Gurdjieff International Review

Gurdjieff—Salzmann—Orage

By Carl Zigrosser

My encounter with the teachings of Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff came about through the mediation of A. R. Orage since I doubt that I ever would have met Gurdjieff in my own milieu. The early life of Gurdjieff is wrapped in mystery, and the exact facts probably will never be ascertained. In a sense such mundane facts are quite irrelevant: they throw little light on the miracle of his being or mission. He was an extra-ordinary man. One could perhaps say that he was Oriental—an amalgam of Greek, Armenian, Turkish, Sufic-Persian, and Georgian-Caucasian strains and influences. There were hints and rumors of wanderings in Central Asia, Turkestan, Tibet, the Gobi Desert, and of initiation into religious communities and esoteric schools such as the Essenes or the “World Brotherhood.” When he appeared in Moscow in 1913 and when Ouspensky met him two years later, he was already a man of mystery. To be sure, he has written of his early life in his book Meetings with Remarkable Men (published posthumously in 1963) but one suspects that it is, like all his writings, a collection of edifying tales or parables. His purpose was not to communicate knowledge but to work on the psyche of the reader. In certain planes of being the demarcation between the potential and the actual may be undefined. At any rate Gurdjieff had no great respect for literal truth. This may be illustrated by a story which Ouspensky related to Orage. Ouspensky arranged a lecture on the Gobi Desert for Gurdjieff before the Geographical Society of Moscow. Gurdjieff discoursed long and authoritatively on the subject, and then toward the end he told of having discovered a small valley with precipitous sides which made the bottom impossible of access. The floor glittered with diamonds which the natives gathered by a novel method. They threw down lumps of meat, and trained vultures to retrieve the diamond-studded morsels. Many suspicious glances were exchanged by the savants; many of them rose and left. The whole lecture ended in a fiasco. Ouspensky afterwards asked Gurdjieff why he had introduced that story from the Arabian Nights with such disconcerting results. Gurdjieff replied that he had told the scholars many things and given them priceless information. When he saw that they did not appreciate what he had given, he deliberately took the priceless things away from them by introducing in them a doubt about all he had said. With Gurdjieff it was important not only to note what he said but also to bear in mind why he said it. Carl Zigrosser, circa 1955

Ouspensky after a close association with Gurdjieff for about eight years came to the conclusion that there was a persistent impulse in Gurdjieff which led him to obscure the pure gold of his teaching by mingling it with extraneous matters. This is especially true, according to Ouspensky, of his magnum opus, All and Everything or Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson published in 1950 shortly after his death. The great oracles—Laotze, Pythagoras, Gautama, Socrates, Jesus Christ—never did set down their doctrine in writing. Perhaps it is not advisable to do so. Gurdjieff himself once said, “I bury the bone so deep that the dogs have to scratch for it.” Such an obscurantist bent, however, is in accord both with the precepts of the esoteric schools never fully to reveal arcane secrets and with his own preference for mystification and his demand for desperate striving. He had achieved his goal by his own great effort, and had the self-made man’s reluctance to make things easy of access. He believed that people did not value what they had not paid for. The sense of urgent intensity appears to be basic in Gurdjieff. Various incentives for the attainment of higher states of being in mankind had been tried out, such as hope, faith (Amitabha’s Western Paradise) or love (bhakti-marga). Jesus Christ also tried to save the world through love but met with indifferent success. Gurdjieff employed a more agonizing motivation: the fear of death and annihilation, the “terror of the situation.” Could this be the counsel of Beelzebub? Gurdjieff had nothing of a saint’s benevolence. He had a tougher, more realistic approach: he came not to send peace, but the sword of terror and tension. He would crack the whip! If people wanted to be sheep, he would acquiesce in their fate and use them without pity. But if one of them had any “human” instincts, Gurdjieff was always prepared to allow him to profit from his intuition by showing him the way out of bondage. Gurdjieff once gave Orage his candid opinion of the American groups. “The Americans,” he said, “are good people, not nasty rotten, but good. But that not enough. They sheep, good sheep, responding obediently to anything suggested, but not take course by themselves. Question—which is better: good sheep or bad dog? They must show more initiative not necessarily toward me or Institute, but in daily life—all for exercise of Will.”…

[The complete text is available in the printed copy of this issue.]

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This excerpt, including the photographs, is taken from a chapter of Carl Zigrosser’s autobiography, My Own Shall Come to Me: A Personal Memoir and Picture Chronicle, Philadelphia: Casa Laura; 1971, Limited edition of 300 copies, pp. 158–170.

Copyright © 2004 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Fall 2004 Issue, Vol. VIII (1)
Revision: November 1, 2004