Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

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Posts Tagged ‘Beelzebub’s Tales


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The John Robert Colombo Page

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Part Two of this review:

A Grandchild’s Odyssey: Explorations in Active Mentation: Re-Remembering Gurdjieff’s Teaching is a book that seems to have not one, not two, but three titles. Again, it is a study that is carefully written and seriously argued, but the subject of the analysis is not Tales itself as much as it is of the ethos of the Work. It has none of the rhetorical flourishes or speculative flights of J.G. Bennett’s Dynamic Universe, thank goodness!

Let us start at the end of this book, its last chapter and its last paragraph – the author leaves us with a challenge, and that challenge is growth. He knows that the alchemist was concerned with the Great Work, but the Great Work to him was not that of the alchemist, the chemist, or the magician, but of the spiritual or metaphysical teacher who offers instruction on how to make use of the elements of the human body and of man’s constitution and predisposition to mechanical reactions to enhance self-awareness to lead to heightened consciousness. He concludes, “We cannot grow unless we are a part of that great impulse-of-Work …. It is truly no less than the creation of a new world that Gurdjieff has set as the Great Work of which we can become, independently, a particle.”

I think the book is an elaboration of this “particle.” As no commentator of the calibre of Azize or Ginsburg has written about Explorations, at least on an accessible website, I will devote more detail to this publication and its argument than to the other two books, but nowhere near as much as is warranted, given its scope and its density. There are thirteen chapters and their headings are descriptive of this volume’s argument and contents. Here goes:

Chapter 1: “Entirely New Principles.” 2: The Emergence of the Function of Emotion. 3: The Paradox of Hypnotism. 4: ” … an Accursed Miracle.” 5: The Duration of Being-Existence. 6: Image of Man’s Three-Brained Reality. 7: The Cosmic: Dimensions of Faith, Hope and Love. 8: Being and Becoming –Ilnosoparno. 9: The Power of Symbol. 10: “In the Beginning, When Nothing Yet Existed … ” 11: Gurdjieff’s Creation Myth. 12: Transforming the Mind – Changing the Brain. 13: The Task.

Again, Dr. Buzzell begins with a preface (called “The Author’s Journey”) in which he writes personally and persuasively about how he was introduced at the age of eighteen in 1950 to a new line of thought when a friend loaned him a copy of P.D. Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum. That led to the acquisition of books by Bennett, King, Nicoll, and a treasured copy of Beelzebub’s Tales. “Exactly why I had gone on a hunt for these Work books is impossible to express in words.” It is an observation familiar to many people.

What happened next has happened to far fewer people: “It would be twelve years before I had the great good fortune to met Irmis Popoff, my first Work tutor.” He describes how Work principles began to affect him. “All manner of ‘topsy-turvy’ notions flowed through my head, heart and body during this time, but the anchoring reality of the little understood concepts of self-observation, external considering, negative emotions and the possibility of transformation kept me reading, wondering and, in an indescribable way, hoping.”

Early on he was attracted to the workings of the brain (or the brains). “A particular interest in the development and workings of the human brain had taken form and, to this day, marks the principle way through which I try to understand a host of Work ideas.” He began to see that in his everyday life his passionate involvement with the arts was a function of the emotional centre, his medical and scientific training of his thinking centre, and his physical skills of his moving centre. Not that they were ever in balance! He corresponded with C. Daly King, author of the Oragean Version, and lunched with Louise and Dr. William Welch. He goes into some detail about benefitting from the work of Irmis Popoff of The Pinnacle, Sea Cliff, Long Island.

Two pages are devoted to his work with Mrs. Popoff and her “long thoughts.” Krishnamurti, David Bohm, J.G. Bennett, Arthur Young, and Gurdjieff’s Tales became “focal sources for reading and study.” There are passing references to triads, diagrams, octaves, and various other symbols. He established a personal relationship with Dr. Paul MacLean, head of Research, National Institute of Mental Health, who did much to popularize the concept of the “triune” brain or mind. In this effort Dr. MacLean was assisted by Carl Sagan who made these ideas the basis of his Pulitzer-prize winning book, The Dragons of Eden. Out of these influences came Man – A Three-Brained Being.

Eventually he met Annie Lou Staveley who held court at the Two Rivers Farm in Aurora, Oregon. At this time “I had begun to see allegorical parallels and possible interpretations between many of the ‘sensation-picturings’ that Gurdjieff created and aspects of brain evolution and development as reported by researchers from the 1960s onward.” Mrs. Staveley encouraged his reading of Tales with its “allegorical representations of Cosmic Law.” What follows then is some information on the All & Everything Conferences and the author’s participation as a presenter. The series of annual conferences brought the author out of his “isolation,” for he writes, “What it does make clear, is that we are in this together and that we are individually committed to share, to revise our own perspectives when necessary and come to more common understandings of fundamental Work ideas.”

It seems “the author’s journey” had largely proceeded independently of any permanent centre, institute, group, or school. Yet he was sustained in his efforts by the efforts of a number of like-minded men and women who encouraged and assisted him to sharpen his thoughts and hone his expressions in his publications and in this they “exemplify a Work group effort.” Fifth Press seems to be the result of such efforts made by many like-minded people.

The chapters of Explorations seem to me to be the transcriptions of lectures; not that they are full of transitions like “we now move to the question of,” though there are some, but that they are plainly expository and impersonal. In some ways they remind me of the elucidative prose of Colin Wilson: informative, meaningful, reasonable, and above all organized. The marvel is they are.

A reader interested in “the function of emotion,” for instance, would be well advised to read the chapter devoted to a discussion of emotions, feelings, sensations, negative emotions, higher emotions, mechanicality, etc. There is a balancing act in effect – on the one hand, the development of emotion in the human body in terms of a Darwinian-style evolution of the mammalian brain – and on the other hand, insights in chapters like “The Bokharian Derivish” in Tales.

I am unsure about the current scientific understanding of the nature of hypnotism – if there is one – but some years ago the notion was floated that hypnotism had nothing to do with cataleptic trances or even states of auto-suggestion. Instead, it has to do with complicity, an implicit agreement between hypnotist and subject to work together, a consent generated for mutual benefit. In a sense we are all hypnotized, Adam Crabtree’s “trance zero.” Ouspensky noted that Mr. Gurdjieff was familiar with the practice of hypnotism and made use of it in therapeutic sessions and probably in everyday life situations as well. A consideration of the hypnotic state leads the author to a discussion of “the properties of the organ Kundabuffer.” Readers with an interest in the comet Kondoor, the planet Anulios, Atlantis, Zoostat, the Law of Three, etc., will find much to ponder in the section devoted to hypnotism.

Some chapters (like “The Duration of Being-Existence”) are more speculative than are others (like “Image as Man’s Three-Brained Reality”) which are philosophical and therefore based in scientific and neurological fields of interest. The chapter “The Cosmic Dimensions of Faith, Hope and Love” equates these emotions respectively with the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain, and the neo-cortical brain. The latter brain is “the carrier of the impulse of love.” The longest chapter is called “Gurdjieff’s Creation Myth” and the last long chapter is “Transforming the Mind – Changing the Brain.”

Various commentators like the psychiatrist Anthony Storr have dismissed Tales for its elaborate creation myth, as earlier reviewers of Madame Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine have disregarded that tome’s section on “Cosmogenesis.” (Supposing it is true, where did the knowledge come from in the first place; how could anyone prove it to be true?) Probably the best “answer” to these critics are the seventy-four pages Dr. Buzzell devotes to “making sense” of the various worlds and levels of creation with their ninety-six or more laws. Buzzell writes, “Our common nature, as human, is a product of those same laws. The laws of higher worlds lie within and enliven the laws of lower worlds.” He may well be saying we know these ideas to be true because they are part of our human nature – and perhaps equally part of our inhuman nature.

“Neuroplasticity” is the word currently in use to draw attention to the power of the mind to respond and redesign itself structurally and functionally. “Neurons that spark together, join together” is a simplified version of Dr. Norman Doidge’s thesis in The Brain that Changes Itself. Dr. Buzzell does not move in this direction, popularized by the Toronto-born psychiatrist and author, but in the direction of “the possible transformation of man, living under the orders of laws of Worlds 24-48, into a Real Man …. ” This chapter is richly illustrated with colourful enneagram-like diagrams, and the prose is purposeful and high-minded, almost relentless, as it takes the reader from Symbol through “Kesdjanian Being” to “the singular Will of Endlessness.”

All in all, Explorations is a considered attempt to understand the text of Tales in light of rational discourse compatible with scientific knowledge of the known world of nature and man.


I will not discuss Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales and Other of Gurdjieff’s Writings in much detail because, as mentioned, there does exist an outline of its argument on the website. The book is dedicated “to our tutors and guides” – Jeanne de Salzmann, Alfred Orage, John G. Bennett, Annie Louis Staveley, Irmis Popoff, and Willem Nyland. There is an attempt to match the labour that Mr. Gurdjieff expended to “bury the dog deeper” with Dr. Buzzell’s labour of explicating what was written in that magnum opus – in effect, digging up the dog.

Perspectives might be described as a gloss on Tales, so it is more general than the other two publications and more suited to non-scientific minded readers who want a general sense of the sweep of the text. The author writes in the Introduction: “Through a serendipitous happening in my 30s the opportunity for group Work materialized, and the reading of The Tales slowly became such as if I were reading aloud to another person. I began to notice inklings: stirrings-of-feelings mostly, rarely with words attached to them. During recent years, those feeling-embossed inklings have undergone various degrees of crystallization and I have gradually collected a few words to express them – I hope with some clarity.”

Later in the Introduction he writes: “Gurdjieff understood that real change or inner transformation can only come about when individuals struggle to change themselves. This Work on Oneself is a truly three-brained affair, involving the active participation of thinking, feeling and bodily sensation / motion.” Dr. Buzzell describes himself as attempting to integrate the “reportorial” presentations of Ouspensky with “Gurdjieff’s mythic, allegorical and confrontational approach.” He does not do this but he does with clarity and it is unlikely that his analyses of Tales will be bettered in the future.

Readers interested in clearly expressed, extended discussions of the “enneagramatic nature” of Tales, man’s “brained nature,” buffers, mirrors, Looisos, “hydrogens,” “higher centres,” allegories and images will find ample “food for thought” (as the expression has it) in these chapters. On the second-last page, the author states, “The entirety of The Tales can be understood as a mythic journey into the inner world of each of us.”

Given the amount of single-minded, intellectual analysis, what might be absent, presumably though not necessarily through design, is what might be called any sense of group interaction. The internist in the hospital examining a patient is not expected to give prior thought to any sense of group interaction or social well-being but to keep attention focused on the work at hand. Yet a wider view, perhaps psychological or sociological in nature, might place the findings in a wider context than is attempted in the pages of Dr. Buzzell’s trio of books. (One for each of the minds!) That is the sole reservation that I have and am able to express, amid a flurry of genuine appreciation for all that has been accomplished.

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 See also Part One of this review.

John Robert Colombo, who writes irregularly for this blog-site, is known across Canada as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of the country’s lore and literature. His most recent book is a collection of told-as-true Canadian ghost stories called Jeepers Creepers. He is an Associate, Northrop Frye Centre, Victoria University, University of Toronto. Check his website < > for further details. If you wish to received notice of future reviews and commentaries, send JRC an email: < >.



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The John Robert Colombo Page

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Keith A. Buzzell’s Trio of Current Publications 

 Part One 

The Doctor with Three Books

In front of me are three publications that have been tastefully produced by Fifth Press, an imprint based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The imprint is new to me and may well be new to the majority of the readers of this blog. The publisher’s focus is explained on its website, though even that sheds no light on why it is called the Fifth Press (rather than the Fourth, the Third, the Second, or the First Press). I guess there is a reason for the number but it eludes me! Here is the focus:

“Fifth Press was established in 2004 for the express purpose of publishing Dr. Keith A. Buzzell’s exploration of the depth of meaning of Gurdjieff’s writing. We are currently working with Will Mesa who has extensive experience plumbing the interstices of Beelzebub’s Tales. We hope we may contribute to the fabric of our work together and for all life.”

