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A Paper presented by José  Tirado at the 2017 All & Everything Conference in Loutraki, Greece.

José M. Tirado is a poet, Buddhist priest and political activist. His articles and poetry have been published in CounterPunch, The Endless Search, Gurdjieff Internet Guide, Dissident Voice and Op-Ed News among others. He is a Buddhist meditation teacher and is currently finishing a second Masters Degree (his first in Buddhist Studies) in Psychology. He intends on pursuing a PhD in the same field, exploring the nexus between The Fourth Way and Buddhism and he has developed a Buddhist meditation-based counseling program which he has conducted in Iceland where he currently lives.

Other material by José can be found on Gurdjieff Internet Guide...

BEELZEBUB´S BUDDHAS: The Influence Of Buddhism and it´s Tibetan Variants In Gurdjieff´s Fourth Way


Good morning everyone. Today we sit near the birthplace of Western philosophical thought to ruminate on the potential Eastern influences on one of the West’s most enigmatic figures. Specifically, whether Tibetan Buddhism, influenced Gurdjieff´s ideas and system. Gurdjieff´s influence in Western society today is not all that well known nor acknowledged. However, I believe that his influence upon what the esteemed historian of psychology, Eugene Taylor calls “folk psychology” is considerable and that as a result, Gurdjieff´s sub rosa influence on modern psychology in general is significant and a theme that will inspire a worthy PhD dissertation or book. Mine preferably!

While a number of scholars have attempted to document and explain his system and its various components, few have made a careful examination of the similarities between aspects of his ideas and Tibetan Buddhism. This seemed odd for me since the similarities leapt out from every thing I’d studied about the Fourth Way indicating such. For our purposes today this concentrates on the barely disguised presence of Padmasambhava, the 8th century tantric yogi who successfully reintroduced Buddhism into Tibet, and of course, a truncated and oddly distorted picture of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha whose dates are approximately 583 BCE to 463BCE. The inclusion of these figures indicate for me, not only an homage to ideas Gurdjieff considered valuable, but point more deeply to their influence on his system, further displayed elsewhere throughout his teachings.

The paper I present today is an expansion of some preliminary work I did for an article entitled, “Gurdjieff´s Possible Buddhist Influences,” first published on Gurdjieff Internet Guide a few years ago. Over the years, as I have studied Gurdjieff´s writings more thoroughly, the conclusion I reached then, that Buddhism has exerted an influence on Gurdjieff´s system wider and more deep than typically acknowledged, remains. At the same time, this influence was not exclusively a positive one and that, while Gurdjieff retained an obvious admiration for much of Buddhism’s teachings, he definitely presented an inaccurate picture of Buddhism. This is particularly true in the text we study today and the chapter in that text we are focusing on.

Lastly, this effort is by no means complete and remains itself a preliminary one subject to further expansion and revision as I personally continue my own journey and studies.

There are three main approaches to Beelzebub’s Tales.

The academic, which attempts to extract from names, places or ideas, an origin to the 4th Way or something that might help explain it.

The mythical, which seeks a similar goal of understanding, while absorbing the Essence of this absorbing tale as a potential map to greater Meaning.

And the Work task, which (at best) combines the methodology of science, the extraction of Meaning in the mythical approach, and returns again and again to this great book to add new and original chapters to our own great book of Life.

All these approaches are valuable and to be honored. None are mutually exclusive. Each has a place.

For this paper, however, I have chosen the first method, the academic, as I refer to it, to extract some background information about one aspect of the Tales that might be helpful as we endeavor to use the other 2 methods. The focus will therefore be on several concepts and passages taken from Beelzebub’s Tales and secondarily from the corpus of Fourth Way teachings that has followed.

