The Master Game -looking at the maze of life.
In his book The Master Game, (available at Amazon) Robert S De Ropp describes “conditioning” (a term from Buddhist literature) in terms of the games we learn to play in order to survive in the world. What motivates our actions and gives meaning to our lives is expressed in these games. What we value most is recognised in the games we play. Game playing was picked up unwittingly from the family and culture we grew up in. We all arrive into a world that is in full swing of the game playing and we pick up what threads we can in the games. Many people feel lost in the maze of life’s games.
About five years before De Ropp wrote this book another book with a similar title had been published: The Games People Play by Eric Berne. Berne’s book looks at this area from the perspective of how these games play out in our relationships with others. We are all playing games with each other only we are not aware of it usually.
While children have no option over what kinds of values and games they are exposed to, adults do have the option to reconsider their values, and their games, and change them. This is no easy task but it is achievable with perseverance, discipline and the motivation to find what we are beyond the game player.
De Ropp classifies the games into two types, low games and high games with two neutral games in between. In his uncompromising labelling here are the low games are:
The Moloch Game – whose aim is glory or victory
Moloch Game is a purely human game. Other mammals, though they fight with members of their own species, observe a certain decent moderation and rarely fight to the death.
But the players of the Moloch Game have no moderation. Lured on by some glittering dream of glory or power, they kill with boundless enthusiasm, destroying whole cities, devastating entire countries.
The game is played so passionately and with such abandon that nothing, neither pity, decency, sympathy or even common sense, is allowed to interfere with the destructive orgy. As the devotees of the god Moloch sacrificed their children to the idol, so the players of the Moloch Game sacrifice the lives of thousands of young males in the name of some glittering abstraction (formerly “glory,” now more generally “defence”) or a silly phrase couched in a dead language: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” (“It is sweet and fitting to die for your country.“)
But so great is the power wielded by the players of this game, exerted through various forms of coercion and blackmail, that the thousands of young men involved make little protest. They “go to their graves like beds,” not daring to expose the emptiness of the glittering words on which the Moloch Game is based.
How often in recent decades have we seen young men and women of various countries sent to war, to destroy other communities or nations ( Iraq, Afghanistan, Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Pakistan, Somalia etc.) having been brainwashed to believe that this is their duty and in return they will gain glory and victory. Of course, the young people being sent out are never the children of those who ordered the youngsters of other families into this activity.
There are many warnings in the Bible against following false gods such as Moloch who ordered the burning of children by their parents as sacrifice to him. Are not the so called “leaders” of nations who start wars not modern-day Molochs? Are not all who take advantage of children in one way or another guilty of Moloching?
In what ways in your life are you seeking glory or victory?
Cock in Dunghill – whose aim is fame
Players of Cock on Dunghill are hungry to be known and talked about. They want, in a
word, to be celebrities, whether or not they have anything worth celebrating.
Fame for the sake of fame is a common phenomenon nowadays, with TV programmes and internet feeding it. Quite apart from the kind of empty celebrity promoted by TV there is always the phenomenon of the local cock (or hen) in every community, the one who takes their worth from being known, being popular, being recognised for no more reason other than self promotion.
Have you opted for being a big fish in a small pond or are you happy to be a small fish in a big pond? Do you seek recognition for who you are rather than for what you do or contribute to society?
Hog in Trough – whose aim is wealth
Hog in Trough is an object game pure and simple. The aim is to get one’s nose in the trough as deeply as possible, guzzle as much as possible, elbow the other hogs aside as forcefully as possible.
The game of greed, the game of ruthlessly taking what you want regardless of the consequences for anyone else. Usually the people who play this game include their families in the spoils and mix only with others who play the same game. They comfort each other with the belief that they are superior to those who don’t play this game or are less successful (ruthless) that the are. They socialise only with each other. It is, after all, uncomfortable to have to face or mix with those from whom you have stolen.
There is a criminal element in all these games because, in every instance, they do harm both to the player and to the society of which he forms a part. So warped, however, are the standards by which men measure criminality that players of these games are more apt to be regarded as “pillars of society” than dangerous lunatics who should be exiled to remote islands where they can do no harm to themselves or others.
The above three games he calls Object Games meaning that the game is based on the notion of achieving happiness or fulfilment from objects in the world.
Above these three games he places next what he classifies as neutral games:
The “No Game” game – whose aim is “no aim” or non-involvement
This is the person who refuses to play any of the three lower games. This one refuses to get caught up in the rat race or serve their country or be bought off with the cheap promise of empty celebrity.
