Magazines and autobiographies have called G.I. Gurdjieff's teachings an enigma. That could not be further from the truth. They are plain as day. That is the whole point of his teachings. The only requirement is honesty about oneself and the ability to laugh at oneself and one's life as in the end of "Arousing of thought". Impartiality is what matters? So my message to angry people, "Don't bother writing me, try your psychiatrist first."
In his First Series: "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson", Gurdjieff talks of certain unfortunate events in the lives of the Three-Brained humans throughout history, but there have also been many in the Gurdjieff Work, aside from his woundings and automobile crashes.
The First is that it was unfortunate that in his First Series, Gurdjieff called the main character "Beelzebub", who stands for the Devil. Though is was meant to be humorous, it tends to exclude many who are religious-in-name and are still afraid of God's punishment.
The Second that Gurdjieff never intended for the chapter titled "The Material Question" to be the final chapter of his Second Series: "Meetings With Remarkable Men". This Series should have ended with the wonderfully inspiring Chapter on "Professor Skridlov."
The Third is that Gurdjieff never wrote his promised Third Series: "Life is real only then, when 'I am'", but worse than that, his students after his death published a book containing merely some lectures and rambling thoughts of Gurdjieff and called that name. (I was one of the elite, a member of a Gurdjieff group on a list, who were allowed to buy this book at Weiser's book store in New York, when it first came out. I bought three thinking that I would finally learn the greatest truths. What a crushing disappointment! I tried to return the two extras, but was refused because the Gurdjieff Foundation would not allow the bookseller to sell it directly so it had no monetary worth either. The last one, that I had, tormented me so much that I finally tossed it into the garbage.)
A lesser unfortunate event was the Movie: "Meetings With Remarkable Men" ending with Prince Yuri speaking as if he is a spiritual master (maybe because he just watched the exquisite Sufi dancing), even though now he is leaving for a super-monastery precisely because "he lost so many years senselessly" in his life, telling Gurdjieff, "You have now found a condition in which the desire of your heart can become the reality of your being. Stay here until you acquire a force in you that nothing can destroy. Then you will need to go back into life and there you will measure yourself constantly with forces, which will show you your place." (Sounds like Richard the Lionhearted returning to England after slaughtering the heathen to sword fight with Prince John.)
Compare this with the ending of Gurdjieff's "Meetings With Remarkable Men" where Professor Skridlov speaks "Formerly, it may be said, my whole being was possessed by egoism. All my manifestations and experiencings flowed from my vanity. The meeting with Father Giovanni killed all this, and from then on there gradually arose in me that 'something' which has brought the whole of me to the unshakeable conviction that, apart from the vanities of life, there exists a 'something else' which must be the aim and ideal of every more or less thinking man, and that it is only this something else which may make a man really happy and give him real values, instead of the illusory 'goods' with which in ordinary life he is always and in everything full."
I would suggest that anyone interested in the Gurdjieff should read the First and Second Series: Beelzebub's Tales and Meetings with Remarkable Men and perhaps a casual glance and In Search of the Miraculous. (By the way Nyland made me start to read Beelzebub's Tales out loud as Gurdjieff prescribed even though I had read it five times, but these incantations did nothing.) Although Gurdjieff said that a student of his work must have a master to guide him, I (but what does my "I" matter anyway) do not believe that there is a was such a person other than Gurdjieff himself and he was not perfect.
After all, Gurdjieff deposed his all his students in the end, leaving his family, created from many sexual encounters, with the privilege of carrying on his mission. If he were still alive, he would be deposing all those who claimed leadership from some word of his or those who just claimed to understand his work (like me). With over 60 years having past since his death and with all his first-line students have passed on, entering into a master-student relationship would be extremely dangerous. Look at what happened when all of Jesus' disciples and children were dead! Is Christianity anything like what Jesus taught?
