Continued from page 1
Since Gurdjieff's death, work with his methods has continued in formally and informally organized groups scattered across many countries. Any attempt to penetrate real meaning of Gurdjieff's work leads to inescapable conclusion that such meaning can be grasped only through sustained personal effort over a period of months and years - through self-observation, certain exercises carried out under instruction of a qualified teacher, and a commitment to work on oneself in context of a supportive community of fellow-seekers. Gurdjieff taught not so much a doctrine or creed as a method or a way, and it was a way whose transmission through mere books was deemed impossible.
Nevertheless he wrote a number of books himself, and a fair number of his followers, often after considerable gnashing of teeth and soul-searching - given admittedly ineffable nature of subject-matter - have over years committed their thoughts on Gurdjieff, his ideas, and his methods to printed page. In 1985 J. Walter Driscoll, in collaboration with Gurdjieff Foundation of California, published Gurdjieff: An Annotated Bibliography, a remarkable listing of over 1,700 books, articles, reviews, unpublished manuscripts, and other items in English, French, and other languages. Through this source one can gain some considerable insight into identity of this enigmatic figure and profound impact he had on any soul so fortunate or unfortunate as to grapple with him.
Gurdjieff was born in Armenian town of Alexandropol. With a Greek father and an Armenian mother, he had what one might call a flexible Middle Eastern appearance - one he would learn to shift, chameleon-like, at will, impersonating one or another race according to demands of moment. (With shaved head and groomed moustache, in his youth he looked perhaps not unlike majestic Tony Levin.)
Gurdjieff's father was a successful, even rich, cattle herder until his animals were wiped out by a pestilence; after loss of all his wealth he worked as a carpenter and at other jobs. Most important to Gurdjieff, however, was his father's avocation as an asokh, or story-telling bard, for which he was widely known, having at his command hundreds of songs, poems, legends, and folk-tales. From him Gurdjieff inherited not only treasures of ancient wisdom from a rapidly vanishing oral tradition, but a tendency to view world in allegorical terms, as a surpassingly rich drama with elements both tragic and comic.
Gurdjieff was trained privately in medicine and Orthodox religion, but at some point around age of twenty, driven by a need to seek answers to life's ultimate questions, he left his home environment and embarked on a lengthy series of travels around Middle East, Central Asia, Tibet, India, and Egypt, at times alone and at times in company of a number of other singularly committed individuals who called themselves "The Seekers of Truth."
Tales of Gurdjieff's many expeditions and wanderings over this twenty-odd year period are told in his autobiography, Meetings with Remarkable Men. The modern Western reader is bound to find much in this spiritual travelogue astonishing and almost literally unbelievable. Miracles, prodigious psychic feats, exotic customs, and a faraway fairy-tale or medieval atmosphere pervade book. Gurdjieff portrays a fluid, teeming life at mythical center of world, cradle of civilization - a life in which currents of great organized world religions mix with esoteric teachings, in which traditional Asian cultures run up against forces of modernization - a world in which contemporary Europeans are viewed almost universally as soulless fools, a world in which Western dividing lines between body and spirit, matter and psyche, mundane and paranormal blur and vanish under searchlight of seeker's unremitting will to know.
Enduring harshest physical hardships, learning to be a trader, carpet dealer, businessman, fix-it man, con man, and consummate actor, drawing on his knowledge of some sixteen languages and dialects, Gurdjieff spent these years studying himself and world, accumulating convincing evidence for existence of higher powers, and meeting many, as he put it, "remarkable men" - gurus, yogis, fakirs, story-tellers, teachers, holy men, healers, monks - some situated in fantastically remote areas, hidden in monasteries unknown to world and completely inaccessible to Westerners, where esoteric teachings had been transmitted orally for centuries, even millennia.
In 1912, convinced that he had discovered and mastered a certain knowledge whose core of truth is found in all genuine religious traditions, and whose lineage went back to pre-Babylonian ages, Gurdjieff went to Moscow, where he began teaching efforts he would pursue remainder of his life. One of his students was P.D. Ouspensky, with whom he would split in 1920s, but who wrote a systematic account of Gurdjieff's early ideas and methods, In Search of Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, a book which Gurdjieff approved and cleared for publication shortly after Ouspensky's death in 1947.
The practical philosophy that Fripp was developing during his three-year retreat from music industry, which he would put into practice in his musical work of late 1970s and early 1980s, and which would turn up in full bloom in his Guitar Craft courses after 1985, owes much to Gurdjieffian ideas that Ouspensky relates in In Search of Miraculous. The overarching theme of book is idea that in our normal state we human beings are asleep, unconscious, running on automatic. Our ideals, morals, ideologies, religion, art, and lofty philosophizing are all a sham, product of instinctual groping in dark, automatic mental associations, wishful thinking, bloated egotism, laziness, shallow romanticism. ‘It is possible to think for a thousand years,’ said Gurdjieff. ‘It is possible to write whole libraries of books, to create theories by million, and all this in sleep, without any possibility of awakening. On contrary, these books and these theories, written and created in sleep, will merely send other people to sleep, and so on.’
The individual human organism is merely an animal, according to Gurdjieff, a self-deluded machine, following course of least resistance, slipping unconscious day by day to its ultimately inevitable death. Occultist students would ask Gurdjieff about life after death, reincarnation, and so on, and he would reply that for most people, death is indeed ultimate end, you go out like a light and that is it. Only for those who had persistently labored to develop a soul, a real, permanent, unchangeable "I," was there any possibility that some essential quality of their being would survive death of physical body.
Author of Diverse Druids Columnist for The ES Press Magazine Guest 'expert' at World-Mysteries.com