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Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto: reviewed by John Robert Colombo

with one comment

I have in front of me a copy of a newly published book titled “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto.” It was issued in November 2012 by Traditional Studies Press in Toronto, which happens to be the city in which I now reside. The book will be of interest to students of traditional thought and this is expressed in the wording of its subtitle: “On the ideas and practice of the teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff.”

To me the book is of especial interest because, in a limited way, a long time ago, I knew Louise Welch – Mrs. Welch, as she was always called. That was a long time ago – some fifty years ago. Memories sometimes serve as bridge-builders, connecting the past and the present. They do so in this instance.

Before I discuss the contents of this book, I will describe the volume as a physical object. It is a sturdy production, a new book designed to outlast the years, as are so many of the titles issued by Traditional Studies Press, which is the publication wing of The Gurdjieff Foundation: The Society for Traditional Studies. (The organization’s website identifies the organization as The Gurdjieff Foundation of Toronto: Society for Arts and Ideas.)

The publication has no dust jacket but the pages are bound in heavy boards covered in dark green cloth, and the pages are sewn together rather than glued together, so the book may be opened without worry that any of its pages will loosen or fly apart! The volume measures 6 inches by 9 inches, and the pagination goes like this: xxii + 181 + i. It is curious that the first twenty-two pages, which offer the reader an analytic table of contents (like those in P.D. Ouspensky’s “Tertium Organum” and in many of Colin Wilson’s books), appear without page numbers.

The typography is more practical than pictorial; the type is large and the lines are well “leaded” or spaced apart. The text is fairly short (perhaps 60,000 words) and each page is easy on the eyes. There is a frontispiece photograph of Mrs. Welch, taken in Halifax in 1984, which makes her look much older than the women I remember meeting over a period of two years in the second half of the 1950s.

In memory I recall Mrs. Welch as sharing some of the facial features of Maria Ouspenskaya, the Russian-born actress and acting teacher. Here she looks rather more like Marie Dressler, the Canadian-born, Academy Award-winning comic movie actress. I prefer the image in my memory to the portrait in the book!

Louise Welch’s vital years are 1905 and 1999 (so she is not to be confused with the similarly named Louise Welsh, the much younger, English-born, Scotland-based author of psychological thrillers). Mrs. Welch – Louise Michel Blinken Welch, to give her name in full – was born in New York City of Ukrainian background. She was raised in a dysfunctional family setting and received little formal education, but through her own efforts she found work as a journalist and editor. At one time in the 1920s, she wrote the “agony column” for the New York American. (Walter Winchell quipped about her that “Louise Michel went from bad to Hearst.”) Later in her varied career she worked as a director of a writer’s group for the WPA – the Work (or Works) Project Administration, the U.S. federal government’s employment program of the 1930s, now despised by Republications and forgotten by Democrats.

During the Depression she married and bore a son and a daughter. She was abandoned by her husband so she became their sole support. (Her daughter is Patty de Llosa, a writer and leader who is well respected in the circle of the Work, has has written warmly about her mother and her stepfather, Dr. William J. Welch, in a memoir that appears on one of the webpages of the “Gurdjieff International Review.” The information shared here is derived in part from that source.)

In the 1930s, Mrs. Welch worked with Benton & Bowles, the renowned advertising agency, and there she met and was befriended by a somewhat younger co-worker, who later trained to became a medical doctor, qualified as a cardiac specialist, and eventually became her husband. Together the Welches were what later came to be known as “a power couple.”

This is not the place to review her meetings in the 1920s with the English editor A.R. Orage or how through him she met G.I. Gurdjieff, in both Fontainebleau and New York, if only because she accomplished all of this in her finely written, book-length memoir titled Orage with Gurdjieff in America (1982). Offhand I would say her temperament had much in common with that of Orage. The two of them appreciated fine writing, they were practical people and skilled editors, they had an understanding of the emotional problems of other people as well as the social problems of their times, and they were entirely committed to being leaders in the Work.

Hardly any of the above information appears in the pages of “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto,” a fact that limits the readership of this volume to readers appreciative of the subtleties of the Work. To all other readers, the book will be seen as a tribute to a well-liked person rather than as a valuable record of transactions and experiences. Traditional Studies Press did what it set out to do; that was its aim. Perhaps a wider perspective might have resulted in a more imposing publication. Yet readers of all persuasions should express gratitude for what has been achieved.

The Toronto group was founded in 1954, the first of the ancillary groups to be recognized by The Gurdjieff Foundation in New York which had then entered its second year of operation. Its seeds were planted by Olga de Hartmann and her husband Thomas, the composer who had worked so closely with Mr. Gurdjieff on those marvellous compositions for the piano. In fact, way back in 1919, it was the de Hartmanns who had introduced Alexandre and Jeanne de Saltzmann to Mr. Gurdjieff. In the same way, while the couple were living in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, anticipating their move to the United States, they introduced the Work to Canadians in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax.

Among the prime movers of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York were Dr. and Mrs. Welch. The latter was delegated to head the Toronto group, which she did from 1955 on. I met her a year or two later, never guessing that the Toronto group was not “ages old” but “brand new.” On our first meeting, I asked her if I could join the Work, once I had moved to the city and enrolled at the University of Toronto. She delayed answering that question. Instead she asked her own question, “How did you first learn about the this work?” It was a good question because there was very little information available to the public about Gurdjieff, especially in a small city like the one in which I was born and raised. (This was well before the arrival of the so-called New Age.)

