A letter from Arkady Rovner

Dear friends.

I intend to write a report about mine and Tanya’s trips to Italy, Holland and Belgium and of our ‘meetings with remarkable men and women’ in these countries. The purpose of those trips was to meet individuals practicing the Fourth Way and to bring them into the orbit of the Gurdjieff Club.

What is the Gurdjieff Club? I view the Gurdjieff Club as an instrument which may help us in the creation of mahasangha, or a large international community of groups and individuals associated with the Fourth Way and concerned with its future.

About 100 years ago a number of intriguing ideas and practices were brought to the West by G.I.G. These ideas and practices attracted a diverse company of Europeans and Americans, all of whom were fascinated by the new teaching, however each one of them emphasised a particular aspects of it. There was no accord between these individuals in regard to the question of how this teaching should be used. When 60 years ago G.I.G. passed away his followers were left with numerous unanswered questions, as well as with bitter fillings towards one another.

As time went by the new generation of the followers realized that they have no reason for discord and division, and they saw the different representations of the Fourth Way as rather complementary to one another. 

The International Gurdjieff Club www.gurdjieffclub.com made its goal to create a ground for cooperation of the different Fourth Way movements of the basis of friendly interaction and exchange.  The first steps in this direction were made when 2009 three major Fourth Way groups of Russia began their interaction by celebrating together G.I.G.’s Birthday. The next step was made by the activists in Paris who organized the First European Conference of the Fourth Way groups in May 2009.  Tanya and I see our trip to Italy, Holland and Belgium as the following step in that direction.

I begin drafting this report on a rainy day in Amsterdam just three days before the date of our flight back to Moscow. I shall send it to the members of the Russian Fourth Way communities, to our Paris friends as well as to all those whom Tanya and I have met and befriended during our trips.

On our way to Italy we transferred in Prague since we flew with Czech Air Company. Our friend Marko Janicki volunteered to meet us in the airport and treat us to tea which he did taking us to a nearby hotel away from the airport hustle. There we sat for two hours in a hall full of light chatting over green tea and making plans for the future. At the end of the month Marko was expecting to become a father (and indeed in a due time a boy named Victor was born), and in the end of August he planned the first meeting of a new Fourth Way group in Prague. Knowing that we will be in Holland he recommended that we meet Elena from Amsterdam who was running a web-site “What is the Work?” That meeting with Marko was a good prelude to our travels.

Originally I planned meetings with a number of Italians. My list included Giovanni Quinti,  the founding director of the Institute for Harmonious Development, LA TECA (Barcelona, Lugano, Rome, etc.), Carlo Gabrielli, a Gurdjieff Movements instructor from Rimini, Shurta, a Gurdjieff Movements instructor from Siena, Enzo, a Fourth Way activist and facilitator from Florence, Massimo Introvigne, the director, and PierLuigi Zoccatelli, the assistant director of the Centre for Studies on New Religions, CESNUR in Torino, and finally Umberto, an architect from Lucca.

We met Shurta on the railroad Station in Florence and almost instantly became friends. Shurta has lived for six years in a community of spiritual seekers in India after which she has returned to Italy and lived for another six years in solitude in forest near Siena. Once in a while she teaches Gurdjieff Movements to groups of interested people in different parts of Italy. Shurta became interested in travelling to Russia and taking part in our seminars and we made tentative plans for her visit to Russia next year.

I learned that professor Massimo Introvigne, the director of CESNUR, the Centre for Studies on New Religions in Torino, was in China when we were in Italy, so I exchanged a couple of letters with the assistant director, Professor PierLuigi Zoccatelli. Professor PierLuigi Zoccatelli wrote to me that their library will gladly accept a gift of my Russian book on Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. “We are open Monday to Friday 9.30 AM to 12.30 PM and from 14.30 PM to 18 PM,” professor Zoccatelli informed me. While pondering on this invitation I finally came to the conclusion that it was too long and tiresome a trip to be undertaken merely for the sake of handing my book to a librarian, and I was not even sure that professor Zoccatelli would find time to be present in person during that transaction.

Enzo and his friend Benedetto met us in Florence in front of the Duomo, showed us some beautiful Florentine sights and took us for a dinner to a friendly restaurant. In this wonderful company over an exquisite meal we talked about our plans and dreams after which we parted with Benedetto, and Enzo gave us a ride to his countryside house were we had a good night rest. In the early morning I went for a walk in the hills of Tuscany all covered with vineyards. At breakfast we met Enzo’s lovely wife Chandra and his three-year-old son Alessandro. One of the important outcomes of our meeting with Enzo was our tentative agreement on creating the Italian part of our web-side. This project is still a matter of discussion and elaboration between us. Presently Enzo is working on a project of inviting the author of a book on the Enneagram Anthony Blake to Florence.

