Podcast Series 3, Episode 10: Gurdjieff Aphorisms Explained
Gurdjieff Aphorisms Explained
In this episode, we walk through all 38 of G. I. Gurdjieff’s Aphorisms, giving our interpretation of what they may mean, with examples from real life, and with complementary quotes. The next podcast address all 48 of R. A. Smith’s DOGTALES, aphorisms from THEDOG school. The transcript for this podcast, can be found on our website at thedogteachings.com under Resources/Podcasts. Our unique 400 page E-book, entitled Gurdjieff: Cosmic Secrets – The TEACHING GUIDE available for download and study – an 8 day journey to awakening with exercises to work on being, and seven chapters explaining the diatonic nature of the universe, with an ultimate exercise to objectively awaken. Available here.
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Welcome to a series of talks about objective consciousness, an objective universe, and an objective way to awaken.
It is primarily based on the works of George I. Gurdjieff and Russell A. Smith, and aims to simplify and explain what Gurdjieff actually meant within the various subject areas of the Fourth Way. All material discussed is drawn from Russell Smith’s book, Gurdjieff: Cosmic Secrets – The Teaching Guide.
In our last six talks, we narrated the lectures and notes from P. D. Ouspensky’s book The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution.
Today we will walk you through all 38 of G. I. Gurdjieff’s Aphorisms, and in the next podcast we will do the same with all 48 of Russell A. Smith’s DOGTALES from THEDOG school, explaining what they really mean for us in this Work.
The Gurdjieff Aphorisms Explained.
Aphorism 1 – Like what “it” does not like.
“It”… is ‘False Personality.’ We can only like what “it” does not like. If we look inwards and learn to work against what we see, i.e., our habitual beliefs, opinions, desires, and ideas; we will, by separating from them, become free from the False Personality.
Aphorism 2 – The highest that a man can attain is to be able to do.
People can ‘do’ nothing. From the time we are born to the time we die things happen, happen, happen, and we think we are doing. This is our normal state in life. Even the smallest possibility to do something comes only through the work, and only in oneself, not externally. “Doing begins by not doing. Before you can do something that you cannot do, you must not do many things which you did before” – Ouspensky.
Thus, before learning how to “do”, one must first learn how “not to do”.
Doing is the highest function of an objective, conscious being. Wherein one is free from all desires and fears; and, as such, is able to do anything that is needed to be done.
Aphorism 3 – The worse the conditions of life the more productive the work, always provided you remember the work.
“Looking backwards, we only remember the difficult periods of our lives, never the peaceful times; the latter are sleep, the former are struggle and therefore life” – Gurdjieff.
The difficult moments of life create the greatest moments of self-remembering. Thus, if one remembers to work on oneself during the difficult moments, one will reap the greatest rewards.
Aphorism 4 – Remember yourself always and everywhere.
One of the first things students of THEDOG notice, after they awaken, is that they have a double arrow of attention: One attention… on what they are doing, and another attention… on themselves doing it. This second attention is likened to having ‘permanent’ self-remembering. Thus, they are able to remember themselves always and everywhere.
Aphorism 5 – Remember you come here having already understood the necessity of struggling with yourself—only with yourself. Therefore thank everyone who gives you the opportunity.
The moment one finds a school or decides to work on oneself, one begins the task of overcoming their mechanicality. And, nothing shows a person their mechanicality better than their interactions with others. So, if one has truly decided to work on oneself, one should be very thankful to glimpse the things upon which they most need to work.
Aphorism 6 – Here we can only direct and create conditions, but not help.
Unfortunately, work on oneself is precisely that… work on oneself. That is, schools, teachers, and mentors cannot do the personal work that needs to be done. However, they may be able to create a favorable atmosphere, or provide proper guidance in order to assist those who wish to make the journey.
Aphorism 7 – Know that this house can be useful only to those who have recognized their nothingness and who believe in the possibility of changing.
As was just said, work on oneself is personal. And, as such, is dependent on being able to recognize its necessity, as well as, realize its possibility. Then, one will be better able to take advantage of the teaching.
Aphorism 8 – If you already know it is bad and do it, you commit a sin difficult to redress.
Conscience understands that truth is constant. Once truth is seen, conscience will respond to that truth. To respond contrary to that truth would be an affront to conscience; thus, proving that conscience is absent. For, if it was not absent, it would be nigh impossible to justify such actions.
Aphorism 9 – The chief means of happiness in this life is the ability to consider externally always, internally never.
