Karnak Press has kindly sent me three new books:
Robin Bloor and Paula-Schmidt (eds), Sayings from the Gurdjieff Work, (iv + 193 + 3 pages of promotional material; hardcover)
Nella Denzey Markoe Liska, Sacred Dances: The Gurdjieff Movements, (157 pages; paperback)
Terje Tonne, Rodney Collin: A Man who Wished to Do Something with his Life, (381 pages; paperback)
I am especially pleased to have received Sacred Dances and Rodney Collin, as each of them breaks new ground. Sayings is different in that it is similar to the book of quotations which Med Thring put together (Quotations from G.I.Gurdjieff’s Teaching: A Personal Companion.). In this short post, I will concentrate on the other two.
Liska has been demonstrating the movements for over fifty years. She learnt them from the very best teachers: Jeanne de Salzmann, Jessmin Howarth, Alfred Etievant, Josee de Salzmann, Solange Claustres, and others. This volume covers more practical details of movements classes than anything otherwise available. She speaks of the inner work and what she terms a “three-centred approach,” and also the clothing to be worn, taking positions in the movements and the requirement of exactness, the tempo and rhythm, balance (the spine and the brain), sensation, breathing and words (vibration and sound), planning, and children’s movements.
The movements are also related to other aspects of the Gurdjieff system of ideas and methods, “objective art,” and cosmology. Perhaps the most significant point is that: “… the basic understanding of the Work … is the study of increasing the vibration rate of presence to create a type of “coating” for the second body. This is an actual physical process and everything in the Movements room must align properly to make this possible. This is the heart of the Work. This is what makes the difference between just doing gestures and actual “Sacred Dances”. Without this understanding of Inner Work, the practice of Movements is lowered to the scale of regular dance.” (93-94) This is reminiscent of the comments by de Salzmann in The Reality of Being that the true meaning of the movements can be comprehended only in the light of the development of the second body (and perhaps of higher bodies, too).
There are many interesting asides in this volume, e.g. that the “sittings” which are currently used in the (Foundation) groups (145-146). Liska’s book is, in some ways, her testament; the articulated element in her legacy, but when she says that Gurdjieff was correct to say that “his Work would not last beyond the fourth generation after him,” I have to demur. How can we know? It is surely up to us to prove him to have been a false prophet. I am reminded of how Thomas de Hartmann was amazed that Gurdjieff placed his name on a list of instructors. The reason, Gurdjieff replied, was that it was an incentive to him to come up to the demand. So too, I think, with this prophecy. Oddly, this very volume may well be a help in ensuring that the Work does continue beyond that point. Incidentally, the fourth generation are those who learnt from people (3rd generation) who learnt from people who had not known Gurdjieff (second generation) who learnt from those who had known him (first generation). There are still alive many of us who are second generation: our teachers heard the teacher’s voice and were in his presence.
If this is Liska’s tribute to her teachers and her message to those who follow, Tonne’s volume is the first serious sustained study of Rodney Collin-Smith (1909-1956). Collin-Smith was a pupil, even a devotee of Ouspensky. He never met Gurdjieff, to the best of my knowledge, although he would have had the opportunity. His death came about in strange circumstances. What was pretty clearly an accidental fall to his death, has come down with the trappings of a self-sacrifice to some higher power.
Tonne is too intelligent to delve into futile conjecture: he treats, in the first section, with Collins’ life, and in the second, with his literary output. If Collin-Smith made Ouspensky the object of a bhakti cult, Tonne has conceived for his subject, the sincere appreciation appropriate in esoteric philosophy. He has done a very good job of bringing to light unpublished and little known facts, and weaving them together in an accessible form. One of the most significant matters to come to light is Ouspensky’s saying to Collin-Smith: “Finland! That was mild! … No, it was in Petersburg.” (73) Now, the “miraculous” had occurred in Finland, when Gurdjieff communicated telepathically with Ouspensky, and put Ouspensky in a state where he could reply the same way. Clive Entwistle said, and I think he was probably correct, that Gurdjieff had connected Ouspensky with the Great Accumulator, but the experience was too much for him. We can only guess at what must have taken place in St Petersburg if Finland was mild.
Mr Adie once said to me: “We can be too hard on Mr Ouspensky. We do not know all that happened with Mr Gurdjieff. Even Mr Gurdjieff can have made a mistake.” I know wonder whether Ouspensky had not given Mr Adie the sort of hint he had given Collin-Smith. If so, he was evidently unable to ever speak or write of it. Incidentally, I have forthcoming an article based on my reading of Tertium Organum in the original Russian edition which shows how little we have understood of the relation between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. I shall post a notice as soon as the article is published.
Returning to Tonne’s book, I have to say that while the author has done a really excellent job, and I think the book is a valuable addition to any Fourth Way library, I cannot, in the end, share his valuation of Collin-Smith’s achievement. To me, despite Tonne’s sterling efforts, it is apparent that Ouspensky was very sick indeed in his last year, and his mind was adversely affected. The idea that his inner developed accelerated and he taught them telepathically is clearly wishful thinking.
In my view, Collin-Smith is an example of knowledge outrunning being. I do not think we have much to learn from him. (Incidentally, Mr Adie said that the first chapter of The Theory of Eternal Life was based almost entirely on unpublished comments made by Ouspensky. This does not detract from Collin-Smith’s ability in presenting the ideas. In this, he was masterful. But I am not persuaded by his development of the ideas).