Part One: The Open Letter from the Two Rivers Farm concerning the revised Beelzebub
Simple question: if we can change one part of Gurdjieff’s legacy, and still call it Gurdjieff, why can we not change them all, and still call it Gurdjieff?
When Ouspensky introduced ideas which were not from Gurdjieff, he said so. He added that they were also consistent with the system, but was clear that he was adding. If, however, I change one of the movements but do not declare what I am doing, this is very different. And if I can do so, why not change two movements? Or all of them? What if I do the same with the exercises? With the methods? Does it make a difference if I change the movements to render them easier and more accessible? Who, given a choice between the authentic and harder movement and the easier revised version would not say: “Leave the original. I will work at it, hard as it is, because that work is the true road to the good Gurdjieff intended for us”?
What if I actually issued a new edition of one of Gurdjieff’s books, after he had approved the original text itself, thus presenting a book which he had not approved? This is the question which was addressed in a letter of 1993 from people at Two Rivers Farm to Michel de Salzmann and others. Thank you to the reader who sent me the link to the letter. I am fairly sure that Mrs Staveley herself did not write this, although her ideas were the inspiration. As I recall, she put her arguments very simply: “Gurdjieff allowed himself to die when the galley proofs went to the press. The original is the text he approved. It is absurd to think anyone else could possibly know better than he the style and content he wanted. The style was integral to the book, and carefully and deliberately chosen.”
Mrs Staveley’s contentions are clearly correct. The only argument I can see is whether Gurdjieff allowed himself to die when the book was being published, or whether he could not help it; and that is hardly a major flaw. As she implied, the real issue is the difference in being between Gurdjieff and the rest of us, even de Salzmann.
Personally, I could see a value in someone reading the Russian carefully, and making notes of their observations to be read alongside with the original text. For example, in the second edition of the Guide and Index, 2003, there are some useful notes. making use of the Russian, in Appendices I and II, dealing with pronunciation and background; over 70 pages worth. Appendix III, the Errata, is also useful. One could readily approve correcting the text and noting the errata in footnotes on the page where they were found. My only question about the Errata is whether the one about p.78 “not as if” to ‘as if” should not be “not as if” to “now as if.” It is also easier to see how “now as if” became “not as if” than to see how a new word “not” appeared from nowhere. This is all useful, and respects the original text. But the 1992 edition looked to be so much slimmer that one could not help wondering if the original had been full of padding.
As I see it, to claim for oneself the right to revise Gurdjieff’s book is to place oneself on the same level of being as Gurdjieff: not merely to say that one’s English was better (for the incontrovertible reason that the style was so consciously chosen). If one can undertake to improve Gurdjieff’s book, there is an implicit assumption that one understands what Gurdjieff meant to do through his book, and more importantly, his mind, at least well enough for that purpose. And if one can undertake to improve Gurdjieff’s book, why not improve his teaching: after all, I think my understanding is up to revising the book, so why not the rest of the legacy? And this is really the reason why the protest engaged such sympathy: there was already a growing realisation that a new Work had been introduced and that it was displacing the authentic Gurdjieff system, i.e. his methods and ideas.
One person said to me many years ago that we could not revise the book, as our being and understanding were too low, but Mme de Salzmann could as her understanding and being were much higher than ours. That is exactly the wider point we critics were making: the whole of Gurdjieff’s work was being replaced by a Jeanne de Salzmann teaching with the tacit authority of her higher being and understanding. Yet, as Gurdjieff said in the story of Appolis, beings of higher level are not always right, and can be corrected by lower beings. And if we must obey de Salzmann in that, why not in anything else? Gurdjieff had a principle that we act in accordance with understanding. If that is lost, we would obey anyone else who claims to be higher and above judgment.
Mme de Salzmann and the revisers faced a dilemma: on the one hand, the further the revision was from the original text, the harder to justify it – the more obvious it was a rewriting, the greater the implicit criticism of Gurdjieff. Why use the book at all if Gurdjieff was so incompetent as to approve a book about 10% too long and in need of revision in every single sentence? On the other hand, the closer the revision was to the original text, the less it appeared to be necessary. I think she was caught on the first horn: and I have to wonder about all the rest of her decisions.
