Category Archives: John Robert Colombo writes …

JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO reviews CHRISTIAN WERTENBAKER’S ‘MAN IN THE COSMOS’

JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO reviews CHRISTIAN WERTENBAKER’S MAN IN THE COSMOS

A review of a book that examines G.I. Gurdjieff’s ideas in light of Modern Science

M

M

The author of this thoughtful book is Christian Wertenbaker, a clinical neuro-ophthalmologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in The Bronx, N.Y. The College’s website identifies the author and describes his work: “His interests include all areas of clinical neuro-ophthalmology, but especially eye movements and nystagmus, and the physiology of visual processing. He has authored or co-authored papers dealing with various aspects of clinical neuro-ophthalmology. He is also particularly interested in the art of patient care, and in teaching this to residents. The detective work involved in obtaining a comprehensive history and examination and then making sense of the patient’s complaints and illness, and the judgment involved in choosing the best course of action are all aspects of this.”

M

Unless I miss my guess, “Man in the Cosmos” is Dr. Wertenbaker’s first book. It has been subtitled “An Inquiry into the Ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff from a Scientific Perspective.” What I like about this book, to express it briefly and to anticipate the drift of my argument, is that the author is serious about the words “scientific perspective.” A good many books and semi-scholarly papers that examine the parallel relationship of Gurdjieff’s world view and the scientific world view are willing to subsume the latter under the rubric of the former. What Dr. Wertenbaker does is take the scientific consensus as the norm and then subsume Gurdjieff’s cosmology and psychology under it, a wiser course by far. The reader learns a little science along the way.

M

It is a handsome trade paperback that measures 6 inches by 9 inches. Its pagination runs as follows: xiv+192+iv. It is clearly printed on an off-white stock which, for whatever reason, makes for ready reading. The publishing house is Codhill Press, which was founded in 2008 in New Paltz, N.Y., by David Applebaum while he was the editor of “Parabola Magazine.” It was published last year.

M

The publisher writes about the mission of his publishing imprint: “Codhill Press is devoted exclusively to the advancement and appreciation of the finest works in poetry and prose which promise to search out important meanings for our lives. Its voice was conceived as lying at the intersection of spiritual, literary, and poetic thought. Its function was to provide texts for readers on a search for meaning and transcendent value.”

M

New Paltz, by the way, is the name of a village and a town located between Albany and New York City. It has an association with the anti-slavery fighter Sojourner Truth, boxer Floyd Patterson, and Mary Gordon the novelist. It is the location of a campus of the State University of New York. SUNY is the distributor of Codhill’s publications. New Paltz is also the home of another publishing imprint, Solar Bound Press, which issued Sophia Wellbeloved’s groundbreaking “Gurdjieff, Astrology and Beelzebub’s Tales: The Breakthrough Analysis of Gurdjieff’s Masterpiece.”

M

Textually the present book consists of an Introduction plus nineteen essays which between 1997 and 2011 appeared in “Parabola Magazine.” About a dozen years ago I subscribed to this periodical but I allowed my subscription to lapse because I found it too much like a tossed salad for my taste, a little of this and a little of that, rather than a hearty, three-course meal. But the issues that I read must have included Dr. Wertenbaker’s original articles, and the value of these was lost on me amid the plethora of lighter and familiar material reprinted from so many other sources. The result is that I am going to resubscribe to the periodical, ever mindful of the fact that, when accumulated, articles like these amount to more than the sum of their parts.

M

Earlier I used the words “scientific perspective,” and the value of this publication lies in the fact that this is precisely what the author offers the reader. The accumulated value of these essays amounts to a new and refreshing view of Gurdjieff’s cosmology and psychology. There is no index but there are about three dozen black-and-white illustrations as well as source notes for each chapter. The clarity of expression must owe something to Dr. Wertenbaker’s clarity of vision and his concern for reality and illusion and what he calls (with respect to the Necker cube and by extension to the subject-matter of this exposition) “perceptual decision.” Here is an outline of the contents and the argument of the book.

M

In the Introduction the author states that his aim is to relate “two distinct areas of human knowledge: the mystical cosmology of G.I.Gurdjieff, based, according to him, on ancient wisdom, and the discoveries and theories of modern science.” He affirms that Gurdjieff “possessed a degree of awareness, attention, perception, knowledge, and ability to act that put him on another level compared to ordinary people,” so that it is fitting to take seriously his exposition of “more obscure and controversial ideas about the nature of the universe, of man, of the soul, and of their relationships.” Some of these ideas are indeed bizarre in conception and expression.

M

The author states that “the method of modern science is a generally valid and honest way to arrive at truths about the world,” despite the “caveat” that science “tries to be objective and to remove the subjectivity of the observer from its deliberations.” This turns out to be a major “caveat” or caution. Finally, he adds, almost parenthetically, “There is nevertheless only one world, and so all truths about it must be compatible and related.” This need for consilience is the driving force behind the book.

M

In addition to his medical training and postgraduate studies in neurology and physiology, the author writes, “I also became a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation, devoted to exploring and pursuing Gurdjieff’s ideas and aims.” With characteristic honesty, he disarms the reader by adding, “I have not arrived at definite conclusions, and still do not know for sure whether many of Gurdjieff’s ideas are true.”

M

That was the Introduction. There are five sections each with its chapters. The first section is called “Mathematics, the Science of Patterns.” Reading it is like listening to an audio lecture in the popular Great Courses series. We whiz through “Nature’s Patterns,” “Pythagoras in 1999,” and “Some Thoughts on the Enneagram” (to cite the headings of the three articles in this section). Behind this section is the ancient argument waged by those who hold that mathematical concepts correspond to external realities against those who maintain that the concepts are subjective and procedural. What is unquestionable is the power of “patterns” and algorithms which reveal symmetries, whole and broken, in nature and in the human brain.

M

The chapter on Pythagoras takes the form of a lively dialogue between the author and the ancient philosopher who takes pride in the fact that “modern physics already has been forced to include the fact that the way in which a phenomenon is observed is an essential, though still mysterious, determinant of how reality manifests itself.”

M

There are nineteen pages devoted to “Some Thoughts on the Enneagram” and these amount to a concise and clearly written exposition of the patterns in nature that are illustrated by the nine-pointed diagram. The chapter is really a disquisition on mathematics and it is an expositor’s delight. The Fibonacci series is evoked to show “Nature’s Patterns.” The analysis extends beyond P.D. Ouspensky’s pioneering disquisition on the figure in “In Search of the Miraculous.” Even so, the author admits, “Its resistance to comprehension indicates how far we really are from the level of understanding that Gurdjieff represented and embodied.”

M

The second section is titled “Vibrations: The Universal Medium of Exchange.” The author writes, “The most interesting and important part of Gurdjieff’s teaching is related to vibrations, and it seems to me that since his time his views have been increasingly validated by science.” Behind this chapter is the evolution of the general and special theories of Relativity and then of Quantum Mechanics: “a Pandora’s box of bizarre attributes that continue to confound those who wish to add light to the list of puzzles considered solved by science.”

M

These developments occurred along with the introduction of Gurdjieff’s ideas in the West. The paradoxes familiar to physicists are not unfamiliar to metaphysicians. “If we turn our contemplation away from the outer world and to the inner one, as the sages advise, a different reality becomes evident. Like light, consciousness has no place, and no shape. It is invisible yet illuminates everything. It is unimpeded by time or space.”

M

The third section is titled “The Inner and Outer Worlds.” The author puzzles over “the greatest riddle, the greatest mystery of all, aside from Creation itself,” and he identifies it as the connection between “the inner world and the outer world, and their relationship to each other.” He notes their interdependency, their correlations, and their dependencies. So the sense of “the mystical feeling of being connected to everything” may be an illusion but then again it may not. In a sense, everyone is “an entity that is separate, yet connected to everything.”

M

Actually,” the author concludes, “there are three elements that make up a state of full awareness: awareness of the outer world, awareness of oneself through inner sensation and feeling, and awareness itself. Each of these involves different brain regions, and it may be that coordinated electrical activity between separate parts of the brain underlies the sense of self-consciousness. If so, the physical correlate of an inner life is a sufficiently complex electromagnetic pattern at the level of the entire nervous system.”

