talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

journey through this world
c. s. nott

soon after ouspensky’s death gurdjieff’s health began to fail and in eighteen months he had gone, yet right up to the end he made great efforts, talking to people, holding classes for new movements and dances, and interviewing pupils from england and america. he knew that his work was finished and gave instructions to his oldest pupil.

in early october, 1949, my wife went to paris to see gurdjieff. when she returned she said that he was very ill and had been advised to go into hospital, or at least rest from his strenuous activities. he had refused. he knew, better than the doctors, that his organism, his planetary body, could not last much longer, and that he must soon die, and that he must work as long as possible; and he continued to see people and direct the sacred dances.

i went to dorset to try to get my house-building finished, and lived as usual in my lonely hut on the downs. on the 29th of october 1949, in the morning, there was a knocking on my door. a neighbour had come from half a mile away with a message from my wife that mr. gurdjieff had died.

the man to whom i owed almost everything of value i possessed, who had been my, so to say, centre of gravity for more than twenty years, had gone, and would never come again. i wept. yet not as i had when orage died; his death was premature and a great shock. gurdjieff's was foreseen, his work was done. i wept from tenderness and gratitude, from a realization of the transient nature of our bodily life on this planet, our mortality.

i packed up and took the train to london and the same evening went to france by the night boat and was in paris the next morning, and went straight to the chapel in the american hospital where his body was lying. the little chapel was filled with people standing round, everyone perfectly still. as some quietly went out others came in. watchers had been there day and night since his death and each stood for one, two hours, three hours. strong vibrations filled the place, arising from the quiet collected state of those who stood there. and there seemed also to be emanations or radiations from the corpse itself.

there was an atmosphere of conscious love and reverence, of worship, and although some could not prevent tears flowing there was no agonizing grief, or weeping and wailing. it was utterly peaceful, as if everyone realized that gurdjieff had finished his work and completed his essential existence on this planet.

after three days, at a certain time, those who were still in the chapel went quietly out, each kissing the cold forehead of the dead man. only the bearers, some men pupils, were left. and now occurred an incident which no doubt would have made gurdjieff smile, since he used to say that even in his most serious moments he would joke. the body would not go into the coffin—it was too big.

so, while everyone waited in the russian cathedral in the rue daru another coffin was sent for. then we got into the hearse and were driven to the cathedral. it was crowded with pupils—french, english and american. gurdjieff once said that a funeral ceremony is not important; what is necessary is to put the planetary body away decently and in order—it is no more the being who formerly existed; and the soul, if the being had a soul, is already gone. gurdjieff's funeral, though impressive on account of the number of pupils who filled the church, was really simple, yet accompanied by the beautiful ritual and singing of the russian church.

the following is taken from the liturgy:

"o holy god, holy mighty, holy immortal, have mercy upon us.

"glory be to the father and to the son and to the holy spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. amen.

"in peace let us pray unto the lord.

"lord have mercy.

"for the peace that is from above and for the salvation of our souls let us pray to the lord.

"for the remission of sins of him who hath departed this life in blessed memory, let us pray to the lord.

"for the ever memorable servant of god, george gurdjieff, for his repose and tranquillity and blessed memory, let us pray to the lord.

"that he will pardon him every transgression whether voluntary or involuntary.

"o god of spirits and of all flesh, who hast trampled down death and overthrown the devil and given life to the world, do thou, o lord, give rest to the soul of thy departed servant george gurdjieff in a place of brightness, a place of verdure, a place of repose, whence all sickness sorrow and sighing have fled away. pardon every transgression which he has committed, whether by thought, word or deed. for thou art a good god and lovest mankind; because there is no man who liveth and does not sin, thou only art without sin, and thy righteousness is to all eternity and thy word is true.

"of a truth all things are vanity and life is but a shadow and a dream.

"for in vain doth everyone who is born of earth disquiet himself. as saith the scriptures, when we have acquired the world then do we take up our abode in the grave where kings and beggars lie down together. wherefore, o christ our god, give rest to thy servant departed this life, forasmuch as thou lovest mankind.

"give rest eternal in blessed falling asleep, o lord, to the soul and thy servant george gurdjieff, departed this life, and make his memory eternal.

"memory eternal!

"memory eternal!

after a pause, the priest began:

"among the people who are assembled here today to do homage to the memory of george gurdjieff are not only the people of our own russian orthodox church but french men and women also, and many english and americans, who undeterred by long distances flew over land and sea to look on the beloved features for the last time and to pay their final tribute.

"this shows how large and widespread is the circle of those who venerated this quite exceptional man and how great was his significance for all who knew him.

"george ivanitch gurdjieff was born in alexandropol near the borders of persia and came of a very religious family. his father, a man of unusual perception and intellect, attracted around him persons of a similar kind. among them was the priest of the local church, a highly educated man revered by all the people of the countryside. this man aroused in the son of his friend his first interest in the ancient sayings of the east, sayings which were not only written but handed down by word of mouth. he also implanted in him certain truths which g. i. gurdjieff retained for the whole of his life, a life of unending search. for religion is the spiritual mother of a man and a man must be faithful to her unto death. at the same time there are scattered in the world pears of wisdom and it is necessary to know how to find them. in his youth mr. gurdjieff went to persia where he came in contact with some ancient men who were venerated by the local inhabitants as sages or wise men. later he met with an elderly man, prince k. and with him was able to penetrate the very remote parts of asia. during their common searching, mr. gurdjieff discovered certain ancient esoteric teachings, heard ancient religious music and saw sacred dances which were exercises for the all-round development of man. having found what he sought he went to europe and dedicated the remainder of his life to the transmission of his knowledge, first to a few chosen individuals and later to larger and larger groups of people.

"books concerning mr. gurdjieff and his work have already appeared in america and england. the books coming from his own hand and which contain the essence of his teachings number many volumes and are his last gift to humanity.

"let us conclude with his own words: 'o god creator, and all you who are his helpers, may we always and in everything remember ourselves, because only by this can we be prevented from taking unconscious steps, which alone lead to evil.'"

there followed a long silence, then, one by one, people went past the bier, making a brief pause, some crossing themselves, some genuflecting, passing out of the church to the waiting cars and coaches. the cortège slowly moved off, passing by the apartment in the rue des colonels renard and so on to the main road to fontainebleau-avon. here the hearse put on speed and on the rough stretches the wreaths and bunches of flowers round the coffin began dancing up and down.

i was sitting next to foma [thomas] de hartmann. he asked about the delay in getting to the cathedral, and when i explained about the coffin he smiled, and pointed to the dancing wreaths. "i think," he said, "that if georgivanitch could know about his, he would laugh."

gurdjieff was buried near his mother and his wife and brother. as we left the cemetery i thought of what he had said after the funeral of his brother dimitri: "ceremony not important. now let's have a picnic."

i did not return at once to paris, but went with some friends to the prieuré. on the stone gate-post was a notice that katherine mansfield had lived there; nothing about gurdjieff. i rang the bell and said that i had stayed there many times and might we look round. we were asked in. it was sixteen years since i had been there, and everything was the same, but changed. it was not a maison de santé. where the study house had been were now rooms for patients, and paradou had been re-built. the forest and the gardens were still the same, and on the road were the heaps of stones that we had put there nearly twenty years before, and the place where i had dug for the spring of, for me, living water, had not changed.

we drove back to gurdjieff's apartment in paris, where a big feast of delicious food had been prepared, with armagnac and wine. and soon all were dispersed: english, french, americans, each to his own town or country. gurdjieff was dead, his planetary body buried. yet what was real of gurdjieff (that which was so much more real than his planetary body) still existed somewhere in the universe.

by his conscious labours and voluntary suffering he had perfected himself. compared with all the men i have known he was, as orage said, a walking god—a superman in the real sense.

but his teaching remains—his writings, his dances and his music, and these can be a source of real good for human beings now and in the future.
nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
or knock the breast, no weakness, no contempt,
dispraise or blame, nothing but well and fair,
and what may quiet us in a death so noble.