Ivanovich GurdjieffGeorges Ivanovich Gurdjieff (??????? ???????? ????????,
Georgiy Ivanovich Gyurdzhiev (or Gurdjiev); January 13, 1872? –
October 29, 1949), was a Greek-Armenian mystic and spiritual teacher
who initially gained public recognition as a teacher of sacred dance.
After attracting pupils and disciples of whom a number were already
persons of some distinction, he established a school for spiritual development
called The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. He claimed
that the teachings he brought to the West from his own experiences and
early travels expressed the truth found in other ancient religions and
wisdom teachings relating to self-awareness in one's daily life and
humanity's place in the universe. It might be summed up by the title
of his third series of writings: Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'.
His complete series of books is entitled "All And Everything".
Gurdjieff was born
in Alexandropol (now Gyumri), Armenia. The exact year is unknown; anything
from 1866 to 1877 has been offered. James Moore's biography ("Gurdjieff:
The Anatomy Of A Myth") argues persuasively for 1866. Gurdjieff
grew up in Kars, traveled to many parts of the world (such as Central
Asia, Egypt, Rome) before returning to Russia and teaching in Moscow
and St. Petersburg in 1913.
In the midst of
revolutionary upheaval in Russia he left Petrograd (St. Petersburg was
renamed Petrograd on September 1, 1914) in 1917 to return to his family
home in Alexandropol. During the Bolshevik Revolution he set up temporary
study communities in Essentuki in the Caucasus, then Tuapse, Maikop,
Sochi and Poti, all on the Black Sea coast of Southern Russia where
he worked intensively with many of his Russian pupils.
In mid-January 1919
he and his closest pupils moved to Tbilisi. In late May 1920 when political
conditions in Georgia changed and the old order was crumbling, they
walked by foot to Batumi on the Black Sea coast, and then Istanbul.
There Gurdjieff rented an apartment on Koumbaradji Street in Péra
and later at 13 Abdullatif Yemeneci Sokak near the Galata Tower. The
apartment is near the tekke (monastery) of the Mevlevi Order of Sufis
(founded by Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi) where Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and
Thomas de Hartmann experienced the sema ceremony of The Whirling Dervishes.
In Istanbul Gurdjieff also met John G. Bennett.
In August 1921 Gurdjieff
traveled around western Europe, lecturing and giving demonstrations
of his work in various cities such as Berlin and London. In October
1922, he established the Institute for the Harmonious Development of
Man south of Paris at the Prieuré des Basses Loges in Fontainebleau-Avon
near the famous Château de Fontainebleau.
In 1924 he nearly
died in a car crash. After he recovered, he began writing All and Everything
originally written by him in Russian and Armenian. He stopped writing
in 1935 having completed the first two parts of the trilogy and only
having started on the Third Series which had been published under the
title Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'.
In Paris, Gurdjieff
lived at 6 Rue des Colonels-Rénard where he continued to teach
throughout World War II.
Gurdjieff died on
October 29, 1949 at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.
His funeral was held at the St. Alexandre Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral
at 12 Rue Daru, Paris. He is buried in the cemetery at Fontainebleau-Avon.
and whereabouts of Gurdjieff's early biography before he appeared in
Moscow in 1913 are found in his text Meetings with Remarkable Men.
The Fourth Way is the most commonly used name for Gurdjieff's teachings
when directly attributed to him, and they continue to be taught by schools
founded by Gurdjieff as well as other institutes and individuals his
works continue to influence.
Some of those who
had contact with Gurdjieff saw him as a spiritual Master – someone
who possessed what Gurdjieff himself called objective consciousness
- a form of consciousness gained by the practice of self-remembering
and work on oneself; in other words a human being who is fully awake
or enlightened. Others saw him as an esotericist or occultist. Gurdjieff
widely admitted his teaching was esoteric but he claimed that none of
it was veiled in secrecy for secrecy's sake. Rather, certain ideas cannot
be understood by people without certain preparation, and ideas received
without such preparation result in distortion. Evidence of such distortion
can be seen today (as well as in other esoteric teachings such as Freemasonry)
where advanced allegories, and especially symbols (e.g. the enneagram)
are now taken out of context, causing great confusion as to the intended
About his teaching,
Gurdjieff once said, "What do I teach? I teach people how to listen
to themselves." The teaching addresses the question
of people's place in the Universe and their possibilities for spiritual
development. He said that people live their lives in a form of waking
sleep, and that higher levels of consciousness are possible. In developing
the inner possibility of becoming more aware of ourselves in our daily
lives, one is shown a fresh way of living which can enrich our experience
of life, and our feeling of ourselves alive. 'Know thyself' takes on
a more organic meaning rather than an intellectual pursuit. The ability
to be 'present' more often (instead of being absent as we usually are),
does not happen automatically and requires work on oneself over time,
guided initially by a teacher trained in the practice of the teaching
by those who were taught directly by Gurdjieff, or by one of his pupils.
