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Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland: A Polemic by James Moore (2010)

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James Moore

Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland, A Polemic by James Moore (2010)

1. Introduction

2. The Real Question

1. Introduction

I will assume that the reader has access to John Robert Colombo’s review of this book at https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/was-lord-pentland-an-eminent-gurdjieffian/

This will save me going through the preliminaries. To a significant extent, I am in agreement with JR’s review. But I do think that the most important point a critic can make about this book is that it is not actually a biography of Lord Pentland in the sense that the genre of biography has been known in English letters: it is, rather, a polemic which takes Pentland as its chief but not its sole target. It is as if Pentland is merely a convenient, and – for Moore – an agreeable because a disdained target.

That the book is a polemic shows itself in two ways: its coverage of Pentland’s achievement is minimal to the point of mockery, and its coverage of other targets is overplayed. Thus, Moore also takes aim at what Pentland’s father, the social class to which he belonged, the Britain in which Pentland flourished, and P.D. Ouspensky. Moore sometimes takes aim at Jeanne de Salzmann and through her and Pentland, what is now clumsily known as the “International Association of the Gurdjieff Foundations”.

The title is, of course, pretentious, referring as it does to Lytton Strachey’s minor classic. But then, the author named his autobiography Gurdjieffian Confessions: A Self Remembered. I doubt that he would see any pretence at all. Moore’s writing continues its steady decline. In my view, Gurdjieff and Mansfield was the best written of his books. Each succeeding volume sees further adventures in grandiloquence to the point where, in this book, Moore’s prose positively obscures his meaning as much as it reveals it. For example, speaking of the “Dunkirk Spirit”, Moore remarks: “By just such a rare and free flowing energy the aridities of Ouspensky’s scholasticism might have been irrigated. But they were not.” (p.53). What does this mean? We can see that he dislikes Ouspensky’s “scholasticism”, but he does not explain what the stated “aridities” are, or how they could have been “irrigated” by the spirit of Dunkirk. The dry four word sentence “But they were not”, seems to suggest that there was some fault of Ouspensky’s part, or that of someone else. However, as so often in this book, Moore does not condescend to explain his meaning, the basis for his opinion, or what his sources were.

Consider this line: “Here as elsewhere Pentland is litmus paper shy of turning red or blue”, (63). I do not know what he means in this context. I know what litmus paper is, and I know what shy means, but what is he saying? Moore aims for effect to the point of losing sight of why one writes.

One of Moore’s techniques in this book is to assume an omniscient voice, a manner of proceeding which allows him to criticise and condemn without needing to do more than demand that we accept his conclusions. Moore has researched many details of the world in which Pentland lived, but how can he possibly know that when he took his seat as President of the Cambridge Union, Pentland had “a sense almost of swooning vertigo”? (32) Does Moore have access to a diary or letter, and if so, why not mention it? Or is it all as much a fiction as the awkward talk between father and son which he invents?

History’s access to their verbatim conversation is decently barred by the study door” (15) Moore speaks here, as often, as if he were the voice of history, and the tone supports him when he adds: “Yet this caveat does not entirely forbid the authorial imagination an intelligent extrapolation from circumstantial evidence. Like most fathers His Lordship hardly knew how to begin.” Where is the intelligence here? What are the pieces of evidence he uses? Maybe if we knew the facts, we would find that Pentland’s father was different from how Moore imagines him. All I can see here is the operation of thoroughgoing prejudice, and that is a very different thing.

Similarly, in speaking of Franklin Farms, he mocks how “Society women with compressed lips earnestly bottling peas and beans were in a profounder sense, bottling spiritual merit.” (67). How does he know what their attitude was? Were they really so self-righteous as that? Maybe the women would have surprised him. But by filling this slim volume with “intelligent extrapolations”, and speaking as if all-knowing, Moore creates a consistent picture of pretentious and deluded wealthy folks, and then pleads its very consistency in aid of its veracity. This is not valid biography, and is cheap even as polemic.

It is difficult to overstate the extent to which the book is primed with irrelevancies which create an illusion of research, while bare of many matters which are far more important. For example, we learn that tickets to the premier of Gone with the Wind were hard to procure (51), but Moore does even try to tell us in what Pentland’s approach to the Gurdjieff teaching and methodology consisted. Yet, after the publication of Exchanges Within and several of his talks, this would have been as easy as it is desirable.

Again, Moore tells us that at one time a certain piece of news “would have imparted to Pentland’s stiff mind and body the artificial agility bestowed on a dead frog’s hind-quarters when juxtaposed to an electric coil …” (72). It is ponderously written, and not, to my mind, at all witty. But more profoundly, Moore assumes and has assumed all throughout that Pentland had a “stiff” mind”.

Moore is content to construct a paper tiger and ignore, in the published group meetings, what made Pentland the teacher he was – whatever type of teacher that may have been.

It is necessary to state that I am sure that Moore has a certain point: but he does not demonstrate it. I remember that in several meetings with “senior” people from the New York Foundation, they would gently push you into agreeing with them: it was obscene, the number of times one woman in particular would put words into people’s mouths by asking, “Wouldn’t you say …?” I had a sense, even then, that she was imitating, and my guess was that she was imitating Pentland.

I recall one chap who had met Pentland would come quote statements such as: “Don’t write that down! Remember it! Lord Pentland said: Why do we write? We write it order to forget!” How absurd. We don’t write in order to forget, but so that if we do forget, as experience shows us we often do, we will have a record. When I was in New York, about eight years after Pentland’s death, I was with Jim Wyckoff’s group. We had to remove all the items from a series of cupboards. I started to make a sketch of what was where. They got stuck into me: that was not the Work! I had to remember not use a crutch. They would remember. And so on. They really made a point out of it: they were unctuous and self-righteous.

But when, a week later, they had to restore the items, they were searching high and low for the sketch. Not one said a word to me. I started to form the opinion then that Wyckoff was a New York hippie, and before he died, I informed him that I no longer wished to “work” with him. I am gratified that to remember that I did. Because, like Pentland, he was an authority figure. But to give Pentland his due, Pentland could run a business and did establish the Foundation on the West Coast.

Still, the picture of the NY Foundation I then formed, as conceited while operating at a level lower than ordinary life, does seem to go back to Pentland. But I also felt that there was more than just that to Pentland. And I feel that the X quality which Moore has missed must have been something to do with the presence of Lord Pentland. Only by appealing to the presence of Lord Pentland can I explain why the text of Exchanges Within, which seems to me to be good but not excellent, sends those who knew him into raptures: they make a connection to what they experienced when they met him

Interestingly, Mr Adie did not consider Pentland to be anything but formidable. He did say that Pentland would go all cryptic and mystificatory or change the topic when he did not know something or felt inadequate. He also said that Pentland could play a double game, and for reasons I won’t go into now, I think that Adie may well have been right. I think that Pentland did relish the idea of taking over the Adie group in Australia, but – probably on instructions from Jeanne de Salzmann – was content to wait until Adie would die. And to give them credit, the strategy did work, but by the time it bore fruit, the groups had reduced from well over a hundred and forty persons to about a third of that number.

I should also note here that there are some very interesting stories of Pentland being bested by Mrs Staveley in verbal duels. Once he asked her, in front of others, to give an impromptu talk on the importance of obedience. It was obvious to those present that his point was that she was disobedient to either Jeanne de Salzmann or himself or both. She turned the tables on him: “Yes, obedience is important. But obedience to what?” Discomfited, he changed the topic.

So it should be obvious that I have no problem with a book which is critical of Pentland and the Foundation: but it needs reasons and grounds. This book is filled with tricks: “How far away, suddenly, seemed the hors d’oeuvre table at Claridges,” (73). Moore had referred to Claridges a little earlier, but it had nothing to do with this section, and neither is there any reason to think that anyone thought of Claridges, wistfully or otherwise. It is just a way of inserting a supposedly clever line and making Pentland look like an upper class twit. Similarly, and there are other examples, Moore mentions that pencil sharpeners were made scarce in England during the war, and then speaks of Pentland going to the USA where “the staff were … never short of … pencil sharpeners,” (62). Is that humorous? Does it have a point? It was Moore, not Pentland, who cared about such matters.

I could continue like this, but in the end, the very cynicism of Moore’s approach takes me to what I consider to be the real question.

2. The Real Question

The real question, to my mind, is about the Gurdjieff Work. If Pentland – the leader of the Foundation in the USA – was indeed, as Moore paints him, then what is the point of the Gurdjieff Work?

Jospeph Azize

September 2012

=============

See related posts:

Andrew Rawlinson’s review of this book

https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/?s=Pentland+Rawlinson

+

John Robert Colombo’s reviews this at: https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/was-lord-pentland-an-eminent-gurdjieffian/

&

he reviews Ashala Gabriel’s Remembering Lord Pentland

https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/john-robert-colombo-reviews-a-new-book-by-ashala-gabriel/

=============

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

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.

Joseph Azize Reviews: THE REALITY OF BEING

with 3 comments

Jeanne de Salzmann

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Review of The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff,

Jeanne de Salzmann, Shambhala, Boston & London, 2010

(293 pp, plus biographical note, list of de Salzmann founded Gurdjieff Centres, and index) Reviewer’s note, the book has been edited with a foreword by an anonymous team.

I have been pondering for two months: should I write a review of this book or not? The sublimity of some of this writing makes the idea reviewing it seem presumptuous, disrespectful and distasteful. At its best, this volume represents a unique spiritual literature, and bears ample evidence of the note-maker’s achievement, authority and stature. Reading in its pages for even five minutes, new vistas open, lines of study are confirmed and extended, and I receive fresh direction and hope. And yet I have questions, and even some misgivings, especially about the presentation of the material as an account of Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way rather than as de Salzmann’s own Gurdjieff-influenced teaching, the decision to publish exercises, the descriptions of what I might call “higher states” (with the possibility of inviting self-delusion), and whether many people will understand anything much from the book who did not previously know de Salzmann or have not had firsthand experience in her groups.

But I decided to write when the question occurred to me: what would Jeanne De Salzmann wish for? Adulation? I cannot rush into rapture over the volume, if only because it has helped me. To fall now into gushing blandishments of the type Gurdjieff satirised in Meetings With Remarkable Men would be a betrayal. I feel a certain duty to try and impartially review this book exactly because, at first blush, it seems to defy all review.

Other of Gurdjieff’s pupils have written comparable material, the unpublished “black notebook” which Jane Heap kept comes to mind. There is some material from George Adie which is of this genre, but I have never released it, and have no intention of doing so, given my reluctance to publish exercises and descriptions of higher states because these might invite self-delusion. Some of Bill Segal’s material is of this genre, but I don’t think it can be compared with Reality of Being for power, depth or scope. So this is a unique work.

Whether those who did not know de Salzmann or her pupils can benefit from this volume is another question altogether. My guess is that those people may perhaps sense that there is something significant here, but will find it too opaque for them. It badly needs a full introduction and glossary.

Finally, before plunging this review, I must thank Dr Sophia Wellbeloved, who helped me see certain matters I had been colour-blind to. Sophia experienced de Salzmann at first hand, and her impartial but warm personal assessment merged, as it were, with the force of these writings, in which I have been immersed, to produce quite an impact on me.

The major problem, and it is a significant one, is the packaging. The issue would not arise had the book been presented, packaged and titled accurately, for example, as The Reality of Being: The “Vigilant Meditation” of Jeanne de Salzmann. The misstatement that this volume is a representation of the “Fourth Way of Gurdjieff”, which is a way in life, distorts any reading of the contents, because many of the statements here are meaningful or true only within the context of what de Salzmann calls “the work in the quiet” (48) and “vigilance and meditation” (58). This practice was developed by de Salzmann from Eastern models, as Bill Segal states in one memoir. Further, the book as edited moves backwards and forwards between “work in life”, and “work in the quiet” in a manner which is not always clear. It might be a personal development of the Fourth Way, or even a portion of it, but then, why the clunky subtitle The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff?

De Salzmann did not see this book into the press: she wrote notes which, to judge by the sample on p. 293 were like journals written up after a period spent in “vigilant meditation”. The anonymous editors of this volume have, after her death, marshalled some of these notes of her contemplative experience, and added some other “recorded statements”, (whatever form these may have taken, xviii). As the foreword states, she was: “… constantly reflecting on the reality of being and writing down her thoughts in her notebook,” (xvi). She also wrote ideas for meetings with her students. These two sets of notebooks were kept “like diaries”, (xvi), and were understood by the editors to be the “book” she referred to when she said that she was writing “a book on how to be in life, on the path to take in order to live on two levels. It will show how to find a balance …”, (xvi). At her death, the careful state of these notebooks were taken by “those closest to her” to be “a clear sign” that she had intended the material in them to “help complete Gurdjieff’s writing on a true vision of reality …”, (xvi). The editors can only mean that this book is her effort to “complete” the Third Series.

