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Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff: Joseph Azize Review

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Levon Eskenian

Gurdjieff’s Armenian Face


Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff, a new recording of a selection from Gurdjieff’s music, is played by the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble, directed by Levon Eskenian. Issued in 2011 by ECM, # 2236, it takes an honourable place in the contemporary trend for Armenians and Russians to show serious interest in Gurdjieff’s legacy. Gurdjieff’s writings and music are very often understood and interpreted as if they were Western European. This is hardly surprising. The last 27 or so years of his life were spent there and in the USA (with perhaps a short trip to the East), and at the time of his death he was, for most part, surrounded by persons of West European background. But just as the Bible bears many resonances and meanings only apparent to someone familiar with the ancient Middle East, so too, Gurdjieff’s music – or at least these more folkloric examples of it – come alive when treated as they are on authentic Eastern instruments by authentic Eastern musicians.

To my ear, this is the pre-eminent selection and recording of Gurdjieff’s Songs and Rhythms from Asia and Sayyid Dances. I wonder how Eskenian’s approach would work when applied to the Sacred Hymns, and especially the Hymns from a Truly Great Temple. I’m optimistic, and I do hope this CD will be succeeded by others from the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble. Before coming to deeper issues, I deal with it track by track below, and the reader will see that while I am not much affected by some pieces, yet, the album as a whole has to be considered as something of a triumph. I would unhesitatingly pronounce it as superior, for purposes of attentive listening, to any of the piano recordings I have heard, de Hartmann’s and Rosenthal and company not excluded.

This Recording: Track by Track

The opening track, “Chant from a Holy Book”, may be the most powerful piece on the entire album. The duduk is the chief instrument here. As Eskenian notes, its “warm sound closely resembles the human voice”. The playing is influenced by Eskenian’s view that the piece, as Gurdjieff wrote it, is in the style of the “tagh”, a sacred Armenian style of pre-Christian origin. As occurs so often on this CD, the use of different instruments adds a sustained dimensionality to the work which no other recordings have ever, in my opinion, captured. The scoring is such that one can clearly and distinctly hear and hold in one’s attention the several instruments and their diverse contributions.

The “Kurd Shepherd Melody”, is played on the blul, also known as the bilur or nayy, and accompanied on the saz, wind and string instruments, respectively. These instruments are actually used by Kurdish shepherds, and their use rendered the piece totally new for me. However, it strikes me as being chiefly of folkloric, not spiritual, interest. Yet, it is of interest.

By contrast, the “Prayer”, played on “kanon”, an instrument much loved in the Middle East, has both elements. I have heard a lot of kanon in my time, and although I could be quite wrong, it seems to me that the playing and the recording provide a virtuoso crispness and clarity. Yet, despite its technical brilliance and intrinsic charm, the recording lacks a certain impact. I would have to make much the same comments about the first two minutes of track 4, “Sayyid Chant and Dance no. 10”. However, when the “chant” gives way to the “rhythmic dance” (to use Eskenian’s terms), sparks erupt. The kanon seems capable of delivering a vivid sense of the folk tradition, but the more solemn pieces somehow elude it.

Sayyid Chant and Dance no. 29” relies upon the nayy before the kanon and other instruments enter for the dance, and the effect is quite different. The entire piece has a nobility and grace, and the kanon does indeed deliver some poignant passages.

I was struck by Eskenian’s comments that the “Armenian Song” was in the manner of a love song, because if it is, it bridges secular and divine love, such is the impact it made on me. Again, it features the plaintive sound of the duduk.

When I read the notes about the different styles of “Bayaty”, and how their first passages were improvised, it struck me that perhaps when Gurdjieff demonstrated pieces like this to de Hartmann, he too, was improvising. This could account for the some of the difficulty of transcription which de Hartmann encountered. This was the first playing I have ever heard of this or similar pieces where I had the sense that the players were improvising as they played Gurdjieff’s music. Here, it is the oud which complements the virtuoso kanon playing.

It is difficult to record the oud well, but the engineers, Armen Yeganyan and Khatchig Khatchadourian, have pulled the rabbit from the hat, and enticed these delicate sounds to dwell in the digital. The rhythmic dance which follows that passage possesses a sweeping elegance.

Why, I don’t know, but “Sayyid Chant and Dance no. 9” fell a little flat for me. It isn’t that the playing is mediocre. It is perhaps that it follows several similar pieces with improvisation-like passages followed by dances.

No. 11” from the Asian Songs is a welcome change. Eskenian rightly refers to its “mysterious” melody. The enigmatic ending, almost a fade out, is masterfully managed.

I had never liked the “Caucasian Dance” which is track 10 on this CD. But when it is rendered as ‘a version of a Shalakho dance” which leads into “the graceful, emotive solo dance, called siuzma”, the effect is utterly fresh. Having heard this, I now realise that the piano rendition had a flatness, almost a black and white quality. But this rendition uses a bright palette of tones and colours to make a fascinating piece. To me, this is not really a spiritual piece, but, still, it has brio and zest.

The next three pieces are, to use an already overused word, awesome. “No. 40”, again, from the Asian Songs, is a dream. This is one of those which I had never heard before the Schott edition. I was intrigued by the piano music, but this recording, with an Armenian ensemble is rather sublime. Also powerful, is the strange “Trinity” piece, played as an Armenian trio might, on “tar, sandtur and dap” (a drum also known as the “daf”). The more I have listened to this CD, the more this piece keeps at me: there is something in its insistent rhythm and graceful melody which reminds me of the music Gurdjieff produced for the Enneagram movement of the early 1920s, as if saying that the spiritual reality to which it points is ever-present, ever-flowing.