This person is aware of the ugliness and “criminal” element of the lower games but can’t find an alternative game so they opt our of society to whatever extent they can while still finding a way to survive. These are often seen as the eccentrics or outsiders in a community and all societies have such person in them. But they are not necessarily obviously outsiders. They may fit in perfectly in outer appearance but mentally they are not buying into the games. In this game the person has given up on the idea of finding happiness or has never bought into the notion that there is such a thing as ultimate fulfilment to be found in this world. The attitude is along the lines of taking comfort from what presents itself easily and not expecting or wanting much.
Then next up on the hierarchy of life games De Ropp puts what he terms The Neutral Game.
The Householder Game – whose aim is to raise family
Between the higher and the lower games is the neutral game, the Householder Game, the aim of which is simply to raise a family and provide it with the necessities of life. One cannot call it either a meta-game or an object game. It is the basic biological game on which the continuation of the human race depends.
Many people throw their heart and souls into raising a family, either having fallen into it or having deliberately sought it as a purpose and means of fulfilment in life. And, there are many others who raise a family well knowing that it is not the solution to their ultimate fulfilment.
These last category are the ones likely to get into some version of what de Ropp calls The Meta Games.
Above the Object and Neutral Games on the ladder of life he places Meta Games.
To the players of meta-games, object games have always seemed shallow and futile,
To the players of object games, meta-games seem fuzzy and ill-defined, involving nebulous concepts like beauty, truth or salvation. The whole human population of the earth can be divided roughly into two groups, meta-game players and object-game players, the Prosperos and the Calibans.
The two have never understood one another and it is safe to predict that they never will.
Meta-games are played for intangibles such as knowledge or the “salvation of the soul.”
The lowest of the meta games he calls:
The Art Game – whose aim is beauty
The Art Game, regardless of what medium it works in: music, sculpture, architecture, painting, poetry, literature, plays, drama, dance, film, graphics or whatever is fundamentally about the expression of the inner person. It’s about our emotional aspect. The inner awareness being expressed is of necessity subjective and it has as its purpose the expression of emotional or inner states in their purest form. The words “beauty” or “joy” or “truth” or “love” could be used to describe the aim of the expression. The problem for artists is that they too need to earn a living and because of this often, indeed usually, nowadays, adapt their expression to suit the marketplace or don’t really try to play the game seriously ever, opting instead to imitate others. There are games within games in every game and at every level.
The next game he calls:
The Science Game – whose aim is to gain knowledge
As the aim says, this is the mind game. It is the game of wanting to understand life and the universe so as to be able to control it and the method of doing that is through the acquisition of information and facts and understanding. We live in the age of Science or information which is often confused with knowledge. The idea is that the more we know the more valuable we are to society because we are the ones who can influence society and support what is assumed to be progress. Medicine, space travel, engineering, computer technologies, genetic modification and so on are all dependent on the mind game. This is a good game to get into nowadays for anyone wanting gainful employment and it is supported by an ever growing educational base which is necessary to pass on the acquired information to the next generation. In the same way that the Art Game places its value in our emotional aspect, The Science Gamer values the mind over and above everything else. Science gamers are distinguished by what is called professionalism. They have acquired enough information is some area of society to warrant them a means of financial support and security. Philosophers, psychologists, social scientists etc. develop “sciences” to try to understand and right the ways of societal development.
The Religion Game – whose aim is salvation
Salvation: to be saved from what – yourself, the world, insecurity, lack of love, pointlessness, poverty, tragedy, pain, death? Everyone has something they want to be saved from and this game is the game of putting your trust in someone or something that will save you. Religions, healers, mediums, internet gurus, etc. are only too quick to offer the promise of salvation or at least guidance towards salvation, to anyone who is willing to believe their particular variety of salvation. All that’s required of you is that you are a believer or of a believing mentality. You adopt a belief in something, a god, a philosophy, a religion, a life hereafter, whatever and then you do not have to think about it any more. You adopt a meaning for your life, which gives you a purpose and that settles the need for any further questioning on what your life is about or what it might or could be about. Very often the person never thinks about these questions, simply falls in with the traditions they were brought up with. We simply accept the whole religious package without question because we do not know there is an alternative game available to us.
William James in his book Varieties of Religious Experiences said something along the lines of “we shouldn’t settle our account with God too early”. My interpretation of this is that we shouldn’t just put our blind trust in what anyone else tells us about God or in any promise of salvation, no matter how attractive it looks. It is up to each of us individually to question what is being fed to us.
And finally, the highest game of all according to De Ropp is:
The Master Game – whose aim is awakening to Reality.
The Master Game, the aim of which is the attainment of full consciousness or real awakening.
