Review of Roger Lipsey’s “Gurdjieff Reconsidered” (Pt II)

N.B. I revised this review on 13 January 2024, trimming a few words here and there, but leaving it basically unchanged. Although many people I know and esteem intensely disliked this book, I still think it is worth reading. I think they were expecting something new, whereas I was not anticipating more than a sort of armchair overview. It is a little more than that.

Yet, when I wrote it I had appreciated fact but not the significance of the influence of the Perennialists (Traditionalists) on de Salzmann and Lipsey. Although he disclosed his work on A.K. Coomaraswamy and friendship with R.P. Coomaraswamy, I naively thought that the influence went no further than indicated. I now realise that some of the features which struck me as odd or misguided in this book are due to Lipsey’s thorough-going and profound debt to the Perennialists. To a significant extent, he has remade the Gurdjieff teaching into something meant to be appealing to the Perennialists, hence his melodramatic diatribes against  Perry’s Perennialist attack on Gurdjieff (believed to have been requested by Schuon himself): he felt stabbed in the back by the very people he wanted to impress and to admit him into their gilded company.

Now, while I desisted from making many critiques which I could have, one which I only now appreciate, has to be presented: the  interview with R.P. Coomaraswamy where R.P.C. mocks the Gurdjieff teaching, rhetorically asking why it has not produced flying boddhisattvas, and its influence is so slight. Lipsey said nothing to R.P.C., rather he gives his answer in this book. To give Lipsey due credit, he disclosed this. Unless R.P.C. had been telling people about it, we would not have known. But what remains, I think, is the clandestine undermining of Gurdjieff’s teaching by Lipsey and, I regret to say, by Jeanne de Salzmann. I consider the influence of the Perennialists to have been and to remain pernicious.


Part Three: Miscellaneous Notes

In explaining Gurdjieff to people who do not know him or are even antagonistic to him, I think that a significant point is that Gurdjieff did not only bring ideas, he brought practices which both exemplify and implement those ideas. In Witness, Bennett recounts how when he told Gurdjieff of a vision he had had, Gurdjieff said to him that what he had seen was real, but then he asked, what use was it to him if he did not know how make that vision the reality of his life. Many years later, in 1948, Bennett told his small group that he had believed that it was impossible to remember oneself, but that Gurdjieff had taught him exercises which had convinced him that it is in fact possible by utilising the powers latent in the body (Witness, 48, 198-199).

To my mind, this is one item which differentiates Gurdjieff from most other teachers, although of course since he brought his methods they have been imitated with varying degrees of innovation. Gurdjieff is  a “sign of contradiction” to those places and people who fervently read and speak about mysticism, effectively dreaming of it, rather than engaging with it. Do not just fantasise about the miraculous, says Gurdjieff, work for it. Lipsey mentions some of his most potent methods: the movements, the music and the books. But I think more could be said about the groups and the exercises; so I commence with them. Finally, I mention some minor sundry points.

The Groups

The basic idea of the groups is that when a number of people bring their questions, and they are answered by a teacher, then all members in the group learn both from others’ questions and by the replies (In Search, 223). By meeting regularly, a certain subtle demand is made. There is both a privilege and a responsibility. That Gurdjieff was a master of taking these groups, and evoking the feeling of belonging to a group, not just an assemblage of people, is evident in the increasing number of transcripts now available from the last ten years or so of his life.

Even when he was teaching in Russia, Gurdjieff often met his pupils in a group: Ouspensky’s In Search alludes to these. Those groups were also used for Gurdjieff’s exposition of the ideas, but at least sometimes, Gurdjieff would give them a task. When they met again, they would report on what they had found, and Gurdjieff would comment (In Search, 240 and 247-248). In London and the USA, in the 1920s, he gave lectures and answered questions (e.g. Gurdjieff’s Early Talks, 117-121 and 310-312). But these were not regular groups which met week in and week out. I am not aware that Gurdjieff took questions and gave replies in groups after Russia, until that final period in Paris. All throughout his career, he would engage in conversation with people, sometimes in moderate numbers, as Tchechovitch records in his memories. Interestingly, Taylor refers to a children’s group which Gurdjieff took, but he does not say how long that group lasted.