Then follows the “Assyrian Women Mourners”. The use of duduks and a dap is inspired. They combine solemnity, grief and dignity. The final note is sublime.

As with the “Caucasian Dance”, I had not liked “Atarnakh, Kurd Song”, the “Arabian Dance” or “Ancient Greek Melody” before hearing this recording, but I have been converted. The piano simply does not do justice to the music, but here they come alive. “Atarnakh” has a simple, graceful, almost hypnotic sway. I can now understand how it could have been written to be played before a reading from Beelzebub. It is transporting. The “Arabian” and the “Ancient Greek Dance” aren’t so strong, meaning that the music doesn’t have the same power for me, yet, they’ve been rediscovered and revived, so to speak. Of these three, “Atarnakh” is by far the stronger for me.

Finally, the “Duduki” is one of the highlights, with the “Reading”, “Trinity”, “No. 40”, “Mourners” and “Atarnakh”. This double reed instrument all but speaks. Whoever the master musician is, his assured playing provides a fitting end to the album, allowing it to close, as it opened, with a powerful spiritual statement.


The CD is very nicely presented. It comes in a cardboard cover. Both the cover and the CD itself feature a good reproduction of that picture from Gurdjieff’s lsat years where he’s sitting on a bench by what is probably a Paris building, and a large tree shadow falls across the pavement and ground floor window. The back cover of the booklet, not the cardboard, quite appropriately shows Gurdjieff’s house in Gyumri, while inside the booklet, is an evocative picture of the roof and spires of the Sanahin monastery in Armenia. It’s a fascinating complex: one could fill one’s spare time with worse things than checking it out at this Armenian wiki site:


Closing Comments

The number of CD releases of recordings of Gurdjieff’s music has increased quite substantially, undoubtedly occasioned by the release of four volumes of much, but not all, of Gurdjieff’s piano music. Some of these recordings have used diverse instruments, and some have added words and singing of the interpreting artist’s own device. However, in my view, none of them, not excepting the soundtrack of the Meetings movie, have used Eastern instruments with the authority and success that Eskenian’s team does.

If I had to sum it up in one phrase, I would say that this album takes the Gurdjieff music out of the polite salons of Europe and North America, and rediscovers them in the distant, rocky and mystical East. I cannot help but feel that this is something Eskenian and his crew can be proud of. And I feel, if one can venture such a comment, that Gurdjieff too, would be proud, for he tried to link East and West by new lines of understanding. Eskenian is clearly sympathetic to Gurdjieff and his work. As the recording makes clear, he does not interpret Gurdjieff in a narrow Armenian manner, but is quite aware and respectful of Gurdjieff’s broader influences.

There is no point in repeating the many sound points which Eskenian makes in his liner notes. But one of them is critical, and presents an objective reason for interpreting Gurdjieff’s music using an Eastern ensemble:

 … these indigenous Eastern instruments are capable of producing microtonal intervals, rhythms and other nuances that are essential parts of Eastern music.

I will not go into it here, but for me, these elements are all crucial in understanding Gurdjieff’s work. He was almost an engineer of the laws of the spiritual world. These laws are such that to us they are not laws as the laws of physics and chemistry are, but partake more of the nature of art, or even magic. However, this is an opportunity to provide some important material about Gurdjieff which is not readily available. Below  I copy my transcription of some comments made by Thomas de Hartmann in an undated recording.

Thomas de Hartmann: At certain points in space, where the emanations of the earth encounter the emanations of the Sun Absolute, that means, the emanations of the Almighty, at these points is a reflection, an image – a something which can be seen, assumed, felt, from the Almighty. And, for earth people, with concentration, it is possible to visualise, to see in a certain manner, inner, the emanations of the Almighty.

Of course, for this, a very great deep concentration is wanted. Here we understand why Gurjivanch put always a great weight on music. He himself played and he also composed, and he wrote down things, and so on.

If we compare the music of all the religions, we can see that music plays a great role, a great part in – so to say – religious service. but after the work of Gurdjivanch we can understand it more, that music helps to concentrate oneself, to bring oneself to an inner state when we can ?assume with greatest possible emanations. That is why music is just the thing which helps you to see higher.

Levon Eskenian- Artistic Director


Levon Eskenian is an Armenian composer and pianist who was born in Lebanon in 1978. In 1996 he moved to Armenia where he currently lives. In 2005 he graduated from Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory with a Master’s degree in piano (class of professor Robert Shugarov). In 2007 he obtained his postgraduate degree from the class of Professor Willy Sargsyan. He has also studied composition, organ and improvisation classes at the Conservatory and harpsichord in Austria and Italy with the English organist and harpsichordist Christopher Stembridge.

 Joseph Azize, 10 January 2012

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


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The John Robert Colombo Page

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Part Two of this review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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 See also Part One of this review.

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



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The John Robert Colombo Page

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Keith A. Buzzell’s Trio of Current Publications 

 Part One 

The Doctor with Three Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Buzzell does. 

Part two continues this review.

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


Joseph Azize Reviews: THE REALITY OF BEING

with 3 comments

Jeanne de Salzmann


Review of The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff,

Jeanne de Salzmann, Shambhala, Boston & London, 2010

(293 pp, plus biographical note, list of de Salzmann founded Gurdjieff Centres, and index) Reviewer’s note, the book has been edited with a foreword by an anonymous team.