M

A significant concept here is what the author calls “semi-independent entities” – “an entity is like a living cell, with a semipermeable membrane that both defines it and connects it with the outside, allowing some substances to pass through in each direction and blocking others, in a dynamic equilibrium.” The cosmos is full of cells.

M

The chapter “Shadows of the Real World” evokes Plato’s metaphor of the cave, but even more Aladdin’s cave, as it permits the author to offer a disquisition on vision – the physical sort, though it seems it is not far from the other sort – ranging from three-dimensional imagery and three-brain to bilateral brains, to sensory perceptions which waffle before they harmonize. Degrees of consciousness are mentioned. “Mozart could hear an entire composition all at once.” (Here he is paraphrasing Roland Penrose.) “_Consciousness_ is a state in which a man _knows all at once_ everything that he in general knows and in which he can see how little he does know and how many contradictions there are in what he knows.” (Here he quotes Gurdjieff via Ouspensky.)

M

There is a discussion of the role of the power of the faculty of imagination. In the same way that “imaginary numbers” are required to represent the dynamic nature of elementary particles, what I might call “imaginary powers” are required to perform certain human functions. “We don’t bump into things much, and can plan our meals well ahead, as well as fantasize endlessly about the opposite sex, which sometimes leads to action. In the view of many scientists, this is the origin and purpose of imagination.”

M

In fact, the future is both largely predictable and completely unpredictable, but we do not live with this paradox, because for the most part we do not live consciously in the present.” Gurdjieff’s movements require the student to “maintain a constant awareness of bodily sensation and at the same time to visualize the next position to be taken. Thus the present comes into existence.”

M

The chapter “Awakening the Emotions” distinguishes between drives and emotions, with the help of the great psychologist William James; with the assistance of Antonio Damasio, he discusses feeling and emotions and this leads the author to suggest “self-consciousness is the result of the juxtaposition of internal and external sensation.” This is a growing point. The discussion extends to how “our instinctive-emotional reactions also have a direct effect on the activities of the cerebral cortex.”

M

Such effects produce “states” – arrangements of components, which (in terms of matter) may be solid, liquid, and gaseous. States change – liquids may freeze – “so the state of a substance changes its relationship to space and time, to other things, and to vibrations.” A few pages are devoted to discussing thought, feeling, and awareness … and “conscience.” The states experienced by human beings are discontinuous in nature. Gurdjieff is quoted: “All our emotions are rudimentary organs of ‘something higher,’ e.g., fear may be the organ of future clairvoyance, anger of real force, etc.”

M

The last chapters of this section are called “The Ego and I” and “The Home of the Self.” If they are less substantial than other sections, it may be because, once introduced, the word “ego” is difficult to dissever from Freud’s use of it, and because the word “home” (which for some readers may bring to mind Gaston Bachelard’s brilliant remark in “The Poetics of Space” that regardless of where we were born every human being lives in a house with a basement, an attic, and other floors and rooms). Yet the chapters imply a hierarchical view of man’s place in the cosmos … his “home.”

M

The fourth section bears the title “Worlds within Worlds” and the material in its first chapter “The Teaching of the Cosmos” will be familiar to readers of “In Search of the Miraculous” and “All and Everything.” Long before proponents of String Theory, with its multiple universes, Gurdjieff taught that there was not one single cosmos but a series of related cosmoses. Long before the Gaia Hypothesis, he taught that everything in its own way is alive. The writing here is expository.

M

Sir Isaiah Berlin is identified with the phrase “incommensurable values” which refers to the fact that concepts like liberty and equality cannot be combined in equal measure. This applies to attempts to equate knowledge and belief, a form of squaring the circle. Dr. Wertenbaker writes, “In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in reconciling, or at least understanding the relationship between, science and spirituality. Neuroscientists are tackling the question of the neural correlate of consciousness, after avoiding the subject for a long time. Philosophers are seriously studying the sciences. Physicists find themselves pondering the relationship between their theories and age-old spiritual questions.”

M

In the chapters in this section the author gives a good overview of Gurdjieff’s ideas, as recorded by Ouspensky, and the insights into the subjective and objective nature of space and time identified with Newton, Heisenberg, Einstein, and the contemporary, maverick theoretical physicist Lee Smolin. Scale is the key here, as is the overall cellular nature of a cosmos, which “selects which substances it will allow in or out.” In this way it resembles the cellular nature of man. Man is a cell in the cell of the cosmos.

M

The author takes the insight, which is a powerful one, and the argument well beyond the formulation above, introducing mechanical and conscious acts, advancing the average reader’s knowledge and appetite for speculation that would be free-wheeling except that it is based on the substrate of the notion of the cell. The author introduces “a resonance with a higher level of consciousness,” but warns, “These concepts are certainly foreign to science, and well beyond the direct knowledge of most of us, so that one hesitates to even mention them, but they are at the core of Gurdjieff’s teaching.”

M

Yet the incommensurability of such notions with those of science may be seen as a goad: “Perhaps over time Gurdjieff’s ideas will help to bring about an exact science which includes the inner and outer worlds, time and space and things, consciousness, energy and matter.”

M

Three more chapters – “Holy Earth,” “Laws, Miracles, and Science,” and “The Materiality of the Soul” – round out this section. The information here, both scientific and Gurdjieffian, will be familiar to readers interested in the conjunction of ancient wisdom and modern science, though the expression of it – done with great care to avoid hyperbole – will be found to be reassuring that a rational discussion of these ideas is possible. Behind it is the conviction that the quest to reconcile the traditional and the contemporary was seen by Gurdjieff as possible, for he wrote as follows:

M

Everything in this universe can be weighted and measured. The absolute is as material, as weighable and measurable, as the moon, or as man. If the absolute is God, it means that God can be weighed and measured, resolved into component elements, “calculated,” and expressed in the form of a definitive formula.”

M

The author concludes, “If there is a soul, it seems, it must conform to universal laws.” Science thus relieves the spiritual of the weight of bogus mysticism and diminishes when it does not eliminate the need for belief.

M

The fifth and last section is called “The Role of Man in the Cosmos,” which is essentially the theme of the book, though the reader may feel that what follows has already been subsumed by what preceded it in the fourth section. The chapter “The Fullness of the Void” examines the nature of thought and intuition and the modalities of knowledge (senses of perception and those of action) and their complexities. We take such input for granted, but not if we are scientists. “The central mystery of neuroscience, and a subject much debated today, is where, or how, or even why, consciousness awareness comes into this practice.”

M

The exposition here takes the form of a comparison and contrast between what contemporary scientists like Antonio Damasio and Paul MacLean conclude about the brain and what Gurdjieff largely through Ouspensky states about man. The author writes, intriguingly, “One could postulate, somewhat boldly, that the physical correlate of a more comprehensive consciousness is in fact the integrated electromagnetic activity of the brain, perhaps even of the whole body.” Perhaps the author steps too close to the edge when he adds, “Fully consciousness of myself, I become a part of everything.”

M

The chapter “The Cosmic Necessity of Suffering” is straight exposition of the Gurdjieffian view that suffering is inherent in creation because we are separated from creation because we are separated from ourselves. There is a reason for suffering and perhaps a purpose. “Possibly, if we took our cosmic duty seriously, our suffering could be less random and more appropriate.”

M

Does Man Have Three Brains,” at thirty-nine pages, is the longest chapter, and a level-headed discussion of MacLean’s tri-brain theory, approached from various vantage-points. One of the vantage-points is Gurdjieff via Ouspensky. Here the exposition struck me as making non-controversial use of evidence and mainstream theory, but the author seems to feel otherwise, for he writes, “The ideas put forth here, while grounded in both inner and outer facts, are far away from current scientific understanding. They do not constitute a theory; rather they form a speculation, with many loose ends. But the issues addressed are fundamental and require confronting.”

M

The last chapter is titled “The Cosmic Metabolism of Form” which is a serious way of saying “we are what we eat” and perhaps “eat or be eaten” – food, air, and impressions. A key conception here is the following sentence, which takes the reader pretty far from scientific fact but not from the Gurdjieffian perspective: “This vivification of impressions feeds our inner life, which needs conscious impressions to grow, and may also serve a larger purpose, enabling God to ‘see’ his own creation through us and other conscious observers throughout the universe.”