The impression of continuity with Gurdjieff, and that this is the “Third and a half series”, is strengthened by the editors’ disclosure ay p. xvi that: “She often echoed, and sometimes repeated, his (i.e. Gurdjieff’s) exact words”, e.g. the exercise on pp.196-7 of this book is also given in the Third Series. But then the editors announce two pages later that: “No attempt has been made to identify isolated excerpts taken by her from Gurdjieff or other writers”, (xviii).

Why not? I could understand if they had made an attempt but cautioned that they may not have been able to identify all such excerpts. But to make no effort? Did they feel they had no duty to Gurdjieff, de Salzmann or anyone else not to pass off one person’s work as another’s? I feel sure de Salzmann would never have agreed. A staggering number of references to Gurdjieff in the text have inexplicably been omitted from the index. Very strange.

When we turn to the index under “Gurdjieff”, we find the following entry and page references or “locators” (the technical term for the page references provided in an index):

Gurdjieff, George Ivanovitch, 1-5, 295-7

It appears as if these are the only references to Gurdjieff in the volume. In fact, his name is also given at 22, 24, 64, 73, 100, 108, 120, 122, 133, 137, 172, 180, 181, 182, 183, 189, 196, 199, 235, 237, 280, 284, 286 and 292. Why omit so many locators from the index? The only argument I can see, which would not involve disrespect to Gurdjieff, is to say that the whole of the contents were so indebted to him that reference was pointless.

However, to argue thus is to miss the decisive point, as Aristotle said. It is an error for an index to omit proper names important to its readers, or to pass over occurrences of that name which go beyond mere mentions. Gurdjieff could hardly be more important to this book, yet the index has overlooked 22 or more references. Indexing is not easy: The Society of Indexers holds conferences and offers tutoring on indexing. Its web-site (www.indexers.org.au) includes this wisdom: “A good index can be much more than a guide to the contents of a book. It can often give a far clearer glimpse of its spirit than the blurb-writers or critics are able to do.” Quite so.

So, despite the often sublime contents, this book is something of an odd job. There are 140 entries. Each is of a fairly consistent length of between one and a half to two pages Presumably each piece was written on the one day (except where it was later supplemented by the mysterious “recorded statements”). Each of the 140 entries has a title, but no date, and they’re numbered 1 through to 140. The titles are written in Roman, e.g. “A nostalgia for Being” and ‘Only with a stable Presence”. These are arranged in 36 titled sections (32 sections have 4 entries, and 4 sections have but 3). The sections are unnumbered, and have italicised titles like: “To Remember Oneself” and “A Pure Energy”. Without exception, there are three sections to a chapter. The chapters are numbered in Roman numerals, and are titled “OPENING TO PRESENCE”, “TO BE CENTERED”, and so on.

The cover illustration is of a landscape beneath the night sky. In the lower heavens is an enneagram. On the earth, we see someone wearing what seems to be a bright red scarf. But it is a strange scarf: it looks as if a small inverted ziggurat has attached itself to someone’s back. Is it meant to represent the descending energies which de Salzmann writes of? Despite the Gurdjieff packaging, to put it that way, there is a photograph of the diarist, but none of Gurdjieff. Neither is an attempt made to relate her ideas to those of other people: yet this context could have helped people understand the significance of her writing. For example, she answers Hume’s enigma that one never finds a “self” (In A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume discussed the question of personal identity, and argued that we assume that we have a “self”, but in fact there is no evidence at all for this). Explaining this somewhere would make the volume more accessible for the very many people who are acquainted with Hume, but not Gurdjieff.

That is the contents. To speak of aims, the book is pretty clearly “missionary”. It is meant to attract people to the de Salzmann groups (hence p.301 with its list of centres, and its reference to the Reality of Being website, to meet the anticipated demand).

My intuition is that the actual motive to publish this quality hardback was not only to give those who knew her a substantial memento, but also to reach that elusive audience of seekers, and to establish an independent basis for de Salzmann’s reputation as a spiritual authority. Together with the previous Foundation-sponsored or inspired Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections, Heart Without Measure, Without Benefit of Clergy, The Forgotten Language of Children, Tchekhovitch’s Gurdjieff: A Master in Life, and the volume of Parobola articles Ravindra edited, a bookshelf is being built up. In these books, Gurdjieff orthodoxy passes solely through de Salzmann, and other major figures such as Bennett, Ouspensky and Jane Heap barely exist, if at all. It is as if the Foundation has embarked on a publishing offensive.

Before each of the twelve parts of the volume, the editors have placed a page with some one-liners, presumably chosen for their punchy impact. The very first maxim on the very first of these pages, p.8, reads: “the child wants to have, the adult wants to be.” How could anyone write anything so glib and pat, I wondered to myself? If anything, it struck me, the exact opposite is true. But then I read the quotation in context on p.10: “We need to see our childishness in relation to the life force, always wishing to have more. The child wants to have, the adult wants to be. The constant desire for ‘having’ creates fear and a need to be reassured.” In other words, de Salzmann was explicitly speaking about the childish aspect of ourselves, not children in general. To place that sentence as a disembodied quote on a splash page was to invite misinterpretation.

De Salzmann wished to carry on and develop what Gurdjieff had brought, and yet, as Conge is reported to have said, it seemed as if Gurdjieff left something uncompleted in his work (noted in Ricardo Guillon, Record of a Search). It seems to me that most of Gurdjieff’s pupils supplemented his methods and ideas with methods and ideas from mystical traditions. My own view is that Gurdjieff’s heritage is equivalent to medicine: there is no reason why Christians, for example, should not use medicine, not matter who the doctor is, and the Gurdjieff system is one of psychological medicine.

Gurdjieff did not bequeath to de Salzmann an organization. She had to work indefatigably just to build up the Institute and to maintain its main branches in but three other cities: London, New York and Caracas. Then, through those “second level suns”, she could have an influence on other groups, and would travel to other places such as San Francisco. It was as if she had cardinals in Paris who would travel, especially to London and New York, where the councils were made up archbishops. Most of these then travelled to other places within their archdioceses. Gurdjieff had been the personal centre of his pupils. De Salzmann set up an institution which could effectively take over after the charismatic leader had gone, serving as a sort of school where guides and mentors might come and go, but the institution would survive and develop a sort of corporate personality. She had to position herself at the centre, and placed the emphasis of those aspects of the teaching she had mastered, that is, the groups and movements. Those parts where she was not quite so confident, especially the ideas and the books such as Beelzebub, she downplayed in comparison. For example, she early introduced a rule that there were to be no discussions of Beelzebub in the groups.

De Salzmann felt, it seems to me, that she needed her own special area to cement her authority. This is, I think, why she devised new means of “work” (where one speaks “from the present” after a “sitting”), and, of course, the sittings (or “quiet work”). If she was to base her authority, at least in part, on these, they had to be considered an essential component of the groups’ efforts, so she removed the competition: she stopped systematically teaching the Gurdjieff preparation and exercises. She also forbade the movements to be taught in their entirety: from a certain point in time, one only learnt parts of movements. It was said that this was to stop people like the Rajneeshis stealing them. But I do not think that that was all. I am not saying that that was not a factor, but I do not think it was determinative, because by ceasing to teach all of a movement, she ceased to teach them in the way Gurdjieff had intended. Her method of allowing only a few trusted instructors to have the entire movement from beginning to end was like thwarting an anticipated vandalism by committing it yourself.

Apart from the Gurdjieff omissions, there is another matter about the index I must raise. The problem with the entry for “tempo” is that there is none. There is a reference for “rhythm”, but there should also be one for “tempo”. At 192, De Salzmann uses “rhythm” and “tempo” as being equivalent terms. Relevant locators for “tempo” and instances where equivalents are used include 124, 139, 147 (“rhythmic order”), 182 (“the rhythms of all the functions”), 188, 192, 195, 209, 265 (“rhythm”), 272 and 273. This concept was important to de Salzmann. The understanding of tempo is linked to the understanding of the entire person in who these tempos operate. Interestingly, the English translation of Beelzebub, in the version Gurdjieff authorised, always uses the word “tempo”. Irrespective of what de Salzmann wrote in French, “they leave the general rhythm” is a mediocre translation: better to say “they fall out of” or even “they depart from” the general rhythm. But the point is in the meaning.

What Gurdjieff means is this: just as the different centres have their own individual tempos, so too, can one speak, as Gurdjieff does, of an “aggregate tempo” of our “common presence”. He says that one tempo (or, I think, limited range of tempos), is related to essence, and another much wider range of tempos supports the emergence of personality, and the other larger range supports the domination of personality. This is not the place to go into it in detail, but the tempos of Gregorian chant correspond to the tempo of essence. If one understands what one is doing, then one can change one’s aggregate tempo and thus come closer to essence. It is, therefore, a matter of the greatest practical importance.

Another obvious matter I have barely alluded to is that the struggle with negative emotion is not set out here along Gurdjieff’s method of what I might call ‘active mentation”, which is really a three-centred confrontation. De Salzmann’s method is more to seek a state where one does not feel negative emotion. That is something, but I don’t think it is enough.

There is so much more I could say, for example, her comments on “tonus” anticipate what I came to about “pitch”. But this suffices for now. This is primarily a de Salzmann book and only secondly in the Gurdjeiff line. Much of the material is of the first significance for those seeking a finer consciousness which stands behind and above our other functions.

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

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.

Sufism and the Way of Blame: Azize review

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Joseph Azize Book Review

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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 http://www.sufism.org/society/album/selim.html). 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 … http://resume.itlaqfoundation.com/Resume.html. 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.

 

Sufism 

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.

 

Conclusion 

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@gmail.com)

 

 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.

 

Azize Review: The Forgotten Language of Children

Joseph Azize

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

The Forgotten Language of Children

Author: Lilian Firestone

Published: New York, 2010

{This is a reasonably lengthy article, as the book provides opportunities to discuss some significant issues: indeed, it almost demands serious discussion. I commence with an overview of the book and its contents. In Part 2, I outline the “Henry” story. Part 3 provides a critique. Part 4 includes some further ideas on being with children, while the final section, headed “Conscience”, is perhaps the most important part of the review. I then attach some brief extracts from Traherne’s “Centuries”. The length of the review will have been worthwhile if it introduces a few more people to Traherne’s writing. Joseph Azize, Joseph.Azize@gmail.com, 24 September 2010}.

1 Overview and Contents

This book is vivid and profound. It relates Firestone’s personal history of activities with children under the auspices of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York. Because it’s also meant to be a point of departure for one’s own discoveries, it bears a certain promise. When one reads a record like this, one feels that because new understandings and ways of relating were possible for those people, something corresponding is possible now for us. Our experiences will not be identical to Firestone’s, but they may, nonetheless, be analogous in that they’re oriented towards “essence values”, in Gurdjieff’s terms. Like any good history, this one silently invites us to ponder our own histories, to challenge our understanding, and to be responsible for living what we’ve learned.

As the title indicates, Firestone believes that children have a language of their own, one which we adults have forgotten. The key to this “language” would appear to be that it’s a tongue where imaginative cues are more important than verbal ones. In Firestone’s words: “what touches them more than words are pictures and images” (p.71). Firestone’s insight may be an application to children of Gurdjieff’s “mentation by thought” and “mentation by form” (Beelzebub, p. 15). Appropriately enough, although the book hardly seems aimed at children, Firestone uses something of the language herself, not only in her simple, sensitive prose, but also in the many photographs. I suspect that she would like to think that the book may hold meaning for some of the children who then participated. Perhaps, too, the once-forgotten language can be a factor in vivifying our adult language, unduly neglectful as it is, at times, of the value of images.

As someone who is fairly painfully aware of how poorly he writes, I admire Firestone for the apparently effortless clarity of her writing. To my mind, the mark of a good writer is that the words on the page flow so easily that the reader receives the meaning as if hearing an ordinary conversation, that is, without having to strain at the formulations or even to be aware that the writer has exercised an art. By those criteria, Firestone is a good writer. Because her style is, as I said, vivid and feeling, I never felt that what she was describing was at all foreign to me. It’s this quality in her writing which invites an imaginative engagement.

The title is, perhaps, the key to the first theme of the book: external communication between adults and children. Firestone’s entire verbal and pictorial record describes a chain of experiments in communication between adults and children. The aptness of the title is an example of Firestone’s ability as a writer.

As I read it, the next theme of the book is internal communication between parts of oneself: higher and lower; emotional, intellectual and organic. We can aim to live more consciously in two directions simultaneously: within ourselves and with others. The two themes seamlessly fit together, and without that fit, one line alone cannot long continue to be productive. I can neither communicate more consciously nor more conscience-ly with children, or with anyone else, unless I myself am more consciously present.

In the end, as Mr Adie said, “all it needs is my presence”. If a person is present when they’re with children, they are bound to have some feeling of themselves in relation to those children. Human communication can and should be marked by increasing honesty, receptivity and respect. In a genuine relationship, our being is evoked, and there’s often a wonder at the mystery of the present, at the unfolding, and at the possibilities.