The basic idea underlying all the great religions is that man is asleep, that he lives amid dreams and delusions, that he cuts himself off from the universal consciousness (the only meaningful definition of God) to crawl into the narrow shell of a personal ego. To emerge from this narrow shell, to regain union with the universal consciousness, to pass from the darkness of the ego-centered illusion into the light of the non-ego, this was the real aim of the Religion Game as defined by the great teachers, Jesus, Gautama, Krishna, Mahavira, Lao-tze and the Platonic Socrates.
To all these players,(the saints and mystics of the various religions) it was obvious that the Religion Game as played by the paid priests, ‘, with its shabby confidence tricks, promises, threats, persecutions and killings, was merely a hideous travesty of the real game, a terrible confirmation of the truth of the statement: “This people praise me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. . . . They have eyes but see not, ears and hear not, neither do they understand.”
In the past religions, mainly The Christian religion I think, despite it having been founded on the teachings of a Master gamer, was hostile to master gamers. They were seen as a threat to the power structures of the institution that had formed. The inquisition is but one example of how this religion tried to quash Master gamers or players.
But although (nowadays) it is safe to play the Master Game, this has not served to make it popular. It still remains the most demanding and difficult of games and, in our society, there are few who play.
Contemporary man, hypnotized by the glitter of his own gadgets, has little contact with his inner world, concerns himself with outer, not inner space. But the Master Game is played entirely in the inner world, a vast and complex territory about which men know very little. The aim of the game is true awakening, full development of the powers latent in man. The game can be played only by people whose observations of themselves and others have led them to a certain conclusion, namely, that man’s ordinary state of consciousness, his so-called waking state, is not the highest level of consciousness of which he is capable. In fact, this state is so far from real awakening that it could appropriately be called a form of somnambulism, a condition of “waking sleep.”
This book was first published pre-1970 and the hypnotisation by gadgets was nowhere as prevalent then as now, almost 50 years on.
Some of these “gadgets” mainly in the form of The Internet has made available to the wider public ideas about the game of life and is offering alternative ideas to the general public than what was available fifty years ago.
As he says, religions no longer rule the roost in terms of telling whole societies what life is about and neither do they have the same exclusive power to control what we hear.
Still, it’s rare to hear anything about The Master Game in popular media.
De Ropp debunks the notion of playing The Master Game by taking drugs as he says on the basis of his own experience and he makes the point that neither Sufi or Yogi literature recommend it even though they have had access to drugs for centuries. Don’t forget that this was written in the late sixties in the US when psychedelic drug culture was in vogue and drug use was being promoted as a quick path to spiritual liberation.
Here it is sufficient to say that the Master Game can never be made easy to play.
It demands all that a man has, all his feelings, all his thoughts, his entire resources, physical and spiritual. If he tries to play it in a half-hearted way or tries to get results by unlawful means, he runs the risk of destroying his own potential. For this reason it is better not to embark on the game at all than to play it half-heartedly.
Choygam Trungpa, an influential Tibetan Buddhist teacher in the USA in the 70′ and 80’s, is reported to have come on stage to give a talk to a large crowd, many of whom were attending one of his lectures for the first time and he started by saying something along the lines of “if you haven’t already begun on this path of liberation, think carefully before you do because it will cost you everything you now hold dear to you. Leave now if you cannot commit to this.”
Reportedly, some people did leave at that point.
Many other spiritual teachers have spoken about the difficulties to be faced on this, the path of the Master Gamer, the need for perseverance and discipline, for emotional and intellectual honesty with oneself and the need to become self-reliant and ultimately, thought paradoxically, the need to learn to trust in something greater than ourselves.
My teacher Richard Rose (http://tatfoundation.org) said:
“What is reality? We can only know the truth by teaching ourselves to face the truth in all things. If we encourage our computer to come up with erroneous answers, because they are more desirable, then we are developing a computer that we may never be able to trust. Truth is that which Is.“
It is this business of “teaching ourselves to face the truth in all things” that is so difficult, that requires of us all our feelings, thoughts and entire resources. This is what is required to play The Master Game, the only game worth your life’s energy.
Ultimately, it involves facing the fact of your own death, experientially, not as some abstract idea or rational acceptance. This requires preparation.
In The Conclusion of the book De Ropp says:
THE GREAT ARC OF LIFE, stretching from conception to death, can be divided into four sections, each having its own characteristics. Section one is short and hectic, a furious orgy of proliferation and construction in the course of which one microscopic egg develops into a baby. This phase lasts nine months. Section two lasts from birth to puberty, a preparatory phase, a period of growing and learning. Section three lasts from puberty until approximately the fiftieth year, a phase normally devoted to the raising of a family. Section four lasts from the fiftieth year until death which, in one who has properly guarded his inner resources, should not occur before the hundredth year of life.
