You can take Gurdjieff out of Tiflis, but can you take Tiflis out of Gurdjieff? That might sound like a silly question, but it is germane to the present publication. It is also a question that is eventually asked by all students of the Fourth Way. I will return to this matter at the end of this review.


By way of background: I have in front of me a “non-trade” paperback called “Gurdjieff in Tiflis.” The publication is “non-trade” because it is not standard in size or in paper stock. It measures six inches in width, eight inches in height. The cover is printed on stiff, canary-coloured stock (in brown and black ink). The cover design is a reproduction of the original, Russian-text edition of “Herald of


Coming Good,” Gurdjieff’s first publication – the one he later disavowed, the one that P.D. Ouspensky ridiculed. The fetching design was the work of Alexander de Salzmann in Tiflis in 1919. The text stock is vaguely yellow in cover (though the text is printed in regular black ink). The binding is what printers call “perfect binding” – glue. In all there are 92 pages.


The editors are Dr. Constance A. Jones and Dr. Levan Khetaguri. The publisher is the Shota Rustavelli Theatre and Film University. The year of publication is 2008. The ISBN is 978-99940-719-5-1. Here is how the editors describe their unusual work: “This publication includes materials from the International Conference, which was held in Tbilisi on 7th March in 2007. The conference was titled ‘G.I. Gurdjieff from South Caucasus to Western World: His Influence on


Spirituality, Thought and Culture in Italy, Europe and in the USA.’ The conference was the initiative of Embassy of Italy in Georgia and hosted by Tbilisi State University of Javakhishvili and Shota Rustaveli Theatre and Film University.”


As I write this, Georgia is in the news again, with the Russian incursion on August 6 and the armed response of Georgians. (In passing, I am writing this review the day of the “Toronto Explosions” which rocked the northwest part of the city and saw its mass evacuation – 12,000 people were asked to leave their homes for eighteen hours; 10 percent complied – and which witnessed the closing of one of the busiest highway systems in the world for the same period


of time. All this took place five miles from our home where a propane storage facility created an immense fireball followed by fifty or so explosions over an hour and a half. My wife Ruth and I live outside the evacuation area but the first explosion at 3:40 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 10 rocked the foundation of our house.) So we have experienced unexpected sympathy for the Georgian people. That country has had more than its share of such crises: for instance, in 2003, it experienced the “Rose Revolution” led by Edvard Shevardnadze.


Any reference to “Tiflis” is a reference to Tbilisi, capital and largest city of the Republic of Georgia. Tbilisi has a population of one million, Georgia a population of more than four times that number. Georgia is described as a “transcontinental country” which is partly in Eastern Europe and partly in Southwestern Asia. We have Georgian friends and they describe Tbilisi as a fascinating city of historic buildings built in hills and valleys which offer breath-taking views.


You will not find any instances of fine English expression in the pages of this book, yet the prose is fluent and there are numerous surprises, including reports of original research that was conducted by Georgian scholars in the Caucasus. I looked for references to any native Caucasian tradition that might have been the well-spring of Gurdjieff’s thought, but I found none, not even a whisper of the Teachings of Kebzeh.


I have no idea how many listeners attended the conference, which was held on March 7, 2007, but those who were in attendance were offered some interesting ideas. Let me report on the proceedings as they appear in printed form. I will do so in a summary fashion, as there were twelve presentations by almost that many scholars and some of their papers were somewhat detailed.


The first speaker was Massimo Introvigne, the well-known, Rome-born


sociologist of religion and founder CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions). He titled his talk “A Meeting with Remarkable Men (and Some Women).” The speaker stressed that colleagues from Georgia and Armenia whose names and writings are barely known if at all outside their respective countries have much information to offer Western scholars about Gurdjieff’s family and early years. The academics themselves were the beneficiaries: “Equally important was the possibility for scholars to breathe the very Georgian atmosphere that inspired Gurdjieff when he established in Tbilisi in 1919 the first Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.”


