A critical investigation of a subject who inspired a partisan movement and also much controversy. Gurdjieff has been diversely described as an occultist, a hypnotist, a mystic, a holistic philosopher, and a charlatan.
2. Biographical Factors
3. From Moscow to Constantinople
4. The Carpet Dealer
5. Chateau du Prieure (the Priory)
6. Dr. Young Rejects an Experiment
7. The Issue of Hypnotism
8. New York, Alfred Orage, and Rom Landau
9. Surviving the Second World War
10. P. D. Ouspensky and the System
11. The Philosophical Issue
12. Gurdjieff Versus Aleister Crowley
14. Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'
16. Beelzebub's Tales
17. An "unknown teaching"
18. Development not possible for all
19. The Fourth Way
Georgii Ivanovich Gurdjieff (c.1866-1949) has met with very diverse assessments. In what follows, I will attempt a summary of some biographical features.I have never been a follower of Gurdjieff, and am not committed to defending him where flaws can be detected. In my opinion, an effort to penetrate basic events needs to be conducted outside the antipodal gamut of enthusiast and repudiatory approaches. The bibliographic complement is substantial, and a web article cannot be exhaustive in that respect.
Some critical arguments can amount to: Gurdjieff was charismatic, with an eccentric personality, and his writings are bizarre; therefore, he never said or did anything of relevance. This angle is not convincing. More difficult to overlook is the factor of unpredictability. Gurdjieff often exhibited disconcerting behaviour, and was known to speak or write exaggeratedly to produce an effect. In 1919 he promoted at Tbilisi (in Georgia) his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. In a prospectus, he claimed that his agenda was already operative in cities such as Bombay, Kabul, Alexandria, New York, Chicago, Stockholm, Moscow, and Essentuki (Ouspensky, Search, p. 381). This was very misleading. His teaching had gained a foothold in Moscow and Essentuki, but had not yet reached the other places, insofar as is known.
Many of the critical reactions occurring during Gurdjieff's lifetime were distorting. In the 1920s, the negative image of a "black magician" was created by the press. After his decease, Gurdjieff was wrongly portrayed by a French critic as influencing Nazi ideology (Pauwels, Monsieur Gurdjieff). Other writers created a myth that the subject was identical with a "secret agent" working in Tibet and Russia, namely Aghwan Dordjieff (Landau, God is My Adventure). More ingeniously, Gurdjieff became identified with another "secret agent," Ushe Narzunoff (Webb, The Harmonious Circle), a theory since discredited. Clearly, more care must be exercised in charting the nature of events.
A recent commentator has emphasised the shortcomings in partisan literature. "Writings about Gurdjieff... are often replete with erroneous dates and movements, speculations based on hearsay evidence, and, unfortunately, pure invention." Professor Taylor here refers to the well known memoirs (e.g., Bennett, Nott, and Peters), and also the two biographies by James Webb and James Moore. Taylor comments:
"Unfortunately, the number of lacunae, contradictions and speculations that mark the greater part of these accounts confuse more than inform. Though James Moore cautiously called Gurdjieff's own account of his early life, 1866(?)-1912, 'auto-mythology,' he and other writers on Gurdjieff's life seem to have mythologised the whole of his life.... In fact, much written on Gurdjieff's life after 1912 is pure invention, in some instances speculation paraded as fact. The unwary reader who would trust [partisan] accounts is led into perpetuating error." (Paul Beekman Taylor, Inventors of Gurdjieff)
This challenging diagnosis marks a radical departure. The partisan accounts here become a subjective minefield of opinions and uncertainties, attending facts that require resolution. According to Taylor, "the factual accuracy of recollections by Gurdjieff's pupils are always suspect, since each pupil sees his relationship to the man subjectively. With rare exceptions, those who write from a pupil's point of view either invent a privileged relationship with Gurdjieff or exaggerate the actual one" (article linked above). (4)
There is a huge problem, scarcely possible to overstate, with regard to Gurdjieff's own version of his life. According to Taylor, "whatever Gurdjieff has said of himself is parable; he invented himself.... he was wont to say that truth is served best by lies, and by lies he meant stories that objectify meanings unperceived by those who think they can grasp fact" (article linked above). In the face of such implications, Gurdjieff's "storytelling" has nevertheless been interpreted in terms of biographical data. The pitfalls are very obvious. We know very little about his early life. My own recourse here is to follow through some partisan associations, but in terms of factors, not facts. The pre-1912 phase is largely a blank in terms of clearly confirmed detail.
2. Biographical Factors
Georgii Ivanovich Gurdjieff was born in the Greek quarter of Alexandropol, a Russian garrison town in Armenia, and near the borderline of Anatolia (Turkey). He has been described as an Armenian Greek, a half-Armenian, and also as a Greco-Armenian. His mother was an Armenian, and his father a Greek. The date of birth has been urged by two major biographers (Moore and Taylor) as 1866. The date of 1872 has also been favoured. The contrasting date of 1877 has frequently found currency, being based on a passport; however, the subject resorted to several passports with conflicting birthdates (Moore, 1991, pp. 339-40). We can be quite certain that Alexandropol was renamed Leninakan in subsequent decades, and is today known as Gumri.
Armenia was a southern zone in the mountain country of Caucasia (the Caucasus). To the north were Georgia and Daghestan, and to the east was Azerbaijan. The almost bewildering ethnic diversity of Caucasia meant that the Armenians were only one segment of the population. Numerous languages and local dialects were represented. Some reports say that over eighty languages existed in this region during the nineteenth century; many of these have since vanished. A strong Turkic presence should be emphasised in terms of a population density. The Armenian presence dates back to the sixth century BCE, evolving a high degree of urban culture, and being associated with the ancient kingdom of Urartu.However, it is relevant to understand that in such antiquity, Armenia was a province of the Achaemenian and Parthian empire phases extending from Iran.
Alexandropol was also the name of the surrounding province (Aleksandrapol), which was largely Armenian in terms of ethnic substrate, though a minority of Kurds and Azeris (Azeri Turks, often identified as Azerbaijanis, and not to be confused with Ottoman Turks) existed in the south-eastern pocket at the time of the 1896 Imperial (Russian) Census. This situation contrasted markedly with that of Erivan province, named after the old city, a major urban centre in Armenia. At the end of the nineteenth century, only 37% of the population in Erivan province was Armenian. (7) Over half (53%) was Azeri, meaning the Turkic people who were descendants of the Oghuz Turkmen (alias the Black Sheep Turkmen), a phenomenon originally allied with the Mongol wave during the fourteenth century, and so strongly associated with the city of Tabriz, located to the south in Iran. In addition, 8% were Kurds, both settled and nomadic, a distinctive tribal people who could also be found in Iran and Anatolia.
Gurdjieff's Greek father was Giorgios Giorgiades, a cattle herdsman who exercised the additional vocation of a bardic poet or ashokh. "He rehearsed through chapped lips his phenomenal repertoire of folklore, myth and legend" (Moore, 1991, p. 9). The antiquity underlying his form of existence can be associated with the oral process that preserved and elaborated the Homeric epics over centuries. Giorgiades spoke a Cappadocian dialect and also the Turkic language employed by the ashokhs. The Turkic oral tradition was a strong factor here (associated with the Azerbaijani dialect spoken by Azeris, deriving from the old milieux of the eclipsed Khanates). It is scarcely possible to understand Gurdjieff without reference to the antique Caucasian scene and cultural convergences. One of the texts with which he became familiar was the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient literary artefact associated with Uruk in Mesopotamia, and dating back to the early second millenium BCE. (8) This text was apparently a strong early influence upon him.
Reared to beliefs of Armenian Christianity, Gurdjieff was also exposed to elements of Islamic culture via the Turkic repertory. On some evenings, his father "would tell him stories of Mullah Nassr Eddin, or of the One Thousand and One Nights, and especially of Mustapha the Lame Carpenter, an embodiment of resourcefulness who could make anything" (Moore, 1991, p. 9). Mulla Nassr Eddin (Nasruddin) has been described as the wise fool of Turkic folklore, a humorous figure associated to some extent with Sufism. The adult Gurdjieff was to employ sayings of Nasr Eddin in his writings, though he is thought to have "largely invented or adapted" these (ibid., p. 348).
"In his autobiography Meetings with Remarkable Men, Gurdjieff confides an impressionistic version of his early manhood, unrolling the lands of Transcaucasia and Central Asia before us, even while he hints at a parallel geography of man's psyche and the route he followed to penetrate it. Well and good on the level of essential meaning. Yet judged by more straight-laced historical criteria the book is unhelpful. The disciplined biographic mind stands aghast at its contradictions and omissions... frequently enough the entire narrative disappears over the rim of some telling allegory." (Moore, Gurdjieff: A Biography, p. 24)
The British biographer James Moore chose as his sub-title The Anatomy of a Myth. In the process, he made clear that his subject's "four impressionistic accounts... are innocent of consistency, Aristotelian logic and chronological discipline; notoriously problematical are 'the missing twenty years' from 1887 to 1907" (ibid., p. 319).
It is easy to credit that Giorgiades suffered the loss of his large cattle herd due to a plague. The conditions of life in Caucasia were frequently harsh. The pater resorted to a lumber yard, which failed; he then changed to a carpentry shop for a meagre livelihood. Giorgiades decided to move about forty miles away to Kars, the border town in Anatolia (perhaps shortly after the Russians had captured that citadel from the Ottoman Sultan in 1877). While Giorgiades continued his carpentry shop in the Greek quarter, his son gained a further education. The local Christian schools were unsatisfactory, though his parents wished Gurdjieff to become a priest. Private tuition was arranged in secular subjects like mathematics and chemistry. In extension, the keen student resorted to the library of Kars military hospital, and subsequently claimed to have read all the books on neuropathology and psychology.
From his parents Gurdjieff had learned Armenian and a Cappadocian dialect of Greek; he was also acquainted, via his father, with the "Turko-Tartar" dialect employed by the ashokh oral tradition. He later acquired familiarity with modern Greek from a refugee priest. Gurdjieff gleaned the Russian language from soldiers, and the Kars milieu enabled his assimilation of Osmanli Turkish. One biographer says that he "grew up communicating easily in all the local languages, including Greek and Turkish" (Taylor, Gurdjieff and Orage, p. x). Yet he appears to have spoken Russian and Turkish imperfectly even in later years.
His family was poor, and he tried to compensate for this. The young Gurdjieff occasionally journeyed back from Kars by mail-coach to Alexandropol, where at the home of his uncle, "he set feverishly to work mending locks, repairing watches, shaping stone, and even embroidering cushions" (Moore, 1991, p. 16). This would explain his tendency in later years to industry and improvisation of a practical kind. Ouspensky wrote that Gurdjieff "was an extraordinarily versatile man; he knew everything and could do everything" (In Search of the Miraculous, p. 34).
Circa 1883 he moved to Tiflis, the capital of Georgia; his father wanted him to join the famous theological seminary in that city, but Gurdjieff was disconcerted by what he considered an arid formalism. Instead, at the age of seventeen, he took casual work as a stoker with the Transcaucasian Railway Company. By now, he was despairing of finding due explanations in science for matters elusive to materialist thought. In a religious mood, he studied for three months at the Christian monastery of Sanaine, and made a laborious pilgrimage on foot to the Armenian sacred city of Echmiadzin. Yet these resorts proved unsatisfying, and the mental turmoil continued.
Both religion and science had failed him. The only answer seemed to lie in the past, via bookshops. He and his close friends investigated traditions like Pythagoreanism, Kabbalism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. He visited Constantinople in order to study the Mevlevi and Bektashi dervishes of Sufism. Retiring to the deserted ruins of Ani, an old Armenian capital, he purportedly found ancient Armenian parchments, one of which referred to the "Sarmoung Brotherhood," supposedly existing in the sixth/seventh centuries CE. He came to believe that this community still existed. The basic intention behind the story was evidently to indicate his link with an esoteric tradition believed to derive from ancient Mesopotamia.
His book Meetings with Remarkable Men has been described as "semi-fictional" (Taylor, Gurdjieff and Orage, p. x). According to this uncertain account, Gurdjieff joined the "Seekers After Truth," a grouping who travelled extensively between Egypt and Tibet. His quest for the Sarmoung gained legendary proportions. "His itinerary is impossible to confirm or even to discern with perfect clarity, but he certainly tramped through deserts and rocky wastes and made 'journeys to inaccessible places' " (Moore, 1991, p. 26). This pursuit lasted for many years and required funding; his account has been suspected of embellishments in the effort to underline such an independent career.
"He deals shrewdly in antiques, Oriental carpets and Chinese cloisonné; he services sewing machines and typewriters; trades in oil-wells and pickled herrings; cures drug addicts and psychosomatic patients by hypnotism; opens restaurants, works them up, and sells them; remodels corsets; poses as a sword-swallower; and even paints sparrows, offloading them as 'American canaries' " (Moore, Gurdjieff: A Biography, pp. 26-7).
Gurdjieff relates that, along with a companion, he gained access to the major Sarmoung monastery, to which he attributed his deepest inspiration and also the sacred dances he later instigated. A provisional dateline for this event is 1898-9. Access was purportedly achieved (while blindfolded) via a twelve day mounted trek from Bukhara, the Islamic city in Central Asia which had fallen to Russian rule. A link with Sufism is implied, following on from the investigations at Constantinople. The Sarmoung story has been interpreted by some in a literal manner, and by others as an allegory. "The allegorists, perhaps more adroitly, construe Gurdjieff's entire monastery story symbolically, beginning with a wayside episode involving a dangerous rope bridge over a deep gorge" (Moore, 1991, p. 31).
He also claimed to have visited Tibet, an episode which has been allocated to 1901-2. "For a year or more he lingered in Upper Tibet, preoccupied with the 'Red Hat' lamas. He studied the Tibetan language, ritual, dance, medicine, and above all psychic techniques. Long years afterwards he would fan the rumour that he took a wife in Tibet and fathered two children there" (ibid., p. 33). He returned to Tibet not long after, and seems to have reacted strongly to the British incursion led by Colonel (Sir) Francis Younghusband; in 1904, the British guns afflicted 700 poorly equipped Tibetan soldiers in a ninety-second volley. Gurdjieff does not mention the massacre at Guru, and understates by complaining about the shooting of only one man, a lama associated with the lineage of Padma Sambhava. The Nyingmapa tradition of Lamaism is here implied.
Despite Gurdjieff's strong association with both Sufi dervish and Tibetan Buddhist environments, the biographer Paul Beekman Taylor has duly stressed the lack of evidence that Gurdjieff ever appeared as a Muslim or a Buddhist. Gurdjieff has been confused with "secret agents" of a political background, including Lama Aghwan Dordjieff. One story credits him as being a collector of monastic revenue for the Dalai Lama, but this scenario arose from the imagination of Alfred Orage in the 1920s.
Moving on from Tibet to other places, Gurdjieff is strongly associated with Tashkent, the Uzbek stronghold in Central Asia acquired by the conquering Russians. He advertised himself as a hypnotist with the ability to cure alcoholism, drug addiction, and sexual disorders. Plus other specialities in the supernatural. "His venue certainly was appropriate. In Old Tashkent the effects of opium and hashish were harrowingly evident and in New Tashkent vodka was a curse" (Moore, 1991, p. 37). The Russians of New Tashkent were not only addicted to vodka, but to Spiritualist seances and Theosophy. Gurdjieff was averse to both Spiritualism and Theosophy, and apparently regarded himself as a rival. According to his own report, he had earlier vowed to renounce the practice of hypnotism, which he perceived as a danger, except in the pursuit of scientific and altruistic ends. It was Asian hypnotism that he studied, and this subject is associated with his interest in Tibetan and Mongolian medicine.
3. From Moscow to Constantinople
In moving to the big cities of Western Russia, the subject's career gains more tangibility. In 1912, Gurdjieff arrived in Moscow; his own report claims that he was a wealthy man by this time, and possessing two valuable collections of rare carpets and porcelain/Chinese cloisonné. He was soon active in St. Petersburg (Petrograd; later Leningrad), where that same year he married or partnered Julia Ostrowska (d. 1926), a Polish woman of humble background and half his age. She proved loyal to him until her death. Gurdjieff made her the chief participant in the "sacred dance" activity that he inaugurated.
The major intellectual disciple was Piotr D. Ouspensky, a Russian who first heard of Gurdjieff in 1914, finding a newspaper advert referring to a ballet scenario entitled The Struggle of the Magicians, belonging to a "Hindu." He subsequently discovered that the Hindu was a "Caucasian Greek," namely Gurdjieff. Ouspensky was at first dismissive of the Caucasian, whom he learned was the leader of a group in Moscow which conducted paranormal investigations. He assumed that Gurdjieff was just another occultist, of whom there were many at that time, influenced by Theosophy and other interests. He only agreed to meet the Caucasian after persistent persuasion (Ouspensky, Search, pp. 6-7).
This situation amounted to the fact that Gurdjieff was "an unfashionable provincial" (Moore, Gurdjieff, p. 81), whereas Ouspensky was a published author and metropolitan lecturer with an increasing status amongst the Russian literati. The venue of their meeting was a small café in a noisy backstreet of Moscow. The date was 1915. Gurdjieff wore a black overcoat and bowler hat. Ouspensky subsequently wrote:
"My first meeting with him entirely changed my opinion of him.... I saw a man of an oriental type, no longer young, with a black moustache and piercing eyes, who astonished me first of all because he seemed to be disguised and entirely out of keeping with the place and its atmosphere.... He spoke Russian incorrectly with a strong Caucasian accent; and this accent, with which we are accustomed to associate anything apart from philosophical ideas, strengthened still further the strangeness and the unexpectedness." (In Search of the Miraculous, p. 7)
Ouspensky became Gurdjieff's pupil. The latter requested a thousand roubles from each pupil; this was regarded as exorbitant by outsiders. Yet "in practice he never refused anybody on the grounds that they had no money. And it was found out later that he even supported many of his pupils" (Search, p. 166). At a later period, Gurdjieff said that only "one and a half persons paid" the specified amount (ibid., p. 371).
In 1916, a group was formed in St. Petersburg, over three hundred miles from Moscow, including Ouspensky and his wife Sophie, the engineer Anthony Charkovsky, the musician Anna Butkovsky, the psychiatrist Leonid Stjoernval, the mathematician Andrei Zaharoff, and the composer Thomas de Hartmann. A basic teaching of Gurdjieff was that man is mechanical and effectively asleep in relation to real life. Most men cannot develop or progress, he maintained.The First World War (1914-18) had started, and during the first few months of that carnage, four million Russian peasant soldiers lost their lives in the lethal struggle against German artillery and sophisticated gunpower. Many of the peasants had no guns, but only improvised bayonets. The Ottoman Turks were another problem; when they retreated from the Russian advance, they resorted to elimination of all Armenians in their territory. The Turkish government enjoined genocide, and the mandate was: "Without pity for women, children, and invalids, however tragic the methods of extermination may be, without heeding any scruples of conscience, their existence must be terminated" (cited in Moore, 1991, p. 84).
Gurdjieff became based at Petrograd, and his group increased to thirty strong. In 1917, he retreated from Russia and settled at Essentuki, a town slightly north of the Caucasus. A small group of pupils were invited to his villa from Moscow and Petrogad. These included Ouspensky, who was disconcerted several weeks later when Gurdjieff dispersed the group in August and moved with a few other companions to the Black Sea coast (staying at places like Tuapse and Olghniki). The civil war between the White Russians and Bolshevik revolutionaries eventually percolated this zone. Gurdjieff returned to Essentuki early in 1918, furthering a new phase of discipline, and summoning about forty pupils from the former Moscow and Petrograd groups. There was a new emphasis on "sacred gymnastics" or dance. This and other factors did not suit Ouspensky, who withdrew in a dissident mood.
At this time Gurdjieff had many people becoming dependent upon him. His group at Essentuki swelled to some eighty-five diverse pupils, refugees, and relatives. There was an overflow in neighbouring Piatigorsk. Some of these people faced destitution. Gurdjieff provided food and clothing via strategies such as selling a bale of silk. Money and food were becoming scarce in the chaos of revolutionary Russia (see further de Hartmann, Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff; Taylor, G. I. Gurdjieff: A New Life).
In May 1918, the invading Ottoman Turks shot Gurdjieff's father Giorgiades at Alexandropol; the harmless old man, over eighty years old, had declined to leave for Essentuki, though the rest of the family got clear. By July of 1918, Gurdjieff perceived that the situation at Essentuki was extremely grave, being in fresh peril from the civil war. Not all of his group foresaw the dangers of a subsequent "reign of terror" created by Bolsheviks. Thomas de Hartmann (an officer in the Imperial Rifles) was a case in point, complaining that his wife Olga was too tired to move on. Gurdjieff was unrelenting in his new decision to leave. Had the tired couple remained, "with other Guards officers he [de Hartmann] would have been forced to dig his own grave, then shot and covered with earth alive or dead" (Moore, 1991, p. 113).
Gurdjieff carefully planned the daring departure, which occurred in August. His resourcefulness was considerable, even if the travelling party was relatively small. Many of his associates wished to stay behind. He spread the story that his party would be undertaking an archaeological field study and prospecting for alluvial gold. He actually requested the Bolsheviks (or Soviets) for equipment, and they complied, despite severe shortages. This episode became dramatic when the party of fifteen arrived by rail at Maikop, a town surrounded by warring "White army" Cossacks and "Red army" Bolshevik forces. The Cossacks were victorious, and their military general conducted court martials and hangings in an anti-Bolshevik purge. Gurdjieff then adroitly moved over to the Cossack side, though a few days later the Bolshevik army retaliated with a vengeance, and secured Maikop. Gurdjieff and his party escaped the havoc just in time, with only a day to spare.
Five times thereafter, this tense expedition across the Caucasus had to cross army lines southwards. The problem was to identify which army the sentries and scouts represented. This distinction was crucial. Gurdjieff would twirl his right moustachio as a sign for his companions to produce White papers and conformable manners. If he moved his left moustachio, this meant that Bolshevik papers had to be revealed and peasant manners demonstrated.
Eventually, in October the party reached the port of Sochi, which had been taken by the Georgian republicans. However, the majority of Gurdjieff's companions defected, including Andrei Zaharoff. In this confusion, some journeyed to Kiev, and others moved back to Maikop and Essentuki in a reverse feat. With only five companions, in January 1919 Gurdjieff embarked on a voyage south to Poti in Georgia, and from there he took a train to Tiflis. The five accompanying persons were his wife Julia, Thomas and Olga de Hartmann, and Dr. Leonid Stjoernval (a psychiatrist) and his wife Elizabeta.
There was purpose in this difficult flight south. Georgia was subject to very different political conditions in the wake of a Georgian nationalism consolidating in 1917. The new social democracy, or Menshevik republic, was not afflicted with civil war. Tiflis had been renamed Tbilisi, and Gurdjieff was very familiar with this city via his activities there in former years. Adjoining the Russian quarter was Old Tiflis, where the "Tartar" (Azeri) bazaar was still much the same, being an Asiatic scene where women were veiled and traders did things in the old way. Gurdjieff made a beeline for this locale, being in desperate need of money. His knowledge of rugs and carpets enabled him to resurrect his fortunes, in a productive economic avenue contrasting with the depression found elsewhere in Caucasia. Not only that, but Dr. Stjoernval was able to create a new practice in the Russian quarter, while Thomas de Hartmann became a professor of music at a local academy.
At Tbilisi, Gurdjieff created his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. The founding members were the de Hartmanns, Dr. Stjoernval, and two new pupils, namely Alexandre and Jeanne de Salzmann. Alexandre was a Russian artist, and his wife was a French musician. Jeanne was reared in Geneva, and established her own school of music based on the Dalcroze system. She was a talented dancer, and assisted Gurdjieff with the first public demonstration of his distinctive "sacred dances" at Tbilisi Opera House that same year of 1919. She left a retrospective description of Gurdjieff:
"He had an expression I had never seen, and an intelligence, a force, that was different, not the usual intelligence of the thinking mind.... He was, at the same time, both kind and very, very demanding.... The impression he gave of himself was never the same.... You might think you knew Gurdjieff very well, but then he would act quite differently, and you would see that you did not really know him." (de Salzmann, The Reality of Being, p. 1)
Gurdjieff interviewed all applicants to his Institute. One of these was a young aristocratic lady (born in Montenegro, a kingdom in the Balkans) who had married a Russian architect. Olgivanna Hinzenberg (1898-1985) said that she wanted immortality, and that her servants looked after her. Gurdjieff told her to dispense with servants, and to do everything herself. "You must work, make effort, for immortality" (Moore, 1991, p. 134). She complied, and became a leading performer in the "sacred dance" activity at Tbilisi.
Another new contact at this time was the British traveller and writer Carl E. Bechofer-Roberts (1894-1949), who did not become a follower. A book he authored, namely In Denikin's Russia (1921), included an account of his association with Gurdjieff at Tbilisi.
"He [Gurdjieff] claims to have spent much of his life in Thibet [sic], Chitral, and India, and generally in Eastern monasteries.... No one could be in his company for many minutes without being impressed by the force of his personality.... There was no denying his extraordinary all-round intelligence.... The dances, he declared, were based on movements and gestures which had been handed down by tradition and paintings in Thibetan monasteries where he had been." (text in Journey Through Georgia)
Meanwhile, Ouspensky survived the oppressive Bolshevik occupation of Essentuki by resorting to identity as a "Soviet librarian." In January 1919, he and others were set free by the triumphant Cossacks, but in June he moved to other places like Rostov. There he met Zaharoff, who had arrived from Kiev, and who was in a negative frame of mind concerning Gurdjieff. Talking with Ouspensky convinced Zaharoff that he had been wrong to move at a tangent. Zaharoff resolved to contact Gurdjieff at Tbilisi, but by now had contracted smallpox; in January 1920, he met a miserable death in the bloodstained ruins of Novorossiysk. Soon afterwards, Ouspensky departed for Constantinople (Search, pp. 381-2).
In 1920, the conditions in Georgia were threatened. Refugees arrived in Tbilisi with grim accounts of the Bolshevik victory to the north. The national independence of Georgia grew precarious. Southwards, the Turks again invaded Armenia in January, destroying Baytar, where Gurdjieff's sister Anna and most of her family were killed in a massacre. Only one of her children (Valentin, or Valia) escaped, and he reported that the Turks had raped his mother. Savage nationalism has since repeated in too many instances, abundantly proving that the worst beasts on the planet are men, and that the standard of their education is frequently nil. Valia was rescued by the Bolsheviks, and eventually managed to reach Tbilisi, about a hundred and fifty miles away, though the baby he took with him died (Luba Gurdjieff: A Memoir, p. 18). The boy afterwards became one of Gurdjieff's entourage.
Gurdjieff had already moved on, leading a party of thirty people on foot (in the heat of May) to the Black Sea port of Batoum, from where they voyaged to Constantinople (Istanbul). In desperation, Ouspensky had independently arrived at the same Turkish city a few months earlier. Gurdjieff stayed in this location for just over a year, in the European quarter of Pera.
One of those who encountered him at this juncture was Captain John G. Bennett, then the leader of a British Intelligence unit. Bennett discovered that local gossip was depicting Gurdjieff as a great linguist, a convert to Islam, and the representative of a Nestorian sect. Bennett ascertained the truth, which annulled the gossip.
"His linguistic attainments stopped short near the Caspian Sea, so that we could converse only with difficulty in a mixture of Azerbaidjan Tartar and Osmanli Turkish. Nevertheless, he unmistakeably possessed knowledge very different from that of the itinerant Sheikhs of Persia and Trans-Caspia, whose arrival in Constantinople had been preceded by similar rumours. It was, above all, astonishing to meet a man, almost unacquainted with any Western European language, possessing a working knowledge of physics, chemistry, biology and modern astronomy, and able to make searching comments on the new and fashionable theory of relativity [associated with Einstein], and also on the psychology of Sigmund Freud" (cited in Munson, Black Sheep Philosophers).
Bennett also left a description of the subject at this time. "He was powerfully built - his neck rippled with muscles - and although of only medium height, he was physically dominating. He had a shaven dome, an unlined swarthy face, piercing black eyes, and a tigerish moustache that curled out to big points" (Munson, article cited).
