Posts Tagged ‘Colin Wilson’
P. D. Ouspensky 1878- 1947
Last evening I sat down in the most comfortable armchair in our house in Toronto and read in its entirety the text of “In Search of the Miraculous.” I did it in thirty-five minutes. It was not my first reading of P.D. Ouspensky’s text, nor will it be the last time I expect to read this work, yet it took me only a 1,200 seconds.
It is true I once took a course in speed-reading, but this time I was not using the techniques that I had learned at those sessions. (Indeed, my speed-reading instructor once said, “Speed-reading is good for general reading, but not for “the four P’s” – poems, plays, pornography, printer’s proofs … and I might add philosophical texts.) Nor did I skim or scan the text. I read every word with comprehension. I recommend the practice and the experience to one and all.
You will be forgiven if you have already decided that I am out of my mind! Indeed, how could anyone read with comprehension and with recall every page of Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous”? After all, the tome is 390 pages long, with 570 words per page, a total of 222,300 words. I am referring to the edition that is titled and subtitled “In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching” which appeared on the list of Harcourt, Brace and Company of New York in 1949. This is the first edition.
It was a remarkable text then and it is a remarkable text now. Of course it is impossible for even a graduate speed-reader to embrace its contents in thirty-five minutes. Thirty-five hours might be a better estimate of the time it would take to absorb what the author had to say, and only then after repeated readings.
It was ten years after the tome was first published that I read it for the first time. A woman who was very knowledgeable about the Work privately suggest that I not boast of having read it at so young an age. She added, “The Table of Hydrogens is really very detailed and difficult, you know.” The same applies to all the book’s eighteen chapters, not just to Chapter IX which describes the indeed-difficult Table of Hydrogens.
“In Search of the Miraculous” was not Ouspensky’s first choice of titles for this magnum opus, which appeared two years following his death – the same year as death came to the remarkable man who is identified throughout the text as “G.” – George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. The author planned to give it the title “Fragments of an Unknown Teaching.” That may be a truly descriptive series of words, but it is one that is less saleable than the present one. Instead, “Fragments,” etc., became the volume’s subtitle.
There was always the feeling that had the book appeared as “Fragments of an Unknown Teaching,” it might now be confused with another book by another author – “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten” written in 1900 by the Theosophist and writer G.R.S. Mead. Ouspensky knew about Mead’s book, for he had enjoyed an early association with the Theosophical Society, so that some confusion might have followed.
Ouspensky’s preferred title for his work was “Man and the World in Which He Lives – Fragments of an Unknown Teaching.” He was preparing that work for publication in 1912-1934 while he was working on another of his big books, “A New Model of the Universe,” which was first published in 1931 and revised in 1935; the standard edition is the one issued by Harcourt, Harcourt, Brace and Company in New York in 1950. The earliest known title for “New Model” is “The Wisdom of the Gods.”
In a footnote to “New Model of the Universe,” dated 1912-1934, he states that a new book is “being prepared for publication.” At the same time we also learn from the same source that the author was working on the notion of “different time in different cosmoses … which will be the subject of another book.” He was revising the English version of a novel with the working title “The Wheel of Fortune.” That one had originally been published in St. Petersburg in 1915 as “Kinemadrama.” It eventually appeared in English as “The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin.” So it might have had three titles.
Could anyone actually read “In Search of the Miraculous” in thirty-five minutes? That is an obvious impossibility. When I make the claim that I did, I failed to explain that the text that I succeeded in reading so rapidly was Chapter IX of “A New Model of the Universe” which is coincidentally titled “In Search of the Miraculous.” The book’s chapter runs from page 305 to page 342, so it is only 37 pages long, easily read in a little more than half an hour, especially as it about as is far from being technical in orientation as possible. In fact, it highlights the writerly side – indeed, the literary side – of Ouspensky’s otherwise austere temperament.
Readers of “A New Model of the Universe” may or may not recall that Chapter IX is composed of six literary sketches – “feuilletons” in French – which evoke six aspects of “the miraculous.” The sketches are both subjective in emotion and objective in the sense that their subjects are appreciated and evaluated in the contest of what might be called “the real history of the world” instead of what we know as “the history of crime.”
The first sketch evokes the magnificence of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris and explores the claim made for it is that, just as modern science has conquered space, esoteric science “has conquered time.” It has done so for “it knows methods of transferring its ideas intact and of establishing communications between schools through hundreds and thousands of years.”
Egypt and the Pyramids are described in the second sketch. It discusses the construction of the three pyramids on the Giza plateau and leaves the reader with the following thought: “In reality the pyramids contain a great enigma.” One of the enigmas is anti-evolutionary in nature. On this basis alone we should conclude the existence of civilized beings prior to ourselves; hence we ourselves are not “the descendants of a monkey.”
Sketch number three is devoted to the Sphinx about which “nothing is known.” The author writes, “The Sphinx is indisputably one of the most remarkable, if not the most remarkable, of the world’s works of art. I know nothing that I would be possible to put side by side with it. It belongs indeed to quite another art than the art we know. Beings such as ourselves could not create a Sphinx.”
“The Buddha with the Sapphire Eyes” is the title of the fourth sketch. Ouspensky’s account of it – his meditation on the reclining figure – has made it among occultists and esotericists the most famous of Ceylon’s giant statues. It is located just outside the Sri Lanka capital of Colombo, and there is a photograph of it reproduced in the Commemorative Issue of “The Bridge,” a journal published by The Study Society, London, in 1977. But the author offers a verbal portrait worth a thousand pictures. This Buddha speaks to us “of a real existence, of another life, and of the existence of men who know something of that life and can transmit it to us by the magic of art.”
The fifth sketch is titled “The Soul of the Empress Mumtaz-i-Mahal” and it paints a rosy and pastel image of the Taj Mahal, a scene that never seems to cloy or lose its fascination. The Taj is a tomb, a burial site, but it is not a gravesite. Here Ouspensky develops a theory that moves into dimensions beyond the fourth, infinity being the fifth: “The soul and the future life are one and the same.”
“The Mevlevi Dervishes” is the sixth and last sketch. In Constantinople he was invited to a tekke at Pera where he had the opportunity to observe the dervishes whirl about like the planets in the heavens. He witnessed the ceremony on at least two occasions at an interval of one dozen years. He concluded that events move more quickly than do the dervishes for all their speed. For instance, in the interval, Russia itself had ceased to exist. Events that had occurred to him during those twelve years had imparted some knowledge to him. “And now I knew more about them. I knew a part of their secret. I know how they did it. I knew in what the mental work connected with the whirling consisted. Not the details of course, because only a man who takes part in the ceremonies or exercises can know the details. But I knew the principle.”
On that note this chapter ends. These synopses of Ouspensky’s sketches are meant to offer the reader a sense of the poetic side of the author’s temperament. It was Colin Wilson’s argument that the world lost a great metaphysician in P.D. Ouspensky when he met G.I. Gurdjieff. Whether this is true or not, all is not lost. We have Ouspensky’s heart and soul in the chapter “In Search of the Miraculous,” and his body and mind in the book “In Search of the Miraculous.”
Perhaps you will agree with me that this is not bad for thirty-five minutes of reading!
