“Gurdjieff International Review”
“Two Gifford Lectures”
Gurdjieff International Review
I am curious by nature and I find I am always asking questions of other people. In fact, I am so curious at times that I feel that this manifestation of my personality is my chief fault, especially when the habit quickly morphs into inquisitiveness pure and simple. I have learned that most people enjoy being asked a question or two, especially leading questions that are easily answered, if only because men and women enjoy sharing information about themselves, about their work and interesets, or about what they know or have achieved, especially if it puts them in a position of prestige or power. Yet there are other people who find that being asked questions – and having to answer them – puts them on the defensive, as if they are being grilled, interrogated, or tested to provide “the right answers.”
All this is a preamble to my interest in the presence on the Web of the Gurdjieff International Review. So let me begin at the beginning. The contents of all the back issues of this publication are freely available to one and all on the Web, along with subscription information. There is also a long run of the print issues of this publication in my personal library, but at some point I allowed my subscription to lapse. This was about the time when it became apparent that the publisher was making its contents available at no cost online or at least on the Web. Such is human nature!
On February 20, 2019, I took the bull by the horns and drafted and emailed the text of the following letter to the publisher of the “GIR” (as it is informally known) using the publisher’s name and email address as it appears on the Web. My letter began with a question directed to its editor and publisher, whose name is Gregory M. Loy, though here he refers to himself informally as “Greg.” Here is what I wrote.
From: email@example.com < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Sent: Wednesday, February 20, 2019 8:15 AM
To: Greg Loy < email@example.com >
Subject: Request for biographical particulars
Dear Mr. Loy:
I have long admired the Gurdjieff International Review and value my incomplete run of back issues. I frequently consult them as well as the texts of the issues on the Web – this is a real courtesy to serious students.
I am curious about you, as I know nothing about you, I know no one who does know you, and I wonder if you would be willing to send me some biographical particulars for publication – innocuous particulars like where born, where reside, principal occupation, plans for the future of the “GIR,” etc.
I would like to share this information with readers of my new blog, Workbooks for the Fourth Way, which consists of my own reviews and articles, etc., about relevant books old and new. These postings are appearing monthly (sometimes semi-monthly) and are being sent out at no cost or obligation (with a convenient unsubscribe button!).
The blog is described on the Net and is noted on the first screen of my website, < www.colombo.ca >. The first book that was reviewed on the blog was the first review of Gurdjieff Reconsidered to appear anywhere . It is 4,000 words in length, and its author Roger Lipsey wrote to me to offer thanks for the first comprehensive and serious review.
Whatever bio information that you send to me will be used to introduce an article that I propose to write devoted to a descriptive summary of your achievements with “GIR” based on a rereading and summary of selected articles.
Way back in the late 1950s, I spent two years in the Work under Mrs. Welch in Toronto. Over a ten-year period, I contributed about eighty reviews of current books to Sophia Wellbeloved’s postings from Cambridge, England. Although the site – < gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/ > – has since been closed, the contents remain accessible and searchable on the Web. Although I have yet to meet him, Paul Beekman Taylor asked me to contribute the Foreword to Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff, which I was honoured to do.
Finally, allow me to acknowledge the importance of the work that you are doing –
With those words and that dash, I ended the email, which is a roundabout way of asking a question that the recipient may answer as he or she wishes. I have found that many queries of this sort go unanswered, presumably being lost in the email delivery system, or reaching people too busy to take the time to answer them. But in this instance, I am pleased to say, the recipient answered right away, that is a day latter, and in a friendly fashion. (Thank you!) What follows is the editor-publisher’s reply.
I am a member of Mr. Nyland’s group in the San Francisco Bay Area. I started the GIR in the mid-1990’s. This was a time when the internet was just getting started and the only websites about Gurdjieff were of a dubious character. So I decided to start a website that just presented some simple facts about Mr. Gurdjieff and his teaching. It has grown since then. One of my aims in doing so was to help create something independent of any one group. I plan to continue with the GIR over the next few years.
I am the founder and President of a high-tech company in Sunnyvale, California. I was born on a Navy base in Illinois.
Thank you for your inquiry and good luck in your very respectful endeavors.
As is often the case, answers to my queries appeased my immediate curiosity. Then, never quite satisfied, it began to itch for further particulars, so I privately formulated other questions to ask, questions such as these: what year was the editor-publisher born, what is his educational background, what influenced him to launch “GIR,” how many “hits” does the site receive in a month, how many print copies are sold of each issue, has the site any connection with any foundation, institute, or society, what is its likely future, what is the name of the “high-tech company,” etc. However, being a considerate person, I decided to leave well-enough alone and not test Greg’s patience further – though it seems we are now on a first-name basis! – as he had answered my main questions, the ones I had asked.
