Concerning Subud

Chapter 4

Working from Without and from Within

1. Two Principles of Existence

The significance of Subud can be understood only if we recognize the distinction between two processes by which man can fulfil his destiny here on earth. The first can be called 'working from without' and it comprises all the actions undertaken by a man directed towards an ideal formed in him as a result of external influences. Such actions can range from conforming to a code of behaviour dictated by religious convictions or by social responsibility, to the search for a complete inner transformation or liberation by way of some self-imposed spiritual discipline of effort and suffering. The second process can be called 'working from within,' and it operates from some source within man himself. In its true sense, working from within is the action of Divine Grace operating in the depths of the human soul. There can, however, be other modes of spontaneous inner working where the contact with the Source is indirect only.

This distinction is an ancient one, for it is the origin of all theological controversies concerning salvation by works and salvation by faith. The distinction is beyond human understanding, for it involves comparison between two completely unlike factors or effects. We can see and know what it means to go by the way of effort and suffering. Even when efforts are directed towards a right state of consciousness, they are not different in their essential character from the muscular efforts made by a ploughman or a blacksmith. All effort requires attention, choice, decision and persistence and these are the operations of the will of man. It is quite impossible to reduce the action of Grace to similar terms, for it does not operate from or even through the will of man.


For those who are familiar with the distinction between time and eternity, it is possible to say that all working from without is temporal, but that the action of Grace is eternal and can never be observed as an event.* Man in his ordinary state of consciousness is 'eternity-blind' and is unaware that there are different levels in eternity. Unconsciously he projects all his experience on to the level of sensation and thought, and this creates a tendency to believe in 'works' which can be seen, and to misunderstand the very nature of 'faith.'

The same distinction is made in another form by Gurdjieff in All and Everything as that between what he calls the Itoklanoz and the Fulasnitamnian principles of existence. The former refers to the mode of life of people who exist by reacting to external influences through the automatic mechanisms of instinct, emotion and thought. Gurdjieff compares this mode of life to the operation of a watch that can go only as long as the spring remains in tension, and when unwound can no longer perform its function. He also uses the simile of a gramophone record that can only play the tunes that have been registered upon it. The condition thus depicted is one of complete dependence upon external influences. It is like that of a machine that can only work when energy is fed into it, and a machine moreover that must ultimately wear out and and, having no means of renewal, must, when it ceases to be usable, be cast upon the scrap heap. The second principle cannot be described in words. It is an operation not only beyond the senses, but also beyond the mind of man. The man who lives according this principle does not depend upon external influences to maintain his existence. He is sustained from within and his life on the earth does not end through old age or disease but continues until his task is performed and he is free to return to his Source. When such a man dies, he passes directly into the state of full consciousness of the imperishable, eternal life of the soul. Living from within is normal for man, whereas dependence upon external supports is little more than a vegetative or animal existence. Nevertheless, owing to man's voluntary surrender to sub-human forces, the idea of working from within has almost disappeared from the earth and people are compelled, as best they may, to find ways of salvation under the limitations of working from without.

The word 'salvation' means to have entered into our own place where we are eternally at home and where our true work is to be done. That place is not in this world. To live in it, we need forms of perception, instruments of action and a 'body' that are all quite different from those that serve for our life on the earth.

* cf. The Dramatic Universe, Vol 1, p. 161.


Our physical body with its five outer senses, its inner instincts, feelings and thoughts are all needed for our existence amid material objects—but it and all its instruments are useless where there are no material objects. For the world in which there are no material objects quite other instruments are needed. These are not 'temporal' but 'eternal.' They are the direct manifestations of the purified will and they include such powers as choice and decision, surrender to the Will of God, patience, trust and sincerity, faith, hope, love and conscience. I have called them Sacred Impulses and shall discuss their significance later (Chapter 8, Section I). Their operation is independent of the senses, the feelings and even the mind of man and they do not require material objects for their manifestation. In truth, they cannot manifest through the thoughts or feelings which can only imitate and falsify them.

The Sacred Impulses are the instruments that 'work from within' and they belong to the truly human soul that must be awakened before they can take any part in our lives. It is a hard saying but true, that in people such as mankind is today, the sacred impulses or eternal instruments are impotent and their very names have ceased to have a meaning. It is possible, but very hard, to achieve contact with the inner instruments by any form of working from without. To understand this better, we have to examine the way in which the ordinary man or woman is brought into the world and grows up to adult or responsible age.

