The “New Work,” James Moore, Pt II

Part Two

It is significant that Moore distinguishes his critique of the new teaching from any criticism of those bearing it: “These startling propositions advanced with formidable intellectual refinement by French teachers of palpable integrity, left questions. … the iconic Gurdjieff, avatar of effort, now necessarily fell to be deconstructed by his eponymous organisations.  Thus, at a time when the crypto-Gurdjieffian journal Parabola continued celebrating a vast pantheon of religious, mythic, and legendary figures, Dr Michel de Salzmann (Mme de Salzmann’s son) warned of Gurdjieff himself that, “there are no golden legends to be built around him.” Then, if not legend, perhaps sober history was admissible?  Seemingly not: Gurdjieffian historicity was equally unwelcome in Paris because “rather idolatrous.” (again, Michel de Salzmann).

Another point Moore makes is that with this new line came a silence on most of the ideas: “Effectively discarded with both the ‘heroic’ and historical Gurdjieff was the … Ray of Creation, the Table of Hydrogens, the Step Diagram, the Food Diagram, the Enneagram, etc.  They and their unwelcome implications simply vanished from politically correct discourse.  With this final solution to the problem of the Work’s effort-saturated cosmological matrix (enunciated by Gurdjieff, promulgated by P.D. Ouspensky, meditated by Maurice Nicoll, extrapolated by J.G. Bennett and Rodney Collin, and cherished inter alia by H.H. Lannes) the pupil’s presumed new experience of ‘being worked on’ and ‘being remembered’ was posited in a mystical illuminism, which hinted encouragingly at a supernal ‘look of love’ – albeit not specifying its presumably divine, demiurgic, or angelic provenance.  In a doctrinal corollary of seismic implications, fusion with this supernal source replaced individuation as the pupil’s goal.”

This was then given expression in the new “communal ‘sittings’ (where) the highly energised ‘love from above’ professedly entered the pupil’s subtle body through an ‘aperture’ at his crown … as he waited with eyes closed in still, sustained, and intensely refined attention.  With each vital breath … this transforming energy ducted itself ‘arterially’ down the spine … into the sexual zone … and thence up again to exit between the eyebrows.” Moore relates this to a new interest in Indian philosophy techniques which, he says, was not authentic to Gurdjieff.

“The grand trophy of revisionism was Gurdjieff’s mythopoetic magnum opus, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson,” says Moore. “That this book marshalled Gurdjieff’s profoundest insights; that he himself, over decades, honed the English text refining its nuances and cadences; that he saw it into publication … was now outweighed by a single fatal defect. … the reader’s confrontative effort was required – and effort was passé. … A suitable American team, mandated by Mme de Salzmann herself, contrived to “clarify the verbal surface”; to make “the reading smoother; the material seem lighter, more approachable” (Moore here quotes a review by Chris Thompson, in Parabola XVIII (1),  Feb. 1993: 98, adding: “Thompson was actively engaged in this contentious revision which he favourably reviews from a standpoint of ostensible impartiality.”).  In 1992 the bowdlerised version was published and ‘hyped’: Gurdjieff’s authentic text jettisoned; objection made light of.”

Yet, says Moore, “The overwhelming majority of rank-and-file ‘Gurdjieffians’ – albeit now populating a landscape littered with the toppled monuments of their master’s unequivocal teaching – proved models of adaptation.” In a memorable line, he writes: “they saw no deconstruction, heard no deconstruction, spoke no deconstruction; indeed their own vocabulary of experience quickly acquired by osmosis the newly ‘correct’ idiom.”

Moore states that not all were happy with the changes, but: “(their) deep disquiet was veiled; group loyalties, hierarchical organisational structures, patterns of sanction and patronage, and, above all, a well-founded awe of Mme de Salzmann muffled dissent.”

