Wednesday, July 18, 2018
  Unusual Assemblage of Syllables  

quote small leftA deliberate and rigorous obscurity …
   of confusing terms and tangential
   associations in interminable sentencesquote small right

quote small leftJargon-ridden and intentionally obtusequote small right

“For several reasons, including the unique difficulties presented by Gurdjieff’s writing style, little commentary has been written on Beelzebub’s Tales.”

“Without a determined decision on the part of the reader to make great efforts to understand these writings, without the reader’s constant and conscious participation in the act of reading, little if any sense can be gotten from the Tales.”


Some of the reasons given for Gurdjieff's writing style include:

  • Primary reason is man's inner slavery to suggestibility.
  • Counteract our tendency to act as passive receptors and believe whatever we are told.
  • Writing style directly opposed to all our comfortable habits.
  • Without active attention there can be no real understanding.
  • Pythagoras’ law of reserve, in an arcane manner concealing mysteries from the uninitiated.
  • Bury every nugget of information. If it's too clear, it must be buried further.
  • Only for a few, not for everybody.

The question arises: How many hours have been spent trying to decipher Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson?
Was it an effective use of time and energy?

Deliberate and Rigorous Obscurity

Excerpts from: The Tales Themselves, An Overview by Dr. Anna Challenger (Click tab above for Full Article)

“The secret must be kept from all non-people;
the mystery must be hidden from all idiots.”

Omar Khayyam, 11th c. Sufi poet

For several reasons, including the unique difficulties presented by Gurdjieff’s writing style, little commentary has been written on Beelzebub’s Tales. John Bennett did extensive work on the Tales, giving lectures on them from the time of Gurdjieff’s death in 1949 until his own death in 1974.
...

Both Bennett and Orage had the advantage of being able to converse with Gurdjieff about his writings and to verify their understanding of his work. Bennett spoke with Gurdjieff for the last time one week before Gurdjieff’s death, and their conversation addressed the topic of humankind’s lost ability to make independent judgments. Gurdjieff felt that suggestibility to the written and spoken word or, as he also put it, the “readiness to believe any old tale,” [23] is one of the greatest tragedies of modern humanity. This type of inner slavery, he believed, makes obtaining Objective Reason impossible, and thereby destroys our possibility for a normal existence on Earth. In Beelzebub’s Tales this weakness is presented as a prime reason for the unhappy plight of humanity. Bennett uses these views of Gurdjieff about inner slavery to suggestibility to explain the writing style of Beelzebub’s Tales.

Bennett asserts that Gurdjieff’s writing style is directly connected with his fundamental concepts of human nature and destiny. If we are to serve the high purpose for which we were created, we must free ourselves from any form of inner slavery. Above all we must work toward attaining a capacity for independent judgment, strive to acquire Objective Reason, and not live according to the ways which are delegated as right and proper by others. And, as Bennett observes, “suggestibility cannot be cured by suggestion.” [24] What he means is that a different kind of writing is needed to counteract our tendency to act as passive receptors and believe whatever we are told. The style of Beelzebub’s Tales makes passive response impossible. Without a determined decision on the part of the reader to make great efforts to understand these writings, without the reader’s constant and conscious participation in the act of reading, little if any sense can be gotten from the Tales.

Recognizing this aspect of Gurdjieff’s style, Bennett says, is the first secret to understanding his writing. As a defense against suggestibility, Gurdjieff piles obstacle upon obstacle to ensure that progress can only be made by the reader’s unwavering decision to overcome those obstacles. The point is, Bennett says, “When we have organized ideas put in front of us that our minds are able to accept, it is very hard to prevent this mind from being lazy. We say: ‘Now I understand’ and we do not feel the need to do any work.” [25] Gurdjieff’s intention is obviously to have the opposite effect on the reader:

  • quote small leftGurdjieff’s methods are directly opposed to all our comfortable habits. He was concerned to bring people to understand for themselves and with this aim always before him, he never made anything easy or tried to convince anyone of anything. On the contrary, he made the approach to his ideas difficult, both intellectually and emotionally. However hard in itself a theme might be to understand, he would always make it harder by incompleteness of exposition, by introducing inner contradictions and even absurdities, and by breaking off [explanation] as soon as comprehension had begun to dawn…quote small right [26]

An important part of Gurdjieff’s method of exposition is the use of obstacles to insure the willful participation of the reader as a prerequisite for achieving understanding.

When confronted with a work like the Tales, Bennett emphasizes, the uncommitted and “suggestible” reader is either forced away or forced to commit himself or herself to great efforts to make any progress in understanding. “The issue before the man who begins reading Beelzebub’s Tales is not ‘Shall I accept or not what is written here?’ but ‘Shall I even read it and in doing so try to understand something?’” [27] A conflict takes place in the reader, but it is not an intellectual conflict of whether to affirm or deny Gurdjieff’s perceptions and points of view. Nor is the struggle one of whether to accept what is written on the basis of faith. Gurdjieff’s writing prevents either of these responses. The casual reader, first confronted by the intimidating length of the work and then prevented from easily understanding it because of the difficult style and idiosyncratic terminology, is in no position to either agree or disagree, accept or reject what is written. The struggle which takes place in the reader of Beelzebub’s Tales is with his or her inner nature: whether to take the easier path of giving way to the law of inertia, justifying the decision on the basis of the length and extreme difficulty of the work, or whether to make the effort of will required by the task of trying to fathom such a writing, even at the risk of gaining little or no understanding in the end for the invested effort.

If the decision is made to go forward and work through the labyrinth which one writer describes as “a deliberate and rigorous obscurity … of confusing terms and tangential associations in interminable sentences” [28] the reader is still forced to renew commitment repeatedly in the face of constant temptation to abandon the project. Gurdjieff’s insistent style demands constant affirmation from the reader, and each affirmation results in a victory of will over inertia. In this way Gurdjieff creates the possibility for the reader to strengthen will and create being. The ability of the work itself to act creatively on the reader is part of what led Bennett to evaluate Beelzebub’s Tales so highly as a piece of literature:

  • quote small leftIn its complexities and obscurities like an alchemical text, in its humor and robustness like a Rabelaisian chronicle, in its breadth like a monumental work of historical analysis, in its passion like a sermon and in its compassion like something almost sacramental — Beelzebub’s Tales surpasses all ordinary points of view. It belongs to a new kind of thought… It is an expression of Objective Reason.quote small right [29]

[23] Bennett, Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 11

[24] Ibid., p. 11

[25] Ibid., p. 8

[26] Ibid., p. 9

[27] Ibid., p. 11

[28] J. Walter Driscoll, GURDJIEFF: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Garland Publishers, 1985), p. viii

[29] Bennett, Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 4–5

The Tales Themselves

About the Author   

 About Anna Challenger

Anna Challenger holds an M.A. in Philosophy and a Ph.D. in American and Comparative Literature from Kent State University.

  • She currently teaches Literature and Advanced Writing courses at the American College of Thessaloniki in Greece, where she serves as Chairperson of the English Department.

Anna first became absorbed in the teachings of George Gurdjieff as a philosophy graduate student.

  • In the midst of studying the traditional philosophers, she was introduced by a fellow philosophy student to the works of Gurdjieff.
  • From that day forward, traditional philosophy took secondary place to the living philosophy of Gurdjieff, and for the next twenty years, Gurdjieff remained the central personal focus of Anna’s study.
  • Her specific aim over the years has been to expose Gurdjieff’s teachings to the academic world, and to cultivate respect for his living philosophy and literature among academics.
  • To this purpose, and against predictable opposition, she wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on An Introduction to Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub”: A Modern Sufi Teaching Tale.

This dissertation has been reworked over the years and will be published in book form by Rodopi Press (Atlanta, Georgia, and Amsterdam) in 1999 as Philosophy and Art in Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub: A Modern Odyssey.

  • This essay is representative of chapters from this forthcoming book.

Copyright © 1990 Dr. Anna Challenger

 
Introduction

“The secret must be kept from all non-people;
the mystery must be hidden from all idiots.”
Omar Khayyam | 11th c. Sufi poet

In John Bennett’s Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales, he recalls one night spent in Gurdjieff’s Paris apartment shortly before the latter’s death. There was a typical gathering of students: among them English, Americans, French, Greeks — more than fifty people assembled in a small apartment to have dinner with Gurdjieff and to listen to him speak. Gurdjieff offered a toast which in its simplicity seemed forceful: “Everyone must have an aim. If you have not an aim, you are not a man. I will tell you a very simple aim, to die an honorable death. Everyone can take this aim without any philosophizing — not to perish like a dog. [1] “As always,” Bennett recalls, “he suddenly turns the conversation to a joke and in a minute the room is shaken with laughter at some story about the peculiarities of the English. But the impression remains of the overwhelming seriousness of our human situation, of the choice which confronts us between life and death.” [2]

all and everything 01

What seems simple, not to perish like a dog, is for Gurdjieff the most difficult aim a person can have. And making us aware of the choice between life and death, or between kinds and qualities of death, is a main concern of Beelzebub’s Tales. In the Tales, however, the choice is presented in far more complex terms: we can either live our lives and die our deaths passively and mechanically, for the sole purpose of unconsciously supplying the Cosmos with required energies, whereby upon death we sacrifice our individuality; alternatively, we can live in such a way as to supply required Cosmic energies consciously, and of sufficient quantity and quality, so that death carries the potential of amounting to more than a payment of transformed energy, and we gain the possibility of becoming “immortal within the limits of the Solar System.” [3] The choice between life and death as expressed in these terms is related to Gurdjieff’s Theory of Reciprocal Maintenance, which embodies his answer to the question, “What is the meaning and purpose of life on Earth, and in particular of human life?”  Like all organic life on Earth, human beings are apparatuses for transforming energies which are required for some other purpose. However, as a more complicated type of transforming apparatus than plants or animals, human beings possess some choice regarding how to supply the energies required by their existence. They can transform energy consciously or unconsciously, in greater or lesser quantities, and of varying qualities, thereby influencing the purpose and outcome of their deaths. These are among the choices of which Gurdjieff wants to make us aware in his Tales. Manuel Rainoird aptly likens Gurdjieff in his work to a train guard who, out of sheer kind-heartedness, jostles and rouses the passengers before their train reaches some frontier, so that they will be ready and things will go smoothly. [4]Beelzebub’s Tales does serve this purpose, but the setting is more dramatic than the analogy leads us to believe. In the Tales Gurdjieff is trying to rouse his readers from sleep so that they might get things in order before reaching their final destination: death. For Gurdjieff, preparing for an “honorable death” means acquiring all possible understanding about life and the role of human beings in it. To this end, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson is appropriately subtitled All and Everything. Here Gurdjieff presents us with all the fruits of his conscious labors, all the understanding about human existence which he acquired, through tremendous efforts, in the course of his lifetime. His hope is that we might share part of this understanding.