We need to dissect several elements in these narratives in order to give this topic the attention I believe it deserves. First, is Gurdjieff´s presentation of Saint Buddha and Saint Lama, their teachings and influences in Beelzebub’s Tales. Second, we need to revisit the very specific reasons Gurdjieff gives for the ultimate failure of these two figures. This will include the role monasticism, suffering and kundalini played in their doctrines. Third, we should examine in brief some of the Fourth Way teachings imparted by Gurdjieff to his students and this will include ideas about the attainment of a higher consciousness. Lastly, we need to look carefully at the core beliefs and structure of Tibetan Buddhism, in particular the Kagyu sect, and see for ourselves whether there are similarities between Gurdjieff´s doctrines and this very powerful still influential lineage.


In Beelzebub’s Tales, Buddhism is presented as one of the five remaining religions from which all teachings nowadays are descended, and the one which gets Reason attributed to it as a central characteristic of its teacher’s style and message. In fact, there are two Buddhisms presented in that list of five religions: the “Buddhistic” and what he calls, the “Lamaist.” (The use of the latter term, completely discredited in academic circles, betrays either a profound ignorance of the subject, or a deliberate mischaracterization for some as of yet undisclosed purpose. I will have more to say about that later.) Gurdjieff interestingly places these two religions into his reckoning demonstrating, in my opinion, either his belief as to their large numbers of adherents, or to these religions´ particular power which he found of great value yet ultimately wanting. For now, let us review the “Buddhism” as described in Chapters 21 and 22, as well as elsewhere in Beelzebub’s Tales to get a sense of what Gurdjieff was trying to say.

As Gurdjieff mentioned in Chapter 21, the teachings of the Buddha, whose use of Reason was said to be his hallmark, did not last. This was partly due to the inevitable division of the faith into sects, and the corruption of the idea of suffering. This eventually led, in Tibetan Buddhism, (Chapter 22) to practices repugnant to Beelzebub, namely the isolation cells where selected monks were said to spend their lives, receiving from the outside only bread and water. The teachings themselves over time were said to have degenerated so much that “from the Truths indicated by Saint Buddha Himself absolutely nothing has survived.” (page 249) The incorrect and errant manipulation of the word kundalini was also said to be a factor.

Let us examine briefly those three concepts then, monasticism, kundalini and suffering.


The Buddha first developed the institution of monasticism, that is, the organized separation from the world of groups of religious practitioners whose connection to the populace at large was one of both patronage and support. Its purpose was to provide a supportive environment whereby individuals might seek full time the fruits of spiritual progress through exposure to a disciplined life overseen by the Buddha or his immediate disciples. He made it one of the three Refuges in which Buddhists to this day daily pledge their lives to: The Buddha, as the exemplar of the teachings, the Dharma or the collected teachings themselves, and the Sangha, or community. In northern India and surrounding areas, the lay communities willingly provided for the needs of these monastics in societies where spiritual mendicants were viewed favorably and helping them out provided one with considerable spiritual merit.

In Beelzebub’s Tales, however, Gurdjieff sees monasticism as a distortion of Buddhist teachings, referring to monastics as “the sect of Self-Tamers” engaged in what he disdainfully calls “suffering in solitude.” (page 256) We may presume that immersion in regular, daily life with others was considered more ideal for what spiritual practices Gurdjieff had in mind.


In Buddhism, the Pali word dukkha has a primary place for the system the Buddha described. Suffering, a wholly inadequate translation of dukkha, was the Buddha’s characterization of the inherent dis-satisfaction built into all things impermanent. Our general predisposition he said, was to cling onto those things we cherished while pushing away those things we find repugnant. Either way, we become dissatisfied through the inevitable contact with the unpleasant and the pain of seeing the pleasant dissipate, as all things eventually do. For the Buddha, the errant way we view Life and the things around us inevitably lead to this dis-ease, which, he felt, we could successfully and completely overcome through diligent practice of his Middle Way, the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Buddha made plain his disgust for extreme asceticism, which he had tried for six years and found inadequate and inappropriate for spiritual awakening. As well, he rejected the materialist hedonism into which he had been born. Both were summarily dismissed and instead, a Middle Way was proposed, between these two extremes.


Laying out the bare facts of both kundalini and its relationship, or non-relationship to Buddhism seems in order then for us now to discern the truth of this enigmatic aspect of Gurdjieff´s teachings.