I have been pondering for two months: should I write a review of this book or not? The sublimity of some of this writing makes the idea reviewing it seem presumptuous, disrespectful and distasteful. At its best, this volume represents a unique spiritual literature, and bears ample evidence of the note-maker’s achievement, authority and stature. Reading in its pages for even five minutes, new vistas open, lines of study are confirmed and extended, and I receive fresh direction and hope. And yet I have questions, and even some misgivings, especially about the presentation of the material as an account of Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way rather than as de Salzmann’s own Gurdjieff-influenced teaching, the decision to publish exercises, the descriptions of what I might call “higher states” (with the possibility of inviting self-delusion), and whether many people will understand anything much from the book who did not previously know de Salzmann or have not had firsthand experience in her groups.

But I decided to write when the question occurred to me: what would Jeanne De Salzmann wish for? Adulation? I cannot rush into rapture over the volume, if only because it has helped me. To fall now into gushing blandishments of the type Gurdjieff satirised in Meetings With Remarkable Men would be a betrayal. I feel a certain duty to try and impartially review this book exactly because, at first blush, it seems to defy all review.

Other of Gurdjieff’s pupils have written comparable material, the unpublished “black notebook” which Jane Heap kept comes to mind. There is some material from George Adie which is of this genre, but I have never released it, and have no intention of doing so, given my reluctance to publish exercises and descriptions of higher states because these might invite self-delusion. Some of Bill Segal’s material is of this genre, but I don’t think it can be compared with Reality of Being for power, depth or scope. So this is a unique work.

Whether those who did not know de Salzmann or her pupils can benefit from this volume is another question altogether. My guess is that those people may perhaps sense that there is something significant here, but will find it too opaque for them. It badly needs a full introduction and glossary.

Finally, before plunging this review, I must thank Dr Sophia Wellbeloved, who helped me see certain matters I had been colour-blind to. Sophia experienced de Salzmann at first hand, and her impartial but warm personal assessment merged, as it were, with the force of these writings, in which I have been immersed, to produce quite an impact on me.

The major problem, and it is a significant one, is the packaging. The issue would not arise had the book been presented, packaged and titled accurately, for example, as The Reality of Being: The “Vigilant Meditation” of Jeanne de Salzmann. The misstatement that this volume is a representation of the “Fourth Way of Gurdjieff”, which is a way in life, distorts any reading of the contents, because many of the statements here are meaningful or true only within the context of what de Salzmann calls “the work in the quiet” (48) and “vigilance and meditation” (58). This practice was developed by de Salzmann from Eastern models, as Bill Segal states in one memoir. Further, the book as edited moves backwards and forwards between “work in life”, and “work in the quiet” in a manner which is not always clear. It might be a personal development of the Fourth Way, or even a portion of it, but then, why the clunky subtitle The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff?

De Salzmann did not see this book into the press: she wrote notes which, to judge by the sample on p. 293 were like journals written up after a period spent in “vigilant meditation”. The anonymous editors of this volume have, after her death, marshalled some of these notes of her contemplative experience, and added some other “recorded statements”, (whatever form these may have taken, xviii). As the foreword states, she was: “… constantly reflecting on the reality of being and writing down her thoughts in her notebook,” (xvi). She also wrote ideas for meetings with her students. These two sets of notebooks were kept “like diaries”, (xvi), and were understood by the editors to be the “book” she referred to when she said that she was writing “a book on how to be in life, on the path to take in order to live on two levels. It will show how to find a balance …”, (xvi). At her death, the careful state of these notebooks were taken by “those closest to her” to be “a clear sign” that she had intended the material in them to “help complete Gurdjieff’s writing on a true vision of reality …”, (xvi). The editors can only mean that this book is her effort to “complete” the Third Series.

The impression of continuity with Gurdjieff, and that this is the “Third and a half series”, is strengthened by the editors’ disclosure ay p. xvi that: “She often echoed, and sometimes repeated, his (i.e. Gurdjieff’s) exact words”, e.g. the exercise on pp.196-7 of this book is also given in the Third Series. But then the editors announce two pages later that: “No attempt has been made to identify isolated excerpts taken by her from Gurdjieff or other writers”, (xviii).

Why not? I could understand if they had made an attempt but cautioned that they may not have been able to identify all such excerpts. But to make no effort? Did they feel they had no duty to Gurdjieff, de Salzmann or anyone else not to pass off one person’s work as another’s? I feel sure de Salzmann would never have agreed. A staggering number of references to Gurdjieff in the text have inexplicably been omitted from the index. Very strange.

When we turn to the index under “Gurdjieff”, we find the following entry and page references or “locators” (the technical term for the page references provided in an index):

Gurdjieff, George Ivanovitch, 1-5, 295-7

It appears as if these are the only references to Gurdjieff in the volume. In fact, his name is also given at 22, 24, 64, 73, 100, 108, 120, 122, 133, 137, 172, 180, 181, 182, 183, 189, 196, 199, 235, 237, 280, 284, 286 and 292. Why omit so many locators from the index? The only argument I can see, which would not involve disrespect to Gurdjieff, is to say that the whole of the contents were so indebted to him that reference was pointless.