I replied that I had borrowed a copy of “In Search of the Miraculous” (published four years earlier) from the local Carnegie library, and read it cover to cover, not once but twice. Etched in my memory is her grim rejoinder: “The Table of Hydrogens is quite difficult, you know.” Then I backtracked and admitted that I had not understood all that I had read! She was happier with that reply. In general, I knew about the Priory at Fontainebleau from Ouspensky’s description, but it was months before I heard anything at all about J.B. Bennett and the foundations, institutes, and societies, not to mention the estate at Mendham. I was nineteen years old at the time.

My first meeting with the Toronto group leader took place in the upstairs bedroom of the home of Mrs. Margot Dustin and her husband Ernest whose nickname was “Dusty,” both former Theosophists, about a mile from where I now live and am keyboarding this account, and I was regular in my attendance at weekly meetings for readings and for Movements held here and there throughout the city, especially at the monthly meetings convened by Mrs. Welch. She would fly into the city from New York to conduct the sessions, on occasion with Dr. Welch, a man of genuine presence and strong voice. Once, in later years, they brought with them a 16 mm, black-and-white print of performances of the Movements in Paris, which was shown to a small group at the Ontario Science Centre.

Sometimes in attendance at the meetings were film producer Tom Daly, teacher Peter Colgrove, Dr. Paul Bura, an engineer, and his wife Sheila, who was adept in Movements, who were “refugees” from a Bennett group in England, not to mention a stunning, exotic couple: an exquisite, half-Burmese, half-French woman of great beauty (named Olga, oddly, and former wife of BBC executive Cecil Lewis) and her tall, stylish architect husband who may have come from Cornwall, where they subsequently settled. Yet in general I found the original members to be drawn from the professional middle-class of the city, almost everyone being older than I was, and it was a somewhat staid gathering of people, certainly not one given to small talk or big pronouncements. There were occasional visits from the very Gallic Alfred Etievant who would lead the Movements with lithe assurance.

Mrs. Welch’s contributions were not limited to oral instruction, for she encouraged the group to break into print. She kindled the publication of “A Journal of Our Time,” a literary and artistic “little magazine” of some deft and delicacy; she wrote a play which the group produced and staged for public performance; she generated publicity for the commercial showing at Cineplex (the world’s first “cineplex” or multi-screen movie theatre) of Peter Brook’s film “Meetings with Remarkable Men”; she served as editor-in-chief of the first edition of “The Guide and Index to G.I. Gurdjieff’s All and Everything,” which remains an invaluable resource to this day.

References to a few of these activities appear in “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto,” which is dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Dustin, the very woman in whose house I first met Mrs. Welch. According to the editorial note, “This publication is compiled from notes taken at meetings spanning the years 1955-1965 and 1973-1989.” My experiences relate directly to the first period, not at all to the second period, and I have no idea what happened between 1965 and 1973, a span of years that I assume were busy ones for the Toronto group, which eventually acquired valuable real estate both in Toronto and outside the rapidly expanding city.

When I was in attendance, each one of us was encouraged – even required – to ask questions, and to ask them slowly, so that the two note-takers would have time to record them, whether in longhand or shorthand I never knew. Apparently these scripts exist today, and they form the basis of the text of this book. From time to time the questions themselves are recorded here, but in most instances it is only Mrs. Welch’s answers that are given. The text itself begins like this: “My search is your search. We must each have a common wish to find out who we are and the direction in which we can grow to reach the truth.” (For symmetry’s sake, the text proper ends like this: “We have a little help here.”)

Reading these passages I am able to imagine myself in her presence and hear her refined, modulated American speech tones and pronunciations. The content of the presentations brings to my mind the content of the entries that appear in the five volumes of Maurice Nicoll’s “Commentaries.” Dr. Nicoll’s presentations are quite technical, whereas Mrs. Welch’s are conversational, parallelling normal thought processes. Both books are organized topically with long, analytic tables of contents. Mrs. Welch is a communicator of attitudes from Mr. Gurdjieff; Dr. Nicoll is a conveyer of detailed information from Mr. Ouspensky.

Her expositions make good use of “I” and “me,” though they do so with great care so as to generalize about the “I” and the “me” and make the words apply to each and every one of her listeners. For instance, she writes as follows: “The important thing is my inner work. My presence is important. I live without meaning because I am not here.” Imagine hearing these words: the “my” and the “I” are those of you, the listener.

In later years, in an attempt to understand the thrust and direction of the Work, I came to define its essence in a single word, a compound word that is a personal neologism. That word is “psychopraxis.” Here the discipline is psychological even psychical rather than psychiatric, but it is also physiological, for it is concerned with physical expression and practice; it is also blessedly free of religious, theosophical, and psychological terminology. Such ideas would have been regarded as novel at the time. Mrs. Welch avoids such exercises, and the introduction into the text of specific Gurdjieffian terms is minimized. One unexpected exception is this one: “Trogoautoegocrat,” from “All and Everything,” which is defined as “real sacrifice” or “I eat myself.”

Preserved are instances of the common touch: “If you tell me you cannot Work for fifteen minutes a day, I say that you don’t want to …. Five minutes of struggle is better than twenty-four hours of daydreaming.” There is no attempt here to innovate or improvise; the expressions of insight are refreshingly free of argument and cant or special pleading. The result is the exposition is effective and the prose is durable and in no sense dated. There are no potted expressions meant to impress the listener or express the private opinion or reservations of the speaker.