Forgotten Language” is carefully, even affectionately produced. It’s a handsomely presented hardcover, the cover slip being what I think of as crimson, with an endearing naive drawing of an elephant. The contrasting touches of gold and the banding behind the author’s name on the dust jacket complement the cover almost perfectly, having strength, without being at all overpowering. Just those shades of crimson, gold and white on the cover suggest quietly glowing embers tumbled down from a fire. A little short of 300 pages, well illustrated, and published by Firestone’s own Indications Press, it’s moderately priced at $US40; further reason to see it as a labour of love. I’ve passed it on to an impecunious friend of mine, married with a child, because I think that he’ll find it absorbing and useful, and friends do each other good turns.

It’s arranged around 15 chapters, each with a theme such as “In the Kitchen”, “Money”, “Impressions”, and so on. Each of these chapters has a special interest, and is reasonably self-contained, although one should begin by reading the first two chapters to obtain one’s bearings. As I shall mention, the last chapters have a continuity which close the book. There are sundry appendices and many pages of photographs.

Chapter 3, “Challenges”, is typical of the book. It opens with Gurdjieff’s wise advice to learn one new skill, craft or language each year; an advice which, so far as I know, he gave only to adults. Taking up this advice leads to a “struggle to learn” and a recognition that we’re prone to making “reflexive judgments” and hiding behind the mechanical pretext “I can’t”. In learning new things, they all had to leave “the safety of the known” (47-8), as Firestone says.

Yet, I wonder whether learning a new craft or language does really take anyone so very far out from the safety of shore. It is not, after all, as if they had gone to the Jordanian desert to learn falconry from the Bedouin. As we shall see in the next part of this review, when they had hardly left “the safety of the known” to camp out in Canada in the company of Henry the Micmac Indian, the adults scrambled back to shore as if drowning. I exempt Firestone from this: the account indicates that she struggled admirably against forces too great for her strength as it then was. So, speaking for myself, when I read such phrases as “leaving the safety of the known”, “Children’s Work”, and “leaning on the moment”, I find a certain low level grandiloquence. No matter, it isn’t painful.

As this chapter shows, a significant part of what Firestone and colleagues learnt came through the aid of Jeanne de Salzmann and Peggy Flinsch. De Salzmann advised them to “create an event”, to prepare a challenge, and, most importantly, to be there in the “moment”. In illustrating these events and moments, ample space is devoted to the children’s reflections. One remark which seems typical, was “At the Children’s Work … when you tried something new or from your imagination, nobody corrected you. Nobody said, “You’re wrong”, “You’re stupid” … Instead you were trusted to come up with something of your own, and the adults let you do it” (50).

A critical point came when, striving to understand de Salzmann’s advice to create special conditions, they saw that they themselves “were the special conditions on which everything depended” (52). They aimed for “a dual attention to oneself and the children” (52). This requires impartiality, and that led to an exercise where each would study one child to see whether mind, feeling or body were strongest, weakest, quickest and so on, in that child (53). After this, de Salzmann gave advice which approximates to Gurdjieff’s direction to see children in their potential (53-4). There is much more valuable material like this in chapter 3. Perhaps the acme is found in Jim Nott’s quoting Gurdjieff’s statement that we can repair the past, and that we can remember how we were as children, so coming to a sympathetic understanding of these children (54-5). I especially mention this because it points to a way forward for all of us.

Without repairing the past, we cannot, it seems to me, ever come to conscience. The royal road to individuality is to awaken conscience. And, as Gurdjieff said, behind real “I” lies God. What human aim would not be related to the beatific vision? Gurdjieff said as much in different terms when, in respect of the Third Series, he said that he aimed “to share the possibilities I had discovered of touching reality and, if so desired, even merging with it.”

My own view is that what readers can extrapolate from this volume will probably be more valuable as a new attitude, or even as a mood, than as statements of principle. And I say that knowing full well that the general principles cited from Gurdjieff and de Salzmann are, indeed, gems. I’ve made a list, probably incomplete, but you can find citations from Gurdjieff at pp. 16, 27, 47, 54, 97-8 and 127-130. The last of these opens with some profound stories told by de Salzmann. That redoubtable lady features at pp. 24, 27, 43, 48, 53-4, 56-7, 61, 63, 71-2, 92-3, 127, 132-3, 140, 145 and 196. Incidentally, comparing the de Salzmann who appears in this book with the de Salzmann of the recently published “Reality of Being”, is instructive. The “calendar speech” which spoils “Reality” for me is entirely missing from Firestone’s portrait. Perhaps de Salzmann’s forte was in exchanges and what we might call “life-engagements”, rather than philosophy. I would say that de Salzmann emerges in this book as a store of practical wisdom and controlled force. Peggy Flinsch is also an influence for impartial understanding in this book, see pp. 24, 35, 36, 55, 63-4, 77, 87, 111 and 130.

The material is well-written, clear, engaging, and has a feeling quality. I find that, excepting only a few passages, it is impossible not to have sympathy with the author, and to applaud her efforts, some of which came at the price of a certain sacrifice of egoism.

2 The “Henry” Story

The most important of Firestone’s experiences appear in the story which comprises chapters 12, “Difficulties”, and 13, “Remorse”. These chapters are the climax, too, in that they form a sustained closing note. Firestone’s experience began like this: they wanted to find “a worthwhile destination” for the children’s holiday, one which “offered new meaning” (p.173). While they were thinking this way, the adults and some children from the group attended a pow-wow, where she met Henry, a Micmac from a reservation in Nova Scotia (174-5). Henry was impressive: “His life story was the first of its kind we had heard. His direct way of speaking was so striking that the children remembered afterwards what he said almost word for word” (175).

Henry emerges as probably the most practical and common sense actor in the whole book (Firestone not excluded, as she candidly shows in the “tins of food” story where she could, it seems to me, have just told a spoiled child that canned “food” was no substitute for fresh food, and refused to allow her to buy tins). When the children asked Henry whether he could sleep on the ground without a blanket, he answered: “Sure, if I haven’t got a blanket” (176). When they couldn’t light a fire because the kindling was damp, he used what he called “the Indian way”: he ignited it with kerosene. Firestone frankly discloses that the “work people” disapproved; but Henry pointed out that common sense is the Indian way (176-7). And so it was, in general, with Henry. He was efficient and capable, but if there were no jobs, he rested. “He never looked busy, never pretended” (177).

Henry told them that because the Indians had found the white man to be a hypocrite, they described him as speaking with “forked tongue” and as having “two hearts”. Henry related his stories of betrayal with impartiality, and without reproach. Firestone hoped to show him that, contrary to his experience hitherto, white people could act with “friendship and honour” (177). Henry invited them to the Canadian reservation. They agreed to come for ten days. This was to be the “worthwhile destination” for the children’s holiday. Peggy Flinsch could not make it, but they were nothing daunted: one of their leaders spoke of “adventure and responsibility”. So, off they set. When they arrived at the reservation, Henry led them to his mother’s house (178-80). His mother taught Firestone what she (Firestone) regarded as a valuable lesson, when she persuaded Firestone to let a small boy sleep on after the others had risen, rather than be awakened before he was ready. At this point Firestone says “The Indian way is about living with the reality of what is” (180). At least, I would say, that is the Indian way at its best.

But the “men on the team were restless”. There was, they said, no plan for the children, and Henry’s Indian friends had not yet arrived “to instruct the children”, who were running around playing in the woods and the lakeshore (181). In the meantime, Henry’s mother showed the girls how to make skirts from leaves. When Henry’s friends arrived that afternoon there was still no plan, and, they apparently said, there cannot be one: it isn’t their way (181-2). However: “the men on the team became irritated and gave Henry hard looks. They found an unstructured day hard to bear, but the children were happy” (182). In the course of that day, Henry and his friends showed the children how to make a “delicious, real, fresh bread” but one “of our men” asked why they hadn’t explained the process. Henry’s reply was, again, common sense: “The children can see; what’s the use of talking?” (183)

That night a musician played what they described as “traditional Indian music”. The music turned out to be Irish and English folk tunes. The children were happy, but “the men” were not. “This is not the Children’s Work”, one said, and the capitals are in Firestone’s book. I can well believe they were in the intonation, too. They decided to leave the very next day, just walking out on the Indians. Firestone alone dissented from this plan. She became bewildered: “How did principles apply?” (185)

Firestone was troubled, saying: “It was wrong to break our word to Henry. I could hardly bear the thought that, like all the others, we would betray him” (185). But, as she notes, Peggy was not there (185). Peggy Flinsch, for those who do not know, was a personal pupil of Gurdjieff. One of the leaders, Ben, told the children they had to leave immediately, and another, Bill, told them “not to ask any questions” (187). This produced a situation where “most of the children, still not understanding the adults’ cold abruptness, were resentful and afraid” (187). The children’s log stated:

From the first day, a gap seemed to form between the adults and us. The adults were always stressing responsibility. Hacking was so frowned upon that we felt guilty every time we laughed. There were few minutes of fun. … None of us wanted to go; we could see Henry was hurt. And again the adults were cold and demanding. (188)

Back home, Firestone realised that she could not “give” her conscience “over” to anyone, not even to “her” team. As she concluded: “Any group can lose its way” (197). In relating this tale, I’ve used more direct quotes than usual, in case it might be thought that I’m guilting the lily (to adapt a line).

3 Critique

Sometimes, when reviewing, I’ll make substantial comments because I find that a book has substantial value. In other instances, a long critique might be needed to justify an unflattering appraisal. This book invites comments because of its depth. You could assess foundations as being really solid but still wish to do a little more work, even if just to hose them down before building upon them. Something similar is the case here. It’s because the volume is so good that I think there’s a use in addressing what I see as a flaw in the execution. In principle, the book is great. It’s a firm, even inspiring foundation. But the surface of the foundations wants sweeping, at least in my view.

The volume could be tidier in this respect: I think that it’s too long. It seems to me that Lillian Firestone has written one and a bit books with two different if related aims inside one cover: (1) a narrative, of satisfying length, which could stand by itself as an interesting and instructive autobiographical fragment, and, (2) in the appendices titled “Themes” and “Some Principles”, a how-to-Work-with-Children manual, to use New York capitals.

My sense is that had these short appendices been omitted, and the offering of principles been left to the voices of Gurdjieff, de Salzmann and Flinsch, the principles would have been more effectively conveyed. The minor statements of principle in the text are not offensive or even distracting: some reflection, some philosophy, is often necessary. Many of Firestone’s own short meditations, if I can call them that, are very good indeed: for example, her conclusion to the Henry story. But while some salt seasons the dish, too much seizes the throat.

The book challenges conventional ideas of drilling “the right way” into children’s heads. It stands, to use Gurdjieff’s terminology, for the imperatives to be present, to remember oneself, and to manifest from “consciousness and conscience” (perhaps a hendiadys, perhaps not). The how-to manual is maybe more than simply a departure from this: it seems to me to be inimical. Firestone says that children should be allowed their own experience. I would agree, so far as one can agree with such a statement. At the least, we adults too often wish for children to share our own experience, and to accept our valuations. We often show too little respect for the child’s individuality. But why not let adult readers have their own experience, and leave the appendices out? Still, being at the back of the volume they don’t interfere with the narrative, and so the sound foundations, so to speak, remain intact.

That is my major reservation. Let’s now turn to another matter: the so-called “Children’s Work” with capitals. If we call an activity “work”, there is at least a danger that we’ll assume that we’re working simply by virtue of being on a “work team”, and the phrase will keep suggesting that back to us. And so we glue assumptions into our language. The word “work” stands for something very high: rational, connected efforts in the direction of a chosen aim. We have to earn the right to say that we’re working, especially working as a man would, with all three centres. Gurdjieff said a good deal about suggestiveness, an aspect of Kundabuffer, and the force for illusion which it represents in our lives. We would be prudent to avoid words which might feed suggestion. Again, it’s another mild aspect of grandiloquence, but it’s significant, because I tend to see it as supporting our evil inner god “self-calming”.

Thankfully, there is an easy solution. I see no reason to employ any special sobriquets. If the children are working on a pond, call it “the pond team”. If some are in the kitchen, then they’re in “the kitchen crew”. Where there is a legitimate need to distinguish, one can refer to the children in the theatre troupe, or the adults in the gardening outfit, and be none the poorer.

To return to an example from “Forgotten Language”, in the case of the spoiled kid that insisted on buying tinned food and not fresh food, it might have been possible, if in the right state, to tell her that her proposal was misconceived for the simple reason that fresh food is more nutritious than canned food-substitutes. Of course, we want to explain this without any feeling of condemnation, just addressing the matter in hand. If I can be impartial, and feel supportive of the child while speaking, something of my inner state has a chance of coming through. The other may refuse to be mollified, but I don’t believe that they do not know at some deep level what is going on, and that they’re being wilful.

By the way, Gurdjieff groups should be insisting on fresh food (organic and, I suspect, without genetic modification where possible) and freshly prepared meals. Ordering in sandwiches or pizza, and eating “sweets” is anti-essence. We should, so far as possible, banish processed carbohydrates like sugar, bread, pizza and white rice. Solanges Claustres reports that Gurdjieff said that because inner efforts use the sort of energy they do, it’s essential to at least try and give the body the most nutritious food. Gurdjieff, de Salzmann and the Adies did not know that sugar was a poison. Okay, but we do, and they wanted us to pursue truth rather than limiting ourselves to what was known about nutrition in their day.

