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Archive for April 2011

Sufism and the Way of Blame: Azize review


Joseph Azize Book Review


Sufism and the Way of Blame: Hidden Sources of a Sacred Psychology, Yannis Toussulis, with a forward by R.A.H. Darr,

Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Illinois and Chennai, India

(264 pp. including glossary and bibliography).

This is an important book: it is the most accessible serious living study of Sufism I have read since Reshad Feild’s The Last Barrier, which features Feild’s teacher Bulent Rauf (under the pseudonym “Hamid”). I say “living” study, because it strikes me that its chief aim is not so much to “detail the relationship between Sufism and the controversial way of blame”, as the preface might indicate, as it is to communicate some taste of the life of contemporary Sufism. Toussulis achieves this when he presents the interview in chapter 8 with Mehmet Selim Öziç Bey, which demonstrates that there exists in today’s Sufism a beneficent and tolerant spiritual dimension which is suited to the needs of the time. The rest of the book could be considered as background, setting the stage for this interview. Bey is the only living successor, of Mahmut Sadettin Bilginer (p. 150), while Toussulis is Bey’s pupil (a photograph of them can be found at Bilginer, in turn, was the youngest son of Haci Maksud Hulusi, a Naqshbandi shaykh who was initiated by Pir Nur Al-Arabi (140). On Toussulis’ account, Pir is the pivotal figure in the modern development of the malamatiyya, which is a way of referring to those who follow the way of blame. As Toussulis states, Pir exemplified the “adaptability of Sufism and Islam to contemporary conditions” (118). The icing on the cake, as it were, is appendix 1, the eight page Risala i Salihiyya or “Testament of the Righteous” by Pir himself, translated by Öziç and Darr.


The entire book, therefore, builds up to presenting the formidable figures of Pir and Öziç. Toussulis makes no small claims for them, especially for Pir. Before his death in 1888 (136), Pir Nur Al-Arabi declared that he was a qutb or “pole” (134), meaning that he was the spiritual axis of his own time, at least as far as some Sufis are concerned. Toussulis believes, reasonably enough, that this was critical in his attempt to “unify all the malamatiyya under his own direction” (134). The significance of this appears from chapter 7 of the “Testament”, where Pir writes that the highest station (or “achievement”) possible for anyone is that of qutb. Pir writes of this station: “… I am neither able to explain it, not can you grasp it through anything I might say of it. This station is called ahadiyya al-ayn, or the Station of Muhammad. This station belongs to the Pole of the Age (al-qutb al-zaman). … We are prohibited from striving for it. However, if the Prophet of Allah personally initiates us, it can be tasted, Otherwise it is impossible.” (This passage at 216 is also dealt with and interpreted at 191-192 in the text). {“Ahadiyya al-ayn” literally means “oneness or unity of eye” and “oneness or unity of essence”; the word “3ayn” (the 3 indicates an Arabic letter without European equivalent) means “eye”, “spring”, “source”, “essence”, etc.}


The deepest rationale is to present Öziç and his teaching, at least so far I can discern. This is not simply an academic study for Toussulis. His web site states that he: “is the current director of The Center for Human Inquiry in Emeryville, California where he teaches and conducts research in the practice of cross-cultural negotiation, leadership skills, and contemplative practices. … (he) combines academic qualifications … with practical expertise gained from his thirty-year long experience in Mental Health Services. (He) conducts a separate private practice as a family psychotherapist … So he is an interesting character and is attempting to take his Sufism into areas of broader life where it can have an effect on people who are not themselves Sufi. As I have often said in this blog, I think that more “esotericists” should be making this effort.


But the book attempts to also project a new picture of the relationship between Sufism and the way of blame. In doing so, it aims to reconfigure our picture of what we might expect to find within Islam (along with those elements more in the public eye). The book is both a scholarly study and an accessible account of one aspect of modern Sufism. It therefore combines readability with a solid, directed focus. Unlike most scholarly works on Sufism, it is not too dry; and unlike most popular books on Sufism, it is not too weak on content. There is still profound knowledge in certain areas of modern Sufism: and Toussulis has managed to convey something of this.

 However, the heart of it really is the interview, and sadly, I don’t feel that I can do that justice without lengthy quotes. It means that the review will be a little lopsided, but there are other issues I can cover where I think other reviewers are less likely to speak, and so, while stressing the book’s value and the significance of the interview with Bey, I shall pass on to four matters: Toussulis’ treatment of Sufism in general, of three modern mavericks (Gurdjieff, Schuon and Shah), of the way of blame, and the title.



Toussulis states that: “The core of Sufism … is to discover one’s non-existence in the face of something more convincingly real” (6). This is a plausible interpretation, but of course, it is very vague: this is true of other systems. Also, I find “non-existence” more misleading than phrases such as “inchoate reality”, or even “relative” or “uncompleted”, because it is not right to say that we don’t exist. But it is true to say that we don’t exist as we could. So, what is specific to Sufism? Toussulis does not address other philosophies and systems, and when he speaks of Gurdjieff, he wrongly sees him as a Sufi of sorts, so Toussulis does not answer this question. If I could garner an answer from this book, it would probably be the Islamic dimension makes Sufism specific, especially, perhaps the position of Muhammad (who features prominently as a visitor in dreams and visions, a matter which I find unhappily redolent of Leadbeater and the “masters”).


I think that there’s a problem with Toussulis’ definition of Sufism: as he very correctly states: “… Sufism is a multiplex phenomenon and … the essence of Sufi spirituality can never be fully examined outside of its varying interpretations and sociohistorical contexts” (8, a point he makes again at 31 and 36). This being so, one cannot really speak of the core of Sufism, but only of the core of a particular strand of Sufism. If Toussulis can see an anomaly here, he does not directly deal with it. This brings me to what I perceive as the major weakness in Toussulis’ treatment of Sufism: I do not accept that “Sufism” is a homogenous entity, although everyone speaks about it as if it were. I doubt that it is even as coherent a phenomenon as “socialism”, for example. Indeed, it seems to me that “Sufism” is as often as not a misleading term. Some Sufis are little more than Islamic-political groupings, and others are effectively magician/exorcists within Islam. Some Sufis, on the other hand, cannot really be called Muslim at all: Frithjof Schuon whom Toussulis seems to see through but fails to expose (20), was one. Other Sufis are genuine mystics, and so on. All that these various Sufis have in common is the name. To think that all Sufis, sharing the one name, must share some essential quality is to believe in words.