that by making frequent efforts to activate their attention in small
things, such as walking, speaking or sitting etc., people can gradually
wish to become more aware of themselves as living beings through the
development of their attention instead of spending their lives asleep
in dreams. To provide conditions in which attention can be exercised
more intensively, Gurdjieff also taught "sacred dances" or
"movements" (which are performed as part of a class) as an
aid, and he left a body of music inspired by what he heard in visits
to remote monasteries and other places, which was written for piano
in a collaboration with one of his pupils, Thomas de Hartmann.
This presence to
oneself is the beginning of a possible further process of transformation,
whose aim is to change the whole nature of human beings, ultimately
preparing them, speaking symbolically as is necessary in such matters,
to be a conscious servant of the divine purpose behind the created world.
Gurdjieff is best-known
through the published works of his pupils. His one-time student P. D.
Ouspensky wrote In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown
Teaching, which some regard as a crucial introduction to the teaching.
Others refer to Gurdjieff's own books (detailed below) as the primary
Accounts of time
spent with Gurdjieff have been published by A. R. Orage, Charles Stanley
Nott, Thomas and Olga de Hartmann, Fritz Peters, René Daumal,
John G. Bennett, Maurice Nicoll, and Louis Pauwels among others. Many
others were drawn to his 'ideas table': Frank Lloyd Wright, Kathryn
Hulme, P.L. Travers, Katherine Mansfield, Jean Toomer, and the pianist
and composer Keith Jarrett.
Three books by Gurdjieff
were published after his death: Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, Meetings
with Remarkable Men, and Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'. This trilogy
is Gurdjieff's legominism known collectively as All and Everything.
A legominism is, according to Gurdjieff, "one of the means of transmitting
information about certain events of long-past ages through initiates."
A book of his early talks was also collected by his student and personal
secretary, Olga de Hartmann, and published in 1973 as Views from the
Real World: Early Talks in Moscow, Essentuki, Tiflis, Berlin, London,
Paris, New York and Chicago, as recollected by his pupils.
The feature film
Meetings with Remarkable Men (1979), based on Gurdjieff's book by the
same name, depicts rare performances of the sacred dances taught to
serious students of his work known simply as the movements. The film
was written by Jeanne de Salzmann and Peter Brook, directed by Brook,
and stars Dragan Maksimovic and Terence Stamp.
His teaching has
been continued by various groups originated after his death, some under
the umbrella of the Gurdjieff Foundations in New York, London, and Paris.
Gurdjieff founded the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man
to train what he called "helper-instructors" to help disseminate
and practice his teaching. Today many groups use Gurdjieff's name and
ideas, but they may not have been developed via a teacher-student relationship
originating with Gurdjieff himself.
Gurdjieff used the
"Stop" exercise to prompt his students. Suddenly and without
notice a pre-arranged signal would be made, and all students would 'freeze'
whatever they were doing to hold the position they found themselves
in when this signal was made. The students were encouraged by this exercise
to notice their habits, sense their tensions, and observe thoughts –
in a word, to become able to strengthen their attention so as to remember
themselves. Later another signal would be made and ordinary movement
would recommence. Other shocks to help awaken his pupils from constant
day-dreaming were always possible at any moment.
Much has been written
about Gurdjieff, and many anecdotes about his life have been recorded.
At one time in his life he set up a workshop to mend things in order
to earn money for his work. Customers would bring Gurdjieff something
broken to fix, and he would then find a way of fixing it – whatever
it was. If he did not know how to mend a particular item he would set
about learning enough to repair it.
Origins of Gurdjieff's
Gurdjieff refused to divulge the origins of his system. Various intellectual
and spiritual debts have been suggested:
first appeared in early 19th century Russian freemasonry, derived from
Robert Fludd, by P.D. Ouspensky
Esoteric Christianity, by Boris Mouravieff
Naqshbandi Sufism, by Idries Shah
Caucasian Ahmsta Kebzeh, by Murat Yagan
Tibetan Buddhism, by Jose Tirado 
Gurdjieff's writings and activities have divided opinion. Sympathizers
regard him as a charismatic master who brought new knowledge into Western
culture and whose "operational readiness" concept is valid
and applicable in modern psychology[cite this quote]. Critics assert
he was simply a charlatan with a large ego and a constant need for self-glorification.
Criticism of Gurdjieff's
system largely focuses on his insistence that most people live in a
state of "waking sleep." Gurdjieff said, even specifically
at times, that a pious, good, and moral man was no more "spiritually
developed" than a common criminal. His teaching involved the development
of what Gurdjieff called "higher bodies," and has very little
to do with altering one's actions in what most would call everyday life.