John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist with a special interest in mysteries. His current work is devoted to preserving the hitherto unknown short mystery fiction written by Sax Rohmer, the English author who created the arch-villain preposterous, Dr. Fu Manchu. All this is explained on his website: < http://www.colombo.ca >
Notice of conferences, books, reviews or events of interest to the practitioner or scholar of Gurdjieff’s teaching may be sent to: Sophia Wellbeloved email@example.com
J R COLOMBO REVIEWS FRANK R. SINCLAIR’S MEMOIR
‘WITHOUT BENEFIT OF CLERGY’
Neither the Work nor the expression of the Work in any given time and at any given place is sacrosanct or immune to the ravages and revelations of time. Its demystification involves, in a way, its remythologization, and this is proceeding apace in our time.
Part of the process is the shedding of light on its early history through historical research, and on its recent past through the publication of books of studies and memoirs. The historical classics are “The Harmonious Circle” written by James Webb and the two books by Paul Beekman Taylor titled “A New Life” and “Gurdjieff’s America.” Among modern-day classics is the amazing tome titled “‘It’s Up to Ourselves” written by Jessmin and Dushka Howarth. (I celebrated the publication of the latter volume, largely a scrapbook with a multitude of snapshots, on this blog – Sophia Wellbeloved’s blog – a month or so ago.)
None of these works (or others like them) has ever attain the scriptural status of “All and Everything” or even the canonical status of “Meetings with Remarkable Men” and “In Search of the Miraculous.” Yet the light they shed on the Work is a human glow which does not bathe it in a sense of wonder as much as it does imbue it with a sense of personal gratitude for assistance received and services rendered. Frank R. Sinclair has contributed two books to this class of publication: “Without Benefit of Clergy” and “Of the Life Aligned: Reflections on the Teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff and the Perennial Order.”
I have yet to see a copy of the second of these two books, but after reading the first one I will certainly read the second. The book at hand, the first one, is badly titled and poorly subtitled, but my criticism ends there – at the title page. The other 295 pages are fine by me, anecdotal in the extreme, as I will demonstrate later.
It is a trade paperback. It measures 8″ x 5.5.” and it has a full-colour cover and there are close to forty black-and-white photographs, mainly snapshots, almost all of them new to me and to most readers. The volume has been attractively designed and issued by Xlibris. There are two editions, the first in 2005, the second in 2009, which is the one that I purchased.
The title is “Without Benefit of Clergy.” The subtitle is “Some Personal Footnotes to the Gurdjieff Teaching.” Both title and subtitle give me pause. The title attracted my attention (as should all good titles) so I decided to determine why I feel it is inappropriate. I have always associated the phrase “without benefit of clergy” with immorality – living together in sin, without the sacramental blessing of the church – and I was partially right in doing so, as well as partially wrong.
In English jurisprudence, members of the clergy were not subjected to secular laws, whether criminal or civil, but were permitted to demand to be tried under canon law. This immunity was abolished centuries ago. In 1890, Rudyard Kipling employed the phrase “without benefit of clergy” for the title of a short story set in India about the Englishman named Holden and the Muslim woman named Ameer who “shack up” (1950s expression; the 1980s expression still current is “living together”) and how their unsanctioned union brought wrack and ruin to both conservative communities. The plot proved sufficiently potent and the phrase so popular that in 1921 it became the title of a the silent movie “Without Benefit of Clergy” that starred Boris Karloff, of all people. So my original reaction to the phrase – sexual congress outside the bonds of marriage – is probably that of most people unschooled in the intricacies of English jurisprudence.
I am not convinced that the title of this book of memoirs sheds any light at all on the subject of these memoirs. Is the author telling us that his memoirs are scandalous or shocking? If so, then he is wrong. And then there is the matter of the subtitle which also irks me: “Some Personal Footnotes to the Gurdjieff Teaching.” Is the world of footnotes divided between those that are “personal” and those that are “impersonal”? Not that I am aware. Who would enjoy reading a book of footnotes? (Well, the Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges may. Stanislaw Lem, the Polish science-fiction writer, may. James Moore, the precisian, who is the author of “Gurdjieffian Confessions: A Self Remembered,” may, as well. But surely not the general reader with a taste for the world of the Work.)
I have done a lot of carping. It is time now for some celebration. Although I have yet to meet the author, I will take the liberty of referring to Frank R. Sinclair by his Christian name. The back-cover photograph of Frank shows him with a straw hat perched on the back of his head, rather like the humourist Stephen Leacock. It seems to give the reader leave to refer to him as Frank. If it does not do that, I have only to turn to the prose itself which is informal and off-the-cuff enough to confer permission. In fact, at one point – when Frank was asked to give the reading from the Bible at Lord Pentland’s funeral service (held in a Roman Catholic church, oddly) – he refers to himself as “a nonentity of the first order.” Now that is excessive!
In this memoir there are thirteen chapters, two pages of acknowledgements, prefaces to the first and the second editions, not to mention three appendices and one index. All of these sections are of some interest. But in the interest of brevity, I am going to short change the first half of the book and concentrate on the second half for it is largely devoted to pen portraits of personalities in the Work who have had an influence on Frank’s inner life and his outlook on life.
Readers who are interested in the early life of a journalist who was born in the shadow of Table Mountain in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1929, and who found some twenty-eight years ago that his spiritual quest had taken him to Franklin Farms at Mendham in New Jersey, and Armonk in Westchester Country in New York State, and at the Gurdjieff Foundation on Manhattan Island, will find these early pages to be a treat.
In a sense he never did leave these sheltered communities, yet he emerged in the 1980s as the successor of Dr. William Welch as the President of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York. He has headed the Gurdjieff Fountain since 2009 and lives at Grand View-on-Hudson, a town of some 300 people with a high median income north of New York City. Its most notable inhabitant after Frank is Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.
From the age of eight, Frank experienced “a blaze of light” while questioning the nature of God. Thereafter he had a few near encounters with death. He graduated from the University of Cape Town, majoring in philosophy, and spent eight years as a journalist with the Cape Times afternoon newspaper. He writes about his feelings of “anguish and heartaches and sufferings” at the time, but these came to an end, symbolically at least, when he encountered an essay by J.G. Bennett called “Living in Five Dimensions,” was assigned to review Colin Wilson’s “The Outsider,” studied “In Search of the Miraculous,” and identified with the verses of the deaf South African poet John Howland Beaumont, who had a mystical connection with nature: “I did but sleep – ah me, I dream, I dream!”
About 1956, Frank resolved to seek out the source of “the teaching” in a surprisingly direct way. He placed an advertisement in the personal columns of the rival Cape Argus afternoon paper to “make contact,” and to his surprise a reader of the paper mailed him a copy of “All and Everything” along with a note: “From one human being to another, that both may have more of themselves to give.” The benefactor’s identity remains unknown to this day.
He eventually met an English gentleman named B. Fairfax Hall who was an enthusiast for private printing. In England in 1930 he had founded and operated The Stourton Press, named after the family’s house in Westminster. Hall was a member of P.D. Ouspensky’s circle before he immigrated to South Africa. In 1947 he began to print books, including Ouspensky’s “A Record of Meetings,” in an edition of twenty copies in 1951, and “The Struggle of the Magicians,” in an edition of ten copies in 1957.
