Gurdjieff International Review

Considering Fragments

Allan Lindh

In the decades since George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff’s death, many books have been written about the man and the teaching he brought to Europe and America from Central Asia. Since today many people’s first contact with his teaching is via the written word, the question naturally arises as to which books can serve as an introduction to these ideas? His own masterwork, All and Everything: Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson,1 is difficult (although it slowly becomes more transparent with repeated readings). His other two books: Meetings with Remarkable Men3 while seemingly less difficult, present definite challenges of their own. Gurdjieff confides to the reader in the Introduction to Meetings with Remarkable Men:

Charlotte Lee

But since, little by little, I had become more adroit in the art of concealing serious thoughts in an enticing, easily grasped outer form, and in making all those thoughts which I term ‘discernable only with the lapse of time’ ensue from others usual to the thinking of most contemporary people, I changed the principle I had been following and, instead of seeking to achieve the aim I had set myself in writing by quantity, I adopted the principle of attaining this by quality alone.4

Given the inherent difficulty of Mr. Gurdjieff’s writings, what of the other written material that has grown out of his legacy has the real stamp of authenticity? Of particular note in this regard is P. D. Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching,5 which for many people serves not only as an introduction to the ideas Mr. Gurdjieff brought, but a guide to their practical application as well. However, given Ouspensky’s early break with Gurdjieff, one might reasonably ask how reliable and complete Fragments is as an introduction to work on oneself? After all, the conversations Ouspensky records—more than two-thirds of Fragments consists of direct quotes from Gurdjieff—took place in Russian almost a century ago. Yet Fragments is written in refined and rather philosophical English. Not only did Ouspensky have to remember his conversations with Gurdjieff—note taking during meetings was forbidden—but he had to translate his personal notes into a language that he learned later in life.

Fortunately we have published appraisals of Fragments from several sources including some of Mr. Gurdjieff’s most senior students.

Michel de Salzmann

In a discussion of the Gurdjieff literature, Dr. Michel de Salzmann—who directed the worldwide network of Gurdjieff foundations, societies, and institutes from 1990 until his passing in 2001—provides this strong endorsement:

There is now only one book, except for the books of Gurdjieff himself, which can be considered, without prejudice, really useful for followers of the teaching. This is In Search of the Miraculous by P. D. Ouspensky. Gurdjieff’s pupils have always felt deeply indebted to Ouspensky for this as yet unrivaled contribution to his work. Besides being a fascinating narrative, it is a brilliant, honest, and faithful exposition of the author’s memory of what was transmitted to him. The feat of memory is all the more remarkable when one realizes that note-taking was rigorously forbidden. Although it corresponds to an initial stage of Gurdjieff’s teaching, both in time (1915 to 1923) and as regards the pupil’s preparation, it retains a remarkable strength and freshness in orienting an active questioning in those who are now working in this way.

Ouspensky’s qualifications and motives were doubtless exceptional, but the secret quality emanating from his book comes precisely from the fact that it takes us as close as possible to the conditions of oral teaching, in which the Master’s presence brings about an “incarnation” of the ideas, and reveals them in a wholly new dimension.6

John Sinclair

In an introduction to Jean Vaysse’s book Toward Awakening, John Sinclair (Lord Pentland)—who worked closely with Ouspensky for about a decade, and with Gurdjieff at the end of the 1940’s—provides his evaluation of Fragments:

In Search [his reference to Fragments] was written and meticulously revised by Ouspensky over a period of at least ten years in order to give as honest and objective an account of the teaching as possible. Probably his achievement will never be equaled. In any case it was intended to preserve the teaching in as pure and impersonal a form as possible.7

C. S. Nott

We also have accounts by several people of the circumstances under which the decision to publish Fragments was made. C. S. Nott, a student of Gurdjieff for over thirty years, recorded an exchange with Ouspensky in the mid 1930’s:

Sometime later he gave me a typescript to read, saying that he was writing down all that he could remember of what Gurdjieff had said to him. When he asked my opinion of it I said that it was wonderful stuff; it was in a different vein from Tertium Organum, and A New Model of the Universe, much higher on the scale of ideas; it was a verbatim report of Gurdjieff’s talks.