If you still have a desire to test this and can endure the silence of meetings where those who speak are shot down as idiots and the rest, who do not wish to have this happen to them, stay silent trying to form a question that will not show their ignorance, then don't let me stop you. This was the way it was in Nyland's groups before he disbanded them. Quite a while ago I was at a Nyland/Bennett group in Seattle (if you can imagine that combination!) and I could not help but feel that perhaps Gurdjieff's spirit was there, on the spiritual hook so to speak, like Jesus must be also. Thus these spiritual leaders who gave their lives to helping people escape the Hell on Earth are now trapped in the Hell of Purgatory under God's command? Incidentally, I was thrown out of that group, in which I attended to learn the movements, because I brought my sister-in-law, telling her to endure the oppressive silence and not to speak, only to have her argue with the movement instructor and be too embarrassed to return.
I have always considered that the ability to read and understand the First Series: "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" is a litmus test of a person's ability to understand Gurdjieff's teachings. If that is not possible, no amount of discussing Ouspensky or any of the other books will get you close to his teachings: and that, ironically, includes Gurdjieff's lectures also which were measured on his audience. You will be forever searching for hidden meanings in Mullah Nasser Eddin or in Ahoon (of all people!). To not understand this book is like saying you know Christianity and not being able to understand the New Testament. (There's a lot of that, too.) (See my web site the Pesher of Christ and my book on Amazon by that name.)
Having dared to put up a web site, I have been accosted by many know-it-alls or know-it-lesses (those who believe that no one could understand his teachings in Beelzebub's Tales since they have or haven't and that Ouspensky and Bennett and so many others know better.)
In Gurdjieff's time, not having anyone that understood or even liked his First Series, Gurdjieff was discouraged from writing the Third Series book. (Read: "Herald of the Coming Good", a book by Gurdjieff that created an uproar and which he had to retract some of it because, basically, he said that there was not one single person who understood his teachings.) (More in the section on this site: Third Series: "Life is Real Only Then, When I Am"- Rebuttal of published book
Spiritual knowledge is not passed on like a dynasty. Well-meaning as all these students and teachers are, there is nothing left of the Gurdjieff method but empty mantra's of "Work on yourself", "Wish upon a star",.etc.(aside from his wonderful dances that are only offered to a privileged few.) So-called authorities read only Ouspensky or Bennett or try to imitate the way the Gurdjieff tried to get his followers to become aware of themselves with "work farms." There is energy there in these farms, but so is there always energy in groups of people with a common purpose. Many at these groups judge spirituality by how deep ones' eyes are. That means that the blue eyes end up more spiritual than the brown eyes. (Fortunately my eyes are hazel. So I am only half accepted.)
When I belonged to Willem Nyland's group, they made me cut my hair short. I liked the parallel of the anagram Nyland-Dylan and I could push a mean wheelbarrow when I wasn't reading my pink covered copy of Beelzebub's Tales (that I had to cover because the blue dye got over everything.) I loved the Fridays of brandy and piano by Nyland. His talks were inspiring, but eventually were like "Brother Sez". When I met him for the first time, I asked him questions about Beelzebub's Tales. He instructed me to follow the instructions at the beginning of the book about three times. I said I had read it five times already, but he said I had to do it. Nothing earth-shattering happened except to find that Nyland was not antagonistic to me on my next meeting after I gave him a candle I bought from the farm store. I studied under Nyland for three years. I was 22.
After reading Kathleen Riordan Speeth's book: "The Gurdjieff Work" Pocket Books, 1976, finally finding that Nyland had broken away from the Gurdjieff Foundation, I wrote to the Foundation. Lord Pentland instructed Estelle Hoyt to call me and I met her with her husband in Vancouver, Canada. I enjoyed visiting, but I was tired of the "work farms" concept. She was impressed that I called my first son Kesdjan (now he is Kes like in Star Trek.)
