The Work: Esotericism and Christian Psychology Introduction
This teaching is called "The Work" and it is about the inner psychological meaning of Christ's teaching. It is a system of ideas and psychological practices derived from the Fourth Way system that originated with George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, interpreted by Peter Ouspensky, and taught by Maurice Nicoll. Gurdjieff was an esoteric teacher living and teaching in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century. He and a small group of students walked out of Russia to avoid the war and eventually wound up in France where Gurdjieff founded another school which he called the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Ouspensky was a Russian intellectual and philosopher and Gurdjieff's primary student. He wrote "In Search of the Miraculous" which is an organized presentation of what Gurdjieff was teaching. Maurice Nicoll was a highly regarded Scottish psychologist who was a student of both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and studied with each of them individually. After years as a student, in 1931 he was asked by Ouspensky to teach the Fourth Way in London where he lived. This he did until his death in 1953.
Since this condensed version of the Work was taken completely from the "Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky", and other books by Maurice Nicoll, I feel he deserves some special attention. He was born in Scotland in 1884. His father was a noted Scottish theologian and author so Nicoll grew up in a religious Victorian household. He graduated from Caius College in Cambridge where he took a first in science and subsequently received his medical qualification at Saint Bartholomew's Hospital. He also studied in Vienna, Berlinand Paris and then returned to London to private practice. He served as a Captain in World War I and was in charge of a hospital in Gallipoli. After returning from the war he returned to his practice and joined the staff at the Empire Hospital where he authored numerous papers on medical psychology. In England he was considered a pioneer in psychological medicine. He was the protégé of Carl Jung until he met Ouspensky in 1921. His strongly Christian background and training as a psychologist gave him a unique perspective and an ability to communicate the Work in terms that are understandable to the modern western mind with its appropriate intended aim. And his perceivable practice of it and its relation to the core of Christian teaching is revealed to us in every idea.
The Fourth Way system consists of three parts – the cosmology, the sacred dance movements, and the psychological Work. The cosmology is an enlightening, profoundly meaningful new model of the Universe. Its ideas and diagrams hold powerful concepts of universal scale, relativity, time, and Mankind's place in it, all in harmonious integration. It supports a sound Christology and reveals a God of pure and unchanging goodness. Maurice Nicoll thought that the Work shouldn't be taught without the accompanying cosmology. And while I agree in principle, I have chosen to only slightly skim the surface of it in this book because I want to focus on what is verifiable and pertinent to personal change.
The study of the cosmology is an intellectual undertaking and can only bring about a certain amount of mind-altering knowledge which doesn't have the power to create individual transformation without the psychological Work. However, it gives an invaluable idea of the magnitude of these ideas which may be necessary for some people. But, not all of the cosmology is verifiable and one of the primary directives of this teaching is to verify everything for yourself. You are not asked to take anything on faith or blindly believe any idea. You must know and understand the ideas through your personal thoughts and reflections on them and you must know what you are doing and why, and verify it with your personal experience of applying the ideas and practices to yourself. Nevertheless, I advise anyone who finds value in the Work to also study the cosmology at some time.
I don't address the sacred dance movements although they are impressive to see performed. Great emphasis is put on learning these movements in the official Gurdjieff Societies and affiliated Foundations around the world. However, one of the many reasons why I don't give them any significant consideration in this book can be expressed in a quote by Maurice Nicoll when he said that "no amount of work on the body can produce psychological change." This is something I have verified for myself and it takes only a little thought to realize that to include the movements as part of a ‘package deal' means excluding many people from the opportunity to find real, meaningful self-change. This means that putting the primary emphasis on the movements does a great disservice to the Fourth Way System not to mention the potential students seeking authentic change in themselves. Whereas, the psychological Work excludes no one. Those who are unfit for it soon find they are uninterested or unable to pursue it. And there are those few perfectly nice people who are not meant for it.
It is the psychological Work that is the focus of this book because that is the transformative aspect of the whole teaching and therefore the most valuable. It can be used by anyone with a sincere desire for self-change but must not be mistaken for a magic formula for achieving power or mystical properties. As a matter of fact, undertaking this path for some personal worldly gain such as improving your golf game, or losing weight, or attracting someone's attention, will be a waste of time and perhaps even dangerous. You can't be sincerely involved in a teaching about self-transcendence for self-interested reasons. Your aim would be compromised and impure, and aim is very important in the Work. It's something you'll have to remember often.
