|Conscious Labor and Intentional Suffering – Being-Partkdolg-Duty|
From: JG Bennett website – by George Bennett
I propose to talk this morning about conscious labor and intentional suffering – being-Partkdolg-duty. The phrase, in either form, recurs throughout Beelzebub’s Tales, and it is a key concept in Gurdjieff’s presentation. But I believe it has to be much more than an idea for us. Gurdjieff, through his alter-ego Beelzebub, makes two things crystal clear.
- The first is that being-Partkdolg-duty is an obligation for all three-brained beings and
- Second, that our planet is in dire straits precisely because we are not actualizing it.
If that is the case, and if we take Beelzebub at all seriously, we need to understand what is meant by conscious labor and intentional suffering in theory, and how we are to actualize it in practice.
My interest in this topic has undergone some development over the past three and a half decades since I first heard JG Bennett talk on the subject in April 1974, but for the purposes of this discussion, I intend to take Bennett’s presentation as a starting point. His talk was delivered to students on the third of his ten-month courses at Sherborne in Gloucestershire, England. At the time, these students had been studying with Bennett for six months and were entering what he called the ‘esoteric’ phase of the course. Although I was in the audience for this talk, it made little impression on me at the time. In terms of the Work (and much else besides) I was a callow youth and had no real experience to set against Bennett’s presentation. In the past few years, however, and in the light of my own experience, the talk has assumed a quite different significance for me. I would go so far as to say that reason of knowing has begun to give way to reason of understanding.
In passing I should point out that this talk is available, and may even be familiar to you, in print form as a privately circulated pamphlet and in an anthology of Bennett’s commentaries entitled Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales. In both cases, however, over-zealous or hurried editing has reduced the impact of the talk - and at some points subtly altered the meaning - and I recommend listening to the original in full.I
I would like to begin with a précis of Bennett’s presentation and then consider how far his understanding of conscious labor and intentional suffering is supported by Gurdjieff’s presentation in Beelzebub’s Tales.
Bennett begins by discussing what is meant by ‘conscious’ labor. He first makes a distinction between ‘conscious’ labor, and the effort that all living things have to exert in order to maintain themselves. That much is probably self-evident. Then he rules out the idea that the work we do to fulfill ourselves, essence work we are driven to do by our own nature, comes under the heading of conscious labor. Finally he discusses striving after a goal, striving for some reward. ‘Nearly everyone,’ he says, ‘embarks on our Work in search of a reward, to become better, to become stronger, to be free of this or that trouble, to attain higher levels of being.’ This, says Bennett, doesn’t properly come into the heading of conscious labor. ‘When one is working for a reward, or the attainment of a result,’ he says, ‘one must know it, and know that the reward is the reward.’
In contrast to labor for a reward, he says that the first hallmark of conscious labor is that it is labor undertaken ‘without regard to the fruits of action’, where one works because one must work. He gives the homely example of a mother, who works for her child not in the expectation of a reward, but simply because she must. "The work itself is not for anything, it simply must be done."
"Whenever we see something that must be done," he continues, "it means that we become conscious. That seeing what is necessary, and seeing what is necessary as necessary. That is consciousness. That is the first condition of conscious labor. It is doing what has to be done because it has to be done and for no other reason."
He then adds a sentence which I find very significant, in considering the presentation of being-Partkdolg-duty in Beelzebub Tales: "It is only when we work in that way," Bennett says, "that work can liberate us from our own egoism. If we work for a reward, this reward will satisfy something in us, and this something in us will certainly include our own egoism."
Bennett goes on to discuss what are the circumstances that make this work of conscious labor possible, and this is another of the conditions I want to examine in the light of the Tales. Conscious labor is close - if not identical - to service, he says, but it has a particular aim. He maintains that the way Gurdjieff presents this notion of conscious labor and intentional suffering,
"it is invariably connected with serving the future. Invariably has the quality of the sower sowing the seed. The unconcern with the fruits of action is that the sower is sowing in hope, and is not concerned with who will reap the harvest. It is clear that this is Gurdjief’s intention by everything that he writes in Beelzebub’s Tales."
