The Gurdjieff Journal—Fourth Way Perspectives

Is 'Prince Ozay' Really Gurdjieff?
Part One


(#) Parentheses indicate footnote number

Paul Dukes, a young Englishman enrolled in the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, was befriended by Lev Lvovitch, a powerful hypnotist known as the "Lion." Lvovitch had served in the Army in Central Asia, nearly died, and had been brought back to life by a shaman. Presumably, he learned the art of hypnotism from the shaman. In the winter of 1913 Lvovitch introduced Dukes to a "Prince Ozay" whom Lvovitch said was one "of whom there are but few in the world." Many years later Dukes recounted his visits with Prince Ozay in a chapter in his book, The Unending Quest (Cassell & Co., Ltd., 1950). Though there is no evidence other than the Dukes chapter, the similarities between Gurdjieff and Prince Ozay were enough to convince James Moore, a Gurdjieff biographer, that Gurdjieff and Ozay are one in the same. James Webb, another biographer, believed that while the Gurdjieff-Ozay connection is likely, he still kept the question open. Curiously, in his book Dukes also mentioned that "I used to sit up long nights [with P. D. Uspenskii] discussing mysticism, in particular the system of G. I. Gurdjieff, undoubtedly one of the great living teachers, whom Uspenskii acknowledged as master, but from whom he had nonetheless parted company." That he never connects Gurdjieff with Ozay seems odd, and especially so in that Dukes was a decorated British intelligence agent. Perhaps he did make the connection but for some reason did not want to make it public. See what you think.


These naive experiments in the art of healing had a sequel, for me an important one. I told the Lion about them, of course in the same facetious vein that I told anybody else. But the manner of telling belied my feeling, I had really been surprised and impressed. The full gamut of emotions had been struck, in the childlike trust of the peasants, the deeper and rather overwhelming faith of the priest and the deacon, the malice of opponents. I had acquired a little wisdom. It would have been difficult to define, but the Lion understood. He perceived the emotion lurking beneath my camouflage of flippancy, and though he too laughed and cried 'bravo' and bade me repeat my story to his friends, always in the same vein, I could see that to him, as to me, it was not just merely a humorous adventure.

One evening, rather late, he said: "There is someone I want you to meet. Come along with me."

He gave no explanation except to say that the person we were going to see was one "of whom there are but few in the world." He also enjoined strict secrecy regarding our visit, because the man concerned was "in hiding." Why, he didn't explain.

He led the way to a house at the bottom of a small street not far from the Nicolas station. Here at a door on a bare staircase suggesting modest bourgeois dwellings he rang a bell. We were admitted to a very plain apartment. Lev Lvovitch greeted the woman who let us in, but did not introduce me. He walked straight down the passage of the flat and opened a door at the end. This doorway appeared to have been knocked through the wall of the flat beyond, which was larger and more sumptuous. There was a marked oriental touch in its decorations. The walls of the hall were adorned with carpets, wrought-iron lamps with coloured glass hung from the ceiling. Evidently completely at home, the Lion peeped into one of the rooms, then signalled to me to follow.

The room, fairly large, was draped with curtains and other hangings, with lamps to match. In one corner was a large low divan piled with coloured cushions. On this divan two men sat cross-legged, playing chess with a set of ornamental pieces. On an octagonal table beside them were coffee and cups. From time to time the players reached out to take a sip. Judging from their looks neither of them was European. One, wearing a patterned silk dressing-gown and a turban, was thickset, dark, with a short, bushy black beard. The other, dressed in a slack lounge suit with a scarf in place of collar and tie, had tan-coloured leathery skin, high cheekbones, slanting eyes, and a little goatee beard. Except for a curt nod neither of them paid the slightest attention when we entered. They went on playing their game, exchanging comments in a language I couldn't understand.

"Coffee?" asked Lev Lvovitch, signalling me to a stool.

He poured it out and then looked on at the game. It was soon over, amid a discussion presumably as to what the loser ought to have done at a critical juncture. Apparently the man in the turban had won. He turned, and, seeing me, said, as if I had been there all the evening: "You play?" He spoke Russian with a marked accent.

