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John Robert Colombo reviews: Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim

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John Robert Colombo reviews Keith A. Buzzell’s latest publication

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These days the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) is much in the news, at least in the American news, occasioned by the candidacy for the leadership of the Republican Party of the person of Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts Senator and Presidential hopeful. The man who has his eye set on occupying the Oval Office of the White House is a fifth-generation Mormon, and while he has lived a squeaky clean life to date, he apparently holds as gospel truths some of the bizarre beliefs and strange practices of the Mormon church.

Recently a researcher drew the attention of the reading public to the fact that in the eyes of Mormons, God is not the creator of the world. He is not the creator of the universe either, though it seems God resides “in” the universe and not “beyond” it. This is peculiarity that should be of interest to both theologian and geophysicist. Who then did create the heavens and the earth? Genesis 1:1 of the King James Version of the Bible states that God accomplished the deed “in the beginning.” Here is the standard Christian belief in the wording of the Apostle’s Creed: “God the Father Almighty … Creator of Heaven and Earth.”

The Mormon belief, formulated over eighteen decades ago, is that God, while in no way the architect of creation, nevertheless is a dweller in it as well as its superintendent. Indeed, the location of “divine throne” is known, for it is “near” Kolob, which is a celestial body in some distant sector of the cosmos, unsuspected by astrologer and unknown to astronomer. Is Kolob a planet or a star? The Mormon writings are obscure on this point, rather like the traditional beliefs of the Inuit of the Arctic whose cosmology conflates planets and stars. It does seem that the Mormon God is more akin to mankind than to spirit-kind.

Are the Mormons Christians? It seems that they are Christians in the same way that members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are Muslims. Their membership in greater Islam is denied by Sunni and Shite alike, especially in Pakistan where the Parliament passed a statute declaring the Ahmadiyyas to be non-Muslims: So there! In the same way, fundamentalist Christian denominations and sects in the U.S. heartland refuse to extend the term “Christian” to include Mormonism: Take that! Yet the Ahmadiyyas consider themselves to be good Muslims, just as the Mormons consider themselves to be good Christians.

I am not sure why it is so, but I find all of this reassuring. Perhaps it reassures me because it is so human – to cling to peculiar beliefs, in lieu of any evidence at all, and to withhold validation to designated groups on account of their differing beliefs. It reminds me of the subterfuge and euphemism employed by Palestinians and other Muslims who insist on referring to the State of Israel as “the Jewish entity.” All too human!

With respect to the LDS tradition, it is enlightening that there should be a god or demiurge who lives on a celestial body named Kolob, for it seems the divinity is a being who – or which – has some sort of physical or corporeal existence. There is no reference to Kolob in “The Book of Mormon,” but it makes its appearance in the quasi-scriptural text “Pearl of Great Price.” The subject is of interest in that one may be a good Mormon without worrying much about the nature of divinity, whether architect or superintendent of the universe. In a sense, then, belief is a matter of degree and the responsibility of the individual and hence changeable.

I could continue with a discussion of bizarre beliefs held by many Christians – such as the rise and fall of the concept of Purgatory, not to mention the existence of states of Heaven and Hell, veneration of angels and saints, prayers for the posthumous rehabilitation of the death, the physical resurrection at the End of Days, etc. All of these fall into the province of Theology, the “queen of the sciences.” The list of endless. As the cartoonist Robert L. Ripley of “Believe It or Not!” fame once wrote, “Strange indeed is man seeking after his gods.”

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What does all of this have to do with what appears below, or with the new book that I am about to review? (I use the verb “to review” with some reluctance because the book in question is a weighty one, and the arguments it presents are complex, indeed too complex to encapsulate in a relatively short review article.) The answer to the question is “not much,” except that there is little evidence for what is being described in the book’s pages. If the descriptions are taken seriously, the deductions and extensions truly follow. So the book is a disciplined work, a work of scholarly analysis. It is titled “Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim,” and I will describe the physical appearance of the volume before I turn my attention to its author, Keith A. Buzzell and to his previous publications, and only then to the general argument of the new book.

Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim” is published in 2012 by Fifth Press, an imprint based in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Mormon headquarters (as it happens!), which has issued earlier titles by Dr. Buzzell. It is a handsome trade paperback, 266 pages of text, plus preliminary and postliminary matter, including a glossary of scientific (but not Gurdjieffian) terms and a bibliography that includes books and articles on philosophy, neurology, cosmology, mathematics, etc. There is no index, but the text is well organized in fourteen chapters, and there are four instructive prefaces (contributed by the book’s editors, John Amaral, Marlena Buzzell, Bonnie Phillips, and Toddy Smyth). There are also innumerable diagrams, many of them in lovely pastel colours. A rough approximation of the word count is 145,000 words. Although I found a couple of minor misprints (footnotes on page viii and page 7, for instance), the text is well edited and the argument is clearly expressed.

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Now let me turn to Dr. Buzzell and his publications, paraphrasing what I wrote for this blog on September 28, 2011. (It is still archived here.) At the time I wrote: “It is apparent that there are many scientifically minded and technologically trained people like 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.”

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 thirty-five 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.”

This information is also reprinted in the current book. As for the earlier volumes, these are the three volumes that I reviewed: “Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales and Other of Gurdjieff’s Writings” (2005). “A Child’s Odyssey: Explorations in Active Mentation: Re-Membering Gurdjieff’s Teaching” (2006). “Man – A Three-brained Being: Resonant Aspects of Modern Science and the Gurdjieff Teaching” (2007, 2nd edition, 2011).

I have found these books to be among the most serious publications about the physics, physiology, neurology, and psychology of G.I. Gurdjieff’s thought – and also the most demanding to read. In their comprehensiveness, they remind me of Maurice Nicoll’s five-volume series of “Psychological Commentaries,” but whereas Dr. Nicoll generally limited himself to the psychological aspects of the system, Dr. Buzzell does not so limit his inquiry but attempts to relate metaphysical concepts with chemical and physical reality. The present title is no exception.

The title of the book struck me as odd for the reason that I was unfamiliar with the expression “Gurdjieff’s whim.” I assumed I was missing something – I quite often have this feeling, and with some justification! (Indeed, the phrase brought to my mind the not-unrelated, traditional Islamic words “Mohammed’s wont.”) I checked Sophia Wellbeloved’s indispensable volume ‘Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts’ (2003) but found no references there to “whim.” Nowhere else in the literature of the Work have I encountered any discussion of “whim,” so I conclude it is a synonym for “aim.”

I checked the “Guide and Index” and located “whim” (in the singular) in “All & Everything,” where it appears in the original edition on page 688 of the section on “France.” The author wrote as follows: “ … they occupy themselves out of idleness, in order to satisfy their whims, with devising ‘new-forms-of-manifestations-of-their-Hasnamussianing,’ or as is said there, with ‘new fashions,’ and spread them from there over the whole of the planet.” There the word is used in the plural and it refers to things of passing interest. I reluctantly returned to the notion of “one’s personal aim” in life and in Work. Perhaps it was related to the three aims of Group Work.

I was still uncertain about this, even after reading, on page 1, the words attributed to Gurdjieff: “to live and teach so that there should be a new conception of God in the world, a change in the very meaning of the word.”  This is equated with Gurdjieff’s personal aim. Indeed, even earlier, on page ii, in the first of the prefaces, Toddy Smyth writes as follows: “In a rare moment of divulgence, Gurdjieff revealed his own whim: to bring to mankind a new understanding of God.”

There we have it. Smyth continues: “Keith Buzzell’s work is a verification of this whim – an aspect of a new understanding of God is to recognize and to gain the capacity to actualize one’s own whim. A portion of Dr. Buzzell’s whim could be summarized as the striving to understand how self-transformation – a process that requires the action of an independent will – can be possible within a Universe governed by unyielding, automatic law.”

Smyth goes on to describe the present book as “a dynamic synthesis of the indications found in ‘The Tales’ and ‘In Search’ with recent discoveries in quantum and cosmological science.” Indeed, as Dr. Buzzell has written elsewhere, “Gurdjieff’s conception of Okidanokh represents a major aspect of his effort to reconcile science and spirituality. As such, it plays a powerful role in his new conception of God in the world. The manner in which he accomplishes this reconciliation is quite ‘oblique’ or indirect and one has to read his complex elaboration with considerable care and attention to see how thoroughly he has blended the ‘way’ of science and of potential transformation with the ‘way’ of the spirit.”

He takes pains to place Gurdjieff’s exposition alongside those concerned with quantum physics and the theory of relativity. He could have added alongside as well of photographic proof of the expansion of the universe which was discovered by Hubble and Humason during the same period.

But perhaps the key passage appears in Philip Mairet’s memoir of A.R. Orage: “Whilst they were talking in this vein, someone asked Gurdjieff if he would disclose his own ‘whim,’ and he said it was to live and teach so that there should be a new conception of God in the world, a change in the very meaning of the word.” This passage is cited a number of times, and its source seems to be an unpublished lecture of J.G. Bennett’s. Bennett quotes Orage as saying his “whim” is to publish “the best literary journal in England,” an aim he achieved. Apparently the word “whim” in Armenian and Russian expresses not merely fantasy, as it does in English, in the sense of whimsy, but determination, intent, and wish. The reader will decide whether or not Gurdjieff realized his “whim.”

In some way this “new conception” is connected with those unwieldly terms Okidanokh and Triamazikamno, the former term representing the “reconciliation” of man’s inner world of three brains with the outer world that expresses the familiar Law of Three, and the latter term the all- encompassing Ray of Creation – our individual and collective place in the world.

Each of the fourteen chapters of Dr. Buzzell’s book is composed of sections a few pages in length, and any one section would lend itself to study and analysis, as it is immersed in the vocabularies of “The Tales” (as he refers to “Beelzebub’s Tales”) and “In Search of the Miraculous.” In this sense “Reflections” could be regarded as an organized gloss on central concepts presented in allegorical and other forms in “The Tales.”

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The sheer amount of information and analysis in the book would overwhelm the casual reader (as it does the ordinary reviewer!) who has but a general understanding of and a passing interest in the mechanics of the work’s dynamics. So what I will do is parasail from chapter to chapter, suggesting some insights to be found therein. The author has made this easy to do because, in effect, each chapter examines a specific aspect of the system – indeed, each key word unlocks a portion of the whole. Here are the topics of the chapters:

(1) Whim as aim. (2) Evils old and new. (3) Generations, notably sons and grandson. (4) Conscience, reason. (5) Wiseacre, know-it-all. (6) Laws of the universe. (7) Suggestibility, including hypnotism. (8) Okidanokh, or reconciliation of science and spirituality. (9) Essence which has mellowed. (10) Organic life. (11) Individual and group place and presence. (12) Foods and the Ray of Creation. (13) Reconciliation that allows for self-perfection in a structured universe. (14) Quantum considerations as approaches to “the non-mass and mass-based worlds.”

Some of the chapters come in two parts. I noticed that the earlier chapters are highly specific and analytic, whereas the later chapters are somewhat speculative, historical, and once in a while personal. (The early explorations bring to hazy recall the detailed discussions, chemical largely, mentioned by Dr. James Carruthers Young and others at the Priory in the mid-1920s.)

There is a shift of perspective in this book from impersonal to personal, and it could be said to occur around Chapter 10. The theory comes first, thereafter its application. Indeed, in that chapter, “The Life Force,” Dr. Buzzell describes two instances of awareness and intention that occurred to him, the first stemming from an encounter with a disliked hardware clerk, the second stemming from his habit of leaving his socks on the floor of his bedroom!

Here is a brief summary of the contents of Chapter 10, which may act as a guide to how the author proceeds. Synonyms for “life force” is mentioned: Qui, Chi, prana, Shakti, pneuma, Great Spirit, Godhead (Jehovah, God, Allah). These are Eastern conceptions and there is no “action from below” and it is all “action from above.” It is Western conceptions that offer “action from below,” and these are sometimes called vitalism, will to live, élan vital, life force, formative drive, entelechy, orgone, etc. For a balance of “actions,” turn to Taoism. Newton and Darwin and Quantum Mechanics and the Theory of Relativity have begun to “bridge” reduce the gap between spirit and matter (to use basic terms).

Here is what Gurdjieff brings to this notion: “There is no intimation that life of any type (non-brained and brained) was a unique or separate creation of HIS ENDLESSNESS.” Life is a universal phenomenon, the Ilnosoparnian process, with Earth as special because of the collision of the comet Kondoor. Earth, Moon, and Anulios and what they represent are “imbalanced” and hence requires special consideration.  There is much discussion of the nature of the “imbalance” based on passages from “The Tales.” “Gurdjieff carefully emphasizes the participation of the Divine Will Power _only_ at the onset of the Creation and yet has HIS ENDLESSNESS very active, via HIS Reason, _within_ the Creation.”

Everything proceeds lawfully. “The end result of the _actualizations_ of HIS ENDLESSNESS creates the possibility for the transformation and crystallization of ‘active elements’ …. ” As well: “Applying this Will, each of us three-brained begins can participate – be an active agent – in our own self-transformation. One becomes an active participant in the creation of the Higher Bodies. Efforts in this regard are _one’s own_ ; they are initiated from lower worlds and move upward. This is _evolution_ in the Gurdjieffian sense.”