In all cases, says Bennett, those who are represented as having reached objective reason through conscious labor and intentional suffering, have always been people who have been serving the future of mankind.
Let me sum up the three aspects of conscious labor, as Bennett sees it.
- First of all, it means being able to recognize what is needed.
- Secondly, it means to do what is needed without regard to the fruits of action, and
- Thirdly it requires being content to have sown the seeds for a harvest that others will reap.
He reiterates, to quote again, that "It’s not difficult to see that if one works in this way this will contribute to liberating us from our own egoism, from the consequences of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer."
What, therefore, is meant by intentional suffering? In his talk, Bennett takes considerable pains to differentiate intentional suffering from every other kind of suffering. To this end he discusses many forms of suffering: evil, unavoidable, and harmless but useless. Finally, he distinguishes between intentional suffering and voluntary suffering.
Voluntary suffering is the suffering incurred to achieve a task. The example he gives is the athlete who deprives himself of the ordinary pleasures of life, in order to win a race. This voluntary suffering is justified only by the result. If the result is what we want, then the suffering is worthwhile.
Intentional suffering is quite different from this, says Bennett. Intentional suffering is the suffering that one exposes oneself to, in order to do one’s duty. To accept a situation, knowing that this situation may result in trouble for oneself.
To illustrate this, Bennett describes the life of three ‘messengers from above’, the Buddha, the Prophet Mohammed and Jesus Christ, all three of whom are discussed in Beelzebub’s Tales. Their lives are evidently examples of work for the future. Their considerable labors for the welfare of mankind also resulted in suffering for themselves, which they intentionally accepted.
Bennett blithely asserts, you may recall, that the way Gurdjieff presents this notion of conscious labor and intentional suffering, it is ‘invariably’ connected with serving the future. Invariably, he says, it has the quality of the sower sowing the seed.
Is this correct? Is Bennett’s analysis supported by Gurdjieff’s writing, and secondly, why does this matter? I’d like to address the first and relatively easier question first. ‘Relatively’ easier because, as you may perhaps have noticed, the message of the Tales is rarely presented in unambiguous clarity.
To begin almost at the beginning, with Chapter VII, Becoming Aware of Genuine Being-Duty, you will recall that Beelzebub and Hassein have just heard details of the various systems of propulsion for ships of intersystem and interplanetary communication.
Now consider Hassein’s reaction:
"Only now," he says, "have I come very clearly to understand that everything we have at the present time and everything we use, in a word, all the contemporary amenities and everything necessary for our comfort and welfare have not always existed and did not make their appearance easily.
"It seems that certain beings in the past have during very long periods labored and suffered very much for this, and endured a great deal which perhaps they even need not have endured. They labored and suffered only in order that we might now have all this and use it for our welfare. And all this they did, either consciously or unconsciously, just for us, that is to say for beings quite unknown and entirely indifferent to them."
Since, as the chapter title tells us, Hassein is ‘becoming aware of Genuine Being-Duty’, it does appear that this duty is essentially disinterested work for the future. Moreover, although Beelzebub then says that Hassein is at present too young to worry about paying for his existence, his present task is to prepare himself for the future. "Only," says Beelzebub, "when that period of your existence arrives which is proper for your becoming aware of such essence-questions, and you actively mentate about them, will you understand what you must do in return." If, as is often said, we ourselves are in the position of Hassein, it is we who are being told to actively mentate about what we must do in return. Notice, incidentally, the word ‘must’.
In the light of this initial clarification, I would like to consider three other examples of conscious labor and intentional suffering, in connection with some of the surprisingly large number of people of whom Beelzebub actually approves. The first of these is the careers of Choon-Kil-Tez and Choon-Tro-Pel, the second is the efforts of the learned society Akhaldan, and finally, the labors of the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash.
