Fourth Way Perspectives

Gurdjieff & Hypnosis:
A Hermeneutic Study

by Mohammad H. Tamdgidi

In his resolute and densely argued Gurdjieff and Hypnosis: A Hermeneutic Study, Mohammad H. (Behrooz) Tamdgidi admits to being drawn to the Work ideas, as he sees the need for an understanding that goes beyond mere "knowing." Recognizing that "alone [one] can do little", he attended a number of spiritual retreats (though, strangely, given his interest, none are Gurdjieffian). At one such retreat he suddenly "awoke" to its hypnotic influences. He uses this to justify his not joining a group because he must "maintain distance to avoid being trapped" in what he calls the "Yezidi circle" of hypnosis. Therefore he believes he writes from an independent scholastic stance, the unstated assumption that he is unbiased, and, of course, that he is not one of the hypnotized.

As an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, holding a Ph.D. in Sociology with a graduate certificate in Middle Eastern studies,Tamdgidi certainly has the scholastic credentials to apply a theory of interpretation known as hermeneutics to Gurdjieff's texts (oddly, he waits until the last page of his book to mention Gurdjieff's first writing, The Struggle of the Magicians, a ballet scenario which gives a many dimensional representation of the depth behind what Gurdjieff brought). Hermeneutics is an analytical approach traditionally used with the study of scripture, the intent is "both to conduct an in-depth textual analysis and to interpret the text using its own symbolic and meaning structures." His sole purpose, Tamdgidi says, is to "engage with Gurdjieff's life and teachings in his own terms . . . considering not only what is included but also what is excluded . . . as being equally significant." Further, he writes: "It is not a question of merely what is included and what not, but a question of where and when one or another data, thought, and idea is inserted inside a text.It is not that the data is necessarily omitted, but that it is omitted from this place and yet is then inserted in that place."

As to what Gurdjieff includes, that can certainly be known, but what is excluded and why is open to judgment. As to the way he wrote, he purposely used what is commonly known as a "salting technique" (not mentioned by Tamdgidi) by which he "buried the dog." Tamdgidi's main thesis is that Gurdjieff's writings themselves were conscious, intentional, and systematic efforts in literary hypnotism. That the same might be said of the Old and New Testaments and the Koran doesn't seem to occur to Tamdgidi. But beyond that he misses Gurdjieff's saying that the ideas in All and Everything have three meanings and seven aspects. That the ideas are salted throughout the three series of books demands that the reader be active, not passive, toward the material and so, their intellectual intuition engaged, suddenly see the connections,thus being moved from what Gurdjieff calls the "reason of knowledge" to the "reason of understanding."

Given his careful exposition of the approach of hermeneutics, it is odd to see Tamdgidi regularly deviating from its strictures. For example, he references supportive material external to Gurdjieff's writings, such as Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous, to address concepts such as the enneagram and self-remembering, but even more intellectually entrapping, introduces new words and concepts, such as a discussion of food "circuits." At one point he even proposes that The Herald of Coming Good and "The Material Question" are in fact books of the Third Series, hardly concepts presented in the material itself, and on the face of it rather laughable. No less so the idea that Gurdjieff was hypnotized by his father. This he attributes to Gurdjieff's adult understanding but it is pure Tamdgidi projection.

Almost half of the book is the author's attempt to represent through condensation, intricate diagrams and interpretation of (a subset of) the concepts presented in All and Everything, which he relegates to the level of "philosophy" (something Gurdjieff generally held in low esteem, though he did believe Kant's Critique of Pure Reason had missed only scale). Tamdgidi's depiction of an "observing self" as opposed to observing is not an accurate summarization of Gurdjieff's words. Note also should be taken of the author's extensive use of quotes around individual words. Ostensibly, Tamdgidi is simply noting words that receive emphasis in Gurdjieff's writing. But what is the cumulative effect (a kind of "hypnotism" of which he accuses Gurdjieff) of repeatedly seeing "ancient," "knowledge," and "being" in quotes? Perhaps a questioning of the veracity of these terms? That what Gurdjieff is presenting is not authentic? How does he know this never having been in the Work?

