Ways of the Mystics 3 – Gurdjieff and the 24-hour Rule

August 31, 2020 Authored by: Ankit Sharma

I first got to know of Gurdjieff through an elderly friend who had studied in Russia and was spiritually inclined. He had given me a book on Gurdjieff Movements that roused my curiosity to know more about this eccentric master.

Gurdjieff was an Armenian mystic who had traveled the world in his quest for esoteric knowledge. He studied under several masters and learned diverse spiritual traditions. Finally, he returned and developed his own system for enlightenment. He called it “The Work”. He also created unique body movements that became famous as Gurdjieff movements.

An interesting anecdote from Gurdjieff’s life goes like this.

His father was a folk poet and a carpenter. When Gurdjieff was around nine years old, his father died of some illness. When death was imminent, the man decided to leave his son with one of the biggest life lessons that one could impart on one’s deathbed.

The lesson was simple. He was told to wait twenty-four hours before responding to any situation which prompted him to act or say something.

“If someone hurts or insults you and you feel tempted to respond, wait for twenty hours before you do so. Do it in all kinds of circumstances whether they are happy or sad or dramatic. Do it when something unusual happens that takes you by surprise. Do it when you feel angry. I do not expect you to understand this right now but just do as I say and remember it well”, dying father told the young child.

It was an extraordinary situation and the advice got imprinted on the young lad’s mind. He took it with all the earnestness that he had and decided to blindly follow it in all life situations.

Initially, the results were amusing and awkward. Whenever he would get into a fight with someone, he used to say, “I will come back after 24 hours and deal with it”. If somebody abused him, he would say the same. If a situation made him happy, he would react similarly. Gradually it turned into a habit: to wait for twenty-four hours before responding.

He began taking more informed and conscious decisions and his reactions were not driven by impulse. More importantly, he learned how to notice his own thoughts changing with time. With the passage of time the intensity of all kinds of emotions subside. He could see his ego at work and how to create a mental distance from it. Soon afterward, he began to observe situations as if they were happening to a third person. It turned him into a witness, without taking part in the drama that was unfolding in life.

This simple yet effective technique made all the difference in his life, as Gurdjieff noted in his works. He used to say that human beings throughout their lives remain in a sleep-like state. They sleepwalk through their lives without ever having a glimpse of consciousness. In his thought, there were three ways of existing: that of Fakir, of a Monk and of a Yogi for reaching higher consciousness. But he wanted a more comprehensive system which was more holistic and drew from all existing systems. Hence he called his system of enlightenment as “The Fourth Way” or “The work” combining the teachings of the West and the East. His teachings inspired several later day masters like Osho. The unique body movements that he created are designed to still the mind and break its conditioning preparing a person to attune to higher consciousness.

But for me, his most important teaching remains the 24-hour rule.

You can read the previous parts of the series here:

Ways of the Jnanis – 1 – King Janak’s Dream

Ways of the Jnanis 2 – When U.G. Krishnamurthi met Ramana Maharishi

Centre For Indic studies