Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

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

Posts Tagged ‘Tcheslaw Tchekhovitch


John Robert Colombo Page


Margaret Flinsch

Here she is telling stories to the children of Blue Rock School

His Master’s Words
JRC reviews a newly released spoken-word “Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson”

I am not really knowledgeable about “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson” or about the commentaries that it has generated. Much has been written about G.I. Gurdjieff’s masterwork, and this is only reasonable given that it is a singularly difficult work to read aloud. One reason for this is the tome’s length, which rivals that of James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” and Marcel Proust’s “A la recherche du temps perdu,” literary works that were written in Paris and Zurich in the late 1920s, at the same time that Gurdjieff at the Café de la Paix in Paris was labouring over the manuscripts that make up the Tales.

All three texts make mammoth demands on their readers, demands that include patience, application, concentration, commitment, and imagination. (By imagination I mean the powers of association, what
Ouspensky has called “psychological thinking” as distinct from “logical thinking,” necessary for an appreciation of this labyrinthine and often rococo work.)

Next year I will be in a better position to discuss the Tales as I plan to attend the “All & Everything Conference” which is being held in Toronto from April 22 to 26, 2009. I hope to cover the event in detail – presentations, seminars, panels, banquet, etc. – for readers of this blog who might wish to attend but do not live near Toronto and hence are unlikely to be there except in spirit. So I will not presume to discuss the Tales, short of reminding its readers of two facts.

The first fact is that the author has ordered his readers to read his text three times, all in different ways for different purposes and presumably different centres in man. The second fact is how the text itself begins, it commences with these words: “Among other convictions formed in my common presence during any responsible, peculiarly composed life …. ”

Now that fact introduces a problem because, as I write this review on my computer, I am listening to its audio system play the first of the four disks that comprise a newly released recording of the Tales
its entirety. Disk one begins, “Well, my boy …. ” What gives? What is happening? Let me back up and try to explain.

From time to time I have reviewed the books published by Dolmen Meadow Editions, which is the imprint of the Toronto Gurdjieff Group. Members of that group are quite active. They are responsible for the appearance of a Russian-language text of the Tales, a mammoth undertaking, as well as the first English editions of “Gurdjieff: A Master in Life” (the recollections of Tcheslaw Tchekhovitch) and “Inner Octaves” (the English translation of Michel Conge’s classic talks). Some of these publications are for general sale; others are not.

Some years ago members of Dolmen Meadow issued a set of four CDs in MP3 format of William J. Welch reading all of the Tales, I have yet to purchase those CDs of Dr. Welch’s reading, but one day I will. I recall he had a heavy and hearty voice and he always spoke “with a twinkle in the eye.” Then I will be able to compare and contrast his reading with the present one, which is an impressive and very womanly one done by Margaret Flinsch.

The four-disk set of CDs in MP3 format (suitable for playing on both a computer and a CD player) is titled “G.I. Gurdjieff: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man as read by Margaret Flinsch.” Dolmen Meadow’s website offers this details: ISBN: 978-0-9780-661-2-3. List price: US $60.00.

The jewel-box includes a model eight-page booklet that sketches in the background of the book and identifies the reader. Margaret (Peggy) Flinsch is one of those names that crops up in the literature of the Fourth Way, always in pleasant and positive contexts, for she knew Gurdjieff well, was respected by one and all, and at gatherings regularly recited passages from the Tales. She was born in Glendale, Ohio, in 1907; she taught in experimental schools; she married an Olympic oarsman and raised a family; she assisted in the preparation of the revised edition of the Tales which was issued by Penguin Books in 1992.

All of that information comes from the booklet. Let me add that Ms. Flinsch was associated with the Blue Rock School, a progressive primary and secondary school located in West Nyack, N.Y. Her sister made a contribution to the Work: the late D.M. Dooling, founder of the influential journal “Parabola.” The Work seems to run in her family.

The author or authors of the booklet relate the Tales to reciting, reading, and listening: “Peggy stresses that this book is meant to be read aloud. And Gurdjieff states that his book is designed to reach both the waking consciousness and the subconscious. ‘For me,’ Peggy has said, ‘listening is the path to the subconscious mind.’” Such is the power of the spoken word.

The recordings were made at her residence over a five-year period between 2003 and 2008. Volume levels of some sessions differ from those of other sessions, as one would assume, given the five-year eriod of recording. They also give the reader something of a jolt, a shock, a “stop” – perhaps not a bad experience in the circumstances! “Peggy is one of the last people alive who read from ‘Beelzebub’s Tales’ in Gurdjieff’s presence. She has studied the book all her life and is an advocate of its being read with the correct pronunciation of Gurdjieff’s special words.”

