Esotericism (XXXIII): Gurdjieff’s sources

Esotericism (XXXIII): Gurdjieff’s sources

- in Esotericism

1. In this paper I focus on G’s sources – and John Bennett’s blinding blunders.

G mentions in his own writings the community of Sarmoun (Sarmān o Sarmoung) which is projected back to the time of Zoroaster and even Babylon at the time of Hammurabi (1800-1750 BCE) and later with Pythagoras (500 BCE: J Bennett: 1975 Gurdjieff – Making a New Word ch.3). The only problem is that nothing at all is known about the Sarmoun Brotherhood in those ancient times. The documents mentioned by G in Beelzebub’s Tales and Meetings with Remarkable Men are sheer fiction not reality. However, it is very probable that G borrowed dances, music and much else from Sufi, Zoroastrian and other traditions in the Near East and Central Asia. These have not been identified as yet and probably cannot be identified now.

2. John Bennett connects the idea of the Inner Circle with a permanent tradition or “brotherhood” of Wise Masters (=Sarmoun, Naq’shbandis, Khwajagan etc.) which he finds also in Buddhism with the Arhants and Bodhi sattvas and the Tibetan Lamas (p25).

Unfortunately, his scholarship is abysmally sloppy. Despite his statement about Buddhism, on p26 he writes “Strangely enough the tradition of the Masters is almost unknown in India”. He does not explain the force of the advert “almost”. For, apart from the fact that Buddhism is an Indic product, this tradition is preeminently known in India from the earliest times of the Ṛgveda hymns and the subsequent lists of teachers and divine Incarnations.

On p29 he refers to Zoroaster as being of the 6th cent. BCE whereas he is much much earlier. Then, he states that earliest hymns of the Aryan people contain evidence that they were composed “in the far north ten thousand years ago”.

These hymns of the Aryan people are either the Rigvedic sūktas or the Avestan gathas (=Persian) and neither contain “convincing evidence of having been composed in the far north”. The Rigvedic hymns were composed in the larger area of what is today N-W India and Pakistan (including the Indus and the lost Sarasvati and Seven Rivers) and the Avestan were composed in S-E Persia moving North-westward in what is today Iran!

3. On p67, to change the subject, Bennett tells us that “The science of numbers, in the widest sense, originated in Mesopotamia…” He obviously ignores the work of American mathematician and historian of science A. Seidenberg (1962, 1978 The Origin of Mathematics in Archive for History of Exact Sciences vols 1,18) and others who postulates that the Maths in the Indian Śulba-sūtras is much earlier than Mesopotamian and Greek.

On p59 he tells us that according to Iamblichus (ch4) Pythagoras spent 12 years in Babylon evidently not being aware that Iamblichus lived 700 years after Pythagoras and is as fond of myth-making as Gurdjieff and Bennett himself. And how could G’s Institute and general mode of living be like that of Pythagoras (same page) when the Pythagoreans were vegetarians whereas G loved lamb, fish and like delicacies!

Moreover, nowhere does he mention the Orphics who were older and more secretive than the Pythagoreans, nor the Eleatics who, like the Orphics, spread as far north as the eastern shore of Bulgaria.

When he calls the Sumerians “the older Indo-European race”, I wonder if he had the slightest correct idea about the Indo-Europeans.

4. If J. Bennett had delved only a little deeper into his subject and asked expert orientalists, he would have found out that A Von Kremer refers in his study of Islamic Civilisation (1873) to a version of the Indic Kāmarūpa Seed-syllables mentioned for its breathing and other yogic practices in a 14th century Persian Encyclopedia.

In fact, with luck, he would have also found out that the Indic Amṛta Kunda ‘Pool of Nectar’ (with yogic breathing, meditative and other practices) was translated into Persian in 1210 in Bengal and translated afterwards into Arabic & Turkish, became a “best-seller” among Muslim spiritual circles.

Apart from all this, the Naths or Kanpathas, followers of Guru Goraknath, were known among Muslims early on (from the 13th cent) and during the Delhi Sultanate, then rose in political power in the 16th century.

So Sufism has spiritual practices derived from the rich Indic Vedic culture as well as Buddhism.


  1. Ανώνυμος

    This has troubled me for a couple of decades: is it possible for a wise man to go wrong? True, he may have taken poor decisions on the way to wisdom, but the ability of straight thinking and properly evaluating the potential in other human beings is (to a degree) rather common, even outside the so-called Inner Circle of Humanity. Indeed, we are aware of mere business managers that apparently do this far better than G (or O, for that matter). Assigning silly people to managerial positions is a recipe for disasters, no?

    Furthermore, if a Tradition (of any sort) was to be preserved by future students and such, G's responsibility on assigning "successors", providing adequate documentation on the issue of his sources and the teachings themselves, definetely not making-up imaginary documents etc, appears to be as enormous as lamely handled by the man (according to your notes).

    Personally, i do not care about what someone says; it is what people do that defines them (i am almost quoting "Batman" at this point, sorry for the sacrilege). When someone fails at this level, are we to take him seriously at all?

    1. Very rare and certainly not easily with successors. But people change and in special circumstances may evince unforeseen qualities. Only the Absolute is perfect.

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