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An Enlightened Life in Text and Image: G. I. Gurdjieff‟s Meetings With Remarkable Men (1963) and Peter Brook‟s Meetings With Remarkable Men (1979)



This article considers the „autobiographical‟ memoir by George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866[?] – 29 October 1949), Meetings With Remarkable Men (hereafter Meetings), which was published posthumously in 1963 under the aegis of Jeanne de Salzmann, Gurdjieff's designated successor. Almost all known about the Greek-Armenian Gurdjieff is open to question, from his birth date (variously given as 1866, 1872 and 1877), to the Work, as his teaching is called. The Work has been jealously guarded as a modern initiatory tradition by first – and second – generation disciples, and is controversial in terms of its sources, meaning and interpretation.1 The 1979 film, "Meetings With Remarkable Men", with a script co-authored by Madame de Salzmann, directed by Gurdjieffian theatre and film auteur, Peter Brook (b. 1925), depicts the young Gurdjieff's spiritual quest reverentially. This article investigates a number of issues including: what models underlie the self-understanding expressed in Gurdjieff's memoir; what role Jeanne de Salzmann and other prominent disciples in the Work played in the dissemination of Gurdjieff's model of the "enlightened life"; the ways that Peter Brook has modelled his own life on that of Gurdjieff; what the constituent elements of an „enlightened life‟ in the contemporary, deregulated spiritual marketplace might be; and the aesthetics of the film‟s presentation of the quest for enlightenment. It is speculated that the film adaptation of Meetings With Remarkable Men potentially won for Gurdjieff a new audience of spiritual seekers who did not wish to join the secretive and authoritarian Work, but admired the portrayal of Gurdjieff as a spiritual seeker who achieved enlightened status.
Literature & Aesthetics 21 (1) June 2011, page 72
An Enlightened Life in Text and Image:
G. I. Gurdjieff‟s Meetings With
Remarkable Men (1963) and Peter
Brook‟s Meetings With Remarkable Men
Carole M. Cusack
This article considers the „autobiographical‟ memoir by George Ivanovitch
Gurdjieff (1866[?] 29 October 1949), Meetings With Remarkable Men
(hereafter Meetings), which was published posthumously in 1963 under the
aegis of Jeanne de Salzmann, Gurdjieff‟s designated successor. Almost all
known about the Greek-Armenian Gurdjieff is open to question, from his birth
date (variously given as 1866, 1872 and 1877), to the „Work‟, as his teaching is
called. The Work has been jealously guarded as a modern initiatory tradition
by first and second generation disciples, and is controversial in terms of its
sources, meaning and interpretation.1 The 1979 film, Meetings With
Remarkable Men, with a script co-authored by Madame de Salzmann, directed
by Gurdjieffian theatre and film auteur, Peter Brook (b. 1925), depicts the
young Gurdjieff‟s spiritual quest reverentially. This article investigates a
number of issues including: what models underlie the self-understanding
expressed in Gurdjieff‟s memoir; what role Jeanne de Salzmann and other
prominent disciples in the Work played in the dissemination of Gurdjieff‟s
model of the „enlightened life‟; the ways that Peter Brook has modelled his
own life on that of Gurdjieff; what the constituent elements of an „enlightened
life‟ in the contemporary, deregulated spiritual marketplace might be; and the
aesthetics of the film‟s presentation of the quest for enlightenment. It is
speculated that the film adaptation of Meetings With Remarkable Men
potentially won for Gurdjieff a new audience of spiritual seekers who did not
wish to join the secretive and authoritarian Work, but admired the portrayal of
Gurdjieff as a spiritual seeker who achieved enlightened status.
Carole M. Cusack is Associate Professor in Studies in Religion at the University of
1 Sophia Wellbeloved, „Gurdjieff, “Old” or “New Age”; Aristotle or Astrology?‟,
Journal of Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies, vol. 1 (2005), pp. 75-88.
An Enlightened Life in Text and Image
Literature & Aesthetics 21 (1) June 2011, page 73
Gurdjieff as Enlightened Esoteric Teacher
George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff was probably born 1866 “in Alexandropol (now
Gyumri, Armenia), on the Russian side of the Russo-Turkish frontier, his
father a Cappadocian Greek carpenter and bardic poet [ashokh], and his mother
an illiterate Armenian.”2 His family was Orthodox Christian. When Gurdjieff
was a boy the family moved to Kars, a nearby city, where he became a
chorister at the Kars Military Cathedral school, under the tutelage of Dean
Borsh.3 From approximately 1887 to 1911 nothing verifiable is known of his
life. He emerged as a spiritual teacher in 1912 in Moscow, married Julia
Ostrowska in St Petersburg in the same year, and attracted group of early
pupils, the most significant of whom was the philosopher and writer Pyotr
Demianovitch Ouspensky (1878-1947). The group also included Sophia
Ouspensky, the composer (and close friend of Wassily Kandinsky), Thomas de
Hartmann, and his wife Olga, a talented singer.4 In 1917 the Russian
Revolution caused Gurdjieff to leave St Petersburg and return to Alexandropol.
During 1917-1922 he was based progressively at Essentuki, Tblisi (formerly
Tiflis), Constantinople and Berlin.
In Tblisi he met the artist Alexandre von Salzmann (later de Salzmann)
and his wife Jeanne (who were friends of the de Hartmanns and Kandinsky)
and they became his staunch followers. In 1919 the first public demonstration
of the sacred dances (first called „exercises‟, but later known as „Movements‟)
took place in Tblisi, and the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man
was founded.5 Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann worked intensively on the
never-performed ballet, The Struggle of the Magicians. The group resided in
Constantinople for about a year (where Gurdjieff and Ouspensky met John G.
Bennett, later a significant, though heterodox, teacher in the Work), then to
Berlin, finally settling in Paris in 1922. Gurdjieff then established the second
Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at a chateau called the
2 James Moore, „Katherine Mansfield and Gurdjieff‟s Sacred Dance‟, in Katherine
Mansfield: In From The Margin, ed. Roger Robinson (Baton Rouge and London:
Louisiana State University Press, 1994), p. 190.
3 Anthony Storr, Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus (London: HarperCollins
Publishers, 1996), p. 24.
4 Thomas and Olga de Hartmann, Our Life With Mr. Gurdjieff (San Francisco:
Harper and Row, 1983), pp. 4, 49.
5 John Mangan, „Thomas de Hartmann: A Composer‟s Life‟, Notes, vol. 53, no. 1
(September 1996), p. 25.
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Prieure, in Fontainebleau, to the south of Paris.6 This was his headquarters for
two years only, as in 1924 he had a near-fatal car crash and disbanded the
Institute shortly after, moving to a flat in Paris. Although the Prieure continued
to have “a small, though fluctuating, population for several more years… he
ceased to have any formal pupils;”7 instead, Gurdjieff concentrated on his
writing, assisted by Olga de Hartmann and Alfred R. Orage. For the last
twenty-seven years of his life (1922-1949), apart from nine visits to America,
some quite lengthy, and an unaccounted-for period in 1935, Gurdjieff remained
in France.8
It is important to understand that until P. D. Ouspensky met Gurdjieff
and began to document his system there was no virtually external testimony
concerning Gurdjieff‟s life at all. Ouspensky separated from Gurdjieff in 1924,
although the two men met several times in between 1924 and Ouspensky‟s
death in 1947. Ouspensky is significant in that he continued to teach the
Gurdjieff system after breaking with him, and published the earliest and most
systematic version of the teaching, In Search of the Miraculous, which
appeared posthumously. Ouspensky was a prolific and well-regarded author of
scientific and esoteric works, including The Fourth Dimension (1909), Tertium
Organum (1912), A New Model of the Universe (1931) and a novel, The
Strange Life of Ivan Osokin (1915), which explored the Nietzschean notion of
eternal recurrence. Ouspensky recollected meeting Gurdjieff, whom he
described as;
a man of oriental type, no longer young, with a black mustache [sic]
and piercing eyes, who astonished me first of all, because he seemed
to be disguised… I was still full of impressions of the East. And this
man [had] the face of an Indian raja or an Arab sheikh whom I at
once seemed to see in a white burnoose or gilded turban.9
In their early conversations Gurdjieff told Ouspensky of the plans for his ballet,
The Struggle of the Magicians, which would feature some of the sacred dances
that he had witnessed during his travels in the East. In explaining these dances
to Ouspensky he drew attention to their cosmological significance: “In the
6 George Baker and Walter Driscoll, „Gurdjieff in America: An Overview‟, in
America’s Alternative Religions, ed. Timothy Miller (Albany: State University of
New York Press, 1995), p. 259.
7 „Gurdjieff‟, in Andrew Rawlinson, The Book of the Enlightened Masters: Western
Teachers in Eastern Traditions (Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1997), p.
8 Rawlinson, „Gurdjieff‟, p. 283.
9 P.D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous: The Teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff
(San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt Inc, 2001), p. 7.
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strictly defined movements and combinations of the dancers, certain laws are
visually reproduced which are intelligible to those who know them… I have
many times witnessed such dances being performed during sacred services in
various ancient temples.”10 The purpose of these dances was to bring into
alignment the human „centres‟, and to align human beings with the cosmos.
