Burton vs Gurdjieff
Another interesting comment upgraded to a post:
08.03.08 at 8:42 am
Its a bit easier to impose on Buddhists than one might think, even Tibetan lamas and rinpoches.
Alexander Berzin has a great book entitled Healthy Relationships with Spiritual Teachers.
He notes that it is considered bad form and a violation of right speech to flat out tell someone he or she is an imposter. Traditional Asians shun confrontation, even if that means not confronting a con artist.
And many Tibetan Buddhist teachers might take the time to teach Dharma to a scoundrel hoping that in another life, that persons potential will ripen into sincere practice.
However, high level teachings in tantra, mahamudra and dzogchen would never be given unless someone has done foundational practices and throughly commits to living by the Buddhist ethical precepts–and has studied with a teacher for years.
Someone on a spy’s hectic schedule would not be able to do this.
Richard Burton had considerable leisure to do his undercover work–General Napier wanted as much information as possible about local habits and customs and wanted the kind of information that would enable future agents to pass successfully. Burton worked for him in the 1840s, and had the leisure to try many different covers and learn the ettiquette appropriate to each. (He found that a great source of information was if one could gain entry to the ladies harems. Burton found that the best method was to impersonate being a merchant, have excellent goods and sell at a reasonable price. If a suspicous husband or father arrived, all Burton had to do was display his stock of jewellry and the ladies raised hell and insisted that he stay!)
Burton actually liked the people who he impersonated, and though many of his comments are miserably racist and sexist (he was Victorian), one thing comes through…he was sympathetic to the local cultures, lived with the people, to the point where he lost the trust of his superiors–he was much too willing to ‘go native.’ Fawn Brodie, one of his biographers stated that Burton was special.. he was willing to live with the people whose customs he
studied-he did not treat them as specimens.
Quite different from Gurdjieff.
And, throughout his books, Burton was scrupulously careful to list his sources and provide accurate information–for he knew that future travellers lives might be at stake and he wanted them to have the best
information he could provide.
Again, quite different from Gurdjieff. Burton also had a radical belief that women were as entitled to sexual pleasure as men and noted that British officers rarely won the affection of their Indian mistresses because the Brits were poor at making love.
Quite different from Gurdjieff who was an utter boor in these matters.