The Teaching For Our Time

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William Patrick Patterson
The Society Akhaldan & Toro

The trunk of a bull...the legs of a lion...the wings of an eagle...two breasts of a amber neck—the emblem of the society Akhaldan that Mr. Gurdjieff first sees is where? In the city of Samlios. Why there? What does that city mean historically? Samos, the name of one of Karatas' suns, was the Aegean island where Pythagoras was born—Pythagoras, the great Greek philosopher, who studied in Egypt and set up an esoteric school in Italy. Could it be that Gurdjieff created the word Samlios from Samos? Is Samos a name that came from the Akhaldans, who got it from Beelzebub's tribe?

We are all familiar with the Sphinx of the Giza Plateau, but it lacks the two breasts of a virgin and the amber neck of the Akhaldan Sphinx. The two breasts of a virgin—what do these signify? Gurdjieff says they symbolize love. That we should evoke love in all of our inner and outer functionings. But not the popular notions of love (really a word for lust) we hear of in the songs of today and in so much of our so-called literature with its pantings of lust and warblings of unrequited love. The breasts of a virgin symbolize a special kind of love, a transcendent love, a love beyond the person—impartial love.

The amber neck? Why amber? What property is specific to amber? And below the neck is what? The animals: the bull, the lion and the eagle. And so the instincts, the anger, the imagination of the bull and the lion and the eagle are kept below the neck.

The society Akhaldan? What does that word represent? Well, here we are on less sure footing. But let's make a probe. The Sphinx is commonly associated with Egypt and using this as a frame of reference let's consider the letters akh. For ancient Egyptians, the akh is the transformed spirit, existing eternal and unchangeable in the starry heavens. So is the society Akhaldan the society of Eternal Life?

Well, certainly that was its aim. Did Gurdjieff create the word in this way? We cannot say, but we're exploring, seeing where a line of thought leads, what it gives, trying on our third reading to study the book, to come to a deeper understanding.


Those of us who are sincerely engaged, not having one foot out and one foot in, are people of the book. These three series of books are the bible of The Fourth Way. Have we ever considered that—following the Old Testament, New Testament, Koran—All and Everything is the fourth of the great books? That it completes the cycle? Read it and you'll find it contains the esoteric history of not only the planet but the universe. It shows us our place and our cosmic and individual purpose. And, yes, it mercilessly exposes our self-love and vanity but also maps the means of transformation.

Now, can you imagine being a fundamentalist Christian and not knowing the four gospels or the 23rd Psalm or Genesis? What kind of Christian would you be? Are you just a Sunday Christian? Oh yes, All and Everything, especially the First and Third Series, is so difficult to read. Why didn't he make it easier? Why did he have to, as he says, "bury the bones"?

The book is a Legominism, a means of passing esoteric knowledge down through time in a form that is essentially undistorted. One must earn the right to this knowledge through the challenge of reading the book. What seems at first like impenetrable "boiler plate"—think of the definition of Harnelmiatznel—is actually concisely and precisely posed. A secondary effect is who will dare to sermonize from the book in the style of evangelical preachers, intoning long passages that speak of Hernasdjensa, Heptaparaparshinokh, Triamazikamno and Hanbledzoin (but of course they will know how to pronounce Hasnamuss).

Lost & Found

What is it about this book that makes people want to leave it behind as soon as they get it? I remember leaving my umbrella on the subway one morning in New York and afterward going down to the Lost and Found at Grand Central Station to hopefully retrieve it. It hadn't been turned in but on the desk was a copy of All and Everything that had just been turned in.

"Someone left this on the train?" I asked in mild astonishment.

"I don't know what it is with this book," the clerk said.

"What do you mean?"

"Come here," he said.

He motioned me behind the desk and opened the door to the storage room. One whole wall, floor to ceiling, was lined with All and Everything.

"What is it with this book—everybody leaves it behind!"

Cultivating Attention & Intuition

Haven't we all thought about throwing the book across the room? Those long winding sentences, clauses within clauses, strange, unpronounceable words—it saps your attention, drives you up the wall. It doesn't capture your attention, it destroys it. You start a page and two pages later you realize you don't remember anything that has been said, that the whole time you have been reading mechanically—you, that is, your attention, hasn't been there. You've been reading with...well, welcome to a verification of the formatory mind.

