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G. I. Gurdjieff's teaching, research, books, conferences

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GURDJIEFF AS BLACK & WHITE MAGICIAN: How Gurdjieff’s Four Books relate to each other & his Law of Three

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Above are some of the many images of Gurdjieff. It is interesting to see how one of these is often chosen, for blogs or publications about him, so as to express an opinion or judgement of him, to define him according to the writer’s own views.


How Gurdjieff’s Four Books relate to each other

& to his Law of Three

A while ago I wrote a review of Herald of Coming Good which I have extended here. My initial impulse to write the review came after going to a conference in which someone told me they hadn’t read Herald, ‘because our teacher told us not to.’

This advice was probably in response and obedience to Gurdjieff’s own withdrawing of his text. However, I will show below that it is important to read Herald, as it is an essential text, it completes Gurdjieff’s teaching and in doing so the text itself draws attention to what the pupil should reject.

It also, according to James Webb, revealed three of Gurdjieff’s techniques of manipulation that he

‘consistently employed: for one man the carrot, for another the stick, for the third hidden persuasion.’

Webb goes on to suggest that Gurdjieff’s pupils:

‘might have found the keys to a dozen puzzling experiences. If they had chosen to look’, but most of them did not. (Webb, James, The Harmonious Circle, London: Thames & Hudson, 1980 p. 428).

In Herald of Coming GoodGurdjieff portrays himself as a black magician in contrast to his role a white magician in Life is real only then, when “I am”’.


Gurdjieff’s Law of Three

In terms of Gurdjieff’s Law of Three:


1. Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson represents a negative or destructive 2nd force

2. Meetings With Remarkable Menrepresents a positive or creative force 1st force

3. Herald of Coming Good represents a negative reconciling 3rd force

4. Life is real only then, when “I am” represents a positive reconciling 3rd force


So, seen in this context, although he ‘exiled’ Herald, echoing Beelzebub’s exile from the Sun Absolute, readers may ignore Gurdjieff’s instructions not to read it and like the committee who restored Beelzebub’s horns, may pardon the ill results of his teaching that Gurdjieff claims for himself in Herald. The text can now be re-embraced back into the sequence of Gurdjieff’s writings where it belongs, just as Beelzebub was himself pardoned and allowed to return to the Sun Absolute



All four of Gurdjieff’s books have themes related to time. The Tales shows a continuing devolution from past to present, while Meetings shows Gurdjieff and the Seekers ‘reversing time’ by returning to the past sources of ancient wisdom via teachings in texts and monasteries. The title of Life is Real Only Then When ‘I am‘, emphasises the eternal present while the Herald Of Coming Good suggests the unreality of the future.

If we look at Gurdjieff’s books in this way it makes sense to follow his instructions to read three of them in the order he prescribes, and also to disobey his instruction not to read Herald.




Joseph Azize: on Elton John and Leon Russell’s ‘I Should Have Sent Roses’

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I Should Have Sent Roses

Sublime, poignant, elegiac: the first words to spring to mind when I think of this melody from the album The Union, by Elton John and Leon Russell. In Gurdjieff influenced terms, I would say that the person who wrote this had to be in a heightened state of emotional self-consciousness. He had to be present to the workings of his feeling centre to allow this lyrical and sensitive melody to emerge without constricting it. Some melodies owe more to moving centre, others owe more to emotional or intellectual centre, and some, such as this, are products of the higher emotional centre. But you can tell straight away that this was written from somewhere essential. (For an explanation of the centres, see Sophia Wellbeloved, Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts, 133-5; and for “essence”, see 71-3.)

Leon Russell, who has produced some of the most lyrical melodies of the last fifty years (e.g. “This Masquerade” and “Superstar”), reaches new heights with this masterpiece. I would place it almost on a par with the melody of Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. And yet Leon Russell did not create it: no one but God can create. However, it is to Leon Russell’s credit that he could arrange the melody which arose from somewhere within his “common presence”. What happens in such work, and how we can recognize the operation  are matters I shall address on another occasion.

While my response is, and must be subjective, I feel that the melody perfectly matches the lyrics by Bernie Taupin, which tell the story of a lost love from the point of view of the man who has lost. The boy knows that the girl has gone, and that he bears responsibility. When he was with her, he took her for granted. Ambivalently, he goes on to say both that he would treat her better now, and that she deserves someone more thoughtful. He addresses her with understanding and self-deprecation:

Are you standing outside?

Looking up at the sky, cursing a wandering star?

Well, if I were you, I’d throw rocks at the moon

And I’d say, “Damn you wherever you are!”

This is so apt that it’s almost humorous. A “wandering star” because, perhaps, he did not fit into his place in the order of things. Throwing stones at the moon, maybe because the moon is for lovers and lunatics: she being the lover and he the lunatic.

I don’t know where to start,

This cage round my heart locked up what I meant to say,

What I felt all along the way,

Just wondering how come I couldn’t take your breath away.