Constantinople was flooded with Russian refugees at that time. A reconcilement occurred between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. The latter had gained his own group of Russian students, which expanded to some thirty people, whom he now generously allocated to Gurdjieff. The latter often visited Ouspensky at the island of Prinkipo. Together they visited the bazaars and also the Mevlevi dervishes. "He (Gurdjieff) explained something to me that I had not been able to understand before. And this was that the whirling of the Mehlevi [sic] dervishes was an exercise for the brain based upon counting, like those exercises that he had shown to us in Essentuki" (Ouspensky, Search, pp. 382-3).
Ouspensky and Gurdjieff made several visits together to the Mevlevi dervishes, attending the mukabele or turning ceremony at the Galatahane tekke. They both appreciated the proceedings, but viewed the ceremony differently. Gurdjieff was far more in affinity with sacred music and dance, while Ouspensky resisted what he considered to be an emotional allurement. The mathematical mind of Ouspensky tended to view the ritual in terms of a planetary model, whereas Gurdjieff "strove to awaken his pupil's feelings to the totality of the experience" (Moore, 1991, p. 144). Nevertheless, both of them were later represented by the British press (in 1923) as believing that the dervishes had lost almost all knowledge of the true significance of their dances (in the sense of exercises associated with resolution of problems and acquisition of faculties).
Gurdjieff revived his Institute in October, and gave lectures twice a week, "in Russian, Greek, Turkish or Armenian according to the audience" (ibid., p. 146). Three doors away, he gave much attention to his sacred dance exercises, and more specifically the Struggle of the Magicians. His aggressive deportment and admonition here included bad language, though reserved for the "black magic" dancers who performed an evocative counter to the "white magic" complement.
Ouspensky withdrew when the Institute opened, but "the inner relationship between us remained very good" (Search, p. 383). In the spring of 1921, by special invitation he began to give weekly lectures at the Institute, with Gurdjieff supplementing his explanations. In May, Gurdjieff closed the Institute as a result of diminishing public interest, and retired to Prinkipo, maintaining contact with Ouspensky. The Russian ex-pupil disclosed his plan to write a book recording the talks of the Caucasian in Petrograd. Gurdjieff "agreed to this plan and authorised me to write and publish" the projected account (ibid.). Nevertheless, when these two left Constantinople in August, they parted company. Gurdjieff suggested that Ouspensky accompany him to Germany, but the offer was declined. "In the first place I did not believe it was possible to organise work in Germany and secondly I did not believe that I could work with Gurdjieff" (ibid., p. 384).
The misgivings about Germany were proven correct. Ouspensky maintained an underlying resistance to Gurdjieff's projection; he moved to London, where he commenced to lecture successfully. In contrast, Gurdjieff's plans for Germany met with obstruction. Yet Ouspensky's wife Sophie Grigorievna refused to accompany him to London, instead remaining with Gurdjieff's party. Madame Ouspensky is noted for the loyalist assertion: "No one knows who is the real Georgy Ivanovitch, for he hides himself from all of us" (Moore, 1991, p. 153).
Gurdjieff was certainly a robust and charismatic entity. His background was to become legendary. In Constantinople, a visitor (Boris Mouravieff) asked Gurdjieff about the source of his teachings. According to Professor Taylor, the flippant reply was "I stole them." This would indicate the derived nature of his concepts, from a pre-existing tradition or traditions. The matter is obscure, because Gurdjieff did not elaborate. Mouravieff subsequently claimed that Gurdjieff borrowed from Eastern Orthodox Christianity (). In contrast, other writers have insisted that certain Sufi teachings were utilised. Ouspensky is on record for saying that he and others in the early Russian phase would ask Gurdjieff several times a day about the origin of his teaching, and the replies were evidently circuitous.
4. The Carpet Dealer
In eighteenth century Caucasia, local Turkic Khans ruled in their territories such as Shirvan, Karabagh, Baku, Kuba, and Erivan. Yet these kingdoms were eliminated by 1830, when the militant Russian incursion from the north extended the Empire of the Czars. The process of Westernisation was encouraged by the Russian presence. Yet artistically, the old traditions were diehard. "The region was a repository for the arts of Sassanian Iran and of Byzantium, the influences of Arabia and Islam, the customs of Central Asian Turks, the cultures of the Seljuk, Ottoman, and Safavid empires, and the Europeanising influence of Imperial Russia. All are interwoven in Caucasian textiles." (9) Textiles are applicable to Gurdjieff's mercantile tendencies during the early decades of the twentieth century, during the phase when rugs and carpets were woven for export demand, including the destination cities in Russia, America, and Britain.
Ouspensky supplied details about a practical and mundane role exercised by Gurdjieff. The Armenian Greek possessed a mercantile skill, and had evidently acquired a close knowledge of Eastern rugs and carpets (and not just the Caucasian variety, it is possible to deduce). "He told me a great deal about carpets which, as he often said, represented one of the most ancient forms of art" (Search, p. 35). (10)
Recent textile scholarship has intensively classified Eastern rugs and carpets on an ethnographic basis. The general findings have concluded that specific attributions of design significances are frequently arbitrary, motifs being customarily preserved amongst weavers in terms of a folk art and urban commercial activity. However, some ancient connections are discernible, and tangibly going back to the earliest known pile weavings, such as the Pazyryk rug. In terms of design influences, even the relevant gauge of which came first (nomadic or urban design) has been strongly debated, and involving the scenario of early Turkish carpets versus Persian court luxury weavings. Nevertheless, one argument is that "a number of motifs in tribal and village rugs of the nineteenth and even the twentieth centuries may be traced to sources that are even older than the Pazyryk [rug]." (11)
In 1949, a Russian archaeologist discovered the now famous Pazyryk rug, which had been preserved for nearly two and a half thousand years by the enveloping ice layer. The site was a tribal tomb in the Pazyryk valley, located in the Altai mountains of Siberia. This is a technically accomplished weaving, comparing well with more recent finely knotted examples. Arguments arose about the source of this weaving, one theory urging an Achaemenian origin in Iran, and another maintaining a nomadic origin. The theory has since been streamlined. Certainly, the proficiency of weaving indicates a far earlier phase of development. The complex ethnographic data and arguments relating to the Pazyryk rug are generally lost in popular coverage. (12)
Gurdjieff's theme of an ancient carpet art is justified. His form of assessment was quite rare in his day, and perhaps even unique. Eastern rugs and carpets were generally purchased merely for their decorative value, and vast numbers of them have worn out under the impact of unsympathetic feet. In the West today, a more informed knowledge of these weavings has developed, with much attention given to tribal and village environments, in addition to well known urban centres of production like Tabriz and Isfahan. The weavings in tribal communities, rural areas, and many urban locales were made by women, though men customarily sold the loom products. This rather basic fact has afforded extra interest.
Ouspensky seems to have been puzzled when Gurdjieff purchased carpets (and/or rugs) in Moscow and sold them in Petersburg (Petrograd), where they commanded higher prices. The Russian intellectual attributed this activity to the factor of "acting." Ouspensky himself obviously knew little about rugs/carpets, and was not a businessman. Many woven artefacts were small rugs rather than large carpets, and the former were far easier to transport. Most Caucasian pile weavings were rugs, not carpets, though one could easily credit Gurdjieff with a knowledge of expensive Persian carpets.
The intellectual was evidently fascinated by the procedure involved. Gurdjieff would place an advertisement in a Petersburg newspaper, and "all kinds of people came to buy carpets" (Search, p. 34). In these situations, the customers assumed that Gurdjieff was merely a Caucasian rug/carpet dealer. "I often sat for hours watching him as he talked to the people who came" (ibid.). The clientele must have been wealthy middle class/upper class persons, like the lady who selected "a dozen fine carpets" and bargained relentlessly for more.
"With these carpets, in the role of travelling merchant, he again gave the impression of being a man in disguise" (ibid.). Ouspensky relates how one day Gurdjieff paid close attention to the technique of a Persian carpet restorer whose services he utilised. Carpet repair is skilled work, and even Gurdjieff had not yet learned the art. The Persian would not sell the tool that he used, and Gurdjieff improvised a replica from the the blade of a penknife, which he filed to size. The next day, Ouspensky found that Gurdjieff "was sitting on the floor mending a carpet exactly as the Persian had done" (Search, p. 35).
Ouspensky was absent when another incident happened in Petersburg, involving "an 'occultist' of the charlatan type." The dubious visitor said that he had heard much about Gurdjieff and his arcane knowledge, and therefore wished to make his acquaintance. The response is worth citing:
"With the strongest Caucasian accent and in broken Russian he [Gurdjieff] began to assure the 'occultist' that he was mistaken and that he only sold carpets; and he immediately began to unroll and offer him some. The 'occultist' went away fully convinced he had been hoaxed by his friends" (In Search of the Miraculous, p. 34).
A few years later, and after many vicissitudes, Gurdjieff revived his lost wealth at the Old Tiflis bazaar (). In 1919, he found that rug dealers in this locale were jubilant, being able to fuel the export drive to Constantinople, where an undiscriminating market existed for mediocre rugs and flatweaves. A primary support for that market was the beginner taste of young military officers in the Allied Occupation Force. Even inferior handmade rugs can be very attractive. "Perhaps no one in Tbilisi in 1919 knew his carpets more intimately than Gurdjieff" (Moore, 1991, p. 126). Some acquaintances loaned him money; he purchased his first rug cheaply and sold it high. He afterwards found willing assistants, and taught them to search for rugs, how to clean them, and how to repair them.
Gurdjieff doubtless bartered at shops resembling that in the left photograph above, where many piles of rugs could be found, and where merchants of diverse ethnic breeds were quick to seize a profit. Armenians, Jews, and Azeris were a competitive milieu. Within only three weeks, Gurdjieff had made enough money for all his group to live on, and with a substantial amount still in hand. His former collection of valuable rugs had been plundered by the Bolsheviks at Essentuki, though two of these items were recovered later.
When Gurdjieff left Tbilisi in 1920, due to the political climate, he sold his Institute assets and invested the proceeds in twenty rare weavings. When his party arrived at the port of Batoum, a detachment of military police confiscated the rugs, although the refugees were not prevented from leaving. Eastern rugs reappeared in his later activities, along with closely affiliated businesses.
When Katherine Mansfield first met Gurdjieff at the Priory in 1922, she thought he looked like "a Turkish carpet dealer." His astrakhan hat and handlebar moustache assisted this impression. She subsequently discovered that he really was a carpet dealer. She records that, during the early days of the Priory phase, Gurdjieff purchased 63 rugs for his new Study House. "The carpets which were displayed one by one in the salon last night are like living things - worlds of beauty. And what a joy to begin to learn which is a garden, which a café, which a prayer mat, which 'l'histoire de ses troupeaux' and so on." See Fontainebleau.
Garden carpets and prayer rugs are well known to textile enthusiasts, though café rugs are obscure. A "record of the flocks" is decipherable in terms of the animal portrayals on some rugs, but a café design requires imagination. Gurdjieff had apparently found his favoured milieu represented by weavers. He spent much time in cafés and restaurants, using this zone as a business venue, a meeting place, and even as a writing environment.
Some puzzlement attaches to the fate of the Study House, which ten years later was in chronic ruin. The rugs were left inside, at the mercy of rodents and animal droppings. By 1932, prayer rugs were being chewed by rats (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 147). It is tempting to feel that Gurdjieff was neglecting Eastern artefacts, much as Westerners often do. To his credit, the Study House was not a business venture, but he might at least have sold on the contents rather than allowing such deterioration.
In 1923, a journalist told Professor Denis Saurat that he was a connoisseur of carpets, and that those in the Study House "must be worth over a million francs." Even taking into account conceivable exaggerations, the weavings acquired by Gurdjieff must have been valuable. "The partitions and floor [of the Study House] are completely covered with them, sometimes to a thickness of several layers" (quotes from A Visit to Gourdyev).
5. Chateau du Prieure (the Priory)
Early in 1922, Gurdjieff made a brief visit to London. He had recently delivered a lecture at Berlin, but the British episode proved more pivotal. Ouspensky was now giving lectures at a Theosophical Hall in Warwick Gardens, West Kensington. Admirers of the Russian became aware that his obscure teacher was also in Europe, having departed from Constantinople. They wanted to meet Gurdjieff, and sent letters to Berlin. The consequence was a talk by Gurdjieff given in Warwick Gardens on 13 February 1922. Sixty British intellectuals gathered for the occasion. "Never before had Gurdjieff addressed such a concentrated sample of the establishment" (Moore, 1991, p. 160). He did not disappoint, despite the fact that he spoke in Russian, translated by Olga de Hartmann. Quite clear was the enjoinder that: "You must find a teacher."
A significant member of the audience later stated: "I knew that Gurdjieff was the teacher." Ouspensky was eclipsed in the mind of Alfred Richard Orage (1873-1934), who was to become a leading disciple of the Armenian Greek. Orage came from Yorkshire, and had been influential in the British literary world since 1907, being the editor of New Age, a weekly London review which George Bernard Shaw had described as "the best magazine of literature and ideas England had produced since the eighteenth century" (Nott, Teachings of Gurdjieff, p. 1). (13)
The general enthusiasm for Gurdjieff resulted in his further visit to London a month later. The friction between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky became highlighted in a private reflection, expressed by the former in Russian. A verbatim report is lacking, but the gist is known. Gurdjieff said that Ouspensky was not qualified to expound his teaching after only three years of contact with him. The accusation was made that Ouspensky knew nothing of his music, and was an outsider to the sacred dances in process. The ex-pupil was also admonished for lacking an essential element of feeling. Furthermore, "if Ouspensky still sincerely wished to assimilate Gurdjieff's work in his essence and not merely in personality, he must (like his wife Sophie) postpone any pretension to teach and re-dedicate himself as a pupil" (Moore, 1991, p. 163).
Both Ouspensky and Gurdjieff delivered a lecture on the same occasion at Warwick Gardens on 15 March 1922. The latter chose the subject of "Essence and Personality," and Ouspensky objected to the translation of some sentences. Gurdjieff retaliated, affirming the translation to be correct. He then repeated the content of his private critique (of Ouspenky), while still on the platform. The ex-disciple "could never forget Gurdjieff's attacking him in front of his own pupils" (ibid., p. 164). Gurdjieff now won strong support from Ouspensky's followers (including Lady Rothermere), and thereby gained a new contingent of English pupils.
Later that same year, Gurdjieff found haven in France. In October 1922, he acquired (via Lady Rothermere and subsequent mortgagees) the Chateau du Prieuré (or Prieuré des Basses Loges), a mansion at Fontainebleau-Avon, some forty miles from Paris, and with almost 250 acres of ground attached. English speakers often referred to this site as the Priory, which is a due translation. Originally a luxury chateau of the upper class (and visited by Louis XIV), the property subsequently became a Carmelite Priory, though reverting back to a private house in the nineteenth century. In 1922, the property had not been occupied for several years, and the grounds had been neglected.
The historic mansion became Gurdjieff's headquarters for a decade, with a new identity in terms of: Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. He had acquired two contingents of pupils, Russian and English, but was unfamiliar with the English language (and French, which he struggled to learn). Gurdjieff generally spoke in Russian, and used an interpreter during interviews; he never went beyond the stage of broken English. Rather varied memoirs describe this period, which has the semblance of a mosaic.
The Prieuré (or Priory) became an unusual retreat setting. The "Fourth Way" Gurdjieff had taught in Russia now underwent a modification. He had formerly stressed ordinary life as the setting for this approach. The Prieuré cannot be viewed in that context. "The milieu he [now] created by no stretch of the imagination mirrored ordinary life: it was removed; it was enclosed; it was quite special in its intensity" (Moore, 1991, p. 173).
A sympathetic and partisan article of this period compared the Priory with the school of Pythagoras, and referred to Gurdjieff's ideal of "Never identify," involving the redirection of emotional energy via elimination of negative emotion. "A few minutes of irritation... may expend energy that would have written an article or sustained us through a marathon race.... To stop 'imagination' even for a week - which is extremely difficult - brings an astonishing gain of what we usually call psychical energy." (14)
Gurdjieff now had to find provisions for about seventy people living at the Priory. In pursuit of his obligations, he repeatedly visited Paris, now his second home, where he conducted varied fund-raising activities. He created two restaurants and sold them to Russian refugees, who were now swarming to the French capital. In Paris also, he maintained his earlier role as a "physician-hypnotist," acquiring a paying clientele of alcoholics, drug addicts, and others.
He had no time for leisure, and would sometimes "return to the Prieuré exhausted" (Moore, 1991, p. 176). Yet he was an unusually robust man, and could quickly recuperate, becoming noted even in later years for only a few hours sleep. (15) He demonstrated ability as a jack-of-all-trades. When he gave orders for a Turkish bath to be installed in the Prieuré grounds, he "improvised the boiler from an old cistern and tackled most of the brickwork entirely on his own" (ibid., p. 177).
Manual work became a frequent activity of residents and visitors at the Priory. Alfred R. Orage attributed his "first initiation" to this activity. Having sold the New Age review and renounced his prestigious literary career in England, Orage (a chain-smoker) arrived at the Prieuré in October 1922. Gurdjieff allocated him a simple room, prohibited him from smoking, and delegated him to a manual role. The visitor was tall and quite sturdy, but not in the habit of exercise. His own account relates:
"I sold the [magazine] New Age, gave up my literary life and Ouspensky's groups, and went to Fontainebleau. My first weeks at the Prieuré were weeks of real suffering. I was told to dig, and as I had had no real exercise for years I suffered so much physically that I would go back to my room, a sort of cell, and literally cry with fatigue. No one, not even Gurdjieff, came near me.... When I was in the very depths of despair, feeling that I could go on no longer, I vowed to make extra effort, and just then something changed in me. Soon I began to enjoy the hard labour, and a week later Gurdjieff came to me and said, 'Now, Orage, I think you dig enough. Let us go to café and drink coffee.' From that moment things began to change." (Nott, Teachings of Gurdjieff, pp. 27-8)
In 1924, Orage also commented on certain disparities for which he gave an explanation: "You get from the Prieuré just as much as you can give in work on yourself - that is, according to real effort. There are people living there now to whom the place is no more than a maison de santé." (Nott, Teachings, p. 29) Orage was referring to hangers-on, people who lived at the Prieuré for diverse reasons, including White Russian refugees and an English Theosophist.
Another new pupil who queried the role of Ouspensky was Dr. Maurice Nicoll (1884-1953), a psychiatrist of Harley Street, and formerly a close acquaintance of C. G. Jung, with whom he did not find the answers he was seeking. Nicoll was one of over twenty English visitors to the Prieuré in late 1922. When he arrived in November, along with his wife and daughter, he was elevated to the role of kitchen menial. Dr. Nicoll had to get up at 4.30 am, light the boilers, and wash large numbers of dirty plates without hot water (Moore, 1991, pp. 177-8). He found the new teaching far more dynamic than the Jungian worldview, which he discarded. Subsequently, Nicoll was again influenced by Ouspensky, effectively becoming the latter's pupil. In the 1930s however, Nicoll conducted his own group in England, teaching another version of the "Work." He authored the influential and multi-volume Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
Piotr D. Ouspensky also arrived at the Prieuré that autumn, having been invited by Gurdjieff. His wife was already there as a resident. The guest stayed only for a few weeks (although he returned a number of times the following year). In his major book, Ouspensky briefly asserted that "there were many destructive elements in the organisation of the affair itself" (Search, p. 389). He does not specify the nature of these. The resident Madame Ouspensky was evidently not in agreement, and would not leave the Priory of her own accord.
Piotr Ouspensky is thought to have been averse to manual work and the dance movements. He was disconcerted by Gurdjieff's unpredictability (and apparently by a disregard for conventional morality, which some more recent critics also find disturbing). What Ouspensky seems to have most wanted was a tranquil discussion atmosphere; Gurdjieff evidently had no intention of catering for such requirements, and did not administer a set form of teaching at the Priory. His Institute had no obvious curriculum in the academic sense; some say that he preferred to teach in real life situations.
Much distortion befell the episode of Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923), a writer from New Zealand, who died at the Prieuré in January 1923. Ouspensky reports that Gurdjieff "was very good to her, he did not insist upon her going [to the Prieuré] although it was clear that she could not live" (Search, p. 386). Mansfield had attended Ouspensky's talks in London, and was introduced to Gurdjieff by Orage. In other directions, an extremist story gained widespread circulation over the years. "Many of these people will say, when Gurdjieff's name is mentioned: 'Oh, yes, he's the man who killed Katherine Mansfield!' " (Peters, Gurdjieff, p. 300)
In reality, Katherine was terminally ill from tuberculosis; Gurdjieff kindly allowed her to stay at the Prieuré in October 1922, despite the near death prospects mentioned by a medical doctor. He gave instructions for a room in the loft above the stable to be improved for the daily recreational use of the invalid; Eastern rugs were included in the decor. Katherine wanted to gain a spiritual orientation, and was pleased when the Russians accepted her as an equal. The lively dancer Olgivanna was often her companion, and so also was Orage. She derived much inspiration from events at the Prieuré, and could have lived longer but for an unfortunate event that was nothing to do with Gurdjieff. Her husband John Middleton Murry made a visit to the Priory in January 1923. He reported that "she seemed a being transformed by love." Katherine was determined to show the visitor that she could climb stairs unaided, but the effort produced a lung haemorrhage; she died in thirty minutes, with three doctors in attendance (see Moore, Gurdjieff and Mansfield; Jones, Katherine Mansfield). See also Mansfield Archive.
In her last letter, Katherine Mansfield wrote. "My thoughts are full of carpets and Persia and Samarkand and the little rugs of Beluchistan" (Moore, 1991, p. 186). Her interest in Eastern wool craft was derived from the new Study House, which Gurdjieff created in the grounds of the Prieuré. This large and distinctive building was not formally opened until a few days after the death of Mansfield, but she was familiar with the industrious preparations.
The Study House did not signify bookish study, but was instead used for Gurdjieff's music and the dance exercises which he supervised. This structure has been compared to a nomadic tent and to a dervish tekke. Many Eastern rugs were hung on the walls, while the floor was strewn with the same category of weavings. The Mansfield reference to the Baluch tribal rugs of Iran and Afghanistan indicates that Gurdjieff had become a collector of these, though in general they were not considered valuable until some time after his death. Many Baluch rugs soon wore out on Western floors. (16)
The French authorities were influenced by a hostile story depicting Gurdjieff as a Freemason who practised hypnotism. They actually placed him under surveillance on this account. The evidence for Gurdjieff as a Freemason is slight. (17) The allegation of hypnotism was sustained by detractors for the rest of his life, and does have some basis in his writings ( ), though interpretations vary.
An early report came from Carl E. Bechofer-Roberts, who had met Gurdjieff at Tiflis but did not became a follower. He made several visits to the Priory, and remained a "disinterested spectator." He acted as an interpreter, being able to speak Russian. He says that he found sixty or seventy people in residence, and that "perhaps nearly half" of these were Russians, meaning pupils from the Tiflis phase and other refugees who had come from Berlin and London. Most of the remainder are described as English. He says that women predominated in both contingents. See further The Forest Philosophers (1924).
"If a man is proud, Gurdjiev [Gurdjieff] humiliates him deliberately before all the other pupils; if he has a special affection or aversion, it has to be eradicated." This is evidently why Bechofer-Roberts wished to remain disinterested. Gurdjieff evidently demanded obedience, which is reminiscent of Eastern monasteries and Indian ashrams. Yet he was not a celibate (), and perhaps innovative in other respects also. If he appropriated Eastern concepts, there is no guarantee that he got everything right. His recourse in the elimination of aversions can be offputting, to say the least. A sensitive man who loathed the sight of blood "was at once set the task of slaughtering the animals for the stock-pot." This can seem an offensively literal version of moving between the opposites. If Orage had not been a chain-smoker, would he have been made to smoke? Does a teetotaller have to get drunk?
Bechofer-Roberts is critical, but occasionally makes a concession to Gurdjieff. "In his own field I should rank him high among contemporary ballet-producers." The commentator refers to the dance movements performed in the evenings, and informs: "Occasionally, but rarely, Gurdjiev varies the proceedings with a lecture that is rather a number of replies, more or less oblique, to questions put to him by the more inquisitive and sceptical of his pupils." This was the only formal teaching in evidence; everything else was at the action level. In this respect, some of the Russian men took every opportunity to evade the manual tasks allocated.
The account of Bechofer-Roberts mentions that many of the Russians were supported by Gurdjieff. To set against this factor, he had received considerable sums of money from English supporters, and perhaps sufficient to explain his visible assets such as cattle, carpets, and automobiles. The same writer records the disagreement with a medical doctor (evidently James Carruthers Young,) concerning the symptoms of a female resident who received an operation in London. Gurdjieff gave a different diagnosis to the doctor, who was proven correct concerning an internal ulcer. However, the commentator is misleading in the instance of Katherine Mansfield, saying that she "was so confident of recovery" a few days before her death; he fails to mention how she died, which was due to a complication caused by the visiting husband.
The same commentator confounded a major accusation of critics. The notion "that he [Gurdjieff] is a deliberate charlatan, is not for an instant to be credited by anyone who has come into personal contact with him." However, Bechofer-Roberts did question the role of Gurdjieff as a genuine mystic, believing that he was too promotional and too concerned to acquire funds.
A far more partisan assessment came from Dr. Mary C. Bell, an English medic and psychologist who abandoned Jungian therapy. She transferred from the Ouspenky circle to the Prieuré. Many years later, she wrote an account of activities there during 1922-3, and in which she participated. She depicts the amiable contrast between the Russian and English contingents. Dr. Bell made a preliminary visit in December 1922, liked what she found, and returned in March for a much longer period. She describes evening sessions in the Study House, which Gurdjieff would conduct from about nine pm until about two am. The varied components of this gymnastic programme included: "Seated on the floor we would learn the most complicated exercises, involving in one exercise the simultaneous use of legs, arms, heads, expression of emotions and one or more sequences of words in any language." (18) Such exercises made for a very active routine, bearing in mind the daily occupations.
Most guests were allocated work by Gurdjieff, but some were left to choose their role. The Russian women generally did the cooking and housework, while the English women worked outside in the grounds. All the men likewise worked outside, performing manual labour, including building and felling trees. The English women attended to laundry, the animals (geese, chickens, goats, cows), and other tasks. The inmates were not made to work slavishly, and could go at their own pace, though periods of more intensive activity did occur. "We were soon taught that pointless, slogging work was of no avail." Gurdjieff commented to one Englishman (Frank Pinder), while barrow loads of stone were being moved, that "one stone consciously moved is worth all this pile."
Gurdjieff disliked any tendency to "wiseacre," which could mean superficial talk about subjects uncomprehended. Dr. Bell relates: "To prevent idle talk... great use was made of memory work and lists of words." In this manner, for instance, hoeing was not just a physical activity or an excuse for chatter. The diet was very variable. Fasting occurred at one period, but this was voluntary. This innovation nevertheless aroused much enthusiasm, and some participants were disappointed when they were told (by Gurdjieff) to stop at the end of a week. Others fasted for three weeks, and quite severely it seems, as fluids only are mentioned. As a precaution, Dr. Bell was enjoined to weigh the abstainers and to take their pulse rate two or three times daily. She herself fasted, and reports: "I could sit and talk with equanimity to people eating the well known English dish of eggs and bacon." Thoughout this fast, the physical work, plus the exercises in the Study House, were continued as usual. "One of my memories of the fast is of vastly improved complexions." See further Memories of the Prieure.
In contrast, many absent English literati disliked Gurdjieff, though largely reacting to rumours and gossip. Wyndham Lewis called him "the Levantine psychic shark," while Vivienne Eliot achieved a memorable error in her beliefs about "that asylum for the insane called La Prieure where she [Lady Rothermere] does religious dances naked with Katherine Mansfield" (cited in Moore, 1991, p. 188). The situation was entirely imaginary. Lady Rothermere was a benefactor of Gurdjieff, assisting him to obtain the Priory (ibid., pp. 359-60). She made only brief visits to the Priory, perhaps because she was accustomed to far more luxurious accomodation. A major source of distortion was apparently the novelist D. H. Lawrence, a friend of Mansfield who indulged in "numerous bilious attacks on Gurdjieff, although he had never met the man" (Linda Lappin, cited in Mansfield Archive). On his own part, Gurdjieff viewed the "intelligentsia" with acute reserve, deeming them to represent the false and mechanical life which misses any true perspective.
