Parts: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9],  Downloadable PDF

Rise of the Technician

Unfortunately, given time, more often than not, leadership of most movements is eventually taken over by technician-specialists who may actually exile true initiates whose presence represents opposition to what the ‘new guard’ believes ought to be done. Gurdjieff said of organized religion that within a generation or two of disciples, the founder would not recognize his own teaching. “But to the common misfortune of all beings, with just a little reason, they (disciples) began gradually to mix into all the counsels and indications of … Saint Moses … such mass of what are called ‘spices’ that the saintly author himself could not with all his wish recognize anything of his own in this, as it were, totality collected by them of all he had explained and indicated”. And “… already the first generation of the contemporaries of Saint Moses, evidently found it profitable for their special aims to insert in these religious teachings almost the entire fantastic teaching which I already told you …” [BT p.700-701]

Seductiveness of Charisma

The potential charisma that accompanies the role of “spiritual guide” is a real phenomenon. Many people occupying such a role have fallen from grace due to the temptation to misuse this power, (an attribution of spiritualty that students give and want to give to their guide), to manipulate for sex, money, or worshipful devotees. This un-conscience-able (and usually unconscious) misuse of others’ naivete, wishfullness and blind trust can lead to cults using the same organizational name and outward structure as their legitimate roots, but no longer resembling them in practice or aim. More common is the seductiveness of the adoration given to the role which can become addictive. This can develop the desire to maintain and grow the group for the sake of the leader’s ego.

Of course, everyone believes that what they are doing is correct. Errors occur primarily as a result of “waking sleep” in leaders pretending to themselves, as well as others, that they are “awake’. On the other hand, there are always a few truly corrupt leaders who may deliberately alter the program for their own aims. Gurdjieff observed that if an organization is initially successful, it inevitably attracts people interested in inheriting the power positions in such a successful organization. They often displace more sincere members and take over. [BT p.609-612] When these misuses are deliberate, then we can turn to Gurdjieff’s description of narcissists and sociopaths which he called “Hasnamuss.” Such people are dominated by the urge “to become free from the necessity of actualizing the being–efforts” or … (display) a “calm self-contentment in the use of what is not personally deserved” or a ‘striving to be not what one is”. [BT p. 235]

 Stages of Group Life

There is another lawful problem with organized human activity, universal in its manifestation. As mentioned earlier, a group or organization is like a living organism. It has a birth, a youth, a mature period, an old age of decline and inevitably, a death. As a living organism it seeks to stay alive, grow and avoid death at all costs, renewing itself through reformations and changing goals. As the initial founders die, and new generations take their place, modifications begin to occur. Some are useful and necessary adaptations to changing circumstances. Some are gratuitous or self-serving or done from ignorance. Some are done to increase the power and influence of the current leadership. Some represent a misunderstanding or disagreement with the original founder’s goal and methods. (There is a very useful exploration of this theme in Beelzebub’s Tales, pages 609-612). As with all movements, groups sometimes split apart over personality and political power issues. This is human nature at the level of “waking sleep.” It is naïve to assume that the mantle of spiritual guide, or spiritual school is a guarantee that such a person(s) are “Awake” in Gurdjieff’s sense of the term.

Mission Drift

Ouspensky talks clearly about this tendency of organizations to stray from the founding mission in an exploration of the enneagram Mi-Fa interval. “The same happens in all spheres of human activity. In literature, science, art, philosophy, religion, in individual and above all social and political life, we can observe how the lines of development of forces deviates from its original direction and goes, after a certain time, in a diametrically opposite direction, still preserving its former name. A study of history from this point of view shows the most astonishing facts which mechanical humanity is far from desiring to notice. Perhaps the most interesting example of such a change of direction in the line of development of forces can be found in the history of religion, particularly in the history of Christianity if it is studied dispassionately. Think how many turns the development of the line of forces must have taken to come from the Gospel preaching of love to the Inquisition, or to go from the ascetics of the early centuries studying esoteric Christianity to the scholastics who calculated how many angels could be placed on the point of a needle.” [ISM p. 129]

