L’Envoi: Workbooks for the Fourth Way
I have long felt that the Work in Canada rises to the top from the selfless labour of those many unheralded and helpful men and women who make so many personal sacrifices to lead groups and conduct classes to inspire their students both old and young. In addition, I have long felt that there is a cadre of leaders, outstanding people of achievement who hold positions in public life or whose professions bring them to a wide public attention and so are therefore able to take the principles of the Work into surprising areas of expression.
Without the presence of the director Peter Brook, it is unlikely there would ever be a film called Meetings with Remarkable Men. Then there are the performers of the Gurdjieff-De Hartmann compositions, works like “Journey to Inaccessible Places,” which require considerable artistry. Let me not overlook training in the Movements themselves, as re-established by Madame de Salzmann, for gifted performers. I could go on, but I will cut to the quick. I feel that I should mention the names of three Canadians in particular who are leaders in the Work and mighty contributors to its presence.
It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that the names of these gifted three leaders are: Tom Daly, James George, and Ravi Ravindra. Most readers will remember that Tom and Jim (as he is known) no longer dwell among us, though their contributions to the world of the Work endure in the form of the films produced by the National Film Board of Canada under Tom’s direction; international diplomacy and environmentalism advocated by Jim; and contributions to science, the humanities, and religion as given expression by Ravi Ravindra, the youngest of the three leaders who is as busy as ever among us.
All the above is a wordy preface to the fact that I have long wanted to conduct an interview for this blog with Ravi (everyone I know feels free to use his first name) but I find there is really no need to do the interview at all. The reason for this is that a superb interview had already been conducted and is readily available on line. I am thinking of “A Great Soul: An Interview with Ravi Ravindra” which appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Quest, the publication of the Theosophical Society in America. The interviewer is Richard Smoley, author and philosopher par excellence. Why try to duplicate Mr. Smoley’s achievement, when he has produced an interview of quality on the level of those that appear in issue after issue of the Paris Review?
I urge readers to check that interview on the Web, and while they are on the site of the Theosophical Society in America, they should also check to see the great variety of talks and chats, classes and workshops, lectures and discussions, that the Society offers in the form of audio and video programs and presentations. Indeed, a number of them feature Ravi himself, his current presentations being “How to Find Meaning During Difficult Times” and “Science and the Search for Spirit.”
While on the web, not to be overlooked is “Curriculum Vitae of Ravi Ravindra,” which is thirty-six screens long, or thirteen pages in length if you print it out — if you can believe it! It is a model of its kind. It begins modestly enough: “Born in Patiala, India, in January, 1939, naturalized Canadian since 1972.” (Patiala is a city in the southeastern part of the Punjab in the northwestern part of India.) Indeed, for a good many years Ravi was a professor of Comparative Religion and also of professor of Physics (an noteworthy combination not often encountered) at Dalhousie University in Halifax. For a long time he conducted Work events on Pottery Lane in Halifax, but now lives at Ferguson’s Cove outside Halifax.
Readers of this blog will be most interested in learning about his wonderful and charming book called Heart Without Measure: Gurdjieff Work with Madame de Salzmann (2002). Here is the Amazon description of that short work:
“Heart Without Measure is a collection of excerpts from the journals of Ravi Ravindra, giving a glimpse of the extraordinary life and teaching of Madame Jeanne de Salzmann and the Gurdjieff work through the eyes of one of her pupils. Ravindra’s account of his meetings, letters and encounters with Madame de Salzmann is deeply intimate, yet it is not merely personal. His questions, doubts and insights are not unlike our own. In these recollections of a pupil, we hear Madame de Salzmann’s voice; the clarity of her perception and the force of her insight are evident throughout.”
It is a miniature masterpiece, which makes vivid use of vital quotations from Madame’s table talk. For good reason it has been translated into Portuguese, Spanish, French, Russian, Italian, Finnish, and Serbian. He talks about his special affection for Madame and also pays tribute to Dr. William Welch and Louise Welch with whom he was also close.
When Heart Without Measure was published, I sought him out and he agreed to be my guest at a modest Indian restaurant on Bay Street in downtown Toronto. Ravi proved to be a charming guest, for he speaks as graciously as he writes, and I found him quite able to deal with people, even nuisances. I know this to be true for the reason that the restaurant’s waitress, who was a Canadian woman in her forties and not a person of Indian background, eavesdropped on our conversations and seemed fascinated by all references to India. She would not let Ravi out of her sight. With eyes peeled on him, she interrogated the poor man: “Are you a guru?” “Were you really born in India?” “Would you teach me?” “Where can I learn?” He looked a little sheepish, accepting her questions with all the seriousness that they merited, whereas I had to struggle to suppress a smile or two. Ravi carried on like a trooper. I am sure the waitress was left with an idea or two that was new to her. She certainly left our table with a generous tip for her contribution to the Indian meal!
So Ravi is one of the leaders of the Work in Canada — and elsewhere, to be sure. Literature knows of “the bear of little brain.” That is Winnie-the-Pooh, who instead of a giant brain has a giant sense of fun. Far from being little, the brain on Ravi’s spinal stem seems to me to be enormous, and his smile and sense of fun have to be experienced to be believed, for they are apparently boundless.
“All is Krishna” is a characteristic expression that comes from the Bhagavad Gita. Cynthia Overweg quotes Ravi recalling it in her interview “All is Krishna: A Profile of Ravi Ravindra” which appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Quest magazine. In fact, he goes further and affirms, “All there is is Krishna.”
When Ravi says it, is there anyone who wants to doubt it?
16 May 2020
L’Envoi / Workbooks for the Fourth Way
This blog “Workbooks for the Fourth Way” has now reached it 40th and final entry. I have enjoyed researching and writing it, and I thank my subscribers for their interest. The blog will remain in place, should subscribers wish to bookmark it, but there is no longer any need to subscribe for updates.
Forty blogs like this one have appeared at semi-monthly intervals since Issue 1, October 2018. Each issue offered the subscriber one, two, three, or more items of news and reviews. Old and new titles of books and subjects of enduring interest were described. Special attention was purposely paid to the Canadian content of the Works discussed.
This is Issue 40, June 2020, and it is the last of the lot. I enjoyed and benefited from the work of conceiving, researching, writing, editing, and illustrating these blogs, as I enjoyed contributing columns and reviews to an earlier series curated by Sophia Wellbeloved of Cambridge, England.
Along the way, in Toronto, I benefited from the friendship and the technical assistance of my friend Bill Andersen, a talented designer and photographer with a training in art history from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He directed my wayward steps. Additional help was provided by Dr. David Gotlib of Toronto.
Through all of this my aim has been a simple one: to generate a platform to permit me and perhaps other observers “to write about the Work” from a popular perspective that happens to be mainly Canadian. If I strayed from the stated path, it has been to write about other oral and wisdom traditions that also influenced followers of the Work. My hope has always been that the individual blogs would then make their way to the Web for ease of reference, and to some extent this has already happened.
I hope what shines through is a respect for the serious nature of the Work, as well as the desire to share such background knowledge and foreground information that has come my way, especially about the basic texts — the “workbooks.”
In the mean time, it has been a lot of work — some of it indeed Work!
John Robert Colombo, 16 May 2020