I will end this critique by mentioning another factor I’d like to “challenge”, to use Firestone’s term. That is the material commissioned in the foreword and the testimonials. The foreword is by T.R. Thurman, and praises the “firm but kind realism of the adults” (ix). The praise for the volume, for Gurdjieff, de Salzmann and the adults is fulsome, very fulsome. I wonder Firestone did not find it embarrassing. Then, Thurman relates how the Dalai Lama, when receiving an honorary degree, said “so powerfully as to penetrate the stone pillars” that to educate the brain but not the heart is to create a danger. Thurman adds: “The assembled dignitaries nodded approvingly, but subsequently I didn’t notice any change in the curriculum” (x).

What changes to the curriculum did Thurman expect to see? What changes did he himself make? What changes did the Lama indicate? The fact of the matter is, as reported, the Dalai Lama made a platitudinous statement which could mean almost anything. Thurman was identified with him to the extent that he even imagined the pillars hearing his voice, and now shares his fond fantasy with us. Once more, I call it grandiloquence. A more humorous and softer phrase might be the Australianism “cosmic wombat”.

I could make comments about the testimonials on the back cover, but time is limited. Suffice to say, if you esteem gushing praise, yes, they’re good. But why “ache” for what you didn’t have? What could such an “ache” be but imagination? Does Firestone need this sort of marketing? This book is a dedication to life and consciousness past, present and future before it’s a product, and to market it like any ordinary book, with the sort of testimonials Gurdjieff satirized in “Meetings” … well, I can’t conceive that it was necessary, especially as it’s her own press and she has no external publishers to compromise with.

4 Further Thoughts on Children

I have no children of my own, but I was a child. One of the rarest insights I’ve ever heard about children was said by my late grandmother. “Children,” she said, “know who love them.” An intuitive knowledge is available to them in many ways. At some level, children, especially small children, know. They know what’s going on and what’s taking place in the people around them. My clear recollection, and it’s something we all shared whether we remember it or not, is that as a child I was very often quite impartial. I recall looking around me with the sort of feeling-impartiality that Thomas Traherne describes in his “Centuries”, and having a respect for other people as being miracles equal to myself. In book 3.3. of the “Centuries”, Traherne wrote:

Aged men seemed as venerable and reverend creatures – young men seemed glittering and sparkling angels. and women strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty. Boys and girls tumbling in the street and playing. were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die, but all things bided as if in their proper places eternally.

I recall that I was centred, that my mind was crystal clear, and my feelings were positive. The memories are absolutely crisp. I did not then realise that I was centred, but then again, perhaps I did. By imperceptible degrees, of course, this state of natural, innocent blissful perception was lost. But the realisation that I then had, effectively of the truth of the Beatific Visions, has never been lost, although for periods, sometimes for long weary periods, it has lain unremembered.

As an aside, the very first time I read In Search of the Miraculous, I at once saw that what Gurdjieff was teaching was a method for restoring the lost vision, but at a higher level, one which would relate our perception to our will, and not merely our circumstances. It seemed right that the path would lie through conscience, but never had I remotely guessed that that could commence through something as simple as becoming conscious to my own reality, beginning with physical sensation. Yet how obvious, after all, that the road to reality should begin in the one certain place available to everyone, our own individual being-reality? I tried to bring some of that understanding to Mr Adie’s book, especially the chapters “The Joy of Creation” and “The World in Amber”.

To return to our theme, Traherne saw that this tale of infant paradise and the fall is true of everyone. Children are more in essence than we are, and, as I shall mention below, the working of their centres is more united. Traherne’s writing on this subject is significant, and too little appreciated. In an appendix to this review, I attach some more brief quotations from book 3 of Traherne’s “Centuries”. But there is no substitute for purchasing a volume of his poetry, and making your own acquaintance with this profound mystic.

To return to my grandmother’s words, I think that the first effort with anyone, but especially perhaps with children, is to open to feeling. By “feeling” I mean positive emotion of myself, not mere “emotion” (see p.61 of “George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia” for the critical distinction.) I won’t delve into it now, but it’s natural that such an effort extends downwards into presence of sensation and above into presence of aim. This is another reason why I think there needs to be more attention paid to the awakening of feeling, and less to intellectual formulations such as “leaning on the moment”, which to me paints a humorous picture of leaving smudges everywhere. A moment is a breath. You can’t “lean” on it, even metaphorically. But to the degree that I am present, higher emotional centre operates with its richer time, and it as if corridors of dimensions are added to the experience of the moment. Once more, contact with feeling proves to be the gate.

In small children, the centres function more closely together. Children are both more sensitive and stronger than they will be as adults, more in essence, and so we are accordingly more responsible for our manifestations in their presences. Incidentally, I heard this from Mr Adie, but the same idea is recorded in Ouspensky’s “The Fourth Way”, so I am pretty sure it came from Gurdjieff. At p. 74 is this fertile line: “In small children centres are not divided.” At p. 121, Ouspensky answers a question as to whether a child is nearer to self-remembering than an adult. “No, not quite”, said Ouspensky. Remembering oneself, he explained, comes from one’s own conscious and intentional efforts. While children have moments of consciousness, these moments come by themselves because the emotional centre is more active in children.

So it seems to be this: the younger the child, the less division there is likely to be between the centres. One can even see from embryology how the mechanisms of the centres start to appear. The different scale of time in higher centres and higher parts of centres explains why our sense of time is different when we’re children. As Traherne said of his experience as a boy: “All time was eternity and a perpetual sabbath.” My own guess is that the operational division of centres which has begun in infancy does not end its octave of development until puberty, and is aided, or at least given its characteristic form, by the development of personality which starts to cover essence.

So it isn’t so much that images and pictures mean more to children than words: that will depend upon which images, picture and words, and which child. It is more that every word will resonate with images and pictures, and vice versa, because the intellect and the feeling are closer together. The very young don’t make the hard distinction between words and pictures that we do: that, at least, I can remember from childhood.

And of course, it follows from all this, that the higher parts of centres are more available in children, and so the mystic element of a child’s experience must be respected, and allowed space. If a person is present with a child, especially a small child, that person cannot be impatient without remorse of conscience.

Now, if children cannot make conscious efforts the way that an adult can, they yet have the possibility, even the heightened possibility, of receiving impressions of our conscious and intentional efforts. Those impressions can become active later when personality is smothering essence. It could be that neither then nor later will they be aware of having received any such impression. Impressions can be so weak as to be negligible. But no conscious effort made with someone is ever wasted, either for oneself or for the other.

Further, the effort with anyone – adult, baby or youth – should be impartial and unconditional to the extent we can manage, and maybe even beyond that. One does not make such efforts in the hope of evoking gratitude from the other. That would be manipulation, and it always, it seems to me, backfires. It leads, in other words, to revulsion, if not to outright revolt. There are no guarantees: there are children who knew Gurdjieff and even had the experience of children’s movements, who did not turn out at all brilliantly.

There are very few rules and perhaps even fewer guarantees. Corporal punishment is looked upon as barbaric today. But sometimes, Gurdjieff would spank a child on the bottom, and say that it was a good reminding factor. Olga de Hartmann relates that Gurdjieff shouted at her once in the presence of her father. That good man was appalled, until Gurdjieff explained to him that because he, the father, had not shouted at Olga, now he, Gurdjieff, had to give her that experience. And he, according to Olga, saw the wisdom in that. The late Michael Smyth recounted to me a story he had heard from Paul Beekman Taylor. I think I have it right: a child was proud of its toy watch. Gurdjieff beckoned the child over, obtained the watch, and then deliberately crushed it beneath his foot. The story did not end there. The next night, Gurdjieff called the child over to himself. The child was reluctant, but the parents helped the child over to Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff then presented the child with a real watch. No one I know would dare to do such a thing, but it may have been beneficial to the child: I don’t know, and I don’t know how to judge it.

So there are very few rules. We just have to use our individual being-reason, and in using it, develop it.

5 Conscience

The key to work with anyone, children or otherwise, is, I would now say, conscience. There is a special connection with children, and not only because our time of childhood was absolutely critical for our development. As Jesus said, we must become like little children if we’re to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Traherne refers to this in “Centuries”:

Our Saviour’s meaning when He said that whoever would enter into the kingdom of heaven must be born again and become a little child, is far deeper than is generally believed. It is not only in a careless reliance upon divine providence that we are to become little children or in the feebleness and shortness of our anger, and in the simplicity of our passions: but in the peace and purity of all our soul, which purity also is a deeper thing than is commonly apprehended – for we must disrobe our selves of all false colours, and forsake self-will. All our thoughts must be infant-like and clear, the powers of our soul free from the values of this world, and disentangled from men’s opinions and customs. [“Centuries” 3.5]

To be concise, my personal view is that Jesus meant that we must come to conscience.

To be with and to understand children, we must be with and understand our own childhoods. This both requires feeling, and brings us to feeling. If feeling is awake for long enough, this leads to conscience.

Let’s relate this to an example from “Forgotten Language”. Recall that before they walked out on Henry, someone declared: “This isn’t the Children’s Work”. How could people aiming to “work”, to become more conscious, hurl the Indians’ hospitality back in their faces, implicitly reproaching them for failing to provide the exotic but safe adventure they had dreamed of? We should never consent to compromise our innate human sense of principle: it is asphyxiation of conscience. But they were ensconced as leaders of the “Children’s Work”, and, apparently, they didn’t feel the earth-level realities of their “hard looks” and similar actions. How is this possible? What is the point of years in Gurdjieff groups if we never change?

Take that phrase: “it isn’t the work”. How can anyone confidently announce what is and isn’t “the work”? We would need to know the other person’s condition and need so fully that we could dismiss something as not being work for them. But our position and needs have so many individual aspects that I can only see in this phrase a laziness of thought yoked to a desire to have the last word. And that means that conscience is fast asleep.

What does it mean to say that something is or is not the work? Does it not mean that certain ideas, feelings, emotions, actions or omissions cannot lead to, be material for, or contribute to someone’s efforts to become more conscious? So much of what we try is experimental that we should be slow to say that others are in a dead end. But that remark is inherently loaded in the direction of being arrogantly slighting. It could be uttered in sadness, but I think that if one had feeling one would choose a different phrase. I never heard Mr Adie say it, and I’ve never heard that Gurdjieff used it. To be perfectly blunt, it sounds to me as if someone in what I think of as “the group executive” used to say it, other people heard it, it sounded impressive, and it’s been parroted ever since. Here, I’ll briefly note that “work” itself is often a hiding word. It’s a valuable exercise to sometimes try and find another word or phrase to use in substitution: this exercise brings us right up against our mental laziness.

I would have far more sympathy if a person could say that they felt something was right or wrong, or that they could sense that, for them, it led away from conscience. Conscience is the issue for all of us. I hope I’m wrong, but I think that today, both in groups and outside of them (especially outside of them) some people implicitly see themselves as “beyond good and evil”, or something equivalent to that, tolerating all sorts of selfish or even predatory behaviour, their own and other people’s, and excusing it with platitudes like “who are we to say?”, “they’re adults”, or “it’s all good”.

While we should always try and grasp the other end of the stick, “Beelzebub is replete with commandments of the Creator, and Gurdjieff himself approved this principle: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If someone falls short of a standard, it is sometimes right and appropriate to say so. Sometimes, a direct statement is the best statement. It’s always a matter of judgment. Although we may not be sure what conscience would direct, we can be sure if something aggravates the black hole in us where conscience should be.

In other words, for a long time we may not positively know conscience as the source of light it is. But, if we’re honest, we do know the absence of conscience. And, also if we’re honest, we can tell when the sense of absence is made worse. We can feel a certain hardness in us.

Firestone spoke of handing over her conscience. I wonder. Is this like the assumption about “Children’s Work”? Although it’s not meant literally, it’s assuming that we have a conscience, and that the group, any group, can take delivery of it. Fear of being on the outer of the group can actually anaesthetize the feeling of myself which leads to conscience. There is an extent, I would say a significant extent, to which group work is or by law can become antipathetic to the individuality which Gurdjieff wished for his pupils. His knowledge of that fact was, I think, the deepest reason why he pushed people out on their own, even if he re-established contact in those instances where they’d made something for themselves. (I refer to Jeanne de Salzmann, Sophia Ouspensky and Jane Heap. He wished to re-establish relations with P.D. Ouspensky, A.R. Orage and Maurice Nicoll, although they all refused his invitations.)

Two more points from the Henry saga. When they packed up, Bill told the children not to ask questions (187). Firestone does not consider how this relates to their own stated principles about how they would deal with children’s questions in the children’s work (16-8). Was it ever discussed? If not, why not, I wonder? If a group cannot discuss such matters, what sort of group is it? Gurdjieff, of course, like any sane person, was always on the side of conscience, never of conformity.

