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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 >

JACOB NEEDLEMAN: two new books reviewed John Robert Colombo


The John Robert Colombo Page

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Jacob Needleman


Two New Books by Jacob Needleman

I have long admired the books written by Jacob Needleman who is Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State College in California. During his productive career, the scholar and writer, now in his seventies, has devoted books to a variety of subjects of relevance, including the nature of democracy in America, the object of philosophy, the role of the physician in society, the characteristics of money, the features of goodness, new religions, ancient and modern technologies, etc. He has been the director of the Center for the Study of New Religions at The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and he has served as general editor of the Penguin Metaphysical Library and the same for Element Books.

He has been a busy man, and the above activities do not take into account his work in the domain of the Work itself. Among his most useful publication is “Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teaching” (Continuum, 1996) which he compiled with George Baker. He has now produced two more books in this field — or might I say one full book and one booklet? The book is “The Inner Journey: Views from the Gurdjieff Work” (2008) and the booklet is “Introduction to the Gurdjieff Work” (2009). Both are published by Morning Light Press of Sandpoint, Idaho, which has a fine catalogue of books about modern-day spirituality. That catalogue is accessible through Google.

Let me describe the little book titled “Introduction to the Gurdjieff Work.” It measures four inches wide by five inches here and it is only 62 pages long. So it is a gift book, the kind of miniature publication like those displayed beside cash registers in book stores. It consists of Needleman’s necessarily brief essay on the Work along with a useful, annotated bibliography that lists books, music, and a feature-length film. (Yes, the film is Peter Brooks’s “Meetings with Remarkable Men.”) There is nothing remarkable about Needleman’s essay, though it is written with clarity and concision and it focuses on the pivotal role of conscience in the life of modern man. It downplays what has been called the “psychology” and the “esoteric” sides of the Work. It is a conscientious introduction to the Work.

The appearance of the essay in this form is an instance of how Needleman recycles his material because the essay is based on two earlier essays of his, one of which he included in “Modern Esoteric Spirituality ” (1922) which he compiled with Antoine Faivre, the other of which he wrote as an entry for “Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism” (2005) edited by Wouter J. Hanegraaff. More to the point, the essay is reprinted verbatim as the Introduction to the principal book to be examined here: “The Inner Journey: Views from the Gurdjieff Work.”

As I mentioned, Morning Light Press publishes fine books, and the present volume is no exception. It is especially sturdy. It measures 6″ x 9″ and in length consists of xxxii + 356 numbered pages. The design and layout are a delight for the pages are easy to read and it is a handsome package to hold. It includes a surprise. It begins with the above-mentioned essay and it ends with the above-mentioned bibliography — along with a DVD of a film. (Yes, it is Brooks’s “Meetings with Remarkable Men.”)

“The Inner Journey” is one of eight books in Morning Light Press’s “Parabola Anthology Series” under the general editorship of Ravi Ravindra. Many readers of this review will be familiar with “Parabola,” the quarterly publication that is now celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. Founded by the late D.M. Dooling in New York City in1976, it is published by The Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition. It is the locus (it says) “Where Spiritual Traditions Meet.”

The series has volumes devoted to the “traditions” of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, as well as “Views from the Gurdjieff Work,” “Views from Native Traditions,” and a post-pourri titled “Myth, Psyche & Spirit.” It seems the general editor, Dr. Ravindra, a retired professor of both Physics and Religion from Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S., has been busy overseeing this mining operation of the last twenty-five years of quarterly issues for relevant texts. It is quite a job.

For a year I held a subscription to “Parabola,” and while I admired and still admire the spirit and style of each issue of the well-illustrated periodical, I felt and feel the “mosaic” approach to be rather static and essentially bland. It consists of reprinting “snippets” from the standard books in the fields, though some original essays essays are commissioned and informative interviews are conducted. Pictorially issues are well illustrated, but outright contradictions are denied and rough edges are smoothed over.

