Written by one of Gurdjieff’s circle in Moscow
Strange events, incomprehensible from the ordinary point of view, have guided my life. I mean those events which influ- ence a man’s inner life, radically changing its direction and aim and creating new epochs in it. I call them incomprehen- sible because their connection was clear only to me. It was as though some invisible person, in pursuit of a definite aim, had placed in the path of my life circumstances which, at the very moment of my need, I found there as if by chance. Guided by such events, I became accustomed from my early years to look with great penetration into the circumstances surrounding me and to try to grasp the principle connecting them, and to find in their interrelations a broader, more complete explanation. I must say that in every exterior result it was the hidden cause evoking it that interested me most. One day in the course of my life, in this same apparently strange way, I found myself face to face with occultism, and became interested in it as though in a deep and harmonious philosophical system. But at the very moment when I had reached something more than mere interest, I again lost, as suddenly as I had found it, the possibility of proceeding with its systematic study. In other words, I was thrown entirely on my own resources. This loss seemed a senseless failure, but I later recognized in it a necessary stage in the course of my life and one full of deep meaning. This recognition came only much later, however. I did not deviate but went forward on my own responsibility and at my own risk. Insuperable obsta- cles confronted me, forcing me to retreat. Vast horizons opened to my vision and as I hastened forward I often slipped or became entangled. Losing, as it seemed, what I had discov- ered, I remained wandering round on the same spot, as though fogbound. In searching I made many efforts and did appar- ently useless work, rewarded inadequately by results. Today, I see that no effort went unrewarded and that every mistake served to guide me toward the truth.
I plunged into the study of occult literature, and without ex- aggeration can say that I not only read but mastered patiently and perseveringly the greater part of the available material, trying to grasp the sense and to understand what was hidden between the lines. All this only served to convince me that I would never succeed in finding what I sought in books: though I glimpsed the outlines of a majestic structure, I could not see it clearly and distinctly.
I searched for those who might have interests in common with me. Some seemed to have found something, but on closer examination I saw that they, like myself, were groping in the dark. I still hoped in the end to find what I needed; I looked for a living man, able to give me more than I could find in a book. Perseveringly and obstinately I sought and, after each failure, hope revived again and led me to a new search. With this in view I visited Egypt, India and other countries. Among those encountered were many who left no trace, but some were of great importance.
Several years passed; among my acquaintances I counted some to whom, by the community of our interests, I was bound more durably. One in close touch with me was a certain A. The two of us had spent not a few sleepless nights, racking our brains over several passages in a book we did not understand and searching for appropriate explanations. In this way we had come to know each other intimately. But during the last six months I had begun to notice, first at rare intervals, and then more frequently, something odd about him. It was not that he had turned his back on me, but he had seemed to grow cooler toward the search, which had not ceased to be vital to me. At the same time I saw he had not forgotten it. He often expressed thoughts and made comments which became fully comprehensible only after long reflection. I remarked on it more than once, but he always skillfully avoided conversations on this subject.
I must confess that this growing indifference of A., who had been the constant companion of my work, led to gloomy re- flections. Once I spoke to him openly about it—I scarcely re- member in which way.
“Who told you,” objected A., “that I am deserting you? Wait a little and you will see clearly that you are mistaken.”
But for some reason neither these remarks, nor some others which at the time seemed strange to me, caught my interest. Perhaps because I was occupied in reconciling myself to the idea of my complete isolation.
So it continued. It is only now that I see how, in spite of an apparent capacity for observation and analysis, I overlooked the main factor, continually before my eyes, in a way which was unpardonable. But let the facts speak for themselves.
One day about the middle of November, I spent the evening with a friend of mine. The conversation was on a subject of lit- tle interest to me. During a pause in the talk, my host said, “By the way, knowing your partiality for occultism I think an item in today’s Golos Moskvi [ The Voice of Moscow] would interest you.” And he pointed out an article headed “Round about the Theatre.”
It spoke, giving a brief summary, about the scenario of a medieval mystery, The Struggle of the Magicians: a ballet writ- ten by G. I. Gurdjieff, an orientalist who was well-known in Moscow. The mention of occultism, the title itself and the con- tents of the scenario, aroused my great interest, but none of the people present could give any more information about it. My host, a keen amateur of ballet, admitted that in his circle he knew of no one corresponding to the description in the arti- cle. I cut it out, with his permission, and took it away with me.
I will not weary you with an exposition of my reasons for being interested in this article. But it was as a consequence of them that I took a firm resolve on Saturday morning to find Mr. Gurdjieff, the writer of the scenario, at all costs.
That same evening when A. called upon me, I showed him the article. I told him that it was my intention to search for Mr. Gurdjieff, and asked his opinion.
A. read the article and, glancing at me, said: “Well, I wish you success. As far as I am concerned, it does not interest me. Haven’t we had enough of such tales?” And he put the article aside with an air of indifference. Such an attitude toward this question was so chilling that I gave up and retreated into my thoughts; A. was also thoughtful. Our conversation was halted. There was a long silence, interrupted by A., who put his hand on my shoulder.
“Look here,” he said, “don’t be offended. I had my own rea- sons, which I will explain later, for answering you as I did. But first, I shall ask a few questions which are so serious”—he em- phasized the word “so”—”you cannot know how serious they are.” Somewhat astonished by this pronouncement, I answered, “Ask.”
“Do, please, tell me why you wish to find this Mr. Gurdjieff? How will you look for him? What aim will you follow? And if your search is successful, in what way will you approach him?”
At first unwillingly, but encouraged by the seriousness of A.’s manner, as well as by questions he occasionally put, I ex- plained the direction of my thinking.
When I had finished, A. went over what I had said and added, “I can tell you that you won’t find anything.”
“How can that be?” I replied. “It seems to me that the ballet
scenario of The Struggle of the Magicians, apart from being dedicated to Geltzer, is hardly so unimportant that its author could be lost without a trace.”
“It is not a question of the author. You may find him. But he won’t talk with you as he could,” said A.
I flared up at this: “Why do you imagine that he . . .?” “I do not imagine anything,” A. interrupted. “I know. But not to keep you in suspense I tell you, I know this scenario well, very well. What is more I know its author, Mr. Gurdjieff, person- ally, and have known him for a long time. The way you have elected to find him might lead you to make his acquaintance, but not in the way that you would wish. Believe me, if you will allow me a piece of friendly advice, wait a little longer. I will try to arrange you a meeting with Mr. Gurdjieff in the way you wish . . . Well, I must be going.”
In the greatest astonishment I seized him. “Wait! You can’t go yet. How did you come to know him? Who is he? Why have you never told me about him before?”
“Not so many questions,” said A. “I categorically refuse to answer them now. In due course I will answer. Set your mind at rest meanwhile; I promise to do everything I can to intro- duce you.”
