The Masters Speak: An American Businessman Encounters Ashish and Gurdjieff

Confession time: though I review a lot of spiritual books, it’s rare to find one that I absolutely rave about. In fact, in many cases I just glance through the book, form a general impression, write down a few quotes and that’s it. Book review done.

Sometimes a book comes just at the right time – and for me this is one such book. It just blows me away on so many levels.

Before you read my review, you have to realize that this is the personal story of Seymour Ginsburg’s meeting of Sri Madhava Ashish – enriched with the many letters Ashish wrote Ginsburg (minus personal stuff) and a few of his articles. The result is a book that takes you along Ginsburg’s spiritual path, while Ashish takes him by the hand. Ginsburg, being successful and therefore (from a worldly perspective) rightly stubborn is not the easiest man to take by the hand. But Ashish keeps helping him stay with the essence, while also being patient with his side tours.

Spiritual Growth, Development and Real spirituality

Having decided to go to India in within two years, I’ve found my own spiritual development come to a head. And while that may be a good thing in the long run, in the short run it’s never easy. Because, and few people seem to realize this, spiritual breakthroughs are painful.

I don’t mean I’m going through some dark night of the soul thing. I’m just saying that I was ready for a fresh look at what the spiritual path is all about. This book is just that, and much more.

I’ve read my way through tons of theosophical and other spiritual books, so I’m not your average reader. Still, this book seems to me the kind of book that can be read by someone who is new to the spiritual path as much as by one who has been traveling for a while. That means it’s also the kind of book I expect will be reread a LOT. Each time one finds something new.

Ashish defines the spiritual goal as the attainment of a unitive vision: that is the inner knowledge that everything is ONE. BUT, he warns, even those who really have this vision may not be able to talk about it very well. Still, what they say is more valuable than what others have to say who are only very learned, or have magnetic personalities etc.

Dream analysis

Ashish has a unique perspective on dreams and dream psychology. And what he says makes as much sense now as when it was written.

(p. 23) [A]ny reading of psychology and related dream interpretation is valuable insofar as it throws light on the workings of the mind. But one has always to read with caution. There is a clear, though not always recognized, distinction between accepting many of the thoughts of Freud, Jung etc. and becoming a Freudian, Jungian, etc. One needs every bit of help one can get in learning the language of dreams. But it is difficult to learn the language without having a lot of psychological theories foisted on one, most theories being based on the assumption that the psyche’s concern is with the current standards of normality.

The above becomes clearer when you know that (p.22) Ashish took a wholly non-Western, non-Freudian, non-Jungian approach to the study of dreams. He believed our dreams are essentially messages from our higher Self, our Inner Light; I later understood that he meant they were, in a sense, dispatches from the heart of the unitive vision. But we often have trouble picking up these messages, because our capacity to receive them is controlled by our willingness and ability to be open to the prompting of that Inner Light.

Further on in the book it becomes clear that the Inner Light, or the Higher Self (whatever you want to call it) only gives us those messages in our dreams that we are ready to hear.

How to distinguish the real teacher from the fake one

Sri Madhava Ashish quote, ‘The Guru as Exemplar and Guide’

(p. 171)What the Seer may say in his interpretation of the unitive experience is truly of less significance than what he is, for what he is validates what he says. His status is neither dependent on his learning nor even on his capacity to articulate his experience. For anyone who has eyes to see, he demonstrates the truth in his being. The problem for the unenlightened man is how to perceive what the seer demonstrates. This is the problem that may face anyone seeking a teacher of the method by which the unitive experience may be obtained. How is one to distinguish between the charlatan, the scholar, the seer of distorted vision and the true seer?

(p. 172)[T]here are factually no external signs by which the true teacher may be distinguished from the partial or the false.

About becoming a teacher

Madhava Ashish Quote, p. 100, July 21, 1987

If you don’t “hang out your sign,” no one will know you are there, so no one will come. But if you proselytize, you will waste your own time and get the wrong sort of people.

The great danger of drumming up a group is that you suppress your own doubts – the “proof” that you are right is found in the numbers of people you attract.

You will be safe only if you are determined to follow your path and handle your own doubts.