Lipsey does mention and even quote from some of these groups. But what I think should be underscored is the critical role of the groups in what has been the main form of passing on Gurdjieff’s teaching. In these groups, a number of pupils regularly meet together with someone who took the position of a mentor, if not of a teacher. They bring their observations and questions about their work, and those “in front” respond. Depending upon the group leaders, more or less may be said, it is more or less helpful or instructive (sometimes didactic), and tasks or exercises may be suggested.

It is not that no work is possible without groups. It clearly is: Gurdjieff did not take formal groups with the English, in 1948 and 1949, but they engaged in intense work. Yet, the groups have been historically crucial to the practical implementation of Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods. They allow for the directed application of the ideas to concrete life situations. Mr Adie, and not he alone, had a rule that one was to bring actual observations and, if possible, to formulate a question about what one had seen and tasted. If one had difficulty in finding the words, he would help. It was also a time when one might be put on the spot, as it were, as the grain was sifted from the chaff by someone of superior understanding. But the questions brought in groups were not to be theoretical. So often Mr Adie would ask us not to bring our conclusions about our efforts, let alone about ourselves. And so often, too, people would bring a general survey, and when, under Mr Adie’s guidance, they brought the actual factual observations, it turned out that they had arrived at a wrong, sometimes a bizarrely wrong, conclusion.

I would go further: I would say that it is artificial to treat any of Gurdjieff’s methods apart from the groups, or more precisely, apart from the necessary exchange about how the ideas and methods have been used in daily life. Ideally, these exchanges would at the very least include exchanges in groups,

The Exercises

Lipsey says: “Exercises taught by Gurdjieff have as a rule been little published, little discussed, and those who have nonetheless chosen over the years to publish and discuss leave an invisible tarnish where they have done so.” (143). When I read this, my first response was: “Why? What is his reason? Are we to accept his assertion? And everyone who has ever written on the exercises falls under this stricture?” Although I am in Roger’s firing line, I think I am on firm ground in saying that the rebuke as phrased is arbitrary and absolute.

But then I looked at it more closely: first of all, I considered the assertion that the exercises have been little published. That is true, arguably the most important exercises and their principles were published in Life Is Real Only Then, When “I AM”. Then, many more were published in The Reality of Being. Many more have appeared in the transcripts of the Paris meetings of the 1940s. The poor presentations in a book by Charles Tart have doubtless been forgotten, and a few others appeared in miscellaneous volumes. Yet, those aside, it appears to me that the publication of these other books alone makes Roger’s comment unreliable. Yes, not much has been said, but what has been said is what is most essential, and also the most authoritative.

Next, when he writes that some of us “chose” to publish, the question is: has he enquired as to why we made the choice? Perhaps some have published so that something so valuable not be lost. Solange Claustres told me that when the “responsibles” (by whom she had, I think, Jeanne and Michel de Salzmann and Henri Tracol chiefly in mind) decided to stop using Gurdjieff’s own exercises and substituted for them others of their own device, they acted, she insisted, for the best reasons. But, she also insisted, they had been wrong. “They were not in themselves negative,” she told me, “but the results of what they did were negative.” And in the course of that meeting she passed on to me an exercise from Gurdjieff which effectively dealt with a long-standing and seemingly intractable problem I had had.

Now, I suggest that it is not enough to criticise those who publish, for two reasons. First, whether one writes or is silent, one is responsible for what one knows. One who allows the exercises to be either forgotten or distorted cannot escape his responsibility for what he has learned. To say nothing is as serious a choice as speaking. Sometimes one has a duty to speak. Second, it is not, I suggest, what is said, so much as how it is said. One published alleged rendition of some exercises is, in my view, quite misconceived. Okay. That writer is responsible for that. Some of us have done our level best to present them accurately and with the proper context. If we have failed, we are responsible for that. Equally, Roger is responsible not only for what he has written, but also for what he has not.

Then, there is the question of the “invisible tarnish”. This is more problematic. The delightful English word “tarnish” is derived, our friend Skeat tells us, from an Indo-European root which originally meant “to hold, secure”, and hence to refer to what was hidden and kept secret. When it appears in English, the original sense was probably “to dim”. It still has that meaning, as well as meaning “staining”. One can surmise the development: what is kept secret will lose its colour and lustre. This makes me wonder: what is wrong with an invisible tarnish? Even if we accept that to speak of the exercises leaves one, simply on Roger’s say so, yet the only thing wrong with a tarnish is that it is visible.

