Esotericism (XXXV): Gurdjieff’s sources (3): Fragments & Whole

Esotericism (XXXV): Gurdjieff’s sources (3): Fragments & Whole

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1. Let me today examine some more affinities between G’s teaching and the Vedic Tradition in India. The Vedic Tradition starts with the sūktas ‘hymns’ of the Ṛgveda and passes through many phases and many forms of expression (sūtra ‘brief, pregnant formulations’, epic like the vast Mahābhārata etc.).

In G’s Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson we meet repeatedly the principle Trogoautoegocrat – a term made up for the occasion by G from Modern Greek meaning ‘I eat myself and so maintain myself’. (Bennet got this right on p191 and 275 but the verb is cratō not cratizo). This is the simple fact that every level of being is food for another. The elements air, fire, water etc. feed on one another; plants feed on them; animals feed on plants and higher on lower ones; man feeds on organic life; gods (celestial bodies) feed on man; and so on.

2. In Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad we read (1.3.17-18) that prāṇa ‘the vital power breath’ gathers food and the other powers (devās ‘gods’) say ‘The whole world is nothing but food’. And in 1.4.6 – “Food and eater; such is the extent of this entire world”. In 6.2.12: In that fire [i.e. man’s organism] gods offer food and from that offering arises semen” – which becomes man in a woman. However 3.8.8 declares that the Absolute “does not eat anything and nobody eats it”.

Man transforms energy, fine or gross, by eating and being eaten. Common man produces semen (retas). Superior man produces higher energy (ojas).

3. Another important idea (and reality) in G’s teaching is that of the three bodies that the Self has in his embodiment in this world. This could come from Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians (15.42-49): the carnal (of earth), the soul (=mind), the spirit. But G expounds the idea using the image of the carriage – all given beautifully in Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous p41 ff. There is the Divine body which is the Master, the supreme Self or “I” and “Will” (which he terms “causal”). This has the carnal body (=carriage), the astral or natural (=horses), and the spiritual or mental (=driver). All this is imprecise and confused drawing terms from different traditions.

The Kaṭha Up. gives a more precise and elegant picture (3.1-9): the Self is the master, the passenger; the buddhi ‘higher intellect’ is the driver; manas ‘ordinary intellect’ is the reins; the desiring senses are the horses; the carnal body is the carriage; the roads are the objects of the senses. “When a man has real understanding with buddhi as driver and manas as reins and the senses obey the driver, then he reaches that high state from which there is no rebirth”.

4. Generally, in the Indian philosophical schools the bodies are given as follows: ātman, the Self, the Master; kāraṇa śarīra ‘causal/spiritual body of nature’; sūkṣma ‘subtle mental body, soul’; sthūla śarīra ‘the gross carnal body’.

Perhaps even more telling is the term “Fourth Way” as distinct from the ways of the fakir, monk and yogi (p44-6, In Search…). These reflect rather clumsily the three ancient ways in the Indian culture of Karma ‘action’ (which you can follow without being a fakir), of bhakti ‘devotion’ (which you can follow without being a monk) and of jñāna (or buddhi) ‘knowledge’ (which you can follow without being a yogi).

However, it is said generally (in Vedãnta especially) that if a householder (one in common life) follows one or all three without personal desire, he obtains all the puṇya ‘merit’ of any celibate monk or yogi. This is the 4th way where the aspirant does not have to change his condition or mode of living (provided it is not criminal) in the world.

5. Consequently, it seems that the whole integral system is present in the Vedic Tradition of India.

I am not saying that G stayed and studied in any school in India. If he had, his teaching would have been different and cast in a very different terminology. But the different strands and elements (the fragments of an unknown teaching) that make it up came from traditions and systems that probably originated in large part or wholly in the Vedic Tradition of India.

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