In spite of my most insistent demands A. refused to reply, adding that it was in my interest not to delay him any longer.
About two o’clock on Sunday, A. telephoned me and said briefly: “If you wish, be at the railroad station at seven o’clock.” “And where are we going?” I asked. “To Mr. Gurd- jieff, ” he replied, and hung up.
“He certainly does not stand on ceremony with me,” flashed through my mind, “he did not even ask me whether I could go, and I happen to have some important business tonight. Be- sides, I have no idea how far we have to go. When shall we be back? How shall I explain at home?” But then I decided that A. was not likely to have overlooked the circumstances of my life; so the “important” business quickly lost its importance and I began to await the appointed hour. Being impatient, I arrived at the station almost an hour too early, and waited for A.
Finally he appeared. “Come, quick,” he said, hurrying me. “I have the tickets. I was delayed and we are late.”
A porter was following us with some big boxes. “What is that?” I asked A. “Are we going away for a year?” “No,” he re- plied laughing. “I’ll come back with you; the boxes don’t con- cern us.”
We took our seats and, being alone in the compartment, no- body disturbed our conversation.
“Are we going far?” I asked.
A. named one of the country resorts near Moscow and added, “To save you more enquiries I will tell you everything possible; but the greater part will be for you alone. Of course, you are right to be interested in Mr. Gurdjieff as a person, but I will tell you only a few external facts about him, to give you your bearings. As for my personal opinions about him I will keep silent, so that you may take in your own impressions more fully. We shall return to this matter later.”
Settling comfortably into his seat, he began to talk.
He told me that Mr. Gurdjieff had spent many years wan- dering in the East with a definite purpose and had been in places inaccessible to Europeans; that two or three years ago he had come to Russia and had then lived in Petersburg, de- voting his efforts and his knowledge mainly to work of his own. Not long ago he had moved to Moscow and had rented a country house near the town, so as to be able to work in retire- ment undisturbed. In accordance with a rhythm known only to himself he would periodically visit Moscow, returning to his work again after a certain interval. He did not think it neces- sary, I gathered, to tell his Moscow acquaintances about his country house and he did not receive anyone there.
“As to how I came to know him,” said A., “we will talk of that another time. That, too, is far from commonplace.”
A. went on to say that very early in his acquaintance with Mr. Gurdjieff he had spoken about me and wished to intro-
duce us; not only had he refused, but he had actually forbid- den A. to tell me anything about him. On account of my per- sistent demand to make Mr. Gurdjieff’s acquaintance and my aim of so doing, A. had decided to ask him once more. He had seen him, after leaving me the previous night, and Mr. Gurd- jieff, after asking many detailed questions about me, had agreed to see me and himself had proposed that A. should bring me to him that evening, in the country.
“In spite of my knowing you for so many years,” said A., “he certainly knows you better than I do, from what I have told him. Now you realize that it was not just imagination when I told you that you could not obtain anything in the ordinary way. Don’t forget, a great exception is being made for you and none of those who know him have been where you are going. Even those closest to him do not suspect the existence of his retreat. You owe this exception to my recommendation, so please do not put me in an awkward position.”
Several more questions produced no reply from A., but when I asked him about The Struggle of the Magicians he told me its contents in some detail. When I questioned him about something which struck me as incongruous, A. told me Mr. Gurdjieff would speak about it himself, if he thought it neces- sary.
This conversation aroused in me a multitude of thoughts and conjectures. After a silence, I turned to A. with a question. A. gave me a somewhat perplexed glance and, after a short pause, said: “Collect your thoughts, or you will make a fool of yourself. We are nearly there. Don’t make me regret having brought you. Remember what you said about your aim yester- day.”
After this he said nothing.
At the station we left the train in silence and I offered to carry one of the boxes. It weighed at least seventy pounds, and the box carried by A. was probably no lighter. A four-seated sleigh was waiting for us. Silently we took our places, and drove all the way in the same deep silence. After about fifteen minutes the sleigh stopped before a gate. A large two-storied country house was dimly visible at the far end of the garden. Preceded by our driver carrying the luggage, we entered the unlocked gate and walked to the house along a path cleared of snow. The door was ajar. A. rang the bell.
After some time a voice asked, “Who’s there?” A. gave his name. “How are you?” the same voice called through the half- open door. The driver carried the boxes into the house and went out again. “Let us go in, now,” said A., who appeared to have been waiting for something.
We passed through a dark hallway into a dimly lit ante- room. A. closed the door after us; there was nobody in the room. “Take your things off,” he said shortly, pointing to a peg. We removed our coats.
“Give me your hand; don’t be afraid, you won’t fall.” Clos- ing the door firmly behind him, A. led me forward into a com- pletely dark room. The floor was covered with a soft carpet on which our steps made no sound. I put out my free hand in the dark and felt a heavy curtain, which ran the whole length of what seemed to be a large room, forming a kind of passage to a second door. “Keep your aim before you,” A. whispered, and lifting a carpet hung across a door, he pushed me ahead into a lighted room.
Opposite the door a middle-aged man was sitting against the wall on a low ottoman, with his feet crossed in Eastern fashion; he was smoking a curiously shaped water pipe which stood on a low table in front of him. Beside the pipe stood a small cup of coffee. These were the first things that caught my eye.
As we entered, Mr. Gurdjieff—for it was he—raised his hand and, glancing calmly at us, greeted us with a nod. Then he asked me to sit down, indicating the ottoman beside him. His complexion betrayed his Oriental origin. His eyes particularly attracted my attention, not so much in themselves as by the way he looked at me when he greeted me, not as if he saw me the first time but as though he had known me long and well. I sat down and glanced round the room. Its appearance was so unusual to a European that I wish to describe it in more detail. There was no area not covered, either by carpets or hangings of some sort. A single enormous rug covered the floor of this spacious room. Even its walls were hung with carpets which also draped the doors and windows; the ceiling was covered with ancient silk shawls of resplendent colors, astonishingly beautiful in their combination. These were drawn together in a strange pattern toward the center of the ceiling. The light was concealed behind a dull glass shade of peculiar form re- sembling a huge lotus flower, which produced a white, dif- fused glow.
Another lamp, which gave a similar light, stood on a high stand to the left of the ottoman on which we sat. Against the left-hand wall was an upright piano covered with antique dra- peries, which so camouflaged its form that without its candle- sticks I should not have guessed what it was. On the wall over the piano, set against a large carpet, hung a collection of stringed instruments of unusual shapes, among which were also flutes. Two other collections also adorned the wall. One of ancient weapons with some slings, yataghans, daggers and other things, was behind and above our heads. On the oppo- site wall, suspended by fine white wire, a number of old carved pipes were arranged in a harmonious group.
