Archive for March 2008
“Behind Real I Lies God”
“Behind real I lies God”, said Gurdjieff. And one possible expression of the feeling-quality of the relationship between real I and God is indicated by the prayer “Lord Have Mercy”. This was an important prayer to Gurdjieff: it is in exercises he gave Mrs Staveley and also the Adies in the last years of his life. It features in some of his very last movements. It is even found in Beelzebub. It is worth pondering. If one uses the method of continuing prayer I mentioned in the blog on the Prayer of the Heart, one can take it into life, and even into the Gurdjieff preparation. Then one can experience both “Lord Have Mercy” and “I AM”. Two separated but related impulses which lived together bring an almost miraculous experience.
This statement attributed to Gurdjieff, “behind real I lies God”, and which lands with the force of a revelation, was preserved by Maurice Nicoll (Selections from Meetings in 1953 at Great Amwell House, Eureka Editions, 1997, p.14). Nicoll went on to explain that it follows that Real I can be placed on the Ray of Creation around the note “si”, just beneath the Absolute. That volume has many interesting references to Gurdjieff: see pp.105, 110, 123, 126, 146, 173, 180, 188, and 202-3 (the last two pages are from Nicoll’s very last group meeting).
Then, in another book of miscellaneous meeting notes, it is related that Nicoll had said that when he and his wife were at the Prieuré, their two year old baby Jane fell sick. Gurdjieff kept the members of the Institute up for most of the night doing unusually difficult exercises “in order to create the force which he was able to use to cure Jane … He and Mrs Nicoll always felt that he had in this way saved Jane’s life.” (Informal Work Talks, Eureka Editions, reprint of 1998, p.82). This book, too, contains other Gurdjieff anecdotes and maxims: see pp.3, 6, 17, 48 (x2), 51, 93 and 113-4.
In my opinion, however, the very best and most useful material from Nicoll’s groups is to be found in Notes Taken At Meetings January 18, 1934 to April 28, 1934 (Eureka Editions, 1996). What Nicoll writes there about the internal parts of centres, and other topics, is – to my mind – astounding. So precise is it, that one receives a shock from merely reading it. One of the bizarre diagrams in the hardcover edition of Views (p.218, omitted from the paperback, possibly because it was considered too opaque) is found in almost identical form in Notes Taken At Meetings. Nicoll’s explanation of it is complementary to Gurdjieff’s, and illuminating. In effect, one can see that it graphically and vividly illustrates an insight into our position as individuals and in the cosmos.
Although there is some excellent material in the far better known Psychological Commentaries and in The New Man and Living Time, as a whole, Nicoll’s best and most unique insights come in the three slim volumes of informal notes. Further, they often put ideas in a better form than that of the Commentaries. I have sometimes encountered something in one of these books, and then researched that topic in the Commentaries. It is perhaps significant that Nicoll did not revise these volumes of notes: had he done so he might have ruined them.
Nicoll was an immensely talented individual, and he had the advantage of spending many mornings with Gurdjieff, working at carpentry. Gurdjieff, too, clearly thought a great deal of Nicoll, and invited Nicoll to him after the death of Ouspensky, but Nicoll refused. However, I think that when Nicoll wrote he took too much care to express his meaning. His Commentaries are Talmudic in inaccessibility. Invariably prolix and didactic, they repeat themselves to little advantage, even in the one paper. I not infrequently have the sense of being reprimanded by a schoolmaster. The many references to the Gospels are not always enlightening: too often they just import a sense of preachy self-righteousness. And Nicoll has an awful habit of writing about “the Work” as if we all knew what it was, and it spoke in a clear and strident voice. “The Work” tells us this, and the “the Work” tells us that. Of course, the work in so far as it can be personalised tells us nothing. But Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and especially Nicoll, said a good deal. The Commentaries need condensation: for example, the anecdote about “Real I” is found there, at page 1647. Not too many readers have made it so far into the volumes, as evidenced by the fact that it is never cited.
The same deficiency in Nicoll’s “polished” work and the comparative vigour of his raw product is found in the two “New Testament” books, The New Man and The Mark. Nicoll had completed and published New Man in 1950, three years before he died, but he did not complete Mark. Yet, in my view, that is easily the best of the two books, even if it does to an extent assume the ideas in New Man. Lacking the “official Nicoll style”, New Man is more engaging and convincing. It also features the wonderful essay “The New Will”, perhaps the best thing Nicoll ever wrote, although it does not provide commentary on the New Testament.
Then, there is Pogson’s biography, Maurice Nicoll: A Portrait, republished by Fourth Way Books, 1987. One can receive an entirely new impression of Gurdjieff and the Prieuré from that volume. It is extraordinary that later researchers have under utilised these pages. It is not a “great” biography. Pogson’s approach is rather naive in some respects, and with her I always have a faint sense of the “prim and proper”. She describes how Nicoll moved his group to various stately English mansions and taught the New Testament, and she often says how wonderful and moving various events and talks were, but leaves it at that, as if the reader can share in the moment by reading of her own emotional exaltation. It is not so. Pogson could have made some attempt to bring together important ideas. Even the reference to Jane Nicoll’s illness does not mention how Gurdjieff asked people to make super-efforts to provide an energy. But why not? Pogson knew of this, and it exemplifies a principle, which others can experiment with.
Overall, then, I think that there is some very good and useful material in Nicoll’s legacy, which has too often been overlooked. But the difficulty is that it has been badly edited and passed on. Creed’s volumes of notes are very poorly put together, with the same illustrations and diagrams in each, and he has a habit (especially in his two volumes of shamefully muddled Fragments) of mixing together valuable and rare material with excessive quotation from Miraculous and the Psychological Commentaries. Like Pogson, but even more so, Creed’s talent is for collection. And we must thank him for that.
But anyone who made their way through these books and put together a single volume of about 200 pages called “Nicoll’s Approach to Mystical Philosophy”, systematically synthesizing Nicoll’s teaching rather than cutting and pasting from various sources, would be performing a public service. For example, the statement about real I can be expanded by reference to the diagram on p.41 of Notes Taken At Meetings, but this sort of research and editing is, sadly, beyond any of the commentators and editors Nicoll has found to date.
Nicoll is something of an outsider in certain Gurdjieff circles. For example, he does not appear in the Foundation-sponsored Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections, yet a good deal of what I might politely call material of little enduring value does, side by side with some powerful material. And the feeling is reciprocal: Nicoll’s people have their own canon of acceptable teachers: Ouspensky, Nicoll and Pogson. And, from what I can see, that is about it. Yet, as I have written elsewhere, I am more certain than ever that Gurdjieff intended his pupils, yes, even Jeanne de Salzmann, to learn from each other. He gave many of his pupils something unique and helped them to develop their own material: how could this not have been deliberate?
The question is: will Gurdjieff’s pupils ever start to reach over institutional walls and learn from each other? Will they ever be able to come together for any purpose? Why could the Foundation, the Bennett people, and others, perhaps in the USA, not come together on a Nicoll project, and invite Lewis Creed?
After I had written this blog, but before posting it, I was reminded of something. It was in November 2003, and Mr Adie’s group had a time away with the “Sydney Foundation” group in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. Since that time, I have left the Adie group and it has joined the Foundation people. But at this week away, I was on the Adie group’s council, and I said at one of the meetings that it was difficult when the two councils got together because the Foundation group had 12 people on theirs. We had five. Let us say that my comments were not warmly received.
Afterwards I spoke to one of our people and remarked that he knew that what I had said was right, so why did he not support me? He was not happy with me: he was glowering behind his beard. Yes, he stated, tetchily, you are right, but nothing will come of it, so why raise it? As I say, he was not happy with me.
Then, at our very next meeting, David from London made the surprising announcement, looking in my direction, that “for once I had sympathy with one of your outbursts”. Further, he had spoken to the lady in New York with responsibility for that group or had someone speak to her. I cannot quite recall which, but it may have been both. She had agreed, and the council of 12 was being replaced by a council of five persons, but the lineup would rotate from time to time.
I felt like asking David when I had given way to outbursts, and perhaps should have, as to refrain seemed to encourage him in his belief that he possessed “gravitas” and ‘auctoritas”. But, conscious that I was with others of my group, I did not. Yet, I have to say, that one of them could have supported me. However, they did not.
I also felt like pointing out to the one I had spoken to that indeed he had been wrong: the change was made. So my raising it was not forlorn. In fact, it had been the catalyst to David contacting New York and introducing some practicality into their council’s arrangements.
Why do I raise this? Because in the Gurdjieff groups people often feel inhibited from raising matters they think will be unpopular. Be ever so sane and balanced as you like, the fact that you are not doing the done thing is sufficient to set you up as a bringer of outbursts.
Well, the moral of my story is, the ideas and the methods are real. The groups, and often the group leadership are not. They are illusions. if you are in a Gurdjieff group, and even in the Foundation itself, do be not afraid to be wrongly seen as making outbursts. Be centred, and speak. You have nothing to lose but your illusions.
MOUNT ATHOS click on image to enlarge
Gurdjieff and the Prayer of the Heart
In the post on Fasting, we saw that Gurdjieff taught that techniques such as fasting, confession and prayer were not only valuable but essential for any seeker, even if we usually associate them with religion, but not with the Fourth Way. Gurdjieff gave few indications about prayer, but he knew of and used certain Eastern methods of praying. Is it possible to develop these indications with a view to making prayer something practical?
Of particular importance are what are often called the prayers of repetition, such as the Prayer of the Heart and the Jesus Prayer. I prefer to call these “continuing prayer”. Here, etymology is enlightening. “Continue” is derived from two Latin roots, *SCOM meaning “together” and *TA / *TEN, “stretch, hold”. *SCOM appears in Greek as “ksun” and “sun”, while in Latin the s was kept in words like “sequor” meaning “I follow”, while in words like “cum” and “con” meaning “with”, the s disappeared and the c was retained. So, etymologically, in “continuous prayer”, the instantaneous prayer of this moment holds hands, as it were, with the instantaneous prayer of the next moment. It is an action of prayerful attention perpetuated by wish, will and – most important of all – grace.
Continuing prayer is the “safe place” of which Mr Adie spoke to us, what he would call the “inner tabernacle” and the “oratory”. Continuing prayer is the amethyst jewel which transforms poisons into wine, it is the lamp of Galadriel which dispels dreams. It is the philosopher’s stone which converts lead to gold, because it is awareness in the intellectual part of feeling centre, and thus the bridge to intellectual part of intellectual centre and to the higher centres. This praying is inside us, as Mr Adie said. But this does not mean that it is not somehow spread among organs and blood vessels. In his words, “inside” means permeating me and my atmosphere. My “inside”, odd as it may sound, extends for about a metre all around me. One can use the planet as an analogy. In some notes published as “Notes on Saint John’s Gospel”, Ouspensky wrote:
Earth is enclosed and enwrapped in a great flame of radiant power. The same power is stored inside every living form, waiting for some shock that will set it free.
The Christian techniques of prayer can provide such shocks, but as Ouspensky stated on 23 January 1934, these techniques are useless without conscious breathing and fasting (see A Further Record, pp.295-8.) Ouspensky’s comments make sense of some rather cryptic remarks to be found in the Philokalia, especially in Nikiphorus the Monk (see volume 4 of the complete text). The more I experiment with fasting and with the preparations and exercises EXACTLY as Mr Adie had from Gurdjieff, the more I think that this is also true of the Gurdjieff method.
Adie’s instructions tally exactly with those of Nikiphorus. Indeed, they make sense of and expand the monk’s deliberately fragmentary and incomplete instructions. Incidentally, I believe that Mme Kadloubovsky, who had a major role in the preparation of the English translation of the Philokalia, and who assembled the volume which dealt with the Prayer of the Heart, was Ouspensky’s secretary. That volume is highly recommended, and includes Nikiphorus under the name “Nicephorus the Solitary”.
Let me relate one personal experience, or type of personal experience. With the continuous prayer, impressions are received entirely differently, or perhaps one could say that they are received as before but as well there are added impressions of oneself, of vividness, of almost being poised above time, added depth and dimension in everything … and so on. When I forget the prayer, I am sometimes awoken by a feeling which is something like “who took away the third dimension?” The street scene I had been alive in has suddenly become more like a television screen. The very gap between life with prayer and life without can serve to awaken.
As this suggests, continuing prayer is not some sort of monolithic granite extension: there are fluctuations and distractions. Yet, the person praying (the orant) is influenced by the prayer, and the active elements of the prayer (aim, intention, wish, feeling, understanding) which are augmented by what can metaphorically be called a stretching of the attention. The prayer is not of equal and unvarying intensity: but the moments of prayer are united in their effect by the aim and the practice of the orant, which is continually initiated, lost, reinitiated, and so on. Indeed, as Helen Adie told us, a thought can be pulled back if it has not yet left my atmosphere, and it can often take seconds to do so. The concept is strange, and no words can really express it, but hearing it on tapes now I know something of what she meant, because a person who has been taught the collected state exercise can have a sense of its truth: how by making an effort to bring back a thought or an emotion, one has a feeling of recalling something, and the incipient feeling of depletion is succeeded by an inflow of force. Thus, one can properly speak of a “continuing” prayer.