The “transcendent unity” of religions is one thing, but one often learns more about spirituality by probing the elements of man and society that are not “transcendent” and are unrelated to “unity.” So I find “Parabola” to be very much a quality general publication, rather New Agey, not really more than that. Nobody ever said to me, excitedly, “Did you read such-and-such an article in the latest issue of ‘Parabola’?”

It fell to Jacob Needleman to compile “The Inner Journey: Views from the Gurdjieff Work” and given the chunks of prose he has had to work with, he has done a decent job of erecting a reasonable structure. In all there are sixty passages, and all of them are reprinted from well-known texts known to serious students of the Work. They were written by twenty-three contributors, including the editor. Here is a rough breakdown of the contributors.

The first tier of contributors consists of G.I. Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky, A.R. Orage, Maurice Nicoll, and Jeanne de Salzmann. The second tier includes Peter Brook, Rene Daumal, John Pentland, Henri Tracol, and Michel de Salzmann. On the third tier we have Pauline Dampierre, Margaret Flinsch, Chris Fremantle, Jacob Needleman, and Ravi Rabindra. That leaves the fourth tier: Henry Barnes, Martha Heyneman, Mitch Horowitz, Roger Lipsey, Paul Reynard, Laurence Rosenthal, William Segal, P.L. Travers, and Michel Waldberg.

Here are the names of some people who go unaccounted for (almost at random): J.B. Bennett, Henriette Lannes, Patty de Llosa, James Moore, C.S. Nott, Fritz Peters, Paul Beekman Taylor, Jean Vaysse, James Webb. I guess their writings did not appear in the pages of “Parabola.”

The sixty passages of prose (and some of Daumal’s prosey poetry) are arranged in six sections. These are called chapters and given headings. For the record here they are: Chapter 1: Man’s Possibilities Are Very Great. Chapter 2: Remember Yourself Always and Everywhere. Chapter 3: To be Man Who Is Searching with all his Being. Chapter 4: That Day … the Truth Will Be Born. Chapter 5: Only he Will Be Called and Will Become the Son of God Who Aquires in Himself Conscience. Chapter 6: The Source of That Which Does Not Change.

Try as I might I could not find much of a relationship between the chapter headings and the contents of the chapters, but try as I might I could not come up with a better plan of organization. (I find it odd that the book ends with Ouspensky’s outline of “the food factory.”) We have here a “mosaic” (not a “collage”) and individual voices predominate. It is no surprise that the two leading contributors (with eight pieces apiece) are Gurdjieff and Ouspensky with familiar passages from their familiar books, though if the books have yet to be read the passages are unfamiliar to the novice rather than to the veteran reader.

The editor did the best he could with the material at hand, yet the overall effect is that of reading “Reader’s Digest” (which used to plant wordy articles in popular publications so its editors could “digest” them) or present-day issues of “Harper’s” whose editors selected excerpts from current books and periodicals. So the present book is a box of all-sorts.There is material here aplenty for sermons and talks. If the Gospels are “good news,” these are “good thoughts.”

Everyone will have his favourite familiar passages, but for my taste the most rewarding contribution to the anthology — the one most worthwhile to reread — is “Footnote to the Gurdjieff Literature” written by Michel de Salzmann. With great taste (and some distaste), he surveys the writings of students, scholars, and imaginative writers, and he finds most of them wanting. He takes as a given the principle and practice that the Work cannot be conveyed or even described in words, but that it must be experienced to be realized in one’s everyday life.

While Dr. de Salzmann’s words continue to ring true, if words may be described as rungs on the ladder of life, the pages of “The Inner Journey” offer the reader sixty rungs that go up that ladder. They offer “views” of the variety (though little of the contrariety) “from the Gurdjieff Work.” Yet they should assist the reader in attaining “views of the real world.”

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John Robert Colombo is the author, compiler, and translator of more than two hundred books, largely concerned with Canadiana. His most recent publication is a collection of 2,000 aphorisms called “Indifferences.” His essays on Canadiana and the Work appear in “Whistle While You Work.” He is an irregular contributor of reviews and articles to this news/blog.
His website is http://www.colombo-plus.ca

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THE PSEUDO-OUSPENSKY ON ST JOHN’S GOSPEL

Joseph Azize Page

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The wedding at Cana

The Pseudo-Ouspensky on St John’s Gospel

Part One: Notes on Saint John’s Gospel, published by Ediciones Sol, Mexico, undated, attributed to P.D. Ouspensky, almost certainly in fact written by an anonymous pupil of Ouspensky (see James Webb, The Harmonious Circle).

