I was born in Ireland, and am an historian of Western Esotericism, with special reference to 1920s and 1930s Paris, focusing on the life and writings of G. I. Gurdjieff (1866? – 1949). see my Academic Resarch Page at http://ccw​e.wordpres​​ia-wellbel​oveds-acad​emic-resea​rch-page/ for more info . Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

John Robert Colombo reviews Gurdjieff’s Early Talks

Gurdjieff’s Early Talks is a substantial volume, both physically and psychologically. As if to prove the truth of that statement, the book bears one of the longest title-subtitle combinations on record: Gurdjieff’s Early Talks 1914-1931 in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Essentuki, Tiflis, Constantinople, Berlin, Paris, London, Fontainebleau, New York, and Chicago. That is eleven cities in all!

The tome measures 8.5″ x 5.5″ and has a heavy card cover with pages that are light cream in colour. While the type is small, it is surprisingly easy to read. Here is the pagination: xx+442+vi. The publisher is Book Studio, a company that was founded in London, England, in 2008. Its website <; rewards checking , for it offers for sale a roster of new and reprinted Work-related books, all beautifully designed and printed and less well known than they should be.

One of its recent compilations is Orage’s Commentary on Gurdjieff’s ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson’: New York Talks 1926-1930 which appeared in 2013. It consists of A.R. Orage’s lecture notes, edited with care by Lawrence Morris and Sherman Manchester. I devoted a fair amount of time reading the book from cover to cover. The text is quite repetitive and it made me think of the musical convention of “theme and variations” and specifically of Wallace Stevens’s ingenious poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Yet Orage was a brilliant writer, personality, and presenter, so the reader learns something new even when the author covers familiar ground.

Book Studio’s website also lists what must be a companion volume to the present one, a volume that I have yet to see. I have made a note to order it. Its title is as follows: Transcript of Gurdjieff’s Wartime Meetings 1941-46. Here is a description of its contents from Book Studio’s website:

“With the outbreak of the Second World War, Gurdjieff’s American and English students were unable to return to Nazi occupied Paris, nevertheless, Gurdjieff continued to teach despite difficult and dangerous wartime conditions. In 1938, Jeanne de Salzmann introduced her French work group to him, and with this nucleus, Gurdjieff held regular meetings at his Paris flat throughout the occupation.

“In question and answer format, Gurdjieff answers his students’ questions on practical work in daily life and gives specific advice, guidance, and exercises. Among those present in Gurdjieff’s company at this time were René Daumal, Luc Dietrich, Jeanne de Salzmann, Tcheslaw Tchekhovich, Henri Tracol and René Zuber. Thirty-three meetings held at 6, rue des Colonels Renard, Paris. Second edition with new material. Complete and unexpurgated.”

Since I am quoting from the publisher’s catalogue copy online, I will reprint the website’s description of the present publication, the one being reviewed here: Gurdjieff’s Early Talks.

“The talks in this volume are not verbatim transcriptions. In the early years of Gurdjieff’s exposition of the fourth way teaching, he rarely allowed notes to be taken during his talks. The majority of his early talks were written down after the fact by pupils who were present, either individually or collectively, and should be taken as recollections of what people believed Gurdjieff to have said.

“The provenance of the talks are library archives, private collections, and individuals from all around the world. They have been arranged chronologically and are presented in this edition for the first time in their entirety. [The last three words appear in italics in the original.] Over one hundred authentic talks, unaltered and unexpurgated. Illustrated and fully indexed, with exercises, sayings and aphorisms.”

So the present book is a bonanza for the reader. A feature that goes unmentioned is the forty-six photographs that are reproduced (rather indistinctly, unfortunately) from the collection of the multi-talented impresario Gert-Jan Blom. There are also perhaps half that number of line drawings devoted to the interactions of the centres. There is a one-page bibliography and a ten-page, detailed index. This is a generous book.

I have yet to mention the contribution of Joseph Azize who is no stranger to this website (which is maintained by Sophia Wellbeloved in Cambridge, England). In an appreciative foreword titled “In Appreciation: A Short Essay of Commendation,” Azize extolls this “practical system of ideas and methods, which, if diligently applied, would bridge the gap between dream and reality.” He continues, “The path which Gurdjieff pointed to does not lead straight out of the world, but through it, fulfilling the legitimate demands of daily life.”

By now the Work in the West is a century old and Azize argues that it has reached “a critical point … an interval or gap.” The note do represents Gurdjieff’s personal efforts, the note re the work of his direct pupils, and the note mi the publication of his writings and music. The mi-fa interval requires “access to all of his talks, transcripts and papers in their original form,” and it also requires that there be access to “even the English version of Beelzebub, upon which Gurdjieff manifestly placed so much of his hopes.”

With respect to Gurdjieff’s Early Talks, Azize states that “books like this one are vital for the entirety of the Gurdjieff work.” The transmission of the legacy requires this or “the direction will veer off into tangents. The Gurdjieff Work will lose its vivifyingness.” Azize’s argument makes sense in the context of the Work, yet it is hard to imagine how the preservation and publication of texts like these, with their limited distribution, will add the necessary “shock.” He recognizes this and faults the publication of Views from the Real World because “it was neither transparent nor respectful of the integrity of the texts.” He concludes this line of argument: “Sometimes, to polish is to tarnish. And here, at last, are the unpolished texts, taken down by anonymous pupils.”

It is interesting that nowhere in his foreword does he mention the name of P.D. Ouspensky who did more than anyone else at the time to preserve Gurdjieff’s verba ipsissima. Nor does he refer to the more recent achievement of Stephen A. Grant who worked to the same end through the redaction of a fresh translation of Gurdjieff’s words in Ouspensky’s text in a form that has appeal to today’s serious reading public. I am referring to Grant’s adventurous volume – it is not temerareous at all – titled The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff. It is a collaboration across time, across the interval, so to speak, presumably what Azize has in head and heart and hand.

In these pages there are texts of 103 talks, some as short as a paragraph in length, others more than twenty pages long, to a word-count in the neighbourhood of 186,000 words. Here is what is colloquially known as “god’s plenty,” rather more than one would expect covering only seventeen years of Gurdjieff’s life. The editing is seemingly effortless, though here and there, near the beginning, I found myself wondering, “Who is speaking?” After reading all the texts, it comes as a relief to discover two short sections titled “Sayings” and “Aphorisms.”

Here are two instances from the former: “Real art is knowledge, not talent” and “Think of what you feel, and feel what you think.” Here are two instances from the latter: “Like what ‘it’ does not like” and “There are here no Russians, or English, Jews or Christians, but only those who follow one aim – to be able to do.” As a collector of quotations myself, I am delighted to have these terse expressions at hand, though I find myself scratching my head as to why the former are described as sayings while the latter are considered to be aphorisms: they seem to me to be much alike coming from the same mind.

Scratching my head is not my response to the talks themselves, but expressing my pleasure at having them in print describes my elated reaction. A thorough review of the contents here would require presenting what is known about the Work through previous publications and teachings plus the additional insights embedded in the present text. That would take thousands of words and too many computer screens.  Instead, I will note a half dozen sections which intrigued me and hence will, I assume intrigue every reader.

1. Asked about the origin of the teaching, Gurdjieff answered, “My teaching is my own. It combines all the evidence of ancient truth that I collected in my travels with all the knowledge that I have acquired through my own personal work.” (This comes from the section “Questions and Answers, Prieuré, October 1922.”)

2. Discoursing on symbology, he said, “My task was to give my listeners a sensation of the taste of understanding with which one must approach the search after the laws of truth. Once more I repeat: in order to understand in these matters, constant efforts are necessary.” (From “Lecture on Symbolism: The Enneagram.”)

3. On the subject of non-identification, he noted, “Humanity is earth’s nerve ends, through which planetary vibrations are received for transmission …. We can easily sacrifice our pleasures but not our sufferings; we are too identified with them – we love ourselves too much. We must learn to express opposite feelings. Everything in the universe has a place in a scale.” (Delivered on Monday, 17 July 1922; no locale identified.)

4. On Christianity, he stated, “Mind is governed by a devil. Do not let your mind slave for your essence. The thinking center is Christian, the emotional center is pre-Christian, the body is pagan. Emotional center with body make the devil, which the thinking center must learn to control.” (From “Summary of Lectures: Fifth Lecture: Christianity.”)