[1] J. G. Bennett, Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales (Gloucestershire: Coombe Springs Press, 1977), p. 1. Reissued, Youk Beach, Maine: Weiser, 1988, vii.

[2] Ibid.

[3] G. I. Gurdjieff, as recorded by P. D. Ouspensky in In Search of the Miraculous (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949), p. 94

[4] Manuel Rainoird as quoted by Michel Waldberg in Gurdjieff: An Approach to His Ideas, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), p. 28

[5] Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, (New York: Harcourt, Brace 1950), p. 52

The Scenario

“Everything” unfolds through the story of Beelzebub, a wise old being from the planet Karatas, which belongs to a solar system distant from Earth’s. Due to circumstances connected with Beelzebub’s youth, however, he has spent the greatest part of his long existence in this part of the Universe, “in conditions not proper to his nature,” [5] traveling between Mars and Earth in an attempt to cure Earth beings from the afflictions which result from their wrong perception of reality.

Many years ago, we are told, in Beelzebub’s splendid and fiery youth, he saw something in the functioning of the World which, to his then unformed reason and limited understanding, struck him as illogical. And because he had a strong and forceful nature, many other beings were persuaded by Beelzebub to rebel against HIS ENDLESSNESS to such a degree that the center of the Megalocosmos was nearly brought to a state of revolution. Then,

  • quote small leftHaving learned of this,HIS ENDLESSNESS, notwithstanding HIS all-lovingness and all-forgiveness, was constrained to banish Beelzebub with his comrades to one of the remote corners of the Universe, namely, to the solar system “Ors” … and to assign as the place of their existence one of the planets of that solar system, namely, Mars, with the privilege of existing on other planets also, though only of the same solar system.quote small right [6]

Among those banished to Mars were sympathizers with Beelzebub and others who served as their attendants. In this way Mars came to be populated by three-centered beings from the center of the Universe, and Beelzebub came to spend his life in a place foreign to him, taking in “perceptions unusual for his nature” and “experiences not proper to his essence,” [7] all of which left a mark on Beelzebub and contributed to his exceptional nature.

During Beelzebub’s exile to Mars, he made several extended visits to the Earth. His first descent to this planet took him to Atlantis shortly before its disappearance, and the last involved a three-hundred year stay which brought Beelzebub into the twentieth century. Altogether he descended on six occasions to Earth, his visits spanning a period of several millennia, landing him in times and places as diverse as ancient Babylon and twentieth-century America, Afghanistan at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and Russia at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution. Beelzebub built a large observatory during his exile on Mars, and this enabled him to observe events taking place on Earth during his absence from the planet. As a result of these circumstances, Beelzebub was exposed in some fashion to human beings and situations for hundreds of years, and his long interaction with the planet provided him with much food for thought concerning the Earth, its history, and the behavior and psyche of its people.

When Beelzebub’s narrative begins, he is no longer in exile. Through the intervention of the holy Ashiata Shiemash, a messenger who had at one time been sent by HIS ENDLESSNESS to coordinate life on Earth with the general harmony of the World, Beelzebub has been pardoned for fulfilling needs connected with the Earth. Because of Ashiata Shiemash’s request, and “the modest and cognisant existence of Beelzebub himself,” [8] Beelzebub has been given permission by HIS ENDLESSNESS to return to his place of origin, the planet Karatas at the center of the Universe.


[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p. 51

[7] Ibid., p. 54

[8] Ibid.

The Scenario II

In spite of his long absence from home, the influence and authority which Beelzebub possessed as a youth have even increased. As a result of his having lived in circumstances of unusual hardship and deprivation, “all those around him were clearly aware that, thanks to his prolonged existence in … unusual conditions, his knowledge and experience must have broadened and deepened.”  [9] Although Beelzebub is now aged and tired and has only recently returned to Karatas, at the opening of the Tales he is embarking on yet another interplanetary journey to attend a conference which concerns events of great Cosmic importance about which he might offer his wisdom and experience.

Traveling with Beelzebub on the spaceship “Karnak” are the ship’s crew, the attendants of Beelzebub (including his long-time servant Ahoon), and Beelzebub’s grandson Hassein, son of his favorite son Tooloof. Having only met Hassein for the first time upon his return to Karatas, Beelzebub found that his grandson was at the significant age when his reason needed to be guided and developed (about twelve or thirteen years of age by Earth calculation), and he decided to assume responsibility for Hassein’s education. The education commences with Hassein accompanying his grandfather to the conference on the planet Revozvradendr.

As Beelzebub begins his narration about his many years in exile, he is seated with Hassein and Ahoon on the upper deck of the Karnak where they are talking among themselves while gazing out at the “boundless space.” Beelzebub is starting to relate stories about the solar system to which he was exiled, when the ship’s Captain interrupts them with an urgent message: the ship will be unable to travel to its destination by the most direct route, for passing through that same space will be the large comet Sakoor, which emits harmful gases. The original travel plans must be altered, and the Captain recognizes two alternatives: the first is to make a long detour around the gases, and the second is to wait until the gases have dispersed. In either case a long delay will result. The Captain, out of respect, has consulted Beelzebub regarding what should be done.

In response to the Captain’s inquiry, Beelzebub recalls the wisdom of the Sufi sage Mullah Nassr Eddin, who for every possible occasion had “an apt and pithy saying.” [10] Beelzebub muses about Mullah Nassr Eddin in the presence of the Captain,

  • quote small left“As all his sayings were full of the sense of truth for existence there, I also used them there as a guide, in order to have a comfortable existence among the beings of that planet.
  • “And in the given case, too, my dear Captain, I intend to profit by one of his wise sayings.
  • “In such a situation as has befallen us, he would probably say:
  • “‘You cannot jump over your knees and it is absurd to try to kiss your own elbow.’
  • “I now say the same to you, and I add: there is nothing to be done; when an event is impending which arises from forces immeasurably greater than our own, one must submit.”quote small right [11]

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., p. 57

The Scenario III

The decision is to wait somewhere until the gases have dispersed so as not to cause unnecessary wear and tear to the ship, and to pass the time of the delay in a way which is productive for all — by Beelzebub narrating to the others his experiences in the solar system Ors, in particular on the planet Earth. The accounts of Beelzebub’s experiences while in exile, related to Hassein and Ahoon during the time of the ship’s delay and during travel time to and from Revozvradendr, make up the bulk of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.

After this postponement, which provides opportunity for many stories, the ship reaches Revozvradendr where Beelzebub and the others remain for two months. The events of this time, however, are not disclosed to the reader. Not until the Karnak is returning to Karatas do the tales of Beelzebub resume. The return trip is then interrupted by a visit to ‘The Holy Planet Purgatory,’ the title and focus of Chapter 39, pages 744 to 810, which forms the culmination of Book Two. There, Beelzebub wishes to give his regards to members of his family, including his other son Tooilan, and to a teacher from his youth. The detour to Purgatory takes us to the heart of Gurdjieff’s book. Other than this visit to The Holy Planet Purgatory, the ship is in transit from the beginning to the end of the Tales, and it serves as the only setting for the dialogues between Beelzebub and Hassein.

As the Karnak nears the outer spaces of Beelzebub’s home planet, it is unexpectedly approached by a host of Cosmic beings, including several archangels, a multitude of angels, and some cherubim and seraphim. The entire procession enters the ship bearing branches of palm for Beelzebub and singing the “Hymn to HIS ENDLESSNESS.” The purpose for their visit is to restore to Beelzebub what he was deprived of at the time of his exile: his horns. This is accomplished by the most venerable archangel’s holding over Beelzebub’s head a sacred rod which gradually causes Beelzebub’s long-lost horns to grow.

All present observe the ceremony with much anticipation, for they understand that the degree of Objective Reason obtained by a being of Beelzebub’s nature is revealed by the number of forks which appear on his horns. In Beelzebub’s case, “First one fork appeared, then another, and then a third, and as each fork made its appearance a clearly perceptible thrill of joy and unconcealed satisfaction proceeded among all those present.” [12] As yet a fourth fork appears, tension reaches its height and all assume the ceremony to be at an end, for inconceivable to any being present is the possibility that Beelzebub could have exceeded this already sacred level of Reason. But before those assembled have time to recover from their excitement over Beelzebub’s fourth horn,

  • quote small leftThere suddenly and unexpectedly appeared on the horns of Beelzebub quite independently a fifth fork of a special form known to them all.
  • Thereupon all without exception, even the venerable archangel himself, fell prostrate before Beelzebub, who had now risen to his feet and stood transfigured with a majestic appearance, owing to the truly majestic horns which had arisen on his head.quote small right [13]

The fifth fork signifies that Beelzebub has attained a level of Reason only four degrees removed from the Absolute Reason of HIS ENDLESSNESS, so that even the archangels are inferior in Reason to Beelzebub.


[12] Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, p. 1176

[13] Ibid., p. 1177

The Scenario IV

When all those present recover from this moving experience, the most venerable archangel gives a speech in honor of Beelzebub who, “although he first transgressed on account of his youth, yet afterwards was able by his conscious labors and intentional sufferings to become worthy with his essence to be one of the very rare Sacred individuals of the whole of our Great Universe.” [14] Through his own efforts Beelzebub has achieved the highest level of Reason that “in general any being can attain.” [15]

At this point all the angels and cherubim leave the Karnak and disappear into space, and the others resume their places as the ship moves toward its final destination. Beelzebub, “now with a transfigured appearance corresponding to His merits and visible to all,” [16] returns with Hassein and Ahoon to that part of the ship where their previous talks have taken place. As a result of the ceremony they have witnessed, Beelzebub’s grandson and servant both feel remorse for their own low levels of being, and “by their movements and the translucency of their inner psyche, it was evident that there had been a marked change in their attitude toward the person of Beelzebub…” [17]

In this state of humility Hassein is overcome with timidity in the presence of his grandfather. His humility also gives rise to feelings of deep love and compassion for the three-brained beings from Earth whom he has learned of through his grandfather’s stories. Assured by Beelzebub that the tales about Earth will continue after they have returned home, Hassein is given permission to ask one final question of Beelzebub before the landing of the ship. Encouraged by the opportunity, he addresses his grandfather boldly to ask how Beelzebub would reply if HIS ENDLESSNESS HIMSELF were to summon Beelzebub before HIM and say,

  • quote small left“Beelzebub!!!!
  • “You, as one of the anticipated, accelerated results of all My actualizations, manifest briefly the sum of your long-centuried impartial observations and studies of the psyche of the three-brained beings arising on the planet Earth and state in words whether it is possible by some means or other to save them and to direct them into the becoming path?”quote small right [18]

Beelzebub answers Hassein with a twofold response. First, he says, the question is itself proof that Hassein’s education is proceeding well and that Beelzebub’s stories have achieved in him sought-for results. Then, after meditating on the question, Beelzebub responds in a penetrating tone:

  • quote small left“The sole means now for the saving of the beings of the planet Earth would be … [if] every one of those unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests.”quote small right [19]

Only with death kept always in the forefront on their minds would human beings be able to overcome the egoism that has destroyed their Essences, caused all their abnormalities, and made them harmful, not only to themselves, but to the whole of the Universe.


