Gurdjieff Internet Guide
Transcription of the exchange with Sy Ginsburg on the 11th of March 2005 at the All and Everything Conference in Bergen, Holland, where we enjoyed meeting for three to four days. Those taking part were: Sy Ginsburg, Agnes Hidveghy and Reijo Oksanen.
Reijo: I have previously had the pleasure of meeting you Sy, on the internet and doing interviews via email. I am glad that we can now meet live in an exchange like this.
You have recently had your new book Gurdjieff Unveiled published.
Sy: Yes, it is officially coming out next week on the 16th of March as the official publication date, so it is really published at this point.
Reijo: In the conference you held a presentation on dreams. Maybe you can start by telling me what you wish to achieve with your book and then we can move on to the subject of dreams a bit later.
Sy: The book actually has been around in its previous form (not exactly the same book but pretty much organized the same way) for about ten years. It was put together by myself and a colleague Nicolas Tereshchenko, who passed away a couple of years ago, as an introductory course to Gurdjieff's teachings.
Reijo: That explains why there are some people here in Bergen who actually have read the book before, or at least some of the contents of the book.
Sy: That's true. The book was always privately published. I have used it in introductory courses on Gurdjieff's teaching for new people. Nicolas and I, very much valued particularly Ouspensky's book The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution, which has probably been used more than any other book as an introduction to the teachings. But for several reasons, one being simply the passage of time, it is has been more than fifty years since Ouspensky was around and Gurdjieff too. There are many things which we thought were important but were not covered in that book. Looking at what else was available, particularly what was in print, I was really never satisfied with what I was using so the result was that Nicolas and I put together this relatively small introductory book divided into five lessons, in a sense patterned after the alternative name of the Ouspensky book The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution which many students have simply called, "The Five Lectures".
The new book is actually divided into six lessons. One lesson is entirely devoted to meditation and it seemed to be a better arrangement. There is a lot of new material in the new book, which is entitled "Gurdjieff Unveiled." A number of things have been corrected. You mentioned earlier the talk I gave here at the conference, which was on Gurdjieff and the study of dreams.This is an appendix to the new book because it is not introductory material but is, in my view anyhow, important though not widely known in the Gurdjieff teaching. In particular the man who introduced me to these ideas thought it was very important and I have come to agree with him over many years.
Reijo: This is based on your contact with Sri Madhava Ashish.
Sy: Yes, that is the Indian name he adapted. He was an Englishman who came to India in the Second World War with the British military as a single man and stayed after the war. He had his own spiritual search ; I think he told me it was back in 1944, when on leave he met a great Indian saint, Ramana Maharshi, and that began to change his life around. After the war he stayed in India and eventually found a mentor or teacher or as they say in India, a guru, by the name of Sri Krishna Prem, another Englishman, actually a Cambridge University scholar who came to India in the 1920's to teach English literature at Lucknow University; his name was Ronald Nixon. Eventually he became a Hindu monk following a woman, Yashoda Ma, in whom he saw something real, you might say what Gurdjieff would call "objective consciousness", and he become her follower. Sri Madhava Ashish met Krishna Prem after the war ; Sri Madhava Ashish's name was Alexander Phipps - in a tradition very much like what we have in the West of priests taking different names.Reijo: In this book Gurdjieff Unveiled you speak about how to start and run Gurdjieff groups.
Sy: Well that is really the sixth lesson, or sixth chapter in the book. In the arrangement which seems to have worked out over the years, the first lesson begins with the two fundamental questions, sometimes they are called Gurdjieff's Questions ; I think it was John G. Bennett who put it that way ; but people have asked them for millennia. The first question is "who am I?" and the second question is "what is the purpose of human life in general and of my life in particular ; if there is any purpose?" Not everybody asks these questions, in fact very few people do in any kind of overt way and if one doesn't ask those questions, then there really is no need for a teaching of this kind or anything similar to it. This teaching is, in my view, for people who have experienced a certain amount of life, who Gurdjieff calls "Good Householders" ; sort of responsible people. It doesn't mean that you have to be old, but you have to be responsible. Yet there comes a point where such people say, "well, what is this life all about ; my job, my family, my this my that, whatever I've been doing, is there some kind of purpose and who am I really?"
The first chapter of the book is devoted to those questions and to what I understand to be Gurdjieff's presumed answers or at least thoughts on that. The second chapter of Gurdjieff Unveiled gives the fundamental exercise which most Gurdjieffian students call "Self-Remembering" or "Self-Awareness" or "Self-Consciousness" ; it is the idea of expanding consciousness to include the experience of ourselves in our attention. Attention is the only tool that we have for this. Gurdjieff's teaching as you know was that mankind lives in what he called just two states of consciousness ; sleep at night and this sort of waking state that most people would regard as conscious. Yet Gurdjieff came along and said no, that's not how it is, there really are higher states of consciousness. Gurdjieff divided them into two higher states, I think so that one could understand that it is about an expansion of consciousness that leads us perhaps to better answers or observations about these fundamental questions. So the whole second chapter of the book is devoted to this self-remembering, or as Madhava Ashish would put it, he said "being aware of being aware of yourself" ; which is true self-remembering. The second chapter of the book also gives a kind of "how to" which in Gurdjieff's teaching has to do with using sensation of the physical body to come back to an experience of oneself and oneself is more than the physical. Gurdjieff called us Three Brained Beings ; physical, emotional and mental ; with a big emphasis on the physical, one of the reasons being pretty obvious, it is perhaps the easiest way to experience ourselves by simply sensing our physical presence.
