It is important when approaching Beelzebub’s Tales to adopt certain exegetical principles. For the sake of productive interpretation, it is useful to assume: 1) that Mr. Gurdjieff’s writings were composed from a higher reason than our own, and therefore, 2) every detail in the text has meaning; and so 3) because of its near-infinite meaning, we cannot know everything about the text, but 4) we can still draw practical teaching from it despite the limits of our own understanding; and 5) that the author can satisfactorily explain himself from his own writings.
In addition to these recommended exegetical principles, having a sense of proportion of the many ideas of the text in relation to each other and to the whole is also important—in other words, not distorting significant ideas into insignificant ones, and vice versa.
The “crystallized consequences of the properties of the maleficent organ Kundabuffer” is a significant idea in Beelzebub’s Tales—it is mentioned on 89 pages. “The abnormal conditions or ordinary being-existence established by them themselves” is also a significant idea, mentioned on 76 pages. “Laws of world-creation and world-maintenance” is another significant idea, taking up multiple chapters.
If I take the idea of “first being-food” and emphasize it to the point where it becomes the overarching idea of Beelzebub’s Tales, I would give myself (and others) the absurd impression that Mr. Gurdjieff’s writings are all about having a good diet, avoiding bad restaurants, not eating canned foods, etc., relegating Kundabuffer, abnormal conditions, and Laws to minor significance.
Or if I take the ‘flea’ of the idea of games (of very minor significance) and magnify it into an ‘elephant’, I might give the impression to myself and others that the text is all about rest, relaxation, leisure, and fun, downplaying the idea of conscious labors and intentional sufferings.
Or if I downplay the idea of meta-politics, I may give myself and others the impression that the idea of meta-politics is entirely non-existent in Beelzebub’s Tales, to the point where what was written does not destroy my own preconceived notions about politics or inform my worldview.
Mr. Gurdjieff addressed this tendency to overemphasize certain ideas, and thus underemphasizing others, in his Third Series:
“From the numerous definite facts elucidated during my recent special observations in regard to the causes of the arising of a certain specific property in the psyche of people who have become followers of my ideas, I think that it will be, for now, enough to note, by the way, that at present, for all the people existing in different countries who have in one way or another become followers of my ideas, the totality of data for their psychic functioning, which in general crystallizes in people thanks to various surrounding mechanical influences, becomes afterwards an automatically stimulating factor for the manifestation of their subjectivity, as a result of which these people during their automatically flowing associations, as well as in the times of their half-conscious exchange of opinions among themselves, are animated by the necessity of arguing with enthusiasm and persistency, creating thus a really perceived and very intensively manifested idée fixe, relating only to certain, sometimes quite insignificant information, which clears up only one particular question from the numberless questions which exclusively by their whole totality compose and elucidate the essence of my ideas.“
– Life Is Real Only Then, When “I AM”, p. 86-87
And then he goes on to enumerate how certain groups overemphasize certain ideas of his teaching over the rest, to the detriment of their development: that those who do not work are deprived of both soul and spirit; or that effective nutrition of the blood from food and air for the physical and astral bodies is most important; or that self-remembering, the laws of three and seven, or self-observation are the most important ideas.
While all of these ideas factor into the whole of Mr. Gurdjieff’s ideas, overemphasizing or underemphasizing them distorts his teaching. That is why having a principle of proportion in our exegesis is important when approaching Mr. Gurdjieff’s writings.