A Beginner’s Guide to the Gurdjieff Teaching: Entry 1 of 8
The Horizontal Element: Living Your Daily Life in Community
The Gurdjieff teaching has a horizontal and a vertical dimension. The horizontal dimension is enormously important. It's the dimension of living life, of being part of the community, of service, of participating in a way that is wholehearted, that includes a sense of striving, that doesn't hold back all the human virtues one could possibly offer. This horizontal dimension is expressed by Gurdjieff in simple, classic words:
"From my point of view, he can be called a remarkable man who stands out from those around him by the resourcefulness of his mind and who knows how to be restrained in the manifestations which proceed from his nature, at the same time conducting himself justly and tolerantly toward the weaknesses of others."
The notion of resourcefulness of mind is a life-long pursuit, a life-long value. Which of us has completed our learning, which of us has no problems to face that require deep thought? This Gurdjieff value of resourcefulness of mind is important on the horizontal plane, the plane of living daily.
Then, where Gurdjieff writes "…who knows how to be restrained." That is his renewal of traditional Western values and implies a study, a search, and that too is part of the Gurdjieff teaching.
And then the idea of a rigorous attitude toward oneself—sometimes he will say to be merciless toward oneself—is very much a part of this teaching. At the same time, justice and tolerance toward the weaknesses of others is another part of living according to values that this teaching proposes. You may say that all of this is nothing special, it's just Judeo-Christian values with a few elements of renewal in them. And yet it is special.
The Vertical Element: Contemplation
What is the vertical element in this teaching? Very compactly, Gurdjieff would say that it is the capacity for contemplation and, consequently, the possibility of understanding truths consciously.
"Contemplation ... implies inwardness, a kind of search that is not manifested through outward gestures but through internal process."
In Western tradition contemplation has always implied quietness of mind, stillness of body, an object of meditation, or meditation on complete emptiness. It implies inwardness, a kind of search that is not manifested through outward gestures but through internal process.
Now, when Gurdjieff says "understand truths consciously," we need to look more closely. Consciousness in this teaching, and really in all teachings, is a relative term. There's an awareness that you and I might have now; there's another awareness that could be more refined, it would be like an awakening. But that refined awareness, in turn, would be dense and dull and immobile compared with a still further refinement that would be possible. So the word conscious in the Gurdjieff teaching, and in other teachings, is relative. There are many levels, both linked and discontinuous with each other; they are well worth exploring.