Mr. Gurdjieff and The Language of the Smile.

Dedicated to my father Angel who taught to me how to smile.

I have been using the language of the smile since my childhood, since my father taught to me by living example, that is to say, by doing and not by talking. But it was not until few years ago that I began to use it consciously and intentionally. I was reading what I consider to be my all-time favorite book on George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff and his Living Teaching. I say Living Teaching because in this book you will find no concepts, ideas, terms, explanations, and all that you find in most of the so-called Work books. No. In this book you will find the Living Teaching as it was giving in cafes, restaurants, hotels, streets, pantries, dining rooms, bars, cabarets, places; that is, in Life.  This book is a miniature of ‘Beelzebub’s Tales’ to His Grandson (BTTHG), the book I so much Love. You will never find Mr. Beelzebub in a library. You will find him sitting in a Kaltaan of the city Koorkalai or a Chaihana in the small town of Arguenia  or walking the streets of Babylon. Or you may find him walking the lower slopes of Montmartre in Paris, the Quartier Pigalle (from “Pig Alley” reflecting the pig-sexual behavior of war times) or just sitting in the famous Café de la Paix near Place Opera in Paris, drinking that mysterious black liquid (always with a lemon), watching those unfortunate three brained-beings parading up and down “Boulevard des Capucines .”  I sat there many times and I know what I am talking about.

The book I am referring to here to is “Undiscovered Country” by Kathryn Hulme. Hulme was part of the famous group of American lesbians who worked with Mr. Gurdjieff in the Paris during the thirties. She herself coined this group with the name “The Rope.”  Hulme was also the author of “The Nun’s Story” which later became a classic movie starring Audrey Hepburn.  Hulme captured the Master delivering his living teaching in a way that maybe no one has done. Here is what the famous The New York Times Review of Books had to say when her book first appeared:

“Kathryn Hulme has brilliantly evoked the ‘very wise old man sitting in his rich pantry of foods and thought’ and this could, for her readers, be what he called ‘the reminder factor ‘ that ‘when all is finished . . ., you must come home….”

Yes, must come home…home being the place of Love (this is mine, by the way).

I have never recommended a book directly related to the Living Teaching, other than BTTHG of course, but this one I do recommend. It is a Pearl. It can be found in for $18.00 with the new title Undiscovered Country:  A spiritual adventure.

But how does it relate to the language of the smile? 

Here is the memorable formulation on the language of the smile, as taken from Undiscovered Country. I will give the entire formulation because it is indeed memorable.

“I never eat anything French, Madame,” he exclaimed at Georgette over the basket of French bread still on the table, over the French Armagnac still in our glasses.  “All French food is for me like soupe à l’oignon, as is all French mentation. As all English mentation . . . “his glance of feigned scorn swung to Miss Gordon “. . . is like frozen meat.” He asked the Rope for the French equivalent of frozen. We suggested congelé, glacé, refrigêré. . . none suited him. In the French language, he scolded; never could you find the exact word. He knew seven hundred and eighteen words the French language lacked. “I am a god of languages! “Except for such idiot things as this ‘frozen’ that anyone can learn. I speak scientifically, very simple I do speak. Why learn idiot words good only for idiot talk? I do not have the time. .. .”

Miss Gordon said quietly, “What a picture of God that is. Speaking scientifically, but every word exactly understood, every word known like the leaves on a tree that stem from a common root.” And this, of course, was what the whole matter was about –the philological question so dear to the master’s heart –the tower of Babel in which man lived linguistically, ineffectually. 

“Such idiot words,” Canary observed, ‘you need not know, Mr. Gurdjieff. Such a nose you have for roots.” This opened the way to his memorable formulation.

“Yes, this can be,” Gurdjieff agreed. “Except that the nose is no good in an alien country, is good only where in general the land is familiar. Imagine yourself in a foreign country where not one syllable, not one word, has any association for you. Such is how I am with your English.” He smiled. “But one thing I notice . . . always you can make yourself understand anywhere with the language of the smile. Anywhere on earth you can get what you wish –grain for horse, water, bread-with a smile. Because the smile corresponds exactly with what the other man feels.

The language of the smile…”

We find the language of the smile all throughout the Legominism All and Everything, except in the third series. Here are few quotes from the first and second series where the language of the smile appears very explicitly:

From Beelzebub’s Tales (BTTHG):

  1. 511:

Ahoon noticed Beelzebub’s usual, though always sorrowful yet kind and indulgent smile.”

  1. 1161-2:

Hassein gazed at his grandfather with very sad eyes, but yet with a smile of affection.

  1. 1163

Beelzebub looked at Hassein with a smile which revealed a being-impulse of love.

From Meetings with remarkable men (MWRM).

P166 of 305

We spent almost the whole of those last three days together and talked of everything and anything. But all the time my heart was heavy, especially whenever the prince smiled. Seeing his smile, my heart was torn, because for me his smile was the sign of his goodness, love and patience.


