Gurdjieff: The Soul, The First Initiation and Christianity


Padawan Learner
I've been reading Beelsebubs tales, meetings with remarkable men, Life is real by Gurdjieff and right now I'm reading Views from the real world. By now I'm quite aware of Gurdjieffs teachings on the question if human beings have a soul, and that this is something that can only be obtained through work on the self and that humans are not born with a soul. Nevertheless, when I read a passage in views from the real world I startet thinking if Gurdjieff just had this explaination about the soul for the exoteric circle. Let me try to explain, on page 204 of the book he speaks about how a Haida-yogi could develop faster than a Yogi:

"A yogi spends five hours, a "haida-yogi" one hour. The latter uses knowledge which the yogi has not got. A yogi does in a year what a "haida-yogi" does in a month. And so it is in everything."
"All the ways, all schools have one and the same aim, they always strive for one thing. But a man who has joined one of the ways may not realize this. A monk has faith and thinks that one can only succeed in this way. His teacher alone knows the aim, but he purposely does not tell him, for if his pupil knew he would not work as hard."

I know that he is talking about the way of the monk here, but the last sentence rose the question in my mind that maybe, just maybe Gurdjieff himself told the things about the soul so that his pupils would work twice as hard to obtain the goal of achiving the work? That he kept some esoteric knowledge about that some people got an immortal soul from the general public as well so that doing the work would become more attractive for people (because people want to have an immortal soul?). It is just a question I've been thinking about for few days, I could be waaay off... Would be nice to hear some opinions on this from other people about this, also if this has been proven wrong. Thanks!


FOTCM Member
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

It's an interesting point and one well worth considering, I think. It seems obvious to me that many individuals who have never heard of Gurdjieff or any of the "ways" have soul qualities. And of course, spending many years doing hypnotherapy, the idea of reincarnation is quite compelling to me. There were, of course, a number of cases where there did not seem to be "anybody home," but then that can be explained by the Cs assertion that not everybody is born with an individuated soul, that about half the population of the planet are "Organic Portals," animated by what could be compared to an animistic soul that emerges from and returns to a "soul pool."

So, maybe Gurdjieff did hold back, but at the same time told the truth?


Padawan Learner
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

Yes, I seems strange considering the life, search and experiences of Gurdjieff that he never came across any "soul-related" phenomena that convinced him about this matter, but then again it is possible that he could have interacted alot with organic portals and made his decision about the soul based upon this. Thanks for the input Laura.


FOTCM Member
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

It's good detective work. I'm willing to bet you are correct on this.


The Living Force
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

A point worth pondering is that when Gurdjieff lived and wrote he knew that it was not the 'right time' to reveal the truth about OPs to the public. From what I've gathered the very concept of OPs and Psychopaths are some of the oldest secrets of Esoterica and only now, at the 'turn of the tide' sotospeak are they coming out and being unveiled.

Laura also mentions Fulcanelli's third book which went unwritten and how the same possibility applies.

Very exciting times to live in.


Padawan Learner
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

It is also possible that there is a question of translation. Substitute "deep and abiding permanent consiousness" for soul, and see what happens.

BTW, there is an interesting book out there, called "The Teachers of Gurdjieff" by Rafael Lefort. Talks about Gurdjieff's study period before he started teaching.


FOTCM Member
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

Another good book which delves deeper into G and his relations with his pupils (and his family) is Struggle of the Magicians by William Patrick Patterson. It's mostly about why his main pupils, Ouspensky, Orage, and Bennett, found a way to distort G's teachings but it also has some other cool nuggets about G's life as well.


FOTCM Member
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

Started poking around and found this "defense of Islam" Methinks the guy protests too much:


by Ibrahim Gamard, 11/6/04, revised 12/3/05

The Present Confusion

There has been much confusion for decades about the so-called "sufi origins" of Gurdjieff's teachings, beliefs that Gurdjieff himself was a sufi (of the "blame-seeking" [malâmâtî] kind, as some have speculated) and assumptions that the spiritual training he gave to his students was "dervish training" and that the movement exercises he taught were "dervish dance movements."

This confusion has been increased by some of Gurdjieff's disciples themselves, such as Ouspensky, who apparently believed that the Mevlevi tradition was the source of Gurdjieff's teachings1 and J. G. Bennett ,who believed that the Khwajagan sufi masters of Central Asia, the forerunners of the strictly Islamic Naqshbandi sufi tradition, were closely linked with the mysterious source of Gurdjieff's teachings--the "Sarmân Brotherhood."2

Others have gone to authentic Muslim sufi teachers and added to the confusion by hoping to find the roots of Gurdjieff's teachings in the Islamic sufi tradition: as a result, such seekers have been disappointed by finding "merely religious" Islamic mystical teachings. And some Muslim sufi teachers have been confused by such seekers (who sometimes have an impressive level of dervish-like self-development) who have very little interest in Islam or praying and are actually hoping to find "esoteric teachings" or "secret Masters."

In addition, there are Western sufi teachers, who continue to encourage their followers to combine sufi training with Gurdjieffian teachings and spiritual practices, including some affiliated with the Mevlevi tradition. There are also some "Fourth Way" groups in which members, after being trained to do the complicated Gurdjieff movements exercises, are then taught to do the whirling practice of Mevlevi dervishes as well as the Mevlevi Whirling Prayer Ceremony (Samâ`).

Idries Shah, who wrote numerous books on sufism was another author who contributed to this confusion, by suggesting in many of his books that Gurdjieff's teachings (as well as most of the esoteric-occult teachings in Europe involving alchemy, numerology, Tarot cards, etc.) had its origins in sufi teachings. Like most Occultists, 3 Shah maintained that esoteric wisdom is independent of "mere religion" and often disguised in an "exoteric religious" form. As a result, he taught that sufism is independent of Islam.

Oscar Ichazo, a Bolivian and founder of the Arica school of esoteric training (which includes teachings based on the Enneagram, an esoteric symbol first taught publicly by Gurdjieff), originally claimed to be a "Sufi Master" when he began to teach in Chile in the late 1960's. Ichazo claimed that his teachers were fellow initiates of the same secret tradition contacted by Gurdjieff, the "School of the Bees," which he also claimed was centered in Afghanistan. Subsequently, however, he stated that his teaching was closely related to the alchemists, the Knights Templar, Martinists, and the Theosophical teachings of Madame Blavatsky 4 as well as to (the mysterious source of) Gurdjieff's teachings.

Numerous other authors have contributed to the belief that the origins of sufism are to be found in "esoteric-occult" traditions. For example, the former leader of the "International Sufi Order," Pir Vilayat Khan claimed that sufism originated in the ancient Greek Mystery Schools.5

Another source of confusion is the existence of semi-secret religions in the Middle East whose origins are non-Islamic or incompatible with Islam that are sometimes claimed to be "sufi" or whose members are sometimes called "dervishes." Some of these are the Mandeans, Druzes, Ismailis, Alevis, Nusayris, Yezidis, Bektashis, and Ahl-i Haqq. Some of these same secret religions were also named by Theosophists more than a hundred years ago as related the source of Theosophical teachings and its "secret Masters."

Sufism is Islamic Mysticism

First, it needs to be clarified that sufism is the mystical dimension of Islam. To use the word "sufism" to mean a universal spirituality that pre-dates Islam is to rob the term of its meaning and to make it equivalent to the word "mysticism." Mysticism can be defined as experiential or intuitive understanding of spiritual realities beyond intellectual understanding. Therefore, mysticism can take religious forms (spiritual experiences of feeling close to God) or non-religious forms (such as spiritual experiences involving nature or the cosmos). The mysticism of Islam is a distinct form of religious mysticism that is called "tasawwuf" in Arabic and a Muslim mystic is called a "sufi" (Islamic mysticism was first called "sufismus" in Latin, then "sufism" in English). Traditional sufi orders that are well-known in the West are the Mevlevi, Cheshti, Naqshbandi, Qadri, Rifai, Khalwati, and Shadhili traditions--all of which are Islamic religious-mystical paths.

Although Western academic specialists (called Orientalists) of the past were reluctant (for more than a hundred years) to allow Islam to have its own mystical dimension, and usually claimed that sufism was "borrowed" from other traditions (such as Neoplatonism, Yoga, etc.), most Western scholars of Islam today have been acknowledging that authentic sufism is deeply Islamic and inspired by Qur'anic verses and the Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace).