However, to argue thus is to miss the decisive point, as Aristotle said. It is an error for an index to omit proper names important to its readers, or to pass over occurrences of that name which go beyond mere mentions. Gurdjieff could hardly be more important to this book, yet the index has overlooked 22 or more references. Indexing is not easy: The Society of Indexers holds conferences and offers tutoring on indexing. Its web-site ( includes this wisdom: “A good index can be much more than a guide to the contents of a book. It can often give a far clearer glimpse of its spirit than the blurb-writers or critics are able to do.” Quite so.

So, despite the often sublime contents, this book is something of an odd job. There are 140 entries. Each is of a fairly consistent length of between one and a half to two pages Presumably each piece was written on the one day (except where it was later supplemented by the mysterious “recorded statements”). Each of the 140 entries has a title, but no date, and they’re numbered 1 through to 140. The titles are written in Roman, e.g. “A nostalgia for Being” and ‘Only with a stable Presence”. These are arranged in 36 titled sections (32 sections have 4 entries, and 4 sections have but 3). The sections are unnumbered, and have italicised titles like: “To Remember Oneself” and “A Pure Energy”. Without exception, there are three sections to a chapter. The chapters are numbered in Roman numerals, and are titled “OPENING TO PRESENCE”, “TO BE CENTERED”, and so on.

The cover illustration is of a landscape beneath the night sky. In the lower heavens is an enneagram. On the earth, we see someone wearing what seems to be a bright red scarf. But it is a strange scarf: it looks as if a small inverted ziggurat has attached itself to someone’s back. Is it meant to represent the descending energies which de Salzmann writes of? Despite the Gurdjieff packaging, to put it that way, there is a photograph of the diarist, but none of Gurdjieff. Neither is an attempt made to relate her ideas to those of other people: yet this context could have helped people understand the significance of her writing. For example, she answers Hume’s enigma that one never finds a “self” (In A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume discussed the question of personal identity, and argued that we assume that we have a “self”, but in fact there is no evidence at all for this). Explaining this somewhere would make the volume more accessible for the very many people who are acquainted with Hume, but not Gurdjieff.

That is the contents. To speak of aims, the book is pretty clearly “missionary”. It is meant to attract people to the de Salzmann groups (hence p.301 with its list of centres, and its reference to the Reality of Being website, to meet the anticipated demand).

My intuition is that the actual motive to publish this quality hardback was not only to give those who knew her a substantial memento, but also to reach that elusive audience of seekers, and to establish an independent basis for de Salzmann’s reputation as a spiritual authority. Together with the previous Foundation-sponsored or inspired Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections, Heart Without Measure, Without Benefit of Clergy, The Forgotten Language of Children, Tchekhovitch’s Gurdjieff: A Master in Life, and the volume of Parobola articles Ravindra edited, a bookshelf is being built up. In these books, Gurdjieff orthodoxy passes solely through de Salzmann, and other major figures such as Bennett, Ouspensky and Jane Heap barely exist, if at all. It is as if the Foundation has embarked on a publishing offensive.

Before each of the twelve parts of the volume, the editors have placed a page with some one-liners, presumably chosen for their punchy impact. The very first maxim on the very first of these pages, p.8, reads: “the child wants to have, the adult wants to be.” How could anyone write anything so glib and pat, I wondered to myself? If anything, it struck me, the exact opposite is true. But then I read the quotation in context on p.10: “We need to see our childishness in relation to the life force, always wishing to have more. The child wants to have, the adult wants to be. The constant desire for ‘having’ creates fear and a need to be reassured.” In other words, de Salzmann was explicitly speaking about the childish aspect of ourselves, not children in general. To place that sentence as a disembodied quote on a splash page was to invite misinterpretation.

De Salzmann wished to carry on and develop what Gurdjieff had brought, and yet, as Conge is reported to have said, it seemed as if Gurdjieff left something uncompleted in his work (noted in Ricardo Guillon, Record of a Search). It seems to me that most of Gurdjieff’s pupils supplemented his methods and ideas with methods and ideas from mystical traditions. My own view is that Gurdjieff’s heritage is equivalent to medicine: there is no reason why Christians, for example, should not use medicine, not matter who the doctor is, and the Gurdjieff system is one of psychological medicine.

Gurdjieff did not bequeath to de Salzmann an organization. She had to work indefatigably just to build up the Institute and to maintain its main branches in but three other cities: London, New York and Caracas. Then, through those “second level suns”, she could have an influence on other groups, and would travel to other places such as San Francisco. It was as if she had cardinals in Paris who would travel, especially to London and New York, where the councils were made up archbishops. Most of these then travelled to other places within their archdioceses. Gurdjieff had been the personal centre of his pupils. De Salzmann set up an institution which could effectively take over after the charismatic leader had gone, serving as a sort of school where guides and mentors might come and go, but the institution would survive and develop a sort of corporate personality. She had to position herself at the centre, and placed the emphasis of those aspects of the teaching she had mastered, that is, the groups and movements. Those parts where she was not quite so confident, especially the ideas and the books such as Beelzebub, she downplayed in comparison. For example, she early introduced a rule that there were to be no discussions of Beelzebub in the groups.

