In the same way that ‘it is no accident that we are all here today’, also it is no accident that our Friend has ‘offered’ us a new, modern version of the ancient game of Chess.
The regular practise of Quaternity Chess teaches you a few important things, some of them coincide with what regular Chess helps to develop in a practitioner. Much has been said and written about that and some schools and other educational institutions have successfully incorporated Chess in their curricula.
Chess is considered as a sport, as an art, as a pedagogic tool as well as an exquisite form of entertainment.
Obvious and well documented benefits of this activity include the development and improvement of attention, memory, concentration, logic, tactic and strategic thinking, self-control, patience, flexibility, psychomotricity, ludic sense, increment of the cognitive reserve, time management, harmonious coordination of the brain hemispheres, prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, senile dementia and so on.
“…Patience… and if you are playing a card game or a board game or something like that or perhaps any other game.. you can wait patiently for the opportunity to win, if you are playing chess you have to be, by definition, patient, unless you are playing 5 minutes chess which is a quick thing…”
“The rules or secrets of the Naqshbandi Order”. Omar Ali-Shah
But.. Quaternity Chess has a lot more to offer. Some initial observations based on my own experience of this game - rather intuitive at the time - were written down in my blog, as this one, for example:
“Most people associate chess with an overly serious, intellectual, quasi scientific activity monopolised by mathematical geniuses. This is a very valid reason for them to avoid participation from the start.
Paraphrasing a sentence from one of its creators: Quaternity Chess re-introduces the human dimension into the game.
It renews the joy of experiencing and sharing the ludic pleasure with family and friends whilst the basic rules of the game and their ancient wisdom are still in operation.
Unlike with traditional chess, the probabilities of prediction of the opponent’s moves are minimal, almost nonexistent. This can puzzle many rigid a mind, but it is an optimal exercise for letting go of prejudices and fixed patterns of thought.
In terms of the actual play, you will find that once you have moved a piece and before it’s again your turn to move, there will be three more moves, not just one, that will completely alter your initial plans, so you will have to be ready to reconsider your tactics or even completely change strategy and adapt to the newly unfolded circumstances.
These and many other factors make Quaternity Chess a unique instrument for not only entertaining but also for the practice of strategic, intuitive and lateral thinking alike”.
“The reincarnation of the game of Chess”. November, 2018
And in a more recent reflexion:
"Unlike traditional Chess, Quaternity Chess cannot be predictable in mathematical terms. In this game you are not required to only exercise your linear, logical thinking.
A good ludic performance depends on the balanced alternation of the two main brain functions and a 'little more'. This 'little more' would be a sort of sixth sense or intuition that can be in tune with the flow of what one might call "the wind of Divinity". (Kami-Kaze, in Japanese)
This 'mysterious' element, albeit omnipresent, can manifest itself during a game at any moment, sometimes in a very conspicuous manner, influencing the players's intentions an so radically altering the direction of the game in unexpected ways.
To be open and in tune with this intangible force can occasionally help to win, like knowing how to use the wind if you were sailing".
“The wind of Divinity”. April, 2019
"Saint Genadio, (10th century Spain) the Bishop of Astorga, was the first saint to have his name associated with chess. Genadio allegedly recommended chess as a means of concentration and a vehicle to approach God."
“A History of Chess: From Chaturanga to the Present day”. Yuri Averbakh. p. 46
But, above all, we can count with the ‘eye’ of our Friend over this game. He can transmit and convey his message through it as with any other medium he might choose and retain appropriate. Because it’s not just a game, as he himself stated in the introduction to the book of Rules:
“…What stayed with me were two things: the simplicity of the beautiful move, how it hid in plain view until indicated ~ and the unshakable feeling that Chess was not ‘just’ a game. In Sufi theory, Chess is a teaching tool but no one could be very clear about how it was used or even what it was used to teach. I had my theory. The complexity of the game pointed to it. It came together in my head during the caravan: like the movements of Gurdjieff (dances), like the original forms of Yoga, Chess was used as tool to so completely occupy the Human organism, to so completely fetter the Ego, that its practice allowed the more subtle faculties of the human to operate and indeed inform the Consciousness.”
“Quaternity Chess. International Rules”. Introducción. Arif Shah
But this is a game that not only can help you develop many relevant abilities but also it is in a ‘growing’ stage itself, as our Friend has mentioned. The fact that some of the basic rules initially established have already been modified, including the score of the checkmates, confirms this. Another factor is that we, as a group, are a sort of ‘pioneers’ testing the possibilities of the game, adding our personal experience and suggestions that arise from regular practise.
