The Masters Speak
An American Businessman
Encounters Ashish and Gurdjieff

Seymour Ginsburg
(Quest Books)
When I started this, I was hoping that author Ginsburg would turn out to be Allen's father or uncle or brother. Sorry.

First, they spell the poet's name 'Ginsberg.' Second, this other Ginsburg is professional mystic-seeker who didn't give birth to a great poet but, in his stead, started a company called "Toys 'R' Us," filled with Barbie Dolls à la mode, Woody Woodpecker bedding, Donald Duck crackers (or quackers), Big Bird water pistols, Mickey Mouse potty seats.

I would be the last to fault Ginsburg for his early career decision (no matter how smarmy) because, several years ago, when he went through his mid-life crises ... instead of retiring to Sanibel, Florida to skulk about on the beach, he set out in search of The Truth.

He boned up on the works of the Theosophists and other Eastern types. Then he headed off for India (from his condo in Switzerland), and sought out the likes of Sathya Sai Baba and Ramana Maharshi, even attending sessions with the ultimate guru, Jiddu Krishnamurti. Ultimately Ginsburg embarked on a devoted friendship with Sri Madhave Ashish there in the Indian mountain village of Mirtola.

There are three characters at the center of The Masters Speak: G. I. Gurdjieff, Seymour Ginsburg, and Ashish. Gurdjieff? He was Ginsburg's earliest inspiration, known as the Russian Mystic ... student to the Sufis, the man who fled the Russian Revolution (artfully taking his followers between the lines during the war between the Reds and the Whites) and finally settling in Paris in 1924. He constantly showed all the necessary characteristics of what Zen students think of as The Crazy Master.

He wrote unintelligible books --- Meetings with Remarkable Men and All and Everything --- among others, futzing up the language and words and ideas to make them even more complex for the average reader, saying the more the student had to struggle, the more he would learn.

He was also famous for his paradoxes, making his student do loony things so that so they could "remember why you have been sent here."

A famous violinist, whose name escapes me right now, appeared on the scene there at the center at Prieuré des Basses Loges. He had never done a lick of manual labor; was told to dig a deep, long ditch there on the grounds. Once the ditch was completed, Gurdjieff took a look at it, complained about the quality of the digging, and its orientation; told him to fill it in and start off again --- in another direction. (One of my personal favorites was Gurdjieff's demand there in Paris, in the heart of the world's best cookery, was his telling devotees to drink nothing but cheap red wine and eat nothing but fried bacon. Just to try --- or fry --- any misconceptions they might have about them and their master).

§     §     §

Although Ginsburg is listed as the author of The Masters Speak, the real author is Madhava Ashish. His correspondence and writings are quoted at length. His philosophy is easily accessible, and it is not unlike Lord Berkeley's: believe in only what you have seen and felt. Forget anything else. Pay especial attention to unanticipated, out-of-the-ordinary visions that come through meditation, along with out-of-body experiences, fantasies, spirits, coincidences, any and all mystical insights.

These must be the foundation of your belief system. Above everything, let your heart be your guide (assuming you have come to know your real feelings.) Dreams are key. Let them tell you where to go, for they are represent, in you, "an intelligence greater and wiser than [the] ordinary waking self, the holy and implacable being inside of all of us."

Ashish has little patience with the ego, cults, religions, and the trappings of mystical orders and their rites. When Ginsburg demands to be initiated into his circle, he responds that "the mind behaves like a lawyer, hunting for an escape clause in a legal agreement."

    Many people expect to be persuaded and made much of. The teacher is supposed to recognize and to tell them of their spiritual worth, or he is supposed to persuade them because he wants to share his bliss with all men.

There are other (and better) roads to enlightenment, Ashish tells us. And they lie inside, in the great tree of wisdom that resides in us all ... a tree bearing great fruit that is just waiting to be plucked.

The Masters Speak is packed with letters from Ashish to his student, most a model of wisdom and good sense. Some are directly critical of Ginsburg's demand to know "all and everything." But no matter how tendentious his queries --- on "channeling," on the failings of men, on Ginsburg's eternal conflicts with others in his study group (especially the ones he set up) --- all are answered with calm and precision, endearing the reader to Ashish, sometimes making us want Ginsburg to still, somehow, his babbling mind.

We do wonder, though, why Ashish is so patient with Ginsburg. Part, one gathers, has to do with simple masterly wisdom and patience. But it also might have to do with the fact that Ginsburg is scandalously rich. The rich always command attention, even in the most mystically-inclined of us, because of their naked (and insistent) power. With millions of dollars, one can pretty do what one wants, and friends --- even those who choose to be defiantly independent --- always have at the back of their minds, are carrying the if-I-ever-get-in-a-pickle syndrome...

...If I ever get in a pickle, if I ever really need help, say, when I am stricken, old, dying ... is it not best that I have at least one person I can call on? Even a righteous master like Ashish must have had that vulture-shadow floating at the back of his mind. Such that, even as he was dying of cancer, he was ready and willing to respond to any and all letters from his always-impatient friend.

--- Wilma McKendrie, MA
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