Gurdjieff International Review

Beelzebub’s Tales

Fifty Years Later

Commentary by Denis Saurat

[An excerpt from C. S. Nott’s Journey Through This World: the second journal of a pupil (subsequently titled Further Teachings of Gurdjieff). Nott recounts how he started a modestly successful publishing business and reproduces Denis Saurat’s comments about Beelzebub’s Tales.]

I published Denis Saurat’s Three Conventions, which brought about a close friendship. He had met Gurdjieff at the Prieuré at Orage’s suggestion and had been profoundly impressed. Saurat, a son of peasants, had a deep understanding of the rich current of life that, flowing under the glittering exterior, has almost nothing in common with this exterior—I mean the life of simple people, peasants and the middle classes who themselves are almost unconscious of it. He wrote about it in Gods of the People, The End of Fear, The Christ at Chartres; also, he had traced the influence of the occult tradition in English literature from Spenser to Milton and Blake. Rebecca West said that he was the wisest man she knew.

He had written for The New Age and Revue des Deux Mondes. At the time I met him he was professor of French Literature in Kings College and was head of the French Institute in London. I spoke to him about Gurdjieff’s book, Beelzebub’s Tales, and later lent him my typescript copy. He wrote:

Thank you for allowing me to see it. It is, in my opinion, a great book and it is a thousand pities that it cannot be published. There is a very great amount of wisdom and knowledge in it and, as I became more familiar with it I realized that practically every page is full of sense and information. Beyond some excusable mannerisms and the peculiarities which give charm to every author, I see nothing in the book that could be objected to. But no doubt its allegorical or philosophical meaning which is easy enough to someone who has studied the traditions, would be completely beyond the public. I am glad to say that I found no difficulties in the book. It is a work of art of the first magnitude in its own peculiar way.

Please remember that if an opportunity should arise of meeting Gurdjieff again I would be delighted to do so. If you can convey to him my appreciation of his book—and you will note I make no restrictions—you will give me pleasure.

If only it were possible, which I do not think it is, it would give me the greatest pleasure to give a regular course of lectures to explain the book according to my lights. Of course, you will realize that each commentator would have his own way of explaining the book.

D. Saurat.

Years later, when Beelzebub was published, I sent him a copy. He wrote:

Thank you for sending Beelzebub, and in which I am immersed. I like it immensely—but I wonder what the French translation will be like. I do not believe you can play with French in the way English has been played with there. I cannot give any answers as to a review, and cannot think of any journal that would accept, at present, an article even. Also, I’m deep down with an attack of flu, and you seem to be the same.

Later, I’ll send you some comments on The Tales.

D. Saurat.

The commentary arrived in due course, in French, which I translate as follows:

I have again read with the greatest interest naturally this astonishing book by G. Gurdjieff. I believe that the most important thing, objectively, is that in this book there are a number of observations which indicate a superterrestrial source:

In the second place, very many of the ideas, though common-sensical, are based on intuitions well above the normal:

In the third place it is necessary to state that a great part of the book is not clear, and one has the right to suspect that G.G. has done this intentionally. Leaving his sense of humour on one side one can follow his idea that it is forbidden to teach directly, and that one can tell lies if these lies are useful to humanity; this shows that he has probably put errors or intentional inexactitudes in his book so as to compel his followers to exercise their own judgment and thus themselves develop and reach a higher level, to which—according to the theories of G.G., these followers would not arrive at if he, G.G., taught them the truth directly. In the latter case they would be in the category which is called “mental knowledge”, whereas G.G. wishes them to reach the category of “knowledge of being”, and the first hinders the second.

It is on this that each reader must take his own stand. I am quite ready to tell you mine. I place among the myths which are to be rejected, completed or explained:

In conclusion, it seems to me that the teachings of G.G. should be able to play a very important role in our time if they are explained by minds first of all endowed with a certain preliminary knowledge and a developed critical sense.

I think further that it is a compliment to G.G. to believe that this is exactly what he intended himself. You know as well as I, and even better, that he had a critical sense and a sense of humour extremely well developed; and further, a very poor opinion of the intellectual capacity of people to whom he spoke in general. I shall be very happy to know what you think of these points of view, and I shake you very cordially by the hand.

Once, in our talks I said, ‘But so few people know about Beelzebub’s Tales. What‘s going to happen to it, supposing it does get published?’ Saurat said,

Nothing much may happen in our time. We are in too much of a hurry. We have no sense of real time in the West. Perhaps in fifty, or a hundred years a group of key men will read it. They will say, ‘This is what we’ve been looking for’, and on an understanding of it, may start a movement which could raise the level of civilization.

Gurdjieff is a Lohan.* In China there is the cave of a hundred Lohans, presumably all that have appeared in China in over four thousand years. A Lohan is a man who has gone to schools and by incredible exertions and study has perfected himself. He then comes back into ordinary life, sits in cafes, drinks, has women, and lives the life of a man, but more intensely. It was accepted that the rules of ordinary man did not apply to him. He teaches, and people come to him to learn objective truths. In the East a Lohan was understood. The West does not understand. A teacher in the West must appear to behave like an English gentleman.

~ • ~

* In Chinese mythology, the Lohan are enlightened Theravada Buddhist sages. Traditionally there are five hundred of them, following the number that were believed to have gathered at the First Council in India following Shakyamuni Buddha’s death (approx. 483 BC). Wall paintings and bas-reliefs of these are often found in Chinese Buddhist caves. Saurat’s comment about “comes back into ordinary life…” seems to refer also to the Mahayana Buddhist ideal of the Bodhisattva, who after his (or her) awakening becomes devoted to helping other people become awakened. For example, the last stage of the Ten Oxherding Pictures of Chan/Zen is called “Return to the marketplace with open hands,” and depicts such a person.

Endnote compliments of David R. Loy, Prof. Comparative Religions, Bunkyo University, Japan

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