The planetary chessboard has been expanded, like our Galaxy keeps expanding itself. The number of players went from 2 to 4. The amount board squares have gone from 8 to 12, from 64 to 144. Some rules have remain the same, other rules have changed.
“The number Eight sings praise with us. Amen.
The number Twelve danceth on high. Amen.
The Whole on high hath part in our dancing. Amen.
Whoso danceth not, knoweth not what cometh to pass. Amen”.
Acts of John, 94
“The teachers of Gurdjieff”. Rafael Lefort
Is there, by chance, anything in this game that resembles a dance?
I remember clearly at the beginning of one game I was playing some years ago, that the four players spent what seemed like a long time moving some pieces within the area of our enclosed fortifications. This is actually quite common and known by most of the regular players now, as we all learn what is in our best interest, particularly at the start of a game. And I ended up associating this situation in the chessboard with the french minuet, famous for its very small steps. On one side, the slowness made me nervous, as this ‘ceremony’ took quite a long time, until usually one of the four players would ‘brake the ice’ and launch an offensive of some kind, often taking the form of sacrificing a valuable piece -usually a knight- to initiate the action by weakening someone’s defence. This, in a way, was considered the beginning of the game, all what went before was just preparation and positioning of pieces. On the other side, it made much sense.
Also from my blog come this few lines in praise of a dance:
“...Without the pressure of the time factor, the competitive element tends to dissolve into a larger picture. There is beauty at any stage of the game. Everything follows a certain course, and produces a certain pattern, the combinations are endless. Now you are not set about to defeat others, you are part of a sort of ‘cosmic’ dance, where anything you do influences the others and vice versa. The end result has ceased to be the main motivation, the ‘journey’ itself becomes the transcendent part of the game, not the arrival at the destination”.
“Timeless dance of Beauty”. April 11, 2020
“In the regular game of chess, there are two sides facing each other.
Yet the Game has changed.
There are no two ‘opposing teams’ in this Game – there are multiple.
Each side has their own agenda – shows their own colours –
and they await in all available corners.
The complexity of the game-board has risen considerably”.
“Welcome to the Machine”. A Revolution in Human Becoming. Kaleb Seth Perl. p.145
“The possibilities are endless. Chess is war, but Quaternity is life”. IQCA Official Website. Arif Shah
“From the point of view of the observer of the game, there are neither winners nor losers. There is only a constructive process leading to the formation of a new faculty. It is in this manner that those who are watching the game are able to familiarise themselves with the various stages of the activation of the inner structure of the human mind”.
“He who tastes not, knows not”. Wes Jamroz
It probably wouldn’t be admissible -in keeping with a line of previous changes- that a quantum leap in consciousness into a new four-dimensional reality had no physical representation in our three-dimensional reality with a concrete design and form, a ‘crystallisation’ of that higher projection: our 12 x 12 Quaternity chessboard. (12 x 12 = 144 = 9 )
“…What is the 8 and what is the 9? To start with 9 is one more than 8, and actually, it’s all you need to know and all I’m going to tell you.
So why did I introduce the subject? I wish I knew. However I will make a guess, which is that it has some cosmological significance.
Why? Simply because the cosmos is older than the Tradition, but the people who created and designed the Tradition had to take their inspirations from somewhere.
Naturally, I’m going to disappoint you because I’m not going to tell you where or when, but what I can say now is that the reason and function behind both of these numbers is very specific.
You will see both these numbers in the form of the octagon and the enneagon or enneagram in 75% to 80% of the designs of the Tradition, in permutations of these two numbers”.
“Sufism as Therapy”. Omar Ali-Shah. pp. 191-194
The following concepts, from “The people of the Secret” can offer a glimpse of the ‘big picture’:
“…A great event lay ahead in man’s temporal future. It existed already in eternity and was required to be actualised in time. The event is a mutation in man’s evolutionary nature involving a new modality of experience, a new organ of perception. Though latent, perhaps, since man emerged from his primate ancestry, it is an organ of experience that has only intermittently been active in certain exceptional individuals. Man is due to inherit it one day as part of his total experience. For this event man had to be prepared. Certain promising races of pre-man were inexplicable extinguished and it had been conjectured that this happened because they were unable to come to terms with intellect - for them an incomprehensible and unmanageable experience. By analogy, a function giving access to a four-dimensional world might be equally disastrous to intellect based Modern Man. A certain minimum standard of soul, a certain minimum psychic specific gravity is necessary before such a radical new modality may be risked”.
