Sunday, April 20, 2014

Gurdjieff's system simplified in a page.

Having been a student of Gurdjieff's system (or Gurdjieff-Ouspensky) at some point, I felt compelled to write this little piece in the hopes that it could save some people a few decades of work.

Gurdjieff's system (as outlayed by Ouspensky probably most concisely, and as taken up by various other Fourth Way groups somewhat mistakenly) can be summarised as follows, with the main points as:

1. Self-observation
- which as the name implies, is simply the development of attention and concentration using the body, mind, and emotions as immediately available objects for focus.
- people spend years observing (and trying to observe) their thoughts, feelings, and sensations, though the practice in essence is simply to develop some basic degree of concentration and focus which is to be used on the next point.
- this basically serves the same purpose as any "meditation" or "awareness" practice, such as vipassana, noting, mindfulness etc.
- there is an obvious me-as-subject and it-as-object focus. Nothing esoteric here.

2. Self-remembering
- this practice trips up most people, and some spend YEARS attempting to get it, or work out what the hell Gurdjieff / Ouspensky even mean by the practice. Still others interpret it (wrongly) as "self-observation", which it is not (see above).
- the practice merely flows on from having developed the objectives in (1).
- the practice, in essence, is nothing more or less than directing the mind (or focus) onto the subjective feeling of "I"- which is the "I-thought" or "me"-as-a-separate-self feeling/thought. It is simply the focused observation and awareness of oneself that we all automatically take on from childhood, and which forms a seemingly concrete (but mistaken) identity as "I".
- generally, it is done as much as possible, throughout the day, and one needs to get a very clear and definite feel for one's own identity as "I"-as-a-separate-self or doer of actions or instigator of all other thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
- going back again and again to this feeling of "me" or "I" (as a separate individual) IS the practice of Self-remembering.
- "Self" here refers to the ego, or concept of "me" as an individual and autonomous being. (Which in Gurdjieff's system is the 'man is a machine but doesn't know it' idea).
- This serves the same function as all direct path enquiries, such as self-enquiry (vichara).
- Self willed effort and "practice" ends at this point.

3. Beyond (Seeing through the false self)
- Hopefully, at some point, the seeing happens (without any self-willed effort- and hence Gurdjieff's insistence that one cannot perform true Self-remembering), that the "I" feeling/identity is a completely assumed concept or entity in itself.
- The dropping of this assumption is the beginning (and end of assumed volitional) Liberation.

By employing (1) and later (2), in all manner of situations, and especially in times of turmoil (often intentionally introduced by Gurdjieff onto his students), it was hoped that the false self identity would eventually be seen through and done with. "Man is a machine", thus becomes completely true from the "Man Number 4" perspective.

Unfortunately, from what I've observed in Gurdjieff groups, most groups get hung up on (1), especially veering off into learning 'dances', exercises, tricks etc., and never even get to (2). For those that get to (2), the need for groups often falls away. For those in which (3) occurs, the whole game is up, and appreciation arises for this unique little system.


(PS- I've intentionally left out the huge body of Gurdjieff/Ouspensky's cosmology and related theology, as detailed somewhat in "In Search of the Miraculous", "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson", and other books. Although this highly complex body of theory (mostly swiped from Theosophy, Sufism, Buddhism, Kashmiri Shavism, and Gurdjieff's own imagination) is interesting, it is doubtful as to any immediate practical value which could not be explained much more simply. Certainly, the foundation of any of its usefulness would have to lie again with (1) and (2) above, without which, it would be yet another interesting informational philosophy only. It is likely that the early students of Gurdjieff's system in Russia & Europe, who were enamoured with Theosophy and occultism, needed some form of intellectual meat (or carrot), in order to even get started with the more direct practices of (1) and (2), and in this, the whole philosophy side probably has some value. However, the temptation in getting completely lost in Fourth Way concepts and philosophy seems to have been one of the chief elements in the Fourth Way's own demise, and on a more darker side, the higher than average rate (in spiritual groups anyway) for personality cults to emerge from the use or misuse of that very philosophy-- hence my insistence on side-stepping this area completely).

