Gurdjieff International Review


“The Material Question”

By James Opie, Guest Editor

Anyone discussing “money” and “spirituality” in the same breath bears a heavy burden. Gurdjieff carried this burden lightly. Moreover, his actions revealed unique relationships with and attitudes toward money. Turning to the final chapter of Meetings with Remarkable Men, “The Material Question”—which we assume our readers have read—we are awed by the extraordinary money-making talents that Gurdjieff mastered. Other narratives describing how he dealt with money—earning, “shearing,” spending, giving, using it to bring unconscious attitudes out of the shadows and into the light—indicate Gurdjieff’s amazing skill and freedom. Reading about his directness in going-for-the-money, as reported in the piece by Jean Toomer, some of us will react admiringly and others will be disquieted. Are we clear about the internal foundations of these reactions?

Several pupils reported that Gurdjieff wasn’t always “above” money. C. S. Nott witnessed a period when Gurdjieff was virtually broke. The fact that Gurdjieff, too, had difficulties can help us to accept the fact that most of us live beneath forces that entwine our lives with money-insecurities, whether arising from avidity, tightness, carelessness, the use of money to gain approval, or in connection with unearned money. His skill, his freedom in “shearing” people, and the vast sums that flowed through his fingers are especially striking because Gurdjieff’s teaching points to a higher level, untouched by money.

Gurdjieff said, “I am colleague of life.” Who among his living legacy can possibly say that? To be, in relation to life, with all of its pressures—including money matters—a “colleague”?

When the publisher and I began this project, I assumed that a lengthy narrative of mine would be the centerpiece of this issue. We would need other items of interest, surely, including quotations from Gurdjieff. Rolling up our sleeves and searching through the literature, calling on associates, we began gathering material. Soon writings—some fresh and some written decades ago— came to us. It took months before I saw that others who are more mature in the Work, and probably in money matters, have said much more than I, a profit-minded businessman who followed his picture of Gurdjieff into the Oriental rug business, could possibly say. I wanted to infuse wisdom into my narrative, but found myself brought to silence by a few words from other writers. At moments, I caught glimpses of all but inarticulate attitudes related to money.

It became clear that in “money” we confront one of the most slippery and difficult components of our lives. It is not easy to touch a higher level through this worldly topic, but we—editors and readers alike—have no choice but to try. Making contact with higher influences through a candid examination of our attitudes is fundamental to this way. “Money” is often imaginary. But what can be seen in day-to-day encounters with it can be—and at some point needs to be—alive and real.

Several authors who appear here experienced the “spatula” of Mr. Gurdjieff, who could, as one pupil said, “flip you over like a pancake.” He probed his pupils’ relationships with money, saying that nothing exposed a person’s essential nature more quickly than their attitudes in this area. Those with money and those without face the same need to separate from attachments and aversions that boil down to identification. From that condition several possibilities appear. Along one path, the mind continues in the shadows, explaining, justifying, and manipulating. Along another, it works to separate, making a turn toward seeing the immediate facts of what is going on within. An article in this issue by Jacob Needleman would have us turn in just this direction, toward our inner contradictions, perhaps even tapping some of the energies therein for our work.

John Pentland indicates that wise leaders in ancient times invented money as a kind of connecting point between the forces of life and the Divine. On one side of the coin, a tree, a deity, or some other religious emblem. On the other, “Caesar.” We are drawn to the outlook that “money” and “spirituality” once were two sides of a single coin. Incrementally, “money” became entirely of-this-world, contributing to the loss of our sacred bearings. Yet, it must still be possible to find something in this sphere that is very much in-the-present, touched by higher universal forces, on the one side, and by earth-bound pressures, on the other.

Gurdjieff said, “Money is the blood of society.” It connects and tests us. We obviously need it to live and to share many experiences with each another. If money comes too easily, we lose excellent ways of learning about ourselves, the hard way. If it comes with too much difficulty, we become disheartened. Some make a dash toward a higher plane, attempting to live above “money.” But this path has risks, too.

Gurdjieff said, “Weak in life, weak in the work.” But what is real strength? Most of us cannot help associating strength with the usual yardsticks of “success,” an outlook that largely dissolves under scrutiny. On the other hand, there is no strength in dreaming that by rising above money matters one can avoid all forms of identification that tie us to it. There must be a middle path that is more immediate, realistic, and demanding. Jeanne de Salzmann said, “The recognition that you are identified can be the beginning of an effort to work.”

Lillian Firestone shares a narrative from the young life of Michel de Salzmann. As a boy, in the course of an interaction with Gurdjieff involving money, Michel experienced something within him that could observe an inner struggle between greed and fear. Is there, as his experience suggests, an innate helping factor that sees? If so, the individual search for a contact with that factor can take some of our engagements with “money” to a new level.

Copyright © 2005 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Fall 2005 Issue, Vol. IX (1)
Revision: December 1, 2005