Jeffrey Somers is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society in London and lectures
on the sociology of oriental religion at the University of London. Mr.
Somers is also an international editor of the academic journal, 'Journal
of Contemporary Religion'. He has been a member of The Gurdjieff Society
for more than 40 years.
Q. Who was Mr. Gurdjieff?
A. He was an esoteric Master who brought a teaching that is possible to follow in this age. He was born near the Russo-Turkish border in 1866 and died in Paris in 1949. He was a Master. The idea of a Master is familiar in the East, it implies an incarnation of knowledge. In the case of esoteric knowledge there is the implication that he can awaken others.
Q. What did Gurdjieff teach?
A. First of all it is necessary to state that Mr. Gurdjieff's teaching is in no way a religion, nor is he a 'gohonzon'. The teaching that he brought is intensely practical. His call is for men and women to awaken from their sleep, to brake out from their prison of ever turning daydreams and find and develop another level of attention. He gave voice to a call for us to open our eyes. He asks us why we are here, what do we wish for, and what forces do we obey. It is not long before we recognise our inner poverty. Gurdjieff's teaching is often referred to as 'The Work'. The very beginning of this work is in learning and gradually opening to presence and its relative levels. This knowledge is more than can be written in books. It is immersion in experience. Gurdjieff rediscovered a method to initiate the experiencing of self-knowledge and knowledge of life.
Q. Gurdjieff is dead, is it still possible to acquire and practice what he taught?
A. This is an important question. The answer is an unequivocal "yes" but it is important to verify that one is learning from someone in a direct line of transmission from Gurdjieff himself and is very experienced. As Gurdjieff was dying he entrusted his teaching to a lady who had worked with him for 30 years. Her name was Jeanne de Salzmann. Around her were a number of other men and women who had worked with him. Although Mme de Salzmann is also dead now, a number of the other people that worked with him are still alive and teaching. They have nurtured small groups of people in different parts of the world who have been responsible for transmitting, in an authentic form Mr. Gurdjieff's teaching. There is now a third generation of teachers.
Q. Are there now many teachers of Mr. Gurdjieff's path?
A. There are many although this is a relative term, maybe not more than 200 in the whole world. Is there any way to be sure that someone who claims to be a teacher of this way is indeed one? This is also an important question. I have used the term 'teacher' but it would be more correct to say 'group leader'. Someone who is recognised as a group leader is more experienced than the people around him who are trying to pursue this path of self-knowledge. It is rather like wishing to climb a mountain. One is helped by an experienced guide who has climbed the mountain before. Unfortunately there exist people who claim to be group leaders who do not have this experience.
Q. Are you a group leader?
A. Well it is always somewhat impolite to speak on one's own behalf but I have been in The Work for more that 40 years and was asked to be a group leader by M. Tracol who was himself appointed a group leader by Mr. Gurdjieff.
Q. I have heard that Mr. Gurdjieff taught a system of dance referred to as the 'Movements'?
A. It is correct. Part of the teaching he brought is a form of sacred dance which contributes to the harmonious development of man. Mr Gurdjieff taught that a man is made up of more than one part. He described a number of parts which he referred to as 'centres'. These are the intellectual, emotional, moving, instinctive and sex centres. He said that they were not in balance and that they were not in balance in most people. Therefore one way of describing his work is by saying that it is a way of harmonising one's centres. Movements is one of the methods employed to assist this development.
Q. Why should Mr. Gurdjieff's teaching interest people in Japan?
A. The teaching will always be for the few because it is not an easy path. Japanese people are part of the modern world. They work on a modern environment little different from that of the West. It is not most peoples wish today to become a monk or nun, perhaps it was always difficult but somehow more so in this age. Mr. Gurdjieff brought a teaching that can be followed in the context of modern life. Also, it seems to me, that if one has a wish for spiritual development it does not matter whether he, or she, is English, Spanish, American or Japanese.