Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Carriage, the Horse, and the Coachman

Gurdjieff often evoked the analogy of a carriage, a horse, and a coachman, in order to explain the functioning of human beings.

A man as a whole with all his separately concentrated and functioning localizations, that is to say, his formed and independently educated ‘personalities,’ is almost exactly comparable to that organization for conveying a passenger, which consists of a carriage, a horse, and a coachman.” All and Everything – Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, page 1192

In the analogy, the carriage represents the physical body, the horse represents the organization of human feeling, and the driver represents the whole totality of the manifestations of human mentation—what is generally described as thinking.

Gurdjieff goes into quite a lot of detail regarding each—and is generally not very complimentary of their manifestation in contemporary man:

“… a broken-down carriage which has long ago seen its day, a crock of a horse, and on the box, a tatterdemalion half-sleepy, half-drunken coachman whose time for self-perfection passes while he waits on the corner, fantastically daydreaming, for any chance passenger.” – Ibid. page 1193

I’m sure that some would nod in agreement, while many, maybe many more, would consider Gurdjieff’s assessment harsh and unfair, but, I wonder, how many would consider the assessment in the light of their own personal self-observations? Yet, to me, this is exactly the point—not whether I agree or disagree with the analogy in my mind based on want I have heard or believe, but rather, what is my experience of that which I call myself?

Self-observation seems to be a function of the coachman being directed by a passenger who sits in the carriage , but does just any chance passenger have any real idea of what constitutes self-observation—or interest in it—and if by chance he does, how long will he even remain in the carriage?

“And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” – Mark 5:9

But before I even ask myself the question; what do I observe, perhaps I need to first ask myself the question; Am I even able to observe, and, if so, under what circumstances?

I remember being in a meeting with the yogi Swami Vishnu Devananda many years ago when he was asked a question about some yogic practice. His response was; “It is possible, but can you do it when your mind is tired of playing the yogi?” In other words, when the passenger—the I—in the carriage is interested in yoga then it directs the driver in that direction, but not all of the passengers that ride in that carriage are interested in, or even know anything about, yoga.

And so, I have noticed that my own attempts at self-observation appear to be limited to only certain situations and occasions (when the right passenger happens to be sitting in the carriage)  and even then, my observations often seem quite vague and fleeting (perhaps the result of having a tatterdemalion half-sleepy, half-drunken coachman sitting in the driver’s seat)?

Gurdjieff’s solution to the problem of multiple passengers with multiple desires directing the driver is what he calls the temporary steward. In the case of our analogy, a group of passengers appoint from among themselves a temporary steward to administer the affairs of the carriage, the coachman, and the horse, with respect to an over-all aim of making the rig suitable for the real owner to come and sit in the carriage and take over its affairs. The real owner is the real I – real Self – the real Master—Conscious God—the one who Gurdjieff calls man number seven.

“But you have filled His abode with millions of strangers and He cannot enter, for He is shy of strangers. Unless you empty His abode of these millions of strangers you have filled it with, you will never find God.
“These strangers are your age-old desires — your millions of wants. They are strangers to God because want is an expression of incompleteness and is fundamentally foreign to Him who is All-sufficient and wanting in nothing. Honesty in your dealings with others will clear the strangers out of your heart. Then you will find Him, see Him and realize Him.”The Everything and the Nothing, Meher Baba

I characterized the carriage, the horse, and the coachman, as an analogy—an analogy that explains the functioning of human beings. Now I would like to explore it as a tool for self-awareness.

Sometimes in a guitar lesson I might ask a student to observe, saying something like; “Let’s take one minute and just observe. I’ll let you know when the minute is over. Okay, let’s start now.”

When the minute is up I’ll ask the student what he observed. More often than not the student does not have much to say and I explain that the problem is because my question was too indefinite. “Observe what?” would have been the reply if I had given the student the time to respond before beginning the exercise.

I explain that I should have been more specific—observe sounds in and outside the studio, or observe the furniture and decor, or observe our thoughts, or our breathing. I might then repeat the exercise giving a more specific object of observation. When the minute is over I repeat the question; “What did you observe?” and the replies—the observations—are of a more detailed nature and quality.