In Gurdjieff‟s system, humans are „three-brained beings‟, who need to
align their intellectual, emotional and sensory selves into a single self through
the development of a soul (which people, who effectively do not exist, do not
have unless they work to grow one). This is known as the development of a
finer, (or kesdjan), body. Gurdjieff‟s teachings are often called „The Fourth
Way‟ because of his illustration of the three ways that are connected to the
three centres of being. The way of the fakir (Sufi ascetic) Gurdjieff connects to
the body and the sensory centre; the way of the monk (Christian renunciant) he
connects to the emotional centre; and the way of the yogi (Hindu ascetic) he
connects with the intellectual centre. But all these paths are inadequate, as they
“are all imbalanced because each centre is only aware of part of what we are…
So in effect, there are two kinds of imbalance… individual neurosis (derived
from the fact that centres try to do the work that is proper to one of the others)
and „spiritual lopsidedness‟ (derived from the fact that no centre can reveal the
whole nature of man).”11
Gurdjieff‟s system is forbiddingly difficult to penetrate, not least
because he used a formidable vocabulary of neologisms. There are two
fundamental laws, the Law of Three (Triamazikamno) and the Law of Seven
(Heptaparaparshinokh). The first of these rejects dualistic understandings,
through positing three forces, positive, negative and reconciling, or neutralising
(rather than just positive and negative), “[t]he higher blends with the lower to
actualize the middle, which becomes higher or the preceding lower and lower
for the succeeding higher.12 These three forces, in Gurdjieffian language, are
called the affirming, denying, and reconciling. The Law of Seven applies to
multiple aspects of the teaching: there are seven levels of energy, seven
different cosmoses, and the Ray of Creation diagramme has seven emanations.
James Moore concisely explains the Law of Seven as follows;
[e]very completing process must without exception have seven
discrete phases: construing these as an ascending or descending
series of seven notes or pitches, the frequency of vibrations must
develop irregularly, with two predictable deviations (just where
10 Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, p. 16.
11 Rawlinson, „Gurdjieff‟, p. 288.
12 G.I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (New York: Penguin Arkana,
1999 [1950]), p. 751.
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semi-tones are missing between Mi-Fa and Si-Do in the untempered
modern major scale EDCBAGFE).13
These two laws are synthesised and expressed symbolically in the Enneagram,
a nine-sided figure.14
In the Gurdjieffian universe everything is alive and seeks to feed itself to
achieve higher levels of being. Thus the moon is trying to develop into a new
Earth and the Earth to develop into a new sun. Garrett Thomson summarises
the role of organic life in this system as follows:
Organic life is a huge accumulator of energy gathered from the sun
and the rest of the solar system by the earth to feed itself and the
development of the moon. At death, everything that lives releases
energy, askokin, to the moon… In other words, the choice between
Heaven and Hell is the choice between feeding the sun or the
moon… Our spiritual development consists a struggle to become
free from the mechanical influences of the moon.15
Gurdjieff therefore defines the purpose of life as the development of a soul or
kesdjan body through work and „conscious suffering‟, which he calls the
Fulasnitamnian principle. Its opposite, the Itoklanoz principle, awaits most
people whose wills are fragmented and dominated by trivial likes and dislikes.
This process is related to Gurdjieff‟s emanative cosmology, with “different
manifestations, and concentrations of energy, which flow from the Absolute
and which are all interconnected.”16
Humans, in Gurdjieff‟s system, are essentially machines who pass
through life asleep. There are four states of consciousness; sleep, waking
consciousness (which is nearly the same as sleep), self-remembering, and
objective consciousness, the attainment of which is connected with the
development of the kesdjan body. The Movements are central to Gurdjieff‟s
teaching, in that they are the most important physical activity undertaken
within the Gurdjieff Work. This is, despite the complex cosmological
mythology developed in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (hereafter Tales),
primarily an applied spiritual training, through actual physical labour, in
addition to body-based exercises (the Movements). The Gurdjieff-de Hartmann
music has an important sub-division of music for the Movements, which has
become known through recordings by significant pianists including Wim van
13 James Moore, Gurdjieff The Anatomy of a Myth: A Biography (Shaftesbury and
Rockport: Element, 1991), p. 45.
14 Moore, Gurdjieff The Anatomy of a Myth, pp. 344-345.
15 Thomson, On Gurdjieff, pp. 45-46.
16 Garrett Thomson, On Gurdjieff (London: Wadsworth, 2003), p. 29.
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Dullemen and Helen Adie.17
In 1923, shortly after arriving in Paris, Gurdjieff staged a public
performance of these „sacred gymnastics‟. In 1924 he and a group of pupils
went to the United States where Gurdjieff “presented public demonstrations of
his movements in New York and laid the groundwork for the opening of the
first branch of his institute.”18 A. R. Orage, a former student of Ouspensky,
was put in charge of the New York branch. Several of the Movements teachers
in the Work had been trained in other body-based disciplines. For example,
Jessmin Howarth and Rose Mary Nott (nee Lillard), whom Gurdjieff met in
Paris in 1922, were instructors of the eurhythmics system used to teach music
developed by Gurdjieff‟s Swiss contemporary, Emile-Jacques Dalcroze (1865-
1950), and Jeanne de Salzmann had also studied with Dalcroze. Rudolf Steiner
(1861-1925), the founder of Anthroposophy, similarly developed a system
called Eurythmy, which he began teaching in 1912, which contained the
essence of his spiritual teachings, and which was fully developed by 1919
(when he took Eurythmy practitioners on tour in post-war Europe).19
Gurdjieff‟s avowed intention was to wake people up, and consciousness
is crucial to his teachings. He was adamant that spiritually undeveloped human
beings are machines, passive and lacking consciousness. He taught that they
had to develop essence and bypass personality. The majority of his teachings
are contained in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (1950) the „First Series‟ of
his collected writings, known as All and Everything, which is a sprawling
science fiction epic of more than twelve hundred pages, in which the reformed
Beelzebub tells tales of his adventures, chiefly among three-brained beings on
Earth, to his grandson Hassein as the two travel in a spaceship, the Karnak,
from Beelzebub‟s home planet, Karatas. Gurdjieff wrote in Armenian, his
native language, and pupils translated the works into different languages. The
English translation first published was mainly the work of Orage, who worked
closely with Gurdjieff to produce it.20 When immersed in Gurdjieff‟s writings
17 Fiona Richards, „Changing Identities: The Pianist and Composer Helen Perkin
[Adie]‟, Australasian Music Research, vol. 7 (2002), pp. 15-30.
18 Anon, „Gurdjieff Foundation‟, in Odd Gods, ed. James R. Lewis (Amherst, NY:
Prometheus Books, 2001), p. 202.
19 Beth Usher, „Introduction‟, in Rudolf Steiner, Eurythmy: An Introductory Reader
(Forest Row: Rudolf Steiner Books, 2006), pp. 1-9. There are myriad suggestive
similarities between the teachings of Gurdjieff and Steiner which are worthy of
investigation, but are beyond the scope of this article.
20 Martin Seymour-Smith, The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written: A History
of Thought From Ancient Times to Today (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1998), p.
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the reader is often disconcerted by the lightness of style and the apparent
frivolity of certain passages. Gurdjieff often used humour and shocks to teach,
as well as pushing followers to the limit physically and emotionally. He was
often vulgar, sexually explicit, and appreciated good food and wine, and
boisterous company.
Apart from Gurdjieff‟s own writings, the most important sources of
information about him are the memoirs of his pupils; significant accounts were
published by the de Hartmanns, Fritz Peters, J. G. Bennett, and others. It is
undeniable that Gurdjieff‟s followers viewed him as an authentic spiritual
teacher; an enlightened being. A sketch published in Practical Psychology
Monthly in 1937 by a pseudonymous pupil stated that “[m]any people
attributed impartial objective knowledge to Gurdjieff… He could read
character at a glance. He had powers of clairvoyance, thought-reading and the
like. In short, it was claimed for him by some people that he was a veritable
God-man.”21 John Bennett concurred, saying that although Gurdjieff tended to
make ambiguous statements about himself, “[s]ometimes he came very near to
claiming he was an avatar, a Cosmic individual incarnated to help mankind.”22
Gurdjieff as Spiritual Seeker: Meetings With Remarkable Men (1963)
During his life, Gurdjieff published only The Herald of Coming Good
(hereafter Herald), which was released privately in Paris in 1933. The popular
writer on esoteric traditions, Romuald (Rom) Landau, discussed Herald in God
is My Adventure (1935). Landau, who also interviewed Gurdjieff twice in
1934, concluded that Herald was “the work of a man who was no longer sane,”
and dismissed the grandiose assertion that Gurdjieff would publish three series
of works, ten volumes in all, that revealed significant esoteric knowledge. The
autobiographical Herald was franker than Gurdjieff would ever be
subsequently; Landau covers Gurdjieff‟s claim to have been in a certain
„dervish‟ monastery of the „Mohammedan religion‟ in Central Asia and the
claim that Gurdjieff had “arrived at unprecedented practical results without
equal in our day.”23 Landau‟s low opinion of Herald was shared by P. D.
Ouspensky who burned the copies that were sent to him. After a few months,
21 Armagnac (pseudonym), „The Strange Cult of Gurdjieff: An Insider‟s Story of
the Most Mysterious Religious Movement in the World‟, reprinted in Gurdjieff
International Review, vol. 3, no. 2 (2000), p. 53.
22 J.G. Bennett, Gurdjieff: Making a New World (New York, Evanston, San
Francisco, London: Harper and Row, 1973), p. 82.
23 Rom Landau, God Is My Adventure: A Book on Modern Mystics, Masters, and
Teachers (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson Ltd, 1935), pp. 196-197.