Distrusting "morality," which he describes as varying from
culture to culture, often contradictory and superficial, he wrote some
of his greatest pages on conscience. This he regarded as the same in
all people, deeply buried in our natures, thus both sheltered from damage
by how we live and inaccessible without thorough "work on oneself."
The primary criticism
of Gurdjieff's work frequently is that it attaches no value to almost
everything that composes the life of an average man. According to Gurdjieff,
everything a man possesses, accomplished, everybody he calls a friend,
and even his own thoughts and feelings are not his own except by accident.
What follows is
a large quote from Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, which is a rather
concise reduction of the principles of Gurdjieff's work which most commonly
science' says that a man is a very complex organism developed by evolution
from the simplest organisms, and who has now become capable of reacting
in a very complex manner to external impressions. This capability of
reacting in a man is so complex, and the responsive movements can appear
to be so far removed from the causes evoking them and conditioning them,
that the actions of man, or at least part of them, seem to naïve
observation quite spontaneous.
But according to
the ideas of Mr. Gurdjieff, the average man is indeed incapable of the
single smallest independent or spontaneous action or word. All of him
is only the result of external effect. Man is a transforming machine,
a kind of transmitting station of forces.
Thus from the point
of view of the totality of Mr. Gurdjieff's ideas and also according
to contemporary "exact-positive-science," man differs from
the animals only by the greater complexity of his reactions to external
impressions, and by having a more complex construction for perceiving
and reacting to them.
And as to that which
is attributed to man and named "will," Mr. Gurdjieff completely
denies the possibility of its being in the common presence of the average
Note that "average
man" here encompasses everyone who has not made distinct and purposeful
attempts at spiritual development. Someone who goes to church on Sunday,
or even a rather strict adherent to Buddhism (unless he had received
special instructions) almost certainly fall under Gurdjieff's category
"average man," as would of course almost all atheists, agnostics,
and similar people. These claims by Gurdjieff have been interpreted
by many to be a total disregard for the value of mainstream religion,
philanthropic work, and the value of doing right or wrong in general.
While Gurdjieff himself had said that his teachings were no substitute
for faith or philanthropic works, his teaching necessitated the understanding
that these "things of this world" are at the very least of
a "different" value than those that his teaching hopes to
develop in people.
However one regards
Gurdjieff's teaching, or Gurdjieff personally, he appears to have introduced
certain esoteric ideas into Western society (for instance, the enneagram)
which were previously unknown to western culture.
Gurdjieff had a
strong influence on many modern mystics, artists and thinkers including
G.I. Gurdjieff was
born in 1877 of Greek and Armenian parentage in Alexandropol, close
to the frontier of Russia and Turkey, and grew up in the Caucasus amid
the intermingling of various ancient cultures and races. Finding
that neither science nor religion answered his questions about the real
meaning of man's life, he became convinced at an early age that
an ancient knowledge must have existed and been handed down and still
be known somewhere on the earth. In 1912, after about twenty years of
search in remote and dangerous parts of Central Asia and the Near East,
he reappeared in Russia with a powerful and complete teaching about
man's inner slavery and his possible individual evolution. Gathering
a few people around him, he began the Work that was to be his mission
for the remainder of his life.
his teaching consist of? And is it intelligible to everybody?
He showed that the
evolution of man - a theme prominent in the scientific thinking of his
youth - cannot be approached through mass influences but is the result
of individual inner growth; that such an inner opening was the aim of
all religions, of all the Ways, but requires a direct and precise knowledge
of changes in the quality of each man’s inner consciousness: a
knowledge which had been preserved in places he had visited, but can
only be acquired with an experienced guide through prolonged self-study
and ‘work on oneself.’
Through the order
of his ideas, and the exercises which he changed repeatedly, the minds
of all who came to him were opened to the most complete dissatisfaction
with themselves and at the same time to the vast scale of their inner
possibilities, in a way that none of them ever forgot."
students included the writer P.D. Ouspensky, the well-known composer
Thomas de Hartmann and his wife, Olga, and Alexandre and Jeanne de Salzmann
as well as others. The small band of pupils were led by Gurdjieff amid
the maelstrom of the Russian Revolution through Western Russia, Turkey,
and into Europe, where Gurdjieff established his now celebrated Institute
for the Harmonious Development of Man at Fontainebleau, near Paris,
in 1921. Gurdjieff remained based in France until his death in 1949,
but came to America a number of times to visit groups which had formed
in New York and Chicago to study his teaching under the guidance of
the English literary critic, A. R. Orage.