Underneath this latter collection, on the floor against the wall, lay a long row of big cushions covered with a single car- pet. In the left-hand corner, at the end of the row, was a Dutch stove draped with an embroidered cloth. The corner on the right was decorated with a particularly fine color combina- tion; in it hung an ikon of St. George the Victor, set with precious stones. Beneath it stood a cabinet in which were several small ivory statues of different sizes; I recognized Christ, Bud- dha, Moses and Mahomet; the rest I could not see very well.
Another low ottoman stood against the right-hand wall. On either side of it were two small carved ebony tables and on one was a coffee-pot with a heating lamp. Several cushions and hassocks were strewn about the room in careful disorder. All the furniture was adorned with tassels, gold embroidery and gems. As a whole, the room produced a strangely cosy impres- sion which was enhanced by a delicate scent that mingled agreeably with an aroma of tobacco.
Having examined the room, I turned my eyes to Mr. Gurd- jieff. He looked at me, and I had the distinct impression that he took me in the palm of his hand and weighed me. I smiled involuntarily, and he looked away from me calmly and with- out haste. Glancing at A., he said something to him. He did not look at me again in this way and the impression was not repeated.
A. was seated on a big cushion beside the ottoman, in the same posture as Mr. Gurdjieff, which seemed to have become habitual to him. Presently he rose and, taking two large pads of paper and two pencils from a small table, he gave one to Mr. Gurdjieff and kept the other. Indicating the coffee-pot he said to me, “When you want coffee, help yourself. I am going to have some now.” Following his example, I poured out a cup and, returning to my place, put it beside the water pipe on the small table.
I then turned to Mr. Gurdjieff and, trying to express myself as briefly and definitely as possible, I explained why I had come. After a short silence, Mr. Gurdjieff said: “Well, let’s not lose any precious time,” and asked me what I really wanted.
To avoid repetition, I will note certain peculiarities of the conversation that followed. First of all I must mention a rather strange circumstance, one I did not notice at the moment, per- haps because I had not time to think about it. Mr. Gurdjieff spoke Russian neither fluently nor correctly. Sometimes he searched for a considerable time for the words and expressions he needed, and turned constantly to A. for help. He would say two or three words to him; A. seemed to catch his thought in the air, and to develop and complete it, and give it a form in- telligible to me. He seemed well acquainted with the subject under discussion. When Mr. Gurdjieff spoke, A. watched him with attention. With a word Mr. Gurdjieff would show him some new meaning, and would swiftly change the direction of A.’s thought.
Of course A.’s knowledge of me very much helped him to enable me to understand Mr. Gurdjieff. Many times with a sin- gle hint A. would evoke a whole category of thoughts. He served as a sort of transmitter between Mr. Gurdjieff and my- self. At first Mr. Gurdjieff had to appeal to A. constantly, but as the subject broadened and developed, embracing new areas, Mr. Gurdjieff turned to A. less and less often. His speech flowed more freely and naturally; the necessary words seemed to come of themselves, and I could have sworn that, by the end of the conversation, he was speaking the clearest unaccented Russian, his words succeeding one another fluently and calmly; they were rich in color, similes, vivid examples, broad and harmonious perspectives.
In addition, both of them illustrated the conversation with various diagrams and series of numbers, which, taken together, formed a graceful system of symbols—a sort of script—in which one number could express a whole group of ideas. They quoted numerous examples from physics and mechanics, and especially brought material from chemistry and mathematics.
Mr. Gurdjieff sometimes turned to A. with a short remark which referred to something A. was familiar with, and occa- sionally mentioned names. A. indicated by a nod that he un- derstood, and the conversation proceeded without interrup- tion. I also realized that, while teaching me, A. was learning himself.
Another peculiarity was that I had to ask very rarely. As soon as a question arose and before it could be formulated, the development of the thought had already given the answer. It was as though Mr. Gurdjieff had known in advance and antici- pated the questions which might arise. Once or twice I made a false move by asking about some matter that I had not trou- bled to get clear myself. But I will speak about this at the right place.
I can best compare the direction of the current of the con- versation to a spiral. Mr. Gurdjieff, having taken some main idea, and after having broadened it and given it depth, com- pleted the cycle of his reasoning by a return to the starting point, which I saw, as it were, below me, more broadly and in greater detail. A new cycle, and again there was a clearer and more precise idea of the breadth of the original thought.
I do not know how I should have felt, had I been forced to speak with Mr. Gurdjieff tete-a-tete. The presence of A., his calm and serious enquiring attitude toward the conversation, must have impressed itself upon me without my knowing it.
Taken as a whole, what was said brought me an inexpressible pleasure I had never before experienced. The outlines of that majestic edifice which had been dark and incomprehen- sible to me, were now clearly delineated, and not only the out- lines but some of the facade’s details.
I should like to describe, even if it is only approximately, the essence of this conversation. Who knows but that it may not help someone in a position similar to my own? This is the pur- pose of my sketch.
“You are acquainted with occult literature,” began Mr. Gurdjieff, “and so I will refer to the formula you know from the Emerald Tablets: ‘As above, so below.’ It is easy to start to build the foundation of our discussion from this. At the same time I must say that there is no need to use occultism as the base from which to approach the understanding of truth. Truth speaks for itself in whatever form it is manifested. You will understand this fully only in the course of time, but I wish to give you today at least a grain of understanding. So, I repeat, I begin with the occult formula because I am speaking to you. I know you have tried to decipher this formula. I know that you ‘understand’ it. But the understanding you have now is only a dim and distant reflection of the divine brilliance.
“It is not about the formula itself that I shall speak to you—I am not going to analyze or decipher it. Our conversation will not be about the literal meaning; we shall take it only as a starting point for our discussion. And to give you an idea of our subject, I may say that I wish to speak about the overall unity of all that exists—about unity in multiplicity. I wish to show you two or three facets of a precious crystal, and to draw your attention to the pale images faintly reflected in them.
“I know you understand about the unity of the laws govern- ing the universe, but this understanding is speculative—or rather, theoretical. It is not enough to understand with the mind, it is necessary to feel with your being the absolute truth and immutability of this fact; only then will you be able, consciously and with conviction, to say ‘I know.'”
Such was the sense of the words with which Mr. Gurdjieff began the conversation. He then proceeded to describe vividly the sphere in which the life of all mankind moves, with a thought which illustrated the Hermetic formula he had quoted. By analogies he passed from the little ordinary hap- penings in the life of an individual to the great cycles in the life of the whole of mankind. By means of such parallels he un- derscored the cyclic action of the law of analogy within the di- minutive sphere of terrestrial life. Then, in the same way, he passed from mankind to what I would call the life of the earth, representing it as an enormous organism like that of man, and in terms of physics, mechanics, biology and so on. I watched the illumination of his thought come increasingly into focus on one point. The inevitable conclusion of all that he said was the great law of tri-unity: the law of the three principles of ac- tion, resistance and equipoise: the active, passive and neutral principles. Now resting upon the solid foundation of the earth, and armed with this law, he applied it, with a bold flight of thought, to the whole solar system. Now his thought no longer moved toward this law of tri-unity, but already out from it, emphasizing it more and more, and manifesting it in the step nearest to man, that of Earth and Sun. Then, with a brief phrase, he passed beyond the limits of the solar system. Astro- nomical data first flashed forth, then appeared to dwindle and disappear before the infinity of space. There remained only one great thought, issuing from the same great law. His words sounded slow and solemn, and at the very same moment seemed to diminish and lose their significance. Behind them could be sensed the pulse of a tremendous thought.