On the basis of its mission statement, Fifth Press is doing a good job in realizing its aims and objectives. Let me also add, in passing, that Dr. Will Mesa is an Cuban-born student of the Work who studied under Henri Tracol in Paris; he is a Professor of Electrical Engineering, apparently based in New York City. He once explained, “Toward the end of my fourth reading of Beelzebub’s Tales, late in 1986, it dawned on me that the book I was reading and studying was the best theoretical and experimental book I had ever studied.”

It is apparent that there are many scientifically minded and technologically trained people like Dr. Mesa and Dr. Buzzell who are “in the Work” and are making sizeable efforts “to square” what Mr. Gurdjieff wrote in Beelzebub’s Tales with contemporary scientific and technological theories and practices. This is one way to “make relevant” what the author wrote between 1924 and 1927, the text of which was translated into English and published in 1950 and subsequently reissued in a revised (and controversial) edition in 1992.

At this point it is incumbent upon me to state that if in order to understand the text of Tales as it appears in the first or the second edition I have to read it not only once, not only twice, but all of three times, once out loud, then I may make no claims to understand the book. The fact that the accuracy and authenticity of the text cannot be accepted without being challenged is not what disturbs me; after all, bookstores offer the public not one but two editions Tales as they do of James Joyce’s equally long Finnegans Wake. Indeed, relatedly, the publishing imprint Library of America was established to solve just this problem by issuing standard editions of the works by America’s leading literary authors.

In the late 1950s I was trained in the New Critical method of explication de texte, so I am wary of people who accept whatever text is at hand – pace the King James Version of the Bible – and then take it literally and erect intellectual structures like castles in Spain upon the fundament of “gospel truths.” I have observed that leaders of study groups make use of the text is largely as illustration, a passage here, a passage there, to add to the foreground or the background of the observation of interest. It is almost as if the work is too large or great to encompass as a whole.

It is obvious that Tales is a complex and demanding text – “problematic” is the word that a semiotician might use – but at the same time it meets Northrop Frye’s description of scripture as “literature plus,” so it is difficult to “get a handle on the book.” I also see it in Frye’s terms as an “anatomy,” a sum of innumerable parts that with its single structure is greater than the sum of all those parts. But all this is surmise and suggestion, as I am not going to comment on Tales. Instead, I will discuss the man who does and the way he does it – by identifying the author of these three books and by comment on a handful of his interpretations and discoveries.

There is no Wikipedia entry for Keith A. Buzzell, but I did determine the following biographical details on the Internet: “Dr. A. Keith Buzzell was born in 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts. He studied music at Bowdoin College and Boston University, and received his medical doctorate in 1960 at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. For the past 35 years, he has been a rural family physician in Fryeburg, Maine, a staff member of Bridgton Hospital and currently holds the position of medical director at the Fryeburg Health Care Center.

“Dr. Buzzell has also served as a professor of osteopathic medicine, a hospital medical director and a founder of a local hospice program. He has lectured widely on the neurophysiologic influences of television on the developing human brain and on the evolution of man’s triune brain. In 1971 Keith and his wife Marlena, met Irmis Popoff, a student of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and the founder of the Pinnacle Group in Sea Cliff, Long Island, New York. From then until the mid-1980s they formed work groups under her supervision. Since 1988 Dr. Buzzell and Annie Lou Staveley, founder of the Two Rivers Farm in Oregon, maintained a Work relationship up to her death in 1996. Keith continues group Work in Bridgton, Maine.”

The reference to osteopathy or osteopathic medicine caught my eye because the practice is not recognized as a medical discipline in Canada. A doctor of osteopathy is not a medical doctor in any of this country’s provinces. This might be my country’s loss, for a doctor of osteopathy is recognized as a medical physician in the fifty states of the American Union. Please note that I am not in any way questioning the value of osteopathy or the credentials of Dr. Buzzell; indeed, he seems eminently qualified in the practice of medicine and has a wide range of interests suitable for his examination of the complexities of Tales. In mentioning this fact, I am clearing up a public confusion about osteopathy!

Fifth Press has issued three handsome volumes of his books. They appear in trade paperback editions, 6.5 inches wide by 9.5 inches high, printed on quality paper, glued rather than sewn to the spine. Here are the titles:

(1) Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales and Other of Gurdjieff’s Writings. The first edition is copyright 2005; xvi+228 pages. (2) A Child’s Odyssey: Explorations in Active Mentation: Re-Membering Gurdjieff’s Teaching. This first edition is copyright 2006; xiv+297 pages. (3) Man – A Three-brained Being: Resonant Aspects of Modern Science and the Gurdjieff Teaching. This edition is copyright 2007 and identified as the second edition; ii+139.

The three volumes (which have the look of a series of books) are well designed and produced. There are about forty-five lines per page of rather small type, with footnotes, glossaries, and bibliographies. The text is illustrated with charts and diagrams, some in pastel colours. My estimate is that what we have in this trio of books is close to 330,000 words.

Regular readers of Sophia Wellbeloved’s web-blog will be familiar with the reviews and commentaries of my companion columnist, Joseph Azize, a man who is extremely knowledgeable about Work-related subjects. Joseph’s detailed review of one of these books (Man – A Three-brained Being) appeared on Sept. 27, 2009, and may be read there with much benefit.

In the same vein, a fairly detailed consideration of another title (Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales) may be read on where it is titled “Perspectives: A Must Read for Serious Students of the Tales” and dated April 4, 2005. This review was contributed by Seymour B. Ginsburg, a respected author in his own right. The two reviews include chapter summaries but in the main they recapitulate the contents of these books chapter by chapter. While I enjoy doing the same – reprinting tables of contents and adding running commentaries on them – I will refrain from duplicating their work, concentrating instead on a couple of points of exposition.

There is one further point to make: Dr. Buzzell has been a presenter at some of the All & Everything International Humanities Conferences. The sole conference I attended was the one held in Toronto two years ago; I reported on those sessions on this web-blog. Here is what happened on April 24, 2009:


At 11:00 a.m., Keith Buzzell spoke on “Do-Re-Me of Food, Air and Impressions.” He is a seasoned presenter and with slides and one handout related the Table of Hydrogens to the various types of “food” and ultimately the “coating” of higher being bodies. There is the food that grows on the surface of the earth, that exists in the planetary atmosphere, and that comes from the sun. One of his catchy phrases was “Only life can sustain life.”

Hydrogen 768 is the food of man, but the categories are “enormous.” In fact, while I did not conduct a word-count, I assume Keith used the word “enormous” twenty-one times to describe the categories on the Table, and quite rightly. He also turned his attention to the difference between “mass” and “non-mass.” At times I thought I was attending a lecture on the Joy of Chemistry. Any dieticians in the audience would have been lost!

There was an interesting analysis of the role of proteins and how modern science is revealing the facts of digestion which are in line with what is discussed in “Tales.” We learn by analogy: “Higher hydrogens digest lower hydrogens.” The speaker suggested that there is “a way of understanding how our minds can transform our physical brains.” “The input of the three brains is the substrate of the spiritual body, the DNA of the kesdjan.”

During the discussion it was mentioned that there are ten bacteria for every cell in the human body. “We could not live without all our bacteria. We have to get along with each other.” Keith quoted a teacher who asked, “How can you expect to have extra knowledge if you don’t know ordinary knowledge.” The discussion ended with a discussion of magnetic vs. mechanical fields of influence and the human will and whether it can be suborned, followed by the differences between “body” and “centre.” It was 1:00 p.m.


Perhaps that excerpt from my notes on Dr. Buzzell’s presentation catches some of the excitement of the exposition that is characteristic of the man and his analyses. At the conference I chatted a few times with him and his lovely wife Marlena, finding them to be a professional and knowledgeable couple very dedicated to their work and the Work.


Here are some thoughts inspired by paging through Man – A Three-brained Being. I find it difficult to imagine that anyone but a student of the Work with a special interest in Tales will be drawn to read and study this work of analysis. Specifically, I find it unlikely that anyone but the most exceptional chemist, physicist, astrophysicist, physiologist, or neurologist would want to commit any amount of time and energy to assessing what use has been made here of mainstream scientific theory and practice.

In a way that is a shame because it means there is little chance that there will ever be a dialogue between orthodox scientists and unorthodox but nevertheless rigorous thinkers, so necessarily compartmentalized are the scientific disciplines in our time. I seem to recall reading in a volume of recollections of life at the Prieuré that the Harley Street physicians who were in attendance in the mid-1920s spent an evening trying to identify the Hydrogens and interpret them in light of known chemical reactions. Ouspensky had a pet phrase which he used when students attempted to think outside the system or to relate non-system matters to the system. He would say, “That’s another opera.” That’s another work.

Indeed, Ouspensky titled his book of lectures The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution (1951); in 1989 his literary executors authorized the publication of the rest of the lectures and called the publication The Cosmology of Man’s Possible Evolution. Reading Dr. Buzzell’s current book, I have the sense that it could well be retitled The Chemistry of Man’s Possible Evolution, for it focuses on biological and chemical reactions in the production of change, movement, images, consciousness, and transformation. I will leave it to other commentators, like Joseph Azize, to delve deeper. I will leave this book, as does the author, with the opening sentences of the last paragraph:

“Our aim in this book has been 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. Because it is verbal in form, it can do little more than hint, or metaphorically point toward, the broad spectrum of human experiences that must be personally lived in order to have its full meaning.”

Over all, the author writes vividly, even at times stirringly. The book opens with a lively account of how at every turn our lives have been changed by the use that has been made since 1900 of quantum mechanics and its effects. Buzzell writes, “There appears to be more than serendipity involved in the simultaneous appearance of Gurdjieff as a teacher (circa 1913) and the published insights of such men as Planck, Bohr, Einstein, Schrödinger and Hubble. Superficially, the perspectives of 20th century science and of Gurdjieff appear to be diametrically different and yet, it is our contention that both herald a startlingly new view of our Universe.” Buzzell finds many parallels between passages in Tales and later scientific discoveries. In passing he relates Tales to innovations in Modernist music and literature, subjects that will no doubt attract future historians of ideas.

With great clarity the author discusses the implications of the “three-brained” being identified with Mr. Gurdjieff and, a good forty years later, the “triune” mind discussed by the physiologist Dr. Paul MacLean. The author is certainly wrong in suggesting that Mr. Gurdjieff (or A.R. Orage, his amanuensis, redactor, translator, editor, etc.) introduced the term “mentation” because as early as 1850 the word was used to refer to “thinking” or “mental processes.” Nowhere is there any consideration of the theory that is the rival of Dr. MacLean’s, and that is the theory of the bi-cameral mind of the psychologist Julian Jaynes.

Also missing is any discussion of W.H. Sheldon’s three “somatotypes” or C.G. Jung’s four-fold typology of “body types.” Not that the author is under any obligation to discuss any of these or other matters, but it would have been interesting to see how well these conceptions could have been worked into a consideration of Tales. Yet what he sets himself the task to accomplish – to explicate Tales in light of current science – he does accomplish. The intention is not so much to vindicate the scientific endeavour or to justify the unorthodox approach and language of the text, but to delve deeper into the text.  

Dr. Buzzell does. 

Part two continues this review.

John Robert Colombo, who writes irregularly for this blog-site, is known across Canada as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of the country’s lore and literature. His most recent book is a collection of told-as-true Canadian ghost stories called Jeepers Creepers. He is an Associate, Northrop Frye Centre, Victoria University, University of Toronto. Check his website < > for further details. If you wish to received notice of future reviews and commentaries, send JRC an email: < >.