Not having a copy of the Penguin edition handy, I diverted myself by listening to Ms. Flinsch read the text while following it with a copy of the first edition of 1950 published by Harcourt, Brace and Company. After a couple of minutes of listening, it became apparent that the differences between the editions are mainly on the level of streamlining the expressions. For instance, on page 20, the text has a power “proceeding within.” Ms. Flinsch has it “aroused within.” I suppose this makes a difference, but how much of a difference I will leave that to specialists to determine – or to wiseacre.

If you want to hear six or so minutes of the text as read by Ms. Flinsch, check the Dolmen Meadow website and click on to “Becoming Aware of Being Duty.” If you do so, you will hear a representative part of the whole. You will hear a compassionate woman used to speaking with assurance and authority; an elderly person used to reading to classes and groups of younger people; a teacher used to articulating without pontificating; a human being who is certain the text has meanings that may be conveyed with intelligence and insight. She takes the text slowly, and her rhythm is that of someone who wishes to be heard and understood without the need for drama or melodrama.

Ms. Flinsch speaks the English of an educated professional person in an accent that is close to what Canadians describe as “mid-Atlantic.” She has no problems with the tome’s specialized vocabulary – “Sacred Vznooshlitzval” and “Askalnooazar” and so on – and indeed makes these expressions sound like English words. The key to her performance is that she reads these strange syllables quite slowly, whereas the attempt of the less-experienced reader would be to rush upon them and give them foreign intonations based on the derivations of their component parts. They are neologisms and legominisms, but they sound less like inventions than they do everyday expressions that are inescapable in the circumstances.

Amusingly, the only peculiarity is the pronunciation she gives to the French words “bon-ton” – a scowl comes through! Perhaps the sole surprise is that Ms. Flinsch speaks the language like an American: flattening some word-endings, dropping the occasional “g,” and turning the “t” into a “d.” These are minor matters indeed.

There is one other surprise. While the disks are playing, there are quasi-fractals that appear on the screen in shimmering colours. There is no relationship between the shapes and colours, on the one hand, and the words from the passages being read on the other.

I still do not know why the recording begins, “Well, my boy …. ” At first I had supposed it had something to do with the Penguin edition of the text, but upon replaying the opening, it does not recur. The text begins where the text should begin, so it must have been my computer’s fault: we all hear and read different things.)

My overall sense of the recording, however, is that this set of disks is Ms. Flinsch’s lasting legacy to readers and listeners of the Tales for decades to come. We sense in her voice an authority that seems to derive from that of the book’s author. She gives voice to the author’s words by finding each chapter of the book to be a repository of humour and folklore and insight into the human condition viewed from a cosmological perspective, lightened with verbal pranks and rogueries, all of which she recites with a straight face.

Here is a story-teller with a mission as well as a story-reader with a message. Indeed, she has shown how contemporary – and how postmodern – the Tales will sound when they are beautifully read.

John Robert Colombo is known in Canada as “the Master Gatherer” for his compilations of lore and literature. His current publications include “The Big Book of Canadian Ghost Stories” and “Whistle While You Work,” a collection of essays about Canadiana and consciousness studies. He is an Associate of the Northrop Frye Centre, Victoria College, University of Toronto.



Joseph Azize Page


Ferapontoff’s Constantinople notes state that: “Unity is the psychological attribute of immortality.” I would add that consciousness and conscience are perhaps likewise the intellectual and emotional attributes of immortality. The three divine impulses, faith, hope and love, may be the spiritual attributes of immortality. By contrast, death is dissolution and “tumbling to decay”, as Hopkins said. Narrowing of consciousness, stifling of conscience, closure to the divine impulses, and rigidity are all shadows thrown before the remorseless advance of death.

Life is a field in which the materials for the life-beyond-this-life are all found, and can be attracted together to create an operating wholeness. In the chapter “Beelzebub’s Opinion of War”, Beelzebub says that the ‘destiny’ of humans is “chiefly to elaborate – by means of the process of their existence – the vibrations required by Nature …” (p. 1105). On the very next page, he speaks not of producing vibrations but a sacred cosmic substance, “Askokin” (p. 1106). Perhaps there is no relevant difference: perhaps Askokin is as much a vibration as it is a substance. Beelzebub also says that Askokin is generally found blended with two other substances, Abrustdonis and Helkdonis. These latter two substances are the material from which higher being-bodies, namely, “the body Kesdjan and the body of the Soul” are “in general” formed and perfected. Further, Abrustdonis and Helkdonis are transubstantiated “by means of conscious labors and intentional sufferings”. In that process of transubstantiation, Askokin is “liberated” (pp. 1106-7).

