First of all, I thank all those who have written to me concerning Gurdjieff’s Emissary in New York (the back cover is shown here). No, it is not yet available, but should be in 2017. Briefly, the proofing of such a large volume based on old typescripts has required more time than the publishers first thought it would.
Second, my latest Gurdjieff studies have just now been published in Fieldwork in Religion, volume 11, 2016. The print version is ISSN 1743-0615, and the online version ISSN 1743-0623. It can presently be accessed here https://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/FIR/issue/current
The entire volume, edited by Carole Cusack is made up of Gurdjieff studies. There is an editorial by Prof Cusack, then my first contribution: “Biographical Studies of G.I. Gurdjieff”. Michael Pittman’s study relates Gurdjieff to contemporary Turkish Sufism. Johanna Petsche, who has herself studied the movements in practice, discusses the Enneagram Movements (also, her book on the Gurdjieff/De Hartmann music is reviewed later in the volume). There then follows a very interesting article concerning “accessing the tradition”, which takes as its object of fieldwork, Maurice Nicoll’s lineage. If I understand correctly, Prof Sutcliffe, an expert in Gurdjieff, assisted John Willmett with this. Finally, Prof Cusack and David Pecotic examine the Gurdjieff tradition online.
Then, just before the book reviews is my review article of Women of the Rope, The Reality of Being by Jeanne de Salzmann, and Questions and Answers along the Way, the posthumously published transcripts of meetings with Hugh Ripman (I have been a little surprised by how many people, although many years in Gurdjieff groups, do not know of the first and third books).
The other articles make the entire volume worth purchasing for serious students of Gurdjieff. My own view is that there is no substitute for the hard copy. Indeed, I was convinced, even before I knew of the professional studies, that one can absorb information better from hard copies than from reading a document on the screen. A hard copy can be packed in a bag, taken with you, spread on a desk, skimmed or studied. I think that the proclaimed demise of the hard copy book will prove to be a false prophecy.
I want to ponder, for a moment, on the relationship many within the Gurdjieff groups have with academic studies of Gurdjieff, and with outside opinions in general, and what this means.
Some people whether in the groups or not, who are attempting to use Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods, have no trouble at all in weighing diverse perspectives on Gurdjieff and his legacy. I would say that the most interesting and stimulating suggestions often come from outside precisely because not being within the tradition they do not take the established order for granted. Coming from diverse backgrounds, different people bring widely-varying understanding and different experiences.
Why, on first principles, should an opinion about Gurdjieff, or his methods or his ideas, not be considered and weighed because it originates from academia, or from outside a particular Gurdjieff lineage, or from outside any Gurdjieff lineage at all?
I am not speaking about going out and looking for such views. There is no obligation in this respect at all: rather, the obligation is, I would say, to use what material one has. That is, we are bound only to make use of what we understand, because to do otherwise is to avoid personal responsibility, and to show a lack of valuation for what we have received. To not digest and apply in practice what we have been given is to fail the test of the “talents” (Matthew 25 and Luke 19). And one cannot escape that test by opting out of Christianity: it is a divine law.
What I mean is that there is a tendency in some people to refuse to consider opinions about Gurdjieff (and related matters) which they have come across because of the person who offers it. This is not “being-logical-confrontation” (see p. 1170 of Beelzebub). Indeed, it is inimical to it. One only has to look at Scientology with its abhorrence of what Hubbard called “suppressive persons” to see where this tendency will end up. And why should the Gurdjieff groups be immune from such a fate?
I will not repeat some of the things I have heard persons in groups say along the lines of: “It is not for us to question this, but rather, only to accept it.” The fact is that all of us are susceptible to suggestibility from time to time, and that attitude is but a crystallised form of it.
But to open to new perspectives and different ideas can cause friction, and that can be unpleasant. Yet, Gurdjieff said that friction, the struggle between yes and no, was necessary, in order to form something desirable and permanent. But of course the struggle has to proceed with the third force.
So, what is it that makes our struggle productive and constructive?
Perhaps, intellectually, it includes impartiality. Impartiality must be part of the third force, at least in this case. Emotionally, there must be something positive, some sort of affirmation which embraces a willingness to experience the friction, and a desire for truth.
The desire for truth, the love of truth, is a higher emotion. It includes impartiality. It includes much more, too. It cannot be fully satisfied outside of a relationship to God, and the more I have it, the closer I come to Him. Whatever small particle of the love of reality and truth exists within me, I need to cherish and foster
If I have that, I will apply the ideas and methods in my life, and then (I would say only then) can my own efforts have a beneficial influence upon other people (who are, after all, my neighbours). And that is really the point of this particular piece: can I sense a love for reality and truth as an active element within me, such that I bear it within me as an active element in the world?
Joseph Azize, 10 November 2016