Because of one man’s vision and motivation, students of the Work as well as curious onlookers like myself, have the benefit of Greg’s vision and labours, for I regard the work that he has accomplished since Fall 1997 to be of genuine use and importance to everyone with a curiosity about the Work and a computer with Web access. His own work focuses on people, especially those men and women who value the Work and keep its presence a vital matter in the public sector.
All the information that appears hereafter is derived from the Web presence of “GIR.” The home site is < http://www.gurdjieff.org >. It is copyrighted by the Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing. The languages of the website are English, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Turkish. Here is how the editor succinctly greets the reader:
“Welcome to the Gurdjieff International Review – a source of informed essays and commentary on the life, writings, and teachings of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff. Mr. Gurdjieff was an extraordinary man, a master in the truest sense. His teachings speak to our most essential questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life, and of human life in particular? As a young man, Gurdjieff relentlessly pursued these questions and became convinced that practical answers lay within ancient traditions. Through many years of searching and practice he discovered answers and then set about putting what he had learned into a form understandable to the Western world.”
“Gurdjieff maintained that, owing to the abnormal conditions of modern life, we no longer function in a harmonious way. He taught that in order to become harmonious, we must develop new faculties – or actualize latent potentialities – through “work on oneself.” He presented his teachings and ideas in three forms: writings, music, and movements which correspond to our intellect, emotions, and physical body. Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing is a nonprofit corporation established to conduct research, publish, and disseminate educational material to the public on the ideas and teaching of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff.
Back issues are kept in print and are available in a durable and attractive “printed magazine format” (8 inches x 11 inches on stiff white stock) often 28 pages apiece stapled. They can be ordered through selected outlets identified on the site’s Online Store. Currently there are three authorized outlets: By The Way Books, Fields Books, and Gurdjieff Books and Music, each with its own website.
The contents of the issues that may be read (sometimes in part, sometimes as a whole) on the website itself and are printable. There are 22 issues available from Fall 1997 through Spring 2019. These constitute an immense number of essays rich in detailed biographical, historical, anecdotal, and critical information. By “critical” I mean that it reaches a critical standard of inquiry, with long and accurate reprints from recognized sources, many of them out-of-the-way sources. Overall it is a valuable resource and a remarkable achievement for one person (who may, for all I know, have the benefit of assistance from helpers along the way).
The publication first saw life as a quarterly with Vol. I, No. 1, Fall 1997, then three years later it became a semi-annual, and finally it began to appear irregularly. The current issue if Winter 2018/2019 Issue, Vol. XIII, No. 1, and an annual publication. In a way, each issue, with its theme and variations, reminds me of Paul Beekman Taylor’s valuable book Gurdjieff in the Public Eye 1914-1949 (Eureka Editions, 2011) which reprints news stories that appeared in the popular press about Mr. G., the “forest philosophers,” et al., during the latter’s lifetime. Yet the themes of the issues of “GIR” are clearly defined and concisely and expertly documented. Each issue is a model of its kind, a sign of concentrated work of a high order.
The interconnectedness of the twenty-two issues is shown by the fact that the current issue mentioned above (Winter 2018/2019) was clearly inspired by an issue that appeared earlier, eighteen years earlier to be precise. The earlier issue of April 2000 is titled “In Memoriam: Some Pupils of Gurdjieff” and it offers short biographies of a number of influential pupils and group leaders like Jean Heap and William and Louise Welch.
Nineteen years separate the first part and the second part. The current issue examines the lives and works of eighteen other “Pupils of Gurdjieff,” including Jacques and Alfred Etievant, Paul Reynard, and Ilonka Nyland. Given enough time, all the featured performers and all the character actors will be caught in Greg’s net … and hence on the Net.
In all, I counted the number of entries in these 22 issues, and I find that in print and sometimes on line are 288 separate “takes” on aspects of the Work and its personalities between the years 1915 and 2019. I found that these comprise independent yet interpenetrating descriptions of forms and facets of the endeavour.