Ben Shimon Halevi discusses the problem of group atrophy in this way. “In most traditions the line of responsibility is handed down from teacher to disciple. The purpose of this is to preserve the teaching and to pass on the spirit   The Sufis call it the “Baraka” which has the same root word as the Hebrew for blessing. However, traditions contain human beings and occasionally when a teacher dies without appointing a successor of high caliber, those remaining try to preserve the form of the Teaching.  Alas, this is rarely successful.  With time the dead teacher is elevated, more by hero worship than understanding, to sainthood, while caretaker leaders, despite their apparent modesty, take on authority.  Slowly the teaching loses its life as its inner content is forgotten. Theory turns into mere words, and practices into empty repetition. The outer form is perfect, and as such, is often mistaken for the real thing.  However, the results are the precise reverse of what the original teacher intended, for the work of liberating people gradually turns into one of binding them closer to a mechanical way of life, however spiritual it sets out to be. There are many examples of this in historical and modern times.  All the great religions have suffered from such phenomena and so have many small and unknown communities originally dedicated to the development of man.”   [Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, Adam and the Kabbalistic Tree, Red Wheel/Weiser,1989, p. 270]

Poignancy of Inheritance

Another issue that may affect second and perhaps third generation “leaders” is more poignant. This may be seen as similar to the curse of having a famous parent or grandparent. There may arise expectations from oneself, as well as others, that one is to carry the “mantle” forward. A potential underside of the sense of responsibility to “carry on” can be a fearful conservatism that is reluctant to, or refuses to, change anything for fear of doing damage to the teaching. On the one hand, this is laudable, responsible, and appropriate to avoid what Gurdjieff warned about the tendency to “wiseacring”, “an-irresistible-thirst-to-be-considered-as-learned-by-beings-around-them-similar-to- themselves”. [BT p. 842]

On the other hand, Gurdjieff also warns that teachings are initially brought for a particular reason, in a particular form with particular metaphors and practices for certain people under certain conditions at a certain moment in time. Their outer form must change with the times to be digestible by the people of later times and places. “The strangeness of the psyche of your favorites in respect of the religious teachings which arise in this way among them, manifests itself in this: that they already, from the very beginning, understand ‘literally’ all that has been said and explained by these genuine Sacred Individuals actualized from Above and they never take into account in which environment and for which case this or that was said and explained.” [BT pp. 696-697]

The tension of this paradox can be seen in the difference between many Foundation affiliated groups and those drawing on their training from other lineages founded by Gurdjieff’s pupils outside the Foundation umbrella … or from people with no direct connection with Gurdjieff or his pupils. To share with the world of interested seekers but risk dilution… or…  to keep the teaching restricted to “authorized” groups?  That is a challenging question for the groups that see their mission as including preservation from distortion.


A common problem for many groups can arise with a sense of exclusivity, superiority, specialness. Whether a nation state, a political organization, special interest clubs, and especially with spiritual or religious communities which come to believe that their way is the true way, this kind of precious attitude, often accompanied by secretiveness and exclusiveness can develop, rationalized by a belief that the dogma and rituals are too dangerous or private to share with outsiders. This attitude can bestow on the members a belief in their specialness and, tragically, strengthen, instead of weakening, their egoism.

This can result in shunning, not only of outsiders, but also of any group member who is critical of the power structure or expresses interests outside the official “curriculum”. It can manifest as a refusal to recognize individuals and groups with similar interests and training. It can devolve into something like a guild or private club which guards its secrets and restricts its members from associating with other groups, even from the same root tradition. This can create tension between communities with shared interests, lineage, and practices. It is a razor’s edge between the appropriate responsibility to guard a tradition from dilution by the uninitiated, and the creation of unnecessary schism between members of the same larger community. The latter is a problem that has dogged all movements and is likely not what the founder of the tradition would have advised.  Gurdjieff warned about this repeatedly, knowing full well that some of his followers would fall into this trap.