Gurdjieff on Death and Dying
Gurdjieff / Beelzebub
from original text Download as Word document>>
About Death and Dying
Published from All and Everything, Beelzebub's tales to his Grandson
Pag. -1221-1225/Edition -E.P. Dutton & Co. 1964
All of us, people, are mortal and every man may die at any moment.
Now the question arises, can a man really picture to himself and so to say “experience” in his consciousness, the process of his own death?
No! His own death and the experiencing of this process, a man can never, however he may wish, picture to himself.
A contemporary ordinary man can picture to himself the death of another, though even this, not fully.
He can picture to himself, for instance, that a certain Mr. Smith leaves the theater and crossing the street, falls beneath an automobile and is crushed to death.
Or that a signboard blown down by the wind falls on the head of Mr. Jones who happened to be passing and kills him on the spot.
Or that Mr. Brown, having eaten bad crayfish, gets poisoned and, no one being able to save him, dies the next day.
Anyone can easily picture all these. But can the average man contemplate the same possibility for himself, as he admits for Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Brown, and feel and live through all the despair from the fact that those events may happen to him?
Think what would happen to a man who clearly pictures to himself and lives through the inevitability of his own death.
If he seriously ponders and is really able to enter deeply into this and to cognize his own death, what could be more terrifying?
In ordinary life, particularly in recent times, over and above the depressing fact of the inevitability of death which must infallibly occur to them, there are indeed for people a large number of other similar facts, whose real picturing alone of the possibility of experiencing them must evoke in us feelings of inexpressible and intolerable anguish.
Suppose that such contemporary people as have already lost entirely all possibility of having any real objective hope for the future, that is to say, those of them who have never “sown” anything during their responsible life and who in consequence have nothing to “reap” in the future—suppose they should cognize the inevitability of their speedy death, then from only an experiencing in thought alone would they hang themselves.
The particularity of the action of the consequences of the properties of the said organ on the common psyche of people consists just in this that, thanks to it, there does not arise among most contemporary people—these three- brained beings in whom were placed all the hopes and expectations of our CREATOR, as possible servers of higher purposes—the cognition of any of these genuine terrors, and also that it enables them peacefully to carry on their existence in unconscious fulfillment of what was foreordained, but in the service only of Natures nearest immediate aims, as they have meanwhile lost, on account of their unbecoming abnormal life, any possibility of serving higher purposes.
Thanks to these consequences, not only does the cognition of these terrors not arise in the psyche of these people, but also for the purpose of self-quieting they even invent all kinds of fantastic explanations plausible to their naive logic for what they really sense and also for what they do not sense at all.
As, for instance, suppose that the solution of the question of our inability really to sense various possible genuine terrors, in particular the terror of one’s own death, should become, so to say, a “burning question of the day”—which occurs with certain questions in the contemporary life of people—then in all probability all contemporary people, ordinary mortals as well as those called the “learned,” would categorically offer a solution, which they would not doubt for a moment and, as is said, spluttering at the mouth, would set about to prove that what in fact saves people from being able to experience such terrors is just their own “will.”
But if this is admitted, then why does not this same presumed will protect us from all the little fears we experience at every step?
In order to sense and understand with your whole being what I am now saying, and not merely to understand with that so to say “mind-fornication” of yours, which to the misfortune of our descendants has become the dominant inherency of contemporary people, picture to yourself now merely the following.
Today, after the lecture, you return home, undress, and get into bed, but just as you are covering yourself with your blanket a mouse jumps out from under the pillow and scuttling across your body ducks into the folds of the blankets.
Admit candidly, does not a shiver actually already run through the whole of your body merely at the bare thought of such a possibility?
Is it not so?
Now please try to make an exception and without the participation of any of that, so to say, “subjective emotionalness,” whatsoever, which has become fixed in you, think with your mentation alone about such a possible occurrence to you, and you yourself will then be amazed
that you react to this in this way.
What is so terrifying in this?
It is only an ordinary house mouse, the most harmless and inoffensive of beasts.
Now I ask you, how can all that has been said be explained by that will, which is presumed to be in every man?
How is it possible to reconcile the fact that a man is terrified at a small timid mouse, the most frightened of all creatures, and of thousands of other similar trifles which might never even occur, and yet experiences no terror before the inevitability of his own death?
In any case, to explain such an obvious contradiction by the action of the famous human will—is impossible.
When this contradiction is considered openly, without any preconceptions, that is to say, without any of the ready-made notions derived from the wiseacring of various what are called “authorities,” who in most cases have become such thanks to the naivete and “herd instinct” of people, as well as from the results, depending on abnormal education, which arise in our mentation, then it becomes indubitably evident that all these terrors, from which in man there does not arise the impulse, as we said, to hang himself, are permitted by Nature Herself to the extent in which they are necessary for the process of our ordinary existence.
And indeed without them, without all these, in the objective sense, as is said, “fleabites,” but which appear to us as “unprecedented terrors,” there could not proceed in us any experiencings at all, either of joy, sorrow, hope, disappointment, and so on, nor could we have all those cares, stimuli, strivings, and, in general, all kinds of impulses, which constrain us to act, to attain to something, and to strive for some aim.
It is just this totality of all these automatic, as they might be called, “childish experiencings” arising and flowing in the average man which on the one hand make up and sustain his life, and on the other hand give him neither the possibility nor the time to see and feel reality.
If the average contemporary man were given the possibility to sense or to remember, if only in his thought, that at a definite known date, for instance, tomorrow, a week, or a month, or even a year or two hence, he would die and die for certain, what would then remain, one asks, of all that had until then filled up and constituted his life? Everything would lose its sense and significance for him. What would be the importance then of the decoration he received yesterday for long service and which had so delighted him, or that glance he recently noticed, so full of promise, from the woman who had long been the object of his constant and unrewarded longing, or the newspaper with his morning coffee, and that deferential greeting from the neighbor on the stairs, and the theater in the evening, and rest and sleep, and all his favorite things—of what account would they all be?
They would no longer have that significance which had been given them before, even if a man knew that death would overtake him only in five or six years.
In short, to look his own death, as is said, “in the face” the average man cannot and must not—he would then, so to say, “get out of his depth” and before him, in clear-cut form, the question would arise: “Why then should we live and toil and suffer?”