5. Discussing kinds of impressions, he makes an amazing declaration that is well worth pondering at considerable length: “We are only sincere in our imagination.” (This comes from Wednesday, 5 January 1921.)

6. Covering a wide range of subjects, he makes a statement that has always haunted me since I first encountered it in the 1950s in the pages of In Search of the Miraculous: “Eastern Art has a mathematical basis, it is a script with an inner and outer content. In Persia there is a room in a monastery which makes one weep, owing to the mathematical combinations of parts of the architecture. Real art is knowledge, not talent.” (From “Religion, Will, Education, New York, Saturday, 1 March 1924.”)

It is interesting to consider what is not included in the talks. In the index there are hardly any references to people, not even to Madame de Salzmann, though there are three odd mentions of P.D. Ouspensky. The first reference identifies him as being present at a meeting at Warwick Gardens; the second mistakes him for Madame Ouspensky; the third identifies him as “a writer and professor of psychology”! (Ouspensky objected to be identified by his publishers as “a mathematician”; I wonder what his take on being labelled a “psychologist” would be.)

Come to think of it, in the text there are no references at all to Carl Jung or Sigmund Freud, despite the fact that what is being proposed by Gurdjieff is a system of psychopraxis with many principles and procedures in common with the then-current psychological and psychiatric theories of the Swiss and the Austrian clinicians and theorists. Indeed, Jung’s practice of “active imagination” kept popping into my mind as I read many of the procedures and approaches identified with Gurdjieff during these years.

There are instances of the withholding of sensitive information in the text of Views from the Real World and these lacunae have been mentioned in passing in the literature of the Work. Although the present texts are presented verbatim, so to speak, there are some examples of this practice in these pages. I will give one instance. In the section “Fontainebleau, Friday, 19 January 1923,” Gurdjieff outlines the role of “the general accumulator” with regard to the energy required for self-remembering. Here is the text:

It is possible to prolong memory of self-remembering by making the energy stored in us last longer, if we are able to manufacture a store of this energy.

[At this point Mr. Gurdjieff gave an exercise.]

Up to now we have been doing all the exercises mechanically, without thought ….

The bracketed words are in italics in the original.

And so it goes. I imagine an ideal world with all the interested parties – biographers, historians, researchers, lecturers, instructors, group leaders, and students of the Work – busy turning the pages of Gurdjieff’s Early Talks 1914-1931, if only to savour the taste of the Special Doctrine.


John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist who lives in Toronto. His latest books are A World of Differences (a collection of poems), The Northrop Frye Quote Book (3,600 quotations from the writings of the Canadian literary critic), and The Rohmer Miscellany (the record of Colombo’s long-time fascination with the works of the author Sax Rohmer, creator of Fu Manchu). His books are described on the website < >.




Joseph Azize Reviews: Gurdjieff’s Early Talks in Moscow – Petersburg – Essentuki – Tiflis – Constantinople – Berlin – Paris – London – Fontainebleau – New York and Chicago 1914-1931

Gurdjieff’s Early Talks in Moscow, Petersburg, Essentuki, Tiflis, Constantinople, Berlin, Paris, London, Fontainebleau, New York and Chicago, 1914-1931, Book Studio, 2014 (442 pp.)

Twice the size of Views from the Real World, this may well be the last great publication of hitherto little known Gurdjieff material. It features many photographs providing unique impressions, some of which I have not seen before. But the essence of this book is the ideas. These notes of talks, exchanges, and other sundry pieces have circulated, if that is not too vigorous a word, within very limited circles for 100 years in some cases (e.g. “Reflexes of Truth” cannot be later than 1915 when Ouspensky heard it). As I wrote in the short essay which I was privileged to offer this volume, the editors are to be commended for their indefatigable efforts in hunting down the texts. It was not easy, and the material rewards have been only the expenditure of what must be significant sums of money, together with lost “opportunity costs”. For those who imagine that authors and publishers bathe in cataracts of gold, undeceive yourself, as George Borrow memorably exclaimed, undeceive yourself! No one produces books like this unless they are burning with a quiet ardent flame to share something which is of great value to them, and they have the fortitude to persist through delays, difficulties and disputes. The time the editors have invested in this has been amply rewarded by their very efforts. I did much less than they did, yet I have felt something of this. Perhaps one can even say that the editors have gone some way towards paying the debt of their existence.

Part One

I shall not repeat what I wrote in the short essay: suffice it to say that I explained why, in my view, this publication was necessary for the true development of the impulse brought by Gurdjieff, now that the copyright in these works has expired. However, if you have not obtained a copy, then let me reiterate that it contains the material which was edited, spliced and rearranged before inclusion in Views, and much else besides, not least some of Gurdjieff’s own exercises. It is the exercises I wish to speak about here, because I sense that there is a need to explain these to the larger Gurdjieff “world”, since they are perhaps the least understood aspect of his legacy.

First of all, an observation: the late Jeanne de Salzmann must have felt that the publication of Gurdjieff’s exercises was needful, for she published several of them in Life Is Real Only Then, When “I AM”, and she placed more in the notes which she left behind, and which have found their way into The Reality of Being. It is not her fault that that book was so poorly edited, as I have mentioned in an earlier review. However, I am grateful that it was produced, if not only because it enables us to compare her formulation of the exercises with Gurdjieff’s own words. For example, the exercise at pp.196-197 of Reality is based on the “Compromise Exercise” at pp.409-411 of Gurdjieff’s Early Talks, and the exercise taught in Reality at p.189 is that of transcript 29 (3 August 1944) in Transcripts of Gurdjieff’s Wartime Meetings 1941-1946, the companion volume to Early Talks. There have been sundry other partial disclosures, such as in Sinclair’s Without Benefit of Clergy, a book which promotes himself, de Salzmann and the Foundation, in that order. These have been unsatisfactory: partial description is worse than none, because it must by its nature prompt readers to speculate. Sinclair’s effort necessitated the publication of the Four Ideals exercise.

Yet, I do not think that the authority of anyone’s example, even that of the formidable Jeanne de Salzmann, is by itself sufficient warrant for our own actions, at least not in a case like this.

The reason the Gurdjieff exercises deserve to be better known is simply that they are essential to his method, and if they are not published in authentic formulations they will be lost forever. A friend recently remarked to me that the exercises should ideally be passed on orally. Substitute “presence-ly” for “orally” and I agree. They should, ideally be passed not from mouth to ear, or even from person to person, but from presence to presence, hence I say “presence-ly” transmission is the best. But this is not happening. Even the fact that de Salzmann published some in Life Is Real, a matter which alarmed George Adie, tells me that she must have felt that this was the proper way to transmit them to future generations. As we now know, if she did continue teaching the Gurdjieff preparation and exercises in her own groups, it was in rare cases, and even then, all the indications are that as time went by this occurred less frequently.

Yet, even here, we have not come to the heart of the matter, for why would anyone wish to preserve materials if there is no use in their preservation, or worse, if – as some say – their publication is harmful? After all, perhaps de Salzmann ceased to use them because they were not so effective as the Zen-influenced “sittings” she adapted? Perhaps she did not properly take into account the damage which could be caused by using exercises?

Briefly, I am of the opinion that the Gurdjieff exercises are of a far higher quality than the sittings. Further, I have searched for evidence, but never found any, to suggest that the publication of exercises ever harmed anyone. Even if certain people had ended up worse off for them, this raises questions of causation, responsibility and weighing or assessment.

The first issue is causation. What caused the hurt? Was the use of the exercise really the cause of the deterioration in the person’s state, or was it rather an incident in a process which was already under way? Some people go mad when they make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Does that mean that Jerusalem should be destroyed or that no one should go there? In such a case it is apparent that the person was already unbalanced, and the event was not to blame for that. Unsteady people often seek what is holy and powerful because they feel the need for it. You cannot stop them. They are hell-bent on finding something.

The second matter is responsibility: who is responsible for the person’s condition? As soon as the question is posed that clearly it is answered, for everything subsequent flows from that condition.