This final phase, which may last as long as the first three phases put together, is the second life. It should be, and in a developed man is, wholly devoted to the “making of the soul,” or the perfection of the body of consciousness. In religious language, it is devoted to the attainment of union with God, which involves entering into and abiding in the fourth state of consciousness and striving toward the fifth.
He who has chosen to play the Master Game enters this last phase of life with eagerness and pleasure. He is now in a position to devote all his energies to the great game. His life can be simplified, reduced to the bare essentials. His children are grown up and gone, his biological urges are simplified, his needs are few. He now can give his time to the guidance of his spiritual children, not in order to inflate his false ego by strutting around in the mantle of a saint or sage, but because it is a law of the Work that he who gets must give and from one to whom much has been given much shall be required.
Alas, how rarely it happens in a land cut off from its spiritual traditions that a man enters the last stage of life with a clear understanding of the opportunities it offers. Left uninstructed from childhood in the rules of the Master Game, exposed only to the stale dogmas and hoary superstitions of a moribund religion, harassed by the insane demands of conspicuous consumption, hypnotized by the hucksters, misled by pseudo scientists, muddled by pseudo philosophers, he enters the final phase in a state of inward bankruptcy. Can one wonder that the poor thing finds little pleasure in the freedom given by retirement? Though cushioned from want by pensions, savings and Social Security, he can find no joy in the last years. He is at a loss for a game to play.
Few things demonstrate more vividly the spiritual bankruptcy of this “Great Society” than the prevailing attitude of its members toward death.
The Master Game is about dying before you die, (meaning before the body dies), as is said in Zen Buddhism literature. The ego is all that dies.
“Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to “die before you die” -and find that there is no death.” Eckhart Tolle www.eckharttolle.com
Below is the preface to “Self Completion-Keys to a Meaningful Life” by Robert de Ropp – Published 1988
Robert de Ropp
I am an elderly hermit who lives on the side of a mountain in California. I share this mountain with deer, skunks, opossums, rabbits, hawks, mice, vultures, redwoods, oaks, pepperwoods, grasses, not to mention about a zillion nematodes, fungi, bacteria. I am part of a complex ecosystem, a very small part I might add, a member of a trouble-making species, a naked ape that has become the bane of the biosphere because it has failed to find its proper place in the scheme of things.
In the basic construction of Man (1) something seems to have gone wrong.
Of this wrongness I have been aware since I was four. I was born in 1913, the last year of the Age of Optimism. I had scarcely been weaned before the proud tower of Western civilization, which many thought would enable mankind to ascend to a new heaven of health and material prosperity, collapsed with a crash. For me, a little child, that crash was symbolized by a piece of charred cloth which my father brought back to our flat in Chelsea, London. He was in the British Military Intelligence (he spoke English, French, German and Russian). He had been investigating the wreckage of a Zeppelin which had been shot down over London. He announced with a certain relish that the hydrogen-filled Zeppelins were death traps, specially designed to roast their crews alive. They served to prove, as he had always contended, that the Germans were fundamentally a stupid people, despite their major contributions to the arts and sciences.
His general comments passed over my head. My horrified attention was focussed on that piece of charred cloth, on the thought that a man’s body had been in that uniform and that that man had been roasted alive. My father, instead of expressing grief, seemed to derive satisfaction from the fact.
As I gazed at the pile of Zeppelin wreckage spread out on our table the “terror of the situation” struck me like a physical blow. For three hours I wept, nor would any explanations my father offered (that the roasted Zeppeliner had been an enemy, that the Germans who made the raids were barbarous, and so on) banish from my childish soul the essential horror. For I realized at that early age that I had strayed onto the wrong planet in the wrong solar system, that the behavior of human beings was hopelessly and incurably weird, that I would always be an outcast among them, a “stranger in a strange land”, an exile, an outsider.
Which indeed I was and still am. When Colin Wilson wrote his brilliant study,
The Outsider I recognized at once how well that label fitted me. I had been an outsider from birth and would die an outsider. Never would I be able to accept gracefully or gratefully my membership of the human race. I would rather be a dolphin.
What are we, the outsiders? Are we the elect or the accursed? Are we the spiritual advance guard of the human race or a rabble of sorry misfits? We carry a heavy burden. We are the “sick souls” so well described by William James. (2) Our malaise can be summarized in the words of Cardinal Newman.
“To consider the defeat of the good, the prevalence of sin, the dreary, hopeless irreligion…all this a vision to dizzy and appall, and inflicts upon the mind the sense of profound mystery which is absolutely beyond human solution. And so I argue: If there be a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible, aboriginal calamity.” (3)
Carrying the burden of this awareness, we, the outsiders, are always in danger. How many of us have voluntarily left the theater of life in disgust or despair, taking refuge in insanity or suicide? Like Ivan Karamazov we often hasten to give back our entrance ticket. We say to the Creator-God, “If this is the best you can do then I want out.”