At the time I identified Mrs. Welch’s message with a simple, three-letter word – “aim.” It seemed to me at the time that she was always after us to define our own “aim.” I was surprised to realize how difficult it was to comply, difficult when not impossible! Not much about aim has found its way into the text at hand.

What I took away from the Work, right away, was the notion that what lies at the root of most personal and social problems is mechanicality … in “mentation,” emotion, and action. “Mechanicality” is a word that is instantly meaningful, yet is seldom heard or used in this sense by the outside world. On one occasion, she asked a provoking question: “My pet mechanicality is what irritates you. What is there in me that I am unconscious of, and need to be conscious of and know better?”

If I had more time and space I would compare and contrast the records of these meetings, as fragmentary as they are here, compiled not by an individual but by “The Editors, The Gurdjieff Foundation,” with more elaborate records kept of meetings with Ouspensky, Madame Lannes, Conge, and other group leaders. But there are readers (perhaps those who have been exposed to multiple teachers) who are better equipped to do so than am I.

The beating heart of the book lies in its most extended passage, a veritable lecture, which runs from page 66 to page 97. This passage covers most of the subjects germane to work on self. Unlike the shorter sections, which range in length from one sentence to one paragraph or to one or two pages, some dated, the narrative arc of this passage moves from one aspect of the subject to another aspect of the subject, and it builds, as dramatists like to express it. It begins, “I can be stirred into uneasiness … ” and it ends, “We rejoice in the joy of the possibilities.” The beat of this heart marks the ending of the first section of the book.

The second section, which records exchanges between 1973 and 1987, preserves the question-and-answer format – observation and discussion – so it is somewhat more digressive than the first section, but perhaps more engaging. Its heart beats faster. In many ways it may seem less exciting but it is more experienced, less promising but more polished, yet not having been there I cannot comment on how well it represents the occasions themselves. I would say that they do show a leader who is probing, more deeply than formerly, the content of the Work, perhaps because the members of the group are able to absorb more than they did formerly.

The book ends with a selection of aphorisms. Here are some of the book’s aphoristic expressions or pensées, most of them taken from the text itself and not from the selection devoted to them:

* “Our search is not for miraculous results, not to achieve a result, but to learn a process.”

* “My body knows what it wants, not what I want. I must teach all of my parts what I want.”

* “My Gurdjieff said, ‘I don’t bring you a system of morality, but how to find conscience.’ We must find the outlines of a structure that is more valid.”

* “Only when I have a certain level of being can I be open to a certain level of knowledge.”

* “I remember Mr. Orage saying, ‘I love you,’ said the man. ‘Strange that I feel none the better for it,’ said the woman.”

Readers of the book today may find the presentations of procedures of “the work” and the attitudes that are described in these pages less engaging than did listeners at the time. Some of the passages are more than a half century old; others have aged by at least a quarter century. Much water has passed under the bridge since then, and truisms and oral teaching techniques that were once novel are now found in best-selling books and courses on the human potential movement, leadership training, self-motivation, cognitive therapies, mindfulness training, and on the TED Lectures on the Web. Many of the formulations are indebted to Mr. Gurdjieff, who gave gifts of insight to the world, few of them acknowledged. Nevertheless, here are some of Mrs. Welch’s formulations that struck me as still valid, informative, or interesting:

* We want to go on repeating what belongs to another period. “Mr. Gurdjieff said that he wasn’t interested in anyone over five or under fifty-five.”

* “Gurdjiefff said one third of one’s life should be spent in pondering. Why was I born? Who am I? What is meant by waking sleep?” [This statement comes from the second section. I recall no earlier instances of the use of the word “pondering” in the earlier period, or any references to the importance of “sittings,” now staples of the de Saltzmann period.]

* “To me it is such an extraordinary thing that a Way exists in which one does not have to leave one’s life.”

* “In Movements we have enormous help. We have a taste of what it means to be close to attention.”

* “We are all members of the human race in a bigger way. All this is common to us. If you see this enough you can’t even hate Hitler. He was just a biological mutation of the wrong sort.”

* “When I first went to Mr. Gurdjieff’s apartment, I couldn’t bear the thought of where he was living. After I was there for ten minutes it was the whole world.”

* “Madame Ouspensky said we always have time for a love affair. This is the human condition.”

* “Mind is the greatest thing we have – excuse me, we do not have it. It is there. How do we find access to it?”

* “If wish doesn’t exist, the wish to wish does exist.”

I will end this appreciation of “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto” with one oft-repeated remark of Mrs. Welch’s. It is a favourite of mine and I distinctly recall her uttering it on at least two occasions.

She said, “Your aim is to find your aim.”

John Robert Colombo is a prolific author and anthologist with a special interest in offbeat Canadiana and traditional studies. His latest publication is the Foreword to Paul Beekman Taylor’s book “The Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff” (Eureka Editions). Colombo was recently honoured as one of the “100 Graduates of Influence” of his alma mater, University College, University of Toronto. He holds the Harbourfront Literary Award, an honorary D.Litt. From York University in Toronto, and Bulgaria’s Order of Cyril and Methodius (first class). His website is . If you wish to be informed of forthcoming reviews and commentaries on this website, send him an email. His email address is jrc@colombo.ca .

Gurdjieff & Christianity: part one

Joseph Azize

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

I feel that the time has come for this blog to address the relationship between Gurdjieff, his teaching and methods on the one hand, and Christianity on the other. I have been pondering the issues for some time, but have always sensed that the issues were too big for me to tackle just now. Really, they still are, and maybe always will be. But I’ve found that the exercise of writing helps me to understand, to see where I don’t understand, where I can’t understand, and to perceive more clearly where the limitations in my thought lie. So, the fact that a topic is difficult for me, or even beyond my capacities, may be a reason to attempt it, to try to expand my range.

