Posts Tagged ‘Fourth Way’
Gurdjieff: drawn from life by Kiril Zdanevich in 1920 (*see note below)
Real Worlds of G.I.Gurdjieff”n
ins, “About nine months ago.” That one should be retained.n
About nine months ago, out of the blue, I received an email from Paul Beekman Taylor. It came as a surprise because I had never met the scholar and historian of the Work, although in the past I had reviewed a number of his books for this website. In his email Dr. Taylor mentioned that he was completing another book and hence he was writing to inquire whether or not I would consider contributing a Foreword to the work-in-progress.
I was, frankly, flattered, as I have long appreciated the man’s knowledge, grasp, and approach to the history of the Work. One learns much from reading his prose. But why me? (I have not been able to answer that question. Some of us are lucky, I guess!) I replied in a positive way and asked to see a few of the chapters of the book. I read them as soon as they arrived, I responded with some editorial reactions, and I agreed to contribute a biographical foreword, as long as the author felt he was free to accept or reject the text or suggest modifications.
Here is that foreword. There were no modifications. I hope it helps to draw readers not only to Dr. Taylor’s current book and also to his past publications. As I write, “Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff: Chapters in the Life of a Master” is about to be issued by Siebold and Patricia Tromp-Guégan, proprietors of Eureka Editions, an ambitious publishing house with an interesting history based in Utrecht.
Foreword / John Robert Colombo
This book is about G.I. Gurdjieff. But this foreword is about Paul Beekman Taylor.
In common with the majority of the readers of this book, I have yet to meet its author, if only because he lives and works in Geneva and I live and work in Toronto. Even thought we have not enjoyed a face-to-face meeting, that does not mean that we do not see eye-to-eye. I think we do see eye-to-eye, though he might have some qualms when I resort to the use of a tried-but-true phrase to characterize him. That phrase is “a scholar and a gentleman.”
Paul Beekman Taylor is certainly a scholar; there is no questioning that. He is a scholar in a number of fields, in addition to his role as a student and chronicler of the life and work of G.I. Gurdjieff. But let me make a few general points before considering the scholarship and the gentlemanly nature of the man.
If I may generalize, readers of this book will be people who belong to one or two groups. One group consists of people who know next to nothing about what has been variously called the “special doctrine,” the “system,” the “Fourth Way,” “the work,” or more explicitly “the Gurdjieff work.” The other group consists of people who are widely and perhaps even deeply read in the “literature” of the work; they may even be members of groups or centres that put into practice its principles. In my own mind, I dub any member of the first group a cheechako or “tenderfoot,” and any member of the second group a sourdough or “old hand.” Here I am employing words that were popular during the Yukon Gold Rush of 1898, words that were popularized in the ballads of the “Bard of the Yukon,” Robert W. Service. What the cheechako and the sourdour have in common is that each person has been drawn to the work by its enchanting features or driven to the work by the disenchanting features of man and his world.
Both the “tenderfoot” and the “old hand” will find in the pages of this book fascinating information, little if any of it of public knowledge. It is information that will expand one’s understanding of the everyday life of Mr. G., and extend one’s sympathy for this enigmatic man and the problems he faced on a daily basis. No reader will reach the last pages of this book without evincing an admiration of the man and his mission … the work of self-styled “Teacher of Dancing.”
Every reader will then begin to ask for more information about “the scholar and the gentleman” who wrote this study of Mr. G.’s life and times. Some biographical and bibliographical information about Paul Beekman Taylor should certainly help the reader to appreciate the unique qualifications of its author and how it seems he has been “tailor-made” to research and write this book. Here goes ….
Taylor was born in London, England, on 31 December 1930. He describes the unusual nature of his upbringing in one of these chapters much better than could anyone else. His childhood in Mr. G.’s extended family is indeed a remarkable biographical fact. In brief, he was raised by a lively mother within an enchanted circle of men and women involved in the work and somewhat later he was raised by a leader of the work in the United States.
He earned his bachelor’s degree from Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, in 1954; his master’s from Wesleyan University, Middleton, Connecticut, in 1958; and his doctorate from Brown again in 1961. Among his many academic honours is the fact that he has served as a Fulbright Scholar and a Fulbright Lecturer. Thereafter he taught in Departments of English at Brown University, University of New Mexico, and Yale University, as well as at universities in Oslo, Ireland, Tel Aviv, Lausanne, Fribourg, Zürich. He is now an Emeritus Professor of the University of Geneva and retired from teaching but not from searching and writing. He has been thrice married and has seven children. People whom I respect speak very highly of him; indeed, with considerable respect for his personal qualities as well as for his scholarship. He is truly a gentleman.
In academic life, Professor Taylor’s speciality is Old Norse; indeed, his 1963 doctoral dissertation bears the title Old Norse Heroic Poetry. Among his many scholar papers and book-length works are three volumes of translations from the Old Norse which he undertook with the great poet W.H. Auden. In addition to Old Norse, he is a specialist in both Old English and Middle English; he has also taught courses on modern American literature and Chicano writing.
Taylor has contributed mightily to “the Gurdjieff field.” He is one of the founding members of the All & Everything International Humanities Conference, a group of independent scholars and thinkers who have been meeting annually in various cities since 1996. He has researched and written six studies of interesting and important aspects of the work:
* Shadows of Heaven: Gurdjieff and Toomer (Weiser Books, 1998)ohn
* Gurdjieff and Orage: Brothers in Elysium (Weiser Books, 2001)
* Gurdjieff’s America: Mediating the Miraculous (Lighthouse Editions, 2004) reissued as Gurdjieff’s Invention of America (Eureka Editions, 2007)
* The Philosophy of G. I. Gurdjieff (Eureka Editions, 2007)
* G.I. Gurdjieff: A New Life (Eureka Editions, 2008)ohn
* Gurdjieff in the Public Eye 1914-1949 (Eureka Editions, 2011)
His biography of Gurdjieff takes its place alongside James Moore’s classic Gurdjieff: The Anatomy of a Myth (Element Books, 1991). Gurdjieff’s Invention of America is the product of prodigious scholarship. If The Philosophy of G.I. Gurdjieff is a little diffuse, Gurdjieff in the Public Eye is right on the ball! There is no real precedent for the present book, Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff , which consists of the discoveries made following a lifetime of immersion in the work and a half-century of research conducted with primary materials in private hands and public institutions, as well as with the ever-expanding “literature” of the work. The literature is vast for it embraces a multitude of books (patiently annotated by J. Walter Driscoll) and published and unpublished memoirs in the languages of Eastern and Western Europe and the anglophonie. In the process of researching and writing the present book, which is essentially a collection of essay-length studies, he has revealed most surprising and interesting aspects of the social and personal life of Mr. G.
For instance, new light is shed on members of his family in the Caucasus and on his meetings with members of the artistic community in Paris, creative people like Ezra Pound and Lincoln Kirstein. Then passages are quoted from the transcripts of secret intelligent reports from the dossiers the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (These are eye openers!) How was Beelzebub’s Tales written? How was its publication financed? Is there a ur text in Russian? The answers appear here in more detail than ever before. Unexpected light is shed on the man’s deep love of children and the way he would tweak them to remember him, his message, and themselves. This relationship resonates with the author – and by extension with the reader – because in his childhood he benefited from the largesse of Mr. G. I could go on. The final chapter is remarkable for its insight into the life that Mr. G. kept secret, and the insight into why he did so. All in all, this is a remarkable book for cheechako and sourdough alike. It gives everyone the flavour of the man and his times.
I have no idea where Paul will next “strike” … what part or aspect of the work that he will stake out in order to unearth its termas, its buried treasures. But from the correspondence that we have intermittently conducted, I am led to believe that future forays will take him into archives and personal records that will bring to light further hitherto hidden material – on Gurdjieff’s Caucasian roots, specifically the connection with the Mercourov family in Armenia and Russia, on the Russian years in general, and on the man’s role as a “Teacher of Dancing.”
I look forward to rereading the present work, now that it is appearing in print, and to reading forthcoming essays and books written by Paul Beekman Taylor … in the same way that I look forward to meeting the scholar and the gentleman in person.
Note from SW:
the info captioning the image of the cover came from the book’s author Paul Beekman Taylor via John Robert Colombo.
There is a also a wiki page about Kiril’s older brother:
and an article by Jennifer Walker in the online Artes Magazine- click on link below
‘The Forgotten Modernists: In Search of Georgia’s Avant-Garde’, which establishes cultural links between Russia, Tiflis and Paris, and where you can read more about Kirill’s life as an artist.
John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist with a special interest in Canadiana, the mysterious, and Sax Rohmer. His latest books are “Jeepers Creepers” (a collection of accounts of psychical experiences) and “Fascinating Canada” (discussions of little-known facts about a very-big country). Earlier this year he was honoured by his alma mater, University College, University of Toronto, as one of “University College’s 100 Graduates of Influence.”
THE NEW AGE OF RUSSIA: OCCULT AND ESOTERIC DIMENSIONS
edited Birgit Menzel, Michael Hageneister and Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal
SLCCEE, Volume17, – Berlin,Verlag Otto Sagner 2011
Hardcover, 451 pages,
Select Bibliography Michael Hagemeister
This volume is divided into four sections:
Prerevolutionary Roots and Early Soviet Manifestations, (five chapters)
Manifestations in the Soviet Period (1930 – 1985) (four chapters)
The Occult Revival in Late and Post Soviet Russia (1985 to the Present), (seven chapters)
Comparative Aspects, Continuity and Change (two chapters)
Birgit Menzel provides a comprehensive introduction, especially useful in addition to her summaries of individual chapters are some of the reasons she gives why the borders between science, religion and the occult in Russia have differed from those in the West, and at other difficulties for researchers in these fields. Some, as may be imagined, are due to the search for scattered material, some arise from language and translation differences between scholars. Others which must pose considerable problems are due to differences in terminology:
The terms Occult and New Age have been rejected by most Russian members of, what I will call here the occult underground, (p 18).
Terms defined in Western scholarship need modification, or further explanation when applied to Russian material, (p 19).
Specialist and General Readers
My own reading of The New Age in Russia is from the perspectives of of both the specialist and general reader. I fit into both categories, having some specialist knowledge of G. I. Gurdjieff and Fourth Way teachings, but little background in Russian studies.
Although primarily a book for the specialist reader in Russian 20th century studies in relation to occultism and esotericism, this collection of essays which examines the origins and influences that formed the kaleidoscope of changing networks of esoteric and occult teachings, their interaction with changing political establishments, together with the prevailing political and international geo-political conditions, will also be of value to the general reader.
There are two factors which, without in any way lessening the value of individual essays, may cause the non-specialist reader to take things slowly. The first is because the time indicated in the first three sections starts in the late eighteenth century and ends in ‘the present’, that is 2012, however; the essays could not be expected to form a sequential series. Most of the scholars need to establish what is happening before the period they focus on, and as the author of the introduction tells us some overlapping is inevitable. The effect of this on a reader who starts at the beginning and continues on sequentially is a kind of dizzy slippage as time seems to moves forwards, backwards and then forward once more. This displacement of the reader is intensified by the change in focus from essay to essay. Some offer a wide lens view of their subject matter whilst others present more of a close up.
The second factor is that much of the subject matter, the influence of esoteric and occult teachings, their sources and backgrounds, the lineages of esoteric and occult teachings together with their relation to cultural influence, political actions and reactions, occur throughout most of the essays, and some of the same people occur in one, two or more essays albeit from differing perspectives and emphasis. For example, my own area of interest as mentioned above, is in Gurdjieff studies and the accounts given here have usefully expanded and repositioned my own understanding, placing him and his ideas in a common context relating to life in Russia before the flight to Europe and America. But these references occur in a number of different essays. Although there are some useful pointers within essays to related chapters, an index would have helped me to navigate this and other subject matters.
New Age and New Identity
The overall impression given by these essays is that Russia was seeking a ‘New Age’ and a new identity for itself during the whole of the period covering at least the century from the 1880s to the 1980s, which saw almost continual turmoil, revolt, and repression manifesting in ways which often ran counter to uninformed Western assumptions. Russians faced a continuing need for redefinitions of interrelated forms of identity: at individual, local, national, and international levels, together with the simultaneous and contradictory need to preserve, hide or obliterate these identities. All of which makes for a tendency towards multiple, separate, blurred, ambiguous or contradictory personal and ideological identities in Russia.
For example Jeffrey Kripal in his On Reading Russian Mystical Literature Upside Down (pp 421 – 431) reminds us of:
‘the multiple censorship of the mystical,’ [citing the] ‘almost total annihilation’ of members of the secret society the United Workers’ Brotherhood shot during the Great Terror 1937 – 38′, (p 427).