"Not very well," I replied, "but I like it."

For answer he made a gesture inviting me to take the place of his late opponent, who got up to make way for me and started to talk volubly to Lev Lvovitch.

"Take your shoes off if you would be more comfortable," said my host.

I did so, and was ashamed to find I had a hole in my sock. I tried to hide it when I doubled my feet under me, but to my embarrassment he pointed at it, smiled, and said: "You believe in ventilation! Good thing—nothing like fresh air! ... Black or white?"—and he held out his closed hands with two pawns in them. When I had picked white I noticed that the other hand had held a white pawn too.

Now that I sat opposite him I saw that his dark eyes, piercing in their brilliance, were at the same time kindly and sparkling with humour. I was flustered, but in any case no fit player for him. He won easily.

"Nichevo—no matter," he said.

"I hope you will make many occasions to take your revenge." He bowed slightly, spreading his hands to indicate that I would be welcome.

A long talk ensued between the three men. From his gestures I gathered the Lion was telling the other two about my handling of the peasants. He turned to me after a while and asked me to repeat for the benefit of my host the lines of the Lord's Prayer in the way I had said them to my patients. I did so, rather self-consciously.

"You are English?" my host asked, speaking in English.

"Yes."

"Please say your Lord's Prayer again." He spoke English better than Russian, fairly correctly and with less accent.

I repeated the 'charm'.

"Very, very in-ter-est-ing," he said, staring at me so intently that I turned away. I caught the Lion's eye as he was settling down to chess with the man with the slanting eyes. He nodded at me with a look that seemed to indicate that I should pay particular attention to anything my host said.

We continued to talk in English, and the conversation, which I have good reason to remember, proceeded somewhat as follows. I reconstruct it as best I can from the notes I made at the time.

"Who taught you to say the Lord's Prayer like that?"

"Nobody. It just came into my head."

"Say the whole prayer through in the same manner."

I did so with one or two hesitations.

"You interrupted it. You said the first lines without stopping, but then you took a breath. That's wrong. This is the way your Lord's Prayer was meant to be said. Listen, and watch."

He folded his hands in his lap, fixed his eyes on me, and began to breathe in slowly and deeply, holding his breath a few moments, sitting motionless. It was very quiet in the room. Lev Lvovitch and the other man were engrossed in their game. They seemed already to belong to another world. I felt I was entering a new one.

A low, rich, musical bass note, about G2 below middle C, began to sound in the room, pure and dry amid the muffling hangings. My host had begun to chant the Lord's Prayer. The words came slowly and softly, the syllables flowing evenly and equidistant on the stream of the single note. The consonants just sufficed to articulate the words. From start to finish there was no stop, no hesitation, no halt for breath, no rise or fall in tone; it was one single sound, integral and self-contained, imparting to the prayer a meaning far deeper than the words themselves. The "amen"—pronounced, of course, "ah-meen"—trailed off into inaudibility in a way that merged the fading musical note with the ensuing silence. Chanted slowly in a single breath it seemed to last a very long time.

I was spellbound, and sat waiting in expectation. The sound of the chanted note had a singularly penetrating effect. I felt as if it had entered right into me. After a while he said: "You see, though the words have deep meaning they are not the most important thing. It is even doubtful whether the words have been transmitted to us accurately. Versions differ and nuances are introduced by translation. The most important thing about the prayer is that it is a convenient measure of a single trained breath."

I was puzzled. "What has breath to do with it?"

He replied at some length. I can transmit his words only imperfectly: The Lord's Prayer, he said, always referring to it as "your Lord's Prayer," was designed "as a devotional breathing exercise to be chanted on a single even breath." The same was true of other ancient prayers composed in the East in the distant past. Subtle advantages of far-reaching value, he said, are derived from the vibrations caused by correct incantation, polarized mentally by the words of the prayers. To intone them as they were intended to be intoned equal attention must be devoted to the three elements: the breath, the sound, and the words. In the modern religion of the West, which has degenerated into hopeless institutional formalism, the words are mistaken for the whole thing. "I have been in many churches in England and America," said my mysterious host, "and always heard the congregation mumble the Lord's Prayer all together in a scrambled grunt as if the mere muttered repetition of the formula were all that is required.(1) Have you read your scriptures?"