M

On the last page the author writes (in an outstanding phrase) that we are or can be “part of a great cosmic ecology of consciousness.” Because this is so we have the opportunity to become “part of everything on a conscious level, just as we are part of everything on the level of gross materiality.”

M

I closed the copy of “Man in the Cosmos” enriched and with the resolve to reopen the book at a later date to recall Dr. Wertenbaker’s presentation of scientific facts and theories, as well as his interpretation of Gurdjieff’s views on man’s nature and creation. It occurred to me the title of the book, while perfectly descriptive and appropriate, might even be inverted. It could be retitled “The Cosmos in Man.”

x

x

colombo1

M

M

M

John Robert Colombo, an author and anthologist, lives in Toronto and contributes reviews and commentaries to this website. His own website – http://www.colombo.ca – describes his books which include studies of science fiction, mystery fiction, Canadiana, quotations, poetry, and the country’s humour. In 1967, he was one of the founders of the League of Canadian Poets, and earlier this month he was invited to address the League’s annual general meeting, where he reminisced about its founding and introduced its inaugural Raymond Souster Award. Some years ago Marcel Marceau visited him at his home and said, “I will gladly come to Toronto at any time to perform for you free of charge.”

11 June 2013

A New Book by Keith A. Buzzell Reviewed by John Robert Colombo

A New Conception of God

AA

With the appearance of each new book written by Keith A. Buzzell, I gulp. There are a number of reasons why I gulp, and here are a few of them.

AA

Dr. Buzzell writes long, serious, deep, and indeed heavy analyses of concepts and mechanisms that we take for granted in the work of Gurdjieff. His books are not easy to read; they are not Gurdjieff Lite. Nor are they easy to review, for there is so much detail in his publications and so much analysis that there is a real need of the sixty or so black-and-white or multi-coloured diagrams that accompany the text of this publication. Despite this, it is sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees – in this instance, to see the familiar “lay of the land” – as described in the pages of (say) P.D. Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous” – for all the geographical and geological factors that underlie and shape the landscape.

AA

Dr. Buzzell was born in Boston in 1932, studied music at Bowdoin College and Boston University, and received his medical doctorate in 1960 at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “He has lectured widely on the neuro-physiological influences of television on the developing human brain and on the evolution of man’s triune brain.” (I am quoting from the biographical note that appears in his current book.) “For the past thirty-eighty years, he has been a rural family physician in Fryeburg, Maine, a staff member of Bridgton Hospital and currently holds the position of medical director at the Fryeburg Health Care Centre.”

AA

He and his wife Marlena became students of Irmis Popoff in 1971 and they formed Work groups under her supervision. “It was in 1988 that they met Annie Lou Staveley, founder of Two Rivers Farm in Oregon, and maintained a Work relationship with her until her death.” Both Marlena and Keith have been active in the All and Everything International Humanities Conferences from 1995 to the present.

AA

Dr. Buzzell has a dedicated publisher in Fifth Press. The imprint is based in Salt Lake City, and its personnel (including Bonnie Phillips) have drawn the Plimpsoll line for design and dedication. To date, five books of his books are listed and described in its on-line catalogue < http://www.fifthpress.org > and here are their titles are:

AA

Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales” (2005), a collection of essays. “Explorations in Active Mentation” (2006) about Legominism, etc. “Man–A Three-Brained Being” (2007), a scientific study of the brain. “Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim” (2012), a study of man’s nature. And now “A New Conception of God” (2013), which travels the rails of the previous book in particular.

AA

Combined, these five books offer more than 1,240 pages of text that examine the bases – or the single basis – of Gurdjieff’s cosmology and psychology, begging comparison in importance for serious students of these matters with Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous” and Maurice Nicol’s five-volume set of “Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky,” except for the fact that Ouspensky was not really a mathematician (and eschewed descriptions that implied that he was) and Nicoll was not really a scientist (being a Jungian analyst by training), whereas Dr. Buzzell does have scientific standing and a theoretical and practical understanding of the neurology and physiology of the human body and brain. When I think of his achievement, I recall Yogi Berra’s enigmatical remark: “Theoretically, theory and practice are the same thing.”

AA

In earlier columns of mine on this website, I have offered impressions of some of these publications. But instead of summarizing his arguments, which are invariably technical in nature, I am treating the current book as an independent publication, rather than as a continuation of an ongoing analysis, so here I will describe it and it alone. The full title and subtitle of the present volume are “A New Conception of God: Further Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim.”

AA

The trade paperback measures 9.5″ x 6.5″ and the pagination runs like this: x + 311 + iii. The pages are glued rather than sewn, but because of the fact that the slightly off-white text stock is sturdy, the book opens easily and the typography is such that the text is a pleasure to read. There is hardly a page without its source-note. In all, there are about 156,000 words plus more than sixty or so pastel-coloured illustrations, pleasing to the eye as well as revealing to the mind.

AA

There are sixteen chapters, but that is not all of it, because in addition to these chapters there are six more sections: Contents, Foreword (by Joseph Azize), Author’s Preface, followed by three Appendices, References, and Bibliography. So this is a serious, well-thought-out publication.

AA

Joseph Azize, the contributor of the Foreword, was a pupil of Helen and George Adie of Sydney, Australia, from 1981 to 1989, and is the author of a suggestive study of the work of this remarkably influential couple. Azize is also a solicitor and a regular contributor to the present website. The Foreword he has written for this volume is remarkable for its suggestiveness, combining intelligence and emotion in equal parts.

AA

I will merely quote from its somewhat involved final sentence for it encapsulates his impression of Dr. Buzzell and his work. It goes like this: “The level of thought, the balance of mind and feeling bringing a palpable sense of wonder and love of knowledge, and the objectivity of the work, all confirm the opinion which has arisen in me more than once: if I have met a genuine terrestrial scientist, then it is Keith Buzzell.”

AA

The author himself in his Preface undertakes “to understand the depths of Gurdjieff’s ‘new conception of God in the world.’” That is a tall order. The “conception” must embrace everything “from fundamental matter to the starry heavens” – cosmology; it must explain “the roles of human life” – sociology; it must “give form to all the mysteries confronting man” – psychology; and it must “provide guidance and methodology for fulfilling the purposes and ‘laws’ of higher worlds” – religion; and it must “comfort, enliven, correct, guide, discipline and reward the individual and the collective” – philosophy.

AA

To what this new “conception” must do, I have added the appropriate “-ologies,” though other systematic studies might do just as well. Here the author advances beyond those statements and takes a religious or spiritual turn, alluding to the role of “the great Messengers” as “powerful motivators of _behaviour_.” Let me quote him at greater length:

AA

It is our understanding that in his presentation on Time, the three Holy Forces, Okidanokh and the principles of Triamazikamno and Heptaparaparshinokh, Gurdjieff elaborated a perspective which is wholly consistent with modern science and, in particular, with quantum mechanical principles and relativity. Within these multilayered presentations, lies an approach to reconciliation of the principles espoused by both the Great Traditions _and_ modern science.”

AA

This is an even taller order, for while “understanding” Gurdjieff’s system is tall enough, finding a rapprochement with Quantum mechanics (perhaps Quantum psychology or Quantum dynamics are better terms) is an even taller order. Dr. Buzzell is well situated to succeed in this undertaking. Whether he accomplishes it or not – whether it can be accomplished at all – is a matter that readers of this review will have to decide for themselves.

AA

The rest of the Preface serves as an abstract outline of the contents of the book’s sixteen chapters from the perspective of Gurdjieff’s “conception” – “to highlight in some detail the remarkable reconciliation of spiritual and scientific perspectives that Gurdjieff’s teaching accomplishes.” Because it is so general it is worth rereading, like rechecking a roadmap, to confirm the direction taken and the distance clocked. To that end, here is the sketchiest of roadmaps to the book’s sixteen chapters, not a Google-eyed map but a goggle-eyed view – a series of impressions, essentially.