An informative article was contributed by Professor Denis Saurat (1890-1958), director of the French Institute in London. He was invited by Orage to visit the Priory for a weekend in February 1923. Saurat could not understand why Orage had turned his back on the literary world in order to live at the Priory. This was at a time when journalists had been alerted to the death of Mansfield, and were attempting a coverage of the mysterious Caucasian innovator. Gurdjieff entertained a lifelong dislike of the press. "Twenty years later, he would still scour journalists from his house as if they were rats" (Moore, 1991, p. 188).
In his article A Visit to Gourdyev (1934, originally published in French), Saurat relates how he arrived at the Priory on Saturday, 17 February, 1923. His old acquaintance Alfred Orage had become thin from manual work, having formerly been overweight at two hundred pounds. He was now lithe and strong "but looks unhappy." A severe regimen involved rising at four in the morning, and working in the Priory grounds. Orage related that "often Gurdjieff makes us spend a whole day digging an enormous ditch in the park, and then he has us spend the next day filling it up again." The perplexed Saurat asked the reason, but Orage did not know. Gurdjieff was not in the habit of communicating, and "had not said a word to him." Gurdjieff gave orders in Russian, a language Orage could not speak. The English pupil believed that the director possessed supernatural powers.
Saurat learned from the Russian residents that Gurdjieff "frequently flew into a rage and used language that would make Lenin himself blush." He says there were about seventy Russians and twenty English at the Priory, figures discrepant with certain other accounts. He also wrongly assumed that the deceased Katherine Mansfield had lived all the time in a stable, and says: "Mansfield died, and no one dared ask the Master why." Fortunately Orage and others did know the circumstances of her death. "The Russians are much more terrified and docile in the face of the Master than the English are."
During lunch in the large dining room, Gurdjieff entered without warning. Wearing a heavy fur coat, he was carrying in his arms a lamb, at which he gazed tenderly, though "his face has an expression of habitual ferocity." Ignoring the human company, he walked with long strides across the room and exited by another door. Saurat and other guests were told by residents that "he didn't look at you, but he saw you; he knows you all completely."
Orage wanted to show Saurat the grounds outside, and they arrived at the "Turkish baths," where men and women would go separately (segregation was thorough, it seems). There they found Gurdjieff, who was responding to the fraught situation of a collapsed entrance and a burst boiler (Moore, 1991, p. 189). The heat prevented any close access to the boiler, and Gurdjieff rapidly aimed balls of cement at the problem crack. At his side, one man was mixing the mortar, and Saurat says that he "has the attitude of a slave."
In the evening after dinner, Saurat went to the room of Orage, and sat talking for hours with a few Englishmen. Gurdjieff sent a bottle of vodka to them, and Saurat learned that this was a special honour. Yet the recipients were tense. Nobody wanted to drink more than a small amount, and Saurat proposed that half the bottle should be tipped out of the window, so that Gurdjieff would believe the whole amount had been consumed. This suggestion was rejected. "They are afraid of Gourdyev [Gurdjieff]."
This small English gathering comprised Orage, the Harley Street doctor James Carruthers Young, a lawyer, and several writers. Saurat had been told that Gurdjieff would grant him an interview the following afternoon via an interpreter; nothing of this kind had formerly occurred. The Englishmen requested him to put questions to Gurdjieff on their behalf. A basic problem was that, although they had been resident for several months at the Priory, Gurdjieff "has never spoken to them." The manual work was too much for them, comments Saurat. Later in the evening, they were told that Gurdjieff had organised a special movements session in the Study House for Sunday night, and that he had arranged for a journalist to be present. The English were puzzled at this innovation.
On Sunday afternoon, Saurat was granted a two hour interview with Gurdjieff. The interpreter was Olga de Hartmann, "who speaks English." Saurat reproduces a summary of the conversation. One of his questions was: "Do you know that many of these people here are close to despair?" The reply is given as: "Yes, there is something sinister in this house, but that is necessary."
The Englishmen had begged Saurat to ask a particularly pointed question. "What is the purpose of all this physical labour, and is it going to last a long time?" The reply is given as: "To make them masters of the exterior world. It is only a temporary phase."
In that interview, Gurdjieff denied belonging to any "school," and instead referred to his former role in "a group of friends", who had spent some years in Central Asia. They had reconstructed an ancient doctrine from "the remains of oral traditions, from the study of ancient customs, folk songs and even from certain books." The impression conveyed is that this doctrine was an improvement upon the incomplete version of "certain groups and castes." His meaning was that "the doctrine has always existed, but the tradition has often been interrupted." Gurdjieff also stated: "I want to create a type of sage who unites the spirit of the Orient and the technique of the Occident." He clearly meant Oriental mysticism and Western science. "Only Occidental methods are good in history and observation."
Saurat relays that Gurdjieff exhibited "extraordinarily courteous manners." Furthermore, "during this conversation he does not in any way give the impression of being a charlatan; he seems to be trying to explain himself in the most rational possible manner and does not refuse to answer any questions." Some points of his teaching were mentioned, including the controversial theme:
"Few human beings have a soul. Nobody has a soul at birth. One must acquire a soul. Those who do not succeed in this die. The atoms disperse and nothing remains [after death]. Some make a partial soul and are then subject to a kind of reincarnation that permits them to progress. Finally, a very small number of men succeed in possessing immortal souls."
There was an extension about women relayed by Saurat, and without quotation marks. Women "have no real possibility of acquiring a soul except by contact and sexual union with men." This theme will not win the approval of feminists, and was evidently at the root of Gurdjieff's sexual activity that has invited criticism. Briefly, it is obvious that he believed himself to be assisting several short term partners via the act of sexual union. Strong exception can be taken to this feature of his theory and activity. See.
After the interview, Saurat reported the contents to his English friends. "They are extremely disappointed." However, what irritated them most of all was Gurdjieff's statement that the esoteric doctrine could be found in books. Dr. Young commented: "If the tradition is in books, what are we doing here?" Another person denied any secret tradition. which might have sounded Theosophical. "They decide that this is impossible, that I misunderstood, or that the interpreter translated badly." However, they took consolation from the message that the manual work would not last permanently. Nevertheless, "they are afraid of being exploited by Gourdyev in his occult intentions."
That evening in the Study House, Saurat was influenced by the attitude of the guest journalist, who reacted to "the perfume, the atmosphere, the coloured lights, the rich carpets, the strange [dance] movements." Saurat informs: "To reassure the journalist I tell him that I am a professor at the University of Bordeaux and that all these people are crazy." However, this journalist later repeated those words (of Saurat) to Orage, "who is vexed and did not begin to pardon me until ten years later."
In subsequent years, Saurat tended to converge with the Oragean view of Gurdjieff, and privately commended Beelzebub's Tales as a major work. See (19). Furthermore, in a letter to Louis Pauwels, the French academic stated: "I maintain that he [Gurdjieff] is an extraordinary highly developed spiritual teacher." By that time, Saurat was a Professor of French Literature at King's College, London. He also attributed to Gurdjieff the status of lohan, an Oriental word whose significance tends to fuel the controversy over classification.
In 1923, Gurdjieff gave much attention to supervising the "sacred dances." The venue was the new Study House, a large hall laboriously constructed in the grounds of the Priory. Every week apparently, there was an open evening in this building, at which local dignitaries, artistes, and others attended the dance performances. Some responses were enthusiastic, including the instance of Sergei Diaghilev, who offered to incorporate the "sacred dances" in his own well known ballet season. The American commentator Sinclair Lewis was disconcerted, declaring that "some of the dances are imitations of Oriental sacred temple rights, some of them stunts requiring a high degree of muscle control ... But it must be a hell of a place to live" (cited in Moore, 1991, p. 192).
A private session of dance movements would occur every evening at the Study House, with Gurdjieff presiding as an exacting choreographer. An adaptation of dervish dance and Tibetan sacred ritual was believed to be in process. Gurdjieff emphasised that this application was an important form of training in the coordination of body, emotion, and mind. Prior to 1928, these dances were often called "exercises." They required much concentration and stamina from the participants, being viewed as a means to conscious "evolution." A large number of these movements were created during Gurdjieff's lifetime (ibid., pp. 351ff.).
Photographs dating to the 1920s reveal male and female performers. The cast was largely Russian, and included Gurdjieff's Polish wife (or partner) Julia; they certainly achieved an elastic fitness, which stunned some observers. The four key performers were women: Julia, Olgivanna, Jeanne de Salzmann, and Elizabeta Galumnian. The full details about this situation include Gurdjieff's (apparently brief) sexual relations with two of the performers alongside Julia, namely Jeanne and Elizabeta, a factor which can evoke strong criticism ().
Other residents and guests at the Priory also learned some movements, but were not performers. It is thought that Ouspensky reacted to the dance scenario; he seems basically to have regarded the proceedings as a distraction. The teaching he had known in Russia had gone into suspension, and been replaced by gymnastics.
An accompaniment was the pianist activity of Thomas de Hartmann, and later, in 1925, Gurdjieff commenced with this Russian pupil a two year period of musical composition. The result featured haunting melodies associated with sacred music; an Armenian element is said to have been incorporated. "As an adult he acquired an intimate knowledge of Middle Eastern and Central Asian traditional and religious music.... In all, Gurdjieff composed around 300 pieces.... None of these compositions is a slavish pastiche of ethnic music. Rather Gurdjieff transmutes and recanalises the subtle essence of an ancient tradition, delivering it to modern man as a summons to awaken" (Moore, 1991, p. 350).
Gurdjieff arranged for the first major public demonstration of his music and dance in December 1923, the venue being the Theatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. Applause followed each dance, although the French audience were "divided between excitement at the originality of what they had seen, and disgust at what to them had seemed the severe discipline of the exercises" (ibid., p. 196).
In January 1924, Gurdjieff took his dancers to New York. The first performance lasted for four hours, and evoked diverse reactions. Newspapers typically expressed superficial accounts. A sequel performance in Greenwich Village attracted a more intellectual audience, and was successful in creating a strong interest. "All that spring and into the summer months the question of Gurdjieff - a new Pythagoras or a charlatan - was the most controversial topic at intelligentsia gatherings" (Gorham Munson, The Awakening Twenties, 1985, quoted in Moore, 1991, p. 20). Munson was one of those who became a pupil of the new Pythagoras; he also stated that "nothing like these dances had ever been seen in New York.... they called for great precision in execution and required extraordinary coordination" (Munson, Black Sheep Philosophers).
Various other performances (or demonstrations) followed, the culmination occurring at Carnegie Hall in early March, and to a packed auditorium. This was the only occasion when Gurdjieff charged for tickets. More free performances were given at Boston and Chicago. Although he had become an impresario of dance, Gurdjieff proved that he was not a commercialist. Furthermore, he never again gave a public performance.
In April he established a New York branch of his Institute. When he returned to France in June, some new American admirers sailed with him; eighty Americans had requested to work at the Prieuré that summer. Another new pupil was the Englishman Charles Stanley Nott (1887-1978), who penned a description of the first performance of "sacred dance" in America, at Lesley Hall.
"During the interval.... they [the audience] were a little bewildered, since the movements [dances] fitted into no category of dancing known to them.... At this point Gurdjieff came onto the stage, and I was able to observe him closely. He was wearing a dark lounge suit and a black trilby hat: a very powerful man physically, yet as light on his feet as a tiger.... He fitted into no type that I had known: certainly not the 'mystic' type, or yogi, or philosopher, or 'master'; he might have been a man who made archaeological expeditions in Central Asia.... Almost every evening Gurdjieff met groups of people. He did not give lectures in the ordinary way, but informal talks consisting chiefly of questions and answers." (Nott, Teachings of Gurdjieff, pp. 12-13, 21)
In early July 1924, on the road between Paris and Fontainebleau, Gurdjieff suffered a motor car accident in which he received severe head injuries. From the hospital at Fontainebleau, he was taken to the Prieuré, where his wife nursed him, and Olga de Hartmann deputed for him. Defying medical orders, he soon made strong efforts to get up, his head covered in bandages. In August he was able to walk in the garden alone, though limping and unsteady on his feet. Ouspensky received news of the accident with dismay, and is reported to have been despondent, apparently viewing this event as an indication that Gurdjieff had failed. (20)
The accident occurred when Gurdjieff was driving his car too fast and smashed into a large tree. The steering column broke, and Gurdjieff was thrown onto the grass. Fortunately, he was the only occupant of the car. His driving became notorious amongst his admirers. He had taught himself to drive at the Priory, without an instructor, and maintained a code at the wheel sufficient to puzzle anybody else. He maintained motoring trips for the rest of his life, but "he was so dangerous a driver that his followers avoided being driven by him whenever possible" (Storr, Feet of Clay, pp. 41-2). Gurdjieff is reported to have taken extreme risks in overtaking buses and trucks, even while converging head on with traffic coming in the opposite direction on a narrow road. A big drawback emerges in that he "drank alcohol before and during the motor trips, and at times was so drunk he was unable to drive" (quote from Controversial Reputation, PDF p. 8). This was apparently during the 1930s.
A relatively mild symptom of his early motoring approach features in a report of his excursions during the mid-1920s. High speeds were then accompanied by a refusal to stop for gasoline, with the consequence that the car would grind to a halt, usually on the wrong side of the road (Peters, Gurdjieff, pp. 127-8). Nevertheless, at that time, "almost everyone [at the Priory] anticipated the possibility of being selected to accompany him" (ibid., p. 121).
At the end of August 1924, Gurdjeff created another wave of shock when he said that the Institute was closed. In early September, most of the Priory occupants departed. After only days, many of the Russians defiantly returned, followed by a few English and eight Americans. "In all about a third ignored the dismissal and reconvened" (Moore, 1991, p. 210). Gurdjieff did not prevent this counter-development, and made one of the English women (Ethel Merston) the director of the Prieuré. Orage stayed in New York as his key representative. His "business in antiques, carpets, cloisonne, and Chinese porcelain" was delegated to a secret partner (ibid., p. 211). Gurdjieff transited from his role as a teacher of dance movements to that of a writer, and commenced the lengthy book entitled Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson ().
The motor accident had an effect; Gurdjieff changed course completely. The dance movements took a background position, and to the point of near oblivion (though resurrected in some independent environments). The Study House fell into sad neglect; strangely enough, even the Eastern rugs were left inside and allowed to deteriorate. Two of the four key dancers vanished from the scene. In 1924, Gurdjieff enjoined that Olgivanna must leave, along with her young child Svetlana, which caused her distress. Julia Ostrowska (Gurdjieff's wife) subsequently died of cancer in 1926. Olgivanna emigrated to America, where in 1928, she married the eccentric architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and was thereafter part of his bohemian community known as the Taliesin Fellowship; in America she continued to regard Gurdjieff as a great mystic, and became a rather dictatorial leader at Taliesin (see Friedland and Zellman, The Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright).
For a few years after the motor accident, Gurdjieff resorted to an increased intake of alcohol. He also resorted to drugs at this time. He told an American pupil, Jean Toomer, that "he had been compelled to produce energy artificially; to this end, during the few following years, he had consumed enough drink to have killed ten men and, in addition, forty pounds of opium" (quote from Gurdjieff and Money). A distinct element of stress is indicated. His alcohol intake remained strong for the rest of his life; his use of drugs is far less certain, and may have been minimal (). He was a heavy user of tobacco.
Gurdjieff described himself as a disturber of complacency, and evidently considered this to be one of his major roles. In the summer of 1927, he was not always an ideal host to American guests or would-be visitors to the Prieuré, and whom he often encountered in Parisian restaurants. "He seemed particularly keen to alienate Waldo Frank," and that writer is reported to have screamed at him, "Go back to your hell, you devil!" (Moore, 1991, p. 221) The full version is more graphic. Frank had arrived at the Priory with his new wife Alma Magoon. During an evening meal at the Priory, Gurdjieff chided Frank for having married a non-Jew (the guest had divorced the Jewess Margaret Naumburg the previous year). Two days later, the resentful Waldo Frank confronted Gurdjieff at the Cafe de la Paix in Paris, and with regard to the "non-Jewish" accusation. Gurdjieff ignored his complaint, responding that he did not understand what Frank meant. The latter departed with further annoyance, and never saw Gurdjieff again (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 111). (21)
Waldo Frank regarded Gurdjieff's poke at him as a personal insult. Though he did retain contact with Orage in America, Frank was soon expressing a distorted version of Gurdjieff's teaching (ibid., pp. 112-13). Many years later, he expressed an adverse view of the Armenian Greek in his The Rediscovery of Man (New York, 1958). Frank here criticised the exercise of self-observation, which he thought was incapable of exerting a beneficial effect in modern Western society (which Frank also repudiated). His theme was that this exercise generally created vanity, bolstering the ego instead of quelling it, and in a similar manner achieved by Theosophical organisations. Buddhism was here considered superior in the cultivation of detachment. Frank's argument has been contested (Taylor, Gurdjieff and Orage, pp. 251-2).
In one of his writings (Life is Real Only Then), Gurdjieff refers to a deflection tactic he devised, and which he attributed to a need to improve his writing via intentional suffering. The "solemn vow" to this effect occurred in May 1928, and in the context of "to remove from my eyesight all those who by this or that make my life too comfortable" (Moore, 1991, p. 224). One event which he could not deflect was the birth of his daughter to an American pupil that same year (); he wanted the mother to buy him a new automobile, and expressed annoyance when she did not comply (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 134). He accused Edith Taylor of suffering from the American disease called "tomorrow," meaning the habit of investing money.
His book Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am' has been revealed by Professor Taylor as resorting to mythical dimensions, often accepted as a true autobiographical account of events. Some of the events described by Gurdjieff never occurred, while events which did occur were wrongly dated by the author. Faced with such anomalies, the reminder must again be given that Gurdjieff's "stories" merit due caution.
Thomas and Olga Hartmann were regarded as leading figures in his activity; Thomas was the in-house pianist who became largely redundant when the dance movements receded. Now Gurdjieff tried to make these stalwarts lead independent lives outside the Prieuré. They resisted, but eventually he resettled them at Courbevoie. Thomas felt alienated and in despair. When the persistent Olga continued to visit the Prieuré, Gurdjieff would shout at her.
The agent of deflection engineered a situation in which Olga chose the wellbeing of her husband rather than obey an instruction to take Thomas to New York with Gurdjieff. Thomas de Hartmann was not in good health, and so she reluctantly declined. Gurdjieff said, "Come in a week's time, or you will never see me again." The poignant last meeting, dating to 1930, occurred at a railway platform in Paris, with Olga departing alone on the train, gazing at the man on the platform. "Mr. Gurdjieff stood motionless looking at me. I looked at him without moving my eyes from his face. I knew it was forever" (Thomas de Hartmann, Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff, p. 156).
An observation of P. B. Taylor is that Gurdjieff did not insist upon pupils devoting their lives to him, and instead made a habit of sending back into the world those pupils who had reached a stage of maturity (in the "Work," to use a partisan term). In contrast, critics say that Gurdjieff was merely offloading his dependants in a period of economic stress. Certainly, the Armenian Greek had brought many people out of afflicted Russia, and thereafter they did not wish to leave the haven he afforded. What happened over the years was that all the Russian dependants were obliged to leave, many of them taking jobs in Paris to support themselves.
Gurdjieff's expenses at the Prieuré were high, and at the close of the 1920s, benefactress Lady Rothermere chose to support Krishnamurti instead of his Institute. Much needed American donors proved tight-fisted, and even more so when in 1929, the Wall Street stock market collapsed and the Depression emerged. American visitors to the Priory were already thin on the ground. In May 1932, the Institute closed down. A shortfall of some 17,000 dollars is reported; the mortgagees foreclosed.
All the remaining occupants had to leave the Priory, and Gurdjieff chose an independent hotel room in Paris, adjoining the Café de la Paix, which he liked to frequent and where he did much writing. His longstanding pupil Dr. Stjoernval (d. 1938) was much upset by this development, and moved from the Priory to Normandy. Independence was now imposed by the general situation. The Priory was irrevocably lost in 1933, being repossessed at that time and sold off cheaply to a French manufacturer.
6. Dr. Young Rejects an Experiment
Dr. James Carruthers Young was a British surgeon who had trained under Jung to become a psychotherapist. Yet he renounced a lucrative Jungian role in Harley Street to join the Prieuré activity, being the doctor in charge of Katherine Mansfield. He lasted a year with Gurdjieff, until August 1923, when he departed and returned to his professional career. Dr. Young subsequently delivered a talk on the subject to the Medical Section of the British Psychological Society. In this conservative mode, his address was entitled An Experiment at Fontainebleau. He says that he had been asked to give an account of "what it was all about." He was clearly concerned to restore his professional repute and to abjure the "experiment." His address subsequently appeared in The New Adelphi (London 1927).
Dr. Young does not mention the Katherine Mansfield episode; he knew very well that her death was not the fault of Gurdjieff. The doctor himself had pushed aside her distraught husband, who had caused a complication, in order to attend the dramatic problem of lung haemorrhage induced by her feat of climbing stairs unaided. He failed, and she died in minutes ().
Instead, the doctor describes how he plunged "into the dubious sea of occultism." His opening remarks include the phrase: "I need not remind you how many people make the classical Adlerian 'escape' into occultism, and how difficult it often is to cure them of this 'dope habit.' " So the rejected experiment emerges as being occult. Yet the denial was not total, and there is an element of contradiction. The "experiment" was described in terms of providing "an artificial milieu so arranged that the pupil would be forced to experience himself in radically new postures, both physical and psychological; the new postures were to be brought about by 'shocks,' as they were called." The shocks were intended to produce sanity, as distinct from the mechanical nature of ordinary life.
Furthermore, the "ideas of the system which was to be put into practice were expounded with great skill and consistency" by P. D. Ouspensky in London prior to the "experiment" at the Priory near Fontainebleu. Dr. Young had joined the Ouspensky circle, and describes a few aspects of this. More to the point, he evokes Ouspensky's description of Gurdjieff, meaning that the latter "had travelled widely in the East, in Turkestan, Mongolia, Tibet and India, that he had an intimate acquaintance with monastic life in those countries, that he had acquired an unrivalled knowledge and repertoire of their religious exercises and dances, and a profound understanding of their application to psychological development."
Dr. Young refers to Gurdjieff's visit to London in 1922. "He was an enigmatic figure, but on the whole, he created a favourable impression. A few timid people were scared away - perhaps by his completely shaven head." Dr. Young afterwards joined Gurdjieff in Paris, at the Dalcroze Institute. The date was August 1922. He was keen to participate in the "movement" exercises. "I found them difficult and stimulating." There was also the creation of costumes for the dancers. "Gurdjieff cut out the materials with great skill." His companions then worked on the materials, which involved a degree of handicraft ability. Even Russian boots were improvised. Dr. Young evidently did not possess such skill, but he learned as best as he could, "which meant overcoming one's awkwardness and diffidence, and sometimes, be it confessed, one's indifference or even dislike." The keynote set by Gurdjieff was: "Overcome difficulties - make effort - work."
The reactionary doctor declared his reservations to the Medical Section. "The people fell short of the standard of culture which Ouspensky had led me to expect." Even worse, "I had grave doubts when I listened to the never-ending chatter of some of the women," which he thought was far too mechanical an activity, implying a shortcoming in the Gurdjieff teaching application. Yet Gurdjieff is also implicated as a hypnotist in this report as a whole. In which case, he could not even stop incessant chatter.
Worse still, there were only two doctors, and "one had an expression which I can only liken to that of a solemn goat." No identity is supplied, but the description fits Dr. Stjoernval. "I could not associate the idea of 'waking up' or becoming more 'conscious' with him at all." Stjoernval was certainly an uncritical onlooker at the Priory, whereas several of the Englishmen were more sceptical, as Professor Saurat discovered in February 1923 (). The other doctor (also unnamed, but apparently Maurice Nicoll) was considered passable by Young, and is described as having "a sagacious expression." The Medical Section must have been delighted at the lack of competition from counterculture. The vista was largely one of hypnotised chatterers, bootmakers, and whatever. All the Medical Section looked sagacious, of course. Only a Russian doctor could look like a goat. The British doctors were all tremendously alert and more or less superconscious.
"For the rest, there were Russians, Armenians, Poles, Georgians, and even a Syrian. Among these were a Russian baron and his wife and an alleged ex-officer of the Czar's bodyguard, who afterwards became a very successful taxi-driver in Paris. My impressions were, as I have said, mixed, like the people." This might be considered a rather grudging form of consideration for Russian refugees and others.
The commentator describes various manual activities occurring after acquisition of the Priory, during October 1922 and after. The workers were assigned living space in the servants' quarters, where Dr. Young shared a very simple room with fellow Englishman Alfred Orage. The best rooms were reserved for visitors, in the quarter nicknamed The Ritz.
"Everything was arranged, or rather disarranged, so that nobody should be allowed to fall into a routine. The multiplicity of occupations was continually being increased. Cows, goats, sheep, pigs, poultry and a mule were acquired. Those who were deputed to look after these animals had no sooner got their job going to their satisfaction than they were taken off and made to begin all over again on a new job.... There can be no doubt that it was an excellent training in adaptation and development of the will."
A rather contradictory assertion follows:
It is difficult to pass a verdict upon Dr. Young's belief that he had been hypnotised. The evidence he gives of such hypnotism in relation to "the others" is not definitive. This amounted to two instances revealing that some persons credited Gurdjieff with exceptional abilities. Many Priory residents are here reported to have believed that Gurdjieff would not need to learn to drive a motor car in the ordinary way; the meaning is that he would be guided by inspiration. People often do entertain extravagant beliefs about an admired authority figure; this is no proof whatever of hypnotism.
"I was uneasily aware at times that there was a certain amount of hypnotism involved even in my own case; otherwise I should not have been able to lay aside my critical sense so easily. This hypnotism was only too obvious in the great majority of the others. Gurdjieff was a very powerful personality - a type of man that I had never met before. There was no doubt about his capacity in manifold directions. He was a man to be reckoned with, an outstanding event in the life of a psychologist."
Dr. Young then asserts that "every act of the magician has always a hidden and wonderful significance." Gurdjieff is now the magician/occultist. The crux of this interpretation appears to have been that Dr. Young was accused by other residents (not Gurdjieff) of a spiritual pride and obtrusive opinion because of his reservations. That kind of disapproval does indeed happen to dissidents who contrast with a following, but again, is no proof of hypnotism.
"I felt that the whole business was a personal enterprise so far as Gurdjieff was concerned." The nature of Gurdjieff's enterprise has certainly aroused much speculation and adverse judgment. Dr. Young had suffered acute disillusionment, and the details are ignored in some partisan reports. After Professor Saurat's visit to the Priory (), Dr. Young became increasingly sceptical, although he was unable to infuence Alfred Orage, who remained loyal to Gurdjieff.
Dr. Young ends his report with a marked reliance upon epistles from an unnamed party, a visitor to the Priory who was "a man of letters and an excellent fellow" (thought to be Carl Bechofer-Roberts). He confided his doubts to this correspondent. The doctor quotes from two undated letters, which reveal a strong antipathy to Gurdjieff. Yet the quoted documents begin with an acknowledgment that "the place is real," meaning the Priory situation was dynamic. "Gurdjieff does possess certain knowledge, and is willing to impart it to one or two who may prove, from his point of view, worthy."
The unnamed party asserted that there are two Paths, one to God and the other to Power. He urged that Gurdjieff represented the path to Power, and this meant what the Hindu Yogis called siddhis (occult powers). The opinions of his (similarly unnamed) friends confirmed his own judgment. The Yogic occultism here becomes "that 'dark' Path which is taught generally in the Mongolian monasteries where, probably, Gurdjieff got his own training."