Kundalini etc.

Sri Madhava Ashish Quote, Dec. 12 1988, p. 225

[Ginsburg]Q. Madame de Salzmann once told me that there are two energies. One enters our organism through the top of our head, and the other flows upward through the body from the genitalia. One needs to be aware of these energies and keep them in balance. The subject inevitably leads to confusion amongst our group members.

A[shish]. Letter of December 12, 1988

… I once met a famous tantric teacher and wanted to know his status. So I asked, “Do you hold that by arousing the power the right state of mind will be produced, or that by entering the right state of mind the power will rise of itself?” He replied, “The latter,” and this is my own view. However, work on arousing the power seems easier than working on the mind for some people, because it is “tangible” – something that can be sensed. Also, if one is accustomed to the process, one is not so likely to be thrown off balance if it arises spontaneously and forcefully.

… I see no need to involve oneself in Yogic anatomy, so it makes no difference to me which direction the power is believed to take. It finds its own channels.

On interpreting the Unitive Vision

Sri Madhava Ashish quote, ‘a return to intelligent inquiry’, p. 247

It is characteristic of Indian philosophies that many of them stem from mystical perception and not from intellectual speculation. One of the most influential philosophies is the Advaita Vedanta, with its doctrine of illusion (maya) and of the utter emptiness of worldly pursuits. One has to understand that this is but one interpretation out of many possible interpretations of the seer’s experience. Every man/woman who attains has to interpret the experience in relation to the limitations of the personal nature, mental equipment, and the state of mundane knowledge at the time. While one seer emphasizes the insignificance of the world in comparison with the glory of that one, another will emphasize the compassion which is the feeling-togetherness of unitive being. What is experienced as unity in unmanifest being is experienced in the manifest universe as the unifying power of love, which is why love is said to be the self-nature of the divine.

Theosophy and Gurdjieff

On the spiritual path labels are generally not very important, but lineage is important in a sense. Sri Madhava Ashish was a spiritual teacher in the tradition of Sri Krishna Prem – and they both owed a lot to H.P. Blavatsky. But Ashish was the kind of man who was beyond traditions. He advised Ginsburg to get active in the Fourth Way work of Gurdjieff because it suited his temperament and the Western style of learning.

So this book ends up being about those two lineages: Ashish and Gurdjieff. Or theosophy and fourth way.

Theosophists and followers of Gurdjieff will find in this book not just inspiration for their own spiritual path, but also inspiring perspectives on their chosen spiritual lineage. On p. 228 he says for instance [TS stands for Theosophical Society; G stands for Gurdjieff]:

“The burning question for the TS (and the G groups) is whether anyone exists within or without the movement who is, and knows he is, connected with the Masters, who is dedicated to and is traveling their path, who is dedicated to them personally, whose mind is free from bigotry, who has at least an intellectual grasp of the transcendental truths, who has the capacity to refer directly to the Masters for guidance and inspiration, and who is ready to accept the immense burden or responsibility.

This may be rather a tall order, so tall that one suspects he/she would not be found without the Master’s intervention. One might not know of the intervention until it happens, and even then be in doubt. There is also the important point that they will not intervene unless the ground is ready.”

p. 229

What sorts of people would respond, if any? Would they want to use the techniques to make their lives better, would they want the excitement of occult powers? How many want the thing itself?

You cannot afford to make your own work dependent on such matters. There is an insidious obstruction in the form of a need to feel oneself supported by group solidarity. In the context of current social aims, the path seems so strange and contradictory that one fears to be the odd man out. This reluctance to be responsible for one’s own life aims causes a confusion between wanting to help others and to learn by helping them, and wanting the support of their agreement with one’s aim. … Emphasis must therefore be laid on finding one’s own certainty. One wants the confirmation of the Masters, not the doubtful support of people who are even more muddled than oneself.

The Masters Speak: – An American Businessman Encounters Ashish and Gurdjieff is a reprint of “In Search of the Unitive Vision: Letters of Sri Madhava Ashish to an American Businessman, 1978-1997”

Read more quotes from this book: Sri Madhava Ashish quotes

More by and about Sy Ginsburg