“But you will surely publish this?” I asked. “Apart from Beelzebub’s Tales and the Second Series, it’s the most interesting collection of Gurdjieff’s sayings and doings that could possibly be got together.”

“I may publish it—but not if Gurdjieff publishes Beelzebub’s Tales.”

To my question “Why?” He did not answer. It was eventually published, after Gurdjieff’s death—Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, which the American publishers stupidly dubbed In Search of the Miraculous.8

Later in the same book, Nott describes the situation in the winter of 1948 when Gurdjieff first received a copy of the Fragments manuscript.

Gurdjieff himself visited Mendham to see Madame Ouspensky, though he would never stay there. Madame had presented him with the complete typescript of Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, and Gurdjieff, hearing it read, said that Ouspensky in this respect was a good man. He had written down what he had heard from him, exactly: “It is as if I hear myself speaking.”9

John Bennett

In his autobiography, Witness, John Bennett provides a first person account of Gurdjieff’s reaction to Fragments, based on his time with him in New York and Paris in 1949:

He had just taken the final decision to publish the first volume of All and EverythingBeelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, and had been asked by Madame Ouspensky to decide whether or not Ouspensky’s own book, Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, should also be published. He remained undecided about the latter for some time, pointing out when he heard it read aloud that certain of his ideas were far more clearly and strongly expressed in Beelzebub. He finally agreed on condition that it should not be published in advance of his own book. . .

Gurdjieff frequently complained that Ouspensky had ruined his pupils by his excessively intellectual approach, and that he did better with people who came to him with no preparation at all. On the other hand, he praised Ouspensky for the accuracy of his reporting. Once I read aloud in front of him an early chapter of In Search of the Miraculous. He listened with evident relish, and when I finished he said: “Before I hate Ouspensky; now I love him. This very exact, he tell what I say.”10

Louise March

Gurdjieff traveled to America in December of 1948, and held daily luncheons and dinners in his rooms at New York’s Hotel Wellington as he had during previous visits. Louise March kept a journal during the visit and her recollections were later published by one of her students, from which the following is drawn:

Meals at Gurdjieff’s New York table were as ceremonious as ever. The ritual of the toasts to the idiots still accompanied every meal. The only table decoration was a glass filled with tarragon, dill, and spring onions. The herbs, along with all kinds of smoked fish, were eaten with the fingers when the Armagnac was poured. Gurdjieff never permitted flowers as table decorations. He stormed, “Nonsense of flowers spoils food.”

Mr. Gurdjieff himself still went shopping, as he had done on his previous visits, at the fresh meat and vegetable markets. As before, melons were served regardless of the season. Now, on this last visit, every meal began, after the obligatory fresh herbs, with avocado halves served with salt and pepper, and sometimes with olive oil as well. When avocados couldn’t be found in the New York markets, friends sent them from South America. . .

After every luncheon a chapter from a draft of Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous was read. Mme. Ouspensky had sent it to Mr. Gurdjieff with the question, “Should it be published?” Mr. Gurdjieff praised it often, “Very exact is. Good memory. Truth, was so.” Sometimes Gurdjieff was dissatisfied, “Is too liquid. Lost something.”11

Elizabeth Bennett

Gurdjieff returned to Paris in February of 1949 and resumed meetings in his apartment. Elizabeth Bennett kept a journal of her time in Paris during the summer of 1949 which years later she published, together with her husband John Bennett’s journal of that time period, as Idiots in Paris. She states in the Foreword that, “I have added nothing to the text, but I have cut out one or two passages too personal to be of interest to anyone but the writer, and one or two details of Gurdjieff’s illness and treatment. Apart from these small deletions, the manuscript is untouched.”12 Her straight-forward narrative of events in Mr. Gurdjieff’s apartment during the last summer of his life contains many references to the readings that formed part of the daily routine:

We would go to lunch at midday. There was always a reading aloud of some part of Gurdjieff’s own writings, or occasionally from P. D. Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, called throughout the diaries Fragments, a reference to Ouspensky’s original choice of a title. The reading would last for one or two hours and then we would go to the dining room for lunch.13