I now recall an event that occurred to me when I was first introduced to the Work. I attended a class under Paul, a photographer. I had given him a tape of my songs and he gave me a book of ancient monuments in the UK. It was just my luck that shortly after Willem Nyland listened to the tapes of these classes and disbanded them. Paul had given me an introduction to the Barn upstate and I arrived, only to be turned away after lunch because Nyland had just passed a rule of no long hair. As my sister cut my beautiful long hair (I was a dish washer after graduating with a B.S. in Physics from Georgetown University class of 68 with President Clinton so a could wear a hair net in the kitchen - the reason for the haircut was also to get a job in computers a Honeywell, having abandoned my Music career), a friend showed me The Village Voice section where personal messages could be posted for a minimal fee. One sentence was there, "Dylan, opportunity rises from Sagittarius, but don't rely on Gemini". Well if you can understand that in those days in 1970 the only Dylan alive in America was Bob Dylan, not as now there are so many, it seemed that it must be meant for me.
I attended a big Nyland affair where we were graced with Nyland's young pretty wife on stage. I was stupid enough to ask a question such as: "Gurdjieff says there are times when one should take a break from active mentation. Would you tell at what times this is necessary and for how long?" You see in those days I though everyone had read Beelzebub's Tales. You can imagine how I was a laughing stock. Instead of getting an answer from the smart men on stage they passed it to Nyland's wife because even she could answer this stupid question. The answer of course was "I know of no such statement by Gurdjieff" as she looked back at the men who nodded with a hidden laughter and then, of course, "you need to observe yourself, blah, blah, blah." I saw my instructor Paul look over at me and wink at me from a distance. At the end of the meeting I offered the two major leaders in charge, money for the ad. They said, they would never do such a thing. I left the money and they said they were happy for any donation. Next day in the newspaper: "Dylan, passions rise from Scorpio, but don't rely on Gemini". I never saw Paul again, but I am sure it was him and even if it was, I imagine he would get reprimanded by Nyland. I was well-versed in astrology and I thought that it was silly anyway. My wife still says it was coincidence or synchronicity as in Celestine Prophecy, but I doubt it. Thus is the Gurdjieffian cloak and dagger atmosphere.
Most people appear to be baffled by Beelzebub's Tales, but I did meet one person who understood it besides my wife and that is Alan Bennett, deceased. I have included his definitions of some humorous gurdjieffisms (Gurdjieff's made-up words).
Apparently people believe that if they act mysterious that they can convince others that they are as smart as Gurdjieff. Again I was duped: I was foolish enough to follow the instructions of someone who placed his phone number for a group on Ouspensky on a piece of paper in "In Search of the Miraculous" in a Seattle bookstore. When I called he said he would meet me in a certain hotel lobby and that I should bring that book with me. He would not tell me where exactly, but that he would find me, if it was meant to be. That representative of the group never appeared. I guess I was not worthy. Perhaps my hazel eyes did not look spiritual enough under the florescent lights.
Then there are those who immediately start to tell you how you should start observing yourself because obviously you could not be as good as they are because they belonged to some group for years. Those who have this Ouspensky/Gurdjieff superiority are clearly just candidates for a mental school.
On this concept of the "Work". If I ask you how many senses do have? You will probably answer five. Here, I list these five in order of spiritual power from lower to higher: touch, taste, smell (these three are of the body), hearing (that is why we are bombarded by musak when we shop to distract our brains, but its spiritual goal should be to create in us artistic expression and communication), and seeing (thus the commercial ads that we see everywhere, but its spiritual goal should be to learn and grow in understanding of the world and studying the sages who have proceeded us). Many religions and philosophies have added to these five a sixth sense indicated by the third eye, but science has now divided this into a sixth sense and seventh sense (there is the Law of Seven so important in the Gurdjieff system).