Part Two: The Letter of February 1993
A Protest Made In Sorrow on the Revision of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson
“Two Rivers Farm”, Aurora, Oregon, February 1993
The following is a response to the recent publication of a revised version of All and Everything, First Series, or Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, by G.I. Gurdjieff. This is made by a number of students of Gurdjieff’s teaching, and is addressed to those believed to be responsible for the revised publication, but who remain unidentified. While this response presents many questions about the revision that arise in the minds of serious students of Gurdjieff’s teaching, it is in actuality a protest, reflecting the dissent and dismay of those presented in the authentic text of his remarkable book. As such, this is written more in sorrow than in anger. Appended hereto are the signatures of a few of the students who support this response, and join in expressing their objection to the adulteration of Gurdjieff’s work.
For more than 20 years now, we have applied a considerable amount of time, attention, and energy to the reading and study of “Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson (Beelzebub’s Tales) and listening to it being read aloud. Time and time again, we have drawn on Gurdjieff’s writings for answers to questions regarding the Work, our own Work, and how to live a life in the Work. This Book, Beelzebub’s Tales, especially has becomes for us a hearth of understanding and inspiration, and no matter how many times we have read it, always presents us with new insights.
I hope very much that you will be kind enough to answer this letter or cause it to be answered.
cc: Mr. William Caryl
Dr. Bernard Courtenay-Mayers
Mr. Thomas C. Daly
Mrs. Norma Flynn
Dr. Jacob Needleman
Mr. Paul Reynard
Mr. William Siegel
Dr. William J. Welch
[Some corrections have been made]
Dr. Michel de Salzmann
5 rue de Commandant Mar
Dear Dr. de Salzmann:
I am sending this letter to you as I understand you are the titular head of the teachings of Gurdjieff in Europe and America – possibly for the whole planet. If this is a misunderstanding on my part, please forgive me. Copies of this letter will be sent to senior persons I know by name in various centers such as London, New York and San Francisco.
This letter is a question and conveys a protest about the appearance in bookstores of a revised version of Gurdjieff’s Book, the legacy of his teaching, All and Everything, or, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. I am led to believe that this revision has been prepared and published as it were, officially, and under the auspices of responsible representatives of the way Gurdjieff’s teaching goes into the world. However, there is no name, or names of such responsible ones on the published edition, with the exception of Madame de Salzmann who, being deceased, cannot, therefore, have initiated the actual publication of this revision.
Enclosed with this letter is a protest compiled by some of the students of Gurdjieff’s teaching in Oregon who have been working with the authentic original, approved by Gurdjieff himself. They have found it a scripture specially prepared for this time, containing as claimed “All and Everything”. It is exact and precise. Nothing should be changed, nothing omitted. I am quite certain that there are many others who are shocked and outraged at the appearance of this book. In many places alterations are made which even change the meaning of Gurdjieff’s own writing.
If the faceless, nameless ones who published the revision really wish to give those new to Gurdjieff’s teaching a fair opportunity of comparing the revised with the authentic edition, they should immediately authorize a reprint of the original authentic one – perhaps reducing the price somewhat to make up for the new students having to buy two books.
Naturally, many concerns and questions come to mind when we now see in the book stores, for the first time since its original publication in 1950, a revised version of Gurdjieff’s written legacy of Work. We have read the dust jacket and enough of the text to realize that changes have been made to virtually every sentence in the Book, and the text has been shortened by more than a hundred pages. Frankly, this publication has left us baffled and confused and even a bit ‘floundering’, as Mullah Nassr Eddin says, ‘like-a-puppy-who-has-fallen-into-a-deep-pond’ (pg. 165), as we try to fathom its purpose. For these reasons, we wish to share our questions and thoughts regarding this with you. We invite your response.”
“To begin with the comment on the dust jacket that the authentic edition was approached with ‘apprehension’ by readers, you should know that our experience in approaching Beelzebub’s Tales has not at all been one of apprehension or anxiety. It has been more like ‘awe’, or perhaps a feeling akin to ‘fear’ as in ‘the fear of God’, but certainly not apprehension, in its meaning of suspicion, or fear of future evil. On the contrary, our experience is a feeling of joy in knowing that Gurdjieff’s teaching is alive in that Book. It is really accurate to state that ‘apprehension’ is what beginning readers have felt? Of course, they may well feel a reluctance to venture into new territory on their own, without a competent guide who has the faith needed for the journey”.