The esoteric teaching about the psychological level of meaning in Christianity contained in The Work is the unchanging truth within its spiritual ideas. It is also the only possible evolution available to mankind. So, no matter how well versed you are in the Fourth Way cosmological ideas or how competent you may be in performing the movements, you will have no internal development unless you are practicing the psychological Work.
I'd like to say here that you can also have no understanding of these three foundational men or of the value of what they accomplished without practicing the Work. In applying the ideas to yourself you will begin to see the brilliance and the startling beauty of them and you will then be able to realize the quality of Being through which they had to manifest. That will forever change your conception of the teachers who brought it to us today and give relativity to the enormous amount of biographical and anecdotal material available about them. I caution you that most of it is something more like gossip or outright slander, and most is written by people who didn't know these men and have never practiced the Work or understood the teaching.
My aim in writing this book is to condense, organize and explain the brilliant writings of Maurice Nicoll in the "Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky", in particular, The Work. The Work is a perennial esoteric teaching about the possible evolution of an individual from a being driven by external life into a conscious individual guided by the developed spiritual will. While the five-volume Commentaries are vastly more informative they are not organized in any structured approach to the ideas of this teaching and the language from the beginning of the last century makes it slightly awkward to the current western mind. However, Nicoll has put into these papers to his students the real aim and practices of the Work of the Fourth Way, making the ideas practical and true to their intended purpose.
Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Nicoll all called The Work "Esoteric Christianity" referring to the inner meaning of Christ's teaching. It's not a hidden or secret path but one of the inner truth Christ spoke of leading to personal development and realization of the essential self. "The Work is the inner meaning of Christ's sayings and parables, and Christ's sayings and parables are what the Work teaches." Maurice Nicoll
So, even though the Work can be used by anyone regardless of religious affiliation for the purpose of inner development, I see no reason to change the original context given to us in Christian terms. Christ gave us this esoteric teaching for our era. Gurdjieff brought it to the western world within a much larger wholistic system including a new model of the universe combining science and religion. Ouspensky was essentially the interpreter of Gurdjieff's teaching, but it was Nicoll who put the psychological Work in its proper context and made it into a verifiable and comprehensible path for us today.
It is called the Work because it is you yourself who must study and apply the practices to yourself, and it is no easy task. It is work, real inner work, but it is worth it. If you feel like an artificial person; if you don't see how life can be explained in terms of itself alone; if you feel there must be another meaning to your life but you can't quite grasp it; if you long for something more authentic that you can't name, then this may be your path. Especially if you are a person who loves Christ with all your heart and soul but can't quite figure out how to follow him, to obey Him, to be holy as He was holy, then what you find here will delight you.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the Fourth Way is its concept of God. What is usually called God is called the Absolute in this teaching, and it is a unity, a singularity of all goodness and all perfection. The Absolute is not created, it precedes creation and is under only the law of its own will. Creation is a manifestation of the will of the Absolute which exists before, outside of and throughout all created things. The Absolute's goodwill toward even the least significant in creation is, for us, in the form of Jesus Christ who is a reflection of the perfect goodness of the Absolute. This understanding dispels any debate about original language and meaning regarding the term Absolute. There can be no dispassionate, cold or uninvolved God who gives us Jesus Christ.
"…. the conception of God must not be sensual, based on an object. "God" is not to be thought of as an object apparent to the senses. We really have to understand here that "God", or put in Work terms, the Absolute, is not a created thing, for what is created needs a creator. "God" or the Absolute is uncreated; that is, not in Space and Time where visible creation exists. In this connection Christ expressly said, "God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). He is not an object of the senses living somewhere in Space, moment by moment. The soul which is the function of relationship to your inner world and whose destination is to be turned away from the senses towards another order of truth called "God" must not be turned outwards to things seen, but inwards to realities that are invisible and cannot be touched, but can be fully experienced as inflows of new meaning." Maurice Nicoll
It is important to note here for the sake of relativity, that when Ouspensky was asked whether Christ taught the Fourth Way to which the Work belongs, his answer was that "the way of Christ was something much bigger." Don't be confused about the scale of the event that the life of Christ was in the history of the human race, and the teaching He taught. The Work is about His teaching. His presence among us is about God's perfect love, the Absolute's perfect goodness.