De Salzmann felt, it seems to me, that she needed her own special area to cement her authority. This is, I think, why she devised new means of “work” (where one speaks “from the present” after a “sitting”), and, of course, the sittings (or “quiet work”). If she was to base her authority, at least in part, on these, they had to be considered an essential component of the groups’ efforts, so she removed the competition: she stopped systematically teaching the Gurdjieff preparation and exercises. She also forbade the movements to be taught in their entirety: from a certain point in time, one only learnt parts of movements. It was said that this was to stop people like the Rajneeshis stealing them. But I do not think that that was all. I am not saying that that was not a factor, but I do not think it was determinative, because by ceasing to teach all of a movement, she ceased to teach them in the way Gurdjieff had intended. Her method of allowing only a few trusted instructors to have the entire movement from beginning to end was like thwarting an anticipated vandalism by committing it yourself.

Apart from the Gurdjieff omissions, there is another matter about the index I must raise. The problem with the entry for “tempo” is that there is none. There is a reference for “rhythm”, but there should also be one for “tempo”. At 192, De Salzmann uses “rhythm” and “tempo” as being equivalent terms. Relevant locators for “tempo” and instances where equivalents are used include 124, 139, 147 (“rhythmic order”), 182 (“the rhythms of all the functions”), 188, 192, 195, 209, 265 (“rhythm”), 272 and 273. This concept was important to de Salzmann. The understanding of tempo is linked to the understanding of the entire person in who these tempos operate. Interestingly, the English translation of Beelzebub, in the version Gurdjieff authorised, always uses the word “tempo”. Irrespective of what de Salzmann wrote in French, “they leave the general rhythm” is a mediocre translation: better to say “they fall out of” or even “they depart from” the general rhythm. But the point is in the meaning.

What Gurdjieff means is this: just as the different centres have their own individual tempos, so too, can one speak, as Gurdjieff does, of an “aggregate tempo” of our “common presence”. He says that one tempo (or, I think, limited range of tempos), is related to essence, and another much wider range of tempos supports the emergence of personality, and the other larger range supports the domination of personality. This is not the place to go into it in detail, but the tempos of Gregorian chant correspond to the tempo of essence. If one understands what one is doing, then one can change one’s aggregate tempo and thus come closer to essence. It is, therefore, a matter of the greatest practical importance.

Another obvious matter I have barely alluded to is that the struggle with negative emotion is not set out here along Gurdjieff’s method of what I might call ‘active mentation”, which is really a three-centred confrontation. De Salzmann’s method is more to seek a state where one does not feel negative emotion. That is something, but I don’t think it is enough.

There is so much more I could say, for example, her comments on “tonus” anticipate what I came to about “pitch”. But this suffices for now. This is primarily a de Salzmann book and only secondly in the Gurdjeiff line. Much of the material is of the first significance for those seeking a finer consciousness which stands behind and above our other functions.

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

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

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










Efforts to Change: An Exchange with George Adie,

29 November 1979

[It is possible to actually come to a point of change. The only questions are when and how. Too frequently, we’re needlessly passive before our denying factors. But it is a fact: progress is possible.]


Sam opened: “Last week, Mr Adie, I’ve experienced a lot of loneliness, what I call a feeling of despair, and self-pity, and thoughts about myself being on my own. I’ve tried, with what feels like some success, to work against this by choosing one person in the day for external consideration; to consider one person in the day, particularly, to shift the focus from myself. And … along with these observations, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about where it comes from.”

Where the depression comes from? What have you come to?”

Well, the events in my life are that there’s a family living with me at the moment, and they’ve bought their own house, and are going to move out. And I’m anticipating missing them. And I think that also connects with other events in my past. Two questions come from that. One is, how am I to understand this experience, and what attitude should I have to it? And the other question is, how should I work with it?”

You try to confront it. That is, you try to be quiet, balanced, and then produce this to yourself. Really, to be separate from it.”

Yes, I’ve tried after the preparation.”

It’s part of the preparation, in a way”, replied Adie. The preparation is the morning exercise Adie learnt from Gurdjieff, referred to in his book. “You’re in this state of stillness, apart from external interferences. You try to understand it. You be patient, you be present to the question. You expect to just sort of turn up a thought and then, in a flick, just find an answer: but you can’t like that. The answer has to come in different terms altogether. For instance, you say to have external rather than internal consideration for a person.”

No, what I said was to have external consideration for someone else and to shift my focus from on my own self-pity, to have concern for someone other than myself.”

Yes, but you’ve got to do the shifting of yourself first. Then external consideration can take place. To what extent it can take place will depend upon your being there. If you really confront it, or try to think about what these things really are, you will see that you’re weaving a web of nothing, creating a big mountain out of almost nothing.”

It’s just an associative sort of dreaming”, continued Adie, “what’s going to happen? You don’t know what’s going to happen at all. Don’t you see that you’re passive, you give in to it? You have to use it to come more deeply to yourself. I can speak about centralizing myself, but I’m still working peripherally … I’m still in the head and not really strongly centred in my sensation. I want more emphatic sensation. Definite. Now, what do I think? All else is this shifting peas, trivial, lightweight … almost nothing … What is the reality?

Then you speak of the feeling of loneliness. That can be extremely useful. But it is very much necessary to change it from loneliness into being alone. I need to be alone. Who am I going to take with me when the time comes? I can take no one, I can take nothing. At that time, everything, my imagination, my perceived loneliness, will be all blotted out.”

That’s from one point of view: that’s as far as my desire to not be lonely. But in fact I should take the benefit of all that unconfronted, misunderstanding within me. That is my past, in some lower form. You can’t destroy the thing. It’s pretty horrible, so I can’t afford to give in to any negativeness. But your past also yields a higher form. You are one of Mr Gurdjieff’s pupils by second stage – that’s not nothing. That’s not nothing. Now you come very much in touch with it. That’s very substantial.” As a final comment, he added: “There’s a lot of sort of dodgy stuff about it, you know, it’s very artistic.”