Reijo: I also learned an expression for sensation, which is quite good in my view, that it is an anchor, which we can throw and through which we can return back to our body because we are very often identified with something in our mind, emotions and so on; the sensation is the anchor.
Sy: Exactly and we can just get carried away, like you say identified with something in the mind, and do all kinds of daydreaming and fantasizing and we forget our existence. Yes, the physical body is the anchor and it is, as I understand, used in some other teachings but I think Gurdjieff developed it at least in the 20th Century in a way that Westerners could understand it. It is the key exercise and I tell this to people who approach me and I say that if you get nothing else out of this, try and understand what he's getting at when he talks about self-remembering and how to. And I like to think that in an introductory way this second lesson gives the "how to" that any of us who have been involved in the Gurdjieff teaching have learned through experience.
Reijo: Okay, those are the first two chapters. How do you go on from there? There are four more chapters and there is the appendix.
Sy: There is the sixth chapter about Groups ; so yes there are four more. Well of course a good part of the Gurdjieff teaching is a very complex cosmology. Gurdjieff actually instructs us in his main book Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson that one of our obligations is to try to understand more about the laws of World Creation and World Maintenance and this gets involved in a number of themes that are developed in Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous. Most of us know that Ouspensky was arguably Gurdjieff's most famous or prominent student and wrote the book In Search of the Miraculous, which most people who study Gurdjieff's teaching and get beyond an introductory book use to approach it. In In Search of the Miraculous, the majority of the words in it are presumably Ouspensky quoting Gurdjieff verbatim. There are some questions about that I suppose, but it is a very valuable book and there are all kinds of themes in it like The Ray of Creation, The Enneagram, and what Gurdjieff called the two great laws of World Creation and World Maintenance. Ouspensky quotes Gurdjieff as calling them "The Law of Three Forces" and the "Law of the Octave" and so in the third chapter of this introductory book or the third lesson, I tried as much as possible in a simple way to present the Enneagram which Gurdjieff called "The Universal Symbol" which can explain everything because it is a graphical description of these two great laws of World Creation and World Maintenance.
Reijo: And how they work together.
Sy: Yes and how they work together. Many people today have come in touch with what is called The Enneagram of Types through the work of of Oscar Ichazo and Helen Palmer. It is kind of, in my view anyhow, a subset of Gurdjieff's teaching and although Gurdjieff was very interested in types, as far as I know, the Enneagram as he explains it, particularly in his main book Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, is the Enneagram of Digestion. Digestion you might say is the transmutation of the energies of the three sources of food that human beings take in, or embody. As Gurdjieff said, what we know as food is physical food and water, but air is also a food as are impressions.These organisms of ours, which he calls machines and chemical factories actually extract energy from physical food and water, and from air, and from impressions. The second category of food is air and the third category, surprisingly ; at least to me when I was introduced to the idea - are incoming impressions. These need to be taken in, in a certain way, consciously you might say, which is what self-awareness is about. In order to transmute energy, to refine the energy that our organisms ordinarily do, we know they refine energy just because we need food so we can walk, so we can move, so we can talk like we're doing now. But for this kind of work, higher energies or more finer energies are needed and Gurdjieff explains through the development of the explanation of these laws on the Enneagram, how this energy is transmuted. So in a certain sense the third chapter, which gets into this cosmology and the relationship of the human being as a chemical factory to the larger cosmos, the third chapter tries to explain this in terms of a transmutation of energy in a very simple way. As we both know from coming to these conferences, people have really studied these things in great detail and these studies can become very complex. But for the purpose of introducing the ideas, I think it can be handled relatively lightly as simply transmutation.