The third question is weighing. If there is a possibility that people can damage themselves with exercises, there is nonetheless a certainty that people can benefit from them. How do you weigh the one against the other? The only possible way is through one’s own experience, and this is revealed to us most clearly through conscience. Conscience is a big thing. It is a big thing, too, to say that you are at peace with your conscience. People who say that invariably wish to believe it, and say it, as if stating it publicly proves it must be so. Conscience, in other words, is often used as a fig-leaf. But if we cannot say what conscience is, we can at least know that the void we feel through lack of conscience is not deepened or wounded by one’s action. That, in the end, is how we weigh the possible benefit against the possible detriment.
Part Two

The discussion of the exercises has to move beyond what this person did or that institution has done. In the end, appeals to authority are insufficient. We need objective reasons. The practice of the exercises is, for me, sufficient and objective reason. Almost ten years ago now, several months after I had left the group, I found myself in a position where I was still okay, but could tell that I could not go on the way I had: it was as if a car had had a fairly full tank of petrol, but it was now starting to get low. The car was still chugging along, but it no longer sat on the road the way it does when it is full. I knew the gauge was getting low. Fortunately, I was not so low that I did not have a sense of what was needed. I obtained the tapes of meetings with Mr and Mrs Adie. and went back to transcribing them. Much to my surprise, what I found was that the preparations and exercises which they brought suddenly came to life.

The preparation is the exercise which Gurdjieff taught the Adies to perform at the start of each day. It is not only a meditative exercise, it also includes making a plan for the coming day. This is an essential feature. It was a surprise, because Mr Adie had not asked to transcribe them. He had felt that the living work with them had been sufficient to ensure that they would be passed on. But he had not allowed anyone but Mrs Adie to take the preparation, at least not in the years I was with him. The result was that after his death, and for quite a long time, no one gave the preparation at all. If we had it, and we rarely did, I was by listening to a tape. Then, when Jim Wyckoff introduced the “new work” sittings, that tradition of the Gurdjieff preparation and exercises stopped. But there is, I believe, an objective value in not allowing the knowledge which has been found to be lost again. De Salzmann had ths emblazoned across the screen at the start of one of the movements films. It struck me then, at it still strikes me now. What falls from the wagon is lost. Okay, we threw ourselves over the side, and caught it just before it hit the road.

The second objective reason is based on aim. The important thing is always all the aim, not just that we formulate an aim which touches our feeling, but also an evaluation of the target itself, according to conscience. For me, the Gurdjieff tradition has a very specific place, it can help find the consciousness and balance, and elaborate the energies necessary, to follow my supernatural aim. It is not needed for natural purposes, even if it can be advantageous. In my case, I aspire to become a true Christian. The situation is analogous to our need for medicine, exercise, a nourishing diet, and recreation simply in order to perform to our best, to exceed our limitations. Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods, to me, are like that. Let us say that you want to attend divine worship, but you have a migraine. The doctor gives you a pill and prescribes a change in lifestyle and diet so that the headaches will not reappear, or at least not be so crippling. Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods help one clear away the migraines of the world, so that one can participate in divine worship.

The ultimate aim of Gurdjieff’s technique, in so far as it has one, is identical with that of Christianity, but it needs personal effort, and the discarding of certain baggage mixed in with his legacy, to recover the supernatural aspect. I do reject Gurdjieff’s attitude to certain things. This is not the place to document it all, but look at the transcript of the meeting of 22 July 1943, and you will see what I mean. I am shortly publishing an academic article which gathers what Gurdjieff said on fasting, and which also publishes the opinions of several international medical experts on fasting to the effect that Gurdjieff was just plain wrong, even though one of them says that the views expressed were once thought to be correct. I studied the issue carefully, and I cannot see that the experts are wrong: the evidence is too clear. Perhaps Gurdjieff himself would change his mind if he saw it.

But there is one thing which Gurdjieff said, about his own methods, which I think is correct: “Exercises, exercises, thousands and thousands of times. Only this will bring results.” (Wartime Meetings, p. 100). This is my experience: the exercises are not enough, but they are indispensable. What they need more than anything else to keep them effective and true is not the movements but the ideas. And this book of early talks will, I am sure, allow more people to work in the salt mines as it were, to dig and recover for themselves the exhilarating sense of engaging with one of the great mystics.

If the exercises found here assist people in finding strength, and building up reserves of the fine energy we need on the mystic path, that will be objectively good. And who in their right mind would not want to serve the objective good?

Joseph Azize, 8 April 2014

Using Moving Centre: with George Adie

This edited transcript from Tuesday 30 March 1982 is of a meeting where people brought questions about the study of the work of moving centre. The week before, Mr Adie had suggested that, to gain understanding for their inner aim, they study the work of moving centre.


The idea was to make a plan in advance to be present and observe a discrete moving centre activity. We cannot completely follow moving centre, it is much faster than the head, but we can make an effort, and that will bring the results we seek. He added that it would be best to take simple actions which (1) involved a sequence, (2) where there was no danger anyone or anything else would be damaged, and (3) which customarily arose in the course of their days. As feasible examples, he gave boiling the water for tea or coffee, getting the mail from the letter box, and the first time in the day when you walk through the front door. When they had time and the opportunity, they should (4) study repetitive actions, as these provide special possibilities for self-study. Examples of this were raking the grass and clipping the hedge. I think that the reasons for these suggestions will become apparent.


The first question was from Daniel, who tried to observe his sensation, but he did not know why he was doing it, and that had left him without any profit, not even a question.


It comes back to my purpose,” said Adie. “If I don’t know what my aim is, I don’t know what my question is. Why would there be a question which means something to me without any aim? Perhaps a point of interest arises, perhaps not. But if I am trying to achieve something for a purpose, and it isn’t achieved, then I am surely interested to know why. It has to become simple and clear; as clear as if I cut myself a piece of bread, regard it on the plate, and I ask whether I eat it or not.”

But would any of that matter if you weren’t hungry? It isn’t working to put a brick on the shelf and then take it down again. That isn’t work: it’s no use to anybody. It could be but you’d have to invent some circumstance.”


However, if you were observing at moments which arise most days, then you would need to know whether the purpose was fulfilled. You would have to have questions. You can’t necessarily answer them, but you can examine them, and there is profit in that. In trying to work in that way, extraordinary realisations will come. I can’t always recount them straight afterwards. Yet, it’s a law that there are. Whether you notice them or not depends on your presence.”


You have to guard against a sort of tension in your head that makes you follow with your head. It’s as if I think that I can take something in with my head and understand. But it is not like that. I have to understand in the present second. Then, if I have received, I can understand more later on. However, it depends on having been there to receive.”


Alfred said that during the week he had some feeling, but it was accidental.


Yes, but all feelings are accidental, in a sense. You are not able to produce feelings at will. What you have is a certain possibility of dividing your attention, of making place for an aim, and having some kind of awareness and intention about it. The feelings will then be corresponding; but you can’t know what they’re going to be.”

Feeling can’t be under compulsion. You can have the idea to be kind, to help a person, while lacking the actual impulse to do so. Feeling is the result of your presence; feeling depends upon presence. Seeing and understanding depend upon presence, they are all interdependent, but the force is feeling in myself force. I can have an idea, but if there is no feeling, there is no force to fulfil. But I want action, I want some process, and that has to have feeling.”


But what kind of feeling? I don’t know, just like that. My idea of being kind and considerate, that is one thing, that is my thought. But my feeling, what is that?”


When feeling comes it isn’t really accidental. It is lawful, in process – but it isn’t under your control. It’s lawful and it’s available. Nobody can determine the result of the law of accident. Feeling is always available, but I have to be open to it. It depends on my state, that’s what prevents me from receiving what is available. I have mentioned before about looking through a frosty window at a railway yard. Not very romantic, but it was magical. It hinged on my state. When my state is low I don’t see the life, the light, nothing. I’m lost in my troubles all the time.”


The condition of the preparation is totally different, and so the experience is different. You cannot remain in that condition and mix in life. As you cannot take the condition into life, so you cannot take the experience. It only comes in flashes. If you remained sitting for another half an hour, it would not maintain itself. But do I have some sort of awareness of the result, the influence upon me?”


If I leave my room to go to the letter box, there are ages of the higher centres even in that short period. There are tens of thousands of flashes available to me. I go without any words. I wish not to disrupt that feeling, that balance. In that state, maybe worthwhile thought will commence moving, of itself. Then I have to go out, but that has taken place, that thought.”


Patrick then asked about an observation he had made during the movements class that evening.