So it was with me. I was young, healthy, curious, a student of biology at the University of London, eager to do research. But the spectacle of the large-scale idiocy took away my appetite for life. God’s creation, in general, seemed admirable, but he had evidently made a mess of things when he made Man. What I really wanted was to live in a man-free world. As this was impossible I decided that I would hand back my entrance ticket and hope to reincarnate in a species less badly constructed.
I might indeed have handed back the ticket had I not, at the age of twenty-three, met the man who was to be my teacher, P.D. Ouspensky. It was from Ouspensky I learned the vital secret. Man, as he is, is an uncompleted being. Nature provides for his development up to a point. He spends “twenty years agrowing and twenty years in bloom, twenty years declining and twenty years adying.” He is a long lived mammal but does not understand why Nature has given him such a long life. Nature has not, generally speaking, made any attempt to provide him with this knowledge. Indeed she seems to have made every effort to conceal from him the real purpose of his existence.
But what we call Nature is a very mysterious force. It seems to operate at two levels, a lower and a higher. Lower Nature presides over Man’s physical growth, brings him to maturity, turns on the sex urge that drives him to mate and, in due course, destroys him. But there is also a higher Nature. Higher Nature has given to Man the capacity to raise his level on the Great Chain of Being. In order to do this Man must first realize that he is not complete. It is part of his duty to complete himself. This work of self-completion involves two things, knowledge and effort.
To obtain the necessary knowledge, Ouspensky explained, and to use that knowledge for self-completion, was the proper purpose of human life. This was the magnum opus contra naturae, the “Great Work against Nature” of the alchemists. The alchemists had disguised their knowledge. They pretended that they sought a method of converting base metals into gold. But the real aim of alchemy was self-completion. This was “the Work”. For those in the know, it was the only life game worth playing.
Unfortunately this great truth was understood by only a few people in each generation. These people strove, as it was said, to “enter the Work”. This involved finding a teacher and getting the knowledge needed to enable them to work on themselves.
The mass of mankind were quite uninterested in the Work. They lived in a manner unworthy of their spiritual heritage, in the satisfaction of animal appetites, in fear, vanity, distractions and amusements, in stupid sports, games of skill and chance, greed of gain, fear of loss, dull daily work, the dreams and hopes of the day. They moved in obedience to forces over which they had no control. As soon as they stopped obeying one force they began obeying another.
The civilization of our time, declared Ouspensky, was a pale, sickly growth that could hardly keep itself alive in the darkness of profound barbarism. The technical inventions of the modern age had probably taken away from civilization more than they had given. (4)
In their state of “waking sleep” humans voyaged from birth to death aboard a ship of fools. The captain was asleep, the steersman was drunk and the navigator had forgotten the aim of the voyage. Any fool on board could push the steersman aside and try to steer the ship. The great human agglomerates that called themselves nations were just as much at the mercy of the fools in their midst as were individual men and women. The technological Titanic, modern society, was proceeding full speed ahead into the fog, but there was no one in control. Under these circumstances it would not be surprising if the vessel hit a rock or an iceberg. The surprising thing was that it stayed afloat at all.
Ouspensky’s teachings offered little comfort and at first I refused to accept them. But the crimes and stupidities of the “Dirty Thirties” compelled me finally to accept Ouspensky’s view of the human predicament. By 1936 it was evident to any impartial observer that something had gone terribly wrong. I was half German, product of a long line of Baltic Barons (Germans with Russian souls). I had a large collection of German cousins. They were, whether they liked it or not, involved with the Nazis. Several were members of the Party. The tales they told appalled me. A whole procession of spiritually malformed monsters was emerging from the Teutonic collective unconscious. No crime was too heinous, no lie too preposterous for these new “supermen”.
Obviously these monsters were a menace and needed to be chased back into the cesspool from which they had emerged. But the victors of World War I, British and French alike, seemed paralyzed. They did nothing. All the sacrifices of the first World War had been in vain. No one had learned anything. The whole idiotic war would have to be fought over again.
Our modern world, technically so proficient, was actually an example of the “theater of the absurd”. The performance made no sense whatever.
So I studied with Ouspensky. I searched for a clue, for some way out of the “abyss of meaninglessness”. Paul Tillich, at that time, had yet to write The Courage to Be but the thought he later expressed in that book described my situation entirely. “If life is as meaningless as death, if guilt is as questionable as perfection, if being is no more meaningful than nonbeing, on what can one base the courage to be?”