[14] Ibid., p. 1178

[15] Ibid., p. 1177

[16] Ibid., p. 1178

[17] Ibid., p. 1181

[18] Ibid., p. 1182

[19] Ibid., p. 1183

The Commentaries

For several reasons, including the unique difficulties presented by Gurdjieff’s writing style, little commentary has been written on Beelzebub’s Tales. John Bennett did extensive work on the Tales, giving lectures on them from the time of Gurdjieff’s death in 1949 until his own death in 1974. A few of these lectures were recorded and published in book form as Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales. The English critic Alfred Orage, a long-time student of Gurdjieff, played a leading role in editing the English language drafts of Beelzebub’s Tales between 1925 and 1931. Orage died in 1934 but C. S. Nott published almost a hundred pages of his notes on Orage’s numerous talks on Beelzebub’s Tales which, although not intended for publication offer valuable insights into Gurdjieff’s work. [20]

A beautifully written and inspiring essay by a Frenchman, Manuel Rainoird, entitled Belzebuth, un coup de maitre (“Beelzebub: A Master’s Stroke”), includes insightful commentary on the work. [21] Finally, a book by Michel Waldberg, also a Frenchman, contains a serious and thoughtful chapter on Beelzebub’s Tales which includes valuable excerpts from the private notes of Charles Duits, another French writer. Duits felt indebted to Beelzebub’s Tales for the influence it had on his personal life and work, and he wished to repay this debt by recording his seasoned understanding of the Tales. Duits’ notes, however, remain unpublished. [22] Aside from these works, commentary is fragmentary and often superficial.

Both Bennett and Orage had the advantage of being able to converse with Gurdjieff about his writings and to verify their understanding of his work. Bennett spoke with Gurdjieff for the last time one week before Gurdjieff’s death, and their conversation addressed the topic of humankind’s lost ability to make independent judgments. Gurdjieff felt that suggestibility to the written and spoken word or, as he also put it, the “readiness to believe any old tale,” [23] is one of the greatest tragedies of modern humanity. This type of inner slavery, he believed, makes obtaining Objective Reason impossible, and thereby destroys our possibility for a normal existence on Earth. In Beelzebub’s Tales this weakness is presented as a prime reason for the unhappy plight of humanity. Bennett uses these views of Gurdjieff about inner slavery to suggestibility to explain the writing style of Beelzebub’s Tales.

Bennett asserts that Gurdjieff’s writing style is directly connected with his fundamental concepts of human nature and destiny. If we are to serve the high purpose for which we were created, we must free ourselves from any form of inner slavery. Above all we must work toward attaining a capacity for independent judgment, strive to acquire Objective Reason, and not live according to the ways which are delegated as right and proper by others. And, as Bennett observes, “suggestibility cannot be cured by suggestion.” [24] What he means is that a different kind of writing is needed to counteract our tendency to act as passive receptors and believe whatever we are told. The style of Beelzebub’s Tales makes passive response impossible. Without a determined decision on the part of the reader to make great efforts to understand these writings, without the reader’s constant and conscious participation in the act of reading, little if any sense can be gotten from the Tales.

Recognizing this aspect of Gurdjieff’s style, Bennett says, is the first secret to understanding his writing. As a defense against suggestibility, Gurdjieff piles obstacle upon obstacle to ensure that progress can only be made by the reader’s unwavering decision to overcome those obstacles. The point is, Bennett says, “When we have organized ideas put in front of us that our minds are able to accept, it is very hard to prevent this mind from being lazy. We say: ‘Now I understand’ and we do not feel the need to do any work.” [25] Gurdjieff’s intention is obviously to have the opposite effect on the reader:

  • quote small leftGurdjieff’s methods are directly opposed to all our comfortable habits. He was concerned to bring people to understand for themselves and with this aim always before him, he never made anything easy or tried to convince anyone of anything. On the contrary, he made the approach to his ideas difficult, both intellectually and emotionally. However hard in itself a theme might be to understand, he would always make it harder by incompleteness of exposition, by introducing inner contradictions and even absurdities, and by breaking off [explanation] as soon as comprehension had begun to dawn…quote small right [26]

An important part of Gurdjieff’s method of exposition is the use of obstacles to insure the willful participation of the reader as a prerequisite for achieving understanding.


[20] Notes on “Orage’s Commentary on ‘Beelzebub’” are contained in C. S. Nott’s Teachings of Gurdjieff: A Pupil’s Journal (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1962), pp. 125–215

[21] Manuel Rainoird, Belzebuth, un coup de maitre (Paris: Monde Nouveau 104, Octobre, 1956).

[22] Michel Waldberg, Gurdjieff: An Approach to His Ideas

[23] Bennett, Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 11

[24] Ibid., p. 11

[25] Ibid., p. 8

[26] Ibid., p. 9

The Commentaries II

When confronted with a work like the Tales, Bennett emphasizes, the uncommitted and “suggestible” reader is either forced away or forced to commit himself or herself to great efforts to make any progress in understanding. “The issue before the man who begins reading Beelzebub’s Tales is not ‘Shall I accept or not what is written here?’ but ‘Shall I even read it and in doing so try to understand something?’” [27] A conflict takes place in the reader, but it is not an intellectual conflict of whether to affirm or deny Gurdjieff’s perceptions and points of view. Nor is the struggle one of whether to accept what is written on the basis of faith. Gurdjieff’s writing prevents either of these responses. The casual reader, first confronted by the intimidating length of the work and then prevented from easily understanding it because of the difficult style and idiosyncratic terminology, is in no position to either agree or disagree, accept or reject what is written. The struggle which takes place in the reader of Beelzebub’s Tales is with his or her inner nature: whether to take the easier path of giving way to the law of inertia, justifying the decision on the basis of the length and extreme difficulty of the work, or whether to make the effort of will required by the task of trying to fathom such a writing, even at the risk of gaining little or no understanding in the end for the invested effort.

If the decision is made to go forward and work through the labyrinth which one writer describes as “a deliberate and rigorous obscurity … of confusing terms and tangential associations in interminable sentences” [28] the reader is still forced to renew commitment repeatedly in the face of constant temptation to abandon the project. Gurdjieff’s insistent style demands constant affirmation from the reader, and each affirmation results in a victory of will over inertia. In this way Gurdjieff creates the possibility for the reader to strengthen will and create being. The ability of the work itself to act creatively on the reader is part of what led Bennett to evaluate Beelzebub’s Tales so highly as a piece of literature:

  • quote small leftIn its complexities and obscurities like an alchemical text, in its humor and robustness like a Rabelaisian chronicle, in its breadth like a monumental work of historical analysis, in its passion like a sermon and in its compassion like something almost sacramental — Beelzebub’s Tales surpasses all ordinary points of view. It belongs to a new kind of thought… It is an expression of Objective Reason.quote small right [29]

Moving from concerns of style to those of substance, the socialist Orage considers Gurdjieff’s conception of a normal human being. Human beings as we are, said Gurdjieff, can only be thought of as humans “in quotation marks”; at most we possess “a pleasing exterior and dubious interior.” [30] But as Orage points out in his commentary,

  • quote small leftIn Beelzebub’s Tales, one of the implications is the conception of a normal human being. We cannot conceive of a normal human being by taking the average of individuals. This distinction between average and [normal] is very important. A normal man is defined in the book, but this needs to be pondered for a long time to be grasped.quote small right [31]

Certainly “normal man” for Gurdjieff is the antithesis of “average man,” who is unconscious, imbalanced, and mechanical — qualities which he considers completely abnormal. For Gurdjieff, normalcy is related to harmony. It implies a state of equilibrium brought about by the balance of intellectual, emotional, instinctive, and moving centers — a balance he finds lacking in most human beings.


[27] Ibid., p. 11

[28] J. Walter Driscoll, GURDJIEFF: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Garland Publishers, 1985), p. viii

[29] Bennett, Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 4–5

[30] Gurdjieff, as quoted in C. S. Nott’s Teachings of Gurdjieff: A Pupil’s Journal, p. 168

[31] Alfred Orage, as quoted in Nott’s Teachings of Gurdjieff, p. 167

The Commentaries III

Without the equilibrium which a balance of centers provides, a person cannot be thought of as normal, for that person’s state is equivalent to being under the influence of a drug. Reminding a person of his or her normal condition if that person is under the influence of a strong emotion or is identified with a political ideal, for example, is impossible, as Orage reminds us. Both states are drunken states compared to the existence which is intended for three-centered beings. Even in such states of physical, emotional, or intellectual drunkenness, though, an average person may still have at times an intimation of a different kind of existence, a more coherent and connected way of being for which he or she longs. Gurdjieff calls this intimation of something better a state of “Organic Shame;” it is the condition of lower vibrations aspiring to share the experience of higher vibrations. Orage understands the state of Organic Shame as the beginning of normalcy.

Normal human beings try to understand the reason for existence so that they might fulfill their obligations in life. It is our objective inheritance, says Orage, that we should know why we are here and know it early enough in life to be able to act on the knowledge and carry out our cosmic function. Plants and animals, in their natural states, fulfill the purposes for which they exist. Only human beings behave unnaturally by living indifferently to their cosmic significance. Referring to Gurdjieff’s Theory of Reciprocal Maintenance, Orage writes,

  • quote small leftMan exists for a purpose not his own. This includes all beings — animals, birds, insects and bacteria. Each species is designed for a certain cosmic use. The norm of man is the discharge of the design for which he was created — like a machine designed to do a bit of work.quote small right [32]

But we have become abnormal and fail to fulfil our design, and our unnatural living has become such a menace that Nature has to constantly struggle to adapt so that existence on Earth can continue.