“We (and there are a large number of us) have pondered the aim of this revision, which you have formulated as: ‘to clarify the verbal surface while respecting the author’s thought and style.’ What is meant by ‘verbal surface’? What could the ‘verbal surface’ be but words chosen by the author and arranged in the manner he selected, i.e. in his ‘style’? Is not Gurdjieff’s style inseparable from what you call the ‘verbal surface’?”
“You refer to a ‘new experience of Gurdjieff’s masterpiece for a generation of readers.’ While we who have immersed ourselves in Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales may now have the option of choosing whether or not to invest in this ‘new experience,’ people from now on who are new to the Gurdjieff Work will not have this choice. The authentic edition has not been published in hard bound copy for several years and even the paperback editions have become increasingly difficult to obtain. Your revised publication will in time become the only version of Beelzebub’s Tales available and the ‘new experience’ will become the ‘only experience’ (until such time as it may again be revised to conform to the assumed inadequacies of future readers). What do you imagine this ‘new experience’ could be? The promise of a ‘new experience’ implies that the ‘old experience’ is somehow lacking. In what way can you possibly see it as deficient?”
“Your jacket text refers to the ‘Russian original of Beelzebub’s Tales,’ and states that ‘readers have recognized the need for a revised translation.’ Isn’t it true, however, that the ‘Russian original’ could only be the handwritten notes of Gurdjieff and of those who took down his original dictation, which have never been published and made available to readers? So, how is it that readers could question the translation without access to an original Russian ‘text’? The original authentic text of Beelzebub’s Tales, the one Gurdjieff labored so long to create, is the English text first published in 1950. The publisher of the revised version has informed us that the revised edition was prepared from a revision of the original English text only. If this is true, then why does the copyright page state that the revision was made by a group of ‘translators’? What was being translated?”
“The revised edition states that the ‘translators’ were under the direction of Jeanne de Salzmann. Although Madame de Salzmann was a truly remarkable person, French was her mother tongue, and she was not as expert as Orage in the use of the English language. It is difficult for us to understand how one could expect the new team of revisers to be an improvement over the team of Gurdjieff, Orage, and the others chosen by Gurdjieff for this task. As stated in the Book itself, the authentic original text was prepared …under the personal direction of the author, by a group of translators chosen by (Gurdjieff) and specially trained according to their defined individualities, in conformity with the text to be translated and in relation to the philological particularities of each language. (copyright page)
Orage, of course, had the primary responsibility for putting Beelzebub’s Tales into the English prose that corresponded to Gurdjieff’s design. Orage held a special, if not uniquely high position in Gurdjieff’s regard, and is the only person known to be referred to as his ‘close friend’. (Life Is Real Only Then, When I Am, pg. 154) As Orage labored to put Gurdjieff’s manuscript into English, he was asked why he did not do something about its grammar and punctuation (perhaps ‘clarify the verbal surface’?). Orage’s answer has always been helpful and illuminating to us as we struggle with our own understanding of parts of the Book. He says:
Some of you still criticize the faulty grammar and punctuation and ask why I do not do something about it….Gurdjieff is constantly re-writing and revising. (pg. 1)…His (Gurdjieff’s) task is to write the book, ours to make the effort to understand. The style and sense are Gurdjieff’s. The surprising thing is that, in spite of the difficulties of translation the sense and style come through so well. It can be said that in English, this being a more flexible language than French, it is possible to play with words, so that the English translation will have a quality of its own. (pg. 2)…Gurdjieff will not use the language of the intelligentsia – ideas in the book will not be presented in our habitual thought patterns. Our intellectual life is based on chance associations which have become more or less fixed. Only when these are broken up can we begin to think freely. Our associations are mechanical; a whole mood can be destroyed by the use of one word which has a different group of associations. (pg. 3) (A.R. Orage’s Commentaries on All and Everything, Edited by C.S. Nott, pp. 1-3).