Gurdjieff in chapter 21, pages 249-251 gave a detailed explanation of kundalini based on word origins and its relationship to the word, kundabuffer. This explanation is completely fanciful. In addition, to use the word “kundalini” and apply it to Buddhism in any context is an automatic tip off that something is incorrect. For it is a word not used in normative Buddhism. In the cases where reference to the Buddhist application of heat generation, or the manipulation of inner heat through special tantric exercises is needed, then the word chandali, or tummo (“inner heat”) must be more accurately employed. (Chandali means “ever-present energy”) (Trungpa, 1992, Lion´s Roar, pps. 130, 141) This is a main practice of the Kagyu sect, as one of the Six Yogas of Naropa.

Thus, there are three possibilities here. One, a total misunderstanding of the difference between Hindu and Buddhist ideas about this power, either because of bad or incomplete translations. Two, a deliberate misrepresentation of Buddhist teachings by Gurdjieff for a specific, if unrevealed purpose. Or three, a partial knowledge of and exposure to Tibetan tummo practices, but without adequate Buddhist explanations available, and thus reliance on Hindu texts, which would ultimately distort the Tibetan views and teachings. I tend to believe this latter explanation. So, what exactly is kundalini and what is its significance here?

The word kundalini is a feminine form of the word, kundala which means, “[she who is] coiled,” traditionally implying “like a serpent,” but it also can refer to hair that is coiled upon the head, as the forest yogis wear it. As I said, it is a feminine word containing the ending -ini, which can be seen in other words such as yogini (a female yoga practitioner) and dakini (from daka, originally a demon but later referred to as a “sky dancer,” [Tib. khadroma] a female figure who “moves on the highest level of reality”). Kundalini then, refers to the dormant (or “coiled”) energy said to reside at the base of the spine in the lower energy center or chakra. During special practices, this energy can unwind and rise upwards, through the other centers in the body (totaling 7 in the Hindu system, 5 in the Buddhist system) bringing about a number of extraordinary experiences and abilities.

The only place in Buddhism where analogous to Hindu kundalini practices are to be found is in the practice of tummo, the generation of intense bodily heat. It is a practice most associated with the Kagyu sect, which includes it as one of the Six Yogas of Naropa (the others are, experiencing one’s own body as illusory, gyulu; the dream state, milam; perception of the “clear light”, ösel; the teaching of the in-between states, bardo; and the transference of consciousness, phowa.) Many accounts have been told of monks being required to test their abilities in tummo by drying out successive numbers of wet sheets placed upon their naked bodies while seated in the snow. This in Tibet, where the average elevation is 14,000 feet above sea level.

Let us now leave these concepts and move into the realm of historicity describing Buddhism as-it-is and the Buddha as he really was. The idea of developing a “higher consciousness” will also be touched on.

The Buddha

Now, “Buddha,” is not a name, but a title. It refers to a person whose being was completely covered in a quality we might call, awake-ness. We in the West have a very simplified, and, I believe distorted picture of the Buddha and his teachings. Most of what we hear about the Buddha and Buddhism is the remarkable emphasis meditation played in his teachings. But while meditation forms a very important part of the Buddhist path, it is only one step in what he called the Noble Eightfold Path.

Awareness, is the heart of Buddhism.

The Buddha spent 40 years of his life wandering throughout northern India teaching, mediating between conflicts and helping people out. If a meditative tradition giving peace of mind were the only thing he taught, very few farmers or businessmen would have been interested in his message. And yet for a period, Buddhism was the preeminent religion of all India, Sri Lanka, China, Mongolia, Korea, Southeast Asia, much of what is now Russia and parts of the independent countries that border its underbelly, all the way to European Kalmykia. In short, most of the ancient world at one time was once Buddhist. So calming and quiet meditation wasn’t the only thing that attracted the masses.

It was that quality again.

A remarkable quality he brought to every situation and every discussion, every face and every friend or foe. He was simply, completely awake. And that’s the name they gave him, the Buddha, the Awakened One.