“The people of the secret”. Ernest Scott. p 51
Without in any way failing to acknowledge its well established prestige, ancient origins and cross-cultural influence, as well as its suggested implicit symbolic and initiatory function, it seems to me that the traditional game of Chess, stands for and still represents, (if we extrapolate the concepts above expressed) the intellect based Modern Man and Woman.
In many Sufi stories that are familiar to us, we see that the actions of Teachers are often understood and seen for what they are, long after they have accomplished their overall mission. Perhaps if we would develop our inner organs of perception, we could witness during our lifetime the real meaning of their actions. Or at the very least, stop imagining that their actions are something with less meaning than they actually possess.
“Now that I am dead, you may read something of the truth of the Sufi. Had this information been given to you, directly or indirectly, when I was perceptibly among you, you would all, except for a few, have fed your acquisitiveness and love of wonder alone from it.
Know, then, that what the Sufi master is doing for the world and for its people, great and small, is often not seen by the observer. My task has been to benefit you. The task of making that benefit perceptible to you is that of others”.
Mirza Abdul-Hadi Khan of Bokhara.
“The Way of the Sufi”. Idries Shah. p. 264
I am quite inclined to consider Quaternity Chess as one of the possible gifts given by a teacher to his community, for reasons that will eventually be understood in a not too distant future.
As in the following story:
The Wandering Baba
“Attended by a small band of disciples, Chara, the Wandering Baba went on a journey visiting the many circles of dervishes, which he had established in a number of countries.
In Samarkand, the Baba gave a lecture to his followers and then spent several days separated from them, throwing tiny coins to all the children of the town, compelling them to dive into the river to retrieve them.
The disciples were not pleased and the people of the town exclaimed:
“The sooner this ignorant and ridiculous dervish quits our neighbourhood, the better.”
In Bokhara, the Baba gave out some teachings, then gathered the people together and told them jokes until their tears run from their eyes.
Some said: “This is disgraceful for a man of faith, a teacher and Hakim.”
Others thought: “If this is religion let us laugh all the way to Paradise.”
In short, everyone in that city became addicted to jokes and pranks.
In Badakhshan, the Baba initiated some followers and then held classes in singing and dancing until everyone in that remote province became involved in nothing else. Some people approved, others were profoundly dismayed.
When the party reached Kandahar, the Baba told everyone to stop writing in calligraphy, including illuminating manuscripts until people bit their thumbs with horror and hoped that this disaster would soon be passed over them.
Soon, however, such was the power of Baba’s example and energy, swimming became characteristic of Samarkand, Bokhara was the home of humour and in Kandahar a school of painters and miniaturists grew up because people had forgotten how to write.
Twenty years later, Chara the Wonderer was dead. One of his disciples relates:
“I retraced the path which I had followed with my master and it was thus that I realised what he had really been doing. When I was there in Samarkand there was a terrible flood. Those grown men who have been children, taught swimming by the Baba’s making them dive for pennies, took the rest of the inhabitants on their backs and in this way saved them.
When I arrived in Bokhara a cruel tyrant had seized the city. He was strutting about, trying to impose his will upon the people. But they, accustomed to laugh at everything because of the Baba’s jokes, laughed at him so much that he had a fit of apoplexy and fell down dead.
In Badakhshan a group of evil men, anxious to extend their sway over the populace had just brought drugs to the province when I arrived. They said:
“Take these, and you will gain happiness and fulfilment.”
‘The people invariably answered them:
‘“We do not need your drugs for we are already completely intoxicated with the dances and revels which the wondering Baba had brought us.”
In Kandahar, a usurper's edict demanded that all written records should be destroyed, so that all knowledge should seem to begin with his time. But the people - through the Baba’s having stopped them writing - had already long since committed all their learning to another form of communication. The ancient lore was by now preserved in the designs on carpets, on ceramic tiles, in brasswork, embroidery, decoration of all kinds.
Through the Wandering Baba all these people and these things had been saved”.
