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Parable of the Horse, Carriage and Driver

One of many analogies Gurdjieff gave to Work students, the Parable of the Horse, Carriage and Driver illustrates the journey we can make from being asleep in our mechanicality and imbalance toward being able to receive direction from Higher Centers. We wish to awaken and bring intellectual center (the Driver, drunk and asleep in the public house), moving center (the Carriage) and emotional center (the Horse) into right relationship with one another, in order that we might rise in consciousness and begin to hear the “voice” of Real I (Master).

“[T]hese three distinct things are not in right relationship to one another. The Driver is not on the box of the Carriage; the Horse is not properly fed, nor rightly harnessed to the Carriage; and the Carriage itself is in a bad condition. … [The] Driver after realizing his state must eventually climb up on to the box of the Carriage – that is, he must rise in his level to reach a place of control. But first we must understand that it is possible to take the rousing of the Driver in many steps. He must be shaken out of his drunken slumber, and then he must stand up, and then move himself out of the sphere of the public house, and then observe the Horse, and then the Carriage, and so on. After attending to the Horse and Carriage he must climb on to the box and finally take hold of the reins and start driving as best he can. As you know, the parable goes on to say that if he does all this a fourth factor may appear on the scene – i.e. the Master may be found sitting in the Carriage and giving directions to the Driver as to where he must go. … This parable is really about the whole object of the Work. The object of the Work is to reach Real I in oneself – through the long inner path through oneself, through Self-remembering and work on oneself. …. …

“We can however form substitutes for Real I which, beginning with Observing I, are called in ascending sequence of importance and power Deputy-Steward and Steward. … You will see in [this] parable … that there is no chance of our attaining to the level where Master or Real I exists or of hearing his voice and receiving his instructions as to what we have really to do with our lives unless we first of all waken out of the sleep, out of the stupor that we exist in, which is represented by the Driver sitting in a drunken sleep in the public house. … If the Driver realizes that he is in a drunken sleep this may be sufficient to make him try to wake up. With what is he drunk? One thing is imagination. We are drunk with imagination. … As you know, the Work speaks about Imaginary I. Man believes that he has Real I as he is, just as he imagines he is fully conscious. … Now if a man realizes that he has no Real I, no Real Will, that all he has felt and thought about himself in this respect can simply be called Imaginary I, then he is beginning to awaken from the drunken sleep in the public house where he spends his money in imagining. … You will then see the necessity for beginning with self-observation – the observation of one’s sleep. …

“Now I … come to the idea that the Driver must climb on to the box. To drive he must ascend above the level of the ground. But before this can happen he must say: ‘I will drive.’ That is a decision and it is followed by having to go up. Now here is something very strange, because actually he has to go down. He cannot drive from Imaginary I, from false personality, from anything in him that thinks it can do. He will never be able to drive from pride or vanity, but only from what is lowest in him in this respect – from what is most simple and humble and genuine and sincere. So, to go up he must go down. When he says: ‘I will drive,’ if he thinks he can do it himself and for himself, he will break reins, smash wheels and fall off. This decision ‘I will drive’ must be said with a delicacy of understanding that implies the existence of something else being necessary. For where are you going to drive? You will have to be told and then obey and so you are not the Driver in the imperious sense of the man who imagines he can do and merely does what he pleases. To do in the Work-sense ultimately means to obey the Master who may suddenly appear in the Carriage.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “The Parable of The Horse, Carriage and Driver, Paper I,” Dec. 22, 1945, Vol. 3, pp. 823-826


See also:

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “The Parable of the Horse, Carriage and Driver, Paper II,” Dec. 29, 1945, Vol. 3, p. 827

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “The Parable of the Horse, Carriage and Driver,” Jul. 1, 1944, Vol. 2, p. 464 – For teaching on connecting – via harness and reins – the horse (emotional center) with the driver (intellectual center.)