I come to you as a fellow explorer of the Wisdom path, with a second communiqué (link to part 1 below).1 I hope that sharing my steps on the path can offer illumination for yours. One of my favored ways of learning is to look for patterns or listen for harmonies. I found many harmonies and patterns between the teachings of Yeshua in the Gospel of Thomas and Maurice Nicoll’s Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. I have been traveling with Maurice for more than a year now, and he sometimes seems to be walking beside me, or perhaps he is the walking stick that I lean into when the trail becomes steep.
This second communiqué will be posted to Wisdom Waypoints in three parts. The format is to offer a selection of Maurice’s teachings on several major ideas, many quoted directly, interspersed with Logia from the Gospel of Thomas—hoping that you too can hear the harmonies.
The Gospel of Thomas reminds me of the human survival instinct to save seeds in times of calamity—literally, the wheat and corn grains, the potatoes, all seeds—so there is a place to begin again. The Gospel of Thomas feels like the saved seeds. The often repeated metaphor in the Wisdom teachings, that the drop is in the ocean and the ocean is in the drop, holds true for the vast ocean of teachings within the Psychological Commentaries. It is not necessary to digest it all in order to gain understanding of the whole. My strategy in approaching Maurice’s teachings has been to follow a few themes through the five volumes, with the help of the index. One note before we begin: I am using the general term Teachings to include all Wisdom from all sources.
Knowledge and Being
Truth and Good
I began looking for a foothold, or a trail marker, in the Psychological Commentaries—whatever might shed more light on the nature of Good in this life. I quickly discovered that Maurice offers many teachings on two sides of a person’s development—knowledge and Being. Maurice says, “What a man knows belongs to the side of his knowledge; what a man is belongs to the side of his Being.”2
Maurice further states that Being has to do with Goodness, and knowledge has to do with truth. When you have something Good in your Being, you will be able to understand something of the Wisdom Teachings and not merely know them.3 These terms emerge again and again in Maurice’s view of our reality—knowledge, truth, Being, Good, and understanding.
Maurice speaks many times of understanding as the connection or bridge between knowledge and Being. Knowledge and truth are of this horizontal realm, Being and Good are of the vertical, higher or inner realm—the Kingdom. We must accumulate knowledge and come to know truth, but without understanding—going beyond mechanical allegiance to our truth—we will not change our Being. Maurice points to John the Baptist as a person who stayed within the confines of knowledge and truth, saying that he had “formatory mind” and his religion was “Thou shalt not.”4
So there it is, I have found a trailhead, marked knowledge and Being.
Among those born on Earth, beginning from Adam to John the Baptist, no-one has reached a higher state than John—and you should bow in honor before him.Yet, I tell you this, whoever of you becomes “a little child” will not only know the kingdom, but will be raised to a state higher than John’s.5
In an article titled Combining Good and Truth, Now; An Homage to Dr. Maurice Nicoll, Bob Hunter states that Maurice equated the name Christ with truth and Jesus with Good.6 Truth is of this earthly realm that is made of duality or opposites—where knowledge is either true or false. Good is of another realm. This rings for me as Yeshua speaking of this realm and the Kingdom in the Logion above.
In Wisdom circles we talk of the dimensions or realms of our reality in terms of “horizontal and vertical” or “World 48 and World 24.” In the Psychological Commentaries these realms are often referred to in terms of knowledge and Being. In life we generally are taught a lot about knowledge, but not so much about Being, and even less about the relationship between the two. Maurice outlines the situation: we have more knowledge than we have Being for, but it is difficult to unite the knowledge with Being.
The starting point must be to value the knowledge of the Wisdom Teachings, to like and desire it. With felt desire or pleasure in the Wisdom ideas, knowledge will begin to act on Being. “Our knowledge will begin to turn into understanding through a union between the will of our Being and the knowledge in our mind.”7 There is more to come later in this series on this crucial role that desire, or valuation, plays in the dynamic between knowledge and Being.