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Gurdjieff recalled the book and destroyed the remaining copies.24
Gurdjieff‟s three major works, Tales (1950), Meetings (1963), and Life
is Only Real When ‘I Am’ (1974) were published posthumously. In the
„autobiographical‟ Meetings Gurdjieff presents himself as a seeker after truth,
one who is fundamentally concerned with the reconciliation of religious,
esoteric and scientific knowledge. Additionally, his birth and upbringing in
Transcaucasia positions him as a reconciler of East and West; in 1923, he told
Professor Denis Saurat, the Director of the French Institute in London,
I want to add the mystical spirit of the East to the scientific spirit of
the West. The Oriental spirit is right, but only in its trends and
general ideas. The Western spirit is right in its methods and
techniques. Western methods alone are effective in history. I want to
create a type of sage who will unite the spirit of the East with
Western techniques.25
To date, Gurdjieff has received comparatively little academic attention, despite
his clear significance within the esoteric milieu. Arguably, the three most
influential teachers of alternative spirituality and esoteric systems in the
modern West are: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891), who co-founded
the Theosophical Society in 1875 with the American Civil War veteran
Colonel Henry Steel Olcott; Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), a philosopher and
scientist who broke with Theosophy in 1912 to form the Anthroposophical
Society; and Gurdjieff.26
Compared to Tales, which is a demanding text in terms of its vast
length, vocabulary of neologisms, and exposition of complex cosmology,
Meetings appears to be a relatively brief and „simple‟ book in which Gurdjieff
recounts his early life. However, the “Introduction” resolutely refuses to permit
the reader to enter the text without effort, with its seemingly random anecdotes
about grammar, Persian folktales, and musings on the differences between
„European‟ and „Asiatic‟ literatures, presented as the findings of an “elderly,
intelligent Persian.”27 The convoluted prose style of all Gurdjieff‟s writings is
itself an important teaching technique, and not merely the product of his own
polyglot status and the complex processes of translation. Joshua Gunn has
argued persuasively that esotericists usually employ one of three standard
24 Rebecca Rauve, „An Intersection of Interests: Gurdjieff‟s Rope Group as a Site
of Literary Production‟, Twentieth-Century Literature, vol. 49, no. 1 (2003), p. 60.
25 Seymour-Smith, The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written, p. 451.
26 See Johanna Petsche, „Gurdjieff and Blavatsky: Western Esoteric Teachers in
Parallel‟ in this volume for Gurdjieff‟s interactions with Theosophy.
27 G.I. Gurdjieff, Meetings With Remarkable Men (London and New York:
Penguin Arkana, 1985 [1963]), p. 28.
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strategies with regard to language, which as a human attribute cannot reliably
express ineffable truths: first, the recommendation to keep silent; second, the
use of language itself in order to ascend to higher states of awareness;”28 and
third, a quest for a pure language (possibly from a divine source) that is able to
express the ineffable. Gurdjieff‟s writings are excellent examples of the second
strategy; his followers assert that his neologisms and difficult prose are
designed to reveal higher levels of reality. Further, he developed (with
Alexandre de Salzmann) a new script, which read vertically from top to
bottom, in which to write the forty aphorisms that featured on the walls of the
Prieure.29 Mohammad H. Tamdgidi argues that Gurdjieff learned from his
ashokh father to hide “serious ideas under the cloak of apparently trivial,
absurd and nonsensical ones.”30
In Meetings, Gurdjieff recounts pivotal moments in his young life, and
the „remarkable men‟ in whose company these occurred. The first such man is
his father, the bard (whom he claimed could recite the Epic of Gilgamesh, a
text which was not translated until much later), and he is followed by
Gurdjeff‟s teacher at Kars, Dean Borsh, and the priest Bogachevsky, also
known as Father Evlissi. In the chapter dedicated to Bogachevsky, Gurdjieff
introduces the motif of the Yezidi boy trapped within a chalk circle. The
adolescent Gurdjieff saw a small boy weeping and struggling to escape, and
being mocked by the other children:
I was puzzled and asked what it was all about. I learned that the boy
in the middle was a Yezidi and the circle had been drawn round him
and that he could not get out of it until it was rubbed away. The child
was indeed trying with all his might to leave this magic circle, but he
struggled in vain. I ran up to him and quickly rubbed out part of the
circle, and immediately he dashed out and ran away as fast as he
This anecdote presents Gurdjieff as a benevolent liberator from superstitious
irrational constraints, a role that he assumed as an esoteric teacher many years
later in pre-revolutionary Russia. Other early experiences, such as the
mysterious resurrection of a Tartar corpse (or accidental burial of a live man,
depending on how the incident is interpreted), and the duel involving cannons
fought with his friend Piotr Karpenko over “the Riaouzov girl,” with whom he
28 Joshua Gunn, „An Occult Poetics, or, The Secret Rhetoric of Religion‟, Rhetoric
Society Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 2, Spring 2004, p. 33.
29 James Moore, Gurdjieff Anatomy of a Myth, pp. 341-342.
30 Mohammad H. Tamdgidi, Gurdjieff and Hypnosis: A Hermeneutic Study (New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), p. 13.
31 G.I. Gurdjieff Meetings With Remarkable Men, p. 65.
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was passionately, though briefly, in love, are vividly portrayed.
The core of the book details the search by the adult Gurdjieff and his
friends, known as the „Seekers of Truth‟. These included Abram Yelov, the
Aisor (Assyrian Christian), trainee priest Sarkis Pogossian, who became an
engineer and later the owner of a steamship company, the pasha‟s son Ekim
Bey, Professor Skridlov, an archaeologist, and the Prince Yuri Lubovedsky,
who is presented as the principal spiritual guide in Gurdjieff‟s memoir.
Embedded in the chapter about Prince Lubovedsky are the stories of the
alcoholic Soloviev and Vitvitskaia, the one „remarkable woman‟ acknowledged
by Gurdjieff. Intriguingly, she is Polish and has a dubious reputation, having
been a „kept woman‟. This invites the speculation that she is modelled on
Gurdjieff‟s wife, Julia Ostrowska, who was Polish and retained her own name,
possibly because Gurdjieff already had a wife and children.32 It is undeniable
that Gurdjieff loved Madame Ostrowska, and that she was a person of rare
spiritual qualities is testified to by many of his pupils.33 However, she was only
twenty-two when they married in 1912, too young to have belonged to the
Seekers of Truth, if they really existed.
The Seekers of Truth sought ancient wisdom and allegedly journeyed far
and wide in the 1880s and 1890s to attain it. Gurdjieff stated that:
[t]hirty years ago twelve of us spent many years in central Asia, and
we reconstructed the Doctrine by oral traditions, the study of ancient
costumes, popular songs, and certain books. The Doctrine has always
existed, but the tradition has been interrupted. In antiquity some
groups and castes knew it, but it was incomplete. The ancients put
too much stress on metaphysics, their doctrine was too abstract.34
Their quest involves archaeological expeditions in the Gobi Desert,
examination of the antiquities of Egypt after discovering a “map of pre-sand
Egypt” (which Gurdjieff connects to Atlantis),35 experiments with music and
vibrations, discussions with the wandering holy men of Central Asia, and
finally, for Gurdjieff, arrival at the fabled monastery of the esoteric Sarmoung
Brotherhood, where he is reunited with Prince Lubovedsky and learns the
sacred dances, or Movements (referred to above).
There has been much speculation about the sources of Gurdjieff‟s
teachings, which raises the issue of how reliable the account of his early years
32 James Webb, The Harmonious Circle: An Exploration of the Lives and Work of
G. I. Gurdjieff and P. D. Ouspensky and Others (London: Thames and Hudson,
1980), p. 52.
33 De Hartmann and de Hartmann, Our Life With Mr. Gurdjieff, pp. 14-15.
34 Quoted in Seymour-Smith, The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written, p. 447.
35 Moore, Gurdjieff Anatomy of a Myth, p. 29.
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given in Meetings is? The teachings have variously been described as an
amalgam of esoteric Christianity, Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism, Western occult
traditions, and Hindu ideas. Some of his disciples, like J. G. Bennett, believed
that sources for the Work could be identified and that Gurdjieff‟s travels were
to some extent verifiable. Bennett accepted that Gurdjieff had spent time with
Essenes and at the famed Christian monastery of Mount Athos, and had visited
Ethiopia where he became familiar with Coptic Christianity. He further
accepted that Gurdjieff spent time in Egypt, Babylon, Afghanistan and Tibet,
and was initiated into a Sufi order. Also, Bennett claims that Gurdjieff was a
Russian spy:
[h]is almost uniformly hostile references to England, and especially
his attack on the Younghusband Expedition into Tibet in 1903,
suggests that he was in conflict with the authorities of British India. I
can personally confirm that he had an unfavourable dossier in New
Delhi because, as an intelligence officer in Constantinople in 1920, I
first heard of Gurdjieff in a dispatch from New Delhi warning us of a
“very dangerous Russian agent, George Gurdjieff, who was in
Georgia and had applied for a permit to come to Constantinople”… I
was invited to dinner by my friend Prince Sabaheddin to meet an old
friend of his whom he regarded as a most exceptional man in the
field of occultism and spirituality. This was Gurdjieff… Anyone who
knew the Caucasus at that time would suspect that a man who could
get permits and move freely through the Bolshevik and Social
Democrat areas must have a secret pull with the authorities.36
The truth of these fascinating assertions has not been definitely established.
They are mentioned for two reasons: first, there is a resemblance between the
roles of spy and esoterist, in that both deal with multiple realities, fragmented
identities and secrets; and second, because one very obvious model of the
enlightened life that Gurdjieff drew upon was that of Madame Blavatsky.