The possible success of such effort leads to a discussion of “later octaves” in the Great Ray. (I would like to have known more about “coating bodies” vs. “crystallization.”) There is a section about: “All of life, therefore, is required and fulfills a cosmic need while, simultaneously, the actualizations of HIS ENDLESSNESS make it possible for certain of the three-brained begins to coat High Being-bodies.” This action is symbolically represented with respect to what looks like a multi-coloured cosmic pyramid. Movement (instinctive centre), eating (moving and instinctive), and survival (instinctive and moving and sex centre) are discussed. The role of H12, “the power of paying attention,” is discussed interestingly and importantly. Also discussed are characteristics and comparisons of first, second, and third brains.

Pages here resemble a textbook on neuro-anatomy. There is much discussion of the “location of attention” and the question is asked, “Where does ‘carbon 6’ come from?” The octaves of Food, Air, and Impressions are discussed. The subject is complicated, yet the exposition is clear, so the author deserves top marks for his hard work. In an ideal world – rather than on a planet like ours that falls under 48 laws – I would be able to summarize in greater detail the contents of all the chapters.

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The quality of any work that is serious may be judged by the influence that it has on serious-minded people. The Gurdjieff Work was introduced to the West in 1915, so it nearly one century old, perhaps a lot older in fragmentary form in the East. Texts that were written in the 1920s and published as late as the 1940s are still able to beget serious discussion and engender new thoughts and feelings. Proof of the seriousness of the Work is that it inspires Dr. Buzzell and other scholars and scientists to “dig deeper.” Yet for all its length and depth, it seems that “Reflections” is but the first half of Dr. Buzzell’s analysis. For it is promised that there will be a second volume in this series to be titled “Further Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim.” So stay tuned ….

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Lurking in the back of my mind, as I read these fourteen chapters, was the planet or star named Kolob and the lonely God of the Mormons, who lives in our cosmos, distant from us but not apart from existence. I must admit that this image brought to my mind Mr. Gurdjieff.

John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist based in Toronto who is interested in esoteric ideas, Canadian lore and literature, jokes and anecdotes, and contemporary poetry. His latest collection of aphorisms is called “A Strange and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore.” Check his website:  jrc@colombo.ca

GURDJIEFF IN THE PUBLIC EYE

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There is not a page of this book that will not surprise and instruct every one of its readers, including even the most knowledgeable of readers.”

 

 

John Robert Colombo Reviews Paul Beekman Taylor’s Latest Book 

 The first introduction that I had to what is now called the Work was not the result of reading a copy of “In Search of the Miraculous.” That was my second introduction to it. The first introduction was finding a second-hand copy of “God Is My Adventure” in a bookstore which no longer exists in Toronto and buying it and avidly reading it from cover to cover. The book, published in 1935 and frequently reprinted, was written in a lively and irreverent manner by Rom Landau, a British or Polish-born journalist (Wikipedia says British, Taylor says Polish) with a special interest in such offbeat and exotic subjects as the dozen or so spiritual leaders who are the subject of “God Is My Adventure.”

Landau was a first-rate reporter and lively raconteur, and in this regard he resembled his contemporary, the American journalist and adventurer William Seabrook who also wrote about what became known as the Work. Among the spiritual leaders described by Landau in vivid detail are Count Keyserling, Stefan George, Rudolf Steiner, Krishnamuri, Meher Baba, and Frank Buchman, not to mention P.D. Ouspensky and G.I. Gurdjieff. It is a motley crew to be sure. Landau’s descriptions of the latter two leaders in action constitute the first such accounts to appear between the covers of any book, as distinct from the columns of daily newspapers and other periodical publications.

I will not take the time to discuss Landau’s understanding of traditionalist teachers or try to characterize his account of the lecture delivered by Ouspensky which he attended in London or his account of a lunch and a meeting with Gurdjieff in New York City. But I was reminded of Landau and the impression that he had made on me about fifty years ago while I was turning the pages of Paul Beekman Taylor’s latest book. It is called “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye” and it includes references to both Landau and Seabrook. Indeed, it would be incomplete if it had failed to do so.

First let me offer a description of this new book and then a brief account of its author before I turn to the text itself. “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye” is subtitled “Newspaper Articles, Magazines and Books 1914-1949.” It takes the form of a sturdy trade paperback which measures 6.25 inches by 9 inches and has 246 numbered pages. The pages are not stitched but glued. The textual apparatus includes a foreword, an introduction, a select bibliography, and a nominal index, along with 16 pages of dimly reproduced images of Mr. G., dancers, Movements demonstrations, program notes, newspaper clippings, the Priory, etc. The soul of the book is the seven chapters devoted to excerpts and commentaries – but more about such matters later.

The publisher is Eureka Editions in Utrecht in The Netherlands, and the year of publication is given as 2010 (though it seems the book has just appeared in the present year of 2011). Eureka is the publisher of over fifty Work-related books, including numerous new or reprinted volumes by Bob Hunter, Maurice Nicoll, Beryl Pogson, J.H. Reyner, Paul Beekman Taylor, and other group leaders, participants, and observers. The website of Eureka Editions is well worth examining for many reasons.

The story of Eureka’s founding and founders is given, along with its mission and defining characteristic: “Eureka Editions is not connected to any Foundation, Institute, Fellowship, Church or other form of organization, however useful they may be.” The publishers then quote Maurice Nicoll: “The Work is not a building, a place, a book, a system, dogma or tradition. The Work is something that lives in the hearts of men and women – if they can find it.”

The author of the present work is Paul Beekman Taylor who as a youngster “knew Gurdjieff.” Born in London in 1930, he and his mother spent some time at the Priory at Fontainebleau-Avon. Thereafter he became a scholar of Old Norse and Old English and taught for many years at the University of Geneva. He is now a Professor Emeritus of that institution. Books that he has researched and written include the very useful and detailed volume titled “Gurdjieff’s America” (2004), reissued as “Gurdjieff’s Invention of America” (2007), and “G.I. Gurdjieff: A New Life” (2008). The latter biography rises to the heights of James Moore’s classic work, “Gurdjieff: The Anatomy of a Myth” (1991); and, by incorporating the results of recent research, Taylor’s surpasses Moore’s biography in numerous particulars.

It is my guess that Taylor sees himself as the historian of the Work, and I assume that no one will deny that he is ideally equipped as a scholar to trace its trajectory and that no one will doubt his “feel” for the Work. When I learned of the imminent publication of “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye,” what flashed before my eye was the composition of the collection and the construction of the commentary, as well as the conviction that Taylor was the man for the job. I was more or less familiar with the ancillary literature because what also flashed before my eye was the following name: J. Walter Driscoll.

I have yet to meet J. Walter Driscoll. despite the fact that he was born in Toronto, where I live, and that he now resides on Vancouver Island, off the West Coast of Canada. I hope one day we will meet. Users of the Internet will be grateful to him for there is much for everyone to peruse on the website “Gurdjieff: A Reading Guide” edited by J. Walter Driscoll (third edition, 2004). Here is how the website describes itself:

“This edition of the ‘Gurdjieff Reading Guide’ contains a retrospective anthology of fifty-two articles, some originally published here, and others dating as far back as 1919. These provide an independent survey of the literature by or about George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866?-1949) and offer a wide range of informed opinion (admiring, critical and contradictory) about him, his activities, writings, philosophy, and influence.”

In effect, Driscoll’s “Gurdjieff: A Reading Guide” is the backbone of Taylor’s “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye.” Yet for its body and soul we have to turn to Driscoll’s magnum opus. This is the tome titled “Gurdjieff: An Annotated Bibliography” which was undertaken with the Gurdjieff Foundation of California and published in a hardcover edition by Garland Press in 1985. This standard work consists of some 1,700 entries full of delicious bits of information and iotas of insight.

Many researchers (like the present writer) have used Driscoll’s bibliography as a checklist for items to find, photocopy, read, and digest. I hope Driscoll continues to collect and annotate the ever-expanding body of knowledge about the Work. Yet the arrival of the Internet has probably stamped “paid” to future editions of Driscoll’s “Annotated Bibliography” at least in print form.

I am devoting all this attention to J. Walter Driscoll because the librarian, teacher, and archivist has contributed the foreword to the present volume. The foreword is short, only two pages in length, and it dwells entirely on the capacities and credentials of Taylor. It could but does not make the case that the “Annotated Bibliography” is the body and soul of “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye.” Driscoll seems very scholarly and endearingly self-effacing.

In his introduction, Taylor describes the present book as “an anthology of all printed materials about Gurdjieff during his lifetime.” He credits the work of “definitive” bibliographer Driscoll, of musician Gert-Jan Blom, and of historian Michael Benham, a specialist in twentieth-century Russian history. He discusses what is included because there was not enough space to reproduce every article from every newspaper or magazine in whole or in part or even at all. (That sounds like a job for the Internet.) But major articles quite often appear in full, and all the articles are succinctly and authoritatively annotated.

The years from 1921 to 1935 corresponded to a period of wide-spread public interest in Gurdjieff and his activities at the Priory, subsumed under the heading “the forest philosophers.” In all, I counted 126 articles from all periods, reproduced in whole or part, and they cover the years from 1914 to 1950. They range from the five-paragraph, anonymous notice about a hitherto unknown “Hindu” who had written “a most curious ballet scenario” called “The Struggle of the Magicians,” which appeared in “The Voice of Moscow” five months following the outbreak of the Great War and was read by Ouspensky, to the appearance of obituary notices in “The Times of London,” “The New York Times,” and “The New Yorker” in the late fall of 1949.

Taylor’s table of contents gives a good idea of the chronological arrangement of the material. There are seven chapters: 1. Early Notices; 2. What the French Press Reported on Gurdjieff and His Colony; 3. The English Press; 4. American News of the Institute; 5. The American Tour of 1924; 6. Gurdjieff’s Press 1924-1939; 7. Last Notices. The two chapters devoted to the American press are the longest, as they benefit from Taylor’s own research and editorial concentration on this period.

I am going to resist the temptation to discuss individual articles on the principle that one does not have to drink the entire ocean to know that it is salty – one drop will do; as well I will observe the injunction that it is difficult to eat just one salted peanut – and not a second and then a third. Having said that, let me suggest that worth the price of admission alone is the article reprinted from “The New Republic” (June 1929) written by Carl Zigrosser (who was subsequently appointed curator of prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). He knows his “prints” and offers his readers – and us, courtesy of Taylor – an engaging and lively account of a summer visit to the Priory as well as a notable pen-portrait of its founder.

It is interesting to read what non-Gurdjieffians have to say about Mr. G. Indeed, I find what Gurdjieffians have to say about the man and his manner somewhat predictable, and hackneyed because readers of the literature on the Work are already quite familiar with the formulations of Ouspensky, J.G. Bennett, members of The Rope, and other contemporary commentators. Independent journalists can often be irreverent and amusing, instructively so, as they fail to understand Mr. G. and his manner and method. Yet there is one editorial decision that was made with “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye” that surprises me.

What we have here is the material that should comprise an anthology, yet the text is presented not as an anthology or as a casebook of fully formed “pieces,” but as an historico-critical analysis that proceeds more or less decade by decade, in effect, a history. I wonder if the book would not have been more compelling and engaging had it been arranged in the form of an anthology, with independent contributions, each one introduced with a short preface followed by a source note and a critical commentary. The volume was not organized in this fashion, but I believe it would have found more readers had it been allowed to proceed along this trajectory.

According to the publisher’s webpage, one hundred copies of “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye” have been printed. (The statement about the press-run does not necessarily preclude reprints of the first edition.) Are there so few – or so many – collectors and “completists” who buy serious books about the Work? One would think there are more readers than one hundred who are interested in the interwar period, in journalism, in the sociology of belief, in the psychology of gurus and leadership, in comparative religion, in early twentieth-century philosophy, in New Age formulations, in Traditionalist thought, etc. Perhaps so, perhaps not!

I began this review with a reminiscence about Rom Landau’s “God Is My Adventure.” Taylor summarizes Landau’s contribution quite well, identifying times and places and people, and he concludes it by quoting Landau’s evaluation: “I have been unable to perceive in the man George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff the harmonious development of man.” That is the last sentence of the second-last paragraph. What Taylor does not quote is the first sentence of that paragraph: “I could dimly discern that the essence of Gurdjieff’s teaching contains a truth that everyone in contact with spiritual reality is bound to preach.”

Wallace Stevens wrote about 13 ways of looking at a blackbird. There are 32 short films about Glenn Gould. Hokusai painted 36 views of Mount Fuji. Paul Beekman Taylor has now offered us an anthology of 126 articles about Mr. G. There is not a page of this book that will not surprise and instruct every one of its readers, including even the most knowledgeable of readers.

John Robert Colombo is known across Canada as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of the lore and literature of the country. His current books include “Fascinating Canada” (a book of questions and answers) and “Jeepers Creepers” (a collection of told-as-true ghost stories). He has also published three volumes devoted to the life, work, and writings of Denis Saurat (who also “met Gurdjieff” and is discussed in “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye”). Colombo’s website is < http://www.colombo.ca >.                                                                                                                                        

APPROACHING INNER WORK: Opie’s study of Michael Currer-Briggs

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John Robert Colombo Reviews James Opie’s biographical study of Michael Currer-Briggs and the Gurdjieff Teaching

  Some books may be described in a relatively straight-forward fashion. Other books, not so easily summarized, require much foreground and background information before they may be appreciated at all. “Approaching Inner Work” falls into the latter category. It requires information up front. But before providing that information, permit me to describe the physical appearance of the book itself.

