October 18, 1994
Dear Fourth Way Spiritual School,
I was talking to the Electric Buddha the other day and he asked me to ask you, “Is it true Gurdjieff was a Sufi?” Please Reply.
Your humble Observer
A seeker of the Fourth Way once approached Mr. Gurdjieff while he was sitting in a favored café drinking a foul smelling concoction of Turkish coffee and Calvados. The student stood before Mr. G at his table and shuffled uncomfortably a few moments. G’s gaze passed from the play of lights off the shimmering surface of his stinking brew to the bustle of bodies coming and going through the café and it finally landed on the face of the hapless seeker. The focus of G’s eyes moved from the seeker to the empty seat at the table with such force that the seeker felt compelled to sit with a plop. As he did this, his foot hit the table leg sufficiently hard to send a spasm of energy through the wood and into G’s cup. G smoothly picked the cup up before subsequent shock waves might spill the precious contents, and he took another sip as the table and the student settled back into equilibrium.
“Mr. Gurdjieff, may I ask you a question?” The seeker’s voice trembled slightly, and he steadied himself by sitting with his hands folded in his lap.
G looked into the eyes of the seeker steadily and without expression for quite some time. The gravity of the moment became so great that the student finally seized on the distraction created by a loud noise from the kitchen to break his gaze and turn to look the other way. G grunted and nodded his head when the student turned back around. He also took another sip of his drink.
“Mr. Gurdjieff, is it true that you are a Sufi?”
G considered the student silently. A conversation at another table flared up and broke into hoots and laughter and eventually settled back, lost amid the buzz of the many superimposed voices. A fly flew by and briefly lighted on G’s cuff. It took off and flew near the student’s face. The student tried to whisk it away with his hand, but the fly was gone before he had even moved. G lifted his hand and gestured to the center of the café.
“Look out here. Now you tell me what you see.” G watched as the seeker turned, looked at the crowd, and looked back at G.
“Um, I see a crowd of people and there is a woman and …”
“No! You tell me what YOU see!” G moved his chair back from the table and sat there imperiously with his hands on his thighs. The student stuttered.
“Uh, there in the corner is an Englishman with a young French maid, and the waiter there is …”
“No! I have better idea. Here, you take my pencil and this paper.” G pulled out a pencil and a folded sheet from his coat pocket. “You write down everything that you see here. No bore me with your talk. Write. Everything that you see.”
G sat there and watched the café expand and contract. He watched as people came and went, he watched as the student furiously wrote and looked and wrote and looked. He finished his drink. A waiter silently and unprompted brought him another. G watched and sipped. He finished another drink and the waiter replaced it. Eventually the café began to slow. It was late. Few people remained there except the tired staff. G had six empty demitasse cups arrayed before him. The student had filled up a number of the pages that G had continued to provide with his observations of the cafe. Finally the last patron save for G and the student left the café. G stirred.
“Hey you! You had enough?” The student looked up at G surprised. He stopped writing and placed the pencil down on the stack of papers. “Here, hand me your papers.” The student picked up the stack and collated them with a tap on the table. He handed them to G. “Now you look and tell me what you see.”
“Everyone’s gone home now.” There were darkening circles under the student’s eyes. G smiled.
“Now, you tell me. What is this!” He pointed to the stack of papers that he held in his hands.
“I don’t understand. Those are my observations that you told me to write down.”
“No. This is nothing. This is garbage.” G wadded up the stack of papers into a tight ball. He threw the ball across the room toward where one of the waiters was sweeping. The ball landed squarely on a pile of dust that the waiter was just scooping into a garbage pail. “There,” G pointed, “There is your Sufi.” At that point, G. rose out of his seat and headed toward the door. The seeker sat and watched as G disappeared into the street.