GURDJIEFF - THE UNKNOWABLE. |
Once upon a time- or perhaps at the second turn of the last century, there was a curious little man with a disquieting stare who measured up, it would seem, to any esoteric teacher who had come on the scene since the early days of, Mesmer, Madame Blatatsky, Annie Besant . The others like the stillborn Krishnamurti were to follow in his wake. It was a period of discovery of the hidden powers of the mind and the search for meaning to the Victorian and Czarist industrial economies that had thrown so many into the daily routines of endless hours at the workplace. The others who reaped the incalculable benefits to become the Oligarchies of the Western world also faced a cloudless life full of no more promises than a new carriage, a good book and an attempt to pretend elevated existences, in the face of others. In esoteric terms, exactly the sort of material that Gurdjieff did not want. His burning vision of a new world demanded an international awakening that would eventually regulate and humanize the stagnant masses that sought conflict for meaning. The earnest seekers of knowledge were not to be got that easily let alone find him. Gurdjieff however did what anyone in the secret society business knew very well - get a few in with the right sort of communication appeal and let them attract the rest. The Spiritualist Association had Sherlock Holmes creator under its belt and noted aristocrats if not Royalty had both Rosicrucians and Illuminati under their´s.
George Gurdjieff fresh from the Caucasian mountains, Russian by birth and Armenian by descent, burst into the European scene with curious gusto and in his own inimitably eccentric way, attempted to scratch its veneered facade. At least he was about to create sufficient stir to attract the intelligentsia . Suffice it to say, that whereas he did not to any extent impress the masses, he without doubt caused many a public and or self elevated figure to look in his direction for a glint of a horizon that appeared not to be the mirage that many sceptics,like the great Ouspensky thought. Even he, in the end, recognized that there was something in what he derided as a simplistic approach to human consciousness – something that disturbed him enough to write his important dialogues with the man. The great American architect Lloyd Wright veered along the same path, albeit not as a disciple but as an unattached bystander.
NO GREAT LEGACY
Gurdjieff did not leave a very great legacy, but a solid core of avid practitioners of a tough and some would say, inspiring method of self realization. These close adepts silently went about their lives in very closed circles, like secret societies, set on keeping it all alive. The historical context of the unfolding world of scientific advancement and religious interrogation taking place at the end of the 19th and exploding into the 20th century has to be brought to bear. The Russian revolution – the threatening authoritarian waves and mass hysteria and a struggling Church faced with critical analysis – all contributed to the search for meaning in a Europe which no longer carried the traditional elements that had shaped the educational standards in the past. The hippie cult and guru followers that spearheaded the musical and drug incidences of the fifties and sixties draw a parallel with the emergence of people offering alternatives, during the late 19th. century. Art like that of the Pre-Raphaelites with its strange brotherhood cradle and its romantic references to the panaceas of The Grail Legends formed part of this awakening to the realization that Man was adrift. Gurdjieff was a keen student of anything that promised a release from aimless chore – not quite power through knowledge, but elevation through self understanding. His records of some of his experiences show clear indications that he sought it in nature and the hidden world of alternative consciousness provoked by movement and sound if not extremely onerous effort – an unexplored dimension that would keep Man safe and happy within himself and release the motivational energies he knew in his heart were there to be tapped. The Work, as described by his followers was based on physical demands on the body and mind - an external pressure to chase the inner self into the promised land beyond its reach. The emerging sense of objective reality and new found strength would in turn create the sense of a third dimension consciousness that would evaluate and modulate the very external pressures themselves. This new control was tantamount to the loss of a whole variety of fears that man, appeared to harbour within his mental makeup and which, according to Gurdjieff, turned him into a sleeping mockery of his own potential self. Gurdjieff who created words to describe the un-describable called it the Kunderbuffer planted in all human neurological circuitry and which blocked all access to self realization. It is no coincidence that self realization has proven to be a struggle with an inner self that many hardened adepts have called a personified ego.
The two main centres that Gurdjieff set up in Europe were Paris and London. These were called The Prieures and within them many a present figure of cultural and political respect spilled out into a waiting world with minds attuned to a reality that others, (whom Gurdjieff called, living dead), could not have even remotely suspected the existence of.
It is more than obvious that many figures of high society met and dialogued with this strange, slightly detached Guru who but of those who set the pace and put into practice the experience that altered their lives, were Lenin, Isadora Duncan, Ouspensky - Caruso (through his wife) Loyd Wright (by the wife) and many others who in the organisation´s secret ways, remained incognito as they do today. It is no coincidence that many a great man was drawn towards this strange figure who looked like a Turkish cigarette advertisement. These relative outsiders often met their wives at the centres and noticed the changes in the comportment and their behavior patterns. Like De Hartmann the composer of some of the almost hypnotic piano pieces which he composed specifically for Gurdjieff, these indirect disciples uniwittingly became instruments of the propagation of The Work. The successful producer, film director, Peter Brooke, showed his great respect in his own field by making Gurdjieff come to life again through his unique film based on the book written (with much help) by Gurdjieff himself. The film on “Meetings with Remarkable Men “ traces the life of the enigmatic and disturbing teacher with rich photography and exhilarating moments of the sort of temple dancing based on microsecond punctuation that he taught in his workshops. The music and the dancing which echoes the restless beat of theWhirling Dervishes betrays the Sufi base which the teachings of Gurdjieff appear to identify with in more ways than one. For Gurdjieff, awareness -altering sounds and movement fanning out like ever changing but strangely still kaleidoscopic visions, were the fruit of the sacred dances. These formed a base on which to set the emergence of an exterior consciousness that acted like an evolving referee in human self dialogue. He taught the need to remove the barricades against self awareness which he believed were the real obstacles which prevented humanity from learning how to simply be and view all as it really is. The path to the attainment of fulfillment would in all cases be strenuous and often desperately unreachable, but like all action and reaction, the human system would stretch in accord and release new energies required for further stages. At least, this is what it would appear, was happening from an exterior viewpoint. With a growing sense of conscious control of appreciation and understanding of the world around him, Man it seemed, could put the spring back into his tortured motivation, which appeared to be coiled haphazardly, conditioned by myriads of hidden fears.
