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Richard May Interview (Parts 6 & 7)


Author(s): Richard May & Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2022/03 (Issue #209)


Richard May (“May-Tzu”/“MayTzu”/“Mayzi”) is a Member of the Mega Society based on a qualifying score on the Mega Test (before 1995) prior to the compromise of the Mega Test and Co-Editor of Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society. In self-description, May states: “Not even forgotten in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), I’m an Amish yuppie, born near the rarified regions of Laputa, then and often, above suburban Boston. I’ve done occasional consulting and frequent Sisyphean shlepping. Kafka and Munch have been my therapists and allies. Occasionally I’ve strived to descend from the mists to attain the mythic orientation known as having one’s feet upon the Earth. An ailurophile and a cerebrotonic ectomorph, I write for beings which do not, and never will, exist — writings for no one. I’ve been awarded an M.A. degree, mirabile dictu, in the humanities/philosophy, and U.S. patent for a board game of possible interest to extraterrestrials. I’m a member of the Mega Society, the Omega Society and formerly of Mensa. I’m the founder of the Exa Society, the transfinite Aleph-3 Society and of the renowned Laputans Manqué. I’m a biographee in Who’s Who in the Brane World. My interests include the realization of the idea of humans as incomplete beings with the capacity to complete their own evolution by effecting a change in their being and consciousness. In a moment of presence to myself in inner silence, when I see Richard May’s non-being, ‘I’ am. You can meet me if you go to an empty room.” Some other resources include Stains Upon the Silence: something for no oneMcGinnis Genealogy of Crown Point, New York: Hiram Porter McGinnisSwines ListSolipsist SoliloquiesBoard GameLulu blogMemoir of a Non-Irish Non-Jew, and May-Tzu’s posterousHe discusses: “Picking One’s Own Pocket”; “Did Gurdjieff understand his own teaching?”; “What is the work?”; “Truth”; the meaning of truth in “Truth”; “Good and Evil”; so few being awake; “Is this what the work has become?”; the work, and play; identification with the work; identification with the work considered sleeping rather than waking; and Gurdjieff and Wittgenstein. 

Keywords: Blavatsky, Gurdjieff, Ouspenky, Richard May, the work, Wittgenstein.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: “Picking One’s Own Pocket” describes a context in which the truth, to an individual, gets posed as forever-incomplete, while the truth, itself, can be complete. How is this playing off the poly-agnosticism regarding different levels of knowledge in other braindroppings in Something for No One?

Richard May: To me picking one’s own pocket meant simply that one cannot abrogate one’s own authority in choosing what or whom to believe, if anyone. It’s your judgement.

Jacobsen: “Did Gurdjieff understand his own teaching?” posits, based on Blavatsky’s and Gurdjieff’s overlap in writings, Gurdjieff taking from other sourcing without full knowledge of the implications of the knowledge or parts of the systems lifted from other sources. Who was Gurdjieff? Why was he important? Is he well-regarded in general or more as a fringe loon, or a excommunicated enlightened figure found, more or less, in obscurity? Same questions on Blavatsky, too, please. (These are not Zen koans.)

May: There are hundreds of books on the topic of who Gurdjieff was. No one knows who Gurdjieff was.

Gurdjieff was important only to his pupils.

He is generally regarded as a obscure fringe loon, as you suggest, except by his pupils, and Blavatsky could only aspire to be regarded as a fringe loon.

Jacobsen: “What is the work?” describes a stick with two ends, but inverts North American Judeo-Christian theological foundations. How does the devil lead to paradise and God to hell?

May: The devil may lead to paradise and God lead to hell? I do not know that there is a devil or a God. This is something Gurdjieff seemed to claim. But Gurdjieff said can lead to paradise, not does lead with certainty.

Jacobsen: “Truth” describes the where the lies of truth lie. Side questions, what was the importance of Ouspensky? What is the importance of Blavatsky? What was the importance of Gurdjieff? Because… they seem neither well-known nor well-understood.

