by G I Gurdjieff
There is not and there cannot be any choice of the people who come into contact with the 'ways'. In other words, nobody selects them: they select themselves partly by accident and partly by having a certain hunger. Whoever is without this hunger cannot be helped by accident. Whoever feels this hunger very strongly can be brought by accident to the beginning of a way in spite of all unfavourable circumstances.
People who feel this hunger may die from disease or war or accident before they have found a way. Such people come under a general law applicable to all mankind, and we cannot speak of them. We can speak only of people who, thanks to chance, or fate, or their own cleverness, do not come under the general law, that is, who stay outside the action of any general law of destruction.
For instance, statistics tell us that in any great city, a certain number of people will be killed in road accidents in the course of a year. Then if a man, even one with a great hunger, falls under a bus and the bus crushes him, we can no longer speak of him from the point of view of work on the ways. We can speak only of those who are alive and only while they are alive. Buses or war are exactly the same thing. One is merely larger, the other smaller. We are speaking of those who do not fall under buses.
A man, if he is hungry, has a chance to come into contact with the beginning of a way. But other things are necessary besides hunger: otherwise a man will not see the way when he meets it. Imagine that an educated European, that is, a man who knows nothing about religion, comes into touch with the possibility of a religious way. He will see nothing and he will understand nothing. For him it will be stupidity and superstition. But at the same time he may have a great hunger, though formulated intellectually. It is exactly the same for a man who has never heard of yoga methods, of the development of consciousness, and so on. For him, if he comes in touch with a yoga way, everything he hears will be be dead.
The fourth way is still more difficult. In order to give the fourth way a right valuation, a man must have thought and felt and been disappointed in many things beforehand. He ought, if not actually to have previously tried the way of the fakir, the way of the monk, and the way of the yogi, at least to have thought about them and be convinced that they are no good for him. It is not necessary to understand what I say literally. This thinking process can be unknown to the man himself. But the results of the process must be in him before he can recognise the fourth way. Otherwise, he can stand very near to it and not see it.
But it is certainly wrong to say that unless a man enters one of these ways, he has no more chances. 'Ways' are simply help help given to people according to their type. At the same time, the 'ways', the accelerated ways, the ways of personal individual evolution as distinct from general evolution, can precede it, can lead up to it, but in any case they are distinct from it.
Whether general evolution is proceeding or not is again another question. It is enough for us to realise that it is possible, and therefore evolution for people outside the ways is possible. Speaking more correctly, there are two 'ways'. One we will call the 'subjective way'. It includes all four ways of which we have spoken. The other we will call the 'objective way'. This is the way of people in life. You must not take the words 'subjective' and 'objective' too literally. They express only one aspect. I take them only because there are no other words.
The 'subjective' way is not 'individual' in the general meaning of the word, because it is a 'school' way. From this point of view, the 'objective' way is much more individual because it admits of many more individual peculiarities. The words 'subjective' and 'objective' are not altogether suitable, but we will take them conditionally.
People of the 'objective' way simply live in life. They are those whom we call good people. Particular systems and methods are not necessary for them; making use of ordinary religion or intellectual teachings and ordinary morality, they live at the same time according to conscience. They do not of necessity do much good, but they do no evil. Sometimes they happen to be quite uneducated simple people, but they understand life very well: they have a right valuation on things and a right outlook, and they are, of course, perfecting themselves and evolving. Only their way can be very long with many unnecessary repetitions.
It often seems to people of the 'way', that is, of the 'subjective' way, expecially those who are just beginning, that people of the 'objective' way are not moving. This is a great mistake, A simple obyvatel may sometimes do such work within him that he will overtake another a monk or even a yogi.
Obyvatel is a strange word in the Russian language. It is used in the sense of 'inhabitant', without any particular shade. At the same time it is used to express contempt or derision 'obyvatel' as though there could be nothing worse. But those who speak in this way do not understand that the obyvatel is the healthy kernel of life, and that from the point of view of the possibility of evolution, a good obyvatel has many more chances than a 'lunatic' or a 'tramp'. I do not wish to say that all obyvatels are people of the 'objective' way. Among them are thieves, rascals, and fools; but there are others. I merely wish to say that being a good obyvatel does not hinder the 'way'.
Finally, there are different types of obyvatel. Imagine, for example, the type of obyvatel who lives all his life just as the other people around him, conspicuous in nothing perhaps a good master, who makes money, and is perhaps even close-fisted. At the same time he dreams all his life of monasteries, for instance, and dreams that at some time or other he will leave everything and go into a monastery. Such things do happen in the East and in Russsia. A man lives and works; then, when his children or his grandchildren have grown up, he gives everything to them and goes into a mnoastery. This is the obyvatel of which I speak. Perhaps he does not go into a monastery; perhaps he does not need this. His own life as an obyvatel can be his way.
People who are definitely thinking about ways, particularly people of intellectual ways, very often look down on the obyvatel and, in general, despise his virtues. But by this, they show only their own unsuitability for any way whatever. No way can begin from a level lower than the obyvatel. This is very often lost sight of in people who are unable to organise their own lives, who are too weak to struggle with and conquer life, who dream of the ways or what they consider are ways, because they think it will be easier for them than life, and because this, so to speak, justifies their weakness and their inadaptibility.
