A Commentary on the Six Tayu Precepts

by Rob Schmidt

0.1 General Remarks

The Tayu Precepts constitute directions, or guidelines, for living a human life. They are utilized by incorporating them into one’s consciousness. To facilitate the accomplishment of this, the precepts are phrased, not as advice, admonitions, or rules, but as vows that one makes to oneself – not to any outside agency, authority or person.

For most of us, of course, this process of the incorporation of the precepts into our daily lives takes time – a lifetime is not too long for this process. It requires not days, weeks, or even months, but years to integrate the understanding of reality represented by each precept into ourselves, such that our actions, large and small, can spring from that understanding. But having said this, I must clarify further two points. First, remember that every sincere effort to employ the precepts in our lives helps us to establish the habit of doing so in the future. Thus no effort is wasted. Second, the benefits of employing the precept in our lives are immediate. If the precepts are indeed reliable and based on an accurate description of the universe, then it should be satisfying – it should feel good – to act in accordance with them.

Moreover, there may be another benefit for spiritual seekers who attempt to incorporate the precepts into their lives. A spaceship commander who studies and understands the laws of gravitation and planetary mechanics will chart a course based on such knowledge, and will be able to reach his or her destination both quicker and more efficiently than another without such knowledge (who may aim incorrectly or run out of fuel, never reaching the destination). In like fashion, cultivation of the precepts may save students from costly mistakes on their spiritual paths when they may least be able to afford them.

0.2 “I will …”

Each Tayu Precept begins with the phrase “I will …” These two apparently innocuous words contain the indispensable keys to the precepts (and to spiritual practice in general). Who is this “I” who undertakes to understand the precepts? What does it mean for that “I” to undertake to “will” something?

Self-observation , the primary meditative practice of Tayu and the Fourth Way, from the beginning can unmistakably demonstrate Gurdjieff’s contention that the consciousness of most people consists of a succession of small “i’s.” One of these “i’s” that is directing the organism at any given moment may be totally different in character, and lead in a totally different direction from the one in control five minutes earlier, both of which are different from the successor five minutes in the future. Based on the particulars of our personal histories, each of us has a large but limited repertoire of “i’s” upon which we rely. The vagaries of external stimuli ordinarily govern which particular one may be in control of the human organism at any given moment.

How, then, can an ordinary person with fragmented consciousness decide to incorporate precepts into his or her life with any hope of consistency, especially precepts that are not concrete do’s or don’ts, but that at first only indicate a direction? The answer is that one must first build a reliable foundation of Self-observation , for without some familiarity with one’s internal state of conflicting “i’s”, attempting an act of will would almost certainly be fruitless. Without this minimal level of self-knowledge, such an attempt at the exercise of will would instead most likely result in surrendering power and responsibility to yet another “i” – thus strengthening a part of one’s consciousness already out of control, and achieving precisely the opposite of the original intention.

For this reason Tayu students formally undertake the Precepts only after their practice has deepened to the point where it would be meaningful for them to do so. Self-observation practice contains the means by which one personally examines and tests the contents of one’s own consciousness, permitting one to determine the accuracy and relevance of Gurdjieff’s description of ordinary consciousness to one’s own particular case. Only such an experiential process can confirm Gurdjieff’s contention in such a way that one’s further practice may rest upon a reliable foundation.

This conviction about the nature of one’s own consciousness (not a conclusion, of course, but rather part of a process that deepens with one’s practice) is a necessary prerequisite to the exercise of will. As with so may other things in life (and, in fact, in just the way that children learn to become adults by acting “grown-up”), one starts to develop will by acting “as if” one already has this ability. Sincere, continued, consistent practice “makes perfect.”

Continued cultivation of Self-observation goes hand-in-hand with acting “as if” since the succession of “i’s” that customarily dominates consciousness do not in themselves have any ability to exercise will. This must come from elsewhere than whence ordinary consciousness arises; hence the increasing importance of Self-observation at this point along the spiritual path. Assistance in this process from friends, and especially from an experienced advisor or teacher can also be crucial, since fooling oneself about what one is doing and why one is doing it can be so easy.

The inevitable mistakes one makes along the way may tempt one to discouragement, dismay, or even disgust with oneself. The most powerful antidote against these states consists of the cultivation of trust - trust in oneself, that one’s true heart remains innocent and open to love; and trust in the process of spiritual unfolding, that sincere, diligent, right effort will elicit the appropriate response from a universe that want to give us what we need – if only we can learn to accept it! The Precepts consist of suggestions on how to do this; but to follow them we must work to master the first two words of each one: “I will …”

0.3 The Precepts and Conscience

The universe within which we live our lives can seem unpredictable and full of dangers. Small wonder, then, that we commonly look for patterns whose regularities can serve to guide our own behavior by predicting the consequences of our actions. The Ten Commandments, computer program manuals, Emily Post's rules of etiquette, Polonius' advice to his son, an airline flight schedule - all these are intended as reliable guidelines by reference to which we can shape our behavior and the future course of our lives.

Like these other systems, the Tayu Precepts constitute a patterned viewpoint of how the universe works, and a way to predict the consequences of action. The principal contrast between the Tayu Precepts and most other sets of guidelines lies in the deliberate and precise generality of the Precepts. Application of the precepts demands an active interpretation by anyone wishing to employ them. Rather than numbing the mind with a negative ("Thou shalt not ...!") or a positive command ("You must do this first, then that next, etc."), the Precepts indicate direction, they do not dictate action. This constitutes one of the great virtues of the Precepts: without active participation in the process of interpretation, the Precepts remain as nothing more than a set of vague admonitions. Thus the Precepts encourage a level of involvement with life that no sterile, bounded prescription could provide. Instead of attempting to serve as a replacement for the personal conscience, the Precepts comprise an exercise program for the conscience, which, like any other faculty, grows stronger with consistent, repeated use.

For instance, rather than insist that "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife," the Precepts state "I will Satisfy Needs, Surrender Desires, Expect Surprises." The most natural response to the commandment formulation (given a willingness to attempt to implement it) would consist of repression of any covetous impulses or thoughts towards certain off-limits persons. Depending upon how seriously one took this commandment, one might further attempt to suppress any awareness of the existence of such impulses or thoughts - in other words, to lie, both to oneself and to others, including God. Clearly this would not be a path leading in the direction of greater self-knowledge - yet it is highly recommended approach in our culture.

The formulation of the Precept, however, leads in another direction. To begin to be able to surrender desires, one must first determine how to distinguish between needs, which by accepting the Precept into one's life one has vowed to satisfy, and desires, which one vows to surrender, not suppress or obliterate. So at the most fundamental level, the Precepts encourage self-examination and thus promote self-knowledge. Moreover, the key to determining the distinction between needs and desires is the conscience, which rote commandments ignore, but which the Precepts implicitly exalt, for it is the "still, small voice" of the conscience which alone can confirm the nature – need or desire – of any impulse which arises within ourselves. The practice, which the Precepts encourage, of listening to this quiet voice within ourselves, may eventually lead to the establishment of a habitual pattern of consulting the conscience from moment to moment in our lives. In this way we can incorporate one of the most meaningful, effective patterns of all into the fabric of our existence, the habit of consulting conscience to achieve conscious living.