By a Grandson of Gurdjieff, by David Kherdian;
Globe Press. New York. 1991; paper.

Groups promoting psychological and spiritual development outside of conventional organizations have been the subject of media scrutiny for years. In groups often referred to as cults, the sometimes abusive methods and megalomaniacal behavior of the leaders of such groups make sensational news even up to the present day. Let the seeker beware is sound advice indeed to anyone looking for guidance on the spiritual path. A person embarking upon psychological development, however, should be prepared to work without a safety net. For almost everyone's inner world holds surprising, even shocking, revelations for one who studies himself in earnest.

Those who are gullible and psychologically shaky can be hurt because they tend to become victims of their own tendencies to be led and to seek security and reassurance from those robed in authority. When the Gurdjieff teaching is properly applied, blind faith is understood to be a liability; inner growth depends upon taking responsibility for oneself.

The Gurdjieff work, called The Fourth Way, can be briefly described as a system of psychology used to study the mechanisms behind one's attitudes and behavior and the methods used to work free of automatic reaction s to stimuli, events, and fantasies by efforts to increase one's capacity for self-awareness and the exercise of will.

This system was introduced in the West in the early twentieth century by G. I. Gurdjieff. Fourth Way theory has been explained in Gurdjieff’s writings as well as those of his student. P. D. Ouspensky, and others. Ouspensky was an eminent journalist, mathematician, and cosmologist whose The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution remains the most concise and systematic exposition of the subject. Many Fourth Way groups are still to be found throughout the Americas and Europe. Whatever their differences, their adherents all claim to be grounded in the teachings of Gurdjieff.

In the first part of the book, David Kherdian describes the development of his poetic talent and his marriage to Nonny Hogrogian, his second wife, who immediately began to fill a large emotional void in his life. In spite of their fortunate lives, the couple felt an acute spiritual hunger. Their discovery of the Gurdjieff system initiated years of work, first in connection with the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York directed by Lord Pentland . After disenchantment with that group, they went to study under Annie Lou Staveley, who had set up a school on a farm in Oregon. Most of the book is devoted to their inner journey, emotional trials, and rewards over several years in the seventies with Ms. Staveley's group. The author demonstrates how his literary skills and insights unfolded together with increased self-awareness.

Kherdian refers to himself as "a grandson of Gurdjieff" in the sense that he is a generation removed from Gurdjieff’s direct teaching. In addition to describing the inner workings of a Fourth Way group, the book traces the footsteps of spiritual seekers into experimental group living situations in the seventies.

Kherdian’s contribution to the literature of contemporary spiritual endeavors is a courageously candid account of his own effort s to chart his weaknesses and build upon the potentials manifested in his being. He is as forthright about both the strengths and shortcomings of the teachers and fellow pupils as he is about his own. The reader is given a balanced account of Fourth Way methods because the writer maintained his own balance throughout his experiences.

The author describes how he benefited from his group because he took it as a school that prepared him to take an active part in life again and not as a safe haven for the world-weary. Persons who leave various esoteric and religious groups are often condemned in the eyes of their former brethren to wander the world like Cain. Ouspensky advised his pupils to take the meaning of a school simply: a place to learn something. To overcome not only anxiety about how to act in a group but also fear of leaving its shelter once one knows in one's heart that it has served its purpose -these together constitute for many one of the major lessons to be learned from a group situation. Courage, my heart, take leave and heal yourself (Hermann Hesse).

The Gurdjieff work has much to do with realigning one's ideas about suffering. Our attachments and negative attitudes bring us much unnecessary suffering, which we are strangely loathe to give up. A certain kind of suffering is required for conscious development, but most of us come to the work to escape at least one form of it, that is, we want to be free from whatever we find hard to accept about ourselves and thus to reach internal rest. We can find our way to the quiet place within in moments whenever we can detach our sense of identity from whatever may be stimulating us or weighing us down at the moment. As Kherdian realized, however, the self-knowledge that we achieve brings more suffering than we expected. By accepting our flaws without an undue sense of tragedy, we can come to recognize them as shoals, around which we must learn to pilot. Then we can get on with living with purpose and a better sense of who and where we are without the unnecessary burden of overweening self-preoccupation.

According to Kherdian, he and Nonny were among the few to realize that the farm in Oregon provided a means to practice the work and not to found a permanent community. Some members of the group saw the farm as a place to make their stand against the social and cultural values of their parents' generation. Mean s and ends are so often confused in group work. Here we have no lasting city (Hebrews 13:14) needs to be a constant reminder.

Kherdian build s dramatic tension as he tells his story with both substance and narrative skill. His book deserves to take its place among the most informative and even-handed accounts published by those who have journeyed on any of numerous branches of the path to inner growth and self-understanding.


Spring 1992