One of the correspondent's friends had communicated to him about an arrival "at the wedding feast without that essential and necessary wedding garment which is LOVE." This could have been a Christian argument against Gurdjieff. Yet further, one of his friends "has studied these things à fond, though admittedly he has not practised them." The armchair expert had referred to "many of the Mongolian Schools." Another tell tale sign of the gossip column emerges: "Old Blavatsky, also taught of Mongolia, was notorious for her rages, language, etc." The attempt to link Gurdjieff with Blavatsky is suspect.
This loaded theory had captured the mind of Dr. Young, supposedly duly critical, who passed it on to the British Psychological Society as confirmation of his own viewpoint. Those demonic Mongolians would never pass wedding feast criteria. The anti-Blavatsky contingent were eager to suggest that Gurdjieff came from a Mongolian milieu of "physical bullying, sticks, ropes, fists being used." His methods and "bullying" were viewed as the antithesis of "spirituality, love, compassion, heart." Moreover, this dark Mongolian Path "aims finally at power to rule the planet." Perhaps the only compelling feature in these conjectures is the fleeting juncture where the epistolary admits that "my own intuitions and conclusions about the Institute and its chief [i.e. Gurdjieff] may be quite erroneous."
The British detractors had decided that the Armenian Greek was a pro-Mongolian emissary with a dark agenda of Power and "anger, temper, swearing." There is no proof of any Mongolian connection, although Gurdjieff is reputed to have visited Mongolian monasteries. He did frequently express anger, and he is known to have used strong language. He did not stress love or compassion, and his method could be shock-inducing. Yet he did not advocate any acquisition of occult powers, and specifically downgraded the "Path of the Yogi" in favour of the Fourth Way. In 1924, he specifically warned against breathing exercises (associated with Yogic pranayama), affirming that dysfunction could result (Views from the Real World, pp. 164ff.) Nevertheless, a disconcerting statement appears in one of his books (Life is Real Only Then, p. 20), asserting that he had acquired powers sufficient to kill a yak over a long distance. This claim is of course considered by sceptics to represent an extravagant boast, which is hopefully the case.
The "Mongolian dark Path" theory is too extravagant for realistic acceptance. However, it is not difficult to believe that Gurdjieff's reputed encounter with "Red Hat" Tibetan Lamaism had strongly influenced him. The Tibetan Tantric milieu really was a hive of "occult" activity, extending to medicine, astrology, and varied practices.
Dr. Young made an improvement upon the wedding feast love rant. He closed his contribution with the remark that he would be sorry "to leave the impression that the whole experience [with Gurdjieff] had been nothing but complete waste of an irrevocable year." He expressed his conviction that much of value was in fact encountered. Nevertheless, he had "a feeling of supreme satisfaction" to turn his back on the Priory and again "embrace the habits of the so-called 'mechanical' life."
The Medical Section had the advantage of recent progress in medicine compared with Gurdjieff's reliance upon some doubtful remedies associated with medieval Tibetan medicine. He was regarded as a quack in his alternative treatment undertaken as a means of supplementing his income. Gurdjieff had no medical training in the modern sense, and his measures of diagnosis and application were regarded askance by Dr. Young and others. He was tangibly proven wrong in his objection to Dr. Young's diagnosis concerning an intestinal ulcer (an incident reported by Bechofer-Roberts and mentioned in).
In contrast to Dr. Young, and apparently influenced by Orage, Professor Denis Saurat later described Gurdjieff in laudable terms of lohan, a word of Chinese Buddhist association. However, there is no obligation to believe that Gurdjieff was perfect. The issue of hypnotism strongly adheres to him via his own admission (
7. The Issue of Hypnotism
A very controversial subject in relation to Gurdjieff is hypnotism. Partisans have adopted varying standpoints on this issue. The accusation of hypnotic manipulation followed the subject all his life, but too much of this was habitual scandalmongering and shoddy journalism. There is perhaps the necessity to determine how far this accusation was correct, if that is possible to achieve.
An academic partisan has stated that "hypnotism has an extremely important place in Gurdjieff's ideas" (Wellbeloved, Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts, p. 100). A major source for the hypnotist component is Gurdjieff's bizarre pamphlet The Herald of Coming Good (1933), which has been disliked even by some partisans. One biographer has been very careful to dissociate from the issue. "Gurdjieff himself repudiated Herald of Coming Good and withdrew it from circulation" (Moore, 1991, p. 403). However, the contents live on, having been reprinted and celebrated. At the time this curiosity was first circulated, some of the author's admirers were in a mood to question the contents.
"Gurdjieff writes that he collected oral and written information about Asian hypnotism, studied for two years, acquiring considerable powers, and then practised as a hypnotist-healer for five years. Gurdjieff's Institutes were founded to provide him with 'guinea-pigs' for his experiments, and he used hypnotism as one means of artificially influencing students (Herald: 83-4, 20-2)." (Wellbeloved, Key Concepts, p. 100)
What are the non-partisans to make of such details? Experiments have an element of uncertainty as to the outcome. Dr. James Young rejected the Priory "experiment" after a year (). There are some elements in his account that can be considered superficial, but others are relevant. To proceed with the basic recital:
"Gurdjieff writes (Herald: 64.68) that, although he sought to keep his undesirable manifestations under control, his hypnotic powers induced an automatic influence over others, in both waking and hypnotic states, which caused him remorse. He also writes that he experimentally used three methods to artificially influence pupils: through kindness, threats, and hypnotism" (Wellbeloved, Key Concepts, p. 106).
This disclosure can be regarded as a feat of honesty, and also as a very alarming indication of what can happen in the field of "occultism." The irony is that some sceptics of Gurdjieff deny any validity to the occult. Therefore, hypnotism of any deep category simply does not exist. Some professional psychologists are not nearly so certain. The problem being, that if such a phenomenon does exist, the attributes and scope are entirely unknown to conventional science and other academic studies. How many cult leaders are capable of exerting a strong hypnotic influence? The answer is not officially known, not even in the slightest.
Another quandary exists. In Gurdjieff's biography, where does one locate his use of hypnotism, as distinct from mere threats and the contrasting benign kindness? Herald was composed in the early 1930s, so the primary suspect phase is that of the Priory years 1922-32. Was Alfred Orage a victim of hypnotism, or did his manual efforts insulate him from such interference? Was Orage an instance of receiving benign kindness? We know from one memoir that Gurdjieff berated Orage during one of his visits to the Priory. Was this an instance of the resort to "threats"? Such matters would seem impossible to confirm. In his last years, Gurdjieff seems to mellow, and is perhaps more attractive as an old man. Did he still use hypnotism?
"Gurdjieff gives an account of how, when needing money, he went and sat by an antipathetic man: 'I sit like poor simple man and look at him.' The man takes out all the money he has, puts it on the table and goes away. Gurdjieff says that the man will remember nothing; 'such power I have but not often wish to use'." (Wellbeloved, Key Concepts, citing Taylor 1998).
The partisan memoirs illustrate other aspects of the subject. For instance, the account by Charles Nott of early days at the Priory, suggests a different form of interaction:
"Even to sit with him [Gurdjieff] while he was talking in Russian with others was an experience. Like one of the Rishis, he was 'blazing with energy,' and one left him revitalised. As a small electric machine can be recharged with energy just by being near a more powerful one, so a person could be magnetised by being near Gurdjieff, by his force and 'being.' " (Nott, Teachings of Gurdjieff, p. 60)
Rather more ominous is a recent academic contention that "Gurdjieff's career as a professional hypnotist was not simply a passing episode in his early life; it was his most central, continuing, and deepening 'scientific' interest and pursuit throughout his lifetime." (22)
8. New York, Alfred Orage, and Rom Landau
The summer visitors in 1926-7 brought welcome funds to the Priory, but 1928 was a disaster in this respect. Few new pupils were now appearing. Gurdjieff's creditors were demanding his repayment of outstanding debt. This was the reason why he asked for ten thousand dollars from his American supporters (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 133). The money was not forthcoming, a problem which continued.
The pursuit of debt solvency was a strong feature of his second visit to America in late January, 1929. Gurdjieff apparently embarrassed Alfred Orage by requesting the necessary ten thousand dollars from the Oragean circle of affluent American admirers in New York. The funds again proved elusive, and the situation with Orage was now changing.
Since 1924, Alfred Orage had remained in New York as an emissary, organising groups for the study of Gurdjieff's teaching. He reputedly taught some 200 students in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere; they each paid monthly fees of ten dollars. Orage would send the proceeds to Gurdjieff. The emissary would talk to informal audiences on such themes as "man is a mechanical being" and the necessity for self-observation, involving an attempted non-identification with the body, emotions, and thoughts. Alfred Orage very quickly lost detachment when in 1924 he became involved with Jessie Dwight (1901-1984), an attractive young New Yorker who became his secretary. From the start, Jessie was resistant to Gurdjieff, and especially to his influence upon Alfred. (23)
When Gurdjieff departed from New York in 1924, he told Jessie to come to the Priory. She responded with the tender sentiment of "I hate you." When Alfred insisted that she comply, Jessie did so, and went on her own ahead of him. She thereafter wrote a string of complaining letters to Alfred from the Priory. See further Gurdjieff and Orage. Jessie accompanied Alfred to the Priory in subsequent years. In the summer of 1926, "after an inordinate amount of drink," she was seen moving along the corridor to Gurdjieff's room, armed with a revolver. She was intercepted by a worried Edith Taylor, another American visitor (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 108).
Fritz Peters records an episode at the Priory in 1925, in which Gurdjieff erupted into "furious screaming" at Alfred Orage (Peters, Gurdjieff, p. 29). Peters, a direct witness, was at first horrified, entering Gurdjieff's room with a tray of coffee and brandy. "In the space of an instant, Gurdjieff's voice stopped, his whole personality changed, he gave me a broad smile - looking incredibly peaceful and inwardly quiet - motioned me to leave, and then resumed his tirade with undiminished force" (ibid.). Young Peters was now convinced that the anger was under conscious control, although still "terrified" at the fury. No reason for the anger is supplied, and Taylor has stressed that later writers have unduly speculated on the cause as being Jesse (Inventors of Gurdjieff). We can be much more certain of some personal habits. Jessie was a drinker and had broken the Priory rules for women by smoking cigarettes in public. Gurdjieff was also a heavy smoker, and increased his alcohol intake at this period. Alfred had resumed his unhealthy habit of chain-smoking after his manual phase at the Priory.
Alfred married Jessie in 1927. According to Taylor, there was no complaint from Gurdjieff about this event, although some partisans have made much of Jesse as a bad match. The Orages travelled to the Prieuré in January 1928 on a brief visit. There Alfred worked amicably with Gurdjieff on the text of Beelzebub's Tales. Jessie Orage and Gurdjieff appear to have been in some degree of friction, "When the Orages left, Gurdjieff warned Jessie not to keep his 'super idiot' [Alfred] away from him" (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 115). They never returned.
Jessie Orage gave birth to a boy in 1929. According to close informant Gorham Munson, Gurdjieff wanted Alfred Orage to bring his family to the Prieuré, and there continue the project of editing the unpublished Beelzebub's Tales. Alfred did not comply; he "neither wanted to leave his family nor to put them in the never-stable environment of Fontainebleau" (Munson, Black Sheep Philosophers). He decided to resume his literary career, which he had rejected in 1922.
In February 1930, Gurdjieff made his third voyage to New York. Alfred Orage was not amongst the welcoming party. The Caucasian visitor created difficulties in various situations. A meeting was arranged with the publisher Alfred Knopf, but Gurdjieff rendered this a fiasco by expressing an adverse reflection. "First clean house, your house, then perhaps can have my book!" Gurdjieff cannot be accused of fawning at the feet of capitalist magnates. Yet Orage was horrified, having been closely involved in the arrangements. He later wrote in a letter: "I told Gurdjieff in New York that I'd come to the end of my patience and that, without a new initiation, I was as good as dead about the Prieuré" (Moore, 1991, p. 236). In May 1930, Orage returned to England, and there became strongly involved in social and political issues as of old.
Gurdjieff did not meet the demand for initiation. The original "initiation" had occurred under circumstances of manual work at the Priory, after the initiate had departed from a literary career. Now Orage felt cheated, it would seem, even though he had been the major figure in the New York group activity. His basic idea was that he had given up everything to follow Gurdjieff, who was not cooperating. He felt that Thomas de Hartmann had also been cold-shouldered, having been made to live an independent existence outside the Priory.
A fourth visit to New York followed in November 1930, and was protracted. The New York group, so strongly associated with the absent Orage (now independently active in England), eagerly assembled to hear a reading from the much edited Beelzebub's Tales. Gurdjieff afterwards criticised his admirers (on that same occasion) in the context of being candidates for the madhouse. This accusation was based upon their reactions to the reading, which he implied were influenced by the wrong criteria.
These New York enthusiasts were seen as borrowing from a conceptualism unknown at the Priory, an innovation created by Orage (Moore, 1991, p. 238). This meant, for instance, that the discipline of self-observation had merely become an obsession. The criticism involved the factor that self-observation was being undertaken without duly eliminating negative emotions. One interpretation urges that Orage had said more than Gurdjieff indicated, and including the theme that intentional suffering has the objective of overcoming negative emotion (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, pp. 121-2).
A fortnight later, Gurdjieff presented the same group with a document that all of them had to sign within 36 hours, under threat of expulsion. This contract prohibited any future contact with Orage, or "with any members of the former group existing till now under the name of 'Orage's group' " (Moore, 1991, p. 238). While some people signed, others refused. Urgent telegrams were sent to Orage in England, and he sailed for New York, arriving in January with his reluctant wife. He tried to placate Gurdjieff by sending a letter to him about a plan to publish his book, and also promising an economic contribution. There are different versions of events. Orage requested a meeting with Gurdjieff, who agreed on condition that Orage sign the oath. The condition was met. "Orage without hesitation vowed to ostracise Orage" (ibid., p. 239).
That same month of January 1931, Gurdjieff instigated a session (at his New York apartment) in which he was host to the psychologist John B. Watson, some academic colleagues of the latter, and other intelligentsia. The purpose was to promote his unpublished book. There are two different accounts of this event. Gurdjieff commenced a reading from the chapter on America in his Beelzebub's Tales. Harvard, Columbia, and John Hopkins University were represented in the audience. Watson expressed a negative comment, to the effect that he could not see how much could be gained by hearing any more. He proposed a conversation instead. Gurdjieff agreed, and provided the guests with alcohol. "He was so agreeable, so keen, so affable, that Steffens, Watson, Montague (a psychologist) and all the rest of them took him into their complete confidence" (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 144). Having permitted the interlude, Gurdjieff enjoined a further reading, and from the same chapter; the lengthy and unrelenting recital by American pupil Edwin Wolfe continued until about three in the morning, when the guests departed.
Soon afterwards, Gurdjieff remarked disparagingly to Wolfe and others in his broken English: "You see what called 'intelligentsia' in America. Can you imagine. Such empty thing. Intelligentsia they are called. Such nonentities." The account by William Seabrook says that the evening "was a complete, if always polite and amiable, fiasco." A number of the guests evidently had reservations about what was occurring. One elderly gent was moved by the reading, but some others left without saying goodbye.
Meanwhile, Gurdjieff and Orage met almost daily; they appeared to be getting on as well as ever. In March 1931, Orage went to the dockside in New York to bid Gurdjieff farewell on his voyage back to France (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 144). However, they never met again. Orage himself returned decisively to England a few months later, to cement his literary career; he left the leadership in New York to Jean Toomer, who was likewise to become offput by insistent requests for money. This event has been described in terms of a defection. An academic commentator has resisted the tendency to infamy in some partisan versions. (24) Even when the role of Orage as mediator was placed in doubt by Gurdjieff early in 1931:
"Orage remained committed to the task Gurdjieff had assigned him as early as 1925: to edit the book [Beelzebub's Tales] that Gurdjieff hoped would sound his voice after his death.... Never for an instant did he [Orage] lose an iota of belief or confidence in the value of the work of the Institute [for the Harmonious Development of Man]. (Taylor, Gurdjieff and Orage, p. 249)
In 1932, Orage created the New English Weekly. His renewed literary career was tragically short-lived. In November 1934, he reached many thousands of BBC radio listeners with a speech on Social Credit (a socialist movement), but died of a heart attack within hours of that event, passing away in sleep. Gurdjieff was in New York at this time, and when informed of the demise, he remarked: "This man [Orage] my brother" (Taylor, Gurdjieff and Orage, p. ix).
Orage did not assist with The Herald of Coming Good (1933). This was the only writing of Gurdjieff to be (privately) published during his lifetime. Speedily composed at the Cafe de la Paix in 1932, the curiosity exhibits some disconcerting features, including references to hypnotism. It is partly autobiographical, and was proclaiming the "Good" represented by the forthcoming Beelzebub's Tales. The author predicted a large circulation, but "failing, predictably enough, to find a publisher, Gurdjieff circulated copies privately among his consternated followers" (Moore, 1991, p. 247).
The Herald has been described as a pamphet written for the purpose of recovering the Priory prior to the sell-off. In February 1933, Gurdjieff sent the manuscript to Orage in London, requesting him to edit. The ex-pupil politely refused. Instead, an American follower undertook that task. After publication, a total of 138 copies was sent to New York, to be sold for five dollars each. At the end of the year however, there were dozens of those copies unsold (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 151). By that time, the Priory was irretrievably lost. The Herald is generally considered to have been counter-productive, being more offputting than attractive. Gurdjieff subsequently denied any relevance of his pamphlet. (25)
His visits to America continued, totalling eight altogether (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, 2004). In 1934, he made a lengthy sixth visit to America, where he proved very disconcerting to some admirers in Chicago and New York, giving the impression that he was solely intent upon gaining funds. His erratic behaviour and alleged powers of hypnosis were the subject of adverse rumours. The prominent admirer Jean Toomer was irritated by "tricky manipulative tactics" to procure funds, and his relationship with Gurdjieff soon ended. (26) Some insight into this situation is afforded via Toomer's record at Gurdjieff and Money.
In February 1935, Toomer gave Gurdjieff 200 dollars for his return voyage to France. "The money was hardly in his pocket when he began working on me for more." Money work is a target for critics. Toomer was invited to lunch by the hierophant, knowing what the purpose was. He went to a small New York apartment and was given a typically lavish meal, in which three people participated. Meat, fish, and salad were followed by four chickens, potatoes, "strange meat," and gravy. The pervasive vodka was in accompaniment, and the ritual toasts proceeded. Gurdjieff was accustomed to living in grand culinary style, himself being an accomplished chef. His "feasts" were well known, and of course, they cost money to prepare. The Fourth Way really was the alternative to frugality and asceticism. It was also very expensive.
Eight toasts are mentioned, involving half a glass of vodka each time. This session seems to have been relatively restrained. The first toast was to ordinary idiots, and the second to super idiots (like Orage). Gurdjieff had allocated to himself the far more advanced role of "unique idiot," which was number 21 on the scale of toasts, and very rarely celebrated. "It is generally understood by those who dine and drink with him that God is his heir, and that when he dies God will then become the unique idiot."
Afterwards Gurdjieff divulged that his impending voyage was delayed for a week, and therefore he needed more money to live on while he remained in America. The amount of 330 dollars was stipulated for Toomer to pay. The donor would be repaid in four months, but if he failed to pay now, "the entire work would go up the chimney, as this was the critical hour." Toomer's ruminations strongly imply a repetition of events in previous years. "I squirmed and was incredulous that he would try to work the same old trick again." (27)
In 1934 at a New York hotel, a more well known episode occurred which has gained a certain amount of notoriety. Expecting fifteen guests, Gurdjieff asked his old acquaintance Fritz Peters about obscene phrases and four letter words in English, a language which he could not speak properly. As a consequence, he received two hours tuition in obscenity. Afterwards Gurdjieff presented himself to his guests as a poor and unworthy host. Many of the guests were affluent journalists, and of both sexes. Their manner of questioning him had an air of routine boredom. "They behaved as if they were carrying out an assignment to interview some crank" (Peters, Gurdjieff, p. 203).
Gurdjieff's voice altered in tone, and he began to dwell on the theme that humanity was in a very sad state; the crux here was that "this transformation of humankind into something worthless was especially apparent in America - which was why he had come there to observe it" (ibid., p. 203). Via his new acquisition of obscene language, this talk developed into a four letter word evocation of what people, especially Americans, contrived as a substitute for intelligence, meaning their sexual activities. "He then launched into a detailed description of the sexual habits of various races and nations," and after some two hours of this surfeit, assisted by much drinking of wine, the guests "became completely uninhibited" (ibid., p. 204), with orgiastic symptoms developing. At the end, Gurdjieff loudly declared "that they had already confirmed his observation of the decadence of the Americans and that they need no longer demonstrate for him" (ibid., p. 205). The host added that he deserved payment for this lesson. Peters relates that in this manner, Gurdjieff collected several thousand dollars from the guests.
A wide range of reactions has greeted this episode. Detractors urge that Gurdjieff should not have acted in the way he did, which was allegedly immoral. Supporters have argued that he did not actually do anything wrong, himself not joining in the indulgent consequences. However, he did collect money via the improvisation, and this action is viewed as reprehensible by some critics. The suggestion has also been made that Peters added novelistic flourishes to this incident.
An influential account dating to the same period was that of Rom Landau (1899-1974), then a journalist, who gained two interviews with Gurdjieff in New York. The result was included in God is My Adventure (1935), an influential bestseller. Landau praised the lecturing of Ouspensky, but was negative in relation to Gurdjieff. "I had been unable to perceive in the man George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff the harmonious development of man" (God is My Adventure, p. 202).
Landau had assimilated the popular idea of Gurdjieff as a hypnotist, and seems to have been proud of his determination not to be influenced by the presumed magician. Gurdjieff's proffered cigarettes were imagined to be fatally alluring, and refused accordingly. Landau was "specially careful not to look at Gurdjieff and not to allow him to look into my eyes" (ibid., p. 191). Instead the visitor faced an assistant of Gurdjieff, determined not to see the man he had come to interview. In this rather ludicrous situation, Landau experienced a weakness below his navel, convinced that his legs would collapse under him if he tried to stand up. He attributed his "queer state" to Gurdjieff, and declared that "it might have been a form of hypnosis."
The journalist relates that a female novelist had attributed to Gurdjieff a piercing look that hit her "sexual centre." This episode had earlier occurred in New York. An occultist technique is implied. Landau credits an associated belief of detractors that the hypnotic powers of Gurdjieff were learned in Tibet. Sceptics generally deny the existence of such powers, but Landau was an exception. Adopting a different interpretation, Paul B. Taylor has referred to "a story that circulated in New York about Gurdjieff sending orgasmic vibrations to a woman near him." Taylor is here concerned to contradict biographer James Webb, who repeated this story, gave the date of occurrence as spring 1933, and named the woman as Zona Gale (The Harmonious Circle, p. 420). "Gurdjieff was not in the United States that spring, but in France doing his best to raise money to save his Institute at the Prieuré" (Taylor, Inventors of Gurdjieff).
Landau seems to have become prone to the confusion that Gurdjieff was Lama Aghwan Dordjieff (d. 1938), a political agent in Tibet who had pitted himself against the British expeditionary force to Lhasa in 1903. Landau certainly inserted a report to that effect. (28) A partisan reaction comments: "This unsavoury and preposterous muddle was to remain the most dramatic critique of Gurdjieff published in his lifetime" (Moore, Gurdjieff, p. 259).
Some readers can see humour in Gurdjieff's tactic with Landau. The Armenian Greek was self-depreciating about his use of language. "You excuse my English. It is awfully bad. I speaking my own English, you know not modern, but pre-Shakespearian English" (Landau, God is My Adventure, p. 190). This good-humoured front was perhaps the best tactic to adopt with a resistant visitor, who gives the impression of having been tied in a psychological knot by a fear of being hypnotised.
Landau asked a question. Was it true that Gurdjieff was preparing a group of disciples "who will eventually become a sort of esoteric school?" The "school" theme was possibly derived from Ouspensky, who continued to entertain the idea of "esoteric schools" for many years after his break with Gurdjieff. The Caucasian responded: "No good you now speak to me. You not know me.... you not know what ask." He told the visitor to first read a certain writing of his (the extravagant Herald of Coming Good), and then come back later.
The commentary of the journalist strongly implies that he (Landau) really did know what to ask, and furthermore merited a reply on his own terms. Gurdjieff was merely being evasive, is the insinuation. Ignoring the advice he had been given, Landau pressed a further question: "Is Ouspensky's teaching in your opinion original or based on yours; and do you consider him the most important of all your former followers?"
Gurdjieff effectively dismissed the question, and Landau was evidently offended. According to Gurdjieff, the only way forward was a further meeting at Child's Restaurant on Fifth Avenue. However, the journalist was incredulous. "I could not conceive how a conversation of any significance could be successful in the atmosphere of an eating place in Fifth Avenue, with all its noise and bustle" (God is My Adventure, p. 199). Landau was unaware that Ouspensky's significant first meeting with Gurdjieff occurred in a noisy restaurant at a Russian metropolis. Ouspensky had recorded the details of earlier years in a lengthy manuscript that he declined to have published ().
Gurdjieff may have guessed that the journalist would dismiss the Herald. "The little book was an amazing publication. It gave you in many instances the impression of the work of a man who was no longer sane." That pamphlet certainly is noted for being offputting. Landau nevertheless kept his appointment on Fifth Avenue, and in a mood desiring "precise answers to the questions I had put to him [Gurdjieff]." The host was deliberately evasive, a strategy facilitated by the interruptions caused by other persons converging at this venue. Landau noticed that Gurdjieff's use of English was more refined on this occasion, and suspected that the relatively crude language employed at the first meeting had been contrived (this aspect of mutating speech is indicated in other reports also, suggesting a policy not answering to the common standards of conversation).
Close analysis of Landau's account could contradict the hostile assumption that Gurdjieff was a charlatan because he did not give precise answers to the journalist's insistent (and probably irrelevant) questions. Those questions were posed in the deducible context of an intended commercial book about well known esoteric/mystical entities. (29) The bestselling status of such books might be regarded as a peculiarity of the capitalist publishing market and consumer susceptibility. An ongoing question remains as to whether Gurdjieff used a hypnotic technique in the first interview with Landau.
9. Surviving the Second World War
When Gurdjieff ceased his writing in 1935, he was living solo in Paris, free of dependants. He continued to live in Paris during the Second World War, in a small apartment affording a very different environment to the Prieuré.
To stay in Paris was inviting hazards, as soon became evident. This renewed era of mass suffering and military madness saw German air raids on the outskirts of Paris in June 1940; a mass exodus ensued, involving over two thirds of the Parisian population. Gurdjieff's pupils insisted that he depart with so many others, and very reluctantly he consented. Only twenty-four hours later, he reverted to his original decision and went back to the city, moving against the engulfing and panic-stricken wave of fleeing refugees. He returned to his apartment in Rue des Colonels Rénard, apparently even while the Nazis triumphantly entered the metropolis. Over twenty years earlier, he had retreated from the Bolsheviks; now he survived within the Nazi domain.
His pupil Jeanne de Salzmann (1889-1990) now became the principal figure in his circle. She had created her own group during the late 1930s, composed of French people, who now transferred to Gurdjieff, meeting at his apartment. Jeanne had been one of the key dancers at the Prieuré, and had successfully adapted to the 1930s transition. Adaptation did Salzmann no harm, as she lived to the age of 101.
"To hold group meetings of any sort was to flirt with danger" (Moore, 1991, p. 275), in the oppressed conditions of curfew and surveillance. However, Gurdjieff's new group expanded. In addition, he was helping many neighbours who had severe problems, including reduced food and a very cold winter in which old people died in pathetic anguish. He also became noted for helping poor artists by purchasing their works, overcrowding his home with mediocre paintings, most of which he gave away after the war.
Apart from de Salzmann, his circle now harboured only one survivor from the Prieuré days (Tchesslav Tchechovitch). The British and American pupils had vanished from the scene. Most of the French newcomers were artists and writers, escaping military conscription and forced labour in Germany. The meetings in his Paris apartment were conducted in French, a tongue disliked by Gurdjieff. His linguistic preference can sound idiosyncratic: "I am god of languages... I speak scientifically, very simple do I speak" (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 190). Many interchanges were translated into English (see Transcripts 1941-1946).
