Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Tale of Two Sermons

--by G.I. Gurdjieff (Mar 25, 2013)

I must tell you that in our brotherhood there are two very old brethren; one is called Brother Ahl and the other Brother Sez. These brethern have voluntarily undertaken the obligation of periodically visiting all the monasteries of our order and explaining various aspects of the essence of divinity. Our order has four monasteries, one of them ours, the second in the valley of the Pamir, the third in Tibet and the fourth in India. And so these brethren, Ahl and Sez, constantly travel from one monastery to another and preach there.

They come to us twice a year. Their arrival at our monastery is considered among us a very great event. On the days when either of them is here, the soul of every one of us experiences pure heavenly pleasure and tenderness. The sermons of these two brethren, who are to an almost equal degree holy men and who speak the same truths, have nevertheless a different effect on all our brethren and on me in particular.

When Brother Sez speaks it is indeed like the song of the birds in Paradise; from what he says one is quite, so to say, turned inside out; one becomes as though entranced. His speech purls like a stream and one no longer wishes anything else in life but to listen to the voice of Brother Sez. But Brother Ahl's speech has almost the opposite effect. He speaks badly and indistinctly, evidently because of his age. No one knows how old he is. Brother Sez is also very old, but he is still a hale old man, whereas in Brother Ahl the weakness of old age is clearly evident.

The stronger the impression made at the moment by the words of Brother Sez, the more this impression evaporates until there ultimately remains in the hearer nothing at all. But in the case of Brother Ahl, although at first what he says makes almost no impression, later, the gist of it takes on definite form, more and more each day, and is instilled as a whole into the heart and remains there forever.

When we became aware of this and began trying to discover why it was so, we came to the unanimous conclusion that the sermons of Brother Sez proceeded only from his mind and therefore acted on our minds, whereas those of Brother Ahl proceeded from his being and acted on our being.

Yes, professor, knowledge and understanding are quite different. Only understanding can lead us to being whereas knowledge is but a passing presence in it.

--G.I. Gurdjieff, in 'Meetings with Remarkable Men'

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On Mar 22, 2013 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:
 Thank you for the opportunity to respond.  I think we can move from knowledge to understanding, from knowing to being by being present, by being compassionate,and by being open while knowing one knows very little if anything.
 Knowledge  often relates to remembering whereas understanding allows one to be open and not know, as well as allows one to forgive everyone and everything, including forgiving oneself again, and again, and again.
I don't recall the source but I recall reading someone saying an early root of the meaning of understanding related to  forgiving.  A personal story relates to the notion of functional discontinuity which is a condensation of the thinking of 10 or 12 other people such as John Dewey, Margaret Mead, Albert Einstein.  Related to functional discontinuity, is the notion that a teacher (not only a trainer), instead of telling students what the students should know, provides  a discontinuity, a discrepancy that the student wants to understand more about, – – a  mental complexity to grapple with, the student will often do some grappling and arrive at a conclusion based on his or her experience. The function of the discontinuity is to help create a larger continuity, a greater openness including a greater openness to one's present experience. This functional discontinuity allows one to be open to a greater and larger continuity.  Functional discontinuity is dealt with somewhat in the book: Re-opening Einstein's Thought: About What Can't Be Learned from Textbooks. Einstein's view of a liberal education was that which helps one think something that can't be learned from textbooks. Being open is being beyond knowledge and common understanding.  eing open helps one understand that they do not understand. Warm and kind regards to everyone.

On Mar 23, 2013 Beelzebub wrote:
The context is that of two equally holy men giving a sermon on aspects of divinity. Both very old, yet one vigorous, the other fragile. I am tempted to see in these two figures metaphors for personality and essence. I seem to remember that, from the author's perspective, the problem is that personality tends to develop at the expense of essence, being. One is over developed, the other atrophied. Both knowledge and being are pictured as holy men by G. 
One is grounded in memory and can use words, thought eloquently. It can communicate but does'nt penetrate the essence of things and often mistakes the word for the thing. It is entertaining, as words, concepts and images tend to be but doesn't leave a deep imprint on the listener. It is of the mind and and only speaks to the mind.
The other doesn't define, judge and conclude but observes and notices the discreet, the subtle. He can penetrate the essence of things and can see, sense the reality beyond the word, the mask, the persona. He does'nt seek to entertain but seeks to touch the deeper and finer fabric in the mind-heart of the listener.
Given the right space being can inform, educate personality and use it. Then knowledge and understanding can move together with some harmony.

