Mr. Gurdjieff’s way of turning suddenly from the serious to the light hearted was often exemplified in his dismissal of the toast. Once a postman came to the flat as the toast was being called, to deliver a registered letter form America. As usual he was called in to have a drink. When he heard the toast he said, "C’est bien vrai – qui ne travaille pas, tot ou tard, il crevera comme un chien.” Mr. Gurdjieff was so delighted that the man was sent away loaded with presents.
The fifth toast is the Compassionate Idiot, with the detail “To the health of all Compassionate Idiots, sympathetic and antipathic”. Latterly he added the third category “And so-so-so’. For a short time we had the further detail, “That is to say to the health of all Compassionate Idiots who have true pity and to the health of all those who only swagger and wish to be seen’. To illustrate this Mr. Gurdjieff told the story of the man lying starving by the road side. The true Compassionate Idiot will give his last crust to help him. But the Antipathic Idiot will look round to see if someone is watching him. “Perhaps fiancée or fiancee’s father is watching form the window. Then he will give his last crust. If no one is watching he will quickly go away. Perhaps even kick him. I hate such Idiots.”
I think that the contrast between the Hopeless and the Compassionate Idiot is very significant. The latter sees outside himself, either in a good or a bad way. The former is concerned only with himself. Though ‘subjectively’ hopeless he will nevertheless resolve to struggle without expecting a result. The ‘objectively’ Hopeless Idiot does not even suspect that anything is wrong and therefore no question of struggle arises for him. He perishes like a dog, because he is content to live like a dog. In both cases the drama in enacted within the psyche of the Hopeless Idiot himself. The Compassionate Idiot has an external situation. He sees himself in relation to others who need help. If he does not deceive himself he realizes that he cannot help others unless he himself has ‘being’. He sees that he has not being and when this fact penetrates deeply into his experience he ‘consciously descends’ to the state of Hopeless Idiot. If he has already descended to Ordinary Idiot and is working on himself up the scale of understanding, he struggles with the impossible task of ‘consciously ascending’ to the stage of ‘Squirming Idiot’. There are three different possibilities for the Compassionate Idiot. This gives some idea of the extraordinary wealth of meaning which is hidden in the Science of Idiotism. The Squirming Idiot toast is not usually detailed in respect of the positive and negative aspects. But Mr. Gurdjieff gave two kinds of explanation which indicates the difference. He spoke of the Squirming Idiot (in French, ‘Idiot Recalcitrant’) who will not admit that he is an idiot. He is convinced that he can ‘do’. “Such an Idiot comes to me and asks for my help. I prove to him that he is idiot. He says, ‘Yes, I am idiot’. Then he goes out and begins to think, ‘But why am I idiot? Did I not buy this something for a hundred francs and sell it for two hundred? I am not idiot – Mr. Gurdjieff is idiot’. Then he comes back to me to explain what he is not idiot. I hit him in the jaw and break two teeth. Then he recognizes that he is idiot. But when he goes away again he changes”.
The other aspect of the Squirming Idiot is described by another comparison. “He is like fish out of water. Fish knows what he cannot live without water. He has only a little time to get back into the water. But he has no legs. If I pick him up to put him back in water, he squirms and falls out of my hand so I cannot help him”.
In both cases the Squirming Idiot is difficult to help. The conflict is now both in the inner and the outer world. The Squirming Idiot cannot find peace in either. He has not faith nor is he hopeless. He is not compassionate for he is too much occupied with his inner world. And yet he struggles. He is not satisfied. Even when he refuses to believe that he is an idiot, he does not trust his own judgment, but goes back to convince his teacher. His positive merit is that he struggles and out of this struggle something will result. The toast of the Squirming Idiot was always coupled with the detail, ‘And to the health of all hysterical women’. At this point Gurdjieff would often say that all women are hysterical. Never in all his eighty years had he met a woman who was not hysterical. His use of the word ‘hysterical’ had a special significance. It implied, I think, lack of judgment and a tendency to extremes. I do not remember any explanation of the coupling of this particular toast with hysterical women, but it seems to me that it is connected with the saying of Beelzebub that women can never have an independent judgment.