The careers of the two great terrestrial learned beings, the twins Choon-Tro-Pel and Choon-Kil-Tez, are described in detail in Chapter XL, Heptaparaparshinokh, but let us look at just one aspect of the description. We are told that Choon-Tro-Pel and Choon-Kil-Tez:
"… began to continue the intentional actualization in their common presences of being-Partkdolg-duty … in the field of the profession chosen by them for their responsible existence, namely, ‘scientific research’ in the branch called ‘medicine’."
Their labors led to an understanding of the law of Heptaparaparshinokh that is described as a ‘blessing’ for future generations. Inevitably, however:
"… the gradual distortion and ultimate almost total destruction during two or three centuries began of just that blessing [the understanding of Heptaparaparshinokh] which had been created for them by their great ancestors [Choon-Kil-Tez and Chon-Tro-Pel] thanks to their conscious labors and intentional sufferings."
For the purposes of this discussion, the interesting point is that this blessing was created by Choon-Kil-Tez and Choon-Tro-Pel, through their conscious labors and intentional sufferings, for the benefit of their descendants. In other words their being-Partkdolg-duty consisted in serving the needs of future generations. If there is a benefit for those that labor, it is the benefit that comes from doing one’s duty to the future.
If we now look at the labors of the learned society Aklhaldan, it is not difficult to see that they were, at least in part, directed towards the future. It is hard to imagine, for example, that their dispersal across the planet to discern the character of the second Transapalnian perturbation was a short-term endeavor, or the result of merely idle or even scientific curiosity.
More specifically there are, in Chapter XXIII, Beelzebub’s Fourth Sojourn on the Earth, several references to the labors of the society Akhaldan that specifically refer to working for the future. Although it is awkward to isolate parts of sentences, let’s look at three of these references. In the first, in the context of the arising of the learned society, Beelzebub explains that:
"… if the three-brained beings there on your planet – thanks to their being-Partkdolg-duty, that is to say, thanks to their conscious labors and intentional sufferings – ever attain anything, then not only do they utilize these for the good of their own Being, but also a certain part of these attainments is transmitted as with us by inheritance and becomes the property of their direct descendants."
And in the build-up to the departure of the learned beings to observe the second Transapalnian perturbation, Beelzebub says:
"… it was just then - when after incredible being-labors by members of that great society the required tempo of work had already been established with regard to discernment, conscious on their part, and also with regard to their unconscious preparation for the welfare of their descendants – that certain of them constated that something serious was to occur to their planet in the near future."
Thirdly, during his stay in Egypt, Beelzebub is describing his travel arrangements to capture a number of ape-beings and says:
"… after having stayed there [in Egypt] a few days among the remote descendants of the great learned society Akhaldan, and becoming acquainted with certain results of their ‘being-Partkdolg-duty’ for the welfare of their descendants, (my emphasis) I afterwards, accompanied by two of our tribe, went to the southern countries of that continent…"
In each of these cases, the link between being-Partkdolg-duty and the welfare of the future is made explicit. At least part, and perhaps all, of the conscious labors and intentional sufferings of the members of the learned society Akhaldan was directed towards the welfare of their descendants. Furthermore, in the following chapter, Beelzebub’s Fifth Flight to the Earth, Beelzebub defines what is meant by the word ‘learned’, an adjective almost always attached, without Gurdjieffian irony, to the society Akhaldan. In contrast to "those beings, especially the contemporary ones, [who] chiefly became learned who ‘learned-by-rote’ as much as possible about every kind of vacuous information", beings who are regarded as learned everywhere in the Universe are:
"… such beings as acquire by their conscious labors and intentional sufferings the ability to contemplate the details of all that exists from the point of view of World-arising and World-existence…"
It seems reasonable to deduce from this that conscious labors and intentional sufferings are connected with taking a corresponding degree of responsibility for World-existence.
