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The High Commission and other Sacred Individuals, What Do They Represent?
In reading through Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson over many years, I have often speculated about just what Gurdjieff intended when he wrote about the High Commission and the Sacred Individuals. The email discussion group on this subject that emanated from All and Everything 2001, has helped me to organize my thinking on this matter and I wish to propose the following ideas about what Gurdjieff intended.
Throughout Beelzebub’s Tales Gurdjieff exaggerates the nature of Endlessness with pompous and superfluous titles and adjectives. “All-Most-Gracious Endlessness” (BT1128), and “All-Loving, Endlessly-Merciful and Absolutely-Just Creator-Endlessness” (BT745), are but two examples of more than sixty such appellations throughout the book. In a similar vein, in writing of the High Commission and the Sacred Individuals, Gurdjieff uses the same tactic. Universal-Arch-Chemist-Physicist Angel Looisos” (BT88), and Most-Great-Arch-Seraph Sevohtartra BT89), are just two examples of many used throughout the book to describe these supposed beings. These overly gushing descriptions ought to put us on our guard.
Gurdjieff goes even further in mockingly calling Looisos “His Conformity” (BT182-183). Let us remember that Gurdjieff was keen to follow his grandmother’s advice when she said to him: “Eldest of my grandsons! Listen and always remember my strict injunction to you: In life never do as others do.” (BT27)
And we can just picture the buffoonery of Looisos who, with his colleagues on the Most High Commission, not only messed things up for the three-brained beings by implanting the organ Kundabuffer in them, but then had to return to Earth to beseech Beelzebub to help stop the animal sacrifices resulting from the unintended consequences of that implanting. Picture the ridiculous pomposity in this quotation from Beelzebub’s Tales as Looisos shouts down to Beelzebub: “His Conformity ascended and when He was fairly high up, added in a loud voice, ‘By this your Reverence you will be rendering a great service to our Uni-Being All-Embracing Endlessness’.” (BT183).
What is going on here? Gurdjieff is clearly making fun of these so-called Sacred Individuals. Are Gurdjieff’s overly obsequious descriptions of Endlessness as well as of the High Commission and the Sacred Individuals really serious? Obviously not!
Are they examples of the primary title of the First Series: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man? My short answer is “yes!”
In my view, there is no reality to either a hierarchy of angels and other Sacred Individuals or to an Endlessness that is separate from each of us. There is no separate Mr. God as Gurdjieff makes abundantly clear to us in chapter XX of Beelzebub’s Tales. (BT217). Mr. God was invented by clever leaders such as King Kunuzion as an ingenious religious-doctrine for a specific purpose (BT219) in the Beelzebub’s Tales allegory. Similarly, Gurdjieff has invented a separate Endlessness, a rather bumbling one at that, and separate inept Sacred Individuals who throughout the Tales are encumbered by the scores of pompously descriptive titles with which he weighs Endlessness and the Sacred Individuals down. This is a prime example of Gurdjieff’s objectively impartial criticism of the life of man, who imagines that he experiences such external beings as separate from himself because he/she cannot see reality.
I am going to ask you to explore with me, at least by way of hypothesis, the idea that there is no reality to any apparently separate sacred individuals, no matter who, no matter how they appear, no matter that they are Endlessness itself.
All of the hierarchy of angels and all our imaginings of God are projections of our mind in which we erroneously create God and his supposed assistants in our image. Because of our improper oskiano, our improper education, we have become convinced of the truth of a lie. That lie is that our persona is real and important. We believe this lie even in the face of the history of our planet which demonstrates the temporariness and insignificance of all the personas of the three-brained beings that have inhabited it since the time of their first arising. Because we erroneously believe that we as personas are real, we are then able to separate ourselves from other so-called entities like angels or God, however we perceive them.
Because we have become convinced of the reality of the personas of mankind, we anthropomorphize everything, seeing everything in terms of the anthropomorphic state, and we do this based upon our respective conditionings. So, while someone from the Judeo-Christian background may think in terms of angels that look like men and even converse with them, someone else from the indigenous Hawaiian background of the Kahunas, for example, may think in completely different terms and see completely different images. The wrathful deities experienced by the Tibetans as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, is another example of this anthropomorphizing, with still different images such as the blood-drinking deities Ratna-Heruka and Karma-Heruka.