It seems to us that many of the revisions do change the reader’s mood, and in many cases the understanding as well. Even when we turn to Gurdjieff’s first words in the Book, in ‘Friendly Advice’, we find that his ‘experimental elucidations concerning the productivity of the perception by contemporary people of new impressions,’ have become in the revised version, his ‘research concerning the profit contemporary people can obtain from new impressions’. Perhaps the reader does struggle, a little, with the authentic text, but as he is struggling, the reader might also be asking himself ‘what is an “experimental elucidation”?’ or wondering at the thought of perceptions being ‘productive’. The new renderings of ‘research’ and ‘profit’ already have very well established groups of associations and are easily passed along by the reader’s habitual thought process, not requiring any questioning whatsoever. And so it seems to go throughout the text, from the chapter titles to the last sentence of the book, substituting the familiar for the challenging.”
“While we may not be certain just what the ‘language of the intelligentsia’ actually is, is it not likely to be found in the nature of the revisions you have made? Isn’t Orage saying that the use of such language supports habitual thought patterns and gets in the way of the reader’s ability to take in new ideas? Of course, Gurdjieff says this in Chapter I, in explaining his refusal to employ the ‘bon ton literary language’ used by ‘patented writers’. (Pg. 6)
Here are just a very few examples of the alterations we have noticed in our encounter with the new text, which we believe change the reader’s mood or alter the ‘author’s thought and style’, instead of clarifying the ‘verbal surface’:
Authentic Version (A.V):
‘any prayer may be heard by the Higher Powers and a corresponding answered obtained’ (Friendly Advice)
Revised Version (R.V.):
“any prayer may be heard and granted by the Higher Powers’ (Friendly Advice)
A.V.: ‘the trouble with you is’ (pg.6)
R.V.: ‘what will be troublesome for you’ (pg. 6)
A.V.: ‘indispensably necessary that every day, at sunrise’ (pg. 78)
R.V.: ‘indispensable when the sun rises’ (pg. 74)
A.V.: ‘my dear Captain’ —‘grandfather’ is wrong here (pg. 75)
R.V.: ‘dear grandfather’ (pg. 72)
A.V.: ‘convince’ (with regard to unconscious parts – pg. 78)
R.V.: ‘think and convince’ (pg. 74)
A.V.: ‘fulfill the good’ (pg. 78)
R.V.: ‘enjoy the good’ (pg. 74)
A.V.: ‘sympathetic’ (pg. 594)
R.V.: ‘amiable’ (pg. 545)
A.V.: ‘constated’ (pg. 596)
R.V.: ‘noticed’ (pg. 546)
A.V.: ‘human mentation’ (pg. 1193)
R.V.: ‘human thought’ (pg. 1093)
Throughout the text, nuances of meaning that have given Gurdjieff’s writing a magical quality have been spoiled by the revisions.
We have come to understand for ourselves that a very real aspect of Beelzebub’s Tales is not readily accessible to the formatory apparatus of the head-brain. Again and again, this can be seen whenever people obstinately go on trying to ‘figure it out’ upon encountering the unfamiliar word or locution. On the other hand, when we simply listen to it being read – relaxed, attentive, and open like a child – ‘something’ real is definitely received. We have experienced a broadening of our understanding, little by little, to encompass a knowing that is found in feeling as well as in thought. This experience is reflected by Louise Welch in ‘Orage With Gurdjieff In America’:
“Beelzebub’s Tales produced a powerful effect, but that is not to say it was readily grasped. There were layers of meaning that people were touched by, but could not in any way formulate…Could one listen, as Orage advised, without giving way to constant verbal associations and unrelated imagery? …Much of the narrative was addressed to different levels of perception in people (Gurdjieff had said seven). The task was to respond with the whole of one’s mind, and not just with what Gurdjieff called the ‘formatory apparatus’, that part of the brain which was busy classifying ideas and objects, putting them into pigeon holes, and thereafter returning mechanically to them as statements of truth. This was all before the days of the computer, but his description of the conclusions of the formatory apparatus bears a close resemblance to computerized thought. (pg. 47)””
“Isn’t it probable that Gurdjieff worked so diligently on the text, rewriting time and time again, trying it out on all kinds of people, so as to find the exact words and mode of expression that would direct his message to the deepest, most essential part of his readers, rather than just to the head brain? Consider what Gurdjieff himself tells the reader in Chapter I:
‘…I wish to bring to the knowledge of what is called your ‘pure waking consciousness’ the fact that in the writing following this chapter of warning I shall expound my thoughts intentionally in such sequence and with such ‘logical confrontation’, that the essence of certain real notions may of themselves automatically, so to say, go from this ‘waking consciousness’ – which most people in their ignorance mistake for real consciousness, but which I affirm and experimentally prove is the fictitious one – into what you call the subconscious, which ought to be in my opinion the real human consciousness, and thereby themselves mechanically bring about that transformation which should in general proceed in the entirety of a man and give him, from his own conscious mentation, the results he ought to have, which are proper to man and not merely to single- or double-brained animals.