I see the helplessness of it,” agreed Sam.

This is the lower element, but don’t lend yourself too much to this side. There’s no need to be lonely – you can have yourself. If you have yourself then you’re anything but lonely. This loneliness means that something in me is seeking an external prop. So, let me stop seeking external props. I need a meal, I need some recreation, so let me go and have it, but, to sit moaning for props? So, be active, innerly active. Your hope is based on your immediate presence. Very definite.”

Then you can have some hope, otherwise, no hope. And to live without hope is not very good, but it’s all based on now. Now. There’s no future hope. All hope is present. Obviously what is to come depends upon now. Don’t want it to change. Use it, find it useful. Kick against the pricks. be interested, otherwise you’ll weave a sort of miserable gloom and you won’t see what happens when they leave.”

The next question, from Mick, again related to what Adie had said about “producing to yourself” the negative emotion, and confronting it with a quiet presence.

Mr Adie, I’ve found a clear voice within me that leads me into dissatisfaction and considerings. A form of personality: a fantasy voice that comes up and says “that doesn’t sound too good”, or it says “this would sound better”.”

Supposing you give an illustration, Mick, or an experience of it. What you say is clear enough, but give an example of it if you have one.”

Well last weekend I saw an a position in a newspaper for a job that seemed to be a better job than the one I have, even though it’s a good job. This is the instance when I first noticed this voice, the voice said this job sounds better, it would sound better to say.”

That you would be a sergeant rather than a corporal?”

Yes, and during the week I noticed that voice, and realised that it had been there a long time, but I had never noticed it at all, or confronted it, but I enjoyed it, and I remember daydreaming with it, playing with it. I’d like to know how to get a handle to eliminate it.”

Welcome it!” replied Adie. “Open the door! Say: “Please come in!” It will hate it if you’re there. The difficulty will be to get it to come in: it will wait until you’ve gone to sleep, and then it will come along. This is where the flash comes in: our work goes in flashes, and in a flash you can be quicker, and confront it before it can disappear. Use it, be present to it, every time it comes trotting along, medals out and all the rest, you begin to hear it coming.”

But I’ve tried that this week.”

You tried it like that? How have you tried it?”

Well, I haven’t been present to it or welcomed it.” At this, everyone laughed.

Ah. So you haven’t had the idea of welcoming it. I’ve got to be a bit quiet inside. All this takes place inside, the corporals and sergeants and all that. I have to be very quiet, I have to take my work more deeply, relax more. But that’s a good observation, and it’s the same for everybody, there’s nobody here hasn’t got dreams and hasn’t had dreams. It’s very familiar, it couldn’t be otherwise. Couldn’t be otherwise. Everybody wants to be something, to achieve something, and things around that. Dreams of success, dreams of profit, dreams of glory. It starts very early. Look at how hero worship is educated into young children. They’re encouraged, they stimulate it with books and films. Chaps that have got long legs and can run a bit faster, they give them prizes for it, and make them into heroes. Is it clearer?”

I’m not sure what you said about taking it a little deeper.”

Be more present, be deeper inside. Don’t be satisfied with your old degree of sincerity. Just be a bit quieter and confront this thing. See the stupidity of it. Didn’t you follow what we were discussing with Sam? It relates to you, doesn’t it, although you haven’t got exactly the same conditions.”

I take my work seriously, and the only thing that is up to it is my inner centre of discrimination, but if I only discriminate in my head, it’s no good. You know how it is said that nothing can exist without three forces, active and passive and neutralising. And here are three forces, instinctive and moving force, emotional force and intellectual force – broadly – and they all have to all take part. Well. they’re not centred in the toes. if anything they’re centred here, you see. And I need that sense of myself before anything.” Adie must have gestured to a part of his body when he said “centred here”.

Love and attraction is very, very powerful. It generally comes from same central place which moves the whole of you, but when we think of something, our head takes centre-stage, the body is asleep, and the head goes dodging about, looking through queer holes, and understanding nothing.”

Mr Adie, I mentioned it a long time ago”, said Ida, “about how when my husband comes home, and he criticises me for something in the house that not’s right, or about me, I get defensive and react. When I first started to try and work on it, I saw that if I was criticised I saw a need to hit back and retaliate. Now I find that I don’t retaliate.”

Not in the same form. What form does it take now?”

It’s a sullen silence.”

In a way, that’s worse from his point of view.”

Yes, because when I tended to hit back quickly, it was over and done with, but now it tends to smoulder.”

Well now, if you relate that situation to what we’ve just been saying, then you can transform that … something more is possible.”

I see the energy that’s wasted.”

Yes, and you could have that for yourself. There’s nothing that won’t feed me if I can be in the right place. More and more we try and understand what alchemy is. Alchemy is the transformation of one kind of energy into another, negative into positive; the transformation of coarse metal into fine: gold. It is always said of the alchemist that before he can do that, he has to have some gold to start with. This gold is our presence, this is the gold that we need to bring, our presence. This will transform, so that you have more energy. Well, that is a picture, but it needs confrontation. You need to compare that, that marvellous reality, with this dubious and horrible alternative.”