Using the analogy of the carriage, the horse, and the coachman as a basis for self-observation might render a different level of observation than just generally trying to self-observe. This was my assumption, but to acquire real material I had to do—had to attempt—the self-observation.

After a few days, it became clear to me that I only remembered to try to observe at certain times—certain occasions—like during meditation, or while doing yoga, or walking, or playing certain pieces of music, but remembering to try to observe myself was less likely to happen during transitional moments between activities and seldom while talking to people—unless the subject of the conversation had to do spiritual things.

An example of one of my efforts attempting to observe myself through the lens of the carriage, the horse, and the coachman was while taking a long walk around my neighborhood. As I walked I observed that the coachman (my thoughts) seemed to direct the energy of the horse to move the carriage (my body) along the designated route. The driver had an awareness of the coach through the sensations that emanated from it as the result of the coach’s movements.  My body spoke in the language of sensations—sensations that my thoughts interpreted as, either appropriate or inappropriate reactions to the efforts of movement.  I noticed that my thoughts tended to worry or become concerned when the sensations of the body did not seem appropriate to the action of movement.

I wanted to notice the horse and its energy manifesting as feeling—feeling as distinct from the carriage’s language of sensation. With my house in sight I mounted the narrow timber that bridged a little stream in the greenway that divides my street. I observed that my thoughts—the coachman—needed to keep a closer rein on the horse and stay more attentive with regard to balance. I had decided that I would continue my exercise of self-observation until I passed through the door of my house.

But as I stepped off the timber I saw my neighbor standing in the street looking at her front yard. I said hello as I approached and then became engaged in a conversation about her landscaping. My effort at self-observation disappeared and I did not remember again until sometime later. Had a different passenger gotten in the carriage when I saw my neighbor? Had seeing my neighbor affected the coachman or the horse? Had I fallen asleep?

Meditation offered another occasion for my study. My technique was to sit without movement and for fifteen minutes inwardly repeat Meher Baba’s name without allowing my thoughts to wander into the past or the future, or to get involved with solving problems or answering questions. I wanted to keep my thoughts focused on Meher Baba’s name and maintain an awareness of my body to keep my mind rooted in the present. I sometimes imagined myself sitting at God’s door.

Meditation is not new to me and my body—the coach—remains quite still during the exercise. Also, inwardly repeating Meher Baba’s name for the designated time is not too difficult—provided I do not become too involved with other thoughts. But the thoughts—the coachman—cannot be controlled beyond a certain point and I have observed that the coachman has the ability to think other thoughts simultaneously while remembering to repeat Meher Baba’s name. In other words, internally I can repeat Meher Baba’s name but wander away from door while my body remains still.  I observe that there is a very different quality—state?—when I am able to keep my thoughts from wandering. I wonder, when they wander is that an example of the coachman falling asleep and dreaming?

  More self-observation and study of the analogy of the carriage, the horse, and the coachman has led me to these thoughts:

The carriage is attached to the horse, but the coachman and passengers are free to move off and on and in and out of the carriage respectively.

The coachman communicates with the horse by using reins. Sometimes they work better than others.

The coachman senses through his body the sensations emanating from the coach.

The carriage is the only component of this analogy that is not portrayed as a living being.

These thoughts raise questions to be explored through more self-observation:

Though the carriage is portrayed as a mechanical device rather than a living being, my own experience sees my carriage as a living thing—a living body—that seems to have an intelligence of its own which attends to many important functions like breathing, heart function, digestion, instinctive actions, etc., without any apparent help from the coachman or the passenger.

I remember that Gurdjieff called human beings three-brained beings. The three brains corresponded to centers that he named the moving center, the thinking center, and the feeling center. No doubt, these centers correspond respectively to the carriage, the coachman, and the horse. He also said that each of the centers had its own moving, thinking, and feeling sub-centers or parts. I assume, for example, that the instinctive and learned-instinctive actions of the coach—the human body—are controlled by the moving sub-center of the moving center.

