The old man who spoiled everything

By Paulo Coelho

G. I. Gurdjeff was one the twentieth century’s most intriguing characters. Although a familiar name in occult circles, his work as a student of human psychology remains unknown.

The following events took place when he was living in Paris, having just set up his famous Institute for Human Development.

The classes were always packed, but amongst the students was a very bad-tempered old man, who was constantly criticising the Institute’s teachings. He said that Gurdjeff was a charlatan, that his methods had no scientific basis, and that his reputation as a ‘magus’ bore no relation to reality. The other students were bothered by the presence of this old man, but Gurdjeff did not seem to mind.

One day, the old man left the group. Everyone felt relieved, thinking that from then on the classes would be quieter and more productive. To their surprise, Gurdjeff went to the man’s house and asked him to return to the Institute.

The old man refused at first and only accepted when he was offered a salary to attend the classes.

The story soon spread. The students were disgusted and wanted to know why a teacher should reward someone who had learned nothing.

‘Actually, I’m paying him to continue teaching,’ came the reply.

‘What?!’ said the students. ‘Everything he does goes completely against what you are teaching us.’

‘Exactly,’ said Gurdjeff. ‘Without him around, you would find it hard to understand what rage, intolerance, impatience and lack of compassion really mean. However, with this old man as a living example, showing just how such feelings can turn community life into a hell, you will learn much more quickly. You pay me to learn how to live in harmony, and I hired this man to help me teach you that lesson, only the other way round.’

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  1. Avi Solomon says:

    You might find the following account by one of Gurdjieff’s pupils of interest:

  2. Doug Sprei says:

    I’ve been a student of the Gurdjieff tradition for around 30 years; have heard many similar accounts but not that particular story, Paulo. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Erna says:

    Hi Paulo, I have just finished your latest book, ‘The Witch of Portobello’. As someone who have rejected the official version of religion, when I read your book I sense that you are closer to…the truth maybe?…for lack of a better explanation. Your books are strange to me, but for some or other reason I find it extremely inspiring. I love how you love life. Thanks for doing what you are doing, the world is in short supply of light bearers lately, or at least I get that impression. Is there ‘any’ truth in that book? It seems as if it is based on the truth, or some truth?

  4. Clara Belén says:

    Muchas gracias Paulo por estas palabras. Pienso que a veces las crí­ticas y las palabras adversas pueden llegar a dar más fuerza al que tiene ánimo y un espí­ritu sincero por continuar y aprender de lo que le rodea.
    Un beso,

  5. Chrissa says:

    Dear Paulo,
    this wise story reminds me the words of Kahlil Gibran that said:
    Thank you ,

  6. Yajna says:

    Dearest Paulo,

    ahh, now this story is brilliant. It deals with the core opposites of the world- the most famous, yin and yang. One cannot live without the other, for how can one, know what happiness is, if they have not experienced suffering? How will one know love, if they have not experienced hatred, and fear? Can you see, how these extremities, were created to be inseparable..
    I believe Kahlil Gibran wrote, in The Prophet,
    “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.”
    “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
    Such beautiful words that encompass such truth..

    Thank you for being.

  7. rosa de los vientos says:

    Bravo por Gurdjeff que sabe dar la vuelta a la tortilla y hacer que algo que se dirigí­a en su contra sirva al final para como ayuda a la enseñanza de sus discí­pulos.
    Siempre me gustó gurdjeff.

  8. Leaf says:

    Can’t type – painting. I just love you all xxxx