Gurdjieff International Review

Creating Conditions for a Teaching

Excerpts from Gurdjieff’s Writings on Aspects of the Oral Tradition

I wished to create around myself conditions in which a man would be continually reminded of the sense and aim of his existence by an unavoidable friction between his conscience and the automatic manifestations of his nature.

Meetings with Remarkable Men, p. 270

The aim of a teaching is to reach the real human consciousness.

I wish to bring to the knowledge of what is called your “pure waking consciousness” the fact that in the writings following this chapter of warning I shall expound my thoughts intentionally in such sequence and with such “logical confrontation,” that the essence of certain real notions may of themselves automatically, so to say, go from this “waking consciousness”—which most people in their ignorance mistake for the real consciousness, but which I affirm and experimentally prove is the fictitious one—into what you call the subconscious, which ought to be in my opinion the real human consciousness, and there by themselves mechanically bring about that transformation which should in general proceed in the entirety of a man and give him, from his own conscious mentation, the results he ought to have, which are proper to man and not merely to single- or double-brained animals.

I decided to do this without fail so that this initial chapter of mine, predetermined as I have already said to awaken your consciousness, should fully justify its purpose, and reaching not only your, in my opinion, as yet only fictitious “consciousness,” but also your real consciousness, that is to say, what you call your subconscious, might, for the first time, compel you to reflect actively.

Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, pp. 24–25

In Gurdjieff’s youth ashokhs of astounding memory still passed on legends and songs of ancient traditions.

My father was widely known, during the final decades of the last century and the beginning of this one, as an ashokh, that is, a poet and narrator, under the nickname of ‘Adash’; and although he was not a professional ashokh but only an amateur, he was in his day very popular among the inhabitants of many countries of Transcaucasia and Asia Minor.

Ashokh was the name given everywhere in Asia and the Balkan peninsula to the local bards, who composed, recited or sang poems, songs, legends, folk-tales, and all sorts of stories.

In spite of the fact that these people of the past who devoted themselves to such a career were in most cases illiterate, having not even been to an elementary school in their childhood, they possessed such a memory and such alertness of mind as would now be considered remarkable and even phenomenal.

They not only knew by heart innumerable and often very lengthy narratives and poems, and sang from memory all their various melodies, but when improvising in their own, so to say, subjective way, they hit upon the appropriate rhymes and changes of rhythm for their verses with astounding rapidity.

At the present time men with such abilities are no longer to be found anywhere.

Meetings with Remarkable Men, p. 32

One day I read in a certain magazine an article in which it was said that there had been found among the ruins of Babylon some tablets with inscriptions which scholars were certain were no less than four thousand years old. This magazine also printed the inscriptions and the deciphered text—it was the legend of the hero Gilgamesh.

When I realized that here was that same legend which I had so often heard as a child from my father, and particularly when I read in this text the twenty-first song of the legend in almost the same form of exposition as in the songs and tales of my father, I experienced such an inner excitement that it was as if my whole future destiny depended on all this. And I was struck by the fact, at first inexplicable to me, that this legend had been handed down by ashokhs from generation to generation for thousands of years, and yet had reached our day almost unchanged.

After this occurrence, when the beneficent result of the impressions formed in my childhood from the narratives of my father finally became clear to me—a result that crystallized in me a spiritualizing factor enabling me to comprehend that which usually appears incomprehensible—I often regretted having begun too late to give the legends of antiquity the immense significance that I now understand they really have.

Meetings with Remarkable Men, p. 36

The questions and answers of kastousilia deposited rich thoughts in an “unconscious boy.”

As I have happened, in the logical course of the exposition of this chapter devoted to the memory of my father, to mention his friend, my first tutor, Dean Borsh, I consider it indispensable to describe a certain procedure established between these two men who had lived normally to old age, and who had taken upon themselves the obligation of preparing me, an unconscious boy, for responsible life and deserve now, by their conscientious and impartial attitude towards me, to represent for my essence ‘two aspects of the divinity of my inner God’.

This procedure, as was evident when I later understood it, was an extremely original means for development of the mind and for self-perfecting.

They called it kastousilia, a term derived, it seems to me, from the ancient Assyrian, and which my father evidently took from some legend.

This procedure was as follows:

One of them would unexpectedly ask the other a question, apparently quite out of place, and the other, without haste, would calmly and seriously reply with logical plausibility.

For instance, one evening when I was in the workshop, my future tutor entered unexpectedly and, as he walked in, asked my father: ‘Where is God just now?’

My father answered most seriously, ‘God is just now in Sari Kamish.’

Sari Kamish is a forest region on the former frontier between Russia and Turkey, where unusually tall pine-trees grow, renowned everywhere in Transcaucasia and Asia Minor.

Receiving this reply from my father, the dean asked, ‘What is God doing there?

My father answered that God was making double ladders there and on the tops of them he was fastening happiness, so that individual people and whole nations might ascend and descend.

These questions and answers were carried on in a serious and quiet tone—as though one of them were asking the price of potatoes today and the other replying that the potato crop was very poor this year. Only later did I understand what rich thoughts were concealed beneath such questions and answers.

Meetings with Remarkable Men, pp. 37–38


Beelzebub and Hassein model the teacher-student bond.

Among all the passengers aboard the ship one very handsome boy was conspicuous; he was always near Beelzebub himself.