While few Westerners would accept the idea that the mystical teachings of a Hasidic teacher could be independent of Judaism and the Bible, yet many readily accept the idea that the mystical teachings of a "sufi teacher" can be independent of Islam and the Qur'an. This is because of the negative attitudes about Islam, the Qur'an, and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that have existed in the West since the Crusades. Westerners prefer to believe that the beautiful, profound, and inspiring teachings of sufism are not dependent upon the religion of Islam.

As a result, many people who are involved with Westernized sufi groups affiliated with more "tolerant" Islamic sufi traditions, such as the Cheshti sufi tradition of India and Pakistan (such as the International Sufi Order, the Sufi Movement, and the Sufi Ruhaniyat Society) and the Mevlevi sufi tradition of Turkey and former Ottoman-ruled areas, tend to have little interest in what they view as the "exoteric trappings" of sufism (meaning Islamic beliefs and practices) and are inclined to believe that the mysticism they are studying is something universal that transcends particular religions, and something that pre-dates the Islamic revelation. They tend to view "universal sufi teachings" as not conflicting with ancient esoteric-occult teachings that have been reformulated in recent centuries such as alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Tarot, Theosophy, Gurdjieffism, etc.

At the same time, the authentic Muslim sufi masters (shaykhs) of these same traditions in India, Pakistan, and Turkey have long been hoping and praying that the Western followers of their sufi traditions will eventually become pious Muslims. This has led to major misunderstandings and disappointment.


In order to understand how the Occult tradition of mysticism is radically different than the Abrahamic religious traditions of mysticism (such as Islamic sufism, Catholic/Orthodox Christian mysticism, Jewish Hasidic mysticism) it is necessary to understand that most teachings of Occultism are based on a secret theology involving Gnosticism.6 This term refers to a very old, secretive, and revolutionary spiritual movement whose theology is so contrary to orthodox religion that it has usually been disguised in different forms . For example, Gurdjieff claimed that his teaching was "esoteric Christianity."7

The neutral terms "gnosis" and "gnostic" (that have generic meanings of "intuitive spiritual knowledge" and "intuitive spiritual knower" and are equivalent to the Arabic sufi terms ma`rifat and `ârif) should not be confused with the historical term "Gnosticism." Readers of this article should be aware that they might not comprehend the nature of Gnosticism and the seriousness of its challenge to the Abrahamic religions without studying more about it in encyclopedia articles and books on the subject.

Gnosticism today is the continuation of an ancient "underground" movement that has usually taken the form of Dualism. Followers of Gnosticism who understand its teachings have typically viewed the Creator of the material universe with contempt.8

This contempt was expressed in the dualistic doctrines of Manicheism and "Christian Gnosticism" which taught that Spirit (Light) was opposed to Matter (Darkness), that the physical world and the body are evil, that the Creator of the material world was either an evil or inferior "moon-god" called the "Demiurge" [na`audhu bi-llâh--let us take refuge in Allah and seek His forgiveness for being so explicit about this], and that the true goal of the spiritual seeker is to find a way to escape the "prison of matter" and the "sub-lunar" world and reach salvation in the "Realm of Light" [the Pleroma]. Saviours were periodically sent down from the "Realm of Light" to offer the knowledge of salvation, or "gnosis," to seekers who had the potential to escape the material world. However, only a tiny minority called "pneumatics" had souls which could survive death and return to the Realm of Light. Some, called "psychics" had the potential to develop such a soul. The great majority of humanity were called "hylics," and had no hope of survival after death.

In 1875 Madame Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society in America and taught esoteric teachings supposedly inspired by "secret masters" who lived in Tibet. Among the teachings of Theosophy is the assertion that God as worshipped in the Hebrew Bible is an inferior "moon god" [na`audhu bi-llâh]. Theosophists were instructed to cover themselves from the "harmful rays" of moonlight while sleeping. This antipathy toward Judaism was a revival of the attempts by "Christian Gnostics" during the early part of the Christian era to eliminate the Hebrew scriptures from the "Christian Bible." In many ways, Theosophy is a modern form of Gnosticism (but in a monistic, not dualistic, manner). It is known that the teachings of Theosophy were influential in major Russian cities during Gurdjieff's life there and that Theosophical ideas are a major part of his teaching.9 Gurdjieff spoke about "secret Masters," except that he claimed they were in Afghanistan.10

Gnosticism and the Teachings of Gurdjieff

Among the strange teachings of Gurdjieff is the assertion that human beings do not have souls, but have to receive knowledge and training by being part of an "esoteric school" in order to "grow a soul" (or "astral body") that can then survive death for a period of time:

"You know what the exression 'astral body' means. But the systems with which you are acquainted and which use this expression state that all men have an 'astral body'. this is quite wrong. What may be caled the 'astral body' is obtained by means of fusion, that is, by means of terribly hard inner work and struggle. Man is not born with it. And only very few men acquire an 'astral body'. If it is formed it may continue to live after the death of the physical body, and it may be brn again in another physical body... Fusion, inner unity, is obtained by means of 'friction', by the struggle between 'yes' and 'no' in man."11

Gurdjieff taught that most human beings are mere "slugs" with no souls and that following death their remaining psychic energy is "food for the Moon." This teaching can understood as a reference to the doctrine in Gnosticism that the material world keeps human beings (but not all, just the few who possess "sparks of light") trapped in bodies so as to prevent escape. The realm of Darkness is depicted as not wanting to let of its captured light to escape back to the realm of Light. Such a follower of Gnosticism seeks to develop an astral body that can escape the "power of the Moon" and become freed from the "sub-lunar" material world.12 This explains another very strange teaching of Gurdjieff: "The way of the development of hidden possibilities is a way against nature, against God."13 It means that the seeker following the way of Gnosticism must gain secret knowledge and methods in order to escape the control of the "Demiurge." What Gurdjieff called "the Work" is the goal of spiritual Alchemy, the "Great Work" (Magnum Opus): the separation of light from darkness--or in Manichean terms, the liberation of "sparks of light" from being trapped in the dense world of matter.

In Mithraism, an ancient form of Gnosticism, this gnosis involved knowing the "magical passwords" necessary for the soul to pass the planetary guardians ("archons") at each celestial level traveled through the heavens. During later centuries, followers of Gnosticism cultivated a revulsion toward the Creator as worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. An early example is the writings of followers of "Christian Gnosticism" (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Nag Hammadi) are full of such scorn, and they delight in what may be called "Gnostical reversal": such as by interpreting the serpent (Satan) in the Garden of Eden as the hero of the story in the Book of Genesis--the Giver of Light (Lucifer) who tries to give the gnosis of Salvation that would elevate humanity to "be as gods," meaning to surpasses the rank of the "God of the Jews," who is depicted as an oppressor [na`audhu bi-llâh] who acts to prevent such "liberation."14

Gnostical doctrines may have developed in a Jewish form prior to the Christian era; some of these doctrines have continued in esoteric Jewish teachings called Qabbalah (for example, the doctrine about a cosmic disaster (the "breaking of the vessels") that caused particles of light to be trapped in darkness, and the need to liberate "trapped light") associated with the school of Isaac Luria (beginning in the 16th century). The well-known psychiatrist, Carl Jung, was a modern believer in Gnosticism; he revealed his antipathy to Christian worship very frankly.15

J. G. Bennett, a follower of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, wrote extensively about the "Demiurge." He also taught the strange doctrine (also found in some teachings of Qabbalah) that God needs the help of human beings in order to liberate light from matter and to defeat the power of evil [na`audhu bi-llâh]. He wrote:

"The very high intelligence I am postulating is neither human nor divine. It is neither perfect nor infallible, but its vision and its powers far transcend those of the wisest of mankind. I shall call it the Demiurge... By keeping the word Demiurge for the postulated spirit of the earth, we can put aside, as beyond our grasp, the idea of a deity that created and rules the entire universe. In doing this, we should breathe a sigh of relief... The truth is that the omnipotence of God is a silly idea thought up by men with narrow, logical minds. It must be obvious to anyone whose feelings have not atrophied that love and omnipotence can never be united."16

He also wrote, following the viewpoint of ancient "Christian Gnosticism": "We might even venture to say that the God of the Old Testament was the Demiurge, whereas Jesus looked beyond to the source of Divine Love."17