On Mar 23, 2013 david doane wrote:
 I think the real difference is between knowledge and wisdom.  I don't see knowledge and understanding as being very different from one another, as both of them are left brain cognitive activities.  The author apparently thinks of understanding as I think of wisdom, so perhaps our differences are just a matter of word usage.  As I see it, it is wisdom that leads us to being.  Someone said there are three levels of communication, that is, head to head, heart to heart, and soul to soul.  As I see it, knowledge and understanding are head endeavors, and wisdom is a heart and soul endeavor that can be expressed through the head thus making it a whole person activity.  I think we move from the cognitive level to the deeper levels by way of opening at all three levels in speaking and in listening, ie, open mind, open heart, and open soul.  When someone's presence has acted on my whole being it's because the person was expressing from his whole being (not just from his head) which touched my whole being and helped open my whole being and instilled a deep and lasting impression.  Those are precious moments.   

On Mar 25, 2013 Edit Lak wrote:

I read this yesterday and didn’t think much about it, it’s nice and that’s all that I thought. Today I was doing my thing when this story popped into my head. The author told us, G.I. Gurdjieff took us on his journey to narrate to us - ‘us’. He told us; “Yes, professor, knowledge and understanding are quite different. Only understanding can lead us to being whereas knowledge is but a passing presence in it” The two old men/brethren went and delivered sermons in their own way, in their own experienced way  - Neither wrong, just living and sharing their experiences, to some it was understood and to others it wasn’t, only because, there either ether or ‘or’ are the levels of our existence of experience, some choose to go and see, live and experience, cutting the cross roads of life without boundaries or following others paths, and some venture into some things when ready, all a personal preference of self , so taking or not taking knowledge comes from that , quickly or slowly understanding knowledge comes from inner self, but whatever that is, all the experiences are so different. That is the being of living and growing and truly “being”. When I am a robot at work nothing comes, but, when I open my mind and move, live, breath, experience, talk, make mistakes, think, sit in silence , relax, much and many wonderful things come from the understanding of being, If that understanding of harmony turns into knowledge I am very grateful for the experience. As each of these brothers lived the same world at the same time they had different experiences through their own ‘selves’ and own set ‘boundaries’  is the same as we live in this world of worlds and have our own experience, understanding of what we believe our knowledge is at any particular time.  This story is still in thought and slowly being understood on different levels. Thank You, it is, it is very interesting.

On Mar 26, 2013 Vin wrote:

These brothers: did they ever raise the family and had children? All the thinking changes if you have any such problems. And what would be a female point of view?


On Mar 26, 2013 SoUSa wrote:

 Knowledge is the "know how".....but only through applying the "know-how" consistently comes  understanding. Understanding leads to experiences that teach the soul and renew and shift  the perspective of the mind/consciousness.Inresult man develops growth- wisdom. Wisdom ONLY comes from knowledge applied. The old man ever speaking but not of any effect, he speaks of knowledge he does not truly understand. Also, He is speaking not for others but or self gain. To  try and "prove" he is wise. Thus his words sounds complicated to the listening ear and truly fades from the listeners mind all together.