AA

Chapter 1: “Renewed Concept of Conscience.” The author links Conscience with Higher Reason rather than with higher or lower emotion or sensation, for it is related to understanding rather than to feeling. Yet he quotes Gurdjieff who links it with feeling: “Conscience is a state in which a man _feels all at once_ everything that he in general feels, or can feel.” It is to be distinguished from morality, and it is related to consciousness: “Consciousness is a state in which a man _knows all at once_ everything that he in general knows.” Paradoxically, consciousness to the intellect is equivalent to conscience to the emotions. What follows is a discussion of man as a three-brained being.

AA

The author quotes J.G. Bennett as locating conscience in the _world of possibilities_, “a word that requires the third state of consciousness. Only in this world is automatism transcended.” Dr. Buzzell states, “It is our view that Conscience stands at a pinnacle of Gurdjieff’s ‘new conception of God in the world.’” Interestingly, this fact is invoked to account for the ancient notion of the sorrows of the Creator. The chapter continues in detail to place conscience with respect to Kundabuffer, in light of the enneagram, in terms of its origin in Endlessness, to the need to earn a soul, involution and evolution, struggle, etc. The argument is associative but comprehensive.

AA

Chapter 2: “ … A Crimson Thread …. ” Dr. Buzzell’s argument counterpoints general declarative sentences with passages of the involved syntax and vocabulary of Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales.” It is possible to see his argument as a gloss on Gurdjieff’s text. Courting some confusion, the author adopts Gurdjieff’s use of the term “subconsciousness” to refer to mechanized functions and manifestations. In a rare passage of reminiscence, he describes how when he reached the age of fifteen, he had absorbed images associated with battles of World War II to such a degree that sixty-five years later he is able to evoke the feelings associated with them.

AA

Their subconscious presence in my feeling memory became apparently only when the Work actively entered my life and I began slowly to ‘see’ the reflections from the subconscious from the past into my everyday life.” There follows a discussion of the leader-follower relationship and the ultimate causes of war which are triadic. The role of hazard is interestingly described with respect to egoism and its manifestations. He inquires about the individual and collective roles and responses to this condition and its “exceptional cosmic events.”

AA

Chapter 3: “Kundabuffer and Work.” There is a discussion of buffers generally and then Kundabuffer in particular. I have equated Kundabuffer and the Wendigo in my own mind, although most people will find it farfetched to speak of this implanted organ with the Algonkian spirit of cannibalism, the boogie man to Native children, the spectre of “cabin fever” to Native elders, except that the Algonkian word means “me, for myself” and it may refer not just to demonic entities but also to attitudes and especially combines and corporations. There is a short excursus on “Pleasure and Sex Energy” about which little has been written in the past, though Ouspensky deals with infra-sex and supra-sex in some detail in “Tertium Organum.” Here the subject of the biochemical or hormonal and the psychical or neural bases is discussed most interestingly.

AA

It is an absence of consciousness between the brains that inevitably leads to their dissociated functions,” the author writes, in italics, and the rest of the chapter examines the chemical connections and their absences. The second half of this chapter is devoted to the functions of the three brains and these offer unexpected insights, for instance, to the nature of imagery (Hydrogen 24) which is related to attention, or light, with nine of its characteristics mentioned. The author discusses the statement “You are your attention.”

AA

Chapter 4: “Sensing and Feeling.” When I first learned via Ouspensky’s Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution of the four-fold nature of man with its centres (intellectual, emotional, mechanical, moving), subsequently reduced to three centres with the amalgamation of the last two into a recognizable moving or physical centre, to yield the triune nature, I immediately related the scheme to W.H. Sheldon’s somatotyping or body typology (ectomorph, endomorph, mesomorph).

AA

This typology was popular in the United States in the 1920s and so in the 1950s it seemed somewhat familiar, not at all Eastern. I equated the relationship between the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system with the moving and the mechanical parts of man’s physical nature, one being voluntary (like walking), the other being involuntary (like heart-beats). Later I equated the three brains with the anatomical features: reptilian cortex, limbic system, neocortex, Dr. Buzzell begins with the first two systems and goes on to equate them with the various hydrogens of sensation and feeling.

AA

The exposition here is masterful for it is based on human anatomy and the nervous system with its “little brains” (a neat term for nerve nodes) and it takes into account human evolution from what seem to be primordial times to the present day characterized by human beings capable of “active mentation.” The imbalance among centres “is characteristic of the vast majority of otherwise accomplished individuals” who fail to realize their human potential. “The artistic / spiritual expressions demonstrate a degree of resonant functioning of Higher Emotional Centre, whereas the theoretical and experimental physicist, mathematician or biologist demonstrates a degree of resonant functioning of Higher Intellectual Centre.” Yet, the author asserts, the Higher Centres “are present and functioning in all three-brained beings.”

AA

Chapter 5: “Gurdjieff’s ‘Conscious’ and ‘Unconscious.’” Perhaps the key statement in this well realized chapter — and at six pages very short – is the following sentence: “The feeling and thinking brains should be the centres that, when functioning in accordance with their real potential, are the neural instruments that assist the coating process of the Higher Bodies; they are the developmental centres for the inner and outer manifestations of all self-other relationships, Conscience and Objective Reason.” Exercises to attain this end or these ends are mentioned in passing.

AA

Chapter 6: “Conception.” The mechanism of conception in human beings is reviewed in this short chapter and described on the microscopic level, though “it is not possible to create an accurate or true image of this event.” The question is asked, “Does the conception of a Kesdjan Body occur in an analogous fashion?”

AA

Chapter 7: “Origins.” What Gurdjieff and the author call “Great Nature” is discussed in terms of “the Lateral Octave of the Ray of Creation” and the evolution of the Three Brains. Here there is an unexpected discussion of our human forebears who it seems are anatomically and neuro-anatomically no different from ourselves. One footnote asserts as follows: “Newborns transferred by early adoption, from aboriginal settings into the urban western 20th century world, are developmentally indistinguishable from children born in the West.” I wonder about the evidence for this statement.

AA

Here the author skims over ethnographic and sociological studies rather in the manner of David Brooks, “New York Times” correspondent and television commentator, who steps gingerly from one generalization to another based on summaries of scientific studies. It is a short chapter but it bristles with ideas, especially those about the role of feeling in groups.

AA

Chapter 8: “Bodies and Centres.” It never occurred to me to distinguish between bodies and centres but this chapter begins with Gurdjieff’s differentiation. The presentation discusses the states of consciousness, including Higher Emotional Centre and Higher Being-body and Higher Intellectual Centre, with respect to the intervention of “conscious shocks.” Then there is a distinction between functions and bodies. This is another short chapter, one that ends with a clear expression of respective functionalities:

AA

Kesdjan and Higher Being-body are bodies (who, unified states which are quite separate from their material substrate). Higher Emotional and Higher Intellectual Centres are brained, processing and creative units which, as they refine and mature their functioning, contribute vitally to the coalescence (coating) of the Higher Bodies.”

AA

Chapter 9: “Do–Re–Mi of the Octaves of Food, Air and Impressions.” Three brains require three food sources. “Our exploration will continue into the correspondences and analogies between the three Octaves (Food, Air and Impressions) and into basic features of the enneagram itself. Use will be made of examples – drawn from our everyday Work-life – to relate these ideas to their practical application.”

AA

As to be expected from its contents, this chapter is a long one, fifty pages in length, written with accustomed clarity, about the digestion of food and how it makes possible the transformation of life. Here, almost at random, but in sequential order, are the titles of some of the subsections of the analysis: Physical Food, Role of Air, Mind Influencing Matter, The Substrate of Sensation and Feeling, “Sound is our energy,” Magnetism and Emanation, The Emergence of Self-Other, Impressions, Sex Energy, Brained Origins of Attention.

AA

Outer attention must be balanced with inner attention, and close to the chapter’s end, the author writes about … what he is able to write about: “MI 12 of the Impressions Octave is more difficult to describe as an ‘elemental.’ The primary reason for this difficulty lies within the limited development of the author. One can only see or understand at a level resonant with one’s _being_. The perspective put forward here, on MI 12 and beyond, is limited by the author’s ordinary personhood.”