The impulse to broach the topic right now came from an acquaintance who asked me some pretty good questions about Gurdjieff and Christianity. Unfortunately, the information available to him is so lopsided or even distorted that he cannot even obtain a half decent idea of the possibilities of Gurdjieff’s teachings and methods. Once I addressed myself to the topic, certain very clear ideas appeared as if they’d been waiting to be articulated … and so, here we are. I’ve planned this as a series of short blogs, of no more than 1,000 words each, to present a few of my more or less tentative conclusions in crisp outline.

My first thesis is this: Gurdjieff’s teaching and Christianity have the same aim, to secure eternity with God. It seems to me to be obvious, and entirely unoriginal, to say that our lives depend upon our aim. If I have no aim, then, as Mr Adie said, everything is equal. Aim brings meaning to life and unity to our strivings. Multiple, mixed or conflicting aims lead to futility, meaninglessness and disturbance. Therefore, it is of the utmost significance that the Christian religion and Gurdjieff’s system coincide in aim.

Of course, they express this one aim in their own unique terms. But if my aim accords with that of Christianity – to attain to the beatific vision – then it also accords with Gurdjieff’s, as stated in Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson. There he says that it is possible for one to become “a particle, though an independent one, of everything existing in the great universe” (183, see also 162, 244-5, 384 and 452). On the Planet Purgatory, he said, souls strive to purify themselves specifically to be able to unite with and become part of the universal “Greatness” (801). In the 1930 typescript, it states:

… the souls inhabiting that planet Purgatory might have a perfect and quiet existence, with everything uniquely favourable. Nevertheless, for them these external circumstances of quiet and comfort simply do not count at all. They are entirely absorbed in the increasing labour of their purgation; and only the hope of one day having the good fortune and the possibility of becoming a part of the Greatness which is fulfilled by our All-possible Endlessness for the good of All, appears occasionally to give them peace.

There is an important reference to the beatific vision, but it is characteristic of Gurdjieff that it is perhaps secondary to unity of being. That the beatific vision is the ultimate Christian aim is trite. Catechetic texts abound in statements such as the following: “Faith is the indispensable prelude to the beatific vision, the supernatural end of man. Both are immediate knowledges of God, faith the hearing of His word on earth, vision the seeing of His face in heaven. Without revelation there would be some natural knowledge of God, but not the knowledge of faith.” As we shall explore in future blogs, this idea of the necessity of revelation is found also in Gurdjieff, and his references to “messengers from above”.

Aquinas said that “the beatific vision and knowledge are to some extent above the nature of the rational soul, inasmuch as it cannot reach it of its own strength; but in another way it is in accordance with its nature, inasmuch as it is capable of it by nature, having been made to the likeness of God.”

This, it seems to me, is also a good summary of Gurdjieff’s position. We have possibilities, as Gurdjieff said, “according to law”. The most important of our possibilities do not depend on us, they are part of the makeup of creation as it is. What depends on us is that we take advantage of our lawful possibilities. That Christians will speak of “grace” whereas Gurdjieff does not is merely a semantic difference. Christians also speak of “providence” and “predestination”, although less frequently than of “grace”, and these all come down to the same thing. Calvin utterly misunderstood predestination, and since him, the Western Christian discourse has been somewhat confused. To my mind, Gurdjieff can best explain how these concepts all fit together.

“Grace” refers to the action of God (chiefly felt in the soul, but also manifested as the rare miracle), and to the divinely planned system of the creation.

“Predestination” in human terms, is pretty much like the way that the Department of Roads laid down a broad street between Rydalmere and Parramatta. But if I want to travel to the predestined end (my home in Rydalmere), I still have to drive my car. The road is there by providence: the facilitating of road-making, driving and navigating. That I do not crash or lose my way is due to grace: that God has freely given me (the etymological meaning of “grace”) the means of availing myself of this providential arrangement.

Gurdjieff says little about grace in the first sense, although it is actually in Beelzebub, e.g. the pardoning of Beelzebub. For this reason, among others, the apparent difference between Gurdjieff and Christianity is greater than it is. But as I have said, Gurdjieff shares the aim of Christianity, to bring humanity to God. And that is the most possible significant fact.

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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GEORGE ADIE: Why do you run away in your feeling?

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com
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Why Do You Run Away In Your Feeling?

{I have selected his material from a meeting of 5 December 1979 as a commemorative posting for 29 July 2010.}

The first question came from Richard: “Mr Adie, I’d like verification on my line of work, to be freer from the compulsion of my career.”

“You wish to be less under that compulsion? Good. What measures do you take?”

“What I have done is set aside a time to stay with my children, and also here on Sunday night after the weekend work, I was about to rush off again, doing all sorts of things, and I decided to stay behind, and help put the tables and chairs away.”

“Those are quite different, yet both could serve the same purpose, it’s true. Any sort of discipline helps, and making the work a priority will help, if you actually experience connection. Compulsive life connected with your career is one thing, and any conscious effort, or doing your duty is another. There is an unmistakable degree of contrast. And if there’s real work it will separate itself out from the compulsion in your experience. My speech even changes. Everybody can say everything they need in very few words, really. And if they say it once properly, it doesn’t need to be repeated three times.”

