Hello reader. Please forgive me that this post is a bit later, and also a bit longer than normal. But if you are reading these words you must like what I share. So please enjoy another tale of Mr. Gurdjieff, told by one of his pupils:
Mr. Gurdjieff would not allow anyone to say he acted from kindness, yet it seemed obvious to us that he did. I frequently asked myself what the motives were behind his often unexpected actions. Did they originate from kindness, sympathy, or was there some other inner imperative?
Certainly, his motive was not of kindness in the usual sentimental sense of the word. This was especially true in relation to his pupils. No, if it was kindness, it was real kindness that originated elsewhere. the source of his actions, words, and outlook on everything could only be described as something called love. It was not a personal feeling for another, but rather one that came from somewhere else. And this included his relations with his pupils. In other words, it was an opening to a sense of the sacred that he shared with others. This was quite distinct from his legendary generosity, his kindness in the ordinary sense of the term, of which we caught comical and unforgettable glimpses nearly every day.
Since I was often with him at different times of the day, I saw in an intimate way aspects of his life that most of his pupils, who only attended the evening groups, never knew about. I have often spoken of his kindness toward me, but now I want to recall some events I chanced to witness.
Mr. Gurdjieff often did his own shopping when he took his morning stroll. As soon as he returned, he started working in the kitchen. During this time, he would not receive any of his pupils, and the door opening to the main staircase remained closed.
It was quite another story, however, at the back staircase. One had to see it to believe it: from the bottom of the stairs to the top, there was a long procession of beggars, parasites, and the like. One had his bowl, another his tim plate, still another an old pot, all coming solemnly to receive a full ration of soup accompanied by some kind words. Mr. Gurdjieff himself served from enormous cooking pots while asking after the health of everyone, not forgetting those who could not come because of illness. When he found out that someone was sick, he would say, “Well, now let’s give him something special!” and, according to the latest information he received about him, he would fill the container with some dish or other that he had prepared.
Here was an old woman who came for herself and also for her husband, who could no longer walk; there, an undernourished and sick man who said he was unable to work; then children from a large poverty-stricken family; and the concierge from a neighbouring building, who had looked after a bedridden tenant on the seventh floor for a long time.
Now, an old, aristocratic Russian lady appears. She respectfully greets Mr. Gurdjieff. He takes her bowl while asking for details of her husbands health. Instead of answering directly, she starts to put on airs, to grovel, and to flatter Mr. Gurdjieff, who still does not know what food would be appropriate. He interrupts her and asks the same question again, this time more dryly. The lady finally answers, but while Mr. Gurdjieff serves her, she repeats her mundane compliments. I am embarrassed for her and make a move in her direction, wishing to make her understand that she is on dangerous ground. But, carried away by her grovelling, he is totally unawareand goes on to compare the kindness of Mr. Gurdjieff with that supreme… I do not learn which paragon of virtue she meant because he interrupts her mid-sentence: “You, your husband, and all your kind have made your path in life by playing the role of ass-lickers, and in spite of so many years in exile, you are still not free from that repugnant trait. It is truly sad!”
The woman begins to justify herself and excuse herself. Mr. Gurdjieff says to her, “Good, good, I know, it’s not your fault. Now be off with you; we still have much to do.”
Te woman, offended, goes toward the door, but Mr. Gurdjieff reassures her in a warm voice, simply saying, “Till tomorrow.”
This scene was repeated every morning, the procession usually ending about one o’clock, sometimes only to start again in the evening. Mr. Gurdjieff also prepared enormous quantities of food to share with his pupils and others who regularly frequented his apartment. His table was a veritable cornucopia, for no day passed without parcels of food arriving fro all over the world; the south of France, Spain, Turkey, Australia, the Americas, and even Africa. Yet, if there was no one to eat with, he would often choose not to eat at all.
As for the children, Mr. Gurdjieff never left home without filling his pockets with a good supply of bonbons and various sweets. When he came across a mother with her child, he always offered a bonbon to the little one. If the child offered it to his mother, he gave him two more. But if the child did not offer anything, that was all he received. If the mother hid the sweet to give to the child later, she was offered more too. In the district where he took his regular walk, he was well known to all the children and those who accompanied them. He was a kind of father christmas, and was called ‘Monsieur Bonbon’.
The reader may be irritated by what appears to be a blind attachment and unreserved partiality on my part. If so, please excuse a devotion that may seem excessive. One has to imagine how living near him shattered all habitual forms; one found oneself literally entering into the world of myth. We all experienced this same feeling.
After Mr. Gurdjieff’s death, I witnessed many touching scenes. For example, an old woman came to the appartment about three weeks later. Overcome by the news that he was no longer there, she could only say, “And now, how shall i pay my rent?” Someone else came and said, “I would so much have like to thank him. He paid for my daughter’s treatment, and she has just come out of the sanatorium, cured.” After hearing of Mr. Gurdjieff’s death, one man collapsed into an armchair, remained silent for ten minutes, and then murmured, “To come from South Africa and learn this. How sad.” And then he left.
And I thought to myself, ‘Yes, how sad, how sad not to have known him; but more, how sad to have know him and not understood him. And above all, how sad to have understood him and not to have served his work.’