Then, of equal importance, what was Firestone’s follow up? Did she make contact with Henry by letter or phone? Send him an apology, or a greeting? A little present? Or a big present? We just don’t know. Mr Adie said once of someone who had said something quite unfeeling, and later apologized: “It was good that having said what he did, he later said something else to be added to it.” Mr Adie would sometimes mention that it was important to judge when having left impression, we should then say or do something so that when that first impression was recalled, the second would be there, too, to mitigate its effect. When I had unintentionally confused someone, he told me that I should have explained my situation as soon as possible. I felt that he was right, and asked him how to deal with the fact that I would have to say something about other people. “You don’t have to”, he said. “Just keep it simple and speak of yourself.” And he was right. As a general rule, the simplest statements are the most credible.

There is a clear criterion as to whether our efforts towards the awakening of conscience are on the right road or not: we shall be suffering, and suffering remorse in respect of our manifestations towards our parents and others. You can read any of the good material on conscience, whether in Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Staveley, and they will support this in whole or in part. This also emerges from Firestone’s own account. To have a conscience one needs to suffer analogously to how Christ suffered in his passion. As Gurdjieff was reported to have said in an unpublished talk titled “Palm Sunday”:

… the word “passion” is applied to that state in us which is called the gnawings of conscience. Whoever understands the gnawings of conscience will understand the word “passion”. To most people the taste of this function is unknown. For most people this state might not exist and they understand it only theoretically. For a final definition of the word “passion” it is necessary to add the word similar to the gnawings of conscience, since the expression gnawings of conscience is used by us too often and we are accustomed to take its meaning too superficially. Passion is a state similar to the gnawings of conscience.

Appendix

Excerpts edited from book 3 of Thomas Traherne’s “Centuries”:

All appeared new and strange at the first; inexpressibly rare and delightful. I was a little stranger, which at my entrance into the world was saluted with innumerable joys. My knowledge was divine. I knew by intuition those things which since my apostasy I collected again, by the highest reason. I knew not that there were any sins or complaints or laws. All time was eternity and a perpetual sabbath. Is it not strange that an infant should be the inheritor of the world. and see those mysteries which the books of the learned never unfold? [from C. 3.2]

Wheat in the fields was the immortal grain of the rising sun, which never should be reaped nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold. The gates of the city were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me; their unusual beauty made my heart to leap almost mad with ecstasy, they were so strange and wonderful. [from C 3.3]

Eternity was manifest in the light of the day, and some thing infinite behind every thing appeared, which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The streets of the city were mine. The people were mine. Their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skin and ruddy faces. The skies were mine and so were the sun and moon and stars. I knew no bounds or divisions until with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world; which now I unlearn, and become as it were, a little child again, that I may enter into the kingdom of God. [from C 3.3]

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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.

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THE MASTERS SPEAK: a Joseph Azize review

The Masters Speak”

The Masters Speak: An American Businessman Encounters Ashish and Gurdjieff, Quest Books, Wheaton, Illinois and Chennai, India, 2010 (Originally published as In Search of the Unitive Vision, 2001. (305 pp., including bibliography and index)

Introduction

Let us suppose you meet a master of the spiritual life, someone who has approached the beatific vision, and who feels the oneness of existence in the embrace of God. This person has necessarily walked in your shoes, and can help you find your way. Would you have a question? What might you ask? And when the master spoke, how would you listen? If the master gave advice which went against the grain with you, how would you respond?

Sy Ginsburg lived through such questions, meeting Sri Madhava Ashish on many occasions, and corresponding with him. Ashish challenged his fundamental ideas of himself, and guided him to his own direct experience of inner reality. Now Ginsburg shares his experiences with us, generously providing the abundant quotations from Ashish which alone would justify the re-publication of this book now that In Search of the Unitive Vision is out of print. Consider this, for example:

One may say that you are certain that you have (a soul). But you have not yet identified it. Until you have found it and are living in its presence, you do not know its qualities. It is far greater than you – you in your limited state of ego-integration. Until you have found it, it is other than you – not you. Even when you find it, you will find that its powers are not “yours”. However, they are, as it were, available to you. (p.66)

If the concept of “living in the presence of the soul” touches you, this book will support and deepen that feeling, because one of the strengths of a well-told biography is that it sets ideas in a narrative context and illustrates them from life. When the thought is brought to life, it is not received simply as an abstract idea: it’s presented in an informative landscape, and therefore we more readily understand and relate to it. Further, wihtout wishing to sound maudlin, I always find that the aging and eventual death of the main figures adds a feeling element. If it is handled lightly, as it is here, sickness infuses one’s reading with a soft autumnal poignancy, and the book swells to its inevitable human climax. Death is always the master’s final teaching.

The Story

What’s in this story? It’s basically the tale of Sy Ginsburg’s relationship with Ashish, the Scotsman Alexander Phipps, who went to India during WWII, where he settled and became a Vaishnav monk, gradually achieving wide recognition as a guru. Ginsburg travelled to meet Ashish in Mirtola, India, in 1978, remaining in contact with him, in person and by correspondence, until Ashish’s death in 1997. So it is partly Sy’s autobiography and partly a biography of Ashish, or at least of those parts of their lives which came into contact along the road of pilgrimage.

Early on, Ashish advised Ginsburg to join a Gurdjieff group in the USA, which Ginsburg did, meeting some of the senior identities in the international Gurdjieff groups, and eventually co-founding a new one, the Gurdjieff Institute of Florida. This is the narrative spine of the book, while it’s fleshed, so to speak, with Ashish’s letters to Ginsburg and four of his essays (these occupy the entirety of chapters 5, 10, 14 and 15).

In addition to Ashish’s own writings, now made more accessible than before, some motifs dominate the book. Perhaps the most apparent theme is that of the “master”: who or what is a master, and what relationship is possible with one? Here the answer is sketched, rather than defined, as it were. We watch the master as he gently undermines Ginsburg’s notions of his own identity. Few of us will have had the worldly success which Ginsburg did, but that doesn’t count for much in this context, as his confident assumptions are scrutinized in the light of Ashish’s transcendent perspective and values. If we share Ginsburg’s aspirations to pierce the veils of the world, we can share in his search, and perhaps even sense that we, too, are living in a “limited state of ego-integration”. Ginsburg makes no claims whatsoever to have transcended that state. Neither does he claim to be humble. He just tells his story, leaving interpretation and judgment to the reader.

Perhaps the real question in this book is: who is the true Sy Ginsburg? Because of what I’ve already said about the nature of biography (and, of course, autobiography), the question applies to each one of us, too, if we will accept it. The issue has many aspects. One dimension of the search is potently summed up in a quote by Sri Krishna Prem (born in England as Ronald Nixon), Ashish’s guru, thus:

Rebirth there is, but whether he who is reborn is you is for yourself to judge. The stream of life is one, ebbing and flowing, weaving through many lives, with other streams, the Pattern of the Whole. That stream which was yourself, which, if you like, is still yourself, flows forth … (p.260)

This leads directly to what Ashish called “the whole game of finding the true person, the true identity, not the personality of this life only, but the identity with what has been there through the whole series of lives.” The letter continues, stating that the mind cannot serve two masters: “It either serves Sy or it serves the Self.” (p.132). In 1981, Ashish wrote to Ginsburg about his pursuing a spiritual goal. The lines blaze with an almost acid illumination: “Seymour Ginsburg will never find it. Seymour Ginsburg is a tissue of sensations and memories.” (p.59). I’d like to pause for a moment here: it’s ideal not to rush past such a question.

Am I, too, a “tissue of sensations and memories”?

And if I’m not, what am I?

A worthwhile answer can only come from my own experience.

Ashish’s Reasoning

One of the very most critical significance of this book is the extraordinary quality of Ashish’s thought on, it seems, any topic that came before him. It is not just that Ashish wrote well, although he certainly did that: “Security is an inescapable factor, but I would prefer a risk of robbery to living in a bank vault.” (p.99).

Ashish’s thought had a rare quality: he could follow a thread of thought over the years, and not lose sight of it. The thread he held in mind was the challenge he addressed to “Sy” to question the motives and understanding from which he was manifesting, and to reconsider from a more impartial perspective every position he would find himself in. The entire book tells that tale.

Time and again, Ashish displayed his formidable way of cutting through intellectual conundrums and come to the central issue of doubt and certainty. In 1987, he wrote to Ginsburg:

It seems you are going through a crisis of doubt. You are taking your doubts seriously at their own level, which is rather foolish because they cannot be answered within their own coordinates. (p.101)

Many people seem lamed by useless doubts, and because, as Bennett said somewhere, certainty is not necessary. If it were, we would not get out of bed (and in extreme cases of doubt, a person can be so crippled as to be unable to leave bed, at least for a while

In respect of the seemingly indefatigable scepticism which Ginsburg felt, and which probably saved him from pursuing some rather pointless avenues, Ashish had a fabulous line: “The intellect is a lawyer who argues in behalf of the person who pays him” (p.60, and don’t miss a different approach to the same line of thought at p.147). For another memorable formulation, see the “mamba bite” quip at p.139: it is as true as it is witty.

Ashish and Gurdjieff

Let us briefly look at Ashish’s perspectives on Gurdjieff and the Gurdjieff movement. We could start with this surprising, almost startling sentiment:

… I (i.e. Ashish) try and get people to clarify their inner aim first. On the other hand, current G groups appear to knock people around and shake up or demolish their socially conditioned assumptions about themselves and the false values they have adopted, while giving exercises that should bring the individual essence into real existence … (p.58)

This struck me for the simple reason that Gurdjieff himself also insisted that one should start with aim. In Paris in 1949, Gurdjieff said that everyone needs an aim, and suggested one which anyone could take “without wiseacring”, that is, the aim of dying an honourable death (this is movingly related in Bennett’s prologue to his Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales). I am not saying that Ashish was wrong. But it does a raise a question: could a Gurdjieff group omit to help a pupil develop a three-centred understanding of their aim, and yet remain a true Gurdjieff group? Ashish was also critical of the Gurdjieff groups in 1984, saying that:

The G groups offer a method of changing … but offer no reason why anyone should want to change, except out of a sense of the meaninglessness of life as it is. No resolution is made merely by mixing two poles. While G himself was there, he provided the “something extra”. If Theosophy has degenerated into a new religion, so has the G work. Rare individuals may exist in both movements, but this does not prove anything. They also exist within Christianity or any other religion (p.97).

Analysis of another line is offered by Ginsburg’s question about the notion present in his Gurdjieff group that one needs a connection directly with the “inner circle of humanity”, and that this connection was available through the groups because their “hierarchical leadership” is itself (still) connected with Gurdjieff (p.135). Ashish’s observation was succinct: “It’s complete bosh! These are things which get put out in the vested interests of the hierarchy …” (p.136).

Ginsburg wrote to Ashish in 1983 that many people in Gurdjieff groups had conceded that they had attained nothing, “even after many years of the Work …” (p.66). Yet, Ginsburg gives some particularly deft descriptions of the practical methods at pp.53, 101-2 and 113-5. From whence comes, then, this lack of a harvest when the field is rich and the tools are available?

Ashish stated, quite truly, in 1981 that “one has to be able to stop thought”, and that if becoming aware of sensation helps one to do so, then one should use that technique. But he also stressed the need for awareness of thought (pp.43-4), (I might add, confident that Ashish would agree, awareness of feeling).

Another connection between Gurdjieff and Ashish lies in his approach to service. On 7 July 1989, Ashish stated the principle with full clarity, and made a fresh connection with Gurdjieff’s ideas:

Remember G’s saying that one has to put someone onto the step one is standing on before one can move up to the next. This is not to be taken too literally. The point is that dedication to all that inheres in the unity of being will result in a sort of altruism which leads one to help others – who are oneself. Helping others, even before one has that transcendental perception, helps to attune one to its truth (p.139).

Ashish actually practised service, and he did so in more than spreading ideas and practices, good as such work is. Similarly, Gurdjieff ran his own soup kitchen from his back stairs, where he fed a stream of paupers. Gurdjieff also, I believe, hid people from the Nazis (I think I have only read a general reference to this in Gurdjieff: Anatomy of a Myth. If anyone has more detailed evidence of this or any of Gurdjieff’s charitable works, I would like to hear from them at Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com). Ashish’s service, as disclosed in this book, was in sustainable agriculture. He started on his own property, and then helped people around him. Ashish also addressed a wider audience about these matters through his writings (p.35). So Ashish’s efforts embraced the two necessary spheres of altruism: those who are near myself and those who are further away.

In any service, we need to balance effectiveness and practicality on the one hand with aspiration on the other. To this I would add what Catholics call “the principle of subsidiarity”. That is, aid should be delivered as closely as possible to the intended destination, by people as close as possible to that destination. Part of subsidiarity is that there should be a minimum of brokers and co-betweens. Overall, the best aid is that which directly and effectively helps people to help themselves. Too often, charitable schemes are rather like arranging for the people in one city to brush the teeth of people in another city.