Everything P.D. Ouspensky taught centered around a system. It was not just any old system. It was the System. He had received the System from his teacher, G. Gurdjieff, but he considered it incomplete, “fragments of an unknown teaching”. Either Mr. G., as he called him, had not known the complete system or he had chosen not to reveal it in its entirety. Ouspensky had broken with Gurdjieff and forbidden any of us to make contact with that teacher. If we wanted to find the missing parts of the System we would have to discover them for ourselves. (5)
The System, if one understood it fully, would explain everything, from the origin of the universe to the peculiarities of human behavior. Everything was linked to everything else in a chain of interdependent cosmoses which ranged from the megalocosmos to the microcosmos. Each cosmos was governed by its own laws. The cosmos above imposed laws on the cosmos below. Man, the microcosmos, lived under laws imposed by the cosmos above him. This cosmos was Earth’s organic life, the biosphere. The biosphere as a whole lived under laws imposed by the Sun. The Sun was governed by laws imposed by the Galaxy and so on.
It was also true to say that the cosmos above was influenced by the cosmos below. In Man the cosmos below was the cell. Man as a whole imposed laws on his cells. His instinctive brain regulated their rate of division, differentiation, metabolism and so on. As long as his cells obeyed these laws there was harmony and order. If they refused to obey, as in a cancer, chaos resulted. Similarly, the individual organisms of the biosphere lived under laws imposed by this cosmos and had the power to damage that cosmos, perhaps fatally, if they refused to obey its laws.
The separate links in the chain of cosmoses were held together by the law of reciprocal feeding. Radiation from the Sun nourished the cosmos of green plants which in turn nourished the animals, including Man. Every cosmos was food for the cosmos above it and fed in its turn on products of the cosmos below.
For what, in this “Great Chain of Being” was Man the food? According to the System Man was potentially “food for Archangels”. Just what these Archangels were was never explained. In any case Man rarely fulfilled his true function. To become food for Archangels Man first had to complete himself. Few human beings did this. Instead of being food for Archangels Man was more often merely “food for Moon”.
In the System, as propounded by Ouspensky, a lot of emphasis was placed on the role of the Moon. In the “Ray of Creation” the Moon was the growing end of a branch. Far from being a cold, dead body the Moon was getting bigger and warmer. It grew by feeding. On what did it feed? On the organic life of Earth. Everything living on Earth was food for the Moon. All the movements and manifestations of people, animals and plants were controlled by the Moon. The mechanical part of a man’s life was regulated by the Moon. Only those who developed in themselves consciousness and will could escape from its power. The Moon was the “outer darkness” of the Christian teachings, the end of the world where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. (6)
Being in those days a starry-eyed believer I took this moon-myth seriously. I actually saw the Moon, hanging there in the sky, as a sinister man-eating monster sucking from Earth’s organic life its vital juices, slowly growing and warming itself at our expense.
Later, disillusioned not only with Ouspensky but with most of the so-called System, I rejected the “Gurdjieffian Lunar Myth” as a piece of cosmological nonsense. How could anyone seriously claim that the Moon was growing and getting warmer? Men had travelled to the Moon, walked on its surface, brought back moon-rocks. The Moon was dead. There was not the slightest chance of its coming to life. The whole idea of the “Ray of Creation” was incorrect. The cosmos did not grow like a tree. New stars were formed out of the dust and gas in the spiral arms of the galaxies. Old stars died, the small ones shrinking into white dwarfs, the big ones exploding as supernovas. Out of the dust of those supernovas new stars were formed.
Of course it was perfectly possible to argue that the whole moon-myth was an allegory, that the entity “moon” had no reference to the Moon in the sky. It described all those forces that work to keep Man enslaved and which prevent him from seeing the truth about his situation. But why disguise the truth in such an elaborate allegory? It only served to confuse people.
So the System, as we received from Ouspensky, was a weird mixture. When it came to describing the predicament of Man, the forces that kept Man in sleep, the methods by which he could awaken, the System was wonderfully practical and down to earth. But when it came to describing the laws governing cosmic processes it seemed to lose touch with reality. It became woolly, a mish-mash of fantasy. It reminded me of the colorful myths that play such an important part in the writings of H.P. Blavatsky. Both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky claimed to despise Theosophy but I suspected that Gurdjieff had been strongly influenced by certain Theosophical ideas.
Another item in Ouspensky’s teaching the truth of which I came to question concerned an entity he called “the inner circle of humanity”. When I first met him he firmly believed that that circle existed. Its members were the custodians of the “culture of civilization” which was opposed to the “culture of barbarism” that prevailed in the world at large.