First, Mr Adie asked Mrs Adie if she would like to comment, but she did not, so he spoke: “It was freedom from thought in a moment of balance. You were under different conditions, your attention was divided, and you forgot about the events of the day. I am not used to the kind of thought Gurdjieff’s movements need, and there is my possibility. Those moments of freedom can help me find how I must be placed inside myself so that the thinking brain can take its proper place: acting when needed, not interfering when not. This shows that the moving and instinctive centre together can perform the movements, provided they are allowed to. All our movements are habits: a great variety of habits. Everything is in habitual movement, not only externally but also internally.”


You can’t do anything without movement. There may be a hundred different movements in getting up from the chair, getting a book, and sitting down again. We never think about our movements in ordinary life: what different kind of movements do we make when getting breakfast. So, which of these are we going to observe? If I say that I won’t hurry in any of my movements, I will fail. But what can I settle for? What can I accept so as not to hurry? If I am making breakfast perhaps I have one piece of toast not two, or I don’t cook breakfast. If you don’t try and think … if you could observe two or three movements that would be a substantial thing. If you’re doing repetitive work it gives you a chance – you can decide to take something small like getting the tools from your bag with your left hand, never the right.”


Someone said that they’d painted the front door of the house with the left hand. When her husband came home he had to repaint it because it was a mess, plus she’d got paint all over the place. Not so intelligent: to have put their tongue in their left cheek while painting would have been be more sensible. It’s not very comfortable to do that, but you can decide to do it for three minutes. We have spent five minutes speaking about it now, but are we prepared to even sit and think for five minutes of practical ways to apply the ideas? We haven’t yet. It’s like thinking that it would be very nice to have a drink, but then never going and getting the bottle.”


Take five minutes. Think of something specific and intelligent. Don’t hurt yourself, but a little bit of discomfort won’t be any harm.”


Andrea said that she had tried to follow the movement of her hand while writing, but kept losing the impetus.


You say you tried observing the movement of the hand while writing? What sort of movement was it? What do your movements express? Somebody competent? Self-confident? Nervous? Hesitation? Someone who couldn’t care less? If I wish to study, then I can observe. But if I don’t have that desire, then I can’t even follow. Why should I? What is the point?”


And then I can go further: does the result correspond to the kind of writing that I need to do the job? I don’t aim to have the writing a copperplate writing. But it would be good if my writing was legible. Is my movement producing reasonable writing, without being unduly slow? Does it correspond to the task that I have? How do I move when I’m in a hurry? Hurry is inimical to my observation – I can’t observe properly if I am in a hurry. If I can see the nature of the movement, it will tell me something about the state inside. And then one begins to see the kind of dreams.”


You find that the work goes better when you observe yourself? Yes. The problem you face is that your work doesn’t mean enough for you. A schoolboy given an algebraic sum, or something in a language he can’t understand, won’t even try if he can’t understand what it’s about. If it looks difficult, it’s much easier to look out of the window. Without some purpose, the idea of trying does not recommend itself to most people. But we apply ourselves to this because we want to find out.”


And what is the alternative? If I do not wish to control my movements, what chance do I have? It is all connected. I move in accordance with dreams, I move in accordance with my total state. If I am in a good state, unhurried, I move in a totally different way. If I am late, or fearful, the movements are entirely different. I never think of trying to use that to obtain control. We want the quality of life which is possible when I have control.”


© Joseph Azize, 11 . 2 . 2014

John Robert Colombo reviews: “Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff: The Man – The Teaching – His Mission”

William Patrick Patterson’s latest opus is reviewed by John Robert Colombo.


In the past I have reviewed in some detail four or more of the books written by William Patrick Patterson. The reviews have appeared on this web-blog devoted to Gurdjieff studies which is maintained by the Cambridge scholar Sophia Wellbeloved. As well, I recently reviewed the author’s last book “Adi Da Samraj – Realized and/or Deluded?” for “Parabola,” the New York quarterly publication which celebrates all the world’s spiritual traditions in words and illustration.


Mr. Patterson (hereinafter WPP) needs little or no introduction to the readers of this web-blog. He is an extremely busy man, a long-time student of the late Lord Pentland (to whom the book is co-dedicated; guess the identity of the other co-dedicatee), and one of the principals behind Arete Communications, Publishers, Fairfax, California. Since the 1990s, WPP has been the mainstay of the Gurdjieff Legacy Foundation (which arranges study groups, seminars, workshops, talks, etc.) and the Gurdjieff Studies Program (which offers correspondence courses and private instruction).

Since 1992, he has edited the triannual publication called “The Gurdjieff Journal.” (I have been a subscriber from the first issue. I find its issues informative, though lately I sense the articles have begun to reflect the editor’s general cultural and social interests rather than specific Fourth Way matters.)

WPP was born in 1937 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has extensive experience as a writer and editor. Elsewhere he has described in detail his closeness to Lord Pentland who in 1953 was one of the founders of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York City. WPP operates his enterprises in the busy field of the human potential movement, but he does so in that sector of it (the Fourth Way) that has been accustomed to privacy.

WPP appears to be a “one-man Gurdjieff movement” who runs a “one-stop Gurdjieff program.” His dedication, energy, knowledge, determination, and popular scholarship are not to be downplayed. Yet feelings run high in some circles that serious work in this sector takes place only in private. I have no problems appreciating his own contribution and legacy.

So much for WPP. Arete publishes serious and specialized books, so these titles seldom receive the media or even the word-of-mouth exposure that they deserve, a fate that is shared with the productions of many another dedicated publishing imprint. So my policy in reviewing such books has been two-fold: to go overboard in describing the physical appearances of Arete’s books; to go to great length to outline their contents. My assumption is that readers will never see copies of any of these books, unless they are specially ordered from specialty bookshops or mail-order services like By the Way Books or direct from the publisher’s website. (For the record I purchased my copy from the website.)

Now to “Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff: The Man, The Teaching, His Mission.” I have no idea how many copies of this book have been printed, but since it is a good and useful publication, I hope the press-run is extended at least ten times! Yet the publisher has to take into account the appetite of the market. It is a very interesting book, rather like a bowl of plum-pudding: Turn the page to learn something new, or to be reminded of something old in a new way. It is a book for people who are _interested_ in the Fourth Way, not principally participants in the Work.

The book is a big volume: over 650 pages in all, probably around 350,000 words in length. It measures 6 by 9 inches and is 2 inches thick. The pages are well designed; the type is well-leaded and easy to read. It is a sturdy, bound volume with card covers and maroon-coloured end-sheets and (a classy touch!) a thin white ribbon to serve as a bookmark. There are more than ten dozen black-and-white photographs and illustrations, some new arrivals, others old standbys. The book is of good workmanship and the text is substantial and well as organized.

The copy on the dust-jacket (undoubtedly written by WPP) identifies this title as the author’s ninth book. It points out, in addition, that he has produced the award-winning video trilogy (“The Life and Significance of GIG”) and two recent videos (which I have yet to view) called “Introduction to The Fourth Way: From Selves to Individual Self to The Self” and “Spiritual Pilgrimage: Visiting Gurdjieff’s Father’s Grave.”

The only way to convey the tome’s contents is to describe its table of contents. The Acknowledgements and Foreword are routine. The bulk of the text consists of nine sections arranged chronologically. An unusual feature is one that is found in the books of Colin Wilson: each section, part, or chapter is summarized through quasi-headlines: “Candidate for the madhouse. Exoteric, mesoteric, esoteric. Saleswoman of Sunwise Turn. Dangerous distortion. Orage ostracized.” They make amusing and sometimes startling reading. This sample comes from Part VI: The Herald.

Without further comment on my part, here are the titles of the nine sections: Part I, Search for the Miraculous. Part II, Higher Dimensions. Part III, Magicians at War. Part IV, Tzvarnoharno. Part V, All and Everything. Part VI, The Herald. Part VII, The Way of the Sly Man. Part VIII, Uspenskii in America. Part IX, Strike a Big Do. The attentive reader will catch from these titles the drift of the presentation of WPP’s presentation of the by-now canonical account of how this “self-supporting” part of the Eastern Wisdom Tradition was brought to the West.

The Afterword itself is nine pages in length and offers the reader a pertinent account of WPP’s current thinking about the Fourth Way and the great role he sees it playing in the contemporary world faced with “the scientific entrancements of Technology.” (I will return to the author’s odd argument and the conclusions he draws from it at the end of this review.)

