Gurdjieff HeadshotThere is a Mulla Nasrudin story that goes something like this: A woman came to Mulla and asked him to forbid her son to eat sugar. Mulla agreed to do it, but asked her to come back in a week. But when she returned after a week, he asked for another week. And then the same thing happened in the third week. But when she returned for the fourth time, Mulla told her that he would see the boy. When the boy entered Mulla’s room, Mulla said to him immediately, ‘I forbid you to eat sugar,’ and then sent him away. The mother was dumbfounded and said to Mulla, ‘But why didn’t you just forbid him to eat sugar a month ago when I first brought him to you?’  ‘Because,’ Mulla explained, ‘I also had the habit of eating sugar, and it took me this long to quit.’

I like this story because it points out something that has always been obvious to me: that when we teach our words only have weight if we have the experience, or the being, to back them up. And I believe this is especially true when it comes to teaching conscious evolution.

Though the teaching of conscious evolution follows more or less the same laws and principles that the teaching of any discipline follows, it has its own special difficulties. For one thing conscious evolution teaches us to induce states of consciousness that are essentially invisible to scientific proofs. What this means is that proofs, or verifications, are personal. You can verify for yourself that exercises like divided attention and self-remembering make you more conscious; you can observe for yourself that you have a personality and an essence, and you can verify that consciousness has degrees. But you cannot prove that your observations are correct to anybody else. In other words, it is always the case that each individual student has to make his own verifications.

When you teach conscious evolution, you are basically teaching someone to make specific inner efforts. And what is more the student has to accept that he has to make these efforts over a very long period of time.

In almost all cases the knowledge of what the student needs to do does not ensure that he can actually make the necessary efforts. He may even delude himself into thinking that he is making efforts when he is not. And this is further complicated because the student, like all of us, is many “I’s.” We all come to inner work with a lower self, or false personality, which has no interest in, or is even opposed to, the practice of conscious evolution. What this means is that a teacher also has to have a talent for finding or evoking the student’s higher possibilities.

The study of knowledge is only a small portion of the work of learning conscious evolution. In the beginning there needs to be a focus on knowledge, but later, after the student has some experience in making effort, the emphasis has to change. At this stage a teacher needs to find ways to inspire the student to make effort.  He must involve the student in projects and practices that require change of being.

Every teacher, or guru, is a specialist in some one thing. One is an astronomer, another a sculptor, a third a musician. And all the pupils of each teacher must first of all study the subject in which he has specialized, then, afterwards, another subject, and so on.  ~ G. I. Gurdjieff

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 much more difficult to see that two men may possess a different being. 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.

Georges GurdjieffIt 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; he may be knowledgeable about music, and 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 can understand the theory of flight, but not be able to fly a plane. Knowledge is one line, and practical application is another.

The difficulty in understanding being in relation to spiritual ideas is that it is not generally recognized that religion or the study of illumination requires practice and effort. For example, it is typically thought that the New Testament can be understood by anyone who takes the time to study it and consider its historical context, but a man who has never tried to remember himself or struggle with negative emotions will never fully understand the gospels because they were written for people who already possess some preparation. They were written for people who have the possibility to love their enemies. From one point of view practices like turning the other cheek and sacrificing material comfort were meant to be methods to help the early Christians remember themselves. To be able to carry out these exercises required, and still require, a level of being that is the result of inner work. And if a man lacks this experience, or being, he will not be able to fully understand the gospels.

People of Western culture put great value on the level of a man’s knowledge but they do not value the level of a man’s being and are not ashamed of the low level of their own being. ~ G. I. Gurdjieff

Spiritual understanding is not solely based on studying religious concepts. It is the combination of comprehending the ideas that make up a religion and the capacity to put those ideas into practice. It is a combination of knowledge and being. In many religious traditions being can be understood in relation to ethics or being good. For instance, a professor of religious studies may or may not practice the religions he teaches. He may teach ethics and not be ethical in his personal or professional life. Knowledge of what is good does not necessarily make him good. In ethics his being is his ability to be good, not his ability to explain why certain actions are ethical and others are not.

