Dhiren reflects on present Sannyas Parrallels to the world of Gurdjieff
(This article appears with permission of the author, and first appeared in Viha Connection)
Just recently I was in New York, and I spent an afternoon with one of the last remaining people who was close to Gurdjieff and who is still very active in the Gurdjieff world. We talked about many things, but mostly her stories were a reminder of how very, very hard it is to stay around after a beloved Master has died, how easy it is to lose sight of the very reasons we go to a Master in the first place, and how quickly an organization that is set up to preserve his (or her) vision can lose integrity.
We also talked about wannabe gurus and teacher-imitators who tend to emerge after a Master’s death, claiming that they are the only ones truly doing the Master’s work or even that they are “taking it to a new level.”
“Some people come to a Master wanting to learn to be one, rather than how to master themselves,” was one comment of hers I found rather poignant.
Another juicy issue we discussed was the Gurdjieff Movements and the real reservations she had about how they had been “appropriated” (wrongly) by sannyasins. More on that in a moment …
By the time I met Rina Hands, my Gurdjieff teacher, her Master had been dead for over 25 years and the signs of institutional arthritis in the Gurdjieff organization were already apparent. Luckily, she had a down-to-earth attitude and a good sense of wry humour about the politics, the infighting, and the competitiveness that had inevitably manifested after her Master had died. (James Moore, Gurdjieff’s biographer, recalls her as “the picture of abrasive non-conformism.”)
Rina had cooked for Mr. Gurdjieff and spent every available minute with him in the last period of his life in Paris. (She writes beautifully of her experiences in her book Diary of Madame Egout Pour Sweet.) Somehow, through luck and a bit of determination, I had got to meet her in her flat in Paddington, and was invited to join her group. She was quite an amazing woman. James Moore describes her affectionately as the “silliest wise-woman I ever knew.”
I first came into contact with the “Movements” in late 1976. I already had six months of experience in Rina’s London group behind me, doggedly following the protocol of the Gurdjieff work, when I traveled north to the wilds of the Yorkshire moors. It was here that Rina’s Bradford and London groups gathered sometimes for seven-day intensives – this was my first time. On arrival at an old farmhouse out on the moors, I was finally allowed to see the oldies from her groups doing the Gurdjieff Movements. I stood transfixed, with tears in my eyes and a strange longing rolling through me, as the powerful impressions of the “Hoo-yah!” dervish movement did their work.
Two days later I stood, along with 40 others, in a bright converted barn at about 3 am. A howling storm was lashing the barn as the intense piano music started up once more, adding to the drama. Rooted to the spot, I realized that I had yet again failed to complete my part of the complex Gurdjieff movement we had been practicing. Rina’s voice boomed out that we were all moving mechanically, with not a jot of self-remembering. She cajoled and reminded us of how very far we were from what she had experienced with Mr. Gurdjieff. Ruthless and commanding, Rina refused to even let the kitchen shift go to work until we got it right, and I felt sickeningly responsible. Visions of holes in the ground mercifully swallowing me up failed to materialize … and the strange thing was, I was loving every minute of it!
About two years and some decisive adventures later, I went to see Rina privately and told her that I had decided to go to India, to be with Osho. To my amazement she gave me her blessings. “Yes, of course you must go!” she said, as she hugged me good-bye. As I left her flat, its kitchen reminding me of the photos of Gurdjieff’s famous kitchen in Paris, I noticed a copy of ‘Until you Die’, Osho’s discourses on Sufi stories, on her desk. On reflection, I see that my time with her was an amazing preparation for life around Osho.
So back to our discussion in New York … It was animated and full of stories. The old lady had also been in Paris with Mr. G, and was delighted that I had known Rina. It was a bit of a blast from the past, and since then I’ve been thinking a lot about the strange parallels between Osho and Gurdjieff, between their respective Foundations, and especially about the dilemmas that face their disciples now.
