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KEITH A. BUZZELL’S TRIO OF CURRENT PUBLICATIONS: part two

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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.

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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 Amazon.com 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 < http://www.colombo.ca > for further details. If you wish to received notice of future reviews and commentaries, send JRC an email: < jrc@colombo.ca >.

 

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KEITH A. BUZZELL’S TRIO OF CURRENT PUBLICATIONS: Part One

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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 Amazon.com 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:

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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.

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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.

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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 < http://www.colombo.ca > for further details. If you wish to received notice of future reviews and commentaries, send JRC an email: < jrc@colombo.ca >.

   

THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF SY GINSBURG

JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO

looks at the publications of     SEYMOUR B. GINSBURG

The thought of G.I. Gurdjieff comes to mind whenever I drive into a shopping plaza where there is a sign that says Toys “R” Us. There are almost two dozen of these toy supermarkets in the Greater Toronto Area, where I live, all of them “reminders” of the man and his message. Canada alone has a total of seventy outlets at the present time. If you live in the United States, there are 860 occasions to remember Mr. Gurdjieff, but only seventy-six if you live in the United Kingdom. Non-U.S. outlets around the world offer an additional 716 opportunities for remembering.

All of this may seem a little sly or silly but for the fact that Toys “R” Us acts for me as a reminder to remember myself and it could do the same for other people too. The reason it comes to mind is that there is an interesting connection between the toy store chain and Seymour B. Ginsburg, whose contribution to the Work is an important one. As unlikely as it might seem, Ginsburg was the co-founder of the parent company and the first president of the company we know as Toys “R” Us. That was decades ago so I assume that he is no longer involved with running the highly successful chain of outlets.

Here is some background on the man, all taken from published sources. Sy Ginsburg (as he is usually greeted) was born in Chicago in 1934 and studied accountancy and law at Northwestern University. In addition to his success in the world of commerce, he has made his mark in at least five related fields of endeavour.

First, he served as President of the Theosophical Society in South Florida. Second, he was a co-founder of the Gurdjieff Institute of Florida. Third, he and his wife Dorothy Usiskin have been mainstays of the series of annual All & Everything Conferences, now in their fifteenth year. Fourth, he has drawn attention to the spiritual contribution of a modern-day Indian guru known as Sri Madhava Ashish. Fifth, he is the author of a number of books that are not only interesting but significant.

There is no way for me to survey all of these fields of accomplishment. Instead, I will describe Sy’s publications and focus on Sy Ginsberg’s relationship with “Ashishda” (as he is known). I will do so out of chronological order; I will also note that I met Sy at the A&E Conference held in Toronto in April 2009 and hence took the opportunity to observe him in action. I found him, unlike many students and practitioners of the Work, to be direct and dynamic. He knows his own mind and he understands precisely what he is doing.

These features are characteristic of his most important if overlooked publication, the one titled “Gurdjieff Unveiled.” There is a subtitle “An Overview and Introduction to the Teaching” as well as a sub-subtitle “For the beginning student, for the inquiring seeker, and for the simply curious.” The sub-subtitle covers a lot of ground, as does the text itself. It is a short work, not more than 150 pages in all, and the paperback copy that I purchased  was published in 2005 by Lighthouse Editions, and is still in print on demand format ISBN 1-90499801 0.

From time to time I am asked to recommend a book on the Work. When that happens I automatically nominate P.D. Ouspensky’s “The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution,” for it is short, straight-forward, and uncompromising. Along with its companion book “The Cosmology of Man’s Possible Evolution,” it certainly captures the essence of the Work in Europe in the interwar period. Knowledgeable people often recommend books that convey the “taste” of the spirit of the Work since the 1950s, memoirs written by participants like Henri Tracol.

From now on I will recommend Sy’s “Gurdjieff Unveiled” as not only an introductory work but also as a “continuing” work. I recommend it despite its title which I assume reflects the author’s interest in Theosophy, and while I may yearn to behold “Isis Unveiled” (the reference is to H.P. Blavatsky’s major book written prior to “The Secret Doctrine”), I have never lusted to see Mr. Gurdjieff “unveiled.” It certainly offers information on the ins and the outs of the Work in clear and contemporary prose. Indeed, it is something of a handbook.

The work is dedicated to Nicolas Tereshchenko, “A serious seeker, a true scholar, a friend.” In addition to tables and diagrams and four appendices, it offers the reader six chapters, quaintly called “Lessons.” For general interest, I will list the titles of the chapters so the experienced reader will see at a glance where the book begins and ends.

Lesson 1: Who am I?

Lesson 2: The Expansion of Consciousness

Lesson 3: The Transmutation of Energy

Lesson 4: The Conservation of Energy

Lesson 5: Meditation

Lesson 6: Gurdjieff Groups

In these chapters I found considerable information with insights that I had not encountered elsewhere, at least in this form. Fresh material also appears in the four appendices. The first appendix tries to answer the question “Who are you Mister Gurdjieff” and includes detailed information on how the Mahatma Letters, identified with the Theosophical Society, were edited at the Priory at Fontainebleau. The second appendix breaks new ground in relating “the study of dreams” to the Work and offers techniques for remembering dreams, approaches that do work.

The third appendix examines the Exercises in genuine detail and in doing so offers lists of words for human concerns and failings keyed to passages in “Tales.” This is a feature that I have not seen elsewhere in the Canon. As well there are Notes, Bibliography, and a detailed Index. The book is quite a handful, hence I call it a Gurdjieff handbook.