“Your compulsion is there in your speech, and in so much. You will be compelled in your job, unless you can use it. How? You can’t neglect it now. It’s an opportunity. It’s quite right to give place to something else, to insist on doing the preparation. It’s quite right to see your children: not to allow the whole of your life to be dominated. That’s quite right. But realize that you also have to be in it.”

“Then, understanding that you must have a job, and must come within the domain of this compulsion, the question is now: do you really wish to be free of the inner compulsion? You’ve got to find that wish in yourself. To have a wish is to have some active inner impulse. You think that we have a wish just by thinking of it? It isn’t so. You have to work until you get that wish. If you aim for it, then you will get it. Do you follow?”

“Yes.”

“That means you have before you a work to experience the wish in yourself. Try and understand that. You do a preparation or something, don’t get up until you find the wish. You have to realise: is it really worth it? What do I have to pay if I want it? Am I willing to pay for it? If you can say yes to each of those then perhaps you can begin to say that you have a wish.”

“And then you shall have to sacrifice your suffering. But if you have worked, sufficiently long and wisely, and acquired a moving balance in yourself, you will be able to bear to make that sacrifice.”

The next question, one from Azaria, came very fast upon the heels of Richard’s, she clearly felt that there was a close connection: “After the Sunday work here, I continued with the exercise, and on Monday, after the preparation, it seemed as though because of the work I could tell the subtle difference between the centre of gravity and my presence. There was an excitement in me, I had this realisation, and in looking for a centre of gravity, I found I could come to the place where my presence is real. And like Richard, I can say that I now wish to be more present.”

“You wish to be more present? Where would you look for the wish?”

There was a pause, and Mr Adie answered his own question: “In that place you cannot describe any more. Return to it, and return to it, and return to it.”

I suspect that, at this point, Mr Adie turned to Richard: “But relaxed, always relaxed. To sacrifice my suffering I must be relaxed. Could I imagine such a sacrifice being made in the midst of tension? From where could such a relaxation come? Surely from deep within, only from deep within.”

The next question was very lengthy. Opal was an elderly woman. She spoke rather hesitantly to the point of being inarticulate, saying something, withdrawing or correcting it, and then going back to her first formulation.

Mr Adie was patient with her, but when she had finished, she nervously asked whether he had understood her. “I could follow it, but then, you started using words which you disowned. You might take as an exercise to write down what your question the day before, and in the morning, read it and see.”

“We want to bring very good quality here, not just, as is said, ‘off the cuff’, not thought out. It isn’t enough to have a sincerity, I need to have my intelligence. It’s not enough to have that, I need my presence.”

“When you’re muddling things, the process of thought is absent. But if I have taken thought beforehand, there’s a process added. A conscious or partly conscious process is added. It isn’t two states, it’s more like three states, but even that isn’t a good way to speak about it. Find a better way, to formulate better. You can, otherwise I wouldn’t say what I do. Is there any question about it?”

“No. Thank you. That’s clear.”

The very next question, from Scott, about how he gets confused by words, likewise meandered. Finally, Mr Adie asked: “Did you find that anything helped you to make your aim clear?”

“No, that wasn’t very well formulated.”

“No.”

“No … it doesn’t help to find the wish,” Scott added, perhaps echoing the first two questions. In any event, Mr Adie did not think that the comment corresponded to his real question: “But you see you’ve gone back to words now. It’s a trap all the time.”

Mr Adie waited a little, and then asked: “What does it mean: ‘In the beginning was the Word?’ Surely, it means many things, but there’s a beginning, and there’s something which follows. For that to follow, the Word must change its place. The Word is essential, and yet, if it is in the wrong place, it’s the end. And the places and the forces are always changing.”

The next question, from Dmitri, was also about a lack of clarity. “I find that my difficulties start the moment I sit down to do the preparation. I’ve been trying to sit quietly, without expecting anything, just trying to see what my worries are. And after I time I give up. I feel I should logically try and draw some conclusions about what I’ve seen, but it’s all so confused in my head, and I turn away. Something in me says, come back again next time. It feels as if I’m shrinking away from doing something very definite there.”

“Supposing that is objectively true, what are you going to do?”

“I can’t make observations very clearly at that point.”

“Do you really wish to know why you turn from what is necessary?”

“Well, I’ve seen that through these years I can’t go past the first step,” replied Dmitri.

“Does that mean anything? Surely the point is that you don’t know what the first step is.”

Dmitri started arguing. “See if it is true,” suggested Mr Adie. “Can you say clearly what you mean when you say that you always fail at the first step?”

There was quite a lengthy pause.

“Surely it would mean that you are repeating yourself. So let us not evade the question you yourself started with: why do you always turn from what you realise is necessary?”

“I don’t know,” conceded Dmitri.

“No. But do you really wish to?”

“Well, part of me does,” he replied, but in such a trembling voice that people laughed.

“There you are. Part of you. You see? I can’t come to a wish partially. My wish has to really be the wish of my I, and you haven’t obtained that yet.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Now, do you really wish to? You have to face it until you do. There are all sorts of obstacles, you may not want to pay, you may not want to make effort, you may not want to suffer. Hundreds of obstacles, but if you really wish to, you will. And it’s your solitary, alone-reality which must face that question. What I am trying to do at the moment is to cleanse it a little, make it more serious, that’s all. Imagine you’re on your death bed. What would you need then? Where would you be? Face, try and come to what is you. You. Would you have any reality? This is what you, I and everybody needs, but don’t be negative about it now.”

“Yes, yes!”

“Yes, yes? … Why … why having come near a place in your intellect, why do you run away in feeling?”