I suspect that many Gurdjieffians have both a guarded respect for Osho, and also a deep distrust and prejudice about the nature of some of His many references to Gurdjieff. Apparently, some of the older Gurdjieffians are very wary of the sannyasin teachers of the Movements, who they see as impostors. An old video of the Gurdjieff Movements performed in Buddha Hall, for example, is seen as a travesty and a sham, merely a performance lacking any substance.
What they probably don’t know (because all the public copies of the videos in Pune have been, for unknown reasons, heavily edited) is that each of those demonstrations in Buddha Hall was punctuated by readings from Gurdjieff’s works, including the same introductions to the demonstrations that used to be made in his presence. Sometimes quotes from Osho and a few Sufi poems were offered too, but always along with explanations of the Movements that gave them a context, and always with a reminder that the evening was not intended to be a performance.
I know those readings quite well, since for most of the demonstrations in Buddha Hall it was my role to select and read them. I loved doing this, of course, being briefly in the spotlight but without being the main event. I was responsible for delivering the readings between the dances to a packed hall. I guess I was slyly paying homage to both Masters. Self-remembering was wonderfully vivid!
On the other hand, sannyasins often seem to think that the Gurdjieff people are all over-serious and fanatic. Many also romanticize Gurdjieff, get obsessive about the Enneagram, and treat the Movements as merely a thing of beauty. But I have found most of the Gurdjieffians I have met to be welcoming, sincere people, and I felt very privileged to be in “the work” – doing exercises, meditations, movements, meetings, readings. exercises, even a public performance of a play. And then there were the meals and the peppered vodka! (Rina knew the recipes from some of Mr. G’s famous feasts, which used to precede the famous “toasts to the idiots.”)
Many spiritual/religious people, according to Osho, have a talent for making mountains out of molehills, and are hard to please when it comes to “purity” or “authenticity.” Gurdjieffians have this especially around the Movements. Yet I remember hearing Rina talking about the movie, ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’ before it came out, saying that they “had got many of the movement sequences wrong, and anyway, they’re useless without the knowledge gained from ‘the work.”’
However, in my view, the Pune Movements demonstrations were not such a travesty; they reflected at least the spirit of the Work as I had known it. Osho often used the Zen metaphor of not biting the finger pointing to the moon, and this fits with Mr. Gurdjieff’s statement that “here work is not for work’s sake, but is only a means.” How will we remember the ends that the means are supposed to be serving if all the energy goes into squabbling over those very same means?
It is quite a puzzle: On the one hand Mme. De Salzmann herself worked closely with the director, Peter Brook, in the making of that movie, while on the other hand, stalwart Gurdjieffians seem to have a view that only the initiated should ever have anything to do with the Movements. Perhaps that constraint was necessary once, but the external conditions we are living in now make it nearly redundant. Maybe a few imperfect (but sincere) Movements teachers are better than the gradual extinction of the practice of the Movements.
Similarly, now 20 years after Osho’s death, sannyasins also already have schisms, outcasts, and some judged to be “destroying Osho’s work” or not being in tune with imposed “shared understandings.” Fighting about the best way to preserve the integrity of the Master’s work only creates alienation and suspicion, as witnessed by the obsession that Osho International seems to have about ownership and copyright issues.
Osho and Gurdjieff were alike in not seeming to care too much what would happen to their work after they died. And they both constantly adapted their work to new circumstances, even creating new circumstances for the work to develop. Maybe that’s the core of the disciple’s dilemma after the Master dies: Will the focus still be on waking-up, or will it be on freezing everything just as it was at the time of the Master’s death? Both the Gurdjieff and Osho Foundations share an unfortunate tendency toward secrecy, a love of hierarchy, and an insistence on being seen as the legitimate heirs, or guardians of the Master’s work.
To me it seems that disciples everywhere, and particularly Osho’s and Mr. G’s, are not so very different after all, nor are the issues both face. My own experience of both the Gurdjieff world and 30 years of sannyas convinces me that we have more in common than not, and that it should not matter so much anymore if those fingers are a bit bent – as long as they still keep pointing to the moon.