“We have come to the brink of the abyss which can never be bridged by ordinary human reason. Do you feel how superfluous and useless words have become? Do you feel how powerless reason by itself is here? We have approached the principle behind all principles.” Having said this, he became silent, his gaze thoughtful.
Spellbound by the beauty and grandeur of this thought, I had gradually ceased to listen to the words. I could say that I felt them, that I grasped his thought not with my reason but by intuition. Man far below was reduced to nothingness, and disappeared leaving no trace. I was filled with a sense of close- ness to the Great Inscrutable, and with the deep consciousness of my personal nothingness.
As though divining my thoughts, Mr. Gurdjieff asked: “We started with man, and where is he? But great, all embracing is the law of unity. Everything in the Universe is one, the difference is only of scale; in the infinitely small we shall find the same laws as in the infinitely great. As above, so below.
“The sun has risen over the mountain tops above; the valley is still in darkness. So reason, transcending the human condi- tion, regards the divine light, while for those dwelling below all is darkness. Again I repeat, all in the world is one; and since reason is also one, human reason forms a powerful instru- ment for investigation.
“Now, having come to the beginning, let us descend to the earth from which we came, we shall find its place in the order of the structure of the Universe. Look!”
He made a single sketch and, with a passing reference to the laws of mechanics, delineated the scheme of the construction of the Universe. With numbers and figures in harmonious, systematic columns, multiplicity within unity began to appear.
The figures began to be clothed with meaning, the ideas which had been dead began to come to life. One and the same law ruled all; with delighted understanding I pursued the harmonious development of the Universe. His scheme took its rise from a Great Beginning and ended with the earth.
While he made this exposition, Mr. Gurdjieff noted the ne- cessity of what he called a “shock” reaching a given place from outside and connecting the two opposite principles into one balanced unity. This corresponded to the point of application of force in a balanced system of forces in mechanics.
“We have reached the point to which our terrestrial life is linked,” Mr. Gurdjieff said, “and for the present will not go further. In order to examine more closely what has just been said, and to emphasize once more the unity of the laws, we will take a simple scale and apply it, increased proportionately to the measurement of the microcosmos.” And he asked me to choose something familiar of regular structure, such as the spectrum of white light, musical scale, and so on. After having thought, I chose the musical scale.
“You have made a good choice,” said Mr. Gurdjieff. “As a matter of fact the musical scale, in the form in which it now exists, was constructed in ancient times by those possessed of great knowledge, and you will realize how much it can con- tribute to the understanding of the principal laws.”
He said a few words about the laws of the scale’s structure, and particularly stressed the gaps, as he called them, which exist in every octave between the notes mi and fa and also be- tween si of one octave and do of the next. Between these notes there are missing half-tones, in both the ascending and de- scending scales. While in the ascending development of the octave, the notes do, re, fa, sol and la can pass into the next higher tones, the notes mi and si are deprived of this possibil- ity. He explained how these two gaps, according to certain laws depending on the law of tri-unity, were filled in by new octaves of other orders, these octaves within the gaps playing a part similar to that of the half-tones in the evolutionary or involutionary process of the octave. The principal octave was similar to a tree trunk, sending out branches of subordinate oc- taves. The seven principal notes of the octave and the two gaps, “bearers of new directions,” gave a total of nine links of a chain, or three groups of three links each.
After this he turned to the structural scheme of the Uni- verse, and from it singled out that “ray” whose course led through the earth.
The original powerful octave, whose notes of apparently ever-lessening force included the sun, the earth and the moon, had inevitably fallen, according to the law of tri-unity, into three subordinate octaves. Here the role of the gaps in the octave and the differences in their nature were defined and made clear to me. Of the two intervals, mi-fa and si-do, one was more active—more of the nature of will—while the other played the passive part. The “shocks” of the original scheme, which was not altogether clear to me, were also the rule here, and appeared in a new light.
In the division of this “ray,” the place, the role and the des- tiny of mankind became clear. Moreover the possibilities of the individual man were more apparent.
“It may seem to you,” said Mr. Gurdjieff, “that in following the aim of unity, we have deviated from it somewhat in the direction of learning about multiplicity. What I am going to explain now you will no doubt understand. At the same time I am certain that this understanding will chiefly refer to the structural part of what is set forth. Try to fix your interest and attention not on its beauty, its harmony and its ingenuity—and even this side you will not understand entirely—but on the spirit, on what lies hidden behind the words, on the inner con- tent. Otherwise you will see only form, deprived of life. Now, you will see one of the facets of the crystal and, if your eye could perceive the reflection in it, you would draw nearer to the truth itself.”
Then Mr. Gurdjieff began to explain the way in which fun- damental octaves are combined with secondary octaves subor dinate to them; how these, in their turn, send forth new oc- taves of the next order, and so on. I could compare it to the process of growth or, more aptly, to the formation of a tree. Out of a straight vigorous trunk boughs branch out, producing in their turn small branches and twigs, and then leaves appear on them. One could already sense the process of formation of veins.
I must admit that, in fact, my attention was chiefly attracted to the harmony and beauty of the system. In addition to the octaves growing, like branches from a trunk, Mr. Gurdjieff pointed out that each note of every octave appears, from an- other point of view, as a whole octave: the same was true everywhere. These “inner” octaves I should compare to the concentric layers of a tree trunk which fit one within the other.
All these explanations were given in very general terms. They emphasized the lawful character of the structure. But for the examples which accompanied it, it might have been found ather theoretical. The examples gave it life, and sometimes it seemed that I really began to guess what was hidden behind the words. I saw that in this consistency in the structure of the universe, all the possibilities, all the combinations without ex- ception, had been foreseen; the infinity of infinities was fore- shadowed. And yet, at the same time, I could not see it, be- cause my reason faltered before the immensity of the concept, Again I was filled with a dual sensation—the nearness of the possibility of all-knowing and the consciousness of its inacces- sibility.
Once more I heard Mr. Gurdjieff’s words echoing my feel- ings: “No ordinary reason is enough to enable a man to take the Great Knowledge to himself, and make it his inalienable possession. Nevertheless it is possible for him. But first he must shake the dust from his feet. Vast efforts, tremendous labors, are needed to come into possession of the wings on which it is possible to rise. It is many times easier to drift with the cur- rent, to pass with it from one octave to another; but that takes
immeasurably longer than, alone, to wish and to do. The way is hard, the ascent becomes increasingly steeper as it goes on, but one’s strength also increases. A man becomes tempered and with each ascending step his view grows wider. Yes, there is the possibility.”