AA

Chapter 10: “Knowledge and Being.” Dr. Buzzell is able to make his way through the thicket of Gurdjieff’s terminological conceptions because his inquiry is grounded in contemporary knowledge of human anatomy with its cellular, biochemical and neural processes of which we as a species are largely ignorant. In fact, he quotes Irmis Popoff as saying, “You cannot expect to gain and understand extraordinary knowledge unless you already have ordinary knowledge.”

AA

The more scientific information and knowledge that we acquire, the better able are we through “directed attention” to appreciate what takes place within us – “the more we can gain knowledge of the cellular, biochemical and neural processes taking place in our body, the more we can experience and substantiate our mechanicalness.” He quotes Jacob Needleman on “the discipline of inner experience” or “inner empiricism” that match the empiricism of systematic outer inquiries.

AA

Chapter 11: “Three Bodies.” This chapter seems to be a “catching up” in the sense that everyone knows about the existence of the three bodies but everyone knows very little in particular about their constituent elements and functions. Adding to our knowledge, Dr. Buzzell introduces the roles of imagery, visualization and imagination which, “intentionally produced via directed attention,” can lead to “the actualization of Faith (what I really Am), Hope (what I commit myself to into an indeterminate future) and Love (_good will_ toward All and Everything).” So perhaps the key notion to be found in this short chapter is the paragraph that follows:

AA

Kesdjan and Higher Being-bodies do not ‘exist’ in the forms of the cellular, molecular / atomic world (which ends in H 96). We must make the effort to _feel_ and _think_ of their substance as being of the feeling and thinking worlds. Their space and time are not of our sensory / motor world, extending into dimensions that we have to ‘measure’ in a totally different way. Compassion, consideration, nature, Conscience and joy and sorrow are of the _nature_ of Kesdjan. A _body_ formed of these attributes and qualities would be both _individual_ and _shared_ (interpenetrating) with other _bodies_. Similarly, Higher Being-body, formed of the impartial understanding of cosmic law and their levels of manifestation, ‘absorbs’ the qualities and attributes of the Kesdjan Body and becomes both the ‘image’ and a unique manifestation of perfected man.”

AA

Chapter 12: “Reason.” This chapter begins with a discussion of reason in terms of the Table of Hydrogens and then offers a brief historical overview of its significance. Then “the relativity of reason” is stressed from the perspective of points of the Ray of Creation. The chapter becomes relevant to the individual when the discourse turns to work on self.

AA

At every step of this _inner inquiry_, the importance of group work and Work with other methods (inner exercises, Movements, work days, reading, study, music, meditation / contemplation) becomes increasingly evidence, contributing in a myriad of ways to the strengthening of the directed attention and the clarity of self-observation. Each and all of these contribute in essential ways to the digestive processes taking place in the ‘hydrogen’ 48-24-12 levels. One is coming to ‘Know thyself.’”

AA

I do not recall any earlier encounter with the word “automaticities,” but I find the plural noun useful here to refer to instances of “mechanicality” not particularly with respect to one level of being but especially with respect to various levels of being where its nature varies. (Oddly, it is here that I found one extraordinarily minor misprint in the text. The author writes, “Automaticities in other are seen as the same as automaticity in oneself.” Surely he means “in others”; this typo may be an oversight, but I secretly hope it is an instance of an entasis.)

AA

There is also an interesting discussion of the difference between “Reason-of-knowing” and “Reason-of-Understanding.” In fact, this is one of the most rewarding chapters of the book, no doubt the product of much time and effort.

AA

Chapter 13: “The Triadic Nature of ‘Is’ and Attention.” Attention is paid to Paul MacLean’s work on the three-brain concept along with the advent of fMRIs, PET scans and electroencephalography. This is an easy-to-read section despite the fact that “the evolution of the brain was, minimally, a 600 million year enterprise.” Attention is then paid to the notion of “attention” and to the parallel notion of “attentions” (in the plural). Dr. Buzzell attempts the localization in the brain of some of the centres, bodies, and functions known and unknown to man. The discussion leads to the role of will. What the author calls “extremely _unordinary_ circumstances” are required “to coalesce the _attention_ and the _will_ to the greatest degree possible.” He has in mind the experience of Work.

AA

Chapter 14: “The Triune Will.” This chapter offers a discussion of World One which despite its unity exhibits “the outlines of a triad of ‘powers.’” Nothing is quite what it seems when viewed from a different level. Throughout the literature of the Work there are veiled references to “the coating process.” Here it comes into its own following a discussion of Will Power “via the derivative and ‘automatic’ (Okidanokh).” A coloured spectrum illustrates the electromagnetic range of Okidanokh: from extremely low frequency waves through radiowaves, microwaves, infra-red, ultra-violet, X-rays, to gamma rays.

AA

The author concludes this short chapter with the following paragraph: “All three aspects of the Triune Will are present, with varying emphasis, at every step of the process. Each step is a part of the Oskiano of Essence; the education to the responsible life which is inextricably interwoven with Gurdjieff’s ‘new concept of God in the work.’”

AA

Chapter 15: “Laws and the Three Food Octaves.” Here we have a very general discussion about the descent of the Ray of Creation, the increasing restrictions, and the expressions of the six laws. “The automaticities of the laws lie in the _mechanicalness_ of the _images_ because those images have derived from _bodily_ expressions of ordinary life (Itoklanoz and the consequences of Kundabuffer).”

AA

Various triads are discussed and the discussion ranges over emergence of the brain, digestion of food, images, Holy-Reconciling (etc.), and other matters. Every book needs a chapter of odds and ends, so Chapter 15 is the one in question. There is a major discussion of the unquiet brain and “what determines our awareness of the moment.”

AA

Chapter 16: “Attention (H 12), the Greatest Gift to Life; the Power to Pursue Meaning and Purpose.” There is an Overview of H 12, of attentions, and, intriguingly, what is called “The Great Photon.” This is a speculative section that is erected on the background the electromagnetic spectrum. Indeed, the analysis seems to hop, skip and jump along the spectrum, drawing together considerations of brain function and first and subsequent conscious shocks. It seems something of an anticlimax to the book itself.

AA

But the book, long as it is, does not end here, for there are three appendices. Appendix I consists of three pleasing diagrams for “A Symbol of the Cosmos and Its Laws.” The first is in triadic form, the second in circular form, and the third in “will point form.”

AA

Appendix II consists of a discussion of “As Above, So Below: Analogies between World Six and World 48.” This section is quite interesting as it considers changes from World One through World 48.

AA

Appendix III consists of “The Thrust of the Laws within the Ray of Creation.” The illustrations here resemble “decision trees” (even “differential diagnoses”) emerging from a central point.

AA

Recommended Reading – References” consists of lists of books written by nineteen authors, about forty books in all, the listings being supplemental to the longer list in the volume to which this one is a sequel: “Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim.”

AA

All in all, all in everything, “A New Conception of God: Further Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim” is a considerable achievement, hardly likely to be bettered, in our era at least, though further developments in science and technology will likely add to the complexity that Dr. Buzzell suspects to be there all the time. But there is a reservation that I have; two reservations in fact.

AA

The main reservation is the use of the noun, name, pronoun, or collective “God” in the title. While there are references to what might be called the godhead throughout the text, it seems Gurdjieff’s teachings and this book dwell not on a deity like a pantocrator, but on Creation itself with its laws, some sort of absolute along with its conditions.

AA

There is also the minor reservation, the notion of “whim,” which is an interesting term, though an odd one that I take to be synonymous with “will” or “aim.” However, in his earlier book, Dr. Buzzell quoted the comment of a colleague: “In a rare moment of divulgence, Gurdjieff revealed his own whim: to bring to mankind a new understanding of God.” So I find myself arguing not with Dr. Buzzell but with Gurdjieff about the matter!

AA

Allow me to conclude this review (which is essentially a series of impressions based on the chapters of this book) on an anecdotal note. I undertook to write this review to figure out what Dr. Buzzell himself is writing about, as I am in no position to argue with him about any of his discoveries, insights or conjectures. I did gulp when I opened his book, because of its seriousness, though I decided to swallow my hesitations and write about it anyway. So I think the anecdote has some relevance to the work at hand.

AA

About six months ago I spent an evening with Norman Doidge, the Toronto-based psychiatrist who wrote the semi-popular study called “The Brain that Changes Itself.” This is the book that has drawn wide-spread attention to recent scientific advances in the field of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to repair itself and restore function. Currently he is working on its sequel.