‘I decided to do this without fail so that this initial chapter of mine, predetermined as I have already said to awaken your consciousness, should fully justify its purpose, and reaching not only your, in my opinion, as yet only fictitious ‘consciousness’, but also your real consciousness, that is to say, what you call your subconscious, might, for the first time, compel you to reflect actively.’ (Pages 24-25)
Now, if one really wished to understand what is being said here, and allowed Gurdjieff’s words to penetrate to a deeper part of oneself, then perhaps one would see there is no need to change a single word and ANY change could prevent the very result Gurdjieff intended. This is especially so in light of Gurdjieff’s statement that our “fictitious consciousness” is formed from mechanical impressions, including the “consonances of various words” which are indeed empty (pg. 25).
Certainly Gurdjieff and Orage and the others who stewarded the Book to publication could have prepared a text much in the manner of this revision, had Gurdjieff so wished. How can anyone not agree with J.G. Bennett in his “Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales” that “This is not the work of an amateur first trying his hand at literary composition…It is written as, after long deliberation, he wished it to be written.”? (pg. 10) Don’t you think Gurdjieff had good reason to present his ideas in just the manner of expression he chose?
The revisions appear to have been made for the purpose of creating a text that is more grammatical, “up to date,” and presumably easier and more comfortable to read. Was it your intention to facilitate the reader’s understanding of Gurdjieff’s teaching? However, isn’t this contrary to Gurdjieff’s way as expressed by Bennett, who says:
‘GURDJIEFF’S METHODS ARE DIRECTLY OPPOSED to all our comfortable habits… he never made anything easy…On the contrary, he made the approach to his ideas difficult, both intellectually and emotionally’. (Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales, pg. 9)
Or as Louise Welch states: ‘Gurdjieff made a vital distinction between “knowledge” and “information”. For knowledge to be rightly transmitted, and properly received, a special effort was required to read and inwardly digest. Gurdjieff held that knowledge, like all else on this planet, was material, was food and had to be properly ingested and absorbed. And, since the way in which knowledge entered the psyche was of primary importance, it was necessary for him to write so that the very structure of the material would refuse to allow the reader easy possession of its substance…The “digging” that the reader must undertake to reach any understanding was essential. In fact, as Orage discovered, when an idea appeared to be too easily grasped, Gurdjieff’s instructions to him were to bury the bone deeper.’ (Orage with Gurdjieff in America, Pages 44-45)
In Chapter I, Gurdjieff tells the reader that he chose not to write as others do because (for one reason) the reader is not accustomed to ‘making any individual effort whatsoever’. (pages 6-7)”
“Consider also the observations of Bennett regarding changes Gurdjieff made in the manuscript edition of Beelzebub’s Tales. He says:
‘Why should Gurdjieff have made a chapter that was already difficult even harder, if indeed the intention was that Beelzebub’s Tales should be a means of bringing the ideas to the notice of the general public? Only someone familiar with his ideas, and prepared to devote a lot of time and hard study to the chapter could make anything of it. Gurdjieff has shown in his Meetings with Remarkable Men that he could tell stories in simple language, without confronting the reader with any linguistic problems. We also know that he spent no fewer than seven years in the writing of Beelzebub – as he himself says, sparing himself neither day nor night, constantly writing and rewriting. Therefore, we must assume that the writing of Beelzebub was in the form which he intended, and that the alterations were deliberate, in spite of making the ideas less accessible to the unprepared reader.’ (Gurdjieff: Making a New World, pages 176-177)
‘The Christian ideal’, it is said, ‘has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.’ (G.K.Chesterton) Is it to be the same with Gurdjieff’s teaching in Beelzebub’s Tales?