A student of J. G. Bennett, A. M. Hodgson, wrote:

"The Demiurge has only an indirect connection to the Source, since it is concerned with long term evolution, not with the state of 'jivanmukti' or 'liberation within one lifetime.'.... In fact, spirituality is of two distinct kinds which we call 'Liberational' and "Demiurgic'. Teachings which point this out do exist on the planet. They are placed there by conscious sources but generally they are restricted and suppressed by the Demiurgic Intelligences because their implications are too upsetting to the status quo."18

Another student of J. G. Bennett was Pierre Elliot, formerly the Director of Studies of (the Gurdjieffian training center called) the Claymont Society in West Virginia. In the late 1970's, Suleyman Hayati Loras Dede, an important Mevlevi shaykh from Konya, Turkey, visited Claymont. He was so impressed by Pierre Elliot that he initiated him to be a Mevlevi shaykh. Suleyman Dede must have seen demonstrations of Gurdjieff's movements exercises there and probably assumed that it was a kind of "dervish training." In October 1979, Suleyman Dede wrote a letter to Mr. Elliot stating, "äbecause at the same time my brother Sheikh Pierre Elliot is bringing the way of Mevlana together with the path of Mr. Gurdjieff and Mr. Bennett. Allah wishes that these paths should always be together, and I hope that it will be so."19

As Idries Shah wrote (under a pseudonym or perhaps borrowing someone's name): "Gurdjieff had taught 'movements', a stylized dance technique which requires extended energies of attention. The association of the G 'movements' and the Mevlevi whirling was perhaps unavoidable, but we shall find reason to suspect presently, that the 'movements' have a different source, although G. dressed his disciples in Mevlevi outfits, perhaps for 'misdirection' purposes."20 In another book, written using a pseudonym, Idries Shah mocked the beliefs of Gurdjieffians about Mevlevi origins by claiming that an ancient "Babylonian" mannikin with moveable arms and legs used to teach "ancient temple dances" that Gurdjieff claimed to have seen at a "Sarmân monastery" in Afghanistan21 was hidden in a secret underground room of the Mevlevi lodge where Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi is buried in Konya, Turkey.

A major exercise taught by Gurdjieff is called "self-remembering." This exercise has been alleged to derive from the sufi practice of "remembering" [zikr]. But there is a major difference between Gurdjieff's method of self-development via "self-remembering" that dismisses the value of prayer and the Islamic sufi practice of self-effacement via the practice of "God-remembering" [zikru 'llâh]. This points to an important distinction between these two different paths of mysticism: the tradition of Occult mysticism (based on a secret theology rooted in Gnosticism) emphasizes the development of potential divine powers within a human being while at the same time trying to escape the power of the Creator of the material world and to evolve into something "higher." In other words, the doctrine of this kind of mystic is, "There is no true divinity except Man."22

In contrast, the tradition of religious mysticism (meaning here, the Abrahamic religions based on a theology rooted in Monotheism and the revelations given to authentic Prophets of God) emphasizes the nothingness of the worshipper before Almighty God and submission to the Omnipotent Divine Will of the Creator. In other words, the doctrine of this kind of mystic is, "There is no true divinity except God."

This is why it is hoped that readers of this article will not dismiss the important distinctions described here by concluding, "There are no real differences between mystics/gnostics: mystics of all traditions, religious or Occult are all saying the same thing in different spiritual languages in which the conflicts are only external, not essential." If readers incline toward this view, then they are strongly advised to study more about Gnosticism23--so that perhaps they may see more clearly how radical and different it is compared to the mysticisms of major world religions. This is not a type of spirituality that offers salvation or enlightenment to most or all of humanity or sentient beings. Rather, it is aimed at the liberation of a very small minority of "elite beings" who have a "spark of light"--and all other humans have no lasting value.

Despite the strong criticism of Gurdjieff's Gnostical theology expressed in this article, it should be mentioned that some of Gurdjieff's teachings can be very useful for the sufi aspirant, such as the practice of "sensing" (as an alternative to compulsive thinking), developing will power and concentration, the teaching about objective knowledge and awareness in contrast to a subjective and "sleeping" state, the need to overcome "mechanical habits," and the necessity of finding access to a "higher source of energy" in order to "awaken."

In addition, although this article also criticizes Occultism in general, it should be mentioned that many followers of Occult philosophy are idealistic and high-minded individuals who sincerely wish to further the spiritual evolution of humanity. However, many or most of them may be unaware of the secret Gnostical doctrines of Occultism, and they might be unpleasantly surprised to learn about them.

Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî's Teachings about Sleep and Wakefulness

Now let us compare these strange and disturbing teachings of Gurdjieff and his followers with the heart-uplifting teachings of Mawlânâ, our beloved Master. In contrast to "self-remembering," Mawlânâ taught the "passing away of self" [fanâ] in the remembrance of God [zikru 'llâh]. And in contrast to "waking up" and attaining a "permanent I-Am" consciousness, Mawlânâ taught the waking up to the Presence of God while being "asleep" to ego and the material world:

"Whosoever is awake (to the material world) is the more asleep (to the spiritual world); his wakefulness is worse than his sleep.

When our soul is not awake to God, wakefulness is like closing our doors (to Divine influences).

All day long, from the buffets of phantasy and from (thoughts of) loss and gain and from fear of decline,

There remains to it (the soul) neither joy nor grace and glory nor way of journeying to Heaven.

The one asleep (to spiritual things) is he who hath hope of every vain fancy and holds parley with it."24

Mawlânâ taught that when one is "awake" to the Presence of God, the physical senses become under control and made to be "asleep." Then "spiritual senses" become activated so that Heavenly visions and knowledge are granted to the seeker:

"So, when the intellect becomes thy captain and master, the dominant senses become subject to thee.

He (who is ruled by the intellect), without being asleep (himself), puts his senses to sleep, so that the unseen things may emerge from (the world of) the Soul.

Even in his waking state he dreams dreams and opens withal the gates of Heaven."25

In contrast with Gurdjieff's Gnosticism which has a derogatory view of God as worshipped by the those of the Abrahamic religions, Mawlânâ affirms the Qur'anic faith in the Omnipotence of God:

"From this you may realise that all these things are but an occasion for the display of God's omnipotence; that these things are of Him, and that His decree is absolute in all things. The believer is he who knows that behind this wall there is Someone who is apprised of all our circumstances, one by one, and who sees us though we see Him not; of this the believer is certain. Contrary is the case of him who says, 'No, this is all a tale,' and does not believe. The day will come when God will box his ears; then he will be sorry, and he will say 'Alas, I spoke evil and erred. Indeed, all was He; and I denied Him.'"26

While is true that Mawlânâ does make the analogy that the soul is like a bird trapped in the "cage of the body,"27 the difference between his view and the view of Gnosticism is that, as a religious mystic, he teaches that the entry and exit of the soul from the physical body is governed in accordance with the hidden Wisdom and Guidance of God, the Omnipotent Creator-- something that the believer should willingly submit to with an attitude of faith, trust and love of God, the All-Merciful.

Remembrance of God in the Qur'an

Muslim mystics, or sufis, have specialized in the spiritual practice of the remembrance of God [zikru 'llâh] for many centuries. This practice of "recalling" was inspired by verses in the Qur'an, such as the following: "Recollect your God often" (Q.33:41; see also Q.3:41). "Remember your Lord within your soul with humility and in reverence" (Q.7:205). "Remember the name of your Lord" (Q.73:8). "Recollect God standing, sitting down, and (lying down) on your sides" (Q.4:103). ". . .those who believe and whose hearts find satisfaction in the recollection of God--for truly in the recollection of God do hearts find satisfaction" (Q.13:28). "Men, whom neither buying nor selling can divert from the remembrance of God" (Q.24: 37). "And don't be like those who forgot God, for He made them forget themselves. Such are the transgressors" (Q.59:19). "They have forgotten God; so He has forgotten them" (Q.9:67). "Remembrance of God is the greatest [zikru 'llâhi akbar]"-- Q.29:45.