Let me compare and contrast the first issue and the current issue (Fall 1997 and Winter 2018/2019). Here is what appears in the premiere issue:
1. Editorial. (Signed by J. Walter Driscoll, the leading bibliographer of the Work and Greg Loy, it briefly discusses the “whims” of A.R. Orage, G.I. Gurdjieff, and the editors.) 2. Gurdjieff’s Institute. (A teaser for the prospectus for the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.) 3. Gurdjieff’s Sayings. (These were originally collected by Kenneth Walker.) 4. J.G. Bennett. (A reminiscence of an “unknown teacher.”) 5. Gurdjieff Chronology. (The details are based on the work of James Moore.) 6. Gurdjieff as an Original Thinker. (Based on Driscoll and George Baker’s biography of the man.) 7. Lord Pentland. (The man and the writings examined by Driscoll.) 8. Concluding Notes. (Information about the publication.) 9. Finally, there is a very informative table of contents, in the same vein as the one that appears in the current issue (Winter 2018/2019) which is devoted to essays on some followers:
1. Introduction. Ellen Reynard on the individual voices of the followers (with their biographers). 2. Jeanne de Salzmann (Pamela Travers). 3. Alexandre de Salzmann (Basarab Nicolescu). 4. Light, Lighting and Illumination (Alexandre de Salzmann). 5. Sophie Ouspensky (Irmis Popoff). 6. Jessmin Howarth (Sally Ravindra). 7. Olgivanna Wright (Maxine Fawcett-Yeske & Bruce V. Pfeiffer). 8. A Specially Prepared Feast (Diana Faidy). 9. Nathalie de Salzmann de Etievan (Isabel Portas). 10. Jacques Etievan (Anne-Marie Grant). 11. Annette Herter (Larry Rosenthal). 12 Alfred Etievan (Ellen Reynard, Fredrica Parlett, & Patty de Llosa). 13. Margaret (Peggy) Flinsch (Caty Laignel). 14. Cynthia Pearce (James Ehlers). 15. Tom Forman (Mary Rothschild). 16. Paul Reynard (Bill Jordan). About this publication. (Editorial note). These comprise a veritable who’s who of the Work.
I would be remiss if I did not single out excerpts that I reread with considerable pleasure while preparing this description of the Gurdjieff International Review. Since this review article is already quite long, I will limit myself to two texts from the twenty-two issues, a pot-pourri of unintended illuminations! The two are quite different and show the editor’s openness to experiences of all sorts.
“Eight Silver Dollars” by Patty de Llosa appears in the Fall 2005 issue and tells the remarkable insights that accompanied the gift given by Gurdjieff to a youngster in New York City who quickly learned a lesson of value. “In Search of Peradams” is not at all mysterious or even instructive, yet it consists of descriptions of a handful of irregular experiences recalled by regular people (not necessarily group people) that are … peradams. The text appears in Summer 1999 (and for the meaning of “peradams,” check René Daumal or Google).
23-24 Feb. 2019
Two Gifford Lectures
A comparison and contrast of lectures delivered eighty-four years apart by William James (1842-1910) and Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
It is safe to say that the Gifford Lectureships are the outstanding series of lectures in their field of study, but it is also safe to say that their field of study is hardly the pre-eminent one that it once was. The series was established by Adam Lord Gifford, a leading jurist in Scotland, with a bequest to four universities to co-sponsor a lecture series to “promote and diffuse the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term – in other words, the knowledge of God.” The lectures have been delivered annually since 1888, with the exception of years during the Second World War. The four universities are those of Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews, and Aberdeen.
Many significant books of science and the humanities, including theology, have been based on the texts of these lectures. Recent lectures have been broadcast in part on YouTube. For some time now the Gifford website has been sponsored by the Templeton Fund which tries its level best (without notable success) to reconcile religion and science by directing some of its vast wealth to the men and women and movements who or which try to do so.
The Gifford lecturers are recognized to be the pre-eminent thinkers in their respective fields. The list of the 120 or so speakers includes “household names,” and proof of this is that so many of the speakers are recognized by their last names alone: Arendt, Bohr, Dewey, Frazer, Gilson, Heisenberg, von Hügel, Müller, Muroch, Niebuhr, Schweitzer, Tillich, Watson, Whitehead, etc.
In that list of “last names,” I did not include William James because William James, the philosopher who was a Gifford lecturer, might be confused with his brother Henry James, the who was not. Nor did I include in the high-recognition category the name Sagan, which identifies the celebrated planetary astronomer and author Carl Sagan. (I will compare and contrast their contributions in due course.)
It is of passing interest to note that two distinguished Canadian philosophers have lately addressed thee Scottish university audiences: Patricia Churchland in 2009 and Charles Taylor in 2010. Churchland is a noted “neurophilosopher” and Taylor is a “communitarian critic” of the modern-day project of liberalism and secularism. I lack the competence to assess Churchland’s many contributions to the nexus of neurology and philosophy, but I find Taylor’s critique of “the secular age” to be largely beside the point.
