Sacrifice Suffering (From Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous,” p. 274)

Sacrifice Suffering
(From Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous,” p. 274)

“I have already said before that sacrifice is necessary,” said G. “Without sacrifice nothing can be attained. But if there is anything in the world that people do not understand it is the idea of sacrifice. They think they have to sacrifice something that they have. For example, I once said that they must sacrifice ‘faith,’ ‘tranquillity,’ ‘health.’ The understand this literally. But then the point is that they have not got either faith, or tranquillity, or health. All these words must be taken in quotation marks. In actual fact they have to sacrifice only what they imagine they have and which in reality they do not have. They must sacrifice their fantasies. But this is difficult for them, very difficult. It is much easier to sacrifice real things.

“Another thing that people must sacrifice is their suffering. It is very difficult also to sacrifice one’s suffering. A man will renounce any pleasures you like but he will not give up his suffering. Man is made in such a way that he is never so much attached to anything as he is to his suffering. And it is necessary to be free from suffering. No one who is not free from suffering, who has not sacrificed his suffering, can work. Later on a great deal must be said about suffering. Nothing can be attained without suffering but at the same time one must begin by sacrificing suffering. Now, decipher what this means.”

(From Nicoll’s “Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky,” vol. 4, pp. 1239-42)


Gurdjieff said:

(1) “This Work is Esoteric Christianity.”

(2) “People imagine they have something to sacrifice. There is only one thing they have to sacrifice and that is their suffering.”

(3) “A man in this Work must eventually begin to know what Conscious Suffering is compared with Mechanical Suffering.”


Everyone suffers. Cheerful people assure you they never suffer. They are always bright, healthy, and so on. Yet they suffer, in spite of this rather tiresome picture of themselves. Everyone suffers mechanically. What is mechanical suffering? It is something quite different from conscious suffering. It is something so intricate, so devious, so apparently contradictory, so various, so subtle, so historically long-standing–in short, a habit–that we do not observe it. We do not see its continual, inner, private, petrifying action, like that steady drip of calcium-charged water that builds up those strange pillars in deep caves between floor and roof. The Work teaches that we all, inevitably, have mechanical suffering and that this is the only thing we have to offer as sacrifice. In order to change, one must sacrifice something. Understand clearly and ask yourself–if it ever does occur to you to ask yourself a question, which means that you will have actually to think for yourself of the answer–I say, ask yourself this question: “Can I possibly imagine that I can change if I do not give up, sacrifice, something?” This means simply that you cannot change if you wish to continue as the same person. To change is to become different. If I want to go to London, I must give up being at Amwell.
Now notice carefully what we have to give up. The sacrifice the Work seeks is that of our habitual, mechanical suffering. Of course, people will at this point justify themselves and say they have no such suffering, or that what suffering they have is logical and reasonable. Oh, this self-justifying that you all go in for. But notice especially where this teaching, which belongs to the Fourth Way, begins in regard to what you have to give up. Not with your sins in any ordinary sense, but with what the Work regards as a great, even perhaps the greatest sin–namely, being identified with “Mechanical Suffering”. A man, a woman, the Work teaches, must sacrifice their suffering. Mechanical suffering leads nowhere. A man, a woman, cannot awaken if they retain this dreadful weight, their mechanical suffering, and nourish it, by a continual process of justifying it. In the Work-sense there is no justice on this planet where everything happens in the only way it can happen. How can there be justice in a world of sleeping people–of people who are not yet conscious–of people who are governed by their negative emotions and finally by hate? Now how, when you begin to see your own mechanicalness in your behaviour, can you blame others who were equally so? Were not those who you think caused your suffering mechanical people? Remember that in such a case you can only forgive, which in the Gospels means, dazzlingly, “cancel” the debt. Yes, but this is possible according to your level of being. A low level of being forgives no one. It only sees its own merit. That surely is a key to how to reach a higher level of being. When, through self-observation and work on yourself, you see more and more clearly that you are as bad as anyone else, then you ascend the Ladder of Being which ends in Divine Being–which forgives all–a thing we cannot remotely understand as we are at present with our store of negative emotion. Why? Because we are all low down in this total Scale of Being, which means we include very little in our consciousness of what we are like ourselves, projecting on to others all we cannot accept as being in ourselves, so we are very brittle to insult. But as Consciousness increases we include more and more as being in ourselves, with an increasing lack of conceit, until we cannot be insulted. Nor, then, do we judge. How can I, if I realize I am worse than you, judge you? At present, of course, we pretend we do not judge–a quite different matter, a matter of being full of meritorious virtues and so of swelling up the False Personality which imitates every virtue inartistically and so causes much weariness and boredom to others, like a bad play. How many bad plays walk the streets of London, male and female. I fancy I am saying something similar to a remark made by Mr. Ouspensky when he was first teaching. He called attention to the fact that most people whom we meet in the street, in the club, at tea, at dinner, are dead, and died often years ago. Now a man, a woman, with Magnetic Centre, who seeks to find something more than life does not so easily die. But life alone makes us dead very soon. We die life-millionaires, working day and night for fifty years–yes, but we died perhaps years ago. This is a matter we all have to reflect on. The Work does not invite us until we reach a certain life-value called “Good Householder”. This is the first education–the formation of a good educated life-personality. But there is a second education and always has been. This is for those who do not believe that life can be explained in terms of itself. It is for those Good Householders, those educated and responsible people, who do not really believe in life and yet carry on their duties. And those Good Householders who believe still further that there is and must be something else and seek for it–that is, those Good Householders, whose being is characterized by the possession of Magnetic Centre–will understand how this Work offers the second education for men and women who have fulfilled the conditions necessary for attaining the level of Good Householder.