Another question is regarding the relationship that exists between the coachman and the passenger. Both are portrayed as human beings, and I assume that they communicate by talking to each other, but how, since one is sitting in the carriage and the other is sitting on top of it?  

And finally, and perhaps most importantly for me, is the whole question surrounding the Self—the real owner and master of the carriage, the horse, and the coachman.

You and I are not we, but one!” – Meher Baba

Gurdjieff never claimed to be a Perfect Master—a God-realized soul with a duty towards creation.  He never said, “See me as the real owner of the rig.” To the contrary, he said that his students should not accept anything without first experiencing it for themselves.

Until you experience it, it is not true.” – Kabir

Gurdjieff suggested that the seeker find within himself a collection of I’s that share a common and consistent aim with regard to realizing TruthSelf—, and to delegate to these I’s the authority to consistently maintain the carriage, the horse, and the coachman, in pursuit of their common aim—the temporary steward.

Meher Baba never used the analogy of the carriage, the horse, and the coachman, nor did He ever use the term temporary steward. The Avatar and Perfect Masters appear to work in a different way than advanced, but still un-realized, individuals. For the Avatar and the Perfect Masters, the personal relationship between them and their followers is the singularly most important thing. The Avatar and Perfect Masters are the manifestation of God—Self—Truth—in human form. They play the role of personal God, as opposed to impersonal God. In other words, they are the manifestation of the very Goal itself that the seeker is seeking.

To know God, you must become God.”

Therefore, until you become God, you do not experience God, you do not know God, nor do you know or experience the Self.

I have noticed the difference between yoga ashrams and esoteric or spiritual, or religious schools and the places of pilgrimage connected to the Avatar and the Perfect Masters. With regard to the former, the emphasis in always on the efforts of the individual—what is called working on oneself. The ashram or school and the teacher create an opportunity to work on oneself.  But in the presence of a real Master, or at the places of pilgrimage of the Avatar, it is the work of the Master on the follower that is of real importance. The follower merely needs to be there, in that place, and in the presence of the Master. When I am at places like the Meher Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, or His pilgrimage center in India, I try to keep myself entertained, open to what may or may not come to me, and basically stay out of the way of His work.

“A moment in the presence of a real Master is worth hundreds of lifetimes of penance, meditation, and yoga or spiritual practice.” – a paraphrase of comments by Meher Baba

Meher Baba was once asked about the yoga He taught. His reply was, “My yoga is you go!
Deconstruction is a technique that is popular in culinary circles these days. A dish that combines multiple ingredients, like a stew or a salad, is served with its ingredients separated—not combined…

The carriage, the horse, the coachman, and the passenger conjointly make-up the illusory self that I (my consciousness) identifies with. Mostly, I am not aware of the separate elements that make-up the stew of my sleep. 

“And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” Matthew 26:40

But in those few moments when I remember to try, the elements that comprise the stew of my sleep become, as it were, deconstructed and I, as some kind of consciousness, am able to remain aloof from and observe the ingredients of the carriage, the horse, the driver, and the passenger. I am not saying that in these moments I am awake, it’s more that in those moments I am more aware of my sleep—though this awareness happens within, not without, the dream of creation.

In Carlos Castaneda’s book, Journey to Ixtlan, the teacher gives the student the exercise of finding his hands in his dreams. Of course, the difficulty is remembering the task while in the dream state—some little part of the dreamer has to remember—has to remain awake. Exercises in self-observation is much the same thing, perhaps, it is even exactly the same thing. One must stay awake in the waking state which is, in fact, a dream state.

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.” – Children’s nursery rhyme

On one of his visits to America, Meher Baba, on the request of one of his followers, attended a meditation group. I actually listened to an audio recording of the event. At one point, the leader of the group gave the command to meditate. The recording goes silent for a few minutes and then a loud clap by Meher Baba brings the exercise to a close. Meher Baba, his gestures read out by one of his close disciples, tells the group that they are all asleep. He explains that even the exercise of meditation is happening in their dreams—the dreams of their lives—their identification with the bodies and their thoughts.  It’s impossible to describe how powerful listening to that moment on the recording was for me…

So I try to not take the exercise of observing the carriage, the horse, and the driver, too seriously.