Well then, if there is no separate Endlessness, no separate Mr. or Ms. God, is there no divinity at all? I must answer that question with a “yes”, a very firm “yes there is.” Yes, there really is a divinity of which each of us are the three-brained tetartocosmic projections on planet earth. Enjoying a bit of levity in the contemporary language of today, we may say that “God R Us.” Or to use Gurdjieff’s word for the divinity, “Endlessness R us” as are all the rather soupy group of angels, arch-angels and the rest of the so-called hierarchy with which Gurdjieff presents us.
Gurdjieff helps us to see this when, in the Third Series, he explains his great discovery in terms of scale. He writes: “For He is God and therefore I also have within myself all the possibilities and impossibilities that He has. The difference between Him and myself must lie only in scale. For he is God of all the presences in the universe! It follows that I also have to be God of some kind of presence on my scale.”.
This idea, that we in the form of tetartocosmoses, the three-brained beings that have evolved on Earth, are the most conscious expressions of the divinity on this planet, is an idea that has been largely lost to most human beings because of our inability to see reality. But it is this very idea that is at the basis of all religious doctrines because it is the vision of truth, the unitive vision, that was seen by the founders of every religion, and subsequently distorted by their less perceptive followers.
This game of finding the true Self, of finding out who we really are, requires what Gurdjieff has called metanoia, a change of outlook. To take an example from another tradition, the advaitic philosophers of esoteric Hinduism have long insisted on this change of outlook. Two well known contemporary exponents of advaita, Ramana Maharshi (d. 1946) and Nisarga Datta (d. 1981) have expressed the idea in modern terms. Nisarga Datta explains it in this way:
“The world is but a show, glittering and empty. It is, and yet is not. It is there as long as I want to see it and take part in it. … Only the onlooker is real, call him Self or Atma. To the Self the world is but a colourful show.”
Nisarga Datta in agreement with other advaitic philosophers, goes on to express this idea even more directly and more forcefully. To a questioner who asked, “If I am the sole creator of all this, then I am God indeed! But if I am God, why do I appear so small and helpless to myself”, Nisarga Datta replied, “You are God, but you do not know it. [The world] is true in essence, but not in appearance. Be free of desires and fears and at once your vision will clear and you shall see all things as they are.”
These are dramatic words, but they raise several questions for students of Gurdjieff’s teaching because his teaching presents us with an apparently hierarchical structure and an apparent path to get from our belief that we are real as personas in the second state of consciousness, so-called waking consciousness, to the fourth state of consciousness, that which Gurdjieff called objective consciousness or enlightenment , in which we can see things as they are. In that state we stand in the unitive vision by which “the identity of the individual with the universal is experienced.”
But what about the hierarchical structure of orders of laws from ninety-six to one, with their increasing degrees of freedom that Gurdjieff teaches? What about the intermediate higher being-body kesdjan that Gurdjieff suggests must be crystallized prior to the crystallization of the spiritual body (BT 765-768). It is one thing for the advaitic philosopher to say “you are God, but you do not know it” but quite another to realize the truth of this statement in more than an intellectual way. Gurdjieff, in the Third Series, acknowledges this difficulty in his great discovery that even though he has to be God, it is in terms of scale and at the moment of his discovery he recognizes his limited state of the awareness of his divinity: “He is God of all the world, and also of my outer world. I am God also, although only of my inner world.”
The uniqueness and great value of Gurdjieff’s teaching is that to overcome our limited state of awareness, he gives us specific methods designed to help us discover the nature of reality by helping us to change our outlook. His methods are intended to correct our improper oskiano through the techniques that we know as the Work. To do this Gurdjieff builds an interesting though illusory hierarchical structure so that we can struggle our way “up” as we are accustomed to struggle in our incarnated experience.
Gurdjieff suggests, for example, that there is an intermediate state between the sleeping self that regards the persona as real, and the awakened Self or big “I” that experiences the identity of the individual with the universal spirit or Endlessness. I equate this intermediate state in which he says that the body kesdjan is crystallized with the practitioner who has balanced his/her centers, is almost continuously aware of being aware, and so exists in the third state of consciousness, self-consciousness, with perhaps glimpses of objective consciousness.
