20. SPRITUALITY - FOR THOSE WITH
RESPONSIBILITIES IN THE WORLD

 

In the West, between the two world wars, and after the Revolution in Russia, a highly simplified psychological form of key Christian spiritual methods was developed by G. I. Gurdjieff, throughout the Western world.  Its purpose was to be effective even for people who lacked a proper religious formation in their earlier lives.  This has since been identified as a psychological form of the earliest Tradition of Greek Christian spirituality, although perhaps sometimes with additions borrowed - in ways themselves traditional with the inner teaching - from other forms of inner-tradition. 

For those who are unaware of him, Gurdjieff was an Armenian savant known to have taught in Moscow before the revolution, who finally travelled and taught as far West as California. Gurdjieff told the students of his strange system that "this is esoteric (or 'inner') Christianity."  But he did not reveal his sources for the information he taught.  However, a clue is given by the fact that at the end of his life he suggested an attempt to contact those who originated the teaching, and directed that attempt to specific Christian sources.

Not surprisingly, this statement had little or no effect in the rationalist world of the West. Some of his more influential students continue to seek the source of his teachings in the Sufi masters of the Middle East.  Between them, a few men from an Orthodox Christian world, including Boris Mouravieff, P. D. Ouspensky, and others who followed them, began to define something that my many years of investigation have proved was based - at least in large part - on the forgotten psychological method from the first centuries of of the early Church.  Gurdjieff himself confirmed his debt to Christianity when he told his pupils that after his death, then-imminent, they should 'make contact with the Inner Tradition on Mount Athos.'

This meeting directly involved with the Tradition I referred to earlier, and it includes ancient and proven means of healing human beings and restoring their psyches to health.  This therapeutic element was one of the two practical supports that made the early Christian Church so effective.  In fact, it was because this tradition had never adapted to Western Rationalism that it remained effective than are most churches today.

 

The enigmatic and highly capable Gurdjieff, who appeared to be an eccentric teacher of the disciples of an eccentric age, died later than his pupil Ouspensky, but again admitted failure. He did not leave visible behind him anyone of comparable knowledge or ability. "Je vous laissez dans les beaux draps," he said to his students on his deathbed, "I leave you in a fine old mess."

Because of his novel way of explaining things, because of his flamboyant and apparently egotistical style of teaching that made it too easy to judge him a charlatan and so avoid the searching questions raised by his very existence, and because he disguised certain Christian dogmas that would have been unacceptable to his students, nearly every committed Christian has ignored him.  But he is historical fact.  His influence was direct as well as indirect, and he has manifested after his death in the way common to certain saints of the earliest Church.  The lesson of all these is not that those saints were in any way inadequate, far from it, they were the best of their times.

One of the things that triggered the investigation that led to this book was this almost ignored claim of Gurdjieff, later confirmed by meeting one of the men who followed up an instruction by G after his death to make contact with the Tradition in a certain location in the Eastern church, a contact which finally came to fruition in 1983.  Further confirmation lay in the fact that the Philokalia, the great compendium of teachings of the early fathers that has driven Eastern monasticism since the sixteenth century, and which has waited until now to be proven, was translated into English as an indirect but clearly traceable result of the work of these two men, as a direct result of Ouspensky's friendly contact with a hermit on Mount Athos, a Father Nikon.  After O's death, certain of his students visited that hermit, and this contact with the mainstream had considerable effect on Western spirituality, since it was this that led directly to Gerald Palmer's translation into English of parts of the Philokalia.  The idea came from Ouspensky's friend Father Nikon in conversation with Gerald Palmer, once a student of Ouspensky.

It was after several years of investigation into sources on Mount Athos that I finally discovered, much closer to home, the report that Gurdjieff had arranged, only a short time before his death, for a party to go to Athos in hopes of establishing contact with the Tradition whose doctrines he had taught in such a unique manner. This finally convinced me that this statement that his teachings were esoteric Christianity was correct not just loosely, but in many important details, previously unproved because of the difficulties in carrying out an adequate study.  The simplest confirmation of this story, indeed, has been the gradually growing awareness that to make this connection has taken us a long way towards the completion of those then still-incomplete teachings, so that they lead to results of a kind new to those who had previously followed them in the West

Those results, and their ability to meet the inner needs of individuals, take us back to the personal and so light up the historical aspect of our study, and it is the particular nature of inner study which has led to the need to express not just data but the understandings that have been brought by slow assimilation of that data through conscientious practice of certain of the methods that, traditionally, have always existed alongside it.

The newest book from Praxis speaks of a personal exploration of that Christian inner tradition in its tenuous survival on Mount Athos.  Some of the examples seem complete and still effective, so Praxis researches are beginning to explore what elements in early texts or monastic practice would be needed to restore something like the original form of this Tradition, in forms not now available to the West, but whose recovery is essential if there is ever to be a reawakening of spirituality in the Western world.