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Gurdjieff, Art, and the Legominism of Ashiata Shiemash

In: Religion and the Arts
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Michael Pittman Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

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Gurdjieff’s theory of art brings together several strands of thought expressed in his magnum opus Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (1950). In particular, Gurdjieff presents art as a means for the transmission of certain ideas through history, and interpreted by properly informed individuals. In one chapter, Beelzebub’s grandson, Hassein, asks him about the meaning of “legominism.” Beelzebub describes legominism as, “one of the means existing there of transmitting from generation to generation information about certain events of long-past ages, through just those three-brained beings who are thought worthy to be and who are called initiates” (Gurdjieff 349). This article will first briefly consider Gurdjieff’s presentation of art, particularly as it reflects Gurdjieff’s notion of legominism, and the transmission of knowledge to subsequent generations. I will then focus on Ashiata Shiemash, one of the chief exemplars found in Beelzebub’s Tales that exhibits the potentialities of an authentic legominism. As I will offer, the continuing potency of Gurdjieff’s narrative is that it operates on both a deconstructive level, to destroy or wipe away the destructive notions, past and present, just as it creates a space for a more positive view of the potential for certain aspects of cultural forms, such as art and religion.

Abstract

Gurdjieff’s theory of art brings together several strands of thought expressed in his magnum opus Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (1950). In particular, Gurdjieff presents art as a means for the transmission of certain ideas through history, and interpreted by properly informed individuals. In one chapter, Beelzebub’s grandson, Hassein, asks him about the meaning of “legominism.” Beelzebub describes legominism as, “one of the means existing there of transmitting from generation to generation information about certain events of long-past ages, through just those three-brained beings who are thought worthy to be and who are called initiates” (Gurdjieff 349). This article will first briefly consider Gurdjieff’s presentation of art, particularly as it reflects Gurdjieff’s notion of legominism, and the transmission of knowledge to subsequent generations. I will then focus on Ashiata Shiemash, one of the chief exemplars found in Beelzebub’s Tales that exhibits the potentialities of an authentic legominism. As I will offer, the continuing potency of Gurdjieff’s narrative is that it operates on both a deconstructive level, to destroy or wipe away the destructive notions, past and present, just as it creates a space for a more positive view of the potential for certain aspects of cultural forms, such as art and religion.

“Please, kind Grandfather, tell me. Is it really possible that all the intentions and efforts of those Babylonian learned beings have come to nothing, and that of all those fragments of knowledge then known on the Earth, nothing whatever has reached the contemporary three-brained beings?”

To this question of his grandson, Beelzebub replied: “Indeed, my boy, to the great sorrow of everything existing in the Universe, scarcely anything has survived from the results of their labors, and hence nothing has been inherited by your contemporary favorites.”

Gurdjieff 517

In Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, G. I. Gurdjieff (d. 1949) articulates his most forceful and wide-ranging critique of art, religion, politics, education and most of the major (and even minor) influences in human life, one that arguably still has application today. Though there have been notable recognitions of the importance and influence of his work among twentieth-century authors, and scholarly studies are still developing, his work remains largely unknown. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the difficulty of his work. James Moore, one of the more well-known biographers of Gurdjieff, writes about his idiosyncratic work, “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson is Gurdjieff’s masterpiece and no other book brings us closer to him. Readers who can rise to the double challenge of its profundity and its quite deliberate stylistic difficulty; who can summon again and again the necessary fine attention—will find encoded here all Gurdjieff’s psychological and cosmological ideas, and a fundamental critique” (Moore, “Gurdjieff: The Man and the Literature”). For a contemporary reader, perhaps what remains most intriguing about Beelzebub’s Tales, though embedded in his overtly destructive project, is the reconstructive task he undertakes. The aim of the first series of his writings, or Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson proper is, as articulated in the preface, “To destroy, mercilessly, without any compromises whatsoever, in the mentation and feelings of the reader, the beliefs and views, by centuries rooted in him, about everything existing in the world” (Gurdjieff vi). For the second series, Meetings With Remarkable Men, he writes that the aim is, “To acquaint the reader with the material required for a new creation and to prove the soundness and good quality of it” (Gurdjieff vi). Yet, he arguably accomplishes much of this second, positive task, or at least sets the stage for much of it, in Beelzebub’s Tales. Throughout the collection of tales, the narrator Beelzebub describes the Earth and its inhabitants from its creation to 1920, just before the time of Gurdjieff’s writing. For a misdeed in his youth, the main character, Beelzebub, was sent as an exile to our solar system, Ors, and while residing there makes six visits to Earth. At the opening of the Tales, Beelzebub, now a much older being, is traveling to an important meeting on the spaceship Karnak, accompanied by his friend and servant Ahoon, and his grandson Hassein. We come to understand Beelzebub’s view of earth as he recounts a long-succession of stories to his grandson Hassein for the duration of their travels. Hassein, increasingly sympathetic to the difficulties that humans face, asks the driving questions which inspire Beelzebub to tell of his findings and observations about life on earth.

In this article, I begin with one of the significant ideas found in Beelzebub’s Tales, in the idea of legominism—or the means by which authentic teachings are transmitted to successive generations—and his presentation of art as legominism. I then turn the main focus to one of the chief characters in Beelzebub’s Tales, the mythopoetic Ashiata Shiemash, as an ideal teacher, and his own legominism, which appears earlier in the Tales. Among the characters in Beelzebub’s Tales, Ashiata Shiemash is arguably the most important exemplar of a true prophet, or teacher. Addressed as the main focus of four chapters, Shiemash is a character who was “sent from Above” to aid the “three-brained beings of Earth”1 and the legacy of his teachings inculcated a long period of peace. Shiemash stands out for his teaching on conscience, and creation of a teaching, or legominism, which led to the end of class divisions and wars in his own time. As I will offer, the continuing potency of Gurdjieff’s narrative is that it operates on both a deconstructive level, to destroy or wipe away the destructive notions, past and present, just as it creates a space for a more positive view of the potential for certain aspects of cultural forms, such as religion and art.

I. Beelzebub and Art

A little less than halfway through Beelzebub’s Tales, Gurdjieff provides an extended description and discussion of art, and legominisms, in the lengthy thirtieth chapter, entitled “Art.” In many respects, the presentation of the topic parallels and anticipates the later critique of religion in the chapter “Religion,” and the threads of these discussions are woven throughout Beelzebub’s Tales. At the beginning of the chapter, the stage is set in a comment directed to his traveling companion, Ahoon, when Beelzebub explains, “You yourself were present, as I well remember, at the arising of that factor during our stay in Babylon—I mean that factor which has since become definitely maleficent for the contemporary beings there and which they themselves call ‘art’ ” (450). Beelzebub then proceeds to explain, for the benefit of Hassein, the notion of art, its invention, and history. He begins the story with a description events that took place in the city of Babylon, which he saw for himself on one of his later visits to the planet earth. In this description he condemns the impact of what is known, at the time of Beelzebub’s travel (and Gurdjieff’s writing in the 1920s), as art:

This same already definite idea there, now existing there under the denomination art is, at the present time for those unhappy favorites of yours, one of those automatically acting data the totality of which of itself gradually, and though almost imperceptibly yet very surely, converts them—that is, beings having in their presences every possibility for becoming particles of a part of Divinity—merely into what is called “living flesh.”

