In fielding comments and questions that come about as a result these articles, it’s become clear to me that many disagreements and misunderstandings are the result of not fully considering the concept of ‘higher mind.’
In a nutshell what higher mind means is that there are two kinds of knowledge: knowledge that comes from people who have achieved a permanent, or at least a consistent, connection with higher centers and the knowledge that comes from everybody else. The idea is simple: higher centers give us a perception of ourselves and of the world that is not available without the working of higher centers. And for the understanding of esoteric principles, there is no substitute for the experience of higher centers.
In general people don’t like being told that there are experiences or perceptions that they are not privy to. The idea that men are different, that some have a higher level of ‘being’ is contrary to our modern democratic ideals. (Gurdjieff describes these differences in his ranking of men from one to seven, seven being the highest, and one, two and three representing ordinary men.) More than once I have heard the Fourth Way described as elitist. If the working of higher centers were based on belief or a superior intellect or social status or financial resources, this would be a justifiable criticism. But the working of higher centers is based only on a willingness to make certain inner efforts. And really here is where we come to what is behind many objections to esoteric principles and practices: people want to believe that personal enlightenment is not a matter of struggle or effort. They want to believe that they deserve wisdom, and even eternal life, without having to change or evolve.
It is also not unusual for people to demand proof. They want me or others who practice the Fourth Way to prove to them that these ideas are true or that Gurdjieff’s theories about the world are factual. It would nice if worked this way, but it doesn’t. And it’s easy to see why. If the understanding of this knowledge is based on a connection with higher centers then it should also be clear that without this connection, any real understanding is impossible. I cannot prove to you that this knowledge is true, because proof, for you, is only possible when you study it from higher centers. In the same way you cannot expect your dog to understand a mathematical proof. Mathematical proofs are created by and exist in the realm of the intellectual and moving centers, and dogs don’t have intellectual centers. (Dogs have a moving/instinctive center and an emotional center, which is why they can understand when you’re mad or pleased but not understand simple mathematical concepts.)
In the Fourth Way belief and proofs are replaced by personal verification. Let’s look at an example: one of the basic ideas of the the Fourth Way is that man is asleep. But there is very little I can say to you to convince you that this is true, and I can’t really give you any statistics or facts. But if you accept this as a theory and if you make efforts be present and remember yourself, at some point you will connect to higher centers, and then you will see for yourself that people are asleep, just as Ouspensky describes in In Search of the Miraculous.
I was walking along the Troitsky Street and suddenly I saw that the man who was walking towards me was asleep. There could be no doubt whatever about this. Although his eyes were open, he was walking along obviously immersed in dreams which ran like clouds across his face. ~ P. D. Ouspensky
In the same passage Ouspensky comes to this conclusion:
I understood even then with undoubted clarity, that no phenomena of a higher order, that is, transcending the category of ordinary things observable every day, or phenomena which are sometimes called ‘metaphysical,’ can be observed or investigated by ordinary means, in an ordinary state of consciousness. ~ P. D. Ouspensky
There are many examples of this. For instance the idea of human type exists as a part of esoteric knowledge. There are a few books about it, and various theories about how it works and how many types there are. Now if you have this knowledge, you can begin to work out your type and the types of your friends. You can work it out by studying the knowledge and by making deductions from the way your friends look and act. In other words you can ‘investigate by ordinary means.’ But to actually see type, to see it in yourself and in other people, you need to observe other people from higher centers. Type is part of essence, and in order to observe essence, you need to be above it, that is, you need to be functioning from the higher emotional center.
Here’s another interesting point. If you didn’t know about type, and yet had a consistent connection with higher centers, would you discover it? To put this question in another way: if you had the being to observe type, but not the knowledge of it, would find it? I believe the answer to this is not necessarily. I think it would depend on your essence and your interests. If you were interested in the differences and similarities between people, and if you were willing to give some time and attention to this problem, then you might discover it. But this should be clear. Higher centers do not give specific information. They give us a larger and deeper and more energetic frame of reference, which we can use in any way we see fit.
In the end the study of knowledge is only a small portion of fourth way; the focus of system is on finding ways to connect to higher centers, or, to say it another way, the focus is on change of being. In general people can agree that men differ in the amount of knowledge they possess–a man may be more knowledgeable or less knowledgeable than another man–but it is a little more tricky to see that two men may possess a different being, especially in relation to spiritual matters. The simplest way to think about being is that it is the capacity to use knowledge; it is an accumulated mass of experience in a particular area or subject.
It is understood, for instance, that a man can study the theory of music but not the practice of making music. He may study how a piece of music should sound, theories of composition, and learn to read music; he may even teach others about music, but at the same time he may never learn to play an instrument or compose or direct; in other words, he may be knowledgeable about music, and at the same time not be able to make music. The making of music requires more than study; it requires effort and practice; it requires being. The being of a musician is his capacity to make music. The same may be said for other professions and skills. A man may understand the theory of flight, but not be able to fly a plane. Knowledge is one line, and practical application is another.
In the fourth way the same principle holds true. If your knowledge of the ideas is combined with being present, self-remembering, and the transformation of negative emotions, your understanding will be greater than if you only study the knowledge or if you try to practice inner work without studying the knowledge. Understanding is result of the two.
It is possible to talk about being in relation to a particular esoteric practice like being present. Just as a person may have more experience in flying a plane, a person may have more being in relation to staying focused in the present. In the same way that a pilot who has twenty thousand hours in the air is more experienced than a pilot who only a hundred hours in the air, you can say that a man who has been practicing being present for twenty years has more experience (or being ) than someone who heard about the idea a few months ago. This doesn’t mean that the latter cannot be present. He can be present. But it does mean that the more experienced man is likely to be more aware of and better able to cope with the denying forces that are part of the effort to be present. For example, he may be able to better observe the tricks that his mind plays that allow him to slip back into the past or the future. He also may be more adept at remaining present when emotions flare up or when the body is in pain. In other words a greater level of being, in this case, gives an individual an accumulated mass of experiences to draw from in relation to the getting to and remaining in the moment.
It can be said the understanding is the fruit of higher centers. Understanding is what we take away from our experience of a higher state of consciousness. But we must not limit understanding to an ability to explain knowledge. It is much more. It is the beginning of higher mind. Higher centers teach us about ourselves and the world, but that understanding is not in words. Understanding may be translated into words, but it also may be translated into music, or a painting, or a gesture, or a dance, or an act of kindness. The form that our understanding takes depends on our essence, on who we are, and on our interests and talents.