In distant America, his concerned admirers urged him to leave France; avenues of exit were possible. Gurdjieff refused to abandon his new French supporters. While London suffered heavy bombing, the situation in occupied Paris was also oppressive. Daily food rations were officially reduced to 1200 calories, which was considered dire by medical experts. Yet Gurdjieff was able to maintain a well stocked pantry, complete with vodka. The authorities became aware of this discrepancy, considering him to be engaged in unlawful activities. Gurdjieff has been implicated in dealing via the black market, while maintaining a neutral position between the French and Germans (Webb, The Harmonious Circle, p. 469; Moore, 1991, p. 275).
In 1942 he visited local shops with an appealing story that a wealthy American pupil had gifted him with an oil-well in Texas. On this basis he acquired a substantial credit account. Accusations of a confidence trick might not be totally applicable. This period was so grim that in May 1942, the Nazi regime imposed upon all Jews an identity tag for dubious reasons favoured by Gestapo tactic. Parisian Jews now had to wear the yellow Star of David. Quick to decode this stratagem, and at risk of being considered alarmist, Gurdjieff insisted that his Jewish pupils should escape or go underground. Some of them worked at saleable handicrafts while living in attics and cellars at the homes of Christians affiliated to Gurdjieff.
In July 1942, nine hundred squads of French police, in liaison with the Gestapo, arrested in Paris all those wearing the Star of David. The victims were taken to the concentration camp at Drancy, from where they were sentenced to further horrors in the Auschwitz gas chambers. Over a hundred thousand French Jews were murdered in this genocide.
In 1943, an increasing number of French pupils found their way to Gurdjieff's apartment, with forty people attending lengthy readings from the unpublished Beelzebub's Tales, now a lifeline in a distressed world created by the manic Hitler. Elsewhere, "at the Salle Pleyel he was giving Movements classes of great vitality, based largely on the enneagram" (Moore, 1991, p. 280).
The Transcripts of his interchanges do not resemble Ouspensky's Search, and are frequently down to earth and body-centred, along with eccentric expressions. There is very little metaphysics, though "movement" and other exercises are strongly prescribed. "Don't philosophise," Gurdjieff tends to say, meaning a divergence from the task in hand. He was disapproving when one questioner described feeling the disappearance of his body. "If you continue, you have a fine chance of soon being a candidate for an insane asylum. It is [a] state which the spiritualists and theosophists know. Stop immediately." (July 13, 1944, in Eight Meetings)
After Paris was liberated, in 1945 Gurdjieff was host to two American contacts, including Fritz Peters, who recorded some details of the ongoing situation. Peters observed that two types of people came to Gurdjieff's apartment, meaning (a) pupils and (b) older people, generally poor, who did not appear to have anything to do with his teaching. Gurdjieff could be stern and difficult with pupils, but treated the other category with courtesy and kindness. Peters was evidently confused by this situation, and on this point made a remark to Gurdjieff, and to the effect that the latter was giving attention to people who lacked possibilities for inner development. Gurdjieff cautioned that Peters had failed to understand him in this respect. He gave an explanation, referring to the old non-pupils as being part of his "family," and some excerpts are relevant here:
"I play many roles in life.... this part of my destiny.... I also 'teacher of dancing,' and have many businesses: you not know that I own company which make false eyelashes, and also have very good business selling rugs. This way I make money for self and for family. Money I 'shear' from disciples is for work. But other money I make for my family. My family very big, as you see - because this kind old people who come every day to my house are, also, family.... You not know, even though you hear about this, what life is like in Paris during war, while Germans here. For such people - people who come to see me every day now - was impossible even find any way to eat. But for me, not so.... I make deal with Germans, with policemen, with all kinds of idealistic people who make 'black market.' " (Peters, Gurdjieff, pp. 262-3)
During his last years, Gurdjieff would not discuss his emphases in terms of any philosophy or doctrine. His teaching occurred very much on a one-to-one basis with individuals. Even some of his supporters have said that his activity lacked the cohesion to become a movement or organisation. Jeanne de Salzmann altered this situation by inspiring Gurdjieff centres in Paris, London, New York, and elsewhere; the Gurdjieff Foundation (or rather Foundations) was now the "Fourth Way." To this emerging movement, Jeanne de Salzmann was the guiding figure, and considered far more important than either Orage or Ouspensky. Some difficulties were experienced by dissidents. (30)
10. P. D. Ouspensky and the System
Probably the most controversial element in Gurdjieff's biography is Ouspensky. Their names are intertwined to the point of endless asssociation. Their relationship, at first so positive, and later so negative, has been the subject of innumerable comments, with some heated arguments in train.
Piotr D. Ouspensky (1878-1947) was a member of the leisured Russian middle class, although he was not typical of that category, which existed in such strong juxtaposition to the peasantry. Ouspensky "refused to follow conventional academic training." He became a Theosophist and travelled to India, seeking mystical knowledge, and subsequently gave public lectures in St. Petersburg about his adventures. He was also an amateur mathematician and authored The Fourth Dimension (1909); more philosophical was his Tertium Organum (1912), the English translation of which was published in 1922 (and became celebrated in America). At Moscow in 1915, the Russian intellectual met the Caucasian Gurdjieff and became accepted as a pupil. Ouspensky then severed his link with the Theosophical Society, which he had joined in 1907.
Ouspensky is the most famous of Gurdjieff's students; only Alfred Orage can approach him in terms of intellectual intensity. The Russian contributed a lengthy record of his years with Gurdjieff prior to his independent trajectory. That record was not published until after both of them had died. The resultant book In Search of the Miraculous (1950) proved influential over the decades. The title (abbreviation: Search) has been considered misleading, being imposed by the publisher, and a throwback to the author's early travels in India, which he described at the time as a search for the miraculous. Gurdjieff "always laughed at people who expected miracles from him" (Search, p. 34).
Ouspensky describes an experience of 1916 in which "I heard his [Gurdjieff's] voice inside me" and "Gurdjieff put questions to me without words" (Search, p. 262). Yet he afterwards became estranged from his teacher, although not totally, a factor confirmed by an article in a London newspaper dated February 1923. This was entitled Not a Cult: Interview with P. D. Ouspensky. The journalist described Ouspenky as "the chief missionary for Gurdjieff's strange academy." The Russian here affirmed: "I don't like to see the word cult applied to the movement.... we are not trying to found a church or a sect, but simply to promote a method of education and study." He referred to a book he had written, which would become available in the summer. The proposed title was Fragments of an Ancient Teaching. That book did not appear.
Ouspensky became more resistant to Gurdjieff during 1923. "In spite of all my interest in Gurdjieff's work I could find no place for myself in this work nor did I understand its direction" (Search, p. 389). The defection of Dr. James Young no doubt registered with him (). Early in 1924, Ouspensky announced at a meeting in London that he would proceed independently of his former teacher. His words are reported as:
"Mr. Gurdjieff is a very extraordinary man. His possibilities are much greater than those like ourselves. But he can also go in the wrong way. I believe that he is now passing through a crisis, the outcome of which no one can foresee. Most people have many 'I's.... But with Mr. Gurdjieff there are only two 'I's; one very good and one very bad. I believe that in the end the good 'I' will conquer. But meanwhile it is very dangerous to be near him." (Bennett, Witness, p. 126)
Moreover, Ouspensky now advised two English pupils of Gurdjieff, namely Maurice Nicoll and John G. Bennett, to never again communicate with Gurdjieff or even to mention his name. Despite this hostility, Gurdjieff was subsequently a convivial host that same year when Ouspensky again visited the Prieuré. "He sat on Gurdjieff's left and acted like a small boy, laughing more than he meant to" (cited in Moore, 1991, p. 205), and influenced by the armagnac which his former teacher plied him with. This proved a fleeting interlude in the trend of separation.
Gurdjieff partisans stress that Ouspensky broke with his teacher three times, the two earlier occasions being at Essentuki in 1918 and Constantinople in 1921. Ouspensky reacted to the sacred dances and other ingredients of the unpredictable Gurdjieff situation. He believed that he could do better with an alternative format, in which his presentation of the Gurdjieff teaching became that of a "System." Ouspensky preferred a world of the lecturer's ambience, in which the System was streamlined to didactic satisfaction. His followers could not find anything like the "System" elsewhere. They considered Jung off the map by comparison.
"Psychology is sometimes called a new science. This is quite wrong. Psychology is, perhaps, the oldest science, and, unfortunately, in its most essential features a forgotten science." (Ouspensky, The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution, p. 3)
Sophie (Madame) Ouspensky (1878-1961) had resisted moving to England, preferring to stay in France near Gurdjieff, despite his continual insistence that she leave. She took an apartment in Asnieres, near Paris. In 1931, her husband Piotr made an unexpected and intended visit to the Prieuré. He only got as far as a café in Fontainebleau, where Gurdjieff intercepted him and proved to be an impassable obstacle. This event is obscure, and their conversation is conjectural. It is known, however, that Piotr Ouspensky would thereafter refer to Gurdjieff in uncomplimentary terms, and also reproach him for a "failure to contact Higher Source," a shortcoming deemed "a catastrophe greater than the Russian revolution" (Moore, 1991, p. 241).
That same year, Gurdjieff decisively despatched Madame Ouspensky from France to England, where she became regarded as an assistant teacher of the System at Lyne Place in Surrey. During the 1930s, the Ouspenskys are reported to have acquired more than a thousand pupils who pursued "the Work," to use the in-crowd phraseology now so familiar. Yet something went wrong in Piotr's mindset, first glimpsed in a melancholic mood he expressed in the late 1920s. His desire to contact a "Higher Source" was frustrated. Over the years he fell into alcoholism, which created a serious kidney complaint.
In 1940, the Ouspenskys moved to America. A revealing report comes from Marie Seton, who was Ouspensky's secretary in New York. See The Case of P. D. Ouspensky. He had formerly told her that "Gurdjieff had gone off the rails - become mad - and I wanted to save the System." Now she noticed certain discrepancies. The Russian lived a comfortable life in New York, his expenses paid by admirers. He would tell Seton to buy "the most lavishly expensive fruit, cheese and delicacies for his personal consumption." She also found that "sometimes he became furiously angry, particularly with the young couple who paid the bills." Further, some evenings he would spend long hours drinking at a restaurant, even until 4 am and later. Seton was his companion, being regaled with nostalgic pre-Gurdjieff memories. His unhappiness was evident. Ouspensky even cancelled a lecture to visit an enticing restaurant. Seton records his admission:
"I took over the leadership to save the System. But I took it over before I had gained enough control over myself. I was not ready. I have lost control over myself. It is a long time since I could control my state of mind."
Ouspensky told Seton that his pupils were fools, that they were deluding themselves, that they had never gained anything from the System. She was very concerned, and suggested that he stop lecturing and reorient himself. He expressed an inability to do so. "The System has become a profession with me.... I have become dependent on the comfort, the luxury. I can't give it up." Seton left the System, and after the death of Ouspensky, she was told by a partisan that "towards the end of his life he found his direction again and had made a great effort to correct himself."
In January 1947, Ouspensky returned to England after living for six years in America. Nothing had been able to change his basic depression, and he was also suffering from kidney failure. At this juncture, Gurdjieff sent an invitation, via Jeanne de Salzmann, for Ouspensky to visit his apartment in Paris. Ouspensky refused this gesture of reconciliation. Instead he presided at six meetings held at Colet Gardens (in West Kensington); the question and answer sessions are extant (Ouspensky, A Record of Meetings), and have led to different interpretations. Ouspensky was sometimes enigmatic, and kept saying "I don't know," evidently in retreat from any authority role. One of the questioners remarked in puzzlement: "Now you say you gave us no teaching." Some subsequent commentators thought that he had abandoned the System. Ouspensky became strongly associated with a negative viewpoint: "There is no System."
Perhaps Marie Seton's plea had sunk in. A Gurdjieff partisan view says that Ouspensky expressed "an amazing and obdurate nihilism" (Moore, 1991, p. 291). If he did make an effort to correct himself, it was too late. His heavy drinking precipitated his death in October 1947.
Recently, a controversy arose between Gurdjieff partisans and the dissident Gary Lachman, who has argued that Ouspensky would have been better off if he had never met Gurdjieff. This perspective has found more genius in Ouspensky's early work Tertium Organum than in his Search or The Fourth Way (both published posthumously). Lachman created the challenging rival title In Search of P. D. Ouspensky, which contradicts the partisan version of Gurdjieff. Cf. Patterson, Struggle of the Magicians. A counter to Lachman is visible at Gurdjieff Legacy.
Meanwhile, Madame Ouspensky supervised a large estate at Mendham in New Jersey, now suffering (since 1939) from the onset of Parkinson's disease, but otherwise optimistic. Although bed-ridden, she directed the new community at Franklin Farms. When Piotr died, she sent Gurdjieff a token gift of 300 dollars, and in January 1948 despatched a cablegram to the Ouspensky faction in England, advising them to contact Gurdjieff. Much discussion followed, along with uncertainties and reluctances. In June, Gurdjieff sent these people a telegram which read: "You are sheep without a shepherd. Come to me."
Piotr Ouspensky had discountenanced mention of Gurdjieff for many years. There were now hundreds of "Ouspensky pupils," and numerous of them are reported to have been indifferent to Gurdjieff, while some believed that he must have become senile or gone mad. Yet several weeks later, a number of the Ouspensky followers did journey to meet Gurdjieff in Paris, including the celebrity names Kenneth Walker (a medic) and John G. Bennett (1897-1974). In 1924, the latter had been influenced by Ouspensky's denial of Gurdjieff. In 1948, Bennett offered to Gurdjieff his 200 pupils from his neo-Ouspenkyan base at Coombe Springs. Others like Maurice Nicoll refused to contact Gurdjieff, maintaining the sense of division. Despite the change of heart in Walker, Lyne Place remained an unassailable Ouspensky bastion.
In early August 1948, Gurdjieff suffered another motoring accident, with serious injuries. He remained conscious, and survived this catastrophe with amazing speed, despite his age. He was quickly discharged from the hospital, and driven back to Paris by Jeanne de Salzmann. As to what happened next, Bennett recorded:
"Gurdjieff came slowly out [of the car]. His clothes were covered with blood. His face was black with bruises... I was looking at a dying man.... It was a dead man, a corpse, that came out of the car; and yet it walked... He walked into his room and sat down. He said: 'Now all organs are destroyed. Must make new.' He saw me and smiled.... A great spasm of pain passed through him and I saw blood flowing from his ear." (Bennett, Witness, p. 249)
Refusing X-rays, penicillin, and morphine, Gurdjieff cured himself after only eleven days. At the end of the month, he was visited at his apartment (at Rue des Colonels Rénard) by a large number of people from England and America, including the pro-Ouspensky groupings (though primarily about sixty from Bennett's contingent). For Ouspenskyites, the tuition was now very different. "A high and fastidious intellectuality, the very fulcrum of their trust, was challenged by Gurdjieff's insistence: 'You must feel, you must feel, your mind is a luxury. You must suffer remorse in your feelings' " (Moore, 1991, p. 297). Bennett was enthusiastic, (31) and Gurdjieff subsequently converted the distinguished Lord Pentland (Henry John Sinclair), a follower of Ouspensky.
A controversial feature of remorse was the "Toast to the Idiots," a mealtime speciality with an idiosyncratic agenda (ibid., pp. 353 ff.). Whatever the abstractions of idiocy, it is easy to comprehend the alcoholic effort involved. "Gurdjieff required men to finish their glass of armagnac [brandy] or vodka in one swallow, while women must take three" (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 177). Yet the exercise did not end there. Gurdjieff's use of alcohol became notorious, and is one of the major counts against him. The toast would be repeated many times; the general limit was apparently nine, though exceptions could occur. "Toasts beyond twelve were seldom even approached" (Moore, 1991, p. 354). The alcoholic intake could result in a severe hangover. Some participants were enormously relieved when this ritual was over, and evidently had difficulty in maintaining composure.
Gurdjieff claimed to be observing each participant, and there was a lore of personality traits and "essence" being manifested. Gurdjieff here emerges as the expert witness of personality and essence. Critics have reacted to the element of coercion in this supposedly meaningful exercise. Gurdjieff would insist that all his guests must participate in the toasts. These toasts had been an ongoing feature of his activity since 1922. "Many pupils have revealed that they 'cheated' at these toasts, using a variety of subterfuges to avoid drinking the full complement of toasts" (quote from Drugs, Alcohol and Food PDF, p. 7). In 1948, Gurdjieff is reported to have relaxed his longstanding rule by allowing some exceptions in the case of those not wishing to drink. Some English guests must have been uncomfortable; Kenneth Walker (1882-1966) recorded his difficult experience with "terribly powerful" vodka that quickly affected him (Walker, The Making of Man, pp. 121-2). He was not accustomed to alcohol.
According to reports, Gurdjieff was accustomed to drinking large amounts of alcohol. He had been a heavy drinker since the Priory days. (32) The suggestion has been made that he was an alcoholic; he certainly drank alcohol on a daily basis, and would drive his car after drinking (he gained the repute of being a reckless driver). He had a strong constitution, and seems to have needed only a few hours sleep even in his last years.
John Bennett was very aware of Gurdjieff's problem features. He took the precaution of warning his contingent:
"He [Gurdjieff] uses disgusting language, especially to ladies who are likely to be squeamish about such things. He has the reputation of behaving shamelessly over money matters, and with women also. At his table we have to drink spirits, often to the point of drunkenness. People have said that he is a magician, and that he uses his powers for his own ends... I do not believe that the scandalous tales told of Gurdjieff are true: but you must take into account that they may be true and act accordingly." (Bennett, Witness, p. 244)
From December 1948 until February 1949, Gurdjieff was in America after a long absence. His activity has been described by biographer Paul B. Taylor in terms of a peace mission, surprising many people with his inclusive gestures to former followers of Orage, Toomer, and Ouspensky. In New York, he revived the dance movements after over twenty years. Americans assisted him with debts, while English pupils paid his current expenses.
Back in France, in August 1949 Gurdjieff made a visit to the Lascaux caves with Bennett and others. The Paleolithic rock paintings there had been discovered in 1940, and first opened to the public in 1948. The Lascaux paintings were dated by experts to 18-20,000 years ago, but Gurdjieff strongly disagreed, asserting a dateline according with his own version of prehistory. He told Bennett's party that the paintings were created by an esoteric brotherhood existing after the loss of Atlantis, meaning some 8,000 years ago. The Atlantean myth was resurrected in his Beelzebub's Tales. Gurdjieff has been accused of inflexible views which disregarded scientific findings (Storr, Feet of Clay, p. 36). Cf. the apologist view. The date of circa 15,000 BCE is still officially operative. The caves are thought by some archaeologists to have been used as ceremonial sites.
To his credit, Gurdjieff had long been interested in ancient art, arriving at a distinctive viewpoint. "There are figures of gods and of various mythological beings that can be read like books, only not with the mind but with the emotions, provided they are sufficiently developed" (Ouspensky, Search, p. 27). He visited Lascaux during the early wave of tourism, which caused serious damage to the cave paintings. These images had survived for so many millenia, and yet tourism afflicted them after only fifteen years, a reminder of the human incompetence in anything ecological. The caves had to be closed to the public in 1963, with subsequent bureaucratic incompetence causing further tragic ruin.
Despite his recovery from the motor accident, Gurdjieff weakened in 1949, until his health failed. In Paris, he collapsed at a movements (dance) class in October 1949. A week later, he was able to view the proof copy of Beelzebub's Tales (published soon after his death). He was admitted to the American hospital of Paris, where he died on 29 October.
During the last year of his life, while staying in America, Gurdjieff visited Madame Ouspensky at Mendham. They had not met for nearly twenty years. He was subsequently presented with the manuscript of P. D. Ouspensky's unpublished Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, composed in the 1920s. Piotr had decided not to go ahead with publication, but now Madame was evidently concerned to proceed. Much of the manuscript comprised Gurdjieff's speech, translated from Russian; Gurdjieff reputedly legitimated the text, although different versions exist of his statements in this regard. When Bennett read out to him a chapter, Gurdjieff commented: "This very exact, he [Ouspensky] tell what I say" (Considering Fragments). The transmission involved did not use direct notetaking, which was forbidden by Gurdjieff at his meetings; Ouspensky had to reconstruct the conversations in Russian and translate into English, which means that his format ("in refined and rather philosophical English") was perhaps more streamlined than the original. The manuscript was subsequently published under the new commercial title In Search of the Miraculous.
11. The Philosophical Issue
Ouspenky's book Search gained many reprints. The publishers were lavish in their description. The Routledge cover to In Search of the Miraculous asserted that "this record of Ouspensky's eight years of work as Gurdjieff's pupil is to be compared with Plato's presentation of the life and teaching of Socrates." This judgment was not everywhere agreed upon. The academic doyens of ancient Greek philosophy tended to a reaction which might be translated as: "Absolutely preposterous! What will these promoters think of next?"
One may conclude that Gurdjieff would fit far more into the Pre-Socratic associations of an Empedocles or a Pythagoras rather than the Athenian phase commemorated by Plato's Dialogues. Ouspensky has sometimes been described as a philosopher, but Gurdjieff is far more tangential to the subject of modern Western philosophy, which he derided. Ouspensky did attempt a rational version of Gurdjieff's teaching, though the latter is considered an irrational charlatan by some critics.
In the 1920s, Alfred Orage described his teacher as "a Pythagorean Greek." The American writer Gorham Munson (an admirer of Gurdjieff) commented on this assessment in his paper entitled Black Sheep Philosophers, explaining the Oragean reference in terms of: "thus connecting the prominence given to numbers in the Gurdjieffian system with Gurdjieff's descent from Ionian Greeks who had migrated to Turkey."
The same writer described Gurdjieff, along with Ouspensky and Orage, as "black sheep philosophers," adding that these entities "were looked at askance by the professional philosophers and psychologists because of the different colour of their teachings." However, this trio were also rejected "by theosophists, mystics, or various occult professors."
In more recent years, an academic commentator (Paul Beekman Taylor) wrote a book entitled The Philosophy of G. I. Gurdjieff, a confirmation of an elastic classification in this case. The description seems valid, providing that the unconventional associations are registered. Gurdjieff is worlds removed from Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein; his distance from academic philosophy could be measured in astronomical light-years rather than any contemporary parallelism.
An article by biographer James Moore at Brill Online describes Gurdjieff as a "holistic philosopher." This is incumbent to mention, as the reference comes from the Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, ed. Wouter J. Hanegraaff et al. Moore here also describes his subject as a thaumaturge, a classification virtually guaranteed to arouse opposition from critics. Whatever the wonders involved, in general the term holistic suffers from the application of new age ideas in the sphere of healing and "workshops." Gurdjieff was by no means typical of the new age mentality in America and elsewhere (), and in some respects moved at a tangent.
12. Gurdjieff Versus Aleister Crowley
One controversy has met with relative obscurity, but may nonetheless be mentioned here:
"The influential commentator Colin Wilson has attempted to explain this predicament [Ouspensky's rejection of the System] by asserting that Ouspenky would have been a happier man if he had met Rudolf Steiner instead of Gurdjieff. 'Steiner would have taught him that the 'spirit world' lies inside us, and that we are all capable of access to higher worlds.' Wilson considers Gurdjieff a pessimistic influence, but obscures the issue with his theory of the 'romantic Outsider' who runs away from the world. There are so many people in the New Age who are full of the false optimism of Steiner-type notions of their inner wisdom, and who go about lecturing to lazy middle class audiences in the fond belief that they are fountains of knowledge.... Although Ouspensky did not cover up his disillusionment, he was the harbinger of the New Age tendency to appropriate exotic teachings and press these into service in lectures, courses, and workshops for dubious ends. Furthermore, writers like Colin Wilson capitalise on the Gurdjieff myth without penetrating basic issues. According to popular writers, even Aleister Crowley was capable of access to higher worlds (in which case, they are not worth accessing). Despite Crowley's serious flaws, his message of 'Do what thou wilt' has been credited by Wilson as a probable means to enable man to evolve to a higher stage." (Shepherd, Philosophical Critiques, pp. 55-6)
Some critics have strongly associated Gurdjieff with Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). Both are believed in some quarters to have been occultist charlatans. However, the sole instance of contact between these two entities, in 1926, does not prove any affinity whatever.
An eyewitness was Gurdjieff's English pupil Charles Stanley Nott, who met Crowley a few days earlier in Paris. Crowley proved friendly on that occasion, though "I saw and sensed that I could have nothing to do with him." Nott's report adds that Crowley "drifted into his black-magic jargon," though publishing was the intended agenda of conversation. Crowley also pressed Nott for an invitation to the Prieuré, "but I did not wish to be responsible for introducing such a man" (Nott, Teachings of Gurdjieff, pp. 121-2).
Nott was surprised when Crowley appeared at the Prieuré a few days later. The visitor was given tea in the salon, but he said something inappropriate to one of the boys (apparently a magical reference to his own son as a devil).
"Gurdjieff got up and spoke to the boy, who thereupon took no further notice of Crowley. There was some talk between Crowley and Gurdjieff, who kept a sharp watch on him all the time. I got a strong impression of two magicians, the white and the black - the one strong, powerful, full of light; the other also powerful but heavy, dull, and ignorant." (Nott, Teachings, p. 122)
The narrator adds that Crowley was clever, and that hundreds of people came under his influence. Yet Nott can scarcely have glimpsed the full scale of the problem. Crowley was a very committed ingester of drugs, a practitioner of "sexual magic," and favoured bizarre ritual. His private exploits were barely known at large, and he could be deceptive on the public front. Most persons would probably not have been aware of his drug problem; nevertheless, his body and psychology were saturated with substances like heroin. Crowley lived in a fantasy world of "magick," his bisexual disposition contrasting with Gurdjieff's heterosexual orientation. Crowley was capable of tying his distraught wife upside down in a wardrobe (Shepherd, Pointed Observations, 2005, p. 31). The victim died of insanity. "He drove his wife insane by torturing her" (ibid., p. 137). Some of the other women who got close to Crowley were similarly distressed, being introduced to drugs and related problems.
The Crowley-Gurdjieff encounter appears in different versions. The visitor gained entry to the Prieuré without an invitation. He was staying at a nearby hotel. A Gurdjieff biographer describes the intruder in terms of: "With his fishy eyes, rubbery androgynous face, outré dress, sinister rings, and 'sweet, slightly nauseous smell,' Crowley was a noxious guest" (Moore, 1991, p. 220).
Gurdjieff evidently decided to award polite hospitality to the visitor. Crowley's visit was apparently inspired by stories of Gurdjieff's ability to cure drug addicts. This would explain why the host was considerate of the guest. Yet no cure was forthcoming in the case of a self-styled Great Beast. "At the end of his visit, when Crowley realised he would find no help there and began to leave, Gurdjieff asked if he, Crowley, was no longer Gurdjieff's guest" (Lachman, Turn Off Your Mind, p. 186).
"Now you go, you are no longer guest?" Crowley indicated that he was returning to Paris. The courtesies then ended. Gurdjieff took his opportunity and quickly exploded into a fit of rage. His refrain in broken English was: "You filthy, you dirty inside! Never again you set foot in my house" (Webb, The Harmonious Circle, p. 315). This response has been described in terms of an emphatic repudiation. The Great Beast is reported to have turned pale; he was shaking in response to Gurdjieff's tirade.
There was an earlier occasion, in 1924, when Crowley tried to contact Gurdjieff. A biographer states that Crowley "paid a visit to Gurdjieff's Fontainebleau establishment and asked to see the Master, but Gurdjieff was either away or declined to see the Beast 666 who had come, offering to take on those pupils that Gurdjieff had failed with" (Symonds, King of the Shadow Realm, p. 288 note 3). Gurdjieff was actually in America at this time. Symonds cites Crowley's private journal entitled Magical Record of the Beast 666, which awarded Gurdjieff the status of "a very advanced adept," though "my chief quarrels are over sex." The Beast refers here to his evening with Major Frank Pinder, an English pupil of Gurdjieff who was then in France.