2. The Formation of the Human Essence

We should start with a brief examination of human nature and the forces that form and act upon it. Long before Aristotle, and ever since he wrote the Nicomachean Ethics, philosophers have tried to describe human nature—but all descriptions have proved inadequate. Reality has more dimensions than language, and the real man can never be described in words. Even if we concern ourselves only with those elements of our nature that are within the range of the mind, we shall find that we are unable to reconstruct from the disjecta membra the living whole that is man.

When a child is born, it is already endowed with an essence or pattern of existence, formed at the moment of conception and resulting from the action of at least three independent factors. These comprise (a) hereditary, (b) influences at the moment of conception, and (c) results of previous existence.


(a) Hereditary Factors in the Essence

Each one of us carries in his or her genetic constitution in the chromosomes of the fertilized ovum, a definite but immense complex set of potentialities for development and growth. These are transmitted according to well-established genetic laws; and owing to the great number of independent factors present, an almost endless diversity of essence types is possible. Some types are common, others exceedingly rare but, except in the doubtful case of identical twins, no two human beings are every likely to acquire the same inherited pattern. We thus start with a material basis, the genetic pattern transmitted through physico-chemical agencies that determine the physical potentialities of each individual life. This is, however, not the whole story, for it is now generally recognized that, in addition to the definite positive factors, parents also transmit a variety of degenerative influences. Apart from the obvious examples of inherited disease and insanity, weaknesses pass from parents to children as tendencies to the formation of various habits of body, feeling and thought that obstruct and reduce the potentialities of the essence.

Every child bears the consequences of the lives and deeds of its forefathers in the form of an imprint upon the essence, as a careless hand might mar the outline of the sculptor's modeling in soft clay.

(b) Conception

The second factor concerns the moment of conception. It is characteristic of human indifference to the invisible and the eternal, that the supreme importance of conception is almost universally disregarded, and men and women engage in sexual union under conditions that are utterly incompatible with so sacred an act. There is more than mere symbolism in the assertion that the union of man and woman reproduces the state of the eternal Adam who when first created was neither male nor female, but carried in him the potentialities of both. The human essence formed at the moment of conception is sexless, but holds the principle of a differentiation that later determines the sex of the foetus. Prior to the onset of differentiation, the essence is subject to all kinds of forces that are operating in the environment. These combine to establish the fate of the new being. Whereas the pattern of potentialities is hereditary, the pattern of fate is the result of the influences acting on the essence at the moment of conception and birth. The study of this pattern belongs to, not to genetics but to astrology.


This science is difficult to place in the order of the natural sciences, and yet there is incontestable evidence that the moments of conception and birth do influence in some decisive manner the trend of events that will occur in a given life. I do not pretend to understand the subject and fortunately it is irrelevant for our purpose whether there is a valid science of astrology or not. The fact is that the events as distinct from the potentialities of different lives do follow regular patterns that can be observed and classified. However, as in the case of heredity, the parents can do much to make or mar the life picture. Sexual union in states of passion, inebriation, fear or hatred must inevitably damage the essence that is conceived.

(c) Pre-existent Elements of the Essence

These effects are, however, not the most serious, for the state of the parents at the moment of conception also influences the entry of material derived from previous lives. There is a certain indestructible substance that enters into all living forms and takes on their nature. This can be called the 'soul-substance,' and it is required for the formation of every essence. It must be distinguished from the Spirit that plays no part in the production of the essence and comes from a region that is beyond our understanding.

Whenever there is sexual union, an invisible attraction is exerted upon the ambient 'soul-substance' that requires to enter some living form in order to continue its existence. The quality of the soul-substance attracted corresponds to the state of the parents at the moment of union. I cannot here examine all the varieties of incarnation, reincarnation and transmigration that can occur, nor do I possess more than the most rudimentary notions of the working of this mysterious process. Gurdjieff and Pak Subuh agree in asserting that it is possible for human soul-substance to enter an animal essence, and vice versa. Even when the soul substance in a man or woman is of human origin it may be tainted with degenerative factors, especially if the conditions of sexual intercourse were such as to attract debased material.