We went back to the flat at 10:30 for dinner. We read Fragments. There was a large crowd there: the Wolton’s, with two children, Dr. Walker, the two Jaloustres, Vera Daumal, Hylda, Bryn and Lucien, Dr. Bell and Miss Crowdy, Mr. Stewart, some English whom I don’t know and various members of the French group, besides those sixteen who had been on the trip.14

In the evening he listened with great enjoyment to the reading of Fragments, leaning forward with his elbow on his knee and his cigarette-holder in his hand, his eyes snapping, shaking with laughter at the references to himself.15

In the evening he was enjoying the reading from Fragments so much—Chapter XII, about the right use of sex energy—that we did not start dinner until ten to twelve.16

Gabo went to do more picture hanging in the dining room, and Page began to read Chapter XIII of Fragments. . . We went on till midnight, when we started dinner.17

This was French night, and Page began to read at 8:30. We finished all we had of Fragments and went on to Impartial Mentation [Chapter 47 of Beelzebub’s Tales].18

Kenneth Walker

In A Study of Gurdjieff’s Teaching, published in 1957, Kenneth Walker provides another account of Gurdjieff’s reaction to the Fragments manuscript:

I owe a great deal to Ouspensky for all he did for me during those earlier years, and I am deeply grateful to him for his patient and clear-headed interpretation of Gurdjieff’s teaching. He had a much better command of English than had Gurdjieff and a methodical and tidy mind which imposed order on the latter’s less systematized method of teaching. His patience was remarkable. From 1917 onwards he sought clearer and yet clearer formulations for the ideas he had received from Gurdjieff, with the intention, possibly—for he never spoke with certainty about this—of publishing them in the form of a book after the latter’s death. But he died before his teacher, and it was upon Gurdjieff that the responsibility then lay of deciding whether or not Ouspensky’s much-revised typescript should be sent to a publisher. Gurdjieff had a Russian rendering of it read to him, declared it to be an accurate account of his own teaching and gave instructions that it should be published forthwith.19

However, later in the same book, Dr. Walker provides additional perspectives on the teaching as transmitted by Ouspensky, one that sheds yet another light on Fragments:

I realize that far too little emphasis was placed by Ouspensky at this time on preparation for self-remembering, and it was only after we had met G many years later in Paris that we understood how necessary this was. The first step to self-remembering was to come back from our mind-wandering into our bodies and to become sensible of these bodies. We all know, of course, that we possess limbs, a head and a trunk, but in our ordinary state of waking-sleep we receive few or no sense-impressions from these, unless we happen to be in pain. In other words, we are not really aware of our bodies. But G taught us special exercises first for relaxing our muscles to the fullest possible extent, and then for ‘sensing’ the various areas in our bodies, exercises to which reference will be made later in this book. These exercises became of immense value to us and were particularly useful as a preparation for self-remembering.20

At a very much later date the great importance of the faculty of attention in our work was again brought home to us. This was after Ouspensky’s death, when some of us went over to Paris to study under G himself. G immediately taught us a number of exercises in muscle-relaxing and in what he called ‘body-sensing’, exercises which were and still are of greatest value to us. We were told to direct our attention in a predetermined order to various sets of muscles, for example, those of the right arm, the right leg, the left leg and so on, relaxing them more and more as we come round to them again; until we have attained what we feel to be the utmost relaxation possible for us. Whilst we were doing this we had at the same time to ‘sense’ that particular area of the body; in other words, to become aware of it. We all know, of course, that we possess limbs, a head and a body, but in ordinary circumstances we do not feel or sense them. But with practice the attention can be thrown on to any part of the body desired, the muscles in that particular area relaxed, and sensation from that region evoked. At the word of inner command the right ear is ‘sensed’, then the left ear, the nose, the top of the head, the right arm, right hand and so on, until a ‘sensation’ tour has been made of the whole body. The exercise can, if required, be rendered still more difficult by counting backwards, by repeating strings of words or by evoking ideas at the same moment that the relaxing and sensing is being carried out.