External considering puts others first. Internal considering puts oneself first. There is great truth in the Biblical phrase, “You reap what you sow.” That is, you always harvest what you plant. If you plant positive seeds in others, you are likely to receive positive responses back. And, since most people seek positive responses, external considering will most likely make you very happy. Whereas, internal considering, by definition, is designed to only make oneself happy, not others. Therefore, internal considering will not engender any positive responses coming from outside. It may sound good, to initially get what you want, but to do so, requires constant effort. The secret lies in the truth that you always reap much more than what you sow! Thus, external considering will generate an abundance of positive responses coming from others; and… those responses are likely to make you rich!
Aphorism 10 – Do not love art with your feelings.
Over the years, students have questioned the meaning of this aphorism more than any other. Simply put, it means, if you love art with your feelings, you will want to possess it, which is not good… as it will most likely end up in your collection, where only you can appreciate it.
Aphorism 11 – A true sign of a good man is if he loves his father and mother.
It is a very good thing to always celebrate the causes of your arising, even if they are not what you wish them to be… for you, my friend, have the innate ability to become much better than they are, which you could not do if you did not exist. So, as it says in Exodus 20:12, “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
Aphorism 12 – Judge others by yourself and you will rarely be mistaken.
To protect their purity, it is good advice, as is aphorism number 17, to judge the world via your own observations. That is, your opinions, should be your opinions, and not the opinions of others.
Aphorism 13 – Only help him who is not an idler.
This is common sense. If a being is trying to climb the mountain, help him climb the mountain. If he is not trying to climb the mountain, and you try to help him climb the mountain, you will most likely only be disturbing his sleep.
Aphorism 14 – Respect every religion.
Every being has a right to have their own belief structure. And, as such, their belief structure will probably be different from yours, which does not make it wrong, it only makes it different. However, if they are seeking to change their belief structure, you certainly have the right to offer them what you believe to be a better one. But, you do not have the right to judge them for theirs.
Aphorism 15 – I love him who loves work.
Simply put. Rejoice when a person seeks to change their being, just as you have chosen to change yours.
Aphorism 16 – We can only strive to be able to be Christians.
Here, it is about the idea of becoming what Christ represented, which most likely, far exceeds what we are at present; and, as such, is something we can only strive to become. Mahatma Gandhi referred to this in his quote: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Christian in its pure essence is Christ-like, all the time, and is thus a very high ideal. To claim to be Christian is to claim to be Christ-like, yet in truth, we can only strive to be able to be like that.
Aphorism 17 – Don’t judge a man by the tales of others.
As in aphorism number 12, “Judge others by yourself and you will rarely be mistaken.” I reiterate, to protect their purity, it is good advice to judge the world via your own observations. That is, your opinions, should be your opinions, and not the opinions of others.
Aphorism 18 – Consider what people think of you—not what they say.
It is a funny thing, in the presence of the boss, you often hear people say nice things about him. However, when he is gone, they say something quite different. Thus, the boss should be more concerned about what people say about him when he is not present, than what they say about him when he is present. Why? Because, when he is not present, they are more compelled to say what they think. Therefore, the boss should always treat everyone fairly and with respect, if he did, people would most likely say nice things about him, even when he is gone. Apply this truth to yourself, and try to always treat everyone fairly and with respect. Then, it is almost certain that what they say about you will be what they think about you.
Aphorism 19 – Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West—and then seek.
It is a fact that in ancient times (represented by the East) people understood more about being – as they struggled more with life. Whereas, in modern times (represented by the West) the emphasis became focused on knowledge… the industrial and scientific revolutions, etc. We would be wise to incorporate both, for only with balance in knowledge and being can we complete what we seek to accomplish.
Aphorism 20 – Only he who can take care of what belongs to others may have his own.
This is two fold. It applies to physical things – if you respect daddy’s tools, and don’t leave them in the woods, after you build your tree fort, someday, you may be able to acquire your own tools; and, it applies to spiritual things – if you are attentive, respectful, and direct and create conditions that are favorable for others to work on themselves, you will most likely set the stage for you to be able to better work on yourself.
Aphorism 21 – Only conscious suffering has any sense.
If you have no food and do not eat, you will suffer mechanically. But, if you have food, and choose not to eat, you will suffer intentionally. Suffering by choice is conscious suffering. Suffering by circumstance is not. Either way, you suffer. But, fortunately, since we can control when we suffer by choice, and as stated in aphorism number 3, “The worse the conditions of life the more productive the work…” we can use the conscious suffering to intentionally get the most out of our work “…always provided [we] remember the work.”
Aphorism 22 – It is better to be temporarily an egoist than never to be just.