Our ignorance does not end there. Although Toussulis is of the view that “Sufism is … rooted in, and shaped by Islamic thought” (201), the fact of the matter, at least as I see it, is that we do not know the true origins of Sufism. “Sufism” is a congeries of currents: each must be separately studied. Some – even most – Sufis are rooted in and shaped by Islamic thought, but not all. Attempts to locate Sufi origins within Islam are tendentious: many dogmatically declare this to be so. Even Hans Küng, in his study of Islam, accepts the standard line. But the Muslim accounts of the origins of Sufism are late, and even these associate it with characters such as “Suleiman the Persian” (note that he bears a Jewish/ Christian name and hails from outside Arabia) and other mysterious personages. Attempts to link Muhammad with Sufism are simply unpersuasive. Too much which is well-established about Muhammad tells against this. I do not believe that a mystic could have massacred the Jewish tribe of the Qurayza, as Muhammad did. True, I have a particular view of what is involved in mysticism, and I should be prepared to be surprised: but I am not prepared to be that surprised, Gurdjieff’s puzzling view of Muhammad notwithstanding. Julian Baldick amongst others sees Isaac of Nineveh and Syriac Christianity as having been instrumental in the origin of Sufism. I have some sympathy with their position, but although his Mystical Islam: An Introduction to Sufism, easily demonstrates that historical strands of Sufism have owed tremendous debts to extra-Islamic sources, such as shamanism, he does not demonstrate Isaac’s influence. As matters stand today, we do not know what the origins of Sufism were. We can only describe various people and movements who either called themselves Sufis or were called that by others. However, the type of Sufism I find interesting is the type which is not exclusively Muslim. One of Toussulis’ chief goals is to promote this Sufism. For his treatment of Sufism and Islam, and the possibility of “supraconfessionalism” where Muslims and Christians combine in one Sufi order, refer to pp. 42, 116-117, 132, 149, 187-189 and 202-203.


Three Mavericks: Gurdjieff, Schuon and Shah


Unfortunately, Toussulis is not a historian, and his account if Gurdjieff is flawed. The bibliography lists only one book by Gurdjieff (Meetings) and none by Ouspensky. Without reading Gurdjieff’s own material, especially Beelzebub and (for the practical side) the lectures in Life Is Real, with Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, it is not possible to have a sound idea of Gurdjieff’s ideas. Toussulis relies too much on Moore, who while competent and confident, is not always reliable. If one is to use Moore, one should have regard to Taylor’s New Life, which corrects most of Moore’s errors, but Toussulis does not.


Even so, some of Toussulis’ mistakes cannot be laid to Moore’s account. Toussulis states that the film of Meetings opens with “the young Gurdjieff traveling throughout the Near East with a group called the ‘Seekers of Truth’ (44). But when it opens Gurdjieff is with his father: the Seekers come sometime later. The Babylonian period does not date to “ca. 2500 BCE” (45): it is at least 700 years later. Gurdjieff did not assume “that all of humanity was gradually evolving into a new form of consciousness” (49). In fact, I have no idea how this idea comes to be associated with Gurdjieff. I see no similarity between Gurdjieff’s idea of a “unified I”, and anything in Freud (50). Gurdjieff did not say that there are “seven form of self” (51). However, he did give a seven-fold definition of man (Miraculous 71-73) which is not at all “directly derived” from the Sufi maqamat: Gurdjieff’s concern is with entirely different categories. Toussulis affirms a Sufi origin for some but not all of Gurdjieff’s movements (46). I will grant that point for the Mevlevi turning, and that he called some of his movements dervishes, but the strange thing is that no dervishes are known to have used them. I would like to see some evidence, for the “dervishes” and especially for the Obligatories, the most basic movements of all.


The assertion that Ouspensky grafted Theosophical ideas into Gurdjieff’s system (48) is baffling. Ouspensky was a purist. He meticulously noted where ideas he taught came from other sources. The only significant examples of this I know are his use of the Philokalia and his idea of recurrence. Neither of these are “theosophical”. In fact, Ouspensky was an arch-critic of Theosophy, having good words for very few of their productions. It is unfairly dismissive, to say that “Madame de Salzmann, Madame Ouspensky and others continued to spread remnants of the method” (58). What does Toussulis mean by of “remnants” of the method? Toussulis implies a sort of second-rate blind continuation of a barely understood legacy. I am far from being an uncritical admirer of de Salzmann, but this is cavalier treatment of someone who, from what I can see, had understood Gurdjieff as well as anyone else and better than most. To my mind, these women were towering figures.


Toussulis described Shah as “hardly an impostor” (56). Then, why does he provide some good grounds (54, 57 and 59) to say that Shah was fully a fraud? Even on Toussulis’ account, Shah comes across as deeply cynical and miracle-mongering. Unfortunately, after Gurdjieff’s death, Bennett was in a very emotional state, and already disposed to believe that “all his geese were the Archangel Michael” as he said once, and so he was vulnerable to Shah’s impostures. But this line is rather sad: the real shame is that Gurdjieff and Shah are tangential to Toussulis’ central point. He could, and should, have left them out, and said more about Pir and his direct predecessors and successors. The deeper reason, perhaps, for Toussulis’ interest in Gurdjieff is that – it seems to me from the slender indications in this book – that Toussulis came to Sufism through reading Bennett (63).


But Gurdjieff is not within Toussulis’ areas of expertise. Toussulis does not refer to Random’s essay on Gurdjieff and the way of blame in Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections. The lure of including Gurdjieff and making the book more comprehensive led Toussulis astray, and more is the shame.