It (sc. the Gospel of St John) talks about New Foods. The first miracle it relates is the miracle of water turned to wine at the wedding feast. Wine represents New Food – not a natural food, but something which has to be made by a very complicated process. Wine is the juice of fruit which is ‘fermented’, which means it has taken on a new force from being dead. Water comes naturally, from a spring. Wine has to be made intelligently, by men, for their own use.

A whole chapter talks about Bread, Flesh, Blood. “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from Heaven and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said, I am the bread of life. He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” The disciples wanted the bread to be ‘given to them’. Jesus at once answers, “I am the bread.” It is something very difficult; they cannot understand. They ask for ‘a gift’. Jesus answers, “He that cometh to me shall never hunger, he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

“To come” means progress, advance step by step.

“To believe” means work to combine Imagination, Reason and Will into a balanced power which will be Faith. Faith is not an emotion.

Jesus said unto them: “Verily, verily I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood ye have no life in you … For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”

“Flesh” and “blood” are New Food. Food is another name for Power . We are enclosed inside powers of which we are not conscious. We cannot ‘eat’ or ‘drink’ because the faculties with which we could take those powers in and use them are not working. We are like dried-up sponges in water. The water cannot soak in and penetrate the sponges because they are dead.

“Eat the flesh” and “drink the blood” means being made an active living part inside a great force – like a red corpuscle in blood, which draws life from the food a man eats and makes new life from it. “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him.”

“Dwelleth in me and I in him” means being admitted into a new consciousness.

Saint John gives a new meaning to the word “Light”.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. … All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.”

Light is the basis of all life on earth. Vibrations of energy and power travel on. light. All material forms are threaded through with it, like beads on a string.

“And the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.”

“Darkness” means mechanicalness. Earth is enclosed and enwrapped in a great flame of radiant power. The same power is stored inside every living form, waiting for some shock that will set it free.

“The darkness comprehendeth it not.” “Comprehend” means ‘take in and use’. We are Darkness so long as we are mechanical. Life with power flows all round us, but we cannot take it in and use it.

“Light” is Food. Every animal and plant and stone draws in something from light and could not live, without it. Colour is food which flowers draw out of a ray of light in which our eyes can see, no colour at all, unless it is broken up for us in a rainbow. Colour is as necessary for the flower as its ordinary food of moisture and warmth. But it uses another faculty to absorb colour. It is a faculty which we have not got at all.

The Gospel talks of ‘mechanicalness’ several times. “Then, said Jesus, I go my way, and ye shall seek me and die in your sins: Whither I go, ye cannot come.”

“Die in your sins” means in the circle of mechanical thoughts and feelings which enclose us.

Jesus answered, “For I know whence I came and whither I go.” We do not know whence we came and whither we go. We do not ‘come’ or ‘go’.

“I am the door of the sheep … By me, if any man enter in he shall be saved and shall go in and out and find pasture.”

“Sheep” represent mechanical people.

“Shall go in and out” means ‘shall be conscious and therefore free’.

“Find pasture” means ‘find fresh growing food’.

“And he said, Therefore said I unto you that no man can come unto me except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time, many of his disciples went back and walked. no more with him.”

The superficial disciples did not like being told they were mechanical. They liked to think they had ‘chosen’ to be disciples.

“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? And Simon Peter answered him Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”

The real disciples could never be ‘offended’. They knew what they wanted. Their aim filled their minds and drove out all negative objections.

“Words of eternal life” means New Food. The true disciples thought it so precious they were prepared to sacrifice their worldly life in order to find it.

The Gospel talks of “Truth”. “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

“Worship in spirit” means secretly, inwardly, in thought and feeling.

