Gurdjieff used to tell his disciples, “If you want to know your soul, you will have to leave other people behind.” He was right. For centuries masters have been saying this. If you want to know yourself you will have to stop looking for your image in the eyes of others.
As I see it many seekers, explorers of truth, left society not be-cause it is impossible to know truth while remaining in society, but because it is very difficult to know one’s own face correctly while living in society. Here people go on giving feedback as to who you are. Whether you ask or not, images of who you are go on pouring in from all sides. And by and by we begin to live by these images.
I have heard: a politician died, and no sooner had he died, than his wife – who had died two years earlier – welcomed him at the gate of the other world. But the politician said, “I won’t enter yet. Let me go to the national burning ground along with my bier.”
The wife said, “What is the use now? The body is lying there – it is clay.”
He replied, “It is not clay. Let me see how many people have come to bid me good-bye.”
The politician and his wife began to walk with the procession. No one could see them, but they could see…. There was a huge crowd. There were news reporters and photographers. Flags had been lowered. Flowers were heaped on the bier, which came on a military truck. Great respect was being demonstrated. There were guns in front of and behind the bier, and soldiers accompanied the procession. The politician was deeply moved.
The wife asked, “Why are you so happy?”
He said, “If I had known that so many people would come when I died, I would have died earlier. I should have died much earlier; why did I wait so many years? But I lived so that a large crowd like this would come when I died.”
People live for the crowd, people die for the crowd.
What others say has become so important that you do not even ask who you are. You collect cuttings of what others say and make your self-image. This image is bound to be very unsteady, because people’s minds go on changing. Not only do people’s minds go on changing, their reasons also go on changing.
Somebody comes to you and says, “You are a very virtuous person.” This is nothing but flattery. Does anyone consider you a virtuous person? No one here considers anyone else other than himself as being virtuous. Think about yourself – do you consider anyone else virtuous? Sometimes you have to say it, that is another matter. There are needs, life problems, and you have to assert a lie as the truth, call an evil man good, praise an ugly person as beautiful. You have to resort to flattery. This is exactly why flattery is so valued.
Why do people fall into the snare of flattery? Even if you tell the most idiotic person that he is a genius he does not deny it, because he has no idea about himself. He listens to whatever you say, he becomes whatever you say.