This might accord with stereotyped Western expectations. However: we learn from Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal that:
In the 1920s and early ’30s, the secret police worked with the occultist Barchenko [of the United Worker’s Brotherhood] and the government funded Roerch’s search for Shamhala. In the 1960s and ’70s, the government denounced yoga as spiritual contraband, even while studying yogic breathing techniques, that could help astronauts, and it supported research on parapsychology, (Occultism as a Response to a Spiritual Crisis, p 400).
The activities of Barchenko and Roerich are each the subject of essays. Barchenko in Oleg Shishkin’s The Occultist Aleksandr Barchenko and the Soviet Secret Police (1923-1938)(pp 81-100), and Nicholas Roerich in Markus Osterrieder’sFrom Synarchy to Shambhala: The Role of Political Occultism and Social Messianism in the Activities of Nicholas Roerich(pp 101-134)
The illustrations are a welcome and instructive addition to the text. Two of the images in colour are Married by Satan (1917) p 47, and KonstantineTsiolkovskii. A Polish lacquer miniature, ca. (1980) p 150. Both suggest a close association between the erotic and the occult/esoteric.
The first, a poster for the film Married by Satan looks more like the sexual assault of a naked helpless woman by demons than a marriage, and appears in Julia Mannherz’s The Occult and Popular Entetainment in late Imperial Russia (pp 29-51). She explores ambivalent attitudes to the supernatural which nevertheless appeared as commercial attractions in newspapers.
Even instruction manuals and occult journals mirrored the same ambivalent attitudes … the boundaries were even more blurred in the circus arena, on stage or on the silver screen. In the performing arts, the rational and the mysterious merged within single productions, (p 38).
KonstantineTsiolkovskii [Artist Kukulieva Kaleriya Vasillievna b 1937]
The portrait of Tsiolkovskii (1857-1935), regarded as the father of space travel, was made forty-five years after his death when ‘he had been made intro a hero by Soviet propoganda’. See Michael Hagemeister’s essay Konstantine Tsiolkovskii and the Occult Roots of Soviet Space Travel (pp 135-150) which shows that Tsiolkovskii ‘s scientific resaerch into space travel was but a means to his esoteric ends which while they aimed for cosmic evolution leading to imortality demaded the horrifying notion of the destruction of all imperfect human beings, animals and most plants. Hagemeister writes that ‘The magical-esoteric understanding of science and technology is still prevalent in today’s Russia’ p 148).
The image shows him sitting with his feet on plans for space rockets, behind him a table of scientific equiment, and behind that again a dark sky with a suggestion of constellations and of the zodiac, his male sexual power has been emphasised by the use of phalic imagery (the rocket, his leg, the drapery). The image unites his career in both rocket science and esotericism, although, as we learn from the essay referred to above, he ‘condemned sexual reproduction as ‘humiliating’, p 139).
Two black and white portraits emit extremes that express the times they belong in. The first on page 23 showing Gleb Ivanovich Bokii (1897-1937) in 1918, so thirty-nine or forty years old, looks more like a painting than a photograph and seen on the page it combines extreme contrasts between black and white to show the left side of the image with a dark face against a light halo shaped background and the right side of the face bright against a dark background, the ear seems to be pointed, the eyes glance upward showing white rims underneath in a way that, for those familiar with them, are remeniscent of images of Gurdjieff. This seems a staged image of occult/esoteric power but is of a member of the OGPU (the principal secret police agency responsible for the detection, arrest, and liquidation of anarchists […] in the early Soviet Union, who was nevertheless attracted by esotericim. This image suggests the crossover, and/or interconnections between notions of political and occult power. See Note
The second striking image on p 178, is that of “Tosha” (Vladimir Shuktomv (1957-1987)), this is most probably a photograph which has a degenreating grainy surface quality that is also clearly of the time when dissidents transfered their allegence from political ideology to the rock music of Boris Brebenshikov and the couter-culture (see p 178). I’ve given attention here to some of the illustrations because in my view though valuable additions, these are mostly underused and undervalued in academic texts.
Russian culture was influenced both by esotericism and occultism, and by politics throughout the periods examined in The New Age of Russia, and I have not attempted a summary of what are in effect a series of summaries of the complex inter-relation of these influences. In brief, areas looked at include medicine, academic institutions and classifications, science, space travel, interplanetary travel, utopia, technology, science fiction, novels, popular culture, theatre, cinema, Shamanism, Tibetan Buddhism, Neo-Hinduism, Eastern mysticism, Theosophy, parapsychology, and Transpersonal Psychology, amongst others.
Occult and New Age Movements in Russia from the 1960 s to the 1980s (pp151-185)
Birgit’ Menzel’s essay enables us to trace the complex paths taken from the first of these dates to the second, to acknowledge Russian connections with the East, and on the way to revise general Western assumptions about the New Age in Russia.
Although there were some similarities with the New Age in Western countries: an interest in changing states of consciousness, experimentation with psychedelic mushrooms,(Castaneda’s writings arrived in Russia) and a love of rock music, this overview shows that there were also major differences and that these are worth understanding. She writes that the state system supported research into the occult or paranormal which would not have been regarded as science in the West, that the Russian New Age was mostly a province of the predominantly male intelligentsia, while in the West it was transmitted via popular culture. Western interest in sexuality and in perfecting the body, via diet, yoga, homoeopathy, and sexual expression. did not occur in Russia where the occult underground was more cerebral, with a stronger emphasis on theory than practice, ‘the ultimate goal was ridding oneself of the body rather than unifying, body mind and soul’ ( p 185).
Comparative Aspects, Continuity and Change.
In the first essay of the fourth section of the book Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal writes about Occultism as a Response to a Spiritual Crisis, (pp 391-420), covering a series of spiritual crises causes by the loss of faith in specific ‘myths’, or ‘all encompassing ideas’ to live by during the period from prerevoutionary and early Soviet Russia, through to Late and Post-Soviet Russia. When agrarian socialism, Marxism, Symbolism, and Futurism each failed in turn interest in occultism surged, in Theosophy and Theosophically influenced teachers amongst others.
The United States has seen a similar series of crises aroused by ‘the fading appeal of the American civil religion, also known as the ‘American Dream’ (p 403). War, fears of nuclear war, the revelation of Nazi death camps, and a recognition of social injustice induced a refusal to accept the restrictions of prevailing cultural norms and were some of the factors that contributed to the counter-culture of ‘hippies’ and ‘beats’. This became an unprecedented surge in occultism from the 1960s to the present. She concludes that the uncertainties current in Russia and the USA that are likely to encourage a continued interest in occultism.
In the second essay of this section Jeffrey J. Kripal’s On Reading Russian Mystical Literature Upside Down (pp 421 – 431), observes the globalisation of esoteric movements which unlike religions are usually ‘very bad at maintaining stable communities, p 421). He wonders if:
a mystical event may not only be culturally or politically dissident: it may also be cognitively and epistemologically dissonant, (p 424).
and raises a number of issues that face the scholar of esotericism. These include the ‘censoring and suppressing ideologies of the modern-day academy, p 425), and he goes on to write that in this volume only Natalia Zhukovskaia in her Shamanism in the Russian Intelligentsia (Post Soviet Space and Time) (pp 328-3470, has been willing to recount her first hand experience as researcher-scholar, and in doing so shows the reader:
Russian anthropologists and intellectuals taking on the practices and roles of the shaman themselves, in essence, going native, (p 430 431) emphasis added.
Kripal’s use of the poetic and archaic phrase, ‘going native’ is a telling one. With it he refers to outdated notions of an abandonment of ‘civilised values’, a descent into an irrational and inferior way of life. These are familiar nineteenth, if not eighteenth century attitudes, all of which we must assume are not his own attitudes but those of the ‘suppressing ideologies of the modern-day academy‘ (p 431 ).
These are almost the final words in The New Age of Russia, and bring this intricate and detailed overview of a century and more of academic study firmly into one of the major contemporary academic debates.
Acknowledgements and thanks are due to the editors who brought this valuable contribution to esoteric and occult studies to publication. It offers evidence of the human refusal to obey or stay within defined boundaries, while simultaneously longing for security. In Russia during the 20th century these conflicting desires were expressed by politically repressive boundries, serially accompanied by a refusal to accept or to be bound by fixed, enprisoning ideologies. The two unbounded areas that continued to defy definition and which remained open for exploration during the whole century were those of the inner life, and outer space.
I found this photograph of Gleb Bokii on Google images, and it is clearly the source image for the painting shown above.
Here are a couple of definitions of terms and some initials used in the text which may be of use to fellow non-Russianists, (retreived from Wikipedia (5.6.2012).
Samizdat(Russian: самизда́т; IPA: ) was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader.
Tamizdatrefers to literature published abroad (там, tam, “there”), often from smuggled manuscripts.
The OGPU (1922-1934) was responsible for the creation of the Gulag system. It also became the Soviet government’s arm for the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Greek Catholics, the Latin Catholics, Islam and other religious organisations […] The OGPU was also the principal secret police agency responsible for the detection, arrest, and liquidation of anarchists and other dissident left-wing factions in the early Soviet Union.
NKVD stands for The People’s Commissariatfor Internal Affairs, Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del), abbreviated NKVD (1934 – 1954).
from the entry for State Political Directorate Wikipedia retrieved 29.5. 2012
DAVID KHERDIAN’S “SEEDS OF LIGHT”
John Robert Colombo discusses a book of poetry inspired by the Work experience
If there is any other collection of poems inspired by the Fourth Way, I am unaware of its existence. It is true that some poets, like the late Kathleen Raine, have a distinct feelings for these experiences and values, but to my knowledge Raine did not explicitly write about such experiences in any of her volumes of verse. My generalization is true for the English language, but it is not true for poetry written in the French language.
The reader with a sweet-tooth for the images and the movements characteristic of intense and intuitive poetic language, who has a command of French or who is drawn to patiently prepared translations, will have his or her needs well met by the free-verse poetry and wildly imaginative prose poetry of René Daumal. He is the literary mascot of the Work in France and a creative artist endowed with persistent and penetrating powers of invention, well deserving of great respect accorded him. In past columns for this web-blog, I have reviewed current English translations of Daumal’s books. Translations of his writings add unexpected grace-notes to the leitmotif of “quest” expressed in the French and English languages.
The writings of Pierre Bonnasse, a student of the Work in Paris who holds a doctorate in Literature from the Sorbonne, has published a multitude of books of imaginative power and value, including a collection of poems titled “Dans la nuit d’Aghtamar” which exists in an English translation that no publishing house has yet offered to issue. I will say no more about Bonnasse and his work here because I described them at some length on this web-blog in October 3, 2008, under the questioning title “Fourth Way Words?” Instead I want to turn my attention to David Kherdian and his poetry.
I began this review article with these words: “If there is any other collection of poems inspired by the Fourth Way …. ” The “other collection” was composed in English by Kherdian. It is to this collection – “Seeds of Light: Poems from a Gurdjieff Community” (McMinnville, Oregon: Stopinder Books, 2002) – that I am now turning my attention. I am doing so because it was recently drawn to my attention that the book, now a decade old, has received hardly any attention – if any attention at all – from reviewers with any knowledge or interest in work-related literature. Readers appreciate the contents of the book, but reviewers know nothing of its appearance. This is a shame. No book is truly “old.” Every book is really “new,” at least until it has been read.
Question: “Who is David Kherdian?” I asked this question four years ago in this very web-blog, the occasion being the review article titled “Possible Gurdjieff-Stalin Connection with Reference to David Kherdian” which appeared here on June 3, 2008. At the time I was trying to trace the suggestion that not only were Gurdjieff and Stalin personally known to each other – highschool students in Georgia, so to speak – but Gurdjieff wrote about their association in a chapter that was mysteriously excluded from the published text of “Meetings with Remarkable Men.” I have never determined the truth (or consequences) of this statement, so I take it to be a rumour, one that is likely to lurk for decades to come, and nothing more. Here is what I wrote about Kherdian four years ago.
Answer: Kherdian is a thoughtful and productive person, an Armenian-American poet, novelist, and essayist with much experience in the Work. One of Kherdian’s books “Seeds of Light” was published by Stopinder Books and is subtitled “Poems from a Gurdjieff Community.” Another of his books is called “On a Spaceship with Beelzebub” and it is subtitled “By a Grandson of Gurdjieff.” It was praised by Colin Wilson as “one of the best accounts I’ve read of actually being a member of a Gurdjieff Group.”
I first encountered Kherdian when I subscribed to the journal that he edited decades ago from a farm in Wisconsin. “Stopinder: A Gurdjieff Journal for Our Time” was a handsomely designed publication illustrated by his talented wife Nonny Hogrogian. Each issue offered subscribers a low-key yet concentrated approach to human problems in rural and rustic settings. Over the decades Kherdian has published about two dozen anthologies, volumes of verse, collections of memoirs, and works of fiction.
Kherdian’s article “The Vanishing Master” is almost twenty years old but it is still fresh. In practical terms it offered the author an opportunity to share his views of Mr. G., whom he describes as a man formed by his Armenian background. Armenians – as well as Bulgarians, I have noted – describe themselves as being situated at the “cross-roads of the world,” the cock-pit of history and civilization. For this reason, Kheridan finds something unique about Mr. G and his message.
