I was struck by a statement Mr. Bennett made in “Gurdjieff: Making a New World” (Chapter 3): “I think Gurdjieff uses the story of Ashiata Shiemash not only to underline the central significance of conscience in his message to humanity, but also to suggest that he has no confidence in any kind of occult ‘action at a distance’. People are to be helped by actions that they can understand and, in due course, produce for themselves.”
The phrase “occult action at a distance” particularly reminded me of the statement in Third Series, Prologue, which definitely seems to describe “occult action at a distance”: “The development of the power of my thoughts had been brought to such a level that by only a few hours of self-preparation I could from a distance of tens of miles kill a yak; or, in twenty-four hours, could accumulate life forces of such compactness that I could in five minutes put to sleep an elephant.”
While Gurdjieff's statement is a part of a lengthy teaching story, and contains innumerable clues to meaning, it begs the question what purpose is served by killing yaks or putting elephants to sleep? If I sit in my home, working at my inner exercises and making efforts to remember myself even with such intensity as to develop such powers, of what benefit is it to my neighbor next door? It is to be hoped that my external actions will be intentional and responsible, and in this way will be supportive and beneficial towards those I encounter in my life, but really this is no different to being a good member of the community.
The Work is a term we generally adopt to represent activities directed by the precepts of the Fourth Way, the way of service. Bennett’s statement above is predicated on the notion that “people are to be helped”. But elsewhere he echoes Ouspensky when he says that reformers actually do more harm than good, also “If we try to change anything in terms of other people being different while we ourselves remain the same, we shall certainly get nowhere.” (Concern for the Future, London 1972).
The Work requires us first of all to be a “good householder” (First Obligolnian Striving). As though in a kind of Maslowian Hierarchy of Needs, success in this brings us inevitably to the second obligation/striving―to become a person who is able to act intentionally. To do so, we need to be awake and aware, and this is by no means as obvious as simply having one’s eyes open and standing upright. In order to awaken we first must see that we are asleep, a condition in which we can still fulfill our ordinary life requirements. But the question - Why do we need this? Brings us the third requirement, that we study our place and our rôle in the world, and we how fit within the laws of World Creation and World Maintenance.