Esotericism (XXXVI): Gurdjieff’s “mission” (2)

Esotericism (XXXVI): Gurdjieff’s “mission” (2)

- in Esotericism

1. I dealt in an earlier paper Esotericism (XXXI): Gurdjieff’s successors (2): JG Bennett with G’s mission, as seen at least by John Bennett, who was initially appointed G’s representative in England but was removed by Mrs. de Salzmann and who wrote many books about G. Some of JB’s views I examined in previous articles.

G’s basic mission was teaching: how to die and be reborn in this life, die in our old selves that we take to be normal in all our ignorance and habits of mentation, feeling and behaviour. Or, to use a different image, how to jump from one river where we float passively, subject to accidental buffets and pushes or slow-downs and stops to another stream where we glide into a specific current and keep to the surface and a regular progress. Both images are used in a talk G gave in New York, on 22/2/1924 (236ff in View from the Real World).

Both images point to an inner transformation whereby men and women attain to a state of higher consciousness, higher being and higher mind.

But how was this to be effected?

2. G conveyed almost to everybody who came near him, not only to followers and close students but also outsiders, his sense of mission. This manifested in practical terms in 1914 when he started teaching group(s) in Moscow. When Ouspensky was drawn to G in April 1915, the teaching expanded to Petersburg as well and, in fact, continued even during the early years of the Bolsheviks when G and O and several others escaped to Essentuki, Tiflis and other locations until they ended up in Constantinople.

Throughout this period G maintained closely a group of students. (When O decided to break away, he too formed some group giving his own lectures.)

At all times then G aimed at creating an Institute where he would educate people through lectures, physical labour, movements and dances and other exercises and practices.

However, the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man failed to take root anywhere – in Russia, Constantinople, Germany and England – despite G’s efforts. It came into existence for a short time in France, only to return to non-existence in 1924 after G’s serious car-accident.

3. Its failure in previous years is understandable. The social or general conditions were not at all propitious in Moscow, Tiflis and Constantinople. There appeared no patrons in Germany and in Britain G could not obtain a residence permit.

What did it achieve in the two years at the Prieuré?

The regime was partly monastic in that students lived there with various others parachuting in and out occasionally but it was never in any sense religious with liturgies and other rites. After the dissolution of the Institute some people stayed in loose groups (Mrs. de Salzmann, de Hartmanns et al); some wrote books (Nott, Peters, Tchekhovitch et al) and many simply left for a worldly life (Mrs. Bhutkovsky-Hewitt, K. Hulme, Orage and many others).

The Prieuré was sold in 1934.

4. Of the lesbian ladies’ group, the Rope, Jane Heap went to London and formed a group in 1935 continuing work under G’s guidance until her death, 1964. Solita Solano became G’s secretary for a period. Except for Heap, all (minus Leblanc who died in 1941 and Gordon who died shortly after the war) dispersed after G’s death but even before that they had carried on their amours, changing partners without any embarrassment.

Ouspensky had absconded long ago setting up his own “Work”. Orage had also absconded without any further interest. Bennett came and went with wondrous instability consulting now this and now that spiritual master and writing volumes and volumes.

There was Lord John Pentland in America (who had studied long in Ouspensky’s groups at first) and Mrs. de Salzmann (who also bore G a son) who continued with their groups, Institutes and Foundations.

5. Mrs. de Salzmann and some others felt something was missing from G’s teaching and introduces some form of meditation, though G had at times stressed the need for an exercise of (complete) rest resembling meditation.

Today there are many groups functioning in many countries. Some receive coordination from centres which are the Gurdjieff Foundations in America and Europe. Others function quite independently and also modify the original system by adding (as Orage had done in his days) new exercises and often some form of meditation.

None as far as I know (except Bennett’s frequent abortive efforts) tried seriously to find not G’s sources but the original System – if there was one – like the one in India mentioned in the previous Esotericism (XXXIII): Gurdjieff’s sources and Esotericism (XXXIV): Gurdjieff’s Sources (2).

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