I have heard some say, in approaching the work, that reading Mr. Gurdjieff’s writings is entirely optional, that taking or leaving them is a matter of personal preference, conveniently forgetting how unconscious and habitual personal preference is. Besides the practical examples of the reading of Mr. Gurdjieff’s writings during group meetings, there is a passage in his third series that sheds more light on the importance of reading Beelzebub’s Tales.
“This benevolent advice of mine to you Americans, composing in the given case this group, and who became, thanks to a series of accidentally arranged circumstances of life, my nearest essential friends, consists in indicating the categorical necessity that each of you should cease entirely, at least for three months, the reading of your newspapers and magazines, and during this time should become as well acquainted as possible with the contents of all three books of the first series of my writings entitled An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man. “ 3
All of the berry bushes and plants have begun to flower. We have about fifty strawberries plants scattered around the garden. We heard that they can be invasive (and what’s better than invasive food), so we were somewhat concerned that they would spread far beyond their designated areas. But this has never happened. So my wife transplanted many of them to a better location in hopes that they will spread and be more productive. We harvest around 1 gallon of strawberries per year.
[This post may seem arcane for the uninitiated; it is on the topic of roleplaying games.]
For a long time, I have wanted to gamemaster an investigative horror roleplaying game that involved the Cthulhu mythos. The problem was finding a game system and setting that balanced my players’ expectations with my own. I’ll focus here on system, and detail setting in subsequent posts.
Another purpose that Mr. Gurdjieff states for the first series of his writings, besides merciless destruction, is developing attention. In a group meeting transcript, a pupil asks Mr. Gurdjieff for a means to develop his attention:
The frontmatter of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson reads as follows:
“FIRST SERIES: To destroy, mercilessly, without any compromises whatsoever, in the mentation and feelings of the reader, the beliefs and views, by centuries rooted in him, about everything existing in the world…”
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?”
Spring has arrived and the perennials in our garden have begun to leaf, bud, and bloom.
The first signs of color came from the vibrant creeping charlie (glechoma hederacea) that we’ve encouraged to grow as a ground cover for our little backyard food forest.
It is true that creeping charlie is “invasive”. But invasive is what we needed for an attractive replacement cover for the patchy lawn that was once here. And unlike dandelions and violets, creeping charlie has never invaded our raised beds. It also has stood up fairly well to occasional foot traffic.
There are several biographies about G.I. Gurdjieff, of varying quality, from yellow journalism to reasonably verifiable. In my opinion, the following are the better biographies:
- Gurdjieff: The Anatomy of a Myth, by James Moore. Written in a florid prose style— nevertheless, a fairly thorough biography.
- Gurdjieff Reconsidered, by Roger Lipsey. A recent biography from a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation, with some insight into some of the organizations’ missteps after Gurdjieff’s death.
- Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff: The Man, The Teaching, His Mission, by William Patrick Patterson. Less a biography and more of a collection of bare facts, but well-organized and presented with little opinion inserted.
There are many collections of anecdotes of pupils with Gurdjieff. The better ones, in my opinion, are from longtime pupils of Gurdjieff who were reluctant to write them down but were encouraged by those around them to preserve their stories in writing before they passed away.
- Gurdjieff: A Master In Life, by Tcheslaw Tchekhovitch. Followed Gurdjieff from 1920 until his teacher’s death.
- The Gurdjieff Years: Recollections of Louise Goepfert March. Followed Gurdjieff from 1929 until her teacher’s death, translating his writings into German.
Outside of Gurdjieff’s own writings, there are a number of books available that introduce basic work concepts.
- A Simple Explanation of Work Ideas, by Maurice Nicoll. Short and to the point.
- Gurdjieff: A New Interpretation, by Wojciech Konrad Kulczyk PhD. Includes material from Gurdjieff’s own writings rather than relying too heavily on Ouspensky’s exposition.
- Gurdjieff: An Approach to His Ideas, by Michel Waldberg. Similarly includes material from Gurdjieff’s own writings.
- Towards Awakening: An Approach to the Teaching Left by Gurdjieff, by Jean Vaysse. Also short and to the point.
- Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts, by Sophia Wellbeloved. A reference manual of concepts. Includes some short biographies of Gurdjieff’s pupils, various groups that formed after Gurdjieff’s death, and the passive deviation from Gurdjieff’s teaching found in “New Work”.
- The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution, and
The Cosmology of Man’s Possible Evolution, by P.D. Ouspensky, his particular exposition of Gurdjieff’s ideas.
Take these with a grain of salt. Learn what Gurdjieff taught from reading his own writings and working out your own understanding with guidance from a school and instructors rather than relying solely on another’s exposition of Gurdjieff’s teaching.
For familiarizing oneself with Gurdjieff’s writings, the following are a list of the primary texts, first publication dates, and most recent available printings of his works. Hardcover printing is assumed unless otherwise noted.
Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson
All and Everything, First Series.
- 1950 Harcourt, Brace & Company or Routledge & Kegan Paul
- 1993 Two Rivers Press
- 1999 Penguin Compass (paperback)
Meetings with Remarkable Men
All and Everything, Second Series.
- 1963 Routledge & Kegan Paul or E.P. Dutton.
- 1991 Penguin Compass (paperback)
Life Is Real Only Then, When “I AM”
All and Everything, Third Series.
- 1975 E.P. Dutton (private printing, missing the last eight pages contained in later editions)
- 1981 Routledge & Kegan Paul or E.P. Dutton
- 1999 Penguin Arkana (paperback)
The Herald of Coming Good
- 1933 (private printing)
- 2017 Book Studio
Authorized transcripts of group meetings can give the reader additional theoretical knowledge of the problems that students face and how Gurdjieff worked with them.
Paris Meetings 1943
Groupes de Paris, Tome I: 1943 (French edition only)
Groupes de Paris, Tome II: 1944 (French edition only)
- 2020 Éditions Éoliennes (softcover)
Other writings of Mr. Gurdjieff that could be included among primary resources are:
- The Struggle of the Magicians
- The Study House aphorisms
- Reliable meeting notes that have been cross-checked with multiple sources, including Gurdjieff’s Early Talks, 1914-1931.
There are many electronic versions of primary texts available for download but determining their edition or copy accuracy may present problems to the reader.
Some reasonably reliable electronic versions are available at the Spiritual Sun.
Misattributed and Unauthorized Texts
Excluded from the primary text list are texts with misattributed authorship to Gurdjieff, such as In Search of Being: The Fourth Way to Consciousness. Also excluded from the primary text list are unauthorized revisions, such as the 1992 Penguin hardcover version of Beelzebub’s Tales, which was significantly altered from the author’s approved English version.