The British publisher Duckworth awarded Crowley the honour of being "the most bizarre man England ever made." Any British non-occultist is at liberty to criticise the self-styled Great Beast. One could appropriately cite from the Beast's journal entry of February 1941, where he says: "It is quite certain, in particular, that I have always been insane" (King of the Shadow Realm, p. ix). (33)
Numerous critics have presented objections to Gurdjieff's methods, his personality, and his teaching. These objections have varied in strength and ideological orientation, and sometimes contain factual inaccuracies. During his lifetime, the opposition in France nurtured the general impression of him as a charlatan, in large part aggravated by the misconceptions surrounding Katherine Mansfield. In 1946, a French magazine even asserted that Gurdjieff hypnotised all his pupils into a "cataleptic state, " a scenario which has been described as "preposterous even by the standards of French popular journalism" (Moore, 1991, p. 288). A pointed attack had earlier been launched by Roman Catholic denouncers, who viewed Gurdjieff as one of the many new threats to Church mandates.
Another traditionalist to attack Gurdjieff was Rene Guenon, a French partisan of the perennial philosophy as construed by A. K. Coomaraswamy and others in the early twentieth century. Guenon's own career was not straightforward. He became dissatisfied with the caste problem in Hinduism, finding that the ideological barrier in the sanatana dharma (eternal religion) discriminated against non-Hindus. He chose affiliation to a Sufi order of dervishes in Africa, and was adamantly opposed to "modernist" deviations, which he detected in many rivals, including Gurdjieff, whom he represented as a dangerous charlatan bypassing any traditional form of religious transmission.
Ironically, Gurdjieff maintained his own form of "traditional" stance, being strongly opposed to modern Western culture and contemporary literature, and deeming the intelligentsia to be wrongly educated. The disaffected Fritz Peters (1913-79) records that Gurdjieff "was puritanical, even a fanatic about homosexuality, and condemned it vigorously... he felt that homosexuality - as a career - was a dead-end street" (Peters, Balanced Man, p. 43; also quoted in Moore, Gurdjieff, pp. 259-60). By the time he wrote that report, Peters had revealed his own homosexual inclinations in his novel Finistere. Peters left the Priory in 1929, while still a young man, and at his own wish; his subsequent contacts with Gurdjieff reveal both affection and critique. His Boyhood with Gurdjieff (1964) is one of the best known memoirs, though accused of a novelistic tendency.
Ouspensky's record of Gurdjieff's statements includes the affirmation:
"Modern education and modern life create an enormous number of sexual psychopaths. They have no chance at all in the work. Speaking in general, there are only two correct ways of expending sexual energy - normal sexual life and transmutation. All inventions in this sphere are very dangerous." (In Search of the Miraculous, p. 257)
Gurdjieff did not advocate any form of promiscuity. Nevertheless, a moral problem exists in relation to his private life, and of the heterosexual variety. Biographer James Moore endorses the report that some illegitimate children were the consequence of liaisons with adoring female followers. Moore refers to "casual couplings," and in the context of "episodes so brief, and clearly tangential to the trajectory of my subject's life" (Moore, 1991, p. 2), and to the extent that he pays no further attention to these. No dates are given, the number of liaisons is not specified, and no identities are supplied; there is, moreover, no indication as to whether these encounters occurred before or after the death of his wife/partner Julia Ostrowska (who had no children) in 1926.
A subsequent biographer, Paul Beekman Taylor, has referred in more detail to this matter, naming six children of Gurdjieff, conceived by six different women, including married instances. Four of these are better documented than the others. Taylor's American mother Edith bore Gurdjieff a daughter (Eve) in late 1928, but "never admitted even token affection for Gurdjieff" (Taylor, Shadows of Heaven, p. 4). She even expressed the opinion that he was not a nice man. Their liaison has been described in terms of a "stormy personal relationship" (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 134), one in which Gurdjieff vented his frustration over finances. This negative emotion is not rendered any the more appealing by his request that Edith buy him an automobile. She did not comply, and "he addressed her constantly as an emblem of American monetary constipation" (ibid.). Gurdjieff knew that Edith had inherited a small legacy which she had invested in New York.
Another disconcerting relationship emerges. At Tbilisi in September 1919, Leonid and Elizabeta Stjoernval had a son named Nikolai (Nicolas de Val). This was a year after their dangerous journey across the Caucasus with Gurdjieff. Leonid had been unable to give his wife a child, and the actual father in this instance was Gurdjieff. Leonid is reported to have been overjoyed to acquire a son. See In Memoriam Nikolai. After his parents moved to the Chateau du Prieuré in 1922, young Nikolai lived for ten years in that location, and in the company of many other children, some of these also being related to Gurdjieff.
Nikolai's book Daddy Gurdjieff is revealing, describing how his mother's attitude to Gurdjieff became strongly resistant. As Nikolai grew up, he also proved resistant by the time he lived as a domestic servant in Gurdjieff's Parisian apartment at Rue des Colonels Renard. This was in 1937, and the young man steeled himself against his father's rages. There were daily visitors to the apartment, and meals were constantly prepared for them. Nikolai informs that the sexual activity of his pater was such an impingement in the apartment that he could not sleep, a problem he surmounted by changing residence to a nearby hotel. The tone is quite different to the partisan accounts.
According to Paul B. Taylor, Gurdjieff was benevolent towards the children associated with the Priory phase. See Gurdjieff and the Children. Even the adolescent Taylor was confused by Gurdjieff's counsel (in the late 1940s) for the children to tell stories. "Story make truth." This was accompanied by the enigmatic "Never lie, play roles." Taylor relates: "Gurdjieff's apparent contradictions confused me at the time. To not lie but to couch truth in lies took some time for me to reconcile."
One of Gurdjieff's roles was that of authoritarian patriarch at the Priory; he was the provider to his numerous dependant relatives (and other refugees), and very much in command. In 1923 he secured the freedom of his mother and sister from Russia, settling them both at the Priory. In a memoir, his niece Luba Gurdjieff (Everitt) has recorded, for instance, how his bed had to be made properly every day by workers like herself, and at risk of strong displeasure if any failure occurred. Amongst his family, he could exhibit furious rages if they did not do as he wished. His harsh attributes tend to be visible in the episode of 1926 concerning his niece Lida. This little girl had acquired a cheap toy watch, of which she made much. In a cafe, Gurdjieff snatched the watch from her hands and crushed the despised object with his foot; he paid no further attention to the victim. The girl was distressed, and went to her father Dmitri, crying bitter tears. She was "inconsolable" for the rest of the day. The next day, the ogre purchased a real watch for her (Taylor, Shadows of Heaven, p. 99). This was supposedly one of the lessons he taught to children concerning real values.
The half-brothers Nikolai Stjoernval (d. 2010) and Michel de Salzmann (1923-2001) both bore a physical resemblance to their father G. I. Gurdjieff. After the death of his nominal "father" Leonid in 1938, Nikolai did not follow the teachings of Gurdjieff. In this he contrasted with Michel, who practised as a psychiatrist in Geneva and directed a Gurdjieff group in that city. Furthermore, Michel succeeded his mother, Jeanne de Salzmann (1889-1990), as the leader of the Institut Gurdjieff in Paris. Apologists point out that the mater was a positive instance of Gurdjieff's influence, becoming his deputy in his last years, and one who notably lived to the age of 101. Furthermore, Gurdjieff did not advocate free love, unlike some other radicals.
The instance of Jessmin Howarth (1892-1984) invites attention. Reared in England, she moved to Germany and became a dancer in the Dalcroze system of Eurythmics. She achieved the role of choreographer and joined the Paris Opera. On the rebound from an unhappy love affair, she was invited by Gurdjieff to live at the Priory in 1922, and there she became one of the pupils. She accompanied Gurdjieff to America in 1924, and found that she was pregnant with his child. Gurdjieff opposed her plan to live with friends in Switzerland during the pregnancy, but sailed back to France, leaving her without a return ticket. The total lack of emotional support was evidently an issue. She did not forgive the problems caused, and refused to see the father of her child for over twenty years. She did not meet Gurdjieff again until the end of his life, in 1948 when he visited New York, though she dreaded his arrival. She only melted when she saw that he was now a very old man. Her daughter Dushka (1924-2010) lived in the same metropolis, and soon after accompanied her father to Paris. See Mother and Daughter.
"Jessmin says of Gurdjieff that he was not a nice man, meaning in the ordinary sense of mechanical kindness. He demanded of you that you think for yourself and at the same time be capable of being a pupil" (It's Up to Ourselves). This rather enigmatic theme is accompanied by retrospective remarks of Jessmin such as "he [Gurdjieff] treated them [his female partners] with impartial kindliness and did not ever bind them to him emotionally, but sought to set them free." It is possible to be very critical of the context, whether this amounted to freedom or complication.
The biographer James Webb stated: "There is no doubt at all that Gurdjieff had sexual relations with many of his pupils" (The Harmonious Circle, pp. 331). Webb also described his subject in terms of "a sensual man who enjoyed the pleasures of the bed as much as those of the table" (ibid., p. 332). According to Gurdjieff's pupil John G. Bennett:
"At certain times he led a strict, almost ascetic life, having no relation with women at all. At other times, his sex life seemed to go wild and it must be said that his unbridled periods were more frequent than the ascetic. At times, he had sexual relationships not only with almost any woman who happened to come within the sphere of his influence, but also with his own pupils." (Bennett, Gurdjieff: Making a New World, p. 231)
In terms of a moral example, Gurdjieff is glaringly deficient. Whether or not he was legally married to Julia Ostrowska, he evidently believed that he was justified in making extra liaisons resulting in children. The dancer Elizabeta Galumnian is reported to have bore him a son, Sergei. The extent of his promiscuous activity is a subject of speculation. Some very strange statements appear in the literature. Frank Lloyd Wright (who married Olgivanna) said in an interview that Gurdjieff admitted to 104 sons and 27 daughters of his own, and "for all of whose education he has made provision." However, he told others in New York that he had ten of his own children (reported in Taylor, Gurdjieff and the Children). Even ten was surely far too many, in view of the context applying.
Some commentators have deduced that the alienated Ouspensky was concerned about Gurdjieff's indifference to conventional morality. Gurdjieff defined morality as being an entirely relative phenomenon, and instead advocated conscience (Ouspensky, Search, pp. 155ff.). Critics conclude that his conscience was not working during his multiple sexual encounters.
Partisans urge that, to set against the sexual activity of Gurdjieff, his unusual interchange with a female group known as The Rope must be considered. These women were mainly Americans (including Kathryn Hulme and Margaret Anderson). "During most of the Thirties and Forties in Paris, an extraordinary group of strong-willed women, mostly writers who also happened to be lesbians, became students" (quote from No Harem). See also Patterson, Ladies of the Rope; Solano, Gurdjieff and the Women of the Rope.
British psychiatrist Anthony Storr (1920-2001) was very critical of Gurdjieff, whom he presented in the context of a dangerous charlatan and cult guru. Trained in the Jungian school (see Storr, Jung, Fontana Modern Masters, 1973), Storr juxtaposed Gurdjieff with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and Rudolf Steiner (Storr, Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus, 1996). Rajneesh was eager to appropriate "Work" concepts and the attendant "Stop" exercise, repeating the errors committed in psychedelic quarters associated with Timothy Leary, errors which comprised a 1960s fashion of superficial imitation. According to Storr, "Gurdjieff's sexual behaviour was unscrupulous, in that he coupled with any female disciple whom he found attractive" (Feet of Clay, p. 38).
The Jungian approach is attended by the disadvantage that Jung himself has come under strong criticism for his behaviour, including the element of promiscuity. See, for example, Richard Noll, The Jung Cult (1994); Noll, The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung (1997). The emerging parallel between Jung and Gurdjieff is that of an uncontrolled sexual appetite. While both had their insights, the flaws in their lifestyle show up painfully to close analysis. Gurdjieff's Fourth Way () invites the criticism that a relegated "way of the monk" has virtues sorely missing in the sphere of casual couplings and sperm donorship to the Stjoernval family.
In the current Western technological society, there is perhaps no hope of any moral advancement, especially when an orgiastic and bisexual heroin addict like Aleister Crowley () has been celebrated by dead-end academics in America and Britain. Gurdjieff joins the fashionable "left hand" Tantric contingent via his casual couplings, though in other respects he was ahead of Crowley. Gurdjieff did not practise ritual magic and did not become a heroin addict (though he did resort to opium in the 1920s). The encounter at the Priory in 1926 may be taken as proof that he diverged from "magick." Nevertheless, Gurdjieff is open to an accusation of being convergent with "do what thou wilt" (a Crowley phrase). Occultist retardation might merely "die like a dog" (a Gurdjieff phrase), or something worse, no matter what the deception created by Crowleyan Gnostic pretensions.
I have already made my own position clear in relation to Gurdjieff's sexual appetite. "He may therefore be dismissed as a viable example of worthwhile 'development,' to use a word that has virtually no meaning in the contemporary climate which employs it so often" (Some Philosophical Critiques, p. 271 note 184). His occultist assertion of sexual inequality, broached in the Saurat interview of 1923 (), is a cue for wrong development.
The influential writer Colin Wilson asserted that "he [Gurdjieff] ate, drank, fornicated and prayed, and remained a well-rounded human being" (Wilson, The Strange Life, p. 139). This belief is in contention (Shepherd, Some Philosophical Critiques, p. 269 note 179). Fornication does not prove a well-rounded human being, whatever the theory about a "harmonious development of man." The professed "new existentialism" of Wilson acknowledged Nietzsche as a primary influence, and the confusions in that direction are legion. For literate citizens, the onus is to spell out the pitfalls in contemporary fashions, including the inverted fiction deriving from D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930), who like Crowley, was a four letter word specialist; the new literary taste may have influenced the spread of sexual diseases now so evident. Beelzebub's Tales is far preferable to Lady Chatterley's Lover, although the occultism of "sexual union" represents a problem.
The lurid Colin Wilson vogue for the bohemian "outsider" is not the best guide to relevant citizen action; Gurdjieff and Ouspensky also figure in that novelistic labyrinth dating back to the 1950s, along with Crowley and Lawrence. Wilson does not write like a typical partisan of either Gurdjieff or Crowley, but his output was very influential, and more so than most of the partisan writings. See Wilson, The War Against Sleep (1980); Wilson, Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast (1987). Cf. Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol. 1 (1995), pp. 19-36. The war against sleep was lost long ago; deep slumber (amounting to rigor mortis) pervades the global zone of casual and superficial literature avalanched by commercial publishers. My own route past this obstruction was to choose library study and to cultivate a serious citizen orientation in the face of semi-literacy.
14. Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'
This maxim of Gurdjieff appeared as the title of one of his books. That volume "refers quite freely to his mistakes, to his own defects, and to what he did to overcome them; on the other hand, he also claims for himself very extraordinary powers" (J. G. Bennett, Introduction to Third Series). His followers regard him as demonstrating the real "I Am," the achievement of true individuality. This involves "permanent and unchangeable I," consciousness, and will (Ouspensky, Search, p. 40).
"Man such as we know him, the 'man-machine,' the man who cannot 'do,' and with whom and through whom everything 'happens' [automatically], cannot have a permanent and single I. His I changes as quickly as his thoughts, feelings, and moods, and he makes a profound mistake in considering himself always one and the same person." (Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, p. 59)
Gurdjieff emphasised that the human situation is mechanical, and hopelessly so, lacking any real volition. The achievement of real entity is only possible through a due evolution or "development," a complexity which is best known in the mediating pages of Ouspensky. Critics often focus upon apparently naive themes like "food for the moon," meaning the state of humanity as being incapable of evolution. Gurdjieff's basic point was that "nature does not need this evolution" (Search, p. 58), although "possibilities of evolution exist, and they may be developed in separate individuals with the help of appropriate knowledge and methods" (ibid., p. 57). He may have been correct to assert that the human is:
"a very complex machine, far more complex than a railway engine, a motorcar, or an aeroplane - but they [people] know nothing, or almost nothing, about the construction, working, or possibilities of this machine; they do not even understand its simplest functions, because they do not know the purpose of these functions." (Ouspensky, Search, p. 58)
With regard to consciousness, Gurdjieff is more complicated. He was realistic in stating: "In most cases what is called 'cosmic consciousness' is simply fantasy, associative daydreaming connected with intensified work of the emotional " (Search, p. 116). He said that "science and philosophy cannot define consciousness," the basic difficulty being that "we have only the possibility of consciousness and rare flashes of it" (ibid., p. 117). He further clarified that four states of consciousness are possible for man, the two lowest of which are sleep and the ordinary waking state. The third of these states is self-remembering. Yet "science and philosophy have overlooked the fact that we do not possess this [third] state of consciousness" (ibid., p. 141), which is only gained by special training. The fourth state of consciousness is indicated to be rare, an objective consciousness which "is the result of inner growth and of long and difficult work on oneself" (ibid., p. 142).
This format partially converges with the Vedantic version of four states (the turiya doctrine), but replacing the state of dreaming with self-remembering. The question of who has reached the ultimate stage is attended by the issue of defects applying to persons at a lower stage who imagine that they have achieved the ultimate. Philosophically, this means that the format is at risk of contraction in virtually all teachings, including the Gurdjieff version.
Ouspensky's lengthy report of Gurdjieff's oral teaching has generally been described in terms of a psychology and a cosmology. Those who are attracted to the psychological teaching sometimes react to the cosmology, and more specifically, to the astrological element. Ouspenky's version does refer to "planetary influences," although the context does not fit the popular version of astrology.
At Essentuki, while Ouspensky and other pupils walked with Gurdjieff in the park, one of them asked him about his views on astrology, and "whether there was anything of value in the more or less known theories of astrology." He answered:
"Yes, it depends upon how they are understood. They can be of value and they can be without value. Astrology deals with only one part of man, with his type, his essence - it does not deal with personality, with acquired qualities. If you understand this you understand what is of value in astrology." (Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, p. 366)
On a subsequent occasion, some years later, Gurdjieff alighted upon the subject of astrology during a general discussion about the deterioration of knowledge in the modern world.
"He claimed that many centuries ago it [astrology] had been a 'really genuine science' and very different from the present-day conception of astrology. As an example of the way in which it had been 'civilised and misinterpreted' he said that the astrological signs were originally 'invented' to synthesise the particular characteristics against which a given individual would have to fight - or to struggle - in the course of his life on earth." (Peters, Gurdjieff, p. 321)
This theme of "struggle within oneself" was typical of Gurdjieff, and stands in acute contrast to the emphases of horoscopic astrology. Certain philosophers of the ancient Greek (and Roman) world are known to have resisted horoscopy, though some deference to an underlying cosmic scheme of associations is discernible; this complexity is strongly associated with the Neoplatonist phase.
16. Beelzebub's Tales
The major work of Gurdjieff is Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson (1950), which was published after his death. This is a bizarre composition featuring distinctive terminology. During his lifetime, it was read in manuscript by fairly numerous followers, though not always completely. Gurdjieff does indicate that the intention behind this book was not to assist easy reading.
"Generally speaking, the book is practically incomprehensible on first reading.... The instructions in the beginning of the book are that it is to be read three times, and some of these smaller groups [e.g., in New York and London] have managed to achieve such a record. The book has an impact that comes only with familiarity. (Peters, Gurdjieff, p. 291)
It may be relevant here to describe how I came to read this rather difficult work many years ago. I was very wary of popular enthusiasm for Gurdjieff, and never joined the "Gurdjieff Work" or any grouping claiming expertise in that subject. My investigations were totally independent, and arrived at a form of criticism not found amongst the partisans. As a young man, I was in close contact with an academic who was a fan of Gurdjieff, though not actually a "follower." He had been strongly influenced by the Gurdjieff literature, and had encountered certain persons who were part of the Gurdjieff scene at an early date. (34) He was sceptical in some respects, believing that Gurdjieff told "tall stories." Nevertheless, he frequently invoked Gurdjieff as a sort of anchor point in many conversations.
When he obtained Beelzebub's Tales, my friend was disconcerted by the vocabulary employed. He found the contents fascinating but laborious, and stopped reading after little more than 300 pages. This meant that much of the book remained unread, being twelve hundred pages in extent.
I did not always agree with my academic friend during our conversations. We had different backgrounds, and our views could clash. He was closely familiar with English literature and a proficient pianist. He once remarked that it was only possible for a musician to fully understand Gurdjieff's teaching about the Law of Octaves (mediated by Ouspensky). He was implying that I would not be able to understand that theory, not being in the same category of musical accomplishment which he enjoyed.
However, it became obvious that my friend could not assimilate Beelzebub's Tales. Musical sophistication could not penetrate the wisdom believed to reside in that tome. After the musician had given up in defeat, I acquired the same book and resolved to find out what lay between the covers. It did not take long to confirm that the jargon was difficult and the trend of exposition very unconventional. I then fell back on a "philosophical" recourse, which may be described as the obligation to understand the verbal mode involved before arriving at a verdict.
Difficult books were not new to me. During that period, I read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Hegel's Phenomenology. Both of those works are generally considered formidable. I negotiated the rather antique professorial verbiage of Kant (in translation) by compiling a lexicon of terms for ready reference. I extended this approach to Beelzebub's Tales, producing an even longer digest of difficult terminology, elucidating the meanings according to indications of context afforded by the author, however fleetingly. This extra effort enabled me to negotiate the pages of the bizarre Armenian Greek epic; I read Gurdjieff's magnum opus in total, from first page to last. The flavour of his outlook did come across to me; the work has an atmosphere, although disconcerting in some respects. I was unable to find any tangible Sufism or Buddhism; the dense terminology was clearly innovative. The metahistory includes a strong critique of modern Western society. "Gurdjieff is no historian in the formal sense; he is a latterday ashokh" (Moore, 1991, p. 48). His father Giorgiades might have wondered at the new instalment of bardic ingenuity.
The content of Beelzebub's Tales is strikingly different to the reporting found in a well known book by Ouspensky, who mediated the oral statements of Gurdjieff during an earlier phase. The latter's Meetings With Remarkable Men is easier to assimiliate, though not lacking in various eccentric flourishes which have irritated some readers.
The first professorial enthusiast of Beelzebub's Tales was apparently Denis Saurat (1890-1958), located at both the Institut Francais (London) and King's College (London). He was in association with Charles S. Nott, the pupil of Gurdjieff, who recorded his contribution in a book that became popular years after Saurat's death (i.e., Journey Through This World, 1969). A good point in Professor Saurat's favour was his immunity to academic biases against the citizen population. Too many British academic milieux were not democratic, the common town being regarded as a dead-end, only the elite (academic) gown possessing any significance (this is still the case to some extent at places like Cambridge).
Nott described Saurat as "a son of peasants," and one who was clearly distinct from the middle class insensitivity to poverty. This was possibly one reason why he was the friend of working class Alfred Orage (who knew all about Irish and English poverty), and may even explain why Gurdjieff was unusually accommodating in the interview with Saurat dating to February 1923. Gurdjieff was an unprivileged citizen; to him the academic world was a hell serving all the wrong forms of education. However, the Saurat conclusion that Gurdjieff fits a lohan context (and ) goes well beyond the factor of ideological tolerance.
Nott found that Professor Saurat read a typescript copy of Beelzebub's Tales and gave a positive verdict. The following are some of the professorial remarks:
"It is, in my opinion, a great book and it is a thousand pities that it cannot be published. There is a very great amount of wisdom and knowledge in it.... Beyond some excusable mannerisms and the peculiarities which give charm to every author, I see nothing in the book that could be objected to.... I am glad to say that I found no difficulties in the book. It is a work of art of the first magnitude in its own peculiar way."
Years later, after this book had been published, Professor Saurat made further comments, and of a more detailed nature. Some translated excerpts (from the French) are included here:
"Every criticism of modern life and of human history is perfectly just, and this is perhaps one of the most important things in the book, since it is absolutely necessary to understand that all our ideas have been falsified - before we have been able to correct at least some of them. The Greeks and the Romans have been responsible for putting in train fundamental errors - and then the Germans.... It is necessary to state that a great part of the book is not clear, and one has the right to suspect that G.G. [Georgii Gurdjieff] has done this intentionally." (Commentary by Denis Saurat)
Two more recent academic commentators have furthered interest in the Tales. Dr. Anna Challenger made a case for Sufi influence (), and focused on Gurdjieff's theory of art, first found in Ouspensky's coverage (Philosophy and Art in Gurdjieff's Beelzebub, pp. 31ff.). Gurdjieff is distinctively anti-modernist; the Sphinx of Gizeh and Leonardo Da Vinci are far ahead of Picasso and Warhol in this worldview.
From another angle, Dr. Sophia Wellbeloved affirms that "the Tales is structured as a forward moving zodiac." This interpretation has been said to integrate Gurdjieff into the canon of Western occultism (Wellbeloved, Gurdjieff, Astrology and Beelzebub's Tales). The zodiacal mode has also been found in Meetings, though in reverse, apparently demonstrating an evolutionary path. Although this form of exegesis converges in Western occultism, the texts are seen to have roots in Gurdjieff's experience of the Turkic oral tradition he encountered via his father during childhood. There is a basic concern to distinguish between the "Aristotelian" mode of definition employed by Ouspensky in Search and the "New Age" associations denoted by astrology. This divergence is illustrated by the article title: Gurdjieff, 'Old' or 'New Age': Aristotle or Astrology? Here we find the observation: "Ouspensky notes, in some bafflement, that Gurdjieff also made much use of stories and riddles, and elsewhere we find Gurdjieff stressing that his cosmological ideas should not be taken literally."
The zodiacal interpretation affirms: "The multivalence of these [Gurdjieff] texts reveal a teaching that is more 'New Age' than 'Old.' " Gurdjieff text is here presented as being compatible with Theosophy and related currents, while Sufism and Buddhism are marginalised. "Much of the material which Gurdjieff draws on comes from the same underground, subversive occult teachings as those which 'New Age' practices are exploring and re-expressing within our culture. These include astrology, alchemy, Kabala and forms of magic and healing" (Old or New Age, PDF p. 85).
An academic trend is to locate Gurdjieff in the predominant context of occultism. (35) New Age associations imply Western occultism. Nevertheless, some Eastern occult and mystical associations are legitimate to probe. For instance, Tibetan astrology was a feature of Lamaism, and relating to medicine (see Philippe Cornu, L'astrologie Tibetaine, 1990). The enthusiastic Saurat lohan attribution invites questioning in the direction of ethical and behavioural discrepancies ( ), unfashionable though such an avenue might be in contemporary Western occultism. (36)
Gurdjieff can realistically be described as an Eastern occultist, having an early link with the Caucaso-Turkic ashokh repertory (associated with the Gilgamesh epic), further drawing upon different Eastern occult and mystical teachings, although in a divergent format to the originals, and becoming a rival to Theosophy. In respect of some basic Gurdjieff contentions, one may cite the following:
"The Tales is a myth that subverts the myths of Western Europe, and among them the Biblical myths of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Revelation; the myth of Atlantis; the myth of the supremacy of Classical Greece, with its scientific and philosophical achievements; the esoteric and occult teachings, as well as the received understanding of the teachings of Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (the teachers of the religious Traditions are not themselves derided in the text); and the modern myths of Enlightenment and industrialisation, Marxism and Darwinian evolution, notions of 'progress' via contemporary science, medicine or education." (Wellbeloved, Gurdjieff, Old or New Age, article linked above, PDF pp. 81-2))
Dr. Wellbeloved describes The Herald of Coming Good (1933), a pamphlet of Gurdjieff which has aroused criticism ever since Rom Landau was offput by the contents. The Herald "shows a myth of Gurdjieff as an occult magician, corrupted by time and subject to devolution and degeneration in which he wishes to cause 'lasting suffering' to former pupils alive and dead" (Old or New Age, PDF p. 83). In this form of occultism, Aleister Crowley is a more relevant association trigger than Ouspensky, Rumi, or Gampopa.
17. An "Unknown Teaching"
After Gurdjieff arrived in Moscow in 1912, Ouspensky and others had difficulty in locating his precise context. The sub-title of Ouspensky's introduction to Gurdjieff was Fragments of an Unknown Teaching (the original title prior to publication). This theme has led to much speculation. Gurdjieff himself only supplied a fleeting rationale.