The John Robert Colombo Page


J&B in Colo 2004

Barbara and James in Colorado

I am sitting in front of my computer in North Toronto and Barbara Wright is sitting in front of her computer in downtown Toronto, a distance of perhaps eight kilometres. We are twenty minutes apart by car, yet our communication is via the a geostationary satellite, with the signal travelling back and forth perhaps 500,000 kilometres in one or two seconds.

I reside with my wife Ruth in our three-bedroom suburban house in the city’s North York district, which is unequally divided between the Italians and the Jews, to such an extent the district is locally known as the “Kosher Nostra.” (The New York essayist Richard Kostelanetz once called our place “Colombo Central.”)

Barbara Wright – I’ll call her Barbara, as she is quite direct in manner – lives with her husband James (Jim) George in their suite in a highrise in the city’s downtown area. The balcony offers a sweeping view of the city’s exclusive Rosedale district, which Jim has known since his childhood.

The view is new to Barbara who was born in Colorado. She made California her home state for decades, at least until her late marriage, four years ago in San Francisco, to Jim. They make a formidable couple and their surroundings are awesome. The suite is richly decorated with works of Buddhist and Hindu art: statues, mandalas, rugs, paintings, etc. There is even a framed photograph of the smiling couple with a giggling Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, taken last year during a private session at the time of his last public visit to the city.

Perhaps I should recall that Jim served as Canada’s High Commissioner to India from 1967 to 1972. During his years in New Delhi he befriended two youthful spiritual leaders of the Buddhist-Bon tradition: the Dalai Lama and Chögyam Trungpa. The American disciples of the latter “crazy wisdom” lama accompanied him when he shifted his ashram from Boulder, Colorado, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he established a thriving centre for Shambhala studies. Today Jim is regarded as one of the elder statesmen of the Work in Canada, a group that includes Ravi Ravindra and Tom Daly.

As for their ages – Barbara is in her seventies, Jim is in his early nineties – think nothing of it. Both are healthy and look great. Together they generate more energy than do the hydroelectric power turbines at Niagara Falls, an ninety minutes south of Toronto by car.

barbara, james and DL

Barbara and James with HH the Dalai Lama

Barbara has kindly agreed to my request to reproduce this photograph taken with the Dalai Lama who, years earlier, contributed the foreword to Jim’s recently reprinted book, Asking for the Earth: Waking Up to the Spiritual / Ecological Crisis. Jim’s current book is “The Little Green Book on Awakening,” a kind of primer on the climate crisis and work on consciousness. She has also agreed to answer one dozen questions. So here are my statements and questions, with her responses and answers.

Q. Three cities: Boulder – San Francisco – Toronto. Although I could connect these three cities with a straight line on a map, it would not occur to me to do so, but for the fact that you have an association with these three North American cities. Let’s begin with Boulder, which by synecdochy I associate with the rest of Colorado. I understand that you were not born in Boulder, a spiritual centre in Colorado, but that you were born in the city of Grand Junction. Were you educated there? Do you see yourself as a “midwesterner”?

Boulder is important because it’s in Colorado and my younger daughter lives there. Also, there is a Gurdjieff group there which I have visited regularly for over twenty years, and during that time, I have gotten to know the people in the group very well, and value them very highly. It’s true that Boulder is a kind of spiritual center, and we are very aware of that. In fact, by coincidence or whatever arranges such events, my visits often coincide with special Buddhist gatherings. For example, the Dalai Lama was in Denver once when we were having a special weekend; and last year, the new Karmapa was there at the same time that the Boulder group worked together over a four-day period of time.

Last May, since some of our people were interested in studying Chogyam Trungpa’s ideas on work in life — and since the Gurdjieff Work is described as “a work in life” — invited several friends of mine, who live in Boulder and practice Buddhism, to join us. That made for an interesting time. So we feel very lucky to be in such a place, which is not only a spiritual center, but very beautiful. In only a few minutes, we can be walking uphill on a mountain path. My husband, Jim, sometimes goes with me to Colorado, and he loves the mountains; even though he was born in Toronto, he has climbed the best and highest mountains. Of course, I love the mountains because they are an essential part of me. I was born at an altitude of a little over 5000 feet.

I was born in the city of Grand Junction, which is on the other side of the mountains from Boulder, on the Western Slope of the Rockies. Though it has about the same mile-high altitude, it had a different feeling from Boulder, Denver, or Colorado Springs, which are located on the Eastern Slope and are related to the Great Plains in the central part of the United States. It felt a little less sophisticated and possibly more genuine. A little more desert prospector or sheep herder and less like the gold or silver barons. This is in the process of changing now as the powerful homogenous force erases those kinds of differences. Now, Grand Junction is becoming well known for its wineries; the thought of which would have horrified the members of the twelve to fifteen Protestant churches in the city when I was growing up. (I believe that the members of the one large Catholic church did have a glass of wine from time to time, and probably more Protestants than we knew of did also.)

Grand Junction is high-desert country, only a few miles from Utah and its fantastic canyons and rock formations. Two rivers meet there, and the valley they form is fertile and known for its warm climate. It’s also quite a beautiful valley, surrounded on three sides by completely different and completely amazing landscapes. In fact, on a recent visit, I felt quite strongly that the beauty and grandeur of that valley somehow comprise my heritage.

My education in Grand Junction gave me a pretty good start in life. We lived close enough that I could walk to and from school and come home for lunch each day, so the 3 schools I attended from grade 1-12 seemed like an extension of home life. Many of my teachers were highly educated in the now old-fashioned classics, probably similar to a Canadian education. And, I read a lot and was outdoors a lot.

For a town of around 28,000 people there many riches. For example, growing up in Grand Junction at that time provided special opportunities for anyone to study classical music that probably don’t exist now. Every elementary school, and the junior high and high school had an orchestra, a concert band, and a marching band, with very good teachers — several just back from WWII and one at least, a veteran of the Paul Whiteman orchestra that played for silent movies. I started piano lessons at five and violin at ten, and by the time I was in high school, I was taking violin lessons at the local college, playing in two symphonies, and performing chamber music in a string trio.

As to being a “midwesterner.” Very early in U.S. history, my ancestors moved from the British Isles, Germany, and Switzerland to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and points farther east, and then to Missouri and Iowa and finally, just after the Civil War, to Colorado, leaving the southern part of the Midwest behind. Like them, I was and am a Westerner. Quite a different animal. Although I lived for six months in Iowa once long ago — and Iowa is definitely the Midwest — and I live now in Toronto — and Toronto is definitely the East — I remain a Westerner.

Q. Where and how did you first encounter the Work? Could you describe how its ideas and emotions initially affected you? Did it suddenly seem to you to answer your questions about life or did it gradually meet your inner needs?

I first encountered the work ideas in Grand Junction. A friend lent me a book by Kenneth Walker and I happened to notice the name Gurdjieff in it. Noticed and was galvanized. That’s the one, I thought. There was no reason; I simply seemed to recognize his name, just as I simply seemed to know that the ideas were true when I read them later on. The first work book I read was “Venture with Ideas” by the same Kenneth Walker, and while reading it, I really learned that I was asleep. While I was reading in the living room, too completely engrossed by new ideas and new possibilities, the water had been used up in the vaporizer I’d left running in my daughters’ bedroom, and it was beginning to overheat and starting to smoke. That was a definite shock. A wake-up call.

Another strong moment I remember was reading “In Search of the Miraculous” while waiting to have surgery the next morning. That book, and the particular passage I read that evening, also served as a call for a new way of living. Curiously, Jim and I are reading through “In Search of the Miraculous” with a small group of people, and a few weeks ago we read that very same passage. Again, a strong moment.

And I was lucky that my introduction to “Beelzebub’s Tales” was oral. The same friend who lent me the Walker books read the first chapter, “The Arousal of Thought,” out loud to me while I was ironing. It was amazing. To hear the words first rather than reading them was a very lucky event. Of course, I then read the book, as fast as I could, unintentionally reading it the way I would ordinarily read any book, in fact as Gurdjieff suggests.

Those books changed my life. The ideas seemed completely familiar, as if they spoke to my own experience and knowledge that had been forgotten. So many of my questions about my own and other’s behavior were addressed and the grandeur of creation and the living universe, which I had experienced myself in special moments, was evoked. I would describe the experience of reading these books as the experience of coming back to life. Of course, as the years went along, I discovered other needs within myself because the work gave me something in relation to those needs.

Q. San Francisco is the next city. What year did you move there? Did you raise your family there?

San Francisco was my home for forty-five years. It was there that I joined a group, met Lord Pentland and many other remarkable people, and of course, made many close friends in the work community there.

I moved to San Francisco in 1961, after going back to college in 1960 — I was one of two single mothers with kids, a rarity at the time — and getting a teaching certificate. My two young daughters and my twenty-one year old sister went with me. I was twenty-eight. In early September, we pulled a small trailer from Grand Junction to San Francisco across the desert and the Sierras, crossed over the Bay Bridge while reciting a little Hart Crane, and stayed the first night in a motel right on the beach south of San Francisco.

In the next few days, we found a place to live, a school for my older daughter and a babysitter for the younger one, and a job for my sister. I began my teaching career in a 6th grade classroom and felt very close to that class. We went to our first meeting on October 10th, with Lord Pentland and the leaders of the San Francisco work. Some notes from that first meeting are in the book Exchanges Within. That was the beginning of my work with the group in San Francisco.

Hopefully, my daughters were helped by our connection to the work. I had remarried, to an older man in the work, and we were very busy with groups and work activities. There were many people in and out of the house, and we were away a lot. But, we had music and crafts at home, and two dogs. Also, the city of San Francisco offered many cultural opportunities. There were many interesting people around our dinner table during those years. They never had what they considered a “normal” family life, but as adults they’ve realized that there is no such thing as the ideal, perfectly normal family. I’m hoping now that they feel their lives were very special, in good ways.

Q. I know you are a woman who cherishes family connection. Tell us the names of your children and grandchildren. Where do they live? Were they surprised when you informed them that you and Jim would live in Toronto?

My older daughter, Claudia, still lives in San Francisco and, along with her husband, is quite active in the Gurdjieff Foundation there. She is quite a good pianist and also quite a good poet. They have two daughters, Anne, just receiving her MSW from UC Berkeley in May, and Clara, an artist / poet who lives in Santa Cruz and is very active in community organizations. My younger daughter, Kristine, lives in Boulder with her husband. She is a healer, and uses flower essences, Jin Shin Jyutsu, and psychic healing to great and good results. Her daughter Jessamyn is finishing her third year of college and studying international law.

I do very much cherish family connections. After my mother’s death, I remembered conversations we’d had and after finding notes she had made in various books, I realized that my life, which had been so much about a search for meaning, was a continuation of hers. As is my sister’s. Now, as I get older and watch my daughters, and their daughters, becoming more and more wise, this continuity seems even more apparent. And, I wish for them all, wish that their own lives and their inquiries into the purpose of life can bring more freedom, wisdom, clarity, daring, and so on. The good things.

There were various reactions to my announcement that I was thinking of marrying Jim George. Surprise, certainly, because it all happened very quickly. Reactions ranged from excitement to opposition. A very positive Tarot reading from one granddaughter, a “Go for it, Grandma” from another, and a “You’ve got to be kidding!” from my younger daughter. Now, five years later, we’ve visited them and they’ve each have visited us in Toronto, and I think everyone agrees it’s been a good arrangement.

Q. Was it in San Francisco that you began your work as a Feldenkrais instructor? Are you still a practitioner?

In the late 70s and early 80s, Lord Pentland began using Feldenkrais lessons as part of his teaching. I believe that he could see that without real changes in the body, self development was mostly mental. Moshe Feldenkrais had been influenced by Gurdjieff and his teaching is highly appropriate for Gurdjieffians or for anyone interested in the development of the whole person. Those first lessons were astounding. I still remember the whole sensation and feeling of myself, of my whole self, as I walked down the hill after the first one.