In relation to conscious evolution the same principle holds true. If your knowledge of conscious evolution is combined with self-remembering, being present, and transforming suffering your understanding will be greater than if you only study the knowledge or if you try to practice self-remembering, being present, and transforming suffering without studying the knowledge. Understanding is the result of the two: one without the other results in less understanding.

It is also possible to talk about being in relation to a particular practice like being present. Just as a person may have more being or more experience in flying a plane, a person may have more being in relation to remaining 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 flareup or when he is in pain. In other words his being gives him an accumulated mass of experiences to draw from in relation to the getting to and staying in the moment.

Though we all have glimpses of the higher emotional center in odd or dangerous or surprising moments, the idea that we can make higher states permanent through inner work is not, in most cases, innate; we have to be told about this possibility. But at the same time the more the student can remember himself and function from the higher emotional center, the more it will be possible for him to uncover and understand the principles that govern inner evolution.

In theory anybody who has a basic understanding of the laws and principles that govern conscious evolution can teach it. But generally the best teachers are those who can depend on being able to act from higher centers, through self-remembering and other methods, at will; that is, teachers who can be conscious when they need to be.

The knowledge of conscious evolution is designed to be used to bring higher centers to the forefront of our experience. It matters very little, for example, whether you believe that being present is the right thing to do; what matters is whether you work at it and develop it. The knowledge is designed to help the student remember himself, not to convince him of the necessity of self-remembering. He needs to find that for himself.

The teaching by itself cannot pursue any definite aim. It can only show the best way for men to attain whatever aims they may have. ~ G. I. Gurdjieff

In general teachers of conscious evolution do not proselytize. Since many religions are based on belief, it is possible to convince someone to believe with arguments; it is much more difficult to convince someone that they need to make efforts to attain something they believe they already possess, like complete consciousness, or something they think doesn’t exist, like the astral body. The theory behind the spread of conscious evolution is that all a teacher can do is make the knowledge available and then remind and inspire their students. Whether a student uses the knowledge will depend on his own verifications of whether the practices being taught produce results for him. A good teacher understands this. Because of his own struggles, he understands that what he is offering is difficult, and that people who need to be coaxed to work on themselves are not going to last very long.

The higher the teacher, the more difficult for the pupil. And if the difference in the levels of the teacher and pupil go beyond a certain limit, then the difficulties in the path of the pupil become insuperable.  ~ G. I. Gurdjieff

Conscious evolution is a way of a living. It is a way of using your life to transcend physical existence and pass consciously from this world to another. In our time the methods of achieving immortality have been stated openly. It is very simple: if you want to exist in another world, you must exist in this world first. You must remember yourself. You must be present and not look backward or forward. You must divert your energy away from your desires, your opinions, your negativity, and all the identifications that keep you stranded in the future and the past, and then take that energy and transform yourself.

You know that I have long since looked upon all of us without exception as people who have suffered shipwreck and have been cast upon an uninhabited island, but who do not yet know of it. But these people here know it. The others, there, in life, still think that a steamer will come for them tomorrow and that everything will go on in the old way. These already know that there will be no more of the old way. I am so glad that I can be here. ~ Katherine Mansfield (Said to P. D. Ouspensky about Gurdjieff’s students at Prieuré .)

To teach this work is not easy. It requires some sacrifice and a real capacity for external considering. Without external consideration a teacher will not be able to give his students what they need; he will instead give them what he thinks they need, which is something entirely different. At the same time all students must pass on what they have learned to be able to move on. And really there is nothing quite like the relationships that grow from a connection to inner work. Differences in nationality, languages, and religious tradition can be overcome when two people have a sincere wish to communicate the practices and principles of conscious evolution. The people you meet along the way are the people who understand not only the rigors of the path but also the rewards of connecting to higher centers, which are invisible to anybody who has not yet realized the necessity of effort. And that, in a work that requires great endurance and courage, is a comfort and a help.