Category Archives: JOSEPH AZIZE WRITES

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
Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

JOSEPH AZIZE: TRANSCRIPT OF GEORGE ADIE’S MEETING ON SATURDAY 18 MARCH 1989

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.”

0

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.”

000

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.”

000

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.”

000

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.”

000

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?”

000

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.

000

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.”

000

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.”

000

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.”

000

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.”

000

000

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.”

000

000

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.”

000

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?”

000

000

 

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.”

000

Joseph Azize

5.1.2014

JOSEPH AZIZE WRITES: The Gurdjieff Literature 2012: Rediscovering Meetings

The Gurdjieff Literature, 2012

Rediscovering Meetings

These are simply some notes of Gurdjieff-related literature which came to my attention in 2012, and which have provoked in me thoughts which seem worth sharing. The most important of this selection is, without doubt, the MP3 recording of A.G.E. Blake’s reading of Meetings With Remarkable Men. This small CD has been significant to me. In addition to the impact of hearing the text read, I had not realised why Meetings benefited by being heard as opposed to being read. It is, I am fairly confident, because by making the effort to follow the spoken word, we receive the text in a new tempo. One’s accustomed tempo of reading to oneself allows us to pass over small words and phrases so lightly that they leave no appreciable impression. We subliminally notice certain parts and ignore others. The same is not true when one hears it read, at least not to the same extent.

But the value is even greater when the lector, to use a word from divine liturgy, reads at a pace influenced by the contents and nature of what is being read. Blake does not read at all theatrically, but allows each word its weight. The result is that countless passages, sentence, phrases and words burst into meaning for me. I shall not give examples, lest I rob the reader of their own discoveries. Suffice it to say that listening to this CD has brought me closer to Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods, and, I think, helped to balance my perspective on them.

I now see that, although the text is clearly auto-mythological (which word I am coining to refer to an apparently autobiographical work which offers mythology rather than biography), we nonetheless have to start with the story as it is. The text may work within us, through the mysterious laws of association (deep calls to deep) suggesting different interpretations, dimensions and connections. But there is no need to analyse it: there is no need, if one has accepted the narrative as if it were history. The book is addressed to the whole of us; it is a loss to redirect the invitation to the head.

The movie, beautiful as it was, comprised a series of vignettes held together only by chronology. The Blake recording showed me what the film missed: as it was made, the move omitted Gurdjieff. Of course Gurdjieff was shown in it. Yes, but not in his most important role, that of narrator. Hearing the recording, one cannot but be struck by the presence of the narrator. Almost all of the words, phrases and sentences which now burst into meaning for me were spoken by the narrator: they provide coherence to the inner content. To leave them out is to make a necklace without some of the most important beads and without any thread. When de Salzmann made the Lubovedsky incident the climax, she lost Gurdjieff’s chosen ending: the last reunion with Skridlov. Re-read that last paragraph, the one commencing: “Formerly, it may be said …” and you will see what I mean. That is where the movie should have ended: anything else misses the point, Gurdjieff’s point.

This leads me to the last example I will offer of my revivified interest in Meetings. It also strikes me that Gurdjieff may have been telling the literal truth when he told of the “duel with cannon”. I have often wondered why Gurdjieff’s system never produces people like himself. From time to time, piano teachers have pupils who are as proficient as themselves if not better. The same happens everywhere, in sports, art, literature, science and religion. This never happens with the Gurdjieff work. It is said that Gurdjieff himself declared that anyone could achieve what he had if they were prepared to suffer as he had. I do not believe it. Many people in groups have suffered very considerably, and yet no one even comes close to Gurdjieff in terms of being and understanding. Why? Could it be that Gurdjieff’s experience on the cannon range was, for him, an artificial organ “to constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests”? Perhaps that accident allowed Gurdjieff to make a breakthrough. One could not set out to repeat that now, for one’s very identification with the goal would hinder the aimed for result. However, if there is something in this, it could help to explain the strange paradox which led Ouspensky to despair: the system seems true, but the promised result of development never proceeds beyond a limited level, which is hardly distinguishable from the level one finds in life.

Three Books by Pupils of Pupils

If I am right that, in some way, Gurdjieff was an anomaly, then those who knew him benefitted from close contact with that anomalous individual, because what he had could not be passed down any other way with anything like the same impact. Of course, the personal touch always makes a difference, even at universities. But I do not think that what I have said is a truism. Although Gurdjieff collected the fragments of a hitherto unknown teaching, his own being remained anomalous: he was not able to raise his pupils to his own level, and they have not been able to pass their benefit on to others with anything like the success which attended Gurdjieff. It has always struck me as lawful that the pupils who received the most from Gurdjieff were the most individual. These were the mavericks, the Orages, Bennetts, Staveleys, Heaps and Adies. I could be wrong, but so it seems to me. Only now are we starting to reap a harvest of literature about these pupils of the Master.

