Paul E. Anderson 1897–1983
By Russell Huff
In the year 2000 a manuscript of the collected talks of Paul E. Anderson was accepted into the permanent library collection of Harvard University. This manuscript is a sampling—in no way exhaustive—taken from Mr. Anderson’s talks during the period from 1972 through 1975. As such, these talks represent a small fragment of the teachings of Paul and Naomi Anderson, whose lives were devoted to the sharing of the Gurdjieff Work with others.
There is an anecdote regarding Mr. Gurdjieff, that once while working on his monumental legominism, All and Everything, he remarked that he would have to “bury the dog deeper”—not, in this case, the dog’s bone, but the dog itself. With this he conveyed that the ideas he was concerned with were living entities with their own vitality and instinctive potency, and they were not meant to come into our possession without exceptional efforts, sustained efforts of the sort that only those who valued them most would ever put forth.
On his last visit to America, Mr. Gurdjieff chose Paul Anderson as his last American Secretary, stating “He not only has eaten one dog, but swallowed whole packs of dogs … and I rest very contented when I leave because you are my special American Secretary.”1
The Group to which these talks were given had its earliest beginnings around 1969 with a small gathering at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. Our introduction to the Andersons came by way of a letter from John G. Bennett in England—a man who was, and who will be increasingly recognized as, one of the most important Western spiritual figures of modern times. Mr. Bennett’s recommendation was: “… get on to Paul Anderson. He is one of the very few who have attained the level of true teacher … the barakha has entered him.”2 During the early days of the Group we had significant personal contact with Mr. Bennett, as the Andersons had agreed to help with efforts to launch Bennett’s Sherborne Academy.
In his book, Gurdjieff: Making A New World,3 Bennett mentioned the Andersons in connection with three key events. First, he noted that the Andersons organized the first printing (in mimeographed edition) of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson,4 an issue of 102 copies. Secondly, it is noted the Mr. Anderson was responsible for arranging the much-anticipated meeting which was to occur between Gurdjieff and Senator Bronson Cutting of New Mexico. The aim of this meeting was evidently to have been the obtaining of finances for “resurrecting” the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in France, but it never occurred due to the mid-air plane explosion in which the Senator perished. And thirdly, it is noted that Gurdjieff requested Paul Anderson to approach the Russian Embassy with the critical question as to whether Gurdjieff would be allowed to return to Russia.
The Andersons were, first and foremost, dedicated to the Work as Mr. Gurdjieff himself had passed it on to them. Mr. Anderson had been with Gurdjieff at the Institute in France during the time when only Americans were to come. The Andersons were members of the Orage Group in New York, and they remembered well how that group had been dissolved, and all that followed. Gurdjieff visited them in Washington, D.C.—where they were instructed to organize and run groups—and Gurdjieff brought with him all of his manuscripts for reading to their students. Among the original members of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York, the Andersons later went their own way in keeping with their own instructions from Mr. Gurdjieff.
Mr. Anderson was not a public figure. He worked quietly, and with an unwavering focus. He often seemed to intentionally obscure his own significance and revealed himself fully only to his close students—when he had perceived that they were sufficiently prepared. His devotion to Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales was also steadfast and profound. He had read and pondered Beelzebub’s Tales since the first pages became available, and on several occasions he spoke of having brought Gurdjieff coffee throughout days spent in a cafe while Gurdjieff worked on his book. Gurdjieff would stop to have some coffee, smile at Mr. Anderson, and say: “You like what I write.” Mr. Anderson regarded the book as the foundation stone for the Work and constantly referred us back to it.
Mr. Anderson always spoke of Gurdjieff in terms that reflected not only a great love, but a fine and natural understanding of the man and his teachings. One never received from Mr. Anderson the ideas of Gurdjieff as cold, remote, or enigmatic—as some have written of him. Clearly their relationship was of the first order. I recall a very critical meeting which marked a turning point both for the Andersons and for the group. Mr. Anderson spoke quite definitely of Gurdjieff, saying that he was as directly present to him at that moment “… as in the moment when I first looked into his eyes and knew that he was my teacher.”