And has some understanding of what Gurdjieff meant in his chapters on hypnotism about the work of the sub-consciousness, then there, where it counts, the prayer be even less discontinuous than we know. Further, the material in those chapters will clarify much of what is implied, but not stated explicitly, about the heart, the pulse(s) and breathing in the Eastern Christian material. If “Purgatory” is the heart of the teaching, then “Hypnotism” is the backbone of the techniques.
That said, it would be irresponsible to provide specific indications concerning continuing prayer, because, as the Philokalia stated on the Prayer of the Heart, and as Mr Adie said, such techniques must be learnt from someone experienced, who can watch the orant (or student). Otherwise, a person can become deluded, and imagine that they possess qualities they do not, or worse. But I can indicate this: three things came together to bring me to the contents of this post. First, I have once more started to benefit from a certain experience which I had first had in 1982, when the Adies had taught me the preparation as Gurdjieff had taught them, and eventually something began to happen within me. It was a feature of my time with the Adies. I am amazed I can have remembered it so little. The experience has reoccurred several times in the past few years since I left the group, when certain events or realizations were the catalyst to this self-feeling of the continuing prayer. I am not saying that I am man number 4, or always have self-consciousness, but I will venture to say that the continuing prayer experience proves to me that the idea of man number 4 is not a fantasy. It is possible to have the continuing prayer experience for the entirety of a day and even for several days together. On such days, one is man number 4, with all the fluctuations and variation of intensity I have referred to.
The second thing which has contributed to my writing this blog is the receipt of several e-mails since posting the Fasting blog. These have pointed me back to parts of the Orthodox tradition I had not understood, especially to the Prayer of the Heart and the Jesus Prayer. I can hardly overstate how important fasting is in disrupting the coordination of the centres and making possible new physical, feeling and intellectual experiences.
The third cause is that I have become more and more aware that Gurdjieff did in fact have sources, and wherever I have been able to identify such sources, they are in the Greek tradition, especially what is called the “Neoplatonic” school of Plotinus and Iamblichus, including their distant disciple Proclus. Now, who retained those texts in a language Gurdjieff could read? Some Sufi school in Afghanistan? Not terribly likely, and certainly, I have not seen evidence that they did. However, the Greek Orthodox tradition of Byzantium did preserve many of these texts in well-ordered, accessible libraries, and what is more, the Orthodox scholars studied them.
I have been reminded of something else which I can now, in retrospect, hardly believe I could have forgotten. The hitherto-forgotten secret lies open in the well-read pages of In Search of the Miraculous: at p.304. It is related that Gurdjieff asked his pupils where the word “I” sounds in them when they pronounce it aloud. Ouspensky stated that he was “entirely unable to evoke this sensation” in himself. Then, said Gurdjieff, there is an exercise “preserved up to our time in the monasteries of Mount Athos.” (Incidentally, Gurdjieff had earlier stated that he had been to Mount Athos, Miraculous, p.36).
In this exercise, Gurdjieff said, a monk takes a certain position, lifts his arms in a definite posture, and says “Ego” while listening to where it sounds. In Greek, “ego” does not mean “me”, or even “egotism” and “egomania”, it means “I”, or “I am”. The purpose of the exercise, Gurdjieff explained, is to feel “I” at every moment a man thinks of himself, and furthermore, to bring the sense of “I” (perhaps one could say the sense of “I am” or “presence”) from one centre to another. All this material on the “Ego” exercise is given in some 19 lines. Incidentally, the 19th century Maronite monk, Mar Naamtallah is often shown praying in just this posture. Gurdjieff also gave a similar but less physically unsparing exercise to Mr Adie as a preparation for the morning preparation.
During the war, Gurdjieff gave many exercises based on “I am” (Voices in the Dark, p.56 for but one example). There, he twice stated how “original” the exercise was: which I think is more likely than not to be a sign that it was anything but original. If one looks up “I am” in the index to that book, and reads the passages, one cannot but feel that the three-centred awareness of “I am” was central to his practical method: it was certainly axial to the methods which the Adies taught us. Med Thring, in a conference in England, stated that the big difference between Ouspensky and Gurdjieff was that when he went to Paris, Gurdjieff taught them “I AM”. This has to be right. Mr Adie was speaking of the effects of this when he said that his experience was that “Mr Gurdjieff could open people up in a way which Mr Ouspensky never could.”
To return to the “Ego” exercise, the similarity of this exercise to Gurdjieff’s war time teaching and the last exercise of 1949 is striking (this is one which he gave Mrs Adie, and features “I AM”). Further, Gurdjieff had, in Russia, pointed out “many times” the “necessity” of studying this “forgotten technique” and declared that without it nothing but purely subjective results could be attained on the “way of religion”. Not, I would add, that subjective results are to be scoffed at.
Where does this leave us? I think it is encouraging to reflect that there are methods for prayer and self-development which can and do work. They are not easy, and one must be prepared for real shocks, but the possibility is there. It is also, I think, comforting to reflect that the Gurdjieff methods and ideas do not have to be so divorced from religion as they sometimes, perhaps even too frequently, are. I think that for those in the Gurdjieff tradition, it points them to the authentic preparations and exercises brought by Gurdjieff, and away from the “sittings” of the “new work”.
For those of us who have ever had the sense of the continuous prayer and its vibration in the body, it is a much-needed reminder, because as Merlin once said: “It is the doom of man that he forgets.”
René Guénon 1925
Readers of this website and this column are likely to be familiar with the notion of Traditionalism. Indeed, the subject might be as interesting to readers as it is to me. Traditionalism, the metaphysical movement that is identified with the French-born writer and thinker René Guénon and his successors which was founded in the 1920s, is alive and well today.
Indeed, it was the focus of a two-day conference organized by Ismaili Muslims in Edmonton, Alberta, in September 2006, which brought together the world’s leading Traditionalists and Primordialists, led by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, including Huston Smith, William Chittick, Jean-Louis Michon, James S. Cutsinger, Harry Oldmeadow, and even the widow of Frithjof Schuon. The papers presented by these scholars and a dozen others offered insights into a number of aspects of Traditionalist thought. As a member of the audience, I listened carefully to the proceedings. There were no references to Gurdjieff; the single reference to Theosophy was one made in passing and disparaging. Innumerable Arab-language and Farsi-language theologians were mentioned, but nobody referred at all to Israeli metaphysicians.
Also conspicuous by their absence were any references to attempts to translate Traditionalist thought into social practice or political action. I do not recall any mention being made of the Italian fascist Baron Julius Evola who was a torchbearer in this regard. Nor do I recall anyone mentioning Alexander Dugin, the Russian writer and ideologue who is the creator and current leader of the Pan-Eurasian Movement.
Dugin, who was born into a military family in Russia in 1962, has been much influenced by Traditionalist thought. His name is now mentioned in the same breath as that of Vladimir Putin, though not in Edmonton. It is probably wrong to stretch this point, but it is probably true that Dugin has introduced to Putin and his entourage the ideas and ideals of Traditionalism and Pan-Eurasianism in the same way that Philip Sherrard has influenced Prince Charles, the Duke of Windsor. Now and then Dugin’s name crops up in newspaper and magazine articles about Russian politics. But for background information the reader is advised to turn to Mark Sedgwick’s comprehensive study Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (Oxford, 2004) which offers the reader a chapter titled “Neo-Eurasianism in Russia.”
I want to take a casual look at Dugin and the Eurasian Movement from the vantagepoint of a monograph that came into my hands. It is an eighty-page work titled Eurasian Mission (Program Materials) and its subtitle reads “International Eurasian Movement.” It was published in English in Moscow in 2005. It is very clearly translated from the Russian language (and signs of this are the relative absence of definite and indefinite articles in the syntactically sound sentences). The author is none other than Alexander G. Dugin, who is identified as a Doctor of Political Sciences, leader of the International Eurasian movement, Chairman of the Eurasian Committee, and founder of the Russian School of Geopolitics.
Dugin is one busy fellow, and judging by the photograph of him that appears on the back cover of the monograph, he is an activist: a bearded guy, something of a firebrand. The bee in his bonnet is that there is the need for a new way to order the world, a way that thwarts the current New World Order of George Bush. The present “world order” is unipolar; Dugin wants a multipolar world. The interests and values of the West dominate and hence distort the interests and values of the East. Russia and Asia have borne the brunt of this.
The way to rectify this sad state is to set up a countervailing force: instead of accepting the concept of the one-world market, Dugin is working to divide the world into four “spheres of influence” so there will be at least four marketplaces instead of one big market. The European Union is one small step in the right direction. Dugin wants Russia to take a number of giant steps well beyond the EU toward the end of local sovereignties and the recognition of local autonomies.
The monograph includes a series of coloured maps that illustrate his thinking in regard to power blocs. His Mercator projection of the continents is divided vertically into four zones or spheres of influence which go North-South and which range from East to West in this fashion:
(1) Anglo-American Zone (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central and South America excluding Greenland but including the United Kingdom and Australia and New Zealand);
(2) Euro-African Zone (Greenland with all of Western Europe plus the addition of the African continent);
(3) Pan-Eurasian Zone (Eastern Europe, Russia and the federated states, Caucasus, Central Asia, and India);
(4) Pacific Far East Zone (China, Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, etc.).
The wholesale rejigging of alliances, trade zones, communal centres, and “great spaces” has been in the minds of Russian ideologues and geographers since about 1900. The idea came to be known as Eurasianism. But it was not until the mid-1980s that, under Dugin’s influence, it became known as Neo-Euasianism or Pan-Eurasianism. Dugin is almost single-handedly responsible for reviving the notion and renaming it. The motives behind this conceptual reorganization of spheres of influence along these lines – geo-social, geo-economic, geo-cultural, geo-political – are many. One of them is as simple as Russian patriotism. Another is the fear of the West.
Dugin lists among the “stages of development” the publication of the first Russian translation of René Guénon’s The Crisis of the Modern World with his own commentaries. (The work first appeared in French in 1927, first appeared in English in 1942, and has seldom been out of print in either language since then.) Dugin also lists as important the first appearance in 1993 of his own work, The Paths of the Absolute, “with the exposition of the foundations of the traditionalist philosophy.” Both works offer thorough-going critiques of the values of the West and strike many readers as being sympathetic to fascism if not to anti-Semitism.
A social or political movement may be highlighted by placing it alongside its opposite movement. Eurasianism’s twin sister is Atlantism. This is Dugin’s term for American-led globalism, globalization, or mondialism. Many of these ideas are explored in detail on Dugin’s English-language website Arctogaia, but here they will be expressed in a somewhat impressionistic fashion.
Eurasianism is opposed to Atlantism in the following ways:
* It is a criticism and a rejection of the values of the West, hand in hand with the search for a global alternative to globalism.
* It favours autonomy over sovereignty, the former being autochthonous and authentic, the latter political and economic.
* It sanctions the land over the sea, the land being the steepland and rootedness, the sea being cosmopolitanism and rootlessness.
* It approves the certainties of the past and the present instead of the present and vagaries of the future.
* It endeavours to assist in the formation of an elite of traditionalists rather than a clique of cosmopolitans.
* It promotes the creation of “demotias,” or dynamic units that permit the “participation of the people in its own destiny.”
* It elevates the thesis of “ideocracy,” with the implication of meaning taking precedence over material.
* It finds sustenance in the philosophy of Traditionalism (Guénon, Evola, Burkhardt, Corbin) versus “the idea of the radical decay of the ‘modern world.”
* It favours “the investigation of the origin of sacredness” (Eliade, Jung, Lévi-Strauss) rather than the privatization and misuse of resources.
* It ennobles “the search for the symbolic paradigms of the space-time matrix,” the idea being that a people should live where they belong.
* It implies a reassessment of the development of geopolitical ideas in the West (H.J. Mackinder of the Heartland Theory and geopolitician Karl Haushofer, etc.).
* It promotes the assimilation of the social criticism of the “New Left” into the “conservative right-wing interpretation,” an intriguing fusion which might account for the movement’s ability to mobilize the language of geopolitics.
* It encourages the development of “Third Way” economics, or the “autarchy of the great spaces.”
Dugin contrasts sovereignty with autonomy. The former is characteristic of the political economics of the farflung Western world; the latter is fundamental to the land-based communities of the evolving Eurasian ideal. Sovereignties are hobbled by legalities and mercantile realities. Autonomies are to be based on nationalities, ethnicities, theocracies, religions, cultural-historical communities, social-industrial efforts, economics, and language-based and communal interests.