The question may well be asked: “What benefit can possibly result from learning all these yogi tricks with the body?” This is not difficult to answer. There are three reasons for doing such exercises as these: the first is that it is excellent training for the attention; the second that it teaches a person how to relax; and the third that it produces a very definite inner psychic change. This change can be summed up in the statement that the exercise draws together parts of our mechanism which previously had been working disconnectedly. But external descriptions of these valuable exercises and of the results obtained from them are quite useless. They can only be understood by personal experience of them, a fact which emphasizes once again the impossibility of imparting knowledge of this kind in a book. All special exercises of this kind have to be taught by word of mouth, and, so far as I know, they have never been committed to writing. It is for this reason that my description of them has deliberately been left incomplete.21

Meredith Thring

Another account of being with Mr. Gurdjieff in Paris in the late 1940’s are found in an interview with Dr. Meredith Thring in London in 2001, from which the following is extracted (and very slightly edited for clarity):

I worked with Ouspensky and Bennett for about twelve years if not thirteen, the end of ’37 to ’48, eleven years. Ouspensky died and actually in 1949 I happened to be in America and they immediately published—Mme Ouspensky published—In Search of the Miraculous which Ouspensky had refused to publish because of Gurdjieff’s book. . .

The point was with Ouspensky, it was in effect philosophical knowledge we got really. You knew you had many I’s, you knew that you couldn’t ‘do’ and that you had to ‘not express’ negative emotions and so on and we worked on these things all those years. And we had all the diagrams that are in In Search of the Miraculous and there was quite a lot to go on, but somehow it was all hopeless. There was no hope there, you couldn’t do . . . but when we went to Paris it was entirely different, it was like going into a different world, a world in which negative emotions and trivial things . . . they just weren’t there. It was like a world where you were free of all that. You were just concerned with the Work. We started doing the movements, and I am hopeless at the movements because I am totally un-musical but I got enough of them to realize what kind of work, what kind of control of attention, complete control of attention in all the centres, is necessary for that. So I got a taste for what that means. . . The most important thing I got from Paris was the idea of sensing your body, and also sitting quietly and sensing your limbs and so on. And even then I got the sense of opening oneself and freeing oneself from the thoughts that go on all the time and the associations in the moving centre and the associations in the intellectual centre, being free of these. So I got a taste of what it is all about. And I got hope, there was a message of hope, always. It wasn’t ‘cannot do’—it was trying to do work. The impression I got of Mr. Gurdjieff was entirely different from the impression I had from Ouspensky and Bennett. It was the impression that I can only describe as Universal Benevolence. He really wanted you and me, everybody to be influenced towards developing themselves as a result of being in contact with him and his emanations. This was very, very strong and it has been with me ever since. . .

If I may say so, this is very interesting because under Ouspensky it was ‘Remember Yourself’ but when we got to Paris it was ‘Do I Am.’ This is a fact!22

Sri Anirvan

There is one other commentary on Fragments that speaks frankly to Ouspensky’s contribution, and to the question of completeness. In the 1950’s, Sri Anirvan, a Baul master in the Samkhya tradition sent one of his students, a French woman Lizelle Reymond, back to Europe to find the students of Gurdjieff. In To Live Within, an extraordinary account of her time with Sri Anirvan, she compiled material from his letters and notes of conversations with him, which he revised before his death in 1978. The following extracts are from that material:

Tantric teaching demonstrates that all life is born from the Void, including the gods and goddesses and the higher and the lower Prakriti. The Void is the matrix of universal energy.

One has access to it by four stages. In his book In Search of the Miraculous, Ouspensky speaks about the first two stages. He remained silent about the last two because he had left Gurdjieff. In all of his subsequent personal teaching, which is very important, he tells of the development of these two first stages and of his experiences with his Master. The writings of Gurdjieff, on the other hand, open for us the frontiers of the two last stages. These are cleverly hidden in his mythical narrations. The four stages are: plurality of ‘I’s,’ a single ‘I,’ no ‘I,’ the Void.23

Gurdjieff had this lightly tinted whiteness. He never stopped playing with all the colors of life; that is why fools cry out against him. Ouspensky, who was a philosopher, tried to stay in the whiteness he had discovered; but if you are the disciple responsible for the kitchen, your duty is to prepare the food. If you refuse to do this, you will be sent away by the Master or you will leave of your own accord and your refusal will be a weight that will burden you for years and possibly even crush you.24