At various times we all feel something like this expression of mixed confidence, self-doubt and exasperation – at the same time that he believes she should have been overwhelmed by him, he confesses that he is confounded that she was not. Like Russell, we often feel that we have long wished to express something but that we could not, just could not, because of a sort of emotional tightness. It is as if we would choke were we to try and say it.

‘Cause I never sent roses. I never did enough.

I didn’t know how to love you, though I loved you so much.

And I should have sent roses when you crossed my mind,

For no other reason than the fact you were mine.

This is strange but true: we often feel that we love but do not know how to put that love into action. And of course, there are two errors: to think that an overt action is always needed, and to forget that actions are often needed. It is only people who are thinking philosophically who imagine that no action is needed. If you have read In Search of the Miraculous, it is fatal to take the idea that we “cannot do” in a formatory way to mean that we cannot therefore do anything at all.

Looking back on my life,

If fate should decide to let me do it all over again,

I’d build no more walls.

I’d stay true and recall the fragrance of you on the wind

This is the paradox which Ouspensky paints in unforgettable terms in The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin. We make a mistake, we forget ourselves and our higher aims. Then we believe that if we had the opportunity again we would not fall into the same trap. But should the occasion arise again, we would make exactly the same error: we would forget at exactly the same place. And yet, there is a way to escape from the curse, and that is to remember oneself, hence the importance of Gurdjieff’s ideas and method to religions and religious systems.

The reference to fate is especially interesting to me, because it is a topic which is exercising me at the moment. Fate acts only upon essence, and this song, as I have said, is an essence-song. It is only when we are closer to essence that we can start to have any sense at all of what our destiny or fate is: that is, what it is that we are called to above and beyond the vicissitudes of life. If there is a “law of accident”, there is also a “law of destiny” which works itself out despite whatever other causal connections and chains may be playing themselves out and, I would suggest a “law of miracles” (see “Fate” at 80, “Law of Accident” at 115-6 and “miracle” at 144).

You’ll do better than me.

Someone who can see,

Right from the start give you all that you need

And I’ll slip away, knowing I’m half the man I should be.

There is genuine love here: for love seeks what is best for the beloved irrespective of the cost to oneself. Also, love brings impartiality, and the statement, “knowing I’m half the man I should be”, is a good impartial description of each one of us.

The topic of “lost loves” is a significant one: a person who never wonders about past friendships and romances and why they ended, to use a neutral term, is quite possibly incapable of reflection. I have published on this blog one of the most important pieces I ever transcribed from Mr Adie’s diaries, just on that topic. Bernie Taupin is also responsible for one of the most touching songs Elton John ever wrote, the much under-appreciated “I Feel like a Bullet in the Gun of Robert Ford”. And in each case, “Robert Ford” and “I Should Have Sent Roses”, Taupin was working with one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, and each result has been a masterpiece.

And that brings me, briefly, to the topic of Leon Russell. There is no doubt of his uncanny talent at playing the piano and song writing. As I have already said, I feel that he produced some of the greatest songs of our time. For my money, his piano playing is better even than that of Elton John, and I am an Elton John fan. I remember, in the 70s, thinking that Leon Russell would go on to conquer the world, as they say. But then something happened. What? To an extent, perhaps, he sabotaged his own career. It was never the same with him after the 1975 album Will O’The Wisp. Then, Elton John enticed him to The Union in 2010 (Elton did not have to seduce very hard, it would appear), and Russell’s own account of the production of that album is found on “In the Hands of Angels”.

I have carefully praised the melody and the lyrics rather than the track. I feel that the production is too heavy. Very often, a beautiful melody is obscured by too much backing. If you do listen to this track, try and imaginatively screen out the brass. My own guess is that T-Bone Burnett sensed the beauty of the melody, and tried to raise it to prominence with the trumpets and trombones. But I don’t think it’s worked.

Still, while the arrangement is rather more heavy than I would like, it is extraordinary that after so long out of the public eye, this artist of astounding abilities would return and reveal so much about himself. I think that took strength: the sort of strength which this remarkable song reveals.

8 July 2012

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.

The John Robert Colombo Page: DAVID KHERDIAN’S “SEEDS OF LIGHT”

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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 < > 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

as heart

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. < >


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Anger” from Hieronymus Bosch, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things

A Sort of Sensation Stolen from Emotional Centre”

On Tuesday, 30 October 1979, Helen Adie took a question from Vera, a young woman who had had an argument at work. She didn’t explain herself terribly clearly, and Mrs Adie had to put some time into sorting out what had happened, yet, much of the exchange is, I think, deep and of wider application for students of Gurdjieff’s methods and ideas.

Today,” Vera said, “I was annoyed with a particular person because they didn’t do what I had asked them to do … and, I, felt the situation was very valuable to try and forgive that person and just forget, and I managed to stop the negative thoughts, but, when I looked at the person, I just … I just couldn’t feel anything, and I felt, still, slightly intimidated inside.”

Nothing’s permanent”, replied Mrs Adie. “Everything is moving all the time. That you don’t feel it once doesn’t mean that it isn’t present.”

I just, no matter how much I tried …”

You tried, but you couldn’t feel anything?”

No”, Vera firmly replied. “I couldn’t feel for him.”