Prior to the establishment of the Theosophical Society, Helena Petrovna
Blavatsky had led a daring and unconventional life for a well-born Russian
woman of the nineteenth century. The daughter of Colonel Peter von Hahn and
the novelist Helena de Fadeyev, she ran away from a marriage of convenience
to the middle-aged Nikifor Vassilievich Blavatsky after a matter of weeks in
1848, aged seventeen. She travelled in Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Western
Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean, India, and Tibet, where she allegedly
spent at least seven years studying with a spiritual master. Richard Hutch
argued that she became an American citizen in 1878 to “stop British charges
36 Bennett, Gurdjieff: Making a New World, p. 84.
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that she was on a mission to India as a Russian spy.”37 Further, Blavatsky had
made her living in an unconventional fashion, which included working as a
medium in Cairo in the 1870s, and Gurdjieff in Meetings details sundry ways
that he earned money through deception and fringe pursuits, most notably
hypnotism. Further connections are apparent when Hutch discussed the sources
of Madame Blavatsky‟s occult teachings and concluded that:
Blavatsky drew from the more esoteric, though ubiquitous traditions
of Russian pre-Christian and Orthodox Christian spirituality. The
former involved an unconscious identification with so-called
“paganism”, or shamanistic religion which… is characteristic of
Russian tribal societies… [the] latter associate[d] the essence of
Christian liturgical history and continuity with the tradition of “holy
men” or “pilgrims” of the church.38
Gurdjieff‟s Meetings abounds in Christian references (for example, Jesus
Christ is referred to as “Our Divine Teacher,” the ecclesiastical seasons of Lent
and Easter are observed, and when Gurdjieff speaks of his deceased friends he
asks God to look with favour on them), and he did describe his system as
„esoteric Christianity‟ to pupils on occasion. Gurdjieff followed Blavatsky in
recounting tales of the lost civilization Atlantis and crediting the Atlanteans
with an advanced technology and great wisdom. Gurdjieff was clearly familiar
with Theosophy and referred it in conversation.39 Blavatsky‟s death in 1891 is
at the beginning of the decade when Gurdjieff‟s quest with the Seekers of
Truth began.
Andrew Rawlinson assesses Helena Petrovna Blavatsky‟s claim to have
been initiated into Eastern traditions as truthful, stating that “we would have to
say that we know of no other Westerner of the time who was doing the same…
Blavatsky has a unique place in the great process by which Eastern teachings
and by extension, spiritual psychology as a worldview have come to the
West.”40 The debt of Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy to Theosophy is well-
documented; there is much more to do in detailing the debt that Gurdjieff owes
his greatest nineteenth century role-model of the enlightened life, Madame
Blavatsky, and the debt the Work owes to Theosophy.
37 Richard Hutch, „Helena Blavatsky Unveiled‟, Journal of Religious History, vol.
11, no. 2 (1980), p. 320.
38 Hutch, „Helena Blavatsky Unveiled‟, p. 323.
39 For example, in the early account, „Glimpses of the Truth‟, in G.I. Gurdjieff,
Views From the Real World (London and New York: Penguin Arkana, 1984
[1975]), p. 14.
40 „Madame Blavatsky‟, in Andrew Rawlinson, The Book of the Enlightened
Masters, p. 196.
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Gurdjieff, Jeanne de Salzmann and Peter Brook
Having considered Gurdjieff‟s textual rendering of his enlightened life,
attention is now turned to Peter Brook, and the film he directed of Gurdjieff‟s
memoir. Renowned theatre and film director Peter Brook was born in England
to Russian parents in 1925. Tuberculosis in his mid-teens resulted in him
spending two years in Switzerland, and at seventeen he became a student of
Magdalen College, Oxford. In his first year of study he directed an amateur
production of Marlowe‟s Doctor Faustus at the Torch Theatre in London, and
in 1946 he directed Love’s Labours Lost for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre,
Stratford-on-Avon. In 1948 he became Director of Productions at Covent
Garden Opera House. Brook read Ouspensky‟s In Search of the Miraculous in
1950, and in 1951 he married the Russian-English actress Natasha Parry. They
joined the London Gurdjieff group under the direction of American writer Jane
Heap (1883-1964), and after her death gravitated to the Paris Work group led
by Jeanne de Salzmann.41 The couple moved to Paris in 1972 and Brook now
heads the Paris Gurdjieff group. Brook‟s theatrical practice has been deeply
influenced by his spiritual explorations, and the model of Gurdjieff as both
spiritual seeker and esoteric master arguably underpins his understanding of his
artistic vision.
During his time studying Gurdjieff‟s system with Jane Heap, Brook
experimented with radical theatrical practice. The Theatre of Cruelty
workshops, inspired by the work of Antonin Artaud (1886-1948), in which
Brook collaborated with Charles Marowitz, led to the publication of The Empty
Space (1968), his theatrical manifesto. Brook distinguished four types of
theatre: Deadly (which was commercial and bad); Holy (which was akin to
ritual, and showed the influence of Artaud); Rough (which was popular and
incited laughter); and Immediate (which used improvisation and
experimentation).42 Brook‟s own directorial practice sought to combine Holy
and Rough theatre, in what Maria Shevtsova calls a “universal theatre which, in
cutting across ethnic, linguistic and value differences, will traverse cultural
boundaries, closing the gaps that divide race from race, class from class, and
whatever else sets divisions in motion.”43 This has led him to combine stories
and performance modes from widely divergent cultures, with often spectacular,
though controversial, results.
41 Peter Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint,
1999 [1998]), passim.
42 Sally Mackey and Simon Cooper, Drama and Theatre Studies (Cheltenham:
Stanley Thornes, 2000), p. 381.
43 Maria Shevtsova, Theatre and Cultural Interaction (Sydney: Sydney Studies in
Society and Culture, 2006), p. 14.
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Tracing Brook‟s conscious modelling of his own life on that of his
spiritual master, and of his theatrical output on Gurdjieff‟s teaching, is a
complex and difficult task, but one that repays effort. Sally Mackey and Simon
Cooper note the parallels between the two in passing: Gurdjieff originated
from a Near Eastern background from which Brook would draw inspiration…
Gurdjieff‟s concept of a journey as a means of learning and discovery was
taken up by Brook, particularly in his African travels… Gurdjieff was a teacher
and mystic. Although Brook denies his own guru status there is no doubt that
he is regarded as such by some contemporary practitioners.”44 Gurdjieff
himself was sternly critical of much that passed for art, literary and otherwise.
In Tales, he has Beelzebub tell his grandson Hassein that before art became
degraded, artists were known as Orpheists, a term that meant “that he rightly
sensed the essence.” The term „artist‟, by contrast, simply means “he-who-is-
occupied-with-art.” Literary and artistic fashions, Beelzebub maintains, are
simply alternations to “the external form of what is called „the-covering-of-
their-nullity‟.”45 However, it is undeniable that he attracted many artists,
particularly writers and musicians, as pupils, and the Work continues to be
attractive to creative people.46
Brook is recognised as somewhat self-dramatising and highly conscious
of his stature as an auteur, moved in the 1960s to increasingly grandiose
productions that claimed significance beyond mere entertainment and
performance. Orghast at Persepolis, in 1971, involved the development of a
script that combined disparate theatrical texts. The basis was Aeschylus‟
Prometheus Bound, to which were added extracts of text from the Spanish
playwright Calderon, a chorus from an Armenian play… Seneca, and an
exploration of Avestan, the ceremonial language of Iran,” which were blended
with writings from the poet Ted Hughes.47 Brook used members of his
company and local Iranians, and language and technical preparation was done
very swiftly, with much reliance on improvisation. The Persian archaeological
site of Persepolis (which is redolent of antiquity in general and Alexander the
Great in particular) provided a huge and impressive stage set. Performances
began at dusk, with the sunset and the sunrise the following morning being
important contributions to lighting effects. The flaming torches illuminating
44 Mackey and Cooper, Drama and Theatre Studies, p. 393.
45 Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, pp. 495-496, 501.
46 A list of artists (of various kinds) influenced by or attracted to the teachings of
Gurdjieff includes Thomas de Hartmann, Katherine Mansfield, Jane Heap,
Margaret Anderson, Jean Toomer, Sun Ra, Keith Jarrett, Bill Murray, and many
47 Mackey and Cooper, Drama and Theatre Studies, p. 385.
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the site reinforced the reception of Orghast at Persepolis as a type of esoteric
ritual, or temple spectacle, very far removed from theatre, as the West
understands it. Brook has made extravagant claims regarding what his
theatrical productions can achieve; “holy theatre not only presents the invisible
but offers conditions that make its perception possible.”48
The other great international marathon theatrical event that Peter Brook
is associated with is the nine-hour production of The Mahabharata that he
conceived and delivered in the 1980s, after he had made the film of “Meetings
With Remarkable Men.” Where Orghast was an original script, Brook has been
praised and vilified for his adaptation of the vast Indian epic, which was
composed between approximately 400 B.C.E. and 200 C.E., although it is
traditionally attributed to the sage Vyasa.49 Core to criticism of Brook‟s
Mahabharata was the claim that it was an orientalising appropriation of Indian
theatre and culture. This elucidates another parallel between Gurdjieff and
Brook; both were „Orientalists‟ who presented an exoticised version of the
Orient to the Occident.50 The East, as Edward Said argued, “was not allowed to
represent itself, but had to be represented by the Occident. In other words, it
had to be re-presented in a manner so as to align itself within the prevailing
hierarchy, with the imperial powers on top, the Orient at the bottom, of the
political, social, and cultural scale”51 It has been objected that Brook reduced
the action of the Mahabharata to a tragic tale of two flawed heroes, Karna and
Duryodhana, rendering it Shakespearean, rather than a traditionally Indian
religious cultural event.52 More serious charges against Brook included that he
made promises to certain Indians, particularly a young male dancer named
Dohonda, regarding participation in the production and later reneged on them,
and that he had failed to bring the Mahabharata back to the villagers whose
traditions he appropriated, which some critics viewed as an act of “cultural
This failure to appreciate the authentic Indian qualities of the
Mahabharata on the part of Brook reveals another way in which he models his
48 Peter Brook, The Empty Space (New York: Touchstone, 1996 [1968]), p. 56.
49 Gautam DasGupta, „The Mahabharata: Peter Brook‟s “Orientalism”‟,
Performing Arts Journal, vol. 10, no. 3 (1987), p. 9.
50 See Harry Oldmeadow, „Ex Oriente Lux: Eastern Religions, Western Writers‟ in
this volume.