Introvigne noted that the location of the Institute in Tbilisi has yet to be identified, adding that it was here that Jeanne de Salzmann first exhibited “their sacred dances.” Because of the sponsorship of the Italian Embassy, he explained, the presentations stress the role of Gurdjieff studies in Italy. He touched upon the touchiness of the subject: “Isn’t Gurdjieff, after all, a believer in things unseen in a disenchanted scientific era, a dogmatic teacher claiming authority quite difficult to sell to a postmodern world where any claim to


authority is tantamount to authoritarianism?” He concluded, “We learned again in Tbilisi that Gurdjieff is always complicated and elusive.”


Fabrizio Romano, Italian Ambassador to Georgia, delivered the “opening


remarks for the conference.” Why the sponsorship of the Italian government? He offered three reasons: 1. Gurdjieff “had a remarkable influence on culture and spirituality in the West.” 2. Two leading Italian scholars (Introvigne and PierLuigi Zoccatelli) are participating. 3. “I think that this initiative may help the


intelligentsia of Tbilisi and Georgia – after decades of prohibition during the Soviet period – to recall the heritage of a man who was a son of the South Caucasus,” etc.


PierLuigi Zoccatelli, born in Verona, serves as CESNUR’s deputy director. He is active in a number of organizations and busy as a writer of books and articles on New Religious Movements and Western Esotericism. He called his presentation “Notes on G.I. Gurdjieff” and immediately noted a “curious paradox”: despite the work of scholars, not all that much is known about him including “the exact details of his birth or his year of birth.” He observed that Gurdjieff was born in the Armenian city of Alexandropol which is now called Gyumri. Curiously Zoccatelli revived the description of Gurdjieff’s followers


as “the forest philosophers.” He alluded to the difficulty of discussing the “social formation” of esotericism and particularly Gurdjieff’s place in it, adding about his philosophy: “The sources of its originality and innovation remain largely unknown even at the beginning of the 21st century.”


Zoccatelli referred to his own Google-based search of the Web for the recurrence of “important names related to the field of esotericism.” Whose names cropped up most often? “Our findings demonstrate that, among listings accessed on the Internet, Gurdjeiff is staunchly positioned in second place, immediately after Rudolf Steiner.” (This study reminds me of the time in the early 1960s when “Time” magazine’s undertook to grade the efficiency of global corporations and institutions. Their editors discovered that the most efficient


enterprise was General Motors, followed by the Roman Catholic Church! I expect that Zoccatelli’s search did not include the name of Carl Jung.)


“At the heart of Gurdjieff’s teaching is the idea that mankind is born with great potential for development, but in the state of ordinary consciousness, does not have the capacity to understand nor to fulfill this potential.” Zoccatelli went on to discuss Gurdjieff’s background – Greek father, Armenian mother, etc. – early discontent with received opinion – formation of “the Seekers of Truth” – “He may have been a secret advisor to the Tsar, a Russian agent, or a Buddhist


monk and advisor to the Dalai Lama,” etc. He stood on firmer ground when he entered what might be called the “historical period” with work in Moscow in 1913. Details of Gurdjieff’s later life were summarized. His death in 1949 was described. There was no summary but there are three pages of source-notes.


The title of the presentation of Avetik Melik-Sargsyan took the form of a quotation: “Genius Has No Fatherland, He Has a Birth-Place.” The presenter is identified as an Armenian historian and scriptwriter who was born in 1956 in Gurdjieff’s birthplace of Leninakan, Gyumri. Without hesitation he hailed Gurdjieff as “the greatest philosopher of the 20th century.” He explained, “This paper reports on the activities and findings of the Gyumri Gurdjieff Study Group.”


Finally a group was formed to undertake systematic and original research on the early life of Gurdjieff. I will simply summarize some of their findings which will have to take precedence over the generalizations of all previous biographers and commentators. The GGSG determined “precise details of Gurdjieff’s date of birth and the district, street, and exact house where Gurdjieff and his family lived in Gyumri.” (The house was located on “Quiet Street” in a district in


Alexandropol that was favoured by “Greek Orthodox Christians who immigrated from Byzantium Capadocia (Chalcedony).” Unfortunately the speaker has withheld the date of his birth, thereby prolonging the agony of those who would wish to know his age at various points in his life. Is James Moore right about 1866?


The GGSG located also the grave of Ashok Adash, Gurdjieff’s father,


and they seem to have located “the original phonograph roll records”


of some of his songs. Imagine: the voice of Gurdjieff’s father!