Gurdjieff 451

Thus, beginning the story of art, Beelzebub’s indicts the negative influence of art, in particular for hindering the beings of earth from becoming “particles of a part of divinity.” Characteristic for Gurdjieff’s narrative, the aim, or potential aim, is articulated with the obstacle, in the same passages.

One of the overarching themes in the cycle of stories is that human beings, or the “three-brained beings” on earth, have lost the ability to fulfill their duty, as creatures made in the image of God. In a later passage in the chapter on art, Beelzebub describes the unfortunate situation, using the characteristic humor drawn from the folk character Mullah Nassr Eddin:2

Hence it is that there just proceeds in them that particularity of their common presence which is that with one part of their essence they always intend to wish one thing; at the same time with another part they definitely wish something else; and thanks to the third part, they already do something quite the contrary.

In short, what happens in their psyche is just what our dear teacher Mullah Nassr Eddin defines by the word a ‘mix-up.’

Gurdjieff 487

In another description further on in the chapter, this time on theater, Beelzebub notes the negative impact on human initiative:

As regards the question why it became the custom among them to assemble, often in considerable groups, in these theaters of theirs, it was in my opinion because these contemporary theaters of theirs and all that goes on in them happen to correspond very well to the abnormally formed common presences of most of these contemporary three-brained beings, in whom there had been already finally lost the need, proper to three-brained beings, to actualize their own initiative in everything, and who exist only according to chance shocks from outside or to the promptings of the consequences crystallized in them of one or other of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer.

500

The variety of forms of art, as with other cultural forms, are repeatedly criticized as deleterious influences in human life. In the passage above, theater is connected to the loss of independent initiative, leaving human beings subject to mechanical influences from outside or to the forces of egoism, vanity, and self-interest.3

At the beginning of the chapter on art, Beelzebub recounts to Hassein that when he visited Babylon he was particularly interested in learning the language of the Hellas, or Greek. While there, he saw a sign indicating that a new group for “foreign learned beings” was being formed, and discovered that the reports and scientific discussions would be given only in the local and Hellenic languages. Beelzebub, being interested in learning Greek as well as these subjects, enrolled in the club, and was accepted. The group became known as the “Club-of-Adherents-of-Legominism.” The club had set for its aim to investigate and two areas relating to legominisms. The first was for the members to collect information about the legominisms from their homelands, and to share them with the other members. The second aim concerned “what was to be done in order that the Legominism might be transmitted to remote generations by some other means that only through initiates” (Gurdjieff 456). While sometimes a multivalent term in the Tales, the word legominism is based on the Greek root, lego, to say or speak, and with it the connotation of exhortation. Within the Tales, the notion of legominism was introduced and defined, first, in the chapters on Ashiata Shiemash. In the earlier story, Beelzebub, in a response to Hassein, his grandson, defines the term:

“This word Legominism,” replied Beelzebub, “is given to one of the means existing there of transmitting from generation to generation information about certain events of long-past ages, through just those three-brained beings who are thought worthy to be and who are called initiates.”

349

While the focus in the earlier chapter was on the teachings of Ashiata Shiemash, to which I will return, Beelzebub here describes and expands the notion of legominism more broadly, but attaches the notion of art to the transmission of authentic knowledge to succeeding generations. In another reference to the stature and sincerity of the members of the club that Beelzebub joined, he notes that some of the members of the Adherents of Legominism were worthy of being considered initiates of Ashiata Shiemash:

Owing to their genuine and sincere striving to the corresponding manner of their existence and to their being-acts, these several terrestrial beings had already, even before their arrival in Babylon, been considered initiates of the first degree by those terrestrial three-brained beings worthy to become what are called “All-the-Rights-Possessing-Initiates-according-to-the-renewed-rules-of-the-Most-Saintly-Ashiata-Shiemash.”

454

In Beelzebub’s recounting, he continues to describes how the word “art” was used for the first time in one of the early discussions among the Adherents of Legominism. In this meeting, a member of the club, Aksharpanziar, who is described as a “very aged Chaldean learned being” (457), made a statement that became the foundation for the understanding of the group’s further efforts. This aged Aksharpanziar remarked:

The past and especially the last two centuries have shown us that during those inevitable psychoses of the masses, from which wars between states and various popular revolts within states always arise, many of the innocent victims of the popular bestiality are invariably those who, owing to their piety and conscious sacrifices, are worthy to be initiates and through whom various Legominisms containing information about all kinds of real events which have taken place in the past are transmitted to the conscious beings of succeeding generations.

458

While authentic teachings have been transmitted from prior generations, along with succeeding living “initiates” or those who understand the teachings, these have, in almost all cases, been destroyed as a result of wars and revolts. Thus, the continuing transmission of authentic lessons via reliable teachers is, and continues to be, in grave peril. The club is driven to find some means of overcoming the limitations of the unstable conditions on earth.

Aksharpanziar also refers to Ashiata Shiemash in his report:

Let this means be continued as before, as it has been on the Earth from the dawn of centuries and as this form of transmission by initiates through their “ableness-to-be” was renewed by the great prophet Ashiata Shiemash.

If we contemporary men desire at the present time to do something beneficent for men of future times, all we must do is just to add to this already existing means of transmission some new means or other, ensuing from the ways of our contemporary life on the Earth as well as from the many-centuried experience of former generations, in accordance with the information that has come down to us.

Gurdjieff 459

Aksharpanziar goes on to suggest that they renew, following the work of Ashiata Shiemash, the current means of transmission found in customs and techniques already established in life:

I personally suggest that this transmission to future generations be made through the human what are called “Afalkalna,” that is through various productions of man’s hands which have entered into use in the daily life of the people, and also through the human “Soldjinoha,” that is through various procedures and ceremonies which have already been established for centuries in the social and family life of people and which automatically pass from generation to generation.

459–460

And, connected more specifically to forms usually connected to religion, he continues to further define “Soldjinoha,” and their results:

In regard to the human Soldjinoha, as for instance various “mysteries,” “religious ceremonies,” “family-and-social-customs,” “religious-and-popular-dances,” and so on, then although they often change in their external form with the flow of time, yet the impulses engendered in man through them and the manifestations of man derived from them always remain the same; and thus by placing the various useful information and true knowledge we have already attained within the inner factors which engender these impulses and these useful manifestations, we can fully count on their reaching our very remote descendants, some of whom will decipher them and thereby enable all the rest to utilize them for their good.

460

Here, we find a theory of transmission of influences. In terms of Gurdjieff’s theory of art, or legominism, of particular importance is the idea that these cultural forms have the capacity to preserve what was intended by the creators and to evoke the same response in the participant or observer, even after the passage of time.

