Sadhguru tells us of the rascal saint, George Gurdjieff, and his “unconventional” methods with his disciples.
Sadhguru: George Gurdjieff, who lived in Russia in the early part of the twentieth century, was a wonderful master. But Gurdjieff was known as a rascal saint because his methods were very drastic and he did crazy things with people. He played unbearable tricks on people!
He had a powerful presence in England and when he spoke, people wanted to listen. If Gurdjieff was going to speak on a particular evening at six o’ clock, five hundred people would come to one great hall somewhere in London. If somebody was late by even a minute, the doors would be closed. So people came at six o’ clock and they waited… six-thirty, seven, eight, nine o’ clock; they just kept waiting. Every fifteen minutes, Gurdjieff’s disciples would come and say, “He will be coming now.” Like this, people were kept waiting till ten o’ clock.
Then the disciples would come and say, “Gurdjieff is not going to speak today. Today night at twelve o’ clock, he is going to speak in another town, which is a hundred kilometers away.” So out of these five hundred people, fifty people would leave for that town to be there at twelve o’clock. The rest would be tired and would go home. In the next town also, these fifty people were kept waiting till morning. In the early hours of the morning, the disciples would say, “Gurdjieff is not going to speak here. He is going to speak tomorrow afternoon at twelve o’ clock in some other place.” Only five of the fifty people would go there. Then Gurdjieff would come and say, “That’s good. I want to speak only to these five people. The others just came for entertainment. It is good that they are gone.” And he spoke only to these five people.
In Germany, he opened an ashram which was known as a camp. The elite of European society – lords, counts and countesses – came to these camps. These people, who had never worked in their lives, would be given spades, pick axes and crow bars and Gurdjieff would say, “Today, you must dig this trench with tremendous intensity. Do not even break for lunch.” They would all start digging the trench because when the Master says something, there must be some purpose. By evening, they would all be dead tired and in unbearable pain. When Gurdjieff sees that they cannot bear it anymore, he would say, “Okay, just dig a little more and then close the trench and come.” These people would go mad. For days together he would keep doing this with them. By this time, ninety percent of the people would run away from the camps because they had their Rolls Royces’ waiting. They were that kind of people. Then Gurdjieff would take the remaining ten percent and do the actual work with them.
One person who made Gurdjieff famous was a person called Ouspensky. Ouspensky was a very famous man by himself. He was a great philosopher, mathematician, and a great intellect. He had written a book on truth, which was hundreds of pages long.
When he went to meet Gurdjieff, he was kept waiting for a very long time – almost three to four days. Gurdjieff had nothing to do in the room, but he would not see Ouspensky. He would go to the toilet, he would go outside and tend to the garden but he did not make time to see Ouspensky. Ouspensky was very irritated with this. When at last he was given the chance to meet Gurdjieff, Gurdjieff said, “You have written big books, so you know plenty. There is no point in once again wasting time talking the same things that you know. Do one thing,” he gave Ouspensky a small piece of paper and a pencil and said, “Write down all the things that you know on this paper. We will talk about what you do not know.”
Such a small paper was a great insult to this great scholar. Ouspensky felt very insulted but he sat down with this paper and pencil in the presence of this Master and he looked and looked. Many hours passed. Both of them sat there but Ouspensky could not write one word on this paper. He felt totally lost. Then tears poured out of his eyes and he said “I really don’t know anything.” Gurdjieff said, “You don’t know anything? I heard that you have written hundreds of pages of truth. I don’t know how you spread truth to that many pages. It must be really diluted.” Ouspensky wept and surrendered himself. Gurdjieff took him as his disciple and after that, the real torture continued. Ouspensky is a very stubborn intellect; the problem was that he was well-educated. Too much of study had gone into him. He was a very polished ego. Gross egos can just be broken. Polished egos are slippery.
Gurdjieff played such absurd tricks on Ouspensky and drove him mad. Once, they were traveling in a train when Gurdjieff was giving talks in the United States. Ouspensky was writing down every word that was said because he wanted to prepare a great volume out of them. Most of the books about Gurdjieff were published by Ouspensky. American trains used to travel for three or four days from one coast to another. So when they came into the pantry car to have lunch or dinner, suddenly Gurdjieff acted like he was totally drunk. Ouspensky tried to control him but Gurdjieff just picked up a glass of wine that was on the table and poured it over a lady’s head. She screamed and yelled and they wanted to throw Gurdjieff off the train. Ouspensky was trying to hold everybody and say, “No, this man is enlightened. He is not drunk, he is just enlightened” – a very difficult situation! Then, somehow Ouspensky maneuvered Gurdjieff into the cabin and said, “What are you doing?”
Once he entered the cabin, Gurdjieff sat quietly. So Ouspensky warned him and said, “Please don’t do it again, I cannot manage this situation anymore. Let’s have dinner. I have not eaten since morning.” And again they went for dinner. Once he entered the pantry car, again Gurdjieff acted drunk and he picked up a suitcase and threw it out of the window of the moving train, creating chaos everywhere. Ouspensky wrestled Gurdjieff back into the cabin again! “What did you do? Again! And you threw somebody’s suitcase out. What about that man?” Gurdjieff said, “Don’t worry, it was your suitcase.” Ouspensky just broke down. “Months of work. Everything that I have done was in it. How could you do this?” Gurdjieff said, “Don’t worry, I kept all the work here. I just threw the suitcase.” He went on doing these kinds of things to Ouspensky. It drove Ouspensky mad.
At the height of the Russian revolution and World War I, when it was very risky to travel, Ouspensky was in England. Gurdjieff was in a remote part of Russia. He sent a telegram to Ouspensky telling him to come immediately. When the Master calls, he has to go, so Ouspensky left everything and with great difficulty, risked his life and traveled through Europe and Russia. When he got there, he thought something of tremendous importance was going to happen. Gurdjieff saw him and said, “Oh, you have come? Okay, you can go back.” Ouspensky got so mad this time that he left Gurdjieff. By this time, he had written and published a few books on Gurdjieff praising the greatness of the Master. After that, he wrote another book denouncing the Master. Gurdjieff said “That fool. When I said go, if he had gone, he would have gotten enlightened. It was so close, but the fool went away.”