I am also puzzled by Toussulis’ take on Schuon and his Maryamiyya. In Sufism: Veil and Quintessence, if I remember correctly, Schuon makes the most extraordinary blatantly racist comments about the “rich poverty” of Islam and Semites in general as contrasted with Aryans (if you can believe it!), and, as I recall it, rather casually made a defamatory remark about Semitic spirituality. I do not have my library with me, but when I read that, I felt that he had to be unbalanced, at least. What I later learned about the “sacred nudity” of the Maryamiyya, vouched to me by someone who had been a member of that movement, confirmed my opinion. Incidentally, a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation once told me, at least a trifle amused, that S.H. Nasr had expostulated to her when she asked a question about Schuon, that Schuon was “most certainly the predecessor of the Mahdi”. This makes me wonder how sincere Nasr can be in saying that the tariqa or spiritual way can be reached only through the shari’ah or Islamic law (21). Nasr must know that this is untrue.


The Way of Blame

Toussulis presents a new picture of the way of blame. He basically sees it as that aspect of Sufism where one is prepared to be critical of oneself. He summarises Ibn al-Arabi as follows:


malamatis … were called blameworthy because their rank, or spiritual station, did not reveal itself. They did not appear different from ordinary people because they did not make a show of religious devotion, nor did they crave any miraculous powers. Instead, they remained focused on removing the slightest taint of egoism from themselves. … they “blamed”, ceaselessly critiqued their own egocentricity for obscuring their access to God” (41, see also 73, 82, 84, 113 and 189).


The idea that all malamatis were heterodox and performed shocking or socially unacceptable acts is noted (84), but Toussulis explains why that is not true of all the movement. I found that very interesting, especially the role of Hallaj in this (79), but I am not convinced. Material available on Wikipedia, states that: “According to Annemarie Schimmel, ‘the Malāmatīs deliberately tried to draw the contempt of the world upon themselves by committing unseemly, even unlawful, actions, but they preserved perfect purity of thought and loved God without second thought’ (Schimmel 86). Schimmel goes on to relate a story illustrative of such actions: ‘One of them was hailed by a large crowd when he entered a town; they tried to accompany the great saint; but on the road he publicly started urinating in an unlawful way so that all of them left him and no longer believed in his high spiritual rank’ (quoted in Schimmel 86).” The book the anonymous Wikipedia refers to is Schimmel’s classic Mystical Dimensions of Islam. The quote is one that I more or less remembered, because, I cannot see that Gurdjieff – or Toussulis’ teachers – fall within just that tradition.


So, how do we reconcile the two? If the way of blame is nothing but being prepared to be critical of oneself, it differs from no other religious system. Every religious and spiritual system demands self-understanding, although how they express this may differ (examination of conscience, etc.). In the end, it seems to me that we’re speaking about two different things, but calling both of them the way of blame. In this respect, Toussulis’ treatment is similar to his approach to Sufism. The new theory of the way of blame is interesting, but too weak to cover all the people assigned to it.


Incidentally, I have never been convinced of Hallaj’s spiritual understanding, and it is typical of Toussulis’ strengths that he feels the need to balance out some of Hallaj’s extreme statements (bottom 80). That is, the common idea of “union with God without distinction” is not the whole truth. As Toussulis states, there is a necessary separation of the individual from God both before and after these experiences. I am surprised that Toussulis attributes this sensible and accurate qualification to Muhammad, and disappointed that he provides no reference for this. In reality, as Gurdjieff said, there is no complete and true union with God, although I can well imagine that – as Gurdjieff said – daydreaming associated with intense work of the emotions may produce a sensation of “cosmic consciousness” (Miraculous 116).


The Title

I am not sure about the subtitle. No spiritual psychology emerged with real clearness, at least not to my mind. There are references to the many selves and to human faculties, but these are not major themes. It could have been subtitled “spiritual visions” with as much if not more justice. Neither were the sources really “hidden” so much as abstruse.


There are hidden sources for Sufism, but this book does not refer to them, and I think that one has to respect their decision to remain hidden, and not publicize them.


A miscellaneous point: there are some minor errors, for example, on p. 19 Schuon died in 1984 while on the next page he died in 1998, the accurate date. Falcons will find typos on pp. xx, 11, 91, 131, 137, 189, 191 and 205.



As I have said, the book is the best work on Sufism I have read in a very long time. Toussulis aims to, and succeeds, in presenting an attractive and stimulating picture of the modern strand of Sufism to which he belongs. But Toussulis’ strength is making positive statements. His is not a particularly discriminating intellect, and when he deals with people like Shah and Schuon, he seems to feel that if he is intellectually critical, this will mean that he is giving in to negative emotion. But this is not so: as Ouspensky correctly said, we have so many negative emotions because we do not have a sufficiently negative attitude to them. If someone suggests rape, pillage and murder, the only sane response is robustly negative. So, too, Toussulis has not, in my opinion, sufficiently critiqued the materials before him.


Sufism is not a unity, in any sense of the term. And Toussulis has all the knowledge needed to see this, but he does not sufficiently follow through his own research and findings. The same issue means that he does not see that the way of blame is not a unity: which has the unfortunate result that, in the weakest chapter of the book, he wrongly assigns people like Gurdjieff to it, when it would be better if he left the “mavericks” out and told us more about Turkish Sufism, and covered people like Rauf and Feild.

Joseph Azize (


 JOSEPH AZIZE  has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies.    His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.


How Can I Make Better Observations?


The  Joseph Azize Page



How Can I Make Better Observations?

{Editor’s note: Very few recordings survive from Mr Adie’s groups in 1979. He told me that he thought the better material was on tapes from later years, and so that is what those of us who worked on the material started with. Recently, however, I have been listening to some of these old tapes, and I now think that this resource has a special value. Some of this material, produced when Mr Adie was stronger, is probably clearer and more direct. I was immediately struck by what I received as its power. This group had been established two years before, so it was young enough for Mr Adie to be explaining matters with the attention to first principles that is appropriate for beginners. However, the group had been going long enough for him to be able to paint his answer on a broad canvas, opening large vistas. Here I transcribe the first question asked in the Cedar group on Thursday 11 October 1979. It was asked by a young American lady who must have left groups before I joined.}


Mr Adie”, she asked, “over the weekend, you said to me that I don’t know how to observe: that I don’t observe. How can I learn to make observations? How can I learn to make better observations? I find it very difficult.”