Understand: Gurdjieff intentionally wrote the book as he did. My intuition is that when he finished the first draft of the First Series and thought he had to rewrite it because it was unreadable—it was just the opposite. It was too readable. Well, whether the speculation is true or not, the rewrite of the book certainly made it, at least at first glance, unreadable. Intentionally so. This is because of our low level of attention and because we have been fed endlessly on books written in what Gurdjieff calls the "bon ton literary language," evocative and hypnotic and, at base, empty. Gurdjieff could certainly write differently, as he shows in the Second Series when he purposely writes several pages in the style of an ancient literary school, a style he calls "creation of images without words." The book is designed to cultivate one's attention, one's intuition, and so come to a higher level of reason. Using a salting technique, he sprinkles among its chapters ideas that only come into proper dimension when suddenly in an electric moment all comes together. Ingenious and, from the human point of view, devilish. He does take the "bad" end of the stick. He provokes, creates obstacles. Goethe says: "I am the devil that denies, I will the bad and work the good." But this writer, this transmitter, unlike the mythological Mephistopheles, plays the role in the best way, knowing that he will be cursed many times over for showing us by his deliberately tangled thought just how avaricious we are for knowledge and equally reject paying for it. Our time, like our money, is our god.

It is recorded by many of his students that he had chapters of All and Everything read aloud to them throughout the 1930s and '40s, until the end of his life. He paid close attention to their reactions, noting particularly the effect of the sentences and placement of commas within the sentence structure. It took not only a lot of attention to read the book but a lot of breath. When we come to the third reading of the book in which we are to study its contents, it is helpful to read passages aloud so that by hearing we come to the right voice with the right emphasis.

Esoteric Christianity

All & Everything lives on many levels. It is a magical book, an initiatory text, which, together with the practices of self-remembering and self-observation, conducted not alone but within the conditions of a school, can open us to the real world which Gurdjieff speaks about.

Early on, his students, not knowing what to make of it, spoke of it as a fable. And, of course, there is that aspect. But what if it transcends fable to fact? I remember quite distinctly when I was thinking of leaving the Work—not for anything as imaginary as Theosophy but for a teaching as rigorous as Tibetan Buddhism. At Tail of the Tiger, a Vermont farmhouse and later meditation retreat renamed Karmê-Chöling, I had meditated for two weeks straight, 12 hours a day, and suddenly became frightened. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the Tibetan tulku and crazy wisdom master, asked me—"And what did you do?"

I heard myself saying, "I prayed to Jesus Christ."

The words split the room like a thunderbolt.

We stood there facing one another, he empty and me shocked into emptiness (but not really knowing it). But in the clarity of the space I couldn't deny the recognition that as much as I was attracted to him and the teaching, I was not a Buddhist at heart. To continue would be an entertaining and exotic experience but one that I would stand outside of no matter how many visualizations, chants and prostrations.

Tennis-Ball Moon

On the way back to New York, of course, I argued with myself about leaving the Work and continuing with Trungpa. Under the seat in front of me I saw a copy of the New York Times lying on the floor. The news read like a series of comic strips. That was until I got to the editorial page and read:

...and a Tennis-Ball Moon
It has recently been discovered that the earth and the moon do not make up an isolated, self-sufficient two body system as men have believed for centuries. Rather, they are part of a three-body system whose third member is a tiny 'quasi-moon' only a mile or two in diameter. Toro, as this third body has been named, wanders around the sun five times in the time that it takes earth to make eight circuits. When Toro comes too near earth—9.3 million miles at the closest point—earth's gravity tends to change Toro's curvilinear path so that on its next passage it is further away from earth; in turn, earth's gravity affects this revised path so that on its following pass it is closer to earth. Hannes Alfven, a Nobel Physics laureate, has compared Toro to a tennis ball being used by an earth playing tennis with itself. It is still uncertain whether Toro has always been a member of the earth-moon system or is a relative newcomer captured comparatively recently, say 400 million years ago. Dr. Alfven thinks Toro has been earth's unseen companion since the creation of the solar system; but, even if he is wrong on that point, the present evidence suggests that it will take at least 200 million years before Toro might conceivably crash into this planet.

From my reading of the First Series, I understood that Toro was what Gurdjieff called Anulios! How could he know this? There were no instruments in his day or before that could have shown this. I would like to say that at that moment everything changed for me. But it didn't. I was too asleep in my dream world, but I did realize that perhaps what he had written was much more than fable. Saying the First Series was fable was only a way of reducing it to one's level of understanding.

To begin to enter the understanding Gurdjieff offers we must read the three series of books in the order he gives in his "Friendly Advice" at the beginning of the First Series. Read it as we choose—who is it that is choosing?—and we deny ourselves its magical properties and its power of initiation. Like tomb robbers of Egypt, we rob the book and rob ourselves no matter however well we might quote from it. It's simply one more demonstration of the Reason-of-Knowing compared to the Reason-of-Understanding.

Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism) sums up its whole perspective with four great statements: I am That; You are That; All this is That (All and Everything is That), That Alone Is. The Fourth Way is so constructed to lead from the lowest idea of the self, the personal notion of self, to the highest. But we can't start at the highest. To start with the statement "I am That" before I've explored and experienced all the meanings of "I," which leads to the realization that there is no I without quotation marks, is to simply stoke one's spiritual imagination. Our being will not match our words and actions and we will never know why the Sphinx of the society Akhaldan had an amber neck.

This talk is printed in The Gurdjieff Journal Issue #37