“He was the very first of the Eastern teachers or Masters to formulate an ancient teaching for the West – this planet’s growing point. All the others brought their religion or ideology entire – garment, beads, and all – changing the fit and form of Western spirituality into its Eastern strictures. Gurdjieff, of mixed Greek-Armenian parentage, grew up in Armenia, at the crossroads of East and West, the Armenians being the only people who belonged to neither yet were part of both. Whether he chose himself or was chosen, we do not know. We only know that he left his school, assumed a mission and devised a plan for its execution. He called it Esoteric Christianity, perhaps because it straddled East and West, as he did, being raised in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and then pushing East for his training before returning, transformed, to the West.”
Such is his view of Mr. G. This is not the place to present Kherdian’s interesting argument that there are now two generations of Gurdjieffians and that their aims are anything but congruent …. Instead, it is time that someone surveyed the writings of David Kherdian from the perspective of the Work. A start might be made by asking him for permission to reprint “The Vanishing Master” on this news-blog.
To repeat, I wrote the above paragraphs on June 3, 2008. Now four years have passed and I will try to catch up with Kherdian. He has his own website < http://www.davidkherdian.com > which is short on biographical details but nonetheless interesting. Born in Racine, Wisconsin, of Armenian background, he is “the author and editor of over sixty books, that include poetry, novels, memoirs, biographies, bibliographies, children’s books, as well as critical studies, translations, and retellings” (according to his vita sheet). He has edited a number of anthologies of poetries selected on the bases of “ethnic expression” and “sense of place” – i.e., the writer’s background, linguistic and social, as well as the writer’s place of residence. An hour-long documentary on his poetry, produced by the New York independent filmmaker Jim Belleau, was released in 1997. His latest book is an anthology of his own work in many genres, “Gatherings: Selected and Uncollected Writings” (Tavnon Books, 2011). In the fall of 2012 the University of California Press will publish his “New and Selected Poems.”
Here is an item from the author’s website expressed in the third person: “He is currently in the market for an agent to handle his retelling of David of Sassoun, the tenth-century Armenian epic, well known in the East but virtually unknown in the West.” (Publishers, take note!) So he has been dizzily busy as a man-of-letters. Enough of background. Here is a brief look at his Work-inspired poems.
To discuss Kherdian’s poetry, I want to place his poems in an unusual and perhaps idiosyncratic context, one that permits me to discuss the possibilities in our day of the straight-forward diction of his work – the common style: plain, direct, unornamented, unrhymed, unrhythmed, the one adapted by most poets and by most contemporary bards. The style is difficult to distinguish from prose except that the lines do not run to the right-hand edge of the page. There is no name for this style, though the words “free verse” probably best describe it, except that what is being heard or read is not “verse” (rhythm and rhyme) but “poetry” (highly associative language) – “free poetry” perhaps; yet those two words do not sound quite right. Perhaps the word “prayer” – or “meditation” or “rumination” or even “consideration” – sound more appropriate. In short, it is today’s vernacular.
I am tempted to regard Kherdian’s poems as prayers (which Gurdjieff calls “recapitulations”) because they are admissions of current limitations and appeals to an outside agency or force and also to the force or agency within one’s own self for enlightenment, salvation, redemption, whatever. The poems are highly personal, characteristically subjective. How essential they are is what this review attempts to probe. There are two contemporary works that I feel do convey some of the possibilities of poetry as prayer, particularly when performed by a singer with electronic backing. To this end I will discuss two compositions. Both of them may be heard with a few keystrokes on YouTube.
Whoever has viewed the 2010 film “The Tempest” directed by Julie Taymor will be bowled over by the visuals and soundtrack of its closing sequence, a sequence known as “Prospera’s Coda.” The Prospero of Shakespeare’s play is reinterpreted by the actress Helen Mirren in terms of a woman magus, Prospera. The final speech of the play is not delivered by the actress; instead, it is sung, or intoned, off-screen, by the English vocalist and lyricist Beth Gibbons. The effect is quite arresting, quite unsettling. The lines that Shakespeare wrote are pure poetry – rhythmical and rhymed verse:
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
Intoned by Gibbons, they are heard not as awesome affirmation or heroic renunciation or inevitable reconciliation, but in the contemporary context as the cry of a person without craft, the outcry of a person in pain without restraint. The presentation thus goes against type. It is overpowering, in some way beyond the language of poetry itself.
The same curious amalgam of art and artlessness is characteristic of the stunning finale of the final episode seen in 2005 of the HBO television series “Six Feet Under.” Sia, the Australian singer and songwriter, intones words of pleading and meaning, heart-brokenly, directionlessly. This time the words lack the Elizabethan air; instead what they have is the simplicity of the simpleton who nevertheless suffers needlessly:
Help, I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And, the worst part is
There’s no-one else to blame.
The words are Sia’s and the presentation is true to type. It is called “Breathe Me” and it could be likened to the confession of a person who is drowning in the despair of present-day life. It is free verse and it is very effective. But, like “Prospera’s Credo,” it is about as far as possible from the common style. Redemption is not close at hand.
The visuals contrast too. The images that appear on the screen as Beth Gibbons intones Shakespeare’s words are dreamy and nightmarish. The visuals that appear as Sia seems to trip over her own words, so downtempo, so obsessive and abulic, are the images of an automobile journey across the American continent from Los Angeles to New York City. The landscape of Prospero-Prospera’s island (filmed in Hawaii) and that of the car’s journey across the Mojave desert might well be that of the moon. In both instances, whether presented against type or true to type, the visuals and electronic and acoustic effects make the work very contemporary in a direct and unmediated way. The effectiveness of the poetry or verse lies in its presentation, here aided and abetted by the media of cinema and television.
There are no trumpets or drums, intoning or appealing women, whether maguses or fallen women, in Kherdian’s poetry. Instead, there is some hope and the anticipation of self-knowledge if not power over the negative aspects of the self in David Kherdian’s “Seeds of Light: Poems from a Gurdjieff Community.” This is a trade paperback of attractive design with woodcuts by the poet’s wife, Nonny Hogrogian. It bears the imprint of Stopinder Books, McMinnville, Oregon. It consists of 202+iv pages and the year of publication is given as 2002. The effort is “Dedicated to the Memory and Living Presence of G.I. Gurdjieff.”
By my count the collection consists of 123 poems and they are arranged in chronological order in five divisions identified as “books.” I sense that book by book the poems advance from being descriptive and anecdotal to expressive and experiential. The first poems are somewhat sketchy, the last poems rather full-bodied. Yet the book is a whole and may be read from cover to cover like a log of rural experiences. The book is not like a diary – there are no personal revelations, there are no descriptive passages – so the poems have to be read for what they are, page-long, free-verse poetry. Do not look for characterization or profiles of people; they are not even noticeable by their absence.
The intelligent and insightful introduction has been contributed by Allen Roth whose name may ring a bell because he is the author of Sherborne: An Experiment in Transformation (1998). He notes that the poet and his wife, an illustrator, lived from about 1978 for nine years at Two Rivers Farm, near Aurora, Oregon, a community founded by Annie Lou Staveley, a pupil through Jane Heap of G.I. Gurdjieff. It was presumably the sole farm in the area that had and still has its own printing press. How many people have lived on these acres, how many people were weekend visitors, how many acres there are … none of this information is shared. Instead, the reader is invited to share Kherdian’s perceptions, impressions, and thoughts.
Of these poems, Roth writes, “We are given tastes, not recipes.” So there are no descriptions of exercises, meditations, or movements on these pages. It is as if the rationale for the rural retreat has been displaced or subsumed in the tasks of everyday farm life. “He is the single, full-fledged poet I know who sings of the work, although much has been written by some good writers in other forms.” Yet, as Roth notes, “These poems are noticings, of oneself in the moment of noticing: the gateway to all spiritual aspiration.” I like the plural noun “noticings.”
It is probably safe to say a reader who knows nothing about communal living and work centres will benefit from reading Kherdian’s poetry, though the reader might be puzzled by poems which from time to time conclude with spiritual affirmations that appear so to speak out of the blue: “There is a beauty in all this / beyond the telling.”
The reader can sense both the man and the poet at work in the earlier poems; in the later poem the reader can sense that they are the same being. There is an instance of this in two poems titled “i ride the red tractor.” In the first poem the “i” is identified as “a stranger to this green earth / these turbulent, thundering skies.” In the second poem the “i” is “this human form” which would “come to them” (“bird and animal / red tractor or green”) “in the halo of my love.” There is a transformation recorded here in parallel poems with the same title. It is casually presented, characteristic of Kherdian’s subtle sometimes impressionistic writing generally.
The poems are anything but innovative or subversive; they are anything but traditional or conservative. They are individual in the sense that the idiom adopted by the poet is that of modern free verse. The poet is aware of Ezra Pound who sought to introduce Modernism, which led to Post-Modernism, for Kherdian twice quotes the injunction “make it new,” a command identified with Pound. Kherdian does not make it new, but he makes it his own – here is a man here, a man in the guise of a farmer-poet – who does this and does that. Share his experiences and their meanings. In terms of the division of man in P.D. Ouspensky’s schema, it is possible to place Kherdian’s magnetic centre in his moving / instinctive centre – that is his “major” centre, his minor being the emotional.
I will not pause over the poems in whole or part that describe pigs, ducks, horses, chickens, starlings, flies, and other farm animals and fowl; here Kherdian has to contend with the reader’s remembered richness of D.H. Lawrence’s wildlife poems. Ditto for weeds, flowers, seeds, etc. Kherdian is inclined to see the wildlife that catches his eye as instances of all life:
Ah well, I tell myself, some things
just naturally resist a reasoning
mind, that’s all. And have you not
noticed how various and multiple
and mysterious everything is –
including chickens (not to mention
humans), etcetera, etcetera.
That is the ending of “the wild ones.” It is quite effective, and it would work on the podium as a spoken poem, but it tells us “a little about a little,” rather than “a lot about a lot.” Kherdian is not the poet of the big statement, but of the little insight, which is all the richer for its uniqueness. The poem “to the man or woman” is about a meditation cushion, accidentally left behind, which he then uses while shelling corn. He wonders if it will retain the impression of his body. He then ponders the act:
We want to touch everything
in this manner, with all
the parts of our bodies, consciously,
with all our feelings and thoughts,
for it is in this way
that we are trying to
awaken to The Farm
Only one of the poems is formal in the literary sense of that word. It is “mount st. helens” and it describes the feelings on the land when “the ashes fell.” It is formal because its stanzas are constructed like those of the classic French form known as the villanelle, except that there is no repetition of lines and no use of rhyme. I wish it were a villanelle. As it is, the memorability of the poem rests on the process of its thought and feeling, unbuttressed by stylishly or skillfully written lines. It ends:
We had been shocked into wakefulness, and the
certainly of that made us question again
the uncertainty of life and its meaning.
The structure of at least one other poem recalls the structure of a classic form, in this instance “poem” comes close to the three-line haiku, though its length is eleven lines. Five lines describe the sight of one of the farmers on a bicycle. Three lines are devoted to how the scene that is so far distant is so silent. Five lines move into another dimension, the last two being these:
I turn and do not see the invisible
imprint I have left on the ground.
There is a lot in these poems about close to indelible impressions. Reading these poems I occasionally thought how D.H. Lawrence would have done it better – or at least deeper – but then he was weighted down and occasionally buoyed up with deep passions and society’s restrictions against venting them. Yet every so often I also thought of Rainer Maria Rilke. The German poet would have approved of a number of Kherdian’s poem, especially the one titled “1,2,3,4, ducks in a row.” Lawrence would know what he thought of the inner life of the duck, but Rilke would have known better, especially in his period at Castle Duino in Trieste. And Kherdian too knows better. Without paraphrasing the twenty-one line poem, let me quote the last stanza about the sight of these strange creatures of creation:
As if it were my business. As if I, who understand nothing,
including myself, should be expected to understand
them, and know what they mean, or what
they SHOULD mean. Whose life am I living, anyhow?
The mundane task of keeping the birds from eating the fruit is described in the poem “they’re after my strawberries again.” The task is being poorly performed by the straw-hatted scarecrow. Is the poet better able to perform it? Here is how it ends:
What am I waiting for?
Heaven’s intervention? Childhood’s return?
A permanent summer sun and no villains?
Perhaps I’ll just sit back and wait
for a better poem, a better scarecrow,
and all the luck in the world,
plus a little bit more.
Everyone can use “the luck” and “a little bit more.” The expectations for the scarecrow were high, for the poet not so high, for the poem, it was the luck of the draw and the presence of perseverance and talent.