For those who have parroted the necessity in the "Work" of attention and and awareness of self , I have bad news for you. Your body has been in the "Work" all along, even when taking off your glasses and getting out of bed after reading some "New Age" book or this essay by an a Gurdjieffian idiot. These two new senses that are now considered as important as the five that you have been using all along are the Vestibular System and the Proprioception System. You might call this the "VP" method of becoming a "Man/Woman" in capitals! (wink).
The Vestibular System adjusts balance and attention. This system accounts for the perception of our body in relation to gravity, movement and balance. It provides information related to movement and head position. It is important for development of balance, coordination, eye control, attention, being secure with movement and some aspects of language development. It measures acceleration, g-force, body movements, and head position. (e.g. knowing that you are moving when you are in an elevator, knowing whether you are lying down or sitting up, and being able to walk along a balance beam.)
The Proprioception System manifests the ability of spacial prediction, intuition, and awareness of self. It is the sensing of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. It was developed by the nervous system as a means to keep track of and control the different parts of the body. (e.g. A normal person is able to move a finger, knowing where and what the finger is doing. With little effort, the normal person could just put his/her a finger to his/her nose easily. Without it, the brain cannot feel what the finger is doing, and the process must be carried out in more conscious and calculated steps, using vision to compensate for the lost feedback on the movement of the finger. Thus, it is used in sobriety tests by the police.)
Do I need to go any further to explain their uncanny resemblance to the "Work"! All I will say is that the value of dwelling primarily on these two senses is clearly no more important than the concentration of the other five senses, let alone focusing on the "impartial observation" of one of the other minor senses: "sexual stimulation", that might be more fun! ("Sex magic!") It is after reflection-of-self-in-the-moment that is the "Work". Strive to see yourself as a pure creation of God and you will become that.
Do not trust anything or anyone, but yourself. Do not engage a fool for a guide, even though all wisdom begins with the fool (tarot major arcana card 0) as it does in Gurdjieff's "toasts to the idiots".
I am 71. I attended the Institute for Religious Development headed by W. A. Nyland right after graduating from Georgetown University Class of Clinton 68. When I asked Mr. Nyland in a private session why there was a missing substance after Piandjoehary (See Gurdjieff's Food Octave), he asked me if I had read Beelzebub's Tales and I replied I had read it five times. Then he asked if I had followed the reading instructions at the beginning. I replied 'no' and he suggested that I do so! I stood outside the barn reading out-loud to no avail. I guess he did not know the answer. Since then I have only found one person, also from Nyland's group: Richard J. Defouw, in his book: "The Enneagram in the Writings of Gurdjieff" who is willing to admit to a discrepancy.
As to my credentials I can only say I was one of Nyland's best wheelbarrow pushers and I adored his piano playing and my name is almost the same: Dylan/Nyland. Since then I have also had a chance to meet with Don and Estelle Hoyt from the Foundation in California under Lord Pentland and some Gurdjieff groups in Seattle and Vancouver. My preference is to use "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" as my guide to the exclusion of work-farms and Ouspensky schools. This book and Meetings with Remarkable Men (and Women) have set the tone of my respect for spiritual teaching, but also the importance, as with Gurdjieff, to have a sense of humor so as not be tied to my vision of the infinite or anyone else's.
One my songs titled: "Hassein Crying" from my "oldiesbutdillies" You Tube channel has the great importance to me, because such a God is real and tangible because it is within me! Perhaps I no longer believe in a God, but I do believe in me. Of course, to do so is often hard when I am in the down side of my maniac states. But how can one help to not be maniac, if one truly believes in something more that this "normal" existence? One needs to have the courage to experience the heights of euphoria without drugs, to see that there is something more! One merely needs to apply the guiding phrase in this song: "For when the down comes, I reach for the up part, not fearing the start of the pain that numbs." (The Chains)
So the real question is whether this me is capable of existing beyond death. I have to say affirmatively that this is true, for like Professor Skridlov I feel something different inside. So at the end (that is of my physical existence), it will be me, meeting My Maker, which perhaps is just me. And if My Maker is really there in Heaven, that is even better!