“Exactly that sense of needing to flee, to look away, shows that this is your need … and that you are close to a genuine confrontation.”

“Stay, stay, stay and have a little genuine self-respect, a little genuine pride. You could be free now. What do you choose at the moment? Every second I have to choose. My old understanding is not enough. I need a new understanding, quite new. If you could realise that, you could see that nothing that I had corresponds to what I now need. I need something a bit more genuine, more perceptive, less personal. Try and have this line that you will not allow this or any of its companions to join in. You will try and have something for yourself. Try and work to find your real self. Try and find a centre in yourself. This is what we some found on the weekend, trying to find a central strong place.”

“You want to watch the posture of your eyes if you want to think. Try to place them slightly above level. You contemplate down here. You sink back into the same old quagmire time after time. I suggest to you now that when you want to contemplate, you contemplate with your eyes there. What you don’t find when your eyes are raised, you can well do without. If you can’t bring all these clever propositions, you can have a chance to free yourself. Will you work like that for a bit? Good, keep it now, for the rest of the meeting, at least.”

“Mr Adie,” said Mary, “in the past few weeks, my efforts have been very erratic, and when I’ve seen that, I’ve become negative.”

“Alright, you found you’d gone to sleep, and you became negative about it? You need to know that. Every time we awake we awake to having forgotten.”

“If we get negative every time we awake, it’s going to be rather a fruitless process, isn’t it? See, you don’t have to be negative. So go on. You make a plan, you fail. Don’t let the failure make you negative. It should have the opposite effect. You don’t deny it. You don’t pretend it isn’t a failure, but you are there. It begins to be a confrontation.”

“In confrontation I really live, you see. The ultimate confrontation: what is that?”

“The confrontation with the Absolute.” Mr Adie was speaking slowly: “Don’t receive anything negatively. Receive the failure, but don’t be negative about it. It comes like a message. You’ve got to see that. We’ve got to fail and fail and fail, and not be negative about it, otherwise we’ve got no chance. So it’s full of hope, mmm?”

“I think I expect the wrong thing from the little effort I make, because on the couple of occasions when I’ve had a better than usual preparation, and I try to remember myself at school, and I know that there are particular hours when I am particularly prone to getting impatient with the children, I still get upset …”. Denise had been in groups for quite a while.

“You mean that you’re disappointed when you don’t succeed? Then you need to see that you haven’t succeeded, at least not in that way. Exactly in that way, you didn’t quite succeed. But you still find something. You have to be more persistent. You’re rather apt to have a go and then throw your hands up if the results don’t match the ideal.”

“On the day that I saw, I became very impatient, but the next day I just didn’t want to see it.”

“Try and find a different kind of pride. It could help you. What could I accept as a genuine pride? What about me is worthy of maintaining? Is there something? It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? In a way, pride is a picture. A person who has even some ordinary pride won’t sink to certain things, they’re too proud to take an advantage.”

“Where is my good opinion? What am I proud of now? Because I serve my pride and vanity. But I forget that. If I have a genuine being-pride, could I become self-indulgent, disorganised, or lazy? That is an absence of a certain kind of pride, isn’t it? I have no pride of order, no pride of duty, no pride of reliability. I’m just a sort of tramp: although I’m a rather nice person, nobody could really trust me because I might not remember.”

“So, what quality to I really want to have? If you approach it this way, I’m quite sure, I’m quite sure that you’ll have some different kind of result.”

“After all this time what we’re all finding is that we’ve got to bring more of us to the point. I made this effort and stopped, and I’ve made that effort and stopped. But I’ve had a lot of lessons now. You have a lot of material. Why not collect it together, face the situation and see what’s possible and what I really want. Remembering that I cannot suddenly free myself from any of my stupidities, I know enough to take a more dignified way … Imagine what you thought ten years ago! Full of cock-eyed ideas, wasn’t it?”

“So you have an advantageous position. Now. It can be quite new. But for this you have to keep aware of all the old dirges and sagas of misery and failure and self-accusation, and … you know, ‘without dogs, sorcerors and whoremongers and whosoever loveth and telleth a lie’.” {This is a reference to Apocalypse or Revelation 22:15.}

“All outside. Our work is all inner. So, try. Take a fresh heart for yourself. Put some things in your room. These things are going to remind you: this is what I want to be. Model your room for a serious person. Model your room for a person with the qualities which you’ve found are difficult to acquire. Build around you some condition. That’s why people put up pictures of the Buddha, Christ, a marvellous tree. Fill your room with everything to remind you. Will you try that, and don’t worry about the rest? Have you got another question now?”

“It’s a slightly different one. I noticed that when I try to do a preparation, I get an, I don’t know, no, I’m always tight in the midriff. Once I found I could get around it when breathing, to go behind it, at the back of me, and relax it.”

“What, with your attention, you mean?”

“Yes. I wanted to ask whether … I was … sort of cheating?”

“No, you try and find your own way. And if it helps you to relax, you want to be very patient and see that everything else is relaxed. Don’t try and relax that area until your face is relaxed and until your head is relaxed, and then retain a sense of the relaxation there, you see. If the belly’s really tense, then you can even physically feel it going down, can’t you?

“Yes.”

“Well then, the next thing is, can you feel it coming up again? Or do you find that it has come up? You find it has? Alright, well now, that’s the thing! Now watch it go down, and let … now let it come up.”

Obviously, Mr Adie was guiding her as she relaxed and observed the process.

“Don’t forget the duct has to be open, the shoulders have to be down.”

