Gurdjieff & Money

gurdjieff-1From: knol –by William Patrick Patterson

When Mr. Gurdjieff arrived in Russia in 1912 he did not come as a beggar but as a man of some wealth. He came with a million rubles, a fantastic sum at that time; one ruble could feed a lower­class family of five for about three days. He came as well with two invaluable collections, one of old and rare carpets, and another of porcelain and Chinese cloisonné. He came, as he said, with a “sacred task”1—to establish the ancient teaching of the Fourth Way in the West.

His plan was to create an institute by which “helper­instructors” would be trained who would spread the teaching throughout the West. Having already solved what he termed “the material question,” he was financially independent in the full meaning of the term. Thus, he had no need to depend upon or cater to anyone. He did not inherit this wealth, nor was it otherwise given to him, but rather with his wits and hard work he earned it. He speaks of how he amassed such a princely fortune in great detail in an “addendum” to the ten chapters that make up the Second Series of his initiatory text All and Everything.

America’s Predominant Urge

This addendum seems to throw the whole book off­kilter and raises a number of questions about the writer, for he made the money in large part by taking advantage of people’s ignorance and credulity. It is all rather distasteful—but then how are great sums of money made so quickly? We expect such of robber barons and politicians and their ilk but not of a man who is charged with a sacred task. And worse, Gurdjieff appeared to take pride in duping others, saying that “the process itself of earning money never took much of my time, because, owing to the resourcefulness and common sense developed in me by correct education, I was already in all these life matters what might be called an expert, cunning old blade.”2 Money itself, and the love of it, he spoke of as being “despicable and maleficent,” and often connected this with America and its identification with money. He spoke, for example, of the American habit of “implanting in children the love of dollars…just this love of ‘dollar business’ and of dollars themselves, has become, in the common presence of each of the native inhabitants of this continent who reaches responsible age, the predominant urge during his responsible what is called ‘feverish existence.’”

People’s Attitude Toward Money

But Gurdjieff was an eminently practical man and he understood that to accomplish his task he would need money. Arriving with such a magnificent sum, still he asked students for 1,000 rubles a year, an amount that caused Ouspensky, who was charged with enlisting pupils for the St. Petersburg groups, much consternation. Ouspensky reports Gurdjieff telling him that “he did not desire and ought not—he emphasized this—to spend his own money on the organization of the work. His work was not, and could not be, of a charitable nature and his pupils themselves ought to find the means for the hire of apartments where they could meet; for carrying out experiments; and so on.

Besides this, he added that observation showed that people who were weak in life proved themselves weak in the work.”4 Later, he added, “No, even if we needed no money at all it would still be necessary to keep this payment. It rids us at once of many useless people. Nothing shows up people so much as their attitude towards money.”

Gurdjieff understood that most people’s relationship to money was neurotic or juvenile: “Man never on any account wants to pay for anything,” he said, “and above all he does not want to pay for what is most important for him. You now know that everything must be paid for and that it must be paid for in proportion to what is received. But usually a man thinks to the contrary. For trifles, for things that are perfectly useless to him, he will pay anything. But for something important, never. This must come to him of itself.”6

Ouspensky obviously was of many minds about the “money question,” but he came to see that Gurdjieff was establishing the principle so that he might see the question at a deeper level. In practice, Gurdjieff often acted differently. As Ouspensky reported: “Many people indeed could not pay. And although in principle G. put the question very strictly, in practice he never refused anybody on the grounds that they had no money.”7

After the Russian Revolution broke out, Gurdjieff lost most of his money but had to support many of his students. Circumstances in revolutionary Russia became so chaotic that Gurdjieff and his group were finally forced to leave. In doing so, what remained of his rubles was absolutely worthless. In Essentuki he pointed out to Ouspensky: “Now do you understand why we collected money in Moscow and St. Petersburg? You said then that a thousand rubles was too much.  And will even this money be enough? One and a half persons paid. I have now already spent more than was collected then.”8

Arriving in Constantinople in July 1920, this man who eight years earlier had come to Russia with a million and more rubles now had urgent money needs. What he called “the material question” would follow him for all but a few years prior to his death. Within a year he and his followers would embark for Europe where, after many difficulties, he would finally establish in France his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.

The Pressure for Money

In Europe Gurdjieff was literally a stranger in a strange land. Not only did he have to teach himself a working knowledge of English, French and German but he also had to deal with European customs, almost all of which he found abnormal. And besides providing for the needs of his extended family, he continued to support many of those who came with him from Russia. The enormous strain and pressure required an unceasing struggle.

Seeing how identified Westerners were with money, Gurdjieff quickly saw its use not only in practical terms, but as a means of putting his students “in galoshes”—that is, totally psychologized between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no.’9 It was a painful experience, as we will see shortly. But, initially, his asking students for money was no problem. Orage said, for example: “Gurdjieff says that the attitude to finance is all part of the dream state that we live in. If men could wake up it would very soon be changed. Gurdjieff’s attitude to money is different from that of anyone I have met.… Gurdjieff may appear to be throwing money about, but he calculates and uses it for certain non­personal ends.”10

But under Gurdjieff’s constant insistence for money, Orage’s attitude began to change. Six years later Orage was saying, “The situation is anything but bright and I confess to a little fatigue with Gurdjieff and his ways. Perhaps that is because I’ve just had to find over two hundred dollars with which to discharge the debts he failed to remember.” [During his last visit to New York.]

Along with Orage, Gurdjieff pressured other students, especially Jean Toomer, who organized and led the Chicago groups, and regularly had to ask his students for special donations. As the demands never seemed to cease, they caused great turmoil with resulting doubts about Gurdjieff. And so, though he was thousands of miles and an ocean away, Gurdjieff created situations whereby students might see themselves. In this light it is interesting to read how Toomer reacted. It should be noted that Toomer was in a unique position in regard to
money, having married Marjorie Content, a woman of great wealth through her father, a Wall Street financier. In what follows it will be seen how Gurdjieff used money to create deep questions and suffering in Toomer. Interestingly, Toomer even saw, albeit only intellectually, what Gurdjieff was doing.

“I have always thought,” wrote Toomer, “that he used the money thing as a lever with which to work on you—one of the few and most effective ready­made levers available to him in relation to you, as you live under a system of private ownership and difficult peculiar finances, in short, under the capitalistic order, or disorder. Not that he does not want the money, but that he achieves two results, one for himself, one for yourself, by use of the one means.”11

One can see Toomer valiantly struggling not to get stuck in regard to Gurdjieff and money: “One surely must think twice and again and again,” he said, “before hardening and fixing the belief that Gurdjieff is after money only. To me, this belief never has and does not now seem tenable. Surely also, if one has feeling for the work and good will towards him, one must be on the alert so as not to refuse help if and when the call ‘Wolf, wolf,’ really means wolf.”