Our present abnormal manner of living has its roots in a system of education which lacks essential understanding of the purpose of human existence. Because of the emphasis given by formal education, says Orage, cognisance of the cosmos has disappeared from the psyche of human beings. Just as we are aware of the flora and fauna of nature and of the civilization in which we exist, “so three-centered beings should be aware of the function of the cosmos — the sun in relation to the planets, the Earth to the moon… A normal three-centered being would understand cosmic phenomena and how he is affected by radiations, emanations and tensions.” [33] Such an understanding of cosmic laws Gurdjieff calls “being-knowledge,” which he believes should be the possession of every normal human being. If systems of education were to emphasize a knowledge of cosmic phenomena, believes Gurdjieff, we would find ourselves developing naturally in the direction of Objective Reason.

According to Orage, Beelzebub himself is the most significant clue to what Gurdjieff considers a respectable human existence. Although not human, Beelzebub deviates so slightly in appearance from Earth beings that he was able to exist undetected on this planet for hundreds of years. And although of a remotely distant solar system, Beelzebub’s makeup is still that of a three-centered being; he therefore falls under the same laws and possesses the same limitations and possibilities as does every other three-centered being in the Universe. Orage is correct in emphasizing that Beelzebub’s different origin is a technicality, and that we are to take Beelzebub as Gurdjieff’s example of a worthy human being.

Beelzebub possesses all the basic attributes of normalcy that Orage finds highlighted in Beelzebub’s Tales. He is balanced and is informed about the workings of the Cosmos. He has suffered and has learned to interpret suffering constructively, to recognize it as a cosmic necessity. He lives consciously and works unselfishly to lighten the burdens of HIS UNIQUE BURDEN-BEARING ENDLESSNESS; and through his efforts he strives always to attain a greater degree of Objective Reason. Orage summarizes Beelzebub’s commendable “human” properties as follows:

  • quote small leftBeelzebub represents the ideal normal man… He has the whole of human experience behind him. He has a critique of human nature. He is objective, impartial and unprejudiced. He is indignant, but capable of pity and benevolence. He has made use of his exile to lead a conscious existence, and has spared no effort to actualize his potentialities. He is what we might be. He is what we ought to be. In his talks he presents us with a method by which we may become what we ought to be.quote small right [34]

If human beings were to follow Beelzebub’s example, the implication is, then existence on Earth might approximate its intended state. “Our planet, the earth,” writes Orage, “is the shame of the solar system. It is the ugly duckling, the misshapen dwarf, the beast of the fairy tales… The idea is that, if men could become normal, this planet might redeem the solar system.” [35]


[32] Ibid., p. 194

[33] Ibid., p. 141

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid., p. 142

The Commentaries IV

Returning again to stylistic matters, Manuel Rainoird comments on the narrative point of view of the Tales. Full of admiration for Beelzebub’s Tales and for the “literary mastery” of its author, Rainoird describes his general response to the work:

  • quote small leftI feel the strong necessity, once having read Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson — if I say ‘read’ it is for want of a better word, for the work is much more than that suggests, like an infinitely testing trial, a substance both assimilable and unassimilable by every organ — to pronounce in the midst of my stunned astonishment the words ‘great’ and ‘new’. But as I also run my eye through the library of contemporary fiction, I realize that here there is no possible term of comparison, and that when it comes to ‘great’ and ‘new’ there is no book to approach it — what work of philosophy, science, legend or history? And yet it is our history which is in question, yours and mine, universal and personal.quote small right [36]

Rainoird continues his excited evaluation:

  • quote small leftWhat do we know of the meaning of our life on Earth? If G. I. Gurdjieff works within a literary form so that this question may some day occur to us, he does so like no one else. All commentaries past, present and future are mere pools compared with this ocean. We are actually dealing here with the disconcerting question: ‘Who are we, where are we going?’, but strongly flavored according to an unfamiliar recipe, and with an accompaniment of cymbals and other sonorous and percussive instruments. In this recipe iced water and itching powder are also included.quote small right [37]

Rainoird makes interesting observations regarding the point of view from which the Tales are told. The remote distance from the Earth of Beelzebub’s home planet, Rainoird points out, is at the same time coupled with his similarity to Earth beings. Beelzebub is from a planet and solar system which lie at the center of our Universe and yet are unknown to Earth beings. His experiences include exposure to places and beings unthought of by human beings, yet, at the same time, he is quite like a human being. Beelzebub’s physical appearance allows him to pass undetected on this planet for many years, and his three-centered nature is identical to ours. He can therefore be thought of as representing human nature taken toward its evolutionary conclusion. Yet, concurrently, Beelzebub views human nature from a remotely distant perspective:

  • quote small leftThis vision from a very great distance … this overview on the scale of our Great Universe engulfs any reader and bathes him in an extraordinarily clear light, so that far from blurring the details … it has the effect of revealing them all the more.quote small right

And this distance has a two-fold effect, Rainoird postulates:

  • quote small leftThe greater the height to which Beelzebub goes, the more the confusion of our usual jumble of ideas is dispelled. What emerges is the opposite — we see in high relief what was previously screened and misunderstood. The high has illuminated the low. Infinite spaces have ceased to frighten us… [Instead,] they become living transmitting matter … of which Beelzebub is a more and more conscious emanation, through his merits and efforts.quote small right [38]

[36] Manuel Rainoird, as quoted by Michel Waldberg in Gurdjieff: An Approach to His Ideas, p. 26.

[37] Ibid., p. 27

[38] Ibid., p. 28

The Commentaries V

We can accept Beelzebub as “a kind of standard or model” [39] because his makeup is so similar to ours; his identical three-fold nature gives him our same possibilities and limitations, thereby allowing us to take seriously his judgment and to listen attentively to his advice. Beelzebub gains our sympathy because his “sins” parallel ours; they had to do with his once having forgotten his place and function in the Universe. He has suffered, therefore, as we suffer, the unfortunate consequences of having forgotten who and what we are. Beelzebub, though, is distant from human beings in that he has far exceeded us in the process of retribution. While we remain ignorant of having even forgotten our place and function in the Universe, he has already more than rectified the wrong he did many centuries ago. He is therefore distant in an evolutionary as well as a cosmic sense. This twofold distance, combined with his likeness, is what makes Beelzebub as narrator so illuminating according to Rainoird. Beelzebub’s point of view is based on first-hand experience, yet expressed through an evolutionary and spatial distance so that, although what we recognize in his narrative is ourselves, we come to view ourselves as something familiar yet alien, understandable yet strange, observing ourselves from close up and from afar in one and the same glance. The overall effect of such narration, as Rainoird concludes, is a disconcerting illumination about ourselves as a species. Our manner of existence comes to be seen as one possible way of being among others. The benefit is that we are forced to rethink ourselves as three-centered beings, recognizing Beelzebub as an example of our evolutionary potentiality.

Similar comments on the disorienting effect of Beelzebub as narrator are made by Charles Duits in the excerpts from his unpublished manuscript contained in Waldberg’s book on Gurdjieff. Duits points out that Beelzebub’s long discourses about the planet Earth are all addressed to his grandson, a child for whom everything about the Earth is alien. Beelzebub is forced, therefore, to translate ordinary Earth terms into Hassein’s native language and to simplify his talk to a level understandable by one whose reason is in the early stages of development. This process of translating ordinary Earth terms into the language of Karatas accounts in part for the elaborate terminology of Beelzebub’s Tales, claims Duits, and contributes greatly to the disconcerting effect of the narrative. (“Telescope” for instance in Karatian is “teskooano,” “water” is “saliakooriapa,” “death” is “rascooarno,” etc.) Duits is correct that the distancing effect of the vocabulary is not the sole purpose behind Gurdjieff’s involved terminology; but whatever Gurdjieff’s objective, his use of “foreign” vocabulary contributes much toward forcing the reader to view every day life from a fresh perspective. As Duits writes,

  • quote small left[When] the reader quickly reaches the point of considering the earth words from the viewpoint of the inhabitants of Karatas… [that reader] has begun to consider mankind from the outside, and from much further outside than when he slipped into the skin of Montequieu’s Persians or Voltaire’s Ingenu. It is our whole language, and hence our whole world which loses its familiarity, and no longer just various manners, customs, laws and conventions. Like Montesquieu, and like Voltaire, Gurdjieff interposes a distance between the reader and mankind. But here the process is radicalized to the utmost. It is not our society which is made foreign, but the whole earth, its history and geography, the most common and ordinary things.quote small right [40]

Through his use of language Gurdjieff “exotocizes” us so that our lives and everyday activities display their underlying structure. “Life could be different,” Gurdjieff manages to say. “Things are not just ‘as they are.’” [41]

Waldberg, too, is interested in Gurdjieff’s disarming language and antagonistic style. In addition to his strong endorsement of Duits’ insights about Gurdjieff’s work, Waldberg’s analysis of Gurdjieff’s writing style emphasizes the connection of bewilderment to the phenomenon of awakening, “One of the unique virtues of Gurdjieff’s books,” says Waldberg, “is that they establish a distance between the real and all that is banal and ordinary, and show us that the banal and ordinary are actually deeply foreign to us.” [42] Under the effect of Gurdjieff’s prose, the reader cannot help but be bewildered.

Yet “to bewilder, baffle and disorientate are the paramount actions of the master,” [43] Waldberg reminds us, for disorientation is the beginning of awakening. Waldberg quotes Gurdjieff in conversation with Ouspensky: “Awakening begins,” said Gurdjieff, “when a man realizes that he is going nowhere and does not know where to go.” [44] When we find ourselves in a state of bewilderment or disorientation, we tend to be more open to new ideas and possibilities. At such opportune moments some kind of action or intervention on the part of the master is needed so that we are not lulled back to sleep by everyday life. “How does the master go about creating a state of bewilderment in his student and then prolonging that bewilderment until illumination occurs?”, Waldberg asks. The answer in the case of Beelzebub’s Tales is “by means of paradoxes, contradictions, repetitions, exclamations, apparently indolent answers or even refusals to reply, and with many other unexpected means” [45] — all of which are used by Gurdjieff for the purpose of disabusing and then enlightening the readers about themselves and their existence.


[39] Ibid., p. 29

[40] Ibid., pp. 22–23

[41] Ibid., p. 23

[42] Michel Waldberg, Gurdjieff: An Approach to His Ideas, p. 9

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid., p. 10

[45] Ibid., p. 11

Reflections

In the above summaries of the main commentaries on Beelzebub’s Tales, we considered Bennett’s and Waldberg’s rationales for Gurdjieff’s ‘antagonistic’ style; Rainoird’s observations on the relevance of Beelzebub’s remote distance from Earth (coupled with his similarity as a three-brained being); Duits’ remarks regarding Hassein’s level of reason; and Orage’s allusions to the theme of ‘normal human being’ as embodied in the Tales. These men offered us a tremendous service by helping to break ground for our understanding of Beelzebub’s Tales and to suggest fruitful avenues we might explore. As valuable and acute as their insights are, however, they only begin to unlock the riddles and unearth the riches of this profound and utterly unique book that transcends literature and philosophy. The task of continuing our exploration of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson requires a major individual and collaborative effort on the part of dedicated readers, particularly those who are well-seasoned in Gurdjieff’s teaching.