The rest of the Afterword consists of fascinating documents that the author (as editor or compiler) has turned up in his researches in university libraries’ manuscript collections. There is the longest version that I have seen of the scenario of the ballet “The Struggle of the Magicians.” This is followed by two manuscripts dated 1926 in which P.D. Ouspensky ponders the historic cleavage: “Why I Left Gurdjieff” and “The Struggle of the Magicians: Where I Diverge from Gurdjieff” (Had I world enough and time, I would delve into these matters.)

What follow are WPP’s own essays: “Gurdjieff in Egypt: The Origin of Esoteric Knowledge” and “Gurdjieff and Christianity” and “Gurdjieff, Uspenskii, Orage and Bennett” and “Personals and the Inner Animal” and “The Science of Idiotism” and “Images of God or Machines?” (These essays are reprinted from “The Gurdjieff Journal” so they will be new to that publication’s non-subscribers. They are thoughtful and based on original research, or at least on vast reading.)

There follow short essays and reminiscences by various hands on various subjects: Jessie Dwight Orage, Solita Solano, Carman Barnes, Frank Lloyd Wright, Count Bobrinskoy. These texts seem to be hitherto unpublished and of anecdotal interest, so it is nice to have them in print. The occasional pieces are followed by WPP’s Notes, thirty-four of them, ranging in length from one paragraph (Chief Feature) to three pages (Seekers of Truth). Some of the pieces are rehashes, but others (to name a few: Intelligentsia, Mercourov, Mouravieff) offer new information or formulations in a readable way.

Following the Notes is the Chronology which goes from Gurdjieff’s year of birth 1872 (by WPP’s determination) to the man’s death (at the age of only seventy-seven) in 1949. The entries here cover current events as well as developments connected with the Work (which WPP has paralleled in previous books). What struck me about the section is just how some assumptions based on slight evidence have passed into statements of fact (two instances: Gurdjieff’s “working in the employ of the thirteenth Dalai Lama” in 1902; Aleister Crowley’s visit to the Priory in 1926).

A section that is likely to be overlooked is the one called References. It is the book’s backbone for it consists of twenty-five pages of sources (almost exclusively based on 111 English-language texts). A lot of time and effort was expended on this section, largely invisible to the casual reader – to the extent that a book of this seriousness attracts the attention of “the casual reader.”

I had long wondered if anyone would ever comb through the vast literature of the Fourth Way and then quiz senior participants in order to generate a list of its leading students, thereby exhibiting the zeal shown by genealogists of the Church of Latter Day Saints who copy birth records for their retroactive rite of baptism as Mormons! WPP has done the hard work. The section titled “Gurdjieff’s Students” consists of the names of 144 men and women, with vital years, schematically arranged, beginning with Russians, then yielding to English followers, French students, and finally American activists. Some Australians are named, but no Canadians (excepting Gurdjieff’s one-time physician, Dr. Bernard Courtenay-Mayers).

The Afterword concludes with the six pages devoted to the Selected Bibliography, and with an Index that is analytic, one dozen pages in length. In a sense, I suppose, this Afterword exhausts WPP’s larder of hard-to-digest information and opinion. The Afterword is almost a book in itself, one that could be titled “Fourth Way Notes and Queries.”

Having described the beginning and the ending of this book, I find I have passed over its middle section – the nine parts mentioned earlier in this review – which runs from page 1 to page 418! Yet I have already written over 1,400 words, and I wonder how long this review should be. I will leave it to the reader’s imagination – and perhaps to part two of this review – to fill in the big blank.

In a sense the heart and core of the book is found in the nine pages of the Afterword per se. This section seems to be a summary at the present time of the author’s thoughts on Gurdjieff’ “mission” (though “Gurdjieff’s ‘work’” might be a better term to use). WPP views Gurdjieff as a teacher and hence as someone who “acts.” What is this about? “His aim was to keep students between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no,’ keep them in question, and thus not knowing, for knowing is closure.” His message is that man is born without a soul and must acquire one and then develop it along given lines. He is truly the “Teacher of Dancing” because he is “one who embodies, understands and teaches the principles and laws of consciously receiving and transmitting energy in order to coat a soul.”

More than a century ago Gurdjieff recognized an imperative (memorably formulated in slightly different words by Denis Saurat): “Unless the ‘wisdom’ of the East and the ‘energy’ of the West could be harnessed and used harmoniously, the world would be destroyed.” WPP adds, “A major shock had to be given to avert the world’s destruction – the revelation of a heretofore esoteric teaching known only by its initiates …. ” There are religions founded by Hasnamusses as well as those founded by “genuine Messengers from Above.” The sign of the true religion is “wholeness” which is to be found in “the whole sensation of myself.” There is need for a new conception of God. “Then it follows that there must be a new conception of religion.” A tall order, indeed!

We live in trying times. WPP writes, referring to rolls of camera film, with its negative images and positive prints, “We either develop the positive or die in the negative.” He continues, “This eternal truth is inborn in every World-Time, be it Hunter-Gatherer, Agrarian, Industrial, Post-Industrial, and now the Technological.” He quotes from his second-last book “Spiritual Survival in a Radically Changing World-Time” about the dangerous nature of Technology. (In his books the word Technology is capitalized.) “Technology is not us. And yet it is us. This is what makes it so difficult to understand.”

We have to relate to Technology. “The hazard of not relating to it rightly is not only to forfeit our very identity and spiritual possibility, but to open the Gates of Hell to a certain planetary destruction that will erase the human experiment.” Yet introduced into the apocalyptic vein are pints of fresh new blood. “The seminal and sacred teaching Gurdjieff brought is in essence scientific in that it is centered in continual questioning, verification, exploration, and faith of Consciousness, not belief or dogma.” He continues, “It is _the religion for our time_ so directly attuned is it to the World-Time.”

I find the phrase “World-Time” to be off-putting, and I am uncertain about its origin. It looks and sounds like a formulation from the German historian Oswald Spengler. (Perhaps Weltzeit?) Is it used by other writers than WPP?

“Only the Fourth Way can stand against the scientific entrancements of Technology, as it itself is founded in a scientific technology, albeit a sacred one, of self and soul development by inner practices based on the knowledge of chemical processes and laws. The only foundation that can adequately carry this is the awakening to and acceptance of the truth that the teaching Gurdjieff brought is an esoteric school united with its true and original Christian origin.”

I find the tone of the Afterword to be disturbing, evangelical in its strain and tenor, and while one may applaud the author’s moral fervour, it seems the argument is more rhetorical than reasonable. There are few connectives. Will all the doom and gloom be lifted by a quorum of followers of the Fourth Way? Technology presents problems but not ones that science cannot resolve. Problems should be dealt with on their own level. In this context, I find myself recalling the final, sobering sentence of Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion (1927, 1968) translated by James Strachey. The founder of psychoanalysis and the critic of the world’s cultures wrote as follows: “No, our science is no illusion. But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.”

According to this tome’s jacket-copy, as I mentioned earlier, this publication is WPP’s ninth book. It is also the author’s longest and most ambitious book, one that at times brings to mind James Webb’s tremendous work The Harmonious Circle. The jacket-copy goes on to say that the present volume will be WPP’s “last.” His last on Gurdjieff? On the Fourth Way? On saving the world from itself? I hope that this is not so. Say it is not true, WPP.

John Robert Colombo is a Toronto author and anthologist with a special interest in Canadiana and esotericism and wisdom traditions. He is the author, editor, compiler, or translator of over 220 books, all listed on his website < > . A book of his poems “The World of Differences” will appear in February of this year. He has compiled “The Northrop Frye Quote Book” (3,600 quotable quotes arranged by 1,100 subject headings), a decade-long undertaking, which will be published in March.


This is from the transcript of the meeting of Saturday 18 March 1989. This was a “weekend work” day. As usual, Mr Adie opened with some ideas, to provide a practical guideline for the inner work, and then there was exchanges, first at lunch and then at supper.

Breakfast Address

All we know is our fantastic unique world: we don’t know the common life. It’s a very lonely position, and one that should be terrifying to people. But it’s never one fact by itself, one fact touches another. If I find any these reality, it gives me strength. I start to see the beauty in everything, even in people’s nature, even in people who do terrible things. They’re not devoid of a sense of duty.”