This is hearty and heady stuff – which to my mind smacks of first-year junior college conversation – but it should be borne in mind that it is powered by a conception of the land of Russia and the soul of its people as a steepland that is more Asian than European in character, of a country that has lost its way, of continuing traditions that are being eroded by the upstart “civilization” of the West. I suspect that lurking behind the façade of Pan-Eurasianism to the old and familiar notion of the “Third Rome” – the understanding that, following in the wake of Rome itself and its successor Byzantium, Moscow is the third seat of the Holy Roman Empire.
Dugin does not mention it but there is a film that may be used to illustrate his thesis that there will be an apocalyptic encounter (perhaps nuclear in nature) between the principles of Eurasianism and those of Atlantism. Let me call this idea “Storm over Asia.” It is the belief that Russia will foment the World Revolution, specifically an uprising beginning in Asia and directed against the Western world. It is the apocalyptic extension of the notion of Pan-Eurasianism. Dugin describes the idea not as “Storm over Asia” but as “The East in Revolt.” He reasons that the notion is more mainstream than has hitherto been believed. He once noted, “It is the people who do not vote who hold my views and favour them.”
The theme finds vivid expression in a surprisingly nuanced feature-length film known in the West as Storm over Asia (black and white, silent, 1929) directed by V.I. Pudovkin based on the script of futurist writer Osip Brik who in turn based it on an unpublished novel. The action is set a decade earlier than the production and it features the Mongol herdsmen of Central Asia who are Buddhist and Shamanistic in background and belief. Their land is occupied, their resources are being plundered, and they are being badly exploited.
Bair, a Mongol peasant and fur-trapper, cheated once too often by the occupiers, becomes a renegade, then a Bolshevik partisan, then a captive of the occupying English army, and finally a “puppet king,” or so it seems, until “blood wins out.” A High Lama had presented Bair with an amulet which identifies its wearer as “heir to Genghis Khan.” The English generals convince him he has been ordained to serve as the Emperor of the Altai Mongols. Perhaps recalling the theme of John Buchan’s short story “The Lords of Orion,” Bair becomes his own man, which means his own superman, which means that he rises to become the leader of his own people – he “comes into his own,” as the expression goes – with an unanticipated and unsuspected passion in an unexpected and unpredicted direction. (The film is indeed nuanced: Bair had never read the message of the amulet.)
Pudovkin’s film, known in the West as Storm over Asia but in Russia as Heir to Genghis Khan, is strategically situated between two other movies that Pudovkin indicatively titled: Mother and The End of St. Petersburg. The theme of a grand uprising among the Mongols or the Muslims finds many literary and subliterary echoes, and one of these is the once-popular 1932 movie called The Mask of Fu Manchu based on Sax Rohmer’s novel of the same name. In the movie, Fah Loh See (played by Myrna Loy), who is Fu Manchu’s beautiful daughter, has a vision of the up-and-coming apocalypse which is surprisingly close to that proposed by Dugin. Here is the boast of Fah Loh See to her father’s arch-enemy, Sir Denis Nayland Smith:
“I have seen a vision, the prophecy is about to be fulfilled. Genghis Khan, masked in his plate of gold, bearing the scimitar that none but he could ever wield comes back to us. I’ve seen a vision of countless hordes swarming to recapture the world. I’ve seen them victorious. I’ve heard the shouts of the dead and the dying drowned by the victorious cries of our people. Genghis Khan comes back! Genghis Khan leads the East against the world!”
It may seem to be “a stretch” to step from René Guénon to Genghis Khan, but a series of small steps, each taken in stride, may suddenly be recognized to be an army’s advance from an illiberal philosophy to an apocalpyptic scenario.
John Robert Colombo, who reads the demanding works of René Guénon and collects the popular fiction of Sax Rohmer, the creator of the Oriental menace Dr. Fu Manchu, is an author and anthologist who lives in Toronto. Colombo is a regular contributor to this website of reviews and commentaries on consciousness studies. His own website is http://www.colombo.ca.
G. I. GURDJIEFF
P. D. OUSPENSKY
Did Gurdjieff found the Gurdjieff Groups?
from Joseph Azize
Did Gurdjieff found the Gurdjieff groups? No, of course he didn’t. He was their inspiration, but he certainly did not found them. They were founded by Ouspensky, even down to the format of weekly group meeting and movements on week nights with days of “work” each Sunday, and regular recesses. Ouspensky had this very sensible and successful formula down pat before Gurdjieff started his regular groups in Paris during the war years, groups which he had discontinued at least 18 months before his death. Neither did Gurdjieff found the Institute which bears his name, let alone a Foundation. It is hard to imagine the word “Foundation” sitting in Gurdjieff’s mouth, unless spiced with the pepper of satire. Surely he would have sensed the “philological peculiarity” of this heavy word. Mr Adie, who was also sensitive to tones and nuances, did not find it at all corresponding to the feeling required; he much preferred the exclusively human reference of “Society”. After Gurdjieff’s death, Jeanne de Salzmann effectively found herself in charge of the bulk of Ouspensky’s English groups, which simply continued his format. To her credit, she copied that format with its “weekend works”. In fact, for all we know, Ouspensky set the pattern which Gurdjieff followed in his own war time groups, for, so far as is known, Gurdjieff had never held regular groups beforehand. Nor did Gurdjieff continue any type of group or meeting for terribly long.
There is a much overlooked part of the teaching to consider in this respect. It was disclosed in that remarkable period when Gurdjieff showed Ouspensky “the beginnings of all the methods, the beginnings of all the ideas, their links, their connections and directions” (In Search of the Miraculous, p.346), although Ouspensky takes it out of turn in his magisterial treatment. Gurdjieff told them that they took the idea of groups “too theoretically … You ought to have known more by now. There is no particular benefit in the existence of groups in themselves and there is no particular merit in belonging to groups. The benefit or usefulness of groups is determined by their success” (Search, p.232).
Note just how precisely Gurdjieff conveys his meaning: they ought to have known better after barely two years with him. It should have been staring them in the face: there is no magic in groups. They have taken the whole idea of Fourth Way groups too theoretically, they should, rather, be practical. The purpose, the aim, comes first. Assess the group. Is it successful or not?
Now if Ouspensky’s model was sensible and successful for transmitting the ideas and the methods, then like every stick, it had another end. And that end, I think, is this: one can become too dependent on a group. One can identify with them. Many people, myself included, believe that this is why Gurdjieff orphaned so many of his pupils, like Ouspensky, Orage, the de Hartmanns, the de Salzmanns and Jane Heap (although Jeanne and Jane were allowed to return).
Just as with a train, one must know when to get off. If I stay on the train after my stop, I have lost at least some of the benefit of the trip. Maybe if I wake up shortly afterwards, I can walk back to where I had wanted to go, and the trip may have saved me a great deal of time. Or maybe I have to wait only half an hour for another train back. But it is easy to imagine worse scenarios: what if I have to wait hours, days or years for another train? What if I cannot find any trains back? Or even worse: what if instead of alighting when I have reached my home station, I stay on, and make the train my home?
How does one know when to get off the train? First, and most obviously, one must know the destination. If one has no aim, it is impossible. Mr Adie insisted that one formulate one’s aim: the formulation might not be perfect, it might even be known to be imperfect, but one had to attempt it. (see George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, under the indexed word “aim”). Without an aim, he insisted, everything is equal. Aim alone, he would say, can give meaning. Incidentally, St John Cassian gave exactly the same advice. The spiritual life is not a question of mandates and orders: these are all to serve its aim, an aim which each aspirant must freely choose.
So only by reference to aim can one judge how long to remain in a group. This, I think, is the deep reason why the concept of aim has been downplayed in the “new work”. That way, one never has cause to leave, one is forever searching from scratch. Jim Wyckoff, however, from the New York Foundation, advised me not to think in terms of aim (advice which I ignored even then). It was, he said, too rigid. I know that some of his pupils think in terms of “orientation” but are resistant, if not hostile, to the concept of “aim”, or at least were when I knew them. An orientation can keep you in the Foundation forever … and then there were other methods of inducing perpetual dependence, which I may come to in a later blog.
But if, as I have written elsewhere, search only has meaning because of the possibility of finding, how does one know when one has found enough in the groups? I think the answer is simple: it is when one can see and understand how to approach one’s aim. And I think all conscious aims have this in common: when one can balance the work of the three centres, one can make one’s own way towards aim. One then can and perhaps even should try in life, without a group. For as I have written in that book, the one condition a group cannot ever give you is the condition of being without a group. The group does, and by its nature must, come between the seeker and life. For a time this may be good, even desirable, and even necessary. Certainly, I tend to think that to individually acquire what we had with the Adies, I would have needed 300 years of experience. I compare it to learning a skill from someone who knows it. But an apprentice who stays an apprentice forever is a bad apprentice, and has a poor master.
I repeat, when one can bring the three centres into some balance, when one can come to a state where neither intellect, feeling or organic instinct predominate, that is, when one can act reasonably on a fairly reliable basis, despite the inevitable errors and misjudgments, then, I would say, it is time for one to strike out alone. Maybe not forever, or maybe not too far away. One may wish, for example, to contribute to the group. Such maturing, moving away, and returning is shown on the enneagram. It is the natural order of life. The parents raise the child and then the child become an adult cares for the parents in their need.
But before one returns, one must have established one’s own. What is the point of school if there is no graduation? If I am in a “school” all my life, I am institutionalized. We have to test ourselves in life. And it is not the Fourth Way if one is never alone in life.
3rd Annual Alternative Expressions of the Numinous Conference
15 to 17 August 2008
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Contact name: Dr Helen Farley
Conference Announcement / Call for papers
3rd Annual Alternative Expressions of the
15 to 17 August 2008
Themes include esotericism, mysticism,
alternative expressions of major religions,
religions of re-enchantment and popular culture,
indigenous religion, paganism, NRMs.
The deadline for abstracts/proposals is Monday 30
Web address: http://www.uq.edu.au/hprc/index.html?page=64294&pid=0
Sponsored by: School of History, Philosophy,
Religion and Classics, University of Queensland
and the Esoteric Studies Research and Teaching
the Prieuré where Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man was housed
(fully functional from 1922-1924)
photo with thanks to Gilgamesh Pictures, click on image to enlarge.
Fasting in Christianity and Gurdjieff
17 March 2008
2. Fasting: Definitions and Reasons
3. The Constantinople Notes of Mr. Ferapontoff
4. “Palm Sunday”, the Tchekhovitch and Nott Lists
5. Fasting at the Prieuré
6. The Account of Fasting in Beelzebub
7. Mme Claustres on Fasting
8. Prince Ozay
10. Final Comments
There is reason to explore the possible relationship of Gurdjieff’s ideas and practices to those of Christianity. I will here just take one particular topic: fasting. Eventually, we may be able to draw some larger conclusions. As Ouspensky said: “We are not trying to found a church or a sect, but simply to promote a method of education and study” (Daily News, 19 February 1923, p. 1). There need not be any conflict between Christianity and the use of Gurdjieff’s methods.
To anticipate, the value of fasting can, I think, be expressed in Gurdjieff’s terms thus: fasting causes changes in the tempo of the body’s metabolism, and hence upsets the long-established coordination of intellectual, feeling and organic instinct (the “Zoostat”, see the chapter “Hypnotism”, p. 559). This shock to the Zoostat presents an opportunity, but only an opportunity, for “real notions” to pass to the subconscious (which ought to be our real consciousness and to become active in the entirety of a man, pp. 24-5 and 579). The shock also allows impulses in the subconscious, such as conscience, to play a role in our lives. Gurdjieff also refers to the health benefits of fasting.
However, as a general rule, there is no fasting in the contemporary Gurdjieff tradition, although attention is paid to how one eats, and to oneself as one eats. Here Christianity can take something which is consistent with its own traditions from Gurdjieff, and the Gurdjieff students could, and I would say should, take something from Christianity.
The reader could closely consider pp. 71-4 of Solange Claustres’ Becoming Conscious with G.I. Gurdjieff. She relates Gurdjieff’s teaching that concentrated attention consumes a good deal of energy and material substance, therefore, anyone engaged in such work “should eat the best quality foods, nutritious and rich in vitamins.” (p. 73) If this is so, and I believe from experience that it is, then people on any religious path could give more consideration to the quality of their food. For example, I would contend that both on the grounds given by Mme Claustres, and because it goes against essential values, we should not eat refined sugar, industrially processed foods, or smoke. Gurdjieff gave indications in the chapter “America”, which are not always followed in the Gurdjieff groups. Then there are serious questions of how the growers, reapers and producers of the food have been paid for their services. The Gurdjieff groups are well placed to conduct research into this and to organize food supplies which would not offend against conscience.