A man who can be a good obyvatel is much more helpful from the point of view of the way than a 'tramp' who thinks himself much higher than an obyvatel. I call 'tramps' all the so-called 'intelligentsia' artists, poets, any kind of 'bohemian' in general, who despises the obyvatel and at the same time would be unable to exist without him. Ability to orientate oneself in life is a very useful quality from the point of view of work. A good obyvatel should be able to support at least twenty persons by his own labour. What is a man worth who is unable to do this?
There is much talk of being 'a good citizen' or 'patriot' in time of war. But there can be different wars and different patriots. A good obyvatel does not believe in mere words: he realises how much idle talk is hidden behind them. People who shout about their patriotism are psychopaths for him and he looks upon them as such. He would look similarly upon people who refuse to go to war when their country is in danger from an enemy.
What does it mean to be serious? To have a serious attitude towards things does not at all mean being serious because the principal question is, towards what things? Very many people have a serious attitude towards trivial things. Can they be called serious? Of course not.
The mistake is that the concept 'serious' is taken conditionally. One thing is serious for one man and another thing for another man. In reality, seriousness is one of the concepts which can never and in no circumstances be taken conditionally. Only one thing is serious for all people at all times. A man may be more aware of it or less aware of it, but the seriousness of things will not alter on that account.
If a man could understand all the horror of the lives of ordinary people who are turning round in a circle of insignificant interests and insignificant aims, if he could understand what they are losing, he would understand that there can be only one thing that is serious for him to escape from the general law, to be free. What can be serious for a man in prison who is condemned to death? Only one thing: how to save himself, how to escape. Nothing else is serious.
When I say that an obyvatel is more serious than a 'tramp' or a 'lunatic', I mean by this that, accustomed to deal with real values, an obyvatel values the possibilities of the 'ways' and the possibilities of 'liberation' or 'salvation' better and quicker than a man who is accustomed all his life to a circle of imaginary values, imaginary interests, and imaginary possibilities.
People who are not serious for the obyvatel are people who live by fantasies, chiefly the fantasy that they are able to do something. The obyvatel knows that they only deceive people by promising them God knows what, and that actually they are simply arranging affairs for themselves; or they are lunatics, which is still worse, because they believe everything that people say.
Politicians are the worst kind of obyvatels, lacking any positive redeeming features and, quite possibly, charlatans, lunatics, or knaves. There may be honest people among them, but then they are not practical people: they are dreamers, and they will be used by other people as screens to cover their own obscure affairs.
The obyvatel may not know it in a philosophical way that is to say, he is not able to formulate it but he knows that things 'do themselves' simply through his own practical shrewdness. In his heart, he laughs at people who think, or who want to assure him, that they signify anything, that anything depends on their decisions, that they can change or, in general, do anything. For him, this is not being serious. And an understanding of what is not serious can help him to value that which is serious.
The whole thing is in being ready to sacrifice one's freedom. A man consciously and unconsciously struggles for freedom as he imagines it and this, more than anything else, prevents him from attaining real freedom. But a man who is capable of attaining anything sooner or later comes to the conclusion that his freedom is illusion and he agrees to sacrifice this illusion. He voluntarily becomes a slave. He does what he is told. He is not afraid of losing anything because he knows that he has nothing. In this way he acquires everything. Everything in him that was real in his understanding, in his sympathies, tastes, and desires, all comes back to him accompanied by new things which he did not have and could not have had before, together with a feeling of unity and will within him. But to arrive at this point, a man must pass through the hard way of slavery and obedience. If he wants results, he must obey not only outwardly but inwardly. This requires great determination, and determination requires a great understanding of the fact that there is no other way: that a man can do nothing himself, but that at the same time something has to be done.
When a man comes to the conclusion that he cannot, and does not desire, to live any longer in the way he has lived till then; when he really sees everything that makes up his life and decides to work, he must be truthful to himself in order not to fall into a still worse position. There is nothing worse than to begin work on oneself and then leave it and find oneself between two stools: it is much better not to begin. In order not to begin in vain, or to risk being deceived on one's own account, a man should test his decision many times.
Principally, a man must know how far he is willing to go, what he is willing to sacrifice. There is nothing more easy to say than everything. But he can never sacrifice everything, and this can never be required of him. But he must define exactly what he is willing to sacrifice and not bargain about it afterwards. Else it will be the same with him as it was with the wolf in the Armenian fairy tale.
There was once a wolf who slaughtered a great many sheep and reduced many people to tears. At length, I do not know why, he suddenly felt qualms of conscience and began to repent his life; so he decided to reform and to slaughter no more sheep.
In order to do this seriously, he went to a priest and asked him to hold a thanksgiving service. The priest began the service and the wolf stood weeping and praying in the church. The service was long. The wolf had slaughtered many of the priest's sheep, so the priest prayed earnestly that the wolf would indeed reform.
Suddenly, the wolf looked through the window and saw that sheep were being driven home. He began to fidget, but the priest droned on and on.
At last the wolf could contain himself no longer, and he shouted:
"Finish it, priest, or all the sheep will be driven home and I shall be left without supper!"
This is a very good fairy tale because it describes man very well. He is ready to sacrifice everything, but after all today's dinner is a different matter.
A man always wishes to begin with something big. But this is impossible; there can be no choice: we must begin with the things of today.