Levels of Being
The idea of Being has been slippery for me. Maurice states that our Being is a scale with levels, and this relates to our place between realms and our possibility for developing or not. In one of his later talks, Maurice said that the conception of Being is not easy to grasp, and he likened it to a sphere that surrounds a person and brings about what happens to them.8 My best conception of Being for now is that it represents on a human scale, internally and psychologically, Gurdjieff’s grand cosmology, the Great Ray of Creation.9
Unfortunately, the Ray of Creation is well beyond the scope of this article. There are, however, a couple of concepts that will have a larger presence later in this article but perhaps should be introduced now to help clarify Being. Maurice says Being is composed of personality and Essence.10 For now we might associate personality with the realm of knowledge and truth, and associate Essence with the higher or inner realm of Good. We can think of Being as a sliding scale between these realms. Much of this article, and Maurice’s teachings, concerns working on raising our level of Being.
As we hear more about work on Being, it might be helpful to think of the scale from the level of personality, with its divided nature, to the unity at the level of Essence. Our Being may initially be at the level of personality, but our path in the Wisdom teachings is in the direction of Essence. If this seems confusing, please stay open and spacious, and see how the rest of the story plays out. Recall Cynthia’s oft-repeated advice to let the heart be open and not let the intellect hijack everything in search of explanation. Onward we go …
Maurice speaks of the multiplicity at a lower level of Being—the many voices or ‘I’s within personality—and how this multiplicity is paradoxically a key to Being’s development. “All development of Being lies in the direction of increasing union and is finally attained by unity of Being in place of multiplicity of Being.”11 Maurice makes a wonderful point: putting yourself in the Wisdom teachings, and beginning to really feel them, will bring about more unity of Being. This is because the teachings and practices are a unifying force. “If you see the truth of one or another of the teachings, you will be brought internally into the beginning of unity in yourself.”12
Maurice goes on to say that unity of Being is not attainable through the influences of life. We need help—teachers, Wisdom Schools, books, ancient texts, and each other’s support on the path. “It is only attainable through influences coming from those who have attained this supreme development of Being. Special knowledge is necessary which must be applied to Being.”13 We must throw away the old and put the good into new vessels—we cannot merely attach the ideas of esoteric teaching on to our previous ways of thinking.14
This is the idea of separating ourselves from life, about which we will hear much more.
Yeshua says …
Two will be resting on a bed. One will die, the other will live.
“Then how is it, Sir, that you, coming from the one Source,
have rested on my couch and eaten at my table?”
Yeshua said to her,
“I am he who has appeared to you out of the Realm of Unity,
having been granted that which belongs to my Father, its Source.”
“I will be your student!” she exclaimed.
“Then I say this to you: if you become whole you will be full of Light.
If you remain fragmented darkness will fill you.15
No one can mount two horses, or draw two bows, at once,
and you cannot serve two masters at the same time.
If you honor one, the other will be offended.
No one drinks a vintage wine and immediately wants to taste wine freshly bottled. New wine is not put into old containers lest it be ruined,
nor is aged wine put into new barrels lest it spoil.
Also, old cloth is not sewn onto new garments because it only makes the tear worse.16
External and Internal
Horizontal and Vertical
Maurice says, “A man’s evolution is inner. The possibilities as a created being lie in a development of the mind and emotions—of knowledge and Being—and these form understanding. Only through understanding is development possible.”17 Reading this quote, I see Maurice connecting knowledge with the Intellectual Center and Being with the Emotional Center. This is something to sit with.
My initial reaction is that the Intellectual Center is more our connection to life in this realm, and the Emotional Center is more connected to the Imaginal realm—the heart as an organ of spiritual perception. To raise the level of Being would involve more work in the Emotional Center. To say it another way, the internal side must become stronger than the outer, life-driven side. Maurice talks of the inner and the outer—our externally oriented life on the horizontal timeline and the internal presence of the vertical, or true self, or Being. A person could act from fear or from self-interest, and these are acts from outside. Or a person might act from Good, and this develops the internal person.
Maurice notes the two practical aspects of the teachings: the line of work on knowledge and the line of work on Being.18 We must begin with knowledge—gather knowledge from the teachings, from books and talks. The ideas learned from life are confused and contradictory, while the ideas from the teachings can form the Intellectual Center into a rich organism.
