Esotericism (XLI): The “system” (3)

Esotericism (XLI): The “system” (3)

- in Esotericism

1. Today I shall continue with the inconsistencies or discordances in the teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky with the reminder that G preferred to call his “fragments” while O and followers felt pride on their “system”.

In In Search of the Miraculous G seems to say very little on attention. He takes it for granted that his listeners know what it is and so connects it chiefly with self-remembering. Thus the line of attention is directed towards the (I ←———-→ object of observation) phenomenon that is to be observed (seen, heard or whatever) and simultaneously covers the subject (I, myself, or,) whoever is observing thus “remembering oneself”. (Ouspensky’s In Search… p 119). On other occasions G simply connected this function with the working of the centres and with different states of consciousness. But how is attention controlled, whence does it come and what sort of energy is it? We are not told.

O dealt with this subject in much the same way, taking it only a bit further.

2. G Beckwith deals extensively with attention and brings in the four stages which Dr. Roles simplified from the Philokalia:

a) prosbolē (= ‘impact’ as impressions fall on mind);

b) sunduasmos (= ‘combination, conjoining’ of attention with (a) particular (set of) impression(s);

c) sunousia (= ‘merging’ as attention is lost in the impression);

d) pathos (= ‘suffering’ as by repetition it becomes habit/addiction: pp 154-5, Ouspensky’s Fourth Way).

The Philokalia is a superb-collection of sayings, short and long, of saints and mystics of the Eastern Church and, naturally, is coloured by the Christian monastic experience. Beckwith does give the 5 stages in the Greek version which are more expressive: after sunduasmos comes sunkatathesis ‘assent of mind/desire/will’; then the term is not sunousia but aichmalosia ‘captivity of attention’ followed by pathos (p 326).

Beckwith also presents Śankarācārya’s comments on attention pointing out that ordinary man has “floating attention” or no attention (p 167), but it seems that the Indian guru did not give the 5 stages of attention that are known in the Vedic Tradition.

3. I mention all this because the process described above is one-way and inexorable, as though people are condemned to and up in captivity and suffering.

Of course, this is not true. If it were, men would have no chance of observing dispassionately, of self-remembering, of liberating themselves from the terrible state of “identification”, which corresponds to sunousia and aichmalosia that is ‘merging/captivity’.

G does warn against identification (In Search …150-151) saying that it is almost a permanent state and “freedom is first of all freedom from identification”. O too warns about it (A Further Record … ch 4) in much the same way.

However, neither G nor O explain how one frees oneself from this terrible condition. If one remembers suddenly and by the grace of God, well and good; otherwise one is doomed.

Other followers (K. Walker, M. Nicoll, J. Bennett et al) are no better. M Nicoll in his Psychological Commentaries (vol 1 p 70) writes of only 3 kinds:

a. zero attention, which characterizes mechanical divisions of centres;

b. attention that does not require effort, but is attracted and needs only the keeping out of irrelevant things;

c. attention that must be directed by effort and will.

4. In the Vedic Tradition there are 5 states of attention with an opportunity of escape. This comes at the second stage when attention is about to “conjoin” with the attractive object. Here, if one knows about it, observes that the interest has flared up and has the extra energy to remember not to identify. If one does this, then his attention is free to expand or concentrate to one point and be free from attachment and identification: one can self-remember at the same time. Otherwhise, one will fall into identification, captivity and delusion (called mūḍha in Sanskrit). Leon Maclaren of the School of Economic Science alone, as far as I know, in his lectures formulated the act of attention in this way in English terms.

Now then, repeated identification certainly produces suffering in the long run while repeated timely disengagement leads to controlled attention. This is the 6th aspect of the aṣṭaṅga-yoga, the eightfold system of Pataňjali, which is termed dhāraṇā: mindful attention or consciousness directed and held at any one point (but not captured).

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