Frank already knew about editorial matters; from Hall he learned how to operate an Albion printing press, which served him well when he began his own private printing at Armonk, N.Y., using the imprint Antic Press. Hall, who had compiled “The Fourth Way” from Ouspensky’s lectures, arranged for Frank to reside for two months at Madame Ouspensky’s 300-acre estate at Franklin Farms. Frank left South Africa in 1958 and did not return for some twenty years.
Frank worked and studied at Franklin Farms and there met a young woman named Beatrice Rego, a teacher, and they married. No description of the bride is offered, but there is a long account of Frank’s out-of-body experience immediately prior to the wedding ceremony. There is also a long account of life at the residence, with a fleeting reference to Madame Ouspensky (who remained in her bedroom chamber so he never set eyes on her while she was still alive) and Madame Olga de Hartmann, who came and went and once referred to him as “a piece of furniture,” but there is a very detailed account of the first visit of Madame de Salzmann.
“Here, for the first time in my life, was someone who spoke to my deepest concerns, who undeniably had an inner presence (a thought that I had no way of articulating at that time) and at the same time actually ‘included’ me in that presence, who listened in some unfathomable way, and who actually ‘saw’ me before her and spoke to me as a real human being.”
In many ways the heart and core of the book is the account of the experiences that occurred to the impressionable young South African at Franklin Farms, experiences that are unhesitatingly described as “profound and miraculous.” One such experience, following an altercation with Madame Ouspensky’s unstable grandson Lonya Savitsky. It was accompanied by intense mortification:
“But lying there prone on the floor, I suffered terrible remorse and shame at having behaved as I had done, _and at the same time_ I was witness to the miraculous appearance in me of this brilliant, golden being. It glowed in a surrounding vivid blaze of light.” He calls it “the phenomenon of the golden embryo.” Pages are devoted to examining the experience, with its configuration of the Kesdjan body, from the vantage-points of different religious and cultural traditions.
This takes us to Chapter 6 which is a departure from the norm, for it consists of the account kept by Frank’s wife Beatrice of her impressions of the various appearances of the elderly Gurdjieff in New York. Her brief memoir is full of interesting details. Overall she found Mr. Gurdjieff to be a man of “tremendous energy; anything in this life seemed possible.”
Chapter 7 is a remarkable tribute to a veteran of the Work named Martin W. Benson who is a jack-of-all-trades and someone who seems to be “all essence.” Originally a puzzle to Frank, Benson became what might be called a “best friend” for his twelve years of apprenticeship at Mendham and Armonk.
Chapter 8 is in many ways the counterpart of Chapter 7, for it is a sustained tribute to Frank’s friendship with Thomas Vivian Forman, a Cambridge-trained specialist in agriculture as well as military intelligence. In many ways, too, Forman is the counterpart of Benson – a balance between personality and essence. Frank’s love of people glows in these portraits.
Chapter 9 is titled “Annals of the Antic Press” and it describes Frank’s work in the icehouse at Armonk where, among other books, a small band of editors, designers, compositors, and press operators printed “Pronunciation Guide for Words Invented by Gurdjieff” in 1984, the forerunner of the much expanded edition issued by the Traditional Studies Press in Toronto.
By now it should be apparent that Frank is an appreciator of people. To my mind the outstanding section of his memoirs is Chapter 10 which is titled “John Pentland: The Lordly Line of High Sinclair.” Lord Pentland, chief of the clan and a scion of the illustrious Sinclair line (which seems not to include our author Frank Sinclair), was Mr. Gurdjieff’s appointee to oversee the Work in the United States. In these pages the author describes a number of the close and almost accidental encounters that he had with Pentland between 1958 and the latter’s death in 1984.
The author has no problem with Pentland’s rapier-like wit, for he felt, intriguingly, that when Pentland glared at him and wielded it, Pentland “gave him ‘his work.’” It is an interesting passage and perhaps it hinges on the somewhat off-the-cuff statement that Pentland was “old enough to be his father.” It seems Lord Pentland was the grandson the Marquis of Aberdeen, the seventh Governor General of Canada, as well as part of the family of the Earl of Elgin, an even earlier Governor General. Perhaps it was from this aristocratic tradition that he learned the arts of diplomacy – certainly of use in Work circles!
I feel that this chapter about “this remarkable and unusual man” is the “still point” of the memoirs. The next two biographical chapters are anti-climaxes, though they do have interesting dimensions. Chapter 11 is devoted to “Bill Segal: The Radical Reorientation,” and it presents this multi-talented man as “a class act.” Segal was the epitome of the active man, and even after being nearly crushed to death an automobile accident, he emerged almost as active as ever. Sinclair writes, neatly, that Segal was “humbled both in his pride and in his prime.”
Chapter 12 is titled “Jeanne de Salzmann: A Compelling Call” and it seems to me to be an apologia for the second half of Madame de Salzmann’s life. “The Unknown does not yield itself through abundant description,” Frank writes, so the reader who does not have prior knowledge of her life and work will be at sea when it comes to understanding what Frank is writing about.
I take it that he has two themes: the first is the role of the institution vis-à-vis the individual; the second is the espousal of the role of grace rather than effort and of flow rather than effort – to express it directly – that is represented by her from the death of Mr. Gurdjieff at a probable age of eighty-three in 1949 and Madame’s death at the ripe old age of 101 in 1990. Madame can do no wrong.
“I dare say,” he writes gingerly, “that when her own notes are collated and published, there will be surprising indications of the precision with which she followed the movement of the attention and the work for Presence.” As it happens, extracts from Madame’s notebooks are about to be issued by Shambhala Publications under the title “The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff,” so we will have the opportunity to judge for ourselves.
Frank is obviously devoted to Madame and he accepts her direction for the work, its “single grand verity,” which he takes pains and pages to trace back to Mr. Gurdjieff’s talks in New York, the first one on Dec. 19, 1930, and the second one on Dec. 25, 1948. The exposition in these pages is more associative than it is disciplined, so there is little doubt that he feels that what she was doing she was doing consciously and with authorization. “Madame Jeanne de Salzmann brought neither a New Work nor an Old Work, but only Gurdjieff’s Work.”
I will pass over Chapter 13, “Some Random Inferences,” because the contents are indeed random (to describe them would be to try to herd cats) and they turn out to be elaborations of points made earlier in the memoirs. The one new element that I spotted is the effort that Frank is making to enlarge to conception of the Work to include the thoughts of some new-comers along with some overlooked old-comers (to name a few men and women in alphabetical order): Joseph Azize, Michel Conge, Martha Heyneman, James Moore, Jacob Needleman, Ravi Ravindra, Sophia Wellbeloved.
Also given some recognition is the contribution of the annual International Humanities Conference (better known as the All & Everything Conference) as well as Traditionalist thinkers like Titus Burkhardt and their semi-annual publication, the Vancouver-based “Sacred Web.” This is close to an ecumenical touch, and perhaps it is a daring one.
Throughout Frank retains his modesty and the projects the air of constant amazement associated with Alice in Wonderland. “I did not drink Armagnac with Gurdjieff,” he writes, amusingly. “I belong to the post-Gurdjieff era, not even remotely a Saul among the Apostles, but a fellow traveler, feeding from those who, like Madame de Salzmann, had been before.”
The second edition of the memoirs ends with three appendices as well as a nominal index. Two of the appendices consist of reviews of the first edition of the book. The first review is a once-over-lightly appreciation by David Appelbaum. It originally appeared in “Parabola,” as did the lively interview with Frank on the subject of “Who Is the Teacher?”