It is of more-than-passing interest to compare and contrast the Gifford Lectures of William James and Carl Sagan. James delivered his series of talks in 1900-02 in Edinburgh; Sagan delivered his series in Glasgow in 1985. Thus they were heard eighty years apart. The title that James gave his series of lectures is so memorable that once heard it is never forgotten. He called it Varieties of Religious Experience. The memorably titled book, a classic in its field, was published in 1902, eight years before his death. The Harvard philosopher and psychologist was a brilliant thinker, a gifted writer, and the founder of the theory of Pragmatism. As well he was the systematizer of his chosen field with Principles of Psychology published in 1890.
Carl Sagan bears a famous name for his contributions to the popularization of science, especially astronomy and cosmology, which were featured in his thirteen-part, television series Cosmos in 1980. As well as a distinguished astrophysicist, he served as director of Cornell University’s Laboratory for Planetary Studies. In due course Sagan became the leading spokesperson for “sceptical inquiry.”
His Gifford talks were titled “The Search for Who We Are” but the series was not published under that title but as Varieties of Scientific Experience. Note the substitution of the word “scientific” for the word “religious.” These Gifford lectures were delivered in 1985, Sagan died in 1996, and the book appeared in 2006. The editing, the publication, and perhaps the titling were undertaken by Ann Druyan, the author’s widow and a talented writer and presenter in her own right. In many ways the title is quite appropriate, for it recalls the earlier title of James’s book and it strikes the non-scientific reader that it would be regarded as an updated version of James’s argument, a revisioning of what is essentially a religious-scientific discussion.
James was a psychologist through and through, Sagan an astrophysicist through and through. James peered into the human soul (that is, the innermost nature of man) to find the rationale for the “religious experience.” To accomplish the same end, Sagan peered into the heavens (in the sense of the planets and the galaxies) to find the fundament of the “scientific experience.” One professor explored the depths of man, the other professor the heights of creation. James was a materialist for whom ideas mattered, and the same may be said of Sagan. The fabled “sense of wonder” was common to both men, and they conveyed its excitement when they expatiated on the surprises found in their subjects. James’s book is subtitled A Study in Human Nature. Sagan’s book is subtitled A Personal View of the Search for God in the same way that his television series Cosmos was subtitled A Personal Voyage. What the dual approaches to the mysteries of man’s nature and the nature of the universe have in common is the study of the mind of man.
Much changed in the Western world and its human values between the year 1900 when James delivered his lectures and the year 1985 when Sagan addressed his audience. The term “Natural Theology” fell out of favour and so did the unthinking respect that intellectuals paid to partisan proponents of biblical scholarship. Sagan began his lecture on “The God Hypothesis” with these words: “The Gifford Lectures are supposed to be on the topic of natural theology. Natural theology has long been understood to mean theological knowledge that can be established by reason and experience and experiment alone. Not by revelation, not by mystical experience, but by reason. And this is, in the long, historical sweep of the human species, a reasonably novel view.”
Sagan found this view laudable, but only up to a point. Thereupon he dismissed all the traditional arguments for the existence of God (or gods) and substituted for them arguments found in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and Darwin’s natural selection, arguments that account for man’s continued and unthinking belief in a hierarchy of unseen deities or dimensions. He did this in a lecture or chapter titled “The God Hypothesis.”
In the early years of the Twentieth Century, psychologists tackled the problems posed by psychical research and this would have delighted James who, after all, had served as president of both the British and the American Societies for Psychical Research. What had been regarded as the study of “abnormal psychological states” came to be considered the study of “anomalous experiences.” One of the most impressive books in the field of psychical research and parapsychological studies is a posthumously published collection of James’s occasional papers on the subject, both abstract and anecdotal, titled William James on Psychical Research, edited by the psychologist Gardner Murphy and the compiler Robert Ballou. James felt that there were “unknowns” in the field, but that they may be destined to remain “forever unknown.”
It is hard to affirm that there has been any progress in the field of Religious Studies (called Comparative Religion or History of Religion) over the last century, certainly none compared with the advances made in science, notably in physics and astronomy. The physicist’s description of the sub-atomic world went hand-in-hand with the astronomer’s discovery of the expanding universe. James was willing to give spirit-mediums a try, being impressed with the performances of a Mrs. Piper. Sagan dismissed such performances out of hand, instancing the childish and undirected nature of spirit-communication.
