Gurdjieff International Review

Other Spiritual Traditions

Jenny Koralek

Question: In what does the teaching of Mr. Gurdjieff differ from others as regards form?

Henri Tracol: It is intended for the man of today. Far from being dissociated from the unique message transmitted, in their diversity, by the great spiritual ways, it attempts to define, in the present context, that which would allow our contemporaries to find again a true resonance.1

I wished to include a selection of other spiritual and religious sources, ancient and modern, to show a miniscule portion of the immense evidence of the perennial nature of the search for and practice of conscious attention.

But there is perhaps a stumbling block due to a different terminology. The words ‘God’ and ‘prayer’ have an ever-diminishing significance in the world we are living in and are no longer in daily usage for many of us.

One can therefore see why Gurdjieff sought other ways to speak of them and also why, we are told, his great wish was “To live and teach so that there should be a new conception of God in the world, a change in the very meaning of the word.”2

In Beelzebubs Tales to His Grandson he seems to dispense with the ordinary idea of ‘Heaven’ yet speaks frequently of an ‘Above’ as, for example, the place from where “the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash” was sent to the Earth. Elsewhere he tells us that “the foundation of this Most Great Greatness is there Above,” an ‘Above’ replete with a seemingly familiar, yet—in Gurdjieff’s eyes—fallible hierarchy of angels and archangels who surround ‘his endlessness, just one of the many great and glorious names he uses to describe God: ‘our common creator, uni-being endlessness, our all-loving endlessly-merciful, and our absolutely-just creator-endlessness.’

When Henri Tracol was asked, “What part does the grace of God play in the work?” he replied, “The greatest. Even if it is not said, even if it is not always recognized, this remains nonetheless obvious.”3

Then the questioner asked him, “Did you see Mr. Gurdjieff at prayer?” to which Henri Tracol replied, “Of course one must be in agreement about the word prayer. Yes, I can bear witness to that. I saw him pray—silently pray. Meditate. In meditation he was working with us, and since meditation contains silence, we can testify that we meditated in silence with him.”4

Was Gurdjieff also trying to restore to us the true meaning of prayer? To put paid to the kind that only goes a few feet up in pointless supplication?

He has Beelzebub deplore the “disappearance in ordinary people of the capacity for contemplation, that is, for the state in which alone the truths indicated in the detailedly genuine religious teachings can be understood.”5

Could it be said that Gurdjieff has restored a proper sense of awe in front of the word ‘God,’ and enhanced the meaning of prayer?

And then there is the word “Virtue” (“manly excellence”): another word frequently used in teachings of the ancient world, and brought back to life in our time by Simone Weil, for example. The word shares its etymology with the word “man” and when, on going right back to the Sanskrit, one learns that “vir” is defined as an “illustrious man, a worthy man, a hero,” one cannot help wondering whether one aspect of its meaning might be a close cousin to his “man without quotation marks.”

Many experiences, injunctions, and profound perceptions deeply related to those other ‘genuine religious teachings’ are to be found couched in Gurdjieff’s literally inimitable language, albeit often concealed to varying degrees. (“Let he who has ears to hear, hear”). Concealed, yet offering us the possibility of pristine revelations of man’s unceasing search for meaning and ways to find it.

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Copyright © 2013 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Fall 2013 Issue, Vol. XII (1)
Revision: November 1, 2013


1 Henri Tracol, The Real Question Remains, Sandpoint, ID: Morning Light Press, 2009, p. 122.

2 Philip Mairet, A. R. Orage: A Memoir, New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1966, p. 105.

3 The Real Question Remains, p. 130.

4 Ibid.

5 Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 1010.