A scholastic, or as Gurdjieff calls them, "learned being of new formation," the author places himself at an equal or higher level to the material being presented. He documents and analyzes myriad (seeming) inconsistencies in the writings, never understanding that it is for the reader to break through the hypnotic literacy; a homeopathic fighting fire with fire whose subtlety completely eludes the author. He muses on the experiments on theosophical "guinea pigs," reported in Herald, postulating that these experiments were hypnotic in nature. Tamdgidi presents himself as a scholar whose sole purpose is to divine the "actual" intention behind Gurdjieff's writings. But as the reader works his way through its factual spins, supposition, argument, declaration and counter declaration—for example, Gurdjieff is a black magician but later not a black magician really—the question arises: just where is the author coming from? An Internet search reveals he is the founder of The Omar Khayyam Center for Integrative Research in Utopia, Mysticism, and Science (Utopystics). Tamdgidi writes:

    Since the world's utopian, mystical, and scientific movements have been the primary sources of inspiration, knowledge, and/or practice in this field, [the center] aims to critically reexamine the limits and contributions of these world-historical traditions—seeking to clearly understand why they have failed to bring about the good society... . The center aims to develop new conceptual ... structures of knowledge whereby the individual can radically understand and determine how world-history and her/his selves constitute one another. [Emphasis added.]

As Tamdgidi names his center, for Omar Khayyam, one wonders if Khayyam is anything more than the philosopher, mathematician and poet he is commonly known as. According to Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a revered Sufi himself, in his Anthology of Philosophy in Persia, he names him a Sufi. Then one remembers that early in his book Tamdgidi says that his intellectual analysis of Gurdjieff has been augmented by meditation practices from other traditions. But he does not identify them or say how they helped his analysis. The intuition suddenly springs to mind—could Tamdgidi, an Iranian, be a closeted Sufi or one much under their influence? If so, the hidden agenda behind his project becomes clear: the intention is not to give an independent appraisal of Gurdjieff and his writings, but rather to present him as a flawed individual and his writings as a failed attempt to waken humanity and so skew Gurdjieff's Fourth Way teaching; this a long held Sufi aim and obsession. If so, it aligns with another Sufi, Idries Shah, who some 40 years ago tried something of the same with Teachers of Gurdjieff. Touted as nonfiction, it caused a great stir. Unmasked as fiction, it died on the shelf. While Tamdgidi's analysis isn't fiction, it falls on its own petard. It is hardly independent; rather it is an intellectual attempt at hypnotic propaganda.

—Marc Cleven


1. Alone [one] can do little. Mohammad H. Tamdgidi Gurdjieff and Hypnosis: A Hermeneutic
(New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), p. 115.

2. Joining a group, Tamdgidi, p. xx.

3. Maintain distance, Tamdgidi, p. xxii.

4. He even outlines the need. "Gurdjieff's legacy goes far beyond intellectual knowledge, and includes significant emotionally- and physically-laden experiential material that can only be transmitted and grasped via practical learning." Tamdgidi, p. 16. 5. Hermeneutics. Tamdgidi, p. xvi.

6. Engage with Gurdjieff's life. Tamdgidi, p. xxiii.

7. Considering not only what is included. Tamdgidi, p. 21. 8. It is not a question. Tamdgidi

9. Self-remembering. The term "remembering oneself" is mentioned only three times across both the First and Second Series, though mentioned several times in the Third Series.

10. Relegates to "philosophy." Approach of Paul Beekman Taylor who first met Gurdjieff in December 1948 and traveled with him and others later the following year. According to Taylor, when Gurdjieff first saw "Polo," as he was known, he threw his food at him and later told him he would "tell many stories." Taylor never joined the Work. Since retiring as a professor of medieval literature, he has written several books on Gurdjieff drawing on his many contacts in the teaching (he was raised by Jean Toomer and his half sister Eve is Gurdjieff's daughter) and, as predicted, he told many stories. For reviews of his books, see back issues. Accordingly, Taylor gives Tamdgidi a bountiful back cover blurb, as does Basarab Nicolescu, who writes about the Work but whose only experience was with a group, albeit a faux group, in Berkeley in the late 1970s. Of J. Walter Driscoll, who writes a laudatory introduction to the book, and is cited many times in footnotes, his Work connection is not known other than to say he was initially the student of E. J. Gold.

11. Observing self. Tamdgidi, p. 64. See also p. 116.

12. Conscious, intentional, and systematic efforts in literary hypnotism. p. xxff.

13. Literary hypnotism. Tamdgidi's search for inner composition would have been better served had he read Mary Douglas's Thinking in Circles (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), which examines the ring composition in scripture and classical literature.

14. Actual intentions. Tamdgidi, p. 208.

15. That humble and honest. G. I. Gurdjieff, All and Everything, p. 562.

16. Omar Khayyam. Idries Shah, The Sufis (New York: Anchor Books Edition, 1971), pp. 185–93

17. Mohammad H. (Behrooz) Tamdgidi.

18. Utopystics. Tamdgidi, p. xviii.

19. Since the world's utopian.

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