That is absolutely vital for us.” He paused for a little, and then started a little further out from the spot where’d she’d pitched her question. “ The function of the mind is critical here. One thing I think we particularly need is to study the functions again: we talk, sometimes rather glibly, about being too much in the head or too much in emotions, but we don’t really appreciate what that is. We talk about dreams and stopping dreams and the fact that we can’t, but we aren’t always so clear on what this practically means. And now that the work has advanced, and people are trying to observe, I need to know and understand with my head.”


The function of the head is the mind, the reason: how to work something out consciously, how to make a choice. The mind has a certain power of discrimination between ideas. An animal doesn’t have ideas. Only man has ideas. Ideas are the concern of the mind. Feelings and sensations do not directly have this capacity, although they can warn me if my state is unbalanced. Feeling is the concern of the feeling centre, and it brings force, because the mind by itself can’t do anything. The sensation, the body, is our basic reality, the root of our existence. And clarity in each of these centres is different.”


Clarity brings us back to your question: how to observe. It’s obvious that if I am in dreams I cannot observe. At that point I have to remember about sleep and waking. When I’m asleep, anything is possible. I can dream any rubbish: we all know that. It’s just empty words if I talk about observing and don’t take into account that I have to be awake for it. And waking means some activity of the head: discrimination of the true mind.”


Mind has levels. The lowest, or most basic, is what is called formatory centre. Formatory centre is aware of something: it has some relationship to fact, it has some degree of reason. Formatory centre, if there’s any attention there at all, can discriminate between one pigeon hole and another; it can discriminate between where some impulse or another comes from. In fact, I need my formatory centre, it’s very valuable to me. If I had to work out from new everything that formatory centre has learned, my life in the world would stall.”


But at the same time, formatory centre is not the thing which I shall use to observe myself. It does not have the requisite degree of perspective and subtlety. So how can I observe my own functions?”


If there is any general rule, it’s that observation can proceed only if the head is awake. If I am asleep I can’t observe. A sleeping man will experience something in dreams: he’ll moan and he’ll turn over. If it’s bad enough, the dream wakes him up, a little. To observe I must be awake, that’s the first thing. Now what does that mean? That’s a big thing, to be awake, at any rate, to be a bit more awake – at that point we go to our body, because if we are floating about really not aware of the earth we’re standing on, we’re liable, at any second, to go into dreams again.”


So, we have some attention on our bodily sensation. That’s why I said the body is the root basis. If I wish to observe, I must have a reference in my sensation as a check: “Yes, it’s alright, I’m here”. I can rely on my observations a little bit if I know I am here. But if I have forgotten that my feet are on the ground, don’t sense that my feet are on the ground, if I have no sense of being here, then my observation is a very partial, dubious thing. So, for the possibility of a more real observation, all these different parts have to be partially conscious, partially connected. There has to be interconnection. Each centre has its separate clarity; they’re not all muddled up and playing each other’s roles. I have begun from the mind, but it’s now included in a greater reality. Each centre provides its unique impression without my thinking about them.”


Now, if what I’ve said so far sounds reasonable to you, then we can feel little bit more relaxed about the fact that our observations are very little understood so far, and observation seem to be very difficult at times.”


Well then, to add to that, nothing is ever achieved consciously unless there’s a wish. How would it be possible unless there were an impulse? That impulse has to have some intention, some wish to observe. I need to want to do it. I need to want to, which is the most important thing about what you were saying. You really wanted to find about this: you really wanted to find out why observation seems so difficult. I remain with that need to understand. So that effort has proved to yourself that you have a wish. You wish.”


What I shall see is therefore very unusual, maybe even strange or unsettling for me, because I haven’t been at all accustomed to this simultaneous awareness of attention in my three centres. And I certainly haven’t been capable of maintaining presence to the three centres while remaining in operation. I used to think that I was in charge of this organism, but I begin to find out that I wasn’t at all, I was a machine.”


Now if the so-called observation is to be a true one, if I am to receive a relatively true perception, I cannot be too unbalanced. An opening to impressions will help to bring me into balance, but if I am too very swayed by emotion, if my thought is too trammelled, if I have forgotten all about my body, the perceptions will be mangled; they’ll be distorted before I even try to use them or reason about them. The images and the colours will be wrong, the magnitudes will be wrong. You see how critical the work with each of the three centres is?”


If I am going to observe, it’s an act. It has to be an act, and that can only last for a second or two with that fine degree of conscious intention. It’s so unaccustomed, as we’ve already more or less proved in this sequence of argument, that I’m unprepared for the kind of thing that I experience, if in fact I observe.”


I see then that when I came here I had a fantastic idea of what an observation might be. To me it was something striking that I could formulate and write down in a book, something that would make for good reading or comparisons. Now I see that this isn’t observation at all. An observation for us now is an experience. To parlay it into words too soon and too easily is to lose it. I want the taste of it first, and the taste of it is so new I cannot recognize it. This is why so many people say: “Oh, when I saw myself, there was no feeling. I came to and there was nothing. I was empty, and it was awful.” And they become discouraged.”


But the conclusion is not reliable. I have too little to compare with a state of consciousness. How do I know it’s empty of feeling? Certainly, I may be free of my accustomed emotions. What a relief! If in fact I have come to, that is all that is necessary. What sort of content is my moment of consciousness supposed to be filled with? I have to be impartial to everything. I have to be impartial to everything. I am aware, more or less of an intention, what is taking place. I accept what I see, I wish to accept what I see.”


It’s an experience, and until I learn to support that experience without interference, I will simply weave a network of misunderstanding, confusion, thought taking the place of feeling, and so on.”


All this gives me some sort of connection in my mind with these very still, very refined figures that one sometimes sees: a Buddha or a yogi. One feels that there’s a master there … they’re extremely alert, they’re completely composed. Such art begins to have meaning. I see that this is a representation of a very active moment.”


