I’ve finished reading George Beke’s book Digging Up the Dog: The Greek Roots of Gurdjieff’s Esoteric Ideas, and must recommend it again, not only for those who are curious about Gurdjieff’s teaching, but also for those who wish a deeper understanding of Christian symbolism. Many familiar Christian ideas – the Trinity, the Stations of the Cross, even the word Alleluia – represent much older knowledge and traditions that found their way to us by way of the Greeks. Gurdjieff, who sometimes described his teachings as “esoteric Christianity”, once said, when asked about the connection between ancient Greece and the modern Church:
Everything Christian came from old Greek, then they spoil. All, all, comes from Greek.
Gurdjieff’s writings can be difficult to read; in particular, his masterwork, Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, is written in a maddeningly opaque style, full of long and tortuous sentences and unpronounceable jargon. In his introduction to Digging Up the Dog, George explains why Gurdjieff chose to “bury the bone”, rather than to present his teaching in a more straightforward way:
He [Gurdjieff] loved to confound and befuddle people, to upset their automatic expectations. And for a very good reason.
Gurdjieff realized that when the average person is presented with new information, brand new material, one of three things can, and usually does, happen:
1) The material is rejected out of hand.
2) The material is viewed skeptically, without understanding.
3) The material is accepted whole, but still without understanding.
These results occur because most people receive information mechanically, without engaging their active attention. And without active attention there can be no real understanding.
In order to engage our interest and awaken our active attention, Gurdjieff constructed a mighty puzzle, a labyrinth with tantalizing clues, that, when deciphered and digested, could lead a person to a new and encompassing vision of the Universe.
This maze, this cosmic puzzle, is the book Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, often referred to simply as All and Everything, the centerpiece of Gurdjieff’s literary work.
In All and Everything, which is read religiously by the students of Gurdjieff, a millennia-old ‘devil’, Beelzebub, explains the secrets of the Universe to his grandson Hassein (and to the persevering reader) over more than a thousand pages of heroically contorted sentences, which demand our patience, our unflagging interest, and most importantly, our active attention.
One of the keys to deciphering this puzzle, as the present work attempts to show, lies in the esoteric ideas of the ancient Greeks.
Or, as George puts it in the chapter Burying the Bone:
Gurdjieff’s literary method, as he states himself, is to “bury” every nugget of information. If it’s too clear, it must be buried further.
To gain any understanding at all, we are forced to dig. When we dig, we work. We persevere. And finally… we find! And then, every hard-won nugget becomes our own, an integral part of our understanding, which we will never forget.
The title of George’s book comes from a remark made by Gurdjieff to his students A.R. Orage and Jane Heap, who had the enormously difficult task of editing Beelzebub. When they asked if he intended in principle to bury the bone deeper, he corrected them:
“Bury the dog deeper.”