May: Ouspensky is generally regarded as Gurdjieff’s most important pupil. Otherwise Ouspensky had no importance. Ouspensky wrote coherent English. Blavatsky and Gurdjieff had no importance except to their pupils. Blavatsky and Gurdjieff were neither well-known nor well-understood.

Jacobsen: What is “truth,” in that sense,” as stated in “Truth”? What is truth and falsehood in that sense? What does this state about human nature with defilement of truth as necessary for truth to come forth and be heard properly?

May: Gurdjieff seemed to be saying that humans as they were could not understand truth. Truth could only be understood by most humans if presented as a lie.

Jacobsen: “Good and Evil” explains the nature of good and evil as first requiring a realization of them. How do good and evil only exist for a few?

May: That good and evil only exist for a few was a claim made by Gurdjieff. I don’t know how this is true, or if the claim even has any meaning.

Jacobsen: Why are so few awake? What is “awake” in this sense? Is it akin to enlightenment in some philosophies of Buddhism?

May: Why are so few awake? What is the biological utility in an evolutionary context of awakening? Maybe awakening has no biological utility. I think awake may be equivalent to enlightenment in some Buddhist philosophical schools. But I may be incorrect.

Jacobsen: “Is this what the work has become?” talks about the work. First, what is the work?

May: The work is Gurdjieff’s system for awakening humans from the condition of being what he called sleeping machines or unconscious automata.

Jacobsen: Second, why does it have to be work? Why not play?

May: Referring to Gurdjieff’s system as work rather than play suggests that it may be difficult to awaken. But I did not choose the terminology of work or play. Supposedly the sheep in the folk tale of the magician illustrate the illusions of hypnotic sleep.

Jacobsen: The magician sounds sadistic and cruel. What is the identification with the work?

May: Supposedly the sheep in the folk tale of the magician illustrate the illusions of hypnotic sleep.

Jacobsen: How is this identification with the work considered sleeping rather than waking?

May: Identification in any form is considered to be sleep.

Jacobsen: Is the act of identifying the work akin to the universe seeing its own back, so as to mess with the still waters of the awakened — so to speak? By act of observation, the work is broken. One is no longer awake but asleep with an even deeper illusion.

May: I don’t understand your question regarding “the universe seeing its own back.”

Gurdjieff may have taught that one could sometimes awaken if only for a moment.

Ludwig Wittgenstein also noted this changing quality of human attention. He wrote that we may occasionally awaken for a moment sufficiently to realize that we have been asleep and dreaming.

Jacobsen: “Identification: to Wake Perchance to Dream” is a woeful story, sort of. What is “satori”? 

May: I speak with no official authority about the Gurdjieff work, you should know. None …

I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced satori. Maybe … But if I have, then I cannot describe it in any case.

But off the top of my head it is an altered state of consciousness (the term satori comes from Zen Buddhism, of course) in which everything is directly seen to be just the way it is in the present moment  — When running by the Charles River in Boston once or twice after long 40-minute runs everything looked like it was just the way it should be! The chattering mind had stopped. I just saw … it was somewhat ineffable … “Suchness,” tathata in Sanskrit. The Buddha is called tathagata, “one who has thus gone.”

People in the online chat groups would kvetch endlessly that they were “identified.” In any spiritual practice the goal is the practice, period.

Jacobsen: What exactly is meant by an “attachment” in this non-philosophy philosophy?

May: Oh, I was talking about online chats in the Gurdjieff work. After 10 or 15 years of being in “the work,” intelligent people did not have a clue as to the meaning of “self-remembering,” a very important fundamental concept of G.I. Gurdjieff’s teaching. Gurdjieff had an injunction that recognized that everyone was going to die, so people must be helped along the way, “The Fifth Being Obligation.” But after 10 or 15 years “in the work” intelligent chat participants often did not have a clue what self-remembering meant!