The Fourth Way teaching doesn't talk directly about God for several reasons. We speak of "God" very casually in our present age and we attribute all manner of earthly events to Him from the outcome of sporting matches to personal and natural disasters. We've lost the concepts of scale and relativity and reverence and we fail to realize that the magnitude of God is far beyond the human mind's ability to comprehend. However, the whole aim of the Fourth Way Work is to prepare the inner self to be able to be directed and inspired by the Holy Spirit which is above us and is an extension of God's goodness to each of us individually. Through this experience we can know Him in a way that defies words. All language and previous opinions become irrelevant.
So, the Work is the only path in this system for psychological/spiritual evolution and it can be employed by anyone of any religious background, or even those with none at all, as long as they are sure that there is something higher in life than their self-gratification. That is the one requirement the Work has. You must believe in something higher than yourself. Otherwise you have no way to move up above the self you are now to a new form of yourself, already within you, awaiting realization. Those who identify themselves as Christians will find deeper meaning and understanding and a strengthening of their faith including a verifiably real way to obey Christ's teaching, because you love him. Nothing could be more valuable.
in the work each person must apply the practices to themselves conscientiously after learning what to do and why and how to do it. The aim of it is to increase your consciousness and reach a subsequent new level of understanding for the purpose of spiritual Rebirth. If applied rightly it will lead to authentic self-realization and an inner purity which are both necessary conditions for the possibility of higher consciousness and any further degrees of development. It requires long-term conscious efforts that are of a psychological nature and at times are intensely difficult and painful to the ego and at the same time beautifully liberating. That is why it is called the Work. You must work for your inner development, and for a very long time.
One of the basic elements in this teaching has to do with the order in which the process of rebirth takes place. There is an order to this transformation and it's important to understand what it is and how it works. These steps begin with Awakening, then Dying, then Rebirth. And the process must follow this pattern because you must first of all awaken to what you are really like before you can know what parts of your psychological makeup must die in order to reach rebirth.
Awakening begins with new knowledge and the intentional employment of that knowledge. Then there must be death to what we have awakened to within us if it obstructs the path to the spiritual rebirth that is our rightful destiny. Without awakening there can't be any dying to the aspects of the self in the right way and therefore rebirth is impossible. This is one aspect of the teaching I have tried to address in structuring this book by putting the ideas of awakening first, the process of dying to the false self in the right way, second, with the aim of re-birth into a developed spiritual being, last.
"Awakening is not quite pleasant. One suffers and also is so very glad. You feel you are at last doing what you wanted but had forgotten." Maurice Nicoll
The ritual of baptism is not enough to create actual rebirth because it is external and only symbolic of being submerged in the Holy Spirit. Instructions for actual inner transformation and spiritual development are found in the Gospels, in Christ's own words but they aren't given in an ordered form but are found in pieces in different places in scripture because it was written many years after His death by those who may have understood the teaching but did not convey that process in recording the history of His life. The Work puts these pieces in an order that can be understood and followed leading to being "born of the Spirit".
This teaching begins with self-study from a particular angle and in definite directions which must be learned. "Know Thyself" becomes the first line of action because if you don't know yourself how can you change yourself? And make no mistake, this Work is for the purpose of changing yourself, not changing the world. In all true esoteric teachings throughout history self-knowledge is considered the highest form of knowledge because it is the starting point of any possible change. Also, understand clearly that self-change means that you must necessarily become a different kind of person. You can't change and stay the same. The Work isn't something you can add on to yourself as you are, like acquiring a new wardrobe or learning a new language. It is meant to change you into the authentic person you were born to become led by your developed Spirit. So be sure that changing the kind of person you are is a pervasive part of your aim and be prepared to work at it sincerely and diligently. If you do you will discover that this is the most beautiful path to enlightenment that exists.
"Now I wish to speak to you about how you work on yourselves and in what spirit you take the work. You cannot easily work from the ordinary religious ideas and moods. You recall the saying about new wine in old bottles. This work, this system of teaching, these ideas we are studying, are the most beautiful things you can possibly imagine —and they are new to us. No, they are far more lovely and beautiful than anything you can imagine. They accuse you only of being asleep. They hold no conviction of sin in them. They ask you quite gently to observe yourself. It is you yourself who must accuse yourself." Maurice Nicoll
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