Gurdjieff International Review

Henri Tracol
The Study of Other Traditions


t was Henri Tracol’s very great wish that the study of other traditions be kept alive here in England and in other centers of Gurdjieff’s teaching.

Thanks to his influence several study groups are still engaged in this work. “The Fourth Way,” he said on more than one occasion, “is to be found in all the great traditions ... and, although it cannot be reduced or opposed to any of the other ways, it circulates freely wherever the dimension of consciousness allows a passing beyond apparent contradictions and incompatibilities.”

He gave much time and patience to encouraging those showing interest, always indicating the attitude of respect and discretion needed when approaching these studies, but without ever imposing any personal directive of his own.

“Inevitably we are very indiscreet people,” he said once. “We must remember that we enter the study of another tradition as guests. We can never be Moslems or Buddhists.”

To illustrate further the approach to study which he felt was appropriate, he once told us how he had been at a concert of ethnic music at UNESCO where, in the interval, he saw a child, thinking itself unobserved, creep up to a drum and give it one, tentative tap.

Again, when one of us was questioning the difficulty of finding meaning in the Koran: “We cannot hope to grasp from a translation what the Koran means to the true (Moslem) believer, because the meaning passes through the vibrations of the sound (which he himself had heard in Morocco) when it is chanted in Arabic.”

He encouraged us to move about among the different traditions, learning to ‘sniff out’ the essence, but always insisted that “we do not study to become, or pretend to be scholars. What we are looking for is a certain taste... Each tradition has a certain emphasis—submission in the case of Islam; love in Christianity; the one and the many in Hinduism.”

He also warned us against making superficial correspondences, but always to keep an open mind: “Resist the temptation to mix. Do not try to compare the Hindu Trinity for example with other Trinities—once I’ve heard about the Law of Three I think I see it everywhere! It is not the same. Do not equate what you find with the ideas of our own teaching. Study is a discipline. Let each tradition speak to you in its own words.”

He always stressed the importance of producing material evidence of one’s study from time to time as a help towards clarity and order, and a way to bring our understanding to some “provisional” maturity. To this end he encouraged the writing of papers which were sometimes exchanged between study groups in different countries. Copies would also be given to him and disappeared without comment. The absence of comment in itself provided lessons and questions for us. Something in us wanted to know if what we had written was ‘right,’ but that we were never to know! Very occasionally he would acknowledge a paper, indicating perhaps, that there had been some new understanding in the author, which he recognized came from a deeper place.

Later he suggested we should prepare exhibitions—not exhibitions which give answers, conclusions, but which indicate possibilities and leave questions open—a lure to tempt others to inquire. These manifestations were not to be thought of as the end of a certain field of study, but given “en passam,” as he put it.

It is significant that his lecture on George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff given in 1967, ends with a question:

And so, what does it mean—to remember myself? It is up to each one of us to hearken to the question, without expecting any answer, to carry it within himself—yes, and to live it.[1]

His insistence on questioning—not to answer a question but to open it, avoiding explanations or direct answers—has influenced the study groups over which he presided, an influence which is present now. The impression of being given pointers remains, pointers related to a certain direction and to the search toward that direction. In his publication, Man, Heaven, and Earth,[2] he writes:

Beyond this remains the mystery of our presence in the world. To approach it specifically demands first and foremost the forsaking of all pretension to understand by ordinary means.

Our questions, still formatory perhaps, became more internal. External study continues to become more related to self-study, not ‘something out there,’ but to quote Henri Tracol once more: “Here, now.” □

First published in The Gurdjieff Society: Report of the Council to Members, (London) April 1997 – March 1998, and is reprinted here with their kind permission. From the early 1950s until his death, Henri Tracol visited London regularly, often with Madame de Salzmann and, after her death, as President of the Institut Gurdjieff in Paris and effectively of the worldwide association of Gurdjieff Foundations.

[1] Henri Tracol, The Taste For Things That Are True (1994) Shaftesbury, UK: Element Books Limited, p. 118.

[2] Ibid, Man, Heaven, and Earth (1980) Bray, UK: Pembridge Design Studios.


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