The beguiling phrase “the consequences of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer” occurs fifty-four times in The Tales. It is a repeating drumbeat, the rhythm of which enters the mind of the reader. However, nowhere in The Tales does Gurdjieff explain precisely what he means by those words.
Happily, The Tales is not the only place where he mentions the topic. He touched on it in three separate lectures, all of which were given prior to him writing The Tales. He gave the first of these lectures before he established his institute in France.
The notes from the lecture read as follows:
So is the ordinary man. He can live all his life as he is.
At the same time Nature has given him the possibility of changing, but this does not mean that any change will necessarily take place.
This change you speak of is possible, but it is difficult to say if anyone has the chance of reaching it. There are many reasons not dependent on us, which may prevent this.
The chief reason is in ourselves, and it is the Kundabuffer as it is called.
To understand clearly what this new thing is, we must stop here and go into further details. Nature in her foresight has given to man’s machine a certain property, which protects the man from feeling and sensing reality.
That is the Kundabuffer.
Let us take a real fact. All men are mortal and every man can die at any moment. I can imagine that Mr. Smith comes out from the theater, and crossing the street, he falls under an automobile which crushes him to death. Or a signboard is torn off and falls just on the head of Mr. Jones and kills him on the spot. Or Mr. Brown eats crayfish, poisons himself, and dies the next day without anyone being able to save him.
All this, everybody can easily imagine. But, we ask, can anyone imagine that he himself this moment or tomorrow, or in one year or in ten years will also die? Really if we think of this carefully – death is a terror. What is more terrible than death? What would happen if he really imagined this terror, his own death? Can you imagine the terror?
You cannot imagine your own death, but you can imagine the death of another. Besides these terrors there are many other terrors in reality, which we do not realize, which we do not see. If men realized them they would hang themselves from terror. But nobody sees this. Why? Perhaps somebody will say it is our will which protects us from realizing these terrors? But then why does not our will protect us from small fears?
Imagine you come home, undress, go to bed, and at the same moment that you cover yourself with the blanket something jumps from under the bed, runs across your body and hides itself in the folds of the blanket. You throw off your blanket, draw up your feet and see a mouse. Imagine this picture, and almost from thinking about it – a shiver will run through your body. And what was so terrifying, in this, a house mouse, the most harmless of beasts. You don’t feel terror before inevitable deaths but you are afraid of a mouse, are afraid of a thousand trifles which may only possibly occur.
These terrors on account of which you will not hang yourself are admitted by Nature as offensive for your existence, to the extent in which they are necessary to give you the experiences of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. Without them, there could not exist the experiences of which our life is made up. This is the source of the many troubles, griefs, efforts, self-loves, vanities which force man to act, to attain, and have illusions and disillusions. That is what supports life.
These same things give us dreams, imaginations, and illusions, and awake the most various wishes in man. And he is always full of them. They give him the necessary impulse and fill his life, and he has no time to feel reality. Often those aims are inaccessible, but man does not see this and keeps on trying and trying. When one kind of trouble passes – another appears. Man‘s machine has to work all the time.
And now imagine that you know, that you remember, if only with your head, that you have in one month to die. Exactly in one month. What will remain then of all that has filled our day? Everything that you have will lose its meaning and will count as nothing. And the newspaper with your morning coffee, and the polite greeting from your neighbors on the stairs, your professional work and belongings, and theater in the evening, and rest and sleep – to what purpose is all this?
But if death will come only in a year or two? Even then, everything will no longer have the same meaning that it had for us before.
Involuntarily you ask: if that is so, why should we live?
Just not because your life is for yourself. Your life is necessary to somebody else, who watches over it and takes care of it, that you may be able to live a little better. We take and we watch over the lives of our sheep and pigs. When we feed them, do we do this because we care about them, or for the sake of their lives? No, we make their lives happy and good, and arrange for them all sorts of comforts in order that when the time comes to kill them, we may have better meat and more fat.
Just in the same way, evidently, somebody wants us to live, wants us not to see all our terrors and not to hang ourselves but wants us to live long, so that the one to whom we are necessary will gently and softly kill us when the time comes. Not to see reality and not to feel it as it is, is the main form of our slavery. We have many slaveries, but this one is the first, is the chief one. That is the law of Nature. The existence of the whole of humanity and of all that lives is indispensable to the great ones. In life there is a great aim, and this justifies her destiny. We have to serve as slaves – that is our destiny. And at the same time, Nature has foreseen the possibility, but not for everyone, to throw off this slavery.
This throwing-off is the first liberation. Life has two directions, life is like two rivers.
All living beings on earth are subdivided into two currents; some flow with one current, the others with the other. The one part are subordinate and have in themselves one kind of law, the others another. The two laws always come into collision, one with the other, cross each other, run side by side, never mixing, supporting each other; necessary, one to the other. Always it was so, always it will be so. Now if we take the life of the masses, their life as a whole is like one of the rivers, in which each drop of water represents the life of an individual man or of some living creature.
