talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

symbols and inner development

the understanding of symbols can be approached in the following way: in studying the world of phenomena a man first of all sees in everything the manifestation of two principles, one opposed to the other, which in conjunction or in opposition, give one result or another, that is, reflect the essential nature of the principles which have created them. this manifestation of the great laws of duality and trinity man sees simultaneously in the cosmos and in himself. but in relation to the cosmos he is merely a spectator and moreover one who sees only the surface of phenomena which are moving in various directions though seeming to him to move in one direction. but in relation to himself his understanding of the laws of duality and trinity can express itself in a practical form, namely, having understood these laws in himself, he can, so to speak, confine the manifestation of the laws of duality and trinity to the permanent line of struggle with himself on the way to self-knowledge. in this way he will introduce the line of will first into the circle of time and afterwards into the cycle of eternity, the accomplishing of which will create in him the great symbol known by the name of the seal of solomon.


man, in the normal state natural to him, is taken as a duality. he consists entirely of dualities or 'pairs of opposites.' all man's sensations, impressions, feelings, thoughts, are divided into positive and negative, useful and harmful, necessary and unnecessary, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant. the work of centers proceeds under the sign of this division. thoughts oppose feelings. moving impulses oppose instinctive craving for quiet. this is the duality in which proceed all the perceptions, all the reactions, the whole life of man. any man who observes himself, however little, can see this duality in himself.

but this duality would seem to alternate; what is victor today is the vanquished tomorrow; what guides us today becomes secondary and subordinate tomorrow. and everything is equally mechanical, equally independent of will, and leads equally to no aim of any kind. the understanding of duality in oneself begins with the realization of mechanicalness and the realization of the difference between what is mechanical and what is conscious. this understanding must be preceded by the destruction of the self-deceit in which a man lives who considers even his most mechanical actions to be volitional and conscious and himself to be single and whole.

when self-deceit is destroyed and a man begins to see the difference between the mechanical and the conscious in himself, there begins a struggle for the relation of consciousness in life and for the subordination of the mechanical to the conscious. for this purpose a man begins with endeavors to set a definite decision, coming from conscious motives, against mechanical processes proceeding according to the laws of duality. the creation of a permanent third principle is for man the transformation of the duality into the trinity.

strengthening this decision and bringing it constantly and infallibly into all those events where formerly accidental neutralizing 'shocks' used to act and give accidental results, gives a permanent line of results in time and is the transformation of trinity into quaternity. the next stage, the transformation of quaternity into quinternity and the construction of the pentagram has not one but many different meanings even in relation to man. and of these is learned, first of all, one, which is the most beyond doubt, relating to the work of centers.

the development of the human machine and the enrichment of being begins with a new and unaccustomed functioning of this machine. we know that a man has five centers: the thinking, the emotional, the moving, the instinctive, and the sex. the predominant development of any one center at the expense of the others produces an extremely one-sided type of man, incapable of further development. but if a man brings the work of the five centers within him into harmonious accord, he then 'locks the pentagram within him' and becomes a finished type of the physically perfect man. the full and proper functioning of five centers brings them into union with the higher centers which introduce the missing principle and put man into direct and permanent connection with objective consciousness and objective knowledge.

and then man becomes the six pointed star, that is, by becoming locked within a circle of life independent and complete in itself, he becomes isolated from foreign influences or accidental shocks; he embodies in himself the seal of solomon.


Speaking in general it must be understood that the enneagram is a universal symbol. All knowledge can be included in the enneagram and with the help of the enneagram it can be interpreted. And in this connection only what a man is able to put into the enneagram does he actually know, that is, understand. What he cannot put into the enneagram he does not understand. For the man who is able to make use of it, the enneagram makes books and libraries entirely unnecessary. Everything can be included and read in the enneagram. A man may be quite alone in the desert and he can trace the enneagram in the sand and in it read the eternal laws of the universe. And every time he can learn something new, something he did not know before.

If two men who have been in different schools meet, they will draw the enneagram and with its help they will be able at once to establish which of them knows more and which, consequently, stands upon which step, that is to say, which is the elder, which is the teacher and which the pupil. The enneagram is the fundamental hieroglyph of a universal language which has as many different meanings as there are levels of men.

in search of the miraculous, pages 280-282 and 294