Gurdjieff and Games, Part 1

Gurdjieff said “there is everything” in his book Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.1 In addition, this book is subtitled “An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man” and has the stated purpose of the merciless destruction of all our long-rooted beliefs and views about everything.

Putting these statements to a small test, I ask a few questions of narrow interest to myself (and I hope others): “What does Beelzebub’s Tales have to say about games? What objective and impartial criticism is offered about games? What ‘merciless destruction’ must our beliefs and views on the subject of games undergo?”

A survey of the text reveals that games are mentioned many times: in children’s games2, in games played at the French fairs3, in ‘games’ played by the Greeks and Romans4, and in the English ‘sport’5. Some games are even mentioned by name: baccarat6, roulette7, and snip-snap-snorum8.

In one line in the first series—I would say throwaway line, but in a consciously written book, there is nothing trivial to throw away—Gurdjieff writes:

“I used to visit them often at their home and enjoyed playing chess with this senator—as is customary there among what are called ‘respectable people.’ ” 9

The character speaking here is the eponymous Beelzebub, Gurdjieff’s representative of a highly developed person with a very high degree of reason. In this line, Beelzebub offers no criticism or dismissal of the activity of playing this game. In fact, he says he enjoyed it.

This is the same Beelzebub who said:

“I decided to carry out the said task [convincing humans to end their practice of animal sacrifice] at all costs and to be worthy, if only by this explicit aid to our UNIQUE-BURDEN-BEARING-ENDLESSNESS, of becoming a particle, though an independent one, of everything existing in the Great Universe.” 10

Beelzebub’s serious task did not carry the cost of abandoning what might be considered by some as a frivolous or idle activity, nor did it make him unworthy, as no doubt his conscience would have stopped him from such an act if it were unworthy. Rather, his was a wise choice, since we are told it was customary among those people to play chess. And in order to carry out his task, it was necessary for him to blend in by observing customs, as Gurdjieff did at times, insofar as they did not violate commandment or conscience.11 

However, this is not a blanket endorsement of games. We must take care not to “make an elephant out of a flea” or be found guilty of proof-texting. While games in general may be innocuous, due to the human condition, games and our relationship with them can go terribly wrong. More on that later.

1 Paris Meetings 1943, p. 234.
2 Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 418.
3 ibid., p. 693.
4 ibid., p. 418-420.
5 ibid., p. 432-448.
6 ibid., p. 100.
7 ibid., p. 100, 350, 693.
8 ibid., p. 693.
9 ibid., p. 1031.
10 ibid., p. 183.
11 ibid., p. 23.

1 thought on “Gurdjieff and Games, Part 1

  1. Rob Post author

    I should add that in Meetings with Remarkable Men, as a youth, Mr. Gurdjieff played billiards: “I buckled down to work in real earnest, day and night, leaving only rarely to go and see my dervish friends, or occasionally, on evenings when I was very tired, to play billiards at a near-by restaurant. In my youth I was very fond of this game and quite skilful at it. // One night, the evening of Holy Thursday, having finished my work, I had gone to play billiards…” (p. 41, MWRM, Penguin Compass edition)

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