I saw indeed that this possibility existed. Although not yet knowing what it was, I saw that it was there. I find it hard to put into words what became more and more understandable. I saw that the reign of law, now becoming apparent to me, was really all-inclusive; that what appeared at first sight to be a vi- olation of a law, on closer examination only confirmed it. One could say without exaggeration that while “exceptions prove the rule,” at the same time they were not exceptions. For those who can understand I would say that, in Pythagorean terms, I recognized and felt how Will and Fate—spheres of action of Providence—coexist, while mutually competing; how, without blending or separating, they intermingle. I do not nurture any hope that such contradictory words can convey or make clear what I understand; at the same time I can find nothing that is better.
“You see,” Mr. Gurdjieff went on, “that he who possesses a full and complete understanding of the system of octaves, as it might be called, possesses the key to the understanding of Unity, since he understands all that is seen—all happenings, all things in their essence—for he knows their place, cause and ef- fect.
“At the same time you see clearly that this consists of a more detailed development of the original scheme, a more precise representation of the law of unity, and that all we have said and are going to say is nothing but a development of the prin- cipal idea of unity. That a full, distinct, clear consciousness of this law is precisely the Great Knowledge to which I referred.
“Speculations, suppositions and hypotheses do not exist for him who possesses such a knowledge. Expressed more defi- nitely, he knows everything by ‘measure, number and weight.’
Everything in the Universe is material: therefore the Great Knowledge is more materialistic than materialism.
“A look at chemistry will make this more intelligible.” He demonstrated how chemistry, in studying matter of various densities without a knowledge of the law of octaves, contains an error which affects the end results. Knowing this, and mak- ing certain corrections, based on the law of octaves, brings these results into full accord with those reached by calcula- tion. In addition he pointed out that the idea of simple sub- stances and elements in contemporary chemistry cannot be ac- cepted from the point of view of the chemistry of octaves, which is “objective chemistry.” Matter is the same everywhere; its various qualities depend only on the place it occupies in a certain octave, and on the order of the octave itself.
From this point of view, the hypothetical notion of the atom as an indivisible part of a simple substance or element cannot serve as a model. An atom of a given density, a really existing individuum, must be taken as the smallest quantity of the sub- stance examined which retains all those qualities—chemical, physical and cosmic—which characterize it as a certain note of a definite octave. For instance, in contemporary chemistry there is no atom of water, as water is not a simple substance but a chemical compound of hydrogen and oxygen. Yet from the point of view of “objective chemistry” an “atom” of water is an ultimate and definitive volume of it, even visible to the naked eye. Mr. Gurdjieff added: “Certainly you have to accept this on trust for the present. But those who seek for the Great Knowledge under the guidance of one already in possession of it, must personally work to prove, and verify by investigation, what these atoms of matter of different densities are.”
I saw it all in mathematical terms. I became clearly con- vinced that everything in the Universe is material and that everything can be measured numerically in accordance with the law of octaves. The essential material descends in a series of separate notes of various densities. These were expressed in numbers combined according to certain laws, and that which had seemed immeasurable was measured. What had been re- ferred to as cosmic qualities of matter was made clear. To my great surprise, the atomic weights of certain chemical elements were given as examples, with an explanation showing the error of contemporary chemistry.
In addition, the law of the construction of “atoms” in matter of various densities was shown. As this presentation progressed we passed, almost without my being aware of it, to what might be called “the Earth octave” and so arrived at the place from which we had started—on earth.
“In all that I have told you,” Mr. Gurdjieff continued, “my aim was not to communicate any new knowledge. On the con- trary I only wished to demonstrate that the knowledge of cer- tain laws makes it possible for a man, without moving from where he is, to count, weigh and measure all that exists—both the infinitely great and the infinitely small. I repeat: every- thing in the universe is material. Ponder those words and you will understand, at least to some degree, why I used the ex- pression ‘more materialistic than materialism.’ . . . Now we have become acquainted with the laws ruling the life of the Microcosmos and have returned to earth. Remember once more ‘As above, so below.’
“I think even now and without further explanation you would not dispute the fact that the life of individual man—the Microcosmos—is ruled by this same law. But let us demon- strate this further, by taking a single example in which certain details will become clearer. Let us take a particular question, the plan of work of the human organism, and examine it.”
Mr. Gurdjieff next drew a scheme of the human body and compared it to a three-storied factory, the stories being repre- sented by the head, chest and abdomen. Taken together the factory forms a complete whole. This is an octave of the first order, similar to that with which the examination of the Ma- crocosmos began. Each of the stories also represents an entire octave of the second order, subordinate to the first. Thus we have three subordinate octaves which are again similar to those in the scheme of the construction of the universe. Each of the three stories receives “food” of a suitable nature from outside, assimilates it and combines it with the materials which have already been processed, and in this way the fac- tory functions to produce a certain kind of material.
“I must point out,” Mr. Gurdjieff said, “that, although the de- sign of the factory is good and suitable for production of this material, because of the ignorance of its top administration, it manages the business very uneconomically. What would be the situation of an undertaking if, with a vast and continuous consumption of material, the greater part of the production were to go merely to the maintenance of the factory and the consumption and processing of the material? The remainder of the production is spent uselessly and its purpose unknown. It is necessary to organize the business in accordance with exact knowledge; and it will then bring in a large net income which may be spent at one’s discretion. Let us, however, come back to our scheme” . . . and he explained that while the food of the lower story was man’s meat and drink, air was the food of the middle story, and that of the upper story was what could be called “impressions.”
All these three kinds of food, representing matter of certain densities and qualities, belong to octaves of different orders.
I could not refrain from asking here, “What about thought?” “Thought is material as well as everything else,” answered Mr. Gurdjieff. “Methods exist by means of which one can prove not only this but that thought, like all other things, can be weighed and measured. Its density can be determined, and thus the thoughts of an individual may be compared with those of the same man on other occasions. One can define all the qualities of thought. I have already told you that every – thing in the Universe is material.”
After that he showed how these three kinds of food, re- ceived in different parts of the human organism, enter at the starting points of the corresponding octaves, interconnected by a certain process of law; each of them therefore represents do of the octave of its own order. The laws of the development of octaves are the same everywhere.
For instance, do of the food octave coming into the stomach, the third do, passes through the corresponding half-tone into re, and by way of the next passage through a half-tone is fur- ther converted into mi. Mi, lacking this half-tone, cannot, by way of a natural development, pass independently into fa. It is assisted by the air octave, which enters the chest. As already shown, this is an octave of a higher order, and its do (the sec- ond do), having the necessary half-tone for the transition into re, appears to connect up with the mi of the former octave and transmute into fa. That is, it plays the part of the missing half- tone and serves as a shock for the further development of the former octave.