AA

I told him, “I have a suggestion for the title of the sequel.” He looked a little surprised, so I continued. “I was much impressed with the years of research that you conducted before writing ‘The Brain that Changes Itself.’ I paid particular attention to the index to your book. Did you compile it yourself?”

AA

He continued to look surprised, perhaps a little guarded. “Yes, and I spent a lot of time on it.”

AA

I continued, “I have no doubt that you did so, because it is thorough and comprehensive. But I noticed one curious absence in the index.” He looked wary, so I chose my words warily. “I found that it has columns devoted to references to the word Brain, as one would expect, but there is no entry at all for the word Mind. That index entry is missing.”

AA

He smiled and said, “But I did include individual entries for the functions of the Mind, functions like Memory and Imagination. Besides, the word Mind is very difficult to define.”

AA

I replied, “My observation does not imply any criticism of your text. But it occurred to me that the various functions of the Mind presumably affect the multifarious functions of the Brain. So you might consider the title that I am going to suggest for your book’s sequel. I think you should call it ‘The Mind that Changes the Brain that Changes Itself.’”

AA

Dr. Doidge groaned, conceding that if I did not have a neurological point to make, at least I was making a cultural point. But I think I was making a point that the so-called higher functions of the mind’s mentation affect the brain’s operation. I see Dr. Buzzell’s contributions, like Dr. Doidge’s, as offering theories and practices that mediate between the mind and the brain, producing some sort of human plasticity, the sort that begs a familiarity with Gurdjieff’s Work.

AA

13 April 2013

AA

AA

John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist with a special interest in Canadiana and the world of mysteries. His two most recent books are compilations of stories and memoirs of the English author Sax Rohmer, the creator of Dr. Fu Manchu – “The Crime Magnet” and “Pipe Dreams” – as well as a collection of poems called “A Standing Wave.” His website is < http://www.colombo.ca > .

JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO reviews IN SEARCH OF BEING

In Search of Being

Every so often there comes along a book for which I find myself completely unprepared. One such book was In Search of the Miraculous which asked questions I could not answer and which still asks questions I cannot answer, and that was half a century ago. Another such book is The Reality of Being, subtitled “The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff,” based on notes and annotations of Jeanne de Salzmann. That book appeared only two years ago and it has already acquired something of a following. Its appearance too was unheralded.

The present book is yet another surprise. It is called In Search of Being, the subtitle is “The Fourth Way to Consciousness,” and the author is given as G.I. Gurdjieff. Another book by Gurdjieff? (I recall with relish the clever cartoon that shows a hand-written notice posted on the signboard on the lawn of a parish church. Here are the words on that notice: “Important, If True.”) Later in this review I will look into the question of authenticity of this publication and its text. Right now I want to describe the volume that is resting on my desk, for it is an uncommonly handsome piece of bookmanship, as well as something of a surprise!

During his lifetime Gurdjieff published one book called Herald of Coming Good (1933). Following his death in 1949, a stream of publications began to appear, beginning with the so-called “All and Everything” Trilogy which comprises Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (1950), Meetings with Remarkable Men (1963), and Life is Real, Only Then, When “I Am” (1978). Independent of these are the texts of his talks that appeared as Views from the Real World (1973). That makes five books in all. Now there is a sixth – In Search of Being (2013).

What a handsome book is the present volume! It measures six inches by nine inches and is attractively bound in cloth, embossed in gold, with a headband, with delicately coloured end-sheets, and with an attractive jacket that shows a watercolour of a landscape with a small figure in the foreground. The artwork is titled “The Road to Cold Mountain” and it is identified as the work of Natasha de Castro. The interior design and typography are impeccable, for the pages (xvi+269+i) are easy to read. Shambhala Publications, Inc., of Boston and New York City, has produced a fine specimen of the art and craft of the bookmaker. The fact that it is reasonably priced (at US $26.95) is presumably based on the anticipation of wide sales around the world.

Over all, the current book has a “familiar” feel to it, so familiar in fact that I turned to my shelf of books devoted to the Work to take down my copy of Jeanne de Salzmann’s The Reality of Being which the same publisher issued three years ago. The designs and formats are the same. When I reviewed Madame’s book for this web-blog, I commented on the care that went into its production, right down to the jacket’s watercolour landscape with its tiny figure in the foreground. That watercolour is called “Inside the Milky Way” and the artist is identified only as “the author’s great-granddaughter.” I wonder if she could be Natasha de Castro.

The two books are “of a piece,” so to speak, and if the landscapes depicted on the jackets are to be construed as evidence of this, the landscape of Madame’s book’s shows the dark sky at midnight, whereas the landscape of Gurdjieff’s book depicts the brightening sky at dawn. The title of the second painting invokes the enigmatic lines of the poem composed by Han-shan: ‘People ask for the road to Cold Mountain, but no road reaches Cold Mountain.” (The earlier book might be described as inner or “esoteric,” the later book as outer or “exoteric.”) In addition, the two jackets feature the sign of the Enneagram which is, or at least once was, unique to the Fourth Way.

The text consists of a Foreword, an Introduction, and ten chapters, followed by Biographical Notes, a list of Fourth Way Centers (four in number), and a carefully constructed Index. Each of the ten chapters consists of five (sometimes four, sometimes six) essays or feuilletons, which are quite short, each ranging in the main from three to six pages in length. These constitute the beating heart of the book. The reader familiar with the thought of the Fourth Way may readily imagine the contents of the chapters from their titles, so here are those titles:

1. Know Thyself. 2. Our Human Machine. 3. World within Worlds. 4. The Possibility of Evolution. 5. The Aim of Religion. 6. Seeking the Way. 7. A Practical Study. 8. A Work for Consciousness. 9. Toward Liberation. 10. Knowledge of Being.

To give an idea of the contents of the short essays, here are the titles of the six essays that comprise the third section, “Worlds within Worlds”: Inside the Milky Way, The Law of Three Forces, The Ray of Creation, The Law of Octaves, Degrees of Materiality. Much information is concentrated in these essays and chapters, but given the brevity of the essays, there is little elbow-room for analysis or illustration. There is a sense in which each essay offers basic information for a talk or a lesson.

I was unprepared for the surprising inclusion of the sixteen-page section titled “Biographical Notes” which, as the reader might guess, is concerned with the contributions to the history of the Work made by Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Salzmann. Indeed, by extension, this section covers a wider spectrum than that, for it peers back onto the role of the Seekers of Truth and looks around in a sketchy way to the present-day practices and concerns of the institutes, societies, and foundations.

I found this section to be written with great care, with a style that restrains flair, recalling familiar formulations, but arguing for interpretations more in keeping with the long-term goals of the Work than with “taking sides” on personalities, directions, and other matters of passing interest. For these reasons, I am going to single out a dozen or so ideas that are stressed in these pages to reveal an informed mind at work.

Not only did Gurdjieff not share personal information, he did not identify the source or sources of his theories and practices. As for the three Seekers of Truth, the “original” of Prince Yuri Lubovedsky is identified with the scholar-diplomat Prince Esper Esperovitch Ukhtomsky, and the latter’s debt to Theosophy is stressed. Gurdjieff’s year of birth is given on the jacket as 1866, but on the copyright page as 1872 – this is “having it both ways” – but it would likely be the former if Gurdjieff and Ukhtomsky had met at the Pyramids at Gizeh. “Ukhtomsky and Gurdjieff together would have decided on the form of the teaching and their plan to introduce it to the West.” The identification of the Prince with the Seeker is new, although it was the historian James Webb who discovered that the Prince originated the phrase ‘seekers of Truth.’”

The teaching was introduced despite the civil war in Russia and the Great War in Europe. Different approaches if not different values were stressed in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Essentuki, Tiflis, Constantinople, and Western Europe. “It was at the Prieuré that Gurdjieff achieved widespread recognition, largely from public demonstrations of the Movements.” There is an adaptative quality to the Work: “In his later years Gurdjieff regarded the study of the original system of ideas as merely a preliminary stage of the work toward consciousness. He turned aside questions about ideas as being theoretical and brought his teaching in terms of a direct perception of reality.” So to the cities mentioned above must be added Paris and Fontainebleau/Avon as the centres of the Work in the form that it is practised these days. This observation, while not new, has become accepted.

