Dogmatism, Schools, and Cults
B: Much of the information available about the Work isn’t based on what Gurdjieff wrote, but rather on the interpretation and uses of his students who went on to teach. What right does one school of Gurdjieff have to say that another school is less than correct?
A: Gurdjieff’s own writings add up to 1842 pages of primary source material and there are an additional 787 pages of official & semi-official meeting transcripts that have been published. There is plenty of information straight from the source. This school tries to base everything as much as possible on Gurdjieff’s actual teachings.
Here’s a thought: Jesus wrote nothing himself; everything we know depends writings of his various disciples. On the other hand we have a wealth of information directly from Gurdjieff himself, yet many ‘teachers’ rely on the teaching of Gurdjieff’s students (some of whom were vary short term or inconstant) rather than on the words of the master himself.
H: It’s not an unusual question, but may I ask what rouses the question for you ?
B: What rouses the question is, there are many cognitive biases about rather “open” fields like this, and also many possibilities. I left my own denomination of Christianity because instead of being something I believed in, it had become something I pretended to accept and believe as a kind of polite social gesture.
If Gurdjieff wanted his ideas to be a rigid dogma, as opposed to every individual questioning for themselves, he would have set things up to be that way.
Is there or can there be a right and wrong within the realm of Gurdjieff that is universal, and not based on every individual’s experiences?
M: There’s a big difference between taking something dogmatically and taking it seriously. There’s also a difference between questioning the validity of a teaching and questioning one’s own understanding of it. And a big space for active thought in between being dogmatic about Gurdjieff on one hand, and simply having a lot of personal opinions about things you haven’t tried to verify or understand on the other.
B: For the first two , I disagree, and don’t understand what you mean by the third.
M: You disagree there’s a difference between taking something dogmatically and taking it seriously?
Dogmatic — “This is true. No question. No need to test it. It’s true because X said it.”
Serious — “This might be true. I’m not sure I understand it. I need to ponder it, see what it could mean, and eventually test it for myself.”
Unserious — “I don’t like the sound of this, and I have my own opinions, I’m going to reject it out-of-hand.”
See the difference?
Questioning the validity — “This sounds weird, maybe Gurdjieff was just drunk or making things up, or trying to trick us.”
Questioning own understanding — “This seems weird, but maybe I’m not really grasping it. What was Gurdjieff trying to show me? What am I possibly not seeing?”
See the difference?
B: I see. I don’t think skepticism indicates a lack seriousness though, because if you don’t have the ability to doubt and freely share doubts things can quickly become like a cult.
C: Hmmm… Did M. say skepticism indicates a lack of seriousness?
M: That’s not what I said at all.
B: What you listed as unserious, I see more as being skeptical unless you’re flat out rejecting something. I’d consider unseriousness to be a lack of interest or caring.
M: My whole example for unserious was rejecting something because it doesn’t square with one’s opinions. Here’s a question: if we’re asleep, what good are our opinions likely to be? And if we’re not, why do the Work at all?
B: Wait , so are we all asleep in the same way or different ways?
M: The commonality to the way we’re all asleep is that we have many illusions about reality, and especially about ourselves; and because of that, we have very little objective data with which to form opinions or even to have lucid thoughts. For the most part, our thoughts are “a’thinking in” us. They happen mechanically. So, one thing we practice in the Work is avidly keeping questions open. Rather than believing something blindly, or on the other hand feeling free to have an opposing opinion, to keep the question open. “Could this be true? And how? And how would I know?” And then sit with it for a good, long while. Maybe years. Keep the mind active.
C: B, regarding your earlier question on skepticism and seriousness, remember Gurdjieff said, “I ask you to believe nothing that you cannot verify for yourself.” Recall also in Beelzebub’s Tales that credulity and suggestibility are negative cognitive effects on the human psyche.
The Work is not the way of blind acceptance (nor blind rejection). Gurdjieff expected critical minds from his students. In the Prieuré study house one of the aphorisms written on the walls was: “If you have not by nature a critical mind your staying here is useless.”
H: On the topic of a critical attitude, I wonder if it is accurate to say the criticism must be directed both to one’s own ideas as well as the ideas presented in the text? Also: Is it right to say that the verification is a process that must allow for expanding understanding that may evolve as one’s being evolves?
J: If one is on an evolutionary ray (path) the perspective must evolve or it is not evolutionary… It is maintenance ray or involutionary.
A: Yes. In our egoism we think that having a properly critical mind means only being critical of things we are told and ‘questioning authority’, etc. We very rarely turn that critical faculty back on ourselves equally and question our own limitations and preconceptions.
That said it is indeed a very precarious thing to be a seeker, especially these days with so many options being present. It’s an art unto itself. Unfortunately some people become so good at it (or bad at it, as the case may be) that they have trouble being a ‘finder’ rather than a seeker and making the transition from wayfarer to student.
B: Yeah but then how do you protect against being brainwashed and inducted into a cult
A: You have to have chosen well. That’s the art.
That’s also why it’s precarious. The skill behind not being ‘brainwashed’ is to know how not to be suggestible. That’s a bit tricky because you also need a school to teach you how to do that, so that’s a bit of a conundrum. Part of the solution to that impasse is try to find out what the school actually teaches about that. Do they think suggestibility is a good or bad thing. Do they use it?
The other thing a seeker can do to prevent him or herself winding up in a cult is constantly examine their own motives. Cults sound very ‘spiritual’ but actually appeal to our weaknesses, our laziness, sense of being special, desire to dominate others or gain a quick release from pain, or to obtain instant knowledge.
Real schools challenge us, cults flatter us. We experience contact with a real school with bafflement, much like going to see the doctor but, if we are observing, we experience a brush with a cult like temptation, i.e. a kind of recruitment through inducement.
O: Judging from my limited reading on Gurdjieff’s Institute at Prieuré it was a striving just to stick around there. Because every faculty in which a cult relies on to keep you clinging to it was being insulted to the point of the unbearable. If you did not possess the unshakable inner conviction that this is what I must do then you wouldn’t bear it and would leave at first opportunity to do so.
This is, of course, not Prieuré. But in my opinion part of what makes actual Work different from cult institutions, is that the batteries does not come included. You must provide your own.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been cults in the name of the Work. There has. Which leads back to what Michael says about choosing well. One must know what to look for.
What can separate actual Work from just “nominal Work”? “For every tree is known by its own fruit; for they do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pluck a bunch of grapes from brambles.”
If it does not work, it does not Work and hence cannot be called such.
If it does not work, it is not the Work and hence cannot be called such.
Would also like to add that I found it to be an interesting question. Good to ponder.
M: We always welcome dialog.
Another warning sign of a cult: dialog is no welcome. You have to accept everything without questions. B, I hope you feel that we were doing our best to answer your questions. You’re welcome to continue asking them.
B: You have, thank you very much. It just appears that this kind of work is not for me.