In the final analysis, the questions of food itself, what to eat, how much and how to eat it, and production, are all related to the question of fasting, which is how Mme Claustres treats them. And abstinence from food and drink is also related to abstinence in other ways (such as of the senses). As we shall see, Gurdjieff also related fasting to other topics such as repentance and confession, and this is correct. There is a very real connection between these issues.
2 Fasting: Definitions and Reason
What is fasting? The Catholic tradition distinguishes fasting from food and drink from abstinence. The law of abstinence, in a relatively recent formulation, bound all Catholics from the day after their fourteenth birthday, to their death. The law of fasting bound all adult Catholics (generally from their eighteenth birthday until the age of 60, i.e. until midnight completing their fifty-ninth year.)
The law of abstinence forbade the use of meat, but unlike the Orthodox tradition of fasting, which forbade eggs, animal fats and olive oil, the Catholic law of abstinence allows all these. Fish and cold-blooded animals such as clams are always permitted in the Catholic rules of abstinence, even if they are not recommended. Water, and even milk and fruit juices are always permitted, even when fasting. So the law of abstinence does not restrict the amount of food one eats, but only the type.
There is a distinction between the Western (Latin) and the Eastern Catholic traditions of fasting. The Latin Catholic law of fasting allows but one full meal a day, which is generally the mid-day meal. Should a person desire, they may have small collations, generally something very modest like a piece of toast, at breakfast and evening. Some recommend nothing more than a small collation in the evening, should it be needed, so that sleep not be entirely impossible. However, the size of the collations depends upon local custom. The Eastern Catholic law of fasting allows no food whatsoever, but only water before noon, and from noon there is no restriction.
In the Catholic discipline, if one fasts one also abstains. Hence, on days of fasting, when Catholics eat, they may have fish. In the Eastern rites, however, partly perhaps because of the scarcity of fish, but not only for that reason, vegetarianism is preferred on days of fast. However, this preference is, I am informed by Orthodox friends, disappearing.
When, then, does one fast? The general rule is that Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the first and last days of Lent, are days of fasting. It is also recommended, and in the Eastern churches it is or at least was essential, that one fast throughout the whole of Lent. Then, there are other smaller fasts, too, which vary from rite to rite. One of these, the Fast of Nineveh, seems to be named after the fasting Ninevites of the Book of Jonah. These fasts were associated with other feasts, such as Christmas and the Assumption.
Why fast? To start with, the physical benefits of prudent fasting are apparent. A study of the Mormons, who fast on the first Sunday of each month, missing two meals, showed substantial health benefits. Another study of what we would call abstinence in the Greek Orthodox Church, showed that abstinence had significant value. This is important, and should be of importance to the Gurdjieff tradition. The first Obligolnian striving relates to the care of the body. In the scenario of the Struggle of the Magicians, the pupils of the white and black magicians are distinguished by the health of their bodies and their postures. The physical body, after all, is part of essence. It should be cared for. Here, both the Christian and Gurdjieff traditions agree, at least in theory, although in practice too little is done. Incidentally, Mr Adie used to take very great interest in the health of his pupils, and I know that he would recommend to overweight persons that they lose weight: however, he did all of this counselling in private. In all the time I knew him and in all the tapes of meetings I have heard, he never once raises these issues in groups. So far as I know, he never used fasting. However, Leon MacLaren most definitely did.
Physical benefits would be sufficient to raise fasting as a serious matter for research within both traditions. But there is more.
3 The Constantinople Notes of Mr. Ferapontoff
I refer here to a privately published 17,530 word document held by Mr Adie, titled the “Constantinople Notes of Mr. Ferapontoff”. These notes were made by Boris Ferapontoff, a pupil whom Gurdjieff evidently considered to be one of his finest (he was named as one of the assistant instructors and did in fact take movements, de Hartmann, Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff: Definitive Edition, pp. 177 and 210 ). They appear to be Ferapontoff’s notes of the lectures which Ouspensky commenced giving in Constantinople in 1920 (Miraculous p. 382). However, they are clearly not verbatim and so would appear to be the intellectual property not of Ouspensky but of Ferapontoff. Of fasting, these notes say the following, which is consistent with, but expands what Ouspensky records in Miraculous at pp. 357-8. At pp. 30-1 of the manuscript, we read:
Fasting. It cleans off the rust. The machine works at a greater speed. At times it produces unhealthy excitations, visions, voices. Some kinds of ecstasy pass through strange forms. If as a rule a man uses a great deal of food, then while fasting he must work still  more. He should saw wood for about five hours a day for as long as a week. Eating nothing will do no harm if it is possible to work, otherwise one would be poisoned. An outlet should be found for the substances which are secreted for the digestion of food. If a starving man is alone, he will die.
Under the influence fasting secret sides of a man may be aroused. What he had dreamt about. Another cannot take this into account.
Fasting is used as an experiment, for self-study, for hygiene. To learn not to use superfluous energy for digestion. But neither fast nor starvation change the habits of the stomach. The momentum is still greater. It is only in the beginning that the organism may appear to have learnt something.
The first sentence, “it cleans off the rust”, might be understood in terms of Gurdjieff’s teaching prior to the experiment in fasting at Essentuki, that the centres work in a disordered unison. A definite activity of the intellectual centre necessarily brings a definite work of the other centres, and vice versa. Therefore, unless the work can touch all parts of a person at once, the results of efforts will be temporary and lopsided (pp. 347-8 Miraculous). The point is developed there, but also in other places, such as in the “First Talk in Berlin” in Views from the Real World. However, Gurdjieff stressed this at the time he introduced the fasting exercises.
The idea can be developed in this way: we are accustomed to take certain postures of thought, of emotion and of body. An example was given to me recently by a friend who described how when her husband even recalls how he was bullied as a child, he hunches over, and she can see that he is actually fearful. The intellectual memory brings a certain set of postures, and these, of course, limit whatever thoughts and emotions might be available. These thoughts, emotions and organic instincts can be thought of as “rusted” together into place. That is, his psychic freedom is limited by the accretions of time. Our organic feeling of ourselves is conditioned by nothing so much as our foods: our eating and drinking, breathing and perception. Changing the intake of food and drink will immediately upset conditioned networks of reaction.
If I am correct, Gurdjieff is saying that man realises new possibilities of free movement through the unaccustomed feeling of hunger, and, I would add, the unaccustomed impression of depriving oneself of food and perhaps drink. Through fasting, the rust which holds the man-machine to a small repertoire of habitual arrangements is partially cleared away. This would explain why in “Palm Sunday” he said that fasting was a means of cleansing. It cleanses the machine of what I call “the unwanted accretions of time”.
I am not the only one who finds that fasting brings an unexpected but wholly welcome sense of freedom, not only physically, but in the feeling and the intellect, too.
Ferapontoff’s notes coincide with what Gurdjieff said in “Palm Sunday”, i.e. “Fasting is used as a means of altering our metabolism and, consequently, of altering the tempo of life and movement in us.” The machine comprises all the centres, except of course for the higher intellectual and emotional which are connected to, and permeate, but are not of the machine. Even small experiments with fasting provide more perceptions, finer feelings, and a smoother working of the moving and especially the instinctive centres. The role of the instinctive centre is of critical importance in spiritual development, but it is dangerous to interfere with it. Therefore, one does not directly tamper with it, but uses the other centres, and this has an effect upon the instinctive centre. For instance, it is important to sleep well: as Gurdjieff often said, sleeping and waking are inextricably bound, although the relationship is not simply one to one. Fasting improves sleep: I speak as someone with a lifelong history of sleep apnoea, related to my facial bones and secondary effects.
How should one fast in order to have these results? One fast a year will not yield lasting results. And the extent of the fast will differ from person to person: a fact on which both the Christian ascetics and Gurdjieff agree.
The next sentences in Ferapontoff might be rephrased: “At times fasting produces unhealthy excitations, visions, voices. One can experience a kind of ecstasy, which takes strange forms.” Certainly, many people feel light headed when they initially start fasting. I have no knowledge of anything beyond this.
By and large, the sentences on working while fasting do not add anything to the comments in Ferapontoff or Miraculous, but they make sense. Personally, I do not change my daily routine in the least when I fast, and in fact find that fasting seems to make physical exertion (e.g. in the gym) more delightful. Finally, to these sentences was added in the words “If a starving man is alone, he will die.” I suspect that what is meant is that a fasting man is in greater danger of starvation if alone. This may well be true: St John Chrysostom did permanent damage to himself by his fasting when he was alone.
But I suspect there is more than this: one should not change one’s impressions by going off alone while fasting. Impressions are a food, and if one is used to being around people, one should fast in the accustomed circumstances.
There is always the imperative of common sense. Gurdjieff’s comments should not be taken absolutely. For example, I would say that one should not drive while fasting if one becomes in the least light headed while fasting, and if there is any danger of being held up in heavy traffic without food or drink which one may require.
The question is, how to judge what is needed? Fasting may help us sense how much food and drink we need. With food, pleasures and sleep, said Gurdjieff, there is a limit to what is necessary, and immediately after this point has been reached, sin begins. “A sin”, said Gurdjieff, “is something which is not necessary.” And this must be true: sin is not necessary. But then, for Gurdjieff “Sins are what keeps a man on one spot if he has decided to move and if he is able to move.” (Miraculous p. 357). For people who are not on the way or approaching it, there is no sin simply because they are not going anywhere. As we shall see in section 9, this is similar to the teaching of St Maximos the Confessor.
So, there is a question as to how much one eats even if one is not fasting. Christianity speaks of Gluttony as being one of the seven deadly sins, and I am sure every religion has the same concept.
I would paraphrase the final pertinent comments from Ferapontoff’s notes thus: “Under the influence of fasting secret sides of a man may be aroused. Dreams may take on reality for him. Another person cannot take this into account, and so the fast should be moderate.” If this is a fair rewording, then I suggest that a man always be ready to break his fast if he feels that it may be necessary, whether because he will otherwise faint and he is alone, or because he is losing the ability to distinguish dreams from reality.
Finally, note that Ouspensky says that fasting can be used in three ways:
1. as an experiment,
2. for self-study,
3. and for health reasons.
Further, he says, fasting may help us to use only the energy we need when we digest food. You will not change the stomach’s habits, but you will make it easier for the stomach to more intelligently regulate itself after it has been fasting. One should not break a fast with an expansive banquet.
4 “Palm Sunday”, the Tchekhovitch and Nott Lists
We now come to Gurdjieff’s comments in the privately published “Palm Sunday, 19 March – 1 April 1923” and the Ferapontoff notes. The “Palm Sunday” talk or talks took place in the Prieuré years (see the chronology in Wellbeloved, Gurdjieff, Astrology and Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 235), when Gurdjieff was using fasts.
These notes open with Gurdjieff advising his audience to learn some words by heart, these were:
10. Death, and
Then, concerning fasting, he said that fasting in itself did not have meaning. Rather, fasting was used as a means to other ends: the ends of altering the metabolism and thus altering the tempo of life and the tempo of movement in those who fast.
This is an extremely significant statement. Anyone who has grasped what Gurdjieff intends to convey in Beelzebub and especially in the chapter “Hypnotism” will understand that the change of tempo of metabolism is, to him, a key in the change of consciousness. Gurdjieff continued, stressing that fasting was not for the sake of anybody else, and certainly not in honour of saints. This would seem a trite point, but he was stressing that “It is necessary to fast with an aim and intention”, and that these had to be for oneself. Parenthetically, it is interesting for me to remark how often Gurdjieff spoke of the necessity of aim, something to which Mr Adie returned time and again, insisting that without aim all is equal, that without aim, talk of evolution is a farce.
Gurdjieff then made a puzzling statement: he asserted that people now fast because they have fasted before, but as to why, practically no one has thought. This is just plain wrong: there is abundant evidence that throughout the last two and a half millennia fasting has never been without a rationale. It is an odd comment. What was Gurdjieff’s purpose in saying something both so palpably and gratuitously incorrect? Anyhow, he continued, saying that fasting was a means of cleansing, and could be effective only if during the fast certain conscious measures were taken. Then, the section on fasting abruptly ends, and the very next word is “Prayer”. I will mention briefly his interesting definition that prayer is thinking in a certain definite direction. He then moved to passion, saying that passion is a state similar to the gnawings of conscience. By the way, Ouspensky is recorded as having attempted, unsuccessfully, to define “passion”. Gurdjieff then spoke of “repentance” and “confession”, which he described as “something very good and very essential. It is impossible to do anything without confession …”
According to the notes, Gurdjieff then returned to the topic of fasting, saying that real Christians fasted in Lent by eating nothing at all for the first three days, and that these days were called the fast of St Theodore, for he was the founder of the Christian pre-Easter fast. However, for a week before the fast of St Theodore, they were to stop eating anything which might stick in the teeth, such as meat. Fish, he stated, could be eaten only twice throughout Lent. I shall return to these comments later, as they tie in with his statements in Beelzebub.