You can’t expect him to change, but if you change yourself, it would help him. He would be in the presence of a different process. Of course, in that connection, you’ve got to be prepared for him to be more annoyed because you don’t react quite in the same way. But, if you have your presence, you won’t offend. If you merely disdainfully put him away or close into yourself, it’s more offensive than coming out fighting. It has to be done in the presence of.”

You can’t cut off from it: you’re right in the thick of it, you wake up inside it, and then you make your transformation. This extraordinary invocation in the Bible, “thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” What does that mean? One repeats it, but what does it mean? Here is one’s enemy, very clearly, isn’t it? Enemies of my being, and here is the table. If I eat it, if I take it, I get my food, my feast. Try and think like that, think how, and of course I have to be practical, too. Try and be practical.”

This is my inner work, it’s not concerned so much with my comfort. Things will get better if I work that way, but I want to make this alchemy the key of my effort. All the other efforts are sort of partial efforts, they’re conditional upon my getting some satisfactions and all the rest. This is the only pure, unmixed effort. If I can make a pure effort, I certainly can get the energy, no doubt, but it’s difficult, it means swallowing things which in the usual way I could never swallow. And it isn’t swallowing to take them swallow them slowly and painfully. I’ve got to take them almost gladly, and that’s hell.”

I have not included the next question. The one after was brought by Stan. “ I’ve been trying to look at my dreams in my tense state. I’ve noticed the types of dreams that have been going on supporting this state.”

Part of it,” replied Adie. “They’re together. The dreams encourage the state, the state makes ground for the dreams.”

That’s really my question. I’ll give you some examples. One dream I can remember very clearly, I sat down, I imagined very vividly, and with my whole emotions, that I was having an argument with my boss, but behind that there seemed to be a certain attitude. I was in the commanding position. But I could feel all my emotional force being drawn out through this.”

Negative imagination: a definite kind of process.”

Will I give a few more examples?”

Well, what about this example? Maybe the other examples are different: what about the question here?”

First thing I noticed about it, there was a certain satisfaction in it. There was a tense state about it.”

Yes. We’ve already been told that from our childhood we have enjoyed our negative emotions, very difficult, everybody would have said at the beginning, oh, of course I hate my negativity, I don’t like it. But as you truly say there’s a certain satisfaction: there’s some dog rather liking its bone, dog in me who finds there’s something there. This thing likes the fight it’s winning. This is an imaginary I, part of false personality enjoying itself at your expense, the expense of your blood, and not only that, but of your Kesdjan blood.”

I think that as soon as I see this dangerous negative imagination, obviously I should try and change my state, because it can go on and on, and I can bleed. I have seen what my state is now, and now, directly, I want to put a stop in. Give it a shock. Register what it is, that I need to move, and change my posture, take a breath, go for a walk. Whatever helps. I can surely take that as a point to begin work. The difficult part is that I have to somehow keep on, but eventually it will slow down. It’s only got to be unguarded, and it will go again, you see?”

So, my effort is more to stop dreaming?”

Certainly, but you described dreaming mixed with negative imagination. This emotionalism has to be stopped. But how do you stop?”

There was a pause in the conversation, before Adie continued: “You take your energy away, take it to yourself. You don’t have anything to do with this poison at all. You see, if you start to hang onto it you can destroy yourself. You go to yourself. You go and take the energy in.”

What of the attitude, Mr Adie?”

The attitude? The attitude gradually changes. What attitude can I have other than that I’m being sucked dead, and soon there will be only a corpse. I’m a compulsed, forced nothing, Immediately there’s a different attitude possible, based on finer matter, move. And then I can have an attitude, an intentional attitude. The attitude I want is based on choice. I choose not to waste my force like that, so I have an attitude grounded centrally: an attitude which can look up as well as down, an attitude which is open and not closed. An attitude which can move, which is mobile. How do you understand “attitude”? It isn’t only a mental thing. It’s everything, it’s my feeling and my thought, of course, but the thought has to be connected with feeling and sense, otherwise it’s a dead thought. People commit horrible crimes when they’re cut off from feeling and sensation. If they had feeling and sensation it would be entirely different.”

I find that my whole day is a system of dreams,” Stan continued: “not all as emotional as that, but all different things, coming all the time.”

Good, you’re finding that out. Then, what is your plan for work? Now, according to what you’ve seen, according to what you’ve received, you make a plan. If you make a plan, perhaps you don’t carry it out: but you see why you didn’t. You’re still learning something. Or maybe you do carry it out for a little bit: it’s a whole process of becoming born, and being created, or awakening, which is gradual, gradual, gradual, depending on your self-impulse, and the exercise of your own small degree of will. The more you observe yourself, the more you relax, the more you will see what your state is by the set of your face, the direction of your eyes, and it will tell you about your inner state, and again you will make small adjustments. And now that probably covers all your other illustrations, but if it doesn’t, bring the other examples.”

In my efforts, I would have to try and stop dreaming all the time, wouldn’t I?”

But you can’t do it all the time”, Adie replied. “You do it some time, by intention. Nobody can make effort all the time. But you can make efforts occasionally, when you get called. Every now and then, you come up, otherwise you couldn’t make these observations. But you don’t observe yourself all the time.”