Then, what, exactly is tarnished? Are the exercises less effective? Does a person who reads one of Gurdjieff’s exercises suffer some loss, some diminishment or lose an opportunity? I will not enter here into the vital importance of the exercises for implementing Gurdjieff’s teaching. I will just refer once more to Bennett’s comment, above, and add this one: “By the autumn of 1960, the realisation came to me that I had ceased to work on myself and had relied on the latihan to do what I should be doing by my own effort. … I resumed the discipline and the exercises I had learned from Gurdjieff and almost at once I found my state changed for the better” (Witness, 283).

Short Points

A number of significant people were treated perhaps too concisely in this book: in alphabetical order they were Bennett, Ferapontoff, Jane Heap, Nicoll, Orage and Ouspensky. Ferapontoff excepted, they all established lineages within the Gurdjieff current. I believe the Heap and Orage lines have folded into the de Salzmann. Lipsey is in the de Salzmann lineage. This means that he does not see others the way I do. But one does not have to stay within one’s groove, one can make the imaginative effort to step out.

A quick check indicates that the word “centrum” is both a Late Latin and an English word, although little used in English. The English probably derives from the Latin and the Late Latin would be derived from the Greek. The Armenian is derived from the Greek. Whether Gurdjieff must have found it in Greek and Armenian. Whether he found it elsewhere, and whether he used it with the apparently exclusive Armenian, Latin and English meaning of “centre” or the wider ancient Greek senses of “sharp point, spur, centre” is anyone’s guess (see Lipsey 38).

I would agree with Lipsey that some of the “Gurdjieff materials” which are published “lack validity of serious care” (143), if by “validity” we mean that they are fraudulent (e.g. the Cox and Gold materials). But in a book of this type, it is perhaps better to specify which works he means: not specifying can lead to suspicion.

The idiot toasts could indeed be a development of the rituals Gurdjieff saw in Georgia (120 and 191), but I do not know that there is any evidence to that effect.

Was Gurdjieff saying to leave the table a little hungry (43)? The exercise he refers to, of leaving the last mouthful on the plate rather than eating it may have been an exercise in self-control. That is how Mr Adie understood it: a sleeping man will obsessively eat all the food on his plate because he is identified with it.

Page 54, footnote 3, see also my recent edition of Boris Ferapontoff’s Constantinople Notes (Beech Hill).

Lipsey devotes some attention to Gurdjieff and Dalcroze. I briefly averted to this in my academic article on the Sacred Dances and Movements, although I omitted most of my research due to limitations of space and because in the result, my view was that there was no link direct between Gurdjieff and Dalcroze other than coincidence (the question of the Dalcroze dancers who joined Gurdjieff is another matter). When I wrote that article I had completely forgotten about this important reference in the de Hartmanns’ Our Life with Mr Gurdjieff: “… there was one person who was very displeased with the demonstration (of Sacred Dances). This was Emile Jacques-Dalcroze. Perhaps it was because everything that he saw contradicted his own system of movement … Here everything was based on quite another principle of anti-mechanical movement, simultaneously developing physical work with consciousness and even prayer, as in the Dervish Movements” (de Hartmann and de Hartmann, definitive edition 206).

The comments on Gurdjieff’s script (78-79) are interesting, and unique. Once more, Lipsey has access to information most of us do not. After considering the material here, it looks to me as if the script could be a form of English, perhaps with some capacity for one sign to indicate a syllable or more than one letter.

The description of the two “assemblages” in Gurdjieff’s apartment which he christens “the crèche of humanity” (172-173) is enticing. Photographs would have been appreciated.

I agree that Gurdjieff did change, even in his public years (266). To my mind, the clearest exposition of this is the chapter “Djartklom” in Bennett’s Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales. I cannot do justice to it here, but perhaps I should write a post on it.

Lipsey’s account of Katherine Mansfield and Gurdjieff is good, but overlooks the extraordinary tale of the return of her ghost to the Prieuré, available in the French original of the Tchechovitch memoirs.

I think I understand and even have sympathy for the idea that “perhaps” the Gurdjieff tradition should “remain secret” (277). Mr Adie told us that he would not have published the Third Series. (I have a feeling he may even have said he would not even have published the Second Series!) I have been told that the formidable Jane Heap believed the Work had to remain small and if not secret, then confidential. But the thing is that it has not remained confidential, and leaving the techniques secret meant that they were in danger of being lost, for some of them (notably the exercises), were kept so confidential that they have almost been forgotten.