This connection between being-Partkdolg-duty and responsibility for the evolution of the world is reinforced in the Purgatory chapter (XXXIX). The ‘foreign help’ required to make the transition to the fifth stopinder is actualized only in the three-brained beings, says Beelzebub:
‘… exclusively owing to just those factors mentioned by me more than once and which are manifested in the ‘being-Partkdolg-duty’, that is owing to just those factors which our COMMON FATHER CREATOR ENDLESSNESS consented to foreordain to be the means by which certain of the Tetartocosmoses – as a final result of their serving the purposes of the common-cosmic Iraniranumange [all the results of actualizing the Trogoautoegocratic principle of reciprocal feeding and maintaining each other’s existence – the common cosmic exchange of substances] – might become helpers in the ruling of the enlarged World, and which factors also until now serve as the sole possible means for the assimilation of the cosmic substances required for the coating and perfecting of the higher being-bodies and which we at the present time call ‘conscious labors’ and ‘intentional suffering’.’
In other words conscious labors and intentional sufferings are the factors that serve as the means for assimilating the cosmic substances required for the coating of the higher being bodies and they are the factors that are foreordained to be the means by which three-brained beings might become helpers in the ruling of the enlarged World. In a nutshell, therefore, the passage suggests that conscious labor and intentional suffering, and service to the enlarged World, are intimately linked.
Moreover, the results of conscious labor and intentional suffering are not only for one’s personal benefit, but they are to be shared in a more ordinary sense, as is shown in Chapter XXXII, Hypnotism. On a well-ordered planet, says Beelzebub, the perfecting of Objective-reason can proceed by the process of the sacred Antkooano, in which the process of perfecting the Objective-Reason proceeds simply by the flow of time. Antkooano can proceed only in those planets "upon which in general all cosmic truths have become known to all the beings". Moreover, Beelzebub explains:
"… all cosmic truths usually become known to all on these planets, thanks chiefly to the fact that the beings of the given planet who by their conscious labors learn some truth or other share it with other beings of their planet, and in this way all the cosmic truths gradually become known by all the beings of the given planet without any distinction."
If this sounds too good to be true, we are told that this Antkooano was a process "upon which, among other things, the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash also counted". Which brings us to the third example I wish to consider. If there is one hero in Beelzebub’s Tales (apart from Beelzebub himself, of course) it must be Ashiata Shiemash, and the chapters concerning his very saintly labors are among the most dramatic, and the least disguised, of the whole book.
Rather than rehearse the specifics of the organization for Man’s existence created by the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash, and what is said about Conscience, let us look at a few specific references to his ‘saintly labors’. It seems impertinent - and probably blasphemous - to ask whether his labors were ‘conscious’, but let us return to what Bennett says in his talk: "…seeing what is necessary, and seeing what is necessary as necessary. That is consciousness. That is the first condition of conscious labor." Ashiata Shiemash’s labors on the mountain Veziniama were directed just to this – seeing what was necessary – the first condition for conscious labor in Bennett’s analysis. And in his preamble to the Ashiata Shiemash chapters, Beelzebub refers to:
"… those holy ‘consciously-suffering-labors’ which he intentionally actualized for the purpose of creating, just for three-centered beings, such special conditions of ordinary being-existence in which alone the maleficent consequences of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer could gradually disappear from their presences…"
Furthermore, in Chapter XXVII, describing his organization for man’s existence, Beelzebub says:
" … thanks to the conscious labors of the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash, the said welfare unprecedented for your favorites was gradually created…"
In both these examples, the labors of Ashiata Shiemash are clearly described as working for the future benefit of mankind. Furthermore, in the ensuing chapter on the destruction of his labors there are three references to the ‘conscious labors’ of Ashiata Shiemash and three other references to his ‘ideally foreseeing Reason’. Why do conscious labor and foreseeing reason go together? Because conscious labor is directed towards the future.