Lists are also produced by in C.S. Nott’s Teachings of Gurdjieff and in Tu L’Aimeras by Tchesslav Tchechovitch. Except in presentation, the French volume is superior to the English (Gurdjieff: A Master in Life), which tidies up the random order of chapters, and publishes some excellent photographs. But that hardly atones for the omissions which sometimes are clearly to make the book more palatable for the public, e.g. the story of the spectral appearance of Katherine Mansfield after her death is expunged from the English. But other omissions seem senseless. One such is that Tu L’Aimeras concludes with some words without commentary. Here they are with my translation and a note of where each word comes in the Palm Sunday list. In the right hand column:
1. La vie Life (11)
2. La jeûne Fasting (1)
3. La prière Prayer (2)
4. Le péché Sin
5. Le remords Remorse = Passion (3)
6. Le repentir Repentance (4)
7. La confession Confession (5)
8. Le rachat Redemption
9. Le pardon Forgiveness (7)
10. La communion Communion (6)
11. LA VIE LIFE (11)
“Life” appears twice in this list, but “sin”, “remorse” and “redemption” do not appear in the Palm Sunday list. That list has words which are not found here: passion (3), suffering (8), tranquillity (9) and death (10). Perhaps “remorse” is the equivalent of “passion”. In “Palm Sunday” Gurdjieff referred to “passion” as the “gnawings of conscience”. In French, remords is formed from re + mordre, “again to bite”. So I consider that a safe equation. “Tranquillity” may be equivalent to “redemption”, but that is not quite as clear.
I cannot discern a clear progression in the sequence of terms, although I can see, for example, why confession might follow repentance. However, perhaps terms 2-10 can be taken synchronously as events, processes and occurrences which must fill the gap between “life” and “LIFE”. Tchekhovitch’s list commences with life at one level, and is completed or fulfilled by a new or greater life, hence the capitals in the original. It is important that both in Gurdjieff’s list “fasting” comes first, while in Tchekhovitch’s it would be first but that he has reproduced “life” beforehand.
And, in my view, for the reasons adumbrated above, fasting is important because it can kick-start spiritual development from the ground up. it is a means of directly affecting the tempo of the body, for a conscious aim. It provides us with a shock, and hence a chance to disturb our mechanicalness, for a transcendent purpose. It is therefore a form of what Gurdjieff called “hypnotism”, or more precisely, can lead to hypnotism, meaning that it can open a channel of communication between our deeper consciousness and our “waking consciousness”, and even to higher faculties. It can also act as a catalytic agent for the transformation of reproductive energy.
Now, let us deal with Nott’s words from p. 72 of Teachings. Without any real introduction or attempt to date it, Nott says that Gurdjieff wanted them to think differently about familiar words:
This is very similar to the Palm Sunday list, but Nott omits “Passion”, “Communion”, “Forgiveness”, “Suffering” and “Tranquillity”. Nott also adds “Sin”, “Supplication”, “Atonement”, “Submission” and “Resurrection” which are not in Palm Sunday.
Nott’s list differs from Tchekhovitch’s in that it omits “Remorse”, “Redemption”, “Forgiveness” and “Communion”. To Tchekhovitch’s list it adds: Supplication”, “Submission”, “Atonement”, “Death” and “Resurrection”. Of course, some of these words may be equivalents, e.g. “Communion” for “Atonement”. But unlike the list in Tchekhovitch, both Palm Sunday and Nott explicitly include “Death”, and both of these follow “Death” with “Life” or even with “Resurrection” and “Life”.
Each of these terms, says Nott, has a psychological application. For example, fasting can purify the body and alter its metabolism, but beyond this, it can refer to abstention from “useless unwilled manifestations (and) the constant giving way to negative emotions.” Nott links fasting to abstinence, that is, fasting in the intellectual and emotional centres. This, too, is known in Christian monastic writings, as we shall see. However, Nott does not deal with the other words, but moves straight on to telepathy.
A further important point is that these three extraordinary lists show how closely aligned Gurdjieff’s teaching really was to the traditional Christianity of the monastic and eremitic mystics. After all, he is more likely to have found references to confession, communion and resurrection in Christianity than in Islam or Buddhism. That the ideas are in a talk titled “Palm Sunday” seems quite appropriate. These considerations make sense of the statement attributed to Gurdjieff that Christianity was the ABC of his system (James Webb, The Harmonious Circle, p. 520). Taking all three lists together, we now have the following words:
5. Passion = Remorse,
8. Communion = Atonement,
13. Redemption = Resurrection, and
Once on a weekend work at Newport, after Mr Adie had died, we tried to make use of the technique of keeping the mind occupied by learning lists of foreign words. Gurdjieff used this at the Prieuré: entire pages of Orage’s notebooks are filled with some of these lists, and may still be viewed at the Brotherton Library in Leeds. However, for whatever reason, our attempt proved to be a disappointment. My sense at the time was that we did not persevere with sufficient understanding. Perhaps we could have read the chapter “Yelov”, where Gurdjieff speaks about how learning languages can keep the intellect usefully employed.
But, also, I think, there is a connection between such a task and fasting: both restrict and direct the activity of a centre. We might have had a different result if we had combined the word list task with a fast. If the list is of the type which Gurdjieff gave his pupils on Palm Sunday 1923, and which both Nott and Tchekhovitch found useful, then the aim and purpose of the fast, and of one’s life, is evoked. The fast is more than a physical exercise. It becomes a physical exercise which changes the tempo of the metabolism and the orientation of the entire person. For all we know, the use of a list of words, and especially such words as these (in English or in some foreign language) aids a beneficent type of hypnotism to work its magic. Bennett said that the fast at the Prieuré was followed with mental exercises combined with manual labour (Witness, p. 89), which would seem to support this suggestion.
The use of such lists can be a massive influence, every bit as much as taking a medicine. But they cannot just be used one day as a sort of curiosity and then put aside. They need to be used by people who understand something of what this progression from life to resurrection to LIFE means, and have awakened religious feeling. Then, perhaps, the steady use of such material could affect a life, and not just a part of it.
5 Fasting at the Prieuré
How did Gurdjieff use fasting at that time? Dr Mary C Bell, in the poorly organized and often superficial notes she wrote (available online and in the Gurdjieff International Review) states that the fast at the Prieuré “excited us a great deal.” While it was voluntary, the great majority of people chose to undertake it. First, they prepared themselves with enemas (why, I do not know). For two days, she said, they were allowed water, but on the third day, no water at all. Then, on day four, they were allowed the juice of one orange and on the fifth the juice of two oranges. Some people were taken off the fast at the end of a week, which they found disappointing (sic), while others continued for as long as three weeks. Dr Bell was required to weigh everyone and to take their pulse twice or even thrice a day. People generally, she said, lost a kilo a day for the first four days, then remained stationary, with some even putting on a small amount of weight.
Bell’s final remarks were that through the fast physical work and exercises in the Study House continued as usual. This is consistent with Gurdjieff’s advice to Ouspensky that when fasting one had to work and perspire in order to use up the substances elaborated by the body for the digestion of food (In Search of the Miraculous, p. 358). When the fast was completed, Bell continued, “the intake of food during the first twenty-four hours was carefully restricted.” Also, people’s complexions “vastly improved.”
Bennett’s account is a little different, and I suspect, more accurate where it conflicts with Bell’s. Bennett reports that Gurdjieff said the fast must be undertaken voluntarily and “without fear”. It was intended to effect a change of metabolism, and “to be of any benefit the first preliminary was an enema.” (Gurdjieff: Making a New World, p. 146) Bennett continues that the fast was individual: most were allowed to drink water only, but some began with prostokvasha (Russian sour milk) and others were allowed “oranges in plenty”. Some, he says, were allowed to fast only for one day, some for two, some for three days and others up to a fortnight. Bennett also says that the fast was broken over two days: on the first day strong bouillon was given, and the next day, beef steak. As with Bell, he notes that the usual heavy manual work continued (p. 146). When one reads this, one wonders why Gurdjieff ever ceased using fasting.
I will pause here to note that according to the report in the Daily News of 16 February 1923 reported on the front page, under the heading “New Life Cult for ‘Harmonious Development’, Feasts and Fasts”:
… M. Gurdjieff, who, believing in the value of many Eastern methods, while rejecting others, may enjoin upon an advanced student a fast of as much as three weeks. About a month ago he asked for volunteers for a fast. Fifteen students responded and went without food for a period, under medical care, while continuing to perform their usual heavy manual labour.
Every detail here, except for the number 15 can be corroborated. Therefore, it is likely that Gurdjieff did indeed experiment with fasting on 15 volunteers as stated. This may indicate that Gurdjieff was experimenting with fasting. Why should we today not do so? Incidentally, Christian ascetical writers also insist on the use of individual fasting regimes. As we shall see, Gurdjieff used fasting even in the War years in Paris, and here, too, his fasts were individual.
6 The Account of Fasting in Beelzebub
In Beelzebub Gurdjieff makes some extended comments on fasting, but they are chiefly critical. In the chapter “Beelzebub in America”, he comes to fasting from his discussion of Christianity and Islam. Christianity possessed good customs “for the preservation of health and for the maintenance of the foundations of morality necessary for a happy life …” (pp. 1010-1011). Of these, he says, nothing remains but the “custom of periodic fasting, that is, of abstaining at certain times of the year from the consumption of certain edible products.” (p. 1011). However, even this custom is disappearing, and where it is maintained, its observance is so changed that “no shock is obtained from it for the fasters”, although the shock is the reason for its institution (p. 1011). More than five pages are then devoted to a satire of the Russian Orthodox attitude to fasting: it is simply an occasion to improve their cuisine by eating interesting fish dinners.
It seems rather a long time to spend on parody when nothing has been said about the nature of the desired “shock”. Gurdjieff initially gives the impression that the fast was instituted by Jesus (p. 1016), but then goes on to give another laboured account, this time of the institution of fasting in 214, at the “secret Kelnuanian Council”. The issue there was the virtues of vegetarianism. The details are found at pp. 1016-22. The result, however, of this Council was that it was decided to institute abstinence from meat at certain times of the year. The problem I have with this type of material is that it is impossible to test it for oneself. And this, of course, runs counter to Gurdjieff’s stated principle that he does not give “in a prepared form … the opinions of another” so as to allow one’s own “logical confrontation” (pp. 1165-6). What logical confrontation can there be with such stories? A great deal in Beelzebub is of a different form, and one can engage with it, and test it within one’s own experience. But these tales? I confess, I am disappointed that in 13 pages Gurdjieff said nothing of significance about this important question of fasting: how to fast, what its purpose is, and why. There is more in Ferapontoff and Palm Sunday’s brief accounts than in Beelzebub. I note that there seems to be no entry in Alan Poole’s concordance for “fast” and “fasting”.
7 Mme Claustres on Fasting
Solange Claustres’ Becoming Conscious with G.I. Gurdjieff is under-estimated. In it she recounts some of the most important material I have seen since In Search of the Miraculous. In one short chapter she mentions that a small group which was working intensively on inner exercises with Gurdjieff was given “some phases of fasting” (p. 71). The fasts were said to take different forms for different people. She herself had to leave half of her food uneaten on her plate. Then, one day Gurdjieff had her break her fast by eating a hearty meal and finishing each plate. This would seem to break the rule that one does not beak a fast with a banquet, but then her fast had not been complete. After that meal, she was to return to her fast. Gurdjieff had not wanted her to get used to fasting. I suspect that this means that people can become accustomed even to the effects of fasting.
At this time, Gurdjieff told Mme Claustres that the movements were a medicine. As we have seen with Ouspensky, comments Gurdjieff made at the same time as giving his students fasts seem to shed a light on fasting, even if not directly related. One evening with Gurdjieff, fatigued and troubled, and not having eaten during the day, she ate everything on her plate, her fast quite forgotten (pp. 71-2). Gurdjieff ordered her to cease her fasting.
Now Mme Claustres provides the material with which we can make a connection between movements, fasting and eating. One must learn, said Gurdjieff, to discriminate in our feeling of impressions, air and food. The food of impressions includes “human relationships, business, leisure interests, reading …” and so on (p. 73). As mentioned above, we need the very best and most nutritious foods. In the movements, we can make a “conscious choice in receiving impressions”. The head directs, and we choose to bring sensation of one part of the body to consciousness, and thus make a connection between thought and body (p. 73). The movements are complex, the sensations and feelings associated with them are not imaginary; and thus, she adds, if one does not pass beyond simply remembering and performing the movements, the “real work of this teaching” is not applied (p. 74).