51 DasGupta, „The Mahabharata: Peter Brook‟s “Orientalism”‟, p. 10.
52 Alf Hiltebeitel, „Transmitting Mahabharatas: Another Look at Peter Brook‟, The
Drama Review, vol. 36, no. 3 (Autumn, 1992), p. 150.
53 Phillip Zarrilli, „The Aftermath: When Peter Brook Came to India‟, The Drama
Review, vol. 30, no. 1 (Spring 1986), p. 98.
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life and activities on Gurdjieff. Esoteric teachings posit that there is a
universally applicable strand of ancient wisdom (the philosophia perennis, the
prisca theologica) that is available to enlightened souls in all historical eras and
across all geographies and cultures. This perspective is thus anti-modern and
anti-progress, as the ancient Atlanteans (or which ever group is valorised)
possessed perfect wisdom, to which nothing further could be added.54 It also
tends to erase differences between cultures and to propose universally
applicable solutions for human dilemmas. Nevertheless, Brook‟s Mahabharata
is considered a masterpiece by many, particularly by those who operate within
a „Traditionalist‟ framework. Basarab Nicolescu argues that there is a close
relationship between theatre and “spiritual work,” because of the fact that both
involve oral transmission, and asserts that Brook‟s troupe of actors “can
communicate just as well with African villagers, Australian aborigines or the
inhabitants of Brooklyn.”55 He suggests that the art of theatre as practiced by
Brook is a universal language, and cites Gurdjieff:
[t]he fundamental property of this new language is that all ideas are
concentrated around one single idea: in other words, they are all
considered, in terms of their mutual relationships, from the point of
view of a single idea. And this idea is that of evolution. Not at all in
the sense of a mechanical evolution, naturally, because that does not
exist, but in the sense of a conscious and voluntary evolution. It is
the only possible kind… The language which permits understanding
is based on the knowledge of its place in the evolutionary ladder.56
Nicolescu concludes that any activity that facilitates the evolution of
consciousness (which is a spiritual process), in this case the theatre of Brook,
should be considered as sacred.
In his autobiography Brook presents himself as a spiritual seeker not
unlike Gurdjieff. As an imaginative young child, he “learned that what we call
living is an attempt to read the shadows, betrayed at every time by what we so
easily assume to be real.”57 When recuperating from tuberculosis in Europe he
has a similar emotional awakening to women as that Gurdjieff experienced
with “the Riaouzov girl,” which he calls the wild sickness of love born of one
glimpse of a dark-haired Italian schoolgirl, looking down at me from the top of
54 Wouter J. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in
the Mirror of Secular Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998
[1996]), pp. 327-330.
55 Basarab Nicolescu, trans. David Williams, „Peter Brook and Traditional
Thought‟, Contemporary Theatre Review, vol. 7, no. 1 (1997), pp. 13-14.
56 Nicolescu, „Peter Brook and Traditional Thought‟, p. 20.
57 Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections, p. 7.
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a flight of steps.”58 He admits to an interest in the occult and describes meeting
Aleister Crowley (who also met Gurdjieff) as a teenager. He praises Jane Heap
as a teacher of rare insight:
[t]hrough her, I began to discover that “tradition” had another
meaning from the sterile old-fashionedness I so detested in the
theater. I learned to understand the oriental way of hiding knowledge
like a precious stone, of concealing its sources, of making it hard to
discover, so that its value can be truly appreciated by the searcher
who has been willing to pay the price. She showed how every
religion rapidly destroyed the purity of its origins by offering too
readily to others what one has not made one‟s own by hard practical
After Heap‟s death he and his wife Natasha developed a deep bond with Jeanne
de Salzmann, who was described to him as “like a fan, which gradually opens
until more and more is revealed.”60 While in New York in the mid-1970s de
Salzmann suggested to Brook “very lightly, „Why don‟t we make a film of
Meetings With Remarkable Men?‟”61 Brook responded to this proposal with
enthusiasm, but his initial desire to make a “dynamic, colorful film” was
thwarted by Madame de Salzmann, who desired to “give to the spectator a
direct taste of that „something else‟ she had experienced with Gurdjieff over
the years.”62 This anecdote demonstrates that viewing the film of Gurdjieff‟s
autobiography was intended as a kind of substitute for an encounter with
Gurdjieff himself, and thus can be understood as a type of evangelism, of
spreading the word about the Work.
Meetings With Remarkable Men (1979)
Meetings With Remarkable Men, which is dedicated to Gurdjieff, was filmed in
Afghanistan, which doubles for a variety of Central Asian locations and Egypt.
Jeanne de Salzmann, then well over eighty, played a part in the casting of roles,
particularly of the Montenegrin actor Dragan Maksimovic as the adult
Gurdjieff, and in the supervision of filming. The issue of casting clearly was of
spiritual significance. Brook stated in his autobiography that while waiting to
meet Madame de Salzmann, Maksimovic;
sat patiently on a stool. Then, at one moment, he crossed his legs,
and learning forward, he clasped his hands together on a stick he had
picked up off the ground, his body relaxed yet poised and alert.
58 Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections, p. 18.
59 Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections, p. 61.
60 Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections, p. 108.
61 Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections, p. 173.
62 Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections, p. 174.
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Madame de Salzmann was delighted, recognizing a characteristic
attitude of Gurdjieff that Dragan had unwittingly assumed, simply
through the power of essential roots and type.63
Due to Brook‟s theatrical contacts, the distinguished cast included the South
African playwright Athol Fugard as Professor Skridlov, and the English actors
Terence Stamp as Prince Lubovedsky and Warren Mitchell as Gurdjieff‟s
father. The film is episodic and has been praised for its cinematic beauty. It
opens with the young Gurdjieff and his father climbing a barren, rocky
mountain. They are going to the meeting of the ashokhs. As the singer sings,
the camera pans slowly over the faces. The significance of music is underlined;
Gurdjieff asks his father “Where do the ashokhs learn?” and receives the
answer “From their fathers,” which is then regressed back to God. His father
suggests that young Gurdjieff should “Become yourself. Then God and the
Devil don‟t matter.” The evocative, faintly melancholy, soundtrack consists of
music based on compositions by Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann, with
additional music by Gurdjieffian musician and composer Laurence
The key episodes of Gurdjieff‟s youth, including the Yezidi boy trapped
in the circle, the brief experience of love for the Riaouzov girl, and the
resulting duel with Piotr Karpenko, are picturesquely presented, as are his adult
acquaintances with Pogossian, Yelov, Vitvitskaia (whose importance is
downplayed in the film through her being nameless), and the other Seekers of
Truth. The action is slow-moving, with minimal dialogue, resulting in a
sometimes ponderous silence. The „spiritual‟ nature of the film is underscored
throughout, and the music has a hypnotic effect. Film Studies scholar Paul
Coates argues that if Rudolf Otto‟s notion that the core of religion is:
the experience of a mysterium tremendum… [this]… can be aligned
with the experience of cinema. For a start, Otto‟s statement of the
need for “metaphor and symbolic expressions, to make the states of
mind we are investigating ring out” privileges aesthetic categories as
conduits to religiosity. He describes the mysterium as an
“overpowering might” with “a character which cannot be expressed
verbally.” The pattern of a feeling that precedes ands even resists
verbal rationalization may seem peculiarly apt to cinema, the most
widespread forms of which pressure-cook emotions within the
confines of a two-hour period.65
63 Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections, p. 177.
64 Laurence Rosenthal, „Music for the Film Meetings With Remarkable Men‟,
Gurdjieff International Review, vol. II, no. 4 (1999).
65 Paul Coates, Cinema, Religion and the Romantic Legacy (Aldershot: Ashgate,
2003), p. 55.
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Religion plays a part in the film, as it does in the book, but it is largely emptied
of doctrinal and institutional significance. Pogossian and Gurdjieff acquire the
map of “Egypt before the sands” from the abbot of an Orthodox monastery and
journey to Egypt where Gurdjieff meets Prince Lubovedsky; Gurdjieff has
several encounters with the dervish Bogga Eddin, but the fact he is Muslim (or
a Sufi) is never mentioned. After the failure of Professor Skridlov‟s
archaeological expedition in the Gobi Desert, Bogga Eddin tells Gurdjieff to
find the Sarmoung Brotherhood; “I have found nothing. I don‟t know how to
search. Alone a man can do very little. He needs to find the place where
knowledge has been kept alive.”66
The quest to find the monastery of the Sarmoung Brotherhood (which is
described as having been founded in 2,500 B.C.E. and having disappeared after
the sixth century C.E.) becomes the primary narrative to propel the film
forward. Gurdjieff and Skridlov sing and beg as they travel; they meet a former
Christian missionary, Father Giovanni, who explains that he has abandoned
exclusive adherence to Christianity to become a member of the World
Brotherhood (which is a nod to the deregulated spirituality characteristic of the
West post-Theosophy). When Skridlov decides to stay with Father Giovanni,
Gurdjieff presses on to the Sarmoung monastery, and after crossing a perilous
rope bridge he is welcomed by the monastery‟s superior, who greets him
warmly; “[y]ou have found your place my son. You have come here like a
lamb but you have a wolf in side of you.” Here he is reunited with Prince
Lubovedsky, who is close to the end of his life. Gurdjieff‟s followers have
argued for various locations for this monastery (assuming that it did exist).
Gurdjieff claimed to have spent time in Tibet as a lama, and to have had a
Tibetan wife and children. It has been suggested that he was the Lama Dorjieff,
the tutor of the Dalai Lama (though this has been effectively refuted by
Moore), and Anna Durco, who knew Gurdjieff when she was a child,
remembered asking why his head was shaved. He told her “„Where I was, all
were like that.‟ He added that they had red garments with a bare shoulder
exposed, a wooden staff land barren in the background.”67 As there is a group
of nine or ten Nyingma Buddhist monasteries collectively called „Surmang‟ in
the Nangchen region of Tibet, some have speculated that this is the site of
Gurdjieff‟s initiation into wisdom, and the place of origin of the Movements.68
However, both Gurdjieff‟s own memoir and Brook‟s film present the
66 Peter Brook, Meetings With Remarkable Men (Sandpoint, ID: Morning Light
Press, 1997 [1979]).