Those who are seeking to be faithful to the inspired teachings of Hazrat-i Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî would benefit by practicing the same spiritual practices that he did: the Islamic prayers, fasting, and study of the Qur'an and the Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), in addition to the sufi practice of frequent remembrance [zikr] of God and the cultivation of spiritual love. Those who do not feel ready or willing to do the daily Islamic spiritual practices that Mawlânâ did should at least strive to be faithful to his beliefs and teachings. One should avoid the temptation to "gain more" by combining the Mevlevi Way with teachings and practices from other mystical traditions--especially those that are contrary to the principles and teachings of Hz. Mawlânâ.


1 Ernest Scott, "The People of the Secret," 1983, p. 165.

2 Bennett, "The Masters of Wisdom of Central Asia," 1977.

3 There is evidence that Idries Shah was primarily an Occultist who used sufism as a cover, and that he deliberately promoted himself: as the foremost authority on sufism, as a great sufi shaykh, as the leader of the most esoteric circle of the Naqshbandi sufi order. However, the latter is contradicted by the fact that this is a very conservative Islamic sufi order, whereas Shah taught that sufism is an esoteric tradition independent of Islam. Born in India (the son of an Afghan father and an English mother) he was raised from early childhood in England and attended English schools. His first book was on the subject of magic: "Oriental Magic," 1956, when he was about 32 years old. In his next book, "Destination Mecca," 1957, he revealed his ignorance about sufism at that time by asserting that the "Dancing Dervishes" were part of the Bektashi Order (when they are a part of the Mevlevi Order). In his late 30's, he was still involved in Occultism, as is shown in an article written by a Gurdjieffian who wrote a biography of Gurdjieff, James Moore.

4 "Interviews with Oscar Ichazo," 1982.

5 Khan, "Toward The One," 1974.

6 This conclusion (that the secret doctrines of Occultism are based on a theology of Gnosticism) is an insight of the author, gained as the result of many years of study of these subjects; therefore, there is no particular book or article to which reference can be made regarding this conclusion. One way of understanding the connection is by contrasting the neo-Manichean movement in Europe (called Catharism) which taught its heretical doctrines so openly and boldly (until it was crushed by the Albigensian Crusade in the 13th century) with the later secret societies in Europe that hid their secret teachings in symbols and disguised forms to avoid persecution from the Church (which suspected that secret societies, such as Masonry, maintained anti-Christian doctrines).

7 quoted by Ouspensky, " In Search of the Miraculous," 1949.

8For a brief introduction to Gnosticism, see the following article.

See also "The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam," 1989, by Cyril Glassé ("Dualism," pp. 105-06; "Manicheism," pp. 252-56, and "Seveners," pp. 354-56).

9 For further information on the Theosophical roots of much of Gurdjieff's teachings see the following article by an authority on Occultism, Arvan Harvat.

10 Gurdjieff, "Meetings With Remarkable Men," 1974.

11 quoted by Ouspensky, "In Search of the Miraculous," 1949, p. 31. This was restated by Kabir Helminski in "The Knowing Self," 1999, pp. 211-12: "The world is a place for fashioning the soul, in the sense that soul is not given to us automatically, despite our assumptions to the contrary. Our interiority, our presence, must be created from within the distractions and forgetfulness of everyday outer life, from within the constant clash of pleasure and pain, happiness and loss."

12 Gurdjieff was also quoted by his student Ouspensky as saying (in "In Search of the Miraculous," 1949): "Man, like every other living being, cannot, in the ordinary conditions of life, tear himself free from the moon. All his movements and consequently all his actions are controlled by the moon. If he kills another man, the moon does it; if he sacrifices himself for others, the moon does that also. All evil deeds, all crimes, all self-sacrificing actions, all heroic exploits, as well as all the actions of ordinary everyday life, are controlled by the moon. The liberation which comes with the growth of mental powers and faculties is liberation from the moon. The mechanical part of our life depends upon the moon, is subject to the moon. If we develop in ourselves consciousness and will, and subject our mechanical life and all our mechanical manifestations to them, we shall escape from the power of the moon."

13 quoted by his student Ouspensky, "In Search of the Miraculous," 1949, p. 47.

14 For a modern example, see "The Cipher of Genesis," 1970, by Carlos Suares.

15 Jung, "Answer To Job," 1952. On the subject of Jung, Gnosticism, and Alchemy, see the following article.

16 Bennett, "The Masters of Wisdom," 1977, p. 94)

17 Bennett, "The Masters of Wisdom," 1977, p. 26.

18 Hodgson, "Crisis In the Search for Truth," 1984, pp. 80-81, 85.

19 This letter appears on the webpage of a contemporary Gurdjieffian group.

20 Ernest Scott, "The People of the Secret," 1983, p. 164.

21 "Teachers of Gurdjieff," 1966, using the pseudonym of "Rafael Lefort."

22 If some readers think that this conclusion is too narrow, perhaps because of reading in Occult literature positive references to the word "God" together with an emplasis on the latent Divine powers and knowledge within the human being, readers should keep in mind that the author is asserting that this is the secret Gnostical doctrine of Occultism--and therefore something that most Occultists would avoid teaching or writing about directly (that is, if they have known at all about this secret doctrine).

23See the links to articles on the Internet in footnote 8.

24Masnavi I: 409-13, translated by R. A. Nicholson, 1926.

25Masnavi III: 1832-34, translated by R. A. Nicholson, 1930.

26Fîhi Mâ Fîhi, Discourse 45, translated by A. J. Arberry, 1961, p. 182

27See Masnavi I: 389, 1447, 1540.


Jedi Master
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

The way I see "soul" is an ability to be "what you are" by either mechanicality or by self discapline. Hence why there are soul "groups" and individual souls. To expand on "what you are", I mean an individual soul can be, and is, what it *chooses* to be, and a group soul is simply what it is, and hasn't really chosen (maybe can't until the mass enough knowledge or self control), sort of like the standard human template from which individual souls break from. Once this break has occurred, the individual soul seems to seek similar souls to join with, which is usually through following the "breadcrumbs" of information/knowledge left by other souls who have made the same basic choice.

I wonder if the fusing of the little I's in the mind is like creating a soul group. or some process of giving them a soul, like a direction? It seems thats how it is. I mean, instead of destroying other I's, you actually attract new ones which are in some way like thought forms, as in the C's. Oh maybe I am getting a bit too... imaginative :D


FOTCM Member
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

Another interesting item popped up:

"Neo-Sufism: The Case of Idries Shah"

by James Moore

The backwater where modern sensibilities are impinged on by a refurbished Sufism is a vexed and peculiar one: erudition sits uneasily with popularisation; spiritual leaders of a stature almost forgotten in the West are jostled by impudent careerists; and the erratic pattern of translation lends a disproportionate influence to the towering minds of Ibn Arabi (AD 1165-1240) and Jalaluddin Rumi AD (1207-1273). Our contemporary British scene affords few more successful figures than Idries Abutahir Shah -- and few more pitiful.

For twenty five years Shah [Shah died in 1996 -- ed. note] has been lit, as by St. Elmo's fire, with a nimbus of exorbitant adulation: an adulation he himself has fanned, an adulation which has not failed to arouse -- in quieter Islamic, literary, academic, and Gurdjieffian circles a largely unheeded contradiction. The coterie of serviceable journalists, editors, critics, animators, broadcasters, and travel writers, which gamely choruses Shah's praise, is entitled to enjoy undisturbed its special value-judgment. Where however, more eminent apologists have made debatable assertions of fact,' and where the traditional orientation of Sufism and indeed the canon of truth have suffered distortion, certain caveats concerning Shah must be refreshed.

In 1975 Doris Lessing brought to a climax her long years of enthusiasm in a 'Guardian' article of reckless ardour, appropriately entitled, 'If you knew Sufi....' In this hagiography -- no other noun will serve -- Shah was advertised as a saintly but genial polymath, who had attended several Western and Eastern universities; commanded 60 million adherents; and quite disinterestedly dispensed the 'Secret Wisdom':

"Idries Shah is one of these (great Sufi Masters), and from his birth has been prepared for the specific task of establishing this teaching here in the West."

An elitist spiritual education is one of Shah's two main planks: the second -- echoed below by Robert Graves -- adduces 'silsila' the Sufic initiatic chain:

"Idries Shah Sayed happens to be in the senior male fine of descent from the prophet Mohammed, and to have inherited the secret mysteries from the Caliphs, his ancestors. He is, in fact, a Grand Sheikh of the Sufi Tariqa..."

Such claims by such claimants deserve the compliment of attentive scrutiny, and necessarily invite discreet interrogation of Shah's antecedents.