Gurdjieff had the insight that I first need to learn how to brush my own teeth. Then, perhaps I can help others. But I think that Ashish’s statement “Helping others, even before one has that transcendental perception, helps to attune one to its truth” provides a necessary balance to Gurdjieff’s “become a good egotist first”. My own involvement in charitable work has convinced me of its truth. I have seen people becoming more available to feeling, more sensitive, through doing such work. Often we do not appreciate the need for it until we do it. Certainly, I did not really appreciate this until I started the hands-on work of helping the handicapped. Once, while feeding someone with cerebral palsy, I had the feeling-realization: “this man is like me and I am like him, the differences are trivial”. I almost felt that I was him and vice versa.

This is a truth which I think Gurdjieff’s emphasis on first becoming a good egotist may have had the unwitting effect of obscuring. I doubt that Gurdjieff meant for people to pass from being “good egotists” to becoming “damn wonderful egotists”. And it would be remiss not to mention that in certain cases the Gurdjieff groups have in fact proceeded beyond “good egotism” to altruism, chiefly by establishing schools (such as in Oregon, where Mrs Staveley established one on the group property). I will be glad to hear from readers of any instances where they are involved in say, hospice work, or assisting the homeless.

Miscellaneous Points

There are many odd points I would like to discuss, but the review would end up as long as the book. The book is very well written. Ginsburg does not intrude himself and his personality, but his sound intellectual portfolio is everywhere apparent.

If you are interested in what Ashish and Ginsburg have to say about dreams, and I would suggest that the interest is worthwhile, you could do worse than read pages 39, 59 and 95, in addition to those tagged in the index.

Ashish’s comments on knowledge in his letter of 6 March 1981 are priceless (p.59).

I relish the wry understatement of this comment from 1986: “Contrived symbolic buildings are usually flops” (p.99).

Ashish’s comments on the development of “mental sciences” strike me as true to what I know of them. His statement of the true value of studying insanity is both deep and extraordinarily well phrased (p.124, he says that studying the insane can show us tendencies in ourselves which were so slight that we could not have identified them without first seeing them writ large).

A Further Hesitation

Generally, I have praised this book its style, and its contents. I have one hesitation, which arises tangentially, yet should still be addressed. Some, whom Ginsburg refers to, such as Sathya Sai Baba, are given to saying that they are God. In this respect, Ashish wrote in 1978:

I personally accept Sai Baba’s status as a man of spiritual attainment. … his status ‘shows through’ his words: it is not in his words as such. As to his statement that he is ‘God’, it is true that in his essential nature he stands united with the divine unity. So do we all. As he himself says, ‘I know it. You don’t’.

Ashish went on to add the important rider that “if he is God, he is God in a limited vehicle.” (p.25) Nisarga Datta is said to have likewise claimed that like all of us, he is God, but whereas he knows it, we are ignorant (p.27).

As stated, this is of course an obvious nonsense. If we were all God we would have to know it: no ignorance could exist in us. God in a limited vehicle and ignorant is no longer the “God” which appears at the start of this sentence. The only way such paradoxes can be true is to rob the word “God” of all meaning and have it signify something like “substrate”. The statement isn’t so interesting that way: “I am substrate. You are substrate, too. But I know it whereas you don’t.”

When young, we were almost drunk on such high-sounding phrases, but I think it’s a sign of immaturity to remain mesmerised by them. Far more real and truthful was Gurdjieff’s attitude which insisted that such as we are God is very far from us, and that while we may be in relation, we always remain separate. As for being God, when Zuber told Gurdjieff that he “created” films, Gurdjieff roared at him: “You? You create nothing!”, if he did not use stronger language (I don’t have the volume Who Are You, Mr Gurdjieff? with me). In languages with a developed sense of the sacred, such as biblical Hebrew and Syriac, the verb “to create” can only be used of God. And rightly so.

Ashish’s willingness to “accept” Sai Baba’s status strikes me as anomalous, especially given his forthright comments on Jung (“… he is writing arrant nonsense”, p. 236). I could explain why in some detail, but this review is already long enough. It suffices to cite two pieces of proverbial wisdom. From the English language, “You don’t have to taste the whole sea to know that it’s salty”, and from Lebanese, “maa metit, bus shifit meen mairt”, or “I haven’t died but I’ve seen (those) who have died”. I would make exactly the same comments in respect of channelling (chapter 11) and “masters” of the Koot Hoomi variety. I don’t like to be so dismissive, it can come across as arrogant. But that is how I see it, and if that’s arrogance, I shall have to wear it. I accept that Sai Baba has done a tremendous amount of philanthropical work, and he deserves full and unstinted credit for that. I’ll leave the topic while I can speak well of him.

Corrigenda

I noted two minor typographical errors at pp. 79 (‘Fontainebleu” for “Fontainebleau”) and 136 “Its ridiculous” for “It’s ridiculous”).

Finally, the technique Gurdjieff taught, and which Ginsburg refers to at p.221, did indeed become known as the “sitting”, and some, like Ginsburg, call it “meditation”. But I believe that Gurdjieff himself referred to it as a “preparation”. Certainly, George and Helen Adie did, and Dr Sophia Wellbeloved tells me that Henriette Lannes, who taught that technique, did so too. This is not an insignificant point. “Sitting” and “meditation” import practices well known from Hindu, Buddhist and other traditions. In Beelzebub, Gurdjieff refers to “Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation”. He could have said “sitting” or “meditation”, but he didn’t. And it is not the same as any other practice I have ever come across. If I am correct that Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation is the foundation of Gurdjieff’s practical teaching, then to assimilate it, even by subliminal suggestion with different practices, should be avoided.

Conclusion

Ashish’s wisdom and writings changed my prejudiced view of what I could expect from a Scotsman living in India. Beyond that, I feel that in reading this book I received an education. It’s a solid book. It’s very good, indeed.

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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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.

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THE CYNICAL IDEALIST: A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon

JOSEPH AZIZE BOOK REVIEWS

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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Book Review:
: A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon, by Gary Tillery (Quest Books, 2009, 6” x 9”, 169 pp. plus chronology, notes, bibliography and index.)

The cover photograph of a wintry Lennon, with the Statue of Liberty ghostly in the background, is appropriate and eloquent for this excellent book. Its subject, John Lennon (1940-1980), was one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, and, beyond any sensible argument, one of the most profound songwriters ever known to us. Its author, Gary Tillery, is intelligent, well-informed, sympathetic, and writes very well indeed. I could have greedily finished it in one day, had I had the leisure.

The contents are methodically laid out in four parts: the first three mix biography and philosophy in a readable blend, while the fourth part weaves all the philosophical strands together. This way, we’re introduced to the concepts in a narrative setting before they’re briefly reprised in a more abstract manner. So, although the last section is more recondite, the ideas are familiar. The effect of Part 4, then, is not of density but of convergence.

Reading it, I entered into Lennon’s world. I couldn’t help but engage with the issues Lennon engaged with: life in society, life as a child and as a parent, wanting and giving love, our responsibility to use our influence and power constructively (we all have these, to various degrees extents), religion, politics and art. It’s a book to make and to help you think, thanks in no small part to the quotations from Lennon.

Tillery’s thesis is plausible: Lennon correctly saw himself as a philosopher (as well as a rock’n’roller, a writer and an “artist”). His philosophy was more a developed outlook, based on his experience, than it was an academic philosophy drawn from reading and University discipline. It was not expressed in treatises, but in music, a few short books, some sketches, and perhaps most importantly, his life. Yet, as Tillery notes, Lennon did some serious reading, especially in English nonsense, literature and poetry (and, we should note, history). So far as I know, he didn’t read philosophers like Plato, Aristotle or those in the Western tradition subsequent to Descartes.

Lennon never sat down to work out a consistent system, the way a modern academic like, say, D.M. Armstrong does. Nor did he develop his philosophy by reference to classic problems such as materialism, or the problem of universals. The issues he dealt with were delivered to him as he rose from the lower middle class to the privileged caste of super-wealthy celebrities and tried to make sense of his multiple worlds. Having said that, Tillery finds five principles in Lennon’s philosophy:

(1) it was fundamentally humanistic and secular (p.50),
(2) with a faith in individuals to find their own best natures,
(3) through their love to combine,
(4) through their power to change the world, and
(5) through their altruistic aim to give life meaning (p.101).

That is Lennon’s philosophy in a nutshell, and along the way we have a fascinating account of his life and intellectual development. I could have started with the three principles on pp. 7-8, but they come to the same thing. The account is necessarily brief, but Tillery has a spaniel’s scent for the essential, and the very conciseness of the biography brings out some critical features in sharp relief. Lennon realised he was responsible for his actions, in fact responsible for his influence, and struggled to becomingly discharge that responsibility. Tillery is not the first to grasp this, but his understanding of it is extremely clear and well put (“we owe it to ourselves …”, p. 7; and “Lennon came to see it … as their responsibility to make a positive contribution”, p. 56, see also pp.100-101).

I am most impressed by Tillery’s ardent desire and ability to sum up large issues in pithy statements, e.g. in speaking of how Lennon came to rock’n’roll, Tillery says “he was groping to define himself” (p.23). At p.80, in respect of the Maharishi and Janov, he summarises Lennon’s conclusions by saying: “Leaders were substitute fathers” (p.80). At p.130, he observes that Lennon learnt, from his “lost weekend”, that “… freedom without a foundation is an abyss”. These lapidary phrases don’t come about by accident: a writer has to work to coin them. It is so much easier to just throw words at your subject. Tillery can be justly proud of his achievement, especially in this respect. It is one of the engagingly Lennonesque features of his style. It’s almost a book to hold a conversation with, and the comments below can be taken as my side of the discussion.

Tillery coins a Lennonesque phrase, “cynical idealist”, to describe Lennon (see the explanation at pp.71-4). Personally, I would have said “street-wise” or perhaps “hard-nosed”, and described Lennon as a “songwriter-philosopher”. There is something harsh or dismissive implied in the word “cynical”, and, for me, importing that nuance is rather a high price to pay for the pleasure of the paradox.

Overall, I would be inclined to see Lennon as “sceptical” rather than “cynical”. Yet neither word is really correct, because, whether sceptical or cynical, he was also, by turns, trusting, extraordinarily optimistic, and even gullible (as with some of his advisers). Steven Stark quotes an unnamed critic as saying that of all the celebrities interviewed in a series of t.v. shows in 1969, only Lennon had “a gospel, a hope and a belief” (Meet the Beatles, p.272).

He was all of those things on a cinemascope scale, and as Maharishi experienced, the turn from suggestibility to hostility could come very quickly. In that instance, Lennon had surely been seeking a father figure whom he could trust (p.80), and when Maharishi disappointed him, he lashed out. Is this cynicism, scepticism or something else? Henriette Lannes once said that no one can be adequately described by reference to one characteristic. Such as we are, we’re too divided, too psychologically diverse for that. Shortly before he was murdered, Lennon said that he knew that he wasn’t always positive, but that when he was, he tried to project it (p.155). Lennon’s insight and frankness is touching, and because he saw his fluctuations, it meant that he had the possibility of becoming more consistent.

So although the title is witty, I would quibble with it. Even the sub-title: “A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon”, raises an issue: while Tillery does deal very well indeed with Lennon’s attitude to religion, his use of meditation, and his approach to the book Mind Games, the emphasis in this book is on philosophy rather than spirituality. That is, the primary thrust of the book is with Lennon’s ethical and political philosophy. Spirituality is really the secondary stream here, as the five points of Lennon’s philosophy show.

While Tillery’s approach to Lennon is not at all like mine, neither is it inconsistent. I think that, by comparison, I probably pay more attention to what I hear in the music. The difference in methods is, I often found, stimulating. Tillery looks at what Lennon said in his songs and elsewhere, and deduces a philosophy from that. I am oversimplifying a little bit, because Tillery is quite aware of the need to consider Lennon’s life as an expression of his philosophy: he even quotes Lennon as saying: “Our life is our art” (p.100), referring to Yoko and himself, but also, perhaps, to every human being. To me, this is critical. As Gurdjieff showed, one cannot really divorce a person’s philosophy from their life. They are two related aspects of the one larger reality: their being. I shall return to this below.

Tillery nicely brings out how Lennon was concerned to be able to reach people, all people, and not just a large audience. Lennon did not see himself as over and above the working people he had come from. He never lost his sympathy. I recall an anecdote from the Beatles years, where he was being driven in London, and they’d stopped at traffic lights. Some girls who noticed him perversely scratched the paintwork of the car (I think it was the Rolls). The driver got angry, but Lennon calmly said: “It’s alright, they paid for it”. That is impartiality. Lennon was also his own most perceptive critic. I hope to get to this in the forthcoming blog on “Memory” and “Living on Borrowed Time”.

