Gurdjieff International Review
Gurdjieff and Money
Observations of His Pupils
P. D. Ouspensky made the following observations about Gurdjieff and the importance of being willing to pay.
In regard to his work in Moscow, G. said that he had two groups unconnected with one another and occupied in different work, “according to the state of their preparation and their powers,” as he expressed it. Each member of these groups paid a thousand roubles a year, and was able to work with him while pursuing his ordinary activities in life.
I said that in my opinion a thousand roubles a year might be too large a payment for many people without private means.
G. replied that no other arrangement was possible, because, owing to the very nature of the work, he could not have many pupils. At the same time, he did not desire and ought not—he emphasized this—to spend his own money on the organization of the work. His work was not, and could not be, of a charitable nature and his pupils themselves ought to find the means for the hire of apartments where they could meet; for carrying out experiments; and so on. Besides this, he added that observation showed that people who were weak in life proved themselves weak in the work.
“There are several aspects of this idea,” said G. “The work of each person may involve expenses, traveling, and so on. If his life is so badly organized that a thousand roubles embarrasses him it would be better for him not to undertake this work. Suppose that, in the course of the year, his work requires him to go to Cairo or some other place. He must have the means to do so. Through our demand we find out whether he is able to work with us or not.
“Besides,” G. continued, “I have far too little spare time to be able to sacrifice it on others without being certain even that it will do them good. I value my time very much because I need it for my own work and because I cannot and, as I said before, do not want to spend it unproductively. There is also another side to this,” said G. “People do not value a thing if they do not pay for it.”1
~ • ~
Many people were very indignant at the demand for payment, for money. In this connection it was very characteristic that those who were indignant were not those who could pay only with difficulty, but people of means for whom the sum demanded was a mere trifle.
Those who could not pay or who could pay very little always understood that they could not count upon getting something for nothing, and that G.’s work, his journeys to Petersburg, and the time that he and others gave to the work cost money. Only those who had money did not understand and did not want to understand this.
“Does this mean that we must pay to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?” they said. “People do not pay nor is money asked for such things. Christ said to his disciples: ‘Take neither purse nor scrip,’ and you want a thousand roubles. A very good business could be made of it. Suppose that you had a hundred members. This would already make a hundred thousand, and if there were two hundred, three hundred? Three hundred thousand a year is very good money.”
G. always smiled when I told him about talks like this.
“Take neither purse nor scrip! And need not a railway ticket be taken either? The hotel paid? You see how much falsehood and hypocrisy there is here. No, even if we needed no money at all it would still be necessary to keep this payment. It rids us at once of many useless people. Nothing shows up people so much as their attitude towards money. They are ready to waste as much as you like on their own personal fantasies but they have no valuation whatever of another person’s labor. I must work for them and give them gratis everything that they vouchsafe to take from me. ‘How is it possible to trade in knowledge? This ought to be free.’ It is precisely for this reason that the demand for this payment is necessary. Some people will never pass this barrier. And if they do not pass this one, it means that they will never pass another. Besides, there are other considerations. Afterwards you will see.”
The other considerations were very simple ones. Many people indeed could not pay. And although in principle G. put the question very strictly, in practice he never refused anybody on the grounds that they had no money. And it was found out later that he even supported many of his pupils. The people who paid a thousand roubles paid not only for themselves but for others.2
~ • ~
Gurdjieff clearly used experiences related to money to teach. The voice below is that of Kathryn Hulme.
The next day he drove us to Monte Carlo. . . This day he went deluxe all the way, giving us a practical example of his favorite aphorism—“When you go on a spree, go whole hog . . . including the postage.”
He led us to the most stylish restaurant in Monte Carlo—“his” café in the Place du Casino, just in front of the columned gaming halls. He found trout on the menu, ordered it for all, cooked in fresh butter, the only way he would eat it. Then he told us we had exactly one half hour before the platters would arrive at the table. With a smile he announced how we would spend that half hour:
“One custom I have, always in Monte Carlo. To all the children I give money and they must play all in the Casino, and after—give me half their winnings. So now . . .” To those of us deemed children—Margaret, Solita, his brother and me, he gave one hundred francs each and waved us off to the roulette tables.