Thus the formation of a human essence is beset with hazards that would make liberation from earth forces well-nigh impossible if there were not a factor independent of the parents and all influences acting in space and time. This factor that we shall call the Spirit is, in its very nature, eternal and indescribable. Its presence cannot be detected by any kind of test, nor can it be an object of thought.


We do not know whether we should say that in the ordinary man the spirit is asleep, that the soul is still unborn, or that the soul languishes in helpless isolation until the spirit descends like Orpheus to bring it back to life.

In some sense, that cannot be reduced to any verbal formula, the human essence is a threefold entity composed of the corporeal, the psychic and the pneumatic factors, and from the action of these three factors there is formed a man or woman with body, spirit and soul. But we must be very careful to remember that we do not know, and cannot know, what the words 'spirit' and 'soul' really mean.

Thus a child is born into the world already equipped with an immensely complex pattern of potentialities, encumbered with hereditary and other consequences of the past, and endowed with faculties or powers which are destined to bring into being a fully conscious, fully integrated, free, responsible, immortal and imperishable human soul. Whether or not this great destiny will be fulfilled depends upon a multitude of factors, partly known, partly unknown but knowable, and partly altogether beyond the limits of any possible knowledge.

3. The Human Personality

Before birth, all influences that act upon the foetus are of human or superhuman origin—apart from the possibility that animal soul-substance may enter at conception. After birth, the first influences are animal in character. They are mainly concerned with warmth and food and come from the mother or some other large mammal such as a cow. After a few weeks the child begins to be aware of its own body, first however with the animal and vegetative functions, and only much later does it begin to recognize material objects and to acquire a relationship with the inanimate world. It can be said that the incarnation of the human spirit is not complete until it recognizes the material world as the environment in which its life-pattern on earth is to be worked out.

The world of our familiar experience is a world of material objects—including of course living animals and human bodies—but this is not the world entered by the new-born child. That world is not visible and tangible—for the child does not yet know what seeing and touching are. It is a series of worlds composed of human, animal and vegetable essences, in which forces are working that cannot be reduced to the play of atoms and quanta.


We are not yet ready to discuss these unseen worlds, and must pass to the arising of the common experience of man as a person. The new-born child is impersonal, but very soon people about it begin to elicit personal reactions. From them it learns that its cries can attract attention. They engage its interest in them as persons. So little by little a new personality is formed. This is an artificial construction that is produced by influences completely different from those that formed the essence. The personality comprises all that one learns from the outside world; and, since the child learns mainly from or with the help of other people, the personality inevitably bears the imprint of all the other personalities that it meets during its formative years.

The main instruments of the personality are the associative mechanism of the cerebral hemispheres, that is what we usually call the 'brain,' together with the complex apparatus for emotional and instinctive reactions furnished by the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine glands. The head brain is supplied with means for storing sense impressions, and for sorting and classifying them with the help of signs. Signs take the form of language, which again the child learns from other people. Although sense impressions themselves are received directly, they are put into the form of usable memories almost entirely by what is learned from others. Thus the innate capacity of the essence to perceive the real world is gradually supplanted and replaced by thinking about sense impressions with the help of language.

It would be tedious to recapitulate the whole process of personality-formation, but it should be evident that the 'person' cannot possibly be the same as the 'real man' of the essence. Thus all people as they reach adult age are composed of an essence that they do not know and of which they are not even conscious, and a personality the activity of which becomes to all intents and purposes their effective self. It is the great merit of Freud and the schools of analytical psychology that they have established the fact of the dualism of the conscious and unconscious selves of man, though few have recognized the origin of this dualism and its true character.

For our purpose, it is most important to take cognizance of the fact that almost everything that enters human experience from the external world—after the first few years of life—must pass through the personality. Nearly always it is the personality alone that reacts to such external influence. Nevertheless the personality itself is also at times influenced by the essence without being aware even of its presence.


4. The Variety of Influences that act on Man

A simple but valuable distinction can be made between two kinds of external influences that act upon man. This is based on the assumption that there are levels of experience that have a direct contact with real or essential worlds higher than this earth. These influences are transmitted through human sources, and their effect is to awaken in man the realization that his destiny is not to live, grow old and die and perish on this earth, but to attain the conscious freedom or immortality of the human soul as the vehicle of the spirit.

