The Future of the Work

the sower-smFrom: JG Bennett website – by Jan Jarvis, 2010-10-29

After a six-week Intensive in the Gurdieff/JG Bennett Work and a period of reflection, I see that this Work has a further and necessary step to take in order to remain valuable and to fulfill its purpose in the world. The Work, as with every teaching where the initial teacher has died, must keep evolving (as did Gurdjieff himself) in order to remain responsive to the changing needs of the world. This utility is the key to the parable of the ‘Sower and the Seed’. Man has a necessary role to play, that both of sower and ground, stony or otherwise. The ability and necessity to read what is called for in the moment, to know what form of growth is required is the part and parcel with the parable. Good farmers maintain the land. We have all seen what happens when people either become fixated on the past, when Gurdjieff was alive and perpetuate the form without the shock of change that Gurdjieff was constantly introducing. Conversely, some pursue, without knowledge of what is required in the moment, whatever appears new and glittery or just adulation of the latest guru come to town. We all recognize why these forms are repeated; they provide energy and the illusion of progress, when, in truth, such behavior does nothing to serve the future. There is a need to reflect seriously on the intent of the Work, what it is for, not just in light of our personal desires for a “Kesdjan” body but what those in the Work should instinctively need to do for the planetary good.

Five Obligolnian Strivings

The notion that the Work should be in the service of “planetary good’ is not new. Gurdjieff presented the idea of “being partkdolg duty”, those practices that are ‘becoming’ to three brained beings or to put it as Gurdjieff did, “that is to say, thanks to those factors, which, from the first arising of three-brained beings, were destined by our Uni-Being Common Father to be the means of self-perfecting.” However, it is intended that being-Partkdolg-duty extends beyond self-perfecting. The Five Obligolnian Strivings make this clear as each extends the duties of humans, first to one’s planetary body, next to the aim of personal transformation of being, third to the higher intellectual center, the fourth to finish themselves well enough to move on to service-and the last to do that service for others, and not just humans but those “of other forms.” While not exactly linear, the latter duties being accessible even to newcomers in small doses, growth in understanding is certainly a key to the fourth and fifth striving. There is a lot to contemplate here. What is our Partkdolg Duty towards the greater world?

A feeling persists amongst people in the Work that by merely ‘Working on oneself” one is actually changing, the world, in the sense of cosmic energies, thereby fulfilling their role in Reciprocal Maintenance, the balance of entropy or negativity. This construct has been used as a koan, so that the Work may (and should) remain hidden, not manifested in the outside world, which might find the unfamiliarity of the philosophy off-putting. Even though Gurdjieff himself was known to grab people off the streets for a movements demonstration and JG Bennett lectured openly on college campuses, the PD Ouspensky reticence has dominated and limited the manifesting of the Work to loci or centers whose purpose is to provide venues for ‘self-work’. In Making a New World, John G. Bennett quotes Gurdjieff as saying that “the program of the Institute, the power of the Institute and the aim of the Institute can be expressed in one sentence: The Institute can help a man to be able to be a Christian.” He goes on to quote further that there is no difference between true religions, that “originally they all had the same ideals as Christianity” (pg 144, Making a New World) In the west, the dominate religion, Christianity, calls upon humans to serve through works of charity in this world. In Matthew 25, lines 34-40, as Christians there are corporal acts, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the dying and more that are behaviors ‘becoming to three-brained beings’ to do. Does that mean, that those in the Work need to become ‘do-gooders’ to fulfill our Partkdolg duty? This question needs to be closely examined, as does the concept of what is ‘good’ to do. However, the belief that we in the Work are somehow balancing the cosmos by sensing ourselves is simply naïve.

If we are ‘to let our light shine’ before others, then our manifestation must be in interaction with others. We cannot be hidden away on a large piece of property whose purpose is to provide work for ourselves. Many in the Work look upon themselves as some sort of ‘inner circle’ of humanity. For instance, the Fellowship of Friends refers to those who may or may not inhabit World 96 as ‘Sleepers.’ This attitude pervades the Work in general, that we, who have ‘found the way’ distain those who have not or in truth, may care not, to follow this path. Those others may be good church, synagogue, mosque or temple-going people, less concerned with ‘specialness’ than many in the Work. They may be disinterested in personal development and yet be hardworking, kind, and good neighbors. Yet there is a bit of ‘cosa nostra’ attitude toward them, as if they would judge the people in the Work as cultists if only they saw some sort of manifestation that was different than the day-to-day expected behavior. This is simple paranoia, presuming that one’s specialness would be too challenging to ‘ordinary’ people and that making an effort to be of service would lead to a witch hunt of some sort.; both a bit silly and self-justifying to be lazy in regards to real sacrifice. So one finds that much potentially useful energy is taken up by maintaining these large properties. In a way doing so is a form of avoidance of the discomfort of living with those who are different than oneself. Work adherents must come out of their self-defined prisons in order to fulfill being Partkdolg duty. Their insistence on clinging to their centers and doing movements makes a statement that they wish to really go no further in this work, indeed that there is no distance left to go.

I disagree. My experience leads me to believe that the Work must come out of the shadows and manifest in order to survive and to fulfill its duty to the world. This is demanded by the fifth Obligolnian striving, the assistance of others. Again the question, does this mean somehow doing ‘good’ in the world? And how is that ‘good’ defined; what would it look and feel like? Let me give some examples. On a workday, a group took on clearing a weed-choked traffic circle in a nearby neighborhood. The practical work was to clear it; the inner work was just that, inner. It had no benefit to any particular person. However, throughout the work task period, strangers walking or driving by, stopped to say thanks and how nice that someone was taking an interest in a neglected corner. The group had discussed and were well prepared to smile & nod and to not ascribe virtue to themselves by dint of what task was being done. In fact, the appreciation and praise became opportunities to watch ego manifest. It was useful work, both outside and inside.

However, this manifestation clearly affected those who randomly witnessed it being done. It had no practical benefit to those participating, or those observing, could hardly be called ‘do-gooding’ in the normal sense, and yet spread out into the greater world by its very act. I will term this a ‘feeling’ manifestation, bringing into the world an act of service that is visible and without recompense. This is where groups ought to begin, carefully and slowly, and well prepared for the temptation of self-congratulations. We are all aware of the pitfalls of doing good, whether in organized religion, environmentalism, food choices or any other of a myriad of opportunities for the ego to manifest. These and other acts where one feels ‘in the right’ are not what is being proposed here. In Matthew 5:16, the active student is called to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” It is the reason behind the act that is praised, (whether a god or the Work) not any one individual or group performing the act. The choice of manifestation must be carefully considered and only those which bring a ‘light’ into the world chosen.