The fourth chapter is the other side of this energy equation, which is not only that we have to refine this energy through taking it in, in a certain way, but we have to stop it from leaking out of us and Gurdjieff says that the way it leaks out of us is by identification. He calls it something like our biggest problem. I don't remember the exact words that he puts to it but our most terrible thing, is that we identify with everything. It can really be divided into identification with fears and desires and I can think of a hundred different names or categories for fears and desires, but it is always identification with that. So a big part of Gurdjieff's teaching, and probably the majority of practical work done in Gurdjieff groups, is to observe how energy is drained out of us when we identify with all these categories of fears and desires, things like anger, irritation, rage, pride, gluttony, vanity. There is in fact another appendix in the book that lists alphabetically at least a hundred or more names given to these categories of identifications. Often we don't think so much of desires as identifications, but they really are. Gurdjieff made a big point of saying that the worst kind of identifications are the expression of negative emotions and that is both expressing them orally and having them cook inside of us, kind of an inner expression. Yet with things which we might find pleasant, going to the movies or something like that, it is very easy to identify with them, and is just as much of a drain of energy if we are identified. In this idea, the fundamental exercise is to try to be more conscious and actually Ouspensky explains it quite well in In Search of the Miraculous. He shows it as a one headed arrow and a two-headed arrow. With the one-headed arrow all of our energy is attracted out in identification with what comes in through our senses or what is in memory. The effort we have to make, which Ouspensky called "dividing the attention" is to put half of the attention back in ourselves so at least that much of the energy isn't flowing out of us, even though some of it is still being used in identification with fears and desires. Personally I like to think of it as including ourselves in our attention; it gets down to the same thing.
That's four chapters of the book isn't it?
Reijo: Yes that's four chapters. You are now running two Gurdjieff groups, one in Chicago and one in Florida.
Sy: Actually I spend half the year in South Florida and half the year in the Chicago area. These are small groups, these are not large groups, I've been to large groups over the years, but these are small groups. We are talking about 8-9 people. There are two groups in Florida, one meets in the evenings on a Monday and one happens to meet in the mornings on a Thursday. Actually there is a third group in Florida that just started on Saturday nights and there's the one in Chicago and I hope they've been going on in my absence, as there are others involved in facilitating these groups besides me. The group in Chicago meets on Thursday evenings.
Reijo: Do you prefer small groups to larger groups?
Sy: Well, my view of it is that there are a lot of different aspects to Gurdjieff's teaching. He brought the teaching in many ways to touch different types of people. For example, one of the big things in the Gurdjieff teaching are the Sacred Dances or the Gurdjieff Movements and this really reaches a lot of people of a certain type, who may or may not ever open up Gurdjieff's main book, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, you might say a movements type of person. There are some people of course who can do both. There are other types who will make a big effort to understand Gurdjieff's writings which are as you know quite difficult to understand, but no matter how much they take part they never really get anything out of the movements. And then Gurdjieff brought music. That music can change people in some way as it reaches them. .Some other people don't hear it at all. So in answer to your question, it is a roundabout way of saying that my preference is for small groups and even large groups have to subdivide themselves into small groups of about 6 or 8 people. The main reason, in my view, is that the purpose is to provide an external will or the sort of will we think we have to try to make an effort to be more conscious. It is sort of like a doctor's appointment. You know that you're going to come to a weekly meeting. Let's say it is a Monday night meeting and we have agreed on an exercise we're going to try during the week when we're all out in the midst of life amongst urban humanity. We're going to try and do something to be more conscious, maybe we're going to observe how anxieties drain us of energy. What happens for most of us if we're not coming to a meeting, we might say, "this is a wonderful idea and I'm going to try it" and then we forget all about it. But if we know that we are going to talk about it and share our observations the following week, then we make the effort.
Reijo: Yes, if we do not practice the exercise before, then at least the last day before the meeting.
Sy: I cannot tell you how many times people have come to a meeting, including myself, maybe I don't want to admit it, but you start thinking it is Monday and there is the group meeting tonight and "oh, there was an exercise we were supposed to do, now what was it ; oh, I remember now I'm going to look at my anxieties today when things happen".Reijo: It is easy to understand why children have difficulties in doing their lessons at home in the evening!
Sy: Exactly! In my view, that is the most important part of the group meeting and it needs to be small for that reason.
Reijo: But for the movements one needs bigger groups otherwise they don't work.
Sy: Exactly. My experience with the movements - I was never a teacher of the movements but I was in them for quite a number of years and I've got to be careful about what I say about movements because I may not know much about them - but many of them are done in what you could call six files, front to back. You would need at least two rows across, so that's twelve people already and typically a group might have six files and four rows, twenty-four people. This requires not only a larger number of people but requires a physical facility and a big one that has to be rented or bought. The other thing for which larger numbers are good is what is called the second line of work ; rubbing up against other people so we can observe what goes on in us ; we can observe all these negative emotions. So Gurdjieff groups doing these activities have been large ones and I've been very much involved in this over the years. Maybe they buy a place and very often it is a kind of place that is a little bit rural. It may be outside of the city where people can get together and do some physical work, not for the physical work itself but so we can have some friction with each other.
For example, in one group I was involved with for a number of years, we had a very large vegetable garden. Now we weren't surviving off of what we were growing although we certainly used it. We were city people and several of us would maintain this garden during the week with the idea that we'd have what is called a Work weekend, or a Work day on a Sunday. We would get a bunch of people out there, maybe a group of twenty-five people. We would have a bunch of them in the garden and one person would say "let's plant it this way" and one another way.