Members of GGSG visited the towns of Kars, Ani, Erzrum, Moush, and Van


“in order to make a documentary film about Gurdjieff.” apparently GGSG


is part of “the Gurdjieff Heritage Society.”


I imagine that Melik-Sargsyan speaks with an accent; it might be said


he writes with one too, for it is sometimes difficult to determine


exactly what GGSG has learned. Certainly the information is not here,


though it may be in the group’s files and in their future publications


and documentary films. Mysteriously he says, “Our group discovered


that Gurdjieff’s understanding as a mystic philosopher starts from


influences upon him from the Armenian medieval capital Ani. Others


today confirm that the origins of Western spiritual science have roots


in the land of Shirak.” The group also established Gurdjieff’s


friendship with a number of noted Caucasians, including patriots and


musicians and the archaeologist Nikoghayos Mar and the sculptor Sergey


Merkurov who was Gurdjieff’s cousin. The latter two men may well have


influenced the young Gurdjieff.


The speaker made some promises: “The Gyumri Gurdjieff Study Group


plans to realize several projects in the future. We will host an


international scientific-cultural conference at the birthplace of


George Gurdjieff in 2008 titled, ‘Gurdjieff’s days in Gyumri.’ We will


publish a biography, ‘Gurdjieff in Armenia,’ by Melik-Sargsyan. We


will organize seminars, including scientific reports on Gurdjieff’s


work and teaching …. ” The list goes on. There is much here to


anticipate, yet the line of poetry that came to my mind as I read this


list is Robert Frost’s: “I have promises to keep.” I wonder how this


will play out in the atmosphere of the current hostilities.


Manana Khomeriki is identified as a Tbilisi-born historian. Her


contribution is titled “About the Origins of Gurdjieff and His


Activities in Georgia.” There is information here about the


“Gurdjieff” surname but it is presented by association rather than by


argumentation: “I have come across,” “We can suppose,” “I would like


to bring to your attention,” etc. The family’s history is fascinating


but complicated and it remains uncertain. “All we can say with


certainty is that his father’s name was Ivan.” Gurdjieff might be he


was born in 1877, “the year shown in his passport.” Gurdjieff may or


may not have been related to the “legendary Georgian prince


Mukhransky.” The Gurdjieff-Stalin remains unsettled, as an examination


of class-lists of the seminary of Tbilisi established that Stalin was


expelled in 1899 for his Marxist agitation. “As for Gurdjieff, he is


not fixed in the lists. Thus, he was not a class-fellow of Stalin, but


we cannot say for sure, that they did not know each-other.”


Without giving the evidence she had on hand, Khomeriki stated,


“Gurdjieff travelled a lot. For years he had lived in Tibet and the


central Asia, where he was seeking for esoteric knowledge.” Much


original research established the site of the first Institute for the


Harmonious Development of Man in Tbilisi, which was closed in 1921


with the arrival of the Soviets. There is the discovery of a


pen-and-ink caricature, the work of Alexandre de Salzmann, which shows


Gurdjieff and his followers at the Institute dressed in overcoats, so


bitter was the cold and so rudimentary the housing. This chapter is a


melange of information and conjecture, research and speculation, which


any future biographer of Gurdjieff or historian of the Work will need


to ponder and parse.


It is a relief to turn to the paper “Gurdjieff Schools in the United States, Europe, and Italy.” It was contributed by Constance A. Jones,


another sociologist, who is Professor of Transformative Studies at the


California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, California.


The relief comes from a plethora of detail, though there is nothing


much that is new in what she says. It is more a review of global


activities to date.


Jones began by noting the fact that Gurdjieff did not


“institutionalize forms for systematic organization of his Work” so


that following his death there had to be “personal transmission of the


teaching.” She contrasts instruction in “a school” with instruction


“an esoteric school,” the former being based on book learning, the


latter being grounded in “direct transmission of energy from one


person to another under specified conditions.” She added, “The


fundamental focus of Gurdjieff’s teaching is inquiry rooted in


practice, in which everything in life is brought into question.”


She went on to discuss the characteristic activities of esoteric


schools and “Work in life.” She found that ideas and practices


identified with Gurdjieff may be grouped “in three major venues.” 1.


