Gurdjieff and Castaneda: An Introduction
by Corey Donovan

I find myself dipping a lot into Gurdjieff these days, as I gather at least a few others are, both to understand the parts of his philosophy that seem so similar to Castaneda's (and are sometimes described in clearer terms -- I intend to give more examples in the future) and to get a sense as to whether the movements and "secret teachings" of Castaneda might be passed on in ways similar to Gurdjieff's legacy. (And their world views are so similar in many ways that the nagging notions about where Castaneda got his material are always unavoidable.)

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For those interested in Gurdjieff's work, I can't recommend a more clear and concise introduction, or more elegant summary, than Kathleen Riordan Speeth's The Gurdjieff Work. Speeth literally grew up with Gurdjieff (her parents were active followers during Gurdjieff's life), and she has examined his teachings throughout her career, which included a doctorate in psychology from Columbia. At a tight 124 pages (including footnotes), it is a delightful and comprehensive read.

Here's a sample quote from Gurdjieff, that weaves together "death as one's advisor" with Gurdjieff's notion as to how to circumvent man's organ of forgetfulness, the "Kundabuffer" (i.e., a close analog to the "Flyer's mind"):

"The sole means now for saving beings of the planet Earth would be to implant again into their essences a new organ, an organ like Kundabuffer, but this time of such properties that every one of these unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his death as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests." (Gurdjieff, All and Everything: Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1950, p. 88.)

A further thought: I am finding it particularly useful to look at Gurdjieff in trying to put Castaneda into some kind of historical perspective. Both "teachers" -- seminal, if somewhat obscure and secretive figures in their own times -- died without having raised any of their students to their own level of "awareness" (at least with Florinda, Taisha, Kylie, Talia and Nuri all having "vanished" on us). Likewise, in the aftermath of Gurdjieff's death, a considerable amount of scandal ensued, both regarding his sexual exploits as well as aspects of his personal history that were fabricated.