This was known to the people of Atlantis, says Beelzebub. Atlantean males would gather in their temples for certain “mysteries” in the “special state” of self-remembering. There they would give themselves over to “active and conscious contemplation the whole time, and in this state performed these corresponding sacred mysteries, so that there should be transubstantiated in them the sacred substances Abrustdonis and Helkdonis.” (p. 1109) Thus they fulfilled two duties at once, the duties of perfecting their higher being-bodies and of serving the cosmic Trogoautoegocratic process (p. 1108). It would appear, although it is not explicitly stated, that Askokin, Abrustdonis and Helkdonis are elements of the active element Exioëhary which can be used both for continuation of the species and for self-perfecting (see pp. 277, 761 and 793). That is, self-remembering, conscious labor and intentional suffering, contemplation, normal use of the sex energy, the production of the soul and of the vessel of the soul (“Kesdjan” is said to mean “vessel of the soul”) and so immortality, are aspects of the one process, the “process of (our) existence” if lived consciously.

The same doctrine is, I think, referred to in the chapter “Purgatory”, when Beelzebub speaks of “intentional contemplativeness”, which he states is “the principal factor for the assimilation of those cosmic substances”, being those “definite cosmic substances necessary for the arising and existence of higher being-parts …” (p. 783). Once more, he tells us in this context that the absorption of the higher being-foods was considered by some of the inhabitants of Atlantis to be “the chief aim of their existence” (p. 783).

Then, Beelzebub states in the chapter “Beelzebub in America” that the practices of what he calls the Mohammedan religion were introduced because the followers of the teaching had “lost the capacity for contemplation and consequently the possibility of understanding truths consciously …” (p. 1010). Again, contemplation is placed at the beginning of a progression of conscious development.

As for faith, hope and love as spiritual attributes of immortality, Beelzebub speaks eloquently of them in the Ashiata Shiemash chapters, stating at the outset that they are the “three sacred ways for self-perfecting, foreordained by OUR ENDLESS CREATOR HIMSELF …” (p. 353). Immortality is thus the prize, but immortality necessarily includes these divine impulses, and therefore is more than a bare extension of existence indefinitely far into time, it is an immortality of faith, hope and love.

In one of the Paris group meetings, Gurdjieff spoke of forming the second body by accumulating a substance, and said that a “will” was needed for this, and a struggle. He stated that this was the “only possibility” of coming to the second body, and that “the only aim is that everything should serve this aim”. Once one has glimpsed the simplicity of Gurdjieff’s methods, many other indications of how the methods all serve the crystallizing of higher bodies spring to mind, or are more quickly spotted. Perhaps Gurdjieff’s self-remembering, the five Obligolnian-strivings, and conscious labour and intentional suffering, can all be integrated into one system: they are integrated as being different notes in the octave of crystallizing higher bodies.

That integration of the methods, their simplicity (the folding of many into one ply), is illustrated in a passage titled “The Opening for the Appearance, the Materialization and the Coating of the Second Being-Body” read on 2 August 1978, where Mr Adie stated that the road to the coating of the astral body was “by means of gradually controlled, directed and divided attention”, which all tended to the harmonization of the life processes within us. He spoke there of the need to be able to remain balanced in the preparation and also in life, so that the inner transmutations could be sustained in their integrity. This text is now in the book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia.

If the process of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation is necessary for the formation of the highest being body, the converse is also true, that the formation of the bodies makes a more conscious life possible. As Mr Adie then said: “the formation and completion of the coating of this emotional body … enable(s us) to have the power to return and to enter the daily life of outer activity without suffering the usual dispersal of the emotional body”. In fact, this is, I think, the real reason why we are always forgetting: depending upon one’s vocabulary, one can say either that the higher bodies are insufficiently crystallised or that the soul is insufficiently pure. That this is Gurdjieff’s treaching is apparent from the diagram of the four bodies and the explanation found in Miraculous.

This diagram ties in with the idea of the higher centres. The balancing of our three most amenable centres (thinking, feeling and moving) corresponds to the development of man number 4. The harmonization of the higher emotional centre with these corresponds to the development of man number 5 and of the astral body. Thus, in the Ferapontoff notes it is stated: “The matter of the astral body is to be found in the emotional centre, but it is not crystallized.” Then, the harmonization of the activity of the higher intellectual centre with these corresponds to the development of man number 6 and the mental body. In man number 7, these developments are permanent.