And of course, what is absent when I’m at the beginning of a process is “I”. There is something of it there. I shall observe. I have to have the posture of a man, the posture of a woman. I previously assumed that I could observe, but I never thought about my posture really. And I don’t need to think about it as such, it has to be with me, a sense of my posture. The body begins to be the body of a conscious man. The feeling of a conscious man. Even the thought of a conscious man. Of course it can’t last for long, but the experience can lead to further related experiences, always fresh.”


Then the observation that ensures in that condition and with that amount of understanding can be so extremely interesting, it’s so different from anything I’ve had before. The experience that accompanies it – you can’t put it into words. How could one put into words this three centred awareness of combined working at different speeds which presents this conscious moment? It wouldn’t be possible, but this is what we’re working towards: those conscious moments.”


{Note the reference to “three centred awareness of combined working at different speeds”. Those who have ears to hear … For me, the sign that this is the pure Gurdjieff tradition is the naked demand for three-centred understanding which Mr Adie makes, advising and demonstrating in himself that it is both heroically difficult and heroically possible. If you would like to know more about Mr Adie, Gurdjieff his teacher, in what Gurdjieff’s ideas consist, and how Mr Adie gave them practice application in Australia, the well-illustrated book, George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia (Lighthouse Editions) is available from By The Way Books.


JOSEPH AZIZE  has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies.    His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.


April 17, 2011 at 7:08 pm







I distinctly remember the sensation that I experienced when I first saw in print the name “Lord Pentland.” What I sensed was a loftiness of person and of purpose. What I felt was the emotion of being wafted away from my usual, classless moorings: “Whoever is this fellow?” What I entertained was an heretical thought upon seeing his name in the context of the Work: “Was an English lord actually chosen by Mr. Gurdjieff to head the Work in America?”

I was late in the game. I first encountered the name and title in the early 1960s in the pages of a newly published book of radio talks. Its table of contents listed the contributors of talks and interviews broadcast on Pacifica Radio in California. I have long forgotten the names of the other contributors to this series of addresses, all of them public intellectuals familiar to me at the time. But I remember the name of this English baron who was completely unknown to me at that time. Curious!

I never met Lord Pentland or Henry John Sinclair or just plain John Sinclair, of course, but over the decades I have met with groups of men and women who knew him, attended his talks, and studied under him. They were unanimous in their admiration and respect for the man. I would ask each in turn, “What was his dominant characteristic? Why was he so admired and respected? What made him a dedicated teacher or leader?” People seemed to like the man but there was seldom a feature, chief or not, which I could identify or with which I could identify.

After all, the photographs of the man that I saw reproduced in public print, or at least those taken during his later years, showed a gaunt figure of a man with steel-rimmed glasses and querulous eyes. I once wrote, “To judge by photographs, John Pentland was a cadaverous figure of a man, toweringly tall, with skeletal skull, bushy eyebrows, and beady eyes. He resembles an ascetic, say a Cistercian monk …. “

As well, he seemed quite forbidding, almost formidable (if not slightly comic or ironic). I never could discover what psychological feature or features were so impressive, though every once in a while someone would glance around and mumble about the man’s patrician bearing, the slight condescension in his attitude and manner, etc. But then some people are never satisfied; they will accept the Sermon on the Mount only if delivered by Jesus Christ in person.

Over the years I watched out for references to Lord Pentland in the literature of the Work, especially in the “Gurdjieff Review.” I bought and read a copy of the book “Exchanges Within” which is subtitled “Questions from Everyday Life Selected from Gurdjieff Group Meetings with John Pentland in California, 1955-1984.” It was published by Continuum in 1977, and its prose captured some of the qualities of the man, which I take to be a general thoughtfulness or mindfulness coupled with directness and authority.

I found his manner of writing and speaking to be more elusive than evasive, and to this day his prose, whether transcriptions of the talks or of the sessions of questions and answers, continues to remind me of the opaque styles of J. Krishnamurti and Rudolf Steiner. The opacity could be that of some level of being: a disembodied intelligence, perhaps. The texts of the talks themselves read like … radio scripts.

The other day I checked Wikipedia’s entry and I learned a little about the man Henry John Sinclair, but next to nothing about his personality and purpose, his mission and message. He was born in 1907, but where? (The biography says London.) He died in 1984, but where? (The biography says New York City.) He was the 2nd Baron Pentland and a man of means; his wife Lucy was also titled and well-to-do. His daughter, son-in-law, and their child are contributors to the Work.

In the 1930s and 1940s he worked with P.D. Ouspensky in London, and in 1948 he spent about nine months with Mr. Gurdjieff in Paris, who thereupon appointed him to lead the work in America. (“America” means the United States; while he did visit Canada, it was for business meetings in Toronto before he had met Mr. Gurdjieff and for a visit to the rodeo in Calgary afterwards.)

At one point he worked out of an office in Rockefeller Center, representing British-American commercial interests, like an earlier neighbour, spymaster Sir William Stephenson (known as “the Quiet Canadian” before turning garrulous and acquiring the title “the Man Called Intrepid”). I recall reading a warm and memorable description of Lord Pentland at work in his office. The account was written by the youthful William Patrick Patterson who visited the baron there, was much impressed with the man, and studied under him for all of eleven years, before finding another mentor. Patterson went on to establish the Gurdjieff Studies Program and describes himself to this day as a student of Lord Pentland.

Lord Pentland served as president of the Gurdjieff Foundation from its inception in 1953 to his death in 1984, and also as president of the Gurdjieff Foundation of California from its inception in 1955 to his death. He also served as executive editor of Far West Editions from 1969 to his death. I sense that the year of his death marked the end of a phase of the Work in America, as phases of the Work in France and the rest of Europe and the United Kingdom were marked by the death in 1990 of Madame de Salzmann and eleven years later that of her son Michel de Salzmann.

Talks delivered by Lord Pentland at Esalen and on the campuses of American colleges and universities were delivered alike to veteran students and newcomers to the Work and printed in semi-limited editions. In print they seem somewhat abstract or at least abstracted from experience. Indeed, I reviewed three of these publications and summarized their contents for readers of this blog in 2008, where they remain archived for reading or reference.

