On “Beelzebub’s Tales”, or the question of Objective Art

. . . a letter, Part 1

‘The form with its insistent masses, proportions, lines, colours, can here only justify them by their service for the something intangible it has to express; the spirit needs all the possible help of the material body to interpret itself to itself through the eye, yet asks of it that it shall be as transparent a veil as possible of its own greater significance.’

Sri Aurobindo
The Foundations of Indian Culture

I have started reading Orage’s commentaries on Beelzebub’s Tales* which you have sent me. And right at the beginning he makes several points which I have to discuss. These are the very points that summarise largely my impressions of Gurdjieff’s teachings, especially certain flaws.

On page 126, Orage makes this statement:

‘The book [Beelzebub’s Tales] is an objective work of art. Objective art consists of conscious variations from the original according to the plan of the artist or writer who strives to create a different impression on his audience.’

Now this, to me, is a remarkable statement. It reveals in no uncertain terms just how little Gurdjieff and his pupils understood about objective art. But there is more. This exposes one of the main flaws of his work, especially evidenced in his writing phase. It is the question of deliberate ‘manipulation’. Every person I have ever known who has been a serious student of Mr. G’s teachings perpetuates this failing, passed on to him/her by Gurdjieff himself, and nowhere more clearly demonstrated than in his writings. But it colours his whole teaching, its method, and the results, having to do with a certain key feature of his work: the creation of will.

I am not going to write abstractedly on this, for as you are aware this is not my way. In order to bring the points across that I wish to make on this subject, I am going to indicate exactly where you can find a living example of objective art, so as to fully substantiate what I write. But first, let me go into Orage’s definition.

A work of objective art is NEVER a conscious process in the sense that is implied in Orage’s statement.  Consciousness is not at all what he means here. Rather, it is wilful manipulation to achieve a particular result. This sort of manipulation exudes from all of Mr. G’s books. Objective art, on the other hand, arises out of a condition of being; and to this we must add that one does not ‘strive’ to achieve anything in this superior art form. But Gurdjieff more than anyone should have *C. S. Nott, Teachings of Gurdjieff, Chapter III, Routledge & Kegan Paul. understood that. And perhaps he did. But the moving thing is that he desired throughout his whole life to leave humanity with a sample of objective art because he was so aware of its importance as a vehicle for ‘spreading the Word’.

But to ‘spread the Word’ (and I don’t mean Christian proselytising) one has to have the Word. Mr. G had fragments. Remember the sub-title of In Search of the Miraculous?  It is, ‘Fragments of an Unknown Teaching’. In that book, Ouspensky presents Gurdjieff’s teachings. And indeed ‘fragments’ they were and ‘fragments’ they continue to be. On the basis of fragments plucked here and there, from one system and another, one place and another, one cannot produce a piece of objective art, ― be this a statue, a song, a poem, a piece of architecture, a book, or whatever of the numerous art forms. Any of these can be OBJECTIVE, provided that certain conditions are fulfilled.

Foremost there has to be an intrinsic, essential harmony between essence (to use Mr. G’s terminology) and form. It is not at all sufficient to have a right insight or even a profound grasp of truth based on certain realisations. For objective art to come into being, one must have the key to the truth of Form. This Mr. G never had, and it is so evident. How can anyone miss the point? Beelzebub’s Tales is simply Gurdjieff’s laborious attempt to find that Form, that key. Hence to consider the book an objective piece of art is to deceive oneself, and others.

You understand, the moment you bring in the question of Art, you are immediately in the realm of Form; and consequently to evaluate a piece that proposes to be this higher experience, it is required that we consider concurrently not only its content but its Form. The two go hand in hand, as I will demonstrate anon. This pertains to the written word as well as the more materially structured forms of art. Take poetry. Sri Aurobindo was experimenting with various ‘forms’ in order that one could be found, or more, which would be the proper vehicle for inspirations from the planes of the Truth-Consciousness. But the time had not yet come for that revelation in full, because the link had not yet been made between certain planes that allow for that perfection of Form to materialise. That is, the yogic process had not been completed which would permit an example of objective art to come forth.