Direct lineage: the Foundation, the Society, the Institute, “and other


organizations founded by individuals who left Gurdjieff or his pupils


to establish independent groups.” 2. Non-direct lineage: teachers who


use “Fourth Way” to define their missions. 3. Other lineages:


“spiritual teachers and professionals” who develop their own systems


incorporating influences from Gurdjieff.


Jones then focused on the diffusion of the “direct lineage” under


Jeanne de Salzmann from Gurdjieff’s death in 1949 to Madame’s death in


1990, and then under her son Michel de Salzmann to his death in 2001.


“No titular head of the Foundation network has emerged since his


death. Approximately 2,500-3,300 members worldwide are involved in the


Foundation network.”


Jones then looked at the “non-direct lineage” that begins in 1924 with


P.D. Ouspensky and continues with Sophie Grigorievna Ouspensky, J.G. Bennett, Wilhem Nyland, Annie Lou Staveley, all in the United States.


The Ouspensky branch continues “under the aegis of the Ouspensky


Foundation, located in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.” Mentioned are


Maurice Nicoll, Rodney Collin, Robert de Ropp. Bennett’s efforts


resulted in Coombe Springs near London and the Claymont Society for


Continuous Education in Charles Town (not the similarly named state


capital of Charlestown), West Virginia. Nyland established the


Institute for Religious Development. Staveley formed the residential


community, The Farm, in Aurora, Oregan.


Then there is the Taliesen Fellowship, based in Spring Green,


Wisconsin, founded by Frank Lloyd Wright but given a Gurdjieffian


twist and tang by Olgivanna Hinzenberg. There is the line of Henriette Lannes which benefitted biographer James Moore. Gurdjieff and the


Fourth Way are invoked by William Patrick Patterson, a pupil of John Pentland; Patterson established the Arete Telos Study Program in


Fairfax, California. The Fellowship of Friends was founded in 1970 by


Robert Earl Burton, with its headquarters near Nevada City, California.


Leaders whom Jones called “unconventional teachers” include Idries


Shah, Oscar Ichazo, E.J. Gold, Jan Cox, and Gary Chicoine. Some basic


information is supplied on the lot of them. That led to the “diffusion


of ideas and practices into other systems.” This is a rich field, so


given here are merely those names that she offers: A.H. Almaas,


Charles T. Tart, Robin Skynner, William R. Torbert. Perhaps in the


interest of brevity, Jones did not delve deeper, as at least one dozen


more names (e.g., E.F. Schumacher, Ida Rolf) could be added. With a


nod to the sponsor of the event, she highlighted venues in Europe and


particularly in Italy.


Jones concluded with the somewhat glum prediction that “the elements


of his teaching will continue to be appropriated and modified with


little discernment, contrary to the principles of an esoteric


teaching.” Four pages of source-notes conclude this presentation.


Listeners or readers are free to look for what is not there. The role


of John Pentland is mentioned only with respect to Patterson. Canada


goes unmentioned, despite the high-quality work of Tom Daly, James George, and Ravi Ravindra.


Massimo Introvigne returned with a heady discussion titled “From Mary


Poppins to Franco Battiato: Gurdjieff Influence on the Italian Culture


and Spirituality.” This paper is a tour de force which examines the


subtext of P.L. Travers’s “Mary Poppins” books occasioned by a


provocative article in the Turin daily newspaper “La Stampa” which


asked the question “Is Mary Poppins really Satan?” Introvigne examined


some of these popular children’s books, eleven of which were published


between 1934 and 1988. Unquestionably they offer Work-related ideas.


Introvigne added, “Travers’ work still maintains the taste of a


genuine Gurdjieffian experience, and is a good introduction to the


Fourth Way for beginners.” Here is lively analysis and a literary


study pleasantly free (for the most part) of sociology. Tacked onto


the end is a section titled “Franco Battiato and Gurdjieff” which


examined the music of the Sicilian-born, Italian singer whose popular


songs include one called “Centro di gravita permanente” (Permanent


centre of gravity). There are two pages of source-notes.