67 Bennett, Gurdjieff: Making a New World, p. 96.
68 P.T. Mistelberger, Three Dangerous Magi: Gurdjieff, Osho, Crowley (Ropley,
Hants: O Books, 2010), p. 568.
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monastery more as a Sufi institution. The final fifteen minutes of the film make
it clear that the Movements are the central revelation of the Gurdjieff Work.
Prince Lubovedsky says to Gurdjieff, “Everyone in the monastery learns the
alphabet of these movements. They are exactly like books, we can read in them
truths placed there a thousand years ago.” Gurdjieff replies, “I understand.”
The Prince continues, “They tell us of two qualities of energy, moving without
interruption through the body. As long as the dancer can keep in balance these
two energies, he has a force that nothing else can give.” The two walk through
the courtyards of the monastery, viewing six different Movements. These are
performed by men and women, and are accompanied by the hypnotic recitation
of the Law of Three, “affirming, denying, reconciling.” Prince Lubovedsky
departs to a monastery in the Himalayas to live out his last three years. He
counsels Gurdjieff to remain with the Sarmoung Brotherhood;
[y]ou have now found the conditions 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.69
The final Movement shown is a Sufi dervish dance. The credits roll over an
image of Gurdjieff standing in the barren rocky landscape, as he watches the
Prince retreat into the distance, until he is no longer visible.
When released, Meetings With Remarkable Men received a mixed
reaction from both cinema critics and those in the Work. It was both panned as
pompous, pseudo-profound and obscurantist, and celebrated as lyrically
beautiful and conveying an authentic sense of the spiritual quest. Janet
Maslin‟s review in the New York Times is revealing, in that she apprehended
the film‟s hagiographical intent, but felt that Brook had failed to convey the
sense of Gurdjieff‟s search. She wrote that:
Mr Brook‟s presentation of this is so solemn, so evidently lacking
the joyful guiding spirit of such a search, that his film feels flat.
Watching this handsome, affectless effort feels a little like receiving
a series of puzzling picture postcards in the mail, each one beautiful
but missing a message on the back. The effect is perhaps more
mysterious than it means to be.70
However, more than thirty years since its release, the film ranking website
Flixster records an 89% favourable rating from viewers, suggesting that the
69 Brook, Meetings With Remarkable Men (1997 [1979]).
70 Janet Maslin, „Meetings With Remarkable Men: Peter Brook on Russian
Mystic‟, New York Times (5 August 1979), at
E9C946890D6CF. Accessed 25/04/2011.
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film has stood the test of time.71 The late 1970s is an interesting period with
regard to religion and spirituality in the West. The boom in alternative religions
of the countercultural 1960s had abated, and the New Age of the 1980s had not
yet begun. The positive reception of Brook‟s film was greatly boosted as the
New Age gained traction among Westerners and in 1980 the renowned jazz
and classical virtuoso pianist, Keith Jarrett, released a popular recording of a
selection of the Gurdjieff-de Hartmann music, Sacred Hymns. Jarrett identified
the process of musical improvisation as spiritual inspiration, and Sacred Hymns
was immensely successful, winning a substantial audience for the Gurdjieff-de
Hartmann music, though more without than within the Work.72
Within Gurdjieff groups, these negative reactions to popular media
presentations of the master‟s teachings were in part motivated by the belief that
knowledge of the Work could only be gained through direct teacher-pupil
contact and the fear that the teachings would be misunderstood by an
unprepared and ignorant public. Jeanne de Salzmann had decided that to “give
to the spectator a direct taste of that „something else‟ she had experienced with
Gurdjieff over the years” was a valid step.73 However, her actions as
Gurdjieff‟s successor, though respected by many, were not universally
accepted, and there were groups who believed that her control of the Work
(which as an organised system she, not Gurdjieff, had instituted) was overly-
controlling and lacked spiritual authenticity. David Kherdian, an Armenian-
American who belonged, with his wife Nonny Hogrogian, to a group led by
Annie-Lou Stavely, has published a complex reflection on Meetings With
Remarkable Men that repays study. He says,
[w]e had rented five mini-buses, complete with an intercom system,
and we set off for San Francisco. I gave the buses the names Farm
Barn 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and the assistant drivers of each Farm Barn set
up their communication system to prevent any of the buses getting
lost. The trip was exciting and eventful, and proved to be the catalyst
for two marriages. But the movie itself was a disappointment.
Halting and stilted as well as pretentious, I felt that it had made a
travesty of the book, with the only believable people on the screen
apart from Warren Mitchell, who played Gurdjieff‟s father being
the natives, who were not acting but simply being themselves, men
71 Flixster, Meetings With Remarkable Men (1979), at Accessed
72 Johanna Petsche, „Channelling the Creative: Keith Jarrett‟s Spiritual Beliefs
Through a Gurdjieffian Lens‟, Literature & Aesthetics, vol. 19, no. 2 (2009), pp.
73 Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections, p. 174.
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and women with real being, unlike the hired actors who, for all their
polish, were ineffective and empty. Except for the movements, it was
clearly an unfortunate misappropriation of a great, objective work of
art. And yet, in spite of myself, there were moments during the film
when I was moved for somehow, in spite of everything, something
of Gurdjieff‟s great spirit and teaching had come through.74
Kherdian was puzzled as to whether the film was intended for people in the
Work, or for people „in life‟? He and his fellow-students of Gurdjieff were
convinced that those „in life‟ would not understand the film. He also concluded
that Dragan Maksimovic was unconvincing as Gurdjieff, and the film failed as
a rendering of Gurdjieff‟s book. However, he was not able to sustain his first,
negative reaction, as “the people in the Work… [became] identified with the
film,” and Mrs Stavely purchased a copy and instituted screenings at the farm
community she headed.75
Conclusion: Models of the Enlightened Life
Kherdian‟s reflections are interesting because by the 1970s there were clear
tensions in the Work. Whereas many, including Peter Brook, accepted the
authority of Jeanne de Salzmann, others were concerned that under the „Great
Helmswoman‟ the teaching had diverged from Gurdjieff‟s own. James Moore‟s
study of the tradition between the death of Gurdjieff in 1949 and the death of
Madame de Salzmann in 1990 argues that she deliberately engineered the
dismantling of “Gurdjieff‟s canon of effort, striving, and self-reliance” and
replaced it with a grace paradigm.76 Moore claims Gurdjieff and his ideas were
effectively abandoned:
discarded with both the “heroic” and the historical Gurdjieff was the
entire apparatus of his Systema Universi: the Ray of Creation, the
Table of Hydrogens, the Step Diagram, the Food Diagram, the
Enneagram etc. They and their unwelcome implications simply
vanished from politically correct discourse. With this final solution
to the Work‟s effort-saturated cosmological matrix… the pupil‟s
presumed new experience of “being worked upon” and “being
remembered” was posited in a mystical illuminism, which hinted
encouragingly at a supernal “look of love” – albeit not specifying its
presumably divine, demiurgic, or angelic provenance. In a doctrinal
corollary of seismic implications, fusion with this supernal source
74 David Kherdian, On a Spaceship With Beelzebub: By a Grandson of Gurdjieff
(Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1998 [1991]), pp. 191-192.
75 Kherdian, On a Spaceship With Beelzebub, p. 192.
76 James Moore, „Moveable Feasts: The Gurdjieff Work‟, Religion Today, vol. 9,
no. 2 (19), p. 12.
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replaced individuation as the pupil‟s goal.77
Accompanying these doctrinal changes was the introduction of yoga practice
(which Gurdjieff explicitly rejected), and the re-translation and publication of a
bowdlerized version of Tales in 1992, against which Annie-Lou Stavely
protested fervently. Thus, the Movements were the last remaining unchanged
esoteric exercise developed by Gurdjieff. Moore indicates that respect for and
awe of Madame de Salzmann stifled dissent; David Kherdian accuses her of
sanitising both Gurdjieff‟s lectures, published as Views From the Real World
(1975), and Gurdjieff‟s Meetings in Brook‟s film of “Meetings With
Remarkable Men.”78 Brook, however, maintains that the film is authentic and
that “the unique and unknown dances themselves are what matter. They have
never been shown before, and these movements are authentic, re-created from
the complex principles that Gurdjieff discovered during his journeys and had
transmitted directly to Madame de Salzmann, who in turn had taught them to
her pupils.”79 This is in fact inaccurate; many performances of the Movements
occurred during Gurdjieff‟s lifetime, and in fact some argue that there are
deliberate mistakes in the filmed Movements, to prevent reproduction of them
outside of the Work.80
It could be argued that the changes introduced by Jeanne de Salzmann,
and the film of “Meetings With Remarkable Men,” were a response to a
changed spiritual climate at the end of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s,
which is generally called the “New Age.” Gurdjieff‟s teachings were delivered
to his pupils before the spiritual revolution of the counter-cultural 1960s and
the Work was an authoritarian, initiatory teaching. Gurdjieff himself was
arbitrary, sexist and given to terrifying rages; outsiders accused of hypnotising
his followers and negatively characterised him as a „magician‟. The second half
of the twentieth century saw the opening up of esoteric traditions; and despite
the secretive nature of the Work, Gurdjieff‟s pupils produced a constant stream
of books about him, and autobiographical accounts of their spiritual struggle.
The emergence of the New Age „spiritual seeker‟, now viewed as a major
factor in the West‟s shift from institutional religion to free-floating, individual
„spirituality‟,81 created a new audience for Gurdjieff‟s ideas and validated his
77 Moore, „Moveable Feasts‟, p. 13.
78 Kherdian, On a Spaceship With Beelzebub, p. 192.
79 Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections, p. 180.