Years before, Wendy and I had visited the Casino. With the writer’s acquisitiveness for detail, I had studied the fascinating machinery of Chance and the unlikely people it fascinated—young and old, bejeweled and poverty-frayed, regal and plebian, a cross section of humanity such as I had never seen packed together in one place, obeying with identical gestures a single voice, the croupier’s calling on all to place their bets. As I had watched the gamblers’ faces spellbound by the gyrations of a small steel ball it did not occur to me that I was looking at the faces of slaves.
Now, on the return, the familiar scene had an aspect of real terror. The same people seen years before seemed to be there still. With a shock I thought I recognized one or two of the more eccentric-looking players. They were in their same places, at their same preferred tables, placing their same careful bets on the red or the black, the odd or the even, the “saddle” or the carré, and writing the table’s winning plays in the same tally-keeping diaries (slightly thicker books now) that lay beneath their fingers. As I stared with my inner eye at the faces of slaves who had died to everything in life but the turn of a gaming wheel, I understood why Gurdjieff had sent us into the Casino, the best-equipped laboratory on earth for the study of dead souls.
I understood something more as soon as I placed my first bet. My objective eye almost ceased to function. I fought not to identify with my lonely chip standing rashly on a single number; but I watched it, as the zombies around me were watching theirs, as if it was a piece of myself laid out there on the green baize. We will not identify, I commanded silently. I felt a slight perspiration break out on my forehead when the croupier swept in my losing chip. I tried to tell myself that this was because I was gambling with Gurdjieff’s money (which I madly hoped to quintuple at least) but I knew in my inner world that only a hairsbreadth of self-possession separated me from my green-faced neighbors around the table, reflecting the baize at which they stared.
At the end of the half hour, our gaming foursome met at the door of the Casino. Solita had two hundred fifty francs, I had a hundred fifty and Margaret and the brother were cleaned out. The winners paid back to Gurdjieff the half of the take which he accepted with a great act of blank-faced astonishment.3
~ • ~
Gurdjieff used the first person plural while telling about a worldly problem that confronted him. We were aware how often his seemingly jocose remarks lifted suddenly to another level of understanding and listened attentively to his tale of a brand new car he might be able to get with no down payment whatsoever—a deal so unique that he thought he should have some help to see it through. He asked if any of us had a special saint to whom he might burn a candle, looking first to Miss Gordon, our senior, for a suggestion. She named a saint noted for granting requests, but the master shook his head. He knew all about that one. “No,” he said, “it must be a saint who would be indulgent for one of us.” One of us in the Work . . . you, me . . . Canary, Thin One . . . his eyes searched our blank faces, then he shrugged.
“If you cannot suggest such a one,” he said, “I could just as well take my own saint—Saint George. But he is a very expensive saint. He is not interested in money, or in merchandise like candles. He wishes suffering for merchandise, an inner-world thing. He is interested only when I make something for my inner world; he always knows. But . . . such suffering is expensive. . .”4
~ • ~
The following voices of Thomas and Olga de Hartmann are excerpts extracted from a forthcoming edition (Tarcher/Penguin) of their book, Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff.
One morning when I passed through the centre of Essentuki, I noticed a poster advertising a special evening at the social club and had the desire to sit peacefully in the corner watching people dance. Later in the day when I walked with Mr Gurdjieff and Dr Stjernvall, I spoke of this quite casually.
“Doctor, you hear? He’s inviting us to the club this evening. What? Will you invite us for supper? Let’s go, Doctor. Thank you for your invitation!”