Many paths, one understanding.

(Just another meaningless flash in the pan)

Many paths, one understanding.

When Liberation happens, and the seemingly different paths to Godhead / Absolute are seen effortlessly to be the same.

The wheat is easily sorted from the chaff.

The Master of one path becomes the master of all paths, by his/her own nonexistence, thereby residing as the All. 

From the mountain top, the entire vista is easily seen.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Does a dog have Buddha-nature? Does it matter?

A monk asked Master Chao-chou, "Has a dog the Buddha Nature or not?"
Chao-chou said, "Mu!"

Buddhism can be a veritable mine-field of intellectualism and concepts. Koans (or problems or enquiries) were an attempt at one point to directly undercut the need for discourses and rather directly point at the truth of things via directing the mind.

This particular koan stumped me for years. It has that effect if one effectively cuts off all conclusions coming from intellectualising and analysis in attempting to 'work things out'. There is nothing wrong with using the mind, however, the mind coming to a contrived conclusion and sitting self-satisfied in a concept IS the problem.

After "seeing" happened, this koan re-appeared in my consciousness one day while sitting in the park having a smoke.
Its resolution or rather pointing was then so obvious.

How can there be any difference whatsoever in the body-mind mechanism of a human (which reputedly 'has Buddha Nature'), and a dog body-mind mechanism (which reputedly did not)?

Does Buddha Nature lie within an object, without, everywhere or nowhere?

And finally, if Joshu or Chao-chou's response was merely a pointer, rather than an answer? (And that pointer was pointing to the experience of emptiness ('Mu'), and thus the experiential understanding / knowing of the former part of the koan).

Though, that's jumping the gun, and the intention of designer of the koan (like any other koan), was probably that the practitioner would hopefully catch their "self" working very hard on this problem, and in the natural, open seeing of "their self" or lack of inherent existence thereof, the impersonal experience emptiness would ensue.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Awareness Watching Awareness practice and some misconceptions cleared.

I've felt the need to write a few words about the Awareness Watching Awareness practice. This can be found in Michael Langford's book "The Most Direct Means To Eternal Bliss".

It has been one of my favourite pointers/practices, along with self-inquiry, for a number of years, and I still often enjoy this whenever the desire arises.

However, there are not many around who actually "get" the point of this practice, or who understand what it is actually aimed at. This is also partly due to the author's own unusual way of explaining things in his book, and partly due to the highly confusing nature of the words "awareness", "consciousness", and "attention".

I've seen so many posts online regarding this practice, and so many times the 'baby is thrown out with the bath water'.

Criticisms seem to be:
- 'The practice is dualistic, not non-dual' ie., since it asks one in various places to 'focus on your awareness', or 'notice your awareness', or 'watch your awareness', or 'awareness aware of awareness', it seems to imply:
1. multiple awarenesses
2. a doer who is performing the task
3. an owner of some private form of awareness
4. a pointless practice which attempts to find what cannot be found or perceived or conceived in any way (ie. awareness).

Of course, all of these points are correct.

BUT, and here is where 95% of those raising these points fail, the practice is not attempting to define nondual concepts or align with the accepted nondual understanding of how things 'work', but is a TEACHING DEVICE or POINTER, aimed at directing the identified (dualistic) mind back onto itself or its conception of what it thinks of as 'itself'. If one was already established in nondual awareness or pure seeing, then they would not even be bothering to perform the exercise. Anyone actually trying the practice, instead of thinking about the practice, would surely come to this understanding.

Now, having understood this, what exactly is the practice aiming for?