Shah's Origins

Idries Shah's pretension to be a Sayed (in common incidentally with a million or more putative descendants of Muhammad's younger grandson Husain) may be conceded 'grosso modo,' without its conferring on him the spiritual authority he implies. But the wilder boasts of his posterity -- that he springs from Abraham's loins and from the last Sasanid kings -- belong to the melancholy area of creative genealogy; and indeed in so far as they rely on his vaunted place in the senior male line of descent from... Mohammed,' they labour under the unconsidered difficulty that all three sons of the Prophet died in infancy.

Shah's traceable paternity places him within an obscure Afghan clan from Paghman, a resort fifty miles from Kabul. Ironically enough, his great-great-grandfather Muhammad Shah was awarded the title 'Jan Fishan Khan' (The Zealot) in 1840, for supporting British interests against his Muslim co-religionists. If it is over-censorious to call him (as I. P. Elwell-Sutton has) a 'ruffian,' it is preposterous to call him (as Idries has) 'chief of the Hindu Kush Sufis.' The specific Sufic link claimed by Idries is first defined and rendered remotely plausible in the person of his grandfather Amjed Ali Shah, the self-styled 'Nawab of Sardhana' and 'Naqshbandi Paghmani.' The Naqshabandiyya were an important central Asian Sunni tariqa, associated with the name of Baha'ud-Din Naqshband (AD 1318-1389). Yet Amjed Ali's religious dedication is less well attested than his dissipation of the family's estates at Sardhana near Delhi.

Ikbal Ali Shah (1894-1969), the son of Amjed Ali and father of Idries, settled in Britain before the first World War, only to meet rebuffs. Behind his compensatory inventions of private conversations with King George V lay his failure at Edinburgh Medical School and -- equally predictable -- his ignominious treatment as a son-in-law. Charming and personable, Ikbal was a lifelong sufferer from Munchhausen's syndrome -- a condition first diagnosed in 1929, when he tried to compromise the P. M. Ramsay Macdonald, and Foreign Office investigation revealed there 'was hardly a word of truth in his writings.' Towards Sufism, Ikbal's stance was ambivalent. He did write one innocuous popularisation, "Islamic Sufism" (Rider & Co., 1933). However, he dipped his pen in the inkpot of Voltaire when alluding to the Rifa'i, Mevlevi, and Ansariyya tariqas; and he positively applauded Mustafa Kemal's abolition of the fez and the Turkish dervish orders on 2 September 1925. As to orthodox Islam, Ikbal's conduct over the notorious 'halal' meat scandal in Buenos Aires in 1946, provoked the British Ambassador to describe him as 'a swindler.'

However powerful and unusual were the influences to which Idries Shah was innocently exposed in his formative years, they were hardly Sufic.

A Youthful Tourist

Idries Abutahir Shah was born in Simla on 16 June 1924. Before long, he was brought to England where he grew up -- a timid child -- at 'Northdene,' Brighton Road, Belmont, Sutton. His boyhood with his brother Omar Ali Shah was uneventful -- though, even in Belmont, not entirely insulated from pockets of inexcusable prejudice against Anglo-Indians. In August 1940, when German bombing began in earnest, the family evacuated from London to Oxford, where Idries's two or three academically undistinguished years at the City of Oxford High School, in New Inn Hall Street, evidently crowned and concluded his formal education. To the decade 1945 to 1955 Idries assigns his "Wanderjahre," assiduously cultivating the impression of far- flung and audacious travels in Asia as a 'student of Traditional Sufi sheikhs.' He may indeed have used his father's oriental contacts. Incongruously enough however, it was to Uruguay that he went in winter 1945, as secretary of his father's 'halal' meat mission, and to England that he returned in October 1946. All that is certain apropos this period is that Shah has made portentous and inherently improbable claims, without elucidating (and indeed largely clouding) the biographical record.

Our subject emerges somewhat from the shadows with the publication of his first books, which are important in indicating the voltage and orientation of his mind, before he gained support from literary agents and research assistants, and, crucially important in situating him vis-à-vis Islam and Sufism, before he had furbished his 'Sufic' persona. Shah's first book "Oriental Magic" (Rider, 1956) will survive, if at all, as the prototype of his recourse to antecedent writing, and of his pretensions as a mystery figure. It finds him, at 32, primarily concerned with matters like 'Mungo' the ectoplasmic force, garters for distances, and Himalayan leopard powder. Only chapter 7, 'The Fakirs and their Doctrines,' approaches the Sufic theme, and it is replete with errors. His ensuing travel memoir "Destination Mecca" (Rider, 1957), although intrinsically slight, is certainly more important for its unconscious self- depiction. What do we find? Regrettably, we find a tourist who (Shah's own words) 'had lived for years in the West'; a mind embarrassingly superficial and banal, lacking the least resonance of religious feeling; a photographer obsessed with his Robot f/2.8 rapid action camera, exultant at his furtive and sacrilegious snapshots of the Kaaba; a materialist repelled by the 'unhygienic bodies' of the Muslim Brethren but intrigued by Mecca United football team; a man meeting his first practicing Sufis around the age of 30, only to find their sacred books unfamiliar:

"These were the actual Dancing Dervishes -- of the Bektashi Order -- in action! I would have given any thing to have had my camera with me."

Alike in his conflation of the Bektashi and Mevlevi tariqas and in his voyeuristic reaction -- the real Idries Shah exposes himself.

Marketing Sufism

The opening of the 1960s found Shah veering towards occultism, and acting as secretary-companion to Dr. Gerald Gardner, Director of the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft in the Isle of Man. However, a nouvelle orientalism was in the air (articulated amongst others by Daisetz Suzuki, Pak Subuh, and the Maharishi); and the Sufi niche was temptingly unfilled. 'People must have labels,' Shah concluded. 'The scramble is to get the right one and then hold on to it...' A scramble certainly -- for the assiduous revisionism which yielded him his 'Grand Sheikh' label generated a corpus of pseudonymous literature, unparalleled in our century for its magnitude, coherence, and ignobility.

Shah has conceded his own recourse to pen names (v. "Reflections," p. 88), without divulging details; many of his disciples emulate him, Given this obfuscation, it is problematic which of the score or more queerly named authors stylistically and thematically assignable to the 'Shah-School' (e.g. Omar Michael Burke Ph. D., Arkon Daraul, Rafael Lefort, Hadrat B.M. Dervish and so on) have independent physical existence? Pending investigation, it perhaps suffices that none show a scintilla of independent philosophical existence. Shah- School productions date from May 1960, and throughout them Shah receives -- ostensibly from disinterested third parties -- intemperate praise: he is 'Tariqa Grand Sheikh Idries Shah Saheb'; he is 'Prince Idries Shah'; 'King Enoch'; 'The Presence'; 'The Studious King'; the 'Incarnation of Ah'; and even the Qutb or 'Axis.'

Someone deeply impressed by the idealized Shah was the former Marxist Doris May Lessing (b. 1919) who, while writing "The Golden Notebook" underwent a sort of Damascene conversion. For 20 years she has remained the spearhead of Shah's defence, again and again pitting 'half-truth, irrelevancy, double think, misquotation and invention' against the scholarship and deadly fairness of Shah's redoubtable critic Laurence Elwell-Sutton, Reader in Persian at Edinburgh University. Innocent of any oriental tongue, she has plunged deep into debates which turn on a command of mediaeval Persian; lacking any indigenous Sufic experience, she has set her judgment against that of profound Sufi thinkers like Professor Sayed Hossein Nasr. Beyond all exasperation, it is impossible not to feel for the loyal Quixotic Mrs. Lessing something akin to regard.

Gurdjieffians Wanted

No single element in Shah's whole life has proved more materially advantageous -- or psychologically revealing than his stratagem concerning the philosopher-savant George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (c. 1866-1949). Hardly had Shah-School productions appeared, than they began to belittle Gurdjieff -- adding in coded language the preposterous rider that Shah (who never even met him) had assumed his mantle. This campaign reached apogee in 1966. First came the distasteful fabrication "The Teachers of Gurdjieff" by Rafael Lefort (a botched anagram of 'A Real Effort'). Here young 'Lefort' pretends to have sought out Gurdjieff 's teachers in Asia (a chronological absurdity), who demeaned their former pupil and pointed towards Shah. Next, extrapolating from Gurdjieff's references to a certain 'Sarmoung Brotherhood,' Shah-School productions impudently claimed that the Sarmoung were extant and had one emissary in Europe - - a figure strangely redolent of Shah himself. At last, in "Special Problems in the Study of Sufi Ideas," the reborn 'Naqshbandi' ventured an explicit and attributable statement:

"G. I. Gurdjieff left abundant clues to the Sufi origins of virtually every point in his 'system'; though it obviously belongs more specifically to the Khwajaghan (Naqshbandi) form of dervish teaching."