I told him the Bible had been rammed down my throat as a child, and consequently I had at times been on the verge of hating it.

"It is better to hate than to be indifferent," he replied. "It means you may come to love it when you understand it rightly."

"My father was a parson," I explained.

"Ah, you had a bad start. One does not expect divines to understand the Bible. They cling to the text. You will find that though Jesus dictated openly the words of his model prayer, when he wanted to show how they were to be uttered—the more important part of the matter—he took a few chosen disciples apart into a desert place and gave them special instruction. That was never recorded."

"Why not?"

"It cannot be recorded. It is an individual matter. However alike in appearance, we are all constructed more or less differently from each other. It is closely concerned with how a man breathes, and no two persons breathe exactly alike. Each disciple had first to be taught how to breathe, and then to find the note and the tone peculiar to him on which to intone with best effect."

"But doesn't nature teach us how to breathe?" I argued.

He replied to the effect that nature, of course, compels us to breathe, breathing is that by which we live, but we habitually perform the function in a limited way, without studying it, merely enough to keep soul and body together. Even singers and athletes only study breathing to suit their particular activities. "We also crawl on all fours, make noises, and perform many actions without special instruction, but to walk, to speak, to sing we have to learn. Yet nobody thinks of teaching children how to breathe—nobody, that is, outside certain limited circles. A technique attaches to everything before it can be done to best advantage, and this is especially true of the breath of life, though singularly few people seem to realize it."

I still argued that breathing was a natural function like digestion of the circulation of the blood, and that the more we left these things to take care of themselves the better. "Besides," I said, "prayer is not a physical thing, it is spiritual."

"Where is the borderline?" he retorted. "If prayer has nothing to do with physical functions why should all the great religions, including those founded on your Bible, insist on the association of prayer with fasting?"

I was stumped by that.

"So you see, prayer in its highest form would seem after all to have something to do with the digestion, and even with the quality and circulation of the blood."

This revolutionary thought needed some digestion itself. I switched the immediate issue. "Why need the prayer be intoned at all? Why can't it just be recited?"

For answer he bared a powerful chest and, taking my hand, said: "Put your finger there." I placed the tips of my fingers, as he indicated at the base of his chest. He drew a deep breath and began to intone on approximately the same note as before. I felt his entire torso vibrating, and the vibration was communicated to me rather like a mild electric current.

I withdrew my fingers and after a decent interval said: "You didn't chant words. You chanted a single sound 'O' and you trailed off on an 'M'."

"Nothing misses you," he chuckled encouragingly. "This is an exercise with which to begin. Would you like to try? Chant the word 'home'.(2)"

I slipped my finger-tips inside my shirt, held them to my breastbone, and started chanting. But how different from his was the effect! I could only just feel a feeble vibration, while my incantation sounded like a broken growl.

"No matter," he said kindly. "I will show you how to practise, and in a few years if you are diligent you will get results."

"Years?" I exclaimed with dismay.

"Well, how many years does it take to become proficient in music? Prayer is an art like music, or painting, or acting, or sculpture, and at least as difficult. Some spend a lifetime acquiring it."

"A lifetime! What's the good of it at the end of a lifetime?"

"Young man," he said gravely, "much that I am telling you now you will fully understand only later. Remember this, that to pray is an art, and in art there is no final goal. There is always further to go. It is a voyage of unending discovery, and, as in all such voyages, what is gathered by the wayside is often as valuable as what is found at the destination."

The two men playing chess at the far side of the room had finished a game. Lev Lvovitch came over and said something to my host, who shook his head and answered curtly, as if he wanted to go on talking to me. The Lion turned to his companion and started another game.

"Please say the Lord's Prayer again." I begged.