So far the poems that have been discussed and quoted come from the first half of the book. If I gave equal representation to the poems of the book’s second half, this appreciation would have to be much longer than it already is. Instead let me suggest only the following – that the later poems differ from the earlier in that the “noticings” of peculiarities and anomalies and unexpected emotions noted in the lines take on greater depths of meaning and significance in the later poems. What were sketches are now sculptures; what were two dimensional are now three dimensional.
This process of deepening and heightening is a consolidation of the poet and the process, of the man and the meaning, and it may be sensed by the reader in an occasional poem like “the cat” which describes movements of Tessie the tom cat. The description is neat and it “inscapes” the spirit of the animal, to use the verbal form of Gerard Manly Hopkins’ noun. Here is the three-line ending to the eighteen-line poem:
The hollow inbreath,
sensed but not seen,
between be and become.
The poet delves deeper or scales higher in “the death / life thing”:
when what we call life
and what we call death
join in their wholeness.
This Taoism or Buddhism or what-ism can go too far, as in the composition titled “the poet addresses his double” which looks at answers, organization, death, balance, and control, only to conclude:
Enter your life, only that.
Thank God, and be yourself.
Rather than leave it on a low note, I want to take this review to a high note and listen to what Kherdian has to say in what is obviously one of his major poems. The poem is “celebrating gurdjieff’s one hundredth,” and it is subtitled “January 13, Aurora, Oregon.” It is only seventeen lines long, seventy-two words of text (plus the nine-word title and subtitle, to make it 81 words in all). It is not a miniature literary work but in a way it is gem-like.
The poet imagines that the headlights of cars penetrating the fog are “candles in procession / walkers in Asian mountains / chanting as they come to prayers.” The mythic is contrasted with the ironic: “Here their descendants arrive / in shields of tin and glass / over mended gravel roads.” In a melange of imagery, the poet imagines “brothers, our fathers” – people in the present, people of the past – “our drum the silent wheel” – the prayer wheel apparently, but also the automobile wheel – “our prayer beads” too – “that hums under the hood.” There is the notion of poetry as prayer here too. The poem ends (if it truly ends) with three words separated by two spaces:
We Affirming Come
In its quiet way and not quite clear way, it is quintessential David Kherdian.
I could continue to discuss other poems in “Seeds of Light” and in the poet’s subsequent collection “Letters to My Father” in light of this author’s earlier prose work titled “On a Spaceship with Beelzebub By a Grandson of Gurdjieff” which Colin Wilson praised as “One of the best accounts I’ve read of actually being a member of a Gurdjieff group.” That book alone deserves to be described, but that is a subject for another review-article, perhaps one that I will write when, later this year, the University of California Press issues David Kherdian’s “New and Selected Poems.”
John Robert Colombo
John Robert Colombo, based in Toronto, is a Member of the Order of Canada and holds an honorary doctorate from York University, Toronto. His latest books are “A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore” (a volume of aphorisms) and “Less of Light” (the poems he wrote during the year 2011 plus a dream diary). Check his website for more details. < http://www.colombo.ca >
Jeanne de Salzmann
Review of The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff,
Jeanne de Salzmann, Shambhala, Boston & London, 2010
(293 pp, plus biographical note, list of de Salzmann founded Gurdjieff Centres, and index) Reviewer’s note, the book has been edited with a foreword by an anonymous team.
I have been pondering for two months: should I write a review of this book or not? The sublimity of some of this writing makes the idea reviewing it seem presumptuous, disrespectful and distasteful. At its best, this volume represents a unique spiritual literature, and bears ample evidence of the note-maker’s achievement, authority and stature. Reading in its pages for even five minutes, new vistas open, lines of study are confirmed and extended, and I receive fresh direction and hope. And yet I have questions, and even some misgivings, especially about the presentation of the material as an account of Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way rather than as de Salzmann’s own Gurdjieff-influenced teaching, the decision to publish exercises, the descriptions of what I might call “higher states” (with the possibility of inviting self-delusion), and whether many people will understand anything much from the book who did not previously know de Salzmann or have not had firsthand experience in her groups.
But I decided to write when the question occurred to me: what would Jeanne De Salzmann wish for? Adulation? I cannot rush into rapture over the volume, if only because it has helped me. To fall now into gushing blandishments of the type Gurdjieff satirised in Meetings With Remarkable Men would be a betrayal. I feel a certain duty to try and impartially review this book exactly because, at first blush, it seems to defy all review.
Other of Gurdjieff’s pupils have written comparable material, the unpublished “black notebook” which Jane Heap kept comes to mind. There is some material from George Adie which is of this genre, but I have never released it, and have no intention of doing so, given my reluctance to publish exercises and descriptions of higher states because these might invite self-delusion. Some of Bill Segal’s material is of this genre, but I don’t think it can be compared with Reality of Being for power, depth or scope. So this is a unique work.
Whether those who did not know de Salzmann or her pupils can benefit from this volume is another question altogether. My guess is that those people may perhaps sense that there is something significant here, but will find it too opaque for them. It badly needs a full introduction and glossary.
Finally, before plunging this review, I must thank Dr Sophia Wellbeloved, who helped me see certain matters I had been colour-blind to. Sophia experienced de Salzmann at first hand, and her impartial but warm personal assessment merged, as it were, with the force of these writings, in which I have been immersed, to produce quite an impact on me.
The major problem, and it is a significant one, is the packaging. The issue would not arise had the book been presented, packaged and titled accurately, for example, as The Reality of Being: The “Vigilant Meditation” of Jeanne de Salzmann. The misstatement that this volume is a representation of the “Fourth Way of Gurdjieff”, which is a way in life, distorts any reading of the contents, because many of the statements here are meaningful or true only within the context of what de Salzmann calls “the work in the quiet” (48) and “vigilance and meditation” (58). This practice was developed by de Salzmann from Eastern models, as Bill Segal states in one memoir. Further, the book as edited moves backwards and forwards between “work in life”, and “work in the quiet” in a manner which is not always clear. It might be a personal development of the Fourth Way, or even a portion of it, but then, why the clunky subtitle The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff?
De Salzmann did not see this book into the press: she wrote notes which, to judge by the sample on p. 293 were like journals written up after a period spent in “vigilant meditation”. The anonymous editors of this volume have, after her death, marshalled some of these notes of her contemplative experience, and added some other “recorded statements”, (whatever form these may have taken, xviii). As the foreword states, she was: “… constantly reflecting on the reality of being and writing down her thoughts in her notebook,” (xvi). She also wrote ideas for meetings with her students. These two sets of notebooks were kept “like diaries”, (xvi), and were understood by the editors to be the “book” she referred to when she said that she was writing “a book on how to be in life, on the path to take in order to live on two levels. It will show how to find a balance …”, (xvi). At her death, the careful state of these notebooks were taken by “those closest to her” to be “a clear sign” that she had intended the material in them to “help complete Gurdjieff’s writing on a true vision of reality …”, (xvi). The editors can only mean that this book is her effort to “complete” the Third Series.
The impression of continuity with Gurdjieff, and that this is the “Third and a half series”, is strengthened by the editors’ disclosure ay p. xvi that: “She often echoed, and sometimes repeated, his (i.e. Gurdjieff’s) exact words”, e.g. the exercise on pp.196-7 of this book is also given in the Third Series. But then the editors announce two pages later that: “No attempt has been made to identify isolated excerpts taken by her from Gurdjieff or other writers”, (xviii).
Why not? I could understand if they had made an attempt but cautioned that they may not have been able to identify all such excerpts. But to make no effort? Did they feel they had no duty to Gurdjieff, de Salzmann or anyone else not to pass off one person’s work as another’s? I feel sure de Salzmann would never have agreed. A staggering number of references to Gurdjieff in the text have inexplicably been omitted from the index. Very strange.
When we turn to the index under “Gurdjieff”, we find the following entry and page references or “locators” (the technical term for the page references provided in an index):
Gurdjieff, George Ivanovitch, 1-5, 295-7
It appears as if these are the only references to Gurdjieff in the volume. In fact, his name is also given at 22, 24, 64, 73, 100, 108, 120, 122, 133, 137, 172, 180, 181, 182, 183, 189, 196, 199, 235, 237, 280, 284, 286 and 292. Why omit so many locators from the index? The only argument I can see, which would not involve disrespect to Gurdjieff, is to say that the whole of the contents were so indebted to him that reference was pointless.
However, to argue thus is to miss the decisive point, as Aristotle said. It is an error for an index to omit proper names important to its readers, or to pass over occurrences of that name which go beyond mere mentions. Gurdjieff could hardly be more important to this book, yet the index has overlooked 22 or more references. Indexing is not easy: The Society of Indexers holds conferences and offers tutoring on indexing. Its web-site (www.indexers.org.au) includes this wisdom: “A good index can be much more than a guide to the contents of a book. It can often give a far clearer glimpse of its spirit than the blurb-writers or critics are able to do.” Quite so.
So, despite the often sublime contents, this book is something of an odd job. There are 140 entries. Each is of a fairly consistent length of between one and a half to two pages Presumably each piece was written on the one day (except where it was later supplemented by the mysterious “recorded statements”). Each of the 140 entries has a title, but no date, and they’re numbered 1 through to 140. The titles are written in Roman, e.g. “A nostalgia for Being” and ‘Only with a stable Presence”. These are arranged in 36 titled sections (32 sections have 4 entries, and 4 sections have but 3). The sections are unnumbered, and have italicised titles like: “To Remember Oneself” and “A Pure Energy”. Without exception, there are three sections to a chapter. The chapters are numbered in Roman numerals, and are titled “OPENING TO PRESENCE”, “TO BE CENTERED”, and so on.
The cover illustration is of a landscape beneath the night sky. In the lower heavens is an enneagram. On the earth, we see someone wearing what seems to be a bright red scarf. But it is a strange scarf: it looks as if a small inverted ziggurat has attached itself to someone’s back. Is it meant to represent the descending energies which de Salzmann writes of? Despite the Gurdjieff packaging, to put it that way, there is a photograph of the diarist, but none of Gurdjieff. Neither is an attempt made to relate her ideas to those of other people: yet this context could have helped people understand the significance of her writing. For example, she answers Hume’s enigma that one never finds a “self” (In A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume discussed the question of personal identity, and argued that we assume that we have a “self”, but in fact there is no evidence at all for this). Explaining this somewhere would make the volume more accessible for the very many people who are acquainted with Hume, but not Gurdjieff.
That is the contents. To speak of aims, the book is pretty clearly “missionary”. It is meant to attract people to the de Salzmann groups (hence p.301 with its list of centres, and its reference to the Reality of Being website, to meet the anticipated demand).
My intuition is that the actual motive to publish this quality hardback was not only to give those who knew her a substantial memento, but also to reach that elusive audience of seekers, and to establish an independent basis for de Salzmann’s reputation as a spiritual authority. Together with the previous Foundation-sponsored or inspired Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections, Heart Without Measure, Without Benefit of Clergy, The Forgotten Language of Children, Tchekhovitch’s Gurdjieff: A Master in Life, and the volume of Parobola articles Ravindra edited, a bookshelf is being built up. In these books, Gurdjieff orthodoxy passes solely through de Salzmann, and other major figures such as Bennett, Ouspensky and Jane Heap barely exist, if at all. It is as if the Foundation has embarked on a publishing offensive.
Before each of the twelve parts of the volume, the editors have placed a page with some one-liners, presumably chosen for their punchy impact. The very first maxim on the very first of these pages, p.8, reads: “the child wants to have, the adult wants to be.” How could anyone write anything so glib and pat, I wondered to myself? If anything, it struck me, the exact opposite is true. But then I read the quotation in context on p.10: “We need to see our childishness in relation to the life force, always wishing to have more. The child wants to have, the adult wants to be. The constant desire for ‘having’ creates fear and a need to be reassured.” In other words, de Salzmann was explicitly speaking about the childish aspect of ourselves, not children in general. To place that sentence as a disembodied quote on a splash page was to invite misinterpretation.
De Salzmann wished to carry on and develop what Gurdjieff had brought, and yet, as Conge is reported to have said, it seemed as if Gurdjieff left something uncompleted in his work (noted in Ricardo Guillon, Record of a Search). It seems to me that most of Gurdjieff’s pupils supplemented his methods and ideas with methods and ideas from mystical traditions. My own view is that Gurdjieff’s heritage is equivalent to medicine: there is no reason why Christians, for example, should not use medicine, not matter who the doctor is, and the Gurdjieff system is one of psychological medicine.
Gurdjieff did not bequeath to de Salzmann an organization. She had to work indefatigably just to build up the Institute and to maintain its main branches in but three other cities: London, New York and Caracas. Then, through those “second level suns”, she could have an influence on other groups, and would travel to other places such as San Francisco. It was as if she had cardinals in Paris who would travel, especially to London and New York, where the councils were made up archbishops. Most of these then travelled to other places within their archdioceses. Gurdjieff had been the personal centre of his pupils. De Salzmann set up an institution which could effectively take over after the charismatic leader had gone, serving as a sort of school where guides and mentors might come and go, but the institution would survive and develop a sort of corporate personality. She had to position herself at the centre, and placed the emphasis of those aspects of the teaching she had mastered, that is, the groups and movements. Those parts where she was not quite so confident, especially the ideas and the books such as Beelzebub, she downplayed in comparison. For example, she early introduced a rule that there were to be no discussions of Beelzebub in the groups.