Perhaps I need a few icons to get me out of this. But then, what kind of icons?”

I often think of the saying in Revelation: “Behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” There is an icon. It means “I am” is instantaneous according to my work and corresponding to my effort, my work.”

We can know moments of difference if we work, because here there are favourable conditions for acquiring a certain knowledge of our inner arrangements: of thought first, then of the body and then of feeling. The world is still marvelously beautiful. We’re extraordinarily lucky to have enough freedom to come here for a full day, free of the forces which oblige other people to go lower and lower.”

Certain impressions connect to something in you, and you find a higher level of being which will disappear, for we don’t know how to sustain it. The question is, how can I build in myself this finer material? How can I acquire more of it and maintains it until it crystallises into a centre of gravity? It’s a very practical work.”

Impressions are coming not only from all different directions, but also of every different density. If we could be more open to impressions, there would be a chance then of selecting the higher impressions. We cannot afford to sink down into anything. This is what is spoken of: “Free man, move on.” A free man is not a proud one, or self-obsessed. And the laws are there: ever in life and in death. So I can die and descend or die and ascend.”

Our work is very practical, the most practical thing, because it leads to the total transformation of the whole of life. I even cut the bread better, don’t misplace my glasses every time I read the paper. It comes back to the individual: each one has to be concerned with themselves and only with themselves. If one can be concerned with oneself, then one can begin to have external consideration.”

If we accept the word “work”, that makes an enormous difference. It means that we accept to construct something within ourselves, and to have sufficiently deep impressions that can nourish me a bit, perhaps until I come again. I can be changed. My ordinary I is my misconception. I was very worried in the early days, how can I be changed into something I am not? It seemed impossible. I hadn’t had the idea of two lives simultaneously. If I only see for a moment I am changing. All the time there is the possibility of change. Fish in an aquarium, changing colour all the time. Can I find the posture that produces harmonious colour, harmonious sound? This is the only body we have, so what about it? It could function better. Try and make the work immediate by the conscious receipt of more and finer impressions.”

After Lunch

The first questioner spoke of obtaining glimpse of how he lives under compulsion. Mr Adie replied: “ You don’t recognise the forces which compel you as forces. You find yourself impelled, but we think of them as reasons, considerations, everything but forces. I need to be present to my processes. I am not present to my thought, and so it operates to compel me. In the ordinary way there is no query about the process or nature of my thought. I can question individual ideas or notions, yes, but the quality of my thought?”

Mick then spoke about seeing a rather dramatic opposition in himself. “What is important to you out of that?” asked Adie. “It’s that you’re still identified with what you say. You’re not free of it: “Poor suffering Mick, undergoing this unjust torture. Not exactly fair, is it?” Life is different from what you think. If you could see, really see that you are being pushed around and compelled by forces, then you could get some perspective on what you do, or what is done through you, and you could say: “No, I don’t think that was a very good idea.”

So this afternoon, two lives at the same time. I pull the weed up, and I see what’s happening. Try and sense in yourself: is there any being impulse? Is there any immediate decision, anything you could say I to? Could you say: “I am related to this?”

Sometimes we feel heavily assailed by something difficult. If I can manage that, that is like a big lunch. I have to make a connection, but the greater the connection the greater the transformation of material. When things have gone wrong, when something has broken, make a particular intention. It’s a challenge. Even in the fact of tragic news, I can suffer, but I don’t have to be negative about it.”

When I suffer very much, it can mean that it’s something very near me. It means that essence is being touched. The very suffering can free me from my personality, or I can plunge right into and become more hopelessly lost than ever. I am tested. I must on no account be negative, though. It’s a process which I accept. I am there, the process begins, and I find I am weak. But I want to be there, with intention.”

Paul mentioned a desire to be quiet. “ To be quiet does not mean that everything unpleasant will disappear,” said Adie. “If I am present, I can be quiet in front of this trouble: I remain, I accept the annoyance, the frustration or the irritation. My quiet depends upon accepting this. We don’t seek quiet by avoiding, that is not our work.”

What you have been spoken of is subjective, subjective and real. And you have discovered that it is all contained within: it’s localised. Everything you need is there, inside. It’s not external or out yonder. So what about my posture? The mechanical goings-on diminish when I have taken a conscious posture. If I make this effort frequently enough, something will change. This sense of frustration is all of my energy pouring out. You have an occupation which makes demands on you, coming from all angles, so you have just what you need to serve you there.”

I want to be able to recognise my insecurity more quickly. I think I’m alright, but I’m really very insecure. It would help if you could remember exactly how you were: how your shoulders were, and so on, with what sort of pressure you were moving your hands, at which point your effort started to become less precise, so that this could indicate to you, warn you, on other occasions, that you’re about to put your foot into it.”

After Supper

Mr Adie added in his answer to a question I had asked, this interesting observation. It only had a point because it was not referring to me personally. “Sometimes this work is very difficult for people who are not very negative. There are people who seem not to cause much annoyance for other people. They are quiet, and they don’t take much offence, so they’re always happy. Where are their prods? I have to find material. See what it means, this non-stop possibility that is offered. It’s a very high demand but it is possible. That is why I cannot afford to disappear in front of unpleasantness. I must learn to be able to be there but not to be negative.”

In response to Gerry, who had been more present than usual, Adie said: “This morning you saw yourself taking it methodically. You didn’t plunge into the thing. You were not quite so hurried as usual. It was more steady. The unwinding allows you to operate with more control. I need to know, as much as I can, what happens. There will be little signs, if I can read them, in my body, my feeling, and they tell me that a change of state has begun. It can remind me, give me fore-knowledge. If I wish to work, the associations come with lights, and can give me an impulse to change. I see that I saw it, I thought of it as an unwinding. It means to say that I haven’t got to start the job at a breakneck speed. It means, steady boys, sort of thing. Yes. And so there is room for me, as well as the job.”

I see that in the ordinary way, when I can go, indeed I go. I am left behind. So the irritation I feel when this is starting up is to be valued, in a way, because it warns me, and if I heed the warning, I can take measures so as to avoid identification. It makes that moment of warning more critical. I shall remember it more. It’s like a turning.”

Finally, Shaun spoke about finding a state in which he could overcome fatigue. He felt that work had come alive for him. Adie replied: “It is futile to try and recapture that state, but not futile to try to reach that level again. How?”

The fatigue appears when I am not particularly enamoured of what I am to do. So if I realise that one of the warnings is fatigue, it warns me: “What is my attitude towards the job? Is it a job I wish to avoid? Maybe then I have to do it.” I tell myself that I am tired, but really it is not that, really, something in me does not want to do it. I must be careful of how I speak. As I speak, so I think. I say I am tired, but I’m not, I’m just not interested.”

From Joseph Azize: GEORGE ADIE ON “A LINE OF WORK” 10 March 1987

This is from a group meeting of Tuesday 10 March 1987. Held at Newport, both Mr and Mrs Adie were present. I shall present only a few of the questions and answers here. I hope that briefer transcripts may be easier to digest. With material like this, the information imparted is important. But so too is the impression of the operation of Adie’s reason, not just his intellect, when speaking ex tempore. In my opinion, if one can be open to the impression of how his reason worked, it lifts the level of our own. Such a transcript may even provide an imaginative inkling of what his presence could be like.


Part One: From The Meeting

At the start of the meeting, Mr Adie noticed that a young woman was looking tense. He asked: “Can’t you deal with that tension? She replied that she had been trying.


Then stop trying,” he advised. “Relax something else. If there’s tension in one part, then relax another. We have to be very practical about this relaxation, and what it means. It isn’t a question of easing one part, such as my shoulder, so much as it is finding a way into all of my sensation, and into all that my sensation is connected with. My organism has a thousand gates into my wholeness. I don’t realise that, I relax one part, and then I put a full stop there, when it could be a fresh start.”

I cannot relax any-thing without relaxing every-thing. It affects everything, my mood, my closedness, my negativity, everything. But once you have started to make the effort, even if it seems futile, continue to bring consciousness to sensation – the effort will not be wasted.”


Sally asked: “What is a line of work?”


