Esotericism (XXXIV): Gurdjieff’s Sources (2)

Esotericism (XXXIV): Gurdjieff’s Sources (2)

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1. Let me repeat again that we have no means of ascertaining the immediate sources of G’s teaching and that it is very probable that he had direct contacts and tuition from Sufi spiritual communities of one form or another. There is also evidence that G went to Tibet where he received Buddhist influences. Buddhism is an unorthodox offshoot of the Vedic Tradition in philosophy and religion. But since Buddhism dismissed the element of “Self” it is difficult to see what G could have had from it since his central practice was ‘self-remembering’.

2. As many have observed, one definite source was the Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Armenian) Christianity. G’s book All & Everything begins in the clear christian prayer “In the name of our Father and of the Son and in the name of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

G was brought up in the christian faith and remained a christian to his last breath. His earliest teachers, apart from his parents and grandmother (all christian), were the dean of Kars Cathedral in Armenia and a priest who later became the abbot of an Essene monastery. His funeral and burial were performed according to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The programme at the Institute in Prieuré, its power and aim, were in G’s few words to “help one to be able to be a Christian”!

3. John Bennett provides, if it is to be believed, a solid and official evidence that G had been in Delhi: in 1920 he received as an Intelligence Officer in Constantinople a dispatch from Delhi warning of the dangerous Russian agent, George Gurdjieff. But Bennett does not give us a date for G’s presence in Delhi.

However, we can follow a different and more profitable procedure. This is to examine various “fragments” of G’s teaching – which fragments obviously derive from an unknown Whole System.

In previous papers, e.g. Esotericism (XXIII): The Inner Circle? (3) I mentioned the practice of “self-remembering” which is found in the tradition of the Śankarācāryas in India – and certainly that of the North. This may be found in Muslim or Sufi practices but I don’t know them and since nobody (e.g. Bennett) mentions it, I take it that it is not to be found there.

4. The Enneagram also has an important place in G’s teaching. It is a very significant “fragment”. Bennett speculates that it goes back to Sumer and G places it in the Sarmoun Brotherhood but neither of them gives any evidence for this assertion. Nothing like it has been found in Sumer or the Sarmouns.

On the other hand, in India we find the Circle of Nine Points with Brahman ‘Absolute’ at 1; Parā (or Avyaktā) Prakṛti ‘Unmanifest Nature’ at 2; Aparā (or Vyaktā) Prakṛti ‘Manifest Nature’ at 3; Mahat-tattva ‘Great being/essence’ at 4; Ākaśa ‘Ether/space’ at 5; Vāyu ‘Air’ at 6; Agni (or Tejas) ‘Fire’ at 7; Āpas (or Jala) ‘Water(s)’ at 8; Bhūmi (or Pṛthivī) ‘Earth’ at 9. The sequence can be reversed with Earth at 1, Water(s) at 2 and so on.

One finds other schemes in the Purāṇas, the lokās ‘cosmoses’: bhūr-loka ‘earth’; bhuvar ‘space above earth’; svar ‘sky-light’ (Indra’s Kingdom); mahar ‘world beyond polar star’; janar ‘world of rebirth’ (of Sanatkumar and other sons of Brahmā ‘creator-god’); tapar ‘world of pure being(s)’; satya/brahma-loka ‘abode of Truth’, ‘unchanging and no-rebirth’. There are others.

5. Various exercises are mentioned in Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous and other books. Breathing exercises are paralleled in India with prāṇāyama the ‘breath-aspect’ of Yoga; exercises of sanse control with pratyāhāra; exercises of attention and concentration with dhāraṅā; meditative practices with dhyāna ‘meditation’. All these are parts of the aṣṭāṅga yoga the eightfold yoga, found also in Vedānta.

Ouspensky mentions another interesting exercise (p351, In Search…) calling it “circular sensation”: a man lies down on his back and senses first his nose, then his right ear, right hand, right foot, left foot, left hand, left ear and back to his nose. This is found in a much more complex and effective form in yoga and other Vedic systems: the man lies down on his back but in the śava-āsana ‘corpse position’ and directs his attention again circularly right to left sensing many more spots which are, in fact, centres of energy.

Here I stop. I shall continue with several more affinities.

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