This was bad. A supper during the inflation cost a tremendous amount of money and I no longer had any money coming in each month. But there was nothing for it but to go ahead with this plan, because I hadn’t the courage to say no. That evening I took 500 roubles (in former times a supper in the best restaurant would come to no more than two and a half roubles) and went to the club. It was almost empty; there was no dancing and only the restaurant was open. Now my hell began. Mr Gurdjieff played with me as if I were a child to whom he wished to teach a lesson. “Well, Doctor, since he’s treating us, come on; it would be nice to start with some vodka and hors d’oeuvres. Then later. . .” It went on and on. I vividly remember to this day the oranges he ordered, because then I knew that my 500 roubles would never pay the bill. I did not have the courage to tell Mr Gurdjieff I didn’t have enough money and ask him to lend me some until we got home. How could I get out of this situation? It was agonizing. Finally I decided to tip the waiter and send him to my wife for more money. She was frightened when a stranger knocked at our door in the night. But finally the money was brought and I paid for everything. The bill came to about 1,000 roubles, enough for us to live on for half a month.
Next morning Mr Gurdjieff came to see us and gave me the money I had spent on the supper. He said, “Sometimes you act like a lamb and the tigers will eat you up. It is good that you have a tigress near you.” This was another extremely painful moment—not from the ordinary point of view, but because I realized that I did not know how to behave like a grown-up man. Mr Gurdjieff had told me so several times, but only now did I believe it. That morning Mr Gurdjieff was not at all as he had been the evening before; there were no reproaches, no raillery. All he said was that what happened had been done for my sake.5
~ • ~
It was also during this period that Mr Gurdjieff told her [Olga de Hartmann] that it was an unnecessary inconvenience for him to have to sign cheques, sometimes interrupting his talks with people. He therefore put all the money of the Prieuré in a bank account in her name. This worried her greatly and she asked the director of the bank, whom she knew, to accept a letter in which she stated that the money in her name actually belonged to Mr Gurdjieff. This she did without telling him, of course. The money question was always a great problem to her. When cheques arrived, she had many accumulated bills to pay. There were also taxes, insurance and the mortgage to think of. She knew that sometimes Mr Gurdjieff expected her to bring him some of the money, but often, after having paid the indispensable bills, there was nothing left over. I remember once Mr Gurdjieff planned to take a trip as soon as some money arrived. It arrived, but after she had paid the bills, only 100 francs remained. What can you do with 100 francs? Most of the time Mr Gurdjieff accepted it indifferently and was not at all annoyed. Sometimes he pretended to blame her for paying the bills instead of thinking of his need for money, but she always had the feeling that she had to pay all the debts of the Prieuré first and only afterwards dispose of the rest of the money. It was always a hard task for her.6
~ • ~
Revenue from our pupils did not cover expenses of the Institute and no one had the time to earn extra money, so Mr Gurdjieff himself had to find ways to get what was necessary. One day I had gone to his flat to speak about something when the doorbell rang. Mr Gurdjieff told me, “That is someone who wishes to buy a carpet. Go into the dining-room and stay there. I will open the door myself.”
The door between the dining-room and the sitting-room had glass panels, so I could see everything that went on there. Mr Gurdjieff went away to open the door, but didn’t come back. Instead, there came in a stranger and, after him, a carpet seller. They began to bargain. I was really shocked when I finally realized that this carpet seller was Mr Gurdjieff himself, totally transformed. It made me afraid just to see him so.
The stranger bought two carpets, I think, and went away. When Mr Gurdjieff came into the dining-room, I was still so shocked that I couldn’t face him directly.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked.
“I cannot even look at you,” I said.
“I didn’t recognize you when I looked through the door.”
“What do you wish?” he asked. “That I speak philosophy with him as I do with the doctor? Would he then buy a carpet? And if I would speak with Dr Stjernvall as I spoke with this man, he would never follow me. So you must understand that I am with each one such as they need from me. Right now I wish to sell carpets, so I have to be a carpet seller and not a philosopher.”7
~ • ~
A long time pupil of Gurdjieff, C. S. Nott observed that Gurdjieff himself sometimes struggled with money.