You have to understand this for yourself: a line is a result of a point having moved. So a point is this instant. What is my immediate aim now? Surely to be present. But what is the line of my work? I have to have formulated a longer term aim and a related plan: perhaps it is to study the posture of the tongue and what that is related to within myself. It includes but isn’t limited to just this immediate second. It has to connect through these moments. I am a student, I have some study to do. That line will provide me with certain material. I set a term of a week, let us say, and the term provides a certain intensity or focus. These then are conscious, or relatively conscious conditions for work. That will give me a line of work, because the end of the term will come and I am finished, and then I cannot have that line of work quite the same.”


Mr Gurdjieff used to give an example of people coming to his apartment. Their aim was to get from where they were to his apartment. To get to it they needed a plan: they had to set out down this street and then down that street, and they had to follow the lamp posts. Each was a point in their destination. Each had to be followed in order to get to the end of the street. The points together made a line.”

The near aim is an immediate thing, while the line of work is something which endures for a week or a month or a fortnight, and to which all my immediate work relates.”


So, if my key idea is to have sensation of my tongue, all my other efforts mustn’t stop, but they can relate to that for a week, if you like.”


No line of work will bring me anything unless I remember that it is an inner work, and it is related to the circumstances of my life, to take advantage of them.”


A line is a continuity, a view forward, you see: one thing leading to another. It’s very important to understand the sequential nature of any work. There is an immediate aspect: the immediate possibility of action. And in addition there’s the continuity of the work. I may be alive in a week’s time, and if I am, I hope there will be some connection uniting my efforts. It begins to give me the idea what a line of work is. Does that begin to make it a little clearer?”


Work, if it is to be a work and not play, must have a sequential nature.”

Peggy then said that she had gone to a shopping centre she had never visited before, and could not help looking at people.


What is important at this point is to know that you are bound to: you are bound to. If you do not, you will bump into somebody. It is especially so in unfamiliar circumstances. Then, you will notice more, but wherever you are, you are always observing other people, otherwise you’d be colliding all the time. That is lawful reaction, that is the sensible, life-preserving instinctive centre. With the eye you see, you measure the distance, but your other senses are also more active, including your sense of your own organism.”


So you’re bound to be struck by new impressions, but the thing is to be present to it. You didn’t quite understand what you were in. But you bring the question and so you have advanced a step. Although you hadn’t been to that particular shopping centre, it’s always different, it’s never the same. But the unfamiliarity makes it impossible to miss that, whereas in ordinary life we’re forever in a hypnotic sleep, imagining that it’s the same as before. This is one reason our work is so interesting, it is never the same.”


Life is different from what we have been accustomed and compelled to think. There’s a tremendous obstinacy and a tremendous momentum, like a big flywheel, attaching to what we’ve thought before, and we’ve pinned our egotism to it. Were not going to give up our thoughts so easily. Although it’s mechanical it’s all we’ve ever known. Life compels us in this direction. That is why this work is said to be a way against nature.”


The thing is to understand what the Work is, the way of work, why the word “work” is used, why really, nobody in Sydney who has not tried this or something similar knows what work is at all. We seek to be less impelled, more impartial, to understand something, so that gradually these wheels which dominate us will lose their momentum, at least so far as they relate to me and my organism.”



Remember how Mr Gurdjieff would say: “Life from new begin?” This is one meaning of it, that the mistakes and blunders, the slumbers and dreams of the past have told their tale. We’ve learnt from them, and that’s it. Real work is where you can choose and decide and apply yourself to your aim – that is our work.”

We don’t understand work because we cannot taste its action: if we could taste the nature of our action it would give us an enormous amount. There are six fundamental actions, six basic triads, only six. There’s 1-2-3, 1-3-2, 2-3-1, 2-1-3, 3-1-2 and 3-2-1. We take those as names, but descriptive names which, if we could understand them, would raise us to a higher level.”



If we could only sense the nature of those actions, we would be at that higher level. Out of those six triads, one represents actions such as building a house where a plan is needed, and then the materials gathered. Every brick must be laid carefully, and mortar spread, within the correct time, otherwise, the labour is lost. Directly you stop your effort, the house stops. That’s one kind of effort. The other kind is burning a house. You light a match and place it to the fuel, and you do nothing else, without any further effort. That’s a totally different kind of triad.”


Now, what is the taste of these different actions? Some of my actions are like burning a house, and some of my actions are patient and plodding. That opens a vast field of work. Am I really doing any work, or am I just slinging things around? Am I trying to build a house with the same effort I use when I burn it? That won’t do. If I had these thoughts, and related them to the observation, I’d be so much more interested: when I like something, what triad is operating? When I dislike something else, what triad then? You see the expansion of mind involved? That’s the life of the Work. How rich! Did it strike you as rich?”




I would say there’s been quite a lot of material tonight. Try and make a note of one or two of the points, especially if they’re new, and try and build a line of work.”


Joseph Azize


JOSEPH AZIZE REVIEWS: Martin Benson Speaks

Martin Benson Speaks, ed. Carl Lehmann-Haupt, Codhill Press, 2011 (248 pages)


In previous posts, I have stated my conclusion that the Gurdjieff Work has reached an interval in its historical development. Increasing difficulties are met with in the Work, whether considered at the level of individuals, groups or as a movement. These difficulties are lawful, for now – right now – all are working in the interval. The momentum that once was is now weak, and the new energy which is needed has not yet appeared. Worldwide, the Gurdjieff current and all those in that line, are in the interval of its development.

The great value of Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods is still apparent. But the line of force which came from Gurdjieff himself and his direct pupils has been dispersed, never to be directly recovered. At the interval, indeed, precisely at the interval, new forces are needed, and wisdom is necessary if it is not to be diverted in a new direction, and run the risk of disappearing, or even worse, continuing and becoming its opposite.

Memoirs and collections of talks, such as those in this interesting volume, provide some of the requisite force. Will they provide sufficient? By themselves, of course not. The ideas have to be applied in a balanced manner. Yet, I think that I can be confident that this book will help.

This is the sort of book which puts the content back into the over-used word “interesting”. Too often, that word is used to avoid making unflattering comments, or to hide an inability to articulate certain qualities felt rather than distinctly seen. But this book arouses one’s interest. It provokes further thought, and leads one to pursue further avenues of study.

It is not what I would judge to be one of the first-rate recent Gurdjieff books, such as those by Solange Claustres and Jeanne de Salzmann, or the recently published volume of Orage’s commentaries on Beelzebub. Neither, however, is it at the other extreme with some others there is no need to name. But some of it is very powerful, and even when I am disposed to disagree with Benson, or to be doubtful, his opinion is nonetheless worth examining. Beyond even that, there are passages where he articulates a line of thought I had been tentatively developing. It was delightful to come upon such confirmation.

The great weakness of the book is that it is an apparently randomly assembled collage. Benson does not really emerge: we obtain glimpses of him. We hear his voice but don’t really see him. Hence, perhaps, the title – for it really is just Martin Benson speaking with the bare minimum, if that, by way of introduction.


The Groups

I will start with what is, for me, the most important example, Benson’s observance of two differing tendencies in the Gurdjieff Foundation groups: the Ouspensky-influenced organisation, and the “sittings” introduced into in the 1960s by Jeanne de Salzmann working in tandem with Bill Segal. Lehmann-Haupt writes:

Martin Benson was a different kind of teacher and his approach to the Work differed from the more psychological one practised by some of Gurdjieff’s other pupils. … He didn’t believe in psychological exercises. He didn’t think you could come to a state of attention by closing your eyes in a quiet place at an appointed time. “You all talk about attention,” he said, “but you haven’t got the power to come to a real attention, just by yourself.” He believed that one had to be put on the spot and shocked before one would be able to attend productively. (12)”

Benson himself is quoted as declaring:

I could almost answer that nobody, sitting in a quiet time, can come to attention. You have to be in a receptive part of attention, and it takes a big shock so that you’re ready to receive it; that will put you into real attention. Now, you may not believe this, but this is what I have come to. The Old Man was capable of giving us the shock.” (78)”

You know why I don’t go to sittings? On account of that. … the reason people go to sittings is the thing I don’t want to go to sittings for. … Instead of arriving at a state of absolute awareness of yourself – what we call consciousness – you may arrive at what we call illumination. This is what the Japanese go in for in Zen. The danger of a process is that one could go so far and never return. … I don’t delve into the Zen thing because I figured out years they {sic} they’re out after illusions not consciousness. (159-160)”

So I suggested last year, “This is not the Gurdjieff Work anymore. We should change the name from the Gurdjieff Foundation to the British Ouspensky People in America Foundation.” Well, Mme de Salzmann almost died when I said that. (171)”

This confirms, or at least lends support for, the view that the “New Work” which Jeanne de Salzmann introduced in the 1960s under the influence of Asian practitioners to whom she had been introduced by Bill Segal, was truly, as it so clearly appears to be, a departure from Gurdjieff’s line. The only question is whether, together with this new practise, she also continued to teach Gurdjieff’s preparation and exercises. There are different views about that. Incidentally, if I understand Benson correctly, he felt that he could help Segal, who was – it seems – too much off with the spirit, and not enough in and caring for the body (p.157). Benson’s way and advice was to “Keep your feet on the earth” (163).

