The Teachings of Gurdjieff by Charles S. Nott is the account of a quest, and the early years Nott spent with Gurdjieff, Orage and his other followers. Nott first met Gurdjieff, and his senior pupil A.R. Orage, in 1924.
Nott was a young English World War 1 veteran and literary intellectual living in New York. He had always felt spiritually dissatisfied and restless. He had travelled the world in both hemispheres, learning from the cultures of East and West, yet this had brought him no satisfaction.
When he heard and saw Gurdjieff’s teachings and work in action, he realised that it would fulfil his longings. The stated aim was the more ‘Harmonious development of Man’.
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G.I. Gurdjieff was one of the most enigmatic psychological/spiritual teachers of the twentieth century. Known mainly through his writings, especially Beezlebub’s Tales to his Grandson and Meetings With Remarkable Men, he has continued to influence spiritual seekers to the present.
C.S. Nott first met Gurdjieff and his senior pupil A.R. Orage in 1924. Nott was a young English World War 1 veteran and literary intellectual living in New York. He had always felt spiritually dissatisfied and restless. He had travelled the world in both hemispheres, learning from the cultures of East and West, yet this had brought him no satisfaction. When he heard and saw Gurdjieff’s teachings and work in action, he realised that it would fulfil his longings. The stated aim was the more ‘Harmonious development of Man’.
This is the account of a quest, and the early years Nott spent with Gurdjieff, Orage and his other followers. Nott was in New York when Gurdjieff first introduced his ‘method’ to the West. He travelled to France and became a pupil at Gurdjieff’s Chateau du Prieuré. His contact with Gurdjieff continued until Gurdjieff’s death in 1949.
Nott was an orderly, almost obsessive diarist and keeper of notes, journals and lists. From this collection comes a coherent recording of his own quest as well as a great insight into Gurdjieff, both the teacher and the man.
We also get to look into the world of the senior pupils and collaborators such as A.R. Orage and Thomas de Hartmann.
The book is divided into two broad sections: First is the author’s personal history prior to the Gurdjieff years, his initial contact in New York and the years of his work at Prieuré. Second is an edited account of Orage’s commentary on Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson.
In the first section we are given Nott’s personal account. The author, now best known as a senior pupil, was not always in the inner circle. His style in this work is honest, rational and illuminating. The reader feels the struggle that Nott underwent. From his restless wanderings in his youth, to his equally restless yearning as a young adult, we follow through to his initial contact with the Gurdjieff ‘work’.
He conveys the excitement he felt when witnessing the initial New York demonstrations and his enthusiasm for this work. Also conveyed is a sense of frustration in that his excitement was not matched within his circle of young intellectuals. To read this journal is to sense that it was inevitable that Nott would go to Chateau du Prieuré and begin his life work.
The author does not spare himself in this journal. He describes his doubts and frequent frustration during his stays at Prieuré. The gradual change in his attitude toward tasks and trials is finely detailed.
Embedded within is the charismatic figure of Gurdjieff alternately berating, urging, demanding and cajoling. His unorthodox way of teaching is laid out here for all to see. The friction which he produced among his pupils eventually led to something quite different – a greater harmony.
Seamlessly edited, this journal is able to bring to light the author’s movement from disenchanted young man to the mature and objective individual that he became.
For those who are unfamiliar with Gurdjieff’s work, the second part of this book is invaluable. It is Orage’s commentary on Beelzebub. Despite the unusual neologisms in this, it is a concise overview of Gurdjieff’s work. This is a wonderful introduction to the ‘method’ and the ‘work’.
As when reading the full Beelzebub, certain resistance and annoyances may arise, the inner person rebels at certain statements and concepts. I found the way to absorb these teachings was to put the book down, go elsewhere, think about it and come back a little later. Of course, this is my way, and may not be the same for all.
Even in its edited form, this is a mind and body work that is completely emotionally-challenging. It will whet the appetite for the whole corpus in those who are ready for it. Personally, I was moved to purchase the music of Gurdjieff/de Hartmann, albeit fiendishly hard-to-get.
This work is a valuable one in several ways. It is an objective account by one of Gurdjieff’s earliest young followers, who kept detailed journals and diaries. It follows his personal growth through the work and the method. It is also an insight into Gurdjieff himself, his family, senior pupils and his method. Nothing is whitewashed here.
Orage’s commentary on Beelzebub is a first rate introduction to the teachings by one of Gurdjieff’s closest pupils and friends. He, along with other pupils, rendered the teacher’s sometimes obscure ideas into readable English.
I would recommend this book as an introduction. It may not always be a comfortable read, but hey, that is Gurdjieff!
– Reviewed by Jennifer Hoskins in New Dawn No. 88
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