Henriette Lannes: “The Source of All Life,” a new translation

The Source of All Life

We have been spoken to of God in many ways, about the immense creative force that has set before us this boundless world, impossible to understand. He is vastly greater than we are … God, having the sense of what we (might) call Absolute-Intelligence, Absolute-Love. The distance is frightening.

For us, entirely lost in our life, Mr Gurdjieff’s teaching brings the precious idea of degrees. There is the Absolute and there is the relative. There is God on our scale.

Christ spoke to us of the interior kingdom, for us it is the divine. If we understand that, we understand ourselves differently.

For one who seeks God, their search is very serious. God, the root of the root of the root of all. The source. Let us seek the source within ourselves, the source of our life. When we try to collect ourselves interiorly, we try to move towards this source.

In religion, we have always searched for a relationship with that which is infinitely greater than we.

In the search for the divine, who searches?

Let us listen to a response from Gurdjieff to one of his pupils:

God can maintain the universe, without help, by Himself. Equally, He is good. He desires that beings be fulfilled in the universe, so that they may enjoy beatitude, and become (His) sons, to come to penetrating to the understanding of the Being who created the world.

Suffering is the price of immortality. Our fulfilment is imposed, and this can be called justice.

The wish to live is part of being. God wishing to live, has shared this wish among us all, and he has also provided that this desire for life becomes immortal life.

Henriette Lannes, “La source de toute vie,” Retour à maintenant, Editions de Tournadieu, Lyon, 2003, pp. 132-133



The translation in This Fundamental Quest is different from mine in some respects. You can think of them as alternatives. Perhaps the main difference is that I have tried to remain as literal as possible. It was not always possible, but when I judged it necessary to add two words for sense, I placed them in round brackets: these are (might) and (His).

Of course, what matters here is the content of her insight and thought. If I come down from that plane, and speak as an analyst, the first thing that struck me was the Protestant influence in Lannes’ thought, which becomes even more noticeable when one comes to Gurdjieff’s thought, cradled in the Orthodox tradition. Had Lannes been raised a Catholic, for example, the expression would certainly have been different. Beyond that, as Gurdjieff said, “if one thing could have been different, everything could have been different.”

There were many small differences between translations. I write this not to champion my own, but so that readers can compare and benefit from the comparison, because the very consideration provides material for thought.

The opening words are: “On nous a parlé de bien des façons …” My translation is fairly literal. But This Fundamental Quest opens with “Teachers and texts have spoken to us …” Clearly, Lannes has said nothing of teachers and texts. But did she imply it? And why is that translation not adequate? However, I retained my own translation because I think the alternative shifts the emphasis from what we have been told about God to who has told us. Lannes, I sense, was deliberately low-key on this aspect: the impact of her opening comes a little later, and she is leading up to it. “Teachers and texts” seems to me to open with a question of authority, and that may be misleading.

Then, in the quote from Gurdjieff, which is without any doubt in my mind, the climax of this wonderful piece, I have translated “the understanding of the Being who created the world” rather than “an understanding.” The French language uses the definite article when English often dispenses with it. But here, I think, the meaning is of an objective understanding, and not one among many, so I think the use of the definite article is warranted.

There are many smaller questions: “strive” or “try”? Which of these two words, or some other, would best fit the context? In the end, I felt that “try” was simpler and less pressing than “strive” or “endeavour,” and hence truer to her simple and direct style, without sacrificing any of the meaning. Then, “life’ or “lives”? Which is more direct, has more force? I may well have been chosen something better were I more capable.

When I read Lannes’ meditations, I have the sense – which may be completely wrong – that here at least she is careful but artistic more than she is scientific: making a mark on a door, important more for the fact of the door which it indicates than the symbol used.

When I remain before a piece like this, I can better understand why one of her pupils should have dedicated a book “in homage to Madame Lannes.”

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