The Castalia Foundation republishes the following article purely to preserve the history of the magazine, and to satisfy the interest of the modern reader. The Psychedelic Review advises the modern reader that this article does not necessarily align with our values at the The Castalia FoundationMany have sought to know the sources of G.I.Gurdjieff's teachings and to uncover the facts of his life. Both those who have worked with him, and those whose contact with him was but momentary, alike shared a curiosity and mystification. So deep was the impression that Gurdjieff made upon others that many people of stature and discrimination have given statements proclaiming him to have been the most remarkable man they have ever encountered. It is little wonder that they wished to know what factors had combined to produce such a colossus.
... all the grandeur of my father's calm and the detachment of his inner state in all his external manifestations, throughout the misfortunes which befell him. I can now say for certain that in spite of his desperate struggle with the misfortunes which poured upon him as though from the horn of plenty, he continued, then as before, in all the difficult circumstances of his life, to retain the soul of a true poet. (p. 42).And he instilled in Gurdjieff a deep love of high ideals such as:
To be outwardly courteous to all without distinction, whether they be rich or poor, friends or enemies, power-possessors or slaves, and to whatever religion they may belong, but inwardly to remain free and never put much trust in anyone or anything... to love work for work's sake and not for its gain. (p. 39)The next masterful man, Dean Borsh, was Gurdjieff's tutor; a man "distinguished by the breadth and depth of his knowledge." His philosophy of education was a most unusual one and Gurdjieff credits him with being "... the founder and creator of my present individuality, and so to say, the third aspect of my inner God."
...one of the first persons on earth who has been able to live as our Divine Teacher Jesus Christ wished for us all. (p. 77).There was Captain Pogossian who, upon completion of theological studies, embarked on a career in the engine room of a ship and went on to amass a huge fortune as a shipping magnate. Pogossian had a unique characteristic; one which makes his seemingly fantastic accomplishments quite believable.
Pogossian was always occupied; he was always working at something. He never sat, as is said, with folded arms, and one never saw him lying down, like his comrades, reading diverting books which give nothing real. If he had no definite work to do, he would either swing his arms in rhythm, mark time with his feet or make all kinds of manipulations with his fingers.Then there is Yelov, an Aisor bookseller who felt the same way about mental activity as Pogossian felt about physical activity. He became a phenomenon in the knowledge of languages. Gurdjieff, who then spoke eighteen languages, felt a greenhorn next to him. Another was Prince Yuri Lubovedsky, a man of incredible tenacity. After forty-five long years in a fruitless search for the meaning and aim of his life, he remained undiscouraged. In his persistence, he was finally taken to a monastery in which ancient truths were preserved in an unusual system of sacred dances.
I once asked him why he was such a fool as not to rest, since no one would pay him anything for these useless exercises.
'Yes, indeed,' he replied, 'for the present no one will pay me for these foolish antics of mine as you and all those pickled in the same barrel of brine think they are but in the future either you yourself or your children will pay me for them. Joking apart, I do this because I like work, but I like it not with my nature, which is just as lazy as that of other people and never wishes to do anything useful. I like work with my common sense.
'Please bear in mind', he added, 'that when I use the word "I", you must understand it not as the whole of me, but only as my mind. I love work and have set myself the task of being able, through persistence, to accustom my whole nature to love it and not my reason alone.
'Further, I am really convinced that in the world no conscious work is ever wasted. Sooner or later someone must pay for it. Consequently, if I now work in this way, I achieve two of my aims. First, I shall perhaps teach my nature not to be lazy, and secondly, I will provide for my old age. As you know, I cannot expect that when my parents die they will leave me an ample inheritance to suffice for the time when I will no longer have the strength to earn a living. I also work because the only real satisfaction in life is to work not from compulsion but consciously; that is what distinguishes man from a Karabakh ass, which also works day and night.' (p. 107).
"Faith cannot be given to man, Faith arises in a man and increases in its action in him not as the result of automatic learning, that is, not from any automatic ascertainment of height, breadth, thickness, form and weight, or from the perception of anything by sight, hearing, touch, smell or taste, but from understanding.Others whom Gurdjieff tells about include Soloviev who retrieved himself from a state of dissipation and went on to become a much loved companion of the truth seekers. Another was Ekim Bey who had an avid interest in hypnotism and everything related to it. Tormented by inner conflict, he sought for knowledge that would enable hm to "acquire the being worthy of man." He ultimately found this guidance in the counsel of a venerated Persian dervish to whom, almost at the eleventh hour, he was able to lay bare his deepest question.