There is found in Miraculous a diagram where alongside the ray of creation are two columns for bodies and laws. The diagram relevantly shows that the fourth (causal) body is subject only to six laws and is made up of the material of the starry world; the third (mental) body is subject to 12 laws and is composed of solar matter. The second (astral) body obeys 24 laws and is of the material of the planetary world, while the physical body under 48 laws is made of earthly matter (p. 94).

All of these various ideas of bodies, centres, energies, matters and laws, are but perspectives from different sides of the one process. On 2 July 1982, Mr Adie said that in the preparation one could, if one’s efforts had come to that point:

… direct a part of my gaze upwards through my brows, to that higher source, the source of the all-pervasive influence of the initiation of all life. It is as if the gaze started in my centre of gravity, and flowed upward, and joined in my head at that opening, to receive the finest impressions coming from the source of everything existing.

This is a reference to the work of the higher intellectual centre and the incipient mental body, which being composed of the matter of the sun does in fact directly receive the influence of “all suns”, the source of all life. Importantly, the process Mr Adie describes is natural. The ground for it has been prepared by the harmonization of the centres, but yet there is required both an understanding and effort, albeit surpassingly subtle understanding and effort.

In this regard, a letter which Adie wrote to Mr Gurdjieff and Mme de Salzmann on 24 July 1949 is interesting. In it, Adie speaks of the latest exercise Gurdjieff has given him, and what he experiences through it, describing the “building up or materialisation of the envelope of my sphere”. He also describes the stopping of thoughts, and an awareness of the “higher emotional body or Kesdjan body or at least something leading to this”. It is clear that he has not to been told to expect it, but nonetheless the concentration of his attention and energies, as directed, has made it possible. Adie explains that when he has the stated experience no negative emotions even appear. He notes that his consciousness seems to shift or be centred in a particular part of his body which I shall not describe. Now initially, his consciousness placed itself there, but now that he is aware of it, he says, this “is to be cultivated … as if from here I am safe in regard to others”.

In the blog on the Prayer of the Heart I wrote about the Christian prayer which makes use of awareness of the breath and its flowing into and through the body. There, too, the consciousness is placed in the body. As it happens, Mr Adie was referring to a different part of the body in this letter, but the principle is clear: when the consciousness has shifted, one can intentionally, by a simple act of will, place the consciousness there again, making possible a fresh experience. The placing in the body undoubtedly provides a stool for a more continuous experience.

One does not have to speak of the higher centres to come to the point of being able to sense the movement of energies through them. In fact, it may even be counter-productive if one speaks unwisely, or perhaps more accurately, if one allows oneself to mix imagination in with what one learns. This type of dreaming can lead to sleep in higher centres. Yet, once one has had an experience of the movement of subtle energies or of the activation of higher centres, then I feel as Mr Adie did, that one should not neglect them. Incidentally, that letter provides contemporaneous evidence of the methods Gurdjieff was using in 1949, and also of Adie’s faithfulness to his teacher.

Why Aiëssirittoorassnian-Contemplation?

Why is Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation necessary for the development of higher bodies? It is worth pondering some portions in the posthumously published Tu L’Aimeras, translated into English and re-edited as Gurdjieff, A Master in Life: Recollections of Tcheslaw Tchekhovitch.

Tchekhovitch recalls that a friend of a member of their Constantinople group had died, and they were speaking of this death when Gurdjieff approached. One of them summoned up the courage to ask Gurdjieff to clarify “how work of a spiritual nature leads to immortality”. They knew that he had said subtle bodies could be formed, but found this obscure. In reply, Gurdjieff gave the examples of stones forming in the kidney, and salt crystallizing from saturation. So too, he said, “psychic substances” can, if they saturate the body, crystallize. Further, a substance such as salt, when crystallized, possesses qualities lacking from the salt dissolved in water. A salty liquid poured into a river will quickly blend into the river water, and while one might detect some salt fifteen metres downstream, there will be no trace at all one kilometer further on. However, if the salt can be crystallized and placed beyond the waters, then it is “theoretically … immortal”.

The river, said Gurdjieff, is life. Life carries away the energies elaborated in us. If we could somehow keep separate from life the higher substances formed by conscious labors then the substances would crystallize more quickly and, like the salt crystals, retain their integrity. Once formed, the new arising has its own destiny. Gurdjieff went on to give the example of bread: one it has been properly baked, bread can no longer be reduced to flour. “Once made, bread has a fate of its own.” But, Gurdjieff went on to add, this does not mean that one must withdraw from what we call ‘life’, as some wrong-headed ascetics do, with the result that they exhaust themselves rather than developing. One must acquire a deeper understanding of the nature of life and separation from it.

Hence, I think, the importance of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation and making a connection between our experience of it and the manifestations of our lives. One commences the day with the preparation as a means of fostering the elaboration of finer substances.