Joseph Azize, 16 November 2018



  1. “I believe the Heap and Orage lines have folded into the de Salzmann.”

    I am not sure how much of Jane Heap was folded into Mme de Salzmann. I do know that Mrs Staveley (Two Rivers) was a student of Jane Heap and referred to her.

    As to Orage, you would have to show her connection which I think is minimal, if at all.

    WA Nyland, as for as I can see actually represented Orage and his particular approach to understanding Gurdjieff as one of the fundamental cornerstones of his clarification of Gurdjieff’s ideas. Mr Nyland always said though that he teaches Gurdjieff’s All and Everything. Gurdjieff put his understanding as he wanted it known in that series of three, independent of others interpretation. Mr Nyland left an extensive collection of recorded meetings and transcripts (from the 50s to the mid 70s) for his students. He was not interested in publishing.

    1. Thank you. There are many more vital issues in this review than the lineages, but as you raise them, let’s consider it. After Jane’s death, all the pupils who were with her, so far as I know, did join the de S. groups (the Addison Crescent group). Mrs Stavelely had been cast from the nest, as it were, to fly on her own wings, before Jane died. But Mrs St. did work with the de S. groups, even after the issues which arose with the “New Work”, and her group is still in close contact. So too with Orage’s group. Even Nyland was with the NY Foundation until a difference of opinion with them. His extraordinary wife, Ilonka, of whom I have written, remained with the NY group. Regards,

      1. I would like to know if there is anything formal about the term “New Work,” or whether it was coined by the relatively small number of people who were dissatisfied with what they perceived was taking place in the arenas they were part of. This is presented as though it were a generally known phenomenon which deserves quotes. I don’t believe it.

        1. This is not to say that I don’t understand or even agree with what is being described. But in my opinion, to couch it in scholarly terms is disingenuous.

        2. Good Evening, Ann, I don’t believe we’ve met, but I am glad to make your acquaintance, and I treat your question seriously. As for the phrase, “New Work,” I found the term in Sophia Wellbeloved’s excellent book “Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts,” 2003, pp.153-156. I have discussed the reality with many people, and that is the phrase which is most widely recognised, in my experience. It may not be so in yours. I can accept that. We do, after all, move in different circles.

          When you write “formal,” that word has several meanings (e.g. done as a mater of form, perfunctory, stiff, methodical, concerned with form not matter). Here, I would have to guess what you mean. But the phrase appears in an exhaustively researched book by an independent academic with a doctorate from a major university, published by a reputable press which carries a lot of academic work, as part of a series intended to be essential reference tools. It is, I suggest, “intellectually respectable.”

          I think you will be relieved to hear that the term is not pejorative. It is a neutral descriptor. If someone was looking for a put down, the adjective “new” would not spring to my mind with any alacrity. Rather, people tend to use it as positive, even as a selling point. If you read Sophia’s two entries, you will see that there is no criticism at all. And that is not just in the book – I did discuss it with her and she always was impartial.

          I am not sure why you write of a “small number of people.” I will assume you don’t mean it to be dismissive. Fine. Numbers have nothing to do with this: I am discussing facts and the interpretation of facts, not popularity contests. Further, “small” is a relative term, and needs explanation and maybe even some sort of evidence. What I shall do is post an article just on the “New Work”. I hope that will satisfy you. Oh, and it is also in my recent book.

          1. The term is pejorative when you use it and present details about it. If you seriously consider your own remarks and personal history carefully, you will see that. In your case, using a formal expression like “New Work” in this scholarly context reveals an attempt to legitimize what you are presenting since it is not commonly accepted in the “Gurdjieff community.” If there is value in simply presenting the facts are they are and the experiences which are invariably connected with them, this will stand on its own merit, at least among those in the “mainstream” who do not reject things out of hand but thoughtfully consider them and attempt to integrate them. (I need to add that I think your book is excellent, perhaps even called for in these times.) And the term “new” is not always used positively, as in Beelzebub’s expression “learned beings of new formation.” I know well that this term is in your recent book, which is presented as a scholarly exposition. People being what they are, and most likely unfamiliar with the details, will see you as an authority on the subject and swallow the book whole. They will not see the point where exposition of facts morphs into personal opinion. No one is exempt from deeply hidden psychological motivations, no matter who they are and how much authority and glittering commentary they possess. To me this kind of psychological scrutiny can’t be separated from the work to observe and ultimately to know myself in totality, to the degree that this is possible.