In Gurdjieff’s time (he was Sri Aurobindo’s contemporary), the same limitation prevailed. But Sri Aurobindo was poised in the right ‘line’ for this work, and hence he contributed accurately and dynamically to the future manifestation of that objective Truth-Form. He did nothing to hinder that process, of which he was a direct part. Whereas Gurdjieff was only a peripheral agent.

Gurdjieff’s case is immensely interesting. He ‘saw’ so much, intuited the role of certain essential elements which indeed did enter into the process at a later date. And in this sense he contributed to this manifestation. But he never had the WHOLE, notwithstanding Orage’s assessment that he did. This was not the case. Mr. G started with ‘fragments’ and ended with ‘fragments’. Beelzebub’s Tales is a laboured attempt to find a way to that Wholeness, as his last effort on this planet, in that body.

And this brings me to another point. For a real manifestation of objective art, not only must there be a harmony between essence and form, but the interesting feature is a marvellous coming together of right essence, right form, and right INSTRUMENT. The instrument through which the creation is passing must be perfectly suited to the process, fashioned to provide the right channel which will not distort that essence and that higher form, since this is precisely what qualifies a work to be objective art. If you consider Gurdjieff to have been such an instrument, you are mistaken, and I shall indicate why. The instrument he was provided with was inadequate for the task undertaken; and the choice of the medium further revealed this inadequacy, insofar as it was not a medium through which Gurdjieff could present the world with an objective art form. That he did not see this, tells us much. But I believe he was aware of this in the beginning, hence his efforts to secure good instruments whom he could inspire to present his teachings to the world through the written word, which was the most powerful channel available at the time, and perhaps continues to be so. Ouspensky was one of those instruments, and his In Search of the Miraculous continues to be a classic in this branch of literature, regardless what we might think of Ouspensky’s contribution in other spheres.

But what do we find in Gurdjieff himself as the instrument for the written word? We have a jumble of languages in his head, given his background and the part of the world he was born in and had his early conditioning; none of which were the right ones for transmission of a message to the world at large in a direct, wide manner, not dependent upon intermediaries. In the case in question, perforce intermediaries played essential roles, given his limitations in this regard. Orage indicates this when he seeks to justify the final form Beelzebub’s Tales took:

‘Some of you still criticise the faulty grammar and punctuation and ask why I do not do something about it. Well, although from the first writing the sense is in each chapter, Gurdjieff is constantly rewriting and revising. As you know, he writes in pencil in Armenian; this is translated into Russian, and then into literal English by Russians; it is then gone over by one or two of the English and American pupils at the Prieure who have only a rough knowledge of the use of the words. All I can do at present is to revise the English when it obscures the sense. Although I have talked over the chapters with Gurdjieff and discussed the sense of them, he will never explain the meaning of anything. The style and sense are Gurdjieff’s. The surprising thing is that, in spite of the difficulties of translation the sense and style come through so well. It can be said that in English, this being a more flexible language than French, it is possible to play with words so that the English translation will have a quality of its own.’ (pages 125-26)

This justification is a futile exercise, and lamentably people are cajoled to believe that since we are dealing with ‘higher’ truths, we cannot apply to them the ordinary yardsticks that would reveal the flaws in the form that Mr. G’s efforts produced. Orage and others are simply seeking to cover up those flaws of the instrument that Gurdjieff was provided at birth. It may well be that they never really had adequate answers to explain this evident failing.

And why was this so? Why was Gurdjieff not born into a body and an environment that would provide him with the vehicle he would need to accomplish his task? I believe the answer lies in the fact that he did not have a clear understanding of the exact role he was to play in the evolution of consciousness on Earth, in particular within the context of world conditions; and also in the fact that he did not have the key to Time, which in itself would have helped him to know his role.