By consciously collecting oneself within one’s atmosphere, one sets up, by an act of will, a sort of magnetic field for the collection and coherence of finer hydrogens. As the relative tempos of each centre start to come into the sacred relationship, these hydrogens coalesce and form a spiritualised unity according to a pattern contemplated on a more subtle plane of existence.

For this reason, some of Gurdjieff’s exercises end with instructions to rest ten or fifteen minutes in a collected state. One example, from “The Four Ideals” which Gurdjieff gave Mr Adie on 1 October 1948, specifically states that without this “calmness” the results cannot be assimilated and the exercise will have been in vain. It even gives further indications of what is meant by the collected state. Then, in the meeting of 9 December 1946 averted to above, Gurdjieff says that one should not do anything which causes one to emanate excessively: should one wish to accumulate the desired substance, one must come to a concentrated state. The danger he says, is that the results may evaporate like cigarette smoke. In fact, Gurdjieff there recommends that an exercise be finished with a prayer, to ask one’s “ideal” (sic) to help safeguard this result, and even to use the prayer between exercises so as to evoke “a factor of recall”.

In that meeting, and elsewhere, Gurdjieff insisted upon practising and repeating. An undated pencil jotting, found with what I call Mr Adie’s “Paris Notes” is headed Real I. It reads, in part:

Real I
Practise to isolate yourself from everyone, so as to come into this presence.
Real I. This you must practise now to have every aim.
Real I.
Practise for this isolation … Stop considering. … Keep all in. Real I.

As these “Paris Notes” of September 1949 briefly chart the Adies’ time with Gurdjieff, including something of the exercises, treatment and advice he gave, it is a fair conjecture that this piece either reflects a resolution Mr Adie made under the influence of what he was receiving in Paris with Gurdjieff, or even that its terse cadences record Gurdjieff’s own advice to him.

The advice seems to me to tie in with the talk on immortality recorded by Tchekhovitch, and also with another allegory which he relates. Still in Constantinople, Gurdjieff was asked about the proper attitude for a pupil. Imagine, he replied, that you are offered a house in a vast virgin forest with but one condition: you must maintain the fire beneath a cauldron. Even though no one checks on you, you are not allowed to lift the lid of the cauldron, and you know nothing about the boiling substance inside. You know only that you must keep it boiling and never allow the fire to go out. Significantly, no one but yourself verifies that you are doing it correctly. Such dedication, perseverance and honesty are the best attitudes in a pupil. Only later, Tchekhovitch said, did he come to understand what the mysterious alchemical substance might be and why sacrifice was required to obtain its gift.

It is also interesting that the stimulus for this allegory was a question about the desirable attitude in a pupil. I doubt that I am the only one who has for too long not appreciated what we have in Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. Jane Heap said that we live beneath our privileges. Nowhere, perhaps, is this more true than of we who have learned the morning preparation, but do not use it, or do not pass it on. Gurdjieff said of one version of the preparation: “Do this ten minutes every day for the rest of your life and you will live to bless my name.”

This explains two things: why it is necessary to use the preparation and exercises as Gurdjieff gave them, and why Gurdjieff, de Salzmann, Mrs Staveley, the Adies, all these people, insisted upon the value of trying the exercises in groups. First, the Gurdjieff exercises, and only the Gurdjieff exercises, include this teaching of higher being bodies and integrate it into the entire system in an organic manner. Bennett remarked that exciting as the Subud latihan was, he and others found that they had to go back to the Gurdjieff exercises because a strange sort of will-lessness had developed in them. Second, the more people who use these exercises together, the greater the concentration of higher hydrogens. Gurdjieff placed a lot of knowledge, very concisely and very precisely into the formulation of his exercises.

We will value Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation more if we study and value the teaching on higher being bodies. And of course, this takes us straight to Beelzebub which is filled with references, both direct and indirect, to these higher bodies and their cosmic destinies. As Gurdjieff stated, his pupils should regularly read his book, and they should read it in the manner he indicated: three times, passively, actively and bringing the reconciling scrutiny which can lead to digestion, transforming our knowledge of the book into our own understanding.

This all has an important corollary: the art should, I think, be related to daily efforts in life. We do try this, but perhaps there is scope for more concerted and ever more conscious efforts along these lines. Gurdjieff and his pupils persistently encouraged us to find ways of making connections between the morning preparation and efforts “in life”, so to speak. There is very little exchange on the exercises, and maybe that is prudent. Yet, nonetheless, perhaps it should perhaps be allowed for, even if only once a month or so, amongst those making a study of the art.

Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book “The Phoenician Solar Theology” treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.


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