We did not met Giovanni Quinti of LA TECA or Carlo Gabrielli from Rimini (Giovanni Quinti was probably away, while Mr. Gabrielli could not see the purpose of the Gurdjieff Club and did not believe in the idea of it) but in Florence we met an intelligent architect Umberto, a good friend of Lena Szenicer and Paul Baas, and had an interesting conversation about Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way tradition with him.

Now I would like to turn to our trip to Holland and Belgium. Today is the 14th of August and we are still in Amsterdam … 

During our first five days in Holland we stayed in The Hague, a lively city on the Northern Sea. We lived in the Ibis hotel next to the Grote Kerk in the very centre of The Hague. In our first evening we went for a dinner to a restaurant called ‘It Rains Fishes’ and in one of the shop’s windows we saw a beautiful and extremely heavy torso of Buddha made of stone, being sold at the unbelievably low price of 100 euros. We could afford purchasing that Buddha but could not even think of transporting it to Moscow. We were thinking and talking about that Buddha, until three days later passing along the familiar street we looked for our Buddha but could not find it. Suddenly a young man stopped his bicycle in front of us and opened the door of the shop. Tanya immediately recognized the shop where Buddha stood and we asked the young man where the figure is. He said it was sold for 100 euros because the Buddha’s ear was slightly damaged, though its original price was much higher. Tanya and I are not collectors of antiques but this Buddha was an exception, he won our hearts by his immensely peaceful inner state and I think we will remember him for a long time.

Next day we had a meeting with Elena who is in charge of the web-site www.whatisthework.ning.com. Elena came to meet us to The Hague from Amsterdam with her husband Peter. We had tea and then dinner in a Chinese restaurant and talked a lot over food and drink. Peter presented himself as a sober practical person however in the course of our conversation he actually proved to be not only a practical man but an interesting thinker. Elena confirmed our expectation of being a sincere Fourth Way follower; therefore her web-side attracted so many interesting people discussing various aspects of G.I.G’s teaching. During our conversation Elena asked: what is the difference between religion and the Work, and we spent some time pondering on that problem. After this meeting I realized that in the web-side of the Gurdjieff Club we need also to have a special place for ongoing discussions. Elena, Tanya and I agreed on the necessity of our further contacts and cooperation.

The next person whom we met in The Hague was Coen van Hoboken. He found us in our hotel and took us for a lovely walk to a park where we saw beautiful Dutch deer, swans and even one rabbit. Coen had been with the Gurdjieff Foundation for two years but he felt that they had him move too slowly and decided to become independent. He studied the Fourth Way under several instructors including Wim van Dullemen. On our second meeting Coen took us in his car fist to a small ancient town Delft with its narrow streets and canals, as we later realized, a miniature of Amsterdam, and then to his house in The Hague where we were introduced to his elderly but very brave mother as well as to his original musical instruments. Coen had just returned from Germany where he played music for the Movements and by the end of the month he was planning to go to Italy. We became good friends with Coen and spoke of possible ways of working on common projects in the future.

Now to make a long story short I will turn to the last part of our travels.

About a week ago Tanya and I moved to Amsterdam where we now are staying with our friend Sasha and her husband Alex. From this point Sasha became the third member of our travelling caravan: we met people together and then hold discussions on what we have learned from those meetings. During that week we met Paul van Oyen and Rob de Best, also we went together to Barvoux, Belgium to see Andre, his lovely wife Mary-Noelle and the people with whom they live in a Fourth Way community.

Paul van Oyen’s mother was a disciple of P.D.Ouspensky. Later she became a follower of  Dr. Francis Roles, a disciple of Ouspensky, who after Ouspensky’s death began an independent search of a genuine tradition. At first Dr.  Roles took as his guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a man who introduced Transcendental Meditation to the West. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in his turn was a disciple of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, who was Shankaracharya, or the head of the Advaita-Vedanta tradition in the North of India. Later Dr. Roles became completely disappointed in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He travelled to India and there he met Swami Shantananda Sarasvati  who addressed him with the words “remember yourself,’’ which he had heard so often from P.D. Ouspensky. Dr Fransis Roles became the disciple of Swami Shantananda Sarasvati for the next 25 years.

For the sake of accuracy I quote Paul van Oyen’s letter which was send to me later:

“When my parents moved to Amsterdam during the war they continued their Ouspensky study group until 1961 when this group was transformed into the School voor Filosofie. By 1994 this school gave philosophy courses to more than 2500 students in 7 different locations in the Netherlands. In 1989 my mother retired and appointed me as her successor. In 1994 I set up a separate Ouspensky Foundation in order to, once more, promote the philosophy and message of Ouspensky and, by necessity, of Gurdjieff. This marked also the beginning of an active period for the study and practice of the ‘movements’ under the inspired leadership of Wim van Dullemen and my sister. There were several public performances. From 1961 – 1994 the School voor Filosofie had become more and more absorbed in the study of advaita vedânta and I considered it important to preserve the Ouspensky/Gurdjieff  legacy. In the year 2000 I had the unique opportunity of having an audience with HH Shri Bharatai Tirtha, Shankaracarya of Shringeri in South India. He blessed my efforts to bridge the gap between the Indian tradition of advaita vedânta with the Western point of view as expressed by Gurdjieff/Ouspensky and others. For this purpose I wrote a book on the Enneagram showing its origin in Indian Philosophy (Yoga Vasishtha) and in Mediaeval mysticism. “ 

Paul picked us up at Sasha’s and Alex’s place and took us to his beautiful house “Villa Sophia” situated on a shore of a canal where he and his charming wife Carin treated us to exquisite wine and lunch. Over lunch we listened to Paul’s story about his parents, Dr. Francis Roles and his Shankaracharya guru. After lunch and coffee we received a gift of Paul’s books and then he gave us a ride back home.