For Mme. De Salzmann, he was a spiritual ‘master’ in the traditional sense – not as a teacher of doctrine but one who by his very presence awakened and helped others in their search for consciousness.” Gurdjieff worked initially by attraction, subsequently by repulsion: work on essence, and then on functions. Followers were beckoned and then came, and either went or were expelled. “In fact, he made them leave to pursue their own lives when he deemed it necessary for them or for his larger aims.” (This point is stressed, so the reader might ask, “Is it necessary to leave the Work in order to understand the Work?”) Yet there is the need for a “school” – perhaps even for a “high school”! Whoever wrote this section quite rightly alludes to the teaching in a powerful way, stressing “the sense of cosmic scale and of history, referring back to ancient civilizations thousands of years ago.”

Those thoughts were inspired by sentences in the first section which is devoted to Gurdjieff. In the second section, devoted to Ouspensky, the author notes the hinge role of Boris Mouravieff “who knew both men” and who made the following observation: “One can say, without exaggeration, that without Ouspensky, Gurdjieff’s career in the West would probably have not gone beyond the stage of endless conversations in cafés.” Highlighted are Ouspensky’s romantic temperament and his distrust of science, or at least of academic scientists, as well as his interest in Theosophy and occult literature. Like Ukhtomsky before him, he was received at the headquarters of Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society at Adyar, today’s Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.

The bonds that bind Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, based on the goals that they had in common, are emphasized, even when Ouspensky decided in 1924 to “work alone.” This matter is discussed again and again. “There was no hostility between the two men. Ouspensky did not pretend to be on the same level of understanding, and spoke of his former teacher with great respect and affection. Most important, he had no quarrel with the teaching itself, no disagreement over interpreting the ideas.” Then an interesting suggestion is made: “It is therefore quite possible, even likely, that he approved of Ouspensky’s separation, and may even have suggested it himself.” It seems a rapprochement is taking place.

In fact, this section alludes to the dramatic role of Judas Iscariot in Christ’s Passion, recalling references in the canon to the unbreakable bond between Betrayer and Redeemer. It surprises me that after all these years the dynamics of this relationship need to be re-examined, as I thought it obvious – or at least inevitable – there would be “a parting of the ways,” a parting that was not really what it seemed to be.

Ouspensky continued to teach what he knew, but not what Gurdjieff knew. “A year after Ouspensky’s death, John Bennett, one of his senior followers, visited Paris to meet with Gurdjieff and determine how to continue the work in England. He was surprised to find Gurdjieff bringing a wholly different teaching, turning away theoretical questions and speaking only in terms of a direct perception of reality.”

The third and final section is devoted to Jeanne de Salzmann to whom the Fourth Way “is a path to be followed, a practical way to consciousness of reality in onself.” The text continues, “She was among the handful of his pupils included in what he called ‘special work’ for a direct perception of reality through conscious sensation.” Before he died, Gurdjieff instructed her to do “everything possible – even impossible – in order that what I brought will have an action.” (Here I might add that the “school” became not a really a “high school” but something of a “dancing school.”) “The speed with which she organized Gurdjieff centers within two years of his death suggests a predetermined plan.” This view of Madame I find to be sympathetic and suggestive of the self-altering nature of what long, long ago was known as the Special Doctrine, as distinct presumably from the theosophical Secret Doctrine.

The experience of a more conscious sensation of presence” is a neat and knowing way to define what Madame required of her followers. To this end there were three practices: the sharing of experiences, not the discussion of ideas; the conscious practice of Movements; the sitting meditation “for a direct perception of reality.” (This used to be termed “special work” when the practice was limited to a handful of senior pupils.) “Sittings for more advanced participants are often totally silent, while those for newer followers include indications of how to work to be present.” The last point made in this section is that Madame regarded each of the centers as a “house of work” for change in being. With this she claimed no priority or exclusivity. “It is not possible to see above one’s own level.”

I have devoted some attention to “Biographical Notes” because this section is carefully and concisely written and the points are well argued, albeit in brief compass, but they will grant the reader, whether newcomer or veteran, an enriched if not a refreshed perspective on the Work, and this surely is the point of the book as a whole.

Earlier I used the words “whoever wrote this section”; here, unfortunately, I have little information to offer the reader. No co-author or editor is listed on the title page, but on the copyright page, in the smallest type in the book, there appears the following non-sentence: “Edited by Stephen A. Grant, a senior member of the Gurdjieff Foundation, New York.”

I understand that Mr. Grant and his wife Anne-Marie Grant are stalwarts of the New York Foundation and that they (singly or together) are the presences behind not only the present publication, In Search of Being, but also the previous one, The Reality of Being. A medieval Italian phrase might describe their efforts, and that phrase is “a fine Italian hand.” The phrase implies a combination of two qualities in writing and handwriting, craft and craftiness, and refers to anything so written as to establish a standard for fine workmanship.

Keeping in mind the question of the fons et origo of the forty-seven essays or feuilletons, I turned to the other two editorial contributions to the packaging of this work, the Foreword and the Introduction. Although the words are often used interchangeably, there is a critical difference between a Foreword and an Introduction. The former is a contribution to the rest of the book by someone other than its author; the latter is the author’s contribution – a chapter in itself which sets the scene for the rest of the book, so it is usually as long as one of the book’s chapters. (For the record, the Preface is the work of the author and it is shorter and more general.)

This editorial distinction is honoured in In Search of Being. The Foreword is signed by Stephen A. Grant, and in it he writes in what I assume to be in the guise of the book’s editor. (Did modesty lead him to eschew title-page credit? Or was it the desire to suggest the text is in essence “the work” of Gurdjieff?) He makes general points about the posthumous influence of Gurdjieff’s “knowledge of being.” (Here he was born in 1866.) There is a discussion of the “ancient science” which for all its lineage seems surprisingly contemporary:

This science viewed the world of visible matter as modern physics does, recognizing the equivalence of mass and energy, the subjective illusion of time, the general theory of relativity. But its inquiry did not stop there, accepting as real only phenomena that could be measured and proven by controlled experiment.” I am uncertain about the reference to “controlled experiment,” but that sentence certainly distances the teaching from Theosophy by emphasizing the teaching’s compatibility with the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics rather than the revival and renewal of ancient occult traditions.

The editor then explains that the present publication is largely based on the St. Petersburg lectures delivered by Gurdjieff to Ouspensky’s pupils as recorded by Ouspensky. “The present book is intended to fulfill the original purpose for the St. Petersburg talks. It restates Gurdjieff’s quoted exposition, supplemented by his later lectures, mostly in 1922-1924.” The editor compares the work here to that later undertaken by Madame de Salzmann. “These subsequent talks, which took place at the Prieuré in Fontainebleau and in New York, were recorded and arranged by Jeanne de Salzmann, Gurdjieff’s closest follower. They were published in 1973 under the title Views from the Real World.” It occurs to me that one of the casualties of the Revolution and the War is what might be termed “the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky collaboration”; it was certainly disrupted, so the planned book never appeared. Instead, in general, close to one century later, that book has finally appeared, in the guise of the collaboration of Gurdjieff-Ouspensky-Grant.

Grant explains, “In Search of the Miraculous and Views from the Real World remain the authentic source books of Gurdjieff’s early teaching …. In reconstructing his early teaching, this volume restates less than one-third of In Search and even less of Views, leaving the original sources as required reading for a complete picture of the teaching.”

Grant did not work alone. “This book was arranged and edited with a small group of followers of Gurdjieff and of Mme. de Salzmann. Apart from this foreword and the biographical notes, the text consists almost entirely of Gurdjieff’s own words, restated from the new English translation of the original Russian text of Fragments of an Unknown Teaching and … from Views from the Real World.” The editor adds that the subsection “Functions and Centers” is derived from Ouspensky’s Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution. This seems straight-forward enough but it would be the devil’s own job to track down the texts that are excerpted and glossed.

