Chapter 2 - Gurdjieff's Search
Copyright © Reijo Elsner
CONTENTS OF THIS PAGE:
- Summary of the Motives
- Finding the Sarmoung Brotherhood
- What else did he find?
- Sufis & Dervishes
- Other Discoveries
- Some Conclusions
Summary of the Motives
One of the mentioned 'unexplainable phenomena' is connected with the little known group of people, called the Yezidis, and their religion. Gurdjieff witnessed how it was impossible for a young boy to break out of a ring that was drawn in the sand around him. This caused him to became interested in the Yezidis. The reason why Yezidism is so little known, is that their religion is an oral tradition; there are no older texts available. The roots are near the cradle of Western Civilization, whether Egyptian, Mesopotamian or some other. References to Ahura Mazda, the Parsees and Zoroastrianism are often mentioned. Sometimes called the 'devil worshippers', sometimes 'angel worshippers', the Yezidis live in the Kurdish area in Iraq, where their spiritual centre Lalish is situated. Many of them live near the town of Mosul, but Yezidis are also found in Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Syria and in Germany (with appr. 30000 of them).
Lalish, The Spiritual Center of the Yezidis has plenty of material that talks about Gurdjieff - even referring to the idea of Beelzebub being related to this little known religion.
Another link to Yezidism, also mentioning Gurdjieff and Beelzebub, can be found: http://home.earthlink.net/%7Exristos/GoldenDawn/yezidi01.htm [no longer works]. A more recent torough study is about the Peacock Angel Cult (http://www.antiqillum.com/texts/bg/Qadosh/qadosh038.htm)
Yezidism deals with devils and angels. It is commonly believed that one of the strong influences on Yezidism is Zoroastrianism, which has as its basic message the concepts of good and evil. J.G. Bennett, who travelled in Gurdjieff's footsteps in the 1950'ies draw the conclusion that the idea of conscience originates from Zoroaster. I had the pleasure to get to know a Parsi (Zoroastrians from Persia) priest and his family in London and what I learned tends to confirm this view. The words used in Beelzebub, including Ashiata Shiemash, are reminiscent of Avesta, the language of Zoroastrianism.
Incidents like the unexplainable phenomena of the Yezidi boy made Gurdjieff try to find explanations to them. He goes on by telling of three other such incidents, which could not be explained (please refer to The Meetings). His motive was to find the explanations.
Having visited many monasteries in his search, Gurdjieff writes: 'I was even for three months an acolyte of the famous Father Yevlampios in the monastery of Sanaine'. This can only be the Sanahin Monastery, which is now under repair to serve as a museum.
Echmiadzin is the center of the Armenian church and Gurdjieff went there in the hope of finding clues that would lead him to the solution of 'these inescapable questions'. He had talks with Archimandrite Surenian about the subjects that agitated him. However, he became disillusioned as he did not find what he was looking for.
The conclusion he came to during his studies with his friend Pogossian was that there was 'a certain something' which people formerly knew, but this knowledge was forgotten. To study the old Armenian books further they headed to Ani, the ancient Armenian capital.
Finding the Sarmoung Brotherhood
The link to Ani contains the text from The Meetings in which Gurdjieff talks about Ani. To put it short they found some texts in ancient Armenian and got so interested in finding out what the text was all about that they went to Alexandropol to study the texts further. The texts turned out to be letters written by a monk to another monk. (http://www.virtualani.freeserve.co.uk/citymap.htm - gone May 2013)
The end of one passage spoke about the Sarmoung Brotherhood. This brotherhood existed in the town of Siranoush, had moved to Izrumin, three days journey from Nivssi. Trying to trace this journey I have found out that Siranoush is an Armenian name meaning 'lovely woman' and the town referred to by this name is in the present day Armenia. The only references to Izrumin and Nivssi are quoted from the monk's letter, but Gurdjieff finds out that Nivssi is the old name for Mosul. He also concludes that the Sarmoung Brotherhood was established by a group of people called the Aisors, the Assyrian descendants living in the Caucasus.