“We will not stop now,” said Mr. Gurdjieff, “to examine the octave beginning with the second do, nor that of the first do, which enters at a definite place. This would only complicate the present situation. We have now made sure of the possibil- ity of a further development of the octave under discussion, thanks to the presence of the half-tone. Fa passes through a half-tone into sol and in fact the material received here ap- pears to be the salt of the human organism [the Russian word for salt is sol.] This is the highest that can be produced by it.” Reverting to numbers, he again made his thought clear in terms of their combinations.
“The further development of the octave transfers sol through a half-tone into la, and the latter through a half-tone into si. Here the octave again stops. A new ‘shock’ is required for the passage of si into the do of a new octave of the human organism.
“With what I have now said,” Mr. Gurdjieff went on, “and our conversation about chemistry, you will be able to draw some valuable conclusions.”
At this point, without waiting to clarify a thought which came into my head, I asked something about the usefulness of fasting.
Mr. Gurdjieff stopped speaking. A. gave me a reproachful look and I immediately realized clearly how inappropriate my question was. I wished to correct my mistake, but had not time to do so, before Mr. Gurdjieff said: “I wish to show you one ex- periment, which will make it clear to you,” but after exchang- ing glances with A. and asking him something, he said: “No, better later,” and after a short silence continued: “I see that your attention is tired, but I am already almost at the end of what I wanted to tell you today. I had intended to touch in a very general way upon the course of the development of man, but it is not so important now. Let us postpone conversation about that until a more favorable occasion.”
“May I conclude from what you say,” I asked, “that you will sometimes permit me to see you, and converse on the ques- tions which interest me?”
“Now that we have begun these conversations,” he said, “I have no objection to continuing them. Much depends on you. What I mean by this, A. will explain to you in detail.” Then, noticing that I was going to turn to A. for the explanation, “Rut not now, some other time,” he added. “Now I want to tell you this. As everything in the Universe is one, so, conse- quently, everything has equal rights, therefore from this point of view knowledge can be acquired by a suitable and complete study, no matter what the starting point is. Only one must know how to ‘learn.’ What is nearest to us is man; and you are the nearest of all men to yourself. Regin with the study of yourself; remember the saying ‘Know thyself.’ It is possible that now it will acquire a more intelligible meaning for you. To begin with, A. will help you in the measure of his own force and yours. I advise you to remember well the scheme of the human organism which I gave you. We shall sometimes re- turn to it in the future, adding to its depth every time. Now A. and I will leave you alone for a short time, as we have a small matter to attend to. I recommend that you not puzzle your brains over what we have spoken about, but give them a short rest. Even if you happen to forget something, A. will remind you of it afterwards. Of course it would be better if you did not need to be reminded. Accustom yourself to forget nothing. “Now, have a cup of coffee; it will do you good.”
When they had gone I followed Mr. Gurdjieff’s advice, and, pouring out coffee, remained sitting. I realized that Mr. Gurdjieff had concluded from the question about fasting that my attention was tired. And I recognized that my thinking had become feebler and more restricted by the end of the conversation. Therefore, in spite of my strong desire to look through all the diagrams and numbers once more, I decided to give my head a rest, to use Mr. Gurdjieff’s expression, and sat with closed eyes trying not to think of anything. But the thoughts arose in spite of my will, and I attempted to drive them out.
In about twenty minutes, A. entered without my hearing him and asked, “Well, how are you?” I had no time to answer him when the voice of Mr. Gurdjieff was heard quite close by, saying to someone, “Do as I have told you and you will see where the mistake is.”
Then, lifting the carpet which hung over the door, he came in. Taking the same place and attitude as before, he turned to- ward me. “I hope you have rested—if only a little. Let us talk now of casual matters, without any definite plan.”
I told him that I wanted to ask two or three questions that had no immediate reference to the subject of our conversation but might make clearer the nature of what he had said.
“You and A. have quoted so much from the data of contem- porary science that the question spontaneously arises, ‘Is the knowledge you speak of accessible to an ignorant, uneducated man?'”
“The material you refer to was quoted only because I spoke to you. You understand, because you have a certain amount of knowledge of these matters. They helped you to understand something better. They were only given as examples. This re- fers to the form of the conversation but not to its essence. Forms may be very different. I will not say anything now about the role and significance of contemporary science. This question could be the subject of a separate conversation. I will only say this—that the best educated scholar could prove an absolute ignoramus compared with an illiterate shepherd who possesses knowledge. This sounds paradoxical, but the under- standing of the essence, over which the former spends long years of minute investigation, will be gained by the latter in an incomparably fuller degree during one day’s meditation. It is a question of the way of thinking, of the ‘density of the thought.’ This term does not convey anything to you at present but in time it will become clear by itself. What else do you want to ask?”
“Why is this knowledge so carefully concealed?”
“What leads you to ask this question?”
“Certain things which I had the opportunity of learning in the course of my acquaintance with occult literature,” I answered.
“As far as I can judge,” said Mr. Gurdjieff, “you are refer- ring to the question of so-called ‘initiation.’ Yes, or no?” I replied in the affirmative, and Mr. Gurdjieff went on: “Yes. The fact of the matter is that in occult literature much that has been said is superfluous and untrue. You had better forget all this. All your researches in this area were a good exercise for your mind: therein lies their great value, but only there. They have not given you knowledge, as you yourself confessed. Judge everything from the point of view of your common sense. Become the possessor of your own sound ideas, and don’t accept anything on faith; and when you, yourself, by way of sound reasoning and argument, come to an unshakable persuasion, to a full understanding of something, you will have achieved a certain degree of initiation. Think it over more deeply. . . . For instance, today I had a conversation with you.
Remember this conversation. Think, and you will agree with me that in essence I have told you nothing new. You knew it all before. The only thing I did was to bring order into your knowledge. I systematized it, but you had it before you saw me. You owe it to the efforts you had already made in this field. It was easy for me to speak to you, thanks to him”—and he pointed to A.—”because he had learned to understand me, and because he knew you. From his account, I knew you and your knowledge, as well as how it was obtained, before you came to me. But in spite of all these favorable conditions, I may confidently say that you have not mastered even a hundredth part of what I said. However, I have given you a clue pointing to the possibility of a new point of view, from which you can illuminate and bring together your former knowledge. And thanks to this work, to your own work, you will be able to reach a much deeper understanding of what I have said. You will ‘initiate’ yourself.