All spiritual experiences are sensations in the body. They are simply a graded series of different sensations, beginning with the solidity of a clod of earth and passing gradually, in full consciousness, through liquidness and the emanation of heat to that of a total global vibration before reaching the Void. The road to be travelled is long.25

We might consider also that by Mr. Gurdjieff’s own account, he was not the original source of the teaching he brought: “I am small compared with those that sent me.”26 It seems he received a traditional teaching preserved and transmitted within the cultures and languages of the Middle East and Central Asia, and having embodied that teaching, undertook a cultural and linguistic translation and transmission into a western scientific cultural milieu—first into Russian, later English and French.

Ouspensky was one of the students who helped with the translation into Anglo-American culture and language. Of course, Gurdjieff was one step closer to the source, and was by all accounts possessed of greater being—a real Master. But Ouspensky mastered the written English language to a remarkable degree, had an orderly mind and a philosophical bent, and worked for almost half his life at transmitting what he had received from Gurdjieff to thousands of students via lectures, the written word, and group meetings.

In the final pages of Fragments, Ouspensky describes a conversation with Gurdjieff in Constantinople in 1920. “Somewhere about this time I told him in detail of a plan I had drawn up for a book to expound his St. Petersburg lectures and talks with commentaries of my own. He agreed to this plan and authorized me to write and publish it.”27 It seems likely that this was the genesis of In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, and this account suggests that Gurdjieff had authorized such an introduction in advance some 30 years earlier. If so, then the differences between the ideas and language of Fragments and All and Everything may be more apparent than real, with one a very well organized and carefully structured introduction, the other a complete mytho-epic statement of the teaching.

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1 G. I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1950.
2 G. I. Gurdjieff, Meetings with Remarkable Men, New York: Dutton, 1963.
3 G. I. Gurdjieff, Life is Real Only Then, When “I Am”, New York: Elsevier-Dutton Publishing Company, 1975.
4 Meetings with Remarkable Men, p. 7.
5 P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of a Unknown Teaching, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949.
6 Michel de Salzmann, “Footnote to the Gurdjieff Literature”, in Gurdjieff: An Annotated Bibliography, by J. Walter Driscoll and the Gurdjieff Foundation of California, New York: Garland Publishing, 1985, p. xviii.
7 John Pentland, from the Foreword to Jean Vaysse’s Toward Awakening: An Approach to the Teaching Left by Gurdjieff, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980, pp. vii–viii.
8 C. S. Nott, Further Teachings of Gurdjieff: Journey Through This World, New York: Samuel Weiser, 1969, pp. 106–107.
9 Ibid., p. 243.
10 J. G. Bennett, Witness, Santa Fe, New Mexico: Bennett Books, 1962, pp. 251–252.
11 Beth McCorkle, The Gurdjieff Years, 1929-1949: Recollections of Louise March, Walworth, New York: The Work Study Association, 1990, pp. 74–75.
12 J. G. Bennett and E. Bennett, Idiots in Paris, York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1991. p. xii.
13 Ibid., p. vii.
14 Ibid., p. 13.
15 Ibid., p. 15.
16 Ibid., p. 19.
17 Ibid., p. 21.
18 Ibid., p. 24.
19 Kenneth Walker, A Study of Gurdjieff’s Teaching, London: Jonathan Cape, 1957, pp. 14–15.
20 Ibid., p. 46.
21 Ibid., pp. 69–70.
22 M. Thring, “Informal Recollections of Meetings with Gurdjieff and Ouspensky” in Proceedings of The International Humanities Conference, Bognor Regis, England, 2001.
23 Lizelle Reymond, To Live Within: A Woman’s Spiritual Pilgrimage in an Himalayan Hermitage, Portland, Oregon: Rudra Press, 1995, p. 194.
24 Ibid., p. 257.
25 Ibid., p. 231.
26 Further Teachings of Gurdjieff: Journey Through This World, Nott quoting Orage recollecting Gurdjieff, p. 31.
27 In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of a Unknown Teaching, p. 383.

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Copyright © 2009 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Revision: May 1, 2009