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Via Tecta (Sacred Way)

‘Ashiata Shiemash or Conscious Labor’

Artwork by Nalan Özkan Lecerf


Extract from ‘Alfred Orage’s commentaries

on Gurdjieff’s ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson’’.


‘To a question asked about appealing directly to objective conscience, Orage said: ‘This cannot be appealed to directly. Ashieta Shiemash (another character in the ‘Tales’) appealed indirectly. Curiosity for a good aim, as Gurdjieff says, is pure motive for self-observation, because it does not color it. In this respect we are like Saul, who set out to find asses and attained a kingdom. The Method (early name for what is now called ‘The Work’ and some even now call ‘ Living Teaching’) provides a means of discovering and having a realization of one’s abnormality. This inspires a wish to change, which is organic shame. This is connected to the Holy Aieoiuoa-the aspiration of lower to share the experience of higher vibrations. It is that which we feel in the presence of a superior being- not a superior social item; a wish to be such; this is hero-worship, the hero being objectively superior.’

‘Our mechanical reaction to people is one of the signs of our servility. One of the psychological exercises within your control is the constant striving to be aware of negative emotions. During the past months many of you have been going through an intense period of negative emotion; at the same time you had in your hand the antidote, so to say. But we are all so in love with our mechanical suffering, so lazy, so much inertia, that we would rather suffer mechanically, passively than make the effort to practice a little voluntary suffering.

Regarding conscious labor, we can take Ashieta Shiemash. He began to ponder, by a whim, as it were. He pondered all proceeding teachings, and eventually established a critique and a new technique. It was self-discovered. He found what his aim in life was through his own efforts; and he set to work to devise the most efficient means for putting it into effect. This was conscious labor.

The Gurdjieff system defines an aim for every individual, which is the attainment of self-consciousness and a measure of objective reason. The idea is ultimately to be able to relate every action to purposive conduct, which alone can give meaning to an otherwise mechanical life. Real pride begins with the work of ‘I’. It is the ‘being-satisfied-faction’ of having made an effort.

Ashieta Shiemash began to question his own competence to formulate a method for saving the beings of the planet Earth from further degeneration. After much work on him-self, after much pondering and having come to a realization that he himself had been subjectively determined, he was able to see through the coatings of his education and, having achieved a state of objectivity and impartiality, he began to formulate his mission. He left a document for a line of initiates, of whom, today, in central Asia, a few remain.

Remember that in Beelzebub’s tales, everything has three meaning and seven aspects.

Ashiata Shiemash wrote ‘The Terror of the Situation’. At this point Orage said that he whished we had the music with us in New York that Gurdjieff had composed to accompany the reading of this chapter, since in it the ideas are realized intellectually.’

He continued: ‘Ashieta Shiemash began with a prayer, that is, he put himself into a definite emotional attitude as precise as a physical attitude of posture. He consciously arranged his emotions-put himself into a state of ‘I-amness’. ‘I’ is always. ‘I am Father, Son, yesterday, tomorrow.’

With us, ‘I’ manifests periodically; accidentally, at first.

Ashiata Shiemash freed himself from all associations, and was able to be impartial. He surveyed the results of the religions that had been founded on Faith, Hope and Love, and saw that beings had no longer the possibility of being affected by them; and that it was no longer possible to appeal to their ordinary reason. It is useless to preach sanity to madmen. He questioned all our emotions as well as our ideas; and reached the conclusion that there still remained, buried in essence, something that is not acquired but is our own and has not being corrupted – Objective Conscience.

He chose thirty-six beings from monasteries, that is, individual independent thinkers, capable of thinking against current sociological trends, trends of their own organism and of the exterior world around them (every independent thinker lives in a ‘monastery’). Ashiata Shiemash taught the thirty-six the Method, so that they were able to speak from their own experiences, not from books; and were able to help a number of others to do the same.

For a long period his organization flourished, his ideas being handed on by initiates. Eventually it was destroyed by Lentrohamsanin. This name is made up, by the way, from some names well known today. In each of us there is a Lentrohamsanin.

As i have already said, in this work, too, there will come a time when certain people, with a knowledge of the Gurdjieff system, but without the necessary understanding, will use the ideas for their own subjective purposes, they will distort and change them, deluding themselves that they are on the ‘Path’. But, always there will remain a nucleus of those who really understand and who will keep the Method and the system as Gurdjieff has taught it.

In our time, all appeals to Faith, Hope, and Love have a tone of sentimentality, and arouse a certain revulsion; intellectually we are on guard against them. But we are equally civilized with the Babylonians of their period and equally corrupt, demanding intellectual proof.

With the regard to the appeal to ordinary reason we have, as an example, Buddha, acknowledged among the Hindus as the world’s greatest dialectician, subtle reasoner, and logician, who was so misunderstood by the second and third generations of his followers that already they began to misinterpret him.

