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:
RZ: I asked you last Thursday if there exists a means for developing attention. You told me that attention was in proportion to self-remembering. You told me to look particularly within myself. I ask you this especially because I was not able to put my attention on the reading of Beelzebub. I understood in the course of this week that the attention is the ‘I’. So many different ‘me’s; so many different attentions. I would like to ask you if there are special means to develop the attention other than those for developing the ‘I am’.
GURDJIEFF: I can tell you one thing: the means do not exist. I don’t know any. But today I want to explain everything simply. For example, in Beelzebub I know that there is everything that needs to be known. It’s a very interesting book. Everything is there: everything that exists, everything that has existed and everything that can exist. The beginning, the end, all the secrets of creation of the world— it is all there. But it must be understood and understanding depends on the individual. The more a man has been instructed in a certain way, the more he understands.
Objectively, each one can understand according to his level, because this is an objective book, and everyone ought to understand something in it. One person will understand only one part in it and another a thousand times more. Now, find the means to place your attention on all of Beelzebub in order to understand it. This will be your task, and it is a good way to maintain real attention. If you can put real attention on Beelzebub, you will be able to have real attention in life.
You did not know this secret. In Beelzebub there is everything. I have said that before—even how to make an omelet. Among other things, this is also explained; and at the same time, there is not a word in Beelzebub about cooking. So, put your attention on the reading of Beelzebub, a different attention from the one you are used to, and you will be able to have the same attention in life. 1
If you have attempted to read Beelzebub’s Tales, you will know that it contains very, very long thoughts. The first sentence of the first chapter is 122 words long. The entire book is 1238 pages long. Neologisms mentioned in one chapter are defined in another chapter. There are questions raised that are not answered until hundreds of pages later.
The quality of attention required to grasp these long thoughts is not the kind we are accustomed to using in ordinary life. The reading of Beelzebub’s Tales is an exercise to develop real attention. And this development is not for its own sake—it is for the purpose of understanding.
This is not intended to be a solo venture. Mr. Gurdjieff tells the pupil: “The more a man has been instructed in a certain way, the more he understands”. Understanding depends on instruction, and instruction depends on instructors and schools of the Work.
1 Paris Meetings 1943, p. 233-4.