"A rose is a rose is a rose" is probably her most famous quote, often interpreted as "things are what they are".
Gertrude Stein was an openly homosexual feminist, spent most of her life in France, and could have met Gurdjieff, but:
"During most of the Thirties and Forties in Paris, an extraordinary group of strong-willed women, mostly writers who also happened to be lesbians, became students of the spiritual teacher, G. I. Gurdjieff, meeting privately with him as a small band that called themselves the "Rope." Their ties with Gurdjieff radically changed their lives, their writing styles, and their relationships to each other. Several of the Rope members were also close acquaintances of Gertrude Stein, who by no means shared their enthusiasm for their spiritual teacher. But Gurdjieff was, in his way, as unconventional a spiritual teacher as Stein was a writer."
Following [Ezra] Pound and [James] Joyce, the women went to the rue de Fleurus in Montparnasse to visit Gertrude Stein and her companion Alice B. Toklas. Rotund and formidable, Miss Stein gave a hearty welcome in her mannish but velvety voice and ushered them into the living room, its walls lined with Picassos, Braques, Juan Gris, and some Cézannes. A commanding personality, self-confident with a deep laugh, Gertrude seated herself, as was her custom, in a large chair, higher than the others, in the middle of the room. She was used to presiding over the Parisian literary scene and believed that since Shakespeare, only she, and perhaps Henry James, had done anything to develop the English language. "The Jews", she once said, and not in jest, "have produced only three originative geniuses: Christ, Spinoza, and myself."...
Of Gertrude, Margaret [Margaret Anderson, editor of The Little Review, an avant-garde magazine promoting literature and art] would later say, "I dislike Gertrude's type of egoism; her awesome self-enamouration shows itself either as a comfortable chuckling kind (which isn't too unsympathetic), or as a grotesque, arrogant kind as when she announced on meeting a Frenchwoman for the first time, "I am a genius, one of the greatest in the world today" - which seemed to me slightly insane. The Frenchwoman said, "She frightened me." I was also put off by an atmosphere of commercialism that I felt emanating around Gertrude like an aura. It made me uncomfortable, as if I were in a place I didn't belong."...
Interestingly, Jane [Jane Heap, Margaret's friend] and Gertrude got on well. Later Jane would write, "How I love her - we had such charming hours together." She became Gertrude's self-appointed literary agent, bringing her writing to the attention of T.S. Eliot who was then at the English quarterly The Criterion, as well as becoming heavily involved in trying to sell Gertrude's The Making of Americans to an American publisher (McAlmon had already printed it in Paris).
Mind knows only questions. The heart knows only answers, and the
being is beyond both. It knows neither questions nor answers. It is
simply beyond all kinds of duality.
I have told you many times, but I love the incident so much, because in the contemporary world, and particularly in the West, nothing like it has ever happened .... In the East it has been happening to the Sufis, to the Zen monks, to the masters of meditation, but in the West this small incident stands unique - just like a burning torch in a dark night.
Gertrude Stein, a great poetess, is dying, she is breathing her last breaths. And she was loved by many people, she had many friends. She was a woman of tremendous creative qualities. Her poetry comes closest to the haikus of the Zen masters or to the poetry of Kabir, Nanak, Farid. Her poetry has something essentially of the East; she had some glimpses of the mystic experience.
At the last moment - it is evening and the sun has set and darkness is settling - she opens her eyes and asks, "What is the answer?"
And those who have gathered to say good-bye to her are puzzled: "Has she gone senile, insane? Perhaps death has shocked her and she has lost her rationality." Certainly no man with a reasonable mind will ask, "What is the answer?" because unless you have asked a question, asking, "What is the answer?" is very irrational.
There was silence for a moment. Then one very close friend asked, "But you have not asked the question. How can we answer?"
And Gertrude Stein had a faint smile and said, "Okay, so tell me, what is the question?"
And then she died, so they had no time left to say, "This question is as absurd as your first. First you asked for the answer without asking the question; now you are also asking the question from us! There are thousands and millions of questions. Who knows what question you want to be answered?"
In fact, Gertrude Stein was passing beyond mind when she asked, "What is the answer?" She was passing beyond the heart when she asked, reluctantly, smilingly, "Okay, what is the question?" And then she passed beyond.
It was one of the most beautiful deaths in the West. In the East we have known many beautiful deaths. It is very difficult for people to make a beautiful life. But there have been people who have lived beautifully and died even more beautifully! Because to them death comes as a culmination, as a climax of life, as if the whole life becomes a flame of fire - in a single moment, in total intensity - before disappearing into the universal. She was not losing her mind in the sense that it is usually understood, but she was certainly going beyond mind and she was also going beyond the heart.
Beyond these two diametrically opposite centers in you is a being which is utterly innocent of any questions or of any answers. It is so fulfilled in itself, so completely contented that there is nothing left to ask and there is nothing left to answer.
My own understanding is that Gertrude Stein died enlightened. The West has no understanding of enlightenment. They simply thought she was going crazy. But it was not craziness, it was a moment of great celebration. What she could not attain in her life, she attained in her death. And she gave the sure indications: no question, no answer and you have arrived home.