Aksharpanziar concluded his report, and all in attendance seemed to understand the soundness of his presentation and agreed to follow his recommendations. They then set about to investigate the different means and forms through which this transmission can take place. Each member brought, from their own community, examples, sometimes in miniature form, to present to the group. They organized the presentation of their activities and investigations on different days of the week, each dedicated to a particular form or area. Mondays were devoted to religious and civil ceremonies; Tuesdays were dedicated to architecture; Wednesdays to painting; on Thursdays, religious and popular dances were presented; Friday was the day of sculpture; Saturdays were the “day-of-the-mysteries,” or theater; and Sundays were for music and song (464–465). Beelzebub continues to relate how in these meetings, it was resolved that the adherents of legominism would use each of these preexisting forms of expression, or art, as a means for the transmission of different teachings. Of note, art in this presentation is both the critique of art, and the retooling of the definition of art. Here, art is broader than what has historically been thought of as art, and it includes forms that have been traditionally the purview of religion. Likewise, the notion of what is religious is extended and expanded, and religious forms are often coupled with civil or popular forms, as in the case with ceremonies and dance. The emphasis for both is shifted from the form to its purpose, from the style or outer method to the transmission of teachings from the past to the following generations. Additionally, there is a requirement that one must interpret this art, an initiate, and this initiate must be specially prepared, and have a certain level of knowledge, experience, and being.

Beelzebub also continues to show how the transmission of the ideas and teachings will take place with the aid of laws that are already in place in the basic operation of the universe. In the case of art, in order to preserve important teachings and to insulate them from the tribulations of war, they decided to employ the law of sevenfoldness, which, as Aksharpanziar stated, “The Law of Sevenfoldness exists on the Earth and will exist forever and in everything” (461). The law of seven, based on the notion of wholeness within any process, would be employed in the various forms of art, or legominisms, and be “indicated by means of inexactitudes in the Law of Sevenfoldness” (465). Though the methods of how the inexactitudes are to be used is often generalized, Beelzebub provides small examples. In the discussion of a religious ceremony, an example is given:

For instance, let us suppose that the leader of the given ceremony, the priest, or according to contemporaries, the clergyman, has to raise his arms towards Heaven.

This posture of his infallibly demands, in accordance with the Law of Sevenfoldness, that his feet should normally be placed in a certain position; but these Babylonian learned beings intentionally put the feet of the said leader of the ceremony not as they should be placed in accordance with this Law, but otherwise.

And in general it was just in all these “otherwises” that the learned beings of that group indicated in the movements of the participants in the given religious ceremony, by a conventional what is called “alphabet,” those ideas which they intended should be transmitted through these ceremonies to the men-beings of their remote descendants.

Gurdjieff 465

Similar approaches are found, though brief, in some of the descriptions of the other arts, but with a similar indication of the inclusion of a more ambiguous “otherwise.” In a discussion of the use of various forms of color, another method is described:

… whenever the Babylonian learned painters wove or embroidered with colored threads or colored their productions, they inserted the distinctions of the tonalities of the colors in the crosslines as well as in the horizontal lines and even in the intersecting lines of color, not in the lawful sequence in which this process really proceeds, in accordance with the Law of Sevenfoldness, but otherwise; and in these also lawful “otherwises,” they placed the contents of some or other information or knowledge.

475

In other sections of the book, Gurdjieff goes into more detail on these laws, chiefly the law of three and the law of seven. While beyond the scope of this article, it is important to note the importance of the law of seven, as well as the law of three, in Gurdjieff’s pscycho-cosmology, both as a mode of presentation, and possible key to further interpretations.

The dynamism of the Tales, and the method of presentation of art and religion, are intriguingly reflected in the language of the Russian literary theorist, M. M. Bakhtin (1895–1975), who wrote on Rabelais4 at nearly the same time that Gurdjieff was engrossed in his own career as an author. I have made the point in earlier work (G. I. Gurdjieff and Classical Spirituality in Contemporary America), but to restate Bakhtin is valuable because of both the potency of Bakhtin’s language, and the manner in which it reflects Gurdjieff’s objective. Bakhtin notes:

This fusion of the polemical and the affirmative tasks—the tasks of purging and restoring the authentic world and the authentic man—is what determines the distinctive features of Rabelais’ artistic method, the idiosyncrasies of his fantastic realism. It is necessary to devise new matrices between objects and ideas that will answer to their real nature, to once again line up and join together those things that had been falsely disunified and distanced from one another—as well as to disunite those things that had been falsely brought into proximity. The essence of this method consists, first of all, in the destruction of all ordinary ties, of all the habitual matrices of things and ideas, and the creation of unexpected connections, including the most surprising logical links “allogisms”) and linguistic connections.

Bakhtin 169

Likewise, Gurdjieff fused the polemical and affirmative tasks in his work in an attempt to restore “the authentic world and the authentic man.” He sought to restore, much like Rabelais writing in his own time, cultural forms that have lost their meaning, such as art, religion, and, as Beelzebub notes, even the good habits that serve to maintain some semblance of ordinary existence for human beings. Repeatedly, Gurdjieff emphasizes that contemporary forms of art, and religion, for instance, are hollow shells, far from their former power. In the emphasis on their destructive and deleterious effects, Gurdjieff disunites “those things that had been falsely brought into proximity.” Yet, while suggesting their former potency, he suggests in moments, or in dispersed comments, the possibility for renewal through the creation of new ties between art, religion, and spiritual transmission.

II. The Renewals of Ashiata Shiemash

Following the indications in the chapter “Art,” about Ashiata Shiemash, I turn to the cycle of stories about Ashiata Shiemash, presented in four earlier chapters in the book (chapters twenty-five through twenty-eight). While in other parts of the Tales Gurdjieff employs recognizable religious figures and teachers, such as Jesus, Muhammad, and Buddha, Ashiata Shiemash represents one of the outstanding figures that do not have an obvious historical precedent. Ashiata Shiemash himself, and his legominism, are presented as an ideal model for religion, art, and the diffusion of critical teachings meant to enable humans to live a viable existence. In this chapter, we return to Babylon time seven hundred years before the Babylonian period addressed in the chapter on art. While Ashiata Shiemash has been mentioned previously, Beelzebub now introduces Hassein to his life, work, and influence in much more detail. In the trajectory of the story, Ashiata Shiemash, although “sent from Above,” realizes, through his own efforts, the means by which the community of this time might manifest the qualities appropriate and becoming to all three-brained beings. Gurdjieff’s critique, as it does throughout the Tales, destroys the common matrices upon which dominant and foundational concepts, institutions, and traditions exist. The corrupted concepts, such as Faith, Hope, and Love, and the institution of religion are replaced by a reconceptualization of the faculty of conscience and a revitalized view of the role of prophets in human history, especially within this mini-narrative of the life and work of Ashiata Shiemash. Additionally, Beelzebub touches on many of the major ideas and themes of the Tales as a whole, some of which were introduced in the preceding chapters, including the organ Kundabuffer, conscience, the role of messengers, and the destructive capacities of egoism. Gurdjieff also introduces in these chapters an even more thorough analysis of human psychology—and, in particular, the terms which describe a division between conscious and subconscious awareness.