I was reminded of an experience in one of these weekends where a person leading a gardening group was telling the others how to plant tulip bulbs and she was showing them how to plant them entirely wrong, which is upside down because she didn't know, and there was this other person who knew how to plant tulip bulbs and had to put up with it and keep her mouth shut and observe about what was going on inside her. Now whether the first person was actually intentionally having her plant them upside down or not, I really didn't know and I never found out, but this is the kind of thing that happens. Or when you have a bunch of people in a small kitchen, because typically on one of these Work days, you're going to have a lunch and let's say you put ten people in a kitchen to cook lunch. Well it gets pretty rough in there and some people can see their reactions, so that is very valuable. But those again require large groups and I think it's good if people can become part of a large group or if a small group can grow into one that is big enough. But for people approaching these ideas for the first time, my view is that somebody can do useful Gurdjieff Work, like it says right in the New Testament and I am no expert at all on the bible, but something like "when two or three meet in my name I am there" ; Jesus said something like that and this to me is the purpose of the group meeting ; it calls us back to ourselves. My experiences are that half a dozen to eight people are good because we can share the observations of our week.
Reijo: I have heard it said that a group could also be two people who can work together.
Sy: Exactly, with two or three people you can make a group. I also feel that one of the reasons for the commercial publication of this book, Gurdjieff Unveiled, is that if Gurdjieff (Gurdjieff never called himself a messenger from above but in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, he calls these great beings, Jesus, the Buddha, and a number of others messengers from above) was somebody like this, bringing this teaching anew for the 20th Century, if that was his purpose then it has to be able to reach a larger segment of humanity than it ever has. People need to be able to find this teaching without being admitted to a large group, of which there aren't that many. You can look for them and find them particularly in the larger cities, but not in many of the average to medium sized cities around the world ; they are not there. I don't think people can go wrong if they understand the fundamental exercise and if they can eventually get to Gurdjieff's main book; Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson - and that can be done with just two or three people, with one person reading aloud. That is my view of introductory groups and in fact I see that there are three fundamental parts of the Gurdjieff Work that can be done by any size group 1.) is the fundamental self-awareness exercise and with the observation of things like identifications that keep us from it 2.) is reading Gurdjieff's own book because then we cannot go wrong with someone else's interpretation. Just like this introductory book is my interpretation, it's only as good as the person writing it and I'm just not at the level of Gurdjieff obviously, and any book we read that isn't at the level of the teacher is going to be very subjective. So eventually we have to approach Gurdjieff's book Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson and the other two parts of what he calls the three series of his writings, Meetings With Remarkable Men and Life is Real Only Then When I Am and 3.) the third thing which he taught to certain individuals but never taught in groups, as far as I can find out, has to do with meditation, with sitting quietly.
Reijo: That's the next chapter in your book.
Sy: That's the fifth chapter in the book where I give my understanding of what is called the fundamental Gurdjieff group sitting. Some people call it the Morning Preparation. I've been told that it was actually introduced into Gurdjieff groups by Jeanne de Salzmann, who we know was Gurdjieff's major exponent after his death for forty years from 1949 until about 1990.
Reijo: I've been thinking that Madame de Salzmann was connected with Gurdjieff and the Gurdjieff Work for over seventy years - this is a long time and also much longer than the time Gurdjieff had with his "own" Work.
Sy: That's true, from the time she met Gurdjieff yes that is a very long time and certainly the giant influence on Gurdjieff's teaching in the 20th Century. But nevertheless meditation even though you can do it as a group, and I know people love to do group meditations, it seems to me to be a solitary activity because what we are trying to do is stop thought so that we can get to something beyond these turning thoughts. What you can do in a group is to demonstrate meditation. It can be a group of two or three people. I've tried to write out as best I can with this fifth chapter, a particular exercise and of course if you have a group then somebody who knows it can demonstrate it. The idea is to encourage people to meditate daily and privately, to cut out a hunk of time from our so called important schedules and set it aside for some other experience even though we don't understand what it is. This is a discipline. Speaking from experience it is very difficult to actually be able to do this on a regular basis for most people.
Reijo: Even when you do it to reach the silence?
Sy: Oh yes, but we have to start somewhere and I have been exposed like most of us to other forms of meditation and the Gurdjieff meditation technique, as far as I know, has to do with sensing of the physical body as a way to withdraw the attention from the turning thoughts and emotions, so we can get very quiet. This technique is actually used in some Hindu practices, they call it yoga nidra, although there are differences. And there is something called the vipassana meditation in Buddhism. It is not unique to the Gurdjieff teaching but I think it is presented very well in the Gurdjieff groups in general. It is really important and people need to do this. It is not a group activity. At least in my view, it is a solitary activity.