Further references to the Sarmoung are found in the chapter of Prince Yuri Lubovedsky. The dervish Bogga-Eddin mentions that the 'Prince is a member of a brotherhood known among the dervishes by the name of Sarmoung'. On the way to the brotherhood rivers Pyanzh and Zeravshan are mentioned. Pyanzh is a border river between Afganistan and Tajikistan and Zeravshan is in Tajikistan.
In spite of over 100 links to Sarmoung all meaningful information can be found here [also gone May 2013]. It does not seem much, but it points to the conclusion that the Sarmoung brotherhood is symbolic and that the names and the places are invented to cover the real ones. In the Sarmoung monastery he found the sacred dances of the priestesses and heard the sacred music. He also tells about a peculiar apparatus, with the help of which the priestess-dancers were taught their art.
Further note on Sarmoung. In Meetings with Remarkable Men, Arkana 1985, p. 90 Gurdjieff writes: "What struck us most was the word Sarmoung, which we had come across several times in the book called Merkhavat. This word is the name of a famous esoteric school which, according to tradition, was founded in Babylon as far back as 2500 b.c., and which was known to have existed somewhere in Mesopotamia up to the sixth or seventh century a.d.; but about its further existence one could not obtain anywhere the least information."
I had somehow got the idea that Merkhavat was an Armenian manuscipt and this information came probably from Bennett's writings. It turns out that he was wrong or that Gurdjieff had a version of the Merkhavat in Armenian, who knows. Merkhavat can most likely only refer to Merkavah, which is part of Jewishy mysticism, thought to have existed from 100 B.C. until 1100. It is related to Gnosticism from those times and the Kabbalah, which is of medieval origin from Provence and Spain. The literature describing Merkavah is called Hekhalot, which means "heavenly hall" and this literature describes the seven chambers, their guardian angels, the Merkavah (chariot - the chariot is the one in Ezekiel's vision in chapter one of the book of Ezekiel) itself and the auditory and visual hallucinations induced by the Ma'aseh Merkavah.
A book called "Beholders of Divine Secrets: Mysticism and Myth in the Hekhalot and Merkavah Literature" written by Vita Daphna Arbel has the following description: "Beholders of Divine Secrets provides a fascinating exploration of the enigmatic Hekhalot and Merkavah literature, the Jewish mystical writings of late antiquity. Vita Daphna Arbel delves into the unique nature of the mystical teachings, experiences, revelations, and spiritual exegesis presented in this literature. While previous scholarship has demonstrated the connection between Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism and parallel traditions in Rabbinical writings, the Dead Sea Scrolls, apocalyptic, early Christian, and Gnostic sources, this work points out additional mythological traditions that resonate in this literature. Arbel suggests that mythological patterns of expression, as well as themes and models rooted in Near Eastern mythological traditions are employed, in a spiritualized fashion, to communicate mystical content. The possible cultural and social context of the Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism and its composers is discussed."
James R. Davila at Harvard has written a book called "Descenders to the Chariot", which is described as follows: "The Hekhalot literature is a bizarre conglomeration of Jewish esoteric and revelatory texts in Hebrew and Aramaic, produced sometime between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages and surviving in medieval manuscripts.
These texts claim to describe the self-induced spiritual experiences of the "descenders to the chariot" and to reveal the techniques that permitted these magico-religious practitioners to view for themselves Ezekiel's Merkavah as well as to gain control of angels and a supernatural mastery of Torah.
Drawing on epigraphic and archaeological evidence from the Middle East, anthropological models, and a wide range of cross-cultural evidence, this book aims to show that the Hekhalot literature preserves the teachings and rituals of real religious functionaries who flourished in late antiquity and who were quite like the functionaries anthopologists call shamans."
Jewish Learning.com covers many aspects of these mystical teachings.
What else did he find?
Let us continue from the Sarmoung to the references of the 'Map of the pre-sand Egypt'.
We have to admit that the map seems to be the only map ever made of the Sahara before the sand. However, the Sahara does exist even to-day and has not changed dramatically in the last 100 years. The Sahara has undergone a series of wet periods, the most recent occurring c.5,000–10,000 years ago; it was not until c.3000 B.C. that the Sahara transformed into its present arid state.