Claudio Gugerotti, born in Verona, is a Roman Catholic Archbishop and


was appointed by Pope John Paul II the Apostolic Nuncio in Georgia,


Armenia, and Azerbaijan. He has also held various academic


appointments. He cautiously titled his paper “A Possible Influence of


Eastern Christianity in the Thought of Gurdjieff,” and it is


interesting for the light it sheds on Gurdjieff’s “general attitude


towards traditional religions,” “his scarce attention for


Christianity,” and “the lack of interest for specific Eastern




Gugerotti is not much impressed with Gudjieff’s sensitivity to Eastern


Orthodoxy or to organized religions in general. What is left? “We have


a collection of various components of religions, put together without


an order of possible priorities, more quoted than organized in a


coherent system.” He noted the preponderance of irony and caricature.


What he found instead was or is the presence of “a Gnostic attitude.”


He concluded, quite interestingly, “Moreover, what is most original in


him is not his theoretical system but his initiation to self-knowledge


through the experience of everyday life.” This presentation bears




Janri Kachia, former Dean of the Faculty of Art History, Tbilisi Academy of Fine Arts, titled his talk “A New View of the Integrity of


Human Existence.” He is a philosopher who has deep feelings for those


traditional values that are reeling from the assaults of scientific,


secular, and rational interests and concerns. He found in a


“rationalist mysticism” that there is an antidote, a synthesis, or a


third force. “Mystical speculation, in my view, was psychologically a


very comfortable response counterbalancing the existing situation.”


(This corresponds to the view that Sam Harris advanced in his


best-selling book “The End of Faith.”) Today we have lost “the ancient


concept and understanding of wisdom.” “Wisdom is not ‘a teaching’; it


is form of existence, the form and style which does not need to be


justified but followed.” He offers an interesting catchphrase: “wisdom


is freedom.”


Kachia added that “wisdom is intransferable.” In light of this he


discussed the insights supplied by Gurdjieff himself, Fritjof Capra,


and Carlos Castaneda, with a sidewise glance at the Ray of Creation


and the theories of the Georgian psychologist Dimitrii Uznadze who


studied “mind-sets” and the interconnections of “visual onomatopoeia,”


perhaps a form of synaesthesia. The discussion is wide-ranging, which


means that it is “all over the map.” But, as short as it is, the last


part of the paper is studded with perceptions: “Gurdjieff is a type of


a Caucasian wise man”; “Existence is presented in the form of a


hologram”; “If a man is tied to something, the universe will also be


tied to the same. One cannot ‘learn freedom’ from Prometheus tied to a




So far it is not apparent that any of the contributors have ever been


participants in the Work. Then Tbilisi-born architect and designer


Alexander Cherkezishvili delivered his talk titled “Personal


Experiences with the Gurdjieff Teaching.” In it he conveys a sense of


the excitement he felt during the Communist period upon acquiring


samizdat or hand-made copies of occult texts. With Perestroika there


came legally published texts, as well as in 1992 the first Russian


translation of “Meetings with Remarkable Men” which he edited and


designed. That was a great thrill, he says, but precisely why he does


not say.


Levan Khetaguri, Professor of Shota Rustaveli State University of


Theatre and Film, offered his view on “Gurdjieff and Twentieth Century


Culture.” The topic sounds impossibly broad, but I found it fully


mature and fully informed. Khetaguri knows his culture and presumably


his Gurdjieff too. He begins by saying he has visited the majority of


the places that Gurdjieff himself visited “from Kars to Mongolia.” He


found traces of Gurdjieff in the work of director Peter Brook,


theorist Jerzy Grotowski, theatre director Eugenio Barba, and


playwright-actor Sam Shepard. He opines that Gurdjieff has influenced


music, dance, movement, theatre, “and the use of parabolas in


literature.” (Parabolas, parables?) “Most importantly, his work draws


on Egyptian mysteries, the Pythagorean School, Tibetan rituals,


Sufism, Oriental traditions, and many others.”


At the turn of the last century, it turns out that Tbilisi was


something of an Ascona, Adyar, Darmstadt, Point Loma, or Bollingen.