And since you asked at the beginning about Gurdjieff groups ; that is the sixth chapter and it deals not only with groups, but all of these other things which are just touched upon ; the Movements, the Sacred Dances, the Gurdjieff Music, the issue of payment. There has been a certain level of scandal as you probably know within the Gurdjieff teaching in the 20th Century. One of the problems is, and it may have been a reflection of both Ouspensky and Gurdjieff's difficulties particularly with the rise of Bolshevism and their fleeing Russia to kind of keep things a secret. But what that's done is to allow, in my view, what Gurdjieff called rogues and charlatans to arise who may know something about the teaching but their motives are generally ego-aggrandizement and very often money and lots of it. There have been people that have been sucked into these things and that's dealt with in the sixth chapter. One of the things that I say in the book is perhaps the first requirement for somebody approaching Gurdjieff's teaching is to have enough common sense not to get fleeced. Then there is this idea of seeing if you can find a legitimate Gurdjieff group and I use that word advisedly. But there are legitimate Gurdjieff groups both those connected with the lineage that Jeanne de Salzmann brought and a number of other lineages.
Reijo: Those are the Foundations in America and the Gurdjieff Society that has many connections abroad.
Sy: It is called the Gurdjieff Society in England and the Gurdjieff Institute in France and similar names. I call them the de Salzmann lineage because they have emanated from Madame de Salzmann's work.
The first two groups I was in for twelve years were both connected with the de Salzmann lineage but I have been exposed to other lineages such as the J. G. Bennett lineage for example, Maurice Nicoll's lineage which is a kind of a branching off in a certain sense, and Willem Nyland's lineage, not in a big way, but I visited these groups over the years. These are legitimate efforts to make the Gurdjieff teaching available to people. They do good work and there is a need for it. Unfortunately there have been other groups that at least in my view, may present the teaching okay but the motives are a problem and I try to touch upon this simply to warn people to be careful. Those are the six chapters.
Reijo: Then we go into dreams. Earlier you mentioned that this actually caused you problems in the earlier groups because you have been interested in dreams and dream interpretation. I find it strange as I can see no reason why it would not be allowed; dreams are part of our life.
Sy: I agree with you. I think it is because of a misunderstanding and that was part of the paper I gave here at this conference, which also appears as an appendix in Gurdjieff Unveiled. Back in 1978 when I had these big questions myself and was searching around, I saw myself as what Gurdjieff calls a "good householder." But I still wondered at that time when I was in my early forties "is this all there is, is this what life is all about?" Then I met Madhava Ashish and he was the one who said "if you want to do what we're doing here in Mirtola (an ashram farm actually in the Indian Himalayas up at about 8,000 feet,) go back to the West because you're not going to stay here. Go find a Gurdjieff group" and he said "it doesn't really matter what group, what you need is a group to make a demand upon you that is very hard to do by yourself." At the same time he said "begin to pay attention to your dreams because your dreams will tell you things about yourself if you can learn to interpret them that your ego, your personality, will block from you." Because he was my mentor and because I would only see him once a year for maybe a week or two at a time, we developed an extensive correspondence which he liked to have with people like myself who lived a long distance away. He would really insist that I pay attention to my dreams, record them and try to interpret them myself and then send them to him and he would make comments on them. He was in a sense an outside teacher for me even though I was in a mainline Gurdjieff Foundation group certainly for the first six years of my experience.
Reijo: That was in Chicago?
Sy: No, that group was in Miami or a suburb in Miami, founded by a woman named Evelyn Sutta who had come down to Florida with her husband Maurice, who was a retired lawyer. She had been a Movements teacher and a yoga teacher and was very much involved in the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York. Some people found out that she was living there in Florida and prevailed upon her to start that group and I joined it about a year after she started it. Because I had this other thing, this connection with Madhava Ashish, I would occasionally mention to people about dreams and I suppose my big problem was that I didn't keep my mouth shut. So I ran into trouble with it.
There are two talks that Gurdjieff gave in 1923 and 1924, which are mentioned in the appendix, in which he talks about dreams being nothing more than the observation of one center by another. He talked about us being three-brained beings having a physical, emotional and intellectual center and then he divided the physical into instinctive, moving and sex, so that was five centers, but he also said there are two higher centers in us: higher mental and higher emotional. Anyhow, in this talk he gave at the Prieure, he said dreams are nothing more than the centers observing one another and when you sleep the idea is to sleep deeply and there are connections between the centers and the more deeply you sleep, the more these connections are broken and he said that we do not need much sleep. I agree with him ; four or five hours is plenty for someone in the Work, provided you meditate every day. These connections get cut. But what is not said in those talks is that the connections with the higher centers, which is really who we are, our essence, call it whatever you want, objective conscience, objective consciousness, Endlessness if you like, are always streaming wisdom to us and those connections are never broken, they cannot be broken. I don't even think in the case of what Gurdjieff calls an "Eternal-Hasnamussian-individual" in Beelzebub's Tales are they broken.
Reijo: The only problem is that we are not conscious of what is happening in us.
Sy: We don't hear. We don't hear because of all the chatter going on. And there was another talk where Gurdjieff said "don't dream" and so people got this misunderstanding that it is not part of the Gurdjieff Work. Actually Maurice Nicoll who was one of Gurdjieff's major students and who happened to be a professional psychiatrist spoke about the value of dreams on several occasions. These talks appear in Nicoll's Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
Reijo: And worked with Jung.