I can imagine Gurdjieff saying this to a student who only worked on the third line of work, that is, for the school. One, who worked hard on helping others. One, who spent all of his time being fair to all who were in the school. One, who considered what everyone else needed. One, who thought of himself as being just to all. However, his own personal work was lacking; and, in discussing his lack of personal achievement, he defended himself by explaining all that he had done for the school, and how just he was to others. Whereafter, Gurdjieff looked at him and said, “It is better to be temporarily an egoist than never to be just.” That is, you have to put work on yourself ahead of being just to others, which is why it is called, ‘first line work.’
Aphorism 23 – Practice love first on animals, they are more sensitive.
Animals, like dogs, etc., don’t judge, nor hold grudges; and, are quick to respond to acts of love and kindness. Therefore, by practicing love first on animals and witnessing their response, you may be motivated to treat others with similar acts of love and kindness, which most likely will evoke similar responses in them. Additionally, until we are fully awake, we still have instinctive and lower, animal natures in ourselves – we are the animals in a world of sleep. Practice love also on those parts in self and in others, as these parts are far more sensitive and reactive than our conscious parts.
Aphorism 24 – By teaching others you will learn yourself.
There came a time, after I awoke, that all of my questions had been answered. Then, students showed up and began asking me theirs. Some of which I had never asked. Remarkably, I discovered that in the process of formulating answers to their questions, my own database got expanded; and, as such, I myself learned more.
In addition, interactions on the second line of work will most likely reveal many unpolished parts of yourself, thus giving you greater insight into who you yourself are… and providing additional areas for personal work.
Aphorism 25 – Remember that here work is not for work’s sake but is only a means.
We are not here to build a barn; although, one may get built. Instead, we are here to see the inexactitudes in our being, which can best be seen by subjugating our will, bearing what we believe are the unpleasant manifestations of others, and confronting various unknown problems.
Aphorism 26 – Only he can be just who is able to put himself in the position of others.
This aphorism is fairly easy to understand; and, in life, has been said in many ways: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you”, “Walk a mile in my shoes”, etc.
Aphorism 27 – If you have not by nature a critical mind your staying here is useless.
Blind obedience leads to blind actions. Here, we must learn to understand every idea; to tear it apart; to see how, where, and why it fits. Only then, can we truly use it to change our being.
Aphorism 28 – He who has freed himself of the disease of “tomorrow” has a chance to attain what he came here for.
Simply put, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” – Benjamin Franklin. Or, “There is always one thing you can do” – Russell Smith. Or, “Engage!” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
Aphorism 29 – Blessed is he who has a soul, blessed is he who has none, but woe and grief to him who has it in embryo.
One is happy ‘if one has a soul’ because that means they have woken up; and, as such, their machine is working properly. One is also happy ‘if one does not have a soul’ because that means they are asleep; and, as such, they live in the world of their own pleasant illusions. However, one is not happy ‘if one knows they are asleep and have not as yet woken up’… for they will recognize that there is still much hard work to be done.
Aphorism 30 – Rest comes not from the quantity but from the quality of sleep.
People often say, “I got 8 hours sleep and still feel tired.” Why? Well, because they tossed and turned all night; because it took them an hour or so to fall asleep; and, because they laid in bed for an hour in the morning, before they got up. Thus, in truth, they did not get 8 hours of sleep.
You must learn to quiet your thoughts, quickly disconnect your centers, and keep them disconnected, so that you can sleep deeply; and, in the morning, quickly reconnect them.
Let’s start with thoughts. A good way to quiet your thoughts is to think about things that have little meaning, so as to easily lose interest in them, like concentrating on what is in the silverware drawer, you won’t be able to hold that thought for long before it fades away and you find yourself asleep.
A comfortable bed is also a must. One that allows you to physically relax, so that you can virtually stay in one position most of the night… thus, there will be little tossing and turning.
Ear plugs can also be helpful, so that sounds are less likely to awaken you, when you enter one of the 3 or 4 light states of sleep that we pass through every night. Then, after 5 or 6 hours of solid sleep, you will be able to readily reconnect and get up when you awaken.
Aphorism 31 – Sleep little without regret.
I suppose this aphorism can be viewed in two ways: By needing less physical sleep, as discussed in the previous aphorism; or, by not indulging in waking sleep that is manifest in your habitual likes and identifications.
Aphorism 32 – The energy spent on active inner work is then and there transformed into a fresh supply, but that spent on passive work is lost forever.
Have you ever noticed that when you are engaged in meaningful work, you often do not want to stop nor get tired of what you are doing? That is because meaningful work provides its own momentum. When you are not engaged in meaningful work, you often get bored and tire easily. If you recognize having such moments, you have therefore experienced this aphorism.