80 Joseph Azize, „Gurdjieff‟s Sacred Dances and Movements‟, in Handbook of New
Religions and Cultural Production, eds Carole M. Cusack and Alex Norman
(Leiden: Brill, 2012) [forthcoming].
81 Colin Campbell, „The Cult, the Cultic Milieu, and Secularization‟, A
Sociological Yearbook of Religion in Britain, vol. 5 (1972), pp. 119-136.
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Literature & Aesthetics 21 (1) June 2011, page 95
self-presentation as a questing seeker after wisdom in Meetings as an authentic
model of the enlightened life. Coupled with this was a rise in eclectic, personal
religio-spiritual bricolage, and the gradual retreat of traditional Western
religious notions (monotheism, divine transcendence, one earthly life, and so
on) with broadly Eastern ones (monism, reincarnation, karma, subtle body
energies, and so on).82
The deliberate downplaying of specific religions (Yezidi, Orthodox
Christian, Sufi, Muslim, and so on) in establishing the identities of Gurdjieff‟s
„Seekers of Truth‟ and other characters contributes to the generically „spiritual‟
tone of the film, as does Father Giovanni‟s World Brotherhood, which is
compatible with the philosophia perennis of Western esoteric traditions. The
aesthetics of Meetings With Remarkable Men presents the quest for wisdom
and enlightenment in a serious and weighty fashion that is in conformity with
Paul Schrader‟s notion of “transcendent style.” This is a filmic form that
features “austerity and asceticism” rather than “exuberance and expressivism,”
utilises “sparse means” and rejects realism, and depends on silence and stasis
in the depiction of the holy.83 Nicolescu notes the centrality of silence in
Brook‟s oeuvre;
[s]ilence plays an integral part in Brook‟s work, beginning with the
research into the inter-relationship of silence and duration with his
Theatre of Cruelty group in 1964, and culminating in the rhythm
punctuated with silences that is indefinably present at the core of his
film Meetings with Remarkable Men: “In silence there are many
potentialities: chaos or order, muddle or pattern, all lie fallow - the
invisible-made-visible is of sacred nature.” Silence is all-embracing,
and it contains countless “layers.”84
In certain respects, Meetings With Remarkable Men recalls a later Hollywood
film, Martin Scorsese‟s Kundun (1997), a biographical treatment of Tenzin
Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. In fact, there are profound similarities
between these two works, in that Kundun is also a film of stunning beauty,
featuring a rugged and barren landscape, with a profoundly emotive soundtrack
by Philip Glass, which presents the spiritual maturation of the Dalai Lama
against the backdrop of the struggle of the Tibetan people against Maoist
82 Colin Campbell, „The Easternisation of the West‟, in New Religious Movements:
Challenge and Response, ed. Bryan Wilson and Jamie Cresswell (London and New
York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 35-49.
83 Paul Schrader, Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (Berkeley,
Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1972), pp. 151-169.
84 Nicolescu, „Peter Brook and Traditional Thought‟, pp. 21-22.
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Literature & Aesthetics 21 (1) June 2011, page 96
China.85 The power of Tibet‟s passive resistance to the military might of China
is dramatised by Scorsese in a myriad ways, but most poignantly through the
silence of the Dalai Lama in a meeting with Mao Zedong, who dismisses
religion in Tibet as „poison‟. Monasteries feature as sites where ancient
wisdom is protected and passed on, and both films conclude with the promise
of the spiritually enlightened young male protagonist going into the wider
world, as the Dalai Lama is exiled from Tibet, and Prince Lubovedsky tells
Gurdjieff, “[s]tay here, until you acquire a force in you that nothing can
destroy. Then you will need to go back into life [where] you will measure
yourself constantly with forces which will show you your place.”86 Both films
are slow-paced, stately and aestheticised, and are powerful, affective examples
of transcendental style in cinema. It is also worth noting that both are exercises
in Orientalism, in which Western viewers are invited to appreciate the spiritual
value of the „mysterious East‟. That this was Brook‟s intention in directing the
film is corroborated by his reflection on Afghanistan as “a country where there
were no ruins to admire but which was organically linked to traces of a living
whole,” and where “theatre, like a bazaar, could both stay in the everyday
world and yet touch a monastery wall.”87
In conclusion, Meetings With Remarkable Men as a foray into making
the Work public, and as the first (and possibly the only) narrative feature film
about the life of a new religious movement leader, won for Gurdjieff a new
audience of spiritual seekers who did not wish to join the initiatory and
authoritarian Work, but who admired the portrayal of Gurdjieff as a spiritual
seeker who achieved enlightened status, and were enabled to utilise elements of
his system in the construction of their own personal spiritualities. Brook has
acknowledged that not all viewers found his portrayal of Gurdjieff authentic
and persuasive, but defends the film as ultimately effective. In his
autobiography Threads of Time: Recollections, he notes that
some people were disappointed, finding it too simplistic as cinema,
too exotic in its imagery, too naïve in its narrative. Certainly, when
at last the distant monastery is reached, the dancers assembled there
in white are unmistakably European, and this is hard to swallow
from the point of view of normal storytelling logic… It is interesting
to see that when the film is shown, most spectators are deeply
touched by these dances and exercises and are totally unconcerned
85 Eve L. Mullen, „Orientalist Commercializations: Tibetan Buddhism in American
Popular Film‟, Journal of Religion and Film, vol. 2, no. 2 (1998): at Accessed 22/10/2010.
86 Brook, Meetings With Remarkable Men (1997 [1979]).
87 Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections, pp. 99, 104.
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Literature & Aesthetics 21 (1) June 2011, page 97
by their lack of verisimilitude in the story.88
In the twenty-first century, ready access to inexpensive editions of Gurdjieff‟s
writings in the original translations, and to Brook‟s Meetings With Remarkable
Men on DVD and online via YouTube, as well as through screenings at art-
house cinemas, means that information about the Work teachings is more
widely available than ever before. The New Age has given way to the Next
Age, eclectic spiritualities have become the default mode for contemporary
Westerners, and conflicts within the Gurdjieff tradition, particularly over issues
of leadership as Michel de Salzmann (who is Gurdjieff‟s biological son)
succeeded his mother Jeanne, have resulted in freelance Movements instructors
and acephalous Work groups that are more liberal and open to seekers.
Finally, the centrality of the self to contemporary spiritual quests, and
the diminished importance of doctrinal and other boundary markers between
religions for seekers, means that G. I. Gurdjieff‟s enlightened life, expressed
through text in Meetings With Remarkable Men, and through image in Peter
Brook‟s Meetings With Remarkable Men, with its central motif of the young
Gurdjieff‟s quest for and attainment of perennial, universally applicable,
esoteric wisdom, has been authenticated as a valid and powerful model of
seekership and self-realisation. The text‟s teasing play with truth and
historicity, and the film‟s beauty and transcendent style, combine effectively to
win for Gurdjieff a constantly replenished new audience of spiritual seekers.
88 Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections, p. 180.
... The cultural products that this collection examines are produced by insiders for insiders, but have attained a certain level of broader cultural acceptance through various means. For example, the 'Movements' taught by G. I. Gurdjieff were intended only for his followers, but Peter Brook's 1979 film Meetings With Remarkable Men revealed them to a wider audience of 'seekers' (Cusack 2011). Likewise, the magnificent architecture of Rudolf Steiner was intended as part of his spiritual science, yet many modern architects now draw influence from his designs without specifically calling upon Anthroposophical ideals (Melchert 2007). ...
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It is a truth generally acknowledged that religions have been the earliest and perhaps the chief progenitors of cultural products in human societies. Mesopotamian urban centres developed from large temple complexes, Greek drama emerged from religious festivals dedicated to deities including Dionysos and Athena, and in more recent times Christianity has inspired artistic masterpieces including the ‘St Matthew Passion’ by the Lutheran Johann Sebastian Bach (1686-1750), the motets of the Catholic William Byrd (1540-1623), and the striking paintings of the Counter-Reformation Spaniards Ribera, Zurbaran and Murillo in the seventeenth century. The Indian religious tradition contributes the magnificent Hindu and Buddhist temples of Angkor (Cambodia), and the exquisite Chola bronze statues, and Islam the sophisticated Timurid illustrated manuscripts of Firdausi’s Shahnama. Many more examples could be adduced, including forms of dance, systems of education, theories of government, special diets, and modes of costume and fashion.
This article considers whether there might be a canon of the Gurdjieff Work and, if so, what that canon might include. The author emphasizes that any canonical explication must incorporate two complementary aspects: first, texts that describe the psychological, philosophical, metaphysical, and cosmological structure of Gurdjieff’s system of self-transformation; second, an integrated set of guidelines, procedures, and techniques that provide the experiential and spiritual engine for actualizing potential self-transformation. Taking this twofold canonical definition into account, the Gurdjieff canon is defined as an ensemble of texts, methods, and performative media that when, engaged sincerely and persistently, might facilitate self-transformation psychologically and spiritually. This article gives attention to written texts because the starting point of Gurdjieff’s system is intellectual understanding. These written texts are overviewed in terms of seven categories: (1) Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson and Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous; (2) additional texts by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, including Gurdjieff’s Meetings with Remarkable Men and Ouspensky’s The Fourth Way; (3) commentaries on Beelzebub’s Tales; (4) commentaries on the Gurdjieff Work as presented in Maurice Nicoll’s Psychological Commentaries and Jane Heap’s Notebooks; (5) biographies of Gurdjieff; (6) memoirs of Gurdjieff; and (7) works that extend Gurdjieffian ideas in innovative directions.