The Andersons were among a few who, after their connection with Gurdjieff, had had the many years necessary to reapply and to absorb the Work, time to overcome more and more of the obstacles to understanding and the development of being. They had come to understand and practice the absolutely necessary process of becoming “an ordinary man.”
However, as we discovered, working with teachers who have reached this degree of what has been termed “invisibility” presents strong and unremitting demands upon those who would, or who think they would, be students. To be such a student requires considerable discrimination and attentiveness. The complexity of the situation was further increased by the fact that the Andersons often utilized a very deceptive manner of teaching, in which one was deftly placed off guard before a shock was given.
Around their meetings there was a physically palpable energy within the arena of which time seemed to cease, vistas of meaning opened, and there came upon one the certainty that new possibilities were coming within reach, that enablement was present. One felt as well that every hidden aspect of oneself, every covert attitude and inner lie, were now dragged out into the light. Lying was utterly useless, and, yet every statement one uttered was so easily a total lie. It was as if raw Conscience had entered the room like an intimidating Angel.
Every aspect of the meeting seemed capable of sudden turns of implication. The extraordinary teaching partnership between Mr. and Mrs. Anderson gave an effect, a taste, which none who experienced will ever forget. It remains indelibly fixed in the deepest part of them, the part touched only by the certainty of one’s own death. They had the ability to enter completely into the unfolding quality of the moment, and to partake of its primordial creativity.
It would be less than honest to omit recording of the fact that Mr. Anderson had achieved a different quality of perception from that which we accept as ordinarily possible. Here I shall give two instances from my own experience:
It was customary for one to have a private interview with the Andersons early on in one’s membership in the group. During the evening prior to my first interview I had spent some time in preparation so as not to miss anything during my opportunity to ask questions. At the end of my period of self-preparation I had come at last to a single question which to me expressed the essence of what I wanted to know. I then stated this question to myself. The next day, as my interview drew to a close, I had asked questions for hours, questions that had been incubating within me for years, and on many topics. However, I had not asked the question I had so carefully formulated that evening before in Connecticut. I had forgotten to ask that question. As the interview was about to close, Mr. Anderson looked at me and stated very quietly, “But, of course, none of this was your original question, which was …” He then stated the question in the exact phrasing that I had given it.
This sort of experience can act as a severe shock, and one’s reaction can be the sort of test that one can easily fail—not having the presence of mind remaining to recognize the need for a particular kind of effort. Mr. Anderson knew—I was quite sure, and later confirmed—that I had a very sincere need to know about the possibility of such extraordinary perceptions. In short, he knew that I needed to know this in order to unlock something within myself that would give a proper response to him as a teacher. It was because of my need that he gave me this proof.
On another occasion, perhaps two years later, I had had a dream. Dreams were not specifically discussed in our meetings—for reasons which I partially understood and partially had misinterpreted. But this was not an ordinary dream. Without elaboration, this was both an important signpost in my own development in the Work, and an experience which convinced me that there are instances when other quite different and independent states can be reached from the dream state. I did not mention the dream during the group meeting. I had discussed it with no one. I was uncertain how to approach the matter, and I also wanted to see whether Mr. Anderson would notice anything unusual in my state as a result of the experience. I had never been in his private study, a small room off the living room area where we had our meetings, but that day he asked me into the study, sat me down, and asked me to tell him about my dream.
Here I have chosen two out of many such experiences. I know that others could provide their own of equal or greater weight. I should say here that it was not only that such experiences occurred, but that one invariably had the feeling in Mr. Anderson’s presence that nothing in oneself was hidden, and that such was fitting with this man. Mr. Anderson himself always regarded these “faculties” as of little consequence in comparison to the essential goal … that of becoming a man “without quotation marks.”
In his later years Mr. Anderson would say “only super-efforts count”, which sent a chill through the marrow of those who heard and could understand. He had a way of making the most extraordinary revelations in an off-hand manner, so that they would be heard only by those who were relatively awake and listening. He would say these things once, and only once.