The third appendix consists, surprisingly, of a review amusingly titled “The Guide for the Perplexed” and posted on Amazon.com by its author, biographer James Moore. I found it to be one of the book’s highlights, in the sense that its tone and style are totally at odds with Frank’s. Yet it hits the right note when in an impish mood Moore describes Frank as “a regular-kinda-guy whose pride in his modesty attains oxymoronic heights.”
Had Frank been born under the shadow of the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, rather than in the shadow of Table Rock, South Africa, I would be inclined to describe him as “a bloke.” Whatever the description, he is a sensitive fellow and “Without Benefit of Clergy” is certainly an entertaining and I believe honest account of one man’s rather unusual spiritual quest. He demystifies by remythologizing.
John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist who is known across Canada for his popular reference books. He writes about Work-related publications for this blog. His latest publication is “Walt Whitman’s Canada,” a book-length, documentary-style account of the American poet’s tour of Central and Eastern Canada in the Summer of 1880. Colombo’s website is < www . colombo – plus . ca >
A review of Michael Hayes’ The Hermetic Code in DNA
I quite enjoyed reading this book, but its title is a mouthful of
words, so I have found myself referring to it, in conversation with
friends, as “the new book which I am reading that tries to find a
relationship between the so-called ‘hermetic code’ and the code that
informs the structure of human DNA.” When I say that, people look
amiss or agog, and I know why. I repeat that the author is “trying to
find a relationship” and that it is an struggle worthy of the
exertions of a Sisyphus (an uphill battle) or the frustrations of
Tantalus (an ever receding reward).
The author who so resembles Sisyphus or Tantalus is Michael Hayes is
described on the cover of this quality paperback as “an administrator
at the University of Central England” (formerly Birmingham
Polytechnic) and “the author of ‘The Infinite Harmony: Musical
Structures in Science and Theology’” (McArthur & Co. / Orion Con Trad,
1994). I have yet to see a copy of that publication. After reading the
present book, I find myself moderately curious about it.
The present book is not a new title, for it was originally published
in England in 2004 by Black Spring Press, a quality literary publisher
in London, under the title “High Priests, Quantum Genes.” The edition
that I am reviewing is titled “The Hermetic Code in DNA: The Sacred
Principles in the Ordering of the Universe” and was published earlier
in 2008 by another quality house, Inner Traditions, Rochester,
Vermont, which specializes in book of a specular and spiritual nature.
(Both companies have readily accessible websites.)
Here are some bibliographical details for the American edition under
review: Trade paperback, 6″ x 9″, xviii + 334 pages, ISBN:
978-1-59477-218-4. $18.95. There are 17 chapters with notes,
bibliography, and index. Also included is the arresting Foreword, to
which I will now turn my attention.
The Foreword is a long personal essay from the fountain pen or
personal computer of Colin Wilson. I am second to none in my
admiration of Wilson’s oeuvre, and I really enjoy reading what he
writes for his choice of subjects and his agreeable style. His
strength has always been his remarkable ability to present the
unconventional ideas of “outsiders.” He is a great explainer of
ancient and advanced thinking, though lately he has become more of an
advocate more than an interpreter.
Here, for instance, is the first paragraph of the Foreword to the
present book: “I suspect that the name of Michael Hayes is going to be
remembered together with those of Stephen Hawking and Watson and Crick
as a thinker who has made a revolutionary contribution to our vision
of modern science.”
That is taking a giant step. Indeed, it is equivalent to the step that
Wilson took when he completed “Alien Dawn: An Investigation into the
Contact Experience” (1999). That book about the contactee dimension of
ufology concludes with the statement that the author believes that not
only do aliens exist, but aliens are here right now, walking the
streets of our cities, moving among us. The evidence for this claim is
lacking, but people will believe what excites them and what they want
Indeed, when the atomic scientist Leo Szilard was asked if he believed
in the existence of alien beings, he replied that he did. Then he was
asked, “If they exist, where are they?” He replied, “They are here
right now. They live among us. They are called … Hungarians.” Unlike
Szilard’s aliens, Wilson’s critters are creatures or characters from
outer space, from other times, or from other dimensions – hybrid
humans, perhaps. Maybe.
I doubt that Michael Hayes’s name will ever be linked with those of
Hawking, Watson, or Crick – at least not as long as the names of those
scientists are honoured. And Hayes has yet to make a contribution to
“our vision of modern science,” but he has modestly contributed to our
view of “the wisdom tradition.” From now on Hayes’s name will be
linked with a lively and intelligent discussion of a range of subjects
of popular speculative interest. This book of his will be shelved
alongside works of dozens of writers who have contributed to the
“occult sciences” or what I have called in another context
Numerology is one such subject and it has been newsworthy for the last
decade. For instance, the Fortean movie “Magnolia” (1999) features the
number 8. “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) drowns in a tsunami of coded
numbers, zillions of digits. The comedy “The Number 23” (2007) makes
much use of the correspondences of the unlikely number 23. Behind much
of this is the Kaballah and behind that cerebral discipline there are
the 613 Hebrew laws (curiously, the number of bones in the human
In the present book Hayes devotes chapters to different traditions, so
each has its own special number or numbers. Hayes finds special
relevance in such digits as 3, 3.14157, 4, 7, 8, 22, 64, 838, etc. The
Law of Three and the Octaves of the Ray of Creation are featured. But
no special importance is given to the numbers 1.6, 9, 13, or 613,
perhaps because these come traditions that are not surveyed here– in
this case, sacred architecture, Bahá’i, the superstition of folklore,
and the Kaballah.
Excuse me if I am a little light-headed or flippant, but unlike the
scientists named by Wilson, Hayes undertakes no research, contributes
findings to no scientific publications, and demonstrates no special
scholarly or linguistic abilities or aptitudes. However, what he does
display is an omnivorous curiosity and the ability to respond
creatively to extensive readings in many popular books and a few
serious ones (although it is with the latter that he does express some
By popular books I mean “eye-openers” like Robert Bauval’s “The Orion
Mystery” (1994) and Christopher P. Dunn’s “The Gaza Power Plant”
(1998). By serious books I mean Richard Dawkins’s “The Blind
Watchmaker” (1988) and Giorgio De Santillana’s “Hamlet’s Mill” (1992).
I am limiting myself to titles selected at random from the first page
of the three-page bibliography. Hayes also credits reprints of G.I.
Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” (1964) as well as P.D. Ouspensky’s “In
Search of the Miraculous” (1976) and “A New Model of the Universe”
(1977), recalling here and there some of their pertinent passages to
“The Hermetic Code in DNA” is hard to beat for a fast-moving survey of
current thought about the interaction of the wisdom tradition from
archaic times to the postmodern period and its possible connection
with the recently revealed structure of the human genome, specifically
its basis in the DNA. It makes use of comparisons and contrasts,
similarities and analogies, and above all it uses associative thought
processes, what in another context Ouspensky called “psychological
thought” to distinguish it from “logical thought.”
I am not going to pursue them here, but two general criticisms that I
have are that there is no discussion of the tendency of the human mind
to find symmetry where none exists, and there is no discussion of the
nature of language itself, the appeal of metaphor, or Northrop Frye’s
“order of words.” Nor is the insight of the poet as distinct from that
of the scientist mentioned. At some later point I may tackle those
criticisms as subjects worthy of consideration in their own right, for
such shortcomings are characteristic of “occult literature” generally.