Once more my host folded his hands, drew himself up, breathed in slowly and deeply. And again the deep note rolled out, bearing the familiar words in its course like a tide bearing ships slowly into harbour.

"May I try?" I ventured.

"Of course. You must learn."

But again my voice in comparison with his sounded thin and rasping, the tone wavered and broke. Trying to pronounce the words as slowly as he had done I was gasping halfway through.

"No matter," he said again. "Come back another evening and I will show you how to begin."

"Shall I too have to fast?" I asked.

He looked at me for a moment and burst out laughing. "Yes. You will. But not now!" He clapped his hands, a servant entered, he gave him an order, and the servant brought in a tray with an assortment of zakuski and drinks. My host filled two glasses. "Try my own concoction," he said, "much better than whisky. Here's to ourselves!" He drained his glass in Russian fashion, and, not to be outdone, I followed suit. It was a good thing I was in practice—the stuff was potent. He jerked his thumb at the Lion and his companion. "Those old fogies have got stuck in their game. Let's have another."

After a second glass he called over to the two men and they interrupted their game to join us. Conversation was inevitably disjointed, for the man with the slanting eyes spoke little Russian and no English, so I could not talk to him at all, and the three talked among themselves only in their language. To me the Lion spoke in 'Russian,' while my host preferred English. Ribald stories made up part of the conversation, some of which my host translated to me with gusto. I knew one or two myself, which he translated back with much approval.

After supper the Lion and his companion resumed their game and my host said: "I'll sing you some Eastern songs." He clapped his hands and the servant brought him a kind of guitar, on which he played plaintive oriental tunes, sometimes humming, sometimes singing softly in a rich baritone.

"What language are you singing in?" I asked.

"A language of the rocky wastes and inaccessible hills," he said.

Eventually the two other men finished their game, and after a few more drinks the Lion said it was time to go.

"You will come back?" said my host.

"I would like to very much indeed."

"Lev Lvovitch will bring you," he said, and he got up from the divan to show us out. I then saw that he was of about medium height, sturdily built. The grip of his hand as he said good night was warm and powerful.

We left as we had entered, passing through the connecting door into the first flat and so into the narrow back street. The city was asleep. Our footsteps were softened by a thin fall of snow. Tiny flakes fell silently, glistening beneath the arc-lamps.

"Well?" queried the Lion. "How did you like the Prince?"

"The Prince?"

"We call him the Prince."

"Prince who? Is he a prince?"

The Lion hesitated. "Call him Prince Ozay," he said. "But his name doesn't matter. How did you like him?"

I could find no words to express what I felt, and I plied the Lion with questions about him. But he would say no more—only that we should go again in a few days.


Notes

(1) The crude and depressing manner in which the Lord's Prayer is customarily repeated in Western churches, either as a dismal intonation or a 'scrambled mumble', is typical of the factors inculcating the indifference, if not positive disrespect, for church forms which characterizes the younger generation of today who are looking for something real as a guide in life. In the foreword to his striking volume of illustrations to the Lord's Prayer, The Lord's Prayer in Black and White (Jonathan Cape), Arthur Wragge has this to say: '...the Lord's Prayer should be prayed alone. Jesus urged us to pray "to thy Father which is in secret," closing the doors of our rooms and surrendering ourselves to the poetry of prayer. Yet today this advice is almost forgotten, for usually this particular prayer of all prayers is said in a dull sing-song voice in company with a crowd of others, most of them either bored, conventional, or indifferent. The poetry of the prayer is destroyed by over much repetition so that it has almost ceased to mean anything.'

(2) The sound 'home' is practically the same as the sacred syllable 'Om'. I was to discover in practice that though it may well be true that the Lord's Prayer is the convenient measure of a single trained breath, this can only be regarded as an approximately rule, for the duration of a breath in chanting is affected by both volume and pitch. I have no doubt that, had our acquaintance not been cut short as will be described, Ozay would have introduced nuances into the principles he laid down for me. As it was, I was left in later years to work them out for myself, dovetailing them into the teachings of others which, often unexpectedly, proved to have a bearing upon them.


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