The transfiguration of Gurdjieff

I remember being impressed how little the Second World War featured in James Webb’s fine study of Gurdjieff, The Harmonious Circle (1980). For normal mortals, living through the Second World War would be a big thing, especially if you were doing so in German occupied Paris.

But Gurdjieff seems to have shrugged it off. The war was merely a backdrop, and an inconvenient one at that, to his primary interest, which was The Work.

Most people play walk-on parts in history – with Gurdjieff it was the other way round.

Gurdjieff was also around in the period before and during the Russian Revolution – Ouspensky describes his demeanour in his In Search of the Miraculous:

This was G.’s last visit to Petersburg. I tried to speak to him about impending events. But he said nothing definite on which I could base my own actions. A very interesting event took place in connection with his departure. This happened at the railway station. We were all seeing him off at the Nikolaievsky Station. G. was standing talking to us on the platform by the carriage. He was the usual G. we had always known. After the second bell he went into the carriage—his compartment was next to the door— and came to the window.

He was different! In the window we saw another man, not the one who had gone into the train. He had changed during those few seconds. It is very difficult to describe what the difference was, but on the platform he had been an ordinary man like anyone else, and from the carriage a man of quite a different order was looking at us, with a quite exceptional importance and dignity in every look and movement, as though he had suddenly become a ruling prince or a statesman of some unknown kingdom to which he was traveling and to which we were seeing him off.

Some of our party could not at the time clearly realize what was happening but they felt and experienced in an emotional way something that was outside the ordinary run of phenomena. All this lasted only a few seconds. The third bell followed the second bell almost immediately, and the train moved out.