Basically what Hayes has done is offer a discussion of the scientific
basis for the existence of the spirit, as well as the spiritual basis
for the existence of science. What we have here is a convergence of
two disciplines – call one of them “science,” the other “occult
science.” (Hayes handles this distinction by distinguishing between
“regular science” and what he calls “Science with a capital ‘s’.”) If
I can encapsulate Hayes’s aim in writing this book, it is to find a
convergence and ultimately an identity between hermetic studies and
the structure of the gene. In other words, we have in our genes –
coded in our genetic structure – the wisdom of the ages. It evolves
physically and psychologically through the Law of Three and the Law of
Hayes encapsulates this theme for the reader in the sole detailed
footnote of any length. Here it is: “One would not expect exact
superimpositions to be visible at every level, because the universe is
continually evolving, constantly in flux. But as long as the various
symmetries link in at these main ‘points of entry’ the Hermetic Code
is valid. If anything, the fact that the code can be directly linked
to all of these various symmetries – and many other found throughout
the natural world – is precisely what one would expect of a ‘theory of
Apparently mathematicians and cosmologists are johnny-come-latelys
with their own physical “theory of everything,” trailing by centuries
if not by millennia metaphysicians associated with obscure schools and
monasteries in claiming to have found “a key to the enigmas of the
world.” But enough of beating around the bush. Hayes in his book
focuses on the following subjects and argues in the following fashion.
Introduction. Proponents of all the major belief systems agree that
there is an existence after death, the author writes. Matter is
composed of particles or vibrations of light. There is a timeless or
eternal form of reality. The major religions harness very real forces.
Creation is the result of the Law of Three and the Law of Octaves
embodied in the nature of the mathematical ratio pi. The DNA in the
cells of human bodies has four chemical bases. There are parallels
here with the 64 permutations of the I Ching. Music and specifically
musical harmony offer a scientific key to the tones or wave-lengths
under discussion. He writes:
“As the first recorded version of this archaic science first appeared
in the Nile delta about five thousand years ago, I have called this
musical symmetry the Hermetic Code, after Hermes Trismegistus, the
Greek name for Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom …. This is
the Hermetic Code, a universal formula that as we shall find out,
encompasses within it practically everything.” This is another form of
the axiom: ‘As above, so below.’”
The author’s Introduction takes the reader this far. As a reader of
the book, I like the handling of the details that appear in the
seventeen chapters. As a reviewer all I can do is point out a few of
the approaches that the author takes. Suffice it to say the author
writes very readably, he is familiar with standard popular books on
offbeat topics, and he seems intent on proving that there is a
numerical code if not a Hermetic one that underpins the genetic code
and acts as a cipher for philosophical and theosophical systems.
Here is my simplification of the author’s argument: There is the
four-fold nature of the DNA. There are the four traditional elements
in the natural world. There is a parallel here between scientific
discovery and metaphysical inquiry. Could this be a coincidence? (I am
inclined to say that in many cases the “resemblance” or
“correspondence” is an artifact of the question itself.) Now here is
the author’s argument chapter by chapter (with one sentence or two for
each of the seventeen chapters).
1. “The Sacred Constant.” Ancient wisdom first appeared in Egypt some
5,000 years ago B.C. and it holds the “sacred constant” expressed in
the number 8. This is the Law of Octaves, counting the two do’s. Note
that 8 x 8 = 64, another type of greater harmony associated with the I
2. “A Different Way of Seeing.” Rhythms and harmonies of the universe
are expressed by the Hermetic Code, especially as evolution proceeds
by octaves, and this is seen in music and art (Gurdjieff’s distinction
between subjective and objective art) and architecture (René Schwaller
de Lubicz’s views on architectural forms of man).
3. “Music over Matter.” Music (all those octaves) may have managed the
construction of the megaliths, evoked by the phrase “musical magic,”
and perhaps the phenomenon of the “group-mind” as advanced by Colin
Wilson was used by early peoples to great effect: mental building
cranes and cranial forklifts.
4. “The Electron and the Holy Ghost.” Subatomic particles and the
theory of “quantum potential” advanced by David Bohm are considered,
as are the views of Sri Aurobindo, leading to the conclusion that
matter is alive and composed of vibrations and / or light.
5. “Further Light.” Christopher Dunn’s speculations on “sonic /
ultrasonic stone carving and drilling” and Princeton physicist Robert
Jahn are, in a sense, compared. This chapter and indeed much of the
book is “metaphysical” in the sense that literary scholars call John
Donne a “metaphysical poet,” for there is a roping together of
heterogeneous elements to create a greater whole. A sense of the
greater whole may be felt in these two long sentences:
“So the Great Pyramid, the most impressive monument to light ever
created on Earth, massive and imposing as it is, is really no more
than a foundation stone upon which has been constructed another,
infinitely vaster, metaphysical structure, a creation of sorts, whose
indeterminate dimensions are even to this day expanding ever outward
and upward. I am referring here, of course, to the ongoing evolution
of human consciousness, which began its present stage of development
at the time the Great Pyramid was designed, and which has ever since
been guided subconsciously by the also-embracing hermetic principles
embodied within it.”
This is indeed “metaphysical” prose. In another comparison, it
embodies the principle of the hologram, for from a single fragment may
be generated or regenerated the multifaceted whole.
6. “Live Music.” So-called “scientific creationists” and evolutionary
scientists are contrasted and Richard Dawkins is taken to task for his
notion that “stumbling blindly through geological time” led to life as
we know it today, not a noble notion of “transcendental evolution”
whereby “it is possible for individuals to emulate the living cell and
to achieve a similar condition of ‘optimum resonance.’”
Here the author expresses his naked thesis: “I stated above that I
believe that the growth and development of consciousness is an organic
process. Logically it has to be, because the Hermetic Code and the
genetic code are fundamentally one and the same system.”
7. “Extraterrestrial DNA.” Another extension of “the theory of
transcendental evolution” which leads to the Pyramids (“The Lights” is
apparently how these structures were known to the Egyptians of old)
which leads to the star systems above them, Sirius and Zeta Orionis,
as well as to the starry-eyed speculations of Rodney Collin.
8. “Interstellar Genes and the Galactic Double Helix.” Robert Temple’s
“The Sirius Mystery” is discussed, along with Gurdjieff’s “missing
semi-tones,” to suggest that the universe is a being that is fully
9. “The Hermetic Universe of Ancient Times.” The Pythagorean
cosmological system is considered with respect to reincarnation, the
nature of the universe, modern science, metaphysics, and “zoon,” the
Greek term for “a living thing.”
10. “The Hierarchy of Dimensions.” So the universe is “organic,” but
it exists on a hierarchy of planes or levels or dimensions.
“Confused?” the author questions the reader. “To be perfectly honest,
so am I. Frequently. But then we are trying to come to terms with the
imponderable here, and left-brain logic alone can take us only so far
in the quest for the ultimate reality.”
11. “The Fate of the Universe.” Speculation on the fate of the
universe gives equal weight to science-fiction writer Wilbur Wright in
“Time: Gateway to Immortality” and writer-scientist Paul Davies in
“The Last Three Minutes,” to build the argument that there is “music
literally everywhere, in the chromodynamic and atomic scales of
matter, in DNA and the genetic code,” etc.