THE LIVING DEAD
For George Gurdjieff, the living dead were beset with habits and routine tasks and had lost all sense of direction, finding pleasure and satisfaction on peripheral, unproductive ways leading to the ultimate self destruction of self esteem.
It would be wrong to assume that Sufi training was the primary base in Gurdjieff´s teachings, but in both, music and dance played an important role in shifts of consciousness. There is, of course, much more in Sufism and The work which differ and continue to their own horizons. Hassan of the mountains, head of the Hashishim cult derived from the Ishmaeli sect, was the foundation stone of what later came to become the most powerful force in the world – The Knights Templar. Once again, the base of the teachings stemmed from the Sufis, on which training many a powerful world movement, like The Jesuits, got its propulsion from. Gurdjieff had known many a moment in his life which had shaken him to the point of a burning need to know. His search for so called hidden knowledge had achieved nothing but disappointment and suffering but he had also known emotional extremes that would have deepened his ability to transmit that spark that some would find overwhelming and a source of contagious motivation. In all comments by pupils on Gurdjieff´s “training” , it was always referred to as “The Work”. It turned the Prieures into workshops which modeled its members through the direct application of stumulus and indirect effect by the assimilations and impact on the expressions and behavior of its constituents. The two main figures behind the legacy of the ill fated Gurdjieff (who died in 1945 as a result of the long term effect, it was said, of a very careless car accident), were Madame Salzmann and Bennett in Paris and London respectively. The Foundation in Canada was transmitted by the Composer De Hartmann whose piano compositions can be obtained in CD form and can be an important way to prepare for the search for the discreet centres in most cities of the world. For most people, finding their way to these circles is a serious problem. I myself remember a long telephone conversation with Madame Salzmann and broke away with the distinct feeling I had not quite turned the corner. Newcomers – not sufficiently well connected or decisive in approach, have been cold shouldered by the organizers of the circles.
Bennett, who set up the Prieure close to London, despite his great dedication, encountered the same problems that many learned (and by nature, secret societies) had found across their way – the admission of the wrong people- the very people that only Gurdjieff would have recognized and frozen out before they had undermined the will and zeal of the rest. The false students looking for fools gold who acquiesced in their ignorance to anything would as always sow the seeds of doubt in their frustrated attempts to bend the system and contacts to their advantage. Ouspensky got quite close to that definition despite his claim to greatness, but then logic had little to do with what in any case, influenced him enormously. Even today, elitist organizations including think tanks, suffer from the same threat as relationships turn to cammaderie and the doubting Thomases, spread their weakness. Only when the circles gel to the point of singular integration one would assume, does The Work take shape and from there, the very force, all adepts admit, permeates every single member of the unit. The damage done by the unready and unable often resulted in complete abandonment of the consolidating and essentially self feeding closed circuitry required for the message to transcend. The failures however were abandoned nests from which experience new ones began
The monastic orders are a role model for the process to be understood in this context. Whilst there are no religious beliefs instilled in postulants, the search for the Harmonious Development in Man as Gurdjieff understood it began when self confrontation led to self understanding with all the faults and pettiness so common in most. Those who did not see themselves in Gurdjieff´s eyes were doomed to fail as happened with the ill fated Katherine Mansfield whose fascination for his wife threw a shadow across her path. Gurdjieff and perhaps his role followers could and would not play beyond stark, untrammeled access to his disciples, like Jesus who is quoted as saying “let the dead bury the dead” . To Gurdjieff his disciples had no life outside his immediate thresholds. The meaning in this instance could not be any more revealing as His deepest attachment and prime material were those thirsting for the experience of revealing dialogue with the Master. They in turn knew none other than those eyes which opened the windows, not to knowledge, but to an awareness that grew inside them and fuelled by each experience. All very complex it would seem, but conversely, in simple terms, not really so. Which of the human sensory appetites were in place during the interchange of awareness, or whether it differed from male to females, is irrelevant in this context. What mattered was that it obviously altered both sides. On discussing these flows with an adept who had been with Bennett in the UK Prieure, he had a very interesting way of defining the experiences. He commented with clear assertion “ When the knife is sharp the effort to cut is reduced to nothing “. For many who were set to influence the then world and emerged from these circles enhanced and brimming with vision, the Will in my estimation became the sharp edge and faith in the outcome lent the handle that channeled the force to its target. Some would fall by the wayside during those early days of the Asiatic guru in the very turbulent days between two world wars, but for many with the nobility to meet that stare and speak without words, the meaning was clear – they were emissaries of change.
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