The space shuttle is now examining the Sahara for vestiges of ancient river beds. In fact this has been going on for over 20 years. During this time most of our planet has been mapped from space. These two links take you to two separate 'maps of pre-sand Sahara': Safsaf, in Southern Egypt and Giza in the Cairo area.
Unfortunately we are not much wiser with these maps. They do not give us any information on what Gurdjieff's map showed him. To get closer to what can be found in the area we can follow the findings of John Anthony West in his book Serpent in the Sky - The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt.
John's search lead him to study R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, who developed the symbolic approach to the study of the Egyptian monuments. This is documented in de Lubicz's major work The Temple of Man, now available also in English. The studies gave John West an early impression that Schwaller de Lubicz and Gurdjieff must have met and known each other (although he later found that they never did).
John West writes: "...Schwaller de Lubicz was able to prove that all that is accepted as dogma concerning Egypt (and ancient civilization in general) is wrong, or hopelessly inadequate; his work overthrows or undermines virtually every currently-cherished belief regarding man's history, and the 'evolution' of civilization."
In the Foreword to the revised edition of the Serpent in the Sky Robert Masters writes: 'Indeed, what de Lubicz learned about ancient Egypt by means of his study of its works, Gurdjieff seems to have learned from some other source'.
There are some references to Egypt in Ouspensky's Fragments that can give us further clues to what Gurdjieff found.
Ouspensky quotes Gurdjieff: ' The Christian church, the Christian form of worship, was not invented by the fathers of the church. It was taken in a ready-made form from Egypt, only not from the Egypt that we know but from one which we do not know. This Egypt was in the same place as the other but it existed much earlier. Only small bits of it survived in historical times and these bits have been preserved in secret and so well that we do not even know where they have been preserved.'
What is the Egypt that existed much earlier than the one we know? In his studies of Egypt John West came to the conclusion of the existence of an earlier civilization from which the 'Egypt we know' borrowed most of what they had. This becomes evident as 'every aspect of Egyptian knowledge seems to have been complete at the very beginning'. In other words 'Egyptian civilization was not a 'development', it was a legacy'.
The conclusion John arrives from this is that the earlier civilization referred to is no other than that of the legendary Atlantis, which is in itself proof that Atlantis existed, but gives no direct clue to where it did exist physically.
Gurdjieff goes on telling about the 'schools of repetition' that were taken as a model for Christian churches and adds: '- the form of worship in Christian churches almost entirely represents the course of repetition of the science dealing with the universe and man. Individual prayers, hymns, responses, all had their own meaning in this repetition as well as holidays and all religious symbols, though their meaning has been forgotten long ago'.
It is generally thought that the origin of the Christian worship is the Jewish worship, which was adopted by the church fathers during the third century. However, the Jewish and the Christian forms of worship have both been influenced of the time the Israelites stayed in Egypt, which lasted about 400 years. The known adaptations from Egypt are music, the use of musical instruments and singing. Of these the musical instruments were most likely dropped out by the church fathers. What was not taken from Egypt into the Jewish and Christian worship were the sacred dances...
From our point of view the following little quotation from Liturgica.com is interesting: 'Liturgics refers to those things having to do with a liturgy, and the obvious point of departure in gaining an understanding of liturgics is to understand the word itself. This is particularly relevant in terms of liturgical music, because the terms religious music or sacred music, while describing the type of music, do not do much to explain the origins or practice.
The word liturgy is from the Greek word leitourgia, and the most common translation is "the work of the people."'.
Finally I think we have discovered something that again can lead further - the liturgies of the Christian churches have still some of the meanings that perhaps 'slipped in' from the pre-sand Egypt. To see if this theory holds let us look at the Orthodox Christian liturgy as it is most likely to have some of the old form in it, just by being orthodox. (It might be worth your while to look into Gnosticism, The Coptic Church and The Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil).
A very short presentation of the liturgical customs can be found here (http://www.stmichael.org/SigCross.html). This short presentation starts with the sentence: 'When Orthodox Christians worship, we worship with our whole being'.