12. “Inner Octaves.” Outer octaves were explored, so here the
investigation narrows and deeps into the inner octaves, through the
symbol or structure of the Ray of Creation.
13. “The Holographic Principle.” Michael Talbot, author of “The
Holographic Universe,” is a big help here to demonstrate that a part
is as great as a whole, a whole as great as a part.
14. “Quantum Psychology.” What the author calls “quantum psychology”
sheds light on the findings of particle physicists (notably Karl
Pribram), parapsychologists, and neurophysiologists, permitting the
reader to see that there are ways the brain resembles subatomic
particles in their “non-locality.” Here I recall the delicious pun in
the movie “The Golden Compass”: Lord Asriel is described as “a
15. “QP2: The Universal Paradigm.” Man is composed of “triple octaves”
of resonance, so we are “‘walking trinities’ composed of our
sensations, emotions, and perceptions,” a point that Hayes argues in
his earlier book “The Infinite Harmony.”
16. “The Shapeshifters.” Mayan and Egyptian texts and Graham Hancock’s
“Fingerprints of the Gods” all lead to an examination of
“extraordinary mental and physical powers” shown by members of “the
Egyptian elite” to permit them to build their monumental structures.
17. “‘Al-Chem’ – the Egyptian Way.” Octaves of resonance are invoked
to account for the harnessing or focusing of exceptional powers for
exceptional effects. The author writes powerfully:
“We know that in the natural course of Darwinian evolution successful
genes can survive all manner of catastrophes: ice ages, rapid
meltdowns, deluges, earthquakes, cometary impacts. In the same way,
the hermetic ideas we are dealing with here – the metaphysical
equivalent of successful genes – have survived all kinds of social
upheaval: wars, dark ages, periods of total ignorance and barbarism,
inquisitions, revolutions, and so on. Therefore we are not speaking in
metaphor: we are talking about organic processes of creation and
evolution, both microcosmic and macrocosmic, which are identical in
every way, with a difference in scale only.”
So much for this Baedeker-like tour of the countryside. My own view of
Michael Hayes’s achievement is that “The Hermetic Code in DNA” is a
literary composition written in an underrated literary form, that of
the “anatomy” – think of Robert Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy” – and
that through accumulation of detail and organization by association,
rather than by classification and disinterested pursuit of its thesis,
it embraces other subliterary forms in an attempt to reveal common
characteristics and congruent conceptions that have to do with the
evolution of nature, man, and spirit. It is an ample and in a way an
impressive anatomical achievement.
How successful is it? That is for the reader to decide, the reader who
is familiar with associative thinking as well as the material that is
included and the material that is excluded, or the reader who is
flustered by all the material and perhaps overimpressed with it. Hayes
is committed to his point of view (Hermetic Code = Genetic Code) to
the exclusion of criticism of sources and common sense reservations.
Even so, Robert Burton was ultimately unhappy with his classic
“Anatomy of Melancholy,” perhaps because most people read it for its
bits and pieces rather than for its “metaphysical” whole.
John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist who lives in Toronto.
His current publication, 500 pages long, is called “The Big Book of
Canadian Ghost Stories.” He is an Associate, Northrop Frye Centre,
Victoria College, University of Toronto. His website is www.
photo Rockefeller Centre
A Take on the Talks of Lord Pentland by John Robert Colombo
Resting on my desk, on the right side of the keyboard of my computer, there are three thin booklets in uniform format but with card covers of different colours. One colour is green, one is blue, and one is red. The booklets have the same format (5.5″x 8″) and are close to the same in length: respectively, 24 pages, 32 pages, and 36 pages. The green one was issued in 2005, the blue one in 2006, and the red one in 2007. I wonder, “Will there will be a booklet for 2008? What colour will be chosen for that cover?”
There is a general series title: “Introducing the Ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff.” The author is identified as John Pentland. The work is copyright in the name of Mary Rothenberg. The publisher is given as the J.P. Society, an operation new to me. I suspect that Ms. Rothenberg controls the copyright of the works of the late John Pentland aka Henry John Sinclair aka Lord Pentland, and that in the works are plans to issue the texts of his many talks, speeches, and addresses, these three booklets being the trailblazers for the series.
John Pentland, who inherited the baronetcy from his father, the first Lord Pentland, a Scottish politician, is the last bearer of the title. He was born in Britain and his vital years are 1907 and 1984. He studied with Ouspensky, and later Madame de Saltzman having met Gurdjieff during the last years of Gurdjieff’s life. During the Second World War, from his office in Rockefeller Centre, he engaged in liaison work for the British and American governments. He served as the president of the Gurdjieff Foundation from its inception in 1953 until his death some thirty years later. He oversaw the founding of the Gurdjieff organization in San Francisco and over the decades addressed study groups throughout the United States.
I do not know if in his travels he ever visited Canada, but since its appearance I have owned a copy of his book “Exchange Within: Questions from Everyday Life Selected from Gurdjieff Group Meetings with John Pentland in California 1955-1984″ (published by Continuum in 1997). I found his writing style to be opaque, if somewhat misted over, but then I was reading in print what had been delivered orally in person. Had I heard him speak, I might have found his thought processes more enlivening and enlightening. Yet there is a subtle quality in his prose, an inherent humility and restraint, that I have come to identify with the French commentators Tracol, Vaysse, and Conge.
To judge by photographs, John Pentland was a cadaverous figure of a man, toweringly tall, with skeletal skull, bushy eyebrows, and beady eyes. He resembles an ascetic, say a Cistercian monk, but let me add that I never met the man and if any readers have accurate impressions of him, I would be pleased to hear from them. Enough about the man and the format of these booklets. What about their texts?
The green booklet is titled “Impressions of Truth in the Human Mass.” This is an oddly unidiomatic phrase for an English speaker to use, and as such it captures the sense of the opacity that I found in the prose of “Exchanges Within.” In the present instance, we have the text of a short speech he delivered in Los Angeles in 1960, followed by a record of the questions and answers that it generated. Here he addresses the question of how “to understand ourselves as a whole” and this requires that we experience impressions or perceptions (he uses the words almost interchangeably) of Being and Conscience.
He writes, “We have this incurable weakness for thinking about inner values on much too small a scale, giving up too soon and paying too little. Ouspensky called this inner search for reality a search for the miraculous. We always forget that what we are looking for is a miracle.” He mentions impressions, attention, self-observation, and understanding, and returns to these words later in the discussion. Asked about art, he makes the interesting statement that art is produced by “high machines in the artist” and not by “something that occurs in the artist himself.” Such is argument of the green booklet.
The blue booklet is the text of two talks that took place at Wagner College, Staten Island, New York City, in 1983. The first talk is really an address to precede the showing of the movie “Meetings with Remarkable Men.” Here he urges his audience to capture “a little taste of what Gurdjieff’s vision of man” is like. It is done by becoming aware of “levels of truth.” He argues that Marx, Freud, Jung, Teilhard de Chardin, and even “Star Wars” offer views of the state of man that are state-dependent: “but the vision is too simplistic, at too low a level to affect us and change us for long.”