Benson was critical of the Ouspensky groups ( see pages 39, 118 and 192). I am interested in those remarks chiefly because they relate to the question the form of the Work, and how too rigid a form can stifle the content. But an unyielding and even doctrinaire approach to the Work was by no means the exclusive preserve of the Ouspensky people. I knew some people from the Foundation who could have given Ouspensky a few tips in this respect.

To my mind, the issue of change and continuity comes it is an inescapable part of the human condition: we need both. That is, we cannot live without a mix, or perhaps a balance, of change and continuity. We need principled development. But, as stated above, we also need the wisdom to judge when the development is based on sound principles, and when it is a lop-sided development which will lead to the diversion, indeed the corruption of the line of work. We need discrimination to sift the good ideas from the bad. We need courage to stand against a group, when it is necessary, but who has the wisdom to know when refusing to accept the group consensus is merely self-will?


The Human Condition and the Exercises

This, I think, is true: our quandary before all these questions of judgment is an inescapable part of our condition. Speaking of our condition, Benson provides a hitherto unpublished comment by Gurdjieff which sheds, I would say, a powerful light on our condition:

You know, Mr Gurdjieff would say a curious thing: “The angels are pure, and there is no place for them to go. We on this earth are fallen angels, but we have a place to strive for, objectively and actively to come to.” (138)”

Benson also gives some information about the exercises which came directly from Gurdjieff, and which I have said time and again, are to be distinguished from the “New Work”. In respect of these exercises, and I reiterate that I have recently been informed that Jeanne de Salzmann did teach them to small groups, Benson said:

You never know what you do in these exercises to allow things to happen, allow vital things to happen otherwise nothing will happen. (140)”

This may well be very true: it is not that Gurdjieff’s exercises and preparation furnish any guarantee, but perhaps they allow a certain movement of vital energies to occur which otherwise would not, or probably would not. And that may be sufficient to make these exercises critical.

The book abounds with some most unusual observations. Some of them may just be strange, but others, such as the “salt in the mountain” remarks (127), strike me as quite possibly true, and if so, point to a phenomenon we have been too little aware of. Just recently, a newspaper article in the Sydney Morning Herald, stated, quite in passing, that the indigenous aboriginals of Australia had known that there was something unhealthy beneath a certain are in Kakadu, and refused to live there. It turns out that it harboured uranium deposits.

Another idiosyncratic, but profound comment is about how he ran the Sundays at the ice house at Armonk:

I don’t demand anything, least of all the finished product – or to do things neatly, correctly. That’s not the demand. I make such demands of the natural forces that make their senses vibrate and grow close to nature in the greater sense of the word, to actually feel that they’re alive in order to do better things. (164)”


Glimpses of Gurdjieff

Little is said in this book about Gurdjieff. One of the anecdotes, concerning Gurdjieff’s remark to the minister at Benson’s wedding, strikes me as rather inconsequential (178-179). But the others strike me as more powerful. Benson has an interesting slant on Gurdjieff’s habit of writing in cafés: it was, he says, in order to steal the “wasted emotions” of the people who were there (173-174). This then starts Benson speaking about the “stealing” exercise, which he also does at p.156, where he curiously says that he could have performed the exercise had he been able to get into an objective state, but that he had never been able to. The passages at pp.123-124 about taking a part of God’s force may not be the same thing, exactly, but neither are they unrelated, and they repay careful pondering.

Another forceful anecdote concerns how Benson approached Gurdjieff at a time when he, Benson, was “suffering tremendously.” Gurdjieff said to him: “You see that skin? That is yours and no one else’s. This is a part of you.” Short, almost pitiless in its expression and conciseness, but how profound. So much of our suffering is predicated upon an implicit attitude that other people have to change or apologise before our pain can end. As Benson goes on to say, in his own voice: “It’s just as bad … to continue feeling bad about the situation.” (48)

Speaking of Gurdjieff, however, the most unexpected piece of information here is that Gurdjieff was involved in two motor accidents while at the Prieuré: the second, and much less serious one, is described at pp.193-196. I had not heard of that one before. The account of it, of Benson’s removing the staples from Gurdjieff’s body, and what Gurdjieff did the day after he returned from the hospital was strangely moving. I wonder why no one else mentions this, or is it just that I have missed it?

I mentioned that there were points in Benson which accorded with ideas I had already had. One of those is the idea that doing has been down played in the Work since the death of Gurdjieff. I expressed that view in those parts which I wrote of George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, and illustrated it by reference to Mr Adie’s teaching, Then I read in Benson:

… as it says in the Book of Solomon, ‘Man should rejoice in his works, for that is his portion.’ Do you all understand that? No more, no less. That’s what you leave behind, that‘s your development, that’s you. Is that understandable? (82-83)”

In a curious way, you grow by doing. (139)”


Miscellanous Points

There are a few errors, e.g. “practiced” for “practised” (12).

More serious than the odd spelling errors, are certain notes which are not just indulgent, or even self-indulgent, but absurdly so: see the anecdote which ends: “Christ, I loved that” (120). I can see nothing to love there.

There is a very strange passage on love, which spans the strange and the inspired. First, I cannot see why Abeldard and Heloise’s romance is “the most tragic love story that has ever existed” (135). But then, Benson’s comments on “love” being a concept which came not from Christianity but from Greece, specifically Plato (135-136), is seriously muddled. Many writers such as CS Lewis may have interpreted Christian love through Greek spectacles, but it is prominent in the Gospels, long before any influence of Greek thought. However, to say that what is valuable is not “love” but “wisdom” is quite stimulating (136). Of course it is a simplification and the result of an abstraction: in reality, love and wisdom must go together, and perhaps even be aspects of the one cosmic force. It is interesting how often people who claim to be straightforward and bluff, not given to intellectual niceties, are in fact more at the mercy of their analyses than the “intellectuals” whom they deride.


The Ongoing Issue

Now that I am onto it, I cannot lose sight of what I call “the ongoing issue”. And that is this, the Work does not seem to work beyond a limited point. All development seems to plateau out after a period of probably three years, about the length of time it usually takes get a university degree. There are exceptions, of course, but these seems to depend upon a fortunate conjunction of the student and the teacher. This is a large thought, but it is one of those which I found expressed in Benson, and which confirms me in my view. He writes:

I think some people are born with a greater being than other people. They have to be educated, in a sense, not educated in a school, but ‘brought out’. If they stay at it they can understand more and more and eventually become an entirely different person through that understanding. But I don’t think this is acquired so much. (150)”

This seems to be right. Gurdjieff had the power to lift people beyond their deserts, and this gave them a tremendous desire to help others, and a confidence that development was possible. But it just doesn’t seem to be the case that this development is possible for very many of us. And to evolve into someone with the individuality and understanding of Gurdjieff, or even close, seems quite impossible. Benson puts it more bluntly: “I don’t think we have the possibility of reaching consciousness” (154).

But if this is right, then Gurdjieff was wrong. Yet if Gurdjieff was wrong on that point, he still had a point: we can have more consciousness than we enjoy. It may well be that we would never be making efforts towards any consciousness unless we came to believe that we could have full consciousness. And it is even more likely, I think, that if we are not making efforts towards full consciousness, we will sink even deeper into unconsciousness. As Jane Heap used to say, the only difference between a groove and a grave is the depth. As Benson used to say: “The power of forgetting is … the curse of mankind” (80, see also 165).

This, I think, may be the upshot of “the ongoing issue”.



© Joseph Azize, 27 December 2013