Monday, September 25, 2023
  A Western Way  
Adopting another way
“Take the understanding of the
East, and the knowledge of the
West – and then seek.”
 – GI Gurdjieff
“Evidently, he came into contact
with a school that was not Eastern,
and from this school he got his
 – PD Ouspensky

While the ways of the East are not closed to Westerners, and the ways of the West are not closed to Easterners, there is much more difficulty than may be commonly realized in adopting another way.

As has been pointed out, for example, a Westerner studying an Eastern teaching like Buddhism often comes across the idea of "nothingness" as a desired state. This, of course, is ridiculous East and West. This word, so dutifully translated, really means "no-thing-ness". More properly translated with a Western term such as "unity".

Also, the idea in the East of, as it is translated "detachment", is better approached fresh, and is the fourth way's action of "separation", or "non-identification".

A new metaphysics

But there is an even more fundamental difference between what I am here going to call the old Eastern ways and the new Western way. This is due to the underlying culture in which ways are formed, which they shape and and in which they are shaped in organic interaction. We westerners can probably not even imagine the culture of, say, Japan one thousand years ago, read as many books as we may. We could have some chance of doing so only by being immersed in the culture of Japan today, preferably from early childhood. Because what is assumed is not taught. It may not even be recognized clearly enough to be seen as requiring teaching.

It would be equally difficult for one raised in a traditional Eastern culture to comprehend the fourth way in its stress on individual understanding as opposed to tradition and trust. A rabelaisen Gurdjieff telling tall tales of where the teaching comes from does not correspond well to the keepers of tradition in ancient monasteries. And this is not accidental — it is necessary and correct.

I intend for this essay to be mainly about the new Western way which is the fourth way, but I hope to use examples from Eastern teachings to help clarify differences and commonalities between the different approaches. In general, by Eastern ways, I am referring to the great and ancient traditions of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and that rainbow of approaches we call Hinduism. To some extent I could include older traditions of the West and near East as well, such as orthodox and catholic Christianity, Islam and Judaism, as being what I am here referring to as "Eastern". The fundamental distinction being science, but a new and higher science that includes and enhances modern science; that is, a new metaphysics.

The fourth way is both psychological and cosmological. It is also both ancient and modern. (It is comprehensive.) The psychological teaching of the fourth way is ancient, in that knowledge of human psychology was well established before the arrival of modern science and in fact, as Ouspensky points out, psychological knowledge may have never been as poor as it is in modern times. Psychological knowledge, perforce, has been hidden. The cosmological teachings of the fourth way begin in ancient science which in itself was largely based on psychological knowledge. While it was necessarily limited to investigating the external world without the tools of modern science, it had no limitation in investigating the inner world, and therefore had the possibility of harmoniously relating a profound knowledge of human psychology in synthesis with cosmological studies, not in antithesis.

So part of our task, in addition to understanding our personal psychology (and, increasingly, human psychology in general), is to integrate the information obtained by modern science with the ancient knowledge of psychology. And ancient cosmology provides clues as to how to approach this. Psychological and cosmological knowledge must harmonize if they are both to be true. Laws are everywhere the same, and we cannot apply one set of laws to the human psyche and another to the cosmos.

When I speak of modern science, I mean the knowledge of externals — what I am calling cosmology. This includes, for example, knowledge of the atom and knowledge of the galaxy. It does not include modern psychological knowledge. There is no modern science of psychology, although occasional claims for such are made. A "science", that does not even include such basics as the distinction between instinctive and emotional functions — or moving and intellectual functions — or between consciousness and thought — and has even become elaborated in the confusion of such fundamentals, can only be a kind of superstition, or make-believe teaching.

The investigations of modern science into the physiology of the brain and of neurons in general, however, progresses. It is understandable that in a science that has been so preoccupied with matter we find progress in the study of physical manifestations. The relation of the cerebral cortex to intellectual function and the cerebellum to moving function for example is easily determined if you know psychology, but it cannot be recognized if you don't. Current science should be looking for such things, and tries to, but it cannot.

The new Western way is practiced "in life"

One of the problems with science's physiological approach to studying functions is the incredible, probably unfathomable, complexity of neural structures. The cerebral cortex is estimated to have one hundred thousand million neurons, and the cerebellum to have about half as many. If that were the only complexity, we might hope to eventually be able to someday mimic this neurological machine with quantum computers or some such tool. But that is only the beginning.

Sure, we can view a neuron in our brain much like an electrical switch, (and try to deal with the idea of billions of electrical switches) but that analogy doesn't hold outside of simple neurons. The neuron communicates with other neurons, not electrically, but through chemical secretions.