The connection, perhaps, is that fasting is a form of impression and a source of impressions (e.g. of the absence of food and the desire for it). One receives new impressions of one’s body and psyche. The faster cannot but be aware of his hunger or thirst: there is a possibility for a deeper connection between thought and body. Fasting provides an endless number of “reminders given by my body”, as Mr Adie would say. By being able to restrict one’s intake of any food at all, one is perhaps more capable of refusing to eat bad food. It is simply not necessary to eat confectionary, and there are many reasons why one should not eat it. That, however, is the subject of a different essay.
More than we know, we are slaves to our appetites. One can say that fasting is not necessary to break this slavery, and theoretically that is correct. However, my own experience is that nothing at all helped break mechanical habits half so effectively as fasting.
8 Prince Ozay
We must mention Paul Duke’s The Unending Quest which, some believe, narrates meetings with Gurdjieff under the name “Prince Ozay”. I have not seen that volume, but only the booklet of extracts from it, titled On A Single Breath. The “Indications Press” do not tell us which pages they have used, nor do they provide the references to Ouspensky and Gurdjieff which are to be found in that volume. There have been, to my knowledge, two good treatments of the “Ozay material”, that of James Webb in The Harmonious Circle, and an unpublished essay by Paul Taylor. Moore seems to uncritically accept that Ozay are one and the same, despite the fact that Webb aptly queried that the equation. As Webb said, there are striking similarities between the Ozay story and the tale in Glimpses of the Truth, and it seems hard to imagine that there would have been both an Ozay and a Gurdjieff in Russia at the same time (pp. 85-7). In his paper, Taylor demonstrates that the Ozay account cannot simply be a straightforward relation of a meetings with Gurdjieff under an assumed name. My view is that we do not know the whole truth. Dukes was a friend of Ouspensky (Webb, p. 84), and Ouspensky revised Glimpses. I think the likeliest hypothesis is that the Ozay episodes are a disguised record of Dukes’ meetings with Gurdjieff, and that Ouspensky had a role in the disguising, possibly providing Dukes with Glimpses. I suspect that Ouspensky had a hand in its writing, for it strikes me as being like a chapter of Miraculous. It certainly is on that level.
However, it is still not possible to say that these ideas were those of Gurdjieff, and leave it there. Yet, they are extremely powerful ideas, and demand to be treated before we turn to Christianity. I shall give page references to On A Single Breath.
Dukes observed to Prince Ozay that “prayer is not a physical thing, it is spiritual”. Ozay replied: “Where is the borderline? If prayer has nothing to do with physical functions, why should all the great religions, including those founded on your Bible, insist on the association of prayer with fasting? … prayer in its highest form would seem … to have something to do with the digestion, and even with the quality and circulation of the blood.” (p. 23) Dukes asked whether he would have to fast. The bemused Prince replied that he would, but not right then (p. 27). For the Prince, Dukes learned, chanting was bound up with everything else, including physique, physics and philosophy (pp. 32-3).
On another occasion, Dukes asked why the Lord’s Prayer besought God to give us this day our bread if it is connected with fasting. “You’ve got it wrong”, the Prince replied, “It isn’t with the Lord’s Prayer that fasting is tied up, but with the discovery of the note on which such prayers should be chanted. Without fasting you can’t discover the Name.” (p. 34) Which name?, asked Dukes. The Prince replied with a question: what does Dukes understand when he prays “Hallowed be thy name”? Having stumped Dukes, Ozay connected the “name” in that prayer with the logos of St John’s Gospel. The logos, he explains, is the first sound, “What you might call the world’s tonic note.” It can only be felt, as it is inaudible. But an echo of it can be heard, for each sound is replicated on a different level by the law of octaves (p. 35) “The function of prayer”, according to Ozay, “is not to beg or to extol, but to attune.” It is the body and the soul which are attuned by prayer (pp. 35-6) (Incidentally, attuning, begging and extolling are not necessarily exclusive concepts, but surely attuning would have priority if the petition or the adoration is to reach a higher level than the ordinary.) We are instruments, said Ozay, even musical instruments, hence the importance of fasting and other exercises, for:
… you can’t possibly reflect finer vibrations when your body – or soul, if you prefer – is loaded with a lot of food gurgling in the stomach, or while the blood makes a din chasing about in the veins and arteries. … Fasting is one branch of the art of prayer … but it is also an art in itself and needs to be studied systematically, not in an amateurish or haphazard way. (pp. 36 and 38)
On another occasion, and Dukes makes the point that it was a different occasion, Ozay said that God could be “achieved” not by activity but by “cessation of activity. Cessation to the utmost limit of diet, breath and sex. These are the three pillars on which prayer is built.” (pp. 38-9) Each of these has to be disciplined by restraint. Then, and only then, insisted Ozay, can one “begin to act consciously.” (p. 39) The physical body has to be trained to be a “fit temple of the spirit.” (p. 40) (I note in parentheses that the use of organs and instruments in churches was described as crippling and debasing, p. 43)
One can see why, except that this is more overtly religious than what we are accustomed to from Gurdjieff, it is strongly reminiscent of his key concepts. I think Ouspensky had a role in it: the quality of this thought is extraordinary.
Jesus fasted for forty days: Matthew 4:2, and expected that Christians would fast in the future: Matt. 9:14-5; Luke 5:33-5. The most important statement on fasting is the one in Matthew 6:16-8, effectively not to identify with fasting, and not to try to impress with one’s fasting, i.e. not to consider. It is difficult to deal with any statement by Jesus, one should really set these statements in context, and so many issues are involved. For example, a full treatment of fasting in the New Testament would also take into account Jesus’ mysterious statement in Matt 6:22-3 about how the lamp of the body is the eye, and if the eye is single all the body is full of light. I do not think the placing of these passages is accidental: we are before a mystery, and perhaps are well advised to admit it.
However, we can say more from the patristic tradition. As is so often the case, perhaps the most important material is found in St John Cassian. In On the Eight Vices, reprinted in the Philokalia, vol. 1, he states:
… about how to fast and what and how much to eat … the Holy Fathers … have not given us only a single rule for fasting or a single standard and measure for eating, because not everyone has the same strength; age, illness or delicacy of body create differences. But they have given us all a single goal: to avoid over-eating and the filling of our bellies. They also found a day’s fast to be more beneficial and a greater help toward purity than one extending over a period (of up to seven days). Someone who fasts for too long, they say, often ends up by eating too much food. The result is that at times the body becomes enervated through undue lack of food and sluggish over its spiritual exercises …
Cassian went on to relate fasting to all forms of moderation and temperance, that is, like Gurdjieff, he saw fasting as a form of abstinence which may be generalised into other areas. Similarly, in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St John Climacus said:
Step 14, 33 Fasting is the coercion of nature and the cutting out of everything that delights the palate, the excision of lust, the uprooting of bad thoughts, deliverance from incontinence in dreams, purity of prayer, the light of the soul, the guarding of the mind, deliverance from blindness, the door of compunction … a cause of stillness … health of body, agent of dispassion, remission of sins, the gate of Paradise and its delight.
St John Climacus did not agree with Evagrius that one should fast on bread and water (a blanket prescription which Cassian also explicitly states in wrong): that, he said, is like telling a child to climb a ladder in one stride. Rather, he held, when we seek different foods we seek what is proper to our nature. One should not deny all foods at once but only different foods at different times: now fattening foods, now heating foods, or omit pleasant additives. But we should always allow ourselves satisfying and digestible food (Step 14, 12) Similarly, St Thalassios the Libyan said that “To fast well is to enjoy simple food in small amounts and to shun other people’s esteem.” (On Love, Self-Control … IV 31, in Philokalia vol. 4, p. 327) As with Gurdjieff, fasting is associated with more than simply abstention from food: it has a psychological side. In respect of moderation in fasting, St Maximos the Confessor wrote in the Four Hundred Texts on Love, IV 63 that we should practice ascetic disciplines only to the measure appropriate to our body’s strength.
As adumbrated above, St Maximos the Confessor said something similar to Gurdjieff on the concept of proper or necessary enjoyment of things and sin. He wrote in the Four Hundred Texts on Love, III 86, Philokalia IV p. 97:
Food was created for nourishment and healing. Those who eat food for purposes other than these two are therefore to be condemned as self-indulgent, because they misuse the gifts God has given us for our use. In all things misuse is a sin.
This does not mean that one can take no pleasure at all in food: for “appetites and pleasures which are in accordance with nature are not reprehensible, since they are a natural consequence of natural appetency,”, and thus satisfying hunger or thirst will naturally produce a legitimate pleasure, but the intellect can transcend such pleasures: it is not controlled by them (Various Texts on Theology II 90, Philokalia IV p. 206). Perhaps in Gurdjieff’s terms one could say that we are not identified with them.
Fasting was associated with the weakening of sensual desires (e.g. St John Climacus, and St Maximos the Confessor) but whether it was solely because the body was weaker or because one practised fasting of the sexual appetite, too, is often ambiguous. As we have seen, in fact, one is not necessarily weaker when faster. I suspect, and I put it no more highly than that, that fasting affects people differently. For some, the feeling of having less food and drink than usual may indeed of itself weaken the sensual appetite.
But fasting should also go with what one might call the chastity or the discipline of the eyes. Certainly, the monastic and eremitic fathers said that it was to be used with other means, e.g. St Thalassios the Libyan said that “Moderate fasting, vigils and psalmody are natural means for achieving a balance in the body’s temperament.” (On Love, Self-Control … III 35, in Philokalia vol. 4, p. 321) That is, keeping awake praying and chanting the psalms helps to harmonize our bodies. The body is, in other words, responsive to these combined influences more than it is to their single influence.
10 Final Comments
Bennett makes some very deep comments on fasting in Witness, although I do not agree with them in their entirety, they are worth pondering and it is essential to bear them in mind. First, he notes the extreme value fasting has in Islamic lands (pp. 27 and 79-80). Fasting does, he says, influence the relationship between mind and body: although he practised it regularly, he never became accustomed to it, but dreaded his weekly fast of about 36 hours. However, Bennett wrote, he gave it up because it engendered an inner sense of superiority, and he wanted people to notice that he was fasting. Even if one hides the fact of fasting, he said, it leads to pride (pp. 79-80).
Of course, as he has stated it, there is a lack of common sense here: on this basis no one would make any effort in any religion and certainly not in the Gurdjieff tradition.
Who can ever vouch that an effort they make is unaccompanied by something impure? Bennett does, however, make a better point when he says that when the fasting is undertaken by a community it is different: it is then an obligation (p. 80). I would say that while fasting by a community can be good, it can only be good – or bad – for individuals. There is no reason known to me to think that it does not make the rich more attentive to the poor. Personally, too, I suspect that Bennett’s fast of 36 hours was too lengthy.
I think that what comes from this is that there is no reason why an intelligent person could not experiment with moderate fasting. If you are unsure, seek medical advice. If you feel confident, you could take the eastern Catholic diet of no food before 12 noon on one day, but allowing yourself as water or even tea and coffee. And one should make an exception when promising to oneself to take a fast: if one becomes too lightheaded, one will eat something modest.
The thing is, however, to have a conscious aim or a religious intent (which comes to the same thing) and to use common sense and intelligence.
click on image of Helen & George Adie to enlarge
In this post, I wish to try and bring something which may be of continuing practical value, although it is perhaps most accessible to those in Gurdjieff groups. In June 1980 the Adies set their groups a task: submit a written report, retaining for yourself a copy, stating: (1) what you feel you have gained from the work, (2) what you feel you now need, and (3) your plan to acquire what you need. Even if one were not engaged in the Gurdjieff “work”, the task is pertinent. One can substitute for “the work” the name of one’s path, or simply the word “life”. But anyone can take this as a task. The transcripts below may provide some assistance.
On 25 June 1980, Mrs Adie said in response to a question by someone who found it difficult to formulate a plan: “…you could take one habit, for example, watching t.v., or smoking, and try and change it. But it is very important to remember why you are doing this. To stop watching t.v. or to cut down smoking will create a friction and a suffering. It can easily become an ordinary sort of misery, but the recollection of your aim is a factor which can prevent the suffering becoming an ordinary misery.”
After this reference to aim, Mrs Adie came to a related topic – wish.
“We have to realise much more our wish. Most of the time there is no truth to our wish, one could even say that there is no wish at all. That is why so little happens. But there are moments when there is some wish active in us. And the most important moment is in the morning preparation. If it is done sincerely and with a certain amount of will and force, the feeling comes from it. Feeling comes as a result of making an effort, there is no doubt about it, but it is not going to last. So it has to be repeated in some way, but it won’t be repeated unless – at that moment – I plan for the next moment.”
“But at that moment there is a wish. During the day I may remember. During the day I may get a guilty feeling, but there is no wish. Yet only that wish will produce a result. One sees more and more in all the questions that is the main difficulty, really. At some time a shock is received and a fresh impulse appears. There is a wish. But that does not stay by itself, it must be reinforced.”