De Salzmann felt, it seems to me, that she needed her own special area to cement her authority. This is, I think, why she devised new means of “work” (where one speaks “from the present” after a “sitting”), and, of course, the sittings (or “quiet work”). If she was to base her authority, at least in part, on these, they had to be considered an essential component of the groups’ efforts, so she removed the competition: she stopped systematically teaching the Gurdjieff preparation and exercises. She also forbade the movements to be taught in their entirety: from a certain point in time, one only learnt parts of movements. It was said that this was to stop people like the Rajneeshis stealing them. But I do not think that that was all. I am not saying that that was not a factor, but I do not think it was determinative, because by ceasing to teach all of a movement, she ceased to teach them in the way Gurdjieff had intended. Her method of allowing only a few trusted instructors to have the entire movement from beginning to end was like thwarting an anticipated vandalism by committing it yourself.
Apart from the Gurdjieff omissions, there is another matter about the index I must raise. The problem with the entry for “tempo” is that there is none. There is a reference for “rhythm”, but there should also be one for “tempo”. At 192, De Salzmann uses “rhythm” and “tempo” as being equivalent terms. Relevant locators for “tempo” and instances where equivalents are used include 124, 139, 147 (“rhythmic order”), 182 (“the rhythms of all the functions”), 188, 192, 195, 209, 265 (“rhythm”), 272 and 273. This concept was important to de Salzmann. The understanding of tempo is linked to the understanding of the entire person in who these tempos operate. Interestingly, the English translation of Beelzebub, in the version Gurdjieff authorised, always uses the word “tempo”. Irrespective of what de Salzmann wrote in French, “they leave the general rhythm” is a mediocre translation: better to say “they fall out of” or even “they depart from” the general rhythm. But the point is in the meaning.
What Gurdjieff means is this: just as the different centres have their own individual tempos, so too, can one speak, as Gurdjieff does, of an “aggregate tempo” of our “common presence”. He says that one tempo (or, I think, limited range of tempos), is related to essence, and another much wider range of tempos supports the emergence of personality, and the other larger range supports the domination of personality. This is not the place to go into it in detail, but the tempos of Gregorian chant correspond to the tempo of essence. If one understands what one is doing, then one can change one’s aggregate tempo and thus come closer to essence. It is, therefore, a matter of the greatest practical importance.
Another obvious matter I have barely alluded to is that the struggle with negative emotion is not set out here along Gurdjieff’s method of what I might call ‘active mentation”, which is really a three-centred confrontation. De Salzmann’s method is more to seek a state where one does not feel negative emotion. That is something, but I don’t think it is enough.
There is so much more I could say, for example, her comments on “tonus” anticipate what I came to about “pitch”. But this suffices for now. This is primarily a de Salzmann book and only secondly in the Gurdjeiff line. Much of the material is of the first significance for those seeking a finer consciousness which stands behind and above our other functions.
JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.
The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.
“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.
JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO REVIEWS
JEANNE DE SALZMANN’S “THE REALITY OF BEING”
A page from one of Jeanne de Salzmann’s notebooks
‘Madame de Salzmann’s Testament’
I have in front of me, as I keyboard this review, my prized copy of “The Reality of Being.” The copy is prized, despite the fact that it has not been autographed by its author; despite the fact that it lacks any association with an individual person, place, or incident; despite the fact that it was not given to me by a specially sensitive well-wisher; despite the fact that it was purchased through the Internet and arrived unheralded; despite the fact that it is the trade edition of the book that was published in thousands of copies in May 2010 and this is already October. The reasons why it is prized lie elsewhere and herein.
I prize it because of the quality of its contents, and so I have reserved a space for it on the bookshelf in my study where I display the spines of a limited number of select volumes about the Work that were published over the last three-quarters of a century. This brace of books includes the three volumes of G.I. Gurdjieff’s “All and Everything” series, four books written by P.D. Ouspensky, “The Harmonious Circle” by James Webb, and perhaps a dozen slender volumes composed by people whose last names are Claustres, George, Ravindra, Tracol, Vaysse, Welch, etc.
Before I attempt to convey the extent and limits of the contents of the present volume, I want to praise first its publisher and then its editors. It is a handsome piece of book-making. It measures 6″ x 9″ and has a substantial, dark blue cloth cover embossed in gold; it has end-sheets and an inspired and atmospheric dust-jacket which features an image that combines the horizon of the earth with the stars of the heavens which was created by an artist who goes unnamed but is nevertheless intriguingly referred to as “the author’s great-granddaughter.”
The typographical design of its pages appears at once casual and classical. The volume is published by Shambhala of Boston and London, which ensures it will be widely distributed and kept in print, and it is very reasonably priced at CDN $32.00. The publisher even had the signatures of the book sewn – most books these days have their pages glued together, a process euphemistically described as “Perfect Binding.” As well, they have added, like a sovereign crown, a bright yellow-orange headband. The book is a durable and handsome product, worthy of the muse or saint of printing and publishing, if there is one. Thank you, Shambhala, for taking pains!
I hope I do not sound like a claque because, as well, I will praise in extravagant terms the editors of this book. On the mundane level I did not find a single misprint, and that rarely happens these days, even with scholarly texts issued by university presses. I did note, in passing, that there are discrepancies between the birth years of its subject and its author. The copyright page, which includes the by-now standard Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data, gives G.I. Gurdjieff’s year of birth as 1872, whereas the text gives it as 1866. The same page gives Madame de Salzmann’s year of birth as “1889?” whereas the text gives the same year but without the droll question mark. But these are matters of amusement and no consequence, unlike the text of the book itself.
The text is well organized, indeed super-organized, with a Foreword, an Introduction, twelve main sections, a Biographical Note, a list of the four Gurdjieff centres (Paris, London, New York City, Caracas), and an Index. Let me pause over the latter item, the twelve-page, double-column index, as indices are often overlooked, despite the fact that the attentive reader may tell a lot about a book from a cursory examination of its index.
After perusing it, I thought, “The only personal name in this index – and hence in the text of the book itself – is that of G.I. Gurdjieff.” Then I looked closer and found three other names, those of Christ, Buddha, and Mohammed. Illustrious company indeed! Added to them, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, I found that of Ashiata Shiemash. So it is apparent from this index that the reader will not turn the pages of this book in order to be entertained by stories, anecdotes, or descriptions of the men and women who participated in the evolution of the presentation of Work principles and practices from Ouspensky’s “Special Doctrine” to Madame de Salzmann’s embodiment of the Fourth Way.
The present volume is about as far from a gossipy book as it is possible to be. In fact, the book is about how it is “possible to be,” and in doing so, I find I want to describe the text as a collection of homilies. A homily is a commentary on a passage of scripture, and during a church service a homily is delivered following the reading of the specified passage of scripture. It is basically a sermon with a practical application of the general principles found in the day’s passage. Hence a homily deals more with practice and not directly with principle. It is hortatory.
If I am right when I claim that what we have here is a series of homilies, it is also true that the thrust of the texts is towards the harmonization of the three centres of man. There is next to nothing about the speculative nature of this system of thought at least of the sort identified with the expositions of P.D. Ouspensky. The sections about the Law of Three and the Law of Seven are perfunctory in the extreme; indeed, they are credited by the editors to legitimate sources outside Madame de Salzmann’s notebooks, the source of these texts.
Instead of regarding thought, feeling, and sensation as separate subjects, we have an integration of them within the human body. The index, once again, gives an idea of what is being emphasized, with entries such as these, each of which has a dozen or more page numbers: being, body, consciousness, contact, crystalization, efforts, energy, existence, feeling, instrument of knowing, mind, nature, order, perception, reality, relation, seeing, sensations, shocks, teaching, tensions, understanding, vigilance, voluntary suffering.
There is an abstract quality to the exposition, certainly the quality of selflessness, so it is a relief that the texts themselves are surprisingly short – one page, two pages, three pages – seldom more. If they were any longer, they would be somewhat tedious to read; if they were any shorter, the expositions would be reducible to maxims, like the pages of sentence-long quotations that introduce each of the twelve sections. Two instances of these mantras are “We struggle not against something, we struggle for something” and “I have to maintain a continual sensation in all the activities of my daily life.” In his memoir of Madame de Salzmann called “Heart without Measure,” Ravi Ravindra made exceptional use of such expressions of experience.
The structure of this book as a collection of meditations or a passel of ponderings is such that it may not meet the needs of the novice in the Work, but by its nature it will address the deep-seated needs of people experienced in the ways and words of the Work, people who are in need reminding. In a way the present book reminds me of Maurice Nicoll’s multi-volume set of “Psychological Commentaries” in which each short essay concentrates on one particular element of the teaching. Whereas Nicoll is intellectual and philosophical, Madame de Salzmann is physical and functional..
Each of Madame de Salzmann’s texts illuminates an aspect of the Work, what used to be called “the practice of the presence of God” and what is now recalled by the words of the title of Patty de Llosa’s fine book “The Practice of Presence.” As Nicol was indebted to Ouspensky, Madame de Salzmann is indebted to Gurdjieff. Over the last fifty years or so, I have watched as the word “religion” has been replaced by the word “spirituality” and how that word is now passing out of style in favour of such words as “being,” “presence,” “consciousness,” and “awareness.” Who knows where it will end (to pose a Zen-like question!)?
Let me pause over the arrangement of the contents of the book. Each of the twelve sections is neatly divided into three sections, and each of these three sections has four subsections. This would create a book of 144 texts of homilies, except for the fact that four of the subsections have not four texts apiece but three. That makes 140 texts. (These short subsections are “A Sense of the Whole,” “Ego and Illusion,” “Voluntary Attention,” and “Voluntary Suffering.” It might be worthwhile, at some future time, to pause to wonder why this lack of symmetry is so.)
If the sign of a fine translation is that the reader hears the sound of the voice of a person whose words are being rendered into another language, this translation is sound indeed! I have never heard words spoken by Madame de Salzmann, but as I read these words I feel I am hearing her speaking her own words in her own way. She owns them. Her use of words is measured, they are masterfully chosen, and they are rhythmically arranged. There is a flow of language to match the flow of the teaching. The English translation from the French seems amazingly fine. Yet there is no way to ensure that this is so because the French originals of the notebook are not in print. Indeed, it seems that this English edition is the “editio princeps,” as the French text has never been published. A world first.
Who edited this book? Who prepared the translations from what are described as the “notebooks” kept by the author over the last half-century, from the death of Gurdjieff in 1949 and the death of Madame de Salzmann in 1990 at the age of 101? (Both the Library of Congress and the text of the book agree on these years!) “This book was edited by a small group of Jeanne de Salzmann’s family and followers.” Thus reads the last paragraph of the Foreword. This is a self-effacing sentence, so I wish I knew more, so I could credit the collective effort of family and followers.
Maybe I do know more. I have heard that the positive force behind the book’s appearance originated with the author’s daughter Nathalie de Salzmann de Etievan, who died in 2007. The project was carried out by a couple, Nathalie’s daughter Anne-Marie and her husband Stephen Grant, a retired New York lawyer, supported by the author’s grandson Dr. Alexandre de Salzmann. The labours of Anne-Marie and Stephen, to use their first names without leave, were no doubt augmented by those of other unnamed contributors. Their efforts “have surpassed expectations,” as M.B.A.s in business schools are wont to say these days.
The organization and presentation of the Work that is currently overseen by the four Gurdjieff centres would seem to be based on the efforts of preservation, continuation, elaboration, and extension led by Madame de Salzmann and continued by her son Dr. Michel de Salzmann until he died in 2001.” The text reads, “Before Gurdjieff died he charged Mme. de Salzmann to live to be ‘over 100’ in order to establish his teaching.” She certainly succeeded in more ways than one!
What is her message? Here any reviewer has to make a decision. He can either report on what the author says in the order of the excerpts from the notebooks that appear here, and thereby write at considerable length; or he can summarize the approach that the author takes, and thereby risk sounding somewhat platitudinous. After pondering the matter, what I have decided to do is offer the reader two sentences, no more, on each of the twelve sections of the text. They will give the flavour of the whole and a sense of its direction.
The first sentence is my summary of the argument of the section, expressed in language that sidesteps the terminology of the Work. The second sentence is taken from that portion of Madame de Salzmann’s text and represents an idea or a formulation that struck me as a novel in expression if not new in insight. The book is so arranged as to lead the reader from the simple to the complex, yet at the same time the text resembles a hologram, for which every portion is a portal to the whole.
1. “A Call to Consciousness.” Man does not know himself, but he may through self-knowledge become a conscious being. “Everything comes from the wish, the will.”
