Fourth Way Perspectives
Interview: Lord John Pentland
Lord John Pentland, the man Gurdjieff appointed to lead the Work in America, unexpectedly died on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1984. Nine months earlier he gave the following interview.
Question: Could you speak about your own background and relationship with Gurdjieff?
Lord Pentland: The search begins with now. It begins now. When I met Mr. Gurdjieff I'd been quite a few years with Mr. Ouspensky and Madame Ouspensky attending talks and lectures and also living in their houses. It was after Ouspensky died [October 2, 1947] I went out to India. And on the way back it became clear to me that even after all those years with Ouspensky I hadn't arrived at anything; I came to nothing. Through Mme Ouspensky's introduction I went to Paris and met Mr. Gurdjieff. It was a short period of only nine months that I was with him. Several months afterward Gurdjieff died.
Q: What happened while you were with Gurdjieff?
LP: Many of us were experiencing that we were nothing, that we were stuck. He had an extraordinary quality of providing encouragement. People, he often used to say, were like motorists who were stalled on a highway for lack of gas and he would come and give them a fill-up.
The Inner Work of Living Without 'Hope'
Q: Was that discouraging?
LP: No, what I'm saying is he has this capacity, which a great teacher has, for providing a community with conditions in which each can really see and experience that they're stuck [meanwhile] he is filling their tank.
Q: So there is this dual sense that one is stuck yet also that they have started again?
LP: Yes, yes. I think that's right. There's both the recognition that almost everything that has been normally regarded as hope is misunderstanding
Q: That must be very difficult to live with.
LP: To work, the inner work of living with that, is difficult. How to be in touch with life, to go on with life [despite the recognition that one is nothing and that one's 'hope' is based almost entirely on misconception] is what is challenging.
Q: When Gurdjieff died [October 29, 1949] what was the feeling?
LP: That it was impossible to go on. Because up till a few days before he died, he was seeing everybody and appearing at meals and refusing to allow the various feelings [that he was going to die] to start. Fortunately, there were people who understood enough to help us all once he did die. Of course there were very few people.... Fortunately, somebody was able to show the way to go on without at once trying to manifest everything that they understood. In other words, to go on learning from each other, and in a way not too obvious, and in that way the teaching has gradually spread all over the world without having wasted itself right away.
Q: Did the teaching change in the manner of its manifestation?
The Question of Community
LP: When I said learning from each other, that perhaps wasn't very precise. One learns so far as I can turn from my isolation and relate to others, not being put off by their awkward behavior. And they have the same task in relation to me. So I would say there was a gradual recognition of the part others play in my self-growth, in my self-development. And that, of course, is the whole question of community.
Q: Could you elaborate on what you mean by "community"?
LP: The whole question of learning from each other supposes a community, a school. Very few schools survive after 25 years, it is sort of a crossroads. Even if the school begins with the highest intention, in order to keep people together, you have to have some kind of restriction on people's behavior. Things like being punctual, not taking drugs, and so forth.
Q: Some people are very good at what might be called the "outer game."
LP: Often the people who are best at organizing a community or school, and who are best at making limitations [rules], the sensible ones, are not those who are most serious in their inner search.
Q: So others are needed in our search and yet our search is individual. There's a continual friction there, no?
LP: The search is an individual search and so there must be independence. At the same time one's search needs the conditions of a very close relationship with people; a very, very intimate relationship with people sometimes. Yet, also, if the community grows in numbers, it needs restrictions.
Q: So the person in charge...
LP: The person in charge must somehow find those who are good caretakers, but who also have a very intense personal search. And that does not happen by itself.