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Research into the life and work of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a Greek-Armenian spiritual teacher and one of the foundational figures of modern mysticism, remains an emergent field within the academic study of religion/s. While esotericists such as H. P. Blavatsky and Rudolf Steiner have been thoroughly studied, international academic study of Gurdjieff is still scarce. Gurdjieff lived his early adulthood amidst a severe power struggle between the major powers of the Russian, British and Ottoman empires. He survived the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Russian Civil War of 1918–22 and two World Wars. In his writings, he states how after the turn of the twentieth century, he understood it to be his mission in life to help mankind stop wars from happening, and during his years as a teacher, the question of war was omnipresent because of the events surrounding him and his pupils. Despite all this, there is no previous academic research on the topic of Gurdjieff and war. In this article, I examine the role of wars and armed conflicts in Gurdjieff’s personal life narrative according to his own writings, present his narrative in a military-historical context and analyse his narrational tools and motives as a first step towards a comprehensive study of a much larger subject.
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The Enneagram, from the Greek ennea (nine) and grammos (written or drawn), is a nine-sided figure, presented as a triangle within a circle (connecting points 9, 3 and 6), that was taught by the esoteric teacher G.I. Gurdjieff and discussed in P.D. Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous (1949). Gurdjieff stated that the Enneagram is “completely self-supporting and independent of other lines and it has been completely unknown up to the present time,” yet multiple origins have been claimed for the symbol (e.g., Christian, Sufi, Kabbalistic). This article situates the Enneagram in the Work context, and considers the post-Gurdjieffian Enneagram, which is chiefly used for personality analysis (indebted to Oscar Ichazo, founder of the Arica School).
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George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (c. 1866–1949) is an original and influential teacher of modern esotericism and one of the sources of what Harry T. Hunt describes as “secular Western mysticism” (Hunt 2003: 225–50). Gurdjieff is often studied in the context of his older contemporary Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891), who co-founded the Theosophical Society with Henry Steel Olcott in 1875, and also Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who broke away from Theosophy to found the Anthroposophical Society in 1912. It is true there are similarities between the three esoteric systems: both Steiner and Gurdjieff were familiar with, and used on occasion, the language of Theosophical discourse; Blavatsky and Gurdjieff consciously melded Eastern and Western religious, spiritual, and esoteric ideas; Steiner and Gurdjieff taught esoteric movement arts and had artists, dancers, and musicians as followers; and all three were charismatic leaders whose pupils gave them fierce loyalty (Petsche, “Gurdjieff and Blavatsky” 98). Yet both Blavatsky and Steiner attributed their teachings to various “Masters,” while Gurdjieff “never based his authority upon ‘Masters’, let alone being their emissary” (Azize 28). The popularity of the “Ascended Masters” tradition in twentieth century America may be one reason Gurdjieff’s teaching (the “Fourth Way” or the “Work”) is less well-known than either Theosophy or Anthroposophy (Brown passim). The secrecy with which the Foundation groups led by Gurdjieff’s successor Jeanne de Salzmann (1889-1990) guarded his legacy is certainty one reason for this. Scholarly research on Gurdjieff has until the last decade or so been limited, with most studies being hagiographies by “insiders,” focused more on celebration than on criticism (Sutcliffe 269-273).
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The occult and the Internet intersect in four ways: as a static medium for information; as a space where contested information or ideological conflict may occur; as a facilitator of communication; and as a medium for esoteric practice. The last type of activity is rare, but it is intriguing, in that technology can shape and inform beliefs and practices in unanticipated ways. Online engagement with the ‘Work’, the movement produced by the Greek Armenian spiritual teacher and esotericist G. I. Gurdjieff (c. 1866-1949) and his immediate followers, is an under-researched instance of online esoteric practice. This article addresses this scholarly desideratum, bringing the theoretical approaches of online religion and digital ethnography to bear on the Gurdjieff Internet Guide (GIG) website, founded by Reijo Oksanen (b. 1942) and later maintained by Kristina Turner, who created an accompanying Facebook page. The GIG manifests a shift away from the sectarian secrecy of the ‘Foundation’ groups, founded by Jeanne de Salzmann (1889-1990) after Gurdjieff’s death to formalise and protect the content of the Work, and the limited web presence that the Foundation permits. The GIG moves towards an ecumenical ‘open source’ approach to the dissemination of Gurdjieff’s teachings rooted in independent groups founded by other first generation followers of Gurdjieff who remained outside of the Foundation. It is argued that the deregulation of the religious and spiritual marketplace of the contemporary West, coupled with the dominant role played by the Internet in disseminating information, has radically transformed the Gurdjieff tradition, collapsing hierarchies and esoteric strategies, democratizing access for seekers, and creating new ritual and teaching modes.
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While the control and discipline of the body and human behavior is a perennial concern in all social orders, it is particularly acute within religions, both old and new. Religions typically regulate dress, social interaction, diet, and especially norms concerning sex, reproduction, and the family. To date, research on the Church of Scientology, founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, has neglected the topic of sex. In this article, I remedy this lacuna by examining three areas linked by the theme of “attempted abortion.” First, I explore Hubbard’s biography in terms of sexual and familial experiences; second, I expound on his writings about sex and the doctrinal position of the Church of Scientology; and third, I examine recent allegations affecting the Sea Org due to defectors’ claims that pregnant women were forced to have abortions. Additionally, I adduce some comparative material from the biography of Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, who manifested a similar disconnect between his personal life and his conservative teachings on sex. In the Church of Scientology, sexual orientation and activity are prime sites of control experienced by all its members, but in particular among the elite corps of the Sea Org.
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G. I. Gurdjieff (c. 1866-1949) claimed that individuals could not advance spiritually but that in a group progress was possible. He founded the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, first in Tiflis, Georgia in 1919, and for a second time at the Prieuré des Basses Loges in Fontainebleau-Avon, south of Paris, in 1922. At the Prieuré Gurdjieff’s pupils pursued tasks as part of a program of spiritual exercises he devised to lead them from false personality to true self, from a multitude of “I”s to a “real I”. These activities included Movements (the “sacred dances”), physical labour, ritualized eating, drinking, and bathing in the Turkish bath, and “inner exercises,” a type of contemplation. Key pupils of Gurdjieff established similar live-in venues for pursuit of the “Work”: P. D. Ouspensky at Lyne Place, Surrey; J. G. Bennett (1897-1974) at Coombe Springs, Surrey; Sophia Ouspensky at Franklin Farms, Mendham, NJ; and later other “Gurdjieffian” teachers founded a range of residential communities. The Work or the Fourth Way (as the Gurdjieff teaching is known) did not mandate retreat from everyday life; rather, Gurdjieff asserted that it was compatible with family, childrearing, and employment. This article uses examples of scholarly literature on intentional communities, and social history of other groups attempting the same types of experiments in living contemporaneously, to illuminate an understudied aspect of the Gurdjieff tradition.
This article examines the diverse routes that G. I. Gurdjieff’s (c.1866– 1949) work has traversed, from the time of the very first Gurdjieff-based groups established in his lifetime in England, America and France, to the new groups that formed around the world after his death. Focus is inevitably paid to the dramatic changes made by Jeanne de Salzmann after Gurdjieff’s death, when she took the reins from Gurdjieff and restructured groups, forming a network of orthodox, hierarchical “Foundation” groups that taught Gurdjieffian principles and exercises in a formalized manner. These Foundation groups and their core practices will be examined. Not all of Gurdjieff’s followers amalgamated into this network; an assortment of Gurdjieff-based groups remain outside of it. These can be considered “independent” and “fringe” groups, and will also be considered. An indepth study of the existence and development of these Gurdjieff-centred groups has never before been attempted, and is crucial to an appreciation of the influence and relevance of Gurdjieff today. It is primarily through these groups that Gurdjieff’s work has been carried on, expanded, modified, preserved, and/or assimilated with other religio-spiritual teachings.
The cultural changes that have marked Western civilisation over the past fifty years are identified as constituting a process of Easternisation, understood as a rejection of a traditional Western worldview in favour of beliefs, values and practices that are more characteristic of Eastern (understood as Oriental) civilisations. This process is traced to the 1960s and the disenchantment of a new generation of young people, a disenchantment with society and culture that was associated with a marked 'turn to the East.' The populist embracing of imported oriental practices is then linked with the adoption of beliefs and practices that are 'Eastern' in nature rather than provenance to constitute a more general 'rehabilitation of the natural,' a process that received explicit recognition in a broadly-conceived New Age and Neo-Pagan movement. These cultural changes at the popular level are then shown to have been matched by fundamental shifts in the premises underlying the dominant Western intellectual and ideological traditions of Protestant Christianity, Marxism and science, all of which are shown to have undertaken dramatic revision in the second half of the twentieth century. The changes involved, such as the rejection of materialism, the 'end of history' and the shift from reason to insight can be seen - especially when linked with the rejection of dualism and the re-conceptualisation of the divine as immanent, rather than transcendent - as amounting to the 'loss' of the West as traditionally understood.
Threads of Time: Recollections
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Brook, Threads of Time: Recollections, p. 7. 66
s own memoir and Brook " s film present the 66 Peter Brook, Meetings With Remarkable Men
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Three Dangerous Magi: Gurdjieff, Osho, Crowley (Ropley, Hants: O Books
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T. Mistelberger, Three Dangerous Magi: Gurdjieff, Osho, Crowley (Ropley, Hants: O Books, 2010), p. 568. 25/04/2011.
Gurdjieff " s Sacred Dances and Movements " , in Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production
  • Joseph Azize
Joseph Azize, " Gurdjieff " s Sacred Dances and Movements ", in Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production, eds Carole M. Cusack and Alex Norman (Leiden: Brill, 2012) [forthcoming].
Music for the Film Meetings With Remarkable Men
  • Laurence Rosenthal
Laurence Rosenthal, "Music for the Film Meetings With Remarkable Men", Gurdjieff International Review, vol. II, no. 4 (1999).