I mention the hypothesized intermediate, interpenetrating body kesdjan here only as an example of the sort of hierarchical structure Gurdjieff builds for us to appeal to our accustomed struggle to attain, whereas there is nothing to attain, there is only that to discover. Many interesting questions derive from a hypothesized intermediate interpenetrating body. For example, how does the body kesdjan in the three body structure of Beelzebub’s Tales fit in with Gurdjieff’s four body scheme put forward in In Search of the Miraculous? How does it square with the seven body scheme of theosophical teachings? How is it that hypnotic powers may be a characteristic of the being with a crystallized kesdjan body, and yet many accomplished hypnotists may not be seen to have any such crystallized interpenetrating body at all? These and similar questions are beyond the scope of this paper. We should note, however, that ultimately the body kesdjan, just as the planetary body, must decompose (BT766), and in that sense is no more real than the planetary body.
Gurdjieff gives us numerous practical exercises to help us enter the two higher states of consciousness that he says are possible for a human being, self-consciousness and objective consciousness. These exercises, of which I would like to mention six, are familiar to pupils of Gurdjieff’s teaching. These include first, exercises to help us exist in the third state of consciousness. Three of these exercises are:
1. Self observation over a long period of time to discover the things about ourselves, the identifications that keep us from realizing the truth. These identifications are mostly with the so called negative emotions of which Gurdjieff speaks, but these identifications also include those that can be classified as desires. These identifications fool us into believing that our persona is real.
2. Self-remembering, the discipline of being aware of being aware by which we enter into self-consciousness. This state is the gateway to objective-consciousness in which we realize that we are Endlessness as is everything existing. Gurdjieff taught body sensing exercises in which we direct the tool of attention to help us enter into this state.
3. Sacred dance, known as the Gurdjieff movements. Practice of the movements are another method of making use of the body to overcome the intellect so that we are seated in the observer in the third state of consciousness. Many years ago, I participated in regular weekly movements classes over a six year period as part of a Gurdjieff study group, and afterward I participated in occasional movements classes as part of another Gurdjieff study group. I can attest to the efficacy of the movements to carry one into a state of profound self-awareness. But I do not claim to be an accomplished practitioner of the movements and consequently, I cannot speak with authority about whether adequate practice of the movements will carry one into the fourth state of consciousness, the objective consciousness that I have characterized as the unitive vision. We know, however, that Gurdjieff placed great importance on the movements and signed his great literary work, All and Everything, as written by “simply a ‘Teacher of Dancing’.” We know further that sacred dance is a suggested exercise in other esoteric traditions from the dervish whirling of Sufism, to the ecstatic states induced by dance that are characteristic of esoteric forms of orthodox Judaism. The dance of Shiva in Hinduism is another suggesting the importance of sacred dance.
Gurdjieff then gave additional exercises that are clearly designed to help us into the fourth state of consciousness assuming that we already reside in the third state of consciousness. Three of these exercises are:
4. Using the “as if” technique, in order to function as if we already stand in objective-consciousness. Gurdjieff’s “I am” exercise is an example of this technique using constructive imagination to imagine a vibratory reverberation in the solar plexus when “I am” is pronounced. An actual vibratory reverberation is characteristic of the person who already stands in objective-consciousness. It can be described as the life force that vivifies us. By repetition the practitioner actually experiences the vibration because the vibration is real even though it formerly had been unnoticed. In quiet meditation the vibratory life force is readily experienced.
5. Conscious laboring and intentional suffering to develop the will which is a characteristic of the unitive state. As we learn to like what “it” (the persona) does not like, we come to realize more and more that we are not the persona, that temporary collection of tissues and memories, but that we are essence, “the truth in man.”
6. Putting ourself in the other person’s place. In the Beelzebub Tales allegory, Gurdjieff tells us that “only he may enter here (the Holy Planet Purgatory), who puts himself in the position of the other results of my labors” (BT1164). He tells us further that it is the dwelling place of the higher-being-bodies (BT745). We know, therefore, that existence on the Holy Planet Purgatory is a characteristic of those individuals who have crystallized the higher-being-body. As we practice putting ourself in the position of others, we begin to realize that this is more than mere empathy. We realize that we are the other person. In this state we realize that we are Endlessness manifesting through all other persons.