Aphorism 33 – One of the best means for arousing the wish to work on yourself is to realize that you may die at any moment. But first you must learn how to keep it in mind.
There is great truth here. Gurdjieff often said we are Third Force Blind. Which is true; if one does not have a big enough reason for doing something, then the something will probably not get done. To realize that you may die at any moment, will provide you with a great driving force, and allow you to overcome every obstacle along the way. Remember that.
Aphorism 34 – Conscious love evokes the same in response. Emotional love evokes the opposite. Physical love depends on type and polarity.
Conscious love is respectful, considering love, and is likely to engender a similar response from others. Emotional love tends to be self-serving and overly possessive, which often will drive people away. Physical love simply means, you are both in the medical field, ride motorcycles, or love your liquor.
Aphorism 35 – Conscious faith is freedom. Emotional faith is slavery. Mechanical faith is foolishness.
This aphorism is about real faith – knowing with every center.
Conscious faith is achieved when the three lower centers are unified and both of the higher centers are active. As such, one can know, through direct experience, if something is law-conformable or not, and will, with freedom, manifest according to that knowledge.
Emotional faith is based on the hopes, wishes, and desires of the Emotional center, or on the emotional parts of the Moving, Instinctive, and Intellectual centers; and, as such, manifests with the belief structure that something may or may not be so. That uncertainty makes the object of your desires, and fears, possess you. Thus, making you their slave.
Mechanical faith is simply the learned and automatically repeated habits of the mechanical parts of your lower centers; and, therefore, have no sense at all.
Aphorism 36 – Hope, when bold, is strength. Hope, with doubt, is cowardice. Hope, with fear, is weakness.
This aphorism relates to the certainty of centers as to how they act.
The action of the Higher Emotional Center, with three unified and mastered lower centers, is immediate and direct. Therefore, it boldly goes forward in pursuit of its desired aim.
The action of one of the fragmented lower centers, which is composed of opposites, lacks certainty; and, thus, is prone to hesitation.
The action of one of the fragmented lower centers, which is being constrained by the opposites in one of the other centers, incites fear; and, thus, makes it unable to function.
Aphorism 37 – Man is given a definite number of experiences—economizing them, he prolongs his life.
A bee is given a certain number of wing beats, then it dies. An elephant and an elephant shrew are given a certain number of heart beats, then they die. The elephant shrew’s heart beats 200 times faster than that of an elephant. Thus, elephant shrews live for a very short time compared to the elephant.
What if we apply this idea to the nature of man? But, instead of using experiences, we substitute the flow of associations; or, of having long thoughts vs having short thoughts. Gurdjieff said that time was an ideally unique subjective phenomena; and, as such, passed according to the way it was perceived.
We have all probably experienced times when we were waiting on a friend to pick us up at 8:00, and it got to be 8:00, and they were not there yet. Some of those times you might have been flooded with associations: Where are they? They usually call if they are going to be late. Did they get into an accident? Should I call the hospital? Should I call the police? You look out the window. Where are they? Then, you look up at the clock, thinking that several minutes must have passed, but it’s only 8:01! Wow, it seems like it should be 8:10.
You had a plethora of associations in just 1 minute; thus, you think 10 minutes have passed. Perhaps, you consumed 10 minutes of your life in just 1 minute, because you perceived it to be 10 minutes.
Contrarily, instead of being flooded with different associations (short thoughts), you grab the newspaper and start doing a crossword puzzle. You now have long thoughts (concentrated associations). And, all of a sudden, the doorbell rings, and you think, “Wow, they are here already.” Then you look up at the clock and it’s 8:20. “What the heck, it seems like only a couple of minutes have passed!” When that happens, perhaps, you consumed only a couple of minutes of your life, even though the clock has ticked off 20, because you perceived it to be only a couple of minutes.
So, perhaps, the aphorism should say, “Man is given a definite number of associations—economizing them, he prolongs his life.”
Einstein was reported to have summarized this like so: “When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute. But when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”
Aphorism 38 – Here there are neither Russians nor English, Jews nor Christians, but only those who pursue one aim—to be able to be.
This aphorism relates to labels and identifications. We should disregard what we believe others are, drop our labels, and the sense of us being different from them. The aim of aphorisms #2 and #38 are high ones. To develop the ABILITY to DO and to BE, not TO DO and TO BE, but simply to be able to blend with what is higher, with nothing of “us” in the way, neither our identifications, nor our labels.
Thank you for listening.
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Goodbye until next time.
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