This is significant, because it means that the second generation pupils, those who learnt from those who knew Gurdjieff, are starting to find their confidence to speak about those who had taught them. Until recently, very few had written, partly because many of the first generation pupils were still alove. Paterson was one exception. I believe he possessed credentials in journalism. A more notable exception, both for content and depth was David Kherdian, who was already an accomplished and decorated author, and wrote about Mrs Staveley while she was still alive. However, this is rare. For the most part, we of the second generation have been silent until after our teachers’ deaths.

This phenomenon of recording the teaching of those who learned from Gurdjieff is also important because those who knew him personally were often able to apply his teaching in novel contexts. Some of them, such as Solange Claustres and especially Bennett and Nicoll, not only recorded valuable sayings of Gurdjieff’s, but also drew from his ideas interesting ideas of their own. A few months ago, I read three examples of these books by the second generation pupils which preserve something of the influence of the first generation. I will start with Notes on the Next Attention, which is Fran Shaw’s notebook of her time with Michel de Salzmann at Chandolin.

It is a nice book, very peaceful, and sometimes touching. By moments it is even powerful. De Salzmann made a substantial impression on Shaw, and she has creditably laid herself down, as it were, to allow him to be heard. It would be quibbling to criticise or analyse these quotes. They partake of the nature of poetry, e.g. “Stillness: what is still is the attention” (118). Perhaps to encourage one to meditate upon rather than hurry when reading it, it is broken into many small chapters with blank pages in between. The book, is, I think, valuable as conveying a subjective approach to the mystery of conscious development which was influenced by Gurdjieff, although it does not strike me as being entirely true to Gurdjieff’s line.

I paid hard-earned money for Remembering Being With My Teacher, by Ashala Gabriel. I feel somewhat cheated that I wasn’t warned. Gabriel places the emphasis on the two letter word in the title, to the extent that I often felt that this was an exercise in self-expression, a personal sketch with words rather than pencil lines. It certainly does not appear to me as if it was systematically written as a book intended to convey meaning to the readers. Take this passage, for example: “… I never again had a smidgeon of doubt about my naturally-mystical nature which my teacher had now demonstrated and confirmed nor about the reality of these magical-Harry-Potter-made-visible worlds he and I could avail ourselves of undetectably …” (p.114). What can this mean, and what does it matter to another soul in the world that her nature is not just naturally mystical but “naturally-mystical”, if you please? Similarly, at p.82 we read about “Having had a few touches with these splitting of atoms and reconfigurings of cells we mystics can come by somewhat naturally …”. I respect her devotion, and am not attacking her as a person, but I am critical of the decision to publish and sell these elitist and self-satisfied indulgences. I can’t see why the following, like almost all of these episodes, does not belong to Pentland and herself alone: “When I opened my eyes and slowly-emerged out of my re-incarnated-dream-body, my teacher, Lord Pentland, stood both with and before me, wearing the most unforgettably-collusive-Cheshire-cat-smile, as we co-inhabited the core of this now-silver-white-light-body-reality …” (106). The five page summary at the end of the 140 page, would have been sufficient, and some of the material there is quite good. If Gabriel would care to write something more straightforward, which sheds light on questions of general concern, I sure it could be quite worthwhile. I am keen to learn more about Lord Pentland, having myself fairly recently cast doubts on the objectivity of Moore’s Eminent Gurdjieffians. But this “book” does not enlighten me at all.

Far more to my taste is the book I most value of these three, James Opie’s Approaching Inner Work: Michael Currer-Briggs and the Gurdjieff Teaching. Opie’s notes were checked by Briggs himself before his death, and Briggs, a pupil first of Jane Heap, but then of Gurdjieff, was clearly a man of some wisdom. For me, the centrepiece is perhaps the story concerning his relations with his brother at pp.45-47. What is really striking about this book is the practicality of what Briggs had to say. Compare, for example, the chapter on justifying and explaining (pp.59-62), or what is said about self-criticism and self-respect at 75-76, and certainty at 83-84. There is nothing like it in either of the other two books. Interestingly, Opie has taken care to make what he writes clear. It would be mean spirited to make this criticism of Shaw’s book – it is of an entirely different nature. This little tribute to Briggs shows the value of just doing a job without any show or fanfare, but doing it well. Opie and Shaw can be proud of their volumes, but of course, their true pride is that they accepted their vocations to write those books, and did so with something like humility.