I met Dr Francis Roles in London in 1980 and I am also an admirer of Advita-Vedanta so I have attended to Paul’s story with great interest. It should be added that from the first instance Paul van Oyen created an impression of a practical person, and as I learned that in the past he was a banker and that he presently plans to build a new bank and to entrust his wife Carin with the task of leading spiritual and advisory work, that corresponded well with the first impression. At the same time his manner of speaking and his books revealed to us an independent thinker and profound commentator of a great metaphysical system.

Our next meeting was with Rob de Best, an energetic and self-confident man, who with his wife Mirijam came to sea us at Sasha’s and Alex’s apartment. We were treated by Sasha with tea with melon and cake after which Rob gave us a ride to a lovely neighborhood where we strolled back and forth without aim for about an hour, continuing our conversation which began at the tea table and then we returned home. Rob made the impression of being a very intensive and even impatient person, while Mirijam seemed to play a role of a balancing and pacifying force.

From the very beginning of our meeting, to my great satisfaction, there was a remarkable concord in our views. Like Paul van Oyen, who incidentally was Rob’s mentor for a certain period of time (I have heard that Rob also studied under Wim van Dullemen), Rob was a sharp and efficient man, with fifteen years of army in his background. Presently together with his friend he is running a business, and also has a group of his followers gathering at his home, practising the Movements and working with the Enneagram.

The last but not the least «remarkable person» in our list was André whom Tanya, Sasha and I wisited in a small Belgian town Barvoux. We knew that Andre lives in a Fourth Way community and that he helps those who are in need, but that was a rather abstract knowledge. Therefore we have dicided to visit him at the place where he lives and not meet in one of the cities between Amsterdam and Barvoux such as Liège or Brussels.

So we went to Barvaux transferring in the Southern Holland town Maastricht and getting off in Liege (with is already in Belgium) where we were met by André ‘s wife Marie-Noëlle. Marie-Noëlle gave us a ride to Barvaux which is 45 km from Liege. While driving she relared to us the history of their community and drew some portraits of its inhabitants. She produced the impression of a lively and sincere person, and the same was the impression from André, who met us with a friendly smile in front of the community house. He and his friend and disciple Jean-Luсс, a psychiatric doctor, immediately took us for an excursion and showed their beautiful well-attended garden with a little pond with fishes, several pavilions and some other marvels. Later we were introduced to two other members of Barvaux community, Pascale and Teresa, and also to an Ukrainian person and his girlfriend who were given shelter in the house. 

After dinner André asked Sasha to write up in Russian words a list of sound phenomena in hierarchical order, beginning with thunderbolt (on the bottom) and ending (on the top) with the Voice of God. Andre spoke of the inner voice and inner music as well as of his spiritual mentor Selim (Eduard) Michael, from whom he might have received these ideas. Eduard Michael was a composer who lived in Paris and whom André used to visit one a month in order to receive from him instruction in the Fourth Way ideas and practices. Also that evening we wached together our video on seminar in Mezmai (a village in the Northern Caucasus) and litened to Tanya playing Gurdjieff’s music on the grand piano. That night we rested in a nearby hotel in rooms provided to us by André and his associates and there we made friends with a contemplative level-headed donkey and a young brown pony badly suffering from the bites of mosquitos.

The next day began in one of the pavilions in the community’s garden, where André, assisted by Marie-Noëlle in the role of interpretor, gave us more insights in the hierarchy of inner music and shared with us some of spiritual exercises practiced in their community. I noticed a certain correspondence between André’s ideas and those of  Maurice Maeterlinck that could be found in his The Treasure of the Humble and we also were reminded of a contemporary Indian sage Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj who belonges to the same tradition as Sri Ramana Maharsi, that is to Advaita Vedanta. After lunch tastefully prepared and served by Teresa we parted with our hosts and Marie-Noëlle gave us a ride to Liège.

This long letter is finally coming to the end. Tanya and I are at home in Moscow a little tired but overfilled with vivid impressions and warm fillings for those whom we met in three European countries.

It is not good to make early conclusions and hasty plans however I have a feeling that our trip will give livaly impetus to our Work and bring good results in the future. 

Greetings to everybody!

Cordially yours,

August 12-16, 2009

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