To enter into this ultimate state of consciousness, objective-consciousness, is where metanoia is required. The direction is inward, whether in meditation or simple introspection in which we ask, “who is aware of all this?”
Given that we can enter the third state of consciousness using the body sensing exercises proposed by Gurdjieff and other techniques in other traditions, we need then to look further inward, benefiting from the additional exercises given, not only to realize who in us is doing the observing, but then to realize who is observing the observer. It is like an infinite regression inward until one stands firmly in the unity of all being. To remember this from moment to moment, to remember who we really are, to be aware of being aware, is self-remembering taken to its deepest level. At that level in which we are aware that we are all other persons, in which pattern blends with pattern in a vast and wondrous whole, we enter into the unitive vision.
This is not to maintain that people do not have the experiences of meeting angels, guardian angels, spirit guides, all the messengers from above, and even Endlessness as Ezekiel did in the recounting of his story in the Old Testament. However, we eventually come to recognize that all these experiences are projections of our mind based on the anthropomorphic conditioning with which we have been inculcated.
It is a mystery that many individuals who have entered into objective consciousness continue to guide others to the same goal long after their physical deaths. They are Endlessness in full and they are the projection of Endlessness in individuality (not persona) tempered by a series of human lifetimes in which essence has grown through experience. These lights of awareness as, for example, the energy we know as Gurdjieff do indeed come to us in dream, in meditation, through channeled communication, or sometimes simply as intuitive understanding. Their appearances to us are similarly projections of mind by which the one power that is really us all along can communicate with each of us who are not sufficiently awakened to realize our true nature. As the extent of our awareness becomes greater, and is less limited to the lower intellectual center - the mind of our persona, that awareness of mind in higher intellectual center begins to include other minds. It is akin to C. G. Jung’s idea of a collective consciousness. In this way the projections of so-called entities not limited to the mind of our persona are possible.
Whatever the phenomena experienced, we must then always go more deeply inward and ask the question: Who is aware of all this? When we fully enter into that state in which we are aware of being aware, we move toward objective consciousness, toward enlightenment.
It is a very great work, a metanoia, to remember from moment to moment that we really are Endlessness, and to give up, in these moments, our identification with the persona. In my case, for example, I need to give up the importance of being Sy.
We each need to give up the importance of being “me” so that we begin to see our persona as transient, ephemeral and in that sense unreal. When we stand in the real world, that which Gurdjieff has called objective consciousness or enlightenment, we realize that we stand in the unity. We are that which is indescribable, and which Gurdjieff has called Endlessness including all our projections of High Commissions and Sacred Individuals.
Metanoia, the change of outlook described here, when it is complete, is a breakthrough in which the individual in whom it takes place is no longer a separate individual. The light of universal awareness shines, unobstructed by the persona, through the vehicle of its own form. In this great spiritual journey we ultimately come to discover who we really are. In that sense it is a journey of discovery, not of attainment.
We ultimately discover that: “Thou art thy Self (capital S), the object of thy search.”
“BT” followed by page numbers refers to Gurdjieff, G. I. All and Everything, First Series: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man, or Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950).
Evans-Wentz, W. Y. The Tibetan Book of the Dead (London: Oxford University Press, 1927) 131-152.
Gurdjieff, G. I. All and Everything, Third Series: Life is Real Only Then When I am (New York: Triangle Editions, 1975) 22-23.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. I Am That (Durham, N.C. Acorn Press, 1973) 178-179.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. 533.
Ouspensky, P. D. In Search of the Miraculous (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950) 141.
Ginsburg, Seymour B. In Search of the Unitive Vision (Boca Raton: New Paradigm Books) 165.
Gurdjieff, Third Series. 23.
Gurdjieff, Third Series. 132-136.
Blavatsky, H. P. The Voice of the Silence (Wheaton: Quest, 1973 facsimile of 1889 edition) 34.
This article is reprinted with the permission or the author. It was originally published as: Sy Ginsburg, “The High Commission and other Sacred Individuals, What Do they Represent?” The International Humanities Conference, All & Everything 2002, The Proceedings, 2002, 177-187
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