Most of you know the basics of his story, born a prince in what is now Nepal, he grew dissatisfied with his life of luxury and ease and, after seeing firsthand old age, disease, death and a renunciant (a sannyasin), he decided to abandon that life and seek out a way beyond all suffering. After six years of extreme self denial, trying various systems and teachers (much like the later Gurdjieff) he decided to abandon them and continue his search alone, relying on his own Life and understanding. Finally, on the full moon of the fifth lunar month, he attained Enlightenment.

For the Buddha, development of a wide, panoramic awareness, a deep, clear attentiveness to everything in and around us would enable us to, as he put it, see things as they truly are (yatham bhutam). It is this ability that makes one “awakened”, a Buddha.

“ Seeing things as they are” is usually treated as the result of what, in English is called, mindfulness, but this word is awful! It is awful because it sticks us right where we spend way too much of our time—in our heads. The word the Buddha used is sati, which literally means, “the bare attention to the actual fact”. That is, the quality of being attentive. Students of the Fourth Way should make note of this important concept.

Now this word attention in English is excellent because it better describes what the Buddha was referring to. In Pali, the language of the Buddha, the word was sati and sati, has a quality of the heart, but in the West, we typically separate out head from heart. In many Eastern languages, this is not the case. So, this word mindfulness (mind-full-ness) is actually the exact opposite of what he meant. It is not to be full of one’s mind, or the thoughts in there; it IS, however, to be attentive to things both within and around us. And attend, in English, has a root, which is the word tend, which means to care for or take care of. So, at-tend refers to this quality of taking care to notice the world around us as well as inside of us.


The second figure we should speak about is Padmasambhava, who I believe is the model for Gurdjieff´s “Saint Lama.” Padmasambhava presents us with a different set of fascinating difficulties. The historical material is far scantier than that available regarding the Buddha and much of it consists of magical feats and remarkable displays of spiritual prowess. But several very interesting things are known about him.

First, that he is widely known by the epithet, Guru Rinpoche which, as I have mentioned before, can be translated as “Saint Lama”.

Second, while his dates and origin are uncertain, (the middle of the 8th century CE is about as accurate as we can establish) they contain enormously interesting seeds of knowledge for those curious. He was said to be from Oddiyana, a supposedly magical kingdom that has been variously located in what is now Iran, Kashmir, the Swat valley in Pakistan or possibly even somewhere in Afghanistan. In his story, he was miraculously born from a lotus in the middle of a lake, already a child of eight years old and possessed of enormous gifts. (The name Padmasambhava means, “Lotus Born being.”) Reared in a kingly environment he determined to renounce life but was prevented by his father. (Here the parallels to the historical Buddha are obvious.) So in order to leave, he conjures a set of magical apparitions that turn out to be deadly and accidentally kills someone. Banished, he retreats to the mountains and becomes an enormously successful tantric practitioner accomplishing what it is said no one else could. His magical prowess becomes legendary in the region and eventually he is invited to reintroduce Buddhism into Tibet where he meets with typical scorn from the Bön priestly class and anger from the local demons and spirits whom it is said, prevented Buddhism’s entry earlier. He subdues all opposition and his high religious teachings and feats of spiritual magic are recorded in a wonderful biography written by his consort Yeshe Tsogyal.

Third, Herbert Guenther, the late Tibetan Buddhist scholar points out the odd fact that as Padmasambhava was possibly from the Iran/Pakistan/Afghanistan region, he is what might be considered, a Westerner who brought tantric Indian teachings into Tibet. This possibility might have been recognized by Gurdjieff, adding to Padmasambhava´s allure.

And fourth, supporting the above, elements in his teachings, mainly the highest Dzogchen teachings, suggest possible Nestorian and Zoroastrian influences. These influences include a tripartite cosmos and creativity principle, the “little man of Light” also mentioned in Sethian Gnosticism, and some prosaic descriptions of the process of Awakening. These facts make his inclusion into Gurdjieff´s pantheon even more intriguing than before, suggesting a more complicated origin for those Fourth Way teachings from Tibet than this present work can delve into.