About the same time, with his encouragement, I began to have lots of body work, which continued into the 90s. There was a double motive for this. Partly for deepening awareness and partly to improve a bad back that was the result of an early fall off a horse.

In 1992, I started my career as a free-lance editor, not only making a decent amount of money but also setting my own hours. By 1994, it seemed the time and the funds were right for me to take the Feldenkrais training in the Bay Area north of San Francisco. Again I was lucky. My trainers were excellent. They were Buddhists and tuned to the awareness aspect of the work. After four years more or less on the floor at least once a week and for longer periods several times a year, my back was many times better. Hopefully, the awareness was better also.

I graduated from the four-year training in 1999, and had quite an active practice, teaching classes in several locations, with a good number of private clients up until the time I moved to Toronto, but it’s been difficult to keep it going here. It takes time to be married! I taught some classes that met here in our condo for several months, substituted a bit at the Feldenkrais Center, and taught one at the Institute of Traditional Medicine on the Art of Sitting, in which I combined lessons for the body and sitting quietly together. I have had a few private clients, including a man who comes regularly when he’s visiting from San Francisco. Eventually I would like to be teaching more. The Feldenkrais Method is amazing.

Q. How long were you associated with the work in San Francisco? By the way, do you know Jacob Needleman, the philosopher who has published many work-related books?

I was associated with the Work in San Francisco for forty-four years — from 1961 to 2005, and I still travel to San Francisco and attend group meetings there when I can. I will probably always be related to the work in San Francisco. The San Francisco groups were begun by Lord Pentland around 1954 to 1957, shortly after Gurdjieff’s death in 1949. He continued almost monthly visits to San Francisco from New York, where he lived and where he headed the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York, the primary North American foundation.

The New York foundation had been organized by Gurdjieff himself during his last visits to the United States. Especially in the 60s and 70s, most of the leaders in the New York foundation were pupils of Gurdjieff. At the same time, there was a frequent exchange between New York and Paris, and Madame de Salzmann, and other pupils of Gurdjieff. Several times a year, some of us made trips to New York at Pentland’s invitation, usually when Madame de Salzmann was there. Often when he came to San Francisco, he brought people along with him from other work centers, like New York or Los Angeles, London or Paris. It was easy to feel part of a great, living organism, complete with a thriving circulatory system. The years until his death in 1984 were rich with opportunity to learn, study, explore and engage along with a group of like-minded, and like-hearted, people.

After 1984, at least once a month and for longer periods in the summer, Paul Reynard continued to visit San Francisco, until his death a few years ago, bringing his sensitive inner work in movements and with the ideas. He had worked as a very young man with Gurdjieff in Paris and has led the movements work in North and South America under Madame de Salzmann’s direction since the late 60s. I feel that the groups in San Francisco were given more than most of us can ever really make our own, and probably much more than we can share with others. This seems to be a theme of mine: we received many riches.

Jacob Needleman has been a friend since 1965. I value any opportunity to work with him, and admire him deeply. He has been able to find ways to bring finer, higher ideas into the main stream of life through his books and talks, and I know he continues this effort.

Q. The third city in your life is Toronto. I know why you came to this city: the catalyst was your marriage to Jim in 2006. Did you meet him in San Francisco at a Work function?

We were married on January 1, 2005, and it took me about six months to get things together for a final move to Toronto. As the third city in my life, as you put it, Toronto is very important to me, because this is the city where I live now, where my husband was born and grew up. It provides me with the opportunity to know a different set of human beings and to explore the ways they are the same and yet different from the people who live in San Francisco, New York, or Colorado. I have met some wonderful people here — especially some outstanding women, who are bright and intelligent — and have had the opportunity to widen my friendships to those not in the Gurdjieff work, which has been very good for me.

I had noticed Jim at various work functions and conferences over the years, but we had hardly had a conversation until 1999 when we were at the same conference in New York and had an opportunity to talk. Perhaps he noticed me earlier, but I wasn’t aware of it. Later, two of our granddaughters got to know each other and it was through this that Jim and I got better acquainted.

Q. You would expect that Toronto, a multicultural city with a population of more than three million people, close to half of its residents born somewhere else, would be particularly receptive to new ideas. In the 1920s it was hospitable to Theosophy. A Gurdjieff group was founded in the city in the early 1950s under the personal direction of Madame de Hartman. It was responsible for the publication of an index to “All and Everything” and also the Russian-language edition of that mammoth text. In the 1960s the city was recognized as the intellectual home of Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye. Currently groups like Theosophy and Anthroposophy are languishing here. It is common knowledge that in the city the Gurdjieff work, like Caesar’s Gaul, is divided in three parts, if not more than three. Did this scattering of energies take you by surprise? Can you offer any reason for it? Is the situation likely to remain fragmented in the future?

Because the last split happened so soon after I moved here, it did take me by surprise. It also makes me sad whenever and wherever a separation takes place — and it does take place too often within work groups — and within many other groups, even one as small as two people, such as in a marriage. There is a small, sad statement about human beings in “Beelzebub’s Tales,” in the chapter about the destruction of Ashiata Shiemash’s labors: “And gradually, as it also usually happens there, almost everywhere beings became divided into two mutually opposing parties…. ” I’m reminded of a brilliant Aldous Huxley essay entitled “Usually Destroyed” that speaks to similar human proclivities.

Also, one could talk about the problem of the ego, and I’m tempted to talk about the male ego in particular. But, having a philosophical bent, I would have to say that the underlying reason for divisions, in the Work or in religions or families or nations, is the inexorable quality of the great laws of “world creation and world maintenance,” which must govern all of life. Implicit in these laws is the fact that everything happens, and no intentional result comes about automatically. In a simple way, one can see that effort is almost always required in order to carry out any real intention. Anyone who’s married knows this, at least if they are interested in keeping their marriage intact and thriving. It takes work.

A Gurdjieff group is not immune to the pulls and pushes of life. Individual initiatives can become all important. Individual power can become all important. The need for recognition, for place, and so on — all the ordinary desires that we know too well — all that becomes important. Surely every one of us can speak about that from our own experience in many different situations, but I hope that some of us have some experience of intention, and really working toward something.

Will it ever change here in Toronto? Each of the three groups has many wonderful people, and many wonderful initiatives. In my experience with each group, I could say that the work is alive in each one. Most separations remain separations. Some separations were obviously meant to be, just as some marriages seem destined for divorce and some for a fifty-year anniversary. One hopes that areas of mutual co-operation or mutual need might arise, and this might happen someday. I hope it doesn’t require a great emergency for this to happen. However, it’s important to remember that, in my experience, the movement toward unity is always uphill. It’s neither easy nor automatic. At the same time though, the tastes we have of wholeness or unity begin to reveal to us that this work is in fact a great service. That realization helps in the ongoing attempt to struggle with the arising of individual initiatives, in myself and in others.

Q. Over the years has there been a single teacher or a specific book that has been particularly meaningful to you? Is there a musical composition that you find yourself humming in tense moments – if you have tense moments?

There have been several teachers who have been meaningful to me, starting with my fourth grade teacher and going on through college. In fact, I consider myself pretty lucky in this respect. As a college freshman, I enrolled in three consecutive Humanities classes that Neal Miller Cross taught, using a book he coauthored called “The Search for Personal Freedom.” That was just what I needed at that point in my life. I was also lucky later on to take history courses with a man named Peter Szymanski, a brilliant, Russia-educated, French-trained Polish professor who was by his choice hidden away in the high mountains of Colorado.

From childhood, I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories and Zane Grey’s novels, and read and reread a dazzling little book called “The Hidden Hand,” written in the late 1800s — don’t ask me why — I still enjoy it. When I was twelve or thirteen, I read that huge, shocking, and thrilling book, “The Brothers Karazamov.” It made a huge impact on me and inspired a certain rapport with Eastern Orthodoxy, which persists to the present time.

I have many tense moments, but no particular musical compositions come to mind. There is very often a melody humming around in my brain, but usually the one of the moment is the one I listened to most recently, or most recently played on the piano. The Gurdjieff-de Hatmann music is particularly haunting. I do love Schubert, Bach, Mozart, Bartok, and Brahms for humming. But also I like contemporary music. For example, John Adams’ operas, and most anything by Elliot Carter. Amazing, but not too hummable.

Q. You have traveled quite widely and visited Work groups in numerous countries, for instance, England, France, and Australia, in addition to the United States and Canada. Do you find characteristic types everywhere? From your perspective, are there national or cultural differences in the Work to be detected?

First of all, I would like to say that in my opinion people who are attracted to the work often — very often — have certain similar characteristics. Keep in mind that this is only my opinion, which I’ve shared with many groups over the past few years. I suppose someone could do a kind of survey someday to see if my opinion holds any truth. So, in my opinion, there are a lot of good-looking people in the Work, no matter what country they live in. The women don’t always let their beauty shine out, but still, the beauty is often there. In addition, I notice that people in the Work are very often intelligent and well-educated, artistically talented, and often creative and resourceful. They are generally very good at washing dishes, too, and figuring out how to get one hundred people in a space that really only holds sixty. But these are my very subjective observations.

Certainly every country has its characteristics. For instance, the Australians are even more independent than Americans. It’s the island — and a fairly isolated island at that — mentality. Self-reliance is the thing. There surely must be Canadian characteristics, as well as Latin American, French, English, and so on. But everywhere one goes there are similar types: the natural leaders, the real seekers who find a work for themselves, the ones who find it difficult to speak, the ones who are only interested in the Ideas and the ones who are only interested in the Movements, those who proclaim their devotion to the search and who disappear without warning, the silent ones who after years explode in anger, the drinkers, the dutiful wives or husbands who sometimes end up more devoted to the Work than their partner, the Martha types and the Mary types, and so on. Probably any group has most of these types. When you are in a community for a long time, you get to know people pretty well. In fact, you know their kids and often their parents, you go through deaths and marriages, and you all get old together, so everyone goes on being an “older” person or one of “the young ones.”

Most important though is the experience I’ve had again and again of the similarities. The serious questions are the same, almost word for word; the feeling tone of the meetings are the same. There is a kind of taste or flavour, like a delicate scent that lingers in a room, which is the same in meetings in many of the groups I’ve visited, when the serious work appears, no matter where they meet.

But a little more on differences. Usually the main difference comes from which Gurdjieff pupil first brought the work to a group. There is loyalty to that person, of course, and a kind of imprint in the mind and heart from the way he or she presented the ideas and the work. This connects to your next question, because people in the Work need to find ways to work together in spite of quite natural loyalty and fealty, which is perhaps more often unconscious and therefore stronger than we think. We need to beware of imitation.

Q. Do you have a clear idea where the Work is heading, that is, where it will be in ten years time or in fifty years? Still alive and still working are some people – Paul Beekman Taylor and Patty de Llosa spring to mind – who, as children, recall meeting Mr. Gurdjieff. I keep meeting people who knew John Bennett, but I think Joyce Colin-Smith is the only person I know who actually met Mr. Ouspensky.

This is the question that keeps me up at night. I don’t have a very clear idea where the work is heading but I can share some rather muddled thoughts about it. Some of the best people I’ve know in the Work have branched out to fortify their work using other disciplines. Patty de Llosa is a good example. She has a very serious work with the Alexander Method, which seems a good support to her work with the Gurdjieff groups. Also, as she mentions in her book, she has a serious practice of Tai Chi, and in this way, she can share her knowledge and experience with a wide range of people, using knowledge and experience that is very much influenced by her years in the Gurdjieff work.

Others use their knowledge of science or the religions to find avenues toward explaining the ideas and practices of the Work. Of course, there is always the danger of diversion or of dilution. This can happen when other traditions are brought in to help deepen or broaden the understanding. Although the study of the specificity of the Gurdjieff Work is an interesting one, it’s not easy. It’s easier to say what it resembles than what it is, so this study is too often neglected now. It requires knowing the ideas in the books as well as in the memory of the oral teaching, and you could say, it requires real thought, which is pretty scarce these day. And often, people get too interested and leave the Work in order to practise one of those other traditions.