2. “Opening to Presence.” We sense ourselves in a passive way, but it is possible to have an active impression of ourselves. “At every degree of awareness my response is in the way I exist at the very moment, and the kind of action in which I am engaged.”
3. “In a Common Direction.” Attention must be paid to the feeling of being alive. “In order for my being to change, I must understand my state emotionally.”
4. “The Work to Be Present.” There are moments of awakening and we need to aim at these, to concentrate on these. “Only one thing counts: ‘I exist.’”
5. “With Others.” Man is a living organism and it is necessary for living organisms to meet and learn and work and move together. “This is why the most important condition, the necessary condition, is to work with others of comparable experience and understanding, who are capable of upending the completely false scale of values established by personality.”
6. “To Be Centered.” Through concentration, through will, and through breath-work, I may find my inner center. “I need to know myself as a whole and to express myself as a whole, that is, to be a whole.”
7. “Who Am I?” The real self is consciousness itself. “No movement from the periphery toward the center will ever reach the center.”
8. “Toward a New Being.” Man has various centres and these need to be sent shocks in order for man to collect himself. “Our work is to understand better the collected state, a state in which I engage in a new order.”
9. “In a State of Unity.” If all my sensations, feelings, and thoughts were in alignment, I would be a conscious being. “Seeing is an act.”
10. “A Presence with Its Own Life.” There are very special energies and subtle forces and man has to experience them in quietude to be truly alive. “To come to this state, I need a right posture, an attitude in which I am grounded, maintaining an inner center of gravity.”
11. “The Essential Being.” Forces pass through us and we must learn to sense those vibrations that are subtle and submit to them. “I need to have a force in me coming from a higher level of the cosmos. It must become part of what I am.”
12. “To Live the Teaching.” We live in two worlds and with our bodies we may feel a Presence. “With consciousness, I see what is, and in the experience ‘I Am,’ I open to the divine, the infinite beyond space and time, the higher force that religions call God.”
These twelve chapters take the reader from a concentration on the ego through schools with practices to a sense of the cosmos, not really step by step but all at once. Hologram-like, these homilies repeat the main thesis that change in level of being is possible and they treat the reader to an array of approaches to the central existence of gnosis or the “knowledge of being.” The book is rightly named “The Reality of Being” for it deals with what is most real in us and in the world in which we live. This is Madame de Salzmann’s predominant testament, one that is to be prized.
John Robert Colombo, Toronto-based author and anthologist, has recently published “Poems of Space and Time,” a collection of 360 poems written over the last half-century and inspired by “the fantastic imagination.” Watch and hear him read some poems on YouTube. Listen to his podcasts on topics of the day on his website: www. colombo -plus. ca. He writes regularly on Fourth Way subjects for this blog.
Carlos Castaneda Recalled and Reconsidered
A Short Review of William Patrick Patterson’s “The Life & Teachings of Carlos Castaneda” by John Robert Colombo
Carlos Castaneda (hereinafter CC) and William Patrick Patterson (hereinafter WPP) are names well known to students of consciousness studies.
CC was a Peruvian-born American author who made a considerable reputation for himself with the publication of his first book of mystical, visionary, spiritual, or magical adventures titled “The Teachings of Don Juan.” It appeared in 1968 and was such a success that it was followed by eleven more such books, which further enhanced the author’s reputation as an apprentice of a “brujo” or sorcerer in the Mesmoamerican tradition of shamanism. The final book of this series, “The Active Side of Infinity,” appeared the year following the author’s death. CC’s vital years are 1925 and 1998. At the height of his fame he became a recluse and WPP tells us why.
WPP is an indefatigable researcher, editor, writer, author, publisher, public speaker, director and host of documentary films on the Fourth Way, and seminar leader – someone concerned with “esoteric perspectives” and “the ways of self-transformation” (to quote the pertinent words on the back cover of the current book). WPP may know more about the history of the Fourth Way than any other living writer, excepting, perhaps, Paul Beekman Taylor and James Moore. He was a student of the late Lord Pentland, who oversaw the Work in America, and the present book is dedicated to his memory (“To my don Juan”).
In my last contribution to this website, I outlined many of WPP’s accomplishments and achievements. In this review, I will focus on his book “The Life & Teachings of Carlos Castaneda.” It appeared in cloth in 2008 and in paper in 2009. Oddly, on the title page it is identified as “Volume 1.” Whatever will fill the pages of “Voume 2”?
The present volume is a handsomely produced, medium-sized trade paperback (xviii + 270 pages) with a Prologue (but no Epilogue), a Chronology, Notes, Bibliography, two Appendices (CC’s reply to R. Gordon Wasson, an academic critic; “Ouspensky on Dreams,” ten quotations from “A New Model of the Universe”), and an index. It also reprints anthropologist Daniel Brinton’s 1894 essay “Nagualism: A Study in Native American Folklore and History” (a source of some of CC’s conceptions). Brinton’s essay, about one-third the length of the book itself, remains a model of its kind.
The entire work was edited by Barbara Allen Patterson and published by Arete Communications, Publishers, Fairfax, California. (By the way, “Arete” is a word known to Aristotle. It means “inner excellence.” In English it is pronounced “A-re-tay,” and WPP regards it as “a working aim.”)
I gather that CC attended the University of California at Los Angeles where he was awarded a B.A. in Creative Writing and Journalism in 1962. Thereafter he switched his major to Anthropology and apparently that institution awarded him a Ph.D. in that discipline in 1973 for an dissertation on “A Yaqui Way of Knowledge,” which is the subtitle his first book, issued by the University of California Press, an academic imprint rather than a trade publishing house.
Thereafter the books were enthusiastically published and promoted by Simon & Schuster, a major trade publisher. (The above details appear in CC’s Wikipedia entry, and there are discrepancies between them and those that appear in WPP’s book which, on the whole, is thorough, appreciative, and non-critical. A critical biography of CC may never written; in the meantime, WPP’s is “as good as it is likely to get.”)
CC’s reputation was made by “The Teachings of Don Juan.” Is the book a work of Anthropology? Does it contribute to our knowledge of Shamanism? Or is it a work of creative writing, imaginative recreation, or “wishful thinking”? Perhaps it is both. CC says it is based on notes taken down in Spanish but the notes do not seem to have survived.
I know where I stand on what kind of book it is. I read it a year following its original appearance and had no problem concluding that it was an instance of “creative non-fiction,” rather than a contribution to field research in Anthropology, one of my minors at the University of Toronto.
CC’s book I found to be “a thrilling read,” like millions of other readers, but I also found it impossible to take it seriously – at least as seriously as I had in younger years taken Paul Brunton’s “In Search of Secret Egypt” and “In Search of Secret India.” (In passing, Brunton’s pretensions to Sanskrit scholarship were effectively and affectionately debunked by the Sanskrit scholar Jeffrey M. Masson in his memoir “My Father’s Guru.”)
CC’s work constitutes a romance of mystical thought (in this instance sorcery) in the same way that Erich von Däniken and Immanuel Velikovsky are purveyors of a science of the imagination. In no way did CC’s book resemble the Anthropology texts that I had studied. Nor have more recent contributions to the discipline begun to resemble his.
It did not surprise me that CC had opened a Pandora’s Box of insights into what he calls the “tonal” world (of ordinary reality) and the “nagual” world (of non-ordinary realities). Readers in the late 1960s were receptive to that distinction, a cornerstone concept of the New Age, and the times were ripe for a shaman (even if called a sorcerer) named Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian, knowledgeable about the effects of the ingestion of psychotropic plants.
Later, I read with surprise Time magazine’s cover story on the man, “Don Juan and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” March 5, 1973, which referred to CC in facetious terms (“the man is an enigma wrapped in mystery in a tortilla”). Time’s editors had problems with the elusive CC, but they gave respectability to his work by granting a passing grade to his accounts of outlandish and otherworldy experiences.
No so the novelist Joyce Carol Oates, who penned a letter to “The New York Review of Books” on November 16, 1972. It was headed “Anthropology – a Fiction?” and it was followed by a flurry of critical reactions to the books as they rolled off the presses. The result was that CC retired from public life (rather like another touchy recluse, J.D. Salinger). The standards and integrity of the University of Southern California were called into question for dealing with a work of fiction as if it were a work of scholarship and even publishing it.
CC re-emerged in the 1990s, the last decade of his life, and what a life he had been leading! WWP is good on these details, which first appeared in his journal “The Gurdjieff Review,” for they describe an unconventional California lifestyle – a man driven by demons to the point of obsession – with his own coven of three witches (named Florinda, Taisha, and Muni) whom he sexually dominated. The women conducted popular seminars devoted to the practice of sorcery. Then there were seminars that promoted Tensegrity, a discipline of “magical passes” that adopts a term previously introduced by Buckminster Fuller.
At the same time CC was married to Amy Wallace, the talented daughter of the popular novelist Irving Wallace. She outlived the three witches and subsequently described CC as a “sexaholic” who near the end was afflicted with glaucoma and diabetes and died of the liver cancer that he boasted he would never have.
While he was alive, CC was adamant that there would be no Hollywood film version of the novels, as he did not relish the sight of Anthony Quinn playing the sorcerer-warrior Don Juan! CC did meet with Federico Fellini in Rome who described the author as “a smiling Sicilian.” The Italian director was intrigued and repelled by the vision offered by the novels – it was “as if I was confronted with a vision of a world dictated by a quartz! Or a green lizard!” He was not far wrong!
Why was WPP drawn to CC? “By the sheer force of his connection with intent, Castaneda brought to life and inseminated into Western culture an age-old sorceric perspective long ago rendered insensible by the modern world’s pursuit of rationality.” What I detect here is a rapidly emerging appreciation of the depths and dimensions of “magical thinking,” “as if,” “active imagination,” shamanic spirit journeys, hoaxes and hypnotism and dreaming, and the antics and adventures of the Trickster Hero of North American Native culture. Here we have “A Yaqui Way of Knowledge,” not “The Yaqui Way of Knowledge.” Indeed, it might even be said that what we have here is “A Yankee Way of Knowledge.”
WPP devotes many pages to early influences on CC: Aldous Huxley’s psychedelic trips and the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. Then there was the person and literary effect on him of Anais Nin, the memoirist who spoke of “mensonge vital” and “déboublement.” WPP suggests “Don Juan Matus” was named after Nin’s father, Joaquín – if not after the Mateus brand of Portuguese wine so popular with beats, hippies, and New Agers!
It is assumed that Don Juan Matus (described as being born in Arizona of Yaqui and Yuma parentage) was not a single person but an amalgam of various teachers both spiritual and academic who were meaningful in CC’s life. WPP devotes ten interesting pages (pp. 65-75) to outlining the dynamic universe occupied by Don Juan and then five pages to pointing out “difficulties” with his accounts of the “sorceric” universe. Five further pages (98-103) are devoted to CC’s exchanges with Swami Muktananda with parallels between the world of sorcery and Hinduism.
There are ten pages (81-91) that measure the trace elements of Fourth Way material to be found in these books. “Awareness of the total body – this is the foundation to everything Castaneda is saying,” writes WPP. “Many of the fundamental ideas Castaneda puts forth can be seen to have a correspondence with Gurdjieff’s teaching. It is not in the province of this book to summarize it, but the following are some examples of the cross-referencing.”
Thereupon WPP offers twenty-nine instances of dynamic parallels in the sorceric and Fourth Way traditions. Here are five parallels:
* “‘Shifting the assemblage point’ is moving the specific gravity of attention so that one is in a higher stage of self-consciousness or self-remembering.”
* “‘Buzzing’ is an initial inaudible frequency which prepares for reception of the Niroonossian-World-Sound.”
* “‘Real mind’ is the higher intellectual center connected with the higher emotional center.”
*”‘Human mold’ is founded in self-love and vanity, i.e., Kundabuffer.”
*”‘Energy body’ is the Kesdjan body developed through practices of self-sensing and the impartial observation of the functioning of the physical body.”
WPP writes, “Castaneda did have an actual, as opposed to simply a theoretical, connection with the Work, as it is sometimes called. His first direct encounter was in 1970 when he attended Movements demonstrations in Los Angeles. Later, he accepted an invitation from Lord John Pentland, the man Gurdjief appointed to lead the Work in America, to spend a weekend at St. Elmo, the home of the Gurdjieff Foundation in San Francisco. There Castaneda met Kathleen Pohlman, aka Carol Tiggs, a student of Pentland’s. He is said to have also attended meetings at the Los Angeles Foundation for some time.”
Carol Tiggs played an active role in CC’s life, less so Claudio Naranjo. WPP concludes, “The teaching Gurdjieff brought is based on sacred science; what Castaneda brought is based on sorcery. Both aim to awaken one from the dream of ordinary life, but while Gurdjieff rejects working with the dream state and insists on grounding consciousness in ordinary life in order to come to real life, dreaming for Castaneda is the basis of sorceric exploration.”