Ashiata Shiemash realized that teachers who had been before him who had appealed to Faith, Hope, and Love, had failed; as also those who came after him who appealed to the same would fail; and he proposed to appeal to something that we have not yet rationalized and of which few, unless in desperate circumstances, would have had an experience.

Why is a dog always a dog? Why does it behave like a dog? Why does it not behave, as we would say, reasonably? It behaves as it does because it is obliged to be what he is, whatever the outcome. It is indifferent to whether it is rising or failing on the scale, to whether it is multiplying or becoming extinct. It is innocent, essential.

Mineral, vegetal, animal obey the law of their species. ‘All bow their head under the yoke which God in his wisdom imposes’ (Attar). From them there is no evil in our meaning of the word, no need of psychological effort; their species is fixed. Man is fixed externally, but psychologically has in him every species. He can be, on occasion, a mouse, a dog, a lion; observe yourself and your friends. Man is the note ’Si’ in the octave. This note is precarious, it is a state of responsibility, an octave in which man can go either up the scale or down. Can the efforts be made by which he will ascend into the next higher octave? This is the Terror of the Situation, for if the effort is not made, man may go down, and may degenerate, like the ants or the bees.

Ashiata Shiemash introduces the idea of God – a determinant that man should develop his potentialities in a higher direction. The species below man does not need this. Man is the first biological species to occupy this crucial point in the octave, and his cosmic function is to cooperate in the plan imposed on the Universe by the Creator: The evolution of the same Universe.

Ashiata Shiemash taught a method, the Method by which man could become a normal man, a Son, instead of existing, as he does now, as a mere machine for the transforming of substances. Part of the scheme required that at a certain point there should appear a number of self-conscious agents, not mere servants, who would cooperate in carrying this arbitrary plan. Ashiata Shiemash proposed to bring consciousness into being, and to build upon it.

The diagnostic of man and his psychic condition is that as a race he is suffering, in varying degrees, from split personality. For example, it is impossible to remind a man of his normal condition who is drunk or under the influence of a drug or that of a strong emotion such as being in love, or in hate. It is the aim and purpose of all real teachers to remind man of his normal state – a state of which the average person has, at times, at least a momentary waking realization, a moment of partial recollection of a state of real consciousness. There is the Hindu story of the child in the womb who sang: ’Let me remember who I am’. And his first cry after birth was: ’Oh, I have forgotten!’. This idea is familiar to followers of the Christian religion in the story of the Prodigal Son, based on the older Gnostic ‘Hymn of the robe of Glory’ (or Hymn of the Pearl), which, like other stories, we regard as happening in ‘Biblical Times’, we do not apply it to ourselves, or we see it in the light of subjective morality.

Ashiata Shiemash taught his pupil a method by which they could ‘wake up’ to the fact that they were living in the far country of the Prodigal Son, the planetary body; and by which, in time, they could cease to be identified with its innumerable wants and desires, and return to their real selves. The Method was that which we call the technique of self-sensing, self-remembering; it is ‘Being-Partkdolg-duty; a method so simple, yet, at the same time, so difficult. Why? Because the whole of life, together with things in ourselves, is in a conspiracy to make us forget, to keep us in a state of sleep. It is dangerous, too for a person even to attempt to use the Method from a verbal description, let alone from any kind of writing; yet you will find it recorded in every great teaching.

If we recall the original group which founded the Knights Templars, or the Order of Chivalry, when great nobles regarded it as a privilege to be allowed to work in the kitchen; or the unknown group of men, with simple tools and instruments, built on an island in a swamp in a remote part of England, the miracle of Ely cathedral, we shall have something comparable to Ashiata Shiemash’ group.

The founders of these groups had, in a high degree, real will, real consciousness, real individuality-the triangle in the enneagram, against the flowing down the scale of the law of the octave.

In C.H.Hinton’s ‘Scientific Romance’, a character speaks of walking down a street in Greenwich Village, New York, and seeing a plate on a door: ‘John Smith, Unlearner’. Smith’s profession was to help people unlearn the rubbish they had accumulated through education. We have to unlearn, to be re-educated.

Ashiata Shiemash taught that a man should have a sense of obligation to discharge the service for which he was created, and that he would evolve only to the degree to which he carried out this obligation. In doing so he would have to give up all sorts of things which he had deemed necessary to a ‘good life’-point of view, external power, knowledge, self-love, false pride, egoism-which, besides the love of money and sex, are the real lusts of the flesh.’


Notes taken by Charles Stanley Nott. From chapter 3 of his book, ‘Teaching of Gurdjieff ’ by C.S. Nott, Routledge&Kegan Paul-1961, London.

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