But why Gurdjieff and why 1966? To explore this we must briefly advance the singular figure of J. G. Bennett.

John Godolphin Bennett (1897-1974) was a complex, gifted, sincere, and indefatigable eclectic searcher strangely deficient in common sense. Having been successively the pupil of P. D. Ouspensky, Gurdjieff himself, Jeanne de Salzmann, H. H. Lannes. Emin Chikou, Abdullah Daghestani, Pak Subuh, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and the Shivapuri Baba, and even received into the Roman Catholic Church, he wondered at age 69 if he was making sufficient headway. His predicament was compounded because he himself had accumulated a numerous and serious following and a prestigious house at Coombe Springs. Bennett, with his Messianic and millenarian promptings was that 'rara avis,' a guru in search of a guru; and from 1962, when the Shah-School began propagating its Gurdjieffian allusions, the hook had been temptingly baited for him.

How Bennett took that bait; how the older man became persuaded that Shah had come direct from Gurdjieff's 'Sarmoung Monastery' with a 'Declaration of the People of The Tradition'; how Shah pressed Bennett ('The caravan is about to set out') to give him Coombe Springs outright; how Bennett agonized, and in January 1966 complied; how Shah promptly repudiated Bennett, and sold the establishment for 100,000 [British pounds]; how Coombe Springs with its sub-Goetheanum Djamichunatra passed under the bulldozers; how Shah with the proceeds founded the Society for Organising Unified Research in Cultural Education (SOURCE) and the Society for the Understanding of the Foundation of Ideas (SUFI) and established himself at Langton House, Langton Green, near Tunbridge Wells -- all this defies both précis and belief, but is indelibly recorded in Bennett's autobiography "Witness."

Robert Graves Stung

Within two years 'The People of the Tradition' had claimed an even older, more vulnerable, more eminent victim: the poet Robert Graves. His ill-fated work "The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam -- A New Translation" with critical commentaries (Cassell, 1967) was written with, and at the instigation of, General Omar Ali Shah, but in aid of Idries Shah's highly tendentious thesis that Khayyam's was 'the Sufi voice.' Entering the spirit of the thing, Ikbal, who had dismissed Khayyam in 1928 as 'the Bacchus with the mind of a Rabelais,' now felt happy to endorse his piety. As for poor Graves, his book was exposed by academics as a nullity cubed; a 'translation' (which was not a translation but a copy of a Victorian commentary); of the twelfth century 'Jan Fishan Khan MS' (which did not exist); of a composite stanzaic poem by Khayyam (which he did not write). As Graves laboured hopelessly to defend himself, Idries twice promised to produce the elusive MS 'from Afghanistan,' only to renege finally on 30 October 1970. No MS, no photocopy, no detail of format or location, no substantive text, no colophon ever transpired -- and Graves like Bennett reaped the harvest of his credulity.

Summing Up

With Shah now over 60 it is not too early to take stock.

Yes he has made a contribution of sorts in popularising his invertebrate, humanistic 'Sufism,' and in pleasing the Mrs. Lessings of this world. It is not nothing. But consider the cost: the rearing of an unsavoury pseudonymous literature; the clouding of Graves's reputation; and the injection into the world's biographical dictionaries of a false prospectus of Gurdjieff. Yes Shah is affluent and famous now and a member of the Athenaeum: but Baha'ud-Din Naqshband sought only spiritual riches, and forbade his followers to record the least word about him. Yes, Shah has brought energy and resource to his self-aggrandizement; but where is the evidence of conscience or real 'dasein'? Then is not Shah's life -- all in all -- as opaque in terms of genuine Sufism, as it is transparent in terms of Adlerian psychology?

Beyond this ad hominem critique, inescapable as an antidote to Shah's personality cult, what of his work? Many people will enjoy his dervish anecdotes and Mullah Nasruddin stories unaware how cavalierly they lean on unacknowledged and out-of copyright sources). But their spiritualising action on middlebrow European readers is surely nil. Plucked from their true cultural, linguistic, and didactic contexts, and from the rich oral tradition which gave them life, they have been ignobly reduced to the level of 'The Hundred Best After-Dinner Stories.' And if they are truly exemplary tales, they are marvellously at variance with Shah's own example.

Idries Abutahir Shah and his Sufism await judgments immeasurably beyond the competence of 'Religion Today': the judgment of history, if not the judgment foretold in Surah LXXVIII. But some provisional comment may be ventured without malice: that his is a 'Sufism' which Baha'ud-Din Naqshband would find unrecognisable and repugnant; that his is a 'Sufism' without self-sacrifice, without self-transcendence, without the aspiration of gnosis, without tradition, without the Prophet, without the Quran, without Islam, and without God. Merely that.

-James Moore

[This article first appeared in Religion Today. Moore is the author of "Gurdjieff -- A Biography," "Gurdjieff and Mansfield," and is currently working on his memoirs.]

Author's Note

This article constitutes a footnote to L. P. Elwell-Sutton's magisterial 'Sufism & Pseudo-Sufism' (Encounter Vol. XLIV No. 5, May 1975, pp. 9-17). which in certain sectors it augments and corrects. My 25-year-plus interest in Idries Shah has been enlivened by correspondence with Elwell-Sutton, Elizabeth Bennett, Edward Campbell, Martin Seymour-Smith, K. E. Steffens, Richard Thomas, and Colin Wilson; by contact with Professors James Vickie (Yak Sake), Sayed Hossein Nasr, and Anne Marie Scheme; and by collaboration from the PRO, the Doris Lessing Society and the Society of Genealogists. Of Shah's apologists I have listened most attentively to Ahmed R. Bullock. I am especially grateful to J. I. Somers, archivist of The Gurdjieff Society and director of Fine Books Oriental. For reasons of typography and disparate provenance respectively, I make no attempt here at scholarly or consistent transliteration from Arabic or Persian.


Contemporary British scene. Contemporary neo-Sufism presents three ideological backcloths -- Sunni, Shiite, and 'Gnostic. 'The traditions of Alawiyya, Chisti, Halveti-Jerrahi, Mevlevi, and Nimatullahi dervishes are variously articulated by strongly contrasted figures like Hasan-Lutfi Shushud, Frithjof Schuon, ('Isa Nuruddin'), Suleiman Hyati Dede, Dr. Sufi Aziz Balouch, Sheikh Muhammad Muzaffer-eddin Ashki, Pir Vilayat Khan, Dr. Javad Nurbaksh, and Bulent Rauf.

Coterie of serviceable journalists.... Among the more notable are Edward Campbell, Geoffrey Grigson, Desmond Morris, Isabel Quigley, Ted Hughes, Pat Williams, and Richard Williams.

Brought to a climax. Doris Lessing's admiration of Shah first emerged on 18 September 1964 with her review 'An Elephant in the Dark,' Spectator 213:373. The personal context is briefly evoked in her interview by Nissa Torrents for the Spanish journal La Calle (No. 106 April 1-7,1980)pp.42-44.

'Secret Wisdom. 'Doris Lessing, 'If you knew Sufi...' The Guardian 8 Jan. 1975, p. 12.

His ancestors. Robert Graves, Introduction to The Sufis by Idries Shah (New York: Doubleday 1964).

Sons died in infancy. Muhammad's line of course descends through his daughter Fatima and son-in-law Ali; of his two grandsons the elder was Hasan (whose progeny bear the title shatif) not Husain (whose progeny bear the title sayed). See Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (Macmillan & Co. 1953) p. 440 n. 8.

Ruffian. L. R Elwell-Sutton, Letter, 'Sufism and Pseudo-Sufism' Encounter, Dec. 1972, p. 92. For the basis of this condemnation, see inter alia Sir John William Kave. History of the Indian Mutiny 1857- 58 (Vol.11), p. 145.