I have gone into all this detail – peeks at Lord Pentland from a distance – for the reason that many if not most readers of this review will share experiences similar to mine, being one or two steps removed from the man and the manner. Not everyone in the Work has had a first-hand experience of the man. Savour those experiences and conceptions of the man before encountering him in relief in the pages of James Moore’s biography, which has a four-word title: “Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland.”

This biography is a handsome volume published by Gurdjieff Studies Ltd. in England. The website is < www . gurdjieff . org. uk >. The book has an attractive dust jacket (designed by Linda Edmonds), card covers, matching coloured endsheets, and well-designed pages which measure 6″ x 9.5″ and which run from xx to 108. There are eighteen black-and-white illustrations. There is also a nominal index (i.e., restricted to personal names, not places or references) and a bibliography best described as sketchy. I wish the pages had been stitched rather than “perfect bound,” i.e., glued, but there are headbands, and the pages once opened almost lie flat on their own. It is a nice edition to hold and to read.

But before I do review its contents, I want to comment on the first two words of the book’s title: “Eminent Gurdjieffians.” Serious readers will catch the significance of the word “eminent,” which was not coined by Lytton Strachey but was certainly trademarked by him. “Eminent Victorians” is the title of this influential composite biography of four leading figures in Victorian England (Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Matthew Arnold, and General Gordon).

The lady and the three gentlemen were and are indeed “eminent,” though not necessarily pre-eminent for reasons of morality. The book’s appearance in 1918 coincided with the end of the Great War, and as the latter dealt the deathblow to the Kaiser’s designs on Europe, the former ended the idolatry and exposed the morality of leading public figures in Queen Victoria’s England.

Today, “Eminent Victorians” would be regarded as a hatchet-job, but for the fact that Strachey wrote well, researched deeply, and refused to moralize. Indeed, the composite biography appealed to the sceptical Bertrand Russell who read it while imprisoned for civil disobedience. In a letter he described the literary work in these words: “It is brilliant, delicious, exquisitely civilized.”

Do Lord Russell’s words describe the book at hand? I will answer that question but first here is another digression. The digression concerns the author James Moore. His entry in Wikipedia and his own detailed and informative website < www . jamesmoore . org . uk > are so interesting that I could write about the author at some length. Instead, I will write concisely and somewhat cursorily.

Moore, born in Cornwall in 1929, seems to be something of an autodidact, but one who worked with the Admiralty until retirement in 1980, who holds fellowships in at least two Royal Societies, and who is the author of four books of substance and many articles of importance which have appeared in serious journals and as entries in encyclopedias.

As for his Work experience, he studied with Henriette H. Lannes from 1957 to 1978, and thereafter with Henri Tracol and Maurice Desselle. He was closely associated with the Gurdjieff Society in London from 1981 to 1994 when, it seems, he was expelled, if that is the word to use, though “excommunicated” is the one that he himself prefers. (Query: Do Gurdjieffians “shun” like Mormons?) That might be the second-best thing that has ever happened to him, his induction into the Work being the first; the jury is still out on that. Anyway, he renewed himself as an independent scholar and presumably as an independent Gurdjieffian, his status to this day.

I have read his four books: “Gurdjieff and Mansfield” (1980), “Gurdjieff: The Anatomy of a Myth” (1991), “Gurdjieffian Confessions: A Self Remembered” (2005), and now “Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland” (2011). His chef d’oeuvre is the second of these books, a biography rivalled only by John Beekman Taylor’s “Gurdjieff: A New Life” (2009), a sturdy and substantial work. I am still divided on the merits of the third of these books, as it adopts the tone of the tabloid press in its whining and winging, though as a human document it is full of fascinating detail.

If anyone in the Work is in a position to write short biographies of Work personalities and their essences, it is James Moore. On an earlier occasion I referred to this biographer as a precisian, an uncommon proper noun for someone who is strict and precise in observing the rules, his own or others’. I suspect that he gives a lot of thought before writing down a word. He is as stylish and exacting as Flaubert, who, it is said, worried so much over his prose that he would spend a morning inserting a comma followed by an afternoon erasing it. Moore is a writer who has to be read closely, and watched.

I have the feeling – it is an idea, really; perhaps a dream – that “Eminent Gurdjieffians” marks the first volume in a series, a series that may set a high watermark for scholarship in the literature of the Work. Such a series is long overdue. Where is there a short biography of Sophie Grigorievna Volochine (aka Madame Ouspensky)? Or a long biography of Jeanne Allemand (aka Madame de Salzmann)? Perhaps these and other biographies are waiting in the wings.

Yet in these pages Moore writes, plangently, “This book is my literary swan-song.” If so, it is sad news. Earlier I quoted Bertrand Russell’s words about Lytton Strachey’s book: “brilliant, delicious, exquisitely civilized.” Do these words apply to Moore and this book? Yes and no is the short answer. The long answer follows.

Moore writes with a stylistic brilliance that is coruscating and hence sometimes blinding. His prose is delicious in the sense that the reader wants to consume more and more pages, though with full knowledge that some passages are going to be hard to digest. But is the work “exquisitely civilized”? The author is certainly a cultured man, but I would not immediately describe him as civilized, at least in terms of what he has written here. He is very hard on his subject and for these reasons one would have to read between the lines.

There is a telling anecdote about a beautiful but impressionable society lady who one day accepted a luncheon invitation from W.E. Gladstone. Asked about the experience, she replied, “I realize that I was in the presence of the most brilliant man in all of England.” The next day she lunched with Benjamin Disraeli. Asked how that lunch had gone, she replied, “I realize that I am the most brilliant woman in all of England.” Reading Moore’s prose I feel that Moore is the most brilliant writer in all of England.

He monopolizes his subject, but to demonstrate this I would have to lead the reader through the book page by page to review Pentland’s life and that would take a great many pages (or “screens”). It is an interesting life that he led, but not a very convincing one, at least to the degree that Pentland was a late developer, and it begs the question whether he developed at all; that makes Moore’s task all the harder.

Medical historian Michael Bliss had the same problem as Moore when he wrote the now-standard biography of Sir William Osler, the clinician and Regius Professor of Medicine, who had no secrets, no scandals, and no enemies. That presents a problem. How does a biographer make decency attractive in its own right? Instead of pursuing this line of inquiry, I will make a few general points.