“Worship in truth” means ‘true with ourselves.’

“When the spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak, and he will show you things. to come.”

“Spirit of truth” means ‘no self-deception’. The more we try to be true in spirit, secretly, the more chance we have of understanding objective truths.

“For he shall not speak of himself” means ‘he shall no longer be subjective.’

“But whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak.” He shall ‘hear’. It is a new faculty. Their machinery makes the noise they imagine they hear. To hear means three separate efforts combined continuously:

First, effort to make silence in ourselves, by stilling the noise made by our imaginings;

Second, effort to listen, to become aware of something outside us;

Third, effort to take in. A new faculty is needed, which will start a new process of thought and feeling.

“He will show you things to come” means the new faculty the conscious man will have acquired will enable him better to understand laws.

Jesus says, “I can of mine own self do nothing. As I hear, so I judge … and my judgment is just, because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”

Jesus directly followed the Will of God. It cannot reach us except through laws. Each person has a law. Our work of self-observation is simply in order to find out what is our particular law. No one else can tell us what it is.

Jesus says, “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory, but he that seeketh the glory that sent him, the same is true and no unrighteousness is in him.”

“He that seeketh the glory that sent him” means a man who is trying to wake, in order to follow the law that works through him, apart from his feelings.

“No unrighteousness is in him” means no mechanicalness.

“Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself; except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”

“Abide in me” means ‘obey your law’. The home of the branch is in the vine. It ‘abides’ there. That is where it is fed and kept alive. If we awake, the home of our thought and feeling will be in a new sort of conscience. New food will be drawn from it and life will not be able to be parted from it.

Jesus heals the man who was born blind. No one recognizes him after he is healed. They think he is different – another person. Pharisees and Jews come and question him. They ask the wrong sort of question, ‘How was it done?’ ‘What sort of a man was Jesus?’ They do not really care. They are inquisitive. The man whom he healed simply says, ‘All I know is, I was blind and now I can see’. The result is all that matters.

Saint John is a poet. He gives new meanings to ordinary words. When he speaks of Wine, Bread, Light, Flesh, Blood, he means Foods – New Powers. Food is a key. It is a new force which starts machinery. Food is another name for Power. If we stop feeding for an instant we die.

Innumerable keys turn the wheels which control the circulation of our blood and feed our brain and keep up movement in us continually, which we call life. Our food is light, air, vision, sound and every impression of feeling and sensation drawn from our surroundings. We have an illusion of being active. In reality we depend entirely on our foods and have no more power in ourselves than a windmill without wind.

Self-remembering is an effort to make new power which will be Food for new faculties which otherwise are starved.

Part Two: The Provenance of the Text and Its Purport
The text was published in a small blue booklet by Rodney Collin-Smith in Mexico. His press, Ediciones Sol, is mentioned by Joyce Collin-Smith in her important book Call No Man Master. Copyright was not claimed by the editor, the publisher, or on behalf of the author. Someone purchased the booklet on my behalf in the USA, I think from the late Michael Smyth. However, I never asked Michael about it, although I am proud to say that I was close to him. I do not presently have access to Driscoll’s bibliography or any of my Gurdjieff and Ouspensky books. However, a correspondent who read the first draft of this blog has informed me that according to James Webb’s Harmonious Circle Rodney Collin-Smith found the materials amongst Ouspensky’s papers after his death, and believing Ouspensky to have been the author, published them (with, I might add, a Spanish translation). When he discovered his error, he withdrew the booklet. Why, I wonder, did he just not re-issue it as “Anonymous, Unknown”?

In the first version of this blog, I wrote of this text: “My own view is that it is too concise and too deep to be by Collin-Smith, but may well have been written by Ouspensky.”