On another occasion I may draw attention to some of the insights that appear in the pages of “Gurdjieff Unveiled,” but on this occasion I want to note Sy’s other books. But even they deserve more time and space than I have at hand. Here goes. The author’s first book bears the daunting title “In Search of the Unitive Vision” and is subtitled “Letters of Sri Madhava Ashish to an American Businessman 1978-1997).” It is a compilation with a commentary and it appeared in a handsome, trade paperback published in 2001 by New Paradigm Books of Boca Raton, Florida.

The text of almost 300 pages consists of the above-mentioned letters but also descriptive passages, narrative accounts, diary entries, personal essays, and a series of questions and answers about spiritual matters. In fact, the book is indexed and I assume that pretty well every subject of interest to the student of consciousness studies is mentioned at some point in these pages.

Sy spent almost twenty years in contact with Madhava Ashish, making annual visits, beginning in the year 1978, to Ashishda’s ashram at Mirtola, near Almora, in the Himalayan foothills of Northern India. Indeed, it was Ashishda who directed the young “American businessman” to seek out the teachings of Gurdjieff. The book is a record of their friendship, not so much between equals as much as it was and remains between fellow-seekers, one of whom was in a position to inspire and direct the other.

To confuse matters a little, “In Search of the Unitive Vision” has been reprinted with another title and subtitle: “The Masters Speak: An American Businessman Encounters Ashish and Gurdjieff.” This is brand-new edition, well printed, published in 2010 by Quest Books: Theosophical Publishing House of Wheaton, Illinois. The differences between the two editions seem minor, mainly matters of presentation.

Whichever edition is used, the portrait that emerges of Ashishda is one that is “in the round.” Judging by the descriptions and photographs that are reproduced in these pages, Sri Madhava Ashish was Central Casting’s ideal guru: tall, dark-haired, handsome … and English. Ashishda was born Alexander Phipps (1920-1997) and educated in English public schools. On a trip to the subcontinent he met and became a disciple of Sri Krishna Prem (1898-1965), another Englishman, this one born Ronald Henry Nixon, a Theosophist in background.

Prem and Ashishda, both sannyasins of the Vaishanava tradition of Hinduism, became influential spiritual leaders, thinkers, and practitioners with much to offer to those Westerners who were drawn to their ashrams. They themselves had been influenced by Theosophy, as is apparent when one reads the essays in “What Is Man?”

“What Is Man?” is subtitled “Selected Writings of Sri Madhava Ashish.” This is another handsome publication, issued in 2010 by Penguin Books, New Delhi. It is also about 300 pages long and begins with a Foreword contributed by Dr. Karan Singh who goes unidentified (but whom Wikipedia informs me was “the last ruler of the princely state of Kashmir and Jammu” and served as India’s Ambassador to the United States in 1990-91). It is a perfunctory Foreword.

The Preface, anything but perfunctory, was written by Sy along with three other compilers: Satish Datt Pandey, Seán Mahoney, Pervin Mahoney. They quote a passage from one of Ashishda’s letters to Sy: “Give me all the teachings about man and the universe and I will accept them only if I can be shown one man who embodies and validates these teachings. One follows the teachings back to their source in the man whose truth affirms the truth of the teachings.” I am sure that most people instinctively feel the same way: validation of the tradition lies in its embodiment and expression in the human being. On this basis, Ashishda is one such embodiment and expression.

The texts are organized in four parts. Part I, called “Introduction,” consists of Ashishda’s appreciative memoir of his teacher, Sri Krishna Prem. Part II is titled “The Path” and it collects seven essays on such subjects as “The Value of Uncertainty” and “The Sadhu in Our Lives.” Part III has been titled “The Inner Inquiry” and contains of eight miscellaneous essays including one called “Big Dreams” and another intriguingly titled “Quacking Oranges and Cloned Einsteins.” Part IV, “The Doctrine,” brings together five essays that will be familiar to Theosophists, notably “‘The Secret Doctrine’ as a Contribution to World Thought” and “The Fifth Race.” Finally, there is an two-page appendix of some historical, textual interest devoted to Madame Blavatsky’s “The Stanzas of Dzyan.”

The well-written copy on the back cover of “What Is Man?” notes how unusual is the message in this book: “It has little to do with conventional religions, but can be called secular spirituality. It points out the folly of viewing the cosmos in material terms alone, encouraging us to open our minds and see that our lives are not restricted to the closed box of purely physical existence.” The copywriters mercifully avoided the words “New Age.”

There is a clarity to Ashishda’s prose is reasonable and at the same time reassuring. He composes the sort of prose that I can imagine Aldous Huxley enjoying or Gerald Heard writing. At times it verges on being a sermon; at times it reminds me of the inspired and inspiring “talks” of J. Krishnamurti. It is a prose addressed to man’s best nature and it resists quotation; there are no high moments, for there is a general level of elevation. It is timeless prose if by that description is meant that it is sounds somewhat old-fashioned.

The essay “Man, Son of Man” sounds this note: “Columbus would never have discovered the Americas had he not disbelieved in the flatness of the world, nor shall we discover this other New World if we do not challenge the equally ‘flat’ world view of our present-day science and set out on a voyage of discovery in a direction and dimension where science sees nothing to discover.”

In summary: Seekers and readers have reasons to be grateful to Seymour B. Ginsburg for his many-fold contributions, including writing a spot-on introduction to the teaching called “Gurdjieff Unveiled” and for introducing readers in the English-speaking world to the traditional yet timely message of Sri Madhava Ashish. Driving past a Toys “R” Us outlet brought all of this to mind!

John Robert Colombo, known as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of Canadiana, reviews books for this blog on “consciousness studies.” Scheduled to appear in the fall is “The Sumuru Omnibus,” his compilation of the five novels written about the villainess Sumuru the English mystery-story writer Sax Rohmer.

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