The seventh toast was always given in this form: “We come now to the series of Geometric Idiots. First, to the health of all Square Idiots”. The Square Idiot is he who is ‘sometimes not idiot’. He is ‘candidate for Round’. The Round Idiot is always Idiot, but the square sometimes has a moment of sanity. Mr. Gurdjieff always used to accompany this explanation with a gesture of tracing a circle and a square in the air with his finger. At the corners of the square there is a change of direction, so the square symbolizes an idiot who has something in him that is different from the rest.
Very little was said in my hearing about the different kinds of Square Idiot, but I believe that Mr. Gurdjieff once gave the explanation that the Square Idiot may be real or imaginary. I have the impression that the Square Idiot is ‘practical’. He may apply his ‘practicalness’ to activities which are in themselves imaginary, and if he believes that they have objective value, he himself loses touch with reality. On the other hand, the Square Idiot who has understanding can, within his own limitations, do work for an objective purpose. The Science of Idiotism has one more dimensions that any ordinary classification of human types and the stages of inner growth, for it takes separately into account the three factors of knowledge, being and understanding. He only touched the fringes of it in our meals at No. 6. For example, there was the question of automatic passage. Mr. Gurdjieff for some reason most often referred to this in commenting on the Square Idiot –“Candidate for Round”. He used to say that every three years one passed one stage. Once he spoke of a woman who had not seen him for twelve years: she had been Hopeless Idiot and he told her that now she was Round. I think that he intended to convey the special danger that exists for the man who has some external manifestations on which he can rely. If he forgets that these are as mechanical as his accidental manifestations, he will lose discrimination and all his manifestations will acquire the character of ‘Round Idiocy’. The Round Idiot is one of the two or three who are mentioned in ‘Beelzebub’. In its primitive sense, Round Idiot means completely devoid of discrimination. He takes everything the wrong way in terms of his own subjectivity. Sometimes, Mr. Gurdjieff spoke of the Round Idiot as being in a peculiarly difficult situation; there is no point at which he can escape. He will end by being hysterical, that is Zig-zag Idiot. But in the meantime he is irresponsible. So he is always very lucky: whatever he does no one can blame him. He can say, ‘What do you expect? I am Round Idiot’.
Once Mr. Gurdjieff spoke of the Round Idiot more seriously. He said that he must struggle very hard and very continuously; “but he can do this because he is Round Idiot! If he sees his Idiotidity he will struggle day and night to be free”.
In general cases, I heard that Mr. Gurdjieff made people transfer from Round Idiot directly to Hopeless Idiot. This was when they had made some long and persistent effort – particularly against their own judgment, that is on faith.
But by far the most frequent explanation given by Mr. Gurdjieff was the gesture of tracing a circle with his finger. ‘He always Idiot. Day, night, sleep, wake, in eglise, in water closet, always Idiot. Idiot all sides”. Clearly this can be taken in more ways than one. The Round Idiot who is unaware of his idiocy is a real danger to himself and everyone near him. But if he is conscious of his idiocy and does not forget it, then he has a reminding factor which will make him work in a way that the other Idiots cannot do. He sees nothing in himself but idiocy and therefore can have no other aim except to change himself and become free.
The last of the Geometric Idiots is Zig-zag. The toast was given in more and more detail – ‘taken from the Esoteric Group’ – as time went on. It finally settled in the form: ‘To the health of all Zig-zag Idiots, that is to say, to the health of all those who have five Fridays in the week. And to the health of all hysterical people, and to the health of all three sexes’. Mr. Gurdjieff gave many explanations of all these details. Sometimes he would interrupt the Director, who was coupling with the toast the name of one or more people present, to say: "No, this toast is to all hysterical people. Everyone is hysteric, so this toast is for everyone – there is no need to give names”.