In the first, brief chapter of the Shiemash series, entitled “The Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash, Sent from Above to the Earth,” we are introduced, in a mythologized form, a revised vision of prophethood as well as the sense and significance of religion and the role that it might play in human life. In the figure of Ashiata Shiemash, Gurdjieff provides a model for understanding beings that are considered to be messengers, and the transmission of their teachings. One of the critical dimensions of this view is that prophets are beings specially sent by the Common Creator of the Universe to different communities at different times for the purposes of aiding the beings on Earth. This is a model that also reflects more closely the understanding of the role of prophets in the Islamic tradition. In Beelzebub’s particular language, he describes Ashiata Shiemash as a being who was sent from Above, expressly for the purpose of aiding the beings on Earth in ridding themselves of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer. The unfortunately implanted organ Kundabuffer (even with its subsequent removal) is the root of all of the maleficent and egoistic behavior found in human beings, such as selfishness, vanity, hubris, and the like. Gurdjieff sets the stage by presenting the uniqueness of Ashiata Shiemash and his approach:

The Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash was the only Messenger sent from Above to your planet who succeeded by His holy labors in creating on that planet conditions in which the existence of its unfortunate beings somewhat resembled for a certain time the existence of the three-brained beings of the other planets of our great Universe on which beings exist with the same possibilities; and He was also the first on that planet Earth, who for the mission preassigned to Him refused to employ for the three-brained beings of that planet the ordinary methods which had been established during centuries by all the other Messengers from Above.

The Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash taught nothing whatever to the ordinary three-brained beings of the Earth, nor did He preach anything to them, as was done before and after Him by all the Messengers sent there from Above with the same aim.

And in consequence, chiefly of this, none of His teachings passed in any form from His contemporaries even to the third generation of ordinary beings there, not to mention the contemporary ordinary beings there.

Gurdjieff 348

After explaining the notion of legominism to Hassein, and its purpose, he adds that “it is the sole means by which information about certain events that proceeded in times long past has accurately reached the beings of remote later generations” (351). However, this method is no longer effective, and contemporary beings have heard only scraps of information about past events. Beelzebub laments that now, in the contemporary context, it is no longer possible to learn accurate information about past events. As a result, it is also impossible to refrain from laughter whenever he hears a lecture or presentation about some long past events: “These lectures or ‘stories’ there are crammed with fictions so absurd that even if our Arch-cunning Lucifer or his assistants tried to invent them, they could not succeed” (352).

In the second chapter in the sequence, “The Legominism Concerning the Deliberations of the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash Under the Title of ‘The Terror-of-the-Situation,’ ” Beelzebub describes how Ashiata Shiemash began his prophetic career. Beelzebub reports that Ashiata Shiemash, before attaining responsible age, or full maturity, had intended to achieve the task he had been sent for through one of the three “sacred being-impulses” of either Faith, Hope, or Love. However, upon reflecting upon the conditions of his life and the life of others around him, he was forced to make a significant alteration to his plan. As he came of age, he deduced that these three impulses, Faith, Hope, and Love, had degenerated into such a state that they were no longer a viable means by which he could accomplish his task. In consequence, he set out to earnestly meditate on the appropriate direction and form for his teaching. After three forty-day periods of fasting and self-mortification in order to bring himself into the state of what Beelzebub describes as “all-brained-balanced-being-perspective,” Ashiata Shiemash categorically decided that none of the means previously used by other beings sent from Above were appropriate for his specific mission. The sacred impulses of Faith, Hope, and Love and the teachings and methods meant to transmit them, had, over time, become contaminated in the presences of human beings through the mixing with the qualities of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer. These once sacred properties had become tainted by human egoism and, over time, this property had been passed by heredity to all of the following generations and had become so deeply ingrained in their behavior that none of those living at the time of Ashiata Shiemash were truly able to have an authentic Faith, Hope, or Love. On the contrary, they were only capable of egoistic qualities, such as “vanity,” “self-love,” “pride,” “imagination,” “arrogance,” and similar properties unbecoming to three-brained beings (Gurdjieff 356).

During his long meditations done in seclusion, Ashiata Shiemash realized that there was only one means now remaining by which the three-brained beings on Earth might be able to act as other three-brained beings in the Universe. This was through the being-impulse “Objective-conscience.” As a result of his meditations, he apprehended that the conscience does not properly function in the waking consciousness of human beings. Rather, conscience, though still intact, remains latent in the subconscious. Because it remains in the subconscious, it has not been tainted by human egoism and, consequently, it has not been distorted or diminished in potency, like the other sacred impulses. Accordingly, he reasoned that if conscience can become blended with the waking consciousness of these beings, then they may begin to liberate themselves of the properties of the Kundabuffer and acquire the appropriate positive qualities. Ashiata Shiemash wrote down all of his collected reflections in a treatise—or legominism—entitled, “The Terror of the Situation.” The conclusion of this treatise summarizes his view of necessity for the realization of the latent faculty of Objective-Conscience. Beelzebub shares with Hassein the conclusion:

… if the functioning of that being-factor still surviving in their common-presences were to participate in the general functioning of that consciousness of theirs in which they pass their daily, as they here say, ‘waking-existence,’ only then would it still be possible to save the contemporary three-brained beings here from the consequences of the properties of that organ which was intentionally implanted into their first ancestors.

My further meditations then confirmed for me that it would be possible to attain this only if their general being-existence were to flow for a long time under foreseeingly-corresponding conditions.

When all the above-mentioned was completely transubstantiated in me, I decided to consecrate the whole of myself from that time on to the creation here of such conditions that the functioning of the “sacred-conscience” still surviving in their subconsciousness, might gradually pass into the functioning of their ordinary consciousness.

May the blessing of OUR ALMIGHTY OMNI-LOVING COMMON FATHER UNI-BEING CREATOR ENDLESNESS be upon my decision, Amen.

359–360

Closing with a solemn request for a blessing from the Creator Endlessness, Ashiata’s treatise on the “Terror of the Situation,” states in emphatic and clear terms the necessity for the realization of conscience, not only for the individuals around him but also for the people of the following generations. This actualization, he concludes, must be predicated upon the creation of conditions in which the conscience may develop and be made a permanent part of the waking consciousness of the humans of Earth. All of the future teachings and actions of Ashiata Shiemash were based on the conclusions set forth in this statement. Following the pronouncement of this statement, Ashiata Shiemash made the object of his life the arrangements necessary for conveying and implementing these insights. His self-defined mission entailed the creation of conditions in which the “sacred-conscience” may, by certain sustained and guided efforts, pass from the subconscious to the waking consciousness of ordinary beings.