Part of the significance of this statement is that wish, the wish for conscious evolution which is essential in all of us, “resides”, as it were, in feeling. “Feeling” and “emotion” are different things. Feeling is in essence, and always brings a sense of myself in relation to reality. It is always permanent, not in the sense that the feeling lasts forever, but that the truth of the experience is permanent. If love turns to hate or vice versa, this is emotional love not feeling. If I experience love in my feeling, that feeling is always true for me. I can never deny it or say that I had been deceived or was wrong. Gurdjieff says that from the result of experiencing love, “we can blissfully rest from the meritorious labours actualized by us for the purpose of self-perfection.” (Beelzebub, p. 357) This love never fades: it is always remembered as an immediate being-reality. While emotions can be very violent, and hence believable, they can be blown away. Feeling is always deeper, immeasurably deeper, but feeling is always quieter. Indeed, a correlation can be made between feeling and a certain kind of silence. But the opposite does not necessarily hold: silence, the cessation of sound, does not always point to feeling.
The feeling of “Wish” is a great mystery. In Life Is Real Only Then, When “I Am”, Gurdjieff speaks of the three impulses “I Am”, “I Can” and “I Wish” as being “sacred for man”, and as “Divine impulses”. (p.136 in both the privately printed 1975 edition and the 1999 paperback). In the critically important chapter “Hypnotism”, Beelzebub refers to the “sacred being-impulses” of faith, hope, love and conscience. It seems to me that there are correlations between these two sets of impulses such that one may even think of faith as approximating to I Am, hope to I Can, and love to I Wish. I do not say that the terms are interchangeable: but if one holds these concepts side by side in thought, the experience may be enlightening.
To complete the reporting of the meeting of 25 June 1980, Mrs Adie stated in reply to a question: “It is very interesting. It has often been said “Don’t work for results.” But it’s also said that every effort has a result. But it’s not always what we expect.” She was going to develop this thought, but the person who brought the question cut across her.
From the same period, comes this edited transcript of the meeting of Wednesday 18 June 1980, taken by both the Adies. The task was the one mentioned above: the report with three aspects. But some of the people also referred to an exercise which the Adies had from Gurdjieff in 1949, and which I call the “Clean Impressions” exercise. In my experience, to date, this is the king, as it were, of Gurdjieff’s exercises.
The first question came from Basil, who asked about his troubled younger son, and how he could not relate to his son except in the “normal fatherly way” of advising him to think of himself and others. He finds, however, that this achieves no lasting result. Perhaps, said Basil, he needs to accept the situation as it is. However, he added with real honesty, he found it very difficult to accept the situation without disapproval.
“Well unless you do”, replied Adie, “you cannot help him. If you refuse to accept the reality, you can’t understand. Everything being as it is, then you have to agree that this is the situation. As for leaving a more permanent effect, this is a big doing. Unless I have this actual transformation going on in me, how can I leave anything at all enduring in anybody? What more permanent impression can I achieve in myself?”
“Take yourself: you are the operative factor. You wish to affect him, You wish to minister unto him. But can you minister unto yourself? Because what is to do the ministration?”
“Yet”, added Adie, “this is what we need to do to come to the point of our lives.”
In this idea of the point of our lives, something very deep is touched, which having been sounded, will be picked up again later in the meeting. At this point, however, Adie referred to the task which had been given: “All the answers to these questions show this up tremendously clearly. Almost every answer, almost every one, begs the question. It says “I have to do this”. But it does not say how. It says “I have to make a plan,” but it does not say how, almost exclusively. In one or two instances there was a very theoretical one, “I must have a higher thought”. Of course I must. But how? This is the great difficulty: it stands out now from all the answers. We are not in very intelligent contact with the world we live in, or with the bigger world. See after 10, twelve or fourteen years, what is our contact with life on a bigger scale? Where is the sense of obligation or duty … or meaning? Where is the meaning of life? Have I got a duty? And whom would that duty be for?”
Let me just interrupt once more: I think this is terribly important for the future not only of each individual, but also of the Gurdjieff tradition as a whole: what is its contact with life on a bigger scale? What is the contact of each group with life? Gurdjieff used to feed the poor and support the needy. I shall one day collect the references to this, but it is sufficient here to refer to Tchekhovitch and to Conge. I hope that the same can be said of today’s Gurdjieff groups, because if it cannot, this points to a deficiency in their work. To return to Mr Adie’s answer:
“Well, I think everybody ought to study their answer and see. Some of the things which were said were perfectly alright, but they have to be taken further. In that respect, there is little difference in anybody’s answer. They all go round about. Time and time again, someone says what they need, and then they state the furthest need, “I need to remember myself”, yes, but alright, then what am I going to do about it? “I am going to try and remember myself.” It’s almost as banal as that. Almost.” He turned to Mrs Adie and asked for her opinion. She agreed, saying:
“I was thinking that there were one or two good ones among them, but most of the answers could have applied to anybody. People have not written about their particular difficulty. But everybody is different in some way: we all have our own subjective weaknesses and ways. They were left too general.”
“Interestingly”, said Mr Adie, “the answers which we had received from people who had only just come were better. At least they saw quite crisply that this was an obstacle. This specific thing. They really felt something about their lack of will, their lack of control. It came out. They felt that this they needed, and that’s why they came to the work.”
“See, we’re in front of a great challenge there. We need the influence of the far off, but we need to experience it, not as a tale that is told but as an actual fact. What is it that stops that, and how could I have that experience more often? Someone would say by remembering their far aim, yes, but how am I going to achieve this increased recollection? Practically no one cited anything that they had got to give up. Almost no one said “I have to sacrifice this”, or that they had to acquire that specific thing in order.”
“This relates to what you’re saying, Basil. How to come to be useful in this situation. One finds people who will say, “you must do this, and try to realise that”, all these wise man responses, very sage, very salutary. I think we don’t realise the necessity of getting down into the same situation. I don’t mean getting down from a condescending point of view, but standing side by side. If there were something wrong with a motor, would I sit in my chair and tell him to go outside and fix it? Or do I sense his need, leave my chair, and have a look with him? Maybe I can’t exactly do that verbally, but if I’ve got it in my feeling, then I could even remain mute and yet share his situation, and that would be much more lasting. If only I could feel myself in relation to him. You refer to your son, I can refer to one of our sons, and there there is great difficulty. From the ordinary point of view it is heartbreaking. But what is shared sometimes is a quality of feeling, and that certainly is an enduring thing.”
“Just a certain little while, shared in a wordless way, even just cooking a meal together, or getting something from the shop, because words never satisfy, they always go the wrong way, while feeling is a more permanent influence. But to have a result … ah, that’s a different matter. We have to settle for the possible, and even to be grateful for that, and to see that the other is beyond our power. But if something is exchanged there, in our presences, then that remains a recollection possible for him. Mmm?”
“One does not know what stage people are at, what point in this enormous long life, they are at. Do you know John Bunyan’s remark, when he saw the fellow led off to the gallows. He wasn’t being mock-humble, he just realised that everybody is exposed to these tremendous forces, and that there was one being led off to the gallows. “There, but for the grace of God go I, John Bunyan.”
“But too often, for us, other people present a bleak prospect, and for us it is unacceptable. Certainly, as you yourself say, acceptance is absolutely essential. That means, really, in practice, in this case, an absence of negative criticism. You don’t have to say, oh yes, it’s alright. You have to be free of blaming – in your feeling. You can realise how ghastly and costly it is. But in your feeling you don’t blame.”
Mr Adie then turned to Paul, who in his report had said that he found a good state but he could not find the words:
“And Paul wrote, certainly from the most sincere place that he could, but still you have to come to an answer, you cannot leave it unanswered, because our work is on this level. Facing that higher state, I am wordless, I cannot know. I am in challenge totally, but if I am going to work, I have to come to some kind of an answer, I have to work to it. So I go forward. Maybe you come to something trite, it doesn’t matter. You cannot remain in that exalted state for long, you return … and then you follow. Try and take it further. Don’t be satisfied with this formulation. I have to work to do. With the benefit of this, whatever it is, I go and find the work.”
Mr Adie then noticed Richard, who had not handed in a report. Why, he asked him, had he not submitted one? Well, Richard replied, he did not think it had to be submitted.
“Nonsense”, retorted Adie. “You fail. Next time you do not come if you do not bring it. You are not entitled to be here, if you are not serious.” After a pause he added: “Somebody speak about work. Let us get away from this dead spot. See what we’re speaking of is the real interest. If nothing is going to change, if we’re not going to get any of these powers, then what is it about? Our understanding is not adequate, therefore we have to work to increase our understanding. So, we’re always lacking, but if we can see our lack and go on, then that is the way of the work.”
I would relate this to what I have earlier blogged about the “romance of the search”. If there is no possibility of finding, the “eternal search” is farcical.
Someone asked about negative attitude, and surprisingly, perhaps, Adie replied: “I don’t think you need to ask about that.” My sense is that Mr Adie thought the person’s difficulty lay elsewhere. “Try and work to make it very practical for you. You, like everybody has, to some extent or other, a real possibility of playing a part in the work of the universe … it’s an enormous concept … but what is a responsible being, a man in life that one could respect for a moment?”
“What is it one respects about that man? He has some stature in humanity. He contributes something. He brings something, he works. In a way, he leaves a mark. It may not last very long, but it isn’t as if he never was.”
“He doesn’t pass like a shadow. He passes like a being with some meaning. But we have no meaning, see, when we have no aim we have no meaning. A person without any meaning is a sort of shadow, just a phantom.”
There was a silence. Even on the tape it sounds like a strong silence in which these powerful words were absorbed. Remember the reference to aim, especially if you attempt the task of the report, and recall what Mrs Adie said on 25 June. It is aim which is the catalyst which raise efforts beyond the meaningless.
Eventually, Alwin asked a question: “Mr Adie, there’s many times during the day when I get a reminder, but I simply do not want to make use of it when I could. I might be preoccupied or in a negative state or whatever. I cannot overcome that, even in the smallest instant, and I would like to make some progress.”
“You have to bring yourself to face that time and time again. The need for that. That is practical.”
“But I can only find that in retrospect.” Alwin was fond of an argument, and fond of being at a loss. Often, I find, people would much rather have the attention which comes with having an intractable problem than they would have the solution.
Adie, however, was not to be deflected: “Do it more often and find the wish in retrospect. And then the next time it may be that you get the echo of that wish. But if you only remember it from the point of view of negative failure, you only have the recollection of negative failure. With this attitude, you don’t face it out long enough to really bring your being in contact with it. Because if you do, then when it comes again, your being contact will also come. Surely you can see that?
“Yes, but –”
“Yes, but this is the way. It’s then we can work in our confrontation. That is the preparation. Don’t think we can just change, suddenly become aware and find responses extempore like that. Of course not. We have to make the response, if there is to be one, now. When the time comes, if it has been made, there shall be the response! Which will help me then to hear the message and take some action.” Alwin kept arguing. Adie replied: “Something sees, but you are not there in the right form. But some I keeps reminding you of the work. You say you keep remembering during the day. This is a useful I, if you can connect yourself to it.”
“I have to bring myself and my feeling, and then it gives me a whole different field of work, because I can tell something about my feeling from my manifestations. I can’t make love and cut a throat at the same time – and if I am manifesting negative emotion, or pride, I will not be able to remember what I need. But my wish to respond will bring me to a moment, and then maybe I see these very definite things, and I work.”
Ian now brought a contribution. Ian saw himself not as Adie’s equal but as his superior. He did not even like to say that he had followed Adie’s suggestion. He tried to make it look as if he independently had the same idea. “I tried for myself over the break, to come to something very similar to what you asked.” What he found difficult, he said, especially while he was away by himself, was to overcome the “great inertia” in his thought.
“And a momentum. There is a momentum to our thought.”
Ian pushed on: There were two definite occasions, he said, when he was by himself, when he had a breakthrough, and he wrote some notes down in a restaurant, but now he finds that he cannot bring that feeling he then experienced into his thought.
“But if you read your question while you are present to yourself, surely it gives some kind of connection”, Adie said. “All sorts of different levels co-exist within me, and I remember clearly a level I would glad to be on. I seemed to understand, to have less doubt at that moment. I felt some wonder, not just ignorance. And I would like to be connected with that again, not to have it exactly like that, but to get the influence of that level. This is what you’re talking about, isn’t it?”
Yes, Ian replied, it was.
“I don’t see how you can expect more than that. Then, from that, there can be another experience. It won’t be the same, it doesn’t have to be. It’s a good thing it isn’t. If it was the same it wouldn’t be a birth, it would be a repetition. Every birth is a unique thing, and in a way, a momentary act is a birth, if you like. It is a unique act, every second.”