Some such assumption is common to all religions and to all philosophies that acknowledge God as the Creator and Ruler of all worlds. But, as Kant showed in his Critique of Practical Reason, it is even prior to belief in God, for it derives from the conviction that we men have an obligation to live our lives according to certain standards that are in themselves of more than human origin. This obligation, the categorical imperative, is not reached by way of thought or even experience, but, because it comes from within ourselves, it is the only sound foundation for all ethics and all morality. If it is denied, then ethics reduces to the unworkable doctrine of the 'greatest good of the greatest number,' that would find few defenders or advocates today.

We can all see that we live under two kinds of influence that are different, not merely in form, but in their origin, their action and their result. They can be described as the worldly and the other-worldly, as the temporal and the eternal, as the material and the spiritual, and as the religious and the irreligious. But we must make sure that such names do not mislead us. It is by their origin, their action and their results that such influences must be judged. The first kind originate in the mind and feelings of men who only see the visible world. They act upon the personality to strengthen its belief that there is no other world but this. The result of their action is to bind man to the earth and deprive him of of his essential birthright. The influences of the second kind originate beyond the mind and feelings of man, and they act to undermine and eventually to destroy the slavery of the personality. Their result is to open man's eyes to the possibility, latent in his essence, of dying to this world and of rebirth to another and better world.

Since influences of the first kind leave the psychic nature of man unchanged, they have been called pyschostatic. The second kind set the psychic in motion upon a path that can lead to an endless progress, and so have been called psycho-kinetic.*

*cf. The Crisis in Human Affairs, p. 131-44.


Unless this distinction is clearly understood and remembered, we are likely to fall into the common error of supposing that we can reach paradise or enter the Kingdom of Heaven—remaining such as we are. All the parables of Jesus concerning the Kingdom of Heaven agree as to the need to pay a great price for it. It is still more strongly expressed in the phrase "except ye be born again, ye shall in no wise enter the Kingdom."

The words in no wise—in Greek—emphasize with all the authority of the Son of Man that there is no possible way of attaining the eternal world and the everlasting life of the soul except by death and resurrection. The same warning was given by God through Moses in the words of Deuteronomy, "Behold I have set before you this day life and death, blessing and cursing—choose therefore life that thou and thy seed may live." The Word of God revealed to Muhammad gives the same warning, "Submit to no power but God, lest thou be of those consigned to torment" (Sura 26).

5. The Twofold Flow of Influences

All the scriptures insist upon the need for a positive, conscious and decisive act of choice, and it is the disregard of this uncompromising demand that has in all ages caused the downfall of religion.

We thus come to the question of how the choice is made. The personality is formed under the influences of both kinds, and it has no power of distinguishing between them. But the essence has elements that do not belong to the temporal, visible world. By the action of these elements each man has an urge to seek for the invisible, the imperishable and the eternal. In so far, therefore, as the essence is not wholly trapped in the personality, there arises a discrimination that can recognize the value of those influences that draw man towards the fulfilment of his essential destiny.

We are drawn towards eternal life because there is in each of us a part of our being that is eternal. But that part is potential only, and it is covered and closed by the experiences, memories, desires and thoughts of the personality. So long as we live in our personality the essential reality sleeps. If the awakening comes in the personality there remains a long process of preparation and purification before the way to the essence is opened. If the awakening comes in the essence the same process is still necessary, but it is accomplished through the far greater powers that operate in the essence.


There are not so much two ways as two opposing directions of flow of forces. The origin of the force is always the same—it is the Will of God that man should be enabled to return to his Source—but when the force flows in from the outside, it has first to pass through many channels, each of which takes something from it and adds something to it, so that by the time it reaches the human individual it is not and cannot be pure. When the force flows from within, it enters the spirit of man directly in its full and perfect purity—so awakening the soul to consciousness of the Presence and the Power of God. Herein lies the difference between justification by works and justification by faith. The first is contingent and hazardous, the second is complete and infallible.
6. Working from Without

We are not concerned with theories or explanations, but with the actual experience of the man or woman who chooses to fulfil his or her true destiny. The choice is made not once but incessantly, until complete unity of being is attained, and he is able to choose finally and utterly with the whole of himself. It is very necessary that we should realize that the final choice is indeed final, and that it belongs to the end and not to the beginning of the way. Even in those ascetic orders which require complete renunciation of the world and all external attachments, and which, because of the austerity of their rules, impose a long period of probation upon their aspirants, it is well understood that the habit does not make the monk and that choice, which is really the same as repentance, must continue to the very end.

