Author/Artist: Jacob Needleman
Publisher: Continuum Pub Group
First published: 1996
by Jacob Needleman (Editor), George Baker (Editor), Mary Stein (Editor)
Editorial Review (Ingram)
In the spiritual language of the 20th century few names raise such varied reactions as that of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866-1949). Much of what is considered New Age spirituality can be attributed to Gurdjieff. This book is a tribute not only to the scope and power of Gurdjieff's ideas, but to the special "atmosphere" that surrounded his work with pupils.
A review by professor Tilo Ulbricht can be found here.
The work is divided into six parts: 1) Gurdjieff and the Modern World 2) Encounters with the Gurdjieff Teaching 3) Comparative Studies 4) G. I. Gurdjieff 5) Music and Movements 6) Perspectives from the Gurdjieff Work. A bibliography and description of the contributors, along with an index of proper names follows the text. The high quality of the publication makes this work one of those treasured books that belong in personal librairies for generations to come.
The first few pages are dedicated to some of Jeanne de Salzman's writings that reflect the boldness and directness of her teacher's ideas. "It is terrible to suddenly realize that one has been living without a thought that is independent - a thought of one's own -living without intelligence, without something that sees what is real, and therefore without any relation to the world Above." Most of these essays were originally published in French and are perhaps the most significant comparative analysis found in print on the Gurdjieff teaching.
The opening section includes a mind-bending study by the physicist Basarab Nicolescu, offering the reader for the first time a profound validation of Gurdjieff's radically original cosmology. Nicolescu points out that the ideas Gurdjieff formulated in the early nineteen hundreds have only now been verified by quantum physics. His essay includes a study of quantum discontinuity, the anthropic principle, cosmic dimensions and the unification of physical interaction.
Students of Gurdjieff will enjoy seeing quotes and famously complex words from Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson presented with the utmost scientific knowledge and methodology. This kind of validation of Gurdjieff's maverick insights in the light of the best of modern physics and philosophy highlights the holistic dimension of his teaching. Making such connections with the best of other disciplines will allow these ideas to continue to blossom rather than to petrify into the rigid corpse of dogma as has been the fate of so many other esoteric and religious teachings.
There is also an honest and balanced view of the man presented by his former students as well as the limitations and dangers of the teachings. Louis Pauwells refers to his experience of ending up in a hospital from his wrongly focused efforts. He observes that he was "seeking the core of spirit without spirit." It is the experience of this writer that such an error is very common among those who try to apply the teachings and can lead to dangerous dead-ends. Conscious presence must not be confused with personal power and a do-it-yourself mindset.
Another treasure in this work is the comparative study of the Gurdjieff teaching with Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. Ravi Ravindra writes that "the revitalizing challenge to the traditions is brought by Gurdjieff not in order to destroy them, but in order to recover and release their essential core from the encrustations of dogma, exclusivism, and mechanical repetition."
For this writer, one of the most wonderful gifts offered in this book is a never before published transcript of a meeting between Gurdjieff and his students toward the end of his life. Here we find a clear expression of Gurdjieff's deep compassion and striking mysticism. Like so many other aspects of this man, we find in these words the paradox of unparalleled mystical insight coming from the mouth of the teacher who insisted that his students verify everything for themselves:
"You must pray with your whole presence and with all three centers concentrated on the same thing. You must pray with your head, your feeling, your sensation...Afterwards, you will speak differently, you will be able to help someone, not with gifts of money or food - next to this that's cheap - but you will be able to help him with a real wish, a real relationship, with all the force of your I AM."
In another passage, the master gives testimony to the true goodness at the heart of his teaching that was not readily visible on the surface: "He on whom your attention rests is your neighbor; he also will die...If you acquire data always to realize the inevitability of their death and your own death, you will have a feeling of pity for others, and be just toward them...From realizing the significance of your neighbor when your attention rests on him, that he will die, pity for him and compassion toward him will arise in you, and finally you will love him; also, by doing this constantly, real faith, conscious faith, will arise in some part of you and spread to other parts, and you will have the possibility of knowing real happiness."
Rather than giving us one more subjective set of personal anecdotes and quick sketches of the teachings, this book has the integrity and breadth of understanding that makes it highly recommended for those who would seek to grasp the importance of this man and of his place in the history of human wisdom. Gurdjieff did indeed make life very difficult for his students and for those who would come along afterwards and who find themselves magnetized by the truth inherent in his teaching.
A number of students have observed that in some groups that have come out of his teaching, there is a strange lack of humanity, and an even stranger lack of spirituality, all in the name of Gurdjieff. This was noticed from the very earliest days by J.G. Bennett and confirmed by the experience of this writer in his encounter with a Gurdjieff school and its students. It seems that the master did not convey to this descendants the goodness and reverence in his soul that was clearly at the center of his experience of reality. His charisma was so powerful that the theatrics of his outlandish ways overshadowed the fundamental humanity of his character and the humility of his deep spirit.
The works he left us are as demanding and mysterious as the man himself, but it seems that ultimately his purpose was accomplished. He forced everyone to strive for an authentic search for meaning and transformation that can only be accomplished through each person's highest capacity to merge their acquired knowledge with their essential being. Gurdjieff did not want to create followers, but individuals conscious of their true identity and their particular purpose in the universe.
This book presents his impact in the wider context of humanity's universal knowledge and gives him the dignity and critical attention that he deserves. He is not the figure of some sub-culture, even less a guru for fanatic and self-absorbed followers, but a master teacher in humanity's effort to evolve toward its highest potential. This book confirms the significance of his contribution and obligates all true seekers to take a close look at his extraordinary legacy. Readers will find here proof that Gurdjieff does not belong to "Gurdjeffians" or to "Fourth Way students" but to all who strive to live in this world with meaning and purpose.
Theodore J. Nottingham, United Kingdom