When Gurdjieff would meet with applicants for his teaching – whether students of Ouspensky or people from America, where groups of his followers were formed – the typical evaluation of their state sounded like this: “Lots of knowledge, but little being.” From an ordinary perspective, this evaluation could be expressed as follows: the level of knowledge obtained from books did not correspond to the level of the applicant’s personal experience. But Gurdjieff had in mind something somewhat different – here was both a person’s level of presence in himself, and his ability “to do.” In other words, he evaluated the level of the applicant’s awareness and maturity of his will. The fact is that knowledge obtained by a person from books may not always serve as a basis for experience. There is knowledge that is conceptual, abstract; there are texts whose original meaning is revealed only with one’s own experience of the Truth; and there is, finally, knowledge that is false at its foundation. Numerous texts exist whose authors simply invented “esoteric” truths; there are now lots of books with such content. People inspired by false knowledge search for miracles and want to find simple explanations for complex things. They believe in obviously fantastic things, and their level of being already determines the readiness to believe in this. People who try to find crutches for understanding themselves and those around them – such as those who revere astrology, numerology and other branches of “esoteric knowledge” – no matter how true they seem to them, also possess a rather low level of being. At least, from the perspective of Gurdjieff, and even from the perspective of the Sufis as well.
There are all different kinds of knowledge. The minds of modern seekers are filled with all kinds of nonsense, and in Gurdjieff’s time, it was exactly the same way; it was just that this nonsense was somewhat different in content. And the less a person is capable of distinguishing obvious lying and stupidity from truly spiritual texts, the less his level of being – and it cannot be otherwise. The level of being of atheists who consider all spiritual texts as nonsense or, at the very least, wonderful monuments of culture, is often higher than people who believe in false knowledge, because they are somewhat more relevant in their evaluations and actions – at least, regarding ordinary worldly life. The level of being is manifested, among other things, in the appropriateness of a person’s reactions regarding the world and people. Ouspensky’s reaction to Gurdjieff’s methods turned out to be appropriate for his level of being, and the fact that he undertook to teach other people Gurdjieff’s ideas was no longer quite appropriate. And therefore, the disappointment which Ouspensky encountered at the end of his life was its logical finale.
Yet another aspect of the level of personal being are the skills a person possesses. In fact, these skills can be all kinds of features. If a carpenter, for example, is a master of his craft, and knows all its fine points and secrets, then his level of being is already rather high. Gurdjieff himself possessed many skills, and a good number of the memoirs about him are devoted to how he demonstrated and applied them. If we consider that the practice of awareness is essentially also a skill of separating attention and the direction of it, then Gurdjieff’s being was very high relative to the being of almost any person he met. And if we take into account that Gurdjieff possessed the skills of hypnosis and who knows what else, then the power of his being produced an unusual impression on those around him. His gaze always produced the first impression – practically all his students recall how penetrating it was. Gurdjieff’s eyes are always mentioned – black and expressive, penetrating through people. For the majority of his students, Gurdjieff looked like a superman, and now it is no longer important whether it seemed that way to them or whether he was one in fact.
You can believe or not believe anything you like. There are people who deny the existence of objective reality and believe that it is a product of their consciousness. Therefore, Gurdjieff can be considered a charlatan and a deceiver – and quite a few people held such a viewpoint during his lifetime – and there are quite a few even now. Superpowers in general induce thoughts of deception in the majority of people, because the years of atheist propaganda and all sorts of exposures of miracles could not help but attune citizens’ minds to denial and distrust in everything that does not fit into a scientific explanation. Therefore, you can decide that Gurdjieff was a great hypnotist who simply subordinated people to himself, and only particularly outstanding individuals like Ouspensky managed to escape from under his pernicious influence. Meanwhile, from the recollections of his students – written already after the death of their teacher – it follows that their staying with Gurdjieff was for good reason and all of them managed to develop their being to one degree or another. And if in fact we are to strive to express briefly the essence of what Gurdjieff did with people, then we can say with full confidence that he helped them to develop their being.