"About schools and where he had found the knowledge he undoubtedly possessed he spoke very little and always superficially. He mentioned Tibetan monasteries, the Chitral, Mount Athos; Sufi schools in Persia, in Bokhara, and eastern Turkestan; he mentioned dervishes of various orders; but all of them in a very indefinite way." (Ouspensky, Search, p. 36)
The generalised panorama has aroused attempts to be more specific. "Much of Gurdjieff's teaching derives from Sufi practices" (Lachman, Turn off Your Mind, p. 183). The proposal has been urged that his "primary philosophical stance is that of Sufism" (Challenger, Philosophy and Art in Gurdjieff's Beelzebub, p. 31). Dr. Anna T. Challenger has argued for the link with Sufism, influenced by the view of John G. Bennett that "Gurdjieff was, more than anything else, a Sufi" (ibid., p. 12). A chapter in his Beelzebub's Tales commends "the Bokharian dervish Hadjii-Asvatz-Troov," although this figure has been discerned as a literary incarnation of the author. In a 1923 prospectus for the dance performances he arranged, Gurdjieff credits several Sufi orders as sources, not just the Mevlevis (ibid., p. 13). Also in 1923, he gave a lecture at the Priory in which he referred to "the teaching of the Sufi," and in a context of experiential assimilation from other religions, contrasting with religious dogmatism (ibid., p. 16).
In another direction, Christianity has been invoked; Ouspensky recorded Gurdjieff's remarks about an "esoteric Christianity," including the theme that "a machine cannot be a Christian" (Search, p, 102). Boris Mouravieff (d. 1966), who met Gurdjieff at Constantinople, claimed that the inspiration for the latter's teaching was Eastern Orthodox Christian esotericism. Mouravieff taught this subject at Geneva University, and claimed to be presenting a previously unpublished tradition. His exegesis is contained in the three volume Gnosis (French original, Paris 1961; English translation, 1989-1993). This "Mount Athos" version has been repudiated by Gurdjieff partisans at Mouravieff Phenomenon. See also Mouravieff, Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, et les Fragments. Mouravieff had more contact with Ouspensky than Gurdjieff, and relegated both of them as having an incomplete teaching.
In the last analysis, Gurdjieff's teaching was probably strongly influenced by his own conceptualism; his innovation is apparent in such features as the quasi-scientific "table of hydrogens" (Ouspensky, Search, chapter nine). He was familiar with some scientific theories, and conceivably adapted these, avoiding theology. The more eccentric presentation in Beelzebub's Tales evidences a radical outlook that is difficult to classify; an affinity with Western occultism is one deduction ().
Remarks of Gurdjieff in the Saurat interview of 1923 () might suggest an intended rival to Theosophy. A secret doctrine was here mentioned, and Gurdjieff said that about thirty years before, his group of companions in Central Asia had reconstructed the ancient teaching from "the remains of oral traditions, from the study of ancient customs, folk songs and even from certain books." This reconstruction became accompanied by his lore of "sexual union," a theory enjoining that women could only acquire a soul by contact with men. The sources of this "sexual union" belief are uncertain, possibly connecting to Tantric traditions in India and Tibet, although the ideology appears to be different. Perhaps this peculiarity merely represented a reflex of Gurdjieff's patriarchalism. This was a relatively covert theme, and not found in Ouspensky; the belief evidently influenced a practice of coupling which can be traced to the Tbilisi phase ( ), and may be regarded as a distraction.
The difference between Ouspensky's version of Gurdjieff in Search and the 1940s Paris Transcripts is pronounced. The latter texts award much focus to exercises (including the dance movements), which supposedly strengthen the emergence of a real 'I' in the struggle against mechanical tendencies. Gurdjieff even doses out pills in the manner of an apothecary, deeming these an effective accompaniment to exercises. The effort to control the "three centres" amounts to a feat of willpower, and is largely the province of exercises, including one or two that are clearly related to the kundalini figuration. This format could easily evoke associations of "Red Hat" Lamaism and some aspects of Sufi dervishism (i.e., the lore of lataif). One can easily question the monolithic role of exercises in a Fourth Way vocation that could be interpreted differently.
Some peculiarities of Gurdjieff's approach were evidently recognised even by his close followers at the Priory in the 1920s. "It is telling that many of his senior Russian students cautioned newcomers to the Prieuré to make a distinction between the spiritual teachings that Gurdjieff imparted and his own personal beliefs" (quote from Controversial Reputation, PDF p. 10). A problem with the "sexual union" belief is that this was closely linked to his teaching about the soul.
In respect of his unorthodox medicine, Gurdjieff has been associated with the Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet. In Tibet, medicine could be practised by laymen with a background in the occult traditions associated with the Kagyudpa and Nyingmapa sects of Lamaism. This "shamanistic" version of medicine closely related to the complicated chakra and "subtle body" lore originating in Indian Tantrism many centuries before, and recently so popular in the commercial recastings of the Western new age (which very seldom exhibits any close knowledge of the precedents). Gurdjieff has been strongly associated by some commentators (e.g., Feuerstein, Holy Madness, pp. 54ff.) with the "crazy wisdom" tradition of Tibet, a complex phenomenon requiring much background study. Certainly, the attitudes and practices involved in tulshug chodpa could create very eccentric practitioners, who moved to an excess in bohemian traits, encouraged by the teaching that "obedience to conventional social dictates is rejected as an obstacle" to spiritual progress. (37)
This extremist attitude can be compared with Gurdjieff's theme of a mechanical morality that has no real validity. "Morality is always and everywhere an artificial phenomenon" (Ouspensky, Search, p. 156). According to Gurdjieff, "morality is merely self-suggestion" (ibid., p. 157). Instead he advocated conscience, and in the context of being "the same for all men" (ibid., p. 156). This argument is very much open to criticism in view of the antinomian behaviour which emerged. Gurdjieff's version of conscience blended effortlessly with multiple sexual encounters and excessive consumption of alcohol.
18. Development not possible for all
In Gurdjieff's worldview, only very few humans are capable of conscious evolution or "development," which here emerges as an exacting process not generally comprehended.
"He was, obviously, not out to save the world; he did not care whether everyone was interested in what he had to offer. In fact, he said frequently that only a few people could be - underlining the fact that only a very few people could ever develop anyway." (Peters, Gurdjieff, p. 295)
This perspective differs markedly from more recent themes associated with "new age workshops," an activity in which spiritual experiences for all tend to be assumed, and conveying the impression that a spiritual development is in the offing for any client wishing to subscribe.
An irony is that Gurdjieff was one of the initial influences claimed by new age entrepreneurs, who from the 1960s onwards, concocted hybrid doctrines and commercial slogans which proved influential in America and Europe. A close examination of the data reveals that Gurdjieff has little similiarity to this "post-hippy" trend of presumed healing and spiritual education, which gained fame at places like Esalen and the Findhorn Foundation. Gurdjieff insisted upon the requisites of "conscious labour [or effort] and intentional suffering" in his version of development. His emphases did not amount to a commercial proposition.
His concept of development may be viewed as a parallel to some "elitist" formulations in ancient Greek philosophy, with the important distinction that Gurdjieff avoided the ideology (and stigma) of social class that is associated with the Platonist and Aristotelian traditions. In Gurdjieff's perspective, the social elite were part of the dead-end in psychology; they were not the referees on reality, nor guardians of a privileged philosophical training. His aversion to modern academic philosophy has similar implications ().
A substantial drawback in relation to women is evident. The Saurat interview of 1923 reveals that Gurdjieff entertained a belief about women that can sound very obnoxious. Women "have no real possibility of acquiring a soul except by contact and sexual union with men" (Denis Saurat, A Visit to Gourdjev, 1934, and see). Gurdjieff's activities in extension of this belief are not a convincing proof of the patriarchal contention ( ). In this respect, the gulf between himself and the permissive hippy/post-hippy outlook substantially narrows, inviting a dismissal. Nevertheless, he did not teach promiscuity, and clearly regarded sexual fantasy as a misdirected waste of energy.
19. The Fourth Way
One of the most well known themes in the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky repertory is that of the "Fourth Way." In the record of his early years with the Caucasian, Ouspensky narrated the key concepts involved. The first three "ways to immortality" are here described in terms of the fakir, the monk, and the yogi. These roles are respectively associated with physical penance, religious feeling, and mental discipline. All three require renunciation of the world (Ouspensky, Search, pp. 44ff.).
According to Gurdjieff, Western culture posed a major problem. There was nothing resembling "fakir or yogi schools," and the "ordinary conditions of cultured life" meant that the search for real knowledge was "hopeless." This situation, a dead-end for development, was redeemed by an elusive solution to the problem diagnosed:
"The religions of the West have degenerated to such an extent that for a long time there has been nothing alive in them. Various occult and mystical societies and naive experiments in the nature of spiritualism, and so on, can give no results whatever. And the position would indeed be hopeless if the possibility of yet a fourth way did not exist. The fourth way requires no retirement into the desert, does not require a man to give up and renounce everything by which he formerly lived. The fourth way begins much further on than the way of the yogi." (Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, p. 48)
The fourth way emerges as a recourse existing in the conditions of ordinary life. Suggestions have been urged that this factor was derived from Sufism, whose exemplars frequently opted to "be in the world but not of the world," not living any monastic life or isolated ascetic role. Sufi influence is indeed a possibility, though if true, Gurdjieff sidestepped the element of formal religion associated with the Islamic trappings of that variegated tradition.
"No 'faith' is required on the fourth way; on the contrary, faith of any kind is opposed to the fourth way. On the fourth way a man must satisfy himself of the truth of what he is told. And until he is satisfied he must do nothing.... The fourth way dispenses with a great deal of what is superfluous and preserved simply through tradition in the other ways" (Search, pp. 49-50).
In Russia, the Armenian Greek exponent gave a warning about "artificial ways which give temporary results only, and wrong ways which may even give permanent results, only wrong results" (Search, p. 51). Thus, the elusive fourth way might be attended by distractions of wrong development, a phenomenon only fleetingly alluded to. Gurdjieff became popular in the late 1960s, when the psychedelic trend appropriated him as a figurehead. Some of the fashionable practitioners believed that they had found the "fourth way," and there were numerous facile slogans and transparent deceptions in currency from that time on.
"Ralph Metzner remembers visits by an Ouspensky disciple, William Nyland, chiding them on their use of drugs, which Gurdjieff taught would only induce deeper sleep. [Timothy] Leary, charged with his prophetic [psychedelic] mission, could pick and choose from Gurdjieff's rich offering, taking what jibed with his own aims and rejecting the rest." (Lachman, Turn Off Your Mind, p. 185)
A related psychedelic figurehead was Richard Alpert, whose transition to an Eastern identity as Baba Ram Dass was declared to be a proof of transformation, and via the curious book Be Here Now (1971). Warnings about such "present-centred" problems are still relevant, despite the drawbacks passing as virtual normality in the zone of "enlightenment for everyone."
In the commentary of Ouspensky, Gurdjieff refers to "schools." It is obvious that he did not mean anything like the schools or academies of conventional education. Ouspensky was evidently very partial to this subject; the opening pages of his commentary confirm that "schools" were a preoccupation of the author some years before he encountered Gurdjieff. Ouspensky refers to his earlier attempts to find "schools" in India.
"That schools existed I did not doubt. But at the same time I became convinced that the schools I heard about and with which I could have come into contact with were not for me. They were schools of either a frankly religious nature or of a half-religious character, but definitely devotional in tone. Other schools were of a slightly sentimental moral-philosophical type with a shade of asceticism, like the schools of the disciples or followers of Ramakrishna; there were nice people connected with these schools, but I did not feel they had real knowledge." (Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, p. 5)
The subject of esoteric/mystical schools can irritate critics, who might easily point out that Ouspensky's esteem for this concept proved problematic in his case (). One version of the situation reads as follows:
"Ouspensky had experimented with narcotics [apparently meaning hashish and nitrous oxide] and was convinced that 'schools' in all countries had made a wide use of narcotics to induce otherworldly states of mind. Gurdjieff seems to have agreed with him in part only, distinguishing between 'schools' which used drugs 'in the right way' and those which did not. The first category are said to have used narcotics in order to see in advance 'what can be attained later on as the result of prolonged work.' The second category used those substances in a way which killed people or sent them mad. Despite Gurdjieff's evident caution on the subject, his convergence with Ouspensky's weakness [meaning the concession that schools used drugs] is not to be recommended as healthy or discerning. Ouspensky probably wanted to believe that he had been duly prepared for the 'work,' to use the now fashionable nomenclature. The way his life ended ought to be a sobering indication of the degree of disillusionment that can occur." (Shepherd, Some Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals, p. 54)
Gurdjieff's "school" is associated with the use of drugs. He "was very aware of the properties and effects of mind-altering substances and used them both personally and with many of his students" (quote from Drugs, Alcohol and Food PDF p. 1). The details tend to be obscure. Hashish has been implicated in Gurdjieff's experiment with the "Ladies of the Rope," a group of American pupils living in 1930s France. Alcohol seems to have been his most common recourse. However, "references to the use and properties of alcohol, cocaine, hashish and opium appear throughout Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson" (same PDF source, p. 1). Gurdjieff evidently considered himself an expert on these substances; he is known to have used opium during the 1920s, after his motor accident.
An extensive confusion is represented by an early statement of Gurdjieff: "In Eastern schools ways and means are known by the help of which it is possible to separate man's personality from his essence. For this purpose they sometimes use hypnosis, sometimes special narcotics, sometimes certain kinds of exercises" (Ouspensky, Search, p. 162). Gurdjieff was preoccupied with hypnosis and "exercises" of diverse kinds; there is no proof that such activities lead to spirituality as distinct from occultism.
There are possible variants of the "fourth way" that Gurdjieff did not exemplify, including the ideal of a celibate existence living in the world. There are alternatives easily envisaged. For instance, the Sufi lifestyles varied from celibacy to married life, with promiscuity being frowned upon. Boris Mouravieff asserted a "fifth way," an interpretation associated with Eastern Christianity (); this recourse "is open only to couples, especially to couples who sincerely believe they are polar" (Mouravieff, Gnosis Vol. 3, p. 199).
"Gurdjieff's Beelzebub ridicules monkish sexual abstinence, claiming it causes 'an abundant deposit of fat' " (Taylor, Gurdjieff and Prince Ozay). The caricature may not be accurate; certainly, Gurdjieff himself has been described as obese in his last years, his waistline noticeably swelling. His sexual activity did not produce a slim physique, and resulted in two female partners declaring him to be "not a nice man," with one of them refusing to see him again for over twenty years (). Critics reject the "fourth way" complications of hypnotism, multiple alcoholic toasts, promiscuity, and drugs.
Events at the Chateau du Prieuré () amounted to a modification of fourth way "be in the world." The Prieuré (Priory) functioned far more like an unconventional monastery than an ordinary life setting. Rival "schools" of exponents like Ouspensky, Nicoll, and Bennett contributed a flavour of irony to the ongoing situation until the late 1940s, one tendency being to screen out all reference to the name of Gurdjieff, who was viewed as an abnormality to be avoided.
In 1916, Gurdjieff expressed an unusual perspective about what happens when the "school" closes. The fourth way "is never a permanent way," but "outward imitation" attempts to prolong the existence of the real school. "When we look back on history it is almost impossible for us to distinguish where the real ends and where the imitation begins" (Search, pp. 312-13). The transition to imitation means that "the very idea of esotericism, the idea of initiation, reaches people in most cases through pseudo-esoteric systems and schools" (ibid., p. 313). Gurdjieff credited a use in such faulty transmission, because truth in a pure form would be inaccessible to the majority. "Truth can only come to [the majority of] people in the form of a lie" (Search, p. 314).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
(1) The two major biographies are those by Moore (1991) and Taylor (2008). The former is the more well known and generally accessible, and still regarded as an authoritative source. I have opted to use Moore as a partisan reference anchor, though not feeling circumscribed by the content. Critics have viewed Moore (born 1929) as an apologist, his approach tending to screen out unfavourable reports like that of Dr. James Young. I have also employed some information from the varied works of Taylor, who could perhaps be described as revisionist partisan. Paul Beekman Taylor (born 1930) met Gurdjieff in his early years, and later became a Professor of Medieval English Languages at the University of Geneva. His biography of Gurdjieff was published in a limited edition, but is nonetheless relevant, featuring some new data and fresh interpretations. In the Postscript, entitled Gurdjieff and Meta-History, Professor Taylor is critical of earlier versions of the subject, and finds drawbacks in certain memoirs and also the biographies by Moore and James Webb. Taylor is also the author of other books, including Gurdjieff's America (2004) and the anthology Gurdjieff in the Public Eye (2010). On the last-mentioned, go to review. John Robert Colombo there comments: "It is interesting to read what non-Gurdjieffians have to say about Mr. G. Indeed, I find what Gurdjieffians have to say about the man and his manner somewhat predictable, and hackneyed because readers of the literature on the Work are already quite familiar with the formulations of Ouspensky, J. G. Bennett, members of The Rope, and other contemporary commentators."
(2) The partisan and repudiatory approaches are the two ends of the spectrum. The intervening critical ground, endeavouring to gain factual accuracy, is still largely unplumbed. In the partisan domain, an insistence upon "practitioners" is frequently found, a related idea being that non-practitioners of the "Gurdjieff Work" can have no commentarial validity. A contrasting mood of strong repudiation is reflected in Washington, Madame Blavatsky's Baboon (1993). A partisan argument against this work is that Gurdjieff is not fairly represented in a dismissal of Blavatsky, who was nothing to do with him; Gurdjieff's teaching is substantially different in content to Theosophy. Ouspensky was far nearer to the Theosophical train of thought, originally having been a member of the Theosophical Society. The latter organisation reacted strongly to the Washington contribution. See Notes on Madame Blavatsky's Baboon by W. T. S. Thackara, who concludes that "Peter Washington's treatment of theosophical history is seen to be heavily biased as well as dependent on faulty sources, raising legitimate doubts about his accuracy and objectivity in the rest of the book."
(3) See J. Walter Driscoll, ed., Gurdjieff: An Annotated Bibliography (1985). This work has many hundreds of entries. Also relevant is the website of Driscoll entitled Gurdjieff: A Reading Guide, which presents over fifty diverse articles from different standpoints.
(4) Taylor seems to be particularly irritated by the account of Fritz Peters in Boyhood with Gurdjieff. He observes that both Webb and Moore treat the two books by Peters as authoritative, "despite disconcerting errors of fact." He informs that Peters, when challenged by critics who questioned his version, would respond: "I am a novelist, not a historian." Most historians would revolt at such a perspective. Taylor is clearly in revolt, and says that Boyhood with Gurdjieff "is replete with both misinformation and invention." As an example of error, the critic observes that Peters dates the death of Gurjieff's wife Julia to spring 1927, the reality being June 1926. John G. Bennett is also regarded as a source of confusion; he claimed to be the leading pupil of Gurdjieff after the latter's death. Taylor also finds fault with Charles Stanley Nott, implying that he exaggerated the extent of his personal contact with Gurdjieff, a factor attendant upon a sense of achievement. Another target for reproof is biographer James Webb (The Harmonious Circle), who was not a partisan. "Though Webb is a serious and disinterested researcher into Gurdjieff's life and relationships with his major pupils, he brings his own research into question by disdaining footnotes and by refusing to reveal unpublished sources." Unannotated biographies remain a symptom of commercial procedure, and accompanied by innumerable web presentations of an almost catastrophic significance for public education. A problem, of course, is that the public will not always read footnotes, and frequently regard these as boring and irrelevant distractions. Information at your peril, could be the ultimate catchphrase for commercial markets. Perhaps a classic instance of objection is Taylor's rather caustic comment that Webb opted to endorse Gurdjieff's own account (via Life is Real Only Then) of his friction with Orage in early 1931. Taylor says that the Gurdjieff version "is a transformation" of real events. Webb did recognise the problem generally involved in Gurdjieff's "mystifying parables." The quotes in this annotation come from Taylor, Inventors of Gurdjieff.
(5) See Amelie Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East c. 3000-330 BC Vol. 2 (London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 548ff. "The area covered by the Urartian kingdom is roughly coextensive with Armenia, i.e. it is centred in eastern Turkey (Lake Van), extending to former Soviet Armenia in the north, and including parts of Azerbaijan and a strip of north-east Iraq" (ibid., p. 548). Urartu is an archaeological phenomenon of some complexity. The borders of Armenia changed over the centuries, and many Armenians could be found in eastern Anatolia, rendering them vulnerable to Turkish hostility in the early twentieth century.
(6) See James R. Russell, Zoroastrianism in Armenia (Harvard Iranian Series 5, 1987). "Armenia was predominantly Zoroastrian during the latter part of the Parthian era, prior to adopting Christianity. Modern Iran amounts to a considerably reduced portion of the territory influenced by Zoroastrianism in ancient times" (Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995), p. 337.
(7) Richard E. Wright and John T. Wertime, Caucasian Carpets and Covers (London: Hali Publications, 1995), p. 146. According to this source, the principal weavers in Erivan were Kurds.
(8) The Gilgamesh poem has been described as "without any doubt the masterpeice of Assyro-Babylonian literature and, indeed, one of the most beautiful epic tales of the ancient world." Quote from Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq (third edn, London: Penguin, 1992), p. 117. The transmission was complex, in that some older Sumerian legends were adapted to new material. One theme is that of the hero Gilgamesh who journeys to meet the sage who survived the Flood, and thus to acquire the secret of immortality, which proved elusive. Hittite and Hurrian translations of this epic were found at the ancient site of Boghazkoy in Anatolia. An English translation was included in J. B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton University Press, 1950). Now considered definitive is Andrew George, trans., The Epic of Gilgamesh (London: Penguin, 2000; revised edn, 2003); George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts ( 2 vols, Oxford University Press, 2003).
(9) Wright and Wertime, Caucasian Carpets and Covers, p. 19. It is known that medieval Caucasia produced a wide range of textiles. In the tenth century, the Arab commentator Ibn Hauqal "identified Derbent as a place which made carpets and exported linens, and stated that Dabil (Dvn), then the capital of Armenia, was a producer of goat-hair fabric, carpets, ear-muffs, narrow carpets, cushions, saddle carpets, belts and similar objects - all of unequalled quality and of Armenian manufacture" (ibid.). Of some relevance is the fact that "Armenia at this period was culturally as much Iranian as it was Byzantine" (ibid., p. 20).
(10) The Ouspensky reference was cited in James Opie, Tribal Rugs of Southern Persia (Portland, Oregon: James Opie, 1981), p. IX. Thus, Gurdjieff became commemorated in the Oriental rug business and the attendant collecting fraternity. The basic literature is now extensive, and is distinct from the Gurdjieff reference. See, e.g., Opie, Tribal Rugs: Nomadic and Village Weavings from the Near East and Central Asia (London: Laurence King, 1992). See also Brian W. Macdonald, Tribal Rugs: Treasures of the Black Tent (Woodbridge: Antique Collectors Club, 1997). With regard to Caucasian rugs, the name of Latif Kerimov (1906-1991) is relevant, a pivotal researcher and rug designer of Azerbaijan who urged that ninety per cent of Caucasian rugs were Azerbaijani (or Azeri Turk). See S. Azadi, L. Kerimov, and W. Zollinger, Azerbaijani-Caucasian Rugs (Hamburg: Hartung, 2001). See also Charles Grant Ellis, Early Caucasian Rugs (Washington: Textile Museum, 1975); Ian Bennett, Oriental Rugs vol. 1: Caucasian (Oriental Textile Press, 1981; repr. Antique Collectors Club); Latif Kerimov et al, Rugs and Carpets from the Caucasus: The Russian Collections (Leningrad: Aurora, 1984). Wright and Wertime set a new pace in the study of Caucasian weavings in their Caucasian Carpets and Covers (1995). Of interest is richardewright.com. See also Ralph Kaffel, Caucasian Prayer Rugs (London: Laurence King, 1998); Roya Tagiyeva, Azerbaijan Carpet (UNESCO, 1999); Robert H. Nooter et al, Flat Woven Rugs and Textiles from the Caucasus (Altglen, PA: Schiffer, 2004). It is very unlikely that Gurdjieff would have been unaware of Turkmen (Turkoman) weavings, which became very collectable in his day amongst the urban Russians. A testimony to this development is Andrei A. Bogulyubov, Tapis de l'Asie Centrale (St. Petersburg, 1908); new edn, Carpets of Central Asia, ed. Jon Thompson (Ramsdell: Crosby Press, 1973). See also Louise W. Mackie and Jon Thompson, eds., Turkmen: Tribal Carpets and Traditions (Washington: Textile Museum, 1980); Werner Loges, Turkoman Tribal Rugs, trans. R. Tschebull (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1980); Elena Tzareva, Rugs and Carpets from Central Asia: The Russian Collections (Leningrad: Aurora, 1984). Turkmen weavings were exported in large quantities during the commercial period, early examples now being rare. Gurdjieff would inevitably have been familiar with antique Turkish rugs, which were highly collectable in his time; see, e. g., Kurt Zipper and Claudia Fritzsche, Oriental Rugs Vol. 4: Turkish (Woodbridge: Antique Collectors Club, 1989); Walter B. Denny, The Classical Tradition in Anatolian Carpets (Washington: Textile Museum, 2002).
(11) Opie, Tribal Rugs (1992), p. 33. Other arguments have devolved from Kurt Erdmann, The History of the Early Turkish carpet, trans. Robert Pinner (London: Oguz Press, 1977), this work originally appearing as Der Turkische Teppich des 15. Jahrhunderts (Istanbul 1957). Professor Erdmann contested the accepted belief that Persian Safavid court carpets represent the crux of the Eastern weaving phenomenon, instead urging the primacy of early Turkish knotted carpets of the medieval era, originating in Central Asian precedents via the migrations of Turkic/Seljuk tribes to Anatolia. Some of the contentions surrounding this issue, which has been argued both ways, are very specialist, to say the least. In one direction, an excursion into "Turkoman" (Turkmen) design exegesis early created a landmark in the quest for symbolism criteria. See Robert Pinner, "The Animal Tree and the Great Bird in Myth and Folklore" in Pinner and Michael Franses, eds., Turkoman Studies 1 (London: Oguz Press, 1980).
(12) The archaeology is represented in Sergei Rudenko, Frozen Tombs of Siberia: The Pazyryk Burials of Iron Age Horsemen (University of California Press, 1970). There have since been complex extensions, though ignored by the Wikipedia article Persian Carpet (accessed 11/08/2012), which includes a section on the Pazyryk weaving. Wikipedia says that the "Pazyryk carpet" was "found in the grave of a Scythian prince." The dimensions of this weaving are given as 283 by 200 cm, which is a serious mistake in this sector of interest. The true dimensions are 183 by 200 cm, amounting to an almost square rug. The frequent errors in Wikipedia articles are a cause for concern, and some analysts insist that it is best never to link to them. A more comprehensive coverage was supplied twenty years ago in a commonly accessible publication. James Opie observed that several different viewpoints had challenged Rudenko's assumption that the Pazyryk rug was essentially Persian and traded to a remote area in Siberia. The changing contour to the data now strongly indicated that the rug was woven "somewhere in a northeastern outpost of the Persian empire, possibly in Central Asia, relatively close to where it was buried" (Opie, Tribal Rugs, 1992, p. 30). An emphasis emerged that the rug contained "both urban Achaemenian and nomadic features" (ibid.) The precise identity of the nomadic tribe who buried the rug is not known. Scholarly theories have varied so much that one version even says that the rug served as a gaming board, while a funerary object has also been suggested. Opie himself opts to describe the artefact as "a 'tribal' rug" (ibid. p. 33). The fine technique in this instance achieved up to 277 knots per square inch (Wikipedia undercounts at 232). This important rug indicates that "nomads were familiar with a high quality of pile weaving, most likely as purchasers" (ibid.). A very relevant factor is stated: "Initially it was thought that the nomads who buried the Pazyryk [rug] were Scythians; many books on the subject repeated this conclusion. However, since the 1960s, scholars specialising in the study of steppe nomad cultures have realised that Scythians, whose habitat was much further to the west, could not have been responsible for these Altai graves" (ibid.) Nearly half a century later, Wikipedia has still not caught up with the basic findings. The data accumulated since the time of Opie's book would probably render necessary a multi-lingual vocation for adequate assessment of just one significant rug, and such expertise would ignore Wikipedia and other suspect directories. More generally, some Wikipedia errors in "spirituality" and "psychology" are pronounced, and reflect an educational debacle in capitalist societies. A strong new age tendency is to produce entrepreneurs/therapists/magicians broadly associated with Gurdjieff, Jung, Grof, Rajneesh, Crowley, and Adi Da Samraj. The confusions are extensive. A suggestion has been made that many of the new age enthusiasts should first study material artefacts before graduating to psychological/spiritual matters commonly aborted.
