Gurdjieff, Spiritual master. L’Originel, Paris
mercredi 13 avril 2005 par Claire Mercier
- Gurdjieff Maitre spirituel
His book comprises fourteen chapters : I "Gurdjieff and the Re-awakening of Traditional Knowledge," II "Gurdjieff and Gilgamesh," III " Gurdjieff and Esoterism," IV General Introduction to Beelzebub’s Tales," V "The Law of Three," VI "The History and Meaning of Gurdjieffian Work According to Beelzebub’s Tales," VII "Gurdjieff and Sexuality," VIII "Three Useful Indications for Work," IX "Bennett on Gurdjieff’s Work," X "A Critical Approach to the Concept of the Fourth Way," XI "The Masonic Word According to Gurdjieff," XII "Gurdjieff and the Secret of Initiation," XIII "Gurdjieff and the Exercise of Spiritual Direction," XIV "An Objective Appreciation of Gurdjieff and his work." The annex on traditional ritual and an epilogue summarizes Gurdjieff’s philosophical ideas.
For English readers, references to French texts of Gurdjieff’s work pose minor problems, first in page numbers that do not correspond generally with standard English-language editions, and secondly because translations into French of certain English words and phrases Gurdjieff was wont to employ can be misleading. For example, the French adjective étrique "pertaining to being" is likely to be confused with étrique "skimpy" because the former does not appear in standard French-English dictionaries. With few exceptions, however, Négrier’s argument is clear and his references apt. His overall theme is that Gurdjieff’s writings are particularly concerned with the issues of prolongation of life and life port-mortem.
For example, he points out that the eschatological theme in Meetings is implicit in discussions of bodily death and post-mortem possibilities Similarly, in Life is real, the succession of Gurdjieff’s gunshot wounds, his near-fatal accident in 1924, and the deaths of his mother in 1925 and his wife in 1926, reflect Gurdjieff’s triadic concept of death as either accidental, inevitable or caused by malefic forces, while the over-riding theme of Life, unfinished as it might seem, is the acceptance of the death of another to place oneself before death. Négrier makes sense, then, of the newspaper article by P. Mann on the prolongation of life at the end of the work.The need to work on the development of a soul before death is a theme that runs through the final chapter of Beelzebub’s Tales.
This first chapter outline of ideas is developed in further chapters. Chapter II reads Gurdjieff’s father’s story of Gilgamesh as an allegory of salvific intervention paralleling the salvific missions of Christ, Noah, and Moses that Gurdjieff performed himself during World War II. Chapter III traces Gurdjieff’s esoteric sources in the Orient, in Platonism, Judaism and Christianity. For evidence, Négrier scans Gurdjieff’s use of traditional myths, symbols and maxims, and his location of some of these in diagrams inscribed on earth is a stimulating suggestion that would explain Gurdjieff’s admiration of the paintings in the caves at Lascaux.
Chapter IV is a carefully wrought introduction to Beelzebub’s Tales, in which Négrier sees the causal influence of the deaths of his mother in 1925 and his wife in 1926. Négrier cautiously suggests autobiographical elements in the book and makes the startling suggestion that, overall, Beelzebub’s teaching relationship to Hassein reflects Gurdjieff’s real-life instruction to his natural son Nikolai. Négrier’s citing of sources in cultural histories add considerably to our appreciation of Gurdjieff’s use of the past. Chapter V on the Law of Three not only discusses positive, negative and neutralizing forces, but associates the three nourishing factors of the superior being with the perspective of his impending death.
Chapter VI exposes biographical materials that effect Gurdjieffian thought, including the toasts to idiots, mnemonic ramifications of the Law of Seven and, and Gurdjieff’s "saturation" of his followers and readers with words, food and drink. Chapter VII discusses the sexual aspects of the organ Kundabuffer as well as the dual function of human sexuality : reproduction and the coating of Being. The three "useful indications for work" in chapter VIII refer to use of time in parallel with classical views of tense. The YHVH that is pronounced to Moses on Sinai signifies "He was, he is, he shall be." Accordingly, Saint Augustine pointed out that man’s life is divided by past, present and future, while God is without tense. Gurdjieff, Négrier recalls, said that the present is a time to repair the past and prepare the future, echoing Aquinas’s dictum that the duration of human life is to be dedicated for earning grace.
Chapter IX relates Gurdjieff’s literary ideas to his teaching practice. He reads Gurdjieff’s drinking ritual, with its multiple toasts, as reflections of Christ’s final sacramental feast. One might add that the quest for the Holy Grail is another analogue to both. Congruent with feasting are music, readings, sacred dancing and the stop exercises, activities linked in Chapter X with the idea of the Fourth Way. Chapter XI discusses the work of esoteric circles to perfect being by coordinating physical, emotional and intellectual centers. Earlier in his work Négrier had used the term "spiritual" where here he has "emotional." Higher emotional and intellectual centers, he remarks, have Masonic and ancient Egyptian associations. Indeed, Soviet records from the Stalin era connect Gurdjieff with a Masonic Lodge in Saint Petersburg before WWI.
Chapter XII looks at Gurdjieff’s affirmation of an order of secret initiation, and argues that the principal problem of our existence is the prolongation of life. That is, as Gurdjieff explains in the last chapter of Tales, man faces three death scenarios : one accidental and premature, another at the hands of an enemy, and the third is the inevitable which he faced himself in his 1924 accident. Chapter XIII addresses the problem of transmission of spiritual ideas through followers and groups. Gurdjieff, as his father before him, was an exemplum, with verbal teaching, stepping on corns, and excluding pupils, like some of Orage’s followers, who alter the work as methods. The last chapter offers an appraisal of Gurdjieff and his work, and finds irrelevant his public reputation and the rent contradictions between his behavior and the tenets of his work.
The annex and epilogue summarize neatly various philosophical, religious and psychological aspects of Gurdjieff’s work. One regrets that Négrier’s references to Carlos Castaneda and Toltec tradition lack sufficient explanation for those not familiar with them. Négrier brings to his writing on Gurdjieff his background in philosophy and art. His citations of Scriptural and philosophical sources, fuller than I have seen elsewhere, reveals Gurdjieff as one who knew well the Bible and the major philosophical trends from Plato to his own day, and one who knew how to appropriate them for his particular purpose. Négrier’s prose is direct and clear, and his arguments are backed up with evidence and considered personal reflections. His overall thesis that Gurdjieff is concerned largely with the pre-and post-mortem prolongation of life is a welcome addition to Gurdjieff studies.
Paul Beekman Taylor