All these separate drops go to make up the river, which in its turn is a link in the cosmic chain. The current of this river flows according to general cosmic law. All its turnings, all its curves, all its changes have a quite a definite destination. For this destination each drop plays only in as much as it is a particle of the big river.
The law does not extend itself to the separate drops. The changing of place of the drops, their direction, their movement, have only a casual character. Now the drop is here, in one moment there. One moment it is on the surface, another it sinks. Occasionally it collides with another, sinks. Or it flows quickly or slowly, whether it is good or bad depends on the place where it falls.
It has no separate laws. It has no personal fate. Fate is only for the whole river; all the drops have this. Personal grief, joy, happiness, suffering, all are accidentally in this current.
But each drop has a principal possibility of leaving this common current and jumping into the neighboring second river. That is also a law of Nature.
For this, the drop has to know how to use the inertia of the whole river; how to use the occasional shocks to come to the surface and nearer to the banks from which it is easier to jump.
It is necessary to choose the place and the time. It is necessary to make use of the wind, of the current of the storms, if such occurs. Then the drop has a chance with the spray to rise and jump into the neighboring river.
From the moment of getting there, it is in another life and therefore subject to other laws.
In this river, there are laws for the separate drops. There is the law of turn. When the drop rises or sinks to the bottom, it is not accidental, but according to a certain law. This law is also mechanical as in the first river. Coming to the surface, the drop gets heavier and sinks. In the depths it loses weight and rises. To flow on the surface is good for it, but to be in the depths is evil. And here much depends on knowledge and effort.
This river has many little streams. It is necessary to get into the right stream and to remain on the surface as long as possible in order to gain the possibility of reaching another bed, and so on. We are now in the first river. Until we are passive we shall be driven about and exposed to all accidents. We are slaves of these accidents. At the same time however, Nature has given us permission to be able to get away from this slavery. And so when one speaks of “liberation,” it means just the getting into another river.
But this is certainly not so simple, to “want to pass and you pass.” It is necessary to make a long preparation, a very strong wish is necessary. It is necessary to renounce all the blessings of the world that are in the first river. For this, it is necessary to die for this river. Just about this death it is spoken in all religions. If you do not die you will not be resurrected. This is not spoken about the death of the physical body. For such death it is not necessary to be resurrected. If there is soul, moreover, an immortal soul, it can do without this body, the loss of which is called death.
And the cause of the resurrection is not to appear before God, as we are taught by the contemporary fathers of the Church. No, Christ and all others spoke about death which can occur even while we are in life, about the death of the tyrant from whom comes our slavery, and upon whose death depends the first chief liberation of man. What I am about to tell may appear at the first glance to be the delirium of a madman. For some it will remain so. Nevertheless I will tell. And at the same time, according to my ideas, I reckon it a big sin to speak of it. If I have sinned against Nature, my chief sin will be reckoned in this, about which I am going to speak.
All wars, all disputes, all misunderstandings, all misfortunes, all experiences which seem terrible when they occur, when they have passed we can see are not worth a half-penny. In this sense, as if from a fly one should get an elephant, and now from an elephant a fly. The reason for this is always the same property of the man, that he reflects reality in the reverse.
During such events, all are slaves, and all are under a general hypnosis. Where is the dignity attributed to man? Where is man with his free will?
It was always so and it will be always so with the masses, because if there will not be slaves, there will not be masters, there will not be life.
But at the same time, to some men it is given to get out from beneath the mass hypnosis. Men so little realize this mass hypnosis, that the one who is more or less free from it, appears as a being of a lower order.
That which is called bravery in war is really only a manifestation of this mass hypnosis. There exist whole nations which reckon the others cowards, as for example, the Russians the Jews. But the Jewish drummer who, according to the understanding of the Russians, out of cowardice hides in a ditch during the battle, is really a more normal man, more free than they are. That which he has is personal, while for the others, everything personal is missing. There remains only the mass hypnosis. He is the slave only of his personal qualities, while they are twice slaves.
If we take from a man all his illusions, all that prevents him from seeing the true reality – that is, all his interests, his agitations, his awakenings, his hopes; with them disappear all his aspirations. Everything will be empty. All the impulses of his psyche will be stopped. There will remain an empty being, an empty body which will live only physiologically. That is the death of the “I.” The death of everything of which it consisted, the destruction of everything false, accumulated through ignorance and lack of experience.
All that will remain in him will be there only as material, not as he himself. Only then will it be possible, if there is strength enough, to collect a new material, and that only by choice. Then man himself takes, and it is not as formerly when something was put into him according to what something else wanted. It is “difficult,” but this word is not adequate. The word “impossible” is also bad, because in principle it is possible, although it is a thousand times more difficult than from nothing to become through honest work a millionaire.
The second mention of Kundabuffer can be found in the Q & A session of a lecture given on March 1st in New York in 1924. It reads as follows:
[In answer to a question about the moon.]The moon is man’s big enemy. We serve the moon. Last time you heard about Kundabuffer. Kundabuffer is the moon’s representative on earth. We are like the moon’s sheep, which it cleans, feeds and shears, and keeps for its own purposes. But when it is hungry it kills a lot of them. All organic life works for the moon. Passive man serves involution; and active man, evolution. You must choose. But there is a principle: in one service you can hope for a career; in the other you receive much but without a career. In both cases we are slaves, for in both cases we have a master. Inside us we also have a moon, a sun and so on. We are a whole system. If you know what your moon is and does, you can understand the cosmos.
