Gurdjieff International Review

The Presence of the Master

Excerpts on Aspects of the Oral Tradition

When I first heard the ideas of Mr. Gurdjieff’s teaching from Jeanne de Salzmann, nothing had yet been published and the name of Gurdjieff was quite unknown to me. At that time I was not looking for a master, although I had always been full of questions. The idea of a real teaching and a true master had never occurred to me. I did not believe such a thing could exist, at least in our own time.

When I heard the ideas I was dumbfounded. I could not get them out of my mind. They haunted me day and night. I felt they were true.

I was still in this state of shock when I was brought in front of Mr. Gurdjieff himself. I stood there totally bewildered. I was struck by the impact of his force, very quiet, calm and controlled, yet almost frightening, but more than anything by the degree of his total presence, a presence which I felt extended to the tips of his fingers. It gave meaning to all his movements, which seemed so much more alive than ours. As alive as those of a cat or a tiger. I also felt very strongly his vast generosity—a generosity which I would call superhuman.

Henriette Lannes, This Fundamental Quest, p. 10

Then, we took a bus and ... suddenly he [Alexandre de Salzmann] says: “You never saw Gurdjieff? Would you like that I show him to you?” I said: Yes, but astonished and thinking he would show me somebody or some picture looking like him. But he led me near the Café de la Paix, and through a window he showed me a man writing at a table. “He is here all the day long, writing,” he said. “Nous allons quoi, entrons, vous voulez?” and he put me at a table in front of Gurdjieff (I never know the right writing), with permission of looking at him. He spoke to him and came back to me. You told me you have seen G., one day, but among many people. I am sure you did not see his eyes. You would remember! Till he has not raised up his head, one could think he is only a great scientist, or something like that. But when he looks at you, you can no more see his face, neither know if he has great or little eyes: you see only two immense wells of black light—you can say: surnatural.

René Daumal, Letters on the Search for Awakening, p. 16

It often happened that I would find myself alone in a tête-à- tête with him, for “good cup of coffee and talk this and that”, as he would say, even though I hadn’t come with any very precise question. So I would say to myself, “I mustn’t let such a moment slip by.” I would hunt around in myself for some question or some problem to bring to him. I would ask him, “Monsieur, how should I understand such and such?” And then, the most extraordinary thing was not his answer, but his silences. They would last for minutes on end. And, within me, everything would fall away—my talking, my eagerness to get an explanation, my desire to take advantage of being with him—and then ... I would again find myself alone in myself.

Many others had the same experience. There would be these extraordinary silences in which one felt like a poor fool asking the wrong questions or asking the right questions in the wrong way. The silences gave an amazing depth to the talks one could have with him. They brought out the ‘knowing-understanding’ sequence ... and suddenly something was there. Once you have experienced this face-to-face encounter you feel that most of the time we tag along behind our intellectual and emotional functions and that the important thing is not to do that, but to go and see for yourself. Mr. Gurdjieff didn’t answer, and by not answering, he answered even more.

Michel Conge, Inner Octaves, pp. 171–172

It is quite common in the ordinary course of life to speak of important events as soon as they arise. And this haste is indeed indispensable if one wishes to prevent time from tarnishing the brightness of memory or from blurring its exactitude.

But that experience which is lived in the presence of a spiritual master obeys different laws, because in this case the event does not confine itself entirely to clock time and the geographical location in which the event began; the event which the master consciously and intentionally provokes contains within itself a possibility of prolongation. It vibrates like a note which gives rise to its own harmonics, or grows like the seed entrusted to the earth, awaiting germination.

Geneviève Lief, Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections, p. 403

The fact is that Gurdjieff remains unknown, except to those followers who worked with him. One reason for this non-recognition is that it is too difficult to write about him. His science belongs to the knowledge of antiquity, and this knowledge is transmitted by word of mouth, never written except in general terms.             

Margaret Anderson, The Unknowable Gurdjieff, p. 6

We spent all the time we could with Orage, listening to the ideas of Gurdjieff. And then one night Gurdjieff himself talked. He presented his ideas as not new but as facts always known and always hidden—that is, never written down but passed from age to age through the teachings of the great initiates.

Margaret Anderson, The Unknowable Gurdjieff, p. 79

Gurdjieff himself seemed to me unchanged. He was a little older, he was a little tired, but he was still as lavish as ever with his existence and ceremony. He sat at the side of the table, instead of at the end, and he was more silent than in the years before. But there was teaching in all that he did or said, only its form had changed: he was teaching now chiefly through his presence—from his ‘being.’