Idries Shah. Reflections. P 101,2,3
“…Shah spoke about an impending period of totalitarianism which would last 400 or 500 years. People expressed dismay at this long-term prospect. He answered:
“You are staggered by a 500 year term because you are incapable of the flexibility of looking backwards and forwards into time -to us this is normal practice. We work long-term…”
“The Steganographer VI”. Notes from my mother (1979). Oliver Hoare. p.281
Now, I am pretty sure we are in no way in danger of being invaded by a barbarian horde of Mongols -although you never know with such erratic and volatile politicians in charge- but the apparatus of surveillance and control that is being installed in most ‘developed’ societies shows that the ‘tyranny’ has nowadays resorted to a more sophisticated weaponry of control and subjugation of the people.
“…We are installing the system ourselves, in the name of being protected and for our greater good. We are, in effect, colonising ourselves, and any idea of personal responsibility becomes irrelevant when the State knows best and has the powers to impose its will. It is being installed little by little in many different ways - databases, surveillance technology, curtailment of individual freedoms, and above all, political correctness -so that people in general do not notice what is happening. Even the climate debate is manipulated to determine how we think and control how we live”.
“The Steganographer VI”. Dinner with I. Shah. (1979). Oliver Hoare. p.119
And what to say about winning or losing a game?
This is an aspect that somehow 'concerned' me all these years while playing. I have not 'solved' it completely, but I have gone through stages during my games that have helped me to focus a little better on what happens to me when I lose or win.
It is obvious that one is playing with the intention of winning the game. But it doesn't end there. There are other less obvious aspects operating within us when practising this game.
One of them has to do with the idea proposed by Wes Jamroz, that the 'win' belongs to everyone and all, whether they watch or play. This concept, which surprised me a bit when I read it for the first time, has found a relationship with another idea or concept mentioned by Oliver Hoare. It is the idea of the 'electronic' transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the entire chain of disciples. Agha spoke of this in many ways, generally using the allegory of the chain, of the importance of the links being well connected and of maintaining and cultivating the Unity in this chain, which connects with the whole Silsila, the so-called 'chain of transmission'. The ‘insights’ of the friends are also transmitted to the rest of the chain, if the harmonisation is in place. It is like a current, but it transmits subtle information, knowledge, from one individual to another and to the entire chain.
“…Several important features become obvious in a functioning harmonised group. Firstly, from a Teacher’s point of view it is extremely efficient, even economical: he can deliver information or experience at one ‘terminal’ on the circuit, and it will be transmitted to all the other participants in a variety of ways, sometimes consciously and in other cases subconsciously.”
“…A harmonised group is a human organisation which can realise its potential in another realm. When the balance is right, a kind of ‘electronic’ link is established between people, through which experience is shared, and through which contact with the energy of the Tradition can be maintained.”
“The Steganographer VI”. Subeditorial Meditations. Oliver Hoare. p.224
“…When the group is operating correctly in accordance with the requirements and in the proper balance without too much emotion, and without too much intellectuality, there is a direct communication among all the people connected with this work, and that communication is telepathic.”
“Knowing how to know”. Idries Shah. Inclusion and Exclusion. p.25
This is where it makes sense to me that, beyond the skill and expertise that a Quaternity Chess player can acquire with practice, (I suspect that part of this skill is also 'transmittable' to the rest of the chain), what is shared with the other members of the chain is the distillate of this activity, in the same way that the benefit of the other exercises of the Tradition, the trips, and other activities that generate a refined type of energy are shared.
Viewed from this point of view, the outcome of a game, in terms of 'winning and losing' the game, is irrelevant.
The vision of a group gain, an evolutionary energetic increment is what should interest us, this approach particularly helps to gradually detach from the old ego-centred conditioning that 'winning' is good and 'losing' is bad. This polarity works only at superficial, external levels, but cannot be applied to deeper ones, where "losing" could actually mean “winning” and viceversa.
As Abu Sulaiman says:
“When the self weeps because it has lost,
The essence laughs because it has found”.
“A Perfumed Scorpion” Idries Shah. p. 69
Or the famous two lines of the poem “If”, from Rudyard Kipling:
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
And treat those two impostors just the same”.
But I would like that the last words on this matter, were Rumi’s:
“To whomsoever He has announced victory and triumph, to him success and unsuccess are one. To whomsoever the favour of the Friend has become a surety, what fear should he have of defeat and (painful) combat? When it has become certain to him that he will checkmate (his opponent), the loss of his horse (knight) and elephant (bishop) is a trifle to him. If his horse be taken by any one who desires to take the horse, let the horse go; (for) is it not he (by God’s help) the winner?”
“The Mathnavi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi”. Book V. p. 243