Therefore, how could an objective piece of art come through an instrument so terribly limited by the conditions of birth playing upon his knowledge and use of language, which would be the tool for his creation? He first wrote in Armenian, and then followed the laborious process of carrying his thoughts over into some type of adequate form that could be the ‘vehicle’ for the message in a global capacity, for a larger audience. It is clear that Armenian would not do, and I wonder whether the original Armenian even exists. But still there is more, it is the question of the style chosen, and this I shall discuss anon.

You cannot seriously believe that this is the way a piece of objective art comes into the world. Don’t you see that this very fact indicates that there is no element of objective art present in the creation, where Form is so hopelessly conditioned by the inadequacies of birth and conditioning? Indeed, there is a further point to make: objective art is wholeness, completeness, unity of form. With such a torturous, laborious creative process, how can any wholeness emerge? And it hasn’t. But I feel that people like yourself are carried into the belief that Beelzebub’s Tales is objective art simply because you cannot recognise the real thing when it is presented, having never been exposed to this type of creativity. But to hide these flaws, Gurdjieff, it seems, manipulates. His conscious will interferes with the process constantly, and finally he ends by purposely obscuring the text, using, as you call it, ‘difficult terminology’. This, we are exhorted to believe, is the correct way to convey objective truth.

This brings me at this point to a very important part of the discussion. It is Name and Form, and the link between the two, as evidenced in almost all ancient and new traditions of higher knowledge. We even find it in Genesis. But perhaps nowhere has the place of these dual aspects been given more prominence than in Hinduism. In ancient Vedic times they were given a position of pre-eminence, but later the central stage became occupied almost exclusively by the Nameless and the Formless. Be this as it may, the point I wish to make is the relatedness of these two aspects of creation. Where Form comes into being, simultaneously Name arises. These are aspects of the multiplicity. Regarding Gurdjieff’s work, this relatedness manifests most coherently. He purposely makes his texts obscure and refuses ‘to explain’ anything, as Orage points out. This same condition is logically carried over to the ‘names’ he chooses throughout Beelzebub’s Tales, impossible to pronounce for the most part. It seems that obliging the student to memorise those impossible names in his terminology, would somehow keep attention awake and perhaps make the knowledge so hard won, one’s own! But in my view, this is simply a further distraction from the real work, where real effort should be focused. Transformation of the nature is difficult enough without introducing this added complication. This may well be Gurdjieff’s personal teaching technique — but what has this to do with objective art with its harmony of form and essence and hence Name? This is simply the way to obscure further what little truth there may be, in addition to distracting the seeker and focusing attention deliberately on questions of little relevance. Instead of introducing the true ‘name’ of things, the result is merely more cacophony. Does the world need this?

In any true objective piece of art (and I shall soon provide an example), the form and name never obscure the message — which implies a distortion in the dimension of form in order to carry out this obscuring process. How can it, please be logical? But one throws first and foremost all discrimination and logic to the winds, and then believes oneself to be in tune with something ‘higher’. Anything ‘higher’ will never contradict true logic and good sense. Admittedly, the qualifying word here is ‘true’. There is not much true logic and good sense around these days, particularly evidenced in these matters.

In actual fact, one does not require anything higher than the ordinary mental faculties the human being is provided with to realise that we are dealing with contrived manipulation and wilful obscuring, which help to cover up certain basic flaws in the teaching. Or the ‘gaps’ in the knowledge, as I have called them. And we are encouraged to believe, by Gurdjieff and his disciples, that this is the way Truth is best transmitted. Yes, there is a ‘secret language’, but this is something else. It is an initiatic language but one that also uses a perfection of form, though this may be unknown to the person who is not initiated. However, in this case we are dealing with a deliberately chosen ‘style’ by Mr. G. And that is the objection I have, when this style is purported to be a means for creating objective art. It is simply Gurdjieff’s private style, his idea that this is the best way to teach. But it has nothing to do with objective art.