Maurice stresses thinking from Wisdom teachings. If we think from the teachings, we will think from within rather than being controlled by life. Normally, external circumstances, or life, cause a person to act. Wisdom teachings, however, come from beyond life, from a higher realm. Maurice calls these teachings “new directions for living life,” coming from a level far above—from the Conscious Circle of Humanity. When a person can begin thinking from this realm, going beyond the starting point of accumulating knowledge, that person begins to no longer be driven by external life.19
The Observer and the Observed
Maurice has much commentary on this topic. You cannot change as long as you take your external, timeline-of-life person as one. But when you divide yourself into an observing side and observed side, this is the first step towards change. We see ourselves as one person because we are completely identified with ourselves and the external events of life. Until we see ourselves as two—the passive observer and the active observed—we can’t change. This seems paradoxical—that we must begin the journey to unity by seeing the division of ourselves into external and internal.
Cynthia says, “you can’t move the plank you’re standing on!” Maurice says that when the personality governs you and the part which can observe personality is helpless, the order of things is wrong. “The inner part which observes sees the outer part calling itself ‘I’ and can do nothing at first. Notice that the part which observes is deeper than the part observed—the inner can observe the outer, but not vice versa. The neutralizing force of life keeps personality active; the neutralizing force of the [Teachings] nourishes the inner observing side.”20
This language of “neutralizing force” will be more fully explored later on. For now, just make note of Maurice’s distinction between life as a neutralizing force versus Wisdom teachings as a neutralizing force. Again, a person’s work starts from the moment they begin to feel two in themself, one passive and the other active. Do we feel this in ourselves? This is important, because our evolution, or Wisdom transformation, is from the passive, not the active side. Our inner work can halt or go in circles until we attain this inner division into an active and passive side. More on this later.
A lion eaten by a man is blessed as it changes to human form,
but a human devoured by a lion is cursed as lion becomes human.21
In the Commentaries Maurice often returns to the topic of distinguishing external from internal. One statement got my attention: “if you are driven by the external, phenomenal world you are mechanical, but when you begin to select impressions (from the external) and only respond to a few of them, your internal world begins to grow and you begin to become an individual distinct from life and it’s events.”22 Maurice goes on to say that we can take external impressions consciously, and when we begin to separate (non-identify) with unpleasant impressions, we begin to grow in our internal world. Sight becomes insight. Many things which we call “problems” can be discarded and not identified with. “Every act of not being identified saves energy and insulates us from the effects of life.”23 This is a key theme: separating oneself from life by non-identifying.
Yeshua says …
Should two make peace in one house, they could speak the word,
“Move!” to a mountain, and it would obey them.24
To read the other posts in this series, follow these links
Part 2: https://wisdomwaypoints.org/2023/11/living-from-good-hearing-the-voices-of-yeshua-and-maurice-nicoll-part-2/
Part 3: https://wisdomwaypoints.org/2023/11/living-from-good-hearing-the-voices-of-yeshua-and-maurice-nicoll-part-3/
1 Bill Britten “Living from Good, living between worlds,” https://wisdomwaypoints.org/2023/03/living-from-good-living-between-worlds/
2 Maurice Nicoll, Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (Eureka Editions:2020) v1p165.
5Lynn C Bauman, Ward J Bauman, Cynthia Bourgeault, The Luminous Gospels (Praxis 2008) p22.
6Bob Hunter “Combining Good and Truth, Now, an Homage to Dr. “Maurice Nicoll,” Gurdjieff International Review, April 2000 Issue, Vol. III No. 2, https://www.gurdjieff.org/hunter1.htm
9Commentaries v4p1302 and v4p1386.
15The Luminous Gospels p27.
16The Luminous Gospels p23.
21The Luminous Gospels p10.
24The Luminous Gospels p23.
Bill and Sarah recently closed their Gallery of Smoky Mountain images after 15 years in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. They currently live in the mountains of western North Carolina, in the small town of Brevard. They devote each day to their Wisdom journey, in whatever form that takes.
All images courtesy of Bill Britten