Sy: And worked with Jung, in fact he was Jung's protégée and as I understand might have been one of Jung's successors had he not transferred to Gurdjieff.
Reijo: When Jung was establishing his work, he was based in Zürich, Switzerland and he had pupils from England, not only Maurice Nicoll, there was Dr. James Young and a lady called Constance Long. At one point Jung was warning everybody who he knew and who had been studying with him, not to go to Ouspensky, who was at that time establishing himself in London. In fact these three people that I mentioned went directly over to Ouspensky from Jung. Ouspensky at that time was competition for Jung.
Sy: A little ego there. But then Nicoll did go to the Prieure with his wife and his baby and a nurse from what I understand, and there are photographs of Nicoll digging ditches at the Prieure. Gurdjieff was having these people try to get out of their heads as you know. Nicoll spoke in several talks in his Commentaries that the higher centers who we are in essence, are always streaming wisdom to us, but the personality quickly covers over essence and doesn't want to hear it. Nicoll explains this, I think, quite well and it is also explained in Gurdjieff's own writings in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, but I think covered up almost completely. Unfortunately there are an awful lot of people who never approach Beelzebub's Tales and we need to do it. Gurdjieff writes about it in the Ashiata Shiemash chapters. Ashiata Shiemash, who may have been an allegorical figure, is a messenger from above who again brought the teaching and the words that Gurdjieff puts in his mouth are that our real conscience, which is again who we are, is essence, or Endlessness, but it has been suppressed into the subconscious because of our improper education and therefore Ashiata Shiemash decides to devote himself in this allegory to helping people to reach what is in the subconscious.
We cannot just give up the benefits of what modern science and psychology has learned in the last 100 years and there are several ways to reach into the subconscious. One of them is hypnotism, which psychiatrists use and Gurdjieff was an expert at it. Certainly one of the ways is ordinary psychological probing, and one of them ; a major one ; is the study of dream symbolism. The nice thing about dream symbolism is that we can learn how to interpret our symbols. That is what Ashish was teaching his students all those years based on Jungian psychological principles.
Reijo: So that was some of the basis for Madhava Ashish's teachings ; he had studied Jung.
Sy: He was not a professional psychologist but he studied Jung as did his mentor/guru Krishna Prem. He would say very often "we need to use the tools that these men, Freud, who called dreams the royal road to the unconscious or subconscious, and Jung brought us. We need to use the tools that they discovered, but we don't need to accept their conclusions." Many of Freud's conclusions have been dismissed by later psychologists. In most cases, practicing psychologists are trying to make peoples' lives better here, the mundane ordinary life, and trying to get people to function well in the world. But our aim in using these tools is to reach that part of us; the part who we really are, which is transcendent of our ordinary personality. Ashish would say "use the tools; don't become a Freudian, don't become a Jungian, but use their tools" and that is what he was teaching and that is what he tried to teach me and that is what I talk about in what is an appendix to the introductory book.
Reijo: I think Agi might have a comment on this. Earlier today we were discussing just the same subject. She also has Jungian analysis in her background from the late 50's and she has been consulting people with the help of astrology and dreams since.
Agi: I was in contact with Jungian psychology early on in my life. I also got into astrology and was in contact with a great woman, the daughter of C. G. Jung, Gret Baumann, who was herself also working with astrology and so I started to get in contact with the language of the pictures as they are described in the gospels and nearly every teaching and in stories or dreams or paintings. I see that life speaks to us also in pictures when we are able to understand them.
Sy: That's the thing ; to try and understand them. Jung developed concepts of symbols, which might apply to large segments of humanity maybe all of humanity in some cases, of his archetypes and in many cases certain groups and certain geographical groups or certain ethnic groups. The one book that Ashish would have recommended was Jung's Man and His Symbols mainly because of the pictures and not because of the text, and to help people to try and learn what our own symbols are in order to understand the messages that are given to us by our higher self or essence or whatever we want to call it.
Agi: Our essence does not understand the language of the intellect, only the language of pictures. That is why all real teachings all over the world are given in pictures.
Reijo: So the real way to get to self-knowledge and the knowledge we have in ourselves is through these pictures and they come to us very often and almost always in the form of dreams.
Sy: Yes. The biggest practical problem for people looking at dreams is that they say "I don't dream" or "I don't remember my dreams". Psychologists know clinically ; it has been clinically shown that everybody dreams and of course Gurdjieff said that we dream in the day as well as at night. So part of it is learning techniques for remembering dreams. When Ashish was around for these 19 years, he was making this external demand on me and so I made an extra effort to record and remember my dreams and to try and interpret them. Since his absence I have found it very useful to be involved with what you might call a dream study group for the very same reasons as a Gurdjieff study group and that is because it makes an external demand on us to work to remember our dreams. So in South Florida, at the Theosophical Society in which I am quite active, I facilitate a dream study group because it makes a demand upon me to remember my dreams, just like the Gurdjieff study group makes a demand on me to remember myself and to observe the blocks to it.