The speaker notes that the younger generation is turning away from Darwin and Newton to the earlier visions of Augustine, Jesus, and Buddha. The earliest known vision is that of Zarathustra, the first teacher in a succession of spiritual teachers of mankind, who counselled men and women “that their inner life and inner attitude is just as important as their external behaviour.” A modern vision comes from Gurdjieff. The speaker then offers four characteristics for a spiritual teacher for our time:
First: “His thinking should be a service to the highest.” Here is a recognition of levels and Gurdjieff “restores to humanity an order of rank with an intelligent aristocracy at the top which is open to anyone who can learn to differentiate the different levels and the action of the energies on each other at each level.” Second: “A man with vision should think dangerously … truth must be his only ethic.” There must be no fear here. Gurdjieff stresses this. Third: “The thinking of a man of vision is from the heart as well as the head.” Referring to Gurdjieff, he says, “He used to say that we are like automobiles stalled on the highway of our search, and his ideas are like a repair car that comes along and give[s] us some gas to get started again.” Fourth: “We ask of a man of vision that his teaching should be complete and consistent in itself with no compromises, no exceptions and no self-contradictions.” This too is true of Gurdjieff’s teaching.
Language is considered and Gurdjieff is compared to William Blake (perhaps for the first and last time) for his neologisms and for giving new meanings to old words. The word “search” is one of these. “The search begins more from a part of myself that I don’t know, it begins in spite of myself as I know myself, more than from the part I do know.”
The word “consciousness” is another concept to consider, but as the word has become voguish, the author prefers another word. “I’d rather use the more modest word, awareness, or simply seeing.” He writes, “Seeing is taken as the energy aspect of material, not the forms aspect.” In Gurdjieff’s theory and practice, psychology, cosmology, metaphysics, ontology, etc., come together in man all at once. “Either I’m seeing myself or not.” Self-observation leads us “to work for more and more of these moments, recognizing them and verifying them by their taste, which is a strange taste of like and dislike, at the same time, of freedom and mechanicalness, good and evil of going upstream and going downstream together.” The right work of the three centres is necessary “to open the possibility for a higher conscious energy to enter my presence and allow a new conscious level of vision.”
The author asks, “What is a real question?” and then responds with eight questions of his own, to prime the pump. These are ignored. His listeners, instead, ask twenty-six questions of their own. Here they are in summary form: The first one is knowing which “school” is for any one person. The answer is that you will know. The second one concerns the discontinuous nature of the work: “Things start to go down as soon as they stop.” The third one has to do with “octaves” and recognizing their “laws.” The fourth one has to do with “one of the very first liberating experiences, which we can each have, is being able to differentiate between the direction from the highest downwards and the direction from below to return to oneself.”
The fifth one concerns “sleeping man” and “awake man” and their differing expectations. The sixth one permits the speaker to contrast “getting stuck” with recognizing how we “change the direction” without recognizing it. The seventh one concerns the realization that “there is no ‘I’.” The eighth one leads to an elaboration which concerns inability to do but how we “simply begin to see” and ponder the possibility of control. The ninth one focuses on “free will” and “some choice.” Do we have “the choice to break a law”? The tenth one examines “this little bit of free attention that I have” and how “these new experiences come at first just in glimpses.”
The eleventh one examines decision-making, how we attach ourselves to one decision instead of another, and how we can “stay quiet in front of this question of whether to go right or left.” He says, “And our work of study is to free myself all the time from this kind of attachment.” It seems “the taste of the ego” expresses itself, now one way, now another. If a person is able to remain awake, he may engage a “conscious struggle, that means a struggle of which I’m conscious,” and the problem disappears. The twelfth question concerns what to do when “you find yourself in front of something,” so “the question is whether you stop living and decide, or whether you just go on living.” Since choice is a concern for the future, a person should eschew it because “I wish to live in the present moment.”
The thirteenth question leads to “the power of suggestion.” A questioner asks, “What distinguishes Gurdjieff from, let’s say, Krishnamurti?” The speaker answers, “In this particular sense, not very much.” The speaker points out how bodily sensations keep one within oneself and one’s basic physical energy, whereas one’s thoughts lead one away and astray. The answer to the question, “Who am I?” is “I am.” This works “like a purge” of the ill winds that blow from “the pressures around, in business, in politics, international politics.” The fourteenth one asks how to remain “in the present.” The answer is, “We study how we lose it.” Observation of impressions is essential, and new impressions are necessary, but we must not become attached emotionally to them. “Sleeping Man wants permanence … Awake Man wants impressions.”
The fifteenth question concerns how “shocks” produce “hydrogen.” “Our whole work is the work of study, of consciousness. It’s not a work of doing.” The sixteenth question concerns the nature of shocks, first from plants and animals. The seventeenth question concerns the baleful influence of the moon and how “part of us when we die goes to feed the moon.” Taking a space craft to another planet changes nothing. Everything costs. The eighteenth question inquires about the nature of evil. “Evil was originally part of God.” Then it became separated and “becomes unhealthy. There has to be mechanicalness, evil. People are so made that to a large extent they have to serve the mechanical ends of Nature.” Then the gap between consciousness and mechanicalness becomes too great to be bridged, so “a wise man had to be sent in order to show people how to bring the evil mechanicalness more inside and work with it.” “It is through the negative, the affirmative appears, through the evil, the good appears.”
The nineteenth one elaborates and suggests “you wouldn’t need the good unless the evil came up.” The speaker points out: “Growth is growth of the mind. Evolution is evolution of understanding. So evolution depends on understanding the two together.” “We’re all the time trying to have a less negative view of the negative. And in that way our lives can be normal, which means positive.” The twentieth one turns on how to not “let the evil bog you down.” The twenty-first question is about beginning. “You have to begin now. There’s no other way. In five minutes you’ll be thinking of something else.” Another point: “Of course we each need to make our own experiences. There’s absolutely nothing that anybody can experience for me.”
The twenty-second one discusses “the experience of oneself” and “the outward pull and the inward pull.” The twenty-second one looks at “free energy” and “automatism” and how they morph into a consideration of how when consciousness and “the automatic parts” work together so that “my Self, an intelligence not in words, begins to work.” The twenty-third one is about the nature of this “intelligence”: “It’s the kind of thought that can choose associations.” The twenty-fourth one alludes to “intentional suffering” which is described as “intentionally putting yourself in situations in which you know you will suffer in order to have the observation of how this affects your energy of attention.” The twenty-fifth one alludes to simple exercises (like using the left hand instead of the right) to increase one’s sense of working. The twenty-sixth one turns on attachment. There is a brief reference to the relationship between the book and the movie “Remarkable Men.”
That question also elicits the answer that one may become free of attachment one of two ways: “by austerity” (”the energy is not available for being attached, so one can have glimpses of a higher level of looking”); “by self-observation” (”by coming in touch with a more desirable energy and this is the energy with which I see … the more I wish to see, the less energy there is to be attached”).
The speaker alludes to “a very little known procedure … I can’t demonstrate here” to bring this about, one that is mentioned by Jean Vaysse in “Toward Awakening.” The speaker than introduces the topic of “negative emotions” and adds, “Looking at an emotion throws light on it and changes it. And little by little I can wish to throw more light, and that’s all the time taking away the attachment to the emotion.” Enough is enough! “I think we can stop here,” he says, “but this is very important.” “It’s simply a question of looking, the quality of my looking. And that way one doesn’t cut oneself off stupidly from all the suffering there is, but one suffers much more consciously, much more intentionally.” So ends the blue book.