When we represent to ourselves an ideal state of being that is remote from what we now are and yet inherently attainable, we may choose to impose on ourselves a discipline that will bring us nearer to the ideal. This is the type of all 'working from without.' Even the Imitatio Christi is working from without, for Christ as the ideal Man is a representation of our own minds, and the efforts we make to follow in His footsteps are our own efforts. When the Yogi sets out to find the Great Self, the Atman that he represents to himself as identical with Brahman, the One that is beyond all form; he still is making a mental image, and his self-discipline is self imposed.

We men and women, who fancy that we decide and act from our own choice, do not pause to ask ourselves how the possibility of choosing comes to us. If we were to do so, we should see that it has come through our senses; through what we have seen and heard and known of.


If we are Christians, we are so because we have been brought up in a Christian community. If we have ideas of right and wrong, it is because from earliest childhood such ideas have reached us through hearing what people say, through watching what they do, and later through reading books and through participating in the life of the community to which we belong. As a result of all external influences we may have formed some picture of the ideal man or woman, and we may try to make our own lives conform to that ideal. Whether the ideal is supremely great, as when we survey the life of Jesus Christ or of the Prophet Muhammad, or whether it is the glamour of a film star that attracts us, the action is the same. The ideal is outside of us, but somehow like us and attainable. The same applies to all ethical and moral codes. The Ten Commandments, the precepts of Confucius, the Oath of Hippocrates, the American Constitution—all are the same in principle: they prescribe forms of external behaviour that we accept willingly or unwillingly as obligatory upon ourselves, and we try more or less faithfully to discipline our lives accordingly. Receiving from without applies also to our beliefs. Each religion has its own creed, and each sect within each religion its own variant of the creed. Some are more and some are less tolerant of the beliefs of others—some are more sincere and wholehearted than others in their acceptance of the creed and dogmas of their own faith. But whatever these may be, all are received from outside in the form of verbal formulae, symbols or pictures. Nowhere is it recorded that anyone has professed the Christian or any other faith except he were first taught the creed and its meaning.

It follows, beyond possibility of dispute, that all discipline that derives from:

(a) The contemplation of an ideal Man or state of existence.
(b) Obedience to commandments or moral codes, and
(c) The acceptance of creeds or dogmas of whatever form or content,

must belong only to the category of working from without.

The phrase 'working from without' must not be understood in a disparaging sense. The whole structure of human society depends upon discipline, and it is only redeemed from tyranny when there is at least as much self-imposed discipline as external restraint. But we must not overlook the limitations of any way of self-perfecting that depends upon external influences. Since it comes from our own will it can only liberate us from our own will by way of failure.


Thus Kierkegaard: "To tear the will away from all finite aims and conditions requires a painful effort and this effort ceaseless repetition. And if, in addition to this, the soul has, in spite of all its striving, to be as though it were simply not, it becomes clear that the religious life signifies a dedication to suffering and self-destruction." Thus also Gurdjieff: "We men, owing to the data crystallized in our common presences for engendering in us the Divine Impulse of Conscience, 'the-whole-of-us' and the whole of our essence, are, and must be, already in our foundation, only suffering." Gurdjieff goes on to explain that suffering is inevitable so long as we remain under the action of two incompatible sets of forces—those of the temporal world acting on our bodies and those of the eternal world that act upon our Conscience.

Those who follow any way of self-perfecting that is a form of working from without, must come to a point where they are powerless to go further because they can never, by their own will, overcome their own will. If at that point they are resolute and choose the impossible ideal in place of any possible compromise, they can die to their temporal earthly self and be born again to their eternal other-worldly self. Without such 'death' and resurrection' no transformation of human nature can be completed.