We have yet to probe the complex literary and religious issue of Beelzebub (Iblis in Sufism; Arch-traitor in exoteric Christianity) as Gurdjieff’s choice of narrator. The significant question of Gurdjieff’s choice of narrative point of view has remained essentially unexplored. So many facets of this enigmatic work invite an extensive examination; Gurdjieff’s use of symbolic and figurative language; the significance of setting in the Tales; his style as a merging of Eastern and Western conceptions of art; the relevance of Hassein as receptor of Beelzebub’s teaching. And these are only a few of the major unexamined issues in these Tales.

How are we to comprehend the grave existential significance of his metaphor of the river of humanity which divides into two streams: that which flows back toward its source, emptying into the vast ocean; and that which gradually filters down through the rocks at the bottom of the stream, seeping into the underground? The first stream, as we know, represents the way of evolution; its individual drops of water, upon entering the ocean, retain the potential for evolving into higher forms or concentrations. Those drops which make up the second stream bear no individual significance, but collectively serve nature by means of an involutionary process. We are aware, as Gurdjieff has warned us, that a crossing over from the involutionary to the evolutionary stream demands of us a “constant unquenchable impulse of desire for this crossing.” It is in Beelzebub’s Tales that Gurdjieff has passed on to us the methods for escape and survival. Now unable to transfer to his followers his own “hanbledzoin” (personal magnetism created by being-efforts), Gurdjieff has left us with the character of Beelzebub to inspire us and to provide us with an exemplary lifestyle for a three-centered being. It is to Beelzebub we must look for guidance in our efforts to enter the evolutionary stream.

None of us, I expect, has been as fortunate in our upbringing as Hassein, who at the age of twelve, and with Beelzebub as his grandfather and personal mentor, is already deeply initiated into the workings of the fundamental laws of world-creation and world-maintenance, and is in the process of developing his being-mentation. No doubt, Hassein will reach adulthood having acquired his own “I” and with conscious labors and intentional suffering, will enter the first stream, evolving towards the acquisition of Objective Reason. Most of us, in character with Ahoon, are products of faulty educational systems which never taught us the meaning or significance of making conscious efforts or of undergoing voluntary suffering. As a result, we have stumbled through life under the law of accident, only occasionally, if ever, sensing the actual terror of our situation. But also like Ahoon, we may have lived for years in close proximity to the character of Beelzebub without having realized his full significance or the possible role he can play in our survival.

Only at the conclusion of Beelzebub’s Tales, when Beelzebub receives the sacred and inevitable results of his supreme efforts towards maintaining cosmic harmony and his own self-perfection, does Ahoon feel in his master’s presence remorse of conscience for his own level of being. As Ahoon apologizes to Beelzebub for having allowed so many years of lost opportunity to elapse, Beelzebub looks upon Ahoon with “love mingled with grief and resignation to the inevitable.” The “inevitable” is that Ahoon alone can transform his remorse and chagrin into an unflagging desire to avoid filtering through the bottom of the stream of involution into nothingness. Like a buffoon, he has so frequently imitated the external gestures and mannerisms of Beelzebub and has failed to do the necessary work to develop his being as Beelzebub has developed his. Beelzebub’s grief and resignation to the inevitable result from his understanding that he is powerless to make any efforts for Ahoon. Beelzebub can only indicate the way for others by means of his own worthy example.

Let us not repeat Ahoon’s mistake — that is to say, let us not, like buffoons, imitate the external gestures of Beelzebub or Gurdjieff while failing to do the inner (and outer) work needed to develop our own being. The greatest tribute we can pay Gurdjieff is the effort to repay our debt to him for this book and his teaching, by engaging in our own life-long struggle to understand, share and apply his rich traditional and contemporary legacy and to not treat Beelzebub’s Tales like Holy Writ — final and fixed words, beyond the approach of sincere and sustained study.

Outlandishly Long and Complex Sentences

gurdjieff 2d

All and Everything: Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson
Commentary by Terry Winter Owens and Suzanne D. Smith (LINK)
(Click tab above right for Full Article.) 


In many ways, Gurdjieff seems to be trying to discourage people from reading All and Everything. In the introduction, which he calls “Arousing of Thought,” not only thought, but many feelings are aroused — some unpleasant ones toward Gurdjieff himself. Gurdjieff helps to invoke these by such statements as,

  • quote small left…cheerful and swaggering candidate for a buyer of my writing… before embarking in the reading… reflect seriously and then undertake it… you might lose your… appetite for you favorite dish and for your… neighbor, the brunette.quote small right

Apparently Gurdjieff does this to keep the reader from being lulled or feeling complacent. He wants to agitate and unsettle us — shake us loose from our ordinary way of thinking and of receiving new impressions.

One of the aspects of the book that is quite decidedly “arousing” is the very manner in which it is presented. Sometimes there is digression upon digression, so that Gurdjieff appears rambling and disconnected. But actually each seeming digression adds a new dimension to that which is being discussed. Another problem is that people are so used to what Gurdjieff calls “bon ton literary language” — exciting images and lulling reveries requiring little effort on the reader’s part. Gurdjieff writes quite otherwise on purpose; he constructs sentences which are, at times, outlandishly long and complex — sometimes a quarter of a page in length.

Gurdjieff seems hell bent on disturbing our equilibrium, for there is hardly a “quiet” moment in the book that is not disturbed by one of Gurdjieff’s classic “Otherwises.” This, as he explains in the introduction, is based on an injunction from his grandmother which states,

  • quote small leftIn life never do as others do… Either do nothing — just go to school — or do something nobody else does.quote small right

It is sometimes hard to determine when Gurdjieff is being humorous and when serious. He will often discuss a most weighty problem in a tone which is light, sometimes facetious, often with tongue-in-cheek. A prime example of this is his discussion of our responsibilities towards, as he puts it, “Mister God.” In reverse, in the chapter “America,” Gurdjieff discusses many topics with mock seriousness — the American “dollar-business,” drinking and prohibition, the Chatterlitz school of languages, a strange fellow from Chicago called Mr. Bellybutton and on and on. This chapter is really spiced with pungent wit!

One of the best elements of Gurdjieff’s humor is his timing. He doesn’t allow the reader to get heavy and ponderous, because he sprinkles his humor strategically throughout. Often when considering a most serious question, he interrupts with a quote from the legendary Arab philosopher, Mullah Nassr Eddin.

Also contributing to the fact that the course of the reading is not, to quote Mullah Nassr Eddin, “Roses, roses,” is the liberal usage of the Karatasian language — the strange words that belong to Beelzebub’s vocabulary. These words are often an unusual assemblage of syllables with three of four consecutive vowels. Some of the roots are traceable such as Triamazikamno (tri=three) coming from ‘tri’ for three and Egoplastikoori and Legominism (ego=I), coming from ‘ego’ for I; but always connected with them are syllables not so easily traceable. It is not that Gurdjieff leaves the reader hanging, for he often goes to great length to define and illustrate these words. But an examination of their construction can no doubt shed even further light on them, and Gurdjieff offers quite an adventure in word exploration for those so inclined. There is the word zion in the names of two “searchers after truth” — King Konuzion and Makary Kronbernkzion. Then there are words which seem to come directly from various eastern languages, like the name of the space ship Karnak that Beelzebub and his company are traveling in, which means “dead body” in Armenian.

All and Everything
Commentary by Terry Winter Owens and Suzanne D. Smith (LINK)

This book is without doubt one of the most extraordinary books ever published. Its title is no exaggeration, for the book not only touches on all and every conceivable subject, but it also is all and everything — that is, a collection of science fiction tales, an allegory, a satire, a philosophical treatise, a sociological essay, an introduction to psychology, a cryptogram and, for those who follow Gurdjieff’s teachings, a bible. It is a highly unusual mixture of entertainment and esotericism, humor and seriousness, obscurity and clarity.

gurdjieff 2dGEORGE IVANOVITCH GURDJIEFF ranks among the most controversial men of the 20th century, and he may well be one of the most important. He was born in 1877 of Greek ancestry in Russian Armenia and died in Paris in 1949. As a young man he devoted his energies to searching for the fundamental truths of life. He traveled extensively throughout the East, sometimes gaining entrance to esoteric schools that few, if any, Westerners had ever been admitted to. He became convinced that there was a way for man to become much more than what he is. He then set about putting what he had learned into a form that would be understandable and meaningful to the Western world. He developed a method whereby a man could evolve through his own efforts. The basis of the method seems simple enough—to observe oneself objectively, impartially and at each moment. But the execution of it is extremely difficult, which led to it being called “the Work.” Through efforts “to work on oneself” and increase one’s self-awareness or consciousness, Gurdjieff maintains that a man can develop new faculties which, because they are based on objectivity and impartiality, enable man to function harmoniously. Gurdjieff believes, unlike many religious philosophers, that man has to develop a soul—he is not born with it—and these new faculties contribute to the development of the soul. He presented his ideas in three forms—lectures and writing, music, and sacred dances and movements to correspond to the three main areas of man—his intellect, his emotions, and his physical body. What was possibly most important and unique about Gurdjieff was that he was a living example of what his method could produce. Even people who didn’t like him had to admit that here was a man in control of himself, a man who operated from the inside out rather than being in the power of external influences like most men.

It is fortunate that he put his ideas in writing, because throughout history we can see what has happened when wise men have entrusted the dissemination of their teachings solely to their disciples. Distortions, disagreements and even reversals are inevitably the final result. This is not to say that many of the books written about the ideas and method of Gurdjieff are not quite good. Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, Kenneth Walker’s A Study of Gurdjieff’s Teachings, and C. Daly King’s The States of Human Consciousness are excellent introductions to Gurdjieff and his ideas. But these are secondhand and consequently not as complete or as accurate as something coming directly from Gurdjieff himself.

Because the book is so unique, the reading of it does present certain challenges. Gurdjieff suggests that All and Everything be read three times, and not until the third reading should the reader try to fathom the gist of it. However, this does not mean that a tremendous amount cannot be gleaned from the first reading. A good guide to understanding the book is the section “From the Author” at the very end. Here Gurdjieff steps out of his role as storyteller and talks to the reader directly.