Margaret Anderson, The Unknowable Gurdjieff, p. 172

He took some bon-bons from his pocket, handed them to a porter passing by. I had often seen him do this, and always wondered why. “Why do you offer candy to people?” I asked, “and why does everyone look pleased—policemen, waiters, strangers, and that young mother last night sitting in the salon with her baby—why?”

“I do not know if I will see again that mother, but if I do she will not forget me—she will remember the surprise of bon-bons for her baby. Perhaps she will need help and I not be a stranger. You understand?”

“Yes, I understand about the mother, but the policeman ... ?”

“The policeman stopped me. I did not wish to wait—I gave bon-bons and he was very surprised. So he let me go. That is being clever man.”

Margaret Anderson, The Unknowable Gurdjieff, pp. 189–190

Is it not [a master’s] first concern to assemble or create the best possible conditions for awakening? Nor should we forget that he himself is part of these conditions, he is integral to them, or rather, he deliberately puts himself under their sway. He is, in fact, the central conditions towards which others gravitate.

We may then be less astonished by the freedom with which Gurdjieff juggled with these conditions. For to him, it seems, all means were good. The simplest and most evident was his own presence—the silent influence he exercised on all who came to him, which sometimes assumed a very direct form, as a sort of osmosis.

But he had many other means up his sleeve, indirect and, to outward appearances, negative.

For example, he never hesitated to arouse doubts about himself by the kind of language he used, by his calculated contradictions and by his behavior—to such a point that people around him, particularly those who had a tendency to worship him blindly, were finally obliged to open their eyes to the chaos of their own reactions.

Awakening implies a rupture in the thread of continuity, a change of levels, an interval between two completely different states. A shock is necessary to ensure the passage from one state to the other.

This shock could be brought about in all sorts of ways—by an abrupt change of attitude, by direct provocation or an unexpected smile, by a redoubling of exacting requirements or a sudden mollifying gesture.

Naturally, all these methods presuppose the existence of a science, of a gifted hand and a consummate artistry on the part of the manipulator. Beware of Sorcerers’ Apprentices, who imagine they can follow on and imitate their masters! ... Such capacities cannot be transmitted, even to those who may be qualified to receive them. They have to be found for oneself, adjusted to one’s own capacities and made to accommodate our constantly changing circumstances.

Henri Tracol, The Taste for Things that Are True, p. 113

The presence of the master, the presence of his influence after his death, is indispensable. The master bears within himself in his very flesh, the science, the knowledge of being: this knowledge which he transmits directly by his presence, and then, after his death, through the influence which he has already transmitted, consists in awakening in each of us the desire for a profound transformation of our being, and in calling us to open ourselves, by conscious efforts conformable to laws, to a new perception, which alone will allow us to receive messages from the real world.             

Henri Tracol, Further Talks and Essays, p. 16

This is, moreover, an oral teaching, and not all directives, not all exchanges, are recorded. And the oral teaching includes the non-verbal communication as much as the verbal, the right and timely gesture, a respect for the intangibles, and the work for Presence. Not everything that Madame de Salzmann imparted to several generations of pupils, as with Gurdjieff himself, was written down. Indeed, I recall that more often than not she insisted that no notes be taken: the work was in the active listening, the seeing, the immediacy of the inner, experiential exploration that engaged the whole of one’s being.

Frank R. Sinclair, Without Benefit of Clergy, Second Edition, p. 246

In anticipation of a meeting with [Madame de Salzmann] later in the day, I had slipped out of my office and gone into a church nearby. I worked very intensely for half an hour, and then went back out on the street. The intensity, I should note, was not in some mighty striving to achieve a new state, but rather in the purity of the wish simply “to be.” I was in an unfamiliar and unaccustomed state as I walked through the milling people. I was totally contained, totally free of fear, free of considering, free entirely of any egoism. I began to describe this experience in the meeting. She stopped me with a slight gesture of her hand. I thought to myself, “What have I missed?” Then she said, “That is real ‘I’.”

In hindsight, I could easily say, “Of course! How could I not have known?” Yet this is precisely the nature of the oral teaching, that the required guidance is received in a direct encounter. So this experience was not of the “real I” of my imagination, an “object,” some stiff embodiment of a superior being (the Übermensch, or whatever), but an ineffable encompassing sense of Presence and freedom, and what seemed to be the taste of pure being. It was necessary to hear this from her, who was many steps—light-years, it seemed—ahead.

Frank R. Sinclair, Without Benefit of Clergy, Second Edition, p. 114

~ • ~

Copyright © 2012 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2012 Issue, Vol. XI (1)
Revision: July 25, 2012