“In a year’s time we may say the same things, but you will not wait during this year in the hope that roast pigeons will fly into your mouth. You will work, and your understanding will change—you will be more ‘initiated.’ It is impossible to give a man anything that could become his inalienable property without work on his part. Such an initiation cannot exist, but unfortunately people often think so. There is only ‘self-initiation.’ One can show and direct, but not ‘initiate.’ The things which you came across in occult literature with regard to this question had been written by people who had lost the key to what they transmitted on, without any verification, from the words of others.
“Every medal has its reverse. The study of occultism offers much, as training for the mind, but often, unfortunately very often, people infected with the poison of mystery, and aiming at practical results, but not possessing a full knowledge of what must be done or how, do themselves irreparable harm. Harmony is violated. It is a hundred times better not to do anything than to act without knowledge. You said that knowledge is concealed. That is not so. It is not concealed, but peo- ple are incapable of understanding it. If you begin a conversa- tion about higher mathematical ideas with a man who did not know mathematics, what good would it be? He simply would not understand you. And here the matter is more complicated. I personally should be very glad if I could speak now to some- body, without trying to adapt myself to his understanding, on those subjects which are of interest to me. But if I began to speak to you in this way, for instance, you would take me for a madman or worse.
“People have too few words with which to express certain ideas. But there, where words do not matter, but their source and the meaning behind them, it should be possible to speak simply. In the absence of understanding it is impossible. You had the opportunity of proving this to yourself today. I should not speak to another person in the same way that I spoke to you, because he would not understand me. You have initiated yourself already to a certain degree. And before speaking one must know and see how much the man understands. Under- standing comes only with work.
“So what you call ‘concealment’ is in fact the impossibility of giving, otherwise everything would be quite different. If, in spite of this, those who know begin to speak, it is useless and quite unproductive. They speak only when they know that the listener understands.”
“So then, if, for instance, I wanted to tell somebody what I have learned from you today, would you object?”
“You see,” replied Mr. Gurdjieff, “from the very beginning of our conversation, I foresaw the possibility of continuing it. Therefore I told you things which I would not tell you were the contrary the case. I said them in advance, knowing that you are not prepared for them now, but with the intention of giving a certain direction to your reflections on these ques- tions. On closer consideration you will be convinced that it is really so. You will understand precisely what I am speaking about. If you reach this conclusion it will only be to the advantage of the person with whom you speak; you may say as much as you like. Then you will be convinced that something intelligible and clear to you is unintelligible to those who hear. From this point of view such conversations will be useful.”
“And what is your attitude toward enlarging the circle with whom relations might begin, by giving them some indication that could help in their work?” I asked.
“I have too little free time to be able to sacrifice it without being certain that it will be of use. Time is of value to me, and I need it for my work; therefore I cannot and do not wish to spend it unproductively. But I have already told you about that.”
“No, it was not with the idea of your making new acquaint- ances that I asked, but in the sense that indications might be given through the press. I think it would take less time than personal conversations.”
“In other words you wish to know whether the ideas could be set forth gradually, in a series of outlines, perhaps?”
“Yes,” I replied, “but I certainly do not think it would be possible to clarify everything, though it seems to me that it might be possible to indicate a direction leading nearer to the goal.”
“You have raised a very interesting question,” said Mr. Gurdjieff. “I have often discussed it with some of those with whom I speak. It is not worthwhile repeating now the consid- erations which were expressed by them and by me. I can only say that we decided in the affirmative, as long ago as last sum- mer. I did not refuse to take part in this experiment, but we were prevented from making it on account of the war.”
During the short conversation which followed on this sub- ject, the idea came into my head that if Mr. Gurdjieff did not object to making known to the public at large certain views and methods, it was also possible that the ballet The Struggle of the Magicians might contain a hidden meaning, represent- ing not only a work of imagination but a mystery. I asked him a question about it in this sense, mentioning that A. had told me the contents of the scenario.
“My ballet is not a mystery,” replied Mr. Gurdjieff. “The purpose of it is to present an interesting and beautiful specta- cle. Of course, under the visible forms a certain sense is hidden, but I did not aim at demonstrating or emphasizing it. The chief position in this ballet is occupied by certain dances. I will explain this to you briefly. Imagine that in studying the laws of movement of the celestial bodies, let us say the planets of the solar system, you have constructed a special mechanism for the representation and recording of these laws. In this mechanism every planet is represented by a sphere of appro- priate size and is placed at a strictly determined distance from the central sphere, which stands for the sun. You set the mech- anism in motion, and all the spheres begin to turn and move in definite paths, reproducing in a lifelike way the laws which govern their movements. This mechanism reminds you of your knowledge.
“In the same way, in the rhythm of certain dances, in the precise movements and combinations of the dancers, certain laws are vividly recalled. Such dances are called sacred. During my journeys in the East, I often saw dances of this kind ex- ecuted during the performance of sacred rites in some of the ancient temples. These ceremonies are inaccessible, and unknown to Europeans. Some of these dances are reproduced in The Struggle of the Magicians. Further, I may tell you that at the basis of The Struggle of the Magicians lie three thoughts; but, as I have no hope that they will be understood by the public if I present the ballet alone, I call it simply a spectacle.” Mr. Gurdjieff spoke a little more about the ballet and the dances and then went on:
“Such is the origin of the dances, their significance, in the distant past. I will ask you now, has anything in this branch of contemporary art been preserved that could recall, however remotely, its former great meaning and aim? What is to be
found here but triviality?” After a short silence, as though waiting for my reply, and gazing sadly and thoughtfully before him, he continued, “Contemporary art as a whole has nothing in common with the ancient sacred art. . . . Perhaps you have thought about it? What is your opinion?”
I explained to him that the question of art, which amongst others interested me, occupied an important place. To be pre- cise, I was interested not so much in the works, that is, in the results of art, but in its role and significance in the life of humanity. I had often discussed this question with those who seemed to be more versed in these matters than I—musicians, painters, and sculptors, artists and men of letters, and also with those simply interested in studying art. I happened to hear a great deal of opinion of many kinds, often contradictory. Some, it is true they were few, called art an amusement of those who lacked occupation; but the majority agreed that art is sacred and that its creation bears in itself the seal of divine inspiration. I had formed no opinion which I could call my firm conviction, and this question had remained open until now. I expressed all this to Mr. Gurdjieff as clearly as possible; he listened to my explanation with attention, and said:
“You are right in saying that there are many contradictory opinions on this subject. Does not that alone prove that people do not know the truth? Where truth is, there cannot be many different opinions. In antiquity that which is now called art served the aim of objective knowledge. And as we said a mo- ment ago, speaking of dances, works of art represented an ex- position and a record of the eternal laws of the structure of the universe. Those who devoted themselves to research and thus acquired a knowledge of important laws, embodied them in works of art, just as is done in books today.”