You see that you’re manifesting like this, and become despairing. But you only conclude that it’s like that all the time, because these are the things you see when you start to awaken. When you say it goes on all day, it sounds hopeless, but choose certain moments and don’t worry about the rest. These moments when you’re called are the moments when you can make effort. If you relate this to your preparation, and plan with it, you find more light each time, you have more connection with your intention when the time comes. I have to have intent, otherwise I have no power of action, and then everything goes automatically. The whole essence of what I’m trying to say is that we really have this will-potential in us, we have this possibility. This is what I have to bring into my work – at points – and I plan to allow this to be touched as often as possible. You can prepare to make use of your periodic fits of madness, because there’s something definite. That’s the practical way to work.”

Half way through the next question, unfortunately, the tape ran out.

edited Joseph Azize, 12 June 2011

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

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

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









The book  

George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia

is available from By the Way Books.  

Sufism and the Way of Blame: Azize review


Joseph Azize Book Review


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 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 … 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.



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.



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  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.


Gurdjieff & Christianity: part one

Joseph Azize

I feel that the time has come for this blog to address the relationship between Gurdjieff, his teaching and methods on the one hand, and Christianity on the other. I have been pondering the issues for some time, but have always sensed that the issues were too big for me to tackle just now. Really, they still are, and maybe always will be. But I’ve found that the exercise of writing helps me to understand, to see where I don’t understand, where I can’t understand, and to perceive more clearly where the limitations in my thought lie. So, the fact that a topic is difficult for me, or even beyond my capacities, may be a reason to attempt it, to try to expand my range.

The impulse to broach the topic right now came from an acquaintance who asked me some pretty good questions about Gurdjieff and Christianity. Unfortunately, the information available to him is so lopsided or even distorted that he cannot even obtain a half decent idea of the possibilities of Gurdjieff’s teachings and methods. Once I addressed myself to the topic, certain very clear ideas appeared as if they’d been waiting to be articulated … and so, here we are. I’ve planned this as a series of short blogs, of no more than 1,000 words each, to present a few of my more or less tentative conclusions in crisp outline.

My first thesis is this: Gurdjieff’s teaching and Christianity have the same aim, to secure eternity with God. It seems to me to be obvious, and entirely unoriginal, to say that our lives depend upon our aim. If I have no aim, then, as Mr Adie said, everything is equal. Aim brings meaning to life and unity to our strivings. Multiple, mixed or conflicting aims lead to futility, meaninglessness and disturbance. Therefore, it is of the utmost significance that the Christian religion and Gurdjieff’s system coincide in aim.

Of course, they express this one aim in their own unique terms. But if my aim accords with that of Christianity – to attain to the beatific vision – then it also accords with Gurdjieff’s, as stated in Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson. There he says that it is possible for one to become “a particle, though an independent one, of everything existing in the great universe” (183, see also 162, 244-5, 384 and 452). On the Planet Purgatory, he said, souls strive to purify themselves specifically to be able to unite with and become part of the universal “Greatness” (801). In the 1930 typescript, it states:

… the souls inhabiting that planet Purgatory might have a perfect and quiet existence, with everything uniquely favourable. Nevertheless, for them these external circumstances of quiet and comfort simply do not count at all. They are entirely absorbed in the increasing labour of their purgation; and only the hope of one day having the good fortune and the possibility of becoming a part of the Greatness which is fulfilled by our All-possible Endlessness for the good of All, appears occasionally to give them peace.

There is an important reference to the beatific vision, but it is characteristic of Gurdjieff that it is perhaps secondary to unity of being. That the beatific vision is the ultimate Christian aim is trite. Catechetic texts abound in statements such as the following: “Faith is the indispensable prelude to the beatific vision, the supernatural end of man. Both are immediate knowledges of God, faith the hearing of His word on earth, vision the seeing of His face in heaven. Without revelation there would be some natural knowledge of God, but not the knowledge of faith.” As we shall explore in future blogs, this idea of the necessity of revelation is found also in Gurdjieff, and his references to “messengers from above”.

Aquinas said that “the beatific vision and knowledge are to some extent above the nature of the rational soul, inasmuch as it cannot reach it of its own strength; but in another way it is in accordance with its nature, inasmuch as it is capable of it by nature, having been made to the likeness of God.”

This, it seems to me, is also a good summary of Gurdjieff’s position. We have possibilities, as Gurdjieff said, “according to law”. The most important of our possibilities do not depend on us, they are part of the makeup of creation as it is. What depends on us is that we take advantage of our lawful possibilities. That Christians will speak of “grace” whereas Gurdjieff does not is merely a semantic difference. Christians also speak of “providence” and “predestination”, although less frequently than of “grace”, and these all come down to the same thing. Calvin utterly misunderstood predestination, and since him, the Western Christian discourse has been somewhat confused. To my mind, Gurdjieff can best explain how these concepts all fit together.

“Grace” refers to the action of God (chiefly felt in the soul, but also manifested as the rare miracle), and to the divinely planned system of the creation.

“Predestination” in human terms, is pretty much like the way that the Department of Roads laid down a broad street between Rydalmere and Parramatta. But if I want to travel to the predestined end (my home in Rydalmere), I still have to drive my car. The road is there by providence: the facilitating of road-making, driving and navigating. That I do not crash or lose my way is due to grace: that God has freely given me (the etymological meaning of “grace”) the means of availing myself of this providential arrangement.

Gurdjieff says little about grace in the first sense, although it is actually in Beelzebub, e.g. the pardoning of Beelzebub. For this reason, among others, the apparent difference between Gurdjieff and Christianity is greater than it is. But as I have said, Gurdjieff shares the aim of Christianity, to bring humanity to God. And that is the most possible significant fact.

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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