In each new age, the previous age persists, and within the previous age impulses from the ages preceding it. The series may reach back a very long way, but at a certain point continuity with the past is lost. Our memory as a species, our sense of vision and of guiding purpose, is weak, and indeed, grows weaker with each decade. In the nineteenth century, the memory of the medieval world was present in a way that it is not today. In the twentieth century the memory of the Renaissance still persists in our habits and our way of life, but the memory of the classical world and of classicism has nearly faded.
Gurdjieff taps into Ancient Wisdom
In the mid nineteenth century there were, in Asia Minor, strands of memory running back deep into the history of our family of civilisations, to Babylon and Chaldea. They were preserved over such vast spans of time because they were of value, and they were preserved by the work of school. George Gurdjieff connected with this thread, and with the knowledge he found, he opened up the fourth way. Not the centripetal force of ever increasing knowledge and ever more sophisticated technique, but a knowledge of basic things. The knowledge of the conditions of man’s connection to a higher level of creation. What could be of greater significance for us, and what has been more clearly disregarded in the politics and polity of our age? Out of this knowledge, out of this connection to historical memory came the vision of The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.
Man, as he is, does not have the wherewithal to bridge this interval; his ‘collective memory’ is little more than the prime years of his life. The politics, policies, and programmes of the various national governments are reactive, in the sense that they represent responses to short-term issues. Ideologies, such as Liberalism, Socialism, Fascism, and Communism, have a longer life because they develop out of the fundamental social issues of a period, and are driven by those issues until the opposition or polarity is exhausted. They are not an expression of man’s cumulative best understanding of what is possible for him, individually or collectively. Religion is not innocent of this charge. The meaning of direction of a religion changes from one generation to the next. Christianity today would be almost unrecognisable to a Christian in the first century AD. What continuity there is, is given by problems and issues that are continuous. The organisations which serve as the carriers of religious beliefs are driven by rivalry, by the struggle for power and position, by material interests of one kind or another.
Gurdjieff’s Expression of Ancient Wisdom
No one would have seen this more clearly than Gurdjieff. The Caucasus was a collection of populations displaced and relocated by war. It was a place of hardship, emotional and instinctive. It was also a place that offered a view of some of the greatest traditions in human civilisation and culture (beginning with the very bardic songs of Gurdjieff’s father). The contrast was extreme.
Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales
Gurdjieff’s epic literary work Beelzebub’s Tales gives the background, the atmosphere, the fundamental orientation and the picture of the universe that informs the Fourth Way in our time. It is the world view which supports the efforts required to awaken. The implications of Beelzebub’s Tales is that humanity needs individuals to awaken, and, as a medium of life, it needs to be maintained at a level that can generate such individuals. Civilisation can do this. Society cannot. This outlines the relation between schools and civilisations in the course of history. Higher influences are responsible for civilisation. Without civilisation–with society only–they cannot replicate themselves, and since they have an interest in replicating themselves, they sustain civilization.
Homo Sapiens is unaware of this process. It was Mr. Gurdjieff’s teaching that homo sapiens itself is a part of organic life. This relationship to organic life involves contradiction, the contradiction of higher and lower levels coexisting. For the higher level can only exist through sustained effort and in an atmosphere of tension, while the lower level exists naturally and of itself.
The History of Ancient Wisdom
Mankind, in this respect, has two histories: the evolution of its body and the evolution of its soul. The former is recorded and imparted in great detail: the development of religions, the lineages of rulers and monarchs, the successions and revolutions of governments and so forth. But the history of mankind’s soul, the long body of its wisdom, never goes into the books. And yet, that history has existed just like the other, side by side with the other, and at critical moments, has overlapped with the other.
Those overlapping moments are times of exceptional opportunity. They represent an interval in the sequence of civilization. They call for a return to the original spark, a connection to the level from which the greater project was initiated–a dialogue with the cosmos above the cosmos of man. Those individuals who find themselves caught in such big events are given to experience glimpses beyond the normal spectrum of human experience. They are invited to dedicate their life’s labors to a cause much larger than themselves; they are invited to board and support the Great Ark of Ancient Wisdom.