There are many ways by which a man can arrive at the 'point of no return.' One of the attractions for modern people of Zen Buddhism is that it makes this position perfectly clear without dogma and without even the demand for religious faith. The works of my honoured friend Daitaro Suzuki abound in examples of the working of such methods as the Koan exercise. The system of exercises used by St. Ignatius Loyola and his followers is equally clear in its purpose: to confront the impure sinful human soul with the image of the absolutely pure and sinless Saviour in such a manner as ultimately to destroy all hope of attaining such purity by one's own will. By such means the experience of death and resurrection is repeated at each retreat and especially during the second novitiate. The exercises taught by Gurdjieff have a more flexible quality than those used in Zen Monasteries or in the Society of Jesus. They aim at the awakening of the essence in such a manner that the ability to 'see one's own nothingness' is attained together with the strength to bear the experience. Moreover, Gurdjieff attached special importance to the balanced development of body, feelings, mind and consciousness, so that his exercises are constantly varied and adjusted to meet the changing needs of the pupil who works seriously and makes real progress.


7. Schools and Teachers

At this point I should refer to the role of 'schools' and 'teachers' in the work of self-perfecting. Any 'teaching' whether it is of the most general kind like the 'Ten Commandments,' or whether it is a specialized system of self-discipline, is inevitably standardized, that is to say, it is received in a set form that is the same for all those who wish to follow it. But human beings are not standardized. There are very great differences in the capacities and limitations that each individual brings to the task of self-perfecting. Thus anyone who follows a fixed system of teaching must submit himself to a procrustean bed on which he will be stretched or chopped until he is made to fit.

The world is full of psychic misfits who have attempted to adapt themselves to some standard code of discipline, whether moral or practical. Those who try to achieve the highest perfection suffer most from this incompatibility of their individual powers and limitations with the requirements of the way they have set themselves to follow. One of the chief causes of the decay of religion lies precisely in the general rigidity of religious discipline. Even those who are capable and desirous of adopting a severely ascetic way of life seldom find what they need in any standardized discipline.

The true significance of schools lies not in the possession of special methods, exercises and the like, but in having the knowledge and experience requisite to ensure that the methods are adapted to the needs of the individual. It is this understanding that marks the true spiritual director or teacher. Such teachers have always been rare, and they can hope to give the necessary detailed and intimate guidance only to a few chosen disciples. Those who receive only indirect or distant indications from a school cannot go far without danger of losing the vital harmony of the many partial processes with the total process. Man is a most complex being who exists on several levels, each of which is governed by its own laws. These laws, though quite distinct in their operation, are connected with one another. A simple example will show what is meant by the 'laws of different levels.' The activity of the human body is governed by mechanical laws (levers, heat engines, hydrodynamic apparatus), by physico-chemical laws (digestion of food, oxygenation of blood, synthesis of special proteins and amino-acids, etc.), by biological laws (development, regeneration, reproduction) and by psycho-nervous laws (thought, feeling, instinct, etc.).


These laws belong to different levels yet they are interdependent and we cannot understand the activity of the organism unless we recognize both their distinctness and their interaction. Besides these, there are also higher laws connected with the attention, with the power of choice and its exercise, with the will and the understanding, and the still higher realms of the soul and its powers. Each and all of these laws is involved in the process of self-perfecting, and if a man seeks to direct this process by his own will and understanding, he needs to know—if not the laws themselves—at least the critical phases of their operation.

Those who believe that it is possible for man's nature to be transformed by self-discipline usually take far too lightly the complications involved in the harmonious development of body, spirit and soul. They may point to the lives of saints and mystics as examples of the attainment possible with little or no knowledge of the laws of the human psyche, but they forget that for one who attains to blessedness or sainthood, there are many thousands who fall by the way. Moreover, the saint is not necessarily a complete man. Some like St. Francis or St. John of the Cross died young, having destroyed the equilibrium of their bodies by excessive austerities. Others were lacking in practical judgment, as we see in St. Bernard of Clairvaux in his direction of the second Crusade. Moreover, the greatest saints must not be regarded as examples of 'working from without'—on the contrary, their strength and their guidance came from within and were bestowed upon them through faith. Their lives are truly unfathomable by the ordinary mind of man.

If we confine our attention to all ways of self-perfecting that are either wholly or predominantly working from without, we must conclude that:

1.   A school and a teacher is always necessary.
2.   Persistent austerities, physical, mental and emotional, are needed over a
      long period in order to purify the lower nature.
3.   It is at the present time hard to find conditions that make such work
4.   It can be successful only with comparatively rare people specially gifted for       such an undertaking.