This was Hassein, the son of Beelzebub’s favorite son Tooloof.

After his return home from exile, Beelzebub had seen this grandson of his, Hassein, for the first time, and, appreciating his good heart, and also, owing to what is called “family attraction,” he took an instant liking to him.

And as the time happened to coincide with the time when the Reason of little Hassein needed to be developed, Beelzebub, having a great deal of free time there, himself undertook the education of his grandson, and from that time on took Hassein everywhere about with him.

That is why Hassein also was accompanying Beelzebub on this long journey and was among the number around him.

And Hassein, on his side, so loved his grandfather that he would not stir a step without him, and he eagerly absorbed everything his grandfather either said or taught.

Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, p. 55

Ashiata Shiemash establishes conditions for passing on a teaching.

“And so, after arriving in the town Djoolfapal, the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash established corresponding relations with these brethren of the mentioned brotherhood who were working upon that abnormally proceeding functioning of their psyche which they themselves had constated, and he began enlightening their Reason by means of objectively true information, and guiding their being impulses in such a way that they could sense these truths without the participation either of the abnormally crystallized factors already within their presences, or of the factors which might newly arise from the results of the external perceptions they obtained from the abnormally established form of ordinary being-existence. . .

“Later, when, with the participation of these brethren of the former brotherhood Tchaftantouri, everything had been worked out and organized, the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash sent these same brethren to various places and commissioned them under his general guidance to spread the information that in the subconsciousness of people there are crystallized and are always present the data manifested from Above for engendering in them the Divine impulse of genuine conscience, and that only he who acquires the ‘ableness’ that the actions of these data participate in the functioning of that consciousness of theirs in which they pass their everyday existence, has in the objective sense the honest right to be called and really to be a genuine son of our common father creator of all that exists.

Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, p. 367–368

In Babylon the musicians and singers evoked impulses “not in the usual automatic order.”

“The learned musicians and singers then in the city of Babylon combined their melodies in such ways that the sequence of the vibrations of the sounds should evoke in the beings a sequence of associations, and therefore also impulses for experiencings, not in the usual automatic order, that is to say, so that the sequence of vibrations, on entering into the common presence of the beings, should evoke the Vibroechonitanko in the Hlodistomaticules, not of just one brain, as it usually proceeds according to which brain at the given moment the associations predominate, but should evoke it now in one brain, now in another, and now in the third; thus they also provided for the quality or, as they themselves would say, the numbers of the vibrations of the sounds which would affect one or another brain.

“Owing to these sequences of sounds which they combined simultaneously in the presences of beings, different kinds of impulses arose, which evoked various quite opposite sensations, and these sensations in their turn produced unusual experiencings in them and reflex movements not proper to them...

“For instance, the localization of my consciousness, or as your favorites would say my ‘thinking-center,’ engendered in my common presence, let us suppose, the impulse of joy; the second localization in me, or my ‘feeling-center,’ engendered the impulse called ‘sorrow’; and the localization of the body itself, or as once again your favorites would call it, my ‘moving-center,’ engendered the impulse of ‘religiousness.’

“And it was just in these unusual impulses engendered in the beings by their musical and vocal melodies, that they indicated what they wished.

Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, pp. 490–491


Information about “long-past events” is transmitted from one genuine initiate to another.

Well then, my boy, Legominism is the name given to the successive transmission of information about long-past events which have occurred on the planet Earth from initiates to initiates of the first kind, that is from really meritorious beings, who have themselves received their information from similar meritorious beings.

“For having invented this means of transmitting information, we must give the beings of the continent Atlantis their due; this means was indeed very wise and did indeed attain their aim.

“This is the sole means by which information about certain events that proceeded in times long past has accurately reached the beings of remote later generations.

Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, pp. 350–351

Understanding cannot be passed on; it must be intentionally learned.

‘Understanding is the essence obtained from information intentionally learned and from all kinds of experiences personally experienced.

‘For example, if my own beloved brother were to come to me here at this moment and urgently entreat me to give him merely a tenth part of my understanding, and if I myself wished with my whole being to do so, yet I could not, in spite of my most ardent desire, give him even the thousandth part of this understanding, as he has neither the knowledge nor the experience which I have quite accidentally acquired and lived through in my life.

‘No, Professor, it is a hundred times easier, as it is said in the Gospels, “for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle” than for anyone to give to another the understanding formed in him about anything whatsoever...

‘Understanding is acquired, as I have already said, from the totality of information intentionally learned and from personal experiencings; whereas knowledge is only the automatic remembrance of words in a certain sequence.

‘Not only is it impossible, even with all one’s desire, to give to another one’s own inner understanding, formed in the course of life from the said factors, but also, as I recently established with certain other brothers of our monastery, there exists a law that the quality of what is perceived by anyone when another person tells him something, either for his knowledge or his understanding, depends on the quality of the data formed in the person speaking...

‘Yes, Professor, knowledge and understanding are quite different. Only understanding can lead to being, whereas knowledge is but a passing presence in it. New knowledge displaces the old and the result is, as it were, a pouring from the empty into the void.

‘One must strive to understand; this alone can lead to our Lord God.

Meetings with Remarkable Men, p. 240–242

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Copyright © 2012 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2012 Issue, Vol. XI (1)
Revision: April 1, 2012