Another guide is to keep in mind Gurdjieff’s purpose in writing All and Everything, which he states in no uncertain terms: to destroy mercilessly all man’s beliefs and views about everything existing in the world. To reinforce this aim, Gurdjieff selects a most diabolical name for his hero—the name of the devil himself—Beelzebub. However, All and Everything is not like so many philosophy books that brilliantly show man what a farce he is and then leave it at that. Its exposé of man is not an end in itself, but rather a beginning. Gurdjieff sets out to destroy only in order to create. He believes that before man can proceed to uncover and develop his hidden possibilities, he must first question the condition in which he is, must feel dissatisfaction, must have an inkling that there is more to life than what the senses perceive.

Two other important points to keep in mind are the sub-title, “An Objectively Impartial Criticism of Man,” which implies this is no ordinary criticism, and Gurdjieff’s statement that the book is written “according to entirely new principles of logical reasoning.” It is impossible to explore here all the ramifications of these two points, but they mean that Gurdjieff does not propose palliative measures of reform nor does he present his arguments in a traditional way. He makes it clear that mankind cannot be “worked on” from the outside; that is, things like war or disease cannot be eliminated even through the best forms of legislation or science or artistic endeavors. The only possible solution is that enough men embark on a road leading to higher states of consciousness.

Probably the biggest challenge in reading the book lies in its richness of content. What is said can be taken on so many different levels, and it is often hard to know how to go about deciphering it. In general, it could be said that Gurdjieff is working on the hypothesis “as above, so below.” Thus, when he talks about the universe and the sun and the moon, he is also talking about man and what he is composed of.

SINCE GURDJIEFF HAS CHOSEN to present his ideas in part in the form of allegory, one can read those parts of this book simply as fascinating science-fiction. The story opens aboard the space ship Karnak. Beelzebub is traveling to a conference where his sage advice is needed on matters of cosmic significance. He is accompanied by his grandson, Hassein, and his old and faithful servant Ahoon. As they travel, Beelzebub regales Hassein with tales about the Earth, about events in the universe, and about cosmological and psychological law. Beelzebub tells Hassein how he happened to become interested in the planet Earth. During his youth, he intervened in affairs that were of no concern to him and as punishment was banished to Mars, in a “remote corner of the Universe” (our solar system). There he builds a telescope in order to study the goings-on on Earth and to observe the strange customs of its inhabitants. He finds man’s inclination to “destroy the existence of others” particularly strange and repugnant. The significance of Mars is perhaps in its distance—that is, one cannot become as easily prejudiced if one has perspective.

Beelzebub then relates an engrossing story about the early life of Earth, which is filled with psychological implications. Due to cosmological disturbances, two fragments broke off from the Earth early in its creation—one was the moon, the other what Gurdjieff calls Anulios which Earthmen do not know exists. In order to maintain the balance of the universe, it was necessary to ensure that these two satellites remain orbiting around the Earth, and Earthmen were required to give off a certain substance that would facilitate that end. Fearing that if the Earthmen found out what their function was, they might find no reason for continuing to live, the higher powers implanted an organ in them called Kundabuffer which prevented them from perceiving their true condition. Later the organ was removed, but unfortunately its consequences remained and they remain to this day. The Kundabuffer was only intended to prevent man from seeing reality, but it also caused the additional qualities of self-love, vanity, swagger, pride, etc. These qualities are psychological and emotional props which put a cloud over the true nature of man. Hence, man needs a vantage point beyond the cloud, as if from Mars, to see this real nature and to discover there the purpose of his life. Gurdjieff presents this purpose not only as an aim, but as a duty—a duty quite separate from the usual ethical and moral obligations.

Beelzebub also tells of his personal visits to Earth where he learns more about the nature of man after gaining preliminary knowledge through his telescope. These trips may be construed as a more advanced step in the method of working on oneself—perhaps implying that once having acquired the ability to see oneself objectively as if from the outside, one can then make closer observations and still retain one’s state of impartiality. These descents to Earth are narrated to his grandson for educational purposes, but they are always entertaining stories. In all, Beelzebub makes six trips to Earth, each possibly representing a specific portion of the body or psyche deserving study.

Beelzebub is not alone in his quest after development, and he tells his grandson of other people—some extra-terrestrials, some Earthmen and some of divine origin—also in pursuit of objective truth. The first of them is Gornahoor Harharkh, whom we first meet in the chapter “The Arch-preposterous.” He is an “essence-friend” of Beelzebub’s living on Saturn. His prime interest is in electricity called Okidanokh which participates in the formation of all new arisings. Gornahoor Harharkh invents a machine which demonstrates and makes available for his use the properties of Okidanokh. The purpose of his experiments is to develop his Reason—an attribute which, according to Gurdjieff, man does not have by nature but must acquire through effort. The machine is described in great detail, and the experiment might correspond to an exercise or practice connected with “the Work.”

Perhaps the most outstanding character in the book (outside of Beelzebub) is Ashiata Shiemash. We learn about him in a series of four chapters which are some of the most emotionally stimulating in the book. Ashiata Shiemash was sent to Earth as a messenger from above, a messiah figure of enormous nobility and beauty. His writings are unusually moving and have a scriptural tone and quality. An example are his three verses on what he calls the sacred being-impulses of Faith, Love and Hope:

Faith of consciousness is freedom
Faith of feeling is weakness
Faith of body is stupidity.

gurdjieff 3dLove of consciousness evokes the same in response
Love of feeling evokes the opposite
Love of body depends only on type and polarity.

Hope of consciousness is strength
Hope of feeling is slavery
Hope of body is disease.

Ashiata Shiemash establishes the Being-Obligolnian Strivings, five rules of objective morality which lead to genuine conscience. These five rules are:

  1. to have everything satisfying and really necessary for one’s body,
  2. to have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being,
  3. the conscious striving to know ever more and more concerning the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance,
  4. to strive from the beginning of one’s existence to pay for one’s arising and individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterwards to be free to lighten as much as possible the Sorrow of our Common Father,
  5. the striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of self-individuality.

Gurdjieff points out that one of the psychological traits of contemporary man which impedes the formation of a conscience is the “disease of tomorrow” — i.e., putting off until later or tomorrow what should be done now.

WOVEN INTO BEELZEBUB’S STORIES are pieces of information that seem quite straightforward. For instance, Beelzebub explains to his grandson that man is composed of three brains or centers. They are the instinctive or moving center, the emotional or feeling center, and the intellectual or thinking center. Perhaps Beelzebub and his party can be seen as a demonstration of the three centers functioning together as a unit, each having a definite role to fulfill. Beelzebub himself would correspond to the thinking center. He has all the information, is the maker of plans and decisions, and is the leader of the group. Ahoon, the servant, represents the physical center. He is described as faithful. He is always there, ready to serve and does not intrude with his own personal desires—perhaps a more ideal condition for the body to be in than is generally the case with man. Hassein represents the emotional center. He is young, not fully developed, is in the process of being educated, has willingness and eagerness to grow up, and is often intensely moved by what Beelzebub tells him. In this analogy it can be seen how Gurdjieff’s method, which has been called the Fourth Way, differs from the three ways of the monk, the yogi and the fakir. They each try to develop primarily through the means of one center: the fakir through chastisement of the body, the yogi through mental discipline, and the monk through prayer and belief, which are chiefly emotional. For Gurdjieff’s work, all three centers must be utilized so that man can develop harmoniously, not lopsidedly.

The knowledge of this concept of three centers is prerequisite to Gurdjieff’s treatment of the Law of Three. It is quite an unusual concept and rarely, if ever, appears in contemporary scientific knowledge. Yet Gurdjieff maintains that it is the underlying principle in all phenomena and also plays a very significant role in man’s possible development. The Law of Three states that there are three rather than two forces always in operation. We generally, of course, know of only positive and negative. To this, Gurdjieff adds the neutralizing force.

Beelzebub tells how each of man’s three centers can play a part in his development through the use of consciously ingested and digested substances. Unfortunately, man in his present condition does not take in these substances and therefore does not fulfill his potentialities. The chapter “Hypnotism” goes into it, telling what these substances are, how they are to be ingested and digested, and what the results of this can be.

Towards the end of the book, in the chapter “Form and Sequence,” Gurdjieff draws a distinction between knowing and understanding. Understanding can only result through the conscious verification of knowledge. So, although the book presents knowledge, and perhaps knowledge of a very high order, it is not in itself useful unless one puts it to the test—digests it and converts it into understanding.

all and everything 01INTERSPERSED WITH HIS STORIES, Beelzebub discusses various theoretical and philosophical subjects. At one point in their travels through space, Beelzebub’s party learns of the impending appearance of a comet which could, if they cross its path, poison the ship’s passengers. Beelzebub decides that the Karnak should wait in outer space until the comet has gone by. He makes use of this time to explain to Hassein the dynamics of space ships, much as the contemporary father explains the workings of an automobile to his young son, and also in keeping with the best tradition in science-fiction. But here, in allegory perhaps, are principles dealing with the methodology of “work on oneself.” Included in his explanations is the idea of perpetual motion which Beelzebub puts forth in such a plausible way that one is hard put to find any theoretical flaw in it. Perhaps there are indications here of what kind of fuel could be used to keep oneself in perpetual effort to develop.

Another exciting principle which Gurdjieff brings forth is the Law of Seven, to which he devotes a whole chapter. If one can in any way sum up the intricate logic of this law, it is that all events proceed in seven steps or “deflections,” each step having specific attributes and properties which determine the progress of every activity. Gurdjieff links this law and its progressions rather intimately with the stages of a man’s development.

The Law of Seven has at least several illustrations in contemporary knowledge—obviously in the music octave, but more profoundly in the periodic table of elements in chemistry. When the elements are lined up in tabular form, each series headed by an inert element, it can be seen that certain of their characteristics repeat in patterns of seven. It is interesting to note here that the electrons of inert elements have closed orbits; they cannot combine with the other elements of this world easily. Thus, we see that Gurdjieff’s theories are not solely a product of his rich imagination, and it is fascinating to see how he finds psychological applications in them.

IN MANY WAYS, Gurdjieff seems to be trying to discourage people from reading All and Everything. In the introduction, which he calls “Arousing of Thought,” not only thought, but many feelings are aroused—some unpleasant ones toward Gurdjieff himself. Gurdjieff helps to invoke these by such statements as, “cheerful and swaggering candidate for a buyer of my writing…before embarking in the reading…reflect seriously and then undertake it…you might lose your…appetite for you favorite dish and for your…neighbor, the brunette.” Apparently Gurdjieff does this to keep the reader from being lulled or feeling complacent. He wants to agitate and unsettle us—shake us loose from our ordinary way of thinking and of receiving new impressions.

