talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

new york, february 13, 1924

question: what is the method of the institute?

answer: the method is a subjective one, that is, it depends on the individual peculiarities of each person there is only one general rule which can be applied to everyone—observation. this is indispensable for all. however, this observation is not for change but for seeing oneself. everyone has his own peculiarities, his own habits which a man usually does not see. one must see those peculiarities. in this way one may "discover many americas." every small fact has its own basic cause. when you have collected material about yourselves it will be possible to speak; at present, conversation is only theoretical.

if we put weight on one side, we must balance it in some way. by trying to observe ourselves, we get practice in concentration, which will be useful even in ordinary life.

question: what is the role of suffering in self-development?

answer: there are two kinds of suffering—conscious and unconscious. only a fool suffers unconsciously.

in life there are two rivers, two directions. in the first, the law is for the river itself, not for the drops of water. we are drops. at one moment a drop is at the surface, at another moment at the bottom. suffering depends on its position. in the first river, suffering is completely useless because it is accidental and unconscious.

parallel with this river is another river. in this other river there is a different kind of suffering. the drop in the first river has the possibility of passing into the second. today the drop suffers because yesterday it did not suffer enough. here the law of retribution operates. the drop can also suffer in advance. sooner or later everything is paid for. for the cosmos there is no time. suffering can be voluntary and only voluntary suffering has value. one may suffer simply because one feels unhappy. or one may suffer for yesterday and to prepare for tomorrow.

i repeat, only voluntary suffering has value.

question: was christ a teacher with a school preparation, or was he an accidental genius?

answer: without knowledge he could not have been what he was, nor could he have done what he did. it is known that where he was there was knowledge.

question: if we are only mechanical, what sense has religion?

answer: for some, religion is a law, a guidance, a direction; for others—a policeman.

question: in what sense was it said in an earlier lecture that the earth is alive?

answer: it is not only we who are alive. if a part is alive, then the whole is alive. the whole universe is like a chain, and the earth is one link in this chain. where there is movement there is life.

question: in what sense was it said that one who has not died cannot be born?

answer: all religions speak about death during this life on earth. death must come before rebirth. but what must die? false confidence in one's own knowledge, self-love and egoism. our egoism must be broken. we must realize that we are very complicated machines, and so this process of breaking is bound to be a long and difficult task. before real growth becomes possible, our personality must die.

question: did christ teach dances?

answer: i was not there to see. it is necessary to distinguish between dances and gymnastics—they are different things. we do not know whether his disciples danced, but we do know that where christ got his training they certainly taught "sacred gymnastics."

question: is there any value in catholic ceremonies and rites?

answer: i have not studied catholic ritual, but i know the rituals of the greek church well, and there, underlying the form and ceremony, there is real meaning. every ceremony, if it continues to be practiced without change, has value. ritual is like ancient dances which were guidebooks where truth was written down. but to understand one must have a key.

old country dances also have meaning—some even contain such things as recipes for making jam.

a ceremony is a book in which much is written. anyone who understands can read it. in one ceremony more is contained than in a hundred books. usually everything changes, but customs and ceremonies can remain unchanged.

question: does reincarnation of souls exist?

answer: a soul is a luxury. no one has yet been born with a fully developed soul. before we can speak of reincarnation, we must know what kind of man we are speaking about, what kind of soul and what kind of reincarnation. a soul may disintegrate immediately after death, or it may do so after a certain time. for example, a soul may be crystallized within the limits of the earth and may remain there, yet not be crystallized for the sun.

question: can women work as well as men?

answer: different parts are more highly developed in men and women. in men it is the intellectual part, which we will call a; in women the emotional, or b. work in the institute is sometimes more along the lines of a, in which case it is very difficult or b. at other times it is more along the lines of b, in which case it is harder for a. but what is essential for real understanding is the fusion of a and b. this produces a force that we shall call c.

yes, there are equal chances for men and for women.