And neurons are not just connected like a bunch of logic gates: they connect in this chemical fashion simultaneously with multiple other neurons — in the case of the neurons of the cerebellum, any neuron might connect with 80,000 other neurons through reception (via "receptors") of these chemicals.

And, a single such chemical, for example the neurotransmitter serotonin, may communicate with one or more of several types of receptors. Altogether, a set of just initially understood basic building blocks of enormous number and many more enormous potential connections cooperate and interact in unknown combinations to produce brain functions. For starters.

And remember, at this point we are still just talking about functions, not about consciousness. While it is generally not understood that there is a difference between intellect and consciousness, we learned long ago:

"Functions can exist without consciousness and consciousness can exist without functions." – P. D. Ouspensky

Indeed, that was in Ouspensky's first lecture, already way outpacing modern psychological knowledge.

The new Western way — and I call it new because for all practical purposes it did not become publicly known and accessible until the first half of the twentieth century — is intimately related to modern Western culture. It is practiced "in life": at work, at home, on vacation, surfing the web (you, sitting there now), wherever one is, in the course of a typical Western-type lifestyle.

In fact, it is so much related to such a lifestyle, that it must take place within it, and not in, say, a monastery or cave. This is because the fourth way starts with who we are, and much of who we are is determined by our conditions, the situation we find ourselves in when we begin this work. More simply, the fourth way does not impose a new and different environment on its participants, nor does it even impose a common environment on different people. It starts with me where I am, and you where you are.

Now on a larger scale, on the scale of Western culture, the predominant influence is science, both in the results of technological accomplishments and in the philosophical atmosphere. The thought of the West has been hugely influenced by the (now discredited) 19th century mechanical universe, but is slowly turning its attention to the quantum of action, which is almost unfathomable, but simply "wrong", to the old way of thinking.

Brave new world

The mechanical universe of colliding billiard balls accidentally combining into life is the old, 19th century science, and it has effectively displaced religion as the explanation or meaning of the universe. That 19th century explanation ceased to be scientifically valid already in the early twentieth century. A new science, the 21st century science, means a new explanation, and it must include much that has been swept under the rug as untidy, embarrassing, and just not possible while the old model held.

This will be painful and awkward and confusing because no doubt much that is worthless is under that rug, as well as much that is real and important, and we need the new science to help us discriminate. The so-called new-age movement is an example of the variety — containing both worthless and valuable things — of that which is coming out from under the rug.

The new science must harmonize quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity, both of which are based on light, the most physical aspect of the Absolute. It must emphasize complementarity, and it must enforce exacting metaphorical expressions as it complements consciousness and light.

The fourth way, although apparently new, lacks nothing, partly because of the generally unknown but rich conscious Western teachings it draws on, and partly because it is inherently free of tradition, and can profit from the eternal anywhere, whether experienced in the lines of a sculpted Kuan-Yin, the graceful gesture of a Leonardo angel, an Arabic text of the One, or a Greek myth. Where the Eastern tradition has a great body of literature and tradition to draw on (the teachings and interpretations of the sayings of the Buddha for example), the fourth way has a great reservoir of expositions and acquaintance with Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Collin, Nichol, and more. And really more suited to our time and place, and potentially leading to at least as much.

But even if this were not enough, it is fundamental to the idea of the fourth way that one can apply it — after considerable preparation, true — anywhere. To anything. Where is the art we cannot learn something from; learn something about center of gravity perhaps, or personality?

What book cannot be somewhat enlightening, whether it is about electricity or medieval literature, a mystery or an encyclopedia? Can you not see one or more of the six processes in the book's exposition, used poorly or well, consciously or mechanically? You can learn an author's or artist's type, and see new ways in which that type expresses itself. And always, you can watch how you relate to what you see — maybe learn why encyclopedias annoy you, mysteries hold your interest, or whatever. Any limitation to objects of study on the fourth way exhibits a lack of conscious imagination.

P. D. Ouspensky named one of his first works Tertium Organum. What the title implied was "this is the third instrument, or organ, of thought. The first was by Aristotle, the second by Bacon, and now I introduce this one." Rodney Collin once said that Ouspensky took "outrageous responsibility" for what he understood, and I think the title of that book indicates it well. I see the life work of Ouspensky to be at least at the level of those sages. But really, much greater. We are very naive. We don't realize what we've been offered.

"It's a brave new world that has such men in it".  – William Shakespeare, The Tempest

As I understand it, they ask us to wake up, to participate consciously in the new beginning, and try try try to get past our petty selves. There is a new way, and it is high time to work, time to be.

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