He told me that he needed money and that a man was coming from Paris who might give another mortgage on the Prieuré. The financier came to lunch, where conversation was general. Afterwards, Gurdjieff took him with Stjernval and myself to a raised bank behind the orangery; Persian carpets and cushions were spread, and we sat in bright hot sunshine drinking coffee, while Gurdjieff spoke of the value and possibilities of the Prieuré. Then we walked round the grounds, and as we walked the face of the financier became blanker; finally he left, promising to write after he had consulted his partners. But as I went to the gate with him he muttered, “Impossible, pas possible!” With the result that the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at Fontainebleau-Avon was sold the following spring and all its contents auctioned; and a large suitcase full of Gurdjieff’s precious music in manuscript, written and harmonized by Hartmann, was rescued at the last minute by one of the women. . .
Though events were against Gurdjieff and his exterior life seemed to be running down the scale, on a descending octave, his inner life was on an ascending octave; for he made use of every circumstance and event to increase his being, and thereby his understanding.8
~ • ~
A founding trustee of the New York Foundation, Edwin Wolfe often accompanied Gurdjieff while in America.
During the days of Mr. Gurdjieff’s last visit to New York he had made me his Minister of Finance. I bought many, many things and did many errands for him. These included purchases in shops, taxi fares, tips, tickets for the Turkish bath, and for the theatre. Now and then he would ask me to get something for him. He usually took a roll of bills from his pocket, peeled off several twenties and tens, and handed them to me. When the next occasion for buying something came along, he again peeled off several large bills which I immediately put in my wallet.
On the afternoon of his last day in New York, I happened to be alone with him for a little while in his hotel living room. I took several large bills from my wallet and held them out to him.
“Money for me?” he said, greatly surprised.
“Yes, Mr. Gurdjieff,” I said, “I didn’t spend all the money you gave me. This is what’s left over.”
“You first Minister Finance ever give money back,” he said. “Truth! Others always come for more. But you give back.”
And he made that slight wave of his head, that characteristic gesture I had seen whenever he was surprised.9
~ • ~
Once when Gurdjieff was about to rise from dinner and pass into another room for coffee, Elizabeth Bennett observed an interaction between Gurdjieff and a few children.
Before he went, he held up his half-eaten segment of melon and said who could clean this so that it could be painted—tomorrow he wished to paint this skin and give it as a present to a friend—who would prepare it for him? Paul said he would, and Mr. G. said Eve [Paul’s sister] could help him and if they did it properly he could have 1,000 francs. When we left the dining room Eve and Paul were sitting at the table still, with their heads together over the melon skin.
[After a time] Paul came back with his melon skin and showed it to Mr. G. They bent over it together, very solemn, and then G. said, no, it wasn’t quite good enough: nothing yellow should remain. Paul went solemnly off to fetch a razor blade and Mr. G., watching him go, laughed and said, “See now what education he have. Until now he knew nothing, he only knew how to eat and shit, never he work with this,” tapping his forehead, “now this his first labeur.” When Paul came back again after an interval, the skin was perfect: Mr. G. folded it and put it in his pocket and gave the 1,000 francs—“not forget sister.”10
~ • ~
The French pupil Pierre Schaeffer provides heartfelt glimpses of experiences with Gurdjieff.
Money, about which Gurdjieff so often spoke, . . . the money spent on all this food and the fact that it was distributed indifferently amongst the worthy and the unworthy, signified, on the part of the Father a kind of wound inflicted continually on his Treasure. The lavishness of the Host, the frenzied wastefulness of which he was capable (as a young man, he burnt his roubles every evening so as to plunge himself and his group into difficulties which had somehow to be overcome) placed side by side the value and the contempt that he attached to money. The false notes of meanness and haggling grated against his inexhaustible generosity.11
~ • ~
Gorham Munson, a member of Orage’s New York group, shares his observations about Gurdjieff and his “shearing of sheep.”