Higher consciousness

We may say that the basic premise of most “esoteric” systems is the creation of either a higher self, or a higher self-consciousness. But creation of a “higher self” is precisely one of the kinds of yearning the Buddha counseled against. That is, it is the constant striving for identity, any identity, higher or otherwise, that locks us into the process of suffering since, as the Buddha continually taught, grasping or thirst for being is the prima facie cause of all suffering. Therefore, to say that a “Higher” consciousness is a more sought after and worthwhile goal is to deny this very basic assumption taught by the Buddha. While sati consciousness equates awareness, one should not mistake this for a different consciousness on the part of the practitioner. From the Buddha’s perspective, it is merely the proper method to view one and the psycho-physiological processes one participates in. From this point, it becomes possible to discern the inherent suffering within any grasping at all, for a higher consciousness or any at all for that matter.

But then…paradoxically, later Buddhism allows for teachings on development of such a “higher” being consciousness, however it is described mainly within the context of other Buddhas in the development of Mahayana, or the “Greater” Vehicle. Briefly, the teachings went like this: a Buddha like Siddhartha Gautama, is a historical figure, one who possesses a body like ours and lives and dies amongst us. However, Mahayana Buddhism developed the notion of three bodies, the first, physical one just mentioned is a Nirmanakaya or Transformation Body Buddha.

But within dreams, the imaginal realm, or, upon completion of extraordinary deeds, an embodied Buddha could, after physical death create a Pure Land, a realm defined to his or her own specifications and designed to assist in the furtherance of their own particular way of benefiting beings. Afterwards, they are then reborn and conduct their ministry from this “higher” realm of existence. This being is then known as the Sambhogakaya, the Reward Body Buddha. The most famous of these is Amitabha whose name means “Infinite Light” and his Pure Land, Sukhavati, is known as the Land of Bliss. His name is said to possess the ability to grant devotees a swift rebirth there whereupon they might proceed towards standard Buddhist practices for Enlightenment.

And then there is the Dharmakaya, the Dharma Body, said to be analogous to Emptiness, ultimate reality itself, the indescribable Source from which all things and all Buddhas emanate.

Thus, Buddhism evolved over time, embracing the ideal of Buddhahood over the dispassionately controlled solitary arhat and creating a mythic component of extraordinarily sublime beauty and nearly incomprehensible dimensions. This Buddhism, vast and full of Infinite manifestations of Wisdom and Compassion opened itself up to those who couldn’t retreat from the world in the dogged pursuit of self-perfection. And by so doing, it allowed for the possibility of extraordinary results on the spiritual path being achieved by even the most “ordinary” of people.

So we have this ostensibly irreconcilable view of Buddhism, one, that any effort to make something that will survive death is part of the problem, that it is, in short, the very problem in this life. And on the other hand, we have this later development that speaks to this, under very limited circumstances.

As well, we have two other Buddhisms to contend with, one historically rooted and documented, teaching a doctrine of awakening, utilizing many different techniques, and centered upon the over coming of suffering and development of Wisdom and Compassion. Then we have this other, non-historical Buddhism with the Buddha there speaking in a Gurdjieffan language and part of his pantheon of awakened souls, listed, one may believe, as being a part of Gurdjieff´s own lineage. What shall we make of this apparent discrepancy? Is it all in good humor, a terrible misunderstanding, and a mix up due to poor translations and erroneous interpretations or is it something else?

What is clear, is that the Buddha and the Buddhism presented in Beelzebub’s Tales exists only there, with little resemblance to the Buddhism as practiced in Tibet or by the historical founder of this now worldwide religion. Let us look at Tibetan Buddhism and its similarities and ask what all this may mean to the Fourth Way and its adherents.


The Five Schools

Tibetan Buddhism is made up of four Buddhist sects and is complemented by the earlier spiritual tradition of Bön. It is all a very distinct spirituality, utilizing much of the tantric tradition of India with its own unique elements. It includes mantra recitation, elaborate hand gestures known as mudras and distinctive practices known as Dzogchen (in both Bön and Nyingma) and Mahamudra, each aiming to grant the practitioner direct access to what is said to be the mind’s elementally clear nature, known as rigpa.

