It might be helpful to connect our discussion with a larger view of
history and evolution, and in particular the phenomenon of the Axial Age, and
beyond that the eonic effect. While the material on the eonic effect can be
useful in putting religious evolution in perspective it is not intended to be a
tool to assess particular claims about 'spiritual paths' or traditions, that is,
beyond a certain point. Nonetheless it is apparent that many claims made by
spiritual personae of all types are speculative myth, at best.
Gurdjieff makes a host of statements and claims about ancient spiritual
paths, but naive readers seldom think to ask for some kind of reference,
documentation, or clarification of these claims. The result is a new series of
myths about esotericism that can only be called shaky. Not a single utterance of
Gurdjieff has panned out in this regard.
To say that much has been forgotten, lost, or suppressed may well be true,
but to announce, for instance, that the fourth way first appears in pre-sand
Egypt, while a provocative idea, is nowhere given even the slightest shred of
evidentiary backup. This and many other statements by Gurdjieff end up by
casting his whole enterprise under suspicion. The demand to take everything said
on faith on the basis of an equally suspect authority is more than otherwise
openminded students of religion should accept. As with Blavatsky much of the
material is under increasing suspicion of being simply made up.
Further, it is easy to document the woeful lack of historical understanding
in many 'New Age' figures, especially as they begin to castigate modernity vis a
vis the spiritual attainments of ancient civilizations.
We can put these statements to a test, up to a point, by considering the
analysis given by the eonic effect, starting with its sub-component the Axial
Age. It is significant that nowhere have any of the gurus of Eastern thought
taken into account the discovery of this phenomenon. It is a reminder that their
much vaunted claims to higher knowledge must in some way be either exaggerated,
or non-existent. It is possible for an ignorant man to reach
The Axial Age shows us the emergence of two world religions in a synchronous
framework, and much, if by no means all, of what constitutes spiritual tradition
revolves around these two developments. This applies at best, however, to
religion on the large scale.
The eonic effect suggests a kind of 'sampling' effect as certain strains are
amplified in the periods (e.g. Axial) of transition, and this mysterious process
shows us at once one key to the complexity of Indic religion as one strain of
its legacy suddenly crystallizes as an Axial Age phenomenon, leaving another
legacy that is representative of that great, but almost unknown, tradition, one
probably going back to the Neolithic. A great deal more can be said here. But it
is important to note that no 'guru' can compete with the scale seen here. In
fact 'enlightened' sages are still far from the knowledge required to assess the
evolution of religion, whatever their claimed knowledge of the particulars of
the various spiritual ways. It is hard to see this point, or to cut through the
hype factor of those whose consciousness might be one thing, but whose knowledge
is still very limited.
It is nonetheless true that much in the way of spiritual practice and
knowledge might never register in the large-scale action on and through religion
that we see in the eonic effect. There is every possibility of there being a
host of lost traditions or constellations of religious activity that pass
through the sieve of the large scale dynamic seen in the world historical
process. This was the point that animated Gurdjieff's protests, but he was
unable to get the history straight.
But unfortunately claims after this fashion are likely to be altogether
suspect. When it comes down to basics, the eonic effect shows us only one great
exemplar of Eastern religion, the Upanishadic to Buddhist (Jain) emergent
interval. The outcome of this Axial transformation leaves in its wake an
ambiguous legacy of Hinduism, but one truly global, 'cleaned up' spiritual
path, set to proceed on the way toward globalization, Buddhism a very dangerous
term, since its interior subsequenct development is complex, and not validated
by Axial association in its later manifestatiosn. Gurus keep trying to match
this, but never succeed, and they never understand why they can't proceed beyond
the ashram to the world where Buddhism was tailor-made to do just that, speaking
of its premodern history only.
The author of this statement is not a Buddhist, nor is this a
recommendation one way or the other. Buddhism is one of the very few instances
where history meets greater nature in the foundational moment of bestowing a
pre-digested way for man, as he is. Such a statement must be taken carefully,
since the Hindu matrix from which it springs might contain a larger field than
the streamlined 'package' emerging in the Axial interval. And the term
'Buddhism' is hopelessly inadequate, its character changing greatly over time.
We are referring to the proto-Buddhism emerging in the Axial interval, which is
actually something of an unknown. Tibetan Buddhism is a much, much later
development, and has no claim on standing in for early Buddhism at all, as such.
The point is simply that anything that passes through the eonic
sequence will emerge at a higher level of quality, and will have a boost given
by the eonic sequence to its emergence, but not necessarily to its larger/later
manifestations, which may deviate from the source point or degenerate in
medieval contexts. This is a big study, but the issue might help those
confronted with the facts of the case with Gurdjieff, to see what might be
possible for an accomplished sufi of some type, but who is not a person in a
position to lay the foundations of a spiritual tradition. These statements leave
the issue of Jesus and Mohammed unresolved, but these cases we can at least
agree are not associated directly with the Axial interval, although they may
echo its action. We must leave that issue to further study. But all at once we
know one thing: these religious source points are different from the action of
the Axial type of religious transformation. The reader will have to read between
The confusion that arose at once in Gurdjieff's activities is direct evidence
of this. The whole effort is out of time and out of place, and simply chaotifies
at once. For all of Gurdjieff's claims about objective knowledge, his sources
are eclectic concoctions of medieval sufism, gnosticism, and what have you, and
presume a knowledge that he did not have.