A handsome publication, “Approaching Inner Work” bears the subtitle “Michael Currer-Briggs on the Gurdjieff Teaching.” Its author, James Opie, is a long-time student of the Work. The publisher is Gurdjieff Books & Music, an imprint and a distributor for Work-related materials. It is located in Portland and operated by the Gurdjieff Foundation of Oregon. The website is < info@gurdjeiffbooksand music.com >. The trade paperback measures 5 inches wide by 7.5 inches high, and it has xii +148 pages. The ISBN is 978-0-615-47529-5. The text consists of thirty-eight short chapters of commentary and interview, followed by an Appendix and an Acknowledgments. If I may risk a pun, this volume “speaks volumes.”

 So much for the easy part. Now for the detailed part! First, the Author. Second, the Subject. Third, the Book.

The Author: James Opie

  The “Opie” name is a respected one in literary circles, especially for the contributions of the well-loved, husband-and-wife team of English folklorists, Peter and Iona Opie. But the Opies are (as “Time Magazine” used to say) “no kin” to James Opie who describes himself as “a merchant and writer.” He was born in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1939, and is a graduate of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Despite his birthplace and residence in Portland, Oregon, he has become a recognized authority on Persian tribal rugs and the origin of tribal rug motifs – both of which sound like demanding undertakings! His two books in the field are “Tribal Rugs of Southern Persia” (1982) and “Tribal Rugs: Nomadic and Village Weavings of the Near East and Central Asia” (1992). The latter title has been translated into French, Italian, and German.

 Opie was introduced to the Work in the mid-1960s when a musician friend loaned him a copy of “All & Everything.” He joined a group under the leadership of Donald Hoyt who became a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation under Lord Pentland and then served as president of the Gurdjieff Foundation of California. Lord Pentland himself was Opie’s teacher from 1974 to 1988. For fourteen years Opie was associated with Annie Lou Staveley of “The Farm,” later “Two Rivers Farm.” Mrs. Staveley was a direct student of Gurdjieff in Paris during his last years and also an associate of Jean Heap in London. Opie is now involved with Gurdjieff Books & Music in Portland.

 It was while he was in Afghanistan dealing in rugs that Opie met Peter Brook and Madame de Salzmann who were in the midst of filming “Meetings with Remarkable Men.” On the set he also met Michael Currer-Briggs. Briggs is credited with being of material help at a critical point in the production of this major motion picture through his extensive contacts in the fields of film-making and finance. “Meetings” was released by Remar Productions (“remar” is short for “remarkable”) and Briggs was granted screen credit as the film’s executive producer.

The Subject: Michael Currer-Briggs

 Opie refers to him as “Mr. Briggs” but I will shorten his name even further by referring to him as “Briggs.” He was born in 1922 in Leeds, Yorkshire, and died in 1980 in London, England. Briggs made his reputation in television production in the United Kingdom. He is credited as producer or director of over sixty-five television productions, largely episodes of popular mystery series. These were telecast between 1955 and 1970, so British viewers of a certain age might cast their memories back to such popular fare as “Boyd Q.C.,” “ITV Television Playhouse,” “ITV Play of the Week,” “Fraud Squad,” “Aces of Wands,” and “The Mind Robbers.”

 Briggs reminds me of Fletcher Markle, the distinguished Canadian television personality, who was once married to the actress Mercedes McCambridge. Markle’s skills as producer and director overshadowed his abilities as creator and artist. In other words, Markle and perhaps Briggs excelled as “arrangers” or “packagers” of other men’s ideas. Unlike Briggs, Markle had no special interest in spiritual psychology.

These days Briggs is not remembered for those British series, but for his role as executive producer of “Meetings with Remarkable Men,” which was released in 1979, thirty years following Gurdjieff’s death and one year before Briggs’s own death. Briggs had a background in the Work that took root in London in the 1940s where and when he met Jane Heap. As the result of Opie’s book on him, Briggs will have, additionally, a future in the Work.

 The Book: Approaching Inner Work

 The text of the book consists of a series of short chapters which consist of Briggs’s commentaries on “inner work.” They are based on interviews conducted by Opie with Briggs over the last years of the latter’s life. There are thirty-eight of these and they cover a range of interests. Each chapter of commentary is titled, and some of these titles are straight-forward and descriptive (“John Bennett,” “Madame de Salzmann and a Question about Money”), whereas others are analytical and work-related (“Self-study and Seeing,” “Like and Dislike”). Overall they bring to mind – to my mind, at least – the “commentaries” that comprise Maurice Nicoll’s “Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky,” a much-neglected, five-volume work that is a gold-mine (I almost keyboarded “gold-mind”) of aspects of the Work which now seem to be called “inner work.”

These “commentaries” are Briggs’s words, taken from conversations and interviews that have been deftly edited and sensitively arranged by Opie to cover subjects of current and continuing interest. In a way the arrangement reminds me of a book of “table talk.” It begins with a rhetorical question posed by Briggs: ” … what can I do? What is it, precisely, that does not happen automatically, but requires my intentional efforts? Doing depends on intentionality. Intentionality depends on sincerity. It depends on the presence of I.” The book is in effect a meditation on these words.

 The friendship began in 1977 in Central Asia, aka Afghanistan, where Opie was pursuing his trade in Oriental rugs and Briggs was visiting the set of “Meetings with Remarkable Men” then being filmed by Peter Brook under the tutelage of Madame de Salzmann. It seems Briggs with his industry contacts had a hand in ensuring the flow of funds from Lord Pentland, President of the Gurdjieff Foundation, to the production crew, no simple matter. History has a habit of repeating itself. Some decades earlier, Briggs was among the first visitors to Gurdjieff in newly liberated Paris to arrive with cash (presumably the first payment of Gurdjieff’s oil-well royalties!).

 One night over dinner in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, Opie raised the subject of miracles. Briggs described them in terms of the two rivers or streams. “There are two fundamental streams, an automatic stream moving downward, toward multiplicity, and a conscious stream flowing upward, toward unity and the source of all life. Highly unusual experiences which seem to be miracles may involve merely, if one dares use that word, a lawful and transitory merging of the two streams at a particular point or event.”

Briggs gave an illustration of a “miracle” in terms of a carrot growing in a garden. To the carrot the appearance of the gardener is miraculous; to the gardener the appearance of the carrot is mundane. Points of view and levels of being are relevant to miracles. This novel illustration brought to mind P.D. Ouspensky’s example of the baked potato being more “intelligent” than the raw potato. The discussions between Opie and Briggs reverberate with references to be found in the canon of the Work. This particular conversation on the subject of miracles concludes with Briggs’s caveat: Because of “habitual patterns” of thought and feeling and response, he wrote, “I dare say ‘miracles’ have been the ruination of some people.”

Another caveat is based on the effectiveness of effort when based on full knowledge and complete understanding, and its ineffectiveness when based on faulty knowledge and limited understanding. “The exercise of listening to those who would build professional careers around certainty can be helpful. How misguided are those politicians and other public figures who wish to impress others with their certainty.” This can be very instructive, Briggs reminds Opie. “Initially, our work is not to change what is seen, but to open to a new quality of seeing, wherein we directly experience the force of automaticity in our reactions.”

These thoughts lead to a discussion of the differences noted by Madame de Salzmann between the servant and the slave. When we shirk our own burdens, we increase the loads that need to be carried by other people; when we shoulder our own, we lighten their burdens. Briggs states that we should not be overawed by the immensity of the known universe because it is matched by the unknown worlds within man. “Here our small physical size, as human beings, can be deceptive. Within us are many potential levels, many possible hierarchies. The universe is not altogether an outer arrangement.”

 Briggs has a bent for vivid imagery. He suggests that there should be founded a new organization called “The Society for the Study of Self-love and Vanity.” He suggests that this kind of odd-fellows group could bring untold benefits to its members. As an aside he explains, “This is precisely what Mr. Gurdjieff outlined in his description of a ‘real group,’ which, he said, represents an exceptional level of achievement.”

He then traced the subsequent history of this impulse and how, over the years, it would metamorphose into its opposite. “Viewed from the outside, the buildings housing the Society may grow more impressive. But inside the buildings, decade by decade, the teaching descends to a level that is all-too-human.” This section of the book – about the devolution of this society and the impulse behind it – is called “The Unusual Society.” Although it is only a few pages long, it includes more than I can easily convey here. In fact, each of the chapters is quite expressive of the modulated expression of genuine insights.

The chapter titled “Madame de Salzmann and the Question of Money” deals broadly with values and evaluations and quotes Madame as making a pointed observation. “If students of Mr. Gurdjieff do not make a film based on this appealing title – Meetings with Remarkable Men – someone else will surely do so. We would then have to live with the consequences.” It is in Kabul that Briggs takes Opie to meet the Madame (a little drama all its own) and “the need to prepare a real question.” They chat with her on the film set and at one point Madame says, “When you first come, you hear and repeat ideas, with limited understanding. Later the ideas begin to live in you, and you have real questions. Now, your interest is superficial. But in time, perhaps it grows.”

The subject of money is broached. Opie suggests the ability to make it is “dirty.” Madame disagrees. “Money, a talent for making money, is not a dirty thing. Money is the blood of society. Everything is touched by money, every relationship. No part of life is without this connection, and it brings reality to your life. When money is needed it is no longer just … idea.”

This chapter, although short, reminded me of the comprehensive talk that Gurdjieff delivered on the subject of “the Material Question.” It seems everything everywhere is material and that it really matters. Madame gives it a spin: “Your life has a pattern. You don’t see it yet, but little by little it begins to appear. Seeing the pattern of your life helps very much. If you work with a talent, it develops. Later you can teach what you have learned to someone else who stands where you stand now. Then, perhaps, you will go on to something else.”

 Briggs and Opie meet some months later at The Farm overseen by Annie Lou Staveley in Portland, Oregon. Here Briggs talked about the plan, subsequently abandoned, to cast some Work personalities as leading characters in the film. Apparently Henri Tracol was to play Father Giovanni. Briggs: “We attempted this briefly and the experiment totally failed. We saw that what each of these people had was their own. Nothing was acted. What they possessed, while genuine, was not what was needed. Films involve acting. Also, none of these senior people in the Work could take directions!”

 The next two chapters deal with the dangers inherent in the transmission of oral teachings and how the Work has proceeded following Gurdjieff’s death. Madame de Salzmann met with the leaders of the various groups and the influx of new followers and attempted to create a single approach. There were disputes. “These disputes could have disrupted relationships within and between groups. Madame de Salzmann listened more than she spoke, and, like Mr. Gurdjieff, became a still point in the center of activity. Her efforts with previously existing groups, with new centers, and with hundreds of individual members, helped clarify more advanced approaches to inner work.”

 The chapter titled “Roses and Thorns” looks at the opposites and how they must be accepted and how each person must accept responsibility. “Interest in this inner study begins to connect us with the stream of intentionality. At the outset, an impartial view of our manifestations may elude us. We have not yet learned to take the necessary step back to hear our own voices, to sense habitual bodily postures, or to experience repetitive emotional and mental patterns more immediately and viscerally. Others see much of this in us, but we do not. Yet, little by little, we begin to learn.”

Subsequent chapters consider the power of identification and the need for “self-study.” We must learn to distinguish between what is automatic and what is authentic. Briggs: “The primary change is the seeing and accepting what is seen, in the midst of our manifestations. Seeing without judging, with impartial interest, is a feature of consciousness and the stream of intentionality.” This is “a gift” that requires “preparatory work.”

“Wish and the Role of the Mind” is the first chapter in a series of chapters that deal with the role of “wish” (or “aim,” as it used to be called) in the Work. Gurdjieff’s words are quoted: “Wish can be the strongest thing in the world.” The role of man’s centres is discussed and Gurdjieff is quoted as saying that thoughts are “thinking in me.” The difference between justification and explanation is discussed.

Briggs: “When both my mind and feelings are identified with justifying or explaining, word-producing functions in the mind readily cooperate. But when there is real work to be done, this automatic part is silent. Will is called for, something intentional. A quite different part of the mind needs to appear.” Man is machinery. “Our work is to not attempt to withdraw from contact with this current. It is to learn, little by little, to relate to it with greater awareness.”

 “Emotions about emotions” is a new formulation for me and perhaps for some other readers as well. Briggs: “When my awareness of an emotion is sidetracked by an automatic reaction, by an emotion about the emotion, is it too late to work? For Jane Heap, it was never too late. We begin from precisely where we are. We come into awareness now, rather than waiting for a better moment, or the arising of more positive attitudes. Looking back at lost opportunities with regret rarely helps us. The moment to begin is now.”

A chapter is devoted to “the multiplicity of I’s” and it describes how during an afternoon Briggs assumed one identity after another, one set of responses after another set, with hardly a sense of any segues. He prefers or defers seemingly like an automaton, assuming one identity after another. Readers will find the experiences that he describes appropriate to their own everyday lives. What to do about this situation? “At every step we need peers …. Peers-without-quotation-marks can keep a person honest.”

“Risks in group work” is not the title of a chapter but it is the subject-matter of one interesting chapter, and it goes into detail about the tactics that people devise or evolve to deal with the natures of groups or schools and the natures of the people who attend them. “Jane Heap once said that Mr. Gurdjieff could see into the dark corners of all of us because he saw into all the dark corners in himself.” Briggs distinguishes between “remarkable attainments” and “unfortunate crystallizations.” At this juncture the role of “shocks” is discussed.