The final mention of Kundabuffer is found in the notes of a lecture given later in 1924, in Chicago.
LECTURE, CHICAGO 1924
Kundabuffer at base of spine, prevents our seeing things as they are. If we saw ourselves as we really are, we would hang ourselves. Man must desire a way with his essence – he is really afraid to ask himself if he really wants a way. He may want the way very much with his mind, but when work begins he finds he never even thought of wanting it.
When emotion positive, must also be negative. Transcend both to be free. Strong belief in one direction means strong belief in opposite. At Institute, suffering adjusted and divided between centers. Conscience is man’s particularity.
We often know others far better than ourselves, therefore mutual help is very profitable. One-centered activity is hallucination – two-center activity is semi-hallucination – three-center is none.
Scientific classification, vertebrate and non-vertebrate. Gurdjieff’s by number of brains. Many animals have same number of brains as man – who happens to be a kind of animal by chance; other animals by law of adaptation, and with the necessary environments may become like man. Man has many brains, some of which have the property of cosmic consciousness, others of instinctive mechanical consciousness. Formulatory apparatus is of latter kind. Therefore, our thinking must be mechanical.
In process of ages, owing to wrong education, etc., formulatory apparatus usurped function of real mental center. It was originally to collect impressions. Thoughts in formulatory apparatus always change. What we have in other centers always remains. It is ours. Aim of all ways the same. At the end of Yogi training, begin Monk’s, then Fakir’s, and vice versa. Fourth Way, Haida Way, to study all one can know. It differs from other ways by being much quicker and therefore more difficult. Three center development simultaneously. Astral body not immortal, mechanical like our body but finer. From it, mental body can be developed, then divine body, and only then can one begin to develop immortal soul and only then is reincarnation possible. Possessor of astral body dies, when astral body disintegrates. Same with has immortal soul mental body and physical body. He who never dies.
In talking, formulatory apparatus talks to formulatory apparatus. Vibrations of former received in latter. If message felt in speaking, then felt by other in emotional center. All is vibration. Sin in ignorance not so serious as sin knowing it is wrong. All actions produce vibrations which produce some result. We must suffer for our sins before we can begin real development. Impartial judgment only possible when inwardly free. One center acceptance never criticizes, we do when one center questions impression of other. Formulatory apparatus has no inherent energy, robs it from other centers. Everything is impressed on brains. Experiments have been made with newly born children. Action in one center reacts on others, in all parts of the body, even to points outside the body. Man’s intelligence varies in proportion to his capacity to prevent these fluctuations passing from one center to another.
There is also a mention of Kundalini from the same source. It appears among a list of sayings and proclaims:
Kundalini at base of spine prevents our seeing things as they are; it is the representative of the moon; it is necessary for life, for if we saw things as they were we’d hang ourselves.
From In Search of the Miraculous
The topic of Kundabuffer is touched upon in In Search of the Miraculous. Gurdjieff introduces the topic by sharing the parable of the Magician, which he says originates in the East. The story is as follows:
A Magician had a large flock of sheep. However, these sheep were proving troublesome, partly because they realized that the Magician kept them only to shear them for their wool and slaughter them for food. Consequently, they would constantly wander off over the hills and into the forest, some falling into ravines and others escaping. The Magician did not want to hire shepherds or build wire fences around his pasture. So, he pondered the matter and came up with a solution. He hypnotized the sheep.
When he hypnotized them, he suggested three things:
– Firstly, he told them that they were immortal, and that no harm was done to them when they were skinned and slaughtered. Indeed, it was good for them and also very pleasant.
– Secondly, he suggested to them that he was a kind and caring master who had their best interests at heart. And anyway, if something were going to happen to them, it would not happen today or even soon, so they had no need to be concerned about it.
– Thirdly, he told them that they were not sheep at all. He told some that they were lions, others that they were eagles, and some that they were men, and he even told some of them that they were magicians.
As a consequence, his sheep management problems vanished completely.
Gurdjieff said that this tale provided a good illustration of humanity’s position. Man is farmed, and, in general, he has no idea of this. While he should fear his own death, he does not. Most people’s minds have been filled with various stories about what happens at death, none of which suggest that they simply become food for something else.
In connection with this parable, he also spoke about Kundalini, which he equated to Kundabuffer, noting that occult literature was dangerously misleading about it. The “serpent of Kundalini” is often described as a mystical power residing at the base of the spine that can be awakened to deliver great benefit. Kundalini, he asserted, was neither desirable nor useful. He said it represented the power of imagination and fantasy, which often takes the place of real functions. When a man imagines that he has special powers, this is simply Kundalini in action. Kundalini can act in all centers, and with its help, all the centers can be satisfied with the imaginary instead of the real.