Henriette Lannes

Gurdjieff International Review

To Recognize a Master

by Henriette Lannes

[At a meeting in London on 29th October 1957, the anniversary of Mr. Gurdjieff’s death, Mme de Salzmann posed a question for everyone present: “How do we recognize a Master?” In response to the question, a number of those who had been with Mr. Gurdjieff spoke of the experience. The last person to do so was Mme Lannes. The following is a transcript of what she said.]

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.

But this also made me aware of a great barrier, an unbelievable separation. He was there. There he was and between us was nothing, just an impassable gulf. I could neither relate myself to him nor relate him to his ideas. Everything seemed disjointed and disconnected. A law was manifested there, certainly, but for me the feeling was almost unbearable. However, it was from that first evening onward that week after week I returned to see him and tried to work with him—with the help of Mme de Salzmann, without whom nothing would have been possible for me nor probably for any of us in Paris.

There then began for me a strong and difficult period. Mr. Gurdjieff sometimes hinted at the ideas but never gave them directly. What he gave us were tasks and exercises and means to lead us to real Work. Sometimes he shook us, made us react in all kinds of ways. Little by little we began to see our path more clearly and tried to follow it, though feeling we had barely started. During this time I remained incapable of relating to him, all the while knowing inwardly that I could not continue without him.

What did he represent? Who was he? What did this being, this force, signify?

I remember the ring of a deep and painful question while I was watching and listening to him: “What is there then between you and me?”

For how long did I keep this question? I cannot say exactly—perhaps two years. I will not try to describe that extraordinary period. Meals, readings, talks, Movements classes, and groups brought us frequently together around Mr. Gurdjieff. These opened me to inner experiences, sometimes very strong and wonderful, sometimes very hard to bear. What I know for certain is that I truly began to recognize Mr. Gurdjieff when my eyes began to open. I saw him as he was to the extent I was able to see myself. From the moment when all my values—all inner facade and indeed also my outer one—began slowly and surely to be transformed, and another world, though still out of reach, began to appear in me, I knew it was he who was the cause. I knew equally that I had come to him with nothing and that I must thank him for everything.

At the same time it was difficult for me to believe that all this was true, that the possibilities which he unveiled were real possibilities and not extraordinary ideas clothed with words designed to astonish us or to make us dream.

The miracle I was confronted with was that these possibilities could become reality. I was in front of this fact and in spite of all my doubts I could not deny it. I then understood the meaning of certain words coming from ancient times, worn out and half forgotten: “The Word was made flesh.” I also understood the sense of certain other words: “And now, man stands before Thy face.” Mr. Gurdjieff was such a man. There was no separation between what he taught and what he was. He and his ideas were one.

There remains one thing for me to add. It is a question for all of us and each one of us must try to answer it for himself. We have to recognize a master in ourselves. We are alone in the face of this as we shall be alone in the face of death. You may say to yourself, “How is it possible? Mr. Gurdjieff is dead!” It is true that he is no longer “here,” and yet it is equally true that we can come to recognize him.

I am speaking to those who never met him. Since he left us there have been many who have “recognized” him—and from day to day others come to recognize him—as master. The ideas are here, and his being, which embodied them, can also be here if we can come to recognize him; and together they can act on us as they have already acted on others.

But to recognize Mr. Gurdjieff truly is not an easy thing, and the question must remain open. We can respond to it only by our own awakening, never forgetting that it is to him that we owe all that is real in our inner experience.

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This essay was previously published in Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teaching, New York: Continuum, 1996.

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