Lennon was an extraordinary mix, and this book is so interesting partly because Tillery communicates his own broad interest in Lennon’s life and work. This sympathetic interest provides many incidental reading pleasures. For example, I appreciate the story of how Lennon told the students of a university, who were protesting the University’s refusal to turn a vacant lot into a “People’s Park”, that there was no park “worth getting shot for”. Although they had sought his opinion, they rejected it, and in the event, one hundred were injured, one fatally and one blinded. Lennon’s response was equally incisive: the students had been used by an administration which had provoked them into protesting so that it could come down hard on them (p.103)

Not only was Lennon an “extraordinary mix”, he also had something of the English eccentric about him, a type Tillery may not have mixed with, but which is far more benign than the American version which becomes obsessed with conspiracy theories and the Federal Government. This English eccentricity showed partly in Lennon’s faddishness, his love of the exotic (I think this partly explains his fascination with Maharishi), and in his puzzling willingness to entertain weirdos and weird ideas.

One of these was fads, and a weird one, too, was the book Mind Games. I did read it a few years ago, but I can’t say I found anything deep or even interesting in it. Despite Lennon’s quondam enthusiasm for it, I am unpersuaded that it had any lasting effect on him. I thought it might shed light on the powerful song, but it didn’t. The imagery of “Mind Games” the song is not at all drawn from the book, from what I could see. I suspect that Lennon projected into the pretentious volume things which weren’t there, and then lauded what he saw in his fertile brain. So, although Lennon once said that it ranked with Yoko’s Grapefruit and another book, perhaps Janov’s, he seems to have moved beyond it by the time he wrote the song of the same name ( see pp.144-8). The excellent Lennonism which I quote below from p.148 did not need Mind Games, it is a well-known idea which he could have deduced for himself, and would have heard from Maharishi and, especially, from Yoko Ono. As pellucidly expressed by Mr Lennon, it reads:

If you speak, what you say doesn’t end here. … vibrations go on and on infinitely, and therefore every action goes on and on infinitely and has its effect. If you think carefully about the effect you’re going to create, there’s more chance for all of us. It’s hard to think of your every move. But your attitudes to life will have an effect on everyone – and thereby, the universe.

This, of course, dovetails with Lennon’s philosophy as expressed in “Instant Karma”, “You Are Here”, and “Imagine”, to name but some.

At this point, I should mention a matter which can be corrected in future editions: Tillery often cites Lennon interviews, but rarely dates them. For example, the above quotation is referenced, and so I can check the date if I can find the book he drew it from. But the deeper point is that Tillery does not seem to think that the interview dates are important. As a historian of some feeble description, I think that they are: when did key themes emerge, and how did Lennon’s philosophy develop? What twists and turns did it take? It isn’t so easy to conceive things in a sound historical perspective and to soberly evaluate one’s sources. But Tillery is not an amateur writer, he has all the intellectual tools, and wrote the first three chapters in chronological order. As stated, I hope that this book sees a second edition where Tillery can revise the book upwards, so to speak.

Another example of Tillery’s sometimes ahistorical approach to Lennon, is his reference to fasting, prayer and meditation, without noticing (or so it seems to me), that Lennon’s fondness for them was sporadic (p.70). I am unaware of any evidence that Lennon fasted in his Dakota years, although he did to some degree follow a macrobiotic diet (and yet, he also smoked and drank coffee). The question of meditation and prayer is trickier. Lennon referred to meditation in Skywriting by Word of Mouth, but I know of no evidence that he did more than endorse meditation at that time (pp.69-70), or that he ever meditated consistently, except when he was in India. And if he did meditate in the 1970s, how did he do so? Did he use a method, no method, or a mixture? Did he continue to use TM?

As for prayer, Lennon redefined it in pantheist, almost occult terms (as David Katz uses that word in The Occult Tradition). Also, as I mentioned in the “Beautiful Boy” blog, prayer is an important concept in that song, and impromptu prayers turn up, for example, in “Grow Old With Me”. But Tillery refers to prayer in the context of Jesus, Buddha and Milarepa and “time-tested methods of inspiration”. I do not think that that sort of prayer was significant to the mature Lennon, much as I might like to think it was. Indeed, as Tillery notes at pp.4 and 11, Lennon had tried prayer as Jesus recommended, and nothing productive came of it. (As Gurdjieff said, Jesus was speaking to his apostles, people who had been prepared. The effectiveness of prayer depends upon who is praying and how, and the attitudes of certain people upstairs.)

I don’t wish to make too much of this, it’s maybe a good fault to have, but a conscientious reviewer should mention it: Tillery seems to me sometimes to be too positive about Lennon, almost excusing his faults. Thus he downplays the self-indulgence of Lennon’s impertinent letter to the Queen returning his MBE because among matters “Cold Turkey” was slipping down the charts (p.106). I cannot credit, when the short letter is read as a whole, that Lennon was really trying to “lighten” its tone. The tone of that letter was all of a piece. Further, however Lennon may have rationalised the full frontal on Two Virgins, it carried eccentricity to a point which was bizarre, despite Tillery’s best defence advocacy (p.94). Lennon’s modesty before Mintz establishes nothing: he may have changed, he may have been shy in person, or had some personal reason for being apologetic before his friend – anything. Again, it is ahistorical to take incidents separated by the years and say that that was Lennon, as if he were a monolith. And one cannot seriously say of Lennon, by any criterion, that “perhaps he was a Buddha we can all relate to …” (p.137). Yet to be fair, Tillery does mention Lennon’s notorious violence to women (p.115).

As I said above, I don’t wish to make too much of this, because it is only a minor aspect of the book. But precisely because of the extraordinarily high opinion I have of Lennon, I feel that we must be careful not to lost perspective and slide into idolatry and identification.

The true point of my study of Lennon is that sometimes, perhaps very often, it is easier to see reality in the lives of other people than it is to see it in our own. Because of the depth of his insight, and his candid expression of what he learned at each step, Lennon’s life is the richest field I have come across of any figure in the second half of the 20th century. One of the things we see clearly in Lennon’s life is that simply wanting to love is not enough: we cannot love on demand. Something else must come first before the commandment to love can be reliably fulfilled. Just before his death, Lennon himself said:

The hardest thing is facing yourself. It’s easier to shout ‘Revolution’ and ‘Power to the people’ than it is to look at yourself and try to find out what’s real inside you and what isn’t, when you’re pulling the wool over your own eyes. That’s the hardest one. (p. 124, and that interview is dated!)

Earlier in the book, Tillery sums up this attitude, saying how Lennon came to realise that we have to act both “individually and in concert”, but that the “first key … is self-transformation. When considering how to improve the world, people almost always focus their attention outside themselves, which too often leads to resistance, confrontation, frustration and defeat. Actually, the only thing over which we have control is our own attitudes and behaviour” (p. 7).

This is true, at least as I see it. I mean both that Lennon’s insight is true, and that Tillery has correctly formulated Lennon’s view. So Lennon saw that we must begin with self-transformation, and he made some sterling efforts in this direction. It is an art which is expressed in and over a lifetime. But how can this insight be made practical? Tillery suggests meditation, prayer and fasting. Apart from the question of whether Lennon did use these methodically and consistently, it would be even fuller and more practical to say as Gurdjieff did, that if this is our aim, then our being must change before we can achieve that aim (what Gurdjieff calls “doing”).

To change our being, we need to transform negative emotion (a major part of the second conscious shock). That transformation begins not with a direct attack upon hatred, or a direct incitement to love, but with self-consciousness, with the first conscious shock, which comprises: “Efforts to remember oneself, observation of oneself at the moment of receiving an impression, observation of one’s impression at the moment of receiving them, registering, so to speak, the reception of impressions and the simultaneous defining of the impressions received …” (In Search of the Miraculous, p.188). And Lennon had one of those rare glimpses of the reality of self-remembering: I referred to this in the first Lennon blog.

That Lennon did not come up with a practical system like Gurdjieff’s is not a criticism. That he had so many elements of reality in his philosophy is stupendous. Lennon’s insights were astounding. But we cannot without violence separate a person’s philosophy and their behaviour: both express their being. Some of these issues are difficult, and I don’t raise this to condemn Lennon, but I feel that his apparent cruelty to Cynthia and Julian should not be swept under the carpet. It seems to me that Lennon’s cool and aloof paining of Cynthia is typical of someone who knows that he has acted unconscionably, and, incapable of making amends, transfers the blame to the other. No one behaves so maliciously as someone with a guilty conscience.

What Lennon knew and even what he felt, he could not always put into practice. This is one of the morals of Lennon’s life, rather like the lessons of Aesop’s fables.

Along the same lines, Lennon was almost fanatically competitive, especially with Paul McCartney first, and Bob Dylan second. Tillery’s comments at pp.32, 57 and 155 seem to me to be much understated. I think that it’s in MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head, where Lennon’s sabotage of McCartney’s music on what became the Let It Be album is documented. If I remember correctly, MacDonald called it an “act of bastardry”. The first time I read it, I didn’t want to believe it. After all, the motive was clear enough. I think few would dispute that Paul’s songs on that record (especially the title track, “Long and Winding Road” and “Two Of Us”) far outshone John’s. No, I think that if one is going to give an overview of Lennon’s life by way of background to his spirituality, his treatment of his first family, his insecurity and egotism, should probably be acknowledged.

Another possible example of being overkind to Lennon is the way that Tillery mentions philosophers like Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Wittgenstein. Is that praise by association? I am not quite sure. Tillery doesn’t mention Nietzsche, so far as I recall or as the index discloses. But if any philosopher should be mentioned in the company of Lennon, I think that it’s Nietzsche. Of course, he was not so respectable a philosopher as Kant, but then neither was Lennon. Even if it is right to mention Hegel and so on, yet I feel that Tillery pays disproportionate attention to those academic philosophers, as compared with others of an artistic variety like G.B. Shaw, Tennessee Williams (whose work Lennon idolised, see my “Tennessee” blog) and, of course, Bob Dylan.

A few books are missing from the bibliography. Goldman’s book is dirty, but it should be read, even if only to critique it, which, incidentally, I would like to do, but I lack the time. If you are a John Lennon fan, and know Yoko One, persuade her to pay me a stupendous amount of money to write a critique of it: she will be so satisfied she’ll wish she’d paid me more (and I won’t knock it back). Similarly, Dakota Days by John Green should be considered (from fallible memory, Green was one of Goldman’s sources, but he is not responsible for that). Green may have exaggerated certain matters, but I am by no means convinced everything he wrote was inaccurate. His diagnosis that Lennon had a sort of writer’s block during most of the Dakota period may be at least partly correct (see p.130). Once more, I don’t think he should be ignored.

Cynthia Lennon’s book John, is much fuller than A Twist of Lennon, which Tillery does use, and was, I would have thought, available in time for Tillery’s research. It presents a decidedly less flattering picture of Lennon, but my sense is that she has been scrupulously honest. Julian Lennon made some important points in the foreword to his mother’s book. I did not notice them here.

When books present negative images of Lennon one can try and maintain a dignified silence, lest they be given undue credibility by paying attention to them. Or one can answer them, squarely and analytically. I think that given Lennon’s fame, and the nature of the world, the first option is, finally, counter-productive. People will be coming back to Goldman (and even that weird book by someone who’d interviewed him once, and whose name I thankfully forget). If their views of Lennon are not answered, later critics will take this as a sign of their unassailable veracity. Sometimes silence can encourage, or at least facilitate, shouting.

But then, May Pang is positive about Lennon and the “lost weekend”, and I don’t recall that she’s even mentioned in this book. I find that odd, because she was an important figure in Lennon’s life. As I recall, she says that the LA period “wasn’t so lost”, and I found her memoirs intelligent and sensitive. Of course there was a personality clash (if that word is not too weak) with Yoko.

Another book which was missing, is Steven Stark’s Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band that Shook Youth, Gender and the World, published in 2006. It could have added another dimension to Tillery’s treatment, because it shows, to an extent I had never appreciated, how the Beatles’ popularity was related to their fresh approach to youth and gender, an approach which Lennon developed as he grew older. Which reminds me that the role of the female in Lennon’s spirituality, as opposed to his politics, seems to me to be missing from Cynical Idealist. Stark could also have helped Tillery to an increased appreciation of the importance of the Lennon/McCartney rivalry.

By the way, Quest Books please take note: I performed a spot check of the index, and found an error one of the 30 tests: where the index has p. 172 for the film Hard Day’s Night, it should be 170. That error was the only one I found, but the index should be revised if you go to a second, revised edition.

And I hope you do, because this book, deep and thought-provoking as it is, was a damned good read (to use a phrase Americans gave to the world).

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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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.

Keith A. Buzzell: Man – A Three Brained Being

JOSEPH AZIZE BOOK REVIEWS

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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Dr Keith A. Buzzell

Dr Keith A. Buzzell

Review
Keith A. Buzzell, Man – A Three Brained Being (Resonant Aspects of Modern Science and the Gurdjieff Teaching), 2nd edition, edited by John Amaral, Marlena Buzzell, Bonnie Phillips and Toddy Smyth, Fifth Press, Salt Lake City, 2007

139 pages, including a glossary of specialist terms, full colour llustrations and a coloured book mark.