In what is an important note about how New Religious Movements operate, and not only them, I would suggest, Moore states: “… the Work’s post-1980 cultural revolution in Britain was instigated not by its ‘Red Guards’ but by its ‘Great Helmswoman’. Jeanne de Salzmann was an active and formidable 90, and her London delegates Tracol and Desselle in their 70s, when all three commenced dispensing the new doctrine unanimously, simultaneously, and in manifest good faith. … explanation was neither demanded nor volunteered. The oligarchy’s oblique rationalisations were tendered only as intermittent sub-texts … that mutability of form characterises (Gurdjieff’s) way; that tradition relies on inner vibration not exterior semblance; that recourse to striving brings diminishing returns to the point of counter-productivity …”

Moore elaborates on this point, then asks: “what today are The Society’s specifically Gurdjieffian credentials?” (his italics). He suggests only two: that the seniors in the Society include “virtually all surviving Britons who studied directly under Gurdjieff,” and “the choreographic repertoire of his Movements.”  He somberly cites In Search of the Miraculous 129, to say that every religious movement’s trajectory eventually “deviates from its original direction and goes . . .  in a diametrically opposite direction still preserving its former name”.

Moore concludes: “Paris’s tenacious hold over matériel and ‘orthodoxy’; the existence of an extensible dynastic line … and the current well-meaning series of international, oecumenical conferences – all these portend cohesion.  Yet has not the wholesale and hubristic revisionism of the 1980s, culminating in today’s gauche ‘improvement’ of Beelzebub sown the dragon’s teeth of schism? Whenever a movement’s apostolic successors visibly cease to be guardians of the tradition, then, sooner or later comes some slouching Luther. …   That any true Gurdjieffian communion (however dilated in space and time) must pivot on the teaching, writing, and example of G.I. Gurdjieff, is hardly an extravagant or inflammatory proposition.  Its re-espousal seems, to certain informed sensibilities, not only metaphysically apt but urgently politic.”

I conclude here by noting that, in a footnote, Moore wrote: “A widespread and deeply felt reaction against the revision of Gurdjieff’s major work, undertaken unilaterally by The Gurdjieff Foundation (New York), first found voice in Feb. 1993, when the leader of the Oregon groups, Mrs A.L. Staveley, promulgated to senior Gurdjieffians worldwide a critique entitled:  “A Protest Made in Sorrow on the Revision of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.” In a future article I hope to address in extensis the important issues raised by this revision and its reception.” I am not sure if that article was ever written. But if it was, and anyone has a copy, I would be pleased to read it.

Joseph Azize, 13 June 2020



  1. Having been in a Foundation group for over 22 years and then engaged in a changed form delivered through a Nyland group, I can attest to the fact that the passivity in approach in the former is material, when contrasted with the demand for active efforts in the latter. However, each group it seems has selectively elected to work on ‘parts’ of the ideas that Mr Gurdjieff, left for us. Therefore, it behooves us to stay close to Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, in order to maintain contact with and decipher for ourselves, the pure transmission. As the book title states, “It is up to Ourselves”.

    1. The changes marked by Moore were not revisions but reflect deepened understanding. Gurdjieff introduced such sittings as “special work” to his most senior pupils; Madame de Salzmann then introduced such work more widely when she felt groups were ready to receive. The terms orthodoxy and heterodoxy do not apply.

        1. Thanks for your reply written in 2021; I’m sorry it took me so long to notice it. I returned to your interesting article about Moore’s piece and only just now noticed your reply.
          I am very interested in this question of the new Work. Although I entered the Work in a foundation group in 1988 and so was introduced to the “new” version of the Work right away, I still would like to explore the question further.
          You asked for evidence; the only “evidence” I have is a short piece written by an elder in the New York group whose name I don’t remember; he wrote the piece in a Parabola issue which I did not purchase. All I recall is that he said that Gurdjieff had already introduced a more “receptive” sitting approach to his eldest pupils as far back as the 1920s in France, and that, with Bill Segal’s urging, the sittings were more widely introduced. In her book It’s Up To Ourselves Dushka Howarth says Madame de Salzmann was also influenced by her exposure to Zen in her trip to Japan with Segal with Zen’s emphasis on the abdomen or hara. And in her own notebooks, later published as The Reality of Being, there’s a section where Madame lifts word for word from a passage written by Sri Anirvan in Lizelle Reymond’s book about her study with a Baul guru. So it seems Madame drew from a number of influences other than Gurdjieff.
          Best, Gary