He who takes thing too seriously cannot be very serious; he who is really serious does not take things too seriously.” – Gurdjieff

But why make the effort in the first place? My answer is that I have observed that I am  always doing something— even trying to do nothing is doing something—and that certain actions seem to bring me deeper or more profound happiness than others; and the two domains of action that consistently bring me the most joy are musical thinking and thoughts regarding God and His path. With regard to musical thinking, I feel that my efforts can lead to certain accomplishments within the musical sphere, but with regard to thinking about God and the spiritual panorama my feeling is that the domain is so vast and powerful that my efforts are not so much about the results as the pure joy of making the effort itself.

In The Second Attention, Carlos Castaneda wrote:

“I narrated to her the way Don Juan made me understand what was meant by impeccability. He and I were hiking one day through a very steep ravine when a huge boulder got loose from its matrix on the rock wall and came down with a formidable force and landed on the floor of the canyon, twenty or thirty yards from where we were standing.
The size of the boulder made its fall a very impressive event. Don Juan seized the opportunity to create a dramatic lesson. He said that the force that rules our destinies is outside of ourselves and has nothing to do with our acts or volition. Sometimes that force would make us stop walking on our way and bend over to tie our shoelaces, as I had just done.
And by making us stop, that force makes us gain a precious moment. If we had kept on walking, that enormous boulder would have most certainly crushed us to death. Some other day, however, in another ravine the same outside deciding force would make us stop again to bend over and tie our shoelaces while another boulder would get loose precisely above where we are standing. By making us stop, that force would have made us lose a precious moment. That time if we had kept on walking, we would have saved ourselves. Don Juan said that in view of my total lack of control over the forces which decide my destiny, my only possible freedom in that ravine consisted in my tying my shoelaces impeccably.”

So I make efforts; they’re a way of passing my time while on the train that I am not driving. The efforts, indeed any of my actions, do not affect the train or its destination. What the efforts do seem to affect is the degree of happiness that I experience along the way, and is not the bottom line for all of creation the happiness of the search for Bliss?

 I observe that the carriage is the most easy to control, even though what I am able to control seems to be just an iota of the sum total of all the actions that the carriage performs. For example, though I can make it move or stop, turn or go straight—make a cup of coffee or tea, etc., I have no direct control over the birth and death of the cells that make up the carriage or its functions like digestion, breathing, or the transitions from my waking state to my dream state to the state of deep sleep, etc. At best, I can sometimes indirectly affect these functions, but they are not dependent on my awareness or intent—and thank God for that!  

With regard to the mind, well my thoughts seem to have a mind of their own. They go here and there and everywhere. Efforts to stop or re-direct thoughts are consistently ineffective and there is a glimpse, occasionally and not very clearly, that the domain of the mind is infinitely more vast than the thoughts that I am able to occasionally observe or direct.

And the horse, the domain of energy and feeling, the ability to even approach it directly, let alone control or direct its activity, is predictably impossible.

But in spite of it all, somehow, we will get there—we will come to know ourselves as the the Infinite Self; the train will get to its destination, not because of our efforts,  but in spite of them.
As Rumi reminds us; “Come, come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving—ours is not a caravan of despair. Though you may have broken your vow a thousand times, come, come yet again, come!Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

Ayushya, I wanted to tell you about my dream.”

Of course Mira, please tell me.”

“I have been reading your series of posts on the carriage, the horse, and the driver. I was particularly affected by Meher Baba’s comments to the meditators and your use of the other analogy of the train that takes us to our destination without our help.”


“And so the other night I had a dream in which I was driving the carriage—going here and there—and then I realized that the carriage, the horse, and the driver were actually on the train itself. No matter where I drove it, no matter what I did, it was not going anywhere other than to different places on the train.”

“The carriage was on the train?”


“Did you tell your grandfather this dream?”

“I did, and in response he recited this quote;

‘He returns to the door he first came out, although in his journey he went from door to door.’”



                                                              (c) copyright Michael Kovitz, 2018


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