In my experience, the practice aims for the exact same result as:
- self-inquiry (Who am I?)
- Ramana Maharshi's pointers on turning the mind back to its source and the extinguishing of the "I"
- Nisargadatta's abiding in "I-am-ness"
- Gurdjieff and Ouspensky's self-remembering
- "Look at yourself" practice as promoted by people like John Sherman

One starts exactly where one is, right now, which is most likely a conceptual feeling/thought/energy of one's "me" or "I am-ness" or personal presence. Then, on remaining there for some amount of time, days, weeks, years, one's identified "I" entity then collapses or is seen through (as the illusion it is), and one drops back into the simple empty awareness that one inherently is (or is-not). Eventually even this comes to nought. (Nisargadatta's "prior to consciousness" idea).

For years, I was trying to grasp at some form or object to be grasped at called "awareness", which is a) impossible to conceive/perceive, and b) utilizing the mind/'I'-entity that is causing all of the trouble. Eventually, it was realized that the practice is, in fact, to aim precisely at the 'I'-entity, which ML means as "awareness", and which when focused on, by itself, becomes totally impotent, and eventually collapses. (Albeit after repeated use).

This can be done both in sitting, and in activity (despite ML's exhortations that it cannot be done in activity and it may interfere with one's tasks- which is at odds with my own experience, and many others who have taken to self-inquiry 24x7, and of course most of the teachers listed above).

So, in summary, there is nothing esoteric or special about the AWA practice, or which differs from the other common practices above, however, when understood correctly, it can be an excellent way for some to further abide in the "I-am" and thus hasten its ending.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A dual approach or non-approach to Non-duality.

In a tradition which defines itself as 'wholeness' or non-duality (not two), one often finds a vast array of teachings, concepts, methods, no-methods and ideas.

On the one side of the line there are the traditional progressive paths which lay emphasis on practice, traditional teachings, having a 'teacher', and 'time'. On the other side, one finds absolutist nondual teachings which emphasise no-effort, no-method, no-teacher, absence, and an approach based purely on "pointers" or infusion via knowledge and innate insight. In the middle lie 'Direct experience' type teachings.

The fact that 'people' have 'awoken' via all manner of means along this line shows that there is no 'one right way' or 'one correct' method that can ever be applied for everyone and in every situation. The key that fits my conditioned lock probably doesn't fit his or her conditioned lock.

One balanced way of approaching Non-duality may be to take a two-pronged approach by incorporating the use of both apparent progressive practices and 'pointers'.

I won't go into actual practices here, though some of the more efficacious ones may be found in the traditions of self-inquiry, attention to bare awareness, shikantaza, jnana yoga, and direct-investigation-analysis-contemplations as found in some Buddhist and Non-dual traditions. Whatever works initially and immediately is probably a good indication.

As for 'pointers', again, certain Non-dual pointers will either hit the mark immediately and with a noticeable shift, or not at all. Though contemplating a pointer until one's brain explodes is an efficient practice in itself.

There's no logical reason to dismiss either progressive paths, or intellectually-heavy pointer paths, though one certainly finds a tendency for individuals (read "teachers") who have invested a large amount of 'no self' in either of these paths to dismiss the other side.

Don't fall for this trap.

But then again, if "we" are meant to fall for this trap, we probably will anyway.

Now, back to what we were doing.. :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Moving the eyes from the front of the face to behind the head.

"Moving the eyes
 from the front of the face
 to behind the head
 allows for the clear perception
 that one is not separate

 from the manifestation,
 but rather a part of it.
The space that fills the small pot
 is the same
 as the space that fills the large pot."

 - Lost Writings of Wu Hsin

(Thanks to the headless people for finding this pointer.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Seeker and sought. Seeking and finding.

It doesn't get much more direct or simple than this:

"If the sought is the seeker, then the seeker must be the sought, and the seeking must be the finding, and the finding the seeking."

(Wei Wu Wei, "Bewildering Bits and Painful Pieces. III")

If this pointer is really taken on-board, understood and followed to completion, then there seems not much more to be done.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


One if the most useful exercises in Crowley's works may be in Liber III- the simple advice to censure or shock oneself, via some means, on each and every use of the first person pronoun ie "I".