Gurdjieff introduces here, in the hagiographical chronotope (literally “time and space”)5 of Ashiata Shiemash, the terms of the argument concerning the limits of Hope, Faith, and Love. In this presentation, Shiemash’s legominism reveals that these once-honorable and genuinely transformative qualities, are now only used in pedestrian and meaningless ways. As with the initial discussion of the soul in the first chapter, Gurdjieff disassembles the assumptions that serve to underpin the structures of impotent institutions of religion and offers in their place a potentially practical means for self-realization. For Gurdjieff, though personal effort is emphasized here, proper and effective “being-impulses” are nevertheless required in the process. In the frame of Beelzebub’s tale, these qualities connote a factor in human life that is provided for from the Creator Endlessness. The once potent and sacred being-impulses of Hope, Faith, and Love have wholly given way to egoism and a false optimism. What remains is a situation that is dire and, moreover, critical, as the title of Ashiata Shiemash’s treatise makes clear. What remains, at least is a potentiality, according to the doctrine of Ashiata Shiemash, is the “sacred being-impulse conscience.” Through the realization of the latent conscience, one may eventually overcome the egoism—the remnants of the organ Kundabuffer—that dominates waking consciousness.

In the next passages, Beelzebub delivers a diatribe on the present state of the now ineffective sacred impulses. In order to give to Hassein an example of the abnormal way that the once sacred and effective being-impulses function in humans, Beelzebub describes how the impulse Hope functions in the consciousness of humans. Hope used to be a wholly positive and transformative force in the lives of humans. However, Hope has now degenerated and become one of the chief causes for the human being’s inability to manifest the properties proper to three-brained beings. The cause of this disease is the mixing of the once becoming being-impulse Hope with the qualities of the ego that resulted from the organ Kundabuffer:

Thanks to this abnormal hope of theirs a very singular and most strange disease, with a property of evolving, arose and exists among them there even until now—a disease called “tomorrow.”

This strange disease “tomorrow” brought with it terrifying consequences, and particularly for those unfortunate three-brained beings there who chance to learn and to become categorically convinced with the whole of their presence that they possess some very undesirable consequences for the deliverance from which they must make certain efforts, and which efforts moreover they even know just how to make, but owing to this maleficent disease “tomorrow” they never succeed in making these required efforts.

And this is just the maleficent part of all that great terrifying evil, which, owing to various causes great and small, is concentrated in the process of the ordinary being-existence of these pitiable three-brained beings; and by putting off from “tomorrow” till “tomorrow,” those unfortunate beings there who do by chance learn all about what I have mentioned are also deprived of the possibility of ever attaining anything real …

Thanks to the disease “tomorrow,” the three-brained beings there, particularly the contemporary ones, almost always put off till “later” everything that needs to be done at the moment, being convinced that “later” they will do better and more.

Gurdjieff 362

Symptomatic of the degradation of legominisms in general, the degradation of Hope is now found in the degraded form of the concept of “tomorrow.” This once becoming attribute of hope has become degraded into an obstacle to the proper development of human beings. It has become such an obstruction to these beings that they are unable to fulfill even basic obligations in life. Though bitingly humorous and satirical, the passage is, nonetheless, instructive. One means by primary ways in which Gurdjieff invites the reader in these passages to self-reflection is by satirizing the elements of daily life and, in Bakhtin’s language, “disunite those things that had been falsely brought into proximity” (69). By reflecting the infirmity of our convictions and motivations as they appear in this disease of tomorrow, Gurdjieff shows how the minutiae of daily life distract us from our possible destinies. In this scenario, “tomorrow” has become a falsely imagined future, a psychic picture of a time in which one will accomplish more and better of what one can do in the present. This false Hope has become an obstacle to making even normal efforts in life, much less such difficult being-efforts as self-cognizance, development of conscience, or attendance to the needs of the soul. The mission of Ashiata Shiemash mythologically represents the key to the reversal of the situation. The realization of conscience in the waking consciousness presents the possibility for the reversal of the effects resulting from the implantation of the organ Kundabuffer.

The following chapter, entitled “The Organization for Man’s Existence Created by the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash,” describes the efforts that Ashiata Shiemash made to help the beings of Asia in his work with a certain brotherhood of beings. Beelzebub describes how as soon as Ashiata Shiemash came down from the place of his meditations, Mount Veziniama, he went to the capital city Djoolfapal, in the country Kurlandtech, which lies in the middle of Asia. There, Ashiata Shiemash discovered and established relations with a brotherhood called Tchaftantouri, whose name means “To-be-or-not-to-be-at-all.” This brotherhood was made up of a number of priests, two of whom had become “genuine initiates” and, as Beelzebub informs Hassein, already had higher being-bodies—an indicator of the attainment of the highest states of spiritual transformation. Having higher being-bodies, they were able to develop their reason to the state of Objective Reason and, thus, were able to comprehend the soundness of the teaching of Ashiata Shiemash. Based on their work with Ashiata Shiemash, they formed another brotherhood that was later on called Heechtvori, meaning “Only-he-will-be-called-and-will-become-the-Son-of-God-who-acquires-in-himself-Conscience” (Gurdjieff 368). This almost indirect reference to the brotherhood Heechtvori, might nearly cause the reader to miss the central importance of conscience in Gurdjieff’s teachings. Yet, this notion becomes central to Gurdjieff’s restorative project.

It was this brotherhood that helped spread the teaching of Ashiata Shiemash around almost the whole continent of Asia. These brothers went to various places and, under the guidance of Ashiata Shiemash, helped spread his teaching:

… these same brethren … spread the information that in the subconsciousness of people there are crystallized and are always present the data manifested from Above for engendering in them the Divine impulse of genuine conscience, and that only he who acquires the “ableness” that the actions of these data participate in the functioning of that consciousness of theirs in which they pass their everyday existence, has in the objective sense the honest right to be called and really to be a genuine son of our COMMON FATHER CREATOR of all that exits.

Gurdjieff 368

Mirroring, though inversely, the later reference to the dissolution of being and willfulness in the chapter on Art, we see the outline of the properly functioning conscience. Conscience, in the above passage must be engendered in one’s waking consciousness, thereby, providing a driving and active force, an “ableness,” that will allow one to begin to work on themselves appropriately in order to rid themselves of the properties engendered by the organ Kundabuffer. Only then, according to the teaching of Ashiata Shiemash, can one appropriately be called a human being in the full sense. Only when conscience participates in the waking consciousness can the human or any three-brained being be understood as a child of the Common Father Creator. In this instance, conscience is characterized as the representative of the Common Creator.

Beelzebub continues to describe how when a number of the members of the brotherhood Heechtvori attained “Objective Reason” and had convinced not less than one hundred others of the possibility of conscience, then Ashiata Shiemash began to educate them further into the details of certain “objective truths” which were previously unknown. Among these principles, known as “Ashiata’s Renewals,” were details about the nature of humans and the role of conscience:

The factors for the being-impulse conscience arise in the presences of the three-brained beings from the localization of the particles of the ‘emanations-of-the-sorrow’ of our OMNI-LOVING AND LONG-SUFFERING-ENDLESS-CREATOR; that is why the source of the manifestation of genuine conscience in three-centered beings is sometimes called the REPRESENTATIVE OF THE CREATOR.

And this sorrow is formed in our ALL-MAINTAINING COMMON FATHER from the struggle constantly proceeding in the Universe between joy and sorrow.

