by Lee van Laer
Originally published at the Zen, Yoga, Gurdjieff blog, Sept. 21 2012
I use the phrase objects, events, circumstances, and conditions so frequently that I thought a little explanation might be in order.
I'm going to use the enneagram to examine this question. Click on the link for the related diagram.
First of all, I should make it clear that the enneagram describes a lawful set of conditions that always applies in one way or another to every situation. The nature of the development of the law of octaves, and the individual notes, doesn't change. These are the Conditions (capital "C"): there is a progression in increase of the rate of vibration, and it moves through a distinctive hierarchy of principles, which have been described in numerous earlier essays. The principles are embedded in mythology, found in the yogic chakras, and recounted in Islamic theories of the development of the material world. The commonality between the systems arises from the fact that the enneagram is the underlying structure for all of them. Because it's an objective science, the principles described in the diagram can be applied to almost any situation in order to understand it. And indeed, Gurdjieff made this clear to Ouspensky.
An inadequate understanding of the diagram has rendered contemporary explanations of Gurdjieff's comments obscure; but it need not be this way. There is no doubt that it's possible to understand almost anything if the diagram's basic principles are clear.
The diagram is always divided into two sections, representing two triads: one on the right, one on the left. The right triad (represented by the numbers 142) represents, paradoxically, a descent— even though what is taking place is actually an increase in the rate of vibration, or an evolution of energy. It is a descent only in the sense that it initially moves away from the absolute, its point of origin.
The left side, represented by 857, represents a triad of ascent in the sense that it marks a return towards the origin of the energy within the octave. Roughly speaking, we can say that the right side of the diagram always represents an “earthly” or material quality, and the left side a "heavenly" or spiritual one, although these definitions do undergo intelligible permutations depending on the exact situation.
(I ought to mention here that Gurdjieff's multiplications are all paired triads, each delineating a specific set of relationships. Each set of two triads has its own implications and the two sets taken together require a third factor to reconcile them.)
Understanding objects, events, and circumstances, we see that they take the place of material, desire, and power on the material side. Logically enough, objects interacting with circumstances create events, mirroring the interaction between materiality, power, and desire as seen in the Path of the Yogi.
So taken together, we have objects, events, circumstances, and conditions. (I use the term conditions in two ways in this essay; one, to describe the overall lawful Conditions [upper case] of the law of octaves, and in the second case, conditionally, to describe only the right side of the octave and the material nature of its conditions [lower case]. I know it's a little confusing... sorry.)
The right side of the diagram, its interactions and constraints, basically define everything we can know of ordinary life. One conscious shock applies here; it requires conscious effort. Interestingly enough, we see that the shock plays its role a bit differently than what one might have expected: objects and circumstances cannot be linked to events without the conscious shock; without the shock, there is no path created to insight, or wisdom (8), which might advance things. In a certain sense, the energy “travels backwards” here, the shock creating the conditions that make the passage from 4 to 2 possible. And indeed, that understanding applies over and over again in every version of this diagram, although it is rarely mentioned. (It has been by some few, including, as I somewhat dimly recall (it was a long time ago) by Nicoll.) There are a number of things indicated by this apparently strange property of "energy reversal," but I don't have time to go over them in this essay.
Men are generally locked into a trap between objects and circumstances, because of the inability to apply the shock in this place. So people get "stuck" in material reality: Objects, events, and circumstances keep interacting over and over again, and little or no insight is gained. It's like a pinball stuck between three bumpers of extremely low point yields.
If insight is gained, however, attitude can be enlisted to help engage change, and for that, sacrifice is necessary. One of the reasons that Jeanne de Salzmann said that the only thing we could change was our attitude is because it is the single element in this particular evolution of energy which we are actually able to influence. Insight comes from a higher level; objects, events, and circumstances are a given; and sacrifice is a requirement.
Attitude furthermore occupies the critical point of the heart chakra: Sol, the note of the sun. It's the place of the hero; and it embodies the essential Buddhist principle of right attitude.
The left side of the diagram recapitulates, in its essence, actions—that is to say, there is an involuntary and static character to the right side of the diagram, and a voluntary and dynamic character to the left side. These are of course gross generalizations, because there is certainly a dynamism to the right side, the only problem being that it is a self-reflexive and unyielding dynamism that produces a form of masturbation in the material world. That is to say, it accurately describes our society and our behavior for the most part.
All of the conditions on the right side of the diagram must ultimately be transcended by invoking the actions on the left side; but transcendence here is a form of incorporation, not dismissal.
The role of the conscious shocks is the same in this version of the diagram as it is in every other version: the first shock, conscious labor, involves the formation of the equivalent of a real “I;” in this case, responsibility. The second shock involves, as always, surrender, that is to say, a sacrifice above all of one's attitudes.
No one wants to sacrifice their attitudes. This is the essential problem in a nutshell. Even if a man or woman being completes the first side of this octave, the resistance to the second side is enormous. This is, in the larger sense, what Gurdjieff meant when he said,
"“But in order to be able to attain this or at least begin to attain it, a man must die, that is, he must free himself from a thousand petty attachments and identifications which hold him in the position in which he is. He is attached to everything in his life, attached to his imagination, attached to his stupidity, attached even to his sufferings, possibly to his sufferings more than to anything else. He must free himself from this attachment."
Incidentally, for interested readers, this chapter also contains the Sufi tale illustrated in my drawing of the magician's sheep.
I respectfully hope you will take good care.