The older man that spoke as a singing bird that made such impact, He was speaking from his personal experiences that gave him he spoke  of true wisdom that not only brought him to the place of the gifts he developed over time, he truly had the  "know- how" that made him wise. (experience is the greatest  teacher) When he spoke of this knowledge and understanding, it impacted the listening ears, because true wisdom effects the depths of every mans soul. Growing/becoming wise  is eternally bonded  with growing in compassion and  love. The man that was so effective was sharing his understanding not to prove he had the knowledge but to share the 'know how "for the listeners to gain understanding as well.His compassion for their lack of understanding was his motives, unlike the first, he was selfLESS...If  the people  didn't right at first, later on through their own personal experiences, from having listening to true wisdom, they  eventually did gain understanding and growth. The blissful state was a result from the understanding unraveling within the mind/consciousness  of those that were listening to the true wise man. Wisdom always brings peace..... " the truth will set you free"   Wisdom IS all understanding and truth, Wisdom always builds a great compassion and love for your fellow brothern <3 Shalom <3


On Mar 26, 2013 tryng wrote:

 I don't believe the problem is with the speakers but with the listeners it's through focus and reflection that we can internalize both messages..While a younger brother can motivate , move us,and touch our hearts instantly,because the older is more difficult to understand and not as flowing with his words we're forced to really concentrate ,While we gain knowledge through both it's through internalizing we gain understanding

On Mar 26, 2013 SoUSa wrote:

What you wrote is truth too 'Trying'...... Where a person is within their own perspective and personal journey greatly depends on how well they can "hear" and how much they are able to "grow" matter the Teacher. Both brothers can teach, and bring awareness of great knowledge and understanding to the table, indefinitely.... to those that are open to receive, listen and learn that is.

People who are younger can become over bored with excitement to consume new knowledge or be driven more by the ego that, to the point they can ask questions or admit they can't quite catch on. This hinders them from gaining valuable knowledge and understanding-from  a teacher that's a peer or an elder. Likewise as elder can be so "stiff neck" and set in their ways, they already know all; the  "I've been around the block more" mentality, the older generations can limit themselves as well as the younger, from the amount of understanding and wisdom that is never ending, (no matter the age) available to gain and benefit from.

 Where I spoke of personal experiences;  personally going through a "lesson" can and will provoke any one to have a more willing  heart and opened mind, that enables them understand and receive benefits  that  wisdom freely gives. When a person has a more negative experience,  especially consistently (  that brings about a sort of trial or pain) this makes a person willing, even desire to shed the ego and be humbled enough to  actually listen and "ear". Then one can benefit from Our Teachers: young or an elder alike- anything that life brings about to teach us, for that matter....... wow this is a great topic.... I love this talking about this :)

On Mar 26, 2013 amy wrote:

If 100 Brothers (for example) were to give an identical, "scripted sermon", I'd be willing to bet, a single listener would get 100 different "understandings" from that singe message.  In my opinion, "the word" and it's "speaker" commingle.         One cannot separate one from the other!   
The delivery and reception of a message passes through a variety of very personal channels before it exits a mouth and enters an ear!  A mind, a heart, a spirit, a personality, an energy, a degree of passion, a reality, a level of knowledge, an understanding, an experience and (of course) the DNA . . . of the speaker AND the listener . . . all play out in "the processing".
Always Love . . . Enjoyed the article! 

On Mar 28, 2013 Thierry wrote:

There is much more to her comment but Amy is pointing to something important which is interpretation. One teacher I used to listen to with some intensity would constantly warn the listener at the beginning of his talks against his or her  tendency to interpret what he said, or compare what he said with previous knowledge. In short,  the danger was of translating the new into the old. Right from start, he made it clear that interpretation stood in the way of actual understanding. With the same intention he would warn the listener against his/her tendency to be influenced by his reputation, his appearance, in brief by some image the listener might have of the speaker. All things pertaining to the realm of personality and leading to miss understanding. That which G., if I am not mistaken, would call 'consideration'.  


On Apr 1, 2013 madhur wrote:

Thank you for this post. I especially benefited from the comments, which helped me realise more deeper meaning to the passage. 1. Being open minded not closed due to experience and 2. Anything done with an intent of service communicates much more rather with any self benefit were my two major learnings from this.
I am grateful for this space and people.

On Apr 4, 2013 artmusedog and Carol wrote:

 Knowledge is information ~ wisdom is being and living the knowledge learned over a life time.

On Apr 4, 2013 Vin wrote:

 Great thought. These holy brothers: did they ever raise a family?
If not this is all holy talk with no responsibility.
Look at the Catholic Church. The Church values are all a big talk.
You have to a  parent to realize the holy talk is all bull.