To the living memory of A. R. Orage (1873-1934)
“The last degree of esoteric teaching is plain common sense.”
A. R. Orage
NOTE: Today, America time, we mourn the 77th anniversary of the death of Orage. Today is also my birthday and I have found a strange coincidence that this man whose ideas I have loved second only to those of Mr. Gurdjieff himself, has died the same day and at about the same time, although not the same year, that I was being born in Cuba. I have written this piece to honor the memory of this remarkable man.
A. R. Orage is one the great minds this Teaching has seen. For me personally he is the person that most has influenced and shaped my thinking after Mr. Gurdjieff. His four pages psychological essay on “How to Learn to Think” has helped me to amplify the power of my thinking and even to increase my power to solve engineering and mathematical problems. Orage wrote a total of seventeen four pages psychological essays. Why each and everyone have four pages? I think I have the answer but I will let you think about it. The first essay in the series is the one about how to think and the last one is “Life as Gymnastics.” In between there are essays on diverse topics as how to control one’s temper, how to read other people, how to learn to observe, how not to be bored. One of my favorite essays is “Doing as One Likes.” It begins with these words: “There is no higher aim than to do as we like, provided that we know what we like and, secondly, can actually do it.” I love that and I have used that to write this piece on the author of those words. Each and every one of these essays is an exercise in critical thinking. Orage forces the reader to think and to think critically. If there was a person in the Work who fulfilled the aphorism inscribed in the walls of the Study House in the Prieure, namely, “If you have not by nature a critical mind your staying here is useless,” this person was Orage. It has been Orage who has taught me to have a critical mind. The poet T. S. Eliot wrote of him as “the finest critical intelligence of our day.”
(Orage’s fine and great mind is an example of the great minds that great country of England has given to humanity. Not other country has given so many first class scientists in the past 400 years as England has. One can only think of Sir Isaac Newton, holder of the prestigious Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, and Stephen Hawking who 440 years later holds the same chair of mathematics at the same university. And in between the theoretical physicist Paul Dirac, who also held the same chair of mathematics, and formulated the Dirac Equation, a relativistic quantum mechanical wave equation that for the first time predicted the existence of antiparticles and actually predated their experimental discovery, making the discovery of the positron, the antiparticle of the electron, one of the greatest triumphs of modern theoretical physics).
It would be almost impossible to conceive the existence of the 1950 original edition of Beelzebub’s Tales; the only one Mr. Gurdjieff personally supervised, without the invisible hand of Orage behind it. If Mr. Gurdjieff wrote and wrote and re-wrote, Orage edited and edited and re-edited. The encounter and meeting and work together of Mr. Gurdjieff and Orage were an arrangement from the Higher Powers. I am convinced of it but then I know I am an “esoteric-melodramatic-believer-in-higher-powers.” What Mr. Gurdjieff and Beelzebub needed to complete their work was an editor and they found what George Bernard Shaw once called “the most brilliant editor that England had produced in a hundred years.” These kinds of encounters can take place under what I have called here lawful “otherwises.” But not only Orage brilliantly edited for Mr. Gurdjieff and Beelzebub, he also brilliantly contributed to the formulation of several expressions which with time will become classics. It was Orage who came out with expressions such as being-mentation and common presence. These expressions are about to find their ways in the Britannica Encyclopedia.
But Orage was not only a man with a great critical mind and a great editor, but he was a man with great goodness and great compassion as well. And people from all ranks and files loved him because of his goodness and his compassion. Here is the tribute that his friend J. S. Collin gave after his passing: “The universality, depth, and clearness of the mind stood alone. Yet his outstanding quality was goodness. He was wrap in silence because he did no evil. When he died, those who knew him lost . . . their living secret standard for being good men.” And ordinary people who never met him were also moved by his death. An unknown man wrote, “I never knew Orage and I am not an educated man, but through his paper I felt that here was someone who understood me. And now that he is gone I am lonely.”
Orage was also a religious man in the almost most conventional way: He literally believed in God. When he left his comfortable and well admired life as editor of the “The New Age” at age 49 to adventure into the unknown territory of the “Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man” in Fontainebleau-Avon, he told his secretary, “I am going to find God.” When later he fathered a son in his fifties he always referred to this fortunate event as “a gift from God.” And even later, after Mr. Gurdjieff had shocked his intellectual vanity in New York, Orage would say to his good friend C. S. Nott: “I thank God everyday for having met Gurdjieff.”
Orage wrote little after he met Mr. Gurdjieff but the little he wrote was always substantial. In no other place was the depth of his writing most reflected than in his thirteen pages essay On Love. It is already a classic on the topic of Love. Orage wrote it overnight at the Prieuré after a conversation with Mr. Gurdjieff on objective love and certainly under the inspiration of his beloved friend Katherine Mansfield. By one of those lawful “otherwises” I have written about here one evening while returning home from work someone had left a copy of the prestigious New York Times near my seat in the subway. I read the newspaper from time to time and the first thing I do is to go to the Opinion-Editorial (OP-ED) page because of the high caliber of the columnists who write for this page. That particular evening my attention was drawn to an article by Maureen Dowd who is one of the best known columnists in the OP-ED page. Her article was on how young women fall in love without the preparation to fall in love and then they become the victims of abusive men. As soon as I arrived home I went straight to my PC and wrote a short letter to the editor of the OP-ED page. My writing became natural and effortless because of my many times reading of Orage’s essay On Love. Here is the content of my short letter:
To the Editor:
“In reference to Maureen Dowd’s column in the OP-ED page, in his little but beautiful essay On Love, the English critic A. R. Orage wrote that Love without Knowledge is more dangerous than Knowledge without Love. It may very well be that falling in love is a wrong working of our emotional brain.”