Chief of Hindu Kush Sufis. Idries Shah, The Sufis, p. 168.

The Naqshabandiyya. Shah's claim to lead the Naqshbandi Order is baseless. For the historical background see J. Spencer-Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971). For some cryptic pointers towards the authentic modem silsila, see 'The Naqshbandi Order -- A Preliminary Survey of its History and Significance' (Berkeley, California, 1977) pp. 123-52 by Hamid Algar, the world authority on this tariqa. For Naqshbandi encroachment into certain contemporary political arenas, see for example Turkish literature surrounding the National Salvation Party led by Mr. Erbakan.

Failure at Edinburgh Medical School. During World War I, Ikbal avoided military service by attaching himself as a volunteer to the Indian General Hospital at Brighton. In 1933 his frustrated medical and social aspirations dominated his unintentionally hilarious novel Afridi Gold, whose hero Colonel Francis Challenger of the Indian Medical Service, would 'devote the same remitting (sic) care and attention to a black body as a white' (p. 9).

Ignominious treatment. Ikbal Ali Shah's wife (mother of Idries and Omar) assumed on marriage the tide Sharifa Saira Khanum, her maiden name being usually cited as 'Elizabeth Louis MacKenzie.' Questionable rumours -- which Idries appears neither to confirm nor deny -- have circulated that Ikbal in fact married into Scotland's premier family the 'haughty Hamiltons 'the bride, to Ikbal's chagrin, feeling obliged to register pseudonymously to circumvent parental obstruction. Suggestions that her father was actually 'Chief of Clan Hamilton' seems particularly extravagant: neither the 12th nor l3th Dukes of Hamilton had daughters available to Ikbal; nor is such a liaison mentioned by Lt. Col. George Hamilton in A History of the House of Hamilton (Edinburgh, 1933). The connection, if any, was more plausibly through the eccentric Sir Abdullah Archibald Hamilton, formerly Sir Charles Edward Archibald Watkins Hamilton, who embraced Islam on 20 December 1923. Incongruous Scottish allusions permeate Shah-School productions e.g. in Destination Mecca Idries appears as 'Laird... of the Fatimite Family' returning to his ,native Afghan glens. 'He himself is married to Bibi Kashri Khanum (nee Kabraji) by whom he has a son, Tahir, and two daughters.

Hardly a word of truth. 'Notes on Sirdar Ikbal Ali Khan.' (PRO, FO 37 1, 129, N.3024/2824/97): a detailed and condemnatory report on Ikbal's integrity and veracity. (Damaging material on Ikbal abounds throughout FO, 371 and FO 395 from 1926 to 1950).

A swindler. Gordon Vereker (British Ambassador Montevideo) letter of 17 July 1946 to Victor Perowne. (PRO, FO 371, 1946, AS/4439/46). For the basis of this condemnation see FO, 371 Piece 52194.

Undistinguished years. Although its headmaster was entitled to attend The Headmasters' Conference, the School was evidently in decline by Shah's day; and is now defunct. Its most famous old boy, decades earlier, was T. E. Lawrence -- a powerful allusion ironically denied Shah, because his English childhood sat so uneasily with Sufic and Sarmoung Brotherhood allusions.

Returned to England. Sailing on the SS DARRO out of Buenos Aires on 26 September 1946.

Lived in the West. Idries Shah, "Destination Mecca" (Rider, 1957) p. 48.

Dancing Dervishes. Ibid. p. 177.

Scramble. Ibid. p. 11.

'Shah-School' productions. A thematically and stylistically, homogeneous literary oeuvre, eulogizing Shah and/or his 'Sufism' -- promulgated by Shah's Octagon Press. Four categories emerge:

1) Overt writing by Shah e.g. The Sufis (New York: Doubleday, 1964);

2) Pseudonymous writing reasonably ascribable to Shah himself e.g. work by 'Arkon Daraul'(see. Note 20) and by 'Rafael Lefort' (see Note 25);

3) Overt writing by Shah's admirers e.g. Doris Lessing's 'If you knew Sufi...' (The Guardian 8 Jan. 1975) p. 121;

4) Pseudonymous writing by Shah's admirers e.g. The People of the Secret (Octagon Press, 193 1) by 'Ernest Scott' (reputedly Edward Campbell, former literary editor of The Evening News). Given the peculiar motivation for this genre, there seems a persuasive case for detailed investigative and stylometric research, to extend firm knowledge. of authorship beyond Shah, his literary agent, and The Registrar of Public Lending Right.

Arkon Daraul. Arkon Daraul, "Secret Societies Yesterday and Today" (Frederick Muller Ltd., 196 1). Material from Chapter 5 "Me Path of the Sufi' (giving a risible account of initiation into a 'Naqshbandi Lodge' in a country house in Sussex, all too identifiable by the 'Arms of the Princes of Paghman' p. 72) is excerpted in Davidson's 'Symposium' promulgated by Shah (see Note 2 1).

Date from May 1960. W. Foster, 'The Family of Ilashim,' Contemporary Review Vol. 197. No. 1132, May 1960) pp. 269-7 1. A convenient anthology of ensuing Shah-School productions in the vigorously expansionist period Jan. 1961-Dec. 1965 is Documents on Contemporary Dervish Communities, ed. Roy Weaver Davidson (SOURCE, 1966). A more recent and unintentionally piquant production is "The Diffusion of Sufi Ideas in the West" (more accurately subtitled "An Anthology New Writings by and about Idries Shah") ed. L. Lewin (Boulder, Colorado, Keysign Press, 1972).

Spearhead of Shah's defence. See Paul Schlueter. 'Lessing and Sufism' a checklist compiled for the Doris Lessing Society: English Dept., Old Dominion University. Norfolk, VA 23508, USA.

'Half-truth, irrelevancies...' L. Elwell Sutton. Letter 'Sufism and Pseudo-Sufism, 'Encounter (Dec. 1972) p. 9 1.

Against that of profound Sufi thinkers. See for example Nasr's review of Shah's "The Sufis in Islamic Studies" (1964). For their part Shah and his School display a patronizing, even dismissive, attitude towards scholars like Arberry, Corbin, Massignon, Nicholson, and Rice -- while simultaneously leaning on their work.

Distasteful fabrication. The persistent rumour (and reasonable inference) that Shah himself is 'Rafael Lefort' was first publicly bruited by Nicholas Saunders in Alternative London (Nicholas Saunders, 1970) p. 109.

Sarmoung Brotherhood. Space precludes consideration of the complex literary, historical, geographical, and etymological questions posed by Gurdjieff's purported contact with a 'Sarmoung Brotherhood' in Central Asia c. 1899. Independent and trustworthy corroboration of the Order's existence is thus far lacking, and the self-serving exploitation of the name, both by the Shah-School and Irv Garv B. Chicoine, the egregiously self-styled 'Chief Sarmouni,' hinders serious investigation.

Khwajaghan (Naqshbandi) form of dervish teaching. The 11th-13th century Khwajaghan Masters were protagonists both of the Naqshbandi and Yesevi tariqas. See Trimingham op. cit. p. 62ff. and Algar loc. cit. pp. 131-134. For more problematical formulations see the work of Hasan Lutfi Shushud, e.g. "Masters of Wisdom in Central Asia" Systematics Vol. VI p. 310 (Coombe Springs Press); and J. G. Bennett, "Gurdjieff -- Making a New World" (Turnstone Books, 1973) Chap 27 "The Masters of Wisdom"; and J. G. Bennett "The Masters of Wisdom" (Turnstone Books, 1977).

Bennett. J. G. Bennett was fluent in 10 languages: his mathematical paper (written with R. L. Brown and M. W. Thring) 'Unified Field Theory in a Curvature-Free Five-Dimensional Manifold' was published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society in July 1949: his major opus "The Dramatic Universe" conveys, despite its opacity, his colossal intellect.

Shah pressed Bennett. Idries Shah q. J. G. Bennett, "Witness" (Turnstone, rev. ed. 1975) p.361.