Gurdjieff’s pupil, J.G. Bennet was recognized as brilliant and he knew both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, his foremost pupil. He travelled to Gurdjieff’s home and even met Gurdjieff’s father. Bennet read All and EverythingBeelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson 11 times and did not understand it! Where does that leave a person lacking Bennett’s advantages?

In addition after many years the pupils in my chat group were told that the teacher’s teacher had said to his pupils “in the work” that we have a “life time of errors in Beelzebub’s Tales to correct.” How could one understand this writing, All and Everything, the Gurdjieffian Bible, without knowing what the innumerable errors are? This tome was translated and written by committee, not by one person, not directly by Gurdjieff, himself. Belatedly you are told that it is riddled with errors. But Gurdjieff himself had what he called the Fifth Being Obligation. Everyone is going to perish and we don’t know when, so there is an obligation to not waste people’s time.

I was satirically contrasting attachments in Buddhism with identification in the Gurdjieff work. There is a saying in Buddhism that “Original realization is marvelous practice.” The meaning is that the practice is the goal. There is no Buddha, no path, no enlightenment. Just meditate. Follow the path.

Jacobsen: The distinction between a small “i” and a big “I” is implicit in the test with the smaller “i” in the identification and identity. Is this distinction purposeful, or am I seeing a ‘there’ that’s not there?

May: Test? Did you mean text?

We are all always seeing ‘a there that’s not there’! Was that a wave or a particle that just walked by? Often small i refers to the individual fictional ego-identity and big I to the ground of being, itself, the individual wave in the ocean and the ocean, itself.

Jacobsen: Why does intellectual analysis interrupt the potential attainment of satori or enlightenment? 

May: Intellectual analysis is fine during cognition, but not so much during a meditation practice. (Often people have random thoughts, but do not actually think in any case.) Having thoughts is fine, just let them pass. Patanjali defines Yoga as the “Cessation of the modifications of the mind-stuff.” No or less internal mind-chatter is Yoga.

Jacobsen: What is meant by “But I Hunger and Thirst…for the taste of Vagueness”?

May: Gurdjieff wrote of individuals who “hunger and thirst after truth.” In the Gurdjieff chats there was a plethora of vague talk. Vague talk is not truth. I was mocking what generally occurred in the online chats.

And there seemed to be no evidence-based research on the practices of attempted self-remembering (i.e., being present to oneself in the body, emotions and intellectual mind simultaneously) or on “sitting,” one of the Gurdjieffian meditation practices. But the work was claimed to be scientific.

Jacobsen: There is a circularity, sort of, to the path from analysis to not really analyzing to more analysis. Is this reflective of our constant intellectual meanderings away – and away and away, again – from satori experiences?

May: Yes, more or less. I was satirizing the attempted use of analysis to understand why there was endless analyzing. —  Just watch your mindstream of thoughts, your bodily sensations and emotions. The practice is the goal. There is no Buddha, no Dharma (law), no Sangha (community)!

Gautama Buddha was not a Buddhist, Abraham’s mother was not Jewish, hence Abraham wasn’t a born Jew, Jesus wasn’t a Christian and Gurdjieff was not a Gurdjieffian.

Jacobsen: The final quote from “Dogen Practice” states, “Original realization is marvelous practice.” Why is there no definitive distinction between realization of awakening and its cultivation?

May: To have such a distinction would get in the way of realization, create an expectation, make awakening less likely!

Jacobsen: “Roast Pigeon” continues, a bit, with some of the same ideas from “Identification: to Wake Perchance to Dream” “taste” and “vagueness.” What is the association between the vague and the gustatory in these two publications?

May: Gurdjieff said something to the effect that one cannot expect a roast pigeon to fly into one’s mouth in the Gurdjieff work. By this he meant that one must make an effort, constant effort. Work takes effort. It’s not a sinecure.

Jacobsen: Why must the vagueness be stolen?

May: Nothing can be given; Nothing will be given, by the teacher or by Gurdjieff. In Yoga, the Yoga is the effort, not some position. One must steal the truth.