No. You can’t try to feel something for people, you can’t try to care for people. You wouldn’t recognize it. Maybe you do in fact have some feeling in respect of other people, but you don’t recognize it because you have an idea about feeling for people. And it’s generally a rather sentimental idea. I have a sort of picture of what feeling for somebody is. But that isn’t real feeling.”

You can’t try to feel something. But you can feel your own presence, and you can, from that, you regard that person. I don’t mean stare at them, but you take them into your experience: you’re aware of their existence. And you often don’t know whether you feel something for them or not. You may without recognising it.”

Mrs Adie paused a little before continuing: “Generally speaking, when we think we care about someone, it means we cling to them in a certain way … are dependent on them, or feel they’re dependent on us. It’s very often not the real thing. We’re looking on the wrong side of ourselves for it.”

Real feeling is something we have yet to learn to recognize. It’s a question of being free, and making a space for it. The place is there, but there’s something which we still have to understand very much about feeling. We can’t force it. It cannot be forced. You either feel it or you don’t.”

But you can make it possible to feel, and a very important step in this is to become, little by little, free of all sorts of dreams about feeling.”

I just wanted to forgive,” Vera said.

Yes, you wanted to accept.”

Yes, that’s what it was. Accept. I just cried. I couldn’t do it.”

You still had that feeling of resentment.”

I did Mrs Adie. The thoughts weren’t there so much. It was just a tension.”

The physical aspect of can remain. It doesn’t go just immediately, that’s true. But a very important step to stopping the tension is stopping the daydreaming about it. This daydreaming, these revolving thoughts only add fuel to the resentment. It makes it, gives it a form.”

Yes, you can’t expect physical sensations to go in five minutes. They may or may not: it depends on the strength of the stimulus. But if some resentment or grudge is established in your body, you can take a great deal of the force away from it by not making it go through your mind, not dwelling on it. And in time it will go, but in itself it doesn’t matter. There’s an energy there which you can begin to learn to take to yourself. You can even begin, eventually, to learn transform it. What we’re discussing is the beginning of this transformation. But now, you were aware that you had that feeling of resentment: so what did you try to do?

I just tried to be aware of myself, with that person, and … I don’t know how I tried to feel … I just tried to see that person, really, and … why it stayed stuck there, I don’t know.”

Yes, that’s quite right, but it’s because you’re expecting a result. That inhibits it, you know. Yet, the effort is in quite the right direction. You face that person, you look at that person, and you try to not feel for that person, but to feel your presence there, in a sort of free, detached way.”

And then you have to be ready to try different things. That’s where you have to use your head a little bit. Be careful. From what you’ve been saying recently you should know that the sour grapes feeling may come in. But that, and most of what we know, are not real feelings: they are a sort of sensation stolen from emotional centre, if you like to put it that way. But feeling can come. It’s possible for people to feel themselves in relation to others. It comes in different periods of their work, but it happens. It’s possible.”

To me, this is quite enlightening. The distinction between feelings (real and permanent) and emotions (partial and ephemeral) is not new. Gurdjieff made it, and several of his pupils remembered something of what he had said about this. I dealt with it in the book George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil. But I was struck by the elegant simplicity of Mrs Adie’s thought. And her statement that these emotions are a “sort of sensation stolen from emotional centre” addresses the emotion/knowledge paradox. That is the paradox that despite our knowledge we are taken by these emotions time and time again. We believe in them while realising that they distort everything in us and almost our entire process of perception. Something in us is identified with these distorting agents. Mrs Adie here explains why: it isn’t that they have no relation at all to feeling, but they are stolen from it and so are cut off from the higher energy of that centre. Also, it isn’t that they have no reality, they are sensations, they’re in the body, so they have that degree of reality. But that is not the reality for which they are made. Feelings serve knowledge and understanding, but only when sited in the right place of the alchemical laboratory which we are. This material is almost endlessly deep. Don’t be distracted by my lubrications. Go to the mistress, and make what she has said your own.


Joseph Azize is presently an Honorary Associate with the Dept. of Religious Studies at the University of Sydney. In April, he will be delivering a paper there on J.G. Bennett as a student of mysticism. He has published academically in ancient Near Eastern history, in law, and in religious studies. His latest effort, an article on Gurdjieff’s sacred movements and dances, will be published later this year in a Brill volume edited by Carole Cusack and others.


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The John Robert Colombo Page

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Part Two of this review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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 See also Part One of this review.

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



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The John Robert Colombo Page

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Keith A. Buzzell’s Trio of Current Publications 

 Part One 

The Doctor with Three Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

“Our aim in this book has been to blend a scientific perspective on the physical Universe and on human biology with a perspective on the possibility of self-transformation as taught by G.I. Gurdjieff. Because it is verbal in form, it can do little more than hint, or metaphorically point toward, the broad spectrum of human experiences that must be personally lived in order to have its full meaning.”

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

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

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

Dr. Buzzell does. 

Part two continues this review.

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


Joseph Azize Reviews: THE REALITY OF BEING

with 3 comments

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 ( 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.

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