These four conclusions have been amply confirmed in my own experience by the observation, over a period of more than thirty-seven years, of many thousands of students who have followed Gurdjieff's system for the Harmonious Development of Man. I am convinced that this system offers the most complete and effectual method of working from without known in the world today, and one moreover that is particularly well suited to the needs of people of western culture.


It has attracted men and women of high mental attainment, emotional sensitivity and practical ability—scientists, doctors, writers, artists and successful men of affairs, besides a solid core of 'ordinary' people. All who have persisted in following the discipline, under the guidance of Gurdjieff's own approved instructors, have attained some measure of harmony and a better understanding of life, and few feel that their efforts have been wasted. But, out of many thousands, only a bare handful have achieved any high degree of spiritual development. No defect is to be imputed to Gurdjieff's system on this account. The truth is that any and every form of working from without is beset with hazards and few can hope to surmount them successfully—even with the strongest desire to do so. Folk-lore and legend, from the old epic of Gilgamesh that speaks to us from the Epoch of the Search, have always contained allegories of the quest for eternal life as being full of perils that only the rare hero is able to survive.

We need to see the present situation clearly if we are to appreciate the change that has to come. We may be certain that the completion of his being and the fulfilment of his destiny is possible for the man who finds the right teacher for him and who brings the necessary gifts of single-mindedness, sincerity and humility; but we must acknowledge that for the majority, even those who set out resolutely upon the way, only very few can hope to go far by the methods of working from without.

8. The Inner Working

There are seven principal functions or centres in man: instinctive, motor, emotional, intellectual, sex, higher emotional and higher mental. The first four of these operate in our ordinary states of consciousness; they are essentially instruments for this present life, and they are incapable of giving us true knowledge either of our own destiny or of objective reality. The sex centre occupies an intermediate position in that it can be an instrument of the lower world, but also a means of lifting man into the truly human world in which there is no separation. The two higher centres are the true instruments of the eternal imperishable 'Man of the Soul.' The first is the instrument whereby man can know his own true nature and everything that concerns his own destiny, and that of all other men with whom he is related. The second instrument gives access to the eternal mysteries; it is conscious of the Objective Reality that is beyond eternity as it is beyond time.


The distinction between lower and higher centres between temporal instruments for use in this visible world and eternal instruments that can serve in all worlds is vital for the understanding of inner and outer work, and it has been, to me, of the utmost value in my approach to Subud. We can find much to instruct to us on the subject in the mystical writers, and especially in the Sermons of Meister Eckhart. "According to the philosopher who is our chief authority upon the soul no human wisdom ever can attain to what the soul is. That requires supernatural wisdom. What the powers of the soul issue from into act, we do not know: about it haply we do know a little, but what the soul is in her ground, no man knows. Any knowledge thereof that may be permitted to us must be supernatural; it must be by grace: God's agent of mercy." It would indeed be sufficient to refer to Eckhart all that has to be written in this section, for he is wholly concerned with 'working from within' and came nearer to expressing the nature of this working than I could ever hope to do.

The starting point can be stated in Eckhart's words: "There is something in the soul, intimate, mysterious, far higher than the soul herself, whence emanate her powers of intellect and will." The lower centres, or ordinary self of man and his lower nature, are cut off from this mysterious 'something.' In it lie sleeping, or more truly, still unborn, all the potentialities of eternal life. The aim of all religion, of all asceticism, of all 'work on oneself,' of all the striving of man for perfection, is to reach and awaken this inner 'something.' And this is equally true of working from without and of the working from within, that we are trying now to understand.

In the truest and fullest sense, working from within can start only when the inner 'something' is awakened. There then flows from within a stream of influences that act first upon the higher centres—the instruments of the soul—and from them penetrate outwards into the lower centres and the bodily organism. These influences then produce reactions in the lower centres exactly similar to those of intentional self-discipline except that they are not standardized. Each individual is subject to an influence that, having passed through his own higher emotional centre, corresponds exactly to his own needs, and moreover to his needs at each stage of his inner development. Thus working from within is analagous to the development of the embryo from the time that the ovum is fertilized. The organism with all its limbs, organs and functions is not imposed from without, but arises under the influence of the genetic pattern with which the child is endowed at the moment of conception. Modern embryologists with their marvellous techniques are still quite unable by 'working from without' to reproduce a thousandth part of the minutely adjusted regulative process by which the embryo develops.


