It might be interesting to look at some of what Orage said about Gurdjieff himself, as reported in these commentaries. Some of these remarks need a little context. The first one presents, I think, a misquote ( as we saw last week, when “C” was written for “Is”, Orage’s American auditors did, on occasions, mishear).
Orage is quoted as having said, on 11 January 1927: “Every successful effort adds – every failure subtracts. An effort that involves ample reward is no good. It must be gratuitous. St Paul said always to be running in the great race. Gurdjieff says “always be in a huff.” Every effort creates energy and at the same time intrinsic strength. “(p.33)
Now, the better word is not “huff”, but “puff”, and in the pre-Peter, Paul and Mary days, I think Orage is more likely to have said “puff”. I am pretty sure I have read “puff” somewhere in Jane Heap. The first and provisional meaning of Gurdjieff’s saying may well be keep making internal efforts, that is, keep extending yourself. But, more than this, it is said in rather vivid terms: “always be in a puff” does conjure up a picture of an athlete, with clouds of breath rising from his heaving chest.
Our old friend, Skeat tells us that the basic meaning of “huff” is “to puff, bluster, bully”. The verb means “to puff or blow, to rant, or vapour”. That is a wonderful turn of phrase, by the way, to call arranging orator someone who is “vapouring”. Hence, to be a “huffer”is to be a braggart. The original sense was to blow or to puff up. The Shorter OED says that the noun “huff” means “a puff of wind, a slight blast, a gust of anger or annoyance, inflated opinion of oneself …” This is not what Orage intended us to understand from Gurdjieff’s comment.
The word “puff”, on the other hand, comes from a root meaning “to blow”, according to Skeat, while OED notes that it can mean “to breathe hard, pant violently … to run or go with puffing or panting”.
I think a further connection can be made with the importance of being consciously aware of one’s breathing, which has several purposes in Gurdjieff’s practical methods. I do not think it is necessary to say much more about this here, but there is an entire chapter on the breathing exercises in my forthcoming book, Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation, and Exercises. So it is, I think, of value to delve into Gurdjieff’s sayings, to explore the philological question, and not just take the first apparent meaning. I am certainly more aware of my breathing, and hence of my presence, since I started researching this humble saying.
The next comment in Orage is rather different. On 17 January 1927, Orage is remembered to have said: “He (G.) went to monasteries, etc., etc. He checked up on Madam Blavatsky – went to all sorts of countries and found there was nothing in it. She wrote many things (sleep writing) that were true, but also many untrue things. He later became an assistant of the Great Lama; later, lecturer on Buddha (i.e. of priests) etc. and came to the conclusion that the method itself had never been adequately set down. Gurdjieff said: “I would gladly spare any human being the fruitless efforts that I have gone through”.” (41) The other set of notes for this talk does not have quite the same remarks, but says only: “Gurdjieff worked thirty years before he was able to publish the method” (46). Incidentally, thirty years in G.’s life re-appears at 112, when Orage says: “Gurdjieff spent thirty years in the satisfaction of a rational curiosity.” The apparent understanding is that G. did satisfy his “rational curiosity” and then could publish.
This is most intriguing, but only of limited practical value. Again, I have written at some length on this in the forthcoming book, from the point of view that it is seems perfectly clear to me that even from before he had met Ouspensky, Gurdjieff wanted to set the ideas down in writing, and his strictures on writing were to prevent sub-quality material from being produced for as long as possible (for it is inevitable that scandal will come into the world). The mention of Blavatsky is also curious: I have never been able to think of her as being anything but a fraud who, as many frauds do, also tells a lot of truth to sell their product (I did once prosecute people for fraud). But I was too hasty. That she was a fraud is not in doubt: I have been reinforced in that by reading Stephen Prothero’s illuminating The White Buddhist, and shall have to pen a review of it on this page. But, as Mr Adie said, there was something in Blavatsky. The best explanation may be this one of Gurdjieff’s – that what was true came to her when writing with her formatory apparatus asleep (or as close to passive as possible). But I shall pursue that connection later: all that I want to note here is that peopled sometimes have unreliable connections to higher centres. Blavastsky may have been one of these.
A third comment in the Orage book may be related to this; after speaking of making scientific experiments, Orage quotes G. as having said: “The last degree of occultism is common sense” (24 January 1927, 54). The English phrase “common sense” from from the Latin sensus communis, which itself derives from the Greek koine aisthesis. It originally referred to “an internal sense which was regarded as the common bond or centre of the five senses”, but came to be applied to “ordinary, normal, or average understanding. Without this a man is foolish or insane.” I also came to be “the general sense of mankind or of a community”, and philosophically, “the faculty of primary truths” (Shorter OED). Skeat has this enlightening derivation for “common”: Latin com- for cum- with; and munis, complaisant, obliging, binding by obligation (from) MU to bind.” So, to have something in “common” is to be united together by it. For “sense”, Skeat points to first, what he calls an “Aryan” base SANT, “to direct oneself towards …”, and second to another “Aryan” root SENTA “a way”.
So, what is common sense? Perhaps it is best not to try to define it so much as to explore how it is used what it evokes in us. There is no doubt that the philosophical usage is strong: something is common sense if it is so evident or fundamental that it needs no further recommendation. I think this applies especially to the ability to intuit the most practical and least worrisome solution to a problem. But I think that Gurdjieff may mean more than this: it may be that to say that the last degree occultism is common sense, includes this meaning, but goes further, so that the last degree of occultism brings us back to our common presence, and is approved by mind, feeling and organic instinct together, is not harmful (or as minimally so as possible), has no need to convoluted theories, or of myths or blind belief. In other words, perhaps the ultimate of occultism or hidden knowledge is just simplicity of being, conscious presence.
Incidentally, the index does not have an entry for “Gurdjieff”, doubtless because there were too many references, but I would made the following tentative list of some I thought were worth noting: 33, 41, 46, 54, 86, 92, 112, 145, 157, 184, 193, 230, 233, 236, 239, 245 and 361-363.
Joseph Azize, 30 April 2019