There is just one further point about Opie’s book which I would like to note: Opie clearly disliked the “separation” (let us put it that simply for the sake of argument) between the Foundation and people like Bennett and Staveley. He does not mention this in a polemical way: his attitude merely sets the backdrop for Briggs’ impartial comments. I have no criticism of him for that, but his remarks made me start thinking: why was there ever this “us and them” mentality? Why was it ever thought that Gurdjieff’s pupils should all be in one institution or society? It is not decisive, but after Gurdjieff’s Institute folded, he could have, but did not ever re-instigate it. I could state my opinion at further length, but it is sufficient for this review to restate the question: why did these “separations” loom so large in the generations after Gurdjieff’s death? For example, the walls of suspicion which built up were such that the Gurdjieff groups in Australia, which could and should have flourished, and did so briefly with the Adies, are now practically moribund.

Gurdjieff in the Public Eye

Paul Beekman Taylor is, I would say, the leading Gurdjieff scholar today. I am making no comment in any direction about anything other than his scholarship. But as a scholar, he is in a position to, and I would suggest he should, write de novo a new biography of Gurdjieff. His valuable G.I. Gurdjieff: A New Life too often, in my view, refers back to Moore’s ‘anatomy of a myth”. That is a good and useful book, and Moore’s achievement was impressive for a person with his limited academic background. I am not criticising that book. But I am certain that Taylor could produce something different, and of even greater value. And about two years ago Taylor performed a service in collecting and editing the materials in Gurdjieff in the Public Eye: Newspaper articles, Magazines and Books 1914-1949. I am presently reading his recent Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff, but apart from highly recommending it, shall not offer any review right now.

As with practically everything Eureka produce, Gurdjieff in the Public Eye is well-made, easy to read, and attractive. At least all of the known material, with immaterial exceptions, is now to be found within one set of covers. The article by Zigrosser at pp.177-184 is a minor classic. This man’s understanding of Gurdjieff was astounding. At pp.193-194 is a letter from Gurdjieff which I cannot recall having seen before. It is not profound, but it is full of Gurdjieff’s dry humour. The volume is full of small details which shed a different light on Gurdjieff. For example, for the first time ever, in Gorham Munson’s valuable article, did I learn that Gurdjieff sometimes drove “very carefully” (209), which makes me wonder, how much of the Gurdjieff legend is a caricature?

I shall certainly be mining this book for the many comments and asides which, but for it, may have been overlooked for ever. I shall not list all of them here. However, to give but one example, in the early days when journalists and visitors were able to speak with Gurdjieff directly, the question of whether other people had succeeded in achieving the aim of the system was raised. That Gurdjieff took this question seriously and answered it directly supports me in my critique of the Gurdjieff work as it is today (see pp. 34-35, 53-54 and 155, and along pertinent lines, p.83).

That Gurdjieff courted publicity, and later did not, does not – to my mind – necessarily mean that his earlier attitude was wrong and his later one was right – it may just show that different policies are appropriate at different times. A more interesting question is: if the leaders of the Gurdjieff groups were to be interviewed today, what could they show of themselves to distinguish the groups from any other self-development society, or from Buddhism, or even from religious institutions? What if the enquiry were extended to those of us who were once but no longer are in groups? Could any of us impress with our being the way that Gurdjieff did, or anything remotely like it? This is not to say that our experience of Gurdjieff has been without value – for many of us it straightened us out and allowed us to make something of our lives. Heaven only knows where I would be today had I not met Mr Adie. But I know that I am not half the man he was, and he would not even have made that comparison between Gurdjieff and himself.

The answer to my rhetorical question is obvious, but one question remains, what does this say about Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods? Clearly there is a flaw somewhere, but where? Could it be as radical as the issue of the aim of human existence? Could it have something to do with the relation between God and man? This is not the place to defend my view, but I should state it here: I do not believe that any view of human history or destiny which omits the position of Jesus of Nazareth – simultaneously central and transcendent – can be objective.

The books mentioned are available, inter alia, from By The Way Books. The CD is available from http://www.anthonyblake.co.uk, or you could try the Duversity site, which has the requisite links.

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

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

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


Joseph Azize
Joseph.Azize@gmail.com