“And then maybe I’m magnifying it, I may have a little bit of a special kind of sensation, a tautness, maybe that isn’t an important tension. Maybe that isn’t what is my trouble. Maybe I can still feel the pot of my belly with all its need. See that everything else is right, and then probably that’s right. Many people have a lot of difficulty here. It’s a very sensitive part.”

“But the kind of relaxation we want is not only what will come easily by being able to let a thing go. It’s another kind of relaxation, it’s – if you can use the word – an inner relaxation. Watch for what it is without saying ‘this is tense’. The question is, what do you experience? Maybe I find that it’s just an idea I had. Maybe it wasn’t very tense at all. So I have to be very poised and flexible and free from my ordinary frightening formulations.”

“Get something new every day and put it in your room. Something. Pick up anything. A leaf, grass, stone, book, picture, anything. Every day one thing different, see? Create a different atmosphere for yourself, and in that atmosphere, relax. Go into a new room each time, you look around to see if it’s new, and all the other things you put. Work like that.”

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

3 July 2010

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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DID GURDJIEFF FOUND THE GURDJIEFF GROUPS?

gurdjieff-occult-magus.jpg

G. I. GURDJIEFF

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P. D. OUSPENSKY

Did Gurdjieff found the Gurdjieff Groups?
from Joseph Azize

Did Gurdjieff found the Gurdjieff groups? No, of course he didn’t. He was their inspiration, but he certainly did not found them. They were founded by Ouspensky, even down to the format of weekly group meeting and movements on week nights with days of “work” each Sunday, and regular recesses. Ouspensky had this very sensible and successful formula down pat before Gurdjieff started his regular groups in Paris during the war years, groups which he had discontinued at least 18 months before his death. Neither did Gurdjieff found the Institute which bears his name, let alone a Foundation. It is hard to imagine the word “Foundation” sitting in Gurdjieff’s mouth, unless spiced with the pepper of satire. Surely he would have sensed the “philological peculiarity” of this heavy word. Mr Adie, who was also sensitive to tones and nuances, did not find it at all corresponding to the feeling required; he much preferred the exclusively human reference of “Society”. After Gurdjieff’s death, Jeanne de Salzmann effectively found herself in charge of the bulk of Ouspensky’s English groups, which simply continued his format. To her credit, she copied that format with its “weekend works”. In fact, for all we know, Ouspensky set the pattern which Gurdjieff followed in his own war time groups, for, so far as is known, Gurdjieff had never held regular groups beforehand. Nor did Gurdjieff continue any type of group or meeting for terribly long.

There is a much overlooked part of the teaching to consider in this respect. It was disclosed in that remarkable period when Gurdjieff showed Ouspensky “the beginnings of all the methods, the beginnings of all the ideas, their links, their connections and directions” (In Search of the Miraculous, p.346), although Ouspensky takes it out of turn in his magisterial treatment. Gurdjieff told them that they took the idea of groups “too theoretically … You ought to have known more by now. There is no particular benefit in the existence of groups in themselves and there is no particular merit in belonging to groups. The benefit or usefulness of groups is determined by their success” (Search, p.232).

Note just how precisely Gurdjieff conveys his meaning: they ought to have known better after barely two years with him. It should have been staring them in the face: there is no magic in groups. They have taken the whole idea of Fourth Way groups too theoretically, they should, rather, be practical. The purpose, the aim, comes first. Assess the group. Is it successful or not?

Now if Ouspensky’s model was sensible and successful for transmitting the ideas and the methods, then like every stick, it had another end. And that end, I think, is this: one can become too dependent on a group. One can identify with them. Many people, myself included, believe that this is why Gurdjieff orphaned so many of his pupils, like Ouspensky, Orage, the de Hartmanns, the de Salzmanns and Jane Heap (although Jeanne and Jane were allowed to return).

Just as with a train, one must know when to get off. If I stay on the train after my stop, I have lost at least some of the benefit of the trip. Maybe if I wake up shortly afterwards, I can walk back to where I had wanted to go, and the trip may have saved me a great deal of time. Or maybe I have to wait only half an hour for another train back. But it is easy to imagine worse scenarios: what if I have to wait hours, days or years for another train? What if I cannot find any trains back? Or even worse: what if instead of alighting when I have reached my home station, I stay on, and make the train my home?

How does one know when to get off the train? First, and most obviously, one must know the destination. If one has no aim, it is impossible. Mr Adie insisted that one formulate one’s aim: the formulation might not be perfect, it might even be known to be imperfect, but one had to attempt it. (see George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, under the indexed word “aim”). Without an aim, he insisted, everything is equal. Aim alone, he would say, can give meaning. Incidentally, St John Cassian gave exactly the same advice. The spiritual life is not a question of mandates and orders: these are all to serve its aim, an aim which each aspirant must freely choose.

So only by reference to aim can one judge how long to remain in a group. This, I think, is the deep reason why the concept of aim has been downplayed in the “new work”. That way, one never has cause to leave, one is forever searching from scratch. Jim Wyckoff, however, from the New York Foundation, advised me not to think in terms of aim (advice which I ignored even then). It was, he said, too rigid. I know that some of his pupils think in terms of “orientation” but are resistant, if not hostile, to the concept of “aim”, or at least were when I knew them. An orientation can keep you in the Foundation forever … and then there were other methods of inducing perpetual dependence, which I may come to in a later blog.