Here I felt the discussion was skating on thin ice, for Ouspensky had gone into much more detail, distinguishing, as he did, between the tramp and the lunatic. The former could not hold any single thought for any appreciable time while the latter could not entertain any thought but the one that currently obsessed him. However, Briggs does quote Gurdjieff: “Learn to like what ‘it’ dislikes.” There follows is a brief discussion of the role of “charm” and how it harms.

Students of the work will find the next two chapters to be of special interest – the chapter on Jane Heap of biographical and bibliographic interest, the chapter on Jean de Salzmann relevant to ongoing discussions of the drift or the direction taken by the Work since the 1960s. As Briggs explains, “Mr. Gurdjieff did not instruct Madame to continue everything in fixed and dogmatic ways. Her task was to sustain the clarity and expand the influence of the teaching, while helping relatively small numbers to experience a deepening inner engagement. Aside from exercises for beginning levels, such as you and I have discussed, Mr. Gurdjieff introduced approaches to silent work to a few people who had been with him for many years, and to others he considered prepared for this work. First among these was Madame de Salzmann.”

As Briggs expresses it, Asian teachings were making inroads in the West. “Madame de Salzmann needed to understand and assess these new influences in Western culture in relation to the Gurdjieff teaching, even as she responded to the demands of her special role. She never resisted speaking with teachers of established traditions, even traveling to meet them in their own institutions and behaving externally not as a teacher, but as a student. But the course of her work had been set long before, by Mr. Gurdjieff.” Elsewhere it is said that Madame attended the Bollingen lectures on Jung’s thought at Ascona and even journeyed to Cairo to meet the Traditionalist thinker René Guenon.

 Quite enjoyable are occasional references to Mrs. Staveley and the chapter devoted to the scalawag Fritz Peters. Briggs quoted Jane Heap on the latter personality: “In and out of groups, personal qualities are often mistaken for sincerity and truth.” A later chapter considers the special case of John Bennett, despite Briggs’s feeling that “it was difficult to discuss a figure possessing such useful skills, a great storehouse of intensity, and, from the viewpoint of those whom he influenced, a special and profound understanding of the Gurdjieff teaching.”

Bennett is seen as a man who placed “action” before “self-questioning” and risked the inadvertent mingling of all the traditions with which he was familiar with whatever one was at hand. Willem Nyland is also discussed. Had Nyland “gone off on his own” or had the rest of the followers “left the path”? As Briggs had little first-hand knowledge of Nyland, the point is not pursued.

 The chapter oddly titled “Rolling the Triangle” refers to the Law of Three, in general to the Active, Passive, and Neutralizing principles, with specific references to the Three Centres in man. Jane Heap introduced the notion to Briggs who explained how the “triangle” is “rolled” in the sense that each “role” is changed or rotated to create other bodily impressions through attention and wish. He concludes, “Inside us, potentially, are many orders of triangles.”

Later chapters refer to E.J. Gold, Idries Shah, Jan Cox, and Alex Horn, who tried to take the Work or at least its followers in directions of their own devising. A chapter is devoted to the so-called Fellowship of Friends led by Robert Burton. At one time his followers were dubbed “the bookmark people” because they were tasked to visit metaphysical bookstores and insert their own bookmarks into copies of books by Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, and kindred writers. The bookmarks (handsomely produced; I own a couple) list telephone numbers of local groups. If there are still “bookmark people,” their bookmarks probably now include websites and email addresses. Briggs is surprisingly long-suffering and philosophical about these leaders and their groups: “Possibly a few people in centers led by such people sense something wrong and then look for more reliable sources.”

 The chapter “The Yen to Teach” is one of the few discussions of the role of the teacher or group leader that I have encountered, and it considers the responsibilities that leadership entails and the misconceptions that it generates. The discussion is brief but Briggs quotes a suggestive insight from his own teacher Jane Heap: “When you grab hold of something too tightly you press your own fingerprints into it.”

 The chapter “Our Final Face-to-Face Exchange” and the next one titled “Letters” describe Briggs’s failing health before he succumbed to cancer in England. They also include Opie’s importuning for guidance on how to regard the various centres, how they should relate to one another – not man’s inner centres, but the Work centres in the United States and in London and Paris. There was also what might be called the changing nature of the Work, or at least the change in direction or emphasis initiated by the Paris centre.

Briggs takes a long-range view of the effects of time and tide. “Few realize how much the Work moved during Gurdjieff ’s time in Europe in so far as he changed the way of passing on the Ideas a number of times. One period was all Movements, another his period of writing, another the intense work at the Prieuré, another work with very small groups, another a period of preparation during the war, and the last a period when in his declining years he himself had no more need and only cared for the people who came to him for their own sakes.”

Such changes or interchanges require greater efforts at cohesion. “Now we are coming to face a loneliness, where we have to take the responsibility, we have to draw closer together. This can only be done by exchange – by sharing – by watching – by remembering – in true openness. Relaxed and free and clear in our heads and hearts. What we do now we must do together and not alone. We are too weak to go it alone.”

The last chapters describe some of the ways in which Opie’s own life was affected by his friendship and fellowship with Briggs. Through Briggs, Opie grew close to Lord Pentland before the leader’s death in 1984. Then there is the almost elegiac sense that for efforts to take effect people must work together. This is expressed most clearly in one of the last letter that Pentland addressed to Opie: “I begin to see more clearly and without judgment or hostility that there is some chief weakness in our minds, in each of us, which so far we have all failed to conquer and that the Work’s future really does hang on some of us facing and sharing this individual difficulty with each other.”

It is reported that Briggs’s dying words were appropriate: “It’s all one.” And Opie’s book “Approaching Inner Work” is a work that is all of one piece. I have quoted substantially from the book, principally Briggs’s words and not Opie’s, because the latter is more than willing to step back to grant his subject the main speaking part. The book is very readable, very agreeable. In its pages I found a few facts and formulations new to me, and they may be new to other readers as well, but the principal value of this book lies not so much in what it reveals as in the demonstration of the fact that “inner work” continues, as long as we ask, in a heartfelt way, “What can I do?”

 

 

 John Robert Colombo, a Toronto-based author and anthologist, is mainly known for his work in the field of Canadiana. But he has a long-standing interest in mysteries and the paranormal. His forthcoming book (from Dundurn Group) is called “Jeepers Creepers” and it consists of fifty told-as-true paranormal experiences of Canadians with psychological commentaries. He is an occasional reviewers of books about the Work for this blogsite. For information on Colombo’s other books, or to be alerted to the appearance of forthcoming reviews and commentaries, email him at his website: < www. colombo. ca > .

Sufism and the Way of Blame: Azize review

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Joseph Azize Book Review

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Sufism and the Way of Blame: Hidden Sources of a Sacred Psychology, Yannis Toussulis, with a forward by R.A.H. Darr,

Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Illinois and Chennai, India

(264 pp. including glossary and bibliography).

This is an important book: it is the most accessible serious living study of Sufism I have read since Reshad Feild’s The Last Barrier, which features Feild’s teacher Bulent Rauf (under the pseudonym “Hamid”). I say “living” study, because it strikes me that its chief aim is not so much to “detail the relationship between Sufism and the controversial way of blame”, as the preface might indicate, as it is to communicate some taste of the life of contemporary Sufism. Toussulis achieves this when he presents the interview in chapter 8 with Mehmet Selim Öziç Bey, which demonstrates that there exists in today’s Sufism a beneficent and tolerant spiritual dimension which is suited to the needs of the time. The rest of the book could be considered as background, setting the stage for this interview. Bey is the only living successor, of Mahmut Sadettin Bilginer (p. 150), while Toussulis is Bey’s pupil (a photograph of them can be found at http://www.sufism.org/society/album/selim.html). Bilginer, in turn, was the youngest son of Haci Maksud Hulusi, a Naqshbandi shaykh who was initiated by Pir Nur Al-Arabi (140). On Toussulis’ account, Pir is the pivotal figure in the modern development of the malamatiyya, which is a way of referring to those who follow the way of blame. As Toussulis states, Pir exemplified the “adaptability of Sufism and Islam to contemporary conditions” (118). The icing on the cake, as it were, is appendix 1, the eight page Risala i Salihiyya or “Testament of the Righteous” by Pir himself, translated by Öziç and Darr.

 

The entire book, therefore, builds up to presenting the formidable figures of Pir and Öziç. Toussulis makes no small claims for them, especially for Pir. Before his death in 1888 (136), Pir Nur Al-Arabi declared that he was a qutb or “pole” (134), meaning that he was the spiritual axis of his own time, at least as far as some Sufis are concerned. Toussulis believes, reasonably enough, that this was critical in his attempt to “unify all the malamatiyya under his own direction” (134). The significance of this appears from chapter 7 of the “Testament”, where Pir writes that the highest station (or “achievement”) possible for anyone is that of qutb. Pir writes of this station: “… I am neither able to explain it, not can you grasp it through anything I might say of it. This station is called ahadiyya al-ayn, or the Station of Muhammad. This station belongs to the Pole of the Age (al-qutb al-zaman). … We are prohibited from striving for it. However, if the Prophet of Allah personally initiates us, it can be tasted, Otherwise it is impossible.” (This passage at 216 is also dealt with and interpreted at 191-192 in the text). {“Ahadiyya al-ayn” literally means “oneness or unity of eye” and “oneness or unity of essence”; the word “3ayn” (the 3 indicates an Arabic letter without European equivalent) means “eye”, “spring”, “source”, “essence”, etc.}

 

The deepest rationale is to present Öziç and his teaching, at least so far I can discern. This is not simply an academic study for Toussulis. His web site states that he: “is the current director of The Center for Human Inquiry in Emeryville, California where he teaches and conducts research in the practice of cross-cultural negotiation, leadership skills, and contemplative practices. … (he) combines academic qualifications … with practical expertise gained from his thirty-year long experience in Mental Health Services. (He) conducts a separate private practice as a family psychotherapist … http://resume.itlaqfoundation.com/Resume.html. So he is an interesting character and is attempting to take his Sufism into areas of broader life where it can have an effect on people who are not themselves Sufi. As I have often said in this blog, I think that more “esotericists” should be making this effort.

 

But the book attempts to also project a new picture of the relationship between Sufism and the way of blame. In doing so, it aims to reconfigure our picture of what we might expect to find within Islam (along with those elements more in the public eye). The book is both a scholarly study and an accessible account of one aspect of modern Sufism. It therefore combines readability with a solid, directed focus. Unlike most scholarly works on Sufism, it is not too dry; and unlike most popular books on Sufism, it is not too weak on content. There is still profound knowledge in certain areas of modern Sufism: and Toussulis has managed to convey something of this.

 However, the heart of it really is the interview, and sadly, I don’t feel that I can do that justice without lengthy quotes. It means that the review will be a little lopsided, but there are other issues I can cover where I think other reviewers are less likely to speak, and so, while stressing the book’s value and the significance of the interview with Bey, I shall pass on to four matters: Toussulis’ treatment of Sufism in general, of three modern mavericks (Gurdjieff, Schuon and Shah), of the way of blame, and the title.

 

Sufism 

Toussulis states that: “The core of Sufism … is to discover one’s non-existence in the face of something more convincingly real” (6). This is a plausible interpretation, but of course, it is very vague: this is true of other systems. Also, I find “non-existence” more misleading than phrases such as “inchoate reality”, or even “relative” or “uncompleted”, because it is not right to say that we don’t exist. But it is true to say that we don’t exist as we could. So, what is specific to Sufism? Toussulis does not address other philosophies and systems, and when he speaks of Gurdjieff, he wrongly sees him as a Sufi of sorts, so Toussulis does not answer this question. If I could garner an answer from this book, it would probably be the Islamic dimension makes Sufism specific, especially, perhaps the position of Muhammad (who features prominently as a visitor in dreams and visions, a matter which I find unhappily redolent of Leadbeater and the “masters”).

 

I think that there’s a problem with Toussulis’ definition of Sufism: as he very correctly states: “… Sufism is a multiplex phenomenon and … the essence of Sufi spirituality can never be fully examined outside of its varying interpretations and sociohistorical contexts” (8, a point he makes again at 31 and 36). This being so, one cannot really speak of the core of Sufism, but only of the core of a particular strand of Sufism. If Toussulis can see an anomaly here, he does not directly deal with it. This brings me to what I perceive as the major weakness in Toussulis’ treatment of Sufism: I do not accept that “Sufism” is a homogenous entity, although everyone speaks about it as if it were. I doubt that it is even as coherent a phenomenon as “socialism”, for example. Indeed, it seems to me that “Sufism” is as often as not a misleading term. Some Sufis are little more than Islamic-political groupings, and others are effectively magician/exorcists within Islam. Some Sufis, on the other hand, cannot really be called Muslim at all: Frithjof Schuon whom Toussulis seems to see through but fails to expose (20), was one. Other Sufis are genuine mystics, and so on. All that these various Sufis have in common is the name. To think that all Sufis, sharing the one name, must share some essential quality is to believe in words.