          1. Thank you. Can you let me know which the passages are, in Reality of Being, and in Reymond? I know one person who said that Gurdjieff introduced the “New Work” at the Prieure. It is the merest assertion, and can be traced back to de Salzmann who needed to counter arguments that she had changed the system. In the forthcoming Bennett volume I show that the correspondence from Jean Toomer with JBG, and his dealings with de Salzmann and Lannes, show that any type of contemplative work at all was unknown to both Orage and he. The fact that she had to lie proves that she knew was wrong.

  2. Thanks for your prompt reply. It appears the evidence for Gurdjieff’s introducing this newer approach advocated by Madame is pretty thin; as you say, and so far as I know also, there is only verbal assertions from elders who likely are repeating what Madame said at an earlier time.
    I will do my best to run down those passages from Madame’s book and Reymond’s book. It may take a few days to get back to you, but I will. I must say I was shocked to see what appeared to be an unacknowledged lifting of a passage from a “master” in another tradition, making it appear that the thoughts were original with Madame in one of her notebooks. Why would she or anyone else do that when it can be so easily traced to the authentic source?
    By the way, I am also a priest, in the Orthodox Catholic Church, a rather “liberal” church. We have no formal affiliation either with the Roman Catholic Church or any of the Eastern Orthodox churches.
    I saw your video interview about the new work and enjoyed hearing about your experiences with elders in New York.

    1. Thank you. One day we should meet up. See pp.223-4 of my exercises. I wonder how I omitted to mention that in A Voice on the Borders of Silence, he is quoted as saying “I must confess that I was a great proponent of meditation, which I felt was lacking in the Gurdjieff Work in the 1940’s. I was in Japan in 1952. I had my own experience after three or four months in the headquarters of the Soto Zen Monastery. I came out and said, “My God, I’ve been in the Gurdjieff Word for seven or eight years, and here after three months I made a leap.” I felt that this practice of formal sitting of Zazen was lacking in the Gurdjieff Work at the time. Then Madame de Salzmann did isntitute it. She probably had that practice in her own way, but I felt it needed a more formal adherence. We needed more “sittings.” 196-7

  3. Further to the conversation above… from Rizelle’s book, “To Live Within,” which is about her time with Shri Anirvan. The link below does not answer the question about whether de Salzmann lifted directly from Anirvan, but his language… or Rizelle’s interpretation, it’s not clear… is remarkable similar to de Salzmann’s in her New Work years. Words and phrases like “voluntary,” “letting go,” “relaxation and sensation,” as well as the general gist of the passage, i.e. of letting go of, and “forgetting” the usual self so that a “special attention” can emerge that “gives no orders and knows no impatience” . . . “it simply watches.”

    This online book can be “borrowed” for free for an hour at a time by created a free account. An excellent resource for publications.

  4. Reymond’s book, “Sri Anirvan Letters From A Baul: Life Within Life” also has such language and concepts as de Salzmann uses in “Reality of Being”. The similarity is beyond casual. It is clear to me that de Salzmann, apart from drawing upon Zen tradition (with Segal) for the new “sittings,” drew from such Eastern traditions as Sri Anirvan, Sri Aurobindo (e.g. The Life Divine), and Ramakrishna. De Salzmann’s “look from Above” or “higher presence” or “higher energy” is most likely Shakti.

    Increasingly, I am of the opinion that de Salzmann, in closing the door to Gurdjieff’s Work as he gave it, after his death, replaced much of it with what amounts to a religious path of devotion.

    I am not saying that the natural outcome of doing Gurdjieff’s Work does not lead to realisation, even communion, with the divine. The Work is ultimately a mystical path, even though it was initially presented as a secular way. I have confirmed this for myself. However, we cannot remove the steps that lead to such a direct realisation/experience without the method turning into a devotional path… a new way of the monk.

    To grow the leaves of the tree of our Being, we must first grow a roots, a trunk, and a branches. That, in my mind, is what Gurdjieff’s Work was and is still about.

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