One of the aspects of the book that is quite decidedly “arousing” is the very manner in which it is presented. Sometimes there is digression upon digression, so that Gurdjieff appears rambling and disconnected. But actually each seeming digression adds a new dimension to that which is being discussed. Another problem is that people are so used to what Gurdjieff calls “bon ton literary language”—exciting images and lulling reveries requiring little effort on the reader’s part. Gurdjieff writes quite otherwise on purpose; he constructs sentences which are, at times, outlandishly long and complex—sometimes a quarter of a page in length.

Gurdjieff seems hell bent on disturbing our equilibrium, for there is hardly a “quiet” moment in the book that is not disturbed by one of Gurdjieff’s classic “Otherwises.” This, as he explains in the introduction, is based on an injunction from his grandmother which states, “In life never do as others do…Either do nothing—just go to school—or do something nobody else does.”

It is sometimes hard to determine when Gurdjieff is being humorous and when serious. He will often discuss a most weighty problem in a tone which is light, sometimes facetious, often with tongue-in-cheek. A prime example of this is his discussion of our responsibilities towards, as he puts it, “Mister God.” In reverse, in the chapter “America,” Gurdjieff discusses many topics with mock seriousness—the American “dollar-business,” drinking and prohibition, the Chatterlitz school of languages, a strange fellow from Chicago called Mr. Bellybutton and on and on. This chapter is really spiced with pungent wit!

One of the best elements of Gurdjieff’s humor is his timing. He doesn’t allow the reader to get heavy and ponderous, because he sprinkles his humor strategically throughout. Often when considering a most serious question, he interrupts with a quote from the legendary Arab philosopher, Mullah Nassr Eddin.

Also contributing to the fact that the course of the reading is not, to quote Mullah Nassr Eddin, “Roses, roses,” is the liberal usage of the Karatasian language—the strange words that belong to Beelzebub’s vocabulary. These words are often an unusual assemblage of syllables with three of four consecutive vowels. Some of the roots are traceable such as Triamazikamno (tri=three) coming from ‘tri’ for three and Egoplastikoori and Legominism (ego=I), coming from ‘ego’ for I; but always connected with them are syllables not so easily traceable. It is not that Gurdjieff leaves the reader hanging, for he often goes to great length to define and illustrate these words. But an examination of their construction can no doubt shed even further light on them, and Gurdjieff offers quite an adventure in word exploration for those so inclined. There is the word zion in the names of two “searchers after truth”—King Konuzion and Makary Kronbernkzion. Then there are words which seem to come directly from various eastern languages, like the name of the space ship Karnak that Beelzebub and his company are traveling in, which means “dead body” in Armenian.

DESPITE ALL THE inherent difficulties which Gurdjieff has implanted in this book, the rewards are there. But and in keeping with Gurdjieff’s philosophy, the rewards are commensurate with the reader’s struggle to find them. The book is certainly well worth the struggle.

In the last chapter, Beelzebub, in an exultant experience, is graduated to a state of higher Reason, which he has earned through his efforts to develop. The ritual connected with this has the solemnity of a religious ceremony and is deeply moving and inspiring. So, “An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man” ends with a triumphal sense of hope, of salvation, of redemption. But not before Hassein is invited to ask one final question of his grandfather. Hassein asks what hope there is for the salvation of people on Earth, and most aptly the story ends with the reply:

  • quote small leftThe sole means now for the saving of the beings of the planet Earth would be to implant again into their presences a new organ, an organ like Kundabuffer, but this time of such properties that every one of these unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests.
  • Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can now destroy the egoism completely crystallized in them that has swallowed up the whole of their Essence and also that tendency to hate others which flows from it—the tendency, namely, which engenders all those mutual relationships existing there, which serve as the chief cause of all their abnormalities unbecoming to three-brained beings and maleficent for them themselves and for the whole of the Universe.quote small right
~ • ~

[Revised by J. Walter Driscoll and Greg Loy with permission of the authors.]

Errors or Intentional Inexactitudes

“…in this book there are a number
   of observations which indicate
   a superterrestrial source.”

Commentary by Denis Saurat (LINK)

I have again read with the greatest interest naturally this astonishing book by G. Gurdjieff. I believe that the most important thing, objectively, is that in this book there are a number of observations which indicate a superterrestrial source:

  • The point of view about devils.
  • The affirmation that there are, at present, four centres of initiates on the earth, and the situation of these centres.
  • The forbidding to impart true information directly to ordinary minds.
  • The difference between mental knowledge, which is an obstacle to real understanding; and the knowledge of “being” — the only real knowledge. This, perhaps, is the most important point.
  • The fact that it is Buddhism (in its distorted forms) that has produced occultism, theosophy, psychoanalysis and so on.
  • The fact that only revelation can teach us something.
  • The suffering of God.
  • We are thus in the presence of one who, in a certain measure, speaks with authority.

In the second place, very many of the ideas, though common-sensical, are based on intuitions well above the normal:

  • Every criticism of modern life and of human history is perfectly just, and this is perhaps one of the most important things in the book, since it is absolutely necessary to understand that all our ideas have been falsified — before we have been able to correct at least some of them.
  • The Greeks and the Romans have been responsible for putting in train fundamental errors — and then the Germans.
  • God forgives all.
  • The importance of the lawful inexactitudes in the transmission of real teaching in Art.
  • The criticisms of the doctrine of reincarnation.

In the third place it is necessary to state that a great part of the book is not clear, and one has the right to suspect that G.G. has done this intentionally. Leaving his sense of humour on one side one can follow his idea that it is forbidden to teach directly, and that one can tell lies if these lies are useful to humanity; this shows that he has probably put errors or intentional inexactitudes in his book so as to compel his followers to exercise their own judgment and thus themselves develop and reach a higher level, to which — according to the theories of G.G., these followers would not arrive at if he, G.G., taught them the truth directly. In the latter case they would be in the category which is called “mental knowledge”, whereas G.G. wishes them to reach the category of “knowledge of being”, and the first hinders the second.

It is on this that each reader must take his own stand. I am quite ready to tell you mine. I place among the myths which are to be rejected, completed or explained:

  • The person of Beelzebub, who is evidently a transformation of G.G. himself — leaving on one side the question of who is G.G.
  • All the story of the central sun, of the planets, of the earth and the moon; and of eternal retribution for a small number of beings, which contradicts the idea of a universal pardon.
  • The idea of Christ as only one of the messengers; in this case it is necessary to identify the Logos, which is perfectly indicated in the chapter on purgatory.

In conclusion, it seems to me that the teachings of G.G. should be able to play a very important role in our time if they are explained by minds first of all endowed with a certain preliminary knowledge and a developed critical sense.

I think further that it is a compliment to G.G. to believe that this is exactly what he intended himself. You know as well as I, and even better, that he had a critical sense and a sense of humour extremely well developed; and further, a very poor opinion of the intellectual capacity of people to whom he spoke in general. I shall be very happy to know what you think of these points of view, and I shake you very cordially by the hand.

Once, in our talks I said, ‘But so few people know about Beelzebub’s Tales. What‘s going to happen to it, supposing it does get published?’ Saurat said,

Nothing much may happen in our time. We are in too much of a hurry. We have no sense of real time in the West. Perhaps in fifty, or a hundred years a group of key men will read it. They will say, ‘This is what we’ve been looking for’, and on an understanding of it, may start a movement which could raise the level of civilization.

Gurdjieff is a Lohan.* In China there is the cave of a hundred Lohans, presumably all that have appeared in China in over four thousand years. A Lohan is a man who has gone to schools and by incredible exertions and study has perfected himself. He then comes back into ordinary life, sits in cafes, drinks, has women, and lives the life of a man, but more intensely. It was accepted that the rules of ordinary man did not apply to him. He teaches, and people come to him to learn objective truths. In the East a Lohan was understood. The West does not understand. A teacher in the West must appear to behave like an English gentleman.


* In Chinese mythology, the Lohan are enlightened Theravada Buddhist sages. Traditionally there are five hundred of them, following the number that were believed to have gathered at the First Council in India following Shakyamuni Buddha’s death (approx. 483 BC). Wall paintings and bas-reliefs of these are often found in Chinese Buddhist caves. Saurat’s comment about “comes back into ordinary life…” seems to refer also to the Mahayana Buddhist ideal of the Bodhisattva, who after his (or her) awakening becomes devoted to helping other people become awakened. For example, the last stage of the Ten Oxherding Pictures of Chan/Zen is called “Return to the marketplace with open hands,” and depicts such a person.

Beelzebub’s Tales – Fifty Years Later
Commentary by Denis Saurat (LINK)

[An excerpt from C. S. Nott’s Journey Through This World: the second journal of a pupil (subsequently titled Further Teachings of Gurdjieff). Nott recounts how he started a modestly successful publishing business and reproduces Denis Saurat’s comments about Beelzebub’s Tales.]


G13

I published Denis Saurat’s Three Conventions, which brought about a close friendship. He had met Gurdjieff at the Prieuré at Orage’s suggestion and had been profoundly impressed. Saurat, a son of peasants, had a deep understanding of the rich current of life that, flowing under the glittering exterior, has almost nothing in common with this exterior—I mean the life of simple people, peasants and the middle classes who themselves are almost unconscious of it. He wrote about it in Gods of the People, The End of Fear, The Christ at Chartres; also, he had traced the influence of the occult tradition in English literature from Spenser to Milton and Blake. Rebecca West said that he was the wisest man she knew.

He had written for The New Age and Revue des Deux Mondes. At the time I met him he was professor of French Literature in Kings College and was head of the French Institute in London. I spoke to him about Gurdjieff’s book, Beelzebub’s Tales, and later lent him my typescript copy. He wrote:

  • Thank you for allowing me to see it. It is, in my opinion, a great book and it is a thousand pities that it cannot be published. There is a very great amount of wisdom and knowledge in it and, as I became more familiar with it I realized that practically every page is full of sense and information. Beyond some excusable mannerisms and the peculiarities which give charm to every author, I see nothing in the book that could be objected to. But no doubt its allegorical or philosophical meaning which is easy enough to someone who has studied the traditions, would be completely beyond the public. I am glad to say that I found no difficulties in the book. It is a work of art of the first magnitude in its own peculiar way.
  •      Please remember that if an opportunity should arise of meeting Gurdjieff again I would be delighted to do so. If you can convey to him my appreciation of his book — and you will note I make no restrictions — you will give me pleasure.
  •      If only it were possible, which I do not think it is, it would give me the greatest pleasure to give a regular course of lectures to explain the book according to my lights. Of course, you will realize that each commentator would have his own way of explaining the book.
  • Sincerely,
    D. Saurat.