Gurdjieff 372

In this and subsequent passages, the presence of conscience is more explicitly connected to the formation of the higher being-bodies and the soul. This discussion of the formation of conscience forms the basis for being-Partkdolg-duty, or conscious labor and intentional suffering; the inner, practical discipline of spiritual struggle. Once conscience is acquired, via conscious labor and intentional suffering, one may have the capacity to come in contact with real suffering and, even, compassion. In these passages, Gurdjieff draws a parallel between the suffering of the Creator and the suffering of the created being. In an early talk about conscience and the connection to suffering, recorded by his Russian student P. D. Ouspensky (1878–1947), Gurdjieff remarks, “But even a momentary awakening of conscience in a man who has thousands of different I’s is bound to involve suffering” (Ouspensky 156). In the later language of Beelzebub, intentional suffering undertaken by any three-brained being is necessary for the formation of higher being-bodies and soul. J. G. Bennett (1897–1974), a British student, emphasizes the importance of this in Gurdjieff’s teachings, specifically in relation to Ashiata Shiemash: “Conscience and compassion are inseparable. The legominism of Ashiata Shiemash, called ‘The Terror of the Situation,’ contains the quintessence of Gurdjieff’s teaching about human life on earth” (“Gurdjieff’s All and Everything: A Study”).

III. The Positive Influence of Ashiata Shiemash’s Legominism

In the next passages, Beelzebub shifts the focus from the realm of the interior to the realm of the exterior world, and legominism as a teaching to be passed on to others. Beelzebub begins by describing how Ashiata Shiemash’s teaching was understood, taught, and applied by the Heechvorti brotherhood, which means, “Only-he-will-be-called-and-will-become-the-Son-of-God-who-acquires-in-himself-Conscience.” As the teaching spread throughout Asia, it achieved a great number of positive and long-lasting consequences. Within ten years after the introduction of Ashiata Shiemash’s teaching, class or caste distinctions and state organizations—the two chief causes for the abnormal conditions of being existence—began to disappear. Originally, the separation into classes, or castes—a fundamentally negative and even unnatural state of existence—was the result of the one characteristic of humans that is unique to the three-brained beings of Earth: egoism. This egoism was formed in them soon after what is called the second Transapalnian perturbation, or the “cataclysm-not-according-to-law,” and continued to strengthen as it was passed down by heredity and education to future generations. Like the qualities engendered by the organ kundabuffer, it was even passed down to the contemporary beings, “as a certain lawful and inseparable part of their general psyche.”

Providing a subtler analysis of the human psyche, Beelzebub ascribes the egoism of humans to a particular aberration caused by the division of human consciousness into two parts, one conscious and the other subconscious, or unconscious. As he mentions several times in the Tales, this character flaw is unique amongst all three-brained beings of the Universe. After the period of the second Transapalnian perturbation, their general psyche “had become dual” (Gurdjieff 376). As Beelzebub continued to study the three-brained beings of Earth, he became particularly interested in this phenomenon of the dual psyche and investigated it especially during his sixth and last trip to Earth. He discovered that the property of egoism had taken root in the consciousness of the humans on Earth, and, as a result, many unbecoming properties were manifested as an ordinary and now law-conformable part of their behavior. In further research, he discovered that the systems of education had inculcated the properties of egoism to such a degree that these unusual three-brained beings no longer have the ability to be sincere towards others around them. The inability to be sincere with others, and, moreover, with themselves is yet another obstacle to the proper functioning of conscience in their waking consciousness.

Through Beelzebub’s observations and research, he was able to prove conclusively that the impulse of egoism had become the center of gravity of humans on earth. This egoism was the primary “contributory factor” in engendering many other impulses in humans, including “ ‘cunning,’ ‘envy,’ ‘hate,’ ‘hypocrisy,’ ‘contempt,’ ‘haughtiness,’ ‘servility,’ ‘slyness,’ ‘ambition,’ ‘doublefacedness,’ and so on and so forth” (379). As a result, their psyche had formed two distinct and irreconcilable parts, conscious and subconscious—with little to no communication between them. Beelzebub also adds that whenever the property of conscience begins to arise in the conscious awareness, as it inevitably sometimes does, then it is immediately pounded back down into their unconscious part by a number of means. Beelzebub caustically describes to Hassein the means of this mechanical repression of conscience:

Here it is necessary to say, that these favorites of yours, particularly the contemporary ones, become ideally expert in not allowing this inner impulse of theirs, called Remorse-of-Conscience, to linger long in their common presences.

No sooner do they begin to sense the beginning, or even only, so to say, the “prick” of the arising of the functioning in them of such a being-impulse, than they immediately, as is said “squash” it, whereupon this impulse, not yet quite formed in them, at once calms down.

For this “squashing” of the beginning of any Remorse-of-Conscience in themselves, they have even invented some very efficient special means, which now exist there under the names of “alcoholism,” “cocainism,” “morphinism,” “nicotinism,” “onanism,” “monkism,” “Athenianism,” and other names also ending in “ism.”

382

Because of the strength of the duality in their nature in combination with the conditions of life that developed as a result, it has become impossible for any single individual to bear the experience of conscience. C. S. Nott (1887–1978), a British student who spent time with Gurdjieff at his Institute in France in the 1920s, records a discussion of Gurdjieff on conscience:

Objective conscience is not a stick with two ends, it is a realization of what is good and bad formed in us through the ages. But it happens that this organ, for many reasons, is covered by a kind of crust, which can only be broken by intense suffering; then conscience speaks. But after a time man calms down, and again the organ is covered up. In ordinary circumstances a strong shock is needed for the organ to be uncovered.

41

Here, conscience enables one to discern good and bad. Through the shock of suffering, the latent conscience may be revealed. Yet, humans take all kinds of actions to squash the intensity of conscience from their waking consciousness. In the later language of Beelzebub’s Tales, the destructive reactions and avoidance techniques prompted by the feeling of conscience are lampooned in the many familiar ‘isms,’ including drug usage, smoking, masturbation, monasticism, and, perhaps, the indulgence in fantastic conversations and exchanges of serious philosophical import as the now-famous Ancient Greeks were accustomed to do.

Beelzebub continues in this discussion with Hassein to relate none of these communities were based on class, or caste, distinction. Instead, they developed new positions of leadership based neither on heredity nor election, but on the recognition of inner qualities and the fulfillment of being-Partkdolg-duty. In these conditions, all the beings began to strive for Objective conscience and Objective Reason and to fulfill the five “being-obligolnian-strivings”6 enumerated by Ashiata Shiemash. Because many “worked consciously” upon themselves and strove to live in accordance with the five strivings, they “quickly arrived at results of objective attainments perceptible to others” (Gurdjieff 386). In so doing, these developed beings attracted the attention of others, and the most attained amongst them were made the leaders of the rest. Because of the development of the conscience in even ordinary beings, people were able to recognize instinctively the qualities of leadership and attainment in those around them. According to Beelzebub’s observations, after the introduction of the teaching of conscience and the establishment of new communities led by consciously striving individuals, the teaching spread within ten years to the whole of Asia as well as to some other continents. After the resultant cessation of two very unbecoming manifestations of human communities—state organizations and the assigning of each other to various classes—wars also began to cease. Additionally, Beelzebub noticed that two other significant changes took place. The birth rate decreased to a fifth of what it was, and the life span of people increased. And, for a time, a sustained period of prosperity and success continued.

