by George Bennett – July 28, 1988 ©George Bennett 2016
This talk and discussion took place on July 28, 1988,
as part of the Annual Eight-Day Seminar held in Cave Junction, Oregon.
The seminar was sponsored by the Pacific Institute for the Study of the Humanities. (Published in Impressions, Summer 1989)
George Cornelius has proposed as the theme for this seminar "Maintaining My Vessel." Tonight I want to ask the question, "For what?" Or even more strongly, "So what?" What do we think this Work is for? What difference does it make? Does it matter if I acquire higher being bodies? We can become so accustomed to the nitty-gritty details of what we like to call the Work--observing ourselves, reporting in groups, running around doing practical work-and we think it is all getting us somewhere. But if it has no other significance than that it makes us better individuals, we can't really claim that it's terribly important. So what is it for?
You might answer, "It's for reciprocal maintenance, and we all know that." We say some version of the Sherborne grace here every day, which refers explicitly to reciprocal maintenance, and we tend to treat the notion pretty casually. But if we were to take it as seriously as Gurdjieff presents it, then the idea of reciprocal maintenance is phenomenally important. Whether you take his assertion that the role of mankind is to maintain the moon figuratively or literally, it is clearly an enormous task. If it means literally that we've got to maintain the moon, that's colossal; if it's a figure for the scale of the task that's in front of us, it's also considerable. At any rate, we've been given this idea that we have a particular role to play in the scheme.
Many of us tend to see reciprocal maintenance in terms of ecology-eating whole foods, using the right sort of detergents, driving lead-free and gas-efficient cars-if we did all those things we'd be somehow playing our part in reciprocal maintenance. If we just took what we need instead of what we want, everything would come into balance, difficult as that would be to achieve. But even if we were to behave like that, we would only be acting as good animals, simply playing a role on the material level that was in harmony with Nature. We can certainly help, if we live like that, but that's not what we're here for-simply to be good animals. We can verify the idea that we are three-brained beings, and thus unusual among the other forms of life that we know, but what does that say about our task?
In Beelzebub's Tales, Gurdjieff makes it clear that what is required of us is to produce certain sorts of energies. So when the sacred fixers discovered that the Organ Kundabuffer was a mistake, and that we weren't living in the required way, why didn't they simply send out the saintly repair truck, and install a new organ in us that would make us unfailingly live our lives in accordance with the needs of the world? Everything would have been hunky-dory, and Beelzebub would have been a much shorter book, certainly easier to read. But it is precisely because the energies we are required to produce are the results of the process of our own transformation that such a shortcut wasn't possible. It seems clear that it's the energies produced by our striving-by the process of work on ourselves--that is important. So we have this scheme where we're told that it's important to work on ourselves and by working on ourselves, we will produce certain sorts of energies that are required to maintain the moon. How on earth are we going to test that theory? Everything else we're given or told carries with it the proviso that we should verify whether it's true. We should observe ourselves, read about it, and look at it the proposition upside down and sideways until we’re convinced. Man has three brains--oh, really? Let's have a look. How can we do that with reciprocal maintenance, which is such a central idea? You could even say that it's the only idea that justifies this whole business of the Work. How are we to understand with "reason of understanding" that this is a reality?
Obviously we have to have some idea of how the world works. It's only recently that I started wondering why the third Obligolnian striving in the scheme of Ashiata Shiemash says "the conscious striving to know ever more and more of the laws of world creation and world maintenance." Why "ever more and more"? What's wrong with a good working knowledge? Why is this striving so important that it's placed third, even before the striving to lessen the sorrow of our Creator? It's because unless we make this effort to understand ever more and more, we're not going to make the connection between the efforts that we can see and the energies that are alleged to help. But even that's not going to do it-not on its own.
I've been pondering this for the last few days, ever since George told me I was going to have to give this talk-pondering in the sense used by Orage in the reading this morning (from Commentaries on Beelzebub's Tales), because I'm not very good with my head-brain, and I've been trying to see how we can experience the reality of our part in reciprocal maintenance. What's going to tell us? The answer I came up with is Conscience. This is not original. Ashiata Shiemash said exactly the same thing. In the chapter "Organization for Man's Existence," Beelzebub describes the brotherhood Heechtvori, set up by Ashiata Shiemash. I have written on the board behind me what "Heechtvori" signifies: "Only-he-will-be-called-and-will become-the-Son-of-God-who-acquires-in-himself-Conscience." One of the conditions of membership in this brotherhood was that its members should understand the reality of Conscience, and the way in which it can be manifested, so that they would be noticed something interesting, that I didn't see before-that there able to understand their own role in the world. I am paraphrasing an enormous number of people who are in a position to a good deal, but this divine conscience is more serious thing than undertake this Work. By that, I mean that they are people who the pseudo-conscience we feel, or think we're feeling; when we have the time and energy to lift their eyes from the furrow, worry about some minor task around here for example. Particularly in the West. Here there is an enormous prosperity.