Will Mesa, Flushing, New York
The New York Times receives approximately one thousand letters to the editor everyday and publishes only about ten of them. My letter was published the next day. It was not because of me for I am not a known public name; it was because of the depth of Orage’s thoughts as expressed in his short essay On Love.
Orage was also human like we all are. One day in Paris I went for lunch with Henri Tracol and a Spaniard who was a senior member of his group. We spoke Spanish because Tracol spoke Spanish as fluently as I do. Stimulated and inspired by few glasses of Cabernet-Sauvignon I summoned the courage to ask Tracol about his thoughts on the life of Mr. Gurdjieff, his drinking, his womanizing, his crazy driving through the roads of France and the streets of Paris. Tracol thought for a moment and then gave me an answer that only a Frenchman can give: “He was part of the human condition.” Orage was also part of the human condition. Like all of us, like you who are reading this post and like me who is writing it, Orage had his weaknesses. His major weakness was his passion for young women. He married “a young American pampered out of all proportion to her position” who was hardly half his age. Mr. Gurdjieff warned him to be carful; but Orage listened to his weakness rather than to his teacher. They settled in an apartment in Manhattan. One evening, days after Orage’s intellectual vanity and pride had been shocked by Mr. Gurdjieff’s objective love, Orage was getting ready to leave their apartment. His young wife asked him where he was heading. Orage told her that he was going to see Mr. Gurdjieff. Jessie, the young wife Mr. Gurdjieff had warned him about told him that if went to see Mr. Gurdjieff he would never see her again. At that precise moment of time Orage was given a Fifth of his Law, the moment of temptation. He had two choices: either move up his octave to the note SI or move down back to the note DO. Orage stood for a while on the frame of the door pondering and weighting his choice. Then he closed the door and went back into the apartment. He told his young wife: “Okay, I don’t go.” Orage fell into temptation. At that instant of time he lost both Mr. Gurdjieff and the respect of his young wife. He never recovered again. We have to be careful with our weakness because we too can fall into temptation. Temptation exists only for those who have an Aim.
In the evening of November 5th, 1934, Orage spoke over the radio in London on Social Credit, the new economic theory introduced by C. H. Douglas. Orage was one of the few who could translate to the general population Douglas’ difficult ideas. Now and again during the talk Orage paused, as in pain. Few hours later Orage was dead. Here is how his long time friend C. S. Nott described that fateful night in his book Further Teachings of Mr. Gurdjieff:
“That night, or early morning, I had a dream and in the dream I saw his face, smiling in a mass of glowing coals. I woke up and a feeling of profound sorrow and sadness pervaded me. Then I slept.
The following morning his wife telephoned. She said, “Come up. It’s Orage. He is dead!” I put down the receiver and, for the first and only time in my life, almost fainted.”
There is a web connection among people working for the same Aim as brothers and friends. Exactly seven years before, as if had been under regulation of the Law of Seven, Mr. Gurdjieff had dictated a letter addressed to Orage related to his death. Here is how Mr. Gurdjieff put it in the last chapter of Life is real only then, when “I am.”
“I had dictated an answer to a private letter from this person (Orage) concerning the cure for his chronic disease, from which, it seems he also died.
It was midnight on the 6th of November of the year 1927. I lay sleepless in a whirlpool of oppressive thoughts and, trying to think of something to divert myself a little from my heavy thoughts, I remembered by association, among other things, the letter received a few days before.
On thinking of his letter, and considering his attitude of well-wishing, recently proven to me, I, quite without pity, woke up my secretary who was sleeping in the same apartment, and dictated the Answer.
As in those days I was completely filled with thoughts about my own sickness, and almost entirely convinced of the possibility of regulating my health by means of intentional suffering, I, of course, advised him to do the same-but in a form corresponding to his individuality and the conditions of his ordinary existence.”
I shall not relate here about his further letters and our personal conversations in connection with his illness and my advice; I shall only point out that the essence of the cause of the failure of my advice can be clearly explained to every reader by the words occurring in one of the chapters of the third series, which come from his own mouth.”
C.S. Nott arranged Orage’s funeral services at the Old Hampstead Church in London. The Dean of Canterbury, at his own suggestion, presided over the services. Friends and acquaintances filled the Church. In one of my trips to London I visited the churchyard where Orage’s planetary body was laid to rest, to honor this man I never had the fortune to meet in life. On the stone lab that covers the grave one can see the enneagram that his friend Eric Gill carved on the stone. Below the enneagram one can read these words from Krishna to Arjurna found in the Bhagavad Gita:
“Thou grievest for those that should not be grieved for
The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead
Never at any time was I not nor thou nor these princes of men
Nor shall we ever cease to be hereafter
The unreal has no being
The real never ceases to be”
Rest in peace, remarkable man