The Material Question

ON THE EIGHTH OF APRIL 1924, the day of the opening in New York of a branch of the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, a dinner in honour of Mr. Gurdjieff was arranged at one of the Russian restaurants there by his friends and by several pupils of the French branch.

After dinner most of those present went with Mr. Gurdjieff to the apartment of Mrs. R, at 49th Street. Here, over coffee served by the amiable hostess and liqueurs obtained somehow by Dr. B, conversation continued until breakfast of the following day.

Mr. Gurdjieff spoke mostly through interpreters, Mr. Lilyants and Mme Versilovsky, answering all kinds of questions that were put to him, chiefly of a philosophical character.

During a brief interruption, while we were eating water­melon— which came from Buenos Aires, and was a great rarity at that time of year even in New York—Dr. B, the proprietor of a large, fashionable sanatorium, who had the reputation of being a practical man, suddenly turned to Mr. Gurdjieff with the following question:

‘Could you tell us, sir, what are the means by which your Institute exists and approximately what is its annual budget?’

To our surprise, Mr. Gurdjieff’s answer to this question took the form of a long narrative.

As this story revealed an unsuspected aspect of the struggle he carried on throughout his life, I have undertaken to reproduce it, in so far as possible, exactly as it was told that day. I consulted other pupils who, like myself, had listened to the story with such interest and attention that they remembered it in almost all its details. And I verified my text by comparing it with the notes of Mr. F—the stenographer who took down all Mr. Gurdjieff’s talks and lectures in America, so that people who asked questions which had been asked before could simply read through what Mr. Gurdjieff had already said on these subjects and thus economize his time.