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Gurdjieff, zombies and human machines

Updated on October 6, 2014

The zombie shufflers

Given up to basic automotive functions, the zombie shuffles around in a shadow world, unable to satisfy its craving for human flesh. It wanders aimlessly, until it picks up the scent of the living, then desperate to devour it and consume it, follows it relentlessly.

The zombie is a near-perfect parody of humans themselves – us. Like vampires, zombies are governed by cravings that can never be satisfied. Both live in shadow worlds and become more active at night. While the vampire has a dual sense of self, the zombie has none. The vampire craves sex, the zombie craves food. Just like us.

As humans, our sense of separation from a more meaningful part of ourselves triggers urges and desires that only seem to take us further away from a sense of completion or peace. We too are confined to a world of shadows and replace our lack of joy with attempting to attain the focus of certain desires, that eventually only generate less joy.

Perhaps this is why the zombie and vampire genres are so immensely popular: deep down, we identify with these voracious appetites that these ghouls are possessed by, and we seen in them a part of ourselves. We love to see them destroyed. In Buddhism, appetites for food and sex are often seen as related.

The automation of zombie behaviour as a reflection of our own state of being is perfect as a parody, especially in this modern and super-consumeristic period of history.


Danger! zombie human seen stumbling around Walmart!

The zombies in George A. Romero's film Dawn of the Dead stumble around shopping malls semi-catatonic, lurred in by the sights and sounds, scratching at window panes – much like us. Like the fallen angels in Paradise Lost who are shown the city of Pandemonium by Lucifer, and who are rapt in wonder at the beauty of the place, we trudge around shopping malls to be entertained and experience a small thrill of power by spending money. Romero's zombies have become a spoof of how they used to be as human beings.

We buy things, eat things, and for a moment we can forget how lost we actually feel. It is the drug of buying things that we love; and food as a drug is something that everyone has succumbed to. We even devour animals just as keenly as zombies rip out the intestines of living people.

A land of shadows where free will is reduced to zero

The Russian mystic and spiritual teacher Gurdjieff (c. 1866 -1949 ) said that man is essentially a machine, and has no knowledge of himself and is in an hypnotic sleep. He said: 'They fail to realise to what an extent they are mere pawns in the game' p.21, P.D.Ouspensky, In Search of The Miraculous. Furthermore, his observation is that 'everything happens' – and quite out of any individual's control. Perhaps, much like a human, whose original personality has been entirely subsumed by the zombie virus.

He argued that man is always in a state of identification with outside objects, entirely forgetful of himself – for the sake of illustration, much like those zombies hanging out in the shopping mall!

'Look at people in shops, in theatres, in restaurants; or see how they identify with words when they argue about something or to prove something, particularly something they do not know themselves. They become greediness, desires, or words; of themselves nothing remains.' pp.150-151

My profile mentions my interest in the way our reality is defined by the sorts of words we use – the veiling power of the word is an essential component in Kashmir Shaivism, which is a different approach to a similar theme in the Christian tradition, the Logos i.e.' In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God...' etc but which also shows how intricately bound we are, even in our everyday language, to basic building blocks of creation that hide our true nature.

This paints a very sad picture of humanity's lot, where nothing remains of someone's true self. Lost and bereft in a world of images, fundamentally powerless and disempowered, having been inveigled by the veiling powers which we're meant to be learning to overcome. But until then, zombie-like and degraded from being a potentially free person, basking in inner freedom and joy, to a dysfunctional and shuffling entity.

Furthermore, Gurdjueff said that there is nothing that anyone can do about it:

'Man does not love, hate, desire – all this happens. But no-one will ever believe you if you tell him he can do nothing. This is the most offensive and the most unpleasant thing you can tell people. It is particularly unpleasant and offensive because it is the truth, and nobody wants to know the truth.' p.21

Part of the problem, is this constant identification that goes on with exterior objects:

'Man such as we know him, the 'man-machine', the man who cannot 'do', and with whom and through everything 'happens', cannot have a permanent and single I. His I changes as quickly as his thoughts, feelings, and moods, and he makes a profound mistake in considering himself always one and the same person; in reality he isalways a different person, not the one he was a moment ago. Man has no permanent and unchangeable I. Every thought, every mood, every desire, every sensation, says 'I'.' p.59

This entirely dismantles the notion that this 'I' we all seem to have should be the subject of our focus and meditations. It leaves us no-where to go. Clearly, just meditation and self-analysis doesn't do the job. It's a fundamental turn-around and wake-up call. Gurdjieff's somewhat caustic approach to spiritual truth can understandably put a lot of people off.

So How can We Wake Up?

For geeky Dune-heads, the famous phrase 'The sleeper must awaken' comes to mind. How can we be Neo in the Matrix, and swallow the Red Pill. Where is our Morpheus?

According to Gurdjieff there is a way out bit it relies on finding a spiritual teacher, which curiously is a re-statement of the guru principle. E.g. Jesus' “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" John 14:6 There simply is no other way to approach the problem of our own blindness toward ourselves.

As he says: 'It must be understood that without outside help a man can never see himself' p.149.

Gurdjieff talks about various 'shocks' that have to be adminstered to someone who wants to wake up and that enables them to develop a sufficiently strong will.

A curious passage in the Jack Haas book 'In and Of – Memoirs of a mystic journey' relays an interesting view of what it takes to really break out of our prisons:

'To live as a spirit is to be outcast and dishonored among men, because to live as such means you must break their rules, scorn their taboos, and destroy the lie they've come to believe in, for they know not yet that God is insane, and that all who run with God must be mad as well. God exists beyond reasons, beyond meaning, beyond right or wrong, even beyond hope. To be with God means you are done for; you are now vermin, now a fool, now a traitor, now an eyesore, now a useless and incapable, worthless specimen of makind. That is what it takes, that is what God requires. The only question remaining is – are you up for it?' pp.78-79 Jack Haas, In and Of.

First Steps

Without getting into details of Gurdjieff's 'Fourth Way' and his intricate analysis of the machines we all are, there were a few things that he said that were fundamentally necessary.

  • Getting a teacher/guru
  • Self-remembering
  • Improving one's strength of will (with the help of a teacher)
  • Sincerity
  • Spending time with people who are doing the same kind of spiritual work
  • Not expressing negative emotions

His teachings were much more involved than there is space for here. Suffice to say that his work/teachings provide a very fresh (re)appraisal of some themes that are common in much esoteric spirituality. The difference is that his explanations came from fascinating perspective, a clever mind, and got to the point quickly.

The work on ourselves has to be done! It's that or swallowing the Blue pill and shuffling off again... like a zombie, instead of experience the inner freedom and joy which is our destination.


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