This idea of an inner circle was not new to me. I had come to Ouspensky heavily loaded with the jargon of the Theosophical Society of which, at the time, I was a member. Among the items contained in what I now call “The Great Theosophical Myth” was the concept of the Masters of Wisdom. It was the Mahatma Letters allegedly sent by one of those Masters (Koot Hoomi) that formed so important a part of the bag of tricks of Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society.
Ouspensky had nothing but scorn for Theosophy. “I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.” But he did believe in the existence of the “inner circle”. Members of the circle constituted a spiritual aristocracy. They were developed beings. They had will, inner unity, permanent I. They were self-directing entities, not mechanical dolls.
But if these marvelous characters really existed why did they hide themselves? Obviously they did stay hidden. They certainly made no effort to save mankind from the results of its folly.
Ouspensky answered this question by insisting that the members of the inner circle could only help those who wished to be helped. Nor could they help anyone who was not willing to help himself. The mass of mankind were slaves who did not know they were slaves and therefore had no desire to be free. Attempts to liberate them from their slavery often proved disastrous for the would-be liberators.
That seemed true enough. Look what had happened to Jesus! See what a mess the priests had made of his teachings! You start with a religion of love and end with Inquisitors who burn their fellow men alive. The history of Christianity offered a horrendous example of the workings of the Theater of the Absurd.
Members of the inner circle, said Ouspensky, were far too intelligent to let themselves get mixed up in this ridiculous performance. They stepped back and watched the show. If a few people wanted to do more with their lives than take part in a drama of absurdities they might approach the inner circle, assuming they could find it. After a long period of work on themselves they might become worthy to enter the circle. It was no easy understanding.
“It takes a long time to enter the Work. One must be patient.”
Thus spake P.D. Ouspensky one foggy December afternoon in the fateful year 1936.
I write now in January 1987. Fifty years have passed since I heard Ouspensky’s words.
“It is hard to enter the Work. Many start, few arrive.”
This question echoes through my head. Why is this inner Work so difficult? Have we, in our materialistic culture, blocked ourselves off from certain life-giving influences that could help us? There surely are such influences but they seem to reach only a very few people. These people know a great secret. They know they are unfinished being and that it is up to them to complete their own evolution. They see mankind as the choice fruit of the Tree of Life on Earth but they know that, in most cases, the fruit falls from the tree unripe. Man, who should become food for higher beings, becomes instead food for worms. He drifts down instead of rising up. He fattens his flesh instead of nourishing his soul.
Those who receive these influences have the opportunity, if they so desire, to enter the inner circle of humanity. They are the gnostics, those who know. But their knowledge will accomplish nothing unless it provides a basis for action. Actually it is better to be ignorant than to know and do nothing with one’s knowledge. But what must one do?
This is the vital question. One must know and one must do. In order to do one must generate power. Power is developed by effort, but there is right effort and wrong effort. There is also pseudo-effort. Our capacity for self-deception is very great and it continues to operate after we have, as we imagine, “entered the Work”. Instead of engaging in the real Work we enter the fantasy Work. We deceive ourselves. Our last state is worse than our first.
This, after fifty years of observation, is the conclusion I have reached. The fantasy Work tends to replace the real Work just as, according to Gresham’s Law, the bad money tends to drive out the good. The fantasy Work is everywhere. It proliferates like a cancer. It is subtle. It takes many forms. It generates new systems of delusions to replace the old ones. It brings the real Work to a halt and offers dreams in its place. Many people gladly accept those dreams. The dreams save the dreamers from making serious efforts to awaken because they dream that they are already awake.
All I can do at this late stage of my life is to offer a guide to those who need one. With the help of this guide they may be able to distinguish fantasy from reality. It is hard for those who have contacted only the feeble remnants of an enterprise that once had life and vigor to understand what real Work is. It is even harder for them to put that understanding into practice. There is not much we can do about this. The vital influence that the Sufis call baraka is now shut off from us by the fog of insane materialism that has enshrouded our culture. Our huge, unbalanced economy is a house of cards which will surely collapse. When it does the fog may clear and the vital influence may encounter fewer obstructions. Until that time we must do what we can with what we have and strive to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
When I met Gurdjieff in New York City in 1948 he was already approaching the end of his life. He was living in a way which was obviously very unhealthy both for himself and for his “tail of donkey” (a phrase he used when referring to his followers). Members of the “tail” were crowded into the rather small room he used for his meetings in the Wellington Hotel. The air was thick with tobacco smoke and alcohol fumes. Readings either from Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson or In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments from an Unknown Teaching went on interminably. The food at supper was, for my poor stomach, indigestable. The endless toasts to the various categories of idiots drunk in Armagnac made my head swim. Worst of all was the atmosphere of concentrated guru worship that pervaded the assembly. As one cynical observer put it, “They seem to be having a competition to see who can kiss Gurdjieff’s ass most obsequiously”.