In the last years of his life, already in his eighties, Paul Anderson began a period of intensified exertion in his teaching. During this period, which undoubtedly shortened the number of his remaining years, he completely altered the outward form and attachments of his life. He threw at everyone the necessity to confront their reactions according to type and to reevaluate their relationship with the Work. It seemed to many a merciless period. I did not personally participate in many of the events. However, I do know from some conversations we had toward the end of his life that one motivation was to provide an avenue of refuge for those students who were in many ways his responsibility to provide for—although, as he said, “there are no guarantees.” From this standpoint then, there was first the necessity of letting everyone know—in ways they could not ignore—that time was growing short and that soon nothing would be left the same.
Putting aside the turmoil of those times, we can attempt to state at least the most apparent element of Mr. Anderson’s final years of teaching. He undertook, and did indeed accomplish, the building of a most creative connection with Tibetan Buddhist teachers. It was a project of rare quality. During those years he met many Tibetan Buddhist lamas, and they unfailingly evidenced the highest regard for him and for Mrs. Anderson as well.
Mr. Anderson was particularly involved with the Maha Siddha Nyingmapa Center in Hawley, Mass. I associate him especially with the building and dedication of a chorten there. Later he met the extraordinary Dzochen Master, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, with whom Mr. Anderson had such an extraordinary relationship in his final years.
I have, at second hand, an anecdote that Mr. Anderson had at one point met with a great Tibetan lama who was visiting somewhere in the area. As he had been told that it was customary to bring an offering of a scarf to such a man on meeting with him, Mr. Anderson had brought one with him and presented it. After the meeting the lama gave him back the scarf. To me it would seem that if there is any hope for a universal understanding it must lie in such meetings and mutual recognitions by men of such development along the Way.
Mr. Anderson died on February 24, 1983. Since his passing, two Tibetan lamas have dedicated written works to his memory. The first of these was The Short Preliminary Practice of Long-chen Nying-Thig,5 compiled by the Fourth Dodrup Chen Rinpoche. And the second was The Cycle of Day and Night,6 written by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu.
It is difficult to penetrate the intentions of one who is no longer motivated by the egoism which so permeates our world. Even when approaching the end of his life, at a time when speech was no longer possible for him, Paul Anderson remained uncompromisingly present—giving testimony to what is essential in humanity and in the Way: presence, effort, and compassion—a testimony to that maligned particle of Divinity within us all. By the end of his life he had moved beyond any limitations regarding the outer form of Teachings, and spoke of the goal of the Work as freedom beyond human comprehension. This had been foreshadowed by a toast he gave once at a meeting in Wendell, Massachusetts: “To Man, who has been given such possibilities … that even God is envious.”
Mrs. Anderson passed away on August 13, 1984. By the time of her death there was no doubt that she had met all of her challenges, leaving nothing undone. There was at the end a visible radiance, apparent to all who saw her, about the presence of this truly remarkable woman … to whom all of her students owe a great debt.
This is only the barest outline of the story of two people who should be remembered for the sake of all who choose to confront the mystery and challenge of their own existence. It is important that we should know, and remember, that even in our time and in our culture, there were those who have achieved the Goal.
1 Excerpt from a “Letter to [Bernard] Metz” in Paul Anderson’s family’s possession and read as part of Mr. Anderson’s memorial service.
2 Excerpt from a letter by John G. Bennett to Donald O’Dell, 1969.
3 John G. Bennett, Gurdjieff: Making A New World, London / New York: Turnstone, 1973, 320p.; Harper & Row, 1973, 320p.
4 G. I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1950, 1238p.; London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950, 1238p.
5 Fourth Dodrup Chen Rinpoche, The Short Preliminary Practice of Long-chen Nying-Thig, Hawley, Massachusetts: Maha Siddha Nyingma Center, circa 1984, translated by Tulku Thondup, compiled by Harold Talbott, dedicated to Paul Anderson, double-sided pamphlet, 31p.
6 Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, The Cycle of Day and Night, Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 1987, translated and edited by John Reynolds, 128p.
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