Jacobsen: There’s the circularity in this one, too, with “being in question of being in question” or “pondering pondering.” Are most of our thoughts circuitous-ish? 

May: I was again just mocking the endless vague talk in chat groups about “pondering and being in question.” Must we ponder pondering? Can we question being in question? And ponder being in question? … staining the fragments of silence … “You are the space between your thoughts,” Jean Klein.

Jacobsen: At one point, the amorphous is juxtaposed with the precise in the phrase “certain vague talk.” A certainty in the vagueness, this seems paradoxical, so… traditionally May-Tzu – looking at the other side of the partition to apprehend the whole as with the silence between sounds, background & foreground. The fragments of silence are some of the “Stains Upon The Silence.” Glenn Gould talked about the silence between notes or the gaps in notes – and higher harmonics – as rites of passage in a way. He, so it seems with you, see ‘both sides’ if this can be conceptualized, as such. What do you see as “stains” in the silence?

May: By “certain vague talk” I mean a particular, characteristic vague talk in the online chats, not anything to do with probabilistic certainty.

Jacobsen: Also, what is the pigeon, and why roast it?

May: According to a Google search: “Roasted pigeons have been a well-known delicacy in France since the 16th century.” I didn’t know this, but it makes sense as a context for Gurdjieff’s saying. Truth and moksha (liberation) are not going to fly into your mouth effortlessly.

After decades “in the work” there are individuals who cannot cease smoking or lose weight. Yet unification of one’s being is supposed to be a fruit of the Gurdjieff work. Gurdjieff himself was an obese cigarette smoker with chronic bronchitis for thirty years, according to sources.

Gurdjieff’s most excellent pupil, P.D. Ouspensky at the end of his life was an alcoholic, or nearly so, and completely disillusioned with the system of the Gurdjieff work. He said that nothing can be achieved without the “higher emotional center” and we don’t know how to use the higher emotional center. The title of Ouspensky’s book In Search of the Miraculous was originally intended by Ouspensky to be Fragments of an Unknown Teaching. Fragments … Unknown … The publisher, however, chose the former title. Perhaps that tells us something. My teacher didn’t mention the fate of poor Ouspensky, for some peculiar reason.

Now some people remain “in the work” for more than fifty (50) years, which Gurdjieff would never have allowed. Some individuals today make a career out of “being in the work,” exactly as Ouspensky made a career out of the work, finally lecturing in London.

In The Fourth Way Ouspensky states that there are “no institutions associated with the Fourth Way,” Gurdjieff’s path. What then is the Gurdjieff Foundation, if not an institution? Ironically Gurdjieff’s own system predicts that this would happen. In the relative world everything turns into its opposite, a loose paraphrase of the relevant ideas.

By contrast Alfred Richard Orage left Gurdjieff and the work. After Orage died, Gurdjieff called Orage his friend, a epithet he rarely used, and implied that Orage had “created a ‘soul’” by saying that he hoped he went straight to ‘paradise’.

As someone said to me in a chat group, “The work doesn’t work, but I don’t know anything better.” He also said, “Human beings f*ck up everything they do and Gurdjieff did too.” I asked him what he meant by that and he replied, “You’ll have to figure that out yourself.” I already had.

Gurdjieff said “Believe nothing, not even yourself.”  — The Harmonious Circle by James Webb is an excellent book on the Gurdjieff work. Webb suicided.

Yet I think that there is much of value to be extracted from the traditional wisdom and psychological teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff, e.g., that humans are unconscious automata most of the time, rather than conscious unified beings with free will. We are incubators or wombs for the creation of a ‘soul’, which can survive bodily death. But the precious diamonds are often found lying deep in dung.

And “Most people can’t hear gray.” — May-Tzu

“To know means to know all. Not to know all means not to know. In order to know all, it is only necessary to know a little. But, in order to know this little, it is first necessary to know pretty much.” — G.I. Gurdjieff


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