Often, in his early acquaintance with a person, Gurdjieff would hit upon one or both of two “nerves” which produced agitation. These were the “pocketbook nerve” and the “sex nerve.” He would, as our slang goes, “put the bee on somebody for some dough,” or he might, as he did with one priest from Greece, egg him on to tell a series of ribald jokes. The event often proved that he didn’t need the money he had been begging for. As for the poor priest, when he had outdone himself with an anecdote, Gurdjieff deflated him with the disgusted remark, “Now you are dirty!” and turned away. “I wished to show him he was not true priest,” Gurdjieff said afterwards. To go for the “pocketbook nerve” or the “sex nerve” was to take a short cut to a person’s psychology; instead of working through the surfaces, Gurdjieff immediately got beneath them. “Nothing shows up people so much,” he once said, “as their attitude toward money.”
There are legends about how Gurdjieff came by the large sums of money he freely spent. It has been rumored that he earned money by hypnotic treatment of rich drug addicts. There used to be a tale that he owned a restaurant, or even a small chain of restaurants, in Paris. His fortunes varied extremely, and there were times when he had little money. He lost his chateau at Fontainebleau-Avon in the early 1930’s. His expenses were large and included the support of a score or two of adherents. He tipped on a fabulous scale. Money never stuck to his fingers but he himself did not lead a luxurious life. He joked with his pupils about his financial needs and openly called his money-raising maneuvers “shearing sheep.”12
~ • ~
Fritz Peters lived at the Prieuré for several years as a child. Later he visited Gurdjieff in Paris at the close of World War II.
Gurdjieff poured coffee and Armagnac for us again and then went on: “Cannot be understanding between rich and poor, because rich and poor, both, only understand money. One understand life with money and despise people without money. Other understand life without money and hate people who have money. This woman now hate self because guilty about being rich. Poor man hate self—or sometimes just life—because feel guilty about not having money or feel cheated by world. With such unreal, false attitude, impossible understand any serious thing like my work. . .
“People can learn important thing if can make effort in self to give up money—or, if poor, to give up desire for money. Impossible to do my work with all energy if also concerned with money. But all these things very difficult for your contemporaries. Not only cannot do. Cannot even understand why this question of money important. Such people will never understand real teaching or real possibility of learning anything. . .
“You remember Prieuré and how many times I have struggle with money. I not make money like others make money, and when I have too much money, I spend. But I never need money for self, and I not make or earn money, I ask for money and people always give, and for this I give opportunity study my teaching, but even when they give money still almost always impossible for them learn anything. Already, they think of reward . . . now I owe them something because they give me money. When think of reward in this way, impossible learn anything from me.”13
~ • ~
After more coffee had been poured, and Gurdjieff had looked at me reflectively, he said: “I play many roles in life . . . this part of my destiny. You think of me as teacher, but in reality, I also your father . . . father in many ways you not understand. I also ‘teacher of dancing’, and have many businesses: you not know that I own company which make false eyelashes and also have very good business selling rugs. This way I make money for self and for family. Money I ‘shear’ from disciples is for work. But other money I make for my family. My family very big, as you see—because . . . old people who come every day to my house, are, also, family. They my family because have no other family.
“I give you good example why I must be family for such people. You not know, even though you hear about this, what life is like in Paris during war, while Germans here. For such people—people who come to see me every day now—was impossible even find any way to eat. But for me, not so. I not interested in who win war. Not have patriotism or big ideals about peace. Americans, with ideals, kill millions of Germans, Germans kill—with own ideals—English, French, Russian, Belgian . . . all have ideals, all have peaceful purpose, all kill. I have only one purpose: existence for self, for students, and for family, even this big family. So, I do what they cannot do, I make deal with Germans, with policemen, with all kinds idealistic people who make ‘black market’. Result: I eat well and continue have tobacco, liquor, and what is necessary for me and for many others. While I do this—very difficult thing for most people—I also help many people. . .
“Ask self why old lady, with very little money, every day feed birds in park. These people—this family—my birds. But I honest: I say I do this for people, and also for self. This give me good feeling. Lady who feed birds in park not tell truth. She tell only do for birds, because love birds. She not tell what pleasure she get.”14
~ • ~
When I arrived in Paris again, I telephoned Mr. Gurdjieff and he made an appointment to meet me at a café later that morning. After we had met and while we were drinking coffee, we were approached by an elderly woman who proceeded to have a long conversation with Mr. Gurdjieff in Russian. I understood enough of their conversation to gather that it was primarily concerned with problems of health, finance, and the difficulty of obtaining sufficient food in Paris at that time. The black market, I knew, was flourishing, and while food was available, it was tremendously expensive.