I am faced with this question of logic and coherency all the time in my work. And unlike Gurdjieff and most others, I encourage people to use ALL their faculties in their approach to my work and its assessment. I find that these enhance the experience and add to its richness. But the point is to attain the right poise whereby these faculties are honed to a perfection rarely achieved; and this of course requires that they be influenced by a higher light and wisdom. Deliberately obscuring a message and consciously adopting a style that does so, can never lead to this enhanced poise. It simply makes the existing chaos and confusion more chaotic and confounding!

Hence, if one pretends to convey truth objectively, then the medium of expression, the style and the resultant form must be a faithful, living expression of that truth-essence. There cannot be any gaps along the way, any distortions, any manipulative obscurations and interferences from the vital and mental will and the lower planes of consciousness. This has always been the case in the past, and it remains so today.

Gurdjieff was under the impression that truth had to be obscured in order to drive people to make super efforts to attain it. This coloured the thinking of many groups that believed themselves to be channels of higher knowledge during his time. There was a certain romanticism attached to the matter, a desire to be mysterious, esoteric, an elite. But this again displays a lack of real understanding of the human instrument. We have all been witness to the fact — and certainly Gurdjieff was — that simple, clear, direct expressions of truth are AUTOMATICALLY veiled to the inner consciousness of a seeker who is not ready to receive the Word. There is no need at all to increase the veiling, because this condition already exists in the ‘eye of the beholder’. What then would be the Point? Why add to this condition of ignorance? Indeed, this is one of the major problems in our civilisation: forms are not connected to the inner truth; they are DE-formed and hence add to the spread of ignorance throughout the world. The same can be said of ‘names’.

Let me provide now an example of objective art; and fortunately we do not have to turn to remote history to find one, and thereby indulge in those orgies of speculation that seem to delight the masculine mind, — yours in particular! The only existent objective piece of art that I know of today is the Mother’s original plan of the Matrimandir. As you know, what is being built in Auroville bears no relation to that original; and indeed, it provides us with an example of interference and manipulation, when lesser minds pretend to be in a position to ‘improve’ upon that truth-form.

The Mother’s original plan is objective art. It conforms to all the prerequisites — the true ones, not Orage’s definition, some of which I have already discussed. In drawing your attention to this piece, I am also going to illustrate how indeed a special ‘language’ evolved in order to be able to convey limpidly and accurately the essence of the creation. There was certainly no attempt to render the message difficult to perceive and grasp. Just the contrary. The new language evolved in order to provide the seeker with the correct and enhancing element by which he/she could understand, could have an experience of the truth-consciousness in its phase of actualisation today.

One of the main aspects in the Mother’s creative act is that there were no flaws along the way, no interferences, contrived manipulations on her part. Moreover, the Mother at no point indulged in any so-called conscious act of creation, — read studied and contrived. As you can see, this makes her creation totally different from Gurdjieff’s, or even Sri Aurobindo’s for that matter, but for a different reason. In those early years of their yoga, the links had not been made with those formative planes bearing upon the physical; and hence the ease with which the Mother undertook the creative act was something rather special and a landmark in this work. Out of BEING the Temple was created. That is, it arose from the Mother’s consciousness-being in a spontaneous act of creation, as a result of her yoga successfully completed, a yoga which had to do precisely with the physical, with ‘form’. Had she not done this first and come out victoriously, she could never have presented the world with this splendid example of objective art. But it is more than this. It is truly a ‘new model of the universe’, another item Gurdjieff was in quest of.

I would like to take up the question of FORM in relation to this creation. In the original plan she gave us, we have an exquisitely simple form; and above all a unity of design, from which no item can be eliminated otherwise the creation’s ‘wholeness’ is marred. In this particular sample of art, there are no elaborate artifices. Forms are pure, clear, even transparent. But an extraordinary ‘richness’ does enter the creation. This richness, abundance, exuberant fullness is found in the content. This is what is ‘concealed’ in those simple, limpid forms. That is what the seeker has to make an effort to discover. But the structure itself does not create difficulties for the seeker and harden his/her task. Just the contrary. Objective art creates an ‘atmosphere’ in which the seeker is almost automatically carried into the dimension of truth, from where that creation has emerged. This indeed is its purpose. In Beelzebub’s Tales there is nothing of the sort.