I was not sure that it was in fact by Ouspensky, as my wording “may well have been written by Ouspensky” shows. However, the only alternative author I then considered was Collin-Smith. I continued: “Also, we know from odd comments made in A Record of Meetings that Ouspensky believed St John’s Gospel to have been the most extraordinary document, written, he said, by someone who was nourished by Hydrogen 12, if I remember correctly. By this Ouspensky meant that the author could consciously receive the impressions of higher centres. It is difficult to argue. If anything I have seen is inspired, it is the Gospel of St John. If any text warranted Ouspensky’s comments, it is this one. As an aside, in Orage’s unpublished notes in the Brotherton Library is the following scheme: Hydrogen 6 corresponds to I, 12 to sex, 24 to emotions, 48 to air, 96 to magnetism, 192 to air, 384 to water, 768 to food, 1536 to mineral and 3072 to mineral. In other words, St John’s food was the highest possible.” I thought, therefore that the attribution to Ouspensky was reasonable, but I went on to add: “Now, the thing is the commentary as it stands.”

I do not know whether Webb’s information is accurate or not, and unfortunately, as is well known, he gave very few references. He stated that he would leave his references with Thames & Hudson for scholars. I made enquiries, and am informed that Thames & Hudson do not in fact possess any such document. Further, Joyce Collin-Smith tells me that Webb’s wife did not retain any of the documents, and that they are effectively lost.

I do not know who really wrote these notes, but will refer to the author as the Pseudo-Ouspensky. It is a shame we know so little about the Ps-O., but he or she was a very impressive thinker. And this itself is important: in the late 1940s, Gurdjieff apparently disparaged Ouspensky’s teaching, but from the evidence of these notes, at least one student attained to insights of a high order, and possessed a great power of expression.

Modern biblical scholars have only recently started shaking off the dogma of the “higher criticism” in respect of what one may call the “Johannine Corpus” (the Gospel, the three epistles and the Apocalypse). I will just say here that if you have come across the books of writers like Bultmann and Raymond E. Brown on St John, you might bear this in mind. Ellis’s The Making of the New Testament Documents, and Charles E. Hill’s The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church, are, however, well worth the study.

I have no doubt, and neither did those closest to the Apostolic Age that all five documents were written by St John himself, the beloved disciple, even if all or some of chapter 21 has been added to the Gospel to authenticate and perhaps even to supplement the text. I suspect that St John wrote his Gospel chiefly to leave a testament of his own understanding of Jesus’ teaching and ministry, partly also to counter errors circulating about the roles of the apostles, especially perhaps Peter, and partly to supplement what he and others saw as lacunas in the three Synoptic Gospels. My reading of the texts is that John believed he had a special insight into Jesus’ work, and that his wish to share it was genuine, even if he was urged to it by others. He opted, in the event, to write a Gospel which was different: Clement of Alexandria refers to John’s decision to write a “spiritual” Gospel, which was published while he was still alive (see Ellis, esp. 151-4).

John’s first language was Aramaic, the language in which Jesus taught. John’s Greek was either poor or non-existent: certain Greek speakers approached Philip because he did speak Greek, as suggested in John 12:20-1. The Johannine Corpus has come down to us exclusively in Greek, and the Greek of the five documents is identical in style. Perhaps the texts we have were in whole or in part either (1) translated from John’s teaching, whether oral or written, or (2) edited from John’s rather rough Greek. John’s use of an amanuensis, translator or editor would explain discrepancies of style and vocabulary within the corpus, and why the Apocalypse is written in what scholars often consider a very “Semitic” form of Greek (in addition, the influence of its unusual genre should not be forgotten). For the authenticity of the Apocalypse, together with research into why authorship ever became an issue, see the thesis of Michael Michael, The Number of the Beast, available in the University of Sydney’s Fisher Library and elsewhere.

Part Three
One can infer from our text that it’s purpose was to relate the Gospel of St John to the teaching which Ouspensky had from Gurdjieff, and developed in certain respects. It explains key Gospel words and phrases in terms of the Gurdjieff system. It raises many questions for me: can light be shown on or related to the Ray of Creation? The Pseudo-Ouspensky seems to be saying that light is a very fine hydrogen or series of hydrogens, perhaps even H1. Could this be part of the meaning of the hackneyed phrase “God is Light”? Of course, light is not a simple thing, and I am not qualified to study it the way a tertiary trained scientist could. But I sense that light is of fundamental importance, and I shall have to return to it, many many times. The insight that light is food is striking.