I just want to mention one more thing. When I am in Chicago for half the year, it happens that there is a place called the Jung Institute (the main one is in Switzerland), of which there are several all over the world. There is a major one in Evanston, Illinois, that I have been involved with for some years and I participate in something they started there, just about a year ago, maybe it is the second time they started it. It is called a dream circle and it is facilitated by two Jungian psychologists. The participants are people like me who are interested in dreams, although maybe not interested in Gurdjieff's teaching as far as I know but for whatever purpose. It happens to be on Wednesday nights there. It is the group itself that makes the demand and the homework you might say is to bring a dream and so you've got to make the effort during the week to at least bring one dream. So this is something we can verify, that is that we need an external demand made upon us to remember our dreams. Gurdjieff says you have to verify everything, don't believe anything you read or hear, you've got to verify these things.
Agi: I see a lot of purpose as to why it is necessary to speak about our dreams with somebody else and that our consciousness is like a little light with which we can see a part of reality...
Reijo: …A spotlight.
Agi: …A spotlight, yes. Our dreams are coming from somewhere else and what we do when we try to understand our dreams on our own without help, is that we take the information into this small spotlight and reduce the incoming information according to our knowledge within this small spot instead of opening up for new insights, which could connect us with another place in our unconscious.
Sy: That is a very good way to put it, in fact I am having a picture of it just like you said about pictures. I think it is a very good way to describe it.
Agi: And it is often so, at least in my experience, that it is enough when someone just listens to the description of the dream and repeats it ; then we can already hear the message of the pictures.
Sy: They have what is sometimes called an "aha". Frequently in a dream study group, the way it works is that after the presenter presents their dream, they give what they think it means and then opens it up for discussion. The other people usually start by saying "if it were my dream, I think it would mean so and so…" and very often there is an "aha" by the dreamer. But what is also interesting is that what the other person says about someone else's dream tells more about the other person than about the dreamer. But that is okay too. The problem with the group, unlike a trusted advisor or dream study with a professional psychologist, is that dreams can be very personal. For example, Ashish had seven principals of dream interpretation. They are simple and he thought people could follow them. They are actually printed in Gurdjieff Unveiled in a simplified form, but one or two of the principles having to do with dreams is that you cannot be afraid of looking at anything. Many dreams are open to sexual interpretation, things you don't want to talk about, all kinds of fetishes, all kinds of things. That becomes a problem in a study group. At least at the one which I facilitate, we have a kind of understanding that we won't discuss the dreams of other people outside of that group meeting.
Reijo: This is very much the same also in the Gurdjieff work, isn't it, because we come to very delicate areas.
Sy: Yes exactly and you shouldn't bring the work of other people outside of the group.
Reijo: So that kind of created the idea that the Gurdjieff work is a secret work, whereas it is open to everybody but what is happening within the group is kept within the group.
Sy: Well yes, and there certainly is a good reason for it but my experiences with some of the secrecy is that in general it is not good. I can tell you that there was a time when somebody would find out about our group and of course we had a telephone and there was no published number but somehow they would find out and they would call up and say "is this the Gurdjieff group?" Whoever answered the phone was supposed to say "we're busy now, call back" even if they weren't busy, because the idea was that this is serious and we don't want people just calling up. Some of this stuff gets really overdone and my opinion is that it is to the detriment of what Gurdjieff was trying to do. He was trying to sound what he called the new Do for humanity. The idea is to reach humanity and not just some little secret group with this secret Gurdjieff teaching who think, look aren't we special. Of course that's all ego.
Agi: A very important expression "to do something special" and that is a poison in a group when we get the feeling that we are special, that we are more than the others and that we are an exclusive group.
Sy: And isn't that exactly the opposite of what Gurdjieff was trying to teach, to try to make the ego or the personality passive, ; to tamper it down so it isn't so big, to make it more passive, so that essence can grow. So many of us are miseducated. We want the ego to grow, we want to be important and all of these things. We want to be special, like you said.
Agi: Another thing in the dream interpretation: I advice people to sense the depth of the dream, so that they can sense from which level a dream is coming from. A dream can come from a bodily state or it can be a dream that describes our momentary state of being or it can come from beyond consciousness and have an important message, which opens the dreamer up for a process for the next ten years. There are very different levels.
Sy: The study of dreams is very broad. Certainly not every dream is propounding great wisdom from the Self. There are a lot of dreams where you stub your toe, or hurt your foot and it generates a dream. Ashish actually divided dreams, in addition to those kind of mundane dreams, into purificatory dreams, and what he called noumenal dreams. Purificatory dreams are these dreams that he saw in symbolic form, showing us an identification that we don't want to admit to our personality. But if you can get purified enough, let's say by getting rid of these identifications, then he likened it to looking through a windowpane. If the windowpane is dirty with all of these identifications, then you cannot see through it, all you see is a reflection. But eventually when you can begin to see through it, then you start to see your experience of what Gurdjieff calls the Real World.