The entire body of Tibetan tantric Buddhism is also known as “Vajrayana” “The Diamond-” or “Thunderbolt Vehicle.” This was so named because its practices are said to accelerate spiritual development in order to achieve Buddhahood, in this very body. (Comparison to Ouspensky´s description in Fragments, pages 195-196 of practices designed to “speed up the evolutionary process,” should be noted.)

The four Buddhist sects are the Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug. They range from the often non-monastic, yogic Nyingma to mixed yogic and monastic Kagyu to the exclusively monastic Gelugpas, the Dalai Lama’s sect sometimes known as “yellow hats.” We shall confine ourselves to a short discussion of just two, the Nyingma and Kagyu.


 Literally, Old School, the Nyingma were the first successful input of Buddhism into Tibet, through the great and mysterious, Padmasambhava. It took with it the religio-magical influences of the Indian siddha tradition—forest yogis (and yoginis) who lived in isolated circumstances, perfecting certain practices and attaining liberation with often very non-monastic means, ex, alcohol, sexual imagery and practices, etc. While Padmasambhava was instrumental to establishing the first Buddhist monastery, (Samye) his reputation was mainly as a magical tamer of demons, making them work for Buddhism in Tibet, and for his profound teaching of Dzogchen. While parts of his story are certainly true, overall it may also point to the idea that a strictly monastic Buddhism could not survive in Tibet and needed someone who could live within the magical world of Tibetan spirituality while still being “enlightened” in the Buddhist sense. The Nyingmas retain the tradition of the nakpa, the lay practitioner who spiritually accomplishes what in other sects only highly trained and advanced monastics could. Its heads in the past have been great yogis who married and had children: HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, HH Dudjom Rinpoche, for ex. Dzogchen (The Great Perfection) is this lineages´ highest teaching. Also quaintly known as Red hats.


Known as the “practice lineage,” this was the earliest of the second wave of Buddhist traditions into Tibet, several hundred years after Padmasambhava. They reformed the monastic tradition while retaining the best of siddha/yogi practices. It is the Kagyu sect that utilizes formal training in a three year isolated retreat, usually done in caves that certify the person completing this training as a “lama.” The four most famous Tibetan Buddhists have come from this lineage.

The first was Tilopa, the crazy wisdom guru who unified the different Indian tantric systems and transmitted these to his main student Naropa. Naropa was already a great scholar-monk at the height of his fame when he had a vision that all he knew were the words and not the true meaning of Buddhism, causing him to embark on a 12-year quest to find the elusive Tilopa. Naropa’s student Marpa was a married farmer who loved beer, had an awful temper and made several journeys to India translating important tantric teachings and secretly practicing while living life as an ordinary man. And Marpa´s student, Tibet’s greatest hermit/yogi Milarepa, whose feats of extraordinary devotion began with his checkered past as a murderer only to be given “shocks” by his teacher Marpa to burn off his evil karma and to bring to fruition the powerful teachings he received.

Later, it was Milarepa’s student, Gampopa who combined the esoteric teachings of Vajrayana practiced by the forest or mountain yogis, with the established monastic lifestyle received from India, thus formally creating the Kagyu sect.

The Six Yogas of Naropa and the Mahamudra (the Great Seal) are the Kagyu  sects highest teachings. The head of the sect is the first of Tibet’s reincarnated teachers, the Karmapas. Also known as “Red or Black Hats.” (The former for Sharmapas, latter for Karmapas.) One of their main monastery complexes is the Surmang monastery.

There are other unique characteristics of Tibetan Buddhism which should be noted here and whose descriptions contain elements that may sound familiar to 4th Way seekers:

Sacred outlook.” (tag-nang) Vajrayana sees the entire world as sacred, even those objects taught in Buddhism as obstacles. These might even include sex, alcohol or anger. In Vajrayana, the goal is to transform or transmute those objects or energies into their positive counterparts. This is seen as extraordinarily difficult without a deep bond with a tantric guru and/or extensive tantric teaching and practice. The universe is also populated with normally unseen beings such as dakas and dakinis (“sky dancers”) who can be encountered in dreams or visions to help practitioners along their paths.