WPP sees CC’s life in terms of “octaves,” but I will leave the interested reader to turn to “The Life & Teachings of Carlos Castaneda” to appreciate these phases. Overall what he finds absent from CC’s cosmology is “a spiritual appreciation and valuation of the scale of Being and the duty to serve and offer ‘help for God,’ as Gurdjieff says.”
The author concludes, interestingly but somewhat debatably, “In the end Castaneda’s significance and value rest on his ideas and sources, not the strangeness of his story.”
John Robert Colombo has yet to find any Canadian references in the work of CC or in the writings of WPP, but he keeps searching. On August 9, 2009, he delivered the academic keynote address at the Worldcon, the convention for 3,500 fans of fantastic literature held in August in Montreal. His address was called “Up! Up! And About!” For more details, check his personal website: www. colombo-plus. ca.
John Robert Colombo
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See Also Osho on Castaneda
Tiflis now Tiblisi
John Robert Colombo reviews the proceedings of the first-ever
conference on Gurdjieff held in the Caucasus
You can take Gurdjieff out of Tiflis, but can you take Tiflis out of
Gurdjieff? That might sound like a silly question, but it is germane
to the present publication. It is also a question that is eventually
asked by all students of the Fourth Way. I will return to this matter
at the end of this review.
By way of background: I have in front of me a “non-trade” paperback
called “Gurdjieff in Tiflis.” The publication is “non-trade” because
it is not standard in size or in paper stock. It measures six inches
in width, eight inches in height. The cover is printed on stiff,
canary-coloured stock (in brown and black ink). The cover design is a
reproduction of the original, Russian-text edition of “Herald of
Coming Good,” Gurdjieff’s first publication – the one he later
disavowed, the one that P.D. Ouspensky ridiculed. The fetching design
was the work of Alexander de Salzmann in Tiflis in 1919. The text
stock is vaguely yellow in cover (though the text is printed in
regular black ink). The binding is what printers call “perfect
binding” – glue. In all there are 92 pages.
The editors are Dr. Constance A. Jones and Dr. Levan Khetaguri. The
publisher is the Shota Rustavelli Theatre and Film University. The
year of publication is 2008. The ISBN is 978-99940-719-5-1. Here is
how the editors describe their unusual work: “This publication
includes materials from the International Conference, which was held
in Tbilisi on 7th March in 2007. The conference was titled ‘G.I.
Gurdjieff from South Caucasus to Western World: His Influence on
Spirituality, Thought and Culture in Italy, Europe and in the USA.’
The conference was the initiative of Embassy of Italy in Georgia and
hosted by Tbilisi State University of Javakhishvili and Shota
Rustaveli Theatre and Film University.”
As I write this, Georgia is in the news again, with the Russian
incursion on August 6 and the armed response of Georgians. (In
passing, I am writing this review the day of the “Toronto Explosions”
which rocked the northwest part of the city and saw its mass
evacuation – 12,000 people were asked to leave their homes for
eighteen hours; 10 percent complied – and which witnessed the closing
of one of the busiest highway systems in the world for the same period
of time. All this took place five miles from our home where a propane
storage facility created an immense fireball followed by fifty or so
explosions over an hour and a half. My wife Ruth and I live outside
the evacuation area but the first explosion at 3:40 a.m. Sunday, Aug.
10 rocked the foundation of our house.) So we have experienced
unexpected sympathy for the Georgian people. That country has had more than its share of such crises: for instance, in 2003, it experienced
the “Rose Revolution” led by Edvard Shevardnadze.
Any reference to “Tiflis” is a reference to Tbilisi, capital and
largest city of the Republic of Georgia. Tbilisi has a population of
one million, Georgia a population of more than four times that number.
Georgia is described as a “transcontinental country” which is partly
in Eastern Europe and partly in Southwestern Asia. We have Georgian
friends and they describe Tbilisi as a fascinating city of historic
buildings built in hills and valleys which offer breath-taking views.
You will not find any instances of fine English expression in the
pages of this book, yet the prose is fluent and there are numerous
surprises, including reports of original research that was conducted
by Georgian scholars in the Caucasus. I looked for references to any
native Caucasian tradition that might have been the well-spring of
Gurdjieff’s thought, but I found none, not even a whisper of the
Teachings of Kebzeh.
I have no idea how many listeners attended the conference, which was
held on March 7, 2007, but those who were in attendance were offered
some interesting ideas. Let me report on the proceedings as they
appear in printed form. I will do so in a summary fashion, as there
were twelve presentations by almost that many scholars and some of
their papers were somewhat detailed.
The first speaker was Massimo Introvigne, the well-known, Rome-born
sociologist of religion and founder CESNUR (Center for Studies on New
Religions). He titled his talk “A Meeting with Remarkable Men (and
Some Women).” The speaker stressed that colleagues from Georgia and
Armenia whose names and writings are barely known if at all outside
their respective countries have much information to offer Western
scholars about Gurdjieff’s family and early years. The academics
themselves were the beneficiaries: “Equally important was the
possibility for scholars to breathe the very Georgian atmosphere that
inspired Gurdjieff when he established in Tbilisi in 1919 the first
Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.”
Introvigne noted that the location of the Institute in Tbilisi has yet
to be identified, adding that it was here that Jeanne de Salzmann
first exhibited “their sacred dances.” Because of the sponsorship of
the Italian Embassy, he explained, the presentations stress the role
of Gurdjieff studies in Italy. He touched upon the touchiness of the
subject: “Isn’t Gurdjieff, after all, a believer in things unseen in a
disenchanted scientific era, a dogmatic teacher claiming authority
quite difficult to sell to a postmodern world where any claim to
authority is tantamount to authoritarianism?” He concluded, “We
learned again in Tbilisi that Gurdjieff is always complicated and
Fabrizio Romano, Italian Ambassador to Georgia, delivered the “opening
remarks for the conference.” Why the sponsorship of the Italian
government? He offered three reasons: 1. Gurdjieff “had a remarkable
influence on culture and spirituality in the West.” 2. Two leading
Italian scholars (Introvigne and PierLuigi Zoccatelli) are
participating. 3. “I think that this initiative may help the
intelligentsia of Tbilisi and Georgia – after decades of prohibition
during the Soviet period – to recall the heritage of a man who was a
son of the South Caucasus,” etc.
PierLuigi Zoccatelli, born in Verona, serves as CESNUR’s deputy
director. He is active in a number of organizations and busy as a
writer of books and articles on New Religious Movements and Western
Esotericism. He called his presentation “Notes on G.I. Gurdjieff” and
immediately noted a “curious paradox”: despite the work of scholars,
not all that much is known about him including “the exact details of
his birth or his year of birth.” He observed that Gurdjieff was born
in the Armenian city of Alexandropol which is now called Gyumri.
Curiously Zoccatelli revived the description of Gurdjieff’s followers
as “the forest philosophers.” He alluded to the difficulty of
discussing the “social formation” of esotericism and particularly
Gurdjieff’s place in it, adding about his philosophy: “The sources of
its originality and innovation remain largely unknown even at the
beginning of the 21st century.”
Zoccatelli referred to his own Google-based search of the Web for the
recurrence of “important names related to the field of esotericism.”
Whose names cropped up most often? “Our findings demonstrate that,
among listings accessed on the Internet, Gurdjeiff is staunchly
positioned in second place, immediately after Rudolf Steiner.” (This
study reminds me of the time in the early 1960s when “Time” magazine’s
undertook to grade the efficiency of global corporations and
institutions. Their editors discovered that the most efficient
enterprise was General Motors, followed by the Roman Catholic Church!
I expect that Zoccatelli’s search did not include the name of Carl
“At the heart of Gurdjieff’s teaching is the idea that mankind is born
with great potential for development, but in the state of ordinary
consciousness, does not have the capacity to understand nor to fulfill
this potential.” Zoccatelli went on to discuss Gurdjieff’s
background – Greek father, Armenian mother, etc. – early discontent
with received opinion – formation of “the Seekers of Truth” – “He may
have been a secret advisor to the Tsar, a Russian agent, or a Buddhist
monk and advisor to the Dalai Lama,” etc. He stood on firmer ground
when he entered what might be called the “historical period” with work
in Moscow in 1913. Details of Gurdjieff’s later life were summarized.
His death in 1949 was described. There was no summary but there are
three pages of source-notes.
The title of the presentation of Avetik Melik-Sargsyan took the form
of a quotation: “Genius Has No Fatherland, He Has a Birth-Place.” The
presenter is identified as an Armenian historian and scriptwriter who
was born in 1956 in Gurdjieff’s birthplace of Leninakan, Gyumri.
Without hesitation he hailed Gurdjieff as “the greatest philosopher of
the 20th century.” He explained, “This paper reports on the activities
and findings of the Gyumri Gurdjieff Study Group.”
Finally a group was formed to undertake systematic and original
research on the early life of Gurdjieff. I will simply summarize some
of their findings which will have to take precedence over the
generalizations of all previous biographers and commentators. The GGSG
determined “precise details of Gurdjieff’s date of birth and the
district, street, and exact house where Gurdjieff and his family lived
in Gyumri.” (The house was located on “Quiet Street” in a district in
Alexandropol that was favoured by “Greek Orthodox Christians who
immigrated from Byzantium Capadocia (Chalcedony).” Unfortunately the
speaker has withheld the date of his birth, thereby prolonging the
agony of those who would wish to know his age at various points in his
life. Is James Moore right about 1866?
The GGSG located also the grave of Ashok Adash, Gurdjieff’s father,
and they seem to have located “the original phonograph roll records”
of some of his songs. Imagine: the voice of Gurdjieff’s father!
Members of GGSG visited the towns of Kars, Ani, Erzrum, Moush, and Van
“in order to make a documentary film about Gurdjieff.” apparently GGSG
is part of “the Gurdjieff Heritage Society.”
I imagine that Melik-Sargsyan speaks with an accent; it might be said
he writes with one too, for it is sometimes difficult to determine
exactly what GGSG has learned. Certainly the information is not here,
though it may be in the group’s files and in their future publications
and documentary films. Mysteriously he says, “Our group discovered
that Gurdjieff’s understanding as a mystic philosopher starts from
influences upon him from the Armenian medieval capital Ani. Others
today confirm that the origins of Western spiritual science have roots
in the land of Shirak.” The group also established Gurdjieff’s
friendship with a number of noted Caucasians, including patriots and
musicians and the archaeologist Nikoghayos Mar and the sculptor Sergey
Merkurov who was Gurdjieff’s cousin. The latter two men may well have
influenced the young Gurdjieff.
The speaker made some promises: “The Gyumri Gurdjieff Study Group
plans to realize several projects in the future. We will host an
international scientific-cultural conference at the birthplace of
George Gurdjieff in 2008 titled, ‘Gurdjieff’s days in Gyumri.’ We will
publish a biography, ‘Gurdjieff in Armenia,’ by Melik-Sargsyan. We
will organize seminars, including scientific reports on Gurdjieff’s
work and teaching …. ” The list goes on. There is much here to
anticipate, yet the line of poetry that came to my mind as I read this
list is Robert Frost’s: “I have promises to keep.” I wonder how this
will play out in the atmosphere of the current hostilities.
Manana Khomeriki is identified as a Tbilisi-born historian. Her
contribution is titled “About the Origins of Gurdjieff and His
Activities in Georgia.” There is information here about the
“Gurdjieff” surname but it is presented by association rather than by
argumentation: “I have come across,” “We can suppose,” “I would like
to bring to your attention,” etc. The family’s history is fascinating
but complicated and it remains uncertain. “All we can say with
certainty is that his father’s name was Ivan.” Gurdjieff might be he
was born in 1877, “the year shown in his passport.” Gurdjieff may or
may not have been related to the “legendary Georgian prince
Mukhransky.” The Gurdjieff-Stalin remains unsettled, as an examination
of class-lists of the seminary of Tbilisi established that Stalin was
expelled in 1899 for his Marxist agitation. “As for Gurdjieff, he is
not fixed in the lists. Thus, he was not a class-fellow of Stalin, but
we cannot say for sure, that they did not know each-other.”
Without giving the evidence she had on hand, Khomeriki stated,
“Gurdjieff travelled a lot. For years he had lived in Tibet and the
central Asia, where he was seeking for esoteric knowledge.” Much
original research established the site of the first Institute for the
Harmonious Development of Man in Tbilisi, which was closed in 1921
with the arrival of the Soviets. There is the discovery of a
pen-and-ink caricature, the work of Alexandre de Salzmann, which shows
Gurdjieff and his followers at the Institute dressed in overcoats, so
bitter was the cold and so rudimentary the housing. This chapter is a
melange of information and conjecture, research and speculation, which
any future biographer of Gurdjieff or historian of the Work will need
to ponder and parse.
It is a relief to turn to the paper “Gurdjieff Schools in the United
States, Europe, and Italy.” It was contributed by Constance A. Jones,
another sociologist, who is Professor of Transformative Studies at the
California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, California.