(13) The assumption that Orage was of French descent (because of his name) has been questioned. His mother was Irish. His family were very poor, and he started his career as a manual labourer in the service of a local squire; the employer thereafter paid for his schooling, recognising that Orage was unusually intelligent. Eventually he became a schoolteacher in Leeds, and studied Plato intensively for seven years. He was strongly involved in socialist thought, though he became disillusioned with the materialist aspect of this, causing him to assimilate Theosophy. In 1903 he became co-founder of the Leeds Art Club. By that time, he was a fan of Nietzsche. His complex intellectual development resulted in a rational critique of Theosophy that was repudiated by the Theosophical Society. In 1907 he severed his association with that body. In 1906 he moved from Leeds to London, and the following year he actively supported the suffragette cause, being the only male to be arrested along with 75 women who protested at the House of Commons. Orage was sentenced to fourteen days in jail by the patriarchal society (Taylor, Gurdjieff and Orage, p. 3). Subsequently he reacted to militant overtones of the suffragette movement. He also published two books on Nietzsche, and the more mystical Consciousness: Animal, Human and Superhuman (1907). The "superman" concept of Nietzsche was a strong influence, causing him to confuse this theme with a mystical state of consciousness which he pursued. The conflation induced a belief that conventional morality should be rejected. He subsequently broke away from this outlook by applying himself to study of the Hindu epic Mahabharata from 1907 onwards. However, he retained identity as a socialist in his political philosophy, and was connected to the modernist movement, being credited as a revivalist in that direction, and via the forum afforded by the New Age. This magazine of his was not just a literary vehicle, but also "played a lively role in British political and economic movements" and with the bonus that "T. S. Eliot called Orage the finest critical intelligence of his generation" (Munson, Black Sheep Philosophers). Yet after encountering Gurdjieff, Orage resolved to renounce his literary and political orientations, feeling that the climax had arrived. Many of his acquaintances were shocked, and could not understand his decision. In this confusion, some commentators have ignored the last phase of his life. See also J. Walter Driscoll, Orage: Introduction and bibliography. See also note 23 below.
(14) This quote is from the article by Clifford Sharpe appearing in The New Statesman (March 1923). That article was entitled The "Forest Philosophers" and complained at "the large number of almost wholly misleading articles and paragraphs that have been appearing in English newspapers during the past fortnight." Sharpe was referring to the misconceptions about the Prieuré which had been launched by the press. He apparently represented members of the Ouspensky circle converted to Gurdjieff priority, and writes as an enthusiast of the "Gurdjieff-Ouspensky teaching." According to Sharpe, "Ouspensky's psychological teaching is merely preparatory... it cannot lead to very substantial results, unless it is followed by a more or less prolonged training at the Fontainebleau school." Sharpe had apparently been to the Priory, and says of that milieu: "the life is very simple and uncomfortable, the food is adequate but too starchy for an ordinary stomach, the work is extremely hard." He comments that Gurdjieff's Institute had been compared in the press to various experimental colonies created in Europe or America during the last few decades, but those comparisons "are entirely mistaken, and would not be offered by anyone who had spent twenty-four hours at Fontainebleau." Sharpe proffered a different kind of resemblance. "The only recorded institution with which Mr. Gurdjieff's school can at all plausibly be compared is the school which was established in southern Italy by Pythagoras about 550 BC. The Pythagoreans lived in a colony and were subjected to all kinds of abstinences and physical exercises as a preparation for the extraordinary intellectual work which they accomplished. They were deeply concerned with rhythm, with movement, with the analysis of the octave, and with other apparently irrelevant subjects which are studied at Fontainebleau. In some respects the parallel is indeed almost absurdly exact."
(15) According to Gorham Munson, even in his later years, Gurdjieff possessed an "astonishing capacity for work." This eyewitness testimony applies to the 1940s and earlier. "Two to four hours sleep seemed sufficient for him; yet he always appeared to have abundant energy for a day spent in writing, playing an accordion-harmonium, motoring, cafe conversation, cooking." Cafe conversation here means receiving visitors all morning. Gurdjieff "seemed inexhaustible after twenty hours and fresh the next morning from a short sleep." Gurdjieff would generally retire at three or four in the morning, a habit still evident during the last year of his life. These details can be found in the closing section of Black Sheep Philosophers.
(16) The Baluch weavings were first seriously commemorated in David Black and Clive Loveless, Rugs of the Wandering Baluchi (London: David Black, 1976). The American interest is represented in Jeff W. Boucher, Baluchi Woven Treasures (1989; second edn, London: Laurence King, 1996). In the new introduction to Boucher, James Opie refers to "the emergence of a Baluch 'boom' in the 1980s, a development which continues to gain speed as we approach a new millenium" (p. 7). See also Siawosch Azadi, Teppiche in der Belutsch-Tradition (Munich: Klinkhardt and Biermann, 1986, with English trans.). Of related interest is Wilfried Stanzer, Kordi (Vienna, 1988) for weavings of the Kurds in Khorasan, sometimes mistaken for Baluch output. The early issues of Hali textile journal, including the research of Robert Pinner (a Turkmen enthusiast) were accompanied by the distinctive London scene catalogues of Jean Lefevre, which gave priority to tribal and village weavings, including the Baluch categories. The present writer was fortunate enough to view many of the Lefevre auctions in the late 70s/early 80s. Lefevre had to close down his auction project after encountering economic difficulties; he then joined the big monopolists, becoming the rug specialist at Phillips auctioneers (later taken over by Bonhams).
(17) During the subsequent Stalinist purge trials, an unpleasant phase in Russia's history, "G. I. Bokii confessed that he had joined a Masonic lodge in 1909 that had been founded by Gurdjieff" (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 163). This lodge was purportedly in St. Petersburg. Taylor duly observes that "confessions made during the purges cannot be taken as representing facts." He also comments that "there is nothing inimical to Gurdjieff in Freemasony," which was a non-sectarian activity admitting Jews. The scenario of the 1909 Masonic lodge is very tenuous, and may be considered a confusion.
(18) Mary C. Bell, Some Memories of the Prieure (1949). The feats of memorising included the Morse code, and involved "a sign language of numbers." This repertoire was deployed during the Saturday open evening, when many visitors came from Paris and elsewhere by special invitation. Rather mischievously, Gurdjieff permitted the memorising routines "for the bewilderment" of the guests in the Study House. This performance involved a ruse in which "Madame [Olga] de Hartmann, at the back of the Study House, communicated the numbers by signs to a watcher, usually Mr. [Tchesslav] Tchekhovitch, who was perched on a ladder in the dark outside the window of the stage, and he signalled it back to Mr. de Salzmann or Mr. [Thomas] de Hartmann." In this scenario, the Russian cast were pitched against the predominantly French spectators. Tchekhovitch was a former sailor, a sturdy man who had followed Gurdjieff from Tbilisi, and who transpired to be a long term pupil. The performance of such tricks seems incongruous, but Dr. Bell does not question the procedure.
(19) The lohan attribution appeared in C. S. Nott, Journey Through This World (1969). The relevant details are covered in Beelzebub's Tales: Commentary by Denis Saurat. In conversation with Nott, Saurat referred to Gurdjieff as a Lohan, using a term associated with Chinese Buddhism. He provided a context for his usage of the word. "A Lohan is a man who has gone to [esoteric] schools and by incredible exertions and study has perfected himself. He then comes back into ordinary life, sits in cafes, drinks, has women, and lives the life of a man, but more intensely. It was accepted [in Mahayanist belief] that the rules of ordinary man did not apply to him. He teaches, and people come to him to learn objective truths. In the East a Lohan was understood. The West does not understand. A teacher in the West must appear to behave like an English gentleman." An internet endnote by Professor David R. Loy of Bunkyo University (Japan) refers to a context in Chinese mythology, elevating five hundred lohan, a term which actually designates enlightened Hinayana (and Theravada) monks belonging to the earliest centuries of Buddhism. These entities are commemorated in Chinese Buddhist art dating to the Mahayana period. Loy observes that Saurat's comment about a return to ordinary life "seems to refer also to the Mahayana Buddhist ideal of the Bodhisattva, who after his (or her) awakening becomes devoted to helping other people become awakened." The famous Oxherding Pictures of Chan/Zen Buddhism are also invoked in this explanation. The monastic bodhisattva lore is very complex, and became applied in rather varying types of situation, from India to Tibet and China. Saurat's version was evidently referring to Gurdjieff's known role of frequenting cafés and also his habit of drinking alcohol. Less well known, but also present in the Gurdjieff situation, were questionable sexual encounters with women. The Saurat formula is not everywhere accepted, and has been considered an undue elevation. Philosophically, this issue is significant for subtleties that are not generally registered. Contemporary popular portrayals of the Mahayanist tradition are frequently reductionist, and no adequate guide to history.
(20) Details were included in the web article Meetings with a Remarkable Paradox (1991) by Richard Smoley. Ouspensky journeyed from London to Paris only days after Gurdjieff's motor accident, and met with his friend Boris Mouravieff, here described as an esotericist (of Eastern Christian association) who did not like Gurdjieff. Smoley cites from the account by Mouravieff: "We both went together to the site of the accident. Despondent, crushed, after a long silence, he [Ouspensky] told me: 'I'm afraid... It's terrible... George Ivanovich's Institute was created to escape the influence of the law of accident under which we live. And here he is himself fallen under the realm of the same law... I wonder if it's really just an accident? Gurdjieff always made light of honesty, just as he did of human personality in general. Hasn't he gone too far? I tell you, I'm terribly afraid!' " Smoley here cites Mouravieff, Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, et les Fragments d'un Enseignement inconnu (Brussels, 1957). Smoley concludes: "Ouspensky was a man of extraordinary decency and refinement; Gurdjieff's antics, often coarse and not infrequently brutal, must have gone strongly against his grain." Smoley says that Gurdjieff "regained consciousness several months" after the accident, which is clearly incorrect, as recovery of consciousness occurred after six days. He also says that Gurdjieff "sent away most of the students from the Prieure, allowing only Americans to stay." This is misleading, as most of the Russians stayed, along with several of the English pupils like Ethel Merston (Moore, 1991, p. 210). The Russians outnumbered the Americans. Smoley describes Ouspensky's book Search in terms of charting "an elaborate and fantastic esoteric system."
(21) This episode is evidently the same one mentioned by Munson (Black Sheep Philosophers), in reference to an American novelist who shouted in the middle of a meal "I think you are the Devil," and then rushed from the scene. This novelist described himself in terms of a "naturalistic mystic." The point made by Munson is that "Gurdjieff violated all our preconceptions of a 'spiritual leader' and sometimes repelled 'religious seekers.' " This event is located at a restaurant in Montmartre. Cf. Taylor, Shadows of Heaven, p. 90; idem, Gurdjieff and Orage, p. 251 note 9. The date has been given as the summer of 1926 or 1927.
(22) See Gurdjieff and Mysticism. In this theory of sociologist Mohammad-H. Tamdgidi, "none of his [Gurdjieff's] explicit remarks about his intention not to use hypnotism for 'personal' gains can be interpreted to mean that he intended not to use hypnotism in his teaching and among his pupils" (PDF, p. 15). Dr. Tamdgidi here refers to Gurdjieff's "novel experiment in literary hypnotism," meaning his "three series" of writings comprising Beelzebub's Tales, Meetings With Remarkable Men, and Life is Real. This project is viewed in terms of being "an elaborate and systematic effort to fragment and distract the students' attention from the experimental purpose of his teachings and writings, and to raise and spread deep and obsessive curiosities among his readers and followers about his life and teaching." A further insistence here is that "Gurdjieff's teaching based on hypnotic conditioning of the subconcious, no matter how well-intentioned it may be as in most mystical and religious teachings, can only be self-defeating." This very critical assessment also alights upon factors bequeathed by Gurdjieff's ashokh (bard) father. "Gurdjieff was himself a Caucasian Ashokh - perhaps one of the last, and certainly the most well-known, of them" (PDF, p. 19). Gurdjieff learned the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh from his father, and Tamdgidi urges that the "self-identity" of Gurdjieff was saturated by this transmission, amounting to a search for immortality. The suggestion is made that Gurdjieff's childhood "experience of hearing long lost legends into the early hours of the morning, uttered in a strange dialogue and conversational style, was carried into his style of lectures and writings later in life." The ashokh orientation of the subject is here linked to music and dance in addition to storytelling and mythology. There is reference to an accompanying "obsession," meaning "to understand how to overcome the increasingly powerful internal conflict over his sexual desires." His first tutor (Dean Borsh of Kars) enjoined total abstinence during early life, and complete freedom to indulge in adulthood. The inference is made that this ruling did not work either in Gurdjieff's youth or adulthood. See also Tamdgidi, Gurdjieff and Hypnosis (2009).
(23) Jessie Orage is commemorated in James Moore, Gurdjieff: A Biographer Digresses. Moore met Jessie at the end of her life, visiting her rural home in England. She had nothing to do with the "Work," and "felt she did not really know" Gurdjieff. Alfred Orage had left her with two children whom she reared in England, and she remained a widow. It seems obvious that she was drawn into something which she did not understand, and this was not her fault.
(24) According to Taylor, Orage never doubted that Gurdjieff was his mentor, but at the same time, he was not ready to close down other aspects of his life, meaning his marriage and his literary career. At the end of the stressful episode, Orage confided to others that he only "half-believed" Gurdjieff. Professor Taylor urges that Orage was here referring to "a secret of life in the esoteric lore Gurdjieff held out like a carrot toward him" (Gurdjieff and Orage, p. 249). This reservation did not affect his belief in Gurdjieff's general teaching. Taylor is also concerned to demonstrate that Orage's link with Gurdjieff was a natural development of his career, and not an aberration as literary interest commentators have assumed. Cf. Philip Mairet, A. R. Orage: A Memoir (London, 1936; second edn, New York, 1966); Tom Steele, Alfred Orage and the Leeds Art Club 1893-1923 (Aldershot, 1990). Steele views Orage as a pioneer of Nietzsche, socialism, and modernism.
(25) The Herald (Paris 1933) can easily arouse strong critical disdain. It is sometimes described in terms of Gurdjieff exhibiting his "black magician" aspect. The pamphlet also featured extravagant claims. The supplementary announcement (pp. 87ff.) promised a new Study House, which would include "several independent laboratories, fitted out according to all the achievements of modern science." Also in prospect was a "fabulous astronomical observatory."
(26) Jean Toomer has become the subject of a separate book. He has received different interpretations, being disliked by Gurdjieff partisans, although the revisionist Paul B. Taylor is sympathetic. The death of Orage and other provocative events caused a strong reaction in Toomer, and he opted out of Gurdjieff groups. Gurdjieff said to him. "You not as I counted, and I get angry" (Taylor, Gurdjieff's America, p. 157). Toomer contributed money for Gurdjieff's return voyage to France in March 1935, but never saw him again, feeling that he had again been tricked (see further Taylor, Shadows of Heaven: Gurdjieff and Toomer). The partisan view emphasises that Toomer's earlier "inexcusable attempt to teach Gurdjieff's Sacred Dances, without knowing them, ended predictably in fiasco after six weeks; the [1920s] episode set the tone for his repeated initiatives to advance Gurdjieff's cause - with himself in a precocious and self-bestowed leadership role" (Moore, 1991, p. 360).
(27) The negative partisan reaction to both Paul B. Taylor and Jean Toomer can be gauged from a web review of Shadows of Heaven. Taylor has made clear the context of his attitude to Gurdjieff in What did Gurdjieff give to me? Here he expresses a basically positive assessment, though at the same time indicating a number of disconcerting features. "Knowing Gurdjieff personally was an experience that gives a force to his teaching that I cannot put into words. Gurdjieff was at once the exemplar and the denying example of everything he said. He was to me a Dostoievskian figure, one who reveals truth by displaying the false. He seemed demonic.... He was slovenly in habit, dressing in disordered fashion, smoking and drinking in apparent excess without any display of refined manners. He swore, ranted, and insulted. He had not a whit of patience, cutting off the speech of others as if they had said nothing.... he manifested anger at trifles and treated disasters as amusing trifles.... In memory he remains the fullest human being I have known or have been able to conceive of."
(28) Landau cites the testimony of Achmed Abdullah (Nadir Khan), which is now considered erroneous. The Buryat Mongol entity Aghwan Dordjieff (c. 1850-1938) was quite independent in factual terms. Dordjieff "was significantly older than Gurdjieff, pre-deceased him, and looked nothing like him" (Moore, 1991, p. 341). The biographer James Webb (The Harmonious Circle) erroneously identified Gurdjieff with an associate of Dordjieff, namely Ushe Narzunoff, a Kalmuk Buddhist. In 2004, Taylor revealed Moore's discovery that both Narzunoff and Dordjieff were present at the All-Soviet Congress of Buddhists held in January 1927, while Gurdjieff was living in France. However, Moore himself was contested in the statement that "by 1913 Gurdjieff was teaching Paul Dukes under the assumed name 'Prince Ozay'" (ibid). The revisionism is detailed in Paul B. Taylor, Gurdjieff and Prince Ozay. "There is nothing in his [Dukes'] recollections to imply that he had met Gurdjieff personally." The Gurdjieff lore can be misleading. More detail about Aghwan Dordjieff (Agvan Dorzhiev) can be found in Andreyev, Soviet Russia and Tibet, pp. 26ff. He was a Tibetan diplomat working for the Dalai Lama, being sent on a secret mission to Europe in 1897, to investigate situations in St. Petersburg and Paris. He posed as an ordinary Buddhist monk with the errand of collecting donations. He was granted a successful interview with Tzar Nicholas II, and made a second trip to Russia in 1900 as the Dalai Lama's official representative. His diplomatic strategy continued for many years. His close acquaintance Ushe Narzunoff (Ovshe Norzunov) was a Kalmuk nobleman acting as a courier for the Dalai Lama.
(29) Relevant is the detail that "Gurdjieff avoided reporters and managed most of the time to keep out of the media of publicity" (Munson, Black Sheep Philosophers). The popular book by Landau included coverage of Count Keyserling, Rudolf Steiner, Krishnamurti, Meher Baba, Ouspensky, and Gurdjieff. Landau's version of Meher Baba is deficient, as he relied for information upon Princess Norina Matchabelli, a recently converted devotee who expected everyone to accept her extravagant (and misleading) assessment of the "perfect master." Cf. Shepherd, Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (1988), pp. 176ff. The Matchabelli mood has lodged with Meher Baba sectarians in America, whose sense of avataric exclusivism has ignored non-canonical and non-devotional books on their own figurehead. An exception was a recent documentary source mentioned in my web item Meher Baba. See also Meher Baba Movement on this website. See also Meher Baba's Critics.
(30) Even the partisan biographer James Moore was outlawed by the Gurdjieff Society of London in 1994. His crime was to contribute an article on his pet subject in the scholarly journal Religion Today, where he "sharply criticised both innovations introduced by Jeanne de Salzmann... and the 1992 revision of Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson spearheaded by de Salzmann and senior leaders of the New York Foundation." Quotation from Contemporary Status of the Work, PDF p. 14 note 10.
(31) Gurdjieff partisans have viewed the subsequent affiliations and interests of Bennett to be a distraction, including Subud. His book, Gurdjieff, Making a New World (1973) made much of a proposed link with the medieval khwajagan tradition of Central Asia. Bennett shows little knowledge of the later Naqshbandi tradition, centred in India, which arose from the precedent. This was a dervish order with a strong reputation for Islamic orthodoxy. Though Gurdjieff is known to have been in contact with the Mevlevi dervish order in Turkey, and may well have been in contact with other Sufi organisations, any link with the distant khwajagan remains very speculative. On the khwajagan, see Hasan L. Shushud, Masters of Wisdom of Central Asia, trans. M. Holland (Moorcote: Coombe Springs Press, 1983). Shushud wrote in Turkish, and his ancestors came from Konya, though his family had lived for long in Macedonia. See also S. A. A. Rizvi, A History of Sufism in India Vol. 2 (New Delhi, 1983), chapter four, on the Naqshbandiyya.
(32) In certain respects, his mealtime behaviour during the Priory phase seems to have been different. One of his secretaries at the Priory was Louise Goepfert March, who appeared on the scene in 1929 (McCorkle, The Gurdjieff Years 1929-1949). According to her report, "in those days he [Gurdjieff] was unusually quiet at the table," and to the extent that "he chided people who insisted on talking during the meal." He was observed to say, "When I eat, I self-remember." Also quoted online. These details contrast with the voluble drinker of later years. There are some who believe that Gurdjieff's increased alcohol intake and resort to opium, occurring during the 1920s after his motor accident, led to a deterioration in his subsequent existence.
(33) A recent theory concerning Crowley can be found in Mark Beynon, London's Curse: Murder, Black Magic and Tutankhamun in the 1920s West End (Stroud: History Press, 2011). Various deaths are here attributed to Crowley, who is presented as a serial killer. This theory lacks confirmation, but is certainly interesting for a reconstruction of the period, and for providing cues elsewhere neglected. Beynon emphasises that Crowley was obsessed with Jack the Ripper, and even believed that the Ripper's exploits gained this murderer occult powers, including invisibility, a supposed accomplishment which Crowley himself greatly coveted. One of his alleged victims was Raoul Loveday, an Oxford undergraduate who was a follower of Crowley. In 1923, Loveday died after drinking the blood of a cat sacrificed in one of Crowley's bizarre rituals; Beynon argues that Loveday was deliberately poisoned by Crowley. Almost anything can happen in some "black magic" situations. Cf. Symonds, The King of the Shadow Realm, pp. 316ff., from which it is apparent that Loveday's association with Crowley proved unhealthy, whatever the precise cause of his demise. Recent partisan celebrations of Crowley have caused much confusion, and are testimony to the chaos prevailing in the contemporary publishing world. With due caution, see Richard Kaczynski, Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley (2002; revised edn, Berkeley, California: North Atlantic, 2010); Tobias Churton, Aleister Crowley: The Biography - Spiritual Revolutionary, Romantic Explorer, Occult Master - and Spy (London: Watkins, 2011).
(34) My academic friend was in contact with the English landscape gardener Russell Page (d. 1985) and Lida Gurdjieff, the niece of the main subject, though sometimes described as his daughter. Page had married Lida in 1947, although a divorce later occurred. My friend heard that Gurdjieff had fathered some illegitimate children, but he did not like to probe. We could find nothing about the complication in print. My attitude to Gurdjieff was reserved, although in an open-minded spirit I did read several of the partisan books about him that were available circa 1970. In later years, I gained more information and was increasingly critical, as evidenced in Some Philosophical Critiques (2004), pp. 48, 54ff., written in 1996-98. That was before the most important documentation appeared.
(35) An academic work of subject range classified the Gurdjieff teaching in terms of an occult system, and also stated: "Gurdjieff developed a unique system that included Islamic mysticism (Sufism), yoga, his own form of numerology, and a vision of the world and body as machines" (Rosenthal, ed., The Occult in Russian and Soviet Literature, p. 21). The component of yoga is ambiguous, in that Gurdjieff disavowed the "way of the Yogi." Some other writers have associated him with the Vajrayanist form of yoga practised in Tibet.
(36) The discrepancies in contemporary New Age occultism are formidable. I can only mention here a few of the anomalies I myself have witnessed, and to the point of being involved in legal proceedings. Those particular events have encompassed several New Age organisations, including the Findhorn Foundation, the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN), the Wrekin Trust, and the Alister Hardy Trust. Ethical factors are incapable of resolution in those directions, the degree of evasion being nothing less than phenomenal, a point confirmed by legal experts familiar with the documentation. These organisations do not consider that they are responsible for any anomalies which occur in their jurisdiction, and instead celebrate their role in such avenues as ecology and near-death research. See Kate Thomas and the Findhorn Foundation. The critical citizen view is that these extremely evasive parties require to make due actions in the present life rather than entrusting the onus to a hypothetical afterlife. Near-death has been a strong interest of the SMN, who failed to respond to a widely circulated complaint. See my Letter of Complaint to David Lorimer. Merely in passing, I can mention how one academic influential within the SMN (not Lorimer) had formerly revealed in correspondence that he believed in his strong reincarnatory link with Gurdjieff. After witnessing the fate of a relative, and inquiring into the relevant SMN correspondence, I penned the appendix to Pointed Observations (2005), pp. 405ff, and entitled The Scientific and Medical Network: Critical Faculties or New Age Caricature? See also SMN Events. In addition to Western occultism, the Eastern guru cults are also a problem that leak into Wikipedia. Jimmy Wales was a big improvement upon the SMN; he did actually respond to communications, acknowledged some drawbacks in his enterprise, and even remedied certain of those. Go to Wikipedia Anomalies. The American branch of the Meher Baba movement are prone to an "avatar" complex reflected in their reporting of misunderstood events and books, while the Sathya Sai Baba cult has created many victims of cyberstalker attack via an American channel in the Google theatre. See, e.g., Internet Terrorist and Sathya Sai Baba and Wikipedia.
(37) Geoffrey Samuel, Civilised Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1993), p. 306. The equation is approximate only. To what extent Gurdjieff was familiar with the Tibetan language is quite uncertain, but he claimed to have visited Tibet, and P. B. Taylor has envisaged his use of Tibetan and Mongolian medical practices during his early years of wandering in Central Asia and Russia (G. I. Gurdjieff: A New Life, 2008). This is quite different to the theme of a "Mongolian emissary" conceived by early critics associated with Dr. James Young ( ). Tibetan medicine was practised in different contexts within Lamaism. "In most traditional Asian medical systems, including Tibetan medicine, which derives (via India) from the Greek medical tradition, the first priority is the restoration of balance and harmony within the organism as a whole" (Samuel, op. cit., p. 192). The lifestyle of Gurdjieff is reminiscent to some extent of the eccentric category known in Tibet as drubnyon or crazy saints, and who have been described in terms of "a tricksterlike figure that is perpetually engaged in one sort of perverse activity or another - drinking to excess, fornicating, thieving, defying authority, playing magical tricks" (ibid., pp. 302-3, and citing J. Ardussi and L. Epstein, "The Saintly Madman in Tibet," 1978). These fringe entities rejected society and the Buddhist monastic establishment, despised scholasticism, employed popular formats like epic tales, and resorted to obscenity. "Some of these drubnyon were uneducated, and evidently none had much regard for the clerical and philosophical Buddhism of the gompa [monastery]" (Samuel, Civilised Shamans, p. 306). The related term tulshug chodpa refers to a variety of practices, generally identified in terms of Tantric Yoga, and popularly esteemed in terms of acting "beyond the needs for ordinary social restraints" (ibid., p. 307). A modern instance of the drubnyon category, and a contemporary of Gurdjieff, was Kenpo Gangshar, originally a Kagyudpa monk and scholar, who later renounced his vows. "Many of those who knew him regarded him as a truly liberated being, although others found his actions embarassing and disturbing" (ibid.). Gangshar was an adviser to the rather more notorious Kagyudpa Lama Chogyam Trungpa (1940-87), active in America; Trungpa gained a reputation for indulgence in drugs and alcohol, and contracted numerous sexual relationships. Gurdjieff affords a parallel, not an exact duplicate. Despite the esteem for such figures amongst their followings, it is possible to be very critical. The Tibetan profile of drubnyon was long ago popularised, and applied with literary flourishes according to stock notions of significance. Critical paraphernalia has only recently commenced. My own contribution is unpublished. The Gurdjieff parallel is perhaps remarkable for extensive documentation replacing mere legend, the record changing contour as more and more information was made generally accessible.
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