Having been fascinated by (but not affiliated with) the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky tradition and teaching for most of my life, I recently reviewed “Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff – The Man, The Teaching, His Mission” the encyclopedic account written by William Patrick Patterson.
Many “seekers” are completely unaware that the ideas of Tolle, Dyer, Katie, Ehrhard and even Alan Watts have a resonating thread to two men who led groups in the early 20th century, and who each had powerful charismatic personalities, Gurdjieff himself and his most famous student, P.D. Ouspensky.
My own interest in this teaching began over 40 years ago when I travelled to the Yucatan and later Cairo in search of lost wisdom. I had been fascinated by the extensive research into the Great Pyramid and its encoding of mathematical and astronomical truth by Peter Tomkins, in his Secrets of the Great Pyramid and Secrets of the Mexican Pyramids, written in the 1970’s.
At the same time I began reading about Gurdjieff, and mainly devoured Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, which was the doorway into the vast psychology and cosmology of his teacher, Gurdjieff, which fascinated me with its clarity and scope. (Patterson refers to Ouspensky as Uspenskii)
At that time I tried to find out more about Gurdjieff and find like-minded people but they did not advertise and in fact were quite secretive. What I did know is that Gurdjieff claimed that some of his knowledge was the result of his own initiation in Egypt–where he worked as a guide at the Great Pyramid and encountered fellow seekers, who became his lifelong friends and colleagues. So it was with great interest when I found the Gurdjieff Legacy website, which informed me that William Patrick Patterson had a DVD titled: Gurdjieff in Egypt.
After watching the trailer, I ordered the DVD and have watched it several times.
Patterson is the narrator, author and producer of the film, which follows him on a personal journey to Cairo to get a sense of any possible answers to the question that formed the chief aim of Gurdjieff’s own life:
“What is the sense and significance of life on Earth, and human life in particular?”
Of particular interest to me was Patterson’s own research into what drew Gurdjieff to Egypt –his own search for ancient wisdom which climaxed with the discovery of an ancient map of “pre-sand” Egypt (when the area was not a desert but in fact fertile).
This period pre-dates the time of the pharaohs by thousands of years and has also been the subject of research by rogue archeologists like Robert Schoch, Robert Bauval, John Anthony West and others. (Schoch himself conducted research into the striations at the base of the Sphinx that suggest strongly that they are the result of water erosion –which would place it during that period)
But Patterson’s work is not wildly speculative in the least; while I love the “suggestions” in the Ancient Aliens TV series, Patterson himself makes only one intuitive leap –he conveys strong evidence that what shocked Gurdjieff on the map he found of pre-sand Egypt was, in fact, the presence of the Sphinx. This would turn all of conventional human history on its end, and Patterson takes us with him as he actually explores the ruins of Giza and other great temples along the Nile.
Patterson says that Gurdjieff himself was initiated into the mysteries of the Pyramid three times and begins to eloquently weave the deep meaning of this sort of practice and teaching amid the spectacular structures through which he takes us.
There are wonderful views and examinations of the interior of the structures along with a compelling narrative of the “sacred science” that must have been practiced and preserved by those who built these monuments. Patterson continues up the Nile to the Temple of Luxor, which is also known esoterically as “The Temple of Man” because it encodes ancient knowledge of biology and energy, which Patterson describes. (More about the details of this encoding can be found in “The Temple of Man” by R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz a little-known but fascinating figure who devoted his life to unwrapping the mysteries of Luxor)
Patterson’s DVD provides a historical context for the Gurdjieff work that some of us crave, and then also delves into the possible sources of the “sacred science” which Gurdjieff taught; again not with speculation but with actual insight into the symbolism of Egyptian culture (and of course the actual material –the hieroglyphs and works themselves –are right there – demythologized with excellent graphics).
Patterson as narrator is very engaging, going from the markets of Cairo to interact with guides at the various sites, and interspersing his commentary with extremely compelling analysis of what he is showing. Short of going to Giza yourself (with someone as knowledgeable as Patterson) this DVD is a wonderful experience. This DVD is part of a trilogy which also includes Part 2: Gurdjieff’s Mission, and Part 3: Gurdjieff’s Legacy.
I also was able to review another DVD produced by Patterson: Introduction to Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way: From Selves to Individual Self to The Self
When one reads Gurdjieff or Ouspensky, a seminal point is that one cannot do “the work” alone. Gurdjieff was P.D. Ouspensky’s teacher and demanded authority over his students, in order to enable them to eventually become aware of their “sleep” and inability to “do anything” by themselves.
These groups for self-study were called “schools,” and in this DVD Patterson combines a series of lectures elucidating the teaching with actual interactions and responses to the sincere questions and comments from his three-day seminar at the St. Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista, California.
Patterson himself studied with Lord John Pentland, who was tasked with bringing the Gurdjieff teaching to America, and who worked with both Ouspensky and Gurdjieff himself.
The material is broken up into four parts:
- Images of God and Machines
- Science of Being
- Faith of Consciousness
There is also a section devoted to showing an actual dinner based upon Mr. Gurdjieff’s teaching, and its preparation according to the practices of his students.
Patterson begins by echoing the cautionary note he writes about in another book, “Spiritual Survival in a Radically Changing World-Time” in which he examines the spiritual price that is being paid by our current “devotion” to Scientism and technology –the call of our intellectual “center” and the Ego.