 

Our ignorance does not end there. Although Toussulis is of the view that “Sufism is … rooted in, and shaped by Islamic thought” (201), the fact of the matter, at least as I see it, is that we do not know the true origins of Sufism. “Sufism” is a congeries of currents: each must be separately studied. Some – even most – Sufis are rooted in and shaped by Islamic thought, but not all. Attempts to locate Sufi origins within Islam are tendentious: many dogmatically declare this to be so. Even Hans Küng, in his study of Islam, accepts the standard line. But the Muslim accounts of the origins of Sufism are late, and even these associate it with characters such as “Suleiman the Persian” (note that he bears a Jewish/ Christian name and hails from outside Arabia) and other mysterious personages. Attempts to link Muhammad with Sufism are simply unpersuasive. Too much which is well-established about Muhammad tells against this. I do not believe that a mystic could have massacred the Jewish tribe of the Qurayza, as Muhammad did. True, I have a particular view of what is involved in mysticism, and I should be prepared to be surprised: but I am not prepared to be that surprised, Gurdjieff’s puzzling view of Muhammad notwithstanding. Julian Baldick amongst others sees Isaac of Nineveh and Syriac Christianity as having been instrumental in the origin of Sufism. I have some sympathy with their position, but although his Mystical Islam: An Introduction to Sufism, easily demonstrates that historical strands of Sufism have owed tremendous debts to extra-Islamic sources, such as shamanism, he does not demonstrate Isaac’s influence. As matters stand today, we do not know what the origins of Sufism were. We can only describe various people and movements who either called themselves Sufis or were called that by others. However, the type of Sufism I find interesting is the type which is not exclusively Muslim. One of Toussulis’ chief goals is to promote this Sufism. For his treatment of Sufism and Islam, and the possibility of “supraconfessionalism” where Muslims and Christians combine in one Sufi order, refer to pp. 42, 116-117, 132, 149, 187-189 and 202-203.

 

Three Mavericks: Gurdjieff, Schuon and Shah

 

Unfortunately, Toussulis is not a historian, and his account if Gurdjieff is flawed. The bibliography lists only one book by Gurdjieff (Meetings) and none by Ouspensky. Without reading Gurdjieff’s own material, especially Beelzebub and (for the practical side) the lectures in Life Is Real, with Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, it is not possible to have a sound idea of Gurdjieff’s ideas. Toussulis relies too much on Moore, who while competent and confident, is not always reliable. If one is to use Moore, one should have regard to Taylor’s New Life, which corrects most of Moore’s errors, but Toussulis does not.

 

Even so, some of Toussulis’ mistakes cannot be laid to Moore’s account. Toussulis states that the film of Meetings opens with “the young Gurdjieff traveling throughout the Near East with a group called the ‘Seekers of Truth’ (44). But when it opens Gurdjieff is with his father: the Seekers come sometime later. The Babylonian period does not date to “ca. 2500 BCE” (45): it is at least 700 years later. Gurdjieff did not assume “that all of humanity was gradually evolving into a new form of consciousness” (49). In fact, I have no idea how this idea comes to be associated with Gurdjieff. I see no similarity between Gurdjieff’s idea of a “unified I”, and anything in Freud (50). Gurdjieff did not say that there are “seven form of self” (51). However, he did give a seven-fold definition of man (Miraculous 71-73) which is not at all “directly derived” from the Sufi maqamat: Gurdjieff’s concern is with entirely different categories. Toussulis affirms a Sufi origin for some but not all of Gurdjieff’s movements (46). I will grant that point for the Mevlevi turning, and that he called some of his movements dervishes, but the strange thing is that no dervishes are known to have used them. I would like to see some evidence, for the “dervishes” and especially for the Obligatories, the most basic movements of all.

 

The assertion that Ouspensky grafted Theosophical ideas into Gurdjieff’s system (48) is baffling. Ouspensky was a purist. He meticulously noted where ideas he taught came from other sources. The only significant examples of this I know are his use of the Philokalia and his idea of recurrence. Neither of these are “theosophical”. In fact, Ouspensky was an arch-critic of Theosophy, having good words for very few of their productions. It is unfairly dismissive, to say that “Madame de Salzmann, Madame Ouspensky and others continued to spread remnants of the method” (58). What does Toussulis mean by of “remnants” of the method? Toussulis implies a sort of second-rate blind continuation of a barely understood legacy. I am far from being an uncritical admirer of de Salzmann, but this is cavalier treatment of someone who, from what I can see, had understood Gurdjieff as well as anyone else and better than most. To my mind, these women were towering figures.

 

Toussulis described Shah as “hardly an impostor” (56). Then, why does he provide some good grounds (54, 57 and 59) to say that Shah was fully a fraud? Even on Toussulis’ account, Shah comes across as deeply cynical and miracle-mongering. Unfortunately, after Gurdjieff’s death, Bennett was in a very emotional state, and already disposed to believe that “all his geese were the Archangel Michael” as he said once, and so he was vulnerable to Shah’s impostures. But this line is rather sad: the real shame is that Gurdjieff and Shah are tangential to Toussulis’ central point. He could, and should, have left them out, and said more about Pir and his direct predecessors and successors. The deeper reason, perhaps, for Toussulis’ interest in Gurdjieff is that – it seems to me from the slender indications in this book – that Toussulis came to Sufism through reading Bennett (63).

 

But Gurdjieff is not within Toussulis’ areas of expertise. Toussulis does not refer to Random’s essay on Gurdjieff and the way of blame in Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections. The lure of including Gurdjieff and making the book more comprehensive led Toussulis astray, and more is the shame.

 

I am also puzzled by Toussulis’ take on Schuon and his Maryamiyya. In Sufism: Veil and Quintessence, if I remember correctly, Schuon makes the most extraordinary blatantly racist comments about the “rich poverty” of Islam and Semites in general as contrasted with Aryans (if you can believe it!), and, as I recall it, rather casually made a defamatory remark about Semitic spirituality. I do not have my library with me, but when I read that, I felt that he had to be unbalanced, at least. What I later learned about the “sacred nudity” of the Maryamiyya, vouched to me by someone who had been a member of that movement, confirmed my opinion. Incidentally, a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation once told me, at least a trifle amused, that S.H. Nasr had expostulated to her when she asked a question about Schuon, that Schuon was “most certainly the predecessor of the Mahdi”. This makes me wonder how sincere Nasr can be in saying that the tariqa or spiritual way can be reached only through the shari’ah or Islamic law (21). Nasr must know that this is untrue.

 

The Way of Blame

Toussulis presents a new picture of the way of blame. He basically sees it as that aspect of Sufism where one is prepared to be critical of oneself. He summarises Ibn al-Arabi as follows:

 

malamatis … were called blameworthy because their rank, or spiritual station, did not reveal itself. They did not appear different from ordinary people because they did not make a show of religious devotion, nor did they crave any miraculous powers. Instead, they remained focused on removing the slightest taint of egoism from themselves. … they “blamed”, ceaselessly critiqued their own egocentricity for obscuring their access to God” (41, see also 73, 82, 84, 113 and 189).

 

The idea that all malamatis were heterodox and performed shocking or socially unacceptable acts is noted (84), but Toussulis explains why that is not true of all the movement. I found that very interesting, especially the role of Hallaj in this (79), but I am not convinced. Material available on Wikipedia, states that: “According to Annemarie Schimmel, ‘the Malāmatīs deliberately tried to draw the contempt of the world upon themselves by committing unseemly, even unlawful, actions, but they preserved perfect purity of thought and loved God without second thought’ (Schimmel 86). Schimmel goes on to relate a story illustrative of such actions: ‘One of them was hailed by a large crowd when he entered a town; they tried to accompany the great saint; but on the road he publicly started urinating in an unlawful way so that all of them left him and no longer believed in his high spiritual rank’ (quoted in Schimmel 86).” The book the anonymous Wikipedia refers to is Schimmel’s classic Mystical Dimensions of Islam. The quote is one that I more or less remembered, because, I cannot see that Gurdjieff – or Toussulis’ teachers – fall within just that tradition.

 

So, how do we reconcile the two? If the way of blame is nothing but being prepared to be critical of oneself, it differs from no other religious system. Every religious and spiritual system demands self-understanding, although how they express this may differ (examination of conscience, etc.). In the end, it seems to me that we’re speaking about two different things, but calling both of them the way of blame. In this respect, Toussulis’ treatment is similar to his approach to Sufism. The new theory of the way of blame is interesting, but too weak to cover all the people assigned to it.

 

Incidentally, I have never been convinced of Hallaj’s spiritual understanding, and it is typical of Toussulis’ strengths that he feels the need to balance out some of Hallaj’s extreme statements (bottom 80). That is, the common idea of “union with God without distinction” is not the whole truth. As Toussulis states, there is a necessary separation of the individual from God both before and after these experiences. I am surprised that Toussulis attributes this sensible and accurate qualification to Muhammad, and disappointed that he provides no reference for this. In reality, as Gurdjieff said, there is no complete and true union with God, although I can well imagine that – as Gurdjieff said – daydreaming associated with intense work of the emotions may produce a sensation of “cosmic consciousness” (Miraculous 116).

 

The Title

I am not sure about the subtitle. No spiritual psychology emerged with real clearness, at least not to my mind. There are references to the many selves and to human faculties, but these are not major themes. It could have been subtitled “spiritual visions” with as much if not more justice. Neither were the sources really “hidden” so much as abstruse.

 

There are hidden sources for Sufism, but this book does not refer to them, and I think that one has to respect their decision to remain hidden, and not publicize them.

 

A miscellaneous point: there are some minor errors, for example, on p. 19 Schuon died in 1984 while on the next page he died in 1998, the accurate date. Falcons will find typos on pp. xx, 11, 91, 131, 137, 189, 191 and 205.

 

Conclusion 

As I have said, the book is the best work on Sufism I have read in a very long time. Toussulis aims to, and succeeds, in presenting an attractive and stimulating picture of the modern strand of Sufism to which he belongs. But Toussulis’ strength is making positive statements. His is not a particularly discriminating intellect, and when he deals with people like Shah and Schuon, he seems to feel that if he is intellectually critical, this will mean that he is giving in to negative emotion. But this is not so: as Ouspensky correctly said, we have so many negative emotions because we do not have a sufficiently negative attitude to them. If someone suggests rape, pillage and murder, the only sane response is robustly negative. So, too, Toussulis has not, in my opinion, sufficiently critiqued the materials before him.

 

Sufism is not a unity, in any sense of the term. And Toussulis has all the knowledge needed to see this, but he does not sufficiently follow through his own research and findings. The same issue means that he does not see that the way of blame is not a unity: which has the unfortunate result that, in the weakest chapter of the book, he wrongly assigns people like Gurdjieff to it, when it would be better if he left the “mavericks” out and told us more about Turkish Sufism, and covered people like Rauf and Feild.

Joseph Azize (Joseph.Azize@gmail.com)

 

 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.

 

Jim Turner shares some thoughts on Pierre Elliot of the Claymont Community

A Pupil Cannot Rise Above the Level of His Teacher

An exploration into: “… it is a law that the pupil cannot rise above the level of his teacher; he [Mr. Adie] saw it, therefore, as his task to try to make Mr. Gurdjieff present to us as best he could.”1

Perspective is interesting. It is paramount in Fourth Way studies. It derives from the Latin word “perspicere”, meaning “to see through”. Consider the following definitions: 2

a technique of depicting volumes and spatial relationship on a flat surface. Compare aerial perspective, linear perspective.

a picture employing this technique, esp. one in which it is prominent: an architect’s perspective of a house.

a visible scene, esp. one extending to a distance: vista: a perspective on the main axis of an estate.

the state of existing in space before the eye: the elevations look all right, but the building’s composition is a failure in perspective.

the state of one’s ideas, the facts known to one, etc., in having a meaning interrelationship: You have to live here a few years to see local conditions in perspective.

the faculty of seeing all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship: Your data is admirably detailed but it lack perspective.

a mental view or prospect: the dismal perspective of terminally ill patients.

To delve into the works and legacy of G.I. Gurdjieff, we need to broaden our limited perspectives. But how?

One way is through “entertaining” another person’s perspective 3. The circle of those who had direct contact with Mr. Gurdjieff is ever diminishing, but some have left firsthand accounts expositions, and privately held papers.

Recently, in an informal setting, I shared the thoughts of Pierre Elliot (1914-2005) with some people. They found the material useful, and encouraged me to think that others might benefit from Pierre’s unique perspective. For those unfamiliar with Pierre, the following short biography [4 ]is by his son, Hugh Elliot:

His aunt Winifred Beaumont introduced him to the work and ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky. She was married to the scientist and philosopher, J.G. Bennett. In his formative years during the 1930’s Pierre was a frequent guest of the Ouspenskys. Pierre’s higher education and professional training were interrupted by the onset of the Second World War, which began in September 1939. Like millions of others he enlisted in the British army but his complete fluency in the French language and his familiarity with many areas of France meant that the wartime authorities were bound to send him on clandestine missions and intelligence gathering directed at Occupied France rather than into military service. He once commented to his eldest son: “When I signed up, I was told that the work I was involved in was secret. It was secret then. It is secret now.”