* Moore devotes no pages at all to Pentland’s talks and interviews, even those that were published in “Exchanges Within.” So the subject’s “take” on the Work is not discussed. Pentland presided over an interesting period in the evolution of the Work – what with the introduction of all of those “sittings” – but while they are mentioned, they are certainly not considered in any detail.

* Moore has hardly anything of an interpretive nature to say about the appeal of P.D. Ouspensky’s “system” to Pentland. There is no speculation as to what Mr. Gurdjieff saw in Pentland’s spirit, mind, or manner. Possibly what he saw in his “American lieutenant” was a respectable man with the ability to relate to men and women on all social levels, which it seems is what Pentland did do.

* Moore devotes no paragraphs at all to Pentland’s business interests, a point he himself makes, as if to exculpate himself. These details would be of some social and intellectual interest. His “war record” seems to be one of evasion rather than duty, but that is not conclusively shown.

* Moore devotes no sentences at all to interpreting the man’s psychology. I am not now referring to “the psychology of man’s possible evolution” but to the dynamics of the man’s personality, his image of himself. For this reason the biography seems to me to be pre-Freudian: the subject is more a mannikin than a man in Moore’s hands.

* Moore seems uncomfortable dealing with the characteristics of the English class system, both its strengths and its weaknesses. Whenever possible he brings Gilbert Harding into the narrative. I found this interesting, but only because I have long been curious about this English broadcaster and polemicist (who spent some time making mischief in Toronto); Moore is always about to compare and contrast the two men whose lives seem to have been lived at cross-purposes.

* Moore might see himself as a social historian, offering brief histories of the decades. For instance, I learned that the year 1957 “was in some senses a funny year. Jack Kerouac published “On the Road”; Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” was translated into Eskimo and staged in a Perspex igloo …. ” Fascinating tidbits, à la John Dos Passos, but hardly part of Pentland’s world. For a short book, it is long on potted history.

* Moore is a careful researcher. I spotted no errors of consequence; two inconsequential ones are the spelling of the New Brunswick port where Madame Ouspensky disembarked (it is Saint John not St. John’s, New Brunswick); and the indecision as whether or not to hyphenate Rodney Collin-Smith’s name.

* Moore is good on the dissection of imagery. He offers a brilliant comparison of Pentland’s gaunt appearance with that of the elderly farmer in Grant Wood’s classic painting “American Gothic.” He also comments on the surprising photograph taken by Dushka Howarth which catches Pentland and Mr. Gurdjieff at lunch at a roadside café in 1949, the baron gazing into the distance, the “teacher of dance” digging into the food before him.

* In dealing with that photograph, I believe Moore tips his hand when he describes Pentland in terms of his “depthless earnestness.” These two words might well be his final insight into the man and interpretation of his contribution to the development of the Work. It is an most revealing phrase.

Earlier I mentioned in passing that I had no occasion to meet Lord Pentland. In the introductory pages of this book, Moore mentions that he did meet this “eminent Gurdjieffian,” once, almost accidentally, long before the notion of writing the man’s biography occurred to him. After reading his book, I feel that had I had an occasion to meet Pentland, I too might – like Moore – sense the man’s “depthless earnestness.”

Svend Erik Louland


Kyndby, Denmark


I have received the following from a friend of Svend’s and am posting it here so those who knew him will join with his son Torsten and daughter Jenny, who announce his passing with great sorrow.

Svend Erik Louland

° 9 November 1919, Kyndby, Denmark

4 April 2011, London, England

Svend was variously a forester, musician, mariner, haematologist, husband, father, grandfather, minicab driver, people watcher, wit, wordsmith, writer, philosopher, cigar smoker, a warm and loving man, a stubborn and complex man, a remarkable man.


He remains our dear father and friend.

The funeral will be held at

Islington Chapel

Islington and St Pancras Cemetery

Tuesday 12 April 2011



April 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Svend Erik Louland

James Moore: ‘Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland’



Rt Hon John Sinclair, 1 st Lord Pentland











Lord Pentland: President of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York



Andrew Rawlinson reviews

James Moore’s ‘Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland’ 

It is, I think, impossible to write a good biography of someone you consider a nonentity.

James Moore does his best. We know from his previous books that this is an author with an ear for the English language. His description of Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury, as a strange Old Testament figure with prematurely white hair, who gave the appearance of subsisting on a diet of locusts and Eucharistic wine is superb. Likewise:

The assassination of President John Kennedy on 22 November 1963 cast something of a pall over the twenty-first birthday celebrations of Pentland’s daughter the Hon. Mary Ishbel Sinclair. You expect a present but not Lyndon Baines Johnson.

And this gem:

From early youth Ouspensky had been in search of the miraculous but the sudden disappearance of his rancorous wife seemed a special marvel

– which is quite the equal of Les Dawson at his finest.

But Moore’s material here proves well nigh unworkable. He begins by covering the career of John Pentland’s father, the first Baron Pentland, with discursive ease. But he doesn’t think much of him either. Witness this description of a painting commissioned after Baron Pentland became Secretary of State for Scotland in 1905:

Tall, broad-shouldered, slim, clean-shaven, elegant and patrician, [he] poses unembarrassed like a well-achieved centrepiece in a Burlington Arcade window display. The Gilbertian flummery – the golden epaulettes, the impeccably cut uniform, the red belt, the virginal white sash, the blaze of obscure orders – are carried with aplomb yet with a hint of detachment.

The style is measured and taut. But the subject of the book does not live up to it – and neither does the rest of his family. Very few of Pentland’s class could. The First World War is delivered and dissected in short, deadly strokes.

For four tormented years The Manchester Guardian relayed deplorable events as the great Houses of Romanoff, Hapsburg-Lorraine, Hohenzollern, and Saxe-Gotha clashed and blundered through an ocean of blood to a doomed peace. Decorative old men, studious of maps, fought to the last drop of young men’s blood. Daily headlines testified to an unstaunchable wound: the despoliation of Europe; ruination of an entire generation; and the bankruptcy of the idea of progress.