Patterson continues by delving into the historical account he covered in “Gurdjieff in Egypt” by describing the “Sacred Science” which formed the basis of the teaching of Gurdjieff (also referred to as Lost or Esoteric Christianity, the actual foundation for the original teachings of Jesus as described in the Gnostic Gospels). Patterson says that over time the Egyptians lost the thread of this ancient wisdom and the original (Sacred) Science of Being gave way to animal worship.
But Gurdjieff’s teaching was “something completely new and self-contained,” based upon his own studies and was in fact an effort to “reconcile the teachings of the East with the Energy of the West.” Patterson both uses the computer “analogy” and the language of psychology to make the case for how most of us have become “conditioned or programmed bioplasmic machines” rather than conscious beings in God’s image. But the machine model has a positive potential –we do live according to impersonal natural law –so that we can potentially witness our conditioned reactions.
The work is based on self observation leading to self knowledge and ultimately to a tanglible and organic awareness of Consciousness “itself” –and Patterson addresses the illusion of control fostered by modern science with its aim of an “artificial intelligence” –Patterson states categorically that,
“There is no machine that has ever been built or ever will be built that can know itself.”
A machine cannot have self awareness – a machine can beat Gary Kasparov in chess, but it will never “know” it is beating him. This was also demonstrated by the IBM machine that “beat” the Jeopardy champions; it did so with massively fast calculations, but it could not form analogies or “reason creatively or symbolically.” But of course we are not a machine in “our image” like IBM but rather something completely natural –organic life—but living in a false sense of our true nature. We believe we have free will. Gurdjieff thought otherwise.
Patterson goes through the limitations of our ability to actually control anything –much less nature –and then suggests the only “thing” or faculty we can control is our attention. And he also points out “What does society want from us – our attention.” That is why we live in a time of technological distraction based on capitalism, because as he continues, “What follows our attention? Money.”
Core to the Science of Being is going beyond the “formative mind” or what Gurdjieff calls the Intellectual Center and creating a harmony with our total being—this can bring us to a deeper understanding of Consciousness and the recognition (“re-cognition”) of the reality that being “is not an idea- it is an experiencing.” To live consciously “our aim is to be – to receive and transmit (energies)” or “impressions” with complete presence, and not with automatic (programmed) reaction that triggers the many negative emotions that form our personality.
Patterson has a wry sense of humor which comes through the material. When confronted with intellectual queries he is prone to reply:
“No sense asking questions you can’t answer. No sense watching CNN – entertaining yourself with other peoples’ misery.”
The conscious individual is careful what he puts into his body, his mind and his nervous system. As the advertising industry apparently understands, “Impressions are a food.” Imagery has a profound effect on imagination and being—it can be nourishing or distracting and destructive. Patterson’s account of the Gurdjieff teaching echoes its many influences, like the work of writers like Alan Watts, Adyashanti, and Eckhart Tolle. For Patterson, Consciousness is “no thing”. Consciousness is what receives all things. It is the background– what’s up front is the content. Patterson says that through distraction we tend to become completely absorbed in the “outside” – the “content” of consciousness, without an awareness of the underlying, vast space in which this content appears and disappears.
Unlike our “personality,” consciousness is also unsentimental and “impersonal.” Consciousness has no point of view. Patterson also resonates with Eckhart Tolle, among others, when he explains that, “The last thing we will give up is our suffering” – we don’t really want to wake up from our identification with victimhood because it’s “the devil we know” –it is the sense of not knowing that is terrifying–something that Gurdjieff famously called “The Terror of the Situation.”
Unlike other teachings that may suggest a withdrawal from conventional reality, the Gurdjieff Fourth Way seeks to use the conditions in life –to consciously receive Life as impressions –and use that to come to real life –through what is called “self-remembering.” The access to this sense of a true self is not just through the mind, but by deeper awareness of the body, sensation and witnessing (negative) emotions –-
The moment that “I’m here” there is a shock to the organism (a technique for regaining presence might be brushing your teeth with your left hand) – and we slowly begin a practice where we drop allegiance to the hypnotic consensual reality. When I give “my” attention to my “self” (Consciousness itself) rather than its content (thoughts, beliefs, emotions, sensations) then a new flavor of concrete experience comes and I can receive this (unfiltered) directly – this sort of food according to Patterson provides the organism with double the power ‘to be.’
Technology and conventional reality urge and prompt us into self-talk and daydreaming to numb our feelings –Gurdjieff calls them buffers because they insulate us from direct impressions and the shocks we need to wake up. And in this way, through technology we give up our energy or it leaks. “When I identify with a reaction I create a world with all of that energy…” Patterson says, suggesting that the energy is then lost but “If my self-remembering (presence) is equal to the shock of the moment ‘I eat it.” My conscious organism becomes a true “shock absorber.” All of “me” can now assimilate it and I have more energy.
Patterson cautions that through self-observation we can discover that there is a big part of us that doesn’t want to know the truth – that is comfortable with reaction, judgment and “sleep.” But once we get a taste of consciousness it’s like no other taste at all –all fears are “just content.”
Going through the DVD is like having Patterson as a guide or teacher, and it also goes well beyond a mere intellectual understanding by giving the viewer a sense of the dynamic of the profound interaction between teacher and sincere student. This dynamic is not always comfortable or “positive” –it is loving in the unconditional sense because it confronts us with impersonal perspectives on our deluded nature, and ultimately can lead to a deeply felt energetic sense of something far more vast and deep—the subject of Sacred Science—Consciousness itself. This is not some “thing” to be known –it is a mystery to be lived, moment to moment, consciously and with profound gratitude for each breath that we take.
To get a taste of the material in this DVD, check out the trailer at the following link:
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