Djamichunatra. The nine-sided Djamichunatra (or Djameechoonatra) at Coombe Springs was designed and built by J. G. Bennett and his pupils, notably a dozen architects led by Robert Whiffen; the building was begun on 23 March 1956, completed on 29 October 1957, and demolished by 'developers' in 1966. For its inspiration see G. I. Gurdjieff "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" (RKP, 1950) p. 1160; for Bennett's vision of it see his "Witness" (Hodder and Stoughton, 1962) p. 323f and 348f, for further technical details see A.G. E. Blake "A History of the Institute for the Comparative Study of History, Philosophy and the Sciences Ltd and the Influences upon it" (Daglingworth: privately circulated, 198 1) p. 5; for Frank Lloyd Wright's aesthetic criticism see Anthony Bright Paul "Stairway to Subud" (Coombe Springs Press, 1965) p. 116; and for its wanton destruction see Witness (rev. ed. 1975) p. 362.

All this defies belief. J. G. Bennett, Witness (Turnstone, rev. ed. 1975) pp. 355-62. Bennett's introduction to his limited edition of "Witness" (Coombe Springs Press, 1971) had enthusiastically announced a forthcoming Bennett-Shah paper elaborating both men's motivation. This eludes researchers.

Khayyam. Idries Shah, The Sufis (New York: Doubleday, 1964).

'The Bacchus with the mind of a Rabelais.' Ikbal Ali Shah, Westward to Mecca (H. R & G. Witherby, 1928) Chap IX 'Omar and Shakespeare,' 181. Cf p. 184.

Exposed by academics. Between 1968 and 1973 virtually every eminent Persicologist in Britain, America. and Iran pronounced against the 'Jan Fishan Khan MS' and the Graves-Shah 'translation': none for it. Credit for first exposing the hoax goes to L. P, Elwell-Sutton for his 'The Omar Khayyam Puzzle'(RCAJ Lv/2, June 1968. pp. 167-79); credit for burying it to J. C. E. Bowen for his 'The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A Critical Assessment of Robert Graves' and Omar Ali Shah's 'translation'(Iran: Journal of Persian Studies Vol. XI 1973, pp. 63-73). Idries Shah went to ground throughout the debacle but his major role became apparent with the publication of "Between Moon and Moon: Selected Letters of Robert Graves 1941-1972," ed. Paul O'Prey (Hutchinson, 1984) pp. 281-83.

Renege finally. See O'Prey op. cit. p. 281ff.

False prospectus of Gurdjieff. Thanks to Shah and Bennett, the misconception of the preponderantly Sufic provenance of Gurdjieff's ideas has now a tenacious hold in works of reference e.g. Encyclopaedia Britannica 15th ed. (1985) Vol. 5 of Micropaedia. For a more balanced -- though somewhat superficial -- analysis, see James Webb, "The Harmonious Circle" (Thames and Hudson, 1980) Part 3, Chap. I 'The Sources of the System' pp. 499-543. It needs emphasis that Shah did not, as mistakenly conveyed by Elwell-Sutton, fall heir to the mainstream Gurdjieff movement in Britain, which in fact under H. H. Lannes held fastidiously aloof.

Mulla Nasruddin stories. In "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" (RKP, 1950) G. I. Gurdjieff gave high significance to the 'incomparable Mullah Nassr Eddin, 'the mediaeval wise fool of Turkish folklore. Shah, in the expansionist year 1966 (see text), almost predictably published "The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin" (Jonathan Cape); this was shortly followed by "Nasrudin's Pleasantries" (1968), both books evidently aimed at capturing a specifically Gurdjieffian readership and allegiance. In this Shah failed. By 1973, with publication of "Nasrudin's Subtleties" and the incorporation of Mulla Nasrudin Enterprises Ltd., proselytism had become secondary to normal commercial motive. Although, characteristically, Shah fails to specify the origin of his Nasrudin stories, their provenance is transparent to scholars familiar with the enormous out of copyright Nassr Eddin literature (dating back to 1937 in Turkish and 1857 in European languages). For an authoritative review of this literature and of Nassr Eddin's historicity, see Fehim Bairaktare -- vic's entry in "Enyclopaedia of Islam" Vol. 3, pp. 875-78.

[Reprinted from "Telos", Volume 6, Number 4, Autumn]


Padawan Learner
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

Interesting articles. One question that came up as I was reading the first one was how could Gurdjieff claim that his teaching was esoteric Christianity if esoteric Christianity according to Boris Mouravieff did teach that there are people born with souls and people born with no soul (adamic and pre-adamic - organic portals and non-organic portals)? It could be that he just took some consepts from esoteric Christianity and discarded the part about the soul, but that seems highly unlikely.


The Living Force
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

Did Gurdjieff actually come out and call it 'Esoteric Christianity'? Or was that just Mouravieff's slant on it?

Does he maybe talk about adamics/pre-adamics (M's terminology) covertly it in 'Beelzebub's Tales'? I haven't managed to decipher that book yet!

It would make sense to me if Gurdgieff did deliberately withhold information (he made no secret of being deliberately obscure - and also his method of saying things just because that was what someone 'needed to hear'!), then maybe leaving a trail for the determined. He didn't seem to think the time was right for a lot of his teachings to be 'released into the wild'. Yet he did have a sense that 'the time would come' when it would be needed and appropriate.


Padawan Learner
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

sleepyvinny said:
Did Gurdjieff actually come out and call it 'Esoteric Christianity'? Or was that just Mouravieff's slant on it?
Laura said:
Gurdjieff claimed that his teaching was "esoteric Christianity."
I don't know if Gurdjieff ment Esoteric Christianity in the way of Mouravieff's books (Gnosis), but I kind of see it this way by the fact that Mouravieff actually called Gurdjieff's teachings "Esoteric Christianity" (I don't have the source on this right now, but I'm pretty sure I've read this somewhere).


FOTCM Member
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

G also wrote that the origin of his teachings were "pre-Egypt" which possibly could mean of Atlantean origin?? I'm fairly sure that he termed his ideas esoteric Christianity in ISOTM. Apparently, Mouravieff had a semi-hostile attitude towards G's work as M worked with Ouspensky but did not find much resonance in G's teachings. So I would not be surprised if their two philosophies on soul differed.


FOTCM Member
Gurdjieff and the question of the soul.

sleepyvinny said:
Did Gurdjieff actually come out and call it 'Esoteric Christianity'? Or was that just Mouravieff's slant on it?

"What is the relation of the teaching you are expounding to Christianity as we know it?" asked somebody present.
"I do not know what you know about Christianity," answered G., emphasizing this word. "It would be necessary to talk a great deal and to talk for a long time in order to make clear what you understand by this term. But for the benefit of those who know already, I will say that, if you like, this is esoteric Christianity.
It's mentioned again in an interesting context: the law of octaves. Notice how he talks about what we understand as the effects of Ponerization via pathological humans insinuating themselves into a group:

"All this and many other things can only be explained with the help of the law of octaves together with an understanding of the role and significance of 'intervals' which cause the line of the development of force constantly to change, to go in a broken line, to turn round, to become its 'own opposite' and so on.

"Such a course of things, that is, a change of direction, we can observe in everything. After a certain period of energetic activity or strong emotion or a right understanding a reaction comes, work becomes tedious and tiring; moments of fatigue and indifference enter into feeling; instead of right thinking a search for compromises begins; suppression, evasion of difficult problems. But the line continues to develop though now not in the same direction as at the beginning. Work becomes mechanical, feeling becomes weaker and weaker, descends to the level of the common events of the day; thought becomes dogmatic, literal. Everything proceeds in this way for a certain time, then again there is reaction, again a stop, again a deviation. The development of the force may continue but the work which was begun with great zeal and enthusiasm has become an obligatory and useless formality; a number of entirely foreign elements have entered into feeling—considering, vexation, irritation, hostility; thought goes round in a circle, repeating what was known before, and the way out which had been found becomes more and more lost.

"The same thing happens in all spheres of human activity. In literature, science, art, philosophy, religion, in individual and above all in social and political life, we can observe how the line of the development of forces deviates from its original direction and goes, after a certain time, in a diametrically opposite direction, still preserving its former name. A study of history from this point of view shows the most astonishing facts which mechanical humanity is far from desiring to notice. Perhaps the most interesting examples of such change of direction in the line of the development of forces can be found in the history of religion, particularly in the history of Christianity if it is studied dispassionately. Think how many turns the line of development of forces must have taken to come from the Gospel preaching of love to the Inquisition; or to go from the ascetics of the early centuries studying esoteric Christianity to the scholastics who calculated how many angels could be placed on the point of a needle.
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