Reciprocal Maintenance and The Balance of Life

Apr 02, 2024

This past quarter our weekly groups took a deep dive into Reciprocal Maintenance, a concept of cosmic order offered by G.I. Gurdjieff in an attempt to answer the question, “What is the purpose of life on Earth?” 

Many may say that we have no purpose on earth. We have diametrically opposed doctrines in the West that propose we do good work for a better afterlife or a human-centric view that all of life is to serve our needs. Eastern religions offer paths to ascend from earthly suffering through liberation and union with God. Though helpful for many reasons, they fail to give meaning and context to the dynamic world of which we are a part. 

It doesn’t make sense that everything serves only our needs. The Universe is too vast a system for us to be the center of it.

Gurdjieff, a mystic and seeker, proposed a cosmology that begs us to see ourselves as part of a greater system of balance, equilibrium, and the propulsion of creation itself. He was in search of the answers for the duration of his own life. We are left with clues in the form of a “symbol of all life”, the Enneagram, plus a table of Essence Classes created to implicate an inter-dependence of all aspects of life, none more essential than another. 

In this table, each category provides maintenance for the cosmos and shares qualities and possibilities with those just above or below them. This maintenance is highly dependent on ascending energies that evolve in frequency and quality as well as descending energies that come from on high that are life-giving but ultimately dissipate and weaken. 

The idea is that there is a reciprocal exchange to maintain a balance of energies; one in which life is not only sustained but provided the possibility to evolve.

If things operate in only one direction, for example, energy coming from the Sun, there would be a finite level of possibility. We need photosynthesis, in which leaves pull in carbon dioxide and water and use the sun's energy to convert this into chemical compounds such as sugars that feed the tree. Through that chemical reaction, oxygen is produced and released by the tree.

A necessary action and interaction is coming from air, water, and plants that evolve to carry life forward. We can say that energies from these things upgrade through interaction to produce oxygen, a necessary sustenance of life. Something must come in from outside of the solar energy's stream to promulgate the energy forward into a usable form for the adjacent essence class.

Bennett and Ousponsky, students of Gurdjieff, contributed to this table, derived from the “symbol of life” and other hints regarding cosmic laws. They delineate twelve essence classes that correspond with Gurdjieff’s twelve steps in the process of reciprocal maintenance of all and everything.

12. Endlessness                The Supreme Creative Will

11. Trogoautoegocrat         The Spiritual working by which Creation is maintained

10. Cosmic Individuality     The Divine Will

9. Demiurges                      The Angelic Host

8. Humans                          Three-Brained Beings

7. Vertebrates                     Two-Brained Beings

6. Invertebrates                   One-Brained Beings

5. Plants                              Static Life Forms

4. Soil                                  The Sensitive Surface Layer

3. Crystals                           Static Non-Living Forms

2. Simples                           Primary combinations of Matter (elements)

1. Heat                                Unorganized Energy

Notice that humans are not at the top but in the middle, serving as “food” for something higher. One can see that essences higher in the list feed off of previous essences in direct and indirect ways and are food for the ones above, but what is not obvious is that the dependence is mutual. This is not just a food chain. They are closely integrated, offering something individually unique such that the destruction of any of the essences means the destruction of life itself.

Our ability to live in harmony with and mutual respect for the Earth is crucial to the maintenance of a very specific kind. It is not enough to say that we die if our food source dies. In Gurdjieff’s schematic, there is something about humans that feeds the system too. Each class offers a specific kind of energy to complete the whole and make the system work.

The implications of this are enormous and have become much more obvious with the poisoning of our soil from herbicides and pesticides, the level of poor health in the general population, both physical and mental, mass extinction, and climate change. We have no regard for the precious balance of life and our own extinction.

We are a dynamic essence class in a constant state of transformation. Cosmic harmony depends on human life to offer certain energies that the animals (vertebrates) cannot offer. If we destroy the animals and the sensitive energy they concentrate through emotion, the cosmic order is disturbed. We then must fill the gap and unknowingly bump down to the essence class below. In this case, the possibility of evolving into more conscious individuals sustaining conscious energy becomes difficult if not impossible for we now hold the energies of the two-brained beings.

Our evolution will make us stewards of the Earth, not only living in harmony with plants, animals, soil, minerals, air, water and all that is life-sustaining, but offering something quite necessary for the whole system to evolve. We will stop destroying our own environment. That evolution into a higher consciousness depends on us humans fulfilling our obligations. Those obligations come in the form of service and sacrifice.

“Gurdjieff constantly insists that the same service and sacrifice by which we play our part in the Reciprocal Maintenance transforms our nature from thinking animal to free individual and creates on earth a society that is in harmony with Nature. Man’s nature is dynamic: in order to be, he must become. In order to become, he must pay the price of his existence. When he has done so, unlimited vistas of cosmic realization open to him. He can become the trusted ally of the Supreme Power by which the world is governed.” J.G. Bennett

Through our own transformation, we liberate energies needed for Reciprocal Maintenance and create our own eternal beings to be instruments of the Divine Will.


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