          2. Thank you for your comment. As I said, I treat your remarks seriously. Now, you do not address the first fact I mentioned: that I found the term “New Work” in the academic literature. I can add to this that if you read Prof. Andrew Rawlinson’s “Enlightened Masters,” and James Moore’s “Moveable Feasts,” they make exactly the same point, but just don’t use the phrase. I like the term “New Work” because it notes that Mme de Salzmann introduced a new work. If you wish to disagree, fine. It is your prerogative. But please show where I am wrong. Address Rawlinson’s research, and Sophia’s and Moore’s writing based on their own personal witness. When I write the promised post on it, you will have all these references, set out in full. And I shall reveal some more facts concerning which I have hitherto maintained silence.

            Next, I said that I was not using the term “new” pejoratively, and that it was not obvious it was a derogatory word. You then point to Gurdjieff’s “learned beings of new formation.” Now in that context it is meant to say that Darwin was ignorant and brash. But I did not use it in that context, and if you use one of the search engines for Gurdjieff, you will see that in the majority of cases when he uses the word new, it does not have that sense at all. So the question is context. You have not pointed to one concrete pejorative use by me or Sophia of the term. I assume in kindness to you that when you say “The term is pejorative when you use it and present details about it.” you mean “in the way you use it.” But what is there about the way I use it that is either wrong in fact or badly intentioned?

            I did write in my first reply that you need evidence when you spoke then about small numbers; and I make the same comment now that you write about the Gurdjieff community an the mainstream. How do you identify the Gurdjieff community or its mainstream? On what basis do you say they disagree with me? Many people I know agree with me, or really do not know either way, but despite their concerns that the Gurdjieff groups do not seem so very Gurdjieff, they remain in Foundation groups and say nothing because they do not see any alternative. Again, I was not going to write anything about this, but my post on the New Work will address it. Yet more deeply, I wrote: “Numbers have nothing to do with this: I am discussing facts and the interpretation of facts, not popularity contests.” I repeat that now. Why not respond to my reasoned arguments rather than retort?

            The same goes for your reference to what I wrote and my personal history. I have considered them, and I have not changed my opinion. You can tell me what there is in what I wrote or in my personal history, and we can deal with that. I am trying to deal with facts, rational responses, and reasoned interpretations. To say “No one is exempt from deeply hidden psychological motivations …” is to introduce an imponderable. It can be used against everyone, yourself, Mme De Salzmann included. But tell me where I am wrong, by facts and logic. At the moment, I can see a lot of assertions in what you write, and some budding attempts to open an argument against the man rather than his argument. Do not take that path. You have already made me resolve to write more than I had intended to in the post on the New Work, and to make it a higher priority, but the discussion does not have to be personal.

            If you think I am insincere, or out to serve anything but truth, you are very wrong.

          3. Okay. You don’t find Foundation groups valuable. I’m sitting here in front of myself and all I ask is that when writing this post you plan to write that you don’t let your opinions or manner of speaking discourage other seekers from having their own impressions of everything that is out there. Of course I would never discount your desire to help.

          4. Again, thank you for replying, but again, why can you not address what I actually write? And why do you never address the facts I point to? Now you say “You don’t find Foundation groups valuable.” Please, do me the courtesy and tell me, where do I say that? Really. Where do I say that? And when you realise that I have never said that, I can only hope that you wake up to the fact that you are reading into my words something which originates in yourself, not in me. Thank you

  2. Mr Reynard told me, not long before his death, that he had given up on Staveley’s group,
    AKA, the Farm, as they showed no appreciation for all that had been done for them,
    and continued to repudiate, Lord Pentland and Madame although taking all they could.

  3. It looks like Ferapontoff’s Constantinople Notes are no longer available on Amazon, and the Beech Hill website page is blank. Is the book no longer available?

      1. Thanks, Mr. Azize. I’ll keep checking to see if it becomes available again. I hope so, because I can’t find any used copies, either.

        p.s. I’m very much looking forward to your new book. Counting down the days until Jan. 13…

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