Agi: Again, that is a very interesting point. There came a point in my life, related to my inner path, when dreams didn't come, I didn't get advice or corrections or any help through the dreams and it was very, very difficult this time. I know from others that they suffer when they are working with dreams and they used to use the help of dreams as a tool and there comes a time when we are not given dreams. It is very difficult to deal with this, but now I understand something about it and since then it can happen that I awake with a direct knowledge, with a direct impulse without a picture.
Sy: Then you are getting noumenal information. I think that any of us who study dreams go through what I would call dry periods. I'm not convinced that we're not dreaming, I suspect we are, and like Gurdjieff says we have to make super efforts, so you make further effort and they start again, or you start remembering them again. That is why it is important to have the outside demands that a group or a trusted advisor gives us. As you said Reijo, it's a tool and it's not a replacement for the Gurdjieff work by any means, but it is another tool.
Reijo: Have you thought of using it also as a tool in the Gurdjieff groups?
Sy: Well what we do in Florida, where the Gurdjieff groups that I'm involved with at the Theosophical Society, there is also a dream study group that I facilitate and it is separate. It requires a separate meeting anyhow because of the time involved. Half of the people in it, there are about eight people in it, half of them are involved in the Gurdjieff group as an adjunct, as an additional tool. The other half are just interested in dreams and are not in the Gurdjieff work and then there are others in the Gurdjieff groups that aren't interested in using the dream tool. But the problem in the literature, or at least in how many people understand the Gurdjieff teaching, without Ashish's benefit, is that you don't pay attention to your dreams. I am convinced from experience that that is completely wrong and if someone wants to avail themselves of that tool, then they should ; it is valuable.
Agi: It is very important. It is also my experience that different types of people have different ways to develop, they need different kinds of tools, they need different kinds of help or a different way in life. It is so important that we don't think that everybody has to do the Movements, or that everybody has to use dreams as tools.
Sy: Exactly, and Gurdjieff brought so many tools. I think Bennett in one of his books, likened it to a smörgĺsbord, that Gurdjieff brought us this great feast of ideas. "If take, then take," Gurdjieff said, giving us all this stuff.
Agi: That is why Sophia was telling me "next time take a smaller subject and work out in that way that everybody can understand with intellect" and I said "no, that is not my way". Maybe only one thought is such that somebody can use it and use it in his or her own way, but nothing should be given ready made.
Sy: One shoe does not fit all. And there is no reason to suppose that Gurdjieff's way is the only way. There are many other real teachings. They have been there all throughout history and certainly today there are many real paths, or some say, longer paths. As we know, Gurdjieff put a big emphasis on practical work on oneself, and this is an excelerated path. The observation, the effort to self-remember and be aware of being aware, this is all practical.
Agi: I was fourteen when I first saw the picture of Ramana Maharshi, read Vivekananda and Paul Brunton, but of their teachings I understood only ten years ago with the help of an Indian medical doctor whose teaching was in direct lineage of Ramana Maharshi. Somehow my way is similar to yours!
Sy: In a sense the Work finds us. It is always out there but we don't hear it and maybe at the age of fourteen it found you through Ramana Maharshi. Because you were out looking, otherwise how would you have met him and read some of that literature. I didn't do it at the age of fourteen. I remember when I was eight, I was standing on my head because I had read or heard somewhere that yogi's stand on their head. I didn't know what I was doing, but it interested me. I wasn't ready In an overt way to begin a search, but some of us are touched as children and then maybe we let it go for a long time. Maybe at the age of fourteen you started and just kept going. Did you?
Sy: You are an older soul.
Agi: (Laughing) I don't like this expression!
Sy: It's one of those theosophical expressions.
Agi: When I was in my youth, I felt very old and now I don't feel old anymore. I don't feel my age. It is a very strange thing. Being has no age!
Reijo: I think we have had a very interesting discussion and exchange Sy and I thank you very much for it. We are now going to continue with the All and Everything Conference. These subjects that you have now touched in this short time have certainly been spoken about within this Conference the whole time we have been talking about subconsciousness, unconsciousness, hypnotism, dreams and all kinds of things, which are very much related to subjects covered with the Conference.
Sy: It's been an extraordinary conference and I thank you for inviting me to this interview.
© Sy Ginsburg & GIG 2005
5-6 Hours of mp3 files from the 2005 A & E Conference
The talks by Agnes Hidveghy and Reijo Oksanen together with exchanges with Professor Paul Beekman Taylor, Dr. Keith Buzzell and Sy Ginsburg are now available as mp3 files at www.arssacra.org, where they can be listened to online or downloaded:
Ian MacFarlane's talk at the Conference, called "The Second Conscious Shock: From Ouspensky to the Tales" is available in the Endless Search web site - listen to it here.
All European subscribers to our newsletter took part in the April/May lottery, which was for one t-shirt from the 'Remarkable Man' shop run by Martin Permantier at:
The winner this, the last time, will be announced soon.
Amden, 14th of June 2005
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