Auspicious coincidence” or tendrel, refers to the notion that all aspects of one’s life are a self-revealing display of the universe and one’s role in it. As such, there are no coincidences for the tantric practitioner.

Emphasis on teacher. The guru (lama, in Tibetan) cannot be overestimated, especially in the tantric teachings. Visualizing one’s teacher as the Buddha himself is said to accrue the same benefits as if one’s teacher were the actual Buddha. Likewise, to see one’s teacher as a simple person, a flawed human being or even a drunk, would be to acquire the blessings of such individuals.

Importance of death and dying. Padmasambhava is said to have authored the so-called “Tibetan Book of the Dead” (correct title is, The Book of Liberation Through Hearing in the In-between [bardo]). The teachings emphasize the importance of using all transitional states, gaps or intervals, to achieve the final decisive jump into awakening and the death experience is seen as the last great opportunity for such before one’s subtle consciousness takes a new life form.

Deity yoga. Visualization practices include elaborate instructions for creating in one’s mind the representation of enlightened qualities, appearing above one’s head, which are then taken into oneself absorbing the energies. Since the ultimate nature of one’s mind and its objects are empty, as are the nature of all appearances, (including Buddhas and other deities), then no real obstacle is encountered and one can gradually transform one’s qualities into the deity one chooses.

Terma or “mind treasures” are hidden teachings said to have first originated by Padmasambhava who believed certain teachings were unsuitable for his time and therefore were deposited in rocks, caves and underground, sometimes written on yellow paper in “dakini script.” Other terma might be deposited in the mind stream of a person not yet born who might someday in a dream or vision, “remember” these teachings and write them down, later to be recognized as authentic.

“Crazy wisdom.” The unorthodox manifestation of behavior which otherwise might be seen as un-Buddhist and used to shock students into seeing their world differently.

A tripartite cosmos and individuals- Vajrayana sees a tripartite cosmos, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha as reflecting a similar tripartite division of the individual into body, speech and mind. As socially we are to be harmoniously conducted within the former set, within us, we are to create a fully balanced and unified self whose physical components (body), energetic emanations (speech) and internal processes (mind) are also properly “in tune.” In addition the Three turnings doctrine, suggesting three different and progressively ascending teachings of the Buddha (alluded to, I believe in Chapter 21) and the Three bodies teachings, all point to a crucial division of view within Vajrayana with remarkable similarities to Fourth Way doctrines.

Tulku- Translation of nirmanakaya into Tibetan it refers to incarnated lamas who have traditionally chosen to return to human form in order to continue their lineage (such as the Trungpa tulkus) or to continue a greater commitment to all sentient beings (HH the Dalai Lama is such).


We may now suggest that a number of correspondences exist between the Fourth Way and Tibetan Buddhism.

1. Importance of practicing attentiveness to one’s self and environment simultaneously, “mindfulness” or “attentiveness” in Buddhism (sati), self-remembering and self-observation in Gurdjieff´s system.

2. Importance of using practices to “accelerate” or “speed up” normal spiritual development.

3. Importance of practice reminders in form of sayings (cf. Atisha, 982 CE, The Root Text of The Seven Points of Training The Mind, Kadampa slogan cards – preserved and practiced through the Kagyu tradition.)

4. Importance of using Death as a Reminder, perhaps the greatest reminder, for engaging in practice. Gurdjieff once said, "Constant awareness of the inevitability of death is the only means to acquire the urgency to override the robot." The second and third “Reminders” of the Kagyu focus on contemplating death, it’s inevitability and unpredictability.

5. Importance of gaps or intervals between events to reveal opportunities for awakening or change.

6. Importance of dance to convey larger ideas. (the Kagyu SURMANG monasteries emphasize ritual dances and may be compared to the Movements of Gurdjieff.) We should also note the remarkable similarity in the name Surmang with Gurdjieff´s Sarmung.