Even in the right atmosphere for such a discovery, it is still an immensely difficult task. Why complicate the issue and make it even more difficult by wilful, contrived style and terminology, as a pretext to goad the aspirant to ferret out the truth camouflaged behind this distortion? In fact, if the form itself is distorted, how can the seeker hope to come upon real truth-essence? Objective pieces of art are aids to seekers precisely because they help to focus the unfocused ‘lens of their seeing’ by presenting a FOCUSED OBJECT, outstanding among all other objects of our world by this very fact. Now, if you distort those forms, as Gurdjieff does, convincing yourself and others that this is the way to ‘help’ seekers find the truth, you are either a fool or a hostile force bent upon interfering with the descent of real Knowledge which can help to create a better world. This is certainly what abounds today….

What actually happens in an act of creation like the Mother’s? The object is not distorted in the process of finding its ‘body’ in this material world. (Isn’t it obvious that a feminine instrument is best suited to this function?) In the Mother’s creative, formative act, truth-conscious planes are reached. Her Temple ‘exists’ in that plane. That is, its essence, its supramental content exists therein. The yoga the Mother performed so concentratedly for the last twenty years of her life was precisely to forge the link with those more subtle planes and our material universe, in cosmic dimensions. This was her ‘yoga of the body’, that has so befuddled people and given rise to so much speculation. When this was completed, out of that resultant condition of being, the Temple was ‘created’, or rather MANIFESTED through her consciousness in a spontaneous outpouring that was itself the signal that she had completed her task victoriously.

Having an instrument that harmonised perfectly with this Condition of Being, a prepared, perfected channel through which this creation could emerge, we find that there was no interference along the way; and above all no contrivances to conceal flaws in the seeing and essential content. Indeed, this was her lament when the architects came upon the scene to execute the plan and proceeded immediately to alter all its details. Distortions were then introduced in the original by them and marred the perfection of form that her consciousness had given birth to. Let me quote her final attempt to get those architects to collaborate:

‘…For the construction I know very well that people are needed who know their job and who do the work, but for the inspiration I must be sure that the source of inspiration must be AT LEAST the same level as mine. And I am not sure, because I saw it so clearly. And suddenly, with P’s ideas [the architect] I see the mixture. His ideas are all mental, I can guarantee that because it is easy for me to see it. Well, they bring the same MIXTURE there is in everything that is done in the world. And that…what is the use in having to begin over again, again, again, again…?’ 

L’Agenda de Mere, Volume 11, Institut de Recherches Evolutives, Paris (1981)

From this quote you can appreciate that there is no need at all to distort and obscure truth. The human being handles that beautifully!

Thus we have in the Mother a condition of Being out of which spontaneous creation arises (How else was the universe created?). And then you have a perfection of Form that accurately expresses the truth-consciousness upholding that Form. Indeed, Form then becomes the most precious instrument of Truth.

The result of the Mother’s creative act is that we have on Earth today an example of objective art and its process of creation that draws into the physical the truth of the supramental planes of consciousness. At no time along the way did the Mother seek to obscure that essence, make it difficult for seekers to fathom, to penetrate its mysteries. These are the mental interferences she refers to, and the manipulations of the vital will. They are techniques resorted to when one has not truth-conscious Being, out of which real Knowledge and Power issue forth. The Mother was THAT, and her Temple was not the means for her to SEEK that, as Beelzebub’s Tales for Gurdjieff. We do have a record of her seeking in what is called, The Mother’s Agenda and Notes on the Way. Consequently, one has to make a supreme effort to discover the truth in those records, since they were precisely that: notes on the way, and nothing more. The result of that ‘way’, its victorious outcome, was her original plan of the Temple.