But if, as I have written elsewhere, search only has meaning because of the possibility of finding, how does one know when one has found enough in the groups? I think the answer is simple: it is when one can see and understand how to approach one’s aim. And I think all conscious aims have this in common: when one can balance the work of the three centres, one can make one’s own way towards aim. One then can and perhaps even should try in life, without a group. For as I have written in that book, the one condition a group cannot ever give you is the condition of being without a group. The group does, and by its nature must, come between the seeker and life. For a time this may be good, even desirable, and even necessary. Certainly, I tend to think that to individually acquire what we had with the Adies, I would have needed 300 years of experience. I compare it to learning a skill from someone who knows it. But an apprentice who stays an apprentice forever is a bad apprentice, and has a poor master.

I repeat, when one can bring the three centres into some balance, when one can come to a state where neither intellect, feeling or organic instinct predominate, that is, when one can act reasonably on a fairly reliable basis, despite the inevitable errors and misjudgments, then, I would say, it is time for one to strike out alone. Maybe not forever, or maybe not too far away. One may wish, for example, to contribute to the group. Such maturing, moving away, and returning is shown on the enneagram. It is the natural order of life. The parents raise the child and then the child become an adult cares for the parents in their need.

But before one returns, one must have established one’s own. What is the point of school if there is no graduation? If I am in a “school” all my life, I am institutionalized. We have to test ourselves in life. And it is not the Fourth Way if one is never alone in life.

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

March 23, 2008 at 8:24 am

HIGHER NATURE, LOWER NATURE, and the IN BETWEEN

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GEORGE ADIE

While I am preparing the documents I referred to in the earlier post What did Gurdjieff Leave Unfinished?, and there are many documents to consider, I thought I might share this material from Mr Adie. It is something he wrote on 19 March 1953. It deals with an issue we often encounter: we receive a reminder but then the reminder seems to go no further. For example, a thought might not develop beyond an intellectual recognition that I am in a low state. How can we make the best use of these moments of opportunity?

Higher Nature, Lower Nature, and the In Between
I wish to give in a few words my conception of some of the keys and main points of the line of work which we have been following, and from this to try to formulate a point concerning the development from a moment of partial self-remembering to deeper self-remembering. I find that when I work invariably I am brought to a sense of immediacy – to a sense of the expansion of a moment of time and its contents.

The line we have been working on has shown our duality, and the necessity of recognizing this division. It has shown the necessity of observation, and the weakening of wrong manifestations of our lower centres in order to be able to come into touch with our true lower nature and the higher nature which is present with it.

A first infallible approach to our true lower nature is by relaxation and having sensation of our body, a real part of our true lower nature. By directing his attention and discriminating between his substantial body and his turning thought or chameleon manifestations he becomes truly more conscious of his lower nature.

Without division of attention, what comes from my higher nature can almost at once be lost and lead to fantasy if not balanced by a simultaneous consciousness of my lower nature.

There is a gradual work of becoming more aware of something in-between the higher and lower nature, just that something from which a man can most surely find a representative “I”, and the place from which he can most surely work.

I have felt consciousness of I in that ‘between place’. I have felt unquestionable separated contact between my higher nature and my lower nature; held apart by very relaxed and subtle effort, when there has also occurred a simultaneous approaching consciousness of these as one, as a whole. There is the possibility – and necessity – of gradually increasingly experiencing, through our work, the nature, weight and place of the two natures and the between force. Then one constates “I” in these three places separately and yet also simultaneously as a whole.

One can not hold a sense of the higher nature so deeply in unquiet circumstances as in special quiet preparatory times, nor in life have such deep sensation and experience of one’s lower nature as in quiet moments. But, one can for the briefest second in life make the effort of recollection.

By the reduction in wrong manifestation of lower nature, I have come to establish a contact with it, and discovered its willingness to obey the higher nature, and observe as it becomes imbued with the higher nature.

Many attempts have been made to come to a clearer statement of our higher nature, but it must be emphasised that this can never be defined.

If I have sensation of my body there is no doubt of this, but about higher nature also I wish to become equally certain, and for me the necessary concept, the vital true compass is my AIM. By direct experiencing of my physical being I can approach my lower nature. The lower nature becomes, as it were, active. This approach brings with it also the higher nature but, as it were, the higher nature is passive. Awareness of AIM changes the polarities, and makes the higher nature active. Between higher and lower nature, held apart by an impartial awareness, is the seat of REAL I.

I see that I can immediately test and recognize what is truly pertaining to and of my higher nature by relating it to my AIM. It must relate to my AIM otherwise I know that my attention is attracted, and that fantasy will ensure rapidly, or else that I am simply mistaken. I find that the relationship of my AIM to my higher nature is a key of approach and discrimination.

And the recollection, realisation, visualisation and sense or awareness of the reality and weight of my aim gives an approach to the place and experiencing of my higher nature.

By my aim I can find the most reliable expression of and experience of my higher nature.

By my aim, I may be more alive relatively in the higher nature than in the lower nature, or my attention may be relatively more attracted towards the higher than, as it normally is, attracted towards the lower.

Let no man speak of his higher nature when he has forgotten his aim.

A reminder, a spark of self-consciousness, an impression, may be in the higher, lower or between. Quickly, before the chance departs, recognize which is being touched, and how the attention must be divided, directed and collected. And so time becomes longer, impressions deeper and in the gradually awakening centres, the deposits can be laid down.

By discriminating in regard to his AIM, a man can know he becomes truly more conscious of his Higher Nature.

By consciousness of lower nature, higher nature, and between, he can simultaneously be conscious of these three as one, as a whole, and he then surely knows that he becomes truly conscious of REAL I.

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

February 29, 2008 at 7:57 pm