As far as the writer's knowledge goes, 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.
Pythagoras himself was a Greek who spent many years in Eastern Persia and Afghanistan, and who on returning to Europe established a school for the study and teaching of music and mathematics. He was indeed the founder of European mathematics, of the European theory of music, and of European astronomy. He taught the doctrine of re-incarnation before Buddha; he laid the foundations and solved the crucial problems of pure geometry 200 years before Euclid was born; and he described the earth as a sphere and a planet revolving with the other planets round a 'central fire', 2,000 years before Copernicus. Indeed, it is probably only the mystery which surrounded the work of his 'school' – wherein no discovery was ever ascribed to an individual – that has prevented his being acclaimed the greatest scientist of all time.
It is not suggested here that Gurdjieff is another Pythagoras, but if parallels are to be sought this particular parallel is certainly irresistible – and no others are adequate, save perhaps some which might be discovered in the origins of Gothic architecture. So far at any rate as the modern world is concerned, the Gurdjieff Institute is a unique phenomenon. Its possibilities are either nothing or else almost infinite.
~ Clifford Sharpe "The Forest Philosophers"
WE WATCHED THE OUSPENSKYS, BENNETTS, ORAGES, JANE HEAPS, JEAN TOOMERS, ETC. COME AND GO
To take up the question of “heirs” to Gurdjieff’s work, I think it is undeniable that everyone who spent any time with him is some sort of “heir” or, more abstractly, a repository of the effects of Gurdjieff. He acted on people and they received whatever he was able to deposit with them, limited, I think, only by their ability to receive. Their receptivity is a key factor – one absorbs to the extent one is able to do so. So, in that sense, what individuals “got from him” varies.
It is my conclusion that the children who were at the Prieuré in the 1920’s were more receptive than anyone else. This is not because I have discovered in the course of becoming an adult that those children know more or are, in any sense, “better” human beings than other persons who – at some point – had actual contact with Gurdjieff. I exclude people who had only brief, and primarily intellectual, contact with him. Such individuals (or groups) did not – there is simply no question about it – have the opportunity to experience the man as a whole. The people who were long-time residents of the Prieuré had a relationship with Gurdjieff that was never duplicated in any other physical situation.
The children who stayed at the Prieuré for a fairly long time during the twenties, were basically just there. It was not their intention, search or need that brought them there. The ones I remember were Gurdjieff’s nieces and nephew, the de Salzmann children, Dr. Stjernvall’s son, a boy named Tolik Mercouroff, and my brother, Tom, and myself. There may have been others, but I don’t think so. I have included the main ones.
I think it is important to remember that the children were what might be called chance victims of the Messiah, or whatever Gurdjieff was supposed to be. We had no choice in the matter, and were treated, for the most part, simply as children. Present day “seekers” should also remember that we were inevitably exposed to everything that took place during those years. We watched the Ouspenskys, Bennetts, Orages, Jane Heaps, Jean Toomers, etc. come and go. But we were there all the time. We have, perhaps for this reason alone, a sense of continuity and belonging about the Prieuré and about Gurdjieff himself that, as far as I can say honestly, no one else ever experienced. He was, of course, respected by us and we even held him in awe – but rather in the sense that children are somewhat overawed by headmasters, not, however, as a Herald of Coming Good. Tom and I, certainly, had been told that he was something special: different, great, a mystic or a Messiah. But, speaking for myself alone, whatever the epithet (and at age 11, I didn’t know what a Messiah was anyway), he was a man at home. He lived there most of the time and he did – whatever else he may have been doing – what people do in their own homes.
I stress this point because I seriously doubt that any of the group leaders today – apart from Mme. de Salzmann and perhaps one or two others – also had that kind of experience with Gurdjieff. He was, to me, first of all a human being. When you clean someone’s room every day, that person is perforce relegated to a universal norm that is comprehensible to us all: he used a bathroom for all the usual purposes.
Also, being an outgoing and affectionate man by nature, he was good to the children: a perfectly natural and ordinary response. He adapted himself to our level, took our problems seriously or, at least, listened to them as a parent would – ideally. So, I can only conclude that I am, without question, an “heir”. To what could well be the next question, and my answer would have to be a simple one: to some part of his nature. Part of his nature is in me for the very simple reason that he did not necessarily fill my mind or intellect with anything. He influenced me in the same way that “parents” influence any child. I do except myself from the other children to this extent: he picked me, specifically, to be his personal attendant, body slave, room cleaner... call it what you will. And he gave me the affection, love and attention that my own parents, and my adoptive parents, Jane Heap and Margaret Anderson, had not given me. In view of his “stature” in the occult world today, I am not surprised that some people envy me my time with him. However, I am disturbed at their assumption that I know something about his ideas. Naturally, I know something about them, but I am not and never have been an “intellectual”. Why Gurdjieff had a mission or had to establish a school is beyond me. I simply accept – at face value – that he was Beelzebub and apparently sent by someone or something to do something about this planet. The idea is no more startling to me than the stories about unidentified flying objects or the fact that men have walked on the moon.
