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G. I. Gurdjieff

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20th-century Mystic
G.I. Gurdjieff
Name: Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff
Birth: January 13, 1866? Alexandropol, Armenia
Death: October 29 1949 American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
School/tradition: Fourth Way or the "Gurdjieff Work"
Main interests: Psychology, Philosophy, Science, Ancient knowledge
Notable ideas: Fourth Way, Enneagram, Centers, Ray of Creation, Laws
Influences: Officially unknown; but according to his book: His childhood and adult teachers, his father, Mullah Nassr Eddin
Influenced: Jeanne de Salzmann, Wim Nyland, Lord Pentland, P.D. Ouspensky, Thomas de Hartmann, Jane Heap, J.G. Bennett, A.R. Orage, Maurice Nicoll

Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff (Георгий Иванович Гюрджиев, Georgiy Ivanovich Gyurdzhiev (or Gurdjiev); (January 13, 1866? – October 29, 1949), was a Greek-Armenian mystic, a teacher of sacred dances, and a spiritual teacher, most notable for introducing the Fourth Way. At different times in his life he formed and liquidated various schools around the world to utilize his teachings. 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', while his complete series of books is entitled "All and Everything".



[edit] Biography

Gurdjieff was born in Alexandropol (now Gyumri), Armenia. The exact date is unknown - anything ranging from 1866 to 1877 has been offered - but many authors argued 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 in 1912.

The only account of Gurdjieff's early biography before he appeared in Moscow in 1912 can be found in his text Meetings with Remarkable Men.

On New Year 1912, Gurdjieff arrived in Moscow and attracted his first associates. In the same year he married Julia Ostrowska in St Petersburg. In 1914 Gurdjieff first advertised his ballet "The Struggle of the Magicians", as well he supervised his pupils' writing of the sketch "Glimpses of Truth". In 1915 Gurdjieff accepted P.D. Ouspensky as a pupil, while in 1916 he accepted the composer Thomas de Hartmann and his wife Olga as students. At this time he had around thirty pupils.

It was speculated by many authors that Gurdjieff was a spy, most likely of the Tzar, during the wars. This claim had never been proven, or widely dismissed due to the fact that Gurdjieff had access to most places in Asia. Gurdjieff personally commented indirectly on this claim in his book Beelzebub's Tales when he said that "during a war every person that is somewhat awake is considered a spy because of his seriousness and alertness."

In the midst of revolutionary upheaval in Russia he left Petrograd in 1917 to return to his family home in Alexandropol. During the Bolshevik Revolution Gurdjieff 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 March 1918, Ouspensky separated from Gurdjieff, and four months later Gurdjieff's eldest sister and her family reached him in Essentuki as refugees, bringing news that Turks had shot his father in Alexandropol on 15 May. As Essentuki became increasingly threatened by Civil War, Gurdjieff planted a fabricated newspaper story of his forthcoming 'scientific expedition' to Mount Induc. Posing as a scientist, Gurdjieff left Essentuki with a following of fourteen (which does not include Gurdjieff's family or Ouspensky). They went by train to Maikop where hostilities detained them three weeks. In spring of 1919 Gurdjieff met and accepted as pupils the artist Alexandre Salzmann and his wife Jeanne. In collaboration with Jeanne Salzmann, Gurdjieff gave the first public demonstration of his Sacred Dances (Movements in Tbilisi Opera House (22 Jun.).

In autumn 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[1]. 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[1].

In August 1921 and 1922 Gurdjieff traveled around western Europe, lecturing and giving demonstrations of his work in various cities such as Berlin and London; capturing the allegiance of Ouspensky's many prominent pupils, notably the editor A. R. Orage. After he loses civil action to acquire Hellerau possession in Britain, Gurdjieff 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. Gurdjieff acquired notoriety after Katherine Mansfield died on the 9th January 1923.

In 1924 he nearly died in a car crash. Driving alone from Paris to Fontainebleau, Gurdjieff had a near fatal motor-car crash. Nursed by his wife and mother, he made a slow and painful recovery - against medical expectation. Still convalescent, he formally 'disbanded' his Institute on Aug. 26, (but in fact he dispersed only his less dedicated pupils), and began writing All and Everything.

In 1925 Gurdjieff's wife contracted cancer, and she died in 1926 despite radiotherapy and Gurdjieff's unorthodox treatment. Ouspensky attended her funeral. In July 1926 Aleister Crowley briefly visited Prieuré and Gurdjieff emphatically repudiated him.

From 1929, Gurdjieff made visits to North America where he took over as the teacher of the pupils that were at that time being taught by A.R. Orage.

In 1935 Gurdjieff stopped writing All and Everything, having completed the first two parts of the trilogy and only having started on the Third Series (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.[2]

[edit] Ideas/Teachings

Main article Fourth Way

In his early lectures Gurdjieff described his approach to self-development as a Fourth Way: in contrast to teachings that emphasize body, mind, or emotions separately, Gurdjieff's exercises worked on all three at the same time to promote comprehensