the issue of distortions. Pentland’s response is extremely germane to this subject of what could be a true measure of how we approach an authentic teaching, which is to see it, as he pointed out:
In listening to these words we are brought directly in front of ourselves in a way that is unexpected and disturbing to our facile sense of equanimity. The state of crisis is not just out there. It is right here within our midst, leaving us with the gnawing realization that what is at stake can be faced only by returning again and again to the place of inward questioning, and to know uncompromisingly that if there is any weight, any substance to our avowed concern for the integrity of the teaching, then this puts us squarely in front of yet another question, one that won’t leave us in peace. What are we prepared to forego in order that our work can come under an altogether different order of imperative issuing from the very depths of our being that dwarfs our acquisitively-oriented striving towards self ascendance and self enhancement?
. . . as a movement toward transformation—toward real transformation—it’s something so different, such a narrow path, that more and more I see it can only be a path that’s in accordance with very big laws and principles, the same principles that operate on a very big scale and a very small scale, much bigger than man and woman, and much smaller. But it’s nothing if it’s not, in a certain sense, a natural process. It’s not something that can be incised. It’s not something that can be invented. It’s something that’s not interesting unless it has resonance above and below. It derives its movement, its force, from a very high intelligence, far beyond what we can expect to reach ourselves.
Now distortions are a slowing down of that movement, do you follow me? And so, although one needs to have certain verifications as one goes along, in the work with others, seeing things drop out of line and so forth, the important thing is not to examine the distortions. Otherwise, one will lose one’s motive, direction. . . . So, the distortions are all the time being brought to one’s attention, but one stays in front of one’s own movement.1
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1 Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teaching, New York: Continuum, 1996, edited by Jacob Needleman and George Baker, from the French edition compiled by Bruno de Panafieu. Taken from the chapter “Transmission: An Interview with Lord Pentland”, p. 391.
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Featured: Fall 2003 Issue, Vol. VII (1)
Revision: November 1, 2003