To my mind, one of the most puzzling aspects of Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson is its pervasive but eccentric religious aspect. Gurdjieff populates his cosmos with a deity and four ranks of angels, what is effectively hell, heaven and purgatory, and messengers from above bringing revelation. Where is the austere almost clinical universal scheme he sketched to Ouspensky, described in In Search of the Miraculous? I doubt that anyone would find a new religious faith in Beelzebub’s pages, whatever else they may strike there.

On the other hand, the Pseudo-Ouspensky’s comments here are luminous, deep and insightful. Why did Gurdjieff not write something like this? Perhaps, one could guess, because the Gospel wasn’t important to him: but then why did he speak of his system as “esoteric Christianity”, and why did he use the Johannine concept of the logos (the Word), as centrally as he did in Beelzebub (Theomertmalogos: the concept is also found in Views)? Did Gurdjieff wish to leave it to others? Who? I do not think Nicoll’s work is anywhere deep enough to demonstrate essential connections between Gurdjieff’s teaching and Christianity. The Pseudo-Ouspensky’s far briefer notes, however, succeed. No, my conjecture is that Gurdjieff was equivocal about Christianity.

Why did Gurdjieff cease teaching of the kind he had engaged in with Ouspensky? It cannot be because only Ouspensky could understand: many people proved otherwise. I just do not understand why Gurdjieff did not do more to spread his ideas, despite his stated intention of sharing his discoveries. Once more, I wonder if he did not have an equivocal attitude, at least to certain aspects of his ideas, namely, those he had taught to Ouspensky. The movements and the inner exercises, at least, seem to have been in a different category for him, as he continued to invent these until his death. Yet, the Gurdjieff groups profited immensely from the publication of In Search, indeed, it rather than Gurdjieff’s books, filled the Foundation and the Institutions for a period. And the Pseudo-Ouspensky established that they could be developed.

I repeat: why did Gurdjieff not do more to spread and develop his ideas? Because he had written Beelzebub? But he prevented its publication until after his death. Why? To form a nucleus which could support the book? But if the nucleus did NOT do one thing, it was support the book. The book was published, and then not used. I have a transcript of a meeting at Bray where Henriette Lannes is asked a question about something in the book and she replies in words to this effect: “No questions about Beelzebub. This is a rule in all groups, you have your reading of it and that is what is important: you work with that.”

I mentioned that to Mrs Staveley once, and she laughed: why not ask questions about it? And I would add now, that on that basis, “you have your own reading of it”, no questions on any topic would ever be asked in groups. You always have your own experience.

I suspect that from Mme de Salzmann’s point of view, the problem with Beelzebub was far more straightforward: she did not sufficiently understand Beelzebub, and she was too pragmatic to court questions she could not answer. I am told that someone once asked Tracol a question about the book, and his reply was something like: “everything in the book is in the Ashiata Shiemash chapters”. Tracol was dodging. Besides, it is wrong. There is a great deal in other parts of the book which cannot be found in Ashiata.

Post-Script
Some friends have made comments about the first draft of this piece, and I feel obliged to add a post-script. First, my appreciation of this piece is by no means undiminished by knowing that it was almost certainly not by Ouspensky. On the contrary, I now have a new sense of appreciation for the unknown pupil of Ouspensky, and gratitude that he or she left their papers with Ouspensky for Collin-Smith to find.

Second, in a DVD I have seen, Dr William Welch says that not long before he died, Gurdjieff, in the company of a few men, drove to a Russian Orthodox Church and parked outside. There he sat in silence for quite a while before driving off.

To my mind, this perfectly encapsulates what I call Gurdjieff’s equivocal attitude to what we might call “exoteric Christianity”. He felt outside it, and yet he felt attracted to it. He had unfinished business.

I have no doubt that Gurdjieff believed that there was a way not only out of the circle of mechanicalness, but to the vision of God. And it is at that second point, as I see it, that his equivocation begins. Others are entitled to disagree: that is my view.

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

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