This analogy might seem to suggest that 'working from without' is as useless as the attempt to 'synthesize' a human child in a laboratory. The truth is that the growth of being must always occur spontaneously from within. Our efforts can create favourable conditions for this growth, but they cannot compel it to occur. We have many obstructions that have accumulated in us—some from our heredity and the influences of our early lives—others the results of our own voluntary or involuntary submission to negative impulses coming from without. We can do much by our own efforts to remove these obstructions so that the life-giving energy can flow freely through all our centres and all our organs. But when we try to go further and mould ourselves upon some ideal pattern received from without we run into the danger of standardization, and are liable to find ourselves stretched upon the procrustean bed without powers to rise from it again. This is called by Gurdjieff 'wrong crystallization' and he paints a vivid picture of the plight of those who make the mistake of relying upon their own strength. Right crystallization means the unification of the whole being and nature of man according to his own essential pattern, and it is achieved by a process of development that must be directed from the pattern itself and not from without. But although 'we,' that is, our ordinary self, cannot direct the process, we can watch over it and protect the being in us that is later to be born and become the true self or man in us. When working from without is understood in this way, it is more than useful—it is really necessary.

The emphasis placed upon the awakening of the soul and the rebirth to which it leads requires also that we should state plainly how the awakening comes about. Here we have all the authority of Scripture and the evidence of the great mystics that it is only the Holy Spirit that awakens the mysterious something that initiates the train of events that I have called 'working from within.' Indeed as Kant showed in his Critique of Practical Reason, it is the awakening of the soul that validates our belief in God and Eternal Life. The central point of all religious experience is the contact between man and God, mediated by the Holy Spirit and made through the mysterious 'something' in the soul that is in neither time nor space, and cannot be said to exist at all until it is awakened.

It seems to me that we come nearest to the truth if we say that the ordinary man has no soul but only the possibility of acquiring one, and that he cannot enter into eternal life unless and until his soul is born. The saying of Christ, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" can only mean that the man who closes himself to the contact with the Spirit of God by attaching himself exclusively to the values of this world loses the opportunity of gaining the soul that is—until it is awakened—a possibility and no more.


We understand then by 'working from within' the process that starts in man when his soul is awakened. He is brought thereby into contact with the power of the Holy Spirit—the Lord and Giver of Life. This power of life streams downwards from the highest point of the man's being and flows through all levels. Because it is a life giving power it brings to life every part that it reaches. Thus there comes about a true rebirth that is also a resurrection.

In this operation the action of our will can only be that of consent and acceptance. We cannot 'will' the process, nor can we direct or regulate it. It regulates itself by the very fact that the life-force flows through our essence pattern, thereby acting constantly to restore us to ourselves, to enable us to become the real man or the real woman that from the moment of our conception we were destined to be.

Although we cannot, from our ordinary self, initiate or direct a process that has its source at an immeasurably higher level of consciousness, it does not follow that we remain unaware of the process or unable to co-operate with it. We experience the working from within as an inner urge or prompting that shows us what we have to do and gives us moreover the power to do it. I cannot do better to end this chapter than by quoting Meister Eckhart's final message to his friends. He said: "I will give you a rule which is the sum of all my arguments, the key to the whole theory and practice of the truth. "It very often happens that a thing seems small to us which is of greater moment in God's sight than what looms large in ours. Wherefore it behoves us to take alike from God everything he sends us without every thinking or looking to see which is greatest or highest or best but following blindly God's lead, that is to say, our own feeling, our strongest dictates, what we are most prompted to do. Then God gives us the most in the least without fail.

"People often shirk the least and prevent themselves getting the most in the least. They are wrong. God is everywise, the same in every guise to him who can see Him the same. There is much searching of heart as to whether one's promptings come from God or no; but this we can soon tell for if we ourselves aware of, privy to , God's will above all when we follow our own impulse, our clearest intimations, then we may take it that they come from God."

Herein lies the best assurance for those who are beset by doubts and scruples about following the promptings of conscience, lest that which seems to be the voice of conscience may be the voice of the tempter.

We have come now to the threshold of the Subud experience, and I shall try to show how we may recognize that this is really the awakening of the soul for which we all search.


Copyright© 2007, Undiscovered Worlds Press