This story comes from a man named Tcheslaw Tchekhovitch, and his recollections of his time with Gurdjieff. I have copied it in full, word for word, so that it does not lose any of its meaning.
It shows the conditions of giving help. When it is needed, and when it should not be given.
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The story goes:
In the winter of 1921-1922 we divided our time between Berlin and Dresden. There were often people who wished to speak to Mr. Gurdjieff. In Berlin, these conversations took place in a quite well-known café called Le Cristal.
One day a lady came to consult him, accompanied by a man who spoke both Russian and German. With his help, she told Mr. Gurdjieff that her fourteen-year-old son was mentally retarded, and that, having heard of his ‘powers’, she hoped that he could help her. Before deciding, Mr Gurdjieff asked to see the boy, who had been placed in an institution outside Berlin. A meeting was arranged for several days later. Mr. Gurdjieff saw the boy and decided he could help.
At the second meeting at the café, he inquired about the state of the lady’s finances and fixed a price for the boy’s care. I think the sum agreed was about ten thousand marks. The woman, lamenting her pitiful situation, declared that she could not take advantage of his help becase such a sum greatly exceeded her means. It was finaly agreed that she would pay only half of what Mr. Gurdjieff had originally asked.
After the woman left, the owner of the café, keen to show off his intimate knowledge of his customers private lives, approached Mr. Gurdjieff’s table and proceeded to tell him everything he knew about her. It turned out that she was the widow of a well-known industrialist who had owned many factories in Germany and Austria. She had started out as the secretary of this aging man, become his mistress, and finally convinced him that the child she was carrying was his own. The industrialist, himself a regular customer of this café, eventually married her. Not many years later he died, leaving his wife an immense fortune that gauranteed her princely income. The café owner added that he had been very suprised to see her so moderately dressed.
Mr. Gurdjieff listened attentively to everything the café owner told him, and asked how this lady felt about her son. With a knowing look, he answered that the child was more of a burden for her than a treasure.
Mr. Gurdjieff simply nodded his head. he had understood.
I was sitting at a table nearby when the woman, again very modestly dressed, came back to see Mr. Gurdjieff at the same café. The man who had come with her twice before was not there. This time Alexandre de Salzmann, who spoke perfect German and Russian, was the interpreter. Mr. Gurdjieff had her sit opposite him, and de Salzmann began to translate very attentively.
“You are responsible for this poor child, and I had set my price believing you to be a suffering mother with limited means”
The woman humbly lowered her head in acknowledgement. However, her demeanour revealed a growing discomfort. And as Mr. Gurdjieff grilled her with a series of questions, she became totally confused and was forced to admit the truth. Then, turning to Alexandre de Salzmann, Mr.Gurdjieff said very sternly, “Now translate word for word what I am about to say without softening a thing”
Translating, Alexandre de Salzmann then hammered out every word. “There is one type of mother who is venerated throughout the world. She is the ‘devoted mother’ who can spend whole nights mending or knitting at her childs bedside. You came to me pretending to be that kind of mother, and on that basis I set my conditions. But there is another type of mother called the ‘whore mother’ and it is to this category that you belong. if you want me to take care of your child you will now have to give me not ten thousand but one hundred thousand marks.”
It was obvious that the mother was shocked, more by the sum of money that was demanded than by being unmasked. She began to snivel and whine, gesturing pitifully, and claiming that a hundred thousand marks was beyond her means. However with great difficulty she might be able to raise fifty thousand.
Mr. Gurdjieff gave her a severe look and said, “Neither you nor your money nor your problems interest me. You are nothing but a whore, go and sell yourself somewhere else.”
And she found herself dismissed then and there.
It is evident that for Mr. Gurdjieff her money had a bad smell, because even at a time of great need he refused to deal with this unworthy woman. She did not satisfy the conditions required for Mr. Gurdjieff’s help. Clearly, she did not deserve it.
Helping does not mean taking over someone else’s responsibility. Only when people suffer because of their own inability to help other do they themselves deserve help.