All this resulted in a negative reaction on my part. “If this is really the way to awakening I’d just as soon remain asleep.”
Gurdjieff and Ouspensky both adopted unhealthy lifestyles. Both treated their physical bodies very badly. Both smoked which, in view of my personal loathing of the tobacco habit, seemed to me a serious defect. In spite of which I feel enormously indebted to them both. Had it not been for the support offered by the System at a certain critical moment in my life, I would probably have “left the theater” in my early twenties. The System offered me a way out of the Abyss of Meaninglessness. It gave me a valid life aim without which life was worthless.
For many years I fed on the ideas of the System. Ideas carry enormous power and can entirely alter the shape of people’s lives. Ideas can launch crusades, start wars, save people, destroy people, build civilizations or wreck them. Ideas form an important part of the Lattice of Karma of any man or woman who lives above the animal level.
So what about the System? Is it dead? And what about the bringer of the System, that “great enigma”, Mister G. Gurdjieff? Was he an avatar, an incarnation of the highest of the Mind Force? Was he a magician-hypnotist who used his powers for his own profit? Was he a behavioral psychologist who experimented with humans rather than rats? Was he just one more player of the “world’s oldest con game”, offering a new religion to true Believers in exchange for their worship and a considerable flow of cash?
Perhaps he was all these things – and more. One thing is certain. He possessed a certain something that set him apart from the ordinary run of human beings. In this age of the mass-man, when humans seem increasingly to resemble articulated dolls stamped out of sheets of plastic by computerized robots, he was unique. Looking at him as he sat there, his red fez on his bald head, playing weird melodies on his lap organ, the impression struck me that this was a king in exile who belonged to a different, more heroic age, a ruler of men forced to wear a humble disguise and to move unrecognized among the plastic dolls.
A king he undoubtably was, nor could one have any doubts about his state of exile. Like his “Mr. Beelzebub” he was “far from the place of his arising”. But was he, as his followers are fond of asserting, a great teacher? Perhaps he was for a few, a very few. Those few constituted a small group of men and women strong enough and self-reliant enough not to be completely dominated by the aura of power that surrounded Gurdjieff.
J.G. Bennett, in his book Gurdjieff: A Very Great Enigma has given to this power the name hvareno, a word taken from the old Zoroastrian teachings. It could be translated as “the royal touch” or “kingly power”. Does possession of this power make a man or a woman a great teacher? Not necessarily. In fact it may very well turn its possessor into a very bad teacher. These natural kings move among ordinary men and women as a wolf moves through a flock of sheep. It takes a very high level of self-control if that wolf is to resist the temptation to take a nip now and then out of the hides of the poor woolly fools with which he finds himself surrounded.
Now Gurdjieff is dead. Ouspensky is dead. Bennett is dead. One by one the members of the old circle have fallen by the way. What about “the System”? Is it also dead?
The answer I give to this question is yes. It is dead in the rigid forms which various commentators have given it. It is dead in the “Ouspenskian Version” (published as In Search of the Miraculous). It is dead in the “Oragean Version” (published privately by C. Daly King). It is dead in the “Bennett Version”, formulated mainly in Gurdjieff: Making a New World But what about the “Gurdjieffian version” of the System? Is that also dead?
It is not, for the simple reason that Gurdjieff never published a System. He used instead the traditional Sufi method of transmitting ideas by the Teaching Story (see Idries Shah) Both Gurdjieff’s books,Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson and Meetings With Remarkable Men are collections of Teaching Stories. By presenting the material in this way Gurdjieff avoided fossilizing the teachings in rigid forms like the dogmas of the church. A Teaching Story may have many interpretations and contain meanings at many different levels. To find the hidden meanings the student has to abandon his or her habitual patterns of thinking and learn to think in other categories.
This is illustrated by the famous teaching story called ” The Elephant in the Dark” Each of the sages who examined the elephant in the dark formed a different idea of what the beast was like. The one who grabbed its tail said it resembled a rope. The one who took hold of its leg thought it resembled a pillar and so on. So each sage published his own version of the elephant. There was the “tail version”, the “leg version”, the “trunk version”. The real form of the elephant eluded them all because, to see the elephant as a whole, one had to turn on the light. This was exactly what the examining sages could not do.
(1) In this book the word Man (with capital M) is used to designate the species Homo sapiens; man (lower case) is used for a male member of the species.
(2) James, William, The Varieties of Religious Experience
(3)Newman, J.H., Apologia pro Vita Sua
(4) Ouspensky, P.D., A New Model of the Universe
(5) Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and the System
(6) Ouspensky, P.D., In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments from an Unknown Teaching