FEB. 3 — GEORGE GURDJIEFF QUOTES
THE MAN NOBODY SEEMED TO KNOW
“In the question period I gathered that several in the group were familiar with these Gurdjieff ideas. A few, like Jane, had studied with the mysterious teacher whose views on “sleepwalking" man tore the props out from under you as, I supposed, was intended. The people he drew into his orbit – appeared to be mainly musicians, artists, writers, with an occasional doctor, lawyer or business tycoon — a serious eccentric elect in search of truth, in search of themselves.
“I had hoped that some of the practiced disciples would speak of Gurdjieff the man, in brief reference of some sort, to help Wendy and me visualize the genie that had loosed all the anxious self-questioning. But no one did. It was apparently taken for granted that everyone there knew who he was and what he represented in terms of a teaching unique and revolutionary.
“Solita of course had told us something about Gurdjieff. In the late Twenties she had visited his Fontainebleau Institute. At that time he was teaching his method through sacred dances and had a considerable following, mainly French, British and Americans, with some Russians who had been with him since the days of his first organized teaching in Russia, before the Revolution. Though Gurdjieff had closed his Institute some years back, after a disastrous auto accident had all but demolished him, “his Work” ( always pronounced as if capitalized) continued through such groups as Jane Heap's, "authorized" no doubt by him. There were blank spots in her briefing. Who exactly was Gurdjieff? How old was he? Where born? Where now?
“I should point out that there was almost nothing in print about Gurdjieff at that time. Not a word of bis own voluminous writings had been published and very little had been written about him, apart from newspaper accounts of his New York appearance with his dancing groups, back in 1924. My mother, curiously enough, had given me as bon-voyage present the 'Letters of Katherine Mansfield' which contained the only personal report of him extant, as far as I knew. Some of her last poignant letters to husband and friends had been written from the Institute in Fountainebleau where she died in 1923. The famous short-story writer stated that Gurdjieff was "not in the least like what I expected. He's what one wants to find him, really." She believed implicitly that he could cure her tubercular body, and her ailing spirit "dying of poverty of life" and wrote warmly of the gentleness and awareness of his hard-working disciples whom she found to be "absolutely unlike people as I have known people."
“Hers were intriguing glimpses of the man behind the ideas that had captured my interest – the man nobody seemed to know (or if they did were unwilling to talk about), whom some even called "unknowable" although his reputation loomed in Left Bank conversations in a persistent hush-hush way, like a cloud enveloping a Jehovah.”
~ Kathryn Hulme “Undiscovered Country”
YOU MUST REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE ONE OF MR. GURDJIEFF'S PEOPLE
Toward the end of the dinner, I casually brought out my puff and powdered my nose. Mr. Gurdjieff nearly leaped from his chair.
The gist of what he said to me:
"I am Oriental and man. Never can I see woman making prostitute thing without my insides turning over. Never has woman sat my presence and painted face. I see you make now six times and each time if I bad bad knife in my hand, I wish send it through your heart. This is seven times and finish. At Prieuré no woman even dare smoke before me. This idiot fashion put paint on face exist only New York and in territory around Place de l'Opera. Only prostitute make in other places. If you wish make this thing, you must in water-closet go as if to make merde, and not make merde in my salon. What your father and your brother say to you ten years ago if you paint face in their presence? Now you must remember that you are one of Mr. Gurdjieff's people and pupil. Me, I am Gurdjieff, and compared me you are merde nonentity." He made himself look terrifying, veins stood out on his forehead as he shouted. Then he made a ceremony of apologizing to me, Miss Gordon, Jane Heap, and Alice in turn. He said, ''Now Kanari hate me, she hate me for two days."
~ "Gurdjieff and the Women of the Rope"
‘WHATEVER IS THIS RUBBISH YOU’RE TALKING?’
We did not always satisfy our exacting task-master in our gropings after the truth—far from it. I remember one evening when we happened to be gathered together at a friend’s house, with Gurdjieff sitting cross-legged on a large settee, that he turned to Ouspensky and said: ‘Now, you tell me something about what I was trying to hammer into your heads yesterday, about impressions and “reels”. I will smoke and listen.’
Ouspensky cleared his throat, hummed and hawed, self-consciously put on an expression like an experienced lecturer, and began:
‘Er, er ... it is difficult . . . well-nigh impossible . . . for civilised humanity with its deeply-rooted ideas, to assimilate new ones . . . er. . . . Perhaps we are disciples of Auguste Comte; or we may become attached to the ideas of Thomas a Kempis ... or possibly we are influenced by reading about the Rosicrucians, or by the doctrines of Theosophy. . . . We are all products of our destructive civilisation. ’
Gurdjieff stopped him with an impatient gesture. ‘Whatever is this rubbish you’re talking?’ he shouted. Then he shrugged his shoulders and turned to the rest of us. ‘I suppose he wants to show off his knowledge. He’s exactly like a cow going round and round a new gate without being able to find the way in. God preserve us from such people!
~ Anna Butkowsky "With Gurdjieff in St. Petersburg and Paris"
THIS IMPORTANT LESSON FOR YOU
During the time of Mme. Ostrovsky's [Gurdjieff’s wife] illness and Mr. Gurdjieff's daily sessions with her, one person, who had been a close friend of his wife for many fears, seriously objected to what Mr. Gurdjieff was doing; her argument was that Mr. Gurdjieff was prolonging his wife's sufferings interminably and that this could not possibly serve any worthy or useful purpose—no matter what he had said about it. This woman was Mme. Schernvall, the doctor's wife, and her anger against Mr. Gurdjieff hid reached such a pitch that, while she did continue to live at the Prieuré, she never appeared in his presence and refused to speak to him for several months. She would argue her case against him to anyone who happened to be within earshot, and even once told me a long story to illustrate his perfidy.