As soon as Karpenko came to, he looked round at everyone present; and when, resting his gaze on me longer than on the others, he smiled, something moved within me and I was overcome with remorse and pity.  From that moment I began to feel towards him as towards a brother.


Listening to us with great understanding and clearly wishing to encourage us in our strivings, he [Father Giovanni] thought for a few moments and then, with a kindly, unforgettable smile, said:  ‘Very well then … in the hope that the results of your search will benefit my compatriots also, I will do everything I can to assist you to attain the aim you have set yourselves.’

In all the passages quoted above we see reflected the words Hulme quoted from Mr. Gurdjieff: “Because the smile corresponds exactly with what the other man feels.” I have to add that there is another meaning for the language of the smile in BTTHG and I will address that in another blog post. Why in the third series, Life is real only then, when “I am” we do not see a reflection of the language of the smile? I have my own take on this. It may very well be that in the deep state of “I am” there is no smile. But one thing I know and it is the fact that in the state of ordinary life the language of the smile has an important place.

An example of the language of the smile in my life.

To give an engineering lecture without giving examples is an abomination. That is why, having being an engineering professor all my life I love examples. What I really love about BTTHG is that the whole Teaching in the book is by examples and living examples. All the ideas, concepts, expositions are corroborated in the book by living examples. Belcultassi is a living example of conscious labors. Ashiata Shiemash is a living example of self-remembering and intentional suffering. The two Chinese brothers are living examples of the understanding of the Law of Seven. Hamolinadir is a living example of why we need Objective Divine Reason in order to understand the question of the beyond and many other deep questions and why the end of subjective reason is total despair.  Hadji Asvatz-Troov is a living example of compassion. And Beelzebub Himself, yes the Great Beelzebub, is a living example of Objective Love, an idea that is exposed and conceptualized in the book. They are living examples of how the material exposed, the ideas and the concepts are brought to Life. A. R. Orage said that the way of example was one of the only three ways to influence people. In BTTHG Mr. Gurdjieff opted for this way. And that is one of the essential differences between BTTHG and many of the so-called Work books. These books present the ideas and the concepts but do not bring into light the living examples which help us to bring into life what we get from the books. But we have to go even beyond that if we wish Being. We have to bring into our own lives the examples we get from BTTHG. And that is where the real problem comes because we want to live in the world of ideas and that is why we are so much attracted to the so-called Work books because they fulfill our wishes to be in that world of ideas. We have to go to the Source and the Source in this Teaching is the Legominism All and Everything. And the Legominism contains All and Everything, from the very beginning to the very end. We need no other sources. And there is something else that really separates BTTHG from all those Work books and that is related to the language of the smile we are considering here. In BTTHG we will find no only the language of the smile, as it has been quoted above, but we will find the language of the laughter. That we will barely find it in the so-called Work books, if we find it at all. Why do we get so much laughter from BTTHG? The answer to this question was given five thousand years ago and here is for your consideration: “When a worthless scholar hears the Tao, he laughs boisterously at it.” Yes, I am a worthless scholar and I am not ashamed to confess it; that is why I can laugh when I listen to the tales of our dear grandfather Beelzebub.  So, in order to complement my exposition on the language of the smile I want now to give an example taken from my own personal life. The aim of this example is to show that the language of the smile does work as Mr. Gurdjieff said.

Every afternoon after I give one of my classes I go to the cafeteria to have what in the end is going to kill me: black coffee. One day I saw a new young woman at the register. I knew she was Latina and just smiled to her and said “Hola” but no more than that. The next day I did the same thing and she smiled back to me. No words but just smiles. It went like this for almost two weeks. Then one day she gave me the dollar back and said (in Spanish): “No need to pay more. Your smile is more than enough.” Just like that. I never paid again and this has been going for more than a year now. I keep smiling at her and she keeps smiling at me: the language of the smile.

You will be amazed what happens when you use the language of the smile. But do not do it to get things. Just do it because you really feel it.

I am not kidding here. If you look at my previous photo in my Facebook profile, you will see how I am smiling. It was taken during a party 15 members of my family (three generations) gave me because I have always smiled to them. Of course, if you look carefully you will notice that before the photo was taken I just had one full carafe of delicious Spanish Sangria. That may be the reason I am smiling so much.

In the spirit of the language of the smile,

Will 🙂

About willmesa

I have been studying and working with the ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff exposed in his Opus Magnum Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. The intention of this blog is to share these ideas with people around the world. For more information about me, please search in Google for Will Mesa
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3 Responses to Mr. Gurdjieff and The Language of the Smile.

  1. Paavo Puijola says:

    Thank you for sharing with us this personal story from the real world.
    Have you ever touched the question of consciousness / unconsciousness (subconsciousness) in your writings?


  2. Gregory says:

    For those who may be interested, the film adaptation of THE NUN’S STORY broadcasts this evening (9/12) on Turner Classic Movies. The film is rather unusual for it’s time in that the director Fred Zinnemann encouraged daily participation of source author Hulme on the set. No doubt as a result of this decision, one rather large visual “Work-Stop” occurs within the film’s first half.

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