Now let me briefly discuss a related creation which arose also out of the Mother’s Temple: The New Way. Indeed, the book’s central protagonist is that Temple, and therefore it too partook of that special quality which links essence to form. Here is one example: on page 288 of Volume 2, note that I make this statement: ‘We have crossed the midway point of this study, the work’s 4.5 Orbit of universal being.’ As you can see, given the fact that the book consists of 578 pages, this was virtually its true midway point. I am aware that when people read this they believe that I ADDED this line once the book was written. However, this was not at all the case. I simply ‘knew’ when I had reached its halfway mark because of the experience and the knowledge that was being developed in the creative act, the ‘building’ of the Temple in book form. Moreover, as everyone knows, it is not possible to calculate with such accuracy just how many printed pages will result when composing of the manuscript is finished, especially when there are so any diagrams, foldouts, etc. Rather, since we are dealing with experiences in the creation of true objective art, what happened was simply that the essence (knowledge) contained in the book was perfectly married to and productive of the same higher manifestation of Form. Essence and Form were one. There was moreover no interference in the channelling instrument along the way. Because The New Way too arose out of a condition of Being.

There are other examples of this sort of harmony in my other books. None of this was contrived, mentally planned and arranged. All the experiences of such harmonies were simply the result of total processes.

In closing, and in all fairness to Mr. G, I should mention that I do have a high regard for his teachings, and in particular his quality as a teacher, his insights into human psychology and the condition of the human instrument and the necessity for an integral development. These may be ‘fragments’, but they are at least TRUE fragments. Most teachers today do not even offer this much. Also, there is a coherency in his fragments — let us call it a fragmentary coherency — in that he clearly perceived the need for certain tools to carry out the transformative work, and they were by and large the right ones. The Enneagram, for one. Also his attempts to formulate a new cosmology. The fact that his knowledge of the Enneagram was incomplete (he did not include the Zero and hence missed the diagram’s important relation to Time) or that he did not have the new language, an indispensable ingredient for the formulation of the new cosmology, does not mean that his work cannot be of help to people. But when one does have that complete system, the new language, the accurate and precise keys of knowledge, it seems to me futile to waste time indulging in the torturous effort to read Beelzebub’s Tales. But some people like to suffer!

But as a system I hasten to emphasise that Gurdjieff’s is one of the better ones. Only I question whether or not it is possible to make real progress in this system without the man himself as the living guide, in view of his unusual ‘essence’ which was central to the whole affair. But since you are pursuing this school, I repeat, you have chosen one of the more serious, better ones, in which many elements of real knowledge can be found.

I have only dealt with one subject in this letter basically: the question of the book’s style, because that is why you sent me Orage’s commentaries which you consider to elucidate ‘quite a bit of Gurdjieff’s deliberately difficult terminology’. I have not therefore gone into the knowledge he gives out, as such, and certainly there is much of real worth therein, which can be of effective help to seekers. But as a system of transformation, again I have to question its efficacy without Gurdjieff’s living essence at the centre. His system was very much bound up with the man himself.

Regarding the other book you mention: The Revelation in the Wilderness I have no time at present. Perhaps later. I have glanced through it in the bookstore…but, does the author know of the ‘temple’ and the ‘book’, since he uses The Revelation as his central theme, and both of which are key features of St. John’s prophecy? I doubt it. And so, one can only find in this work a similar incompleteness and effort of men in the quest of knowledge. Since there is not much time to waste any longer, for there is little time left to do the Work, I counsel the people who are studying with me that it is best to get down to the serious business of yoga, of work on oneself. And with this I am certain Gurdjieff would wholeheartedly agree!

7 October 1986

* C.S. Nott, Teachings of Gurdjieff, Chapter III, Routledge & Kegan Paul.

(Part II of this letter appears in the next issue.)

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