According to her, she and her husband, the doctor, were two of the original group who had come with Gurdjieff from Russia some years before. We had heard about the incredible difficulties they had encountered escaping the various forces involved in the Russian revolution and how they had finally made their way to Europe through Constantinople. One of the things which Madame Schernvall now brought up against Mr. Gurdjieff, as proof of his unreliability and even of his evil nature, was that it was largely thanks to her that they had finally been able to make their escape. Apparently, by the time they had reached Constantinople they were entirely out of funds and Mme. Schernvall made it possible for them to continue to Europe by lending a pair of very valuable earrings to Mr. Gurdjieff, which enabled them to hire a boat and cross the Black Sea Even Madame Schernvall admitted, however, that she had not offered the earrings spontaneously. Mr. Gurdjieff had known of their existence and, as a last resort, had asked her for them, promising that he would leave them in Constantinople in good hands and that he would, on his honour, return them to her someday—as soon as he could raise the necessary money to redeem them. Several years had pissed and, even though Mr. Gurdjieff had, in the meantime, raised large amounts of money in the Unites States, she had never seen the earrings again. Not only was this proof of his lack of good intentions; in addition she always brought up the question of what he had done with the money he had raised —had he not, for instance, purchased all those bicycles with money that could have been used to buy back her jewels?
This story had been told to most of us at different times, and at the time of Mme. Ostrovsky's death I had completely forgotten it. A few weeks after the funeral, Gurdjieff asked me one day if I had seen Mme. Schernvall recently and inquired as to her health. He expressed his regret at the fact that he never saw her any more and said that it made his relations with the doctor very difficult, and that it was not a good situation. He gave me a long lecture about the vagaries of women and said that he had finally decided that it was up to him to make an effort to win back Mme. Schernvall's affection and her goodwill. He then handed me part of a chocolate bar, in a torn box, as if someone had already eaten the other half, and told me to take it to her. I was to tell her how he felt about her, how much he did respect her and value her friendship, and to say that this chocolate was an expression of his esteem for her.
I looked at the torn wrapping and thought, privately, that this was hardly the way to win back her friendship, but I had learned not to express such reactions. I took it from him and went to see her.
Before handing her the small package, I gave her his messages, quoting him as exactly as I could, which took some time, and then handed her the little, torn package. She had listened to me with obviously mixed emotions and by the time I handed her the package she was eager to receive it. When she saw it; however, her features assumed a look of disdain. She said that he was never serious about anything, and that he had forced me to give her this long, elaborate message just as a preliminary joke to giving her a half-eaten piece of chocolate, which she did not like in any case.
I then said that I was surprised because he had told me that she liked this particular brand of chocolate above anything else in the world. She gave me an odd look when I said this and then opened the package nastily. He had chosen the right messenger; I had so completely forgotten her tale about the jewels that I was as astonished as she when she found, of course, the earrings. She burst into tears, hugged me, became almost hysterical; she made up her face, put on the earrings, and then proceeded to tell me the entire story all over again, but this time with the significant difference that this was proof of what a wonderful man he was, and how she had always known that he would keep his promise to her. I was as surprised by her switch of feelings as I had been when I saw the earrings.
I went back to him, as he had instructed me, and told him the whole story in detail. He was greatly amused by it, laughed a great deal, and then told me, at least in part, his story. He said that her facts were correct, but that she had no conception of the difficulties he had experienced in trying to get the earrings back. He had "pawned" them for a very large sum of money to a trusted friend ii Constantinople and when he had, finally, been able to return the money, together with the proper interest, he had learned that his friend was dead. It had taken him, from then on, several years of unflagging effort to located the jewels and to persuade the present owner, apparently a usurer, to return them for a sum far exceeding their value.
I could not help but blurt out my obvious reaction: Why had he done this? Were any jewels worth such a price, and, in addition, did Mme. Schernvall fail to realize that whatever the value of the jewels, the very lives of Gurdjieff's group at that time had probably depended on them?
He told me then that the value of the jewels was not an important element in the story. One reason he had redeemed them was because of his wife's friendship for Mme. Schernvall; that friendship could not be evaluated, and that it was necessary to do this for the sake of tie memory of his wife. Further, he said that any man had an obligation to keep any promise that was made truthfully and solemnly, as he had made that particular promise. "I not do this for her only," he said, "also do for sake of my soul."
"You remember," he said then, "how I tell about good and evil in man—like right hand, left hand? In other sense, this also true of man and woman. Man is active, positive, good in Nature. Woman is passive, negative, evil. Not evil in your American sense like 'wrong', but very necessary evil; evil that make man good. Is like electric light—one wire passive or negative; other wire active, positive. Without such two elements not have light. If Mme. Schernvall not evil for me, perhaps I forget promise, serious promise, I make to her. So without her help, because she not let me forget what I promise, I not keep promise, not do good for my soul. When give back earrings I do good thing: good for me, for memory of wife, and good for Mme. Schernvall who now have great remorse in heart for bad things she say about me. This important lesson for you."
~ Fritz Peters “Boyhood With Gurdjieff”