After the war, Pierre’s personal life gravitated once again towards the work of Ouspensky as well as J.G. Bennett at his center at Coombe Springs, an estate southwest of London. In 1947 P.D. Ouspensky’s wife revealed that Gurdjieff, (from whom her husband had broken off all contact since the early 1920’s) was still alive and living in Paris, having survived the Occupation. Margaret Anderson, the American writer, was one of the first of Gurdjieff’s students to be able to return to postwar Paris to be reunited with her teacher. Pierre, like many others, including his future wife Vivien, made frequent pilgrimages to Paris from nearby London, to study and work with the Master. The teachings that were transmitted then as well as the events of those times are well documented in the many published accounts and recollections of life with Gurdjieff. With Gurdjieff’s death in 1949 Pierre continued in close contact with J.G. Bennett. When Bennett took up the spiritual practice known as ‘Subud’, brought to the West by the Indonesian teacher Pak Subuh, Pierre became deeply involved in initiating the large numbers of people who were attracted to Subud and the Latihan exercise.

Pierre’s first marriage ended in 1952. His first wife died, leaving him with two young daughters. He then married Vivien Healey whose own family members had known and worked with the Ouspensky’s. From the birth of their first child in 1954 until 1971 Pierre devoted his energies to various professional and entrepreneurial activities, his family, maintaining a home, educating his children and living a largely ‘normal’ life. However his lifestyle and household still reflected his inner passions. Persian carpets and Indian friezes adorned whatever house the Elliot family lived in and friends and visitors were more than likely associated with Gurdjieff, Bennett or the Subud organization. Every summer he took his wife and children on extraordinary journeys to far flung corners of Europe, as yet still unspoiled by mass tourism.

In 1971 Bennett asked Pierre to help him with a five-year experiment. It was to teach the rebellious ‘sixties generation’ methods of inner transformation, based largely on the ideas of Gurdjieff and Sufi practices. An International Academy was started at Sherborne House in Gloucestershire, England and Pierre was named Assistant Director.

J.G. Bennett died on 13 December, 1974 just as he had signed an agreement to purchase a property called Claymont Court in West Virginia, in the United States. Bennett was convinced that ‘psychokinetic’ communities needed to be established in the world. His legacy and vision was thence taken up by the senior figures around him, including Pierre, Elizabeth Bennett and

The task of starting the Claymont community and school fell upon Pierre’ shoulders. For more than ten years Pierre continued the work of his teachers but he also broadened the scope of influences and invited many extraordinary teachers from other traditions to come and share their wisdom at Claymont. Such luminaries included M R Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, Reshad Field, Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak, and Sheikh Suleyman Loras of the Mevlevi dervish tradition. Sheikh Suleyman Loras conferred the title of Mevlevi Sheikh upon Pierre in 1977. In spite of his grueling schedule of duties at Claymont Pierre still managed to find time to travel the world, sharing the spirit and work of Claymont with diverse groups of interested people. He was frequently invited to speak about his work by former Claymont students and his travels took him all over the United States, to Alaska, Hawaii, the Caribbean and often back to Europe. In 1986 He and Vivien made an around-the-world journey, visiting friends, communities and seekers, in Europe, India, Nepal, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.

The name ‘Pierre’ means rock or stone in French. Pierre’s way of leading the community at Claymont had such strength. He seemed to be everywhere at once and no mundane task nor major decision was shirked. He loved plants and rock gardens, birds and flowers. He was a keen collector of stamps and an avid photographer. He never for a moment considered himself a teacher of the caliber of predecessors like Gurdjieff and Bennett. His demeanor was always that of a loyal lieutenant; a practiced steward of the Work.

The following excerpts are from Pierre Elliot’s 13th and final address as Director of Studies to the Annual General Meeting of the American Society for Continuous Education (formerly the Claymont Society for Continuous Education) in 1987:

Throughout time, people of great vision have been able to pass on to us some of the ways, some of the laws which govern the transformation of man. This has been done in a variety of ways, through art, music, poetry, some of the great mystical writings of all time, but chiefly through schools of various levels. It is not possible to understand these works, but through them see openings into the real world.

To read them is reading something which for most of us is beyond the comprehension of our limited linear thinking minds, and certainly most of our ability. We hear of these inner matters; we try to live by them, yet we so often stumble on the path because there is something that needs to be said that lies between the way we can approach them and what they are really there to give us. Methods and approaches may well be different but in truth what is being said is the same thing in different ways to suit the different times and the different geographical environment in which we live.

It has become apparent that many of us do not have the necessary tools (like attention of the right quality) through which we can understand what has been transmitted. If we are strictly honest with ourselves, and look back over the last years, we will most probably find that much of what we thought was a help to us towards our spiritual goa1, has in some sense failed us. We are left, perhaps fumbling in a morass of concepts of God, truth, whatever we wish to call it, knowing that it is there. And yet….

Let us come nearer home and the particular position we find ourselves in.

Update – or a Review?

One can hardly deal with the one without reference to the other. An update must imply an understanding of the past. Last year, let me remind you, the update or observations on work, which I presented, consisted mostly in running down and questioning the validity of many of our practices and concluded with an attempt to upgrade the issues which confront a man oriented towards a life which goes beyond like and dislike and dualism generally and I said: “I am speaking about the real purpose of work. The aim I am speaking about is one which does not mean either a raising of efficiency in life, nor the development of higher powers, nor even increased concentration, or better health, but a being joined, or yoked with the divine,” and concluded “we must be single-minded about our goal. The possibility of transformation is a gift to be valued above all other possessions.”

In recent years much publicity has been given to the notion of “cults” and I think quite rightly so, because there is almost imperceptibly a tendency towards sectarianism, or say identification, with the particular way one attempts to follow. I would remind you, coming closer to home, of what for me has been a guiding principle over the years. It is a mistake to equate ‘the Work’ with the name ‘Gurdjieff’ or any other name or organization, of which there are legion. For this reason, while I was in a position to do so, I advised your board to be reluctant in accepting that a Tekke, or a Buddhist temple, or a chapel, or even a particular kind of hospital or an Indian kiva, or a latihan hall be established on areas dedicated to ‘the Work’.

Gurdjieff prescribes a course of training that has received different emphases from different students, in accordance with their predispositions, inclinations and capacities, But where this training came from and where it leads is surely what is of ultimate importance to us. If Gurdjieff had a real mission it was not to deliver a string of exercises and revelations but to point to perfection.

When he was a ‘Teacher’ at the moment of real teaching, reality was the effective teacher, not the limited individual we know as Mr. G. His aim was reality. The source of his methods was reality. [5]

There is a danger that our mechanical nature – the commanding self 6 – will filter the transformative content of teachings, leaving only an outer shell, missing the heart of the matter. And, the heart of the matter is the Teaching is the One Absolute Reality: it is unitive self-disclosure. Our preconceptions, fixed beliefs, and patterns of thought are wooden bars bolting the door to understanding. We are admonished to “burn that bar”. In returning to Pierre Elliot’s Address, I ask the question: where are we heading?

In conclusion, I would return to the authentic voice of Mr. Gurdjieff as quoted in ‘Impressions’ by my old friend Robert de Ropp, who has recently died:

‘The point is to reestablish what has been lost, not to acquire anything new. This is the purpose of development. For this one must learn to discriminate between essence and personality, and to separate them. When you have learned to do this you will see what to change and how. Meantime you have only one possibility – to study.’

Once again, the authentic voice of G. Gurdjieff. ‘Begin from where you are. You are weak you are dependent you are slaves. Above all you lie to yourself and others. As long as you continue to lie you will never know the truth. If you work with others who are struggling against their own lies you may be able to learn faster. But no one can force you to see if you don’t want to and no one can force you to awaken if you prefer to sleep. Either sleep comfortably or strive realistically to awaken.’ ”

“ ‘Happy is the man who sits in his ordinary chair. A thousand times happier is the man who sits in the chair of the angels, but miserable is the man who has no chair.’ ”

It seems to turn on this striving realistically to awaken. This comes about in many wondrous ways…”

The teacher, teaching and the taught are a manifestation of a unique moment in time. It is a direct answer to the need of the moment. One may be offered opportunities if the correct space is made. “When the student is ready, the Teacher will appear.” This environment is with the aim of placing the aspiring student at their own beginning. Then, Life becomes the Teacher.

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1. http://www.gurdjieff.org/adie.htm

2. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/perspective

3. By using the term entertain, we are targeting the ability “to keep, hold, or maintain in the mind”. Ideas by their very nature are transformative. From the Greek idéā form, pattern, equiv. to ide- (s. of ideîn to see). An idea is “a transcendent entity that is a real pattern of which things are imperfect representations.” [See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/idea] In our study – with the right motive and intention, we are offered an opportunity to create an opening along the horizontal axis of our daily life; thereby, allowing something outside our customary perspective to enter and foster a new point from which to view.

4. http://www.gurdjieffdominican.com/Pierre_Elliot_biography.html

5. copyright The Estate of Pierre Elliot

6. “The Sufis refer to the action of the mixture of primitive emotionality and irrelevant associations which bedevils outside would be observers as that of the commanding self.” Idries Shah, The Commanding Self, The Octagon Press, 1994, pg. 2.


Jim Turner is director of studies for the Ontological Research Society.

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THE MASTERS SPEAK: a Joseph Azize review

The Masters Speak”

The Masters Speak: An American Businessman Encounters Ashish and Gurdjieff, Quest Books, Wheaton, Illinois and Chennai, India, 2010 (Originally published as In Search of the Unitive Vision, 2001. (305 pp., including bibliography and index)

Introduction

Let us suppose you meet a master of the spiritual life, someone who has approached the beatific vision, and who feels the oneness of existence in the embrace of God. This person has necessarily walked in your shoes, and can help you find your way. Would you have a question? What might you ask? And when the master spoke, how would you listen? If the master gave advice which went against the grain with you, how would you respond?

Sy Ginsburg lived through such questions, meeting Sri Madhava Ashish on many occasions, and corresponding with him. Ashish challenged his fundamental ideas of himself, and guided him to his own direct experience of inner reality. Now Ginsburg shares his experiences with us, generously providing the abundant quotations from Ashish which alone would justify the re-publication of this book now that In Search of the Unitive Vision is out of print. Consider this, for example:

One may say that you are certain that you have (a soul). But you have not yet identified it. Until you have found it and are living in its presence, you do not know its qualities. It is far greater than you – you in your limited state of ego-integration. Until you have found it, it is other than you – not you. Even when you find it, you will find that its powers are not “yours”. However, they are, as it were, available to you. (p.66)

If the concept of “living in the presence of the soul” touches you, this book will support and deepen that feeling, because one of the strengths of a well-told biography is that it sets ideas in a narrative context and illustrates them from life. When the thought is brought to life, it is not received simply as an abstract idea: it’s presented in an informative landscape, and therefore we more readily understand and relate to it. Further, wihtout wishing to sound maudlin, I always find that the aging and eventual death of the main figures adds a feeling element. If it is handled lightly, as it is here, sickness infuses one’s reading with a soft autumnal poignancy, and the book swells to its inevitable human climax. Death is always the master’s final teaching.

The Story

What’s in this story? It’s basically the tale of Sy Ginsburg’s relationship with Ashish, the Scotsman Alexander Phipps, who went to India during WWII, where he settled and became a Vaishnav monk, gradually achieving wide recognition as a guru. Ginsburg travelled to meet Ashish in Mirtola, India, in 1978, remaining in contact with him, in person and by correspondence, until Ashish’s death in 1997. So it is partly Sy’s autobiography and partly a biography of Ashish, or at least of those parts of their lives which came into contact along the road of pilgrimage.

Early on, Ashish advised Ginsburg to join a Gurdjieff group in the USA, which Ginsburg did, meeting some of the senior identities in the international Gurdjieff groups, and eventually co-founding a new one, the Gurdjieff Institute of Florida. This is the narrative spine of the book, while it’s fleshed, so to speak, with Ashish’s letters to Ginsburg and four of his essays (these occupy the entirety of chapters 5, 10, 14 and 15).

In addition to Ashish’s own writings, now made more accessible than before, some motifs dominate the book. Perhaps the most apparent theme is that of the “master”: who or what is a master, and what relationship is possible with one? Here the answer is sketched, rather than defined, as it were. We watch the master as he gently undermines Ginsburg’s notions of his own identity. Few of us will have had the worldly success which Ginsburg did, but that doesn’t count for much in this context, as his confident assumptions are scrutinized in the light of Ashish’s transcendent perspective and values. If we share Ginsburg’s aspirations to pierce the veils of the world, we can share in his search, and perhaps even sense that we, too, are living in a “limited state of ego-integration”. Ginsburg makes no claims whatsoever to have transcended that state. Neither does he claim to be humble. He just tells his story, leaving interpretation and judgment to the reader.

Perhaps the real question in this book is: who is the true Sy Ginsburg? Because of what I’ve already said about the nature of biography (and, of course, autobiography), the question applies to each one of us, too, if we will accept it. The issue has many aspects. One dimension of the search is potently summed up in a quote by Sri Krishna Prem (born in England as Ronald Nixon), Ashish’s guru, thus:

Rebirth there is, but whether he who is reborn is you is for yourself to judge. The stream of life is one, ebbing and flowing, weaving through many lives, with other streams, the Pattern of the Whole. That stream which was yourself, which, if you like, is still yourself, flows forth … (p.260)

This leads directly to what Ashish called “the whole game of finding the true person, the true identity, not the personality of this life only, but the identity with what has been there through the whole series of lives.” The letter continues, stating that the mind cannot serve two masters: “It either serves Sy or it serves the Self.” (p.132). In 1981, Ashish wrote to Ginsburg about his pursuing a spiritual goal. The lines blaze with an almost acid illumination: “Seymour Ginsburg will never find it. Seymour Ginsburg is a tissue of sensations and memories.” (p.59). I’d like to pause for a moment here: it’s ideal not to rush past such a question.