Another striking similarity is the use of the three fingers as a symbol of Trinity and the sign of the Cross itself, which freely translated refers to the three centers in man. (The two fingers on the palm represent the two natures of Christ in one person, Divine and human.)
If we take the whole of an Orthodox life, or a year of that life and even if we split it into months, days, hours and minutes we find that it is repetition all the way. The sacraments, confessions, communions, mysteries, liturgies, fasts, prayers and so on are repeated through the lifetime of the Orthodox Christian. They are repeated at home and in the church.
Ouspensky writes further that G. quoted some interesting examples on the Orthodox liturgy, but as he had not made any notes of these he only writes: 'The idea was that, beginning with the first words, the liturgy so to speak goes through the process of creation, recording all its stages and transitions. What particularly astonished me in G.'s explanations was the extent to which so much has been preserved in its pure form and how little we understand of all this'.
There is no mystery. The only difficulty is that we never think about it.
'...these bits have been preserved in secret and so well that we do not even know where they have been preserved...'
Sufis & Dervishes
Ouspensky did not manage to get more information from Gurdjieff about his search than already stated. There have been attempts by Gurdjieff's other followers to get in contact with the sources of his teaching and none more energetic than those of J.G. Bennett. Bennett writes about this in his book 'Gurdjieff Making a New World'. Of the places already mentioned Bennett visited Lalish (he calls it Sheik Adi, whose monument has a central place in Lalish). He also recalls that Gurdjieff had studied specially the Liturgy of St. Basil.
Some of the clues Bennett followed come directly from his talks with Gurdjieff or contacts with people who were in direct contact with him. Bennett's main conclusions relate to the Sufis and the various Dervish Orders, which he also attempted to find during his own travels. The following is just one of Bennett's findings.
Many Sufi orders are mentioned: Yesevis have, however, a special place. Bennett writes: 'Direct confirmation of Gurdjieff's connection with the Yesevis has been given from his talks with Anna Durco. When speaking of folk dances, he said that in Tashkent (which he pronounced Djashkent), there were special dances, but that further away there were very very special dances. Before one could see these one had to have a palalikanina which both in Sanskrit and Romany means a sponsor. There they taught the Yesevi (pronounced by Gurdjieff yiesef) dances and he had found a teacher who could teach by dancing what others taught by books. He said that only very very few people had the capacity to read the language of symbols. He then made a most significant statement - extraordinary for anyone, but strange indeed made to a child who fortunately remembered it word for word. "In one place symbol, in another technique and in another dance". This corresponds so exactly to the distribution of the Naq'shbandi, Djellali and Yesevi dervishes and shows their common affiliation to the Khwajagan by tying together threads whose connection would otherwise have been a matter of conjecture. He added that Yesevi "teach dancing same as put seed in the ground, but seed very hard, this green plant grow slow because need much time to grow, need very long time to give fruit, even much water will not help grow. Sometime this hard seed stay in the ground for a long time - when begin to grow, change everything, all landscape can change. When symbol and technique grow together then give another plant, then grow quick and for other purpose. Special dance - sacred - very few can do. When symbol, technique, dance come in one place - then dance sacred for very special purpose."'
With the above statement Gurdjieff has wiped off all traces of the Sarmoung Brotherhood pretty much the same way Beelzebub could have cleaned the table just by one skillful movement of his tail!
Further references to music are found in The Meeting in the story of Vitvitskaia, who learned to play the piano, started experimenting with animals and people, but was not able to obtain identical results on different people. After a three days stay in a monastery in the centre of Turkestan she says: 'this music almost without melody evoked the same state in all of us - people not only of different race and nationality, but even quite unlike in character, type, habits and temperament.'
The Essenes are again mentioned by Gurdjieff: '...I had been among the Essenes, most of whom are Jews, and that by means of very ancient Hebraic music and songs they had made plants grow in half an hour, and I described in detail how they had done this'.
Have a look at The Sacred and Secret Life of Plants and Trees (http://www.strayreality.com/Plants.htm) (please note that you arrive at music through the menu - just in case you get immersed in the other things!).