Adie then addressed the fact that Ian had then been overseas: “When you’re away like that, your possibility of sensing your own reality is greatly enhanced, because you are taken away from many of the customary stimuli: the family is not there, the climate is different, the jobs are different, the timetable is different, and one is helped to bring to oneself one’s own reality. You are operating in a rather different medium, and you have constant impressions of the new medium. I have to decide a little bit more often: even breakfast is different. It always raises different little questions. I can’t even pick my hairbrush up from the same place. All this stimulates my self-awareness in a way. And I have a sense of self-responsibility – maybe very very little, but very useful..”
“What you say is partially true,” allowed Ian.
“I am glad of that,” Adie said softly, and everyone laughed. Everyone but Ian: “I find, in general, there is a great deal of agitation inside.”
“Of course,” replied Adie, “but agitation is real, too. I may be a in a spin, but nevertheless everything is different, it’s calling me in a different way. I notice my perturbation much more. If it’s the same old dreary perturbation, I don’t notice it so much. But I can’t always be away, so how can I make use of that strange fact? Connects at once, doesn’t it, with the idea of making strange essence tasks? Of having something that’s different, something that will intrude a little on my customary automatic routine. How could I do that?”
“You see, to begin with one makes little experiments, one finds one cannot do, and then gives up the ghost. But now after ten or 15 years we should be approaching the point of doing, of inner doing. It then gives point to these small things again. There’s a connection.”
Samuel then asked about his experience at work. He had taken as a line of work his identification with certain matters which gave rise to some rather serious grievances. One of these related to a colleague who had been mistreated, and undergone a complete mental collapse. In both instances, the employer had been deceitful. Yet he planned to be neutral and take no sides. Yet, he said, he had felt very angry, and had “disappeared into it completely.” He was now despondent.
“Yes, but don’t you see,” said Adie, “that you were deeply identified even in the task you choose. Where was your objectivity before you went? There’s an idea to be impartial, but that’s an enormous word, because it doesn’t mean that I cease to care. And if this person is callous and his policies dangerous, then surely you should take a side, at least against such behaviour.”
“That’s true,” said Samuel.
“Impartial does not mean that I cease to care. It does not even mean that I try not to do anything about this awful situation. But my first task is internal. I free myself from righteous indignation. But you choose something where you almost know you can’t do it before you start. So now go on, and try and separate yourself in your representations about it. There was something naive about the preparation. Now you see that it has to be wiser. Try and take a measure. Try and be realistic in it. Give up the dream. The dream can even help me if I listen for one moment, and then remind myself that that’s a dream … of a kind of a higher level. Okay, now I’ve got work to do here.”
“Just the same as you, Paul, you’ve come to that point, which is something. You feel it, the presence of a question you can’t answer. But I have to then come away from that at the right time, and come back to the point of practicality. I cannot continue indefinitely there, otherwise, without my knowing it, still sitting in the Buddha’s seat, I am doing some idiotic thing.”
Now Ian spoke of the “Clear Impressions” exercise. “I saw one thing in the preparation you gave, the new one you gave us, in the second part of it, in particular, where it seemed that it was possible, not continuously, to come back to the state where instead of looking I just received impressions. And, I think it was two mornings ago, I found a sort of seductive element trying to come into this. This is quite enough … well it was interesting to see the thought come, and to see it in that light. I found it difficult to look out but not think about it.”
“In a flash, you’ve lost everything, but in a flash it’s back again, differently. I am glad you’ve had that. Did anyone have this experience, of a fine division of time?” Adie paused. “We think that our measure of understanding is to say “chair” when we see a chair, and “painting” when we see a painting. But can one look at a wall without putting words on it? What can it mean without words? I am in front of a mystery, straight away. But I start looking and it becomes subjective. Why would I have to describe it? How can I hold myself in front of the wonder of everything?”
Someone then brought a similar observation from the exercise, about looking but trying “not to give any thoughts out to it.” Indeed, he said, he had tried to “blank out” all thoughts.
“Could you say how you tried to do your blanking?” asked Adie. “If you do it at all, it’s by a sort of tension, which isn’t good. Let the thoughts do what they like, but don’t have anything to do with them. If you start blanking them out, you become tense and you really increase the thought. You simply get a long tense impression, that’s all. You’re bound to get impressions of everything if your eyes are open. Receive the impression, and be present to that, but don’t resist anything.”
“The point is I wish to experience myself relatively free from thought. That force which usually gets taken in these speculations becomes mine. I need that to reinforce my being-conscious–reality for a moment or two.”
Sarah then mentioned that she had been able, in the exercise, to sit with her eyes open, receiving impressions, “I found that I am able to be in that room, take in the impressions, and the external noises without a reaction. There doesn’t seem to be a shock. I hear it, but I remain stable. It helped me during the day.”
“We have to really try and remember the finer divisions of time, and the very very fine impressions of higher thought. A higher, finer matter which is moving at incredibly faster vibrations than normal. As we begin to tune in to those a little, to receive a fraction from that, we begin to experience a totally different time, with a totally different effect. That’s one of the elusive things. Until one gets to a certain point, one does not understand this and its value, the vast differences between my time and the sun’s time. But here it now begins to become practical. If we really work during this ten or 15 minutes, there is a great amount of time there. But then one can open one’s eyes after 30 minutes and find that nothing has happened.”
Adie then gave instructions for the experience of “a different kind of physical functioning”, something essential to the practical method as he had it from Gurdjieff. After he had given the instructions, he added: “Keep on. Don’t be put off it’s a bit uncomfortable. Use it. Pass a certain point of discomfort. If you get to what you think is the limit, go for another half a minute. I think we’ll stop there.”
GEORGE ADIE; A GURDJIEFF PUPIL IN AUSTRALIA
This foreword to the book is by Andrew Rawlinson, author of The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions.
It befits the Work that the accounts of it are so many and varied. Here is one that goes back to George Adie, an Englishman who met Gurdjieff in Paris in 1948 when Adie was forty-seven years old. The tenor of the man- clear, direct and above all, caring â€“ resonates throughout the pages. Two examples will suffice.
Joseph Azize â€“ young, eager and out of his depth â€“ is aghast that Adie wants him to finish his studies before joining Adieâ€™s group. Doesnâ€™t objective consciousness help you pass your exams?
There was the briefest moment of silence, silence with the quality of an acknowledgement, before his good, golden laughâ€¦This was the purest and deepest joy that I have yet heard: the laughter of a compassionate man.
In 1951, when Adie was fifty, on the advice of his doctors, he had one lung and part of the other removed. But it was found that there was nothing wrong with them. For the rest of his life â€“ thirty-eight years â€“ he was often unable to move from his bed and frequently had to pause in mid-sentence to apply the oxygen mask. But he never told anyone that the operation was unnecessary. His digested the grief and did not allow himself any complaint.
This is as good an example of intentional suffering as one is likely to find. It is the opposite of negative emotion, when we make ourselves â€˜realâ€™, solid, by letting our feelings flood out. Intentional suffering is an emotion of sadness which we experience with our real feelings. We have the sadness but also the sense of our own presence: the sadness is an element in our self-consciousness. This suffering calls me to myself and is eventually transformed into sensitivity in my essence.
Adie learnt this from Gurdjieff and tried to remain true to what he had received. The struggle to be true enabled him to be his own source for the work, and what he says about it is deeply noble.
The work promises that if we sincerely wish to see ourselves, we will. There is very little in it for the personality. Itâ€™s free, yes â€“ but free from stupidity, to which we are so much wed. But give it up and something begins to flow: a finer substance which is not only fine in itself but has a special place in creation. â€œIf I am partaking, it is like nothing else.â€ We begin to perceive, and move amongst, divine laws.
This is a great teaching: that there is an objective truth, a quality of the creation itself. But we cannot grasp it in our present state of consciousness.
What, then, is required? The courage to be present as I am. This allows some awareness of myself: freedom from fear, openness. If I am free form the false â€˜Iâ€™, then I receive strength, grace even. There is the possibility of exchange, of relationship. Negative emotions will no longer devour us. â€œWhen I become present, the dreams tend to go,â€ as Adie put it.
And what do we find? A fine delight. That faith, hope and love are all one, whenever they are manifest. These are sacred being-impulses, in Gurdjieffâ€™s words, and to encounter them is to enter directly into the joy of creation.
Heady stuff â€“ but of course, never separate from work and struggle, the need to wake up. Without self-consciousness there is only mechanics, the suffering of false doing.
These ideas are familiar to anyone who has turned his attention towards the work. They are presented here with force and elegance. I love the image of the dalek and the dervish. We are both. The dervish is inside our dalek â€“ the mechanical invention â€“ but we donâ€™t know it. We have been hypnotized into believing that we really are daleks. If the dalek-human once realized that he was a dervish trapped beneath heavy armour, he could learn to shatter the shell and emerge to stride the horizons of Persia. Wherever the dervish finds himself, he is always beneath an endless sky in which the sun, moon and stars endlessly shine. But time is limited. There is only so much air inside the dalekâ€™s enclosed world. At some point, the dervish will suffocate and then he will fuse with the dalek and become machine through and through. Then, should a spear pierce the dalekâ€™s armour, it will not draw one drop of blood but only strike sharp sparks.
Similarly, we have two lives: one under the sun and one under the stars. To live two lives simultaneously provides us with the power of choice and the ability to be and do. This notion can be presented in a rather hard-edged form, expressed in terms of obligation and responsibility. Adie took a softer line:
At the end of his days, by what shall a man be judged? What will his image reveal? Surely it will reveal every secret thing.
Well, all the angels will come home one day.
There is only one question: â€˜Are you ready?â€™ No one whose head is up, whose eyes are open, can say â€˜Noâ€™. And the creation is asking nothing else.
George Adie heard the question, responded, and asked it in his turn.
REVIEW: George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia
From Dr Helen S. Farley, School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics at the University of Queensland Brisbane, Australia
Born in England at the end of Queen Victoriaâ€™s reign, George Adie, former stockbroker, architect and teacher, taught Gurdjieffâ€™s ideas from 1966 to 1989. A delicate constitution, precipitated by the unnecessary removal of a substantial portion of his lungs, necessitated his removal to a clime more agreeable; thus he moved to Australia with his wife, Helen, in 1966. Joseph Azize was a pupil of Adieâ€™s in Sydney from 1981 until his death. This volume, George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, is an edited collection of Adieâ€™s teachings, meeting transcripts and observations on the relationships with his pupils, much of it in his own words, placed into context by Azizeâ€™s biographical exposition, commentary and descriptions of the interactions within this group.
There are numerous books about Gurdjieff and his most well-known associates but there are very few about the heritage of his tradition after his death in 1949. Certainly, this is the first book about the legacy of his system in Australia. Though this book is not about Gurdjieffâ€™s work per se, it does present an alternative interpretation and exposition. As Azize readily admits, this is not a book suitable as an introduction to the philosophies of Gurdjieff, though it would hardly be appropriate for these themes to be overlooked. And indeed they are not, being carefully woven into the text where appropriate. Instead, it is a presentation of the practical application and challenges inherent in the adoption of Gurdjieffâ€™s scheme but most importantly, it describes Adieâ€™s own experiences, teachings and development of the system.
To read this book from cover to cover is a discomfiting though not unrewarding task, mostly because of the numerous changes of theme and context, but as a work to dip into as the mood takes you, it is a delightful treasure-trove of thought-provoking insights; each section, particularly in Part II, just sufficient to focus a thought and facilitate understanding. I would predict that for this quality alone, the contents will reward several close rereadings.
Azize presents the material with a practised impartiality; his purpose merely to elaborate the concepts, avoiding any self-aggrandisement by not casting himself as too prominent a character in this account. He is a grateful participant, one among many, but no more than that; sometimes portrayed with unflattering honesty. This gives the book a certain credibility; distinguishing it as an account of an affectionate but still critical observer. George Adie comes across as an exceptional person but he remains quite human. With a deft hand, Azize communicates Adieâ€™s wisdom and intuitive understanding of the unconscious but self-defeating motives of his students, as he patiently brings each to realisation. It is a very compassionate portrayal, showing how Adie, even as he struggled with ill health, sought every opportunity to become truly conscious and to aid others to the same end. The unique formulation of the transcripts gives insights both into his ideas and the very human struggle with those concepts. Rather than a mere exposition, it eloquently demonstrates that the path to consciousness and the shrugging off of â€˜waking sleepâ€™ is both arduous and confusing. Interspersed with these explorations are Adieâ€™s charming and insightful accounts of his meetings with Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
Joseph Azize has successfully straddled that perilous territory between academic objectivity and active participation, deftly managing to reconcile these often hostile viewpoints. George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia will prove invaluable to both academics concerned with the Western mystical tradition, particularly the elaboration of that tradition in contemporary Australia, and those embarked on a more personal quest. This is an important contribution to the much understudied area of esotericism and philosophy of consciousness in Australia.