If the meaning of conscious labor is relatively straightforward to discover in the text, the meaning of intentional suffering is less obvious. What is clear is that they go hand-in-hand. Time after time they appear as a combined phrase – conscious labor and intentional suffering – and only together are they a translation of ‘being-Partkdolg-duty’. This is made explicit in Purgatory, when the intentional absorption and conscious digestion of the second and third being foods is said to be possible,
"exclusively only if all parts of one’s presence have been accustomed beforehand consciously to fulfill both sacred being-Partkdolg-duties, that is to fulfill ‘conscious labors’ and ‘intentional sufferings’."
In Beelzebub’s Tales, the sufferings of those who undertake conscious labors are evident in what we know of the lives of those historical figures who are presented as engaged in conscious or saintly labors. In Bennett’s talk he describes in some detail the sufferings intentionally accepted by the Buddha, the prophet Mohammed and by Jesus Christ. He might also have cited the ‘normality-loving saint Moses’ whose labors on behalf of the children of Israel exemplify the principle of sowing a seed for a harvest that others will reap, not least since Moses knew, because he had been told, that he himself would never see the Promised Land.
We know enough of the lives of these messengers from above to see that intentional suffering was an inseparable part of their labors, and a freely accepted consequence of it. Moreover, anyone of us who has taken on a task because they see it to be necessary, knows that suffering, or unpleasant consequences, often attend the completion of the task. When we are able to accept that suffering in advance the whole experience has an extraordinary depth. If the ‘labor’ is to fulfill the task, the acceptance of the attendant, intentionally accepted, suffering may even be what returns some benefit to the person who undertakes it. That doesn’t make the suffering any less real or less surprising, and the benefit is probably only seen in retrospect. The suffering itself is not to be sought after, but only to be accepted.
Is this suffering something that redounds only to the benefit of the sufferer, or is it necessary from an objective point of view? In Chapter XLIV, Electricity, Beelzebub says of three-brained beings and being-Partkdolg-duty:
"… just these ordinary three-brained beings, who acquire information about every kind of genuine cosmic fact exclusively only thanks to their being-Partkdolg-duty, are more competent than any of the Angels or Cherubim with their prepared being, who though perfected in Reason to high gradations, yet as regards practical confrontation may appear to be only such individuals as our always respected Mullah Nassr Eddin defines in the following words: 'Never will he understand the sufferings of another who has not experienced them himself, though he may have divine Reason and the nature of a genuine Devil'."
The idea that only our own sufferings make it possible to understand the sufferings of others is not unusual or particularly original, but the idea that being-Partkdolg-duty makes three-brained beings more competent than angels, and better equipped than they are as regards ‘practical confrontation’, is an important piece of information. It implies that conscious labor and intentional suffering has a practical application and it makes us more competent.
Having looked at various references to conscious labor and intentional suffering in Beelzebub’s Tales, what can we learn about conscious labor and intentional suffering from the life of its author? Consider first the labor that Gurdjieff undertook to assimilate rare or hidden knowledge from many parts of the world, and his efforts to make this known to people in the West. His story is of repeated and unremitting efforts to pass on the fruits of his own researches. He worked first with his groups in Russia, then in the Caucasus in the hostile environment of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. Having made the complex and hazardous journey to France he set up his experimental institute at Fontainebleau, where he tried by any means possible to pass on what he had learned and understood. Notable among his pupils in both Russia and France were the kinds of people who would be able, in their turn, to spread his ideas further. At every stage he encountered resistance and obstacles. He was shot several times, he was forced to flee from Russia and, at the height of his efforts in Fontainebleau, he suffered a near catastrophic car accident.