Of importance in these passages is that the teaching does not remain a static philosophy, it is transmitted to and kept alive by a group of dedicated beings, who are then able to transmit it to others, and the results are far reaching. On the role of human beings in the process transmission, Jacob Needleman, Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University, observes:

Both cosmically and psychospiritually speaking, therefore, man is created as an agent of transmission. The parallel is more than metaphorical. In both cases, cosmically and socially, human beings are on earth in order to pass on a special energy in two directions—to nature and to other beings. Gurdjieff characterizes an ‘esoteric school’ as a community which transmits truth following the same laws by which energy descend and ascend in the universe. It is thus not only ideas and rules of behavior, as such, which are meant to be transmitted by a school, but a certain quality of force comparable, perhaps, to what is termed barakah in Sufism, or the Holy Spirit in Christianity.

Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teachings 79

For Gurdjieff, the notion of transmission as a complex force is critical to his understanding of how spiritual influences are maintained in life. These influences may have demonstrable impact in the world, but they are also subject to the vicissitudes of human existence.

As with all beneficent traditions and customs on Earth, however, the same thing happened to these traditions that happen with all customs and traditions there, they were destroyed. Shortly after the death of Ashiata Shiemash, “after the manner that had become in general proper to them before,” they destroyed it all, and not even the rumor that such a bliss ever existed reached the contemporary time (Gurdjieff 389). Beelzebub ruminates that only some phrases or titles continue to exist like “priest-organization,” about which the contemporary people have no real knowledge. Beelzebub closes the chapter with a biting observation that illustrates the egoistic attitude of contemporary civilization towards history and earlier communities:

In certain inscriptions which have survived from ancient times and have reached the contemporary beings of that planet, there is, however, some information that there once existed on their planet, what is called a special kind of “state-organization” and that at the head of every such state were beings of the highest attainments.

And on the basis of this information, the contemporary beings have invented just a mere name for this state-organization; they call it a “priest-organization” and that is all.

But what constituted this priest-organization, how and why it was? … is it not all the same to the contemporary beings of the planet Earth what ancient savages did!!!

389

In these lines, Gurdjieff makes clear in the Tales that the discussion of Ashiata Shiemash and his precepts are meant to be didactic. Yet, contemporary beings simply ignore or deem as ignorant the accomplishments of those in the past. In the achievements of Ashiata Shiemash, nonetheless, a new or revised model of leadership and community organization is presented, one based on the emphasis of conscious labor and intentional suffering, spiritual transformation, and transmission.

IV. The Destruction of Ashiata Shiemash’s Labors

In the closing chapter of the first book, and fourth chapter in the sequence, “The Chief Culprit in the Destruction of All the Very Saintly Labors of Ashiata Shiemash,” Beelzebub continues to describe the unfortunate final dissolution of the results of the work of Ashiata Shiemash that occurred several centuries after the events described in the prior chapters. This destruction was due, in large part, to the “invention” of a certain individual named Lentrohamsanin. Beelzebub describes Lentrohamsanin as one of the “learned beings of new formation” who, though having developed his reason to a high degree, did not develop the concomitant conscience that should guide his actions accordingly. Lentrohamsanin lived in Babylon two centuries before Beelzebub’s fifth descent to Earth as described in the chapter prior to the Shiemash series. Thus, as Beelzebub earlier remarked that Ashiata Shiemash lived seven centuries before his fifth trip, we learn that at least some results of the labors of Ashiata Shiemash lasted nearly five hundred years.

Beelzebub goes into great detail about the biography of Lentrohamsanin, the final destroyer of Ashiata Shiemash’s good works. Lentrohamsanin was born in the town of Kronbookhon, in the country Nievia, on the continent Asia, to aged and wealthy parents. His parents, though they had previously been too engaged in their businesses to have children and had aborted previous pregnancies, decided at a rather late age that they must have children in order to be happy. They spent a great deal of money and visited every kind of holy place existing there in order to receive the blessing of a child, and were finally successful. As Lentrohamsanin grew up, his parents spared no expense in his education. By the time he reached the age of responsibility, he had a great deal of knowledge, but he had, as Beelzebub remarks, no being. Nonetheless, he became very well known in Asia as a learned being, but he was not a real learned being but a learned being of “new formation”:

Well, when the said Mama’s-and-Papa’s-darling became a learned being there of new formation, then because on the one hand there was no Being whatsoever in his presence, and on the other hand because there had already by this time been thoroughly crystallized in him those consequences of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer which exist there under the names of “vanity,” “self-love,” “swagger,” and so forth, the ambition arose in him to become a famous learned being not only among the beings of Nievia, but also over the whole of their planet.

Gurdjieff 394–395

In order to achieve his ambition, Lentrohamsanin decided that he would invent a theory upon a topic that no one had thought of before. Since he had a great deal of money and much knowledge, he was able to invent his theory and to have it recorded on a very large and expensive buffalo hide (a “Kashireitleer”) so that it might be passed on to the following generations. Beelzebub explains that in this invented theory that Lentrohamsanin spread, he “criticized in every way the existing order of collective existence” based on the teachings of Ashiata Shiemash (Gurdjieff 395).

Lentrohamsanin’s theory begins with the proclamation that “man’s greatest happiness consists in not being dependent on any other personality whatsoever, and in being free from the influence of any other person, whoever he may be!” (395). His writings continued by challenging all levels of organization that had been set up to organize collective relations according to the ideals and practices of Ashiata Shiemash. He claimed that even though life is far better than it used to be, everyone, nonetheless, had to work as much as they ever did. Furthermore, he questioned the basis of the teachings on the soul and the question of an otherworld. After the introduction of Lentrohamsanin’s discourse on freedom, many were astonished and accepted the teaching as logical and sound. Lentrohamsanin, having attained a certain level of reason, was able to turn the ideas of the people against the chiefs and counselors of Babylon. Lentrohamsanin wanted to abolish the requirements for work, and destroy the social organization set up by the chiefs and counselors. Many of the people of Babylon considered his statements as revelations, and they began to mistrust their leaders, which eventually led to civil wars. With the destruction of Ashiata Shiemash’s teachings, the rulers set up a new system of communal organization based on the skewed and impractical logic of Lentrohamsanin. This destruction, as we have seen in the chapter on Art, continues to be lamented in later centuries, and by Beelzebub himself.