* * *
Let us come now to the idea of conscious suffering as distinct from mechanical suffering. Gurdjieff said: “This Work is Esoteric Christianity.” He meant that this Work lies hidden in the New Testament. Let us take an example. The Work teaches that mechanical suffering is useless–it leads to nothing–but that conscious suffering leads to inner development. Can we find any parallels in the New Testament? I would say that in the Gospels, in the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, we find ample–in fact, copious verification. But let us take a clear example from Paul. He has written a letter to his group at Corinth cursing them for not working on themselves. He explains that to feel one has not been working–that is, that one has been fast asleep in life and its vexatious daily troubles and therefore identified with the events entering from outside via the senses–this is to suffer in another way. He calls this “godly suffering”. I will quote the passage:

“For though I made you sorry with my epistle, I do not regret it, though I did regret; for I see that that epistle made you sorry, though but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry but that ye were made sorry after a godly sort, that ye might suffer loss by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold, this self-same thing, that ye were made sorry after a godly sort, what earnest care it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves . . .” (II Cor. vii.8-11)

Now this rather outworn terminology masks the real meaning. What Paul is saying is that to suffer because you have behaved mechanically can lead to something. And so he says that the suffering of the world leads to death–that is, mechanical suffering. From this brief example one can see what Gurdjieff meant in saying that this Work is Esoteric Christianity. Esoteric means simply inner–not obvious. People easily read the New Testament without seeing what is meant. The Work, once you begin to understand what it is saying, opens your mind to innumerable things said in the New Testament. Now reflect on this remark: “The sorrow of the world worketh death.” Do you see that in these words is the same idea as “mechanical suffering is useless for self-development and puts us to sleep–that is, death? A man, a woman, must sacrifice their mechanical suffering”. What then replaces it? What replaces it is suffering because you are suffering. That is, you must replace the luxury of mechanical suffering by suffering because you still love mechanical suffering.

In one of the Gnostic Books–the Acts of John–which are not included in the ordinary New Testament, there is a passage which runs in this way. It is connected with the Sacred Dance that Christ performed with his disciples:
“If thou hadst known how to suffer, thou wouldest have been able not to suffer. Learn thou to suffer, and thou shalt be able not to suffer.”



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