At this point Mr. Gurdjieff mentioned some names which were mostly unknown to me and which I have forgotten. Then he went on: “This art did not pursue the aim either of ‘beauty’ or of producing a likeness of something or somebody. For in- stance, an ancient statue created by such an artist is neither a copy of the form of a person nor the expression of a subjective sensation; it is either the expression of the laws of knowledge, in terms of the human body, or a means of objective transmis- sion of a state of mind. The form and action, indeed the whole expression, is according to law.”
After a short silence, in which he appeared to be pondering something, Mr. Gurdjieff went on: “As we have touched upon art, I will tell you of an episode which happened recently which will clarify some points in our conversation.
“Among my acquaintances here in Moscow there is a com- panion of my early childhood, a famous sculptor. When visit- ing him I noticed in his library a number of books on Hindu philosophy and occultism. In the course of conversation I found that he was seriously interested in these matters. Seeing how helpless he was in making any independent examination of these related questions, and not wishing to show my own acquaintance with them, I asked a man who had often talked with me on these subjects, a certain P., to interest himself in this sculptor. One day P. told me that the sculptor’s interest in these questions was clearly speculative, that his essence was not touched by them and that he saw little use in these discus- sions. I advised him to turn the conversation toward some sub- ject of closer concern to the sculptor. In the course of what seemed a purely casual talk at which I was present, P. directed the conversation to the question of art and creation, where- upon the sculptor explained that he ‘felt’ the Tightness of sculptural forms and asked, ‘Do you know why the statue of the poet Gogol in the Arbat Place has an excessively long nose?’ And he related how, on looking at this statue sideways, he felt that ‘the soft flow of the profile,’ as he put it, was vio- lated at the top of the nose.”
“Wishing to test the correctness of this feeling, he decided to search for Gogol’s death mask, which he found, after a long search, in private hands. He studied the mask, and paid special attention to the nose. This examination revealed that probably, when the mask was taken, a small bubble was formed just where the soft flow of the profile seemed to be violated. The mask maker had filled in the bubble with an unskilled hand, changing the form of the writer’s nose. Thus the designer of the monument, not doubting the correctness of the mask, had furnished Gogol with a nose that was not his.
“What can be said of this incident? Is it not evident that such a thing could only happen in the absence of real knowledge?
“While one man uses the mask, fully believing in its correct- ness, the other, ‘feeling’ the incorrectness of its execution, looks for a confirmation of his suspicions. Neither is better off than the other.
“But with a knowledge of the laws of proportion in the human body, not only could the end of Gogol’s nose have been reconstructed from the mask but the whole of his body could have been built up exactly as it had been from the nose alone. Let us go into this in more detail to make clear exactly what I want to express.
“Today I briefly examined the law of the octave. You saw that with knowledge of this law the place of everything is known and, vice versa, if the place is known, one knows what exists there and its quality. Everything can be calculated, only one must know how to calculate the passage from one octave to another. The human body, like everything that is a whole, bears in itself this regularity of measurement. In accordance with the number of notes of the octave and with the intervals, the human body has nine principal measurements expressed in definite numbers. For individual persons these numbers vary very much—of course within certain limits. The nine principal measurements, giving an entire octave of the first order, are transmuted into the subordinate octaves’which, by a wide ex- tension of this subordinate system, give all the measurements of any part of the human body. Every note of an octave is it- self a whole octave. Consequently it is necessary to know the rules of correlation and combination, and of transition from one scale to another. Everything is combined by an indissolu-
ble, unchangeable regularity of law. It is as though, around every point, nine more subordinate points were grouped; and so on to the atoms of the atom.
“Knowing the laws of descent, man also knows the laws of ascent, and consequently not only can pass from principal oc- taves to subordinate ones, but also vice versa. Not only can the nose be reconstructed from the face alone, but also from the nose the entire face and body of a man can be reconstructed inexorably and exactly. There is no search for beauty or resemblance. A creation can be nothing other than what it is. …
“This is more exact than mathematics, because here you do not meet with probabilities, and it is achieved not by study of mathematics but by a study of a far deeper and broader kind. It is understanding which is needed. In a conversation without understanding, it is possible to talk for decades on the simplest questions without coming to any result.
“A simple question can reveal that a man has not the required attitude of thought, and even with the desire to elucidate the question, the lack of preparation and understanding in the hearer nullifies the words of the speaker. Such ‘literal understanding’ is very common.
“This episode yet again confirmed what I had long since known and had proved a thousand times. Recently in Petersburg I spoke with a well-known composer. From this conversation I clearly saw how poor his knowledge in the domain of true music was, and how deep the abyss of his ignorance. Remember Orpheus, who taught knowledge by means of music, and you will understand what I call true or sacred music.”
Mr. Gurdjieff went on, “For such music special conditions will be needed, and then The Struggle of the Magicians would not be a mere spectacle. As it is now there will only be fragments of the music I heard in certain temples, and even such true music would convey nothing to the hearers because the keys to it are lost and perhaps have never been known in the West. The keys to all the ancient arts are lost, were lost many centuries ago. And therefore there is no longer a sacred art embodying laws of the Great Knowledge, and so serving to influence the instincts of the multitude.
“There are no creators today. The contemporary priests of art do not create but imitate. They run after beauty and likeness or what is called originality, without possessing even the necessary knowledge. Not knowing, and not being able to do anything, since they are groping in the dark, they are praised by the crowd, which places them on a pedestal. Sacred art vanished and left behind only the halo which surrounded its servants. All the current words about the divine spark, talent, genius, creation, sacred art, have no solid basis—they are anachronisms. What are these talents? We will talk about them on some suitable occasion.
“Either the shoemaker’s craft must be called art, or all con- temporary art must be called craft. In what way is a shoe- maker sewing fashionable custom shoes of beautiful design in- ferior to an artist who pursues the aim of imitation or originality? With knowledge, the sewing of shoes may be sacred art too, but without it, a priest of contemporary art is worse than a cobbler.” The last words were full of emphasis. Mr. Gurdjieff became silent, and A. said nothing.
The conversation had impressed me deeply; I felt how right A. had been in his warning that in order to listen to Mr. Gurdjieff more was required than just the wish to meet him.
My thought was working precisely and clearly. Thousands of questions rose in my mind, but none corresponded to the depth of what I had heard and so I remained silent.
I looked at Mr. Gurdjieff. He raised his head slowly and said: “I must go. Today it is enough. In half an hour there will be horses to take you to the train. About further plans you will learn from A.,” and, turning to him, he’ added, “Take my place as host. Have breakfast with our guest. After taking him to the station, come back. . . . Well, goodbye.”
A. crossed the room and pulled a cord concealed by an otto- man. A Persian rug hanging on the wall was drawn aside, revealing a huge window. Light from a clear, frosty winter’s morning filled the room. This took me by surprise: till that moment I had not thought of the hour.
“What time is it?” I exclaimed.
“Nearly nine,” A. replied, putting out the lamps. He added, smiling, “As you observe, time does not exist here.”