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Parable of the House with Many Servants

The following is from Discovering Gurdjieff by Dorothy Phillpotts. She is quoting a lecture by J.G. Bennett.


“[Bennett speaking] ‘The way in which it is possible to bring harmony into man’s being and to raise his life above the level of the mechanical parts of his centers, was illustrated by Mr. Gurdjieff in a parable ‘The House with Many Servants.’


“‘Try to conceive,’ [Gurdjieff] says, ‘a great estate with many servants; indoor servants, gardeners, farm workers and the like, but no Master, no Steward or overseer. Suppose that each of these servants imagines himself to be the master and owner of the estate. Each will disregard his fellow servants and, if he gets the opportunity of giving orders will do so as if he alone were concerned in all the welfare of the house.


“‘There being no overseer, each servant will do whatever work his caprice may dictate. The groom will go into the house and do the cooking; the cook will go into the stables and wash the horses. In time the whole house will be in disorder and yet each servant will continue to think that he and his activities are the sole and only interest of the whole place.


“‘This state of chaos may continue indefinitely or it may happen that one of the servants, wiser than the others or perhaps taught by some bitter experience, will realize that something is wrong and discover that things can be otherwise; that there are possibilities of quite a different existence for the house and for its inhabitants if only order and discipline could be introduced. Others among the servants may come to similar conclusions. One may have heard, for example, that there should be a Master of the house and that the real aim and purpose of their existence is to serve a Master, and that the Master might come to the house if it were made ready to receive him.


“‘If these wiser servants really understand the position, they will know that none of them is fit or able to receive the Master and that before his advent the house must be brought under the control of a Steward who knows the Master and his wishes. They will, therefore, set themselves, in the first instance, the task of preparing for the Steward. They will begin by agreeing to recognize one amongst themselves as Deputy Steward and entrust to him the task of getting the cook back into the kitchen and the groom to the stables; they will try to support his authority with the others, and will expect him to answer for them all in dealing with people outside the house.


“‘At this stage the estate still presents a picture of multiplicity and there is no person in it who can claim any rights either as against the other servants or in respect of the house as a whole.


“‘If the Deputy Steward so succeeds in his work, that he imbues the majority of the servants with desire to know and serve the Master, and deals with the remainder either by bringing them under strict discipline or, if they are utterly recalcitrant, by expelling them; then comes the moment at which the Steward comes to the house.


“‘The Steward knows the Master and he acts in the Master’s name. From him the servants learn – not those simple duties which the Deputy Steward taught them – but the will of the Master and their true and highest welfare. They forget their separate interests as they come to understand what the Master can bring them. Finally the Master himself comes to the house.


“‘At first perhaps for a few moments only for they cannot support the glory of his presence, but ultimately, when all are purged forever from the illusions of self-hood and separateness, he will make his permanent dwelling with them and they will find infinite happiness and eternal security.’


“[Bennett again] ‘The main point of the allegory is to emphasize the differences of level. The servants and Deputy Steward are all on the same level. They belong to the parts of the centers in which we usually live. The Steward is different; he is not the Master, but he comes from the Master and knows the Master.


“‘It is through the emotional center the Steward appears. The intellectual part of the emotional center is the seat of [Real] conscience. Without conscience we should never be able to work by ourselves without help. Until conscience comes, help is needed. This means that, until the intellectual part of the emotional center wakes up, we have not an infallible sense of values by which to judge ourselves as a whole. Conscience has been called by Mr. Gurdjieff the voice of the Steward. The Steward speaks to us in a quiet voice, which we cannot hear amid the vociferous clamor of the many I’s, each proclaiming some petty interest or desire, or even some idle fancy.'”


Related Ideas: Real I, Real Conscience