'Understanding is the essence obtained from information intentionally learned and from all kinds of experiences personally experienced. 'Understanding is acquired, as I have already said, from the totality of information intentionally learned and from personal experiencings; whereas knowledge is only the automatic remembrance of words in a certain sequence.
'Not only is it impossible, even with all one's desire, to give another one's own inner understanding, formed in the course of life from the said factors, but also, as I recently established with certain other brothers of our monastery, there exists a law that the quality of what is perceived by anyone when another person tells him something, either for his knowledge or his understanding, depends on the quality of the data formed in the person speaking.' (p. 240)
... if a circle is drawn around a Yezidi, he cannot of his own volition escape from it. Within the circle he can move freely, and the larger the circle, the larger the space in which he can move, but get out of it he cannot. Some strange force, much more powerful than his normal strength, keeps him inside. I myself, although strong, could not pull a weak woman out of the circle; it needed yet another man as strong as I.Gurdjieff's masterful ability as a story teller produces a whole spectrum of colors; from profound seriousness to brilliant humor. One of the most outstanding shades on his palette is that of sheer excitement. In one episode Gurdjieff and Soloviev are taken to a hidden monastery having given their solemn oath never to reveal its location.
If a Yezidi is forcibly dragged out of a circle, he immediately falls into a state called catalepsy, from which he recovers the instant he is brought back inside. (p. 66)
Throughout the whole of our journey, we strictly and conscientiously kept our oath not to look and not to try to find out where we were going and through what places we were passing. When we halted for the night, and occasionally by day when we ate in some secluded place, our bashliks were removed. But while on the way we were only twice permitted to uncover our eyes. The first time was on the eighth day, when we were about to cross a swinging bridge which one could neither cross on horseback nor walk over two abreast, but only in single file, and this it was impossible to do with our eyes covered.As these stories unfold, Gurdjieff undertakes the task of answering the nine questions which were most often put to him in the course of his teaching:
From the character of the surroundings then revealed to us we deduced that we were either in the valley of the Pyandzh River or of the Zeravshan, as there was a broad stream flowing beneath us, and the bridge itself with the mountains surrounding it was very similar to the bridges in the gorges of these two rivers.
It must be said that, had it been possible to cross this bridge blindfold, it would have been much better for us. Whether it was because we had gone for a long time before that with our eyes covered or for some other reason, I shall never forget the nervousness and terror we experienced in crossing this bridge. For a long time we could not bring ourselves even to set foot on it.
Such bridges are very often met with in Turkestan, wherever there is no other possible route, or in places where to advance one mile would otherwise require a twenty-day detour.
The sensation one has when one stands on one of these bridges and looks down to the bottom of the gorge, where there is usually a river flowing, can be compared to that of looking down from the top of the Eiffel Tower, only many times more intense; and when one looks up, the tops of the mountains are out of sight they can only be seen from a distance of several miles.
Moreover, these bridges hardly ever have a handrail, and they are so narrow that only one mountain packhorse can cross at a time; furthermore, they rock up and down as if one were walking on a good spring mattress and I will not even speak about the feeling of uncertainty as to their strength.
For the most part they are held in place by ropes, made from the fiber of the bark of a certain tree, one end attached to the bridge and the other fastened to some near-by tree on the mountainside or to a projection of rock. In any case, these bridges are not to be recommended even to those who in Europe are called thrill-chasers. The heart of any European crossing these bridges would sink, not into his boots, but somewhere still lower. (pp. 149-150)
What remarkable men have I met? What marvels have I seen in the East? Has man a soul and is it immortal? Is the will of man free? What is life, and why does suffering exist? Do I believe in the occult and spiritualistic sciences? What are hypnotism, magnetism and telepathy? How did I become interested in these questions? What led me to my system, practised in the Institute bearing my name? (p. 30)As though that in itself was not already a fascinating set of themes, Gurdjieff also imparts to the reader seven sayings handed down from antiquity, each of which formulates one aspect of objective truth.
From my point of view, he can be called a remarkable man who stands out from those around him by the resourcefulness of his mind, and who knows how to be restrained in the manifestations which proceed from his nature, at the same time conducting himself justly and tolerantly towards the weaknesses of others. (p. 31)