Gurdjieff & Trungpa, Sarmoung Brother-Hoods
by Charles Carreon
The similarities between Gurdjieff & Chogyam Trungpa are too numerous to be ignored, and Trungpa's canny exploitation of Gurdjieff's legacy and disciples may lie at the heart of his success in attracting the entitled, elite cadre of followers whose fulsome devotion to his self-proclaimed divinity laid the foundation for absolute rulership of his spiritual kingdom. Gurdjieff claimed to be a member of the "Sarmoung Brotherhood" and Trungpa claimed to be the abbot of Surmang Monastery. The difference in spellings seems to be an artifact of translation. Although Trungpa's claim to supreme abbotship has been cast in doubt by later scholarship, this hasn't dissuaded the authors of his hagiographies.
Both Gurdjieff and Trungpa came from Asian lands, spoke English as a second language, adopted a haughty manner toward the presentation of their "spiritual paths," and began their careers by inveighing against the established spiritualistic orthodoxy. Both ultimately propounded their own imaginary systems that are consistent in style and content with the very systems they claim to have repudiated.
Both cultivated their most devoted early followers from among the English intellectual elites (granted that Gurdjieff consorted largely with his Russian confreres, as Trungpa did with exiled Tibetans), affected an aristocratic air, demanded access to the finer things in life, and declared ascetic self-denial to be a lesser path that led to trivial results.
Both suffered severe automobile accidents due to their disregard of ordinary norms of behavior. Both suffered life-long disability due to the automobile accident, and in Gurdjieff’s case, caused him to suffer a protracted impairment of his intellectual faculties. In Trungpa’s case, he was rendered a physical cripple, a condition that caused him to self-medicate with alcohol, and as has been recently revealed, cocaine, habits that resulted in his early mental decline and physical demise.
Both gave their spiritual ambitions megalomaniacal scope, proclaiming that their doctrines would lead, in Gurdjieff’s case, to the salvation of humanity, and in Trungpa’s case, the establishment of an “enlightened society.” Both used their self-proclaimed world-wide missions to convert humanity to a higher way of living to attract students eager to imagine themselves at the vanguard of human spiritual evolution.
Both concocted fantastical cosmologies, populating them with imaginary creatures born of their alcohol-infused imaginations, and compelled their students to absorb these doctrines as a means of gaining access to esoteric wisdom.
Both demonstrated material acquisitiveness that in persons less “spiritual” would be deemed avaricious, and avoided the charge by spending profligately to fulfill their missions.
These and other correspondences and similarities serve to explain why it is that many of Gurdjieff’s followers and believers in his system attached themselves to Trungpa, and in many cases, became Trungpa acolytes.