Am I, too, a “tissue of sensations and memories”?

And if I’m not, what am I?

A worthwhile answer can only come from my own experience.

Ashish’s Reasoning

One of the very most critical significance of this book is the extraordinary quality of Ashish’s thought on, it seems, any topic that came before him. It is not just that Ashish wrote well, although he certainly did that: “Security is an inescapable factor, but I would prefer a risk of robbery to living in a bank vault.” (p.99).

Ashish’s thought had a rare quality: he could follow a thread of thought over the years, and not lose sight of it. The thread he held in mind was the challenge he addressed to “Sy” to question the motives and understanding from which he was manifesting, and to reconsider from a more impartial perspective every position he would find himself in. The entire book tells that tale.

Time and again, Ashish displayed his formidable way of cutting through intellectual conundrums and come to the central issue of doubt and certainty. In 1987, he wrote to Ginsburg:

It seems you are going through a crisis of doubt. You are taking your doubts seriously at their own level, which is rather foolish because they cannot be answered within their own coordinates. (p.101)

Many people seem lamed by useless doubts, and because, as Bennett said somewhere, certainty is not necessary. If it were, we would not get out of bed (and in extreme cases of doubt, a person can be so crippled as to be unable to leave bed, at least for a while

In respect of the seemingly indefatigable scepticism which Ginsburg felt, and which probably saved him from pursuing some rather pointless avenues, Ashish had a fabulous line: “The intellect is a lawyer who argues in behalf of the person who pays him” (p.60, and don’t miss a different approach to the same line of thought at p.147). For another memorable formulation, see the “mamba bite” quip at p.139: it is as true as it is witty.

Ashish and Gurdjieff

Let us briefly look at Ashish’s perspectives on Gurdjieff and the Gurdjieff movement. We could start with this surprising, almost startling sentiment:

… I (i.e. Ashish) try and get people to clarify their inner aim first. On the other hand, current G groups appear to knock people around and shake up or demolish their socially conditioned assumptions about themselves and the false values they have adopted, while giving exercises that should bring the individual essence into real existence … (p.58)

This struck me for the simple reason that Gurdjieff himself also insisted that one should start with aim. In Paris in 1949, Gurdjieff said that everyone needs an aim, and suggested one which anyone could take “without wiseacring”, that is, the aim of dying an honourable death (this is movingly related in Bennett’s prologue to his Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales). I am not saying that Ashish was wrong. But it does a raise a question: could a Gurdjieff group omit to help a pupil develop a three-centred understanding of their aim, and yet remain a true Gurdjieff group? Ashish was also critical of the Gurdjieff groups in 1984, saying that:

The G groups offer a method of changing … but offer no reason why anyone should want to change, except out of a sense of the meaninglessness of life as it is. No resolution is made merely by mixing two poles. While G himself was there, he provided the “something extra”. If Theosophy has degenerated into a new religion, so has the G work. Rare individuals may exist in both movements, but this does not prove anything. They also exist within Christianity or any other religion (p.97).

Analysis of another line is offered by Ginsburg’s question about the notion present in his Gurdjieff group that one needs a connection directly with the “inner circle of humanity”, and that this connection was available through the groups because their “hierarchical leadership” is itself (still) connected with Gurdjieff (p.135). Ashish’s observation was succinct: “It’s complete bosh! These are things which get put out in the vested interests of the hierarchy …” (p.136).

Ginsburg wrote to Ashish in 1983 that many people in Gurdjieff groups had conceded that they had attained nothing, “even after many years of the Work …” (p.66). Yet, Ginsburg gives some particularly deft descriptions of the practical methods at pp.53, 101-2 and 113-5. From whence comes, then, this lack of a harvest when the field is rich and the tools are available?

Ashish stated, quite truly, in 1981 that “one has to be able to stop thought”, and that if becoming aware of sensation helps one to do so, then one should use that technique. But he also stressed the need for awareness of thought (pp.43-4), (I might add, confident that Ashish would agree, awareness of feeling).

Another connection between Gurdjieff and Ashish lies in his approach to service. On 7 July 1989, Ashish stated the principle with full clarity, and made a fresh connection with Gurdjieff’s ideas:

Remember G’s saying that one has to put someone onto the step one is standing on before one can move up to the next. This is not to be taken too literally. The point is that dedication to all that inheres in the unity of being will result in a sort of altruism which leads one to help others – who are oneself. Helping others, even before one has that transcendental perception, helps to attune one to its truth (p.139).

Ashish actually practised service, and he did so in more than spreading ideas and practices, good as such work is. Similarly, Gurdjieff ran his own soup kitchen from his back stairs, where he fed a stream of paupers. Gurdjieff also, I believe, hid people from the Nazis (I think I have only read a general reference to this in Gurdjieff: Anatomy of a Myth. If anyone has more detailed evidence of this or any of Gurdjieff’s charitable works, I would like to hear from them at Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com). Ashish’s service, as disclosed in this book, was in sustainable agriculture. He started on his own property, and then helped people around him. Ashish also addressed a wider audience about these matters through his writings (p.35). So Ashish’s efforts embraced the two necessary spheres of altruism: those who are near myself and those who are further away.

In any service, we need to balance effectiveness and practicality on the one hand with aspiration on the other. To this I would add what Catholics call “the principle of subsidiarity”. That is, aid should be delivered as closely as possible to the intended destination, by people as close as possible to that destination. Part of subsidiarity is that there should be a minimum of brokers and co-betweens. Overall, the best aid is that which directly and effectively helps people to help themselves. Too often, charitable schemes are rather like arranging for the people in one city to brush the teeth of people in another city.

Gurdjieff had the insight that I first need to learn how to brush my own teeth. Then, perhaps I can help others. But I think that Ashish’s statement “Helping others, even before one has that transcendental perception, helps to attune one to its truth” provides a necessary balance to Gurdjieff’s “become a good egotist first”. My own involvement in charitable work has convinced me of its truth. I have seen people becoming more available to feeling, more sensitive, through doing such work. Often we do not appreciate the need for it until we do it. Certainly, I did not really appreciate this until I started the hands-on work of helping the handicapped. Once, while feeding someone with cerebral palsy, I had the feeling-realization: “this man is like me and I am like him, the differences are trivial”. I almost felt that I was him and vice versa.

This is a truth which I think Gurdjieff’s emphasis on first becoming a good egotist may have had the unwitting effect of obscuring. I doubt that Gurdjieff meant for people to pass from being “good egotists” to becoming “damn wonderful egotists”. And it would be remiss not to mention that in certain cases the Gurdjieff groups have in fact proceeded beyond “good egotism” to altruism, chiefly by establishing schools (such as in Oregon, where Mrs Staveley established one on the group property). I will be glad to hear from readers of any instances where they are involved in say, hospice work, or assisting the homeless.

Miscellaneous Points

There are many odd points I would like to discuss, but the review would end up as long as the book. The book is very well written. Ginsburg does not intrude himself and his personality, but his sound intellectual portfolio is everywhere apparent.

If you are interested in what Ashish and Ginsburg have to say about dreams, and I would suggest that the interest is worthwhile, you could do worse than read pages 39, 59 and 95, in addition to those tagged in the index.

Ashish’s comments on knowledge in his letter of 6 March 1981 are priceless (p.59).

I relish the wry understatement of this comment from 1986: “Contrived symbolic buildings are usually flops” (p.99).

Ashish’s comments on the development of “mental sciences” strike me as true to what I know of them. His statement of the true value of studying insanity is both deep and extraordinarily well phrased (p.124, he says that studying the insane can show us tendencies in ourselves which were so slight that we could not have identified them without first seeing them writ large).

A Further Hesitation

Generally, I have praised this book its style, and its contents. I have one hesitation, which arises tangentially, yet should still be addressed. Some, whom Ginsburg refers to, such as Sathya Sai Baba, are given to saying that they are God. In this respect, Ashish wrote in 1978:

I personally accept Sai Baba’s status as a man of spiritual attainment. … his status ‘shows through’ his words: it is not in his words as such. As to his statement that he is ‘God’, it is true that in his essential nature he stands united with the divine unity. So do we all. As he himself says, ‘I know it. You don’t’.

Ashish went on to add the important rider that “if he is God, he is God in a limited vehicle.” (p.25) Nisarga Datta is said to have likewise claimed that like all of us, he is God, but whereas he knows it, we are ignorant (p.27).

As stated, this is of course an obvious nonsense. If we were all God we would have to know it: no ignorance could exist in us. God in a limited vehicle and ignorant is no longer the “God” which appears at the start of this sentence. The only way such paradoxes can be true is to rob the word “God” of all meaning and have it signify something like “substrate”. The statement isn’t so interesting that way: “I am substrate. You are substrate, too. But I know it whereas you don’t.”

When young, we were almost drunk on such high-sounding phrases, but I think it’s a sign of immaturity to remain mesmerised by them. Far more real and truthful was Gurdjieff’s attitude which insisted that such as we are God is very far from us, and that while we may be in relation, we always remain separate. As for being God, when Zuber told Gurdjieff that he “created” films, Gurdjieff roared at him: “You? You create nothing!”, if he did not use stronger language (I don’t have the volume Who Are You, Mr Gurdjieff? with me). In languages with a developed sense of the sacred, such as biblical Hebrew and Syriac, the verb “to create” can only be used of God. And rightly so.

Ashish’s willingness to “accept” Sai Baba’s status strikes me as anomalous, especially given his forthright comments on Jung (“… he is writing arrant nonsense”, p. 236). I could explain why in some detail, but this review is already long enough. It suffices to cite two pieces of proverbial wisdom. From the English language, “You don’t have to taste the whole sea to know that it’s salty”, and from Lebanese, “maa metit, bus shifit meen mairt”, or “I haven’t died but I’ve seen (those) who have died”. I would make exactly the same comments in respect of channelling (chapter 11) and “masters” of the Koot Hoomi variety. I don’t like to be so dismissive, it can come across as arrogant. But that is how I see it, and if that’s arrogance, I shall have to wear it. I accept that Sai Baba has done a tremendous amount of philanthropical work, and he deserves full and unstinted credit for that. I’ll leave the topic while I can speak well of him.

Corrigenda

I noted two minor typographical errors at pp. 79 (‘Fontainebleu” for “Fontainebleau”) and 136 “Its ridiculous” for “It’s ridiculous”).

Finally, the technique Gurdjieff taught, and which Ginsburg refers to at p.221, did indeed become known as the “sitting”, and some, like Ginsburg, call it “meditation”. But I believe that Gurdjieff himself referred to it as a “preparation”. Certainly, George and Helen Adie did, and Dr Sophia Wellbeloved tells me that Henriette Lannes, who taught that technique, did so too. This is not an insignificant point. “Sitting” and “meditation” import practices well known from Hindu, Buddhist and other traditions. In Beelzebub, Gurdjieff refers to “Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation”. He could have said “sitting” or “meditation”, but he didn’t. And it is not the same as any other practice I have ever come across. If I am correct that Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation is the foundation of Gurdjieff’s practical teaching, then to assimilate it, even by subliminal suggestion with different practices, should be avoided.

Conclusion

Ashish’s wisdom and writings changed my prejudiced view of what I could expect from a Scotsman living in India. Beyond that, I feel that in reading this book I received an education. It’s a solid book. It’s very good, indeed.

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

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THE JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO PAGE


J R COLOMBO REVIEWS FRANK R.  SINCLAIR’S MEMOIR

‘WITHOUT BENEFIT OF CLERGY’

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Neither the Work nor the expression of the Work in any given time and at any given place is sacrosanct or immune to the ravages and revelations of time. Its demystification involves, in a way, its remythologization, and this is proceeding apace in our time.

Part of the process is the shedding of light on its early history through historical research, and on its recent past through the publication of books of studies and memoirs. The historical classics are “The Harmonious Circle” written by James Webb and the two books by Paul Beekman Taylor titled “A New Life” and “Gurdjieff’s America.” Among modern-day classics is the amazing tome titled “‘It’s Up to Ourselves” written by Jessmin and Dushka Howarth. (I celebrated the publication of the latter volume, largely a scrapbook with a multitude of snapshots, on this blog – Sophia Wellbeloved’s blog – a month or so ago.)

None of these works (or others like them) has ever attain the scriptural status of “All and Everything” or even the canonical status of “Meetings with Remarkable Men” and “In Search of the Miraculous.” Yet the light they shed on the Work is a human glow which does not bathe it in a sense of wonder as much as it does imbue it with a sense of personal gratitude for assistance received and services rendered. Frank R. Sinclair has contributed two books to this class of publication: “Without Benefit of Clergy” and “Of the Life Aligned: Reflections on the Teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff and the Perennial Order.”

I have yet to see a copy of the second of these two books, but after reading the first one I will certainly read the second. The book at hand, the first one, is badly titled and poorly subtitled, but my criticism ends there – at the title page. The other 295 pages are fine by me, anecdotal in the extreme, as I will demonstrate later.

It is a trade paperback. It measures 8″ x 5.5.” and it has a full-colour cover and there are close to forty black-and-white photographs, mainly snapshots, almost all of them new to me and to most readers. The volume has been attractively designed and issued by Xlibris. There are two editions, the first in 2005, the second in 2009, which is the one that I purchased.