7. Importance of transforming or transmuting negative energies into “food” for spiritual development.

8. Importance of reading key teachings three times (In Kagyu Buddhism this is described as related to a three-level way of learning: hearing, contemplating and practice.)

9. Importance of development (for extraordinary beings) a second body, the Sambhogakaya, or Reward Body, to benefit beings which consists of,

10. Importance of undertaking enormous sacrifices, in other words, “voluntary suffering,” which these beings, (and we to a much lesser degree) as bodhisattvas undertake for aeons it is said before they are able to create their own Pure Land.

I believe these items  point to a correspondence beyond coincidence and indicate an influential relationship, derivative from Tibetan Buddhism and incorporated into Gurdjieff´s system.

Postscript: One of the main Kagyu practices (also used by the Nyingma) is the visualization, above ones head of Vajrayogini, a female deity who is said to then receive teachings of the highest level into herself, all of which is then visualized as being absorbed into oneself. I recall a picture of Mme. de Salzmann meeting with the late Nyingma teacher, HH Dudjom Rinpoche and hearing stories of her receiving teachings about opening the top of head to receive guidance from above. We might assume an influence.


Gurdjieff´s ultimate motivations for almost any of his many activities will forever remain his and his alone. Thus, why he chose Buddhism, and its Tibetan version to be listed as two separate religions out of only five remaining ones in Beelzebub’s Tales, may never be fully understood.  But I believe Gurdjieff was making a series of points that he thought necessary for those he was teaching, one of which was to remain fully within a “Western” fold and avoid the allure of authentic Eastern beliefs, particularly Buddhism and its Tibetan forms, despite his own apparent admiration for both. He wanted to utilize “suffering” as it is conventionally understood in the West, in order to strengthen the Fourth Way practitioners´ inner development, rather than, as in Buddhism, work to eliminate it altogether, a feat Gurdjieff perhaps had great skepticism about. He also wanted, I believe, to steer his followers away from the elaborate and detailed tantric teachings around kundalini, a teaching that has only a minimal place in Buddhism anyway. (Thus, this may have been a prescient warning to Westerners to also avoid Hinduism, which he may have thought would be appealing to Westerners in later years.)

As well, he imparted a distorted picture of both Buddhism and tantric kundalini teachings, which may have had the initial effect of dissuading his students from pursuing such disciplines. Later, his followers, including Mme. de Salzmann, appear to have taken a far less oppositional perspective. One may speculate about the value or nature of the passive receipt of spiritual influences from the top of one’s head, but one cannot deny their crucial role in Tibetan Buddhist visualization practices and thus drawing the tentative conclusion that the influence from Tibetan Buddhism appears solid.

While we can with certainty point to Gurdjieff´s influences from esoteric Christianity, Sufism and Hermetic thought we can as well almost certainty direct the interested Fourth Way seeker (and veteran seekers as well) to Tibetan Buddhism. I believe he had exposure to the Kagyu sect in particular. His mention of the meditation cells suggests knowledge of the extended 3-year retreats made a major part of Kagyu practices. His utilization of slogans, descriptions of accelerated spiritual development, spiritual practice while remaining immersed in the world and others, some mentioned above and others to be detailed later, all reveal a probable exposure to the Kagyu sect. This influence showed itself in his system in both positive (the incorporation of a number of ideas as demonstrated above) and negative ways (the distorted picture of both Buddhism and its two main personalities, the Buddha and Padmasambhava in Beelzebub’s Tales). While Beelzebub’s Tales contains what in Gurdjieff´s own words is the depth of his years of teaching, it also should be noted that it contains a wealth of errors in its presentation of Eastern thought. Whether deliberate or a case of mistaken assumption is not for this writer, or this presentation to say. What can now be concluded however is that, while Gurdjieff´s influences were wide, Tibetan Buddhism most probably played an important, unacknowledged role.

Thank you all very much.

The Endless Search © 2004 - 2017 Ian C. MacFarlane