Gurdjieff has been quoted as saying that after he dies, people who follow his ideas will tend to become organized in a kind of orthodox establishment, become conservative, publish ‘authorized’ editions of his words, and try to forget or at least ignore his outrageous side.
One of our favorite bits of Gurdjieff’s masterful and unforgettable use of the unexpected is his youthful dancing around his grandmother’s grave and singing:
‘Let her with the saints repose,
Now that’s she’s turned up her toes,
Oi! Oi! Oi!
Let her with the saints repose,
Now that she’s turned up her toes.’ (pg. 29)
The revision of the verse to,
‘Let her with the saints repose
She was a rare one, goodness knows!’ (pg. 27)
certainly presents a more orthodox and less outrageous picture of the young Gurdjieff. It also produces a very different mood and emotional response in the reader, goodness knows! Aren’t you worried, even a little, that Gurdjieff’s grandmother, whose dying words to him were ‘never do as others do’, might learn of her eldest grandson’s revised verse and fulfil his fears by turning in her grave like an ‘Irish weathercock’? (pg. 41)
This is one of the more shocking changes made in Chapter I, but many other revisions in this chapter are just as bewildering. For example, why was it felt necessary to change ever so slightly the opening prayer from ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and in the name of the Holy Ghost. Amen.’ to, ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen’? (pg. 3) Why was the chant of ‘so and so and so you must, do not eat until you bust’ (pg. 30) changed to ‘enough is enough, you don’t need to stuff’? (pg. 27), or the famous Georgian song, ‘little did we tipple’ (pg. 46) to ‘Drink up again, boys’? (pg. 42) Even the author’s exclamation near the end of the chapter, ‘Stop! Misunderstanding Formation!’ (pg. 50) has been altered; now, by the end of the first chapter of revised text, the revisers have Gurdjieff exclaiming ‘Stop! Misconceived formulation!’ (pg. 46) We cannot help but wonder whether this new injunction may be addressed to the revisers themselves as they attempt the reformulation of Gurdjieff’s thoughts.”
“Throughout the whole of Chapter I, ‘The Arousing of Thought’, Gurdjieff, in the authentic text, makes masterful use of his precise and unique style of expression to instil gradually and subtly ‘sympathetic’ feelings in the reader, feelings that serve to open the readers heart and mind to all that follows in that magnificent Book. According to Bennett, Gurdjieff:
‘…gave more time and care to the composition of “The Arousing of Thought” than to anything else he wrote. His translators assert that it was completely rewritten at least seven times, and read in his presence innumerable times to old and new pupils and friends, to chance acquaintances and even to complete strangers. Gurdjieff could be in no doubt about the hostility it would provoke; offending, as it does, every canon of literary and personal taste…’ (Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales, pages 9-10)
Have you fully considered that for every word or phrase that is changed or ‘improved upon’, that there is also the risk of altering the subtle impact of this remarkable opening, and its consequent results in the reader for the whole of the Book. As Bennett adds, ‘”The Arousing of Thought” is not an isolated phenomenon, but a characteristic specimen of Gurdjieff’s teaching.’ Does not the potential risk to the reader therefore extend beyond this writing to the whole of Gurdjieff’s Teaching and Work?
In ‘The First Visit of Beelzebub to India’, Gurdjieff describes how easily a teaching can be lost. Through Saint Buddha, he says that owing to the ‘maleficent particularity’ of our psyche called ‘Wiseacring’, we ‘gradually’ change the teaching of Sacred Individuals until the whole of it is ‘finally completely destroyed’. (pg. 238) Saint Buddha’s teaching itself did not escape this fate. Gurdjieff may have been giving us a warning about his own teaching when Beelzebub tells us, ‘…the first succeeding generation of the contemporaries of this genuine Messenger from Above…also began… to wiseacre with all His indications and counsels…’ until nothing was left but ‘Only-information-about-its-specific-smell.’ (pages 239-240) He states further:
‘LITTLE BY LITTLE they so changed these indications and counsels of His that if their Saintly Author Himself should chance to appear there and for some reason or other should wish to make Himself acquainted with them, He would not be able to even suspect that these indications and counsels were made by Him Himself… This already long established practice there consists in this, that a SMALL, SOMETIMES AN ALMOST TRIFLING, CAUSE is enough to bring about a change for the worse or even the complete destruction of…[objective good].’ (pg. 240) (Emphasis added.)