Clearly, this conscience has to develop, but we have to look carefully at what's said about what prevents conscience developing in man. What is said is that conscience exists, but we hide it from ourselves, which I read as simply dishonesty with ourselves, with our own analysis of ourselves. This arises from the pain, sometimes great, sometimes small, of seeing the contradictions in ourselves, but we can also see that even small struggles have results, albeit small. So here we have a link between those small struggles between yes and no in ourselves on one end of the scale, but nevertheless linked by the process of conscience to something as enormous as the maintenance of the moon. So really the task of the Work-what is the Work for?-is somewhat bigger, to put it mildly, than the way we're accustomed to looking at it. That we should keep up this struggle constantly-that is an extremely serious task, and a hazardous one. You only have to look at it. The world depends on people like us, and if it does, the world's in big trouble. Although we may try to make efforts, we're too content to jog along-a few efforts here, a few efforts there. Struggle yesterday, struggle tomorrow, but never struggle today, to paraphrase the White Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass. If we could really hold in front of us the seriousness of our obligation, it might help us in our struggle between yes and no, because something a lot bigger than the development of my own being is at stake here. Frankly, the development of my own being is of absolutely no consequence, in itself. But if I can hold in front of me this idea that for the world my efforts are a matter of life and death, it can be different. Much as it can be different when we are faced with a task that we know the rest of the group is doing. We've had good examples this week of people who have reported how they were enabled to do something because the group was sharing the task. Obligation to the group and the knowledge that we are not working alone-this is very helpful.
It's clear that the world as we know it is going to hell in a handcart. The imbalance is growing daily, and we're at the point where it's demanded of us to live as good animals, but more than ever we have to live as good a three-brained being, that’s unusual in history. If we think there is an intelligent guidance behind the world, we have to ask why this should have come about, just at this time. The material developments that are both the risk and the problem are also the reason why many of us here, for example, are able to hop into a motor car and whiz down to Cave Junction for a seminar. There are many people in this position-perhaps 200 million in the US alone have the time to come to Cave Junction, or somewhere similar. That puts us in the position of the would-be members of the brotherhood Heechtvori, who, in order to qualify for membership, had to persuade 100 others of the reality of Conscience. I think I have persuaded one person in my whole life that the Work matters. So I just want to put in front of us these three ideas: The idea that there is a serious danger of the world going off course, if we don't play our part properly; that there is potentially a large number of people who can be called upon; and that we have to make a link between our own work-what we do here and in our lives-and our responsibility in the process of reciprocal maintenance. We have to take this seriously, try to see if we can come to some experience of what it is to play a part in this process-actually try to experience it.
I am talking completely off the top of my head because I've not an inkling of that experience. There is a feeling of rightness when I do things right and of wrongness when I do things wrong, but I haven't yet managed to connect that in experience with my part in reciprocal maintenance. But more and more it seems to me I have to try to make that connection, and that the instrument for doing this is conscience. Then the reality of the struggle in myself between yes and no becomes absolutely vital.
Participant: The present need for the Work, for the Way, because of the impending crisis-hasn't there been a Way forever?
George Bennett: Yes, as far as one can see, there has always been the work and the obligation and the tradition, it has existed for thousands of years. But it can't have escaped your attention that there is an awful lot of it about at the moment. If you look at the last forty or fifty years, there's been an enormous explosion of people offering some version of the transformation of man. We might include all of it under the heading of the Work, but just think of Gurdjieff the effect in the tradition we know about, think how that has spread and the influence of his ideas and the people he got them from. Think of the Dervish orders suddenly sending people over to the United States. Unheard of before. I think that manifestations of the Work expand to fill the need. I am not really in a position to answer questions, you obviously realize that. Anyone who can say, "Yes, I've had a direct experience of finer energies we're producing and their effect on reciprocal maintenance"-please jump in, because without that connection the Work as we see it is pointless.
P. You know that saying, "As above, so below." For me to contemplate what it means to feed the moon is too far away, but as a member of a small community in Oregon, I have seen the difference from before I was part of that community, and I was simply another single family dweller in my single family house, isolated and unconnected to anything, and going down fast. As a result of the years we've spent building a center, there is a tangible feeling of exchange. My own children, for example, are independent and flexible and healthy in a way I never was. There are many small examples of that principle, and I use those to Intuit the ones that are beyond my personal experience.
GB. And so we extrapolate, "As below, so above." I agree there are tangible benefits personally, but how are we to see that in terms of benefits to the world? Are we forever to take that on trust-these energies we are alleged to produce? I have to use that word "allege" until I experience them. How are we going to experience that? Maybe we never are. Maybe it's always going to be an act of faith, but in the chapter on Ashiata Shiemash, it's made quite clear that Conscience is supposed to be a usable tool, not just an adornment. It is such a central idea that it is worth having a stab at understanding it, at experiencing it. Otherwise we are accepting it without verification--one of the very few propositions in the Work that we don't try to verify.