About ‘five Fridays in the week’, there were many attempts to persuade him to explain what this meant. Once he said explicitly that there was no special significance in the ‘Friday’. It might be any day of the week. What was important about the Zig-zag Idiot was that he had no stability. From one side he was very strong;’ from another very weak. He would make great efforts to begin to really move (?) and then he would go right back. To illustrate this, Mr. Gurdjieff made a gesture with his finger, stretching it as far as he could to the right and then back halfway and then a succession of smaller zig-zags. The Zig-Zag Idiot has broken out of the charmed circle in which the Round Idiot is confined, but he has no inner stability of his own. So he is hysterical. And everyone who begins to work on himself has something of this property. He does not go in a definite direction because his understanding does not correspond to his efforts.
The connection between the Zig-zag Idiot and the Three Sexes came later (at any rate in my experience) than the other details. He used it frequently as a text to speak about the third sex and its uselessness for the work. In a sense therefore the Zig-zag Idiot represents an end point. He has become a dilettante unable to stick to anything, and finally loses the inner impulse to work. But he may also be a man or woman in the true sense, and as such his efforts will be real and effective. Mr. Gurdjieff drew the picture of the Zig-zag Idiot as one who works with almost frantic energy. “I admire such idiot. He make many mistakes, but he never stop – day, night he struggle”. This is the Zig-zag Idiot who has understood his position. He has a certain affinity with the Squirming Idiot, and indeed once or twice Mr. Gurdjieff gave the explanation usually reserved for the Squirming Idiot in the Zig-zag toast.
I think that it may be possible to take the Idiots in groups of three. The first of each triad represents the inner aspect, the second the outward manifestation and the third the outcome of their conflict. This would mean that there is a certain analogy between Idiots occupying the same place in each group of three. Thus Arch Idiot, Squirming Idiot, Zig-zag and Swaggering Idiot would represent different stages in the realization of a certain aspect of human experience.
The fourth series of three begins with the Enlightened Idiot. He is the end point of the way of knowledge beyond which it is impossible to pass without being. It is certain that Mr. Gurdjieff conceived more than one way – perhaps seven – of ascending the scale of Idiotism. One is simply imaginary. The Idiot does not change in any real sense, but he progressively grows more and more sure that he is advancing. Such an Idiot can reach, in his imagination, any stage. Most probably he will become Swaggering Idiot, convinced that he has something which makes him as different from all other men.
There is no objective significance in the changing manifestations of such a person. He does not really work on himself and is, in the full sense, a candidate for perishing like a dog.
The way of knowledge is quite different from this. He who follows this way really struggles. He overcomes great difficulties in order to acquire not more information but real knowledge. This work changes him, and he climbs up the scale of Idiotism until he becomes Enlightened. Then he knows everything that it is possible for him to know. He knows what he must do in order to reach real freedom. But he cannot do it. He struggles desperately, but finds that it is quite impossible for him to do what is necessary. Mr. Gurdjieff very often gave explanations of the situation of the Enlightened Idiot. “Perhaps it is not his fault. It is the fault of his heredity. His grandfather or grandmother. Perhaps his grandmother was a prostitute. He can do nothing about it. She already dead. No one can do anything for him. I pity such Idiot more than any.”
Such explanations naturally aroused feelings of wonder and dismay. Though reminiscent of ‘the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children until the third and fourth generation of them that hate me’, they seemed utterly at variance with the infinite mercy and compassion of the Creator. They brought home to us the terrible situation of the man who relies on knowledge rather than on being. Often Mr. Gurdjieff was asked (ends here) (from handwritten notes)
1. Ordinary Idiot Good to be ordinary
2. Super Idiots arch thinks he knows everything high society
3. Arch Idiot
4. Geometric Round Idiots all time
5. Square Idiot along in lines (??) keeps hitting corners
6. Zigzag somebody has
5 Fridays in week
7. Compassionate Idiot antipathic - kick a dog when no one is looking --------- if someone is watching sympathic – sympathy for every --- even cold sausages (?)
8. Squirming Idiot fish out of water
9. Hopeless Idiot subjective objective nothingness kundabuffer
10. Doubting Idiot
11. Enlightened Idiot
12. Third Sex and all Hysterical Women present company excluded