Any good that might come out of that awful mess could never be ascribed to those who had managed it.

John Pentland’s life (6 June 1907 to 14 February 1984) is rolled out in a series of vignettes: minor incidents here and there, which, though linked, have yet no discernible arc.

At boarding school, Pentland’s ears are protuberant and flickable.

The title ‘Lord’ – here as elsewhere, lending to mediocrity the gloss of excellence… (This on Pentland’s succeeding to his father’s title at the age of 17.)

He got a Third in Maths Part I at Cambridge, switched to Mechanical Sciences and ended up with a Second. Moore records these achievements tautly: Unfortunately one can stumble over quite a modest barrier if it over-tops one’s competence. Away from the examination halls, Pentland did have some success: he was elected President of the Union.

Undoubtedly it was not just his peerage and boiled shirt manner which marked him out as presidential timber. He benefited from other qualities. He was incorruptible. He was overwhelmingly reasonable. His mind’s perfect vacuity was admirably suited to the role of an arbiter. His stewardship would not be skewed by any prejudice or fixed opinion. He had no opinions. As to whether the capital of France were Paris or Lyon he would maintain an impeccable neutrality until after the votes were counted. Yet toss him a point of order and he could deliver a ruling in the tones of Lady Catherine de Burgh snubbing an apothecary.

This is not damning with faint praise. It is illuminating a tepid and colourless form with the borrowed hues of more exciting lives.

Pentland’s entry into the Work is unrecorded. He went to one of Ouspensky’s meetings in London but we do not know when exactly – 1934 perhaps? – and have no inkling as to why. “I went to one meeting and didn’t go back,” he said. But Ouspensky wanted him. He was after all young, moneyed and brilliantly connected. So he was given a place at the top table and there he earnestly expounded ideas which had never occurred to him.

It appears that very few ideas did. In 1939, he crossed the floor of the House of Lords not for any ideological reason but because the Liberals were in opposition and the Conservatives in power. He became, in Moore’s phrase, a make-weight Conservative peer.

He continued in the Work, going to America in 1944 with his wife and daughter. Up until this point his participation in the war effort in Britain had been, once again, vague, tepid. Moore refers to his studied deafness to the solicitations of 1940’s patriotism.

Pentland was out of his depth with the top men in the Work (Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) and in thrall to the women (Madame Ouspensky, Madame de Salzmann). Moore doesn’t have much to go on but is clearly unimpressed by what he has found. Pentland’s account of being in Madame Ouspensky’s presence is described as patented incoherence. When, in 1948, Gurdjieff urged his followers to steal the energies of New Yorkers at Christmas prayers, Pentland’s response was a dazed goodwill but a singular incompetence.

All of this is in tune with Pentland’s deep superficiality. He prevaricated over Ouspensky’s repudiation of ‘the System’, and paid a visit to India immediately after Ouspensky’s death, thereby avoiding all the knots and difficulties which such a loss brings. When Madame Ouspensky advised everyone to seek out Gurdjieff, Pentland was one of the tardiest to respond. Holed up in Mendham, his idea was to sit on the fence as long as possible while keeping his ear close to the ground.

Yet Gurdjieff appointed him his representative in America. To begin with, this meant only that Pentland was in charge of promoting Beelzebub’s Tales – a modest appointment yet one which Moore finds baffling: Pentland was a parvenu, a class misfit, a disaffected follower of the late Piotr Ouspensky. And it didn’t end there. After Gurdjieff’s death, under Jeanne de Salzmann’s overall guidance, Pentland was promoted to President of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York. He was all diffidence; all diplomacy, all teeth and trousers.

Moore presents Pentland as the Work’s supreme company man and fixer. But this is as far as he goes. He has already noted that Pentland had occupied his chair as President of the Cambridge Union with decorum but no particular distinction. He has noted that Pentland is a pragmatic climber of institutional scaffolding. This irreducible undistinguishedness continued in America.

His exalted Work status …relied on his agreeing with Madame de Salzmann whatever she said. Had she asserted that the moon is made of green cheese, he would readily have conceded that it displays cheese-like qualities.

Throughout, he remains distinctly undiamond-like.

[The Work was] a shimmering reality, while Pentland, notwithstanding his good points, had about as much shimmer as a municipal dustbin-lid.

His Lordship miraculously transformed Gurdjieff’s wine into water. He brought to his task a patent sincerity and [his] old flair for mouth-filling incoherence… propositions which would have baffled Jacques Lacan and…whose implausibility would have been manifest to an infant of three.

Lumped together, Pentland’s logic-chopping…responses in a thousand group meetings (whether characterised as crowned masterpieces of banality or crowned masterpieces of obfuscation) seem curiously infertile.

 Vis-à-vis Gurdjieff’s awesome ideas Pentland will go down au fond as a well-intentioned if flat-footed expositor…[Yet] around him there had thriven up a wealthy and powerful authoritarian network with sharp prescriptive and proscriptive powers.

In short, Lord Pentland has no real shape, no real substance. But there he is, occupying space, seemingly close to the centre of the Work’s mission.

And James Moore has stepped up and flicked his ears.






Andrew Rawlinson, author of The Book of Enlightened Masters: WesternTeachers in Eastern Traditions with significant entries on Gurdjieff and the Gurdjieff Legacy (Ouspensky, Madame O, Maurice Nicoll, Rodney Collin, Robert de Ropp, Orage, Jane Heap, Madame de Salzmann) plus other entries on Bennett, Leon Maclaren, E.J.Gold, Jan Cox, Idries Shah and Gary Chicoine. was a lecturer in Buddhism at the University of Lancaster and a visiting professor at the University of California at Santa Bargbara. He lives in France and is writing a book on the Hit in all its forms; the Hit as a derangement: derangement of the senses, derangement of the personality, derangement of society, derangement of reality.

James Moore’s book is available from Amazon UK where you can also read the review by Andrew Rawlinson.  The image of the cover is not shown on the Amazon site and the one I found on google images would not load here – ‘due to security reasons’ – so here is an image of the author.


 James Moore



April 3, 2011 at 2:27 pm

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