This area of our search is getting very exciting these days! The internet has a great number of sites that deal with music, vibrations and therapies connected with them. Some draw their 'symbol, technique and dance' from Tibetan Buddhism, some ideas come from Shamanism, some from China and some are put together by our contemporaries and being sold to the general public in the form of courses, seminars or treatments.
You might want to have a look at the following sites:
- The Foundation for Shamanic Studies
- Harmonics Energy Balancing
- Tama-Do, The Academy of Sound, Color and Movement
- http://peyote.com/jonstef/sacred.htm - Sacred Sounds
- Cymatics, A Study of Wave Phenomena
- Jonathan Goldman's Healing Sounds
Many more can be found also from the links on the above sites.
Although there are no references in Gurdjieff's search directed towards Yoga there are some indications to it in The Meetings and ín The Fragments. In the chapter on Ekim Bey he says: '...at the time I was an ardent follower of the famous Indian yogis and carried out very exactly all the indications of what is called Hatha Yoga'. In The Fragments it becomes clear that the way Gurdjieff defines the 'Way of the Yogi' he could only have done with knowledge of the other forms of Yoga. Other references to Yoga can be found in de Hartmann's 'Our Life', in which Gurdjieff calls his form of Yoga discipline 'Haida Yoga', meaning rapid Yoga.
Hypnotism is also mentioned in the chapter on Ekim Bey. The interest for hypnotism Gurdjieff had from early age, again supported by the information in The Meetings. Read article by Sri Aurobindo on Yoga and Hypnotism [gone].
Gurdjieff writes that hypnotism was called 'Mehkeness' in Central Asia and collected written and oral information on the subject. The Herald of Coming Good: 'After two years of thorough theoretical study of this branch of science....I began to give myself out to be a "healer" of all kinds of vices.' 'This continued to be my exclusive preoccupation and manifestation for four or five years.'
The Enneagram has been claimed by Gurdjieff to be an ancient symbol. If the source of it is Sufism or Kabbalah then the symbol is no more than maximum 800 yers old, but clearly Gurdjieff would like us to believe that it is older than that. Gurdjieff used the Enneagram in the Sacred Dances and defined it as a universal symbol that unites the Law of Three and the Law of Seven. He also described the need for 'additional shocks' in the digestion of the 'three kinds of food' with the help of the Enneagram.
The use of the Enneagram as a personality analysis tool shows that it can be used in different areas of human activity. Further studies of the symbol as taught by Gurdjieff have been written in books by J. G. Bennett and A.G.E. Blake. An article by Jim Gomez is available http://users.moose.co.uk/userfiles/gomez/essay.html here .
The Seekers of Truth: Meetings: 'I was not alone. There were all kinds of specialists among us. Everyone studied on the lines of his particular subject. Afterwards, when we foregathered, we put together everything we had found'. This group had some 30 members. Those that were 'remarkable men' have been described in the Meetings.
This and the preceding presentation of Gurdjieff's search arouses some questions. Instead of having some definite answers we only have more questions.
- Who were the other seekers?
- Why none of them ever turned up in Gurdjieff's later life?
- Did they teach the system that was put together when they foregathered?
- If they taught something what happened to their teachings?
- Why did Gurdjieff destroy all his private papers and leave us the myths that he created in his books?
- How much of the Meetings is describing real happenings and what is the part allegories play in it?
- Are the 'remarkable men' real men or are they picturing the many discoveries by Gurdjieff himself?
Perhaps it all is a gest. "Gest" traces to Latin "gestus," the past participle of the verb "gerere," which means "to wage," "to accomplish," or "to act," among other things. That Latin verb gave us stoutly enduring words like "gesture," "ingest," "jest," "register," and "suggest."
In trying to trace Gurdjieff's search we have made a long journey directed to the outside world. This 'trip' in itself is sufficient evidence that the outward direction has not given us the whole picture, far from it. To find the truth about life on earth and ourselves we need to take another 'trip' directed inwards to find the undiscovered country, the America, in that direction.
Gurdjieff's search did not stop when he started to 'teach' around 1909, although there were no more expeditions with The Seekers of Truth. What he was searching and what he found is incorporated in his teaching and in his books, which will be referred to in connection with his writings.