At the conclusion of the conversation, the woman opened a package, wrapped in newspaper, and held up a small oil painting for us to look at. Mr. Gurdjieff asked her various questions about it: when she had painted it, and so forth, and finally bought it from her for several thousand francs. She thanked him effusively and I gathered that, thanks to his purchase, she would be able to afford to eat for a few more days.
When she left us, Gurdjieff sighed, handed the painting to me, asking me to carry it back to his apartment and hang it in the hall which was already lined with similar paintings—from the baseboard to the ceiling. When I had hung the picture, he asked me if I remembered Jane Heap (“Miss Keep,” as he called her). I said that I did, of course, and he said: “You know, Miss Keep not have sympathy for my paintings. Last time she come here, I ask her what she think of my paintings, and she tell me: ‘Mr. Gurdjieff, you have everything here, except art’. Miss Keep not appreciate what I do.”
I could not help being amused by Jane’s remark, but was interested in what he was going to say about it. He promptly went into a long harangue about art and the creative impulse, pointing out that it was particularly difficult for an artist to make money during the war, and that it was equally difficult now that the war was just about over. He went on to say that he did not collect art for his love of it, nor did he do it only from generosity and a desire to help the unfortunate artists. He said that it was very important . . . for that old lady . . . that someone should buy her art . . . because, in spite of what Miss Keep, or I, or anyone else, might feel about the quality of her painting, she had painted her pictures with her being—her real heart—and that it was very bad for any such creativity not to find an outlet; that is to say, a public, a buyer.
“I also get benefit from her art,” he continued. “For in my house many people see her paintings and paintings of such other unfortunate people and they tell I have worst collection of paintings in Paris—perhaps in all world. I already unique to most people who know me, but in my collection of bad art people see that I am still more unique . . . in another way, unique.”
After this “joke,” he said, more seriously. “But, in truth, people could learn from this old lady. Unlike many people who know I generous and will help others, she never ask for money, but always only wish money for painting. She already understand what some ‘intellectual’ people not understand. If receive money, should give something for it.”
After this lecture we prepared lunch and our first drink was, contrary to custom, a toast to the health and prosperity of the little old lady artist.15
~ • ~
1 P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949; London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950, p. 12. (The photo of Gurdjieff is courtesy of Gert-Jan Blom.)
2 Ibid., pp. 165–166.
3 Kathryn C. Hulme, Undiscovered Country: A Spiritual Adventure, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1966, Chapter Seven, pp. 139–141.
4 Ibid., pp. 95–96.
5 Thomas and Olga de Hartmann, Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff: The Definitive Edition, a forthcoming edition from Tarcher/Penguin.
6 Ibid., pp. 221–222.
7 Ibid., pp. 144–145.
8 C. S. Nott, Further Teachings of Gurdjieff: Journey Through This World, York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1969, p. 71.
9 Edwin Wolfe, Episodes with Gurdjieff, San Francisco: Far West Press, 1974. This excerpt is from the chapter titled “The Day of Departure 1949”.
10 J. G. Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett, Idiots in Paris, Gloucestershire: Coombe Springs Press, 1980, pp. 9–10.
11 Louis Pauwels, Gurdjieff, Isle of Man: Times Press, 1964, New York: Weiser, 1972, pp. 444–445.
12 Tomorrow (New York) Vol. 9, Issue 6, Feb. 1950, “Black Sheep Philosophers: Gurdjieff—Ouspensky—Orage” by Gorham Munson, pp. 20–25.
13 Fritz Peters, Gurdjieff Remembered, London: Victor Gollancz, 1965; New York: Weiser, 1971, pp. 88–90.
14 Ibid., pp. 92–93.
15 Ibid., pp. 106–108.
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Featured: Fall 2005 Issue, Vol. IX (1)
Revision: December 1, 2005