Not only did Gurdjieff predict that his followers would sanitize his writings, but he also, in ‘Life Is Real Only Then, When I Am’ (Third Series), refers to ‘…the fact that today, enemies with an unusual inner attitude toward me are multiplying in great numbers…’ He explains this ‘unusual inner attitude’ as follows: ‘There is not, so to speak, a single one of my sworn enemies who, in one or another of his ordinary states, would not be ready to “sell his soul for me”.’ (pg. 174) While this appears to be ‘absurd,’ he explains, it is nevertheless an ‘irrefutable fact’ that can be ‘demonstrated at will’. He says, ‘The more someone has direct relations with me, the more strength he shows later in the diametrically opposed actions that he manifests towards me.’ (pg. 175) Is it not possible, therefore, that even action taken by those who have felt closest and most intimately connected to Gurdjieff could manifest in a way that is ‘diametrically opposed’ to Gurdjieff’s aim?”
“Gurdjieff is not saying that these ‘enemies’ act consciously against him, but according to lawful scientific principles. How well one knows that actions can produce the opposite of the results intended, even when carried out with the best of intentions. In this case, action taken with the apparent intent to propagate the Teaching, perhaps is instead actually the beginning of its deterioration. As Beelzebub’s highly esteemed teacher, Mullah Nassr Eddin, says: ‘Isn’t it all one to the poor flies how they are killed? By the kick of the hooves of horned devils, or by a stroke of the beautiful wings of divine angels?’ (pg. 1086)
Gurdjieff literally put all and everything into this Book. As Gurdjieff himself said, he did not have the slightest wish to write, but circumstances quite independent of him constrained him to do so. He had already been ‘not only through the mill but through all the grindstones’ as well. (pg. 18) He began writing when he realized there no longer was time to disseminate his teaching by way of direct contact alone. He was in his last stages of life, had never before written for publication and was to receive neither fame nor riches for his efforts. Yet he began writing only a few months after his near fatal automobile crash, which he survived against all medical expectations. For a period of twenty-five years, Beelzebub’s Tales took on its form and content, until the printer’s proofs set for publication were at last delivered to Gurdjieff. Having received confirmation that his life’s work was to endure in at least this written form, Gurdjieff died eight days later.
His Book has been referred to as his ‘Magnum Opus’, the divine glorification of his life’s work, a ‘flying cathedral’ of a book, and an ‘objective work of art’. It is a ‘book’ only in the sense the Bible is a book – a scripture. Gurdjieff perhaps saw the entire Book as one magnificent prayer, for he advises that it be read thrice, because, ‘any prayer may be heard by Higher Powers and a corresponding answer obtained only if it is uttered thrice’, first for one’s parents, then for one’s neighbour, and lastly for oneself. Gurdjieff’s writing of this Book is a demonstration of the truth that real Work, like prayer, is to be invoked for the benefit of others. Beelzebub’s Tales is written to and for the Grandson, for the benefit of the reader and those to come after. In this Book, Gurdjieff has sown the seeds of an authentic teaching of immeasurable welfare for mankind. Whether or not Gurdjieff’s labours will grow to harvest now depends on us, the readers, and whether we make use of the teaching as he presented it. Gurdjieff expressed a very strong hope and wish for the reader of Beelzebub’s Tales, in his words, a hope ‘that according to your understanding you will obtain the specific benefit for yourself which I anticipate, and which I wish for you with all my being.’ Such a powerful wish from Gurdjieff, a wish made with all his being, can be received only with complete humility and the recognition that the fulfilment of Gurdjieff’s wish must come through the understanding and efforts of the reader. In writing Beelzebub’s Tales as he did, Gurdjieff left us a living legacy of hope, the Hope of Consciousness, which is strength. Our wish is that it continue to be a real source of strength to learners and strivers everywhere.”