It recounted events that took place very nearly 100 years ago. So many of the books we run into these days about Gurdjieff fall into that category. We don't see that we are on the cusp of a moment where everything turns into history, and the temptation is to just look back at it reverently, and rehash it for the next generation.
Is that the best we can do?
Gurdjieff deconstructed his work over and over again, tore it apart and reinvented it for new circumstances and new people. After he died, Jeanne De Salzmann did that all over again. Yet with the departure of both of these teachers, the tendency seems to be to want to pour polymer acrylic resin over the form and the work itself, and preserve it "exactly" as it was. Squabbling factions confidently decide that they hold the “pure” form, and that others are deviant.
Sound familiar? You can watch it happening around you now. It's been going on for some time.
There shouldn't be a lack of respect for tradition, but we don't honor our form or our teachers by looking backwards and trying to slavishly imitate it, or them. We don't honor the work by trying to preserve it in amber. We are not here to serve the generations that went before us, but to serve the generations that are coming after us. There are children growing up now, young people in their 20s and 30s who need to discover their own inner work, for themselves, and these are the people to whom we must turn the face of the work today. I'm in my late 50s; “the work” as it stands today doesn't belong to me anymore. I must put it in their hands, and I must do so as effectively as possible, not so that they have Gurdjieff's work, on "his" terms, or my work, on my terms, but so that they discover their own work, on their own terms.
Many good tools exist for this. Gurdjieff brought us a form (which he repeatedly deconstructed and reconstructed over the course of his life, actually making it many forms) and it hasn't outlived its usefulness— but it can only stay alive by changing. He didn't have the Internet, for example, to contend with during his lifetime; yet we can be certain, if he had, he would have found intelligent and effective ways of using it, because he would've seen that the inevitability of its presence re-created the rules and requirements for the exoteric form of the work. So the means of transmission are tools that must be used in conjunction with current circumstances; and if new circumstances require a new tool, one has to make one.
The work must be intelligent in this way, not reactive.
I just finished reading a fine book on Islamic History, Destiny Disrupted (highly recommended.) One sees that the forces affecting Islam today are divided between reactionary forces, that want to preserve some “perfect” version of it (an imaginary version of it, in other words) and those that understand it has to be in living relationship with the real world and move forward. This dilemma confronts every form, from the Catholic church to Buddhism.
We can't afford to look backwards. Everything must constantly be reinvented, and there is no meaning to a form that does not reinvent itself for the present and look towards the future. When one uses the present to repair the past and prepare the future, one must apply this to the form as well. Obviously, forms aren't perfect at any time—they always do some damage, and the past always needs to be repaired: not preserved, repaired. In the same way, we must prepare the future. If we don't see our lives as Beelzebub did, as a process of preparing the future by instructing our youth and supporting them with our insight—that is, after all, the whole framework within which the book operates, isn't it?—we don't see anything very clearly. Our service needs to be turned towards a living work, not preserved under glass, which honors the past but lives in the present and looks towards the future. If I don't help my children discover their own work, I am criminally irresponsible, no matter how well I try to preserve the work I came from and the teachers that I had. My teachers helped me discover my own work; not theirs.
A number of years ago, I made the remark that we stand in danger of becoming the Gurdjieff quotation society. One sees that tendency everywhere. one doesn't want to do one's own work; one wants to sagely quote Master so-and-so and pretend one is somehow stepping into his shoes, no matter how much bigger they are than one's own.
All of these pretensions must absolutely be stripped down and thrown away; the endpoint of inner work is always an inner experience, where one stands naked and alone, and one must confront the reality of one's existence and one's relationship with one's Creator.
What else is this work about, anyway? Do you think it's about Gurdjieff?
Well, if you do, you have already misunderstood it.
I respectfully hope you will take good care.