The relief comes from a plethora of detail, though there is nothing
much that is new in what she says. It is more a review of global
activities to date.
Jones began by noting the fact that Gurdjieff did not
“institutionalize forms for systematic organization of his Work” so
that following his death there had to be “personal transmission of the
teaching.” She contrasts instruction in “a school” with instruction
“an esoteric school,” the former being based on book learning, the
latter being grounded in “direct transmission of energy from one
person to another under specified conditions.” She added, “The
fundamental focus of Gurdjieff’s teaching is inquiry rooted in
practice, in which everything in life is brought into question.”
She went on to discuss the characteristic activities of esoteric
schools and “Work in life.” She found that ideas and practices
identified with Gurdjieff may be grouped “in three major venues.” 1.
Direct lineage: the Foundation, the Society, the Institute, “and other
organizations founded by individuals who left Gurdjieff or his pupils
to establish independent groups.” 2. Non-direct lineage: teachers who
use “Fourth Way” to define their missions. 3. Other lineages:
“spiritual teachers and professionals” who develop their own systems
incorporating influences from Gurdjieff.
Jones then focused on the diffusion of the “direct lineage” under
Jeanne de Salzmann from Gurdjieff’s death in 1949 to Madame’s death in
1990, and then under her son Michel de Salzmann to his death in 2001.
“No titular head of the Foundation network has emerged since his
death. Approximately 2,500-3,300 members worldwide are involved in the
Jones then looked at the “non-direct lineage” that begins in 1924 with
P.D. Ouspensky and continues with Sophie Grigorievna Ouspensky, J.G.
Bennett, Wilhem Nyland, Annie Lou Staveley, all in the United States.
The Ouspensky branch continues “under the aegis of the Ouspensky
Foundation, located in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.” Mentioned are
Maurice Nicoll, Rodney Collin, Robert de Ropp. Bennett’s efforts
resulted in Coombe Springs near London and the Claymont Society for
Continuous Education in Charles Town (not the similarly named state
capital of Charlestown), West Virginia. Nyland established the
Institute for Religious Development. Staveley formed the residential
community, The Farm, in Aurora, Oregan.
Then there is the Taliesen Fellowship, based in Spring Green,
Wisconsin, founded by Frank Lloyd Wright but given a Gurdjieffian
twist and tang by Olgivanna Hinzenberg. There is the line of Henriette
Lannes which benefitted biographer James Moore. Gurdjieff and the
Fourth Way are invoked by William Patrick Patterson, a pupil of John
Pentland; Patterson established the Arete Telos Study Program in
Fairfax, California. The Fellowship of Friends was founded in 1970 by
Robert Earl Burton, with its headquarters near Nevada City,
Leaders whom Jones called “unconventional teachers” include Idries
Shah, Oscar Ichazo, E.J. Gold, Jan Cox, and Gary Chicoine. Some basic
information is supplied on the lot of them. That led to the “diffusion
of ideas and practices into other systems.” This is a rich field, so
given here are merely those names that she offers: A.H. Almaas,
Charles T. Tart, Robin Skynner, William R. Torbert. Perhaps in the
interest of brevity, Jones did not delve deeper, as at least one dozen
more names (e.g., E.F. Schumacher, Ida Rolf) could be added. With a
nod to the sponsor of the event, she highlighted venues in Europe and
particularly in Italy.
Jones concluded with the somewhat glum prediction that “the elements
of his teaching will continue to be appropriated and modified with
little discernment, contrary to the principles of an esoteric
teaching.” Four pages of source-notes conclude this presentation.
Listeners or readers are free to look for what is not there. The role
of John Pentland is mentioned only with respect to Patterson. Canada
goes unmentioned, despite the high-quality work of Tom Daly, James
George, and Ravi Ravindra.
Massimo Introvigne returned with a heady discussion titled “From Mary
Poppins to Franco Battiato: Gurdjieff Influence on the Italian Culture
and Spirituality.” This paper is a tour de force which examines the
subtext of P.L. Travers’s “Mary Poppins” books occasioned by a
provocative article in the Turin daily newspaper “La Stampa” which
asked the question “Is Mary Poppins really Satan?” Introvigne examined
some of these popular children’s books, eleven of which were published
between 1934 and 1988. Unquestionably they offer Work-related ideas.
Introvigne added, “Travers’ work still maintains the taste of a
genuine Gurdjieffian experience, and is a good introduction to the
Fourth Way for beginners.” Here is lively analysis and a literary
study pleasantly free (for the most part) of sociology. Tacked onto
the end is a section titled “Franco Battiato and Gurdjieff” which
examined the music of the Sicilian-born, Italian singer whose popular
songs include one called “Centro di gravita permanente” (Permanent
centre of gravity). There are two pages of source-notes.
Claudio Gugerotti, born in Verona, is a Roman Catholic Archbishop and
was appointed by Pope John Paul II the Apostolic Nuncio in Georgia,
Armenia, and Azerbaijan. He has also held various academic
appointments. He cautiously titled his paper “A Possible Influence of
Eastern Christianity in the Thought of Gurdjieff,” and it is
interesting for the light it sheds on Gurdjieff’s “general attitude
towards traditional religions,” “his scarce attention for
Christianity,” and “the lack of interest for specific Eastern
Gugerotti is not much impressed with Gudjieff’s sensitivity to Eastern
Orthodoxy or to organized religions in general. What is left? “We have
a collection of various components of religions, put together without
an order of possible priorities, more quoted than organized in a
coherent system.” He noted the preponderance of irony and caricature.
What he found instead was or is the presence of “a Gnostic attitude.”
He concluded, quite interestingly, “Moreover, what is most original in
him is not his theoretical system but his initiation to self-knowledge
through the experience of everyday life.” This presentation bears
Janri Kachia, former Dean of the Faculty of Art History, Tbilisi
Academy of Fine Arts, titled his talk “A New View of the Integrity of
Human Existence.” He is a philosopher who has deep feelings for those
traditional values that are reeling from the assaults of scientific,
secular, and rational interests and concerns. He found in a
“rationalist mysticism” that there is an antidote, a synthesis, or a
third force. “Mystical speculation, in my view, was psychologically a
very comfortable response counterbalancing the existing situation.”
(This corresponds to the view that Sam Harris advanced in his
best-selling book “The End of Faith.”) Today we have lost “the ancient
concept and understanding of wisdom.” “Wisdom is not ‘a teaching’; it
is form of existence, the form and style which does not need to be
justified but followed.” He offers an interesting catchphrase: “wisdom
Kachia added that “wisdom is intransferable.” In light of this he
discussed the insights supplied by Gurdjieff himself, Fritjof Capra,
and Carlos Castaneda, with a sidewise glance at the Ray of Creation
and the theories of the Georgian psychologist Dimitrii Uznadze who
studied “mind-sets” and the interconnections of “visual onomatopoeia,”
perhaps a form of synaesthesia. The discussion is wide-ranging, which
means that it is “all over the map.” But, as short as it is, the last
part of the paper is studded with perceptions: “Gurdjieff is a type of
a Caucasian wise man”; “Existence is presented in the form of a
hologram”; “If a man is tied to something, the universe will also be
tied to the same. One cannot ‘learn freedom’ from Prometheus tied to a
So far it is not apparent that any of the contributors have ever been
participants in the Work. Then Tbilisi-born architect and designer
Alexander Cherkezishvili delivered his talk titled “Personal
Experiences with the Gurdjieff Teaching.” In it he conveys a sense of
the excitement he felt during the Communist period upon acquiring
samizdat or hand-made copies of occult texts. With Perestroika there
came legally published texts, as well as in 1992 the first Russian
translation of “Meetings with Remarkable Men” which he edited and
designed. That was a great thrill, he says, but precisely why he does
Levan Khetaguri, Professor of Shota Rustaveli State University of
Theatre and Film, offered his view on “Gurdjieff and Twentieth Century
Culture.” The topic sounds impossibly broad, but I found it fully
mature and fully informed. Khetaguri knows his culture and presumably
his Gurdjieff too. He begins by saying he has visited the majority of
the places that Gurdjieff himself visited “from Kars to Mongolia.” He
found traces of Gurdjieff in the work of director Peter Brook,
theorist Jerzy Grotowski, theatre director Eugenio Barba, and
playwright-actor Sam Shepard. He opines that Gurdjieff has influenced
music, dance, movement, theatre, “and the use of parabolas in
literature.” (Parabolas, parables?) “Most importantly, his work draws
on Egyptian mysteries, the Pythagorean School, Tibetan rituals,
Sufism, Oriental traditions, and many others.”
At the turn of the last century, it turns out that Tbilisi was
something of an Ascona, Adyar, Darmstadt, Point Loma, or Bollingen.
“Tbilisi attracted many intellectuals, mystics, and followers of
different esoteric schools.” He listed Madame Blavatskaya (this
Russian version of the woman’s name is seldom used in Theosophical
circles in the West), Dagli Joule (identified as a writer and close
friend of August Strindberg), painter Edvard Munk, “students of the
school of Rudolf Steiner,” “followers of the Dalcroze school of
dance,” novelist Knut Hamsun, etc. Here Masonry flourished, Vsevolod
Meyerhold developed “biomechanics,” and Sandro Akhmeteli evolved “a
system of reflexes, based on a Georgian National Folk dance.”
Georgians have a special regard for “Meetings with Remarkable Men”
presumably because in this book Gurdjieff “gives examples of the
Caucasian-Oriental-Asian mentality – specifically [with] respect to
friends and teachers.” Khetaguri called the book “a collection of
hymns to remarkable men, teaching-personalities.” In our time the
Eastern-style teacher or guru has been replaced by the Western-style
lecturer or professor. Learning used to be “a matter of choice or life
style.” I am not quite sure what Khetaguri had in mind when he wrote,
“The concept of parabolas is a very important part of the teaching.” I
think he has in mind parables, archetypes, symbols, or pericopes;
maybe, maybe not. “This is another way to discover the universe for
oneself and to study in order to get answers through sacred
Khetaguri is something of a film critic: “The book ‘Meetings with
Remarkable Men’ was filmed by Peter Brook in 1979, in consultation
with Madame Jeanne de Salzmann. The film adaptation is quite far from
the book itself; the film is more of a tribute to Mr. Gurdjieff and
his personality than an analysis of his writing.” He sees Gurdjieff as
a “homo ludens who uses many tales for communication,”
“myth-creation,” “like Sufis.” His appreciation is not limited to the
memoir or the movie based on it. “His remarkable work ‘Beelzebub’s
Tales to His Grandson’ is an original creation that tries to show the
history of civilization through the eyes of
a witness to all history – Beelzebub.” He admitted that “it is
difficult to find a clear definition for the style of this book,”
which covers history “from ancient Atlantis to the contemporary United
States of America.”
“In all,” Khetaguri said, “Gurdjieff tries to find a harmony in
unity.” This leads to a digression on Antonin Artaud and Mihail
Bulkakov, on Emile Jacques-Dalcroze’s system of Eurhythmics and Rudolf
Steiner’s system of Eurhythmia as well as on the contributions of
Adolph Apia, Gurdjeiff, De Hartman, and the Salzmanns. As befitting a
specialist in the theatre, Khetaguri discusses multiple other
reference points, notably Peter Brook who influenced the American
actor-writer Sam Shepard, not to mention theorist Jerzy Grotowski and
director Eugenio Barba who established the “theatre of anthropology,
which is a new way of theatre study, carried out through discovery of
Khetaguri has scope and depth and a reminder for us: “Gurdjieff
figures prominently in the work of all of these artists, yet more
research needs to be done to discover more about this connection to
the major cultural trends of this century.” Two pages of source-notes
“Concluding Remarks” were delivered by Ambassador Fabrizio Romano who
found the five hours to be filled with “excellent presentations from
different points of view.” Views presented include the Caucasian; the
religious; and the artistic, historical, and cultural. “Excellent work
was accomplished here.” He then acknowledged the contribution of Ivane
Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University which physically hosted the
Earlier I asked if you can take Tiflis out of Gurdjieff. The answer is
that we can no longer view him through Western eyes alone; we will
have to see him through Eastern and South Caucasian eyes as well as
our own. The Armenian, Georgian, Greek, and Caucasian backgrounds of
the man will come more clearly into focus in the decades ahead.
Gurdjieff “returns” to Tiflis.
This publication includes twenty black-and-white photographs (most of
them familiar from other publications) plus de Salzmann’s caricature
(new to me and quite vivid). “Copies of the publication can be
requested at the Stichting Caucasus Foundation contacting via e-mail:
(That’s waht the book says, but my Outlook Express informs me as
follows: “Navigation to the Webpage was Cancelled.” I hope this is not
a sign of things “not to come.”)
John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist based in Toronto. Two
of his books will appear this fall: “The Big Book of Canadian Ghost
Stories” (Dundurn) and “Whistle While You Work: A Chrestomathy”
(Colombo & Company).