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
Here, Gurdjieff advises the American pupils—formerly under the tutelage of Mr. Orage—to cease reading magazine and newspapers for three months and instead to become well acquainted with Beelzebub’s Tales. Perhaps the modern equivalent, since few people today read physical newspapers or magazines, would be to stop watching television and videos, listening to news radio and podcasts, engaging social media, or aimlessly browsing the web, and instead spending that time acquainting oneself with the first series of Mr. Gurdjieff’s writings. Considering only the length and not necessarily grasping the content, in taking this approach, the reader would need to read and acquaint themselves with the book at a pace of about 14 pages per day. This can be accomplished at a slower pace of 4 pages over a year.
So we have read in Gurdjieff’s own words that reading Beelzebub’s Tales is a categorical necessity. But why? Mr. Gurdjieff does not leave us without reasons:
“An acquaintance with the contents of these books is quite indispensable for each of you, chiefly in order to obtain directly or indirectly information elucidated from all sides regarding all those definite notions upon which will be based and from which will logically derive all the problems which are pursued for practical attainments. “ 2
Let’s break this passage down.
“An acquaintance with the contents of these books is quite indispensable for each of you…”
In other words, familiarizing oneself with Beelzebub’s Tales is absolutely necessary. Why?
“… chiefly in order to obtain directly or indirectly information elucidated from all sides regarding all those definite notions…”
So, the reason for doing this is mainly to get clear, all-around information about certain ideas. As an aside, some take Gurdjieff’s aim for the first series as purely destructive and that no ideas can be derived from it. Besides the absurd literalness of this, here Mr. Gurdjieff has informed us otherwise.
Next, what is the purpose of obtaining this information?
“… upon which will be based and from which will logically derive…”
These ideas will serve as a foundation and a logical source. For what?
“… all the problems which are pursued for practical attainments.”
What problems? The book does not have the subtitle “An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man” for no reason. Within the text, man’s life (and therefore your own life), individually and collectively, will be criticized impartially. There is something wrong with us and our way of life and solving these problems are worth pursuing and attaining, not as an intellectual exercise, but practically.
“It was just for this purpose that your group was organized and is now reorganized to consist of people who have more or less cognized the absurdity of our ordinary life and who, although you have not yet sensed it with all your Being but are seriously striving to take in what you have cognized, are continuing to learn as many aspects of the objective truth as possible so as to determine, in accordance with this, your own real individuality, in order to manifest afterwards in everything in a way corresponding to a Godlike creature.” 3
Before approaching this work, one must to a certain extent be aware of the absurdity of ordinary life. If one is still thinking life on planet Earth is normal, this work may not be for them. Or they may not yet have a deep sense of its absurdity, but they are serious about taking persistent initiative to deepen their sense of this absurdity.
And in this, they are also continuing to learn many aspects of objective truth. Why? To determine their own real individuality. Real individuality is a topic worth exploring beyond this brief article (for example, in chapter 48 of the first series), but clearly it is something that one does not innately possess and is worth striving after, since, lacking it, one does not manifest “in a way corresponding to a Godlike creature” and is the cause of the absurdity of ordinary life.
1 Third Series, p. 103.
2 ibid., p. 103.
3 ibid., p. 103.