TRADITION OF THE ELECT
Tradition of the Elect
John Robert Colombo offers an idea or two on the source of the system
Every student of the Work has at one time or another considered what the answers would be to the following questions: “What is the origin of the Work? Where did it come from? How did it get here? What is its source – the mother-lode of these ‘fragments of a forgotten system.’”
Alas, there are no ready answers to questions like these.
P.D. Ouspensky, one of the principal expositors of the Fourth Way, was asked similar questions on a number of occasions when he lectured in London in the 1920s. It exasperated him because he himself had asked these questions of G.I. Gurdjieff, its exponent, not once but on innumerable occasions in the 1910s. In fact, Ouspensky records that when Gurdjieff was guiding his group of followers across the Caucasus, simultaneously leading them through the maze of the doctrine, they asked those questions among themselves and often of Mr. G. himself.
The latter never rewarded his questioners with a direct answer, and never replied to these queries the same way twice. It seems there are things that are not meant to be known, though perhaps they are meant to be deduced.
Wartime leader Winston Churchill used the following words to describe the Russian war effort in 1939: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” While I am not convinced that this familiar quotation sheds much light on the fons et origo of the Special Doctrine, the System, the Work, the Fourth Way, call it what you will, it does permit me to segue to some thoughts of my own. These are not deep thoughts about the “enigma,”
but they do have a point or two to make. I might feel this way because clues to the source of the system (to the extent that it is a system and not disparate ideas; to the degree that it has a single source and has not been cobbled together from innumerable sources) is to be found not along the North-West Frontier or in Iran or Egypt but in the Caucasuses and Central Asia and in Canada, of all places. Let me begin more formally.
The source of the Work is a subject that continues to intrigue all commentators. A book could be written on their attempts to pinpoint this remote monastery or that school of thought, this teaching or that fountain of wisdom, but a book might not be long enough; perhaps what is required is an encyclopedia – or on the part of the reader and seeker what Coleridge called “the willing suspension of disbelief.”
Ouspensky maintained that he and early students repeatedly asked their teacher about the “origin” or “source” of “the system” only to be met with evasive or contradictory replies.
Ouspensky could be quite witty and cutting about such matters when the occasions warranted. I particularly like the depiction of him in his last years, when he expressed disappointment and yet amazement at the results of his own efforts as a teacher (or a school-master), when he asserted, in his characteristic speaking manner, “I never expected to find school, but I found school.” Note the verbs: find or locate an existing school; found or establish a new one.
I have long sensed – it is a sensation, indeed a feeling, bear in mind – that India and Tibet are unlikely sources for “fragments of an unknown teaching” gathered or garnered by Gurdjieff, even if he did venture as far east as India or as far northeast as Tibet. The latter destination is a “stretch,” given conditions of travel close to a century ago in that region of the world. Today’s tourist may fly from Beijing to Lhasa in a matter of four hours. But in the 1850s, as in the 1900s, it was another matter entirely. The claim is made that H.P.
Blavatsky trod Tibetan soil. This is quite unlikely for a number of reasons, some of which make it equally unlikely that Gurdjieff did so, though there are counter arguments. William Patrick Patterson argues to better effect for the point of origin being in Egypt for at least parts of the system. But it is possible that the fragments of the teaching were found closer to home, Gurdjieff’s homeland, almost underfoot, so to speak.
I am an admirer of James Moore’s even-handed biography “Gurdjieff,” so some years ago, when I encountered the so-call Tradition of the Elect, I wrote to Mr. Moore in England. I asked him if he was familiar with this tradition, known as Kebzeh, as I doubted that I was the only person to be impressed with the parallels that exist between this tradition which comes from the Caucasus Mountains and Gurdjieff’s system or teaching. Moore responded immediately and stated that he had no knowledge of Kebzeh. He noted that it would take much study to establish any connection between it and Gurdjieff’s thought. He was and is right.
At the same time I am not going to take a pass on an opportunity to note that Kebzeh is alive and well in the Canadian province of British Columbia, where it has been made available in books and seminars under the leadership of a remarkable man named Murat Yagan. From the cover copy of Yagan’s “the Teachings of Kebzeh: Essentials of Sufism from the Caucasus Mountains” (Vernon, B.C.: Kebzeh Publications, 1995), edited by Ya’qub ibn Yusuf, I reproduce the following sentence: “Murat Yagan was born into a Circassian family from the region of Abkhazia and as a child received his first spiritual training from the Elders of his people. In 1963 he immigrated to Canada, where he now lives.”
Elsewhere in the book it says the following:
Kebzeh Publications is committed to making available the teachings of Ahmusta Kebzeh in order to bring people to the point of thinking of the means of making this planet a peaceful, harmonious, and loving place to live in abundance, in keeping with our human potential.
The Kebzeh Foundation was created to promote and guide the study and application of Ahmusta Kebzeh, the ancient spiritual tradition of the Caucasus Mountains, in ways appropriate to the modern world.
We gratefully acknowledge Murat Yagan as an Elder of, and our point of contact with, the teaching of Ahmusta Kebzeh.
Murat Yagan’s “spiritual autobiography” is titled “I Come from Behind Kaf Mountain” (Putney, Vermont: Threshold Books, 1984), edited by Patricia Johnston and Joan McIntyre. The copy on the back cover is remarkably concise:
This is the spiritual autobiography of a Caucasian tribal prince whose search led him to encounters with many remarkable individuals and awakened in him a variety of mystical experiences. Through the telling of his life story he reveals much of the ancient knowledge of the Caucasian people, the secret training of the Bektashi dervishes, a search for buried Ottoman treasure, and one man’s reconciliation with Christianity and the West.
There is no need to argue that Ahmusta Kebzeh is the source of Gurdjieff’s knowledge, though points of comparison are pretty compelling (yet they may be explained post proper hoc); what is of note here is that the city of Vernon in the interior of British Columbia is the centre of inner work of high quality which has much in common with the Fourth Way. This teaching from the Caucasus, now presented under the auspices of the New Horizons Support Network which describes it as being concerned with “the energy of consciousness,” is well established in Western Canada. Perhaps it will be better known in the future than it has been in the past.
Let me add that here my sole concern is to draw attention to another possible source for the teaching, one that was “right under Mr. G.’s nose,” so to speak. There is no interest in attempting to continue Gurdjieff’s contribution by augmenting it with that of Murat Yagan, as Bennett tried to extend the Work with that of Pak Subuh, or Dr.
Francis C. Roles with that of His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati. As things stand, there is more than enough in Gurdjieff and Ouspensky!
John Robert Colombo’s latest book is “One Word Poems,” which consists of 3,000 poetic effects, each of which is no longer than a word or two. A Toronto author and anthologist, Colombo is a member of the Order of Cyril & Methodius (for cultural work done on behalf of the literature of Bulgaria) and a member of the Order of Canada (for contributions to Canadian culture).