Years later, when Beelzebub was published, I sent him a copy. He wrote:

  • Thank you for sending Beelzebub, and in which I am immersed. I like it immensely — but I wonder what the French translation will be like. I do not believe you can play with French in the way English has been played with there. I cannot give any answers as to a review, and cannot think of any journal that would accept, at present, an article even. Also, I’m deep down with an attack of flu, and you seem to be the same.
  •      Later, I’ll send you some comments on The Tales.
  • Affectionately,
    D. Saurat.

The commentary arrived in due course, in French, which I translate as follows:

    • I have again read with the greatest interest naturally this astonishing book by G. Gurdjieff. I believe that the most important thing, objectively, is that in this book there are a number of observations which indicate a superterrestrial source:
      • The point of view about devils.
      • The affirmation that there are, at present, four centres of initiates on the earth, and the situation of these centres.
      • The forbidding to impart true information directly to ordinary minds.
      • The difference between mental knowledge, which is an obstacle to real understanding; and the knowledge of “being” — the only real knowledge. This, perhaps, is the most important point.
      • The fact that it is Buddhism (in its distorted forms) that has produced occultism, theosophy, psychoanalysis and so on.
      • The fact that only revelation can teach us something.
      • The suffering of God.
      • We are thus in the presence of one who, in a certain measure, speaks with authority.

  • In the second place, very many of the ideas, though common-sensical, are based on intuitions well above the normal:
    • Every criticism of modern life and of human history is perfectly just, and this is perhaps one of the most important things in the book, since it is absolutely necessary to understand that all our ideas have been falsified — before we have been able to correct at least some of them.
    • The Greeks and the Romans have been responsible for putting in train fundamental errors — and then the Germans.
    • God forgives all.
    • The importance of the lawful inexactitudes in the transmission of real teaching in Art.
    • The criticisms of the doctrine of reincarnation.

  • In the third place it is necessary to state that a great part of the book is not clear, and one has the right to suspect that G.G. has done this intentionally. Leaving his sense of humour on one side one can follow his idea that it is forbidden to teach directly, and that one can tell lies if these lies are useful to humanity; this shows that he has probably put errors or intentional inexactitudes in his book so as to compel his followers to exercise their own judgment and thus themselves develop and reach a higher level, to which — according to the theories of G.G., these followers would not arrive at if he, G.G., taught them the truth directly. In the latter case they would be in the category which is called “mental knowledge”, whereas G.G. wishes them to reach the category of “knowledge of being”, and the first hinders the second.
  •      It is on this that each reader must take his own stand. I am quite ready to tell you mine. I place among the myths which are to be rejected, completed or explained:
    • The person of Beelzebub, who is evidently a transformation of G.G. himself — leaving on one side the question of who is G.G.
    • All the story of the central sun, of the planets, of the earth and the moon; and of eternal retribution for a small number of beings, which contradicts the idea of a universal pardon.
    • The idea of Christ as only one of the messengers; in this case it is necessary to identify the Logos, which is perfectly indicated in the chapter on purgatory.
  • In conclusion, it seems to me that the teachings of G.G. should be able to play a very important role in our time if they are explained by minds first of all endowed with a certain preliminary knowledge and a developed critical sense.
  •      I think further that it is a compliment to G.G. to believe that this is exactly what he intended himself. You know as well as I, and even better, that he had a critical sense and a sense of humour extremely well developed; and further, a very poor opinion of the intellectual capacity of people to whom he spoke in general. I shall be very happy to know what you think of these points of view, and I shake you very cordially by the hand.

Once, in our talks I said, ‘But so few people know about Beelzebub’s Tales. What‘s going to happen to it, supposing it does get published?’ Saurat said,

  • Nothing much may happen in our time. We are in too much of a hurry. We have no sense of real time in the West. Perhaps in fifty, or a hundred years a group of key men will read it. They will say, ‘This is what we’ve been looking for’, and on an understanding of it, may start a movement which could raise the level of civilization.
  •      Gurdjieff is a Lohan.* In China there is the cave of a hundred Lohans, presumably all that have appeared in China in over four thousand years. A Lohan is a man who has gone to schools and by incredible exertions and study has perfected himself. He then comes back into ordinary life, sits in cafes, drinks, has women, and lives the life of a man, but more intensely. It was accepted that the rules of ordinary man did not apply to him. He teaches, and people come to him to learn objective truths. In the East a Lohan was understood. The West does not understand. A teacher in the West must appear to behave like an English gentleman.

* In Chinese mythology, the Lohan are enlightened Theravada Buddhist sages. Traditionally there are five hundred of them, following the number that were believed to have gathered at the First Council in India following Shakyamuni Buddha’s death (approx. 483 BC). Wall paintings and bas-reliefs of these are often found in Chinese Buddhist caves. Saurat’s comment about “comes back into ordinary life…” seems to refer also to the Mahayana Buddhist ideal of the Bodhisattva, who after his (or her) awakening becomes devoted to helping other people become awakened. For example, the last stage of the Ten Oxherding Pictures of Chan/Zen is called “Return to the marketplace with open hands,” and depicts such a person.

Endnote compliments of David R. Loy, Prof. Comparative Religions, Bunkyo University, Japan

Copyright © 1969 C. S. Nott

Gurdjieff and Greek Esoteric Thought   From: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

From: “Gurdjieff and Greek Esoteric Thought”, by George L. Beke

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was certainly a serious man. He traversed continents digging up ancient knowledge, which he then brought to the Western world. But he was also a playful man. He loved to confound people, to upset their automatic expectations, and for a very important reason.

Gurdjieff realized that when the average person is presented with new information, brand new material, three things can happen:
   1) The material is rejected out of hand;
   2) The material is viewed skeptically, without understanding; or
   3) The material is accepted whole, but still without understanding.

These results occur because most people receive information mechanically, without engaging their active attention. And without active attention there can be no real understanding.

In order to engage our interest and awaken our active attention, Gurdjieff constructed a mighty puzzle, a labyrinth with twists, detours and tantalizing clues that, when deciphered and digested, could lead a person to a new and encompassing vision of the Universe.

This maze, this cosmic puzzle, is the book Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, originally conceived as a crucial part of his grand opus, All & Everything. In this book, which is read religiously by students of Gurdjieff, a millennia-old “devil,” Beelzebub himself, explains the secrets of the Universe to his grandson Hassein (and thus to the persevering reader) over more than a thousand pages which demand patience, unflagging interest, and most of all, active attention.

Gurdjieff's literary method, as he explained to his editors, was to “bury” every nugget of information. To gain any true understanding, we are forced to dig. When we dig, we work; we labor and toil, and finally… find! And then, every hard-won nugget becomes our own, an integral part of our understanding, which we will not forget.

In the use of this method, Gurdjieff was following the practice of the ancient Pythagoreans, which Cicero alludes to: “It is not that you are hiding things from me, as Pythagoras used to do from outsiders…” [1]

The Neoplatonist Iamblichus, a later head of the Academy, explains the evasive method of the Pythagoreans:

  • quote small leftTheir writings were not composed in popular or vulgar diction, or in manner usual to all other writers, so as to be immediately understood, but in a way not to be easily apprehended by their readers. For they adopted Pythagoras’ law of reserve, in an arcane manner concealing mysteries from the uninitiated, obscuring their writings and mutual conversations.quote small right [2]

A good example of Gurdjieff “burying the bone” is found in Chapter 18 of Beelzebub’s Tales, titled “The Arch-Preposterous.” Here Beelzebub visits the planet Saturn, the home of a scientist called Harharkh, a large bird whose invention converts metals to gold. Viewing this transmutation under a special apparatus, Beelzebub witnesses, at one point, a process similar to Death, or the decomposing of bodies on Earth.

Those familiar with Alchemy will quickly recognize the clues buried here. The planet Saturn symbolizes the metal lead, which alchemists sought to turn into gold. The large bird is the Raven, symbol of Saturn, which stands for the Black stage of the alchemical process, the Nigredo. Also called Death, it is represented by Saturn, the Old Man with a Sickle who harvests the life of mortals. The Raven is not mentioned in this chapter, and neither is Alchemy, but it is obvious that Gurdjieff is “burying” this information here, right under our noses.


[1] Walsh, Cicero: The Nature of the Gods, 28.

[2] Guthrie, The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, 83.

Forum Rant

COMMENT (LINK)

So, I'm reading Beelzebub's Tales. I so far find it useless in guiding one along a path of spiritual growth. I don't think I'll continue much past the 100 or so pages I've completed. It occurs to me that Gurdjieff might be playing a joke on the readers. I have read stories of how he would set up wild goose chases for students to test their level of discernment and critical thinking. My initial impression is that this book is just such a ruse, fantasy disguised as esotericism, and not the other way around. I think he even left clues that it is just such a ruse, and starting with the instructions to read it three times, so as to waste as much time as possible.

The first chapter is a rambling, narcissistic rant. I am giving Gurdjieff the benefit of the doubt that he is a teacher of wisdom, crazy wisdom perhaps, but wisdom. With that to his supposed credit, it seems obvious to me that first chapter is intended to impress the reader to read the whole thing, regardless of how much it might be nonsense. The repeated assertions that his writing style is unique and not to be compared to conventional writing, is the clue. How can one possible get anything from a book when the writing is totally obfuscated?

The arrogance of his unique way of being, as guided by his grandmother, is another clue. Once impressed with his erudition, you now have to double-down on his imperative to not be like everyone else. What would everyone else do, at least, those he disparages? They would not read the book. With that hypnotic suggestion, he has all but convinced the reader to read the book, because nobody else will, because they can't understand it, because nobody can, and not because the readers are obtuse, because the writing is deliberately nonsensical.

And, once convinced that only specially developed people will bother to read the book, only those brave enough to ignore the explicit warning not to read it, only they can understand it, and then they also must read it three times. And for what, to learn that humanity is trapped in all manner of habitual conditioning, physical, emotional and mental? That's spirituality 101, and it doesn't need 1000+ pages times 3 reads to understand.

OK, so that's my criticism. Maybe I've missed the point, but the first 10% of the book I find totally useless, except for the first chapter which I find the true value of the book, as it gives the fair warning for those who would take the good advice.

So, can anyone who has read it, even once, not necessarily three times, tell me one useful thing that was learned as a result of reading it?


REPLY

I don't get the impression you'd be open to what 'useful thing was learned' since you have obviously made up your mind after 1/10th of the whole. The Tales were written for a very specific type of person, and I don't think that person is you. And that's okay! But it would really be a waste of time to try and convey any understanding contained in the book — to ask is missing the point entirely.

Instead of simply putting it aside, however, I suspect you will cover it in all your theories, obfuscating not the book but yourself from yourself :rolleyes:

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