The title is “Without Benefit of Clergy.” The subtitle is “Some Personal Footnotes to the Gurdjieff Teaching.” Both title and subtitle give me pause. The title attracted my attention (as should all good titles) so I decided to determine why I feel it is inappropriate. I have always associated the phrase “without benefit of clergy” with immorality – living together in sin, without the sacramental blessing of the church – and I was partially right in doing so, as well as partially wrong.

In English jurisprudence, members of the clergy were not subjected to secular laws, whether criminal or civil, but were permitted to demand to be tried under canon law. This immunity was abolished centuries ago. In 1890, Rudyard Kipling employed the phrase “without benefit of clergy” for the title of a short story set in India about the Englishman named Holden and the Muslim woman named Ameer who “shack up” (1950s expression; the 1980s expression still current is “living together”) and how their unsanctioned union brought wrack and ruin to both conservative communities. The plot proved sufficiently potent and the phrase so popular that in 1921 it became the title of a the silent movie “Without Benefit of Clergy” that starred Boris Karloff, of all people. So my original reaction to the phrase – sexual congress outside the bonds of marriage – is probably that of most people unschooled in the intricacies of English jurisprudence.

I am not convinced that the title of this book of memoirs sheds any light at all on the subject of these memoirs. Is the author telling us that his memoirs are scandalous or shocking? If so, then he is wrong. And then there is the matter of the subtitle which also irks me: “Some Personal Footnotes to the Gurdjieff Teaching.” Is the world of footnotes divided between those that are “personal” and those that are “impersonal”? Not that I am aware. Who would enjoy reading a book of footnotes? (Well, the Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges may. Stanislaw Lem, the Polish science-fiction writer, may. James Moore, the precisian, who is the author of “Gurdjieffian Confessions: A Self Remembered,” may, as well. But surely not the general reader with a taste for the world of the Work.)

I have done a lot of carping. It is time now for some celebration. Although I have yet to meet the author, I will take the liberty of referring to Frank R. Sinclair by his Christian name. The back-cover photograph of Frank shows him with a straw hat perched on the back of his head, rather like the humourist Stephen Leacock. It seems to give the reader leave to refer to him as Frank. If it does not do that, I have only to turn to the prose itself which is informal and off-the-cuff enough to confer permission. In fact, at one point – when Frank was asked to give the reading from the Bible at Lord Pentland’s funeral service (held in a Roman Catholic church, oddly) – he refers to himself as “a nonentity of the first order.” Now that is excessive!

In this memoir there are thirteen chapters, two pages of acknowledgements, prefaces to the first and the second editions, not to mention three appendices and one index. All of these sections are of some interest. But in the interest of brevity, I am going to short change the first half of the book and concentrate on the second half for it is largely devoted to pen portraits of personalities in the Work who have had an influence on Frank’s inner life and his outlook on life.

Readers who are interested in the early life of a journalist who was born in the shadow of Table Mountain in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1929, and who found some twenty-eight years ago that his spiritual quest had taken him to Franklin Farms at Mendham in New Jersey, and Armonk in Westchester Country in New York State, and at the Gurdjieff Foundation on Manhattan Island, will find these early pages to be a treat.

In a sense he never did leave these sheltered communities, yet he emerged in the 1980s as the successor of Dr. William Welch as the President of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York. He has headed the Gurdjieff Fountain since 2009 and lives at Grand View-on-Hudson, a town of some 300 people with a high median income north of New York City. Its most notable inhabitant after Frank is Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.

From the age of eight, Frank experienced “a blaze of light” while questioning the nature of God. Thereafter he had a few near encounters with death. He graduated from the University of Cape Town, majoring in philosophy, and spent eight years as a journalist with the Cape Times afternoon newspaper. He writes about his feelings of “anguish and heartaches and sufferings” at the time, but these came to an end, symbolically at least, when he encountered an essay by J.G. Bennett called “Living in Five Dimensions,” was assigned to review Colin Wilson’s “The Outsider,” studied “In Search of the Miraculous,” and identified with the verses of the deaf South African poet John Howland Beaumont, who had a mystical connection with nature: “I did but sleep – ah me, I dream, I dream!”

About 1956, Frank resolved to seek out the source of “the teaching” in a surprisingly direct way. He placed an advertisement in the personal columns of the rival Cape Argus afternoon paper to “make contact,” and to his surprise a reader of the paper mailed him a copy of “All and Everything” along with a note: “From one human being to another, that both may have more of themselves to give.” The benefactor’s identity remains unknown to this day.

He eventually met an English gentleman named B. Fairfax Hall who was an enthusiast for private printing. In England in 1930 he had founded and operated The Stourton Press, named after the family’s house in Westminster. Hall was a member of P.D. Ouspensky’s circle before he immigrated to South Africa. In 1947 he began to print books, including Ouspensky’s “A Record of Meetings,” in an edition of twenty copies in 1951, and “The Struggle of the Magicians,” in an edition of ten copies in 1957.

Frank already knew about editorial matters; from Hall he learned how to operate an Albion printing press, which served him well when he began his own private printing at Armonk, N.Y., using the imprint Antic Press. Hall, who had compiled “The Fourth Way” from Ouspensky’s lectures, arranged for Frank to reside for two months at Madame Ouspensky’s 300-acre estate at Franklin Farms. Frank left South Africa in 1958 and did not return for some twenty years.

Frank worked and studied at Franklin Farms and there met a young woman named Beatrice Rego, a teacher, and they married. No description of the bride is offered, but there is a long account of Frank’s out-of-body experience immediately prior to the wedding ceremony. There is also a long account of life at the residence, with a fleeting reference to Madame Ouspensky (who remained in her bedroom chamber so he never set eyes on her while she was still alive) and Madame Olga de Hartmann, who came and went and once referred to him as “a piece of furniture,” but there is a very detailed account of the first visit of Madame de Salzmann.

“Here, for the first time in my life, was someone who spoke to my deepest concerns, who undeniably had an inner presence (a thought that I had no way of articulating at that time) and at the same time actually ‘included’ me in that presence, who listened in some unfathomable way, and who actually ‘saw’ me before her and spoke to me as a real human being.”

In many ways the heart and core of the book is the account of the experiences that occurred to the impressionable young South African at Franklin Farms, experiences that are unhesitatingly described as “profound and miraculous.” One such experience, following an altercation with Madame Ouspensky’s unstable grandson Lonya Savitsky. It was accompanied by intense mortification:

“But lying there prone on the floor, I suffered terrible remorse and shame at having behaved as I had done, _and at the same time_ I was witness to the miraculous appearance in me of this brilliant, golden being. It glowed in a surrounding vivid blaze of light.” He calls it “the phenomenon of the golden embryo.” Pages are devoted to examining the experience, with its configuration of the Kesdjan body, from the vantage-points of different religious and cultural traditions.

This takes us to Chapter 6 which is a departure from the norm, for it consists of the account kept by Frank’s wife Beatrice of her impressions of the various appearances of the elderly Gurdjieff in New York. Her brief memoir is full of interesting details. Overall she found Mr. Gurdjieff to be a man of “tremendous energy; anything in this life seemed possible.”

Chapter 7 is a remarkable tribute to a veteran of the Work named Martin W. Benson who is a jack-of-all-trades and someone who seems to be “all essence.” Originally a puzzle to Frank, Benson became what might be called a “best friend” for his twelve years of apprenticeship at Mendham and Armonk.

Chapter 8 is in many ways the counterpart of Chapter 7, for it is a sustained tribute to Frank’s friendship with Thomas Vivian Forman, a Cambridge-trained specialist in agriculture as well as military intelligence. In many ways, too, Forman is the counterpart of Benson – a balance between personality and essence. Frank’s love of people glows in these portraits.

Chapter 9 is titled “Annals of the Antic Press” and it describes Frank’s work in the icehouse at Armonk where, among other books, a small band of editors, designers, compositors, and press operators printed “Pronunciation Guide for Words Invented by Gurdjieff” in 1984, the forerunner of the much expanded edition issued by the Traditional Studies Press in Toronto.

By now it should be apparent that Frank is an appreciator of people. To my mind the outstanding section of his memoirs is Chapter 10 which is titled “John Pentland: The Lordly Line of High Sinclair.” Lord Pentland, chief of the clan and a scion of the illustrious Sinclair line (which seems not to include our author Frank Sinclair), was Mr. Gurdjieff’s appointee to oversee the Work in the United States. In these pages the author describes a number of the close and almost accidental encounters that he had with Pentland between 1958 and the latter’s death in 1984.

The author has no problem with Pentland’s rapier-like wit, for he felt, intriguingly, that when Pentland glared at him and wielded it, Pentland “gave him ‘his work.’” It is an interesting passage and perhaps it hinges on the somewhat off-the-cuff statement that Pentland was “old enough to be his father.” It seems Lord Pentland was the grandson the Marquis of Aberdeen, the seventh Governor General of Canada, as well as part of the family of the Earl of Elgin, an even earlier Governor General. Perhaps it was from this aristocratic tradition that he learned the arts of diplomacy – certainly of use in Work circles!

I feel that this chapter about “this remarkable and unusual man” is the “still point” of the memoirs. The next two biographical chapters are anti-climaxes, though they do have interesting dimensions. Chapter 11 is devoted to “Bill Segal: The Radical Reorientation,” and it presents this multi-talented man as “a class act.” Segal was the epitome of the active man, and even after being nearly crushed to death an automobile accident, he emerged almost as active as ever. Sinclair writes, neatly, that Segal was “humbled both in his pride and in his prime.”

Chapter 12 is titled “Jeanne de Salzmann: A Compelling Call” and it seems to me to be an apologia for the second half of Madame de Salzmann’s life. “The Unknown does not yield itself through abundant description,” Frank writes, so the reader who does not have prior knowledge of her life and work will be at sea when it comes to understanding what Frank is writing about.

I take it that he has two themes: the first is the role of the institution vis-à-vis the individual; the second is the espousal of the role of grace rather than effort and of flow rather than effort – to express it directly – that is represented by her from the death of Mr. Gurdjieff at a probable age of eighty-three in 1949 and Madame’s death at the ripe old age of 101 in 1990. Madame can do no wrong.

“I dare say,” he writes gingerly, “that when her own notes are collated and published, there will be surprising indications of the precision with which she followed the movement of the attention and the work for Presence.” As it happens, extracts from Madame’s notebooks are about to be issued by Shambhala Publications under the title “The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff,” so we will have the opportunity to judge for ourselves.

Frank is obviously devoted to Madame and he accepts her direction for the work, its “single grand verity,” which he takes pains and pages to trace back to Mr. Gurdjieff’s talks in New York, the first one on Dec. 19, 1930, and the second one on Dec. 25, 1948. The exposition in these pages is more associative than it is disciplined, so there is little doubt that he feels that what she was doing she was doing consciously and with authorization. “Madame Jeanne de Salzmann brought neither a New Work nor an Old Work, but only Gurdjieff’s Work.”

I will pass over Chapter 13, “Some Random Inferences,” because the contents are indeed random (to describe them would be to try to herd cats) and they turn out to be elaborations of points made earlier in the memoirs. The one new element that I spotted is the effort that Frank is making to enlarge to conception of the Work to include the thoughts of some new-comers along with some overlooked old-comers (to name a few men and women in alphabetical order): Joseph Azize, Michel Conge, Martha Heyneman, James Moore, Jacob Needleman, Ravi Ravindra, Sophia Wellbeloved.

Also given some recognition is the contribution of the annual International Humanities Conference (better known as the All & Everything Conference) as well as Traditionalist thinkers like Titus Burkhardt and their semi-annual publication, the Vancouver-based “Sacred Web.” This is close to an ecumenical touch, and perhaps it is a daring one.

Throughout Frank retains his modesty and the projects the air of constant amazement associated with Alice in Wonderland. “I did not drink Armagnac with Gurdjieff,” he writes, amusingly. “I belong to the post-Gurdjieff era, not even remotely a Saul among the Apostles, but a fellow traveler, feeding from those who, like Madame de Salzmann, had been before.”

The second edition of the memoirs ends with three appendices as well as a nominal index. Two of the appendices consist of reviews of the first edition of the book. The first review is a once-over-lightly appreciation by David Appelbaum. It originally appeared in “Parabola,” as did the lively interview with Frank on the subject of “Who Is the Teacher?”

The third appendix consists, surprisingly, of a review amusingly titled “The Guide for the Perplexed” and posted on Amazon.com by its author, biographer James Moore. I found it to be one of the book’s highlights, in the sense that its tone and style are totally at odds with Frank’s. Yet it hits the right note when in an impish mood Moore describes Frank as “a regular-kinda-guy whose pride in his modesty attains oxymoronic heights.”

Had Frank been born under the shadow of the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, rather than in the shadow of Table Rock, South Africa, I would be inclined to describe him as “a bloke.” Whatever the description, he is a sensitive fellow and “Without Benefit of Clergy” is certainly an entertaining and I believe honest account of one man’s rather unusual spiritual quest. He demystifies by remythologizing.

John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist who is known across Canada for his popular reference books. He writes about Work-related publications for this blog. His latest publication is “Walt Whitman’s Canada,” a book-length, documentary-style account of the American poet’s tour of Central and Eastern Canada in the Summer of 1880. Colombo’s website is < www . colombo – plus . ca >

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