P. I find it very interesting that the whole of the West has created this enormous need, and Gurdjieff came just at this time. I feel this is far more than accident. Tibet was disrupted just at this time, the native American Indians have been suppressed and their efforts and the work has been brought up to the surface. It's such an enormous need, outside our mechanical need, and I feel our striving for something higher is almost by design. We think the need is helped by someone like Gurdjieff, but in fact we all have to help to hold up the universe. I feel everything makes sense except myself. The need is there, but to what extent am I up to my fraction of it? I don't find difficulty in understanding the need, it's how one relates the big picture with the little picture.
GB. I agree that you can observe the need. We could say that we're working on ourselves, so what's the problem? We're producing the energies, even if we can't experience them. Of course, that could be true, but we have to hold in front of ourselves the proposition that our work is actually filling the need. At the very least, it might help us to work a bit harder. But I agree that there are considerable ground for hope. It doesn't seem to be an accident that Gurdjieff appears and other schools from other traditions are also manifesting, spreading their gospel. The uncomfortable inference is that we should be gospel spreaders also, and this makes me very uncomfortable, because I'm a long way short of finding that "100" that Ashiata Shiemash required.
P. This is really interesting to me because I've heard this idea so many times. This task you're talking about-on the one hand its colossal, I can't say I have experience of it, but when you were talking about it there was something exciting about it. This task is like nourishing a child. What mankind has to do is to nourish-maybe that is the connection between the family and this bigger thing.
GB. We can't do more than an individual can do.
P. One thing that has bothered me is my own inability to make efforts. Not that I never make any, but where does the motivation come from? I worked with a group of people for a while, and that did provide some impetus-once a week I did some work-but I was never able to connect that up with this idea of something bigger.
GB. I think I gave the wrong impression when I said that it's not possible to do more than one can as an individual. What I mean is that one can only make one's own efforts. Groups can do more than a collection of individuals.
P. But why make these efforts?
GB. If the moon depends on us, that is why.
P. That is what I mean. I came to the conclusion a few years ago, after struggling with these ideas, that if it's up to me, I'm never going to do inner work, or I'll do just enough to keep barely at my level and slide back a little at a time. But it is only for others that it becomes possible for me to make even a step forward. This other thing is connected with the third line of Work-Work for the Work-and I've never been able to make any connection with that until your talk.
GB. What we are talking about is serving the future. If the world hurtles out of bounds there is no future, and if it's our part to restore the balance then the future depends on us, which is quite a heavy responsibility. But I agree, simply polishing my soul is not enough. I have some sense of responsibility-I can see in small terms the responsibility to serve the future-as parent, and so on-but the idea that if there is even going to be a future at all depends on me, that my efforts count-when I am able to make that a real proposition to myself, it's quite a motivation.
P. In terms of the dilemma of taking reciprocal maintenance on faith-is it possible that it relates back to the issue of being, the second striving? What comes to mind is what Jesus said to the disciples in the parable of the sower of the seed, when He explained why all those who are without needed to be taught with parables, but those who had reached a certain level could be taught things directly. My understanding is that one won't continue to make these efforts on being if some trite explanations are handed over, that one must comprehend at a certain level of understanding-the issue comes down to understanding and being.
GB. In the non-technical, non-Gurdjieffian sense, we see conscience as something to be valued. If someone is conscientious, this is generally considered to be a good thing. But Gurdjieff says that the development of divine conscience will enable people to see and understand their role.
P. You speak of the psychokinetic task and that some of these schools have degenerated and ceased to serve their function. The way I see the Work, or the Path, is that it has to touch us on all levels. When I first came into this, if I had been told there was some enormous task to be performed that I didn't and couldn't understand, I would have been put off. My main interest was myself. At a certain point that begins to run dry, but the process has to be inclusive of all the different stages we go through. It has to appeal to us first and serve our needs. Now when I hear this idea again, it's a bit more tangible than it was four years ago.
GB. I wasn't talking about schools failing to fulfill their tasks and running down-I was hoping we might actually perform our task and run up--but there is a link between this mammoth task and what we do every day. By struggling with yes and no we can develop conscience. Then we can see more clearly. We can test that in a quite simple way, which might lead us to suppose with a really good conscience we might be able to see these major tasks. But the important point is that there is a connection between the small and the large. It is a truism that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. It is absolutely no use sitting around contemplating the bigger questions, yet remaining a slave to like and dislike. Plenty of people can do that-but it's not the Work. I'm not a pessimist; I say some fairly cynical things, but most of the time, all the signs tell me that we are getting a good deal more help than we deserve.