Overview        
This book is unique in the Gurdjieff tradition. It is an original contribution to the study of man, and a stepping stone to further study. The quality of thought displayed is so high as to itself provide a subtle and powerful impression. It could have been subtitled “how and why the brains in man form images, what those images do, and how this can be done in either a healthy or an unhealthy way”.

Dr Buzzell’s avowed aim is to “blend a scientific perspective on the physical Universe and on human biology with a perspective on the possibility of self-transformation as taught by G.I. Gurdjieff.” (p.131) These two domains, physical science and Gurdjieff’s teaching (perhaps a species of metaphysical science), have both practical and theoretical applications. It is Dr Buzzell’s privilege (hereafter
“Buzzell”) to explore and relate the practical and the theoretical aspects of each. Buzzell was educated and trained as a physician, musician and scientist, and has put his good fortune to good use, understanding as he does that “the broad spectrum of human experiences that must be lived …” (p. 131, all italics in quotes are found in the original).

Buzzell invites the reader to “probe deeper”; not just to study his (i.e. Buzzell’s own ideas) but to individually apply what they understand in the light of their own lived experiences. His vision is one where many individuals will strive to apply Gurdjieff’s system and method in the groups or alone. Then, on the basis of that experience, they come into relation with each other to “share, to commune with, to support and to come into abiding relationship with each other.” (p.131)

Art and Illustrations  
The cover is thicker than is usual with paperbacks. On the front, a blue netting design stretches over a light grey background. The centre is filled by a diagram in thin white lines, being a large circle with a slightly smaller circle concentrically inside it, filled with an set of interlocking triangles. The three corners of the largest upright triangle are each marked by a blue cluster, roughly circular, but with soft edges. It is as if the blue netting of the background is gathered into the white outlined circles and concentrated at these three corners. The design is redolent of space/time not being uniform, but concentrated by massy objects. We sense harmony, geometry, law, manifestation and peaceful transition in its imagery of simple forms meeting to cause more complex forms and concentrations to arise.

The page before the table of contents bears one of many full colour illustrations. Below it lies the dedication “For All Our Children and Grandchildren”. The ideas in this book are links in a chain which began even before Gurdjieff. The book as a whole fills a place in, and carries forward, a broad tradition which flows down from a great horizon. In a deft manner, the illustrations for this book, but especially the front cover, reflect the insight that both the perspectives of modern science and Gurdjieff’s ideas “herald a startlingly new view of our Universe.” (p. 3).

The book is organized into an introduction and four chapters. Each of these is preceded by a page bearing a few short quotations. Each of those pages is grey with a geometric figure, perhaps one could call it an unfolded triangle, ghosted in white lines. Numerous diagrams, some in colour, are provided. One has only to open the volume to see that the publisher does not just keep a commercial eye on the packaging: as one can fairly say of most presses. Rather, the press, its artists,
editors, author and staff, have collaborated in an endeavour at once
scientific, artistic and crafted.

Contents        
The introduction asks: what is new since the time of Gurdjieff? The answer is found in the “technological application of the principles of relativity and quantum mechanics”, what Buzzell calls “new motions” (pp.3-4). This makes possible, among other things, the new imaging technologies of television, computer terminals, video games, internet and so on. These pump out images which the brain must take as real (pp.5-6), and present reality in a manner and at a speed which is not natural to our three brains. One result is that seeing everything available we want everything now (as stated at p.6). I had already thought that the “entertainment” industry, compressing the events of days, weeks and even years into an “action-packed” 90 minutes has had a part in making us impatient of process (e.g. in
learning). Gurdjieff made similar observations in his chapter on “Art”, but the situation has deteriorated since his time, and Buzzell illustrates how and why. As he states, the ideal or natural “time-of-relationship” for people is slower than what we presently allow (p.7). As Buzzell indicates, the possibility of personal transformation depends upon how the brains intentionally digest the images they form (p.8). And like every process, this has a time. If we squander it, if that time is not respected, nature does not give us that period over again. For example, if the fingers of the developing foetus are not differentiated in time, the body “continues its surge towards overall completion and makes compromises around uncompleted parts”, and each brain does the same (p. 6).

Chapter 1 is titled “New Concepts”. In 1915 Gurdjieff’s idea of man as a three-brained being was, “revolutionary”(p.11). In the 1950s, the idea of the triune brain was independently introduced to contemporary science by MacLean, who used the term “mentation” for “a brained process”, just as Gurdjieff did. However, MacLean’s work is not influential in today’s neuroscience (p. 12). The appearance of “brained” beings represents “the Great Turning” (p. 13):

This turning consisted of the evolution of biological mechanisms (one-brained beings) which could construct sensory images of a resonant portion of the forms and energies of the world external to itself. (p. 13)

Both Gurdjieff’s theory of “hydrogens” and modern chemistry recognize the significance of electromagnetic bonding energies in holding “states of matter” together (p. 14). As Buzzell correctly notes, the existence of other galaxies was not recognized until the late 1920s (p. 15), yet other galaxies are acknowledged in the Ray of Creation (e.g. Miraculous p. 80). I agree with him that these anticipations of
modern science are extraordinary. Buzzell takes the study of hydrogens further than I have elsewhere seen, and explains how H48 and 24, can now be seen to represent neural impulses and associative neural nets, respectively, unknown substances in 1915 (pp.16-7). With H12:

… the procreative (or germinative) matter/energy enters. It can also be understood as the first of Gurdjieff’s “spiritual” matters. … At the physical body level of procreation, it is the higher force at the essentially solar level of new creation – in the new, hydrogen-bonded linkages of our DNA. (p. 17)

The role of H12 in the development of individuality gives an objective basis for the analogy between sun and “real I”. It also provides a startlingly concrete dimension to Gurdjieff’s concept, passed on orally, of  “creating sun in oneself.” A table of matters on p. 18 shows how each hydrogen relates to the substances known to science,
for example, H6 corresponds to galactic “cloud” interaction, and H12 to the state of plasma. My study of the ancient solar theology had already shown me that Gurdjieff’s many references to the sun were intended literally as well as metaphorically.

Buzzell also studies one of the most sadly neglected aspects of the ideas, the triads. In particular, he has an illuminating passage about the triad of transformation, 2-1-3 (pp.24-5). I have been collating the diverse indications on the triads, and Buzzell’s exposition absolutely confirms and extends what I have been able to piece together. His insight that “presence has a distinct and unique quality within each of the three forces of the triad …” explains something which is missing in Ouspensky’s account, and which I sensed had to be missing – but I could not see where the gap was. Now I can. This ends chapter 1.

Chapter 2 deals with “The Triune Brain”. Buzzell brings a new perspective to faith and hope, explains “wholing” (pp.30-1), images and resonance (pp.32-3), and while he does not refer to Gurdjieff here, his comments on vision (p. 34) elucidate why Gurdjieff privileged sight (Beelzebub at pp. 468-75, the white ray of light corresponds to the ‘common-integral vibration of all sources of actualizing’, etc). Buzzell goes on to deal with the other senses, both outer and inner, and his treatment of smell is particularly fascinating (pp. 36 and 43). He writes of the “sense of I”, the Great Traditions and their ossification, and the scientific method, summing up the chapter with “life” (p. 59).

Chapter 3, “Consciousness as the Coalescence of Images” shows how “awareness of various aspects of the world at and beyond the body surface is the most elemental or simple conscious state” (p. 70). In doing so, Buzzell adds further layers to what he has written about the brain and the senses; noting the sense of smell at p. 66. This chapter brings one to a sense of wonder at the image-making capacities of brained beings, the workings of association, memory, time, and the development of language. Buzzell’s pregnant comments on language at p.75 open new vistas on Gurdjieff’s remarks in Beelzebub and Remarkable Men. Over several pages, Buzzell describes how each brain receives impressions, forms images and associations, contributes to a different experience of time and to the development of human capacities. Then,
at pp. 78-9, he shows how although PET and MRI can show how different parts of the brain act when listening, nonetheless, we are not aware of that process but of the “coalescence of image”. When that image is one of lawfulness in the external world, the scientific method is possible (pp. 79 and 81, and illustrations 8 and 10). At the end of the chapter, Buzzell treats of “attention” and “will”, of which he says:

The Will, when understood as a truly independent source of decisioning … is higher (in potency) than impulse, image, consciousness or attention. We assign the potency of the Will to the em-force itself. (p. 87)

One has the feeling by now, that the black and white outline of the Ray of Creation we know from Ouspensky is being coloured in. Chapter 4 is headed: “The Digestion of Food, Air and Impressions: A Metaphor for Human Transformation.” Perhaps the nub of the book is here. Buzzell stresses that Gurdjieff’s discussion of these topics is metaphorical, and that even the Ray must be understood in such a way. I received a
shock for my understanding when I read Buzzell’s comment on the note SI, “freedom from the past, blending of outer and inner” (p. 94). Then follows an important elaboration of In Search of the Miraculous. First, the magnificent colour diagram on p. 96 does something I should have done for myself long ago, and charts the development of the air and impressions octaves beyond what is in Miraculous. The lengthy treatment of the foods, the processes to which they correspond, and which cosmic phenomena relate to the hydrogens at each level is, to my mind, an essential direction for anyone trying to make Gurdjieff’s ideas practical for themselves. What Buzzell does is clothe the abstract black and white lines of the food diagram from Miraculous in flesh, blood, oxygen, vitamins, hormones, and other things besides.
The treatment of impressions as food probably does not say so much which many of us have not already suspected: but it is put together and explained concisely and with authority.

This last chapter includes some interesting points and quotations, such as one from Tracol (p. 108). It holds together rather nicely, while covering many aspects of food ingestion and digestion, and relating it to the conscious evolution of man, this triune-brained being. One thing which I think might supplement the treatment of breathing (p. 112) is a reference to the subtle pauses in breathing. These pauses, and indeed, the entire rhythm of the breath, are important in the digestion of the air, one’s emotional state and indeed the tempo and state of one’s body. Further, Buzzell appreciates
the importance of Gurdjieff’s exercises (see pp. 112-3 for details). One will not persevere with the exercises, even if one has the good fortune to receive them, unless one knows of their significance and so values them.

Once the three foods have entered the body (and I suspect that the ingestion of impressions actually begins in the atmosphere of the body) the digestive products of the three foods are blended within the body’s inner circulation (pp. 116-7, pointing directly to Gurdjieff’s “blending” exercises). The three food octaves can, with the aid of the first conscious shock, come to the triad RE24, FA24, LA24 (p. 118). Conscious images are made of H24, once can even say that for us H24 is conscious images (extrapolating from pp.119-20). With this shock and its conscious images, there appears a presence or inner witness (p. 119). This leads to the critical point:

The effort to maintain the separation of a presence from the created images is the key to the potency inherent in self-remembering. If one loses this state of separation, identification with the image instantly takes place … (p. 119)

Without this separation, the Sacred Dances, which Buzzell says can represent “attentioned movement” (p. 121) would be gymnastics. The book then moves on to what may be the most important part, the treatment of the second conscious shock.

Corrigenda      
Of course, there are some typographical errors, but not many. The contents reads “coalition” for “coalescence”; p. 55 line 6, read “in” before “vention”; p. 62 paragraph 1, place a full stop after “independently”.

Comments        I consider this an important book. I think that to come to the best practical understanding of Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods possible we must engage with these issues: thus the third Being-Obligolnian-Striving. If this book is found difficult, and it is difficult in parts, that is a challenge. What would be the value of a book on this topic which was easy? Although Buzzell has qualified himself as an Oskianotsner (Beelzebub p. 1122), he cannot fulfil this role without readers who will study not just the book but develop the legacy and apply it.

Some people affect to despise theories, they say they just want practice. This is juvenile. Could one imagine any scientist, let alone a Pooloodjistius, who had never studied theory, had no maths no physic no chemistry, but said “let me loose in the laboratory”? Of course both are needed. In fact, even to dismiss theory is to create a theory as to why other theories are useless. As Chesterton said in another context, it is like declaring: “Away with diagnosis, medicines and exercise: just give me health!”

This is a book which makes connections and invites further study and research. For example, what about the role of fasting? Another interesting field lies with this idea that it is the mark of a master to be able to refrain from acting. One of Mr Adie’s former pupils has told me that physiological evidence shows that the “action” of refraining from acting aborts the processes which usually dominate our psyches, and allows new and beneficial processes to take place. Perhaps someone who is qualified shall research it. Another field for Dr Buzzell?

Postscript on the triads (26 September 2009): It is significant that the triads of psycho-transformism are 2 1 3 and 2 3 1 (P.D. Ouspensky, A Record of Meetings, 163). They each begin with 2. The involving triads of destruction are 1 3 2 and crime 3 1 2 (A Record of Meetings, 161 and 185) both end on 2. They can then repeat with great ease, because they proceed mechanically. But, at the same time, precisely
because they end with 2 they offer exactly the right opportunity for commencing one of the triads of psycho-transformism, that is, construction 2 1 3 and self-remembering 2 3 1. I think that with this insight the doctrine of the triads becomes practical, and the understanding of it can then tip the balance when struggles seem unavailing by entering as the third force.

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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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.