Although Lentrohamsanin invented this teaching and provoked the consequent civil war, the most destructive results came later with the efforts of Lentrohamsanin’s great-grandson, who lived in Babylon. Gurdjieff goes to some length to describe the events surrounding Lentrohamsanin’s great-grandson’s exploits, but concludes that, as a result, at the time of Beelzebub’s fifth descent, there was another great gathering in Babylon of all the learned beings to ponder and consider the question of the soul. In the discussions taking place in Babylon, “there happened to be also among the learned beings who went to Babylon on their own accord, the great-grandson of Lentrohamsanin himself, who had also become a learned being” (402). Introducing the teachings of his great-grandfather, he was successful, in a similar fashion, in turning from the question of the soul to “politics” (402). The shift of focus to politics and the consequent upheaval that took place as a result eventually lead to civil wars, and the destruction of the teachings of Ashiata Shiemash. Throughout Beelzebub’s Tales, Gurdjieff repeatedly indicts the role that learned beings play in creating the conditions for war. The results of the manipulations of the learned beings of new format leads, in the first instance, to self-calming,7 propagation of negative imagination about all kinds of events, the creation of ineffective or destructive institutions, and, in the worst case, war—which destroys not only the wisdom and teachings from the past, as well as the individuals and communities who have the potential to interpret and make sense of them. This influence leads to the, now, discouraging situation for humans of earth.

V. Conclusion

Within Beelzebub’s Tales, from Beelzebub’s millennial vantage point, we are given a view of the history of earth, and a critique of many of the major, and minor, influences in human life, including art, religion, and politics. On Gurdjieff’s unusual mode of storytelling, Anna Challenger, in Philosophy and Art in Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub: A Modern Sufi Odyssey (2002), writes, “Beelzebub’s more sober reminiscences of Earth life are more akin to the traditional Sufi teaching tale, a literary form employed, as always with Sufi art, for the purpose of transmitting kinds and levels of knowledge that defied direct transmission” (Challenger 25). Critical to Gurdjieff’s non-linear and episodic history of the transmission of ideas to successive generations, several prophets or teachers have been sent over time to the communities of earth in an attempt to restore human beings to their proper position in creation as beings made in the image of God. Many of these teachers established customs or provided teachings, or legominisms, in which their teachings were preserved for later generations. In some instances, more familiar prophets and figures, such as Jesus and Buddha are depicted. Yet, Ashiata Shiemash—a figure without any obvious historical precedent—holds, as we have seen, a place of privilege in Gurdjieff’s narrative.

Through the lens and example of Ashiata Shiemash, the dominant religions of the West are de-hierarchized, and a new vision of religion and the transmission of teachings to successive generations is expanded and revivified. In the process, the false ties to Faith, Hope, and Love are uprooted, and a reinvigorated concept of conscience is planted and prescribed. Perhaps more provocatively, buried within this critique and the positive image of Ashiata Shiemash, Gurdjieff suggests that by means of conscience, the qualities of Faith, Hope, and Love might be revived and reunited. Again, in Bakhtin’s language, Gurdjieff’s narrative attempts “to devise new matrices between objects and ideas that will answer to their real nature, to once again line up and join together those things that had been falsely disunified and distanced from one another” (Bakhtin 169). In the discussions concerning the arousal of conscience in waking consciousness, one is given a more hopeful view of the potentials that remain. And, in these stories, an outline, or potential map, is provided for a more vital and more immediate conception of spiritual transformation, and the potential results for both individuals and communities. To that end, Beelzebub’s Tales itself might be considered an example of a legominism, a book which has the potential to transit certain teachings to subsequent generations. Returning to the aims of the first two series of Gurdjieff’s work, one potentially finds both the destruction of the old world’s notions of hope, faith, and love, as well as the introduction of a new model for being and becoming in Gurdjieff’s larger discourse on spiritual transformation.

Works Cited

Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. Ed. Michael Holquist. Ed. and Trans. Michael Holquist and Caryl Emerson. Austin TX: University of Texas Press, 1990.

Bennett, J. G. “Gurdjieff’s All and Everything: A Study.” 1950. Gurdjieff International Review 2. 3 (Spring, 1999). http://www.gurdjieff.org/bennett3.htm, accessed 9 September 2016.

Challenger, Anna T. Philosophy and Art in Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub: A Modern Sufi Odyssey. New York: Rodopi, 2002.

Gurdjieff, G. I. Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1950.

Moore, James. “Gurdjieff: The Man and the Literature.” 1983. Gurdjieff International Review 2. 1 (Fall, 1998). http://www.gurdjieff.org/moore1.htm, accessed 13 September 2016.

Needleman, Jacob, and George Baker. Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teachings. New York: Continuum Publishing, 1998.

Nott, C. S. Teachings of Gurdjieff: A Pupil’s Journal. New York: Arkana, 1961.

Ouspensky, Piotr Demianovich. In Search of the Miraculous: The Teaching of G. I. Gurdjieff. 1947. San Diego, New York, and London: Harcourt Inc., 2001.

Pittman, Michael. Classical Spirituality in Contemporary America: The Confluence and Contribution of G. I. Gurdjieff and Sufism. New York: Continuum Publishing, 2012.

Pittman, Michael. G. I. Gurdjieff: Armenian Roots, Global Branches. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2008.

1

Gurdjieff uses the term “three-brained beings” to describe not only the creatures of Earth, but also a range of others that exist in the universe, including Beelzebub himself. The three brains are associated with the mental faculty, the feelings, and the physical body. Gurdjieff’s system places emphasis on the balanced development of all three.

2

The Mullah Nassr Eddin is described as a character who is featured in numerous tales well known in “all the countries of Asia in which he has many wise sayings, some of long standing and others newly arisen” (Gurdjieff 10).

3

In an earlier time recorded in the Tales, it was deemed necessary to implant an organ that would prevent human beings from seeing the desperate reality of their situation. Though this was eventually removed, its effects remain. Beelzebub notes that the behaviors that this organ continues to engender are egoism, self-interest, servility, and the like (Gurdjieff 88–91).

4

François Rabelais (d. 1553) was a French Renaissance humanist, scholar, and monk. His most famous work, originally written under a pseudonym, Gargantua and Pantagruel (1534), takes on a wide range of topics through the inclusion of a number of genres within the same work, including folk tales, satire, fantasy, and jokes.

5

Bakhtin employs the notion of the chronotope to explicate the interconnectedness of time and space, and the frame that it allows, within a given work of literature. He notes, “In the literary artistic chronotope, spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole” (Bakhtin 84). In the framing of Beelzebub’s Tales, Gurdjieff provides a far-reaching scope by employing both a universal scale of space and a millennial view of time, from the creation of the universe to 1920.

6

Ashiata Shiemash enumerates in one of his treaties five “obligolnian” strivings as the principals necessary for a life proper to a three-brained being: “The first striving: to have in their ordinary being-existence everything satisfying and really necessary for their planetary body. The second striving: to have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being. The third: the conscious striving to know ever more and more concerning the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance. The fourth: the striving from the beginning of their existence to pay for their arising and their individuality as quickly as possible, in order afterwards to be free to lighten as much as possible the Sorrow of our COMMON FATHER. And the fifth: the striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred ‘Martfotai’ that is up to the degree of self-individuality” (Gurdjieff 386).

7

Beelzebub describes self-calming as the “inner Evil-God” and is the mechanism by which the beings of Earth suppress the conscience. In one instance, he describes it as “to-attain-to-a-complete-absence-of-the-need-for-being-effort-and-for-every-essence-anxiety-of-whatever-kind-it-may-be” (Gurdjieff 688).

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