Still, care has been taken; respect has been shown. “Gurdjieff’s spoken words, delivered at different times and on different occasions, have been modified, mostly in style and voice, where necessary for a consistent presentation in a single book.” Here it occurs to me that this undertaking is not more radical than the revision (which was authorized by Madame) of the classic first edition of Beelzebub’s Tales. This is in keeping with Grant’s conviction that the Fourth Way is “a way of understanding” and that “nothing should be taken literally,” as man’s needs evolve and devolve with the decades.

The Foreword continues with a distinction between “the outer, exoteric form of the teaching that is visible to the uninitiated and the inner, esoteric content that can be known only by adherents who practice it.” The unusual suggestion is then made that because the group at St. Petersburg was “an unprepared audience,” the teaching was exoteric in form. Little of it had to do with its esoteric dimension or nature, “the practical inner work required either for relating the lower centers or for opening to the higher centers,” references to which are cloaked in Beelzebub’s Tales.

Grant concludes the Foreword by sharing with his readers what Madame told him of the rapprochement between Ouspensky and Gurdjieff during the last months of the former’s life. I am not going to reproduce this intriguing passage here, any more than I am going to examine the texts of In Search and Views to identify the passages that gave rise to the “restatements” that appear here. I will leave that to textual scholars who are equipped to do so, though it is unlikely that the labour would yield much of interest. Ouspensky was in Constantinople in 1920 when he received a copy of Bragdon-Bessarabov’s ground-breaking translation of Tertium Organum. He read the text and found that only one word of it needed to be changed. In fact, in all the pages of the present book, I found only one lapse that Grant has made. (Read on.)

As mentioned earlier, the Introduction is the part of the book in which the author (as distinct from the editor) outlines his argument. The exposition here is new to me, not in terms of what it says, but in light of the language that is used. The author refers to “the Great Knowledge … handed on in succession from age to age, from people to people, from race to race.” Not Special Doctrine, Teaching, System, Work, Fourth Way, etc. “In order to know, it is necessary to find out how to know.” Here the assumption is that “there is no secret whatsoever” except that “one must learn from those who know.”

It strikes me this section anticipates the wide-spread availability of “secret knowledge” and “sacred traditions” during the so-called New Age of the 1960s and 1970s, but yet again the notion is not limited to that period. Curiously, it is at this point that Grant makes his single mistake, or allows one lapse, for he has Gurdjieff write: “In the chapters that follow …. ” I find it highly unlikely that these are his words, as he was not consciously writing a book composed of chapters. (I will allow to pass, without adding a comment, on the last lines of the text: “As cautioned in the introduction, one should take nothing literally. A large idea should be taken only with large understanding.”)

I have been beating around the beating heart of this book, the forty-seven subsections or excerpts or extracts, keeping them for the end. Not quite the end, as I believe at this point that an excursus is in order. The act of thinking about the composition or recomposition of In Search of Being brought to mind similar undertakings, though none is sufficiently close as to permit a sustained comparison. It has long been forgotten that W. Somerset Maugham devoted considerable time in the late 1940s to reading the “Ten Greatest Novels of the World” (War and Peace, etc.) and then condensing the texts. In his shortened versions of the classics, the words are those of the authors but their elaborations have been trimmed to the bone. I have read two of these novels and I found them to be somewhat satisfying, though Maugham himself expressed dissatisfaction with the response of critics and readers, especially in terms of sales and royalties. No one loves War and Peace after reading it in Maugham’s version.

Less relevant are Reader’s Digest Condensed Books (issued between 1950 and 1997) which offered readers “abridged” or “condensed” books (mainly novels) to allow them a sense of the story.Today they read like Harlequin Romances. Somewhat more relevant is the experience of Professor Kevin O’Brien who in Oscar Wilde: An Apostle for the Arts published the texts of the three addresses that Wilde delivered during his lecture tour of Central and Eastern Canada in1882. The manuscripts of two of these addresses have survived the vicissitudes of the years, but the manuscript of the third address has been lost to posterity.

Yet because Wilde delivered the third address so many times, and the journalists of the day, many of whom practised shorthand, were required to report on it in considerable detail, generally verbatim, Professor O’Brien was able to “reconstruct” from their published reports the text and offer it as the lost lecture, now found. Indeed, it reads like an “original” address by Wilde. This is an undertaking of reconstituting a lost work that is familiar to the editors of classical texts. Scholars of Ancient Greek, faced with the patchwork survival of parts of, say, Sappho’s poems, have made educated guesses as to what the Greek poetess meant to say. I introduce these matters to suggest there is a wider context for the manipulation of extant texts here than is generally recognized.

Perhaps a distinction is in order, one that was popular with Roman Catholics in the pre-Vatican II era, when priests and sisters made the distinction between two levels of sin and sinning. There are “mortal sins” – perish the thought! These are weighty and serious matters, crimes really, for both sinner and society. Then there are “venial sins,” transgressions that are less serious in nature which are readily forgivable and quite understandable, rather like infractions. (One might think in terms of drunk driving charges versus parking tickets.) The adjective “venial” is often confused with the adjective “venal.” Venial sins are quite human in nature, often committed with the best of intentions and irritating consequences; venal sins are mortal sins, pure and simple, and serious indeed.

It may seem farfetched to introduce this terminology in this review, except that in my own mind I find what has been done here in the construction of this book and in the attribution of it to Gurdjieff alone is, if a sin at all, one that is “venial” rather than “venal,” an infraction or infringement, the bending of the expectation of the reader rather than the breaking of a bond with the reader. It is understandable and forgivable, and presumably the end in mind justifies the means employed. I expect there are readers who are involved in the Work who will find the use of the byline misleading and inexcusable. I am not one of them. End of excursus.

I have already devoted 3,500 words to this review of In Search for Being, so I am reluctant to add many more, though I would have to do that were I to include a detailed analysis of each of the ten chapters with their forty-seven subsections of text. There is little point in doing so here, as the reader is presumably familiar with the outlines of the teaching – as the result of active participation in the work or as the result of close readings of the canon.

It is unlikely that he or she will find here any new information – in the sense of unfamiliar images, analogies, comparisons, symbols, stories, fables, insights, techniques, practices, or expressions – but instead the reader will find now-familiar conceptions expressed with singular ease in these edited selections and passages. Hence the book is an ideal one to use to introduce the Fourth Way to newcomers. Because of the byline, old-comers will want to add it to their private libraries.

Yet I will not conclude this review sounding that note! I anticipate seeing a selection of the subsections of this book printed in the pages of Parabola and other journals now and in the future. The overall impression that I have as I read these pages is that I am listening to a congenial Gurdjieff delivering lectures in fluent English, making his teaching accessible and agreeable in terms of the mentality of the day – our day. That is certainly part of the man, but it is certainly not the whole man.

Reaching the last page and closing the book, I have to ask myself the question that the reader will undoubtedly ask himself or herself. That question is the following one: “Is this a new book written by G.I. Gurdjieff?” It is a question worth pondering.

Here is my answer: “No, it is not a new book written by Gurdjieff. Instead, it is something of “an old book” that could be signed by Gurdjieff. Nothing in it is “new” except for the arrangement of the passages. The word “written” does not apply, either. Gurdjieff himself wrote little – most of what he has had to say in print was dictated to secretaries, translated by assistants, reported by Ouspensky, rewritten by A.R. Orage, recalled by followers, etc. The adjective “old” refers to the fact that this material is “old and familiar,” not “brand-new,” though it has been polished and smoothed, selected and adapted, repackaged and recycled. The appearance on the title page of the unmodified byline “G.I. Gurdjieff” may be seen to be misleading in terms of authorship, but it may also be held to be defensible in terms of offering the message of the man, which has been reflected and refracted for use in this medium of expression.

It has been done well. To the degree that it deserves to be done at all today, let me add that I could not imagine how it could be done better.

John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist who writes regularly for this website. Most recently he contributed the Foreword to Paul Beekman Taylor’s Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff. To appear this Spring is a collection of his poems titled A Standing Wave, to be followed in the Fall by an omnibus edition of the texts of the seven novels that Jules Verne set in Canada. His website is < http://www.colombo.ca > . If you wish to receive notice of his forthcoming reviews and commentaries in this webblog, drop JRC a line at < jrc@colombo.ca > .