~ Fritz Peters "Balanced Man"
WHEN HE SAW THAT THEY DID NOT APPRECIATE WHAT HE HAD GIVEN, HE DELIBERATELY TOOK THE PRICELESS THINGS AWAY FROM THEM
Ouspensky arranged a lecture on the Gobi Desert for Gurdjieff before the Geographical Society of Moscow. Gurdjieff discoursed long and authoritatively on the subject, and then toward the end he told of having discovered a small valley with precipitous sides which made the bottom impossible of access. The floor glittered with diamonds which the natives gathered by a novel method. They threw down lumps of meat, and trained vultures to retrieve the diamond-studded morsels. Many suspicious glances were exchanged by the savants; many of them rose and left. The whole lecture ended in a fiasco. Ouspensky afterwards asked Gurdjieff why he had introduced that story from the Arabian Nights with such disconcerting results. Gurdjieff replied that he had told the scholars many things and given them priceless information. When he saw that they did not appreciate what he had given, he deliberately took the priceless things away from them by introducing in them a doubt about all he had said.
~ Carl Zigrosser "My Own Shall Come to Me"
SLEEP HAD SEVEN FEATURES
"Adie told us that [waking] sleep had seven features: identification, considering, negative emotion, unnecessary talking, lying, formatory thinking, daydreaming and imagination (these last two being two aspects of one feature)."
~ Joseph Azize in "George Adie - A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia"
THE LIES WE TELL OURSELVES
“I am not now talking about the man who for personal gain, says he paid three pence when, in fact, he only paid a penny. I am talking about the lies we tell ourselves. These are the important lies which constitute all the falsity in our psychic processes. Man spends his whole time lying and cannot help it. He thinks he is one, and so he thinks he is truly responsible. He expects other people to be truly responsible, and blames them when they fail to satisfy his expectations.
“Gurdjieff taught that I am lying when I talk of things about things of which I do not know, as if I did. For example, if I hold forth with with conviction about what god wants, or what is wrong with the world or with other people (and who does not know all about what is wrong with other people?), I tell a lie because there is the implicit assertion that I am an authority. This false view is doubly dangerous because I myself believe my own lies. It is often easier to see this in other people; people speak and write all sorts of things with such confidence and aplomb that we are often amazed when we find that they are wrong. Once more they are identified with their own opinions and their own talking. It is a fair sign that a person who prefaces a comment by saying, ‘Take it from me...’ or ‘One thing I have learned...’ is lying. Someone who has a limited but accurate knowledge will more often than not just pass on the information.”
~ Joseph Azize in quoting George Adie in “George Adie - A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia”
THAT “UNCHANGEABLE SOURCE”
My memory recorded the slowly spoken words [of Gurdjieff], then connected them in quick association with another earlier dictum on man in relation to surroundings . . . (Was it two, three or four years ago that he had exclaimed, “The terribleness of it is that man, real Man, must remember if not himself, then what he does in relation to his surroundings. Man must always prepare for what he does, necessary at all times that he thinks what he does . . .” ?) and I had no sense of time lapse in the continuity of the teaching.
That timeless continuity would always be, I thought, whether you were privileged to see the master daily, as had the Rope, or periodically over intervals of years as his New York followers saw him. Once you had worked under his personal guidance, once that “unchangeable source” with its single aim had been set up within, you would never come to him as a stranger no matter how many years or crucial life events separated you from the previous encounter. The reflection brought a curious consolation as I sat with his larger, totally different American group — an outsider to their experiencing of the master, yet one who by the mere fact of being invited by Gurdjieff to participate was given to understand that she belonged in the chosen tribe he called “my people.”
During the entire magical interlude of his New York visit, I was keenly aware that we were having our last communion with him until after the war — about which he never spoke, thus making it seem like something preparing to explode on another planet. It is fantastic now to recall the headlines that screamed crimson each day from the Rockefeller Center newsstands — NAZIS OCCUPY BOHEMIA AND MORAVIA; ITALY SEIZES ALBANIA; ENGLAND AND FRANCE ABANDON APPEASEMENT — and to remember Gurdjieff sitting in his always crowded hotel room with his American men, his small feet out at right angles with heels together in ballet position, hands on spread knees, leaning forward and telling his hoary old Scotch and Irish jokes with disarming bonhomie, then by cunning quick transition switching to serious talk when no one was prepared for it . . .
“Man must at all times mathematically hear, mathematically understand, mathematically answer. Only this is life. Always he must be with his ‘I’ . . . only then is he not man in quotation marks. No matter what he has in his surroundings — people, noise, alcohol — always he must mathematically understand. Never lose the Self, even when drunk. He can be drunk, but never can his ‘I’ be drunk . . .”
Night after night, the same theme — his headlines for the inner world of man, the only world that counted, the only one toward which his talk was directed . . . and always in continuity, always in reiteration, always like a message from outer space coded to a single note, a single letter, the timeless ‘I’ of man.
Beelzebub in America . . .
~ Kathryn Hulme “Undiscovered Country”