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Fourth Way Perspectives

All That Glitters...
Crazy Wisdom and Entrepreneurialism in the Spiritual Schools of E. J. Gold

Cover of Sufi Times E. J. GOLD PUBLISHED HIS SECRET TALKS with Mr. G. in 1978. It was a blatant hoax, as was a film on the same subject and another book. Gold explained in a recent interview in Gnosis magazine, "I don't believe that prank hurt anybody. It was just intended to prod some people into doing the right thing." The right thing in Gold's estimation was to make Gurdjieff's Third Series of writings public. But as anyone familiar with the subject knows, the Third Series had been published three years before Gold's pseudepigraphic rip-off. More to the point: Gold's interest was mercantile—as J. Walter Driscoll the compiler of Gurdjieff: An Annotated Bibliography, pointed out in a letter to Gnosis. "Gold's bogus Secret Talks was used," he wrote, "to attract people into his groups and was there proffered as authentic teaching material that superseded Gurdjieff's writings. He followed this with a privately circulated second volume of Secret Talks (1979) and an eighteen-volume series of Related Workbooks (1980) that were distributed to his followers; some 'joke prod.' Please exercise stricter and more responsible discrimination in selecting interview candidates and verifying their claims." The Gnosis editor quickly backed off saying he was "in no position to say how Secret Talks was originally marketed, since I simply don't know.... As for Gold's authenticity as a teacher, I have no way of evaluating it." That it is well-known that Gold never was in the Work, yet set himself up as a self-appointed Fourth Way teacher (which he now denies) whose antics are said to have hurt a great number of people is apparently of no matter. What follows may give a basis for evaluation.

Eugene Jeffrey Gold, whose declared aim is "the education of the universe, one idiot at a time!" is the founder of the Institute for the Harmonious Development of the Human Being (IDHHB), the permanent and underground name of his organization based in Grass Valley, California. Most of his followers, however, initially encounter the master and his movement under different names and wearing a disguise, for since 1963 Gold has created, directed and closed down a bewildering number of short-lived "spiritual schools." Rarely lasting longer than a year, these spiritual centers open up in different cities in the U.S. and Canada, where they disseminate freshly printed literature, hold classes—and then close abruptly, often without leaving a forwarding address. Techniques taught in these "schools" range from astronaut training, sufi storytelling, Hassidic dancing, Gurdjieff's Sacred Gymnastics, Ethiopian martial arts, Gestalt training, biofeedback, to the Tibetan science of soul travel. Once a sufficient number of "students" are gathered and regularly attending classes, Gold will tour the centers across the U.S. and Canada, appearing one year in a turban and dhoti as "Pir al-Washi, the Sufi Master," then the following year in blackface as an Ethiopian warrior and, more recently, sporting a fez and fake moustache as he lectured to "Work Groups" as the mysterious "Mr. G."

To describe Gold's movement as "experimental" and "eclectic" is a feeble understatement. To observe these characteristics in a new religion is, of course, nothing new—for Wallis (1984), Robbins and Bromley (1992), Ellwood (1973), Stone (1976) and others have explored and analyzed the eclectic, ephemeral and experimental aspects of new religious life. The IDHHB, however, provides a particularly exaggerated and striking example of these qualities. Its founder, moreover, appears to be deliberately planning each spiritual school with built-in obsolescence, so that his organization bears a closer resemblance to street theater or a fly-by-night circus than to the well-established Hari Krishnas or the Church of Scientology. Gold's charismatic title has also undergone a series of transmutations: from "Mother Beast" to "Pir al-Washi," to "Just Jeff" to "Mr. G." to the current, affectionate "E. J." This pattern is not so unusual if one examines the changing titles of Rajneesh (Gordon, 1987), of Werner Erhard (Stone, 1982) and of Da Free John (Feuerstein, 1991), but while the institutions of these founders are far from static, Gold exceeds them by a wide margin. The table of Gold's "spiritual schools" below will demonstrate the enormous range of his experimentation:


Gold's "Spiritual Schools"
Name of Organization Duration Tradition/Theme
le Maison Rouge 1963–64 Gurdjieff, shamanism
Cowachin 1972 Gestalt therapy
Le Jardin Electronique 1972 Biofeedback, sci fi
Shakti! the Spiritual Science of DNA 1973–74 Bardos, genetics
Anonymous 1974 Survivalism, street theatre and charity
Wud-Sha-Lo 1974 Ethiopian martial arts
Center for Conscious Birth 1975 Natural childbirth, Lamaze, shamanism
Bunraku Theatre 1976 Japanese puppet shows
Institute of Thanotology 1977 Tibetan Book of the Dead
Work Groups 1978 Gurdjieff
Fourth Way Schools 1979 Gurdjieff, sufism
The Gabriel Project 1984 Gourmet feasts, readings, theater
Internet Teaching 1995 Electronic gaming, angels


Institutionalizing "Holy Madness"

In attempting to explain Gold's peculiar brand of charisma in sociological terms, the most relevant framework (aside from Weber's familiar observations (1946) on "ethical" versus "exemplary" prophets), is found in Georg Feuerstein's recent book, Holy Madness. Feuerstein (1991) embarks on perhaps the first systematic study of spiritual masters whose teaching methods involve pranks, ordeals of terror and ritual obscenity. He finds in the lives of these "crazy wisdom" gurus authentic "relics of an archaic spirituality," and explains their controversial tactics as techniques designed to shock their disciples out of preconditioned responses and social conditioning. Gold himself acknowledges his affiliation with this particular sadhana, for he refers to his spiritual movement as "the heartless school of E. J. Gold," and his sudden outbursts of temper and off-colour jokes are explained as "the way of malamah," or "the sufi way of blame." The absurd and outrageous ordeals which students undergo are spiritually validated by core group leaders as "the quick way of head bashing and ego-squashing" (Gold, 1977). Many more colorful examples of "holy madness" might be found among the founders of new religious movements, but the career of Gold appears to be a particularly interesting case, because his organization is the only example (to my knowledge) which clearly reflects and closely embodies the "crazy wisdom" pedagogy. Gold has apparently succeeded in institutionalizing the "holy madness" type of charisma which, more than any other type, is intrinsically opposed to, and resistant toward, the process of institutionalization and routinization (Weber, 1946; Feuerstein, 1991).