Being (ISM)

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SEE: Glossary Gurdjieff

“People understand what ‘knowledge’ means. And they understand the possibility of different levels of knowledge. They understand that knowledge may be lesser or greater, that is to say, of one quality or of another quality. But they do not understand this in relation to ‘being.’ ‘Being,’ for them, means simply ‘existence’ to which is opposed just ‘non-existence.’ They do not understand that being or existence may be of very different levels and categories. Take for instance the being of a mineral and of a plant. It is a different being. The being of a plant and of an animal is again a different being. The being of an animal and of a man is a different being. But the being of two people can differ from one another more than the being of a mineral and of an animal. This is exactly what people do not understand. And they do not understand that knowledge depends on being. Not only do they not understand this latter but they definitely do not wish to understand it. And especially in Western culture it is considered that a man may possess great knowledge, for example he may be an able scientist, make discoveries, advance science, and at the same time he may be, and has the right to be, a petty, egoistic, caviling, mean, envious, vain, naive, and absent minded man. It seems to be considered here that a professor must always forget his umbrella everywhere.

“And yet it is his being. And people think that his knowledge does not depend on his being. People of Western culture put great value on the level of a man’s knowledge but they do not value the level of a man’s being and are not ashamed of the low level of their own being. They do not even understand what it means. And they do not understand that a man’s knowledge depends on the level of his being.

“If knowledge gets far ahead of being, it becomes theoretical and abstract and inapplicable to life, or actually harmful, because instead of serving life and helping people the better to struggle with the difficulties they meet, it begins to complicate man’s life, brings new difficulties into it, new troubles and calamities which were not there before.

“The reason for this is that knowledge which is not in accordance with being cannot be large enough for, or sufficiently suited to, man’s real needs. It will always be a knowledge of one thing together with ignorance of another thing; a knowledge of the detail without a knowledge of the whole; a knowledge of the form without a knowledge of the essence.

“Such preponderance of knowledge over being is observed in present-day culture. The idea of the value and importance of the level of being is completely forgotten. And it is forgotten that the level of knowledge is determined by the level of being. Actually at a given level of being the possibilities of knowledge are limited and finite. Within the limits of a given being the quality of knowledge cannot be changed, and the accumulation of information of one and the same nature, within already known limits, alone is possible. A change in the nature of knowledge is possible only with a change in the nature of being.

“Taken in itself, a man’s being has many different sides. The most characteristic feature of a modern man is the absence of unity in him and, further, the absence in him of even traces of those properties which he most likes to ascribe to himself, that is, ‘lucid consciousness,’ ‘free will,’ a ‘permanent ego or I,’ and the ‘ability to do.’ It may surprise you if I say that the chief feature of a modem man’s being which explains everything else that is lacking in him is sleep.

“A modern man lives in sleep, in sleep he is born and in sleep he dies. About sleep, its significance and its role in life, we will speak later. But at present just think of one thing, what knowledge can a sleeping man have? And if you think about it and at the same time remember that sleep is the chief feature of our being, it will at once become clear to you that if a man really wants knowledge, he must first of all think about how to wake, that is, about how to change his being.

“Exteriorly man’s being has many different sides: activity or passivity; truthfulness or a tendency to lie; sincerity or insincerity; courage, cowardice; self control, profligacy; irritability, egoism, readiness for self-sacrifice, pride, vanity, conceit, industry, laziness, morality, depravity; all these and much more besides make up the being of man.

“But all this is entirely mechanical in man. If he lies it means that he cannot help lying. If he tells the truth it means that he cannot help telling the truth, and so it is with everything. Everything happens, a man can do nothing either in himself or outside himself.

“But of course there are limits and bounds. Generally speaking, the being of a modem man is of very inferior quality. But it can be of such bad quality that no change is possible. This must always be remembered. People whose being can still be changed are very lucky. But there are people who are definitely diseased, broken machines with whom nothing can be done. And such people are in the majority. If you think of this you will understand why only few can receive real knowledge. Their being prevents it.

“Generally speaking, the balance between knowledge and being is even more important than a separate development of either one or the other. And a separate development of knowledge or of being is not desirable in any way. Although it is precisely this one-sided development that often seems particularly attractive to people.

“If knowledge outweighs being a man knows but has no power to do. It is useless knowledge. On the other hand if being outweighs knowledge a man has the power to do, but does not know, that is, he can do something but does not know what to do. The being he has acquired becomes aimless and efforts made to attain it prove to be useless.

“In the history of humanity there are known many examples when entire civilizations have perished because knowledge outweighed being or being outweighed knowledge.”

“What are the results of the development of the line of knowledge without being, or the development of the line of being without knowledge?” someone asked during a talk upon this subject.

“The development of the line of knowledge without the line of being gives a weak yogi,” said G., “that is to say, a man who knows a great deal but can do nothing, a man who does not understand” (he emphasized these words) “what he knows, a man without appreciation, that is, a man for whom there is no difference between one kind of knowledge and another. And the development of the line of being without knowledge gives a stupid saint, that is, a man who can do a great deal but who does not know what to do or with what object; and if he does anything he acts in obedience to his subjective feelings which may lead him greatly astray and cause him to commit grave mistakes, that is, actually to do the opposite of what he wants. In either case both the weak yogi and the stupid saint are brought to a standstill. Neither the one nor the other can develop further.

“In order to understand this and, in general, the nature of knowledge and the nature of being, as well as their interrelation, it is necessary to understand the relation of knowledge and being to ‘understanding.’ [ISM p. 65 ss]

To be means to be master of oneself. If a man is not his own master he has nothing and can have nothing. And he cannot be a Christian. He is simply a machine, an automaton. A machine cannot be a Christian. [ISM p. 102]


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