There are others still alive who met Gurdjieff, but surely the future of the work does not depend only on having met him or Ouspensky. The future of the work will depend on what has passed from person to person. Gurdjieff uses the image of a staircase, and you can’t go any higher on this stairway until you’ve placed someone on your step. And that person must place someone on his step, and so on. Of course, we hear this and think it’s simple and straightforward.

The problem I’ve encountered is that one really does not know what that next higher step will entail, what will be required of one, having placed someone else and having moved up a step. We forget that each step is new territory, and I suspect that it is the shock of finding oneself in new territory, alone, so to speak, that may stop the development needed to help everyone ascend. It’s too easy to drift along using past methods. Imitation only works up to point. I have been very glad to hear reports about the next generation in San Francisco. It sounds like they learned something over the years and now feel the obligation to pass it along.

Up to now the Work has served as a kind of pollinator. Hundreds of people have passed through its groups and back into life. When I look at old group lists, it’s quite amazing how many people have come and gone. Once in awhile, in San Francisco, I was stopped by someone on the street who would say he or she used to be in my group twenty-five or thirty years ago, and is “still doing the morning work and / or reading ‘Beelzebub.’” The Work will probably never be huge, but I do very much wish and hope that it remains alive, even in people who no longer attend groups. It’s very much needed.

Q. That’s eleven questions. My twelfth question is the following: Is there a question I should have asked you but didn’t which you yourself would like to ask and answer?

I’d like to paraphrase Gurdjieff and be asked, Have you met any remarkable men or women through your association with the Work? The answer is yes, indeed. I never met Gurdjieff himself, but like so many of my generation, through a close association with two remarkable people who had worked with him, I felt something of the unique and specific force that Gurdjieff generated.

Since moving to San Francisco in 1961, many special people moved through my life. Some I met in the Work, others I met because of the Work, usually at special events — luncheons, lectures, and so on. Laurens van der Post, Carlos Casteneda, James Hillman, and Father Thomas Keating are only a few of the latter group who come to mind. There were many others, and many other remarkable men and women who had worked with Gurdjieff.

I heard Krishnamurti speak twice and feel fortunate to have witnessed his presence and clarity in person. I had a life-changing exchange with Muktananda in northern California, a special introduction and conversation with Chogyam Trungpa in San Francisco, and a surprisingly live connection with Lama Zopa. Also, more recently, through Jim, I have met the Dalai Lama and Chogyam Trungpa’s son along with several well-known Canadian persons of importance.

Even more important though are the people I’ve “grown up with” in the Work. There are maybe 150 people, in various locations, whom I know and care for — people I’ve worked with and now their children — and almost every one of them is remarkable.

All in all, so far, a rich outer life. As to the inner life, it is filled at best with many questions, and at worst with dreams of all that has gone before and that which will come later. But there’s always room for more.

No more questions … thank you!

Barbara less memory

Barbara Wright


John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist who is nationally known as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of Canadiana. In his latest book of essays called “Whistle While You Work,” he has combined consciousness studies with Canadian references. From time to time he reviews Work-related publications for this website.



Joseph Azize Page


Ferapontoff’s Constantinople notes state that: “Unity is the psychological attribute of immortality.” I would add that consciousness and conscience are perhaps likewise the intellectual and emotional attributes of immortality. The three divine impulses, faith, hope and love, may be the spiritual attributes of immortality. By contrast, death is dissolution and “tumbling to decay”, as Hopkins said. Narrowing of consciousness, stifling of conscience, closure to the divine impulses, and rigidity are all shadows thrown before the remorseless advance of death.

Life is a field in which the materials for the life-beyond-this-life are all found, and can be attracted together to create an operating wholeness. In the chapter “Beelzebub’s Opinion of War”, Beelzebub says that the ‘destiny’ of humans is “chiefly to elaborate – by means of the process of their existence – the vibrations required by Nature …” (p. 1105). On the very next page, he speaks not of producing vibrations but a sacred cosmic substance, “Askokin” (p. 1106). Perhaps there is no relevant difference: perhaps Askokin is as much a vibration as it is a substance. Beelzebub also says that Askokin is generally found blended with two other substances, Abrustdonis and Helkdonis. These latter two substances are the material from which higher being-bodies, namely, “the body Kesdjan and the body of the Soul” are “in general” formed and perfected. Further, Abrustdonis and Helkdonis are transubstantiated “by means of conscious labors and intentional sufferings”. In that process of transubstantiation, Askokin is “liberated” (pp. 1106-7).

This was known to the people of Atlantis, says Beelzebub. Atlantean males would gather in their temples for certain “mysteries” in the “special state” of self-remembering. There they would give themselves over to “active and conscious contemplation the whole time, and in this state performed these corresponding sacred mysteries, so that there should be transubstantiated in them the sacred substances Abrustdonis and Helkdonis.” (p. 1109) Thus they fulfilled two duties at once, the duties of perfecting their higher being-bodies and of serving the cosmic Trogoautoegocratic process (p. 1108). It would appear, although it is not explicitly stated, that Askokin, Abrustdonis and Helkdonis are elements of the active element Exioëhary which can be used both for continuation of the species and for self-perfecting (see pp. 277, 761 and 793). That is, self-remembering, conscious labor and intentional suffering, contemplation, normal use of the sex energy, the production of the soul and of the vessel of the soul (“Kesdjan” is said to mean “vessel of the soul”) and so immortality, are aspects of the one process, the “process of (our) existence” if lived consciously.

The same doctrine is, I think, referred to in the chapter “Purgatory”, when Beelzebub speaks of “intentional contemplativeness”, which he states is “the principal factor for the assimilation of those cosmic substances”, being those “definite cosmic substances necessary for the arising and existence of higher being-parts …” (p. 783). Once more, he tells us in this context that the absorption of the higher being-foods was considered by some of the inhabitants of Atlantis to be “the chief aim of their existence” (p. 783).

Then, Beelzebub states in the chapter “Beelzebub in America” that the practices of what he calls the Mohammedan religion were introduced because the followers of the teaching had “lost the capacity for contemplation and consequently the possibility of understanding truths consciously …” (p. 1010). Again, contemplation is placed at the beginning of a progression of conscious development.

As for faith, hope and love as spiritual attributes of immortality, Beelzebub speaks eloquently of them in the Ashiata Shiemash chapters, stating at the outset that they are the “three sacred ways for self-perfecting, foreordained by OUR ENDLESS CREATOR HIMSELF …” (p. 353). Immortality is thus the prize, but immortality necessarily includes these divine impulses, and therefore is more than a bare extension of existence indefinitely far into time, it is an immortality of faith, hope and love.

In one of the Paris group meetings, Gurdjieff spoke of forming the second body by accumulating a substance, and said that a “will” was needed for this, and a struggle. He stated that this was the “only possibility” of coming to the second body, and that “the only aim is that everything should serve this aim”. Once one has glimpsed the simplicity of Gurdjieff’s methods, many other indications of how the methods all serve the crystallizing of higher bodies spring to mind, or are more quickly spotted. Perhaps Gurdjieff’s self-remembering, the five Obligolnian-strivings, and conscious labour and intentional suffering, can all be integrated into one system: they are integrated as being different notes in the octave of crystallizing higher bodies.

That integration of the methods, their simplicity (the folding of many into one ply), is illustrated in a passage titled “The Opening for the Appearance, the Materialization and the Coating of the Second Being-Body” read on 2 August 1978, where Mr Adie stated that the road to the coating of the astral body was “by means of gradually controlled, directed and divided attention”, which all tended to the harmonization of the life processes within us. He spoke there of the need to be able to remain balanced in the preparation and also in life, so that the inner transmutations could be sustained in their integrity. This text is now in the book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia.

If the process of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation is necessary for the formation of the highest being body, the converse is also true, that the formation of the bodies makes a more conscious life possible. As Mr Adie then said: “the formation and completion of the coating of this emotional body … enable(s us) to have the power to return and to enter the daily life of outer activity without suffering the usual dispersal of the emotional body”. In fact, this is, I think, the real reason why we are always forgetting: depending upon one’s vocabulary, one can say either that the higher bodies are insufficiently crystallised or that the soul is insufficiently pure. That this is Gurdjieff’s treaching is apparent from the diagram of the four bodies and the explanation found in Miraculous.

This diagram ties in with the idea of the higher centres. The balancing of our three most amenable centres (thinking, feeling and moving) corresponds to the development of man number 4. The harmonization of the higher emotional centre with these corresponds to the development of man number 5 and of the astral body. Thus, in the Ferapontoff notes it is stated: “The matter of the astral body is to be found in the emotional centre, but it is not crystallized.” Then, the harmonization of the activity of the higher intellectual centre with these corresponds to the development of man number 6 and the mental body. In man number 7, these developments are permanent.

There is found in Miraculous a diagram where alongside the ray of creation are two columns for bodies and laws. The diagram relevantly shows that the fourth (causal) body is subject only to six laws and is made up of the material of the starry world; the third (mental) body is subject to 12 laws and is composed of solar matter. The second (astral) body obeys 24 laws and is of the material of the planetary world, while the physical body under 48 laws is made of earthly matter (p. 94).

All of these various ideas of bodies, centres, energies, matters and laws, are but perspectives from different sides of the one process. On 2 July 1982, Mr Adie said that in the preparation one could, if one’s efforts had come to that point:

… direct a part of my gaze upwards through my brows, to that higher source, the source of the all-pervasive influence of the initiation of all life. It is as if the gaze started in my centre of gravity, and flowed upward, and joined in my head at that opening, to receive the finest impressions coming from the source of everything existing.

This is a reference to the work of the higher intellectual centre and the incipient mental body, which being composed of the matter of the sun does in fact directly receive the influence of “all suns”, the source of all life. Importantly, the process Mr Adie describes is natural. The ground for it has been prepared by the harmonization of the centres, but yet there is required both an understanding and effort, albeit surpassingly subtle understanding and effort.

In this regard, a letter which Adie wrote to Mr Gurdjieff and Mme de Salzmann on 24 July 1949 is interesting. In it, Adie speaks of the latest exercise Gurdjieff has given him, and what he experiences through it, describing the “building up or materialisation of the envelope of my sphere”. He also describes the stopping of thoughts, and an awareness of the “higher emotional body or Kesdjan body or at least something leading to this”. It is clear that he has not to been told to expect it, but nonetheless the concentration of his attention and energies, as directed, has made it possible. Adie explains that when he has the stated experience no negative emotions even appear. He notes that his consciousness seems to shift or be centred in a particular part of his body which I shall not describe. Now initially, his consciousness placed itself there, but now that he is aware of it, he says, this “is to be cultivated … as if from here I am safe in regard to others”.

In the blog on the Prayer of the Heart I wrote about the Christian prayer which makes use of awareness of the breath and its flowing into and through the body. There, too, the consciousness is placed in the body. As it happens, Mr Adie was referring to a different part of the body in this letter, but the principle is clear: when the consciousness has shifted, one can intentionally, by a simple act of will, place the consciousness there again, making possible a fresh experience. The placing in the body undoubtedly provides a stool for a more continuous experience.

One does not have to speak of the higher centres to come to the point of being able to sense the movement of energies through them. In fact, it may even be counter-productive if one speaks unwisely, or perhaps more accurately, if one allows oneself to mix imagination in with what one learns. This type of dreaming can lead to sleep in higher centres. Yet, once one has had an experience of the movement of subtle energies or of the activation of higher centres, then I feel as Mr Adie did, that one should not neglect them. Incidentally, that letter provides contemporaneous evidence of the methods Gurdjieff was using in 1949, and also of Adie’s faithfulness to his teacher.

Why Aiëssirittoorassnian-Contemplation?