In the wake of the Second World War, the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence began to be considered seriously by scientists like Sagan and his colleague Frank Drake (of the famous Drake Equation which quantifies the variables connected with the possible existence right now of other technological civilizations elsewhere in the universe). During the Cold War, Sagan took a leading position in opposition to the Strategic Defence Initiative (Star Wars) and he discussed in harrowing terms the possibility of Nuclear Winter and the extinction of human life on Earth (with the continued existence of some forms of cockroaches and sulphur-eating worms at the bottom of the seas – a fate that casts in the shade the Christian fundamentalists’ Armageddon). All these matters are discussed by Sagan. James would have known about none of this and might well have been horrified by the way societies were behaving in the second half of the Twentieth Century.
“Forever unknown” was not the position taken by Sagan. For a scientist with both speculative and operative capability, he was surprisingly open to dissident theories and wrote remarkable essays, in Broca’s Brain and elsewhere, that examined the fantasies of Velikovsky and the fancies of ufologists. He appreciated the hold that such ideas have on all of us who live on this “pale blue dot” in our “demon-haunted world.” He had little time for spiritualists and self-styled psychics, claiming that spirit-mediums always assured him that “love is important” and never offered proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem!
James delivered twenty lectures which examined the “religious sentiment,” both personal and institutional, in which he introduced the useful division of mankind into those people who are “once-born” and those who are “twice-born.” The former group accepts things as simple; the latter group regards things as complex. He considered sickness and health with respect to optimism and pessimism of the spirit, the notion of conversion, the ideal of saintliness and its uses, the nature of mysticism, the roles played with respect to religion by philosophy and theology, the characteristics of subconsciousness and higher consciousness … I could go on.
In the twentieth lecture, as well as in the unexpectedly personal Postscript, James offered the reader, if not a “summing up” then a “personal take” on the subject. For instance, he wrote about the scale of the natural world and the universe: “What we think of may be enormous – the cosmic times and spaces, for example – whereas the inner state may be the most fugitive and paltry activity of mind. Yet the cosmic objects, so far as the experience yields them, are but ideal pictures of something whose existence we do not inwardly possess but only point at outwardly, while the inner state is our very experience itself; its reality and that of our experience are one.”
In another instance, he wrote about consciously mediating thought and experience: “A conscious field PLUS its object as felt or thought of PLUS an attitude towards the object PLUS the sense of a self to whom the attitude belongs – such a concrete bit of personal experience may be a small bit, but it is solid bit as long as it lasts; not hollow, not a mere abstract element of experience, such as the “object” is when taken all alone. It is a FULL fact, even though it be an insignificant fact ….”
James concluded with a distinction between “under-belief’ and “over-belief,” whereby thoughtful people either minimized or maximized the relevance and importance of their own opinions and sentiments. He then shared with the reader his own “over-belief”: “The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our lives also; and that although in the main their experiences and those of this world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous at certain points, and higher energies filter in. By being faithful in my own poor measure to this over-belief, I seem to myself to keep more sane and true.”
James justified his optimism and his “over-belief’ on the basis that it kept him “more sane and true.” He even named it “the faith-state.” I found myself wondering if Carl Sagan would recognize the claim. After reading Varieties of Scientific Experience, I came to the conclusion that Sagan would never have embraced the notion of “over-belief’ or “the faith-state.” Instead, he would have espoused the spirit of sceptical, rational, and scientific inquiry. He was assuredly responsive to the spell of mystery and the allure of the unknown, but he staked his claim on the scientific endeavour which is self-correcting and self-affirming.
In his eyes, the sciences and especially the exploration of interplanetary and intergalactic space are stepping-stones towards the goal of the “deprovincializing” of the world’s population through sharing the insights of the biologist into changes over time and the visions of the astronomer across the immensity of space. He does not discuss “worlds of consciousness” but he does find other worlds – in our solar system, our galaxy, and our cosmos. Civilizations vastly in advance of our own may offer mankind precious knowledge, “god-like” levels of knowledge. If such civilizations do not exist (we the living are unlikely ever to know) the human race is all the more precious for its uniqueness. Sagan’s universe is humbling and ennobling: Earth may be a “pale blue dot,” but it is one of “billions and billions” of such dots in the cosmos – an astonishing vision to contrast with James’s probing but humbling question, “What is human life’s chief concern?” If Sagan asked a question it would be, “What is the point of the cosmos?”
To bring to an end this comparison and contrast of the twin approaches to religion and science, disciplines that share so much because both have a human origin, I assumed I would seek out and quote parallel passages from each speaker’s lecture. But the passages did not come so readily to hand and there is no real need of them. Instead, I will conclude with a recollection of the insightful words of Sigmund Freud. The words comprise the last two sentences of the psychoanalyst’s provocative study of religion called The Future of an Illusion. Here are those sentences:
“No, our science is no illusion. But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.”
7 May 201