A concluding consideration of the eonic effect is with respect to the
transition to modernity itself, a genuine Axial Age period in its own right, yet
one constantly denigrated by the reactionary style of the flood of Eastern sages
and gurus, Gurdjieff among them, attempting to roll back this period with a
restoration of their ancient obsessions. The modern age doesn't show the
formation of a new religion, for it has outsmarted the crystallized traditions
by moving to the core issue, the freedom of the individual.
And this New Age is on a far larger scale than this and contains the
potentiality for the resolution of the question of religion in a secular
And there we see a different significance to the labors of Gurdjieff. He is
not a spiritual teacher, but an archaeologist. At many points he correctly
points to what any student of the eonic effect suspects, gaps in our process, or
religious zones of influence that the eonic sequence simply left behind in the
stupendous motion of its greater action.
A good example is Gurdjieff's fussy obsession with Ashieta Shiemash,
evidently a Zarathustra surrogate. Fine, but what real light has he thrown on
all of this? It is all a mess of pottage.
We see in the eonic effect the great enigma of the emergence of the
Occidental monotheistic series, beginning with the Israelite carrier, briefly
mixed with Persian zoroastrianism. The correct study of this possibly lost
component to the sources of Judaism/Christiantiy/Islam finds very little that is
clear or definite in Gurdjieff's obscure pronouncements, probably hiding some
kind of mischief labeled 'estoeric'. There was another rascal here, Nietzsche.
What's going on with all of this? Impossible to determine. And yet if one is
going to found a new tradition it requires something more than dabbling in
esotericism and speculations about the past, mixed with the allergy to ethics
spouted by impostors like Nietzsche. The flood of gurus in his wake
'beyond good and evil' is a sordid joke played on those who claim spiritual
powers but can't do better than the stylistic hypnosis in Nietzsche's pop
philosophy. Therefore, while the efforts of archaeological enquiry should be
respected as such, these are not likely to be the grounds for creating schools
or religions of the future.
Without giving an overemphasis on Buddhism (we are not in the business
of recommending spiritual paths), and evading the distraction for a moment, of
its friction with its parent 'Hindusim', shows the job of religion creation done
right, by honest men, who had the capacity to do what was needed, and succeeded
in their endeavors because they had a larger force behind them, a higher power,
ironic phrase, that operates across a larger history. They were unaware of this
factor. The Israelites detected its action, but could not understand it.
The efforts of Gurdjieff cannot match this in any way, and much of his
exhumation of antiquated material (none of it documented, possibly made
up) misses the point.
There are really only two 'ways' or paths, that in time and that moving
beyond time. Buddhism shows an instance of the latter, while the former is a
purely logical deduction from the nature of the case, one that a Buddhist would
find samsarically spurious. We see no exemplars. And yet, we do. The great
monotheisms proceed by default to exclude the path in time by usurping its
place, no doubt because it is beyond the capacity of man as he is, who is an
instant screw up in need of redemption. Here Gurdjieff is a genuine Frankenstein
of the will, a sort of 'higher spastic' attempting to realize the 'path of the
will in time'. His refusal of enlightenment in a path of recurrent soul
formation is a deviant monstrosity of the logically derivable possible 'path'.
He deserves to packed off the a Zen monastery and 'historically
Here we can see what Gurdjieff is driving at, but without understanding. The
'fourth way' was defined to be one immersed in ordinary life, without we presume
the world renunciation seen in the mirror image way. It is no accident that
Gurdjieff mentions thus the issue of the 'path of the will'. But this is caught
up with much dross, and much occult nonsense, as to be virtually unusable. The
successful occultist must be superman, and ought to pull rank on his inferior
fellows to be top dog in a spiritual organization of the future. Rubbish. The
whole thing is a hack.
The real fourth way is something much larger, and less exotic, the
disposition of human evolution in time toward autonomy, freedom and
self-realization. This path, which we would most certainly confuse by using the
term 'fourth way', is omnipresent in the context of (modern) civilization, and
yet rarely if ever realized, even as the great religions move to coopt its
potential in form of guardian churches We can see the smoking gun evidence
in figures such as Gurdjieff of people stumbling on its potential, but unable to
successfully realize that as a social movement. It is hard to know what the
future holds here, but the spastic disorganization of an association of occult
cut-throats, sufi predators, and esoteric pretenders is not going to foot the
bill. Sufism we should note peaked before the sixteenth century. What is left is
a kind of wasteland.
Greater nature has shown us the default form of the 'fourth way' in its
staging of situations for the realization of freedom, and what this portends for
the realization of future truly real and adequate religions, is at yet unknown.
We can accept the archaeological suggestions of a figure such as Gurdjieff, but
his obscure and exploitative activities are out of sync with the modern
transformation and do a disservice to what we can deduce up to a point as the
real 'fourth way', a term we should abandon at once as corrupted.
Ouspensky said it well, fragments of an unknown teaching. All in a day's work
for the archaeologist. But it is not a spiritual path for the times.