Gurdjieff accepted these sufferings and, on every occasion, continued with his task. Following his automobile accident, he began to pass on his ideas in written form. To the very end of his life he labored unceasingly to ‘assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings’, as it is put in the fifth Obligolnian Striving. At no time in this effort did he ‘hide his light under a bushel’; on the contrary, he organized public talks and movements demonstrations, and even suggested that Beelzebub’s Tales be read aloud in cafes and given away on street corners. Clearly, he was not afflicted by inner considering! When we look at Gurdjieff’s life as a whole, we can see that he never allowed setbacks to deflect him from his task of making the ‘Fourth Way’ known in the West.
My own teacher, JG Bennett, whose talk formed the preamble to this discussion, was another who saw his task as one of sharing Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods, and the results of his own researches, as widely as possible. He, too, set up a research institute, at Coombe Springs, near London with the aim, among other things, of verifying the practices and ideas of Gurdjieff himself. Bennett, too, investigated a variety of traditions in the hope that they might illuminate his own understanding, wrote books and gave public talks and, finally, set up a school at Sherborne in England, modeled explicitly on Gurdjieff’s institute at Fontainebleau. As Bennett said, he did not decide to devote what he described as his ‘declining years’ to these courses just to help individuals find their own personal transformation. On the contrary, he felt that there was a much greater task to be performed and that a corresponding number of people were needed.
Why did Gurdjieff labor unceasingly to pass on his teaching? What was the task that Bennett referred to? Most important of all, is conscious labor and intentional suffering, in the sense that we have considered here, only for the exalted few, or is it required of all of us?
To understand the answer to these questions, let us consider the present world situation. The old world is coming to an end. This was clear to Gurdjieff and it should be increasingly apparent to us now. We are entering an era in which egoism will become not just a psychological handicap but will become the seed of social disaster, if it hasn’t already. In the new era which needs to emerge, cooperation and sacrifice will be required. We and our descendants will have to learn to manage with less and be happy with less. We will have to be able to cooperate closely with each other, to put our own wishes below the needs of others, of our race and the planet as a whole. This is work for all of us, and the teachings of Gurdjieff can enable us to do it.
Consider the results of the labors of Ashiata Shiemash. Within ten terrestrial years, people had ceased to divide themselves into separate state organizations. Separate classes or castes had disappeared, and with them the basis for the crystalization of egoism in people. Now remember here what Bennett said about conscious labor and egoism: "It’s not difficult to see that if one works in this way," he said, "this will contribute to liberating us from our own egoism."
We who have been interested in the results of Gurdjieff’s own conscious labors and intentional sufferings have been given an extraordinary array of ideas and practices, many of which we have been able to test and verify for ourselves. We can see that these teachings have a practical value in helping us as individuals bear the kind of stresses that we can foresee, and this benefit. My own experience of seminars, courses and communities, and I am sure this is true for all of us, show that this benefit is multiplied when we work together. The practices and ideas of the work can be the glue that holds a community together.
It seems entirely reasonable that just as Gurdjieff didn’t sit back on the results of his researches, neither should we. We have a duty to share what we have received, as far as we are able, and probably a lot further than we are willing. Remember Beelzebub’s reply to Hassein when he becomes aware of genuine being duty in Chapter VII, "only when you actively mentate about (such essence questions) will you understand what you must do in return" (my emphasis).
Not only is it important to share the ideas but we need to work together in groups, communities and associations – like this conference – of different groups. Any group of people engaged in the Work together is greater than the sum of its parts.
We can expect that sharing what we have understood will bring trouble on ourselves; it will almost certainly involve intentional suffering. If we put our head above the parapet and try to share our understanding of Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods with others, we will suffer setbacks. On the one hand we may be criticized as reckless, and on the hand we may meet with misunderstanding and humiliation. At the very least we will have to sacrifice our own convenience. Working in communities and groups is also an occasion of conscious labor and intentional suffering, as we can probably all recognize. None of this need deflect us. All the practices of the Work, inner exercises, self-observation, Movements, struggle, sacrifice, and studying Beelzebub’s Tales, can prepare us to be able to undertake the conscious labor of preparing for a better future and intentionally accepting the suffering that such labor will almost certainly entail.