Winter workshops by Alan FrancisJanuary-February, 2018
“So who was George Gurdjieff, the human legend, the “enslaver of men” and “seducer of women,” the fright of some and the savior of others: Tatak, the Black Greek, the Tiger of Turkestan and the nephew of the Prince of Mukhran? This question has been asked numerous times, and each answer to it was dissimilar to any of the others. There exist perspectives on Gurdjieff of Rene Guenon, Ouspensky, the Anthroposophists, Pavelev, the Subud, Shankarachya, Rajneesh and, finally, the perspective of the average person. Obviously, it is not possible to create an uncontroversial image of this versatile phenomenon. Nonetheless, what is it that should be brought out in terms of the most important traits of a possible portrait of this man?
He was a man who brought a teaching, which he called the “Fourth Way,” arrayed into a form which was simultaneously attractive and frightening, grotesque and shocking, fascinating with a terminological coherence and dispiriting with monstrous gibberish, at one frail – let us remember Gurdjieff’s music – and tyrannical, endowed with both beauty and ugliness.
He was a man of a gigantic task which he set out for himself and solved by means of his entire life. At first it had been formulated as a task “to research from all directions and to understand the precise meaning and aim of human life,” and later on – as a task “to destroy in human beings their tendency towards suggestibility, which compels them to succumb easily to the influence of ‘mass hypnosis’” , to overcome that cosmic and social hypnosis which took possession of human beings, who lost touch with their essential foundations.
This was a man of an immense will, an intense toiler and devotee, a man of both an active and a contemplative life, who had achieved extremely rare semantic foundations for his own life, who created an integral system of self development and work on oneself, who created a spiritual-transformational structure and applied it in the midst of a tumultuous era of wars and revolutions, ruthless social and cultural upheavals, collapses and changes, and held out, notwithstanding all of these squalls having overcome hardships which could have broken anybody, due to the energy which was given to him by his ultimate task.
He was one of the creators of an entire cultural era, to whose ideas and style many trends of Western thought and Western art are indebted. Salvador Dali, George Bernard Shaw, Rene Domal, Katherine Mansfield, John Toomer, Rodney Collin, John Bennett, E.F. Schumacher and many other phenomena of 20th century culture are inconceivable without his direct or mediated influence.
He was a choreographer of one infinite ballet, who created a unique scenic cosmos, a philosophical theatrical play, a ballet school and a ballet-parable, who fascinated France and America with the extravagance of his “temple” dances, costumes, decorations and group work, the medium aspects of the actors and the unusual quality of the music.
He was a composer who possessed an innate Eastern lyricism, enrooted in the song element of those peoples among whom his youth had passed. The music of Gurdjieff undoubtedly carries in itself the experience of work with inner states, based on Sufi, Christian and the overall Middle Eastern traditions. It does not present itself as European music in terms of its development, conflict and inner advancing logic, but as Eastern music of immersion and endless elaboration of a single sound domain. This music combines the song, dance and choral beginnings, the salon and the temple elements; its modality and melodic construction imply ancient chants about Paradise and the loss of Paradise.
He was a writer with a confessionary note, with an Eastern manner of weaving of subjects, at times a patriarchal moralist, who measure the three-brained Earth dwellers with the traditional measurement of conscience and responsibility before God and nature, at times an absurdist, who assembled monstrous periods and phrases with lengths of up to a page and a half, inventing nerve-racking neologisms and thinking with unwieldy lumps of thoughts and, at once, dazzling with swift and precise insights.”
Arkady Rovner. “Gurdjieff and Ouspensky”
“Gurdjieff’s position in the domain of spiritual teachings and teachers is mysterious, intriguing and undoubtedly very important. In truth he was – if one could borrow that expression from his brochure, written during the time of his life in France – the herald of coming good. In the present day, when that which used to be esoteric is being brought out into the market and entering the life of each person and when the Baraka is exerting its influence on thousands of people, a certain amount of effort of imagination might be necessary in order to see in this man a high initiate from an ancient esoteric school, who placed upon himself the mission of demonstrating to the West that mankind is living in a state of sleep, that there exist higher levels of beings, and that somewhere there exist human beings who are endowed with knowledge. He definitely had the credentials and the gift to extract what was the most essential from many teachings in order to present it cleansed from cultural snares and conditional qualities in correspondence to the situation in which he found himself. One of the riddles connected with him was the contrast between his visible mastery and the fact that during the course of his life he proved himself incapable of elevating a single pupil of his to his level and, thus, to establish a tradition in the full sense of the word. Nevertheless, he did not lose, since we evaluate him not for his effect on several people but for his role in the history of culture and spirituality. As no other person before him he was able to present the European and American world with a shock, which was possibly more important than the cultural wave of the early sixties”.
American psychologist, Claudio Naranjo
"Gurdjieff was sparing with his words; he constructed phrases as if for that time only. Our Russian peasants speak like that, and that is why Tolstoy used to like to talk to them -they thought and felt exactly as they spoke. Sometimes you had to 'fish out' the core of the real meaning in its wholes simplicity and strength, and in its natural form (like natural sugar), not subject to literary manipulation and adornment, which only serves to veil the truth. Truth needs no thinning down and dilution: it needs nothing at all except to be left alone. I think of those watery peaches in tins which have gone through the factory and compare them with the real thing, untouched and not 'improved' (some people will try to 'improve' even truth itself). Where has all their juice gone, that blessed health-giving juice ?That is how it is with speech: gone is all the vigour, only the suave substitute remains, which is not at all satisfying, or should not be. Unfortunately in many cases it does satisfy".
Anna Ilinishna Butkovsky-Hewitt
"When he was there, truth was carved out as with a knife. The least cowardice, the slightest deviation, the smallest lie − albeit by omission and however insignificant − was detected with incredible firmness, merely through his presence. He encouraged sincerity and confronted you with your own weakness, your inability to be sincere even towards yourself. “Become an adult” was a phrase I often heard. It was one of the essential ideas of his work: to become an adult by one’s own efforts".