“Tbilisi attracted many intellectuals, mystics, and followers of


different esoteric schools.” He listed Madame Blavatskaya (this


Russian version of the woman’s name is seldom used in Theosophical


circles in the West), Dagli Joule (identified as a writer and close


friend of August Strindberg), painter Edvard Munk, “students of the


school of Rudolf Steiner,” “followers of the Dalcroze school of


dance,” novelist Knut Hamsun, etc. Here Masonry flourished, Vsevolod Meyerhold developed “biomechanics,” and Sandro Akhmeteli evolved “a


system of reflexes, based on a Georgian National Folk dance.”


Georgians have a special regard for “Meetings with Remarkable Men”


presumably because in this book Gurdjieff “gives examples of the


Caucasian-Oriental-Asian mentality – specifically [with] respect to


friends and teachers.” Khetaguri called the book “a collection of


hymns to remarkable men, teaching-personalities.” In our time the


Eastern-style teacher or guru has been replaced by the Western-style


lecturer or professor. Learning used to be “a matter of choice or life


style.” I am not quite sure what Khetaguri had in mind when he wrote,


“The concept of parabolas is a very important part of the teaching.” I


think he has in mind parables, archetypes, symbols, or pericopes;


maybe, maybe not. “This is another way to discover the universe for


oneself and to study in order to get answers through sacred




Khetaguri is something of a film critic: “The «book ‘Meetings with


Remarkable Men’ was filmed by Peter Brook in 1979, in consultation


with Madame Jeanne de Salzmann. The film adaptation is quite far from


the book itself; the film is more of a tribute to Mr. Gurdjieff and


his personality than an analysis of his writing.” He sees Gurdjieff as


a “homo ludens who uses many tales for communication,”


“myth-creation,” “like Sufis.” His appreciation is not limited to the


memoir or the movie based on it. “His remarkable work ‘Beelzebub’s


Tales to His Grandson’ is an original creation that tries to show the


history of civilization through the eyes of


a witness to all history – Beelzebub.” He admitted that “it is


difficult to find a clear definition for the style of this book,”


which covers history “from ancient Atlantis to the contemporary United States of America.”


“In all,” Khetaguri said, “Gurdjieff tries to find a harmony in


unity.” This leads to a digression on Antonin Artaud and Mihail Bulkakov, on Emile Jacques-Dalcroze’s system of Eurhythmics and Rudolf Steiner’s system of Eurhythmia as well as on the contributions of


Adolph Apia, Gurdjeiff, De Hartman, and the Salzmanns. As befitting a


specialist in the theatre, Khetaguri discusses multiple other


reference points, notably Peter Brook who influenced the American


actor-writer Sam Shepard, not to mention theorist Jerzy Grotowski and


director Eugenio Barba who established the “theatre of anthropology,


which is a new way of theatre study, carried out through discovery of


ancient rituals.”


Khetaguri has scope and depth and a reminder for us: “Gurdjieff


figures prominently in the work of all of these artists, yet more


research needs to be done to discover more about this connection to


the major cultural trends of this century.” Two pages of source-notes




“Concluding Remarks” were delivered by Ambassador Fabrizio Romano who


found the five hours to be filled with “excellent presentations from


different points of view.” Views presented include the Caucasian; the


religious; and the artistic, historical, and cultural. “Excellent work


was accomplished here.” He then acknowledged the contribution of Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University which physically hosted the




Earlier I asked if you can take Tiflis out of Gurdjieff. The answer is


that we can no longer view him through Western eyes alone; we will


have to see him through Eastern and South Caucasian eyes as well as


our own. The Armenian, Georgian, Greek, and Caucasian backgrounds of


the man will come more clearly into focus in the decades ahead.


Gurdjieff “returns” to Tiflis.


This publication includes twenty black-and-white photographs (most of


them familiar from other publications) plus de Salzmann’s caricature


(new to me and quite vivid). “Copies of the publication can be


requested at the Stichting Caucasus Foundation contacting via e-mail:


(That’s waht the book says, but my Outlook Express informs me as


follows: “Navigation to the Webpage was Cancelled.” I hope this is not


a sign of things “not to come.”)


John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist based in Toronto. Two


of his books will appear this fall: “The Big Book of Canadian Ghost


Stories” (Dundurn) and “Whistle While You Work: A Chrestomathy”


(Colombo & Company).

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