The red booklet consists of two talks, the first delivered at San Francisco in 1976, the second at New York University in 1980. The first talk examines “the possibility or the study of human growth,” and it is a difficult possibility, “even in California.” The opportunity exists but the ideal of growth is difficult to measure. How to measure growth is to ask, “Is he or she more unified?” What is meant is the following consideration: a unity of the senses, head, heart, and purpose. Starting is difficult. The work is both an art and a science. Gurdjieff: “He’s a trailblazer in giving self-knowledge scientific clothing.”
There is a brief discussion of behaviourism with its rewards and reinforcements and threats and punishments. We need “a lasting wish to grow.” Our progress must be evolutionary, not involutionary. “We put much less emphasis on the method and technique than on establishing a contact with the essence or with the parts of myself that naturally wish to grow.” Also, “The idea that we are interested in is the formation of a will, which would be in correspondence with what happens, which would not be fighting all the time the central impulses in myself.” The will is “the awareness of who all this is happening to.” And also, “The point is now, the point is what can we do now, what can we exchange now.”
A slew of general questions followed this short presentation. One question had to do with whether the inquirer was passionate or not passionate and how passion is generated not by belief but by desire, “something irrational.” Another question turned on finding assistance: “Look around until you find somebody who is growing. You know you can tell with people …. ” There is a discussion of the nature of “a reliability that is true.” The speaker notes, “A thought is brought to paper-over the vision of my own dividedness.”
Then there is an interesting consideration of the role of fear in life. “We need to be open, to be vulnerable …. We need to have a strong taste for the truth.” Fear and paranoia are discussed in light of the text of “The Life of Milarepa.” “To be hollow – to have no contact at all with the ground of my existence – this is the state of affairs for almost all of us most of the time.” The manifestation of this may be put to good use. The roles of discipline and respect are considered, as well as finding what inspires one so that a transformation is possible. A frequent refrain is the author’s question, “Do you follow me?”
The second talk introduces Gurdjieff as “a Master who dealt in his own particular way with all the myriad aspects of human existence, life and death.” The speaker confesses that this is the first time that he has introduced the Work to people unacquainted with it, so he begins with generalizations and some biographical details absent elsewhere. The speaker suggests of Gurdjieff that “he was able to bring some kind of reconciliation between the oriental teachings like Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam – that have been popular in the last fifteen years – and the western religions and western science and western psychiatry.”
John Pentland was a young engineer in London in 1936 when he began working with Ouspensky. “The first thing that struck me was the certainty with which Mr. Ouspensky spoke about ideas, the wholeness, sureness and certainty with which he formulated for us one by one, in a particular order, the ideas of Gurdjieff.” He found parallels between Ouspensky and himself. He did not meet Gurdjieff for another twelve years.
He speaks about approaching the work not as an object of study, like philosophy, but as “a teaching for the keeping of a community together and for understanding relationships between people …. But I think the best approach is the approach from this angle of self-study, self-observation, investigating all the facts that come to one’s attention …. ” He moves on to note “the word ‘secret’ comes from the same root as ‘sacred.’” Then he offers his listeners an overview of the different levels or qualities of knowledge. There is understanding or wisdom, which is superior to “the knowledge which can be written down, put into words, held in the memory, in the head, and printed, distributed in different languages in books.” Understanding how to make a cup of excellent coffee is instanced.
“Gurdjieff held that this unconditioned knowledge is a substance, and only a limited amount of it exists in the world at one time …. ” It is necessarily handed down from generation to generation, from mouth to mouth, from teacher to student. This is oral transmission and it is used to relate “a kind of secret about bringing my attention onto myself.” “It cannot be given indiscriminately or democratically without risk.”
Some time is given over to self-observation. The listener is advised to listen to hear the words he is speaking but also to overheard his own thoughts “to see how part of your attention is toying with something else besides listening to what I’m saying …. ” The aim is “a more continuous self-awareness or consciousness.” Some simple exercises are imparted to bring about a realization of “the first of Gurdjieff’s ideas, which is that we live in a state of sleep.” We live between two levels. “And so I, not very often, emerge from this kind of subaqueous sleep in which we live into the plain and healthy air of being awake.” He adds, “In other words, the only possible change is in a small way to go against the mechanicalness of my sleep.”
A brief description of Gurdjieff in his late years follows. “He wore a red tarboush, a red fez, and a welcoming smile which had in it also a certain amount of irony, a certain amount of disillusionment and a compassion which enabled one to look directly in his eyes and feel at once no fear, some kind of common ancestry, some kind of common humanity.” Some biographical details follow. The speaker quotes Colin Wilson’s description of the Work as”the greatest single-handed attempt in the history of human thought to make us aware of the potential of human consciousness.” The speaker adds, however: “It’s ambitious, but I’d like to make a more sophisticated judgment of his ideas than the one I just quoted from Colin Wilson. His ideas are formulations of some indestructible wisdom which is mercifully available to human beings on this planet at all times and which exists since ancient times in other formulations.” Then he adds, uncharacteristically because poetically, “These ideas are like the shadows of birds above us that leave traces on the emptiness and enable us to know how to go on.”
Some interesting comments follow on such human ideals as mercy, truth, humility, etc., and the compromises man makes with them. A passage from the last chapter of “Beelzebub” follows. Then there is a scattering of questions. The first one comes from a Professor Carse who introduced the speaker and he wants to know if the oral transmission is knowledge shared by esoteric communications in other traditions, Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism. The speaker answers this by distinguishing between “orders of knowledge” and “orders of being.” He adds, “Maybe one can have a little inkling of that if one sees some great master in India or in America or in South America; these people must exist somewhere. And there must be some kind of attraction between them, and so on at lower levels.”
In answer to a question about self-observation, the speaker discusses “the momentary experience, the gift of suddenly seeing oneself caught in the middle of a complete lie, for instance …. ” “It’s as if I were between two different stories of a house, or between two different levels in a big department store. And there’s an escalator going up and an escalator going down, and in a sort of vague way all this is going on and suddenly I see it, and there I am getting angry with somebody and at the same time there’s something telling me more and more I ought to stop, and I feel I’m like a field in which all this drama is going on and I’m entirely helpless; it’s all going on involuntarily. Do you understand?” The talk ends with the speaker agreeing “to stay for a few minutes to answer individual questions.” Thus ends the red booklet.
These three booklets, which fall under the rubric “Introducing the Ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff,” may or may not be available through regular commercial channels; if not, they should be. They offer the reader, whether novice or veteran, a view of John Pentland, a formative influence on the Work in the United States. The view is an impressionistic sketch rather than an elaborate, full portrait.
Pentland himself offers the reader a good sense of how a sensitive and intellectual man has absorbed Work impressions or perceptions and in turn interpreted them for Americans, centring on a sense of presence and the need to strive for awareness not tomorrow but right now. He repeatedly asked his listeners, “Do you understand?” I am sure that they did understand.
John Robert Colombo has taken an interest in Ouspensky and Gurdjieff since the late 1950s. He is an Associate of the Northrop Frye Centre, Victoria College, University of Toronto. His latest books are a study of the Canadian broadcaster and globetrotter Gordon Sinclair and a book of poems called “End Notes: Poems with Effects.