Why is Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation necessary for the development of higher bodies? It is worth pondering some portions in the posthumously published Tu L’Aimeras, translated into English and re-edited as Gurdjieff, A Master in Life: Recollections of Tcheslaw Tchekhovitch.

Tchekhovitch recalls that a friend of a member of their Constantinople group had died, and they were speaking of this death when Gurdjieff approached. One of them summoned up the courage to ask Gurdjieff to clarify “how work of a spiritual nature leads to immortality”. They knew that he had said subtle bodies could be formed, but found this obscure. In reply, Gurdjieff gave the examples of stones forming in the kidney, and salt crystallizing from saturation. So too, he said, “psychic substances” can, if they saturate the body, crystallize. Further, a substance such as salt, when crystallized, possesses qualities lacking from the salt dissolved in water. A salty liquid poured into a river will quickly blend into the river water, and while one might detect some salt fifteen metres downstream, there will be no trace at all one kilometer further on. However, if the salt can be crystallized and placed beyond the waters, then it is “theoretically … immortal”.

The river, said Gurdjieff, is life. Life carries away the energies elaborated in us. If we could somehow keep separate from life the higher substances formed by conscious labors then the substances would crystallize more quickly and, like the salt crystals, retain their integrity. Once formed, the new arising has its own destiny. Gurdjieff went on to give the example of bread: one it has been properly baked, bread can no longer be reduced to flour. “Once made, bread has a fate of its own.” But, Gurdjieff went on to add, this does not mean that one must withdraw from what we call ‘life’, as some wrong-headed ascetics do, with the result that they exhaust themselves rather than developing. One must acquire a deeper understanding of the nature of life and separation from it.

Hence, I think, the importance of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation and making a connection between our experience of it and the manifestations of our lives. One commences the day with the preparation as a means of fostering the elaboration of finer substances.

By consciously collecting oneself within one’s atmosphere, one sets up, by an act of will, a sort of magnetic field for the collection and coherence of finer hydrogens. As the relative tempos of each centre start to come into the sacred relationship, these hydrogens coalesce and form a spiritualised unity according to a pattern contemplated on a more subtle plane of existence.

For this reason, some of Gurdjieff’s exercises end with instructions to rest ten or fifteen minutes in a collected state. One example, from “The Four Ideals” which Gurdjieff gave Mr Adie on 1 October 1948, specifically states that without this “calmness” the results cannot be assimilated and the exercise will have been in vain. It even gives further indications of what is meant by the collected state. Then, in the meeting of 9 December 1946 averted to above, Gurdjieff says that one should not do anything which causes one to emanate excessively: should one wish to accumulate the desired substance, one must come to a concentrated state. The danger he says, is that the results may evaporate like cigarette smoke. In fact, Gurdjieff there recommends that an exercise be finished with a prayer, to ask one’s “ideal” (sic) to help safeguard this result, and even to use the prayer between exercises so as to evoke “a factor of recall”.

In that meeting, and elsewhere, Gurdjieff insisted upon practising and repeating. An undated pencil jotting, found with what I call Mr Adie’s “Paris Notes” is headed Real I. It reads, in part:

Real I
Practise to isolate yourself from everyone, so as to come into this presence.
Real I. This you must practise now to have every aim.
Real I.
Practise for this isolation … Stop considering. … Keep all in. Real I.

As these “Paris Notes” of September 1949 briefly chart the Adies’ time with Gurdjieff, including something of the exercises, treatment and advice he gave, it is a fair conjecture that this piece either reflects a resolution Mr Adie made under the influence of what he was receiving in Paris with Gurdjieff, or even that its terse cadences record Gurdjieff’s own advice to him.

The advice seems to me to tie in with the talk on immortality recorded by Tchekhovitch, and also with another allegory which he relates. Still in Constantinople, Gurdjieff was asked about the proper attitude for a pupil. Imagine, he replied, that you are offered a house in a vast virgin forest with but one condition: you must maintain the fire beneath a cauldron. Even though no one checks on you, you are not allowed to lift the lid of the cauldron, and you know nothing about the boiling substance inside. You know only that you must keep it boiling and never allow the fire to go out. Significantly, no one but yourself verifies that you are doing it correctly. Such dedication, perseverance and honesty are the best attitudes in a pupil. Only later, Tchekhovitch said, did he come to understand what the mysterious alchemical substance might be and why sacrifice was required to obtain its gift.

It is also interesting that the stimulus for this allegory was a question about the desirable attitude in a pupil. I doubt that I am the only one who has for too long not appreciated what we have in Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. Jane Heap said that we live beneath our privileges. Nowhere, perhaps, is this more true than of we who have learned the morning preparation, but do not use it, or do not pass it on. Gurdjieff said of one version of the preparation: “Do this ten minutes every day for the rest of your life and you will live to bless my name.”

This explains two things: why it is necessary to use the preparation and exercises as Gurdjieff gave them, and why Gurdjieff, de Salzmann, Mrs Staveley, the Adies, all these people, insisted upon the value of trying the exercises in groups. First, the Gurdjieff exercises, and only the Gurdjieff exercises, include this teaching of higher being bodies and integrate it into the entire system in an organic manner. Bennett remarked that exciting as the Subud latihan was, he and others found that they had to go back to the Gurdjieff exercises because a strange sort of will-lessness had developed in them. Second, the more people who use these exercises together, the greater the concentration of higher hydrogens. Gurdjieff placed a lot of knowledge, very concisely and very precisely into the formulation of his exercises.

We will value Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation more if we study and value the teaching on higher being bodies. And of course, this takes us straight to Beelzebub which is filled with references, both direct and indirect, to these higher bodies and their cosmic destinies. As Gurdjieff stated, his pupils should regularly read his book, and they should read it in the manner he indicated: three times, passively, actively and bringing the reconciling scrutiny which can lead to digestion, transforming our knowledge of the book into our own understanding.

This all has an important corollary: the art should, I think, be related to daily efforts in life. We do try this, but perhaps there is scope for more concerted and ever more conscious efforts along these lines. Gurdjieff and his pupils persistently encouraged us to find ways of making connections between the morning preparation and efforts “in life”, so to speak. There is very little exchange on the exercises, and maybe that is prudent. Yet, nonetheless, perhaps it should perhaps be allowed for, even if only once a month or so, amongst those making a study of the art.

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 third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.



Joseph Azize Page


I have referred elsewhere to “The Four Ideals” exercise which the Adies worked on, at Gurdjieff’s direction, for a period of five months from October 1948 to March 1949. They had other exercises at the same time, particularly the “I AM” exercise. But this one is of some significance, for several reasons. The four ideals of this exercise are Muhammad, Buddha, Lama and Christ (although the diagram made by Adie shows, if I read it correctly, that there are also many other ideals). Other of Gurdjieff’s exercises mention these four ideals, and sometimes also Moses. The exercise is given to facilitate in the person who attempts it the conscious absorption of higher hydrogens. It is effectively, I would say, a prayer of a very unusual type.

There is something literally ‘wonder-full’ about these exercises. According to the transcript of a meeting in Paris of 7 December 1941, someone asked Gurdjieff how he should pray. Gurdjieff replied that this is for later, but there are substances which emanate from the sun and planets (in this respect, see “Purgatory” at pp. 760-1). These emanations, he said, make contact at certain points in our solar system, and can reflect in materialized images which are themselves images of the All Highest, albeit they are what he calls “inverted” images. There are always, he averred, materialized images in the atmosphere, and if only we could sufficiently concentrate, we could enter into contact with the image and receive the substances.

Another aspect of the Four Ideals’ prayer-like nature is that religiosity is not usually associated with Gurdjieff. He is occasionally quoted expressing something like religiosity, but not often. However, in Beelzebub (especially the 1931 edition), in his music, and in the movements, there is rather more. Much of his piano music bears titles such as “”, “The Story of the Resurrection of Christ”, or “Reading from a Sacred Book”. There are even pieces with titles such as “Vespers Hymn” and “Tibi Cantamus”. There is the entire series of “Hymns from a Truly Great Temple” and “Sacred Hymns”. The solemnity and gravity of these pieces is almost overwhelming. In fact, it takes most of us some time before we can bear to open to the music, so powerful is it. Such sublimity requires courage to stand before it. It is easier to subliminally shut down. Then there are movements with titles such as “The Big Prayer”, and “Sense of the Sacred”, which invokes the names of the four ideals. One cannot say much about this teaching without words. But it exists and is an important part of Gurdjieff’s heritage.

Gurdjieff gave directions for prayer, even while warning that it was not prayer such as we ordinarily understand, and that to be significant it has be attempted with all three centres. In Ouspensky’s ‘In Search of the Miraculous’, Gurdjieff is reported saying that the action of conscious praying could itself do for the person what they sought from a higher power.

However, neither here nor in the transcripts of Paris meetings does Gurdjieff say that prayer is ineffectual let alone not to pray. On the contrary, he actually and explicitly gave instruction in how to pray and enjoined it. In other words, prayer is one of Gurdjieff’s methods.

A particular form of prayer which he insisted upon is what might be called “well-wishing”. In one of the Paris groups, someone related to Gurdjieff that he had seen some poor children, and was distraught because he could do nothing to help them. But you can, said Gurdjieff, even if you have no resources: you can wish well for them, and then, it is a law that someone who can help shall do so. The questioner continued in the same vein, he could not assist them. Gurdjieff stopped him: you have not heard what I say. You can, do as I suggest.

Mr Adie said little about this, he placed the emphasis upon changing oneself, but he did sometimes state that we are all related. He would often speak of being in relation. We are connected by subtle threads, and so to what are the others connected? An evolving part of humanity? Mrs Staveley said more about this, and about prayer, and she was correct to.

But whatever one has learned about this, I would suggest that once more, the key lies in Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. At page 569 of ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson’, Beelzebub goes so far as to state that the soul is made up of substances exclusively obtained from the art of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. Gurdjieff taught that only through the crystallization of the higher bodies do we acquire immortality; and immortality, Gurdjieff said, is the goal of all religious teachings, including his own.

To someone who practices the art as the three-centred basis for engagement in life, prayer and well-wishing come naturally. The circumstances of life suggest them. The practitioner knows that prayer is no fantasy, even if it works in ways we find mysterious. But there is a wisdom and even a wonder in that mystery. A high valuation of the art of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation will bring a valuation of prayer, and a low valuation of the art a correspondingly low evaluation of prayer and well-wishing.

Gurdjieff advised his students to have an ideal: for example, in the meeting of 16 January 1944, with his disarming common sense, he counselled that one cannot recapture the faith of childhood, one is adult now and that faith is not necessary. Yet, he stated, if one does not have an ideal, if one does not believe in God, then one’s parent or teacher can serve as an ideal. As mentioned, on 9 December 1946, Gurdjieff advised that when finishing an exercise one could make a prayer to one’s ideal to help guard what one has received or attracted until the next exercise.

This concept of the ideal is referred to several times in the Paris groups, and it is worth studying. Many of us have found that what we thought of as ideals whether religious, political, social or otherwise were idols (ideals with which we became identified), and we came to see our idolatry as a foolishness. To an extent, Gurdjieff’s methods enabled us to see both idol and idolatry with more clarity. But it does not follow that there are no ideals or that there can be no service, no genuine being-faith. To take one’s teacher as “ ideal” does not mean to pretend that our teachers were perfect. In so far as they represent a teaching, they represent an ideal. The ideal himself, as Gurdjieff said in the Four Ideals, is high above the earth. We approach the ideals by stages. We ourselves are flawed, and are far from God, but we can take an ideal which corresponds to our situation and raise ourselves by steps.

Finally, in the Four Ideals exercise there is an order given to the movement of higher hydrogens through the body. Some of the Paris groups meeting transcripts refer to this passage of energies. Other traditions, especially from Asia, give very precise indications of how different forces move through the body. While there is no doubt that there is a sort of psychic circulation system which follows its own laws, these laws are not on our terrestrial level. The blood of the astral body (Hanbledzoin) does not behave like the blood in our veins and capillaries: it possesses a greater degree of consciousness. Hence, as Vaysse says, even if one has a skeletal deformity, one can use the preparation. If one brings consciousness to the body and the movement of the breath, that very consciousness will assist the passage and transformation of the energies.

I think that there is a danger in the reports of the Asian systems, such as those of Hinduism and Buddhism. They are so clear and precise that they almost suggest that the higher hydrogens flow like water through copper pipes. I cannot say that this is wrong, but neither is it the whole of the truth. They move with a passage which defies description even when it is experienced. What we experience of this movement we have to account to ourselves. Our account is necessarily influenced by what we already believe and have previously experienced. What seems to us to be an entry of forces may in fact be the manifestation of forces which are within: the feeling of entry may, on occasions, be a trick of the eye. What seems to us to take time may not: it may be instantaneous but presented to our experience as if sequential, and the sequence may even be the opposite of what we think. That is, the movement of these energies may be first noticed by the conscious mind when it is completing. Then the very last of a chain of unconscious or superconscious experiences is the first to impinge upon our awareness, and our awareness but sometimes, but not necessarily always, reconstruct the order and so present it to us in reverse order. Something like this happens with our visual impression of lightning.

This is all said so that one does not trust too much in second hand accounts whether oral or written, but rather in one’s own experience. Having said that, certain of the preparations which the Adies had taped do provide some very valuable information. They would warn us not to imagine what they referred to, but to watch for it. It is rather as if an experienced astronomer advised in which section of the heavens one should watch to see a very faint star.

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 third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.



The College of Charleston

This paper given by Sophia Wellbeloved at the Association for the Study of Esotericism’s
Third International Conference
at the College of Charleston, South Carolina in June 2008, is one of five papers given relating to Gurdjieff. The others were given by Michael Pittman, Joseph Azize, Richard Smoley and Jon Woodson, to see the full program copy and paste this link: to see the full programme.

‘Gurdjieff as Magus’ looks at G. I. Gurdjieff (1866?-1949) in his role as a magus. He taught pupils the acquisition of will, use of symbolism, inter-relationship of macrocosmos to microcosmos and a manipulation of cosmic laws so as to form a set of new bodies of ever finer materiality and longevity. It shows the centrality of hypnotism to his teaching about consciousness and how hypnotic techniques function in his texts and oral teachings. Gurdjieff used the imagery of black and white magic and reflects the roles of both black and white magician, using alcohol, drugs and intense pressures to entangle pupils usually for short periods of time. Lastly we will look at how the teaching has become institutionalised, necessitating omissions and redefinitions of both Gurdjieff and the Work.

Gurdjieff as Magus: Omissions and Redefinitions of the Work

Gurdjieff is not an easy man to define, and we are not going to attempt to impose a fixed definition of him here. What we are going to look at is:

How he presented himself in his writings

How he presented himself to his pupils in his oral teachings

Present day omissions and redefinitions of the Work


Gurdjieff as Hypnotist

Gurdjieff was known as a hypnotist who cared for and cured drink and drug dependency and other conditions, a role which he regarded as separate from his role as a teacher and which he continued throughout his life, (Peters 1977: 214, 220-223. Webb: 1980, 473).

Now we will look at how Gurdjieff presented himself in his texts in relation to hypnotism. You can see below the full titles and the abbreviations I am going to use when I refer to the texts


The Herald of Coming Good, privately published Paris, 1933

First series: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man or Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1950

Second series: Meetings With Remarkable Men, trans. A. R. Orage, Londond: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963

Third series: Life is real only then, when “I am”, New York: Duton for Triangle Editions, 1975


In all these writings Gurdjieff refers to hypnotism; in the Tales, the two central chapters are devoted to the practice of hypnotism, in these Gurdjieff’s life story merges with that of his hero Beelzebub. Mesmer is perhaps the only historical person mentioned in the Tales who is not vilified by Beelzebub (Tales: 561-2). In the other three ‘autobiographical’ works he gives examples of practicing hypnotism himself (Meetings: 197-98, Life: 25, Herald: 11-13, see also Wellbeloved 2003:100-02). Herald focuses almost exclusively on his study of hypnotism and other occult practises.

Gurdjieff’s represents hypnotism in both passive and active functions


WAKING (hypnotic) SLEEP
(our usual waking state)

HYPNOTISM(can function passively or actively)

(usually inaccessible to us but made accessible by hypnosis )


We can relate hypnotism to the central tenet of Gurdjieff’s teaching. He taught that what we usually regard as being our daily waking state is in fact a state of sleep. Not ordinary sleep but hypnotic sleep.

In brief summary: our ‘true’ consciousness resides in what he terms the ‘subconscious’ which we are usually unable to contact. As a result of this division in our consciousness, he says that, as we are, we cannot ‘do’, our actions are merely mechanical reactions.

In Chapter XXXII of the Tales Beelzebub explains that hypnotism is the means of linking these two states of being. It can be used to act on these separated consciousnesses in different ways, for example, it can put the usual waking state, where the personality functions to sleep so that the subconscious which contains the essence can function. The advantage of doing that is that according to the teaching essence can grow and develop while the personality is a prison in which we respond mechanically to what ever happens.

So we can see that a passive experience of hypnotism, being hypnotised by events or surroundings, may function to trap us in ‘waking sleep’, while an active hypnotism, may liberate us from waking sleep and give us access to our subconscious.

Hypnotism in Gurdjieff’s terminology is thus ‘a stick with two ends.’


Here I want to look at Gurdjieff’s four texts in relation to his law of three which expresses two possible outcomes for the interaction of negative and positive forces. Hypnotism is the third force that can reconcile these forces in an evolutionary/positive way, or in a devolutionary/negative way.

The diagram below show how Gurdjieff’s texts embody his law of three.


Results from reconciliation in an evolutionary/upwards direction

– TALES Hypnotism is the third force capable of reconciling positive and negative forces + MEETINGS

Results from reconciliation in devolutionary/downwards direction


We can regard each text as representing a positive or negative force according to Gurdjieff’s own intention for the books stated in the following way:

The Tales – functions as a negative force intended to destroy the reader’s beliefs and views
Meetings – functions as a positive force – because it is to provide the reader with good material for a new creation.

Life – functions as a result of an evolutionary reconciling force – because it is to help the reader realise the world existing in reality rather than in his fantasy.

Herald – functions as the result of a devolutionary reconciling force, this is the book that Gurdjieff withdrew or ‘exiled’.

In the two books which show how the positive and negative are resolved Gurdjieff presents himself as a predominantly wise white magician in Life, and the personification of a psychotic, black magician in Herald.

Gurdjieff instructed his pupils not to read Herald, but writes in Life, that we ought not to read it. This is not a convincing strategy for someone who wants his book to be ignored. Herald shows the chaotic state of a devolutionary descent in to madness, and it is necessary to include it in order to show the full expression of his law of three.

Gurdjieff employed hypnotic techniques in all these texts. Some of these are defined by Dr Joseph A. Sandford a psychologist and clinical hypnotheapist with Gurdjieffian interests and professionally trained in the hypnosis methodology of Milton H. Erickson. Sandford gives some examples of the hypnotic techniques that are used by both men: ‘story telling, metaphor, indirect suggestion, confusion techniques and implied directives, and shocks (Gnosis through Hypnosis: the Role of Trance in Personal Transformation, Proceedings of the All & Everything Humantities Conference,2005, privately published. See also (Runyon, Carroll, Magick and Hypnosis). ‘<em>Ceremonial magic is ritual hypnosis’).

Gurdjieff himself said that breaking the connection between the emotional and mental centres will cause a person to become hallucinated (Gurdjieff, 1976: 263, 192), ‘Centres are without critical faculty … when a person looks with one centre only, he is under hallucination’). All his texts are intentionally confusing: misleading, contradictory, and paradoxical, he defined himself as:

‘unique in respect of the so to say “muddling and befuddling” of all the notions and convictions supposedly firmly fixed in the entirety of people with whom I come into contact.” (Tales, 26).

Now we will look at how Gurdjieff presented himself to his pupils.
Gurdjieff’s teaching emphasised specific methodologies according to where he was and what was happening, but the content of the teaching remained the same in all periods. Here, because of time constraints, we will look at two periods indicated in the chronology below.


G. I. GURDJIEFF 1866? – 1949

1866? Born Alexandropol, Armenia, (now Gyumri)

1885?- 1910? Undocumented travels to Middle and Far East

1910? – 1917 In Russia teaching: P. D. Ouspensky meets Gurdjieff
records teaching from 1915 – 1922
In Search of the Miraculous (Search) Ouspensky 1949

1917 – 1922 From Russia to Europe with pupils

1922 France: Gurdjieff founds The Institute for the Harmonious
Development of Man outside Paris,
fully functional until 1924

1924 -1930 Visits USA begins writing. Closes the Institute but
continues to live there. Will visit the USA a further
nine or ten times.

1932 lives in Paris

1935 – 1940 Paris teaching the Rope group [and others].

1940-1945 Teaching groups in his flat in Paris

1945 Gurdjieff continued teaching pupils until his death in


P. D. Ouspensky

During this time Ouspensky records Gurdjieff’s teaching pupils: the acquisition of will, the use of symbolism, the inter-relationship of macrocosmos to microcosmos and a manipulation of cosmic laws so as to form a set of new bodies of ever finer materiality and longevity. Gurdjieff expressed his teachings with reference to alchemical processes, (Search,176, 180), transmutation and transformation (Search,193), and in relation to the symbologies of astrology, magic and tarot, among others (Search, 278-295) and Webb, (The Harmonious Circle 1980, 499-525) gives a good account of some of the likely western esoteric origins of Gurdjieff’s teaching (Webb, 1980, 499-525).

Many if not most of Gurdjieff’s pupils had some knowledge of Theosophical ideas, so his cosmology, ideas about the formation of different bodies would have been familiar to them. What Gurdjieff offered pupils that differed from Blavatksy’s Theosophical teaching was an occult practice that would enable them to transform themselves, not just a theory about different bodies but methods for creating them. This brings Gurdjieff’s teaching into the realm of magic (Versluis, Arthur, 2007: 1. ‘Magicians seek direct spiritual insight and use it to affect the course of events’, and 4. ‘the Magus seeks to have effects in the world’.)

Gurdjieff defines magicians as men who understand the laws of nature and know how to use them to transform substances and also to oppose mechanical influences, and this is not a bad summary of what Gurdjieff himself taught. He gives Christ as an example of a magician who had this knowledge (Search: 226-7, see also (Views 1976/ 1st pub 1973 in a talk in Essentuki in 1918). Gurdjieff’s definitions of both black and white magicians are inconsistent and confusing (Search: 227). He does say that ‘Black magic does not in any way mean magic of evil’ and this is representative of a theme he returns to throughout his teaching. The pupils who took part in his revue ‘Struggle of the Magicians’, had to dance the roles of both black and white magicians.
Gurdjieff agrees with Ouspensky that narcotics are used for the creation of states that make magic possible, but says that they are not merely narcotics although substances used may be prepared form opium or hashish (Search: 8-9 see also 162, 195).

There is a short paper on Narcotics and Hormones by G. I. Gurdjieff, ‘evidently taken down by Ouspensky’. Here Gurdjieff relates some of the uses of narcotics including as a help in ‘the work of Self-Observation and self study,’ he stresses that the use of narcotics is dangerous and needs to be carried out by an expert.

In 1959 the Stourton Press in Cape Town published a short paper Narcotics and Hormones by G. I. Gurdjieff, ‘evidently taken down by Ouspensky’, some of the material is in his In Search of the Miraculous. Republished in Unforgotten Fragments, Pogson, Beryl Chassereau, and Lewis Creed, 1994. Gurdjieff states that narcotics can be used to change the state of consciousness. He refers to medieval literature as a rich source on the subject. He defines hormones as ‘clouds of fine matter, finer than the gaseous matter known to us which is given off by various organs of our body. The 1920s and 1930s were a time of great interest and medical research into hormones. In 1922 insulin was first used to treat diabetes, (see also There are references to opium in the Tales including an complex passage pages 826-40 detailing research into the properties of opium).


Solita Solano

1935 -1939/40
Gurdjieff was teaching’ the Rope’ a group of women pupils in Paris, seeing them once or twice every day. According to Gurdjieff’s pupil J. G Bennett this group progressed at a much faster rate than earlier pupils, Bennett attributed this to the use of drugs (Bennett 1976: 232), Bennett writes that Gurdjieff carried out ‘a very extraordinary experiment, making use of methods that brought them into remarkable psychic states, and developed their powers far more rapidly’ than those of earlier pupils. He saw memoirs but is not allowed to quote from them, he hopes they will be published as they throw light on Gurdjieff’s methods as a teacher and upon ‘his use of drugs as a method of developing not only psychic experiences, but also opening hidden channels of the human psyche’. Although he was castigated for making this suggestion, there are diary entries concerning courses of injections, which Gurdjieff himself gave to the pupils, recorded in:

Notes taken by Solita Solano from October 1935 – April 1939 in Paris, with additional notes about Gurdjieff’s visit to New York in 1948
(Janet Flanner and Solita Solano Papers, Library of Congress, folder 6 box 6).

There are twenty-three direct references to piqures (injections) and courses of injections that Gurdjieff gave Solano and other members of the Rope group. He gave inner exercises for them to do related to the injections.

Solano quotes Gurdjieff saying:

‘After a certain age this effort [his teaching] is very difficult and often impossible. There is an artificial aid by means of physico-chemical substance… for example a substance can be injected which will furnish artificial help for prayer … If the effort and the amount of the chemical are not balanced, it becomes a dangerous poison for the organism.’ (In January, 1936, p. 18).

He had already given her ‘My first piqure and my first exercise’ (16th November 1935).

These notes are greatly abridged and there is no mention of the actual substances he was injecting, but he did take blood and urine samples from the group to check what adjustments to make to their medications. The exercises are not give in the Notes, and the results of the injections are not referred to in detail, Solano reports feeling better after the first course. Later the group are strongly affected by the injections, two of them cry and feel suicidal, Solano fears loosing her memory. Another time she asks about an increase in menstruation which Gurdjieff attributes to the injections this last suggests injections of hormones (Notes 39-40).

The group also take other medicines given them by Gurdjieff (Notes July 18, 1936, 42-43).

There are references to magic, in the first (June 18th 1936) Gurdjieff refers to ‘the mag’, Solano writes in brackets after mag ( magus, adept, master) and says that

The mag (magus, adept, master) is cunning.

… The mag is the highest that man can approach to God because only he can be impartial and fulfil obligation to God. In old times the mag was always made the chief because he had cunning. Other mags could do either white or black magic but the mag who had cunning and canning could do both white and black and was the chief of the Initiates. Man with real cunning is man without quotation marks. Angel can do only one thing. Devil can do all.’ (July 18th 1936, Notes, 42-43).

A month later he says: “Both cunning and canning are necessary to all things. This is why there are two magics. Black magic is cunning – often also is cunning and canness – you understand the difference? Black magic is ideal for being. Cunning and can-ness is like conscious and unconscious, or like two words used in Bible for meaning two kinds of evil voluntary and involuntary sin”. (Notes 49).

Gurdjieff continued to teach pupils his mix of esoteric ideas and occult practices. He was at pains to present himself in his writings and in his oral teachings in the roles of both Black and White Magician. He never sought to present himself as solely good, or other than he was which was capable of both constructive and destructive relations with his pupils. I suggest that this duality is fundamental to his teaching because he is an embodiment of his Law of Three, showing the good and bad possibilities open to a human beings and how these may be reconciled.

Some of the methods that Gurdjieff used to hypnotised and entangled his pupils were:
intense pressures
conflicting demands
contradictory teachings
exhausting physical efforts
lack of sleep
use of alcohol and drugs
and fasts

The demands of both Gurdjieff’s writings and oral teachings entangle the reader or listener in hypnotic paradox and contradiction . The demand for students to observe themselves was contradicted by the teaching that they were mechanical and unable to ‘do’. The statement that pupils must have a critical mind was subverted by belonging to a regime in which they had agreed to be incapable of ‘doing’ and therefore of being critical. The constant demand for ‘making effort’ was reinforced by Gurdjieff’s instruction that leaving the teaching before having reached a certain stage would be injurious. It would be better for pupils to die making ‘super-efforts’ than to continue living their mechanical lives. He stressed that the teaching was dangerous. Pupils could not avoid danger, they had to face either the danger of the teaching, or of leaving it. Gurdjieff’s teaching always took place in the last chance saloon.

But he did repeatedly warn pupils against taking his cosmological ideas literally (Wellbeloved, 2003: 216-17). He also gave clues. The astute reader or listener will find the contradictions and begin to question the texts and maybe also the teaching. The process of freeing themselves from this hypnotised state might also free pupils from much of their usual mechanically hypnotised state and allow them to connect with their subconscious (Webb 1980: 560-573). Entanglement and liberation are two ends of the same stick. One of the properties that Gurdjieff defined as belonging to the subconscious is ‘confrontative criticism’ (Tales 568). Or to express it differently, they might be able to define themselves and the world around them in terms other than those used by Gurdjieff.

Ignoring the contradictions, both those created by him and those arising in his life, the pupil may defeat the point of the teaching. Gurdjieff himself usually made sure the pupil ‘got it’ that is could not ignore the contradictions inherent in his teaching by ‘orphaning’ pupils, sending them away, behaving to them in such a way that they chose to go, or by simply disbanding the whole group. This forced pupils to reassess him the teaching and themselves (The Fourth Way, i.e. Gurdjieff’s teaching is never permanent, Search: 312).

Present day omissions and redefinitions of the Work
Once the Magus dies, his presence as embodiment is not longer there and his teaching ends. Thus, he has to be reinvented and his teaching restructured and this has happened. Gurdjieff and his teaching have inevitably been institutionalised and redefined.

Today, in foundations (organisations set up after Gurdjieff’s death by his successor Jeanne de Salzmann) and other groups, as far as I have discovered, there is no focus on Gurdjieff’s use of:
Narcotics and other drugs.
While the teaching was defined by Gurdjieff as a dangerous but quick way to acquire knowledge, membership is now for long periods, or for life. The effort required is not ‘dangerous’. The pupil is focused on ‘searching’ rather than ‘finding’, ‘receiving’ rather than ‘stealing’ or ‘making efforts’ (See “Doing” and Not Doing” on the Joseph Azize page where he gives examples of the passive form of language used in the 1980s by a Foundation work teacher.). Gurdjieff is generally presented in a version ‘cleansed’ of occult practices. For example, the website of the New York Foundation does not include Herald in its list of Gurdjieff’s writings ( ).

The foundations have remained secretive and closed to general scrutiny. There are ‘not for public release books and videos’, one of the videos I have seen presents Gurdjieff in a romanticised sepia vision of his life as related in Meetings, where none of the contradictions of his life or teaching are mentioned. The Work has now spread out and become more widely known in versions that are entwined with other teachings (see Wellbeloved ‘Changes in G. I. Gurdjieff’s Teaching ‘The Work’ A paper presented at The 2001 Conference (CESNUR-INFORM) in London).

What we might ask now is: why is there a reluctance to mention occult practices, magic, hypnotism and the use of drugs in this teaching, not only by the teacher/practitioners but also by scholars? This is a question that is important for the establishment of the discipline of western esotericism as a whole.

Traces of Gurdjieff as Magus, can be found in pupil memoirs and in Chaos Magic.
He remains fully alive in his roles as both black and white magician in his texts.


Azize, Joseph,

Bennett, John G. Gurdjieff: Making A New World, London: Turnstone Books, 1976

G. I. Gurdjieff, The Herald of Coming Good, privately published Paris, 1933

All and Everything, Ten Books in Three Series:
First series: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man or Beelzebub’s
Tales to His Grandson, London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1950.

Second series: Meetings With Remarkable Men, trans. A. R. Orage, Londond:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963.

Third series: Life is real only then, when “I am”, New York: Duton for Triangle
Editions, 19

Views from the Real World: Early Talks of Gurdjieff: London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976, 1sr pub. 1973.

Ouspensky, P. D. In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, London:
Arkana, 1987, 1st pub Harcourt Brace and World, 1949.

Peters, Fritz, Gurdjieff: containing Boyhood with Gurdjieff and Gurdjieff Remembered, London:
Wildwood House, 1977 (1st pub. 1965).

Pogson, Beryl Chassereau and Lewis Creed, Unforgotten Fragments, York: Quacks Books, 1994

Solano, Solita, unpublished Notes taken by Solita Solano from 1935 – 1940 in Paris, Beinecke Library, Kathryn Hulme Papers YCAL MSS 22 Box 19, folders 484-93 Solano, Solita 1951-75, n.d.

Versluis, Arthur, Magic and Mysticism,: an Introduction to Western Esotericism, Lantham,
Boulder, New York, Toronto, Plymouth UK: Roman & Littlefield, 2007.

Webb. James, The Harmonious Circle, London: Thames & Hudson, 1980.

Wellbeloved, Sophia, ‘Changes in G. I. Gurdjieff’s Teaching ‘The Work’ 2001 CESNUR-Inform
Conference in London.
Gurdjieff: the Key Concepts, London & New York: Routledge, 2003.


George Adie


At the time I wrote the book (George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia), there were two matters I omitted: the first because I had forgotten it, and the second because, strange to say, I negligently omitted to include it.

The Morning Sun

In chapter VII of Beelzebub’s Tales, “Becoming Aware of Genuine Being-Duty”, Beelzebub advises Hassein that it is “indispensably necessary that every day, at sunrise, while watching the reflection of its splendour …” he should do certain things (p.78). These amount, I think, to the preparation as Mr Adie had it from Gurdjieff. Incidentally, Mr Adie said that this advice was meant literally, and he took it himself. He would set his alarm in order to be working at his morning preparation as the sun rose. Sunlight has the property of suffusion, so it is not necessary to be in the direct sunlight. It is sufficient to be where the sunlight can find one. Even if it is raining, it doesn’t matter: the sun is up and its force is in the atmosphere.

Solita Solano records in her diaries that on 2 November 1935 Gurdjieff said: “…morning sun is best for us, the only time of day when the rays contain certain properties necessary for our understanding.” I associate this with the Phoenician Solar Theology, as preserved by the Emperor Julian from Iamblichus the Syrian Neoplatonist: “… the sunlight which is sent forth everywhere is the immaculate action of pure mind itself.”

The Breath

I did mention at p.46 of the book that Mr Adie was a single-lung invalid, and had very little of even that single lung left. The London doctors believed that it the operation was necessary, but it turned out that there was nothing wrong with his lungs at all. He said he had gained a great deal from this accident: he had to struggle with self-pity, with criticism of the doctors and so on. But the point he always returned to was that because breathing was so difficult for him, he had always to pay attention to it. That is, he used the necessity of watching his breath as a reminding factor. Awareness of the breath is extremely important in the Gurdjieff method: it brings together the raising of sensation to consciousness, and feeds the feeling. Awareness of the breath aids in assimilating the higher hydrogens present in the air. (It is also critical in other traditions: for example, see Nikiphorus the Solitary in the Philokalia.)

This awareness will not come automatically from having a breathing problem. But if I have the problem, I can make a conscious connection to my aim. I will forget my aim, but I see the circumstances when I am most likely to forget, I prepare for them, and I practice. I repeat, and repeat and repeat.