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Meeting with a remarkable man

My first meeting with Gurdjieff entirely changed my opinion of him and of what I might expect from him

Author P D Ouspensky
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I remember this meeting very well. We arrived at a small café in a noisy though not central street.

I saw a man of an type, no longer young, with a black mustache and piercing eyes, who astonished me first of all because he seemed to be disguised and completely out of keeping with the place and its atmosphere. I was still full of impressions of the East. And this man with the face of an Indian Raja or an Arab sheikh, whom I, at once seemed to see in a white burnoose or a gilded turban, seated here in this little café, where small dealers and commission agents met together, in a black overcoat with a velvet collar and a black bowler hat, produced the strange, unexpected, and almost alarming impression of a man poorly disguised, the sight of whom embarrasses you because you see he is not what he pretends to be and yet you have to speak and behave as though you did not see it. He spoke Russian incorrectly with a strong Caucasian accent, and this accent, with which we are accustomed to associate anything apart from philosophical ideas, strengthened still further the strangeness and the unexpectedness of this impression.

I do not remember how our talk began; I think we spoke of India; of esotericism and of schools. I gathered that G. had traveled widely and had been in places of which I had only heard and which I very much wished to visit. Not only did my questions not embarrass him, but it seemed to me that he put much more into each answer than I had asked for. I liked his manner of speaking, which was careful and precise. G. told me of his work in Moscow. I did not fully understand him. It transpired from what he said that in his work, which was chiefly psychological in character, chemistry played a big part. Listening to him for the first time I, of course, took his words literally.

“What you say,” I said, “reminds me of something I heard about a school in southern India. A Brahmin, an exceptional man in many respects, told a young Englishman in Travancore of a school which studied the chemistry of the human body, and by means of introducing or removing various substances, could change a man’s moral and psychological nature. This is very much like what you are saying.”

“It may be so,” said G., “but at the same time, it may be quite different. There are schools which appear to make use of similar methods, but understand them quite differently. A similarity of methods or even of ideas proves nothing.”

“There is another question that interests me very much,” I said. “There are substances which yogis take to induce certain states. Might these not be, in certain cases, narcotics? I have myself carried out a number of experiments in this direction and everything I have read about magic proves to me quite clearly that all schools at all times and in all countries have made a very wide use of narcotics for the creation of those states which make “magic” possible”.

“Yes”, said G. “ In many cases, these substances are those which you call ‘Narcotics’. But they can be used in entirely different ways. There are schools which make use of narcotics in the right way. People in these schools take them for self-study; in order to take a look ahead, to know their possibilities better, to see beforehand, “in advance”, what can be attained later on as the result of prolonged work. When a man sees this and is convinced that what he has learned theoretically really exists, he then works consciously, he knows where he is going. Sometimes this is the easiest way of being convinced of the real existence of those possibilities which man often suspects in himself. There is a special chemistry relating to this. There are particular substances for each function. Each function can either be strengthened or weakened, awakened or put to sleep. But to do this a great knowledge of the human machine and of this special chemistry is necessary. In all those schools which make use of this method experiments are carried out only when they are really necessary and only under the direction of experienced and competent men who can foresee all results and adopt measures against possible undesirable consequences. The substances used in these schools are not merely narcotics as you call them, although many of them are prepared from such drugs as opium, hashish and so on. Besides, a school in which such experiments are carried out, there are other schools which use these or similar substances, not for experiment or study, but to attain definite desired results, If only for a short time. Through a skillful use of such substances a man can be made very clever or very strong, for a certain time. Afterwards, of course, he dies or goes mad, but this is not taken into consideration. Such schools also exist. So you see that we must speak very cautiously about schools. They may do practically the same things, but the results will be totally different”.

I was deeply interested in everything G, said. I felt in it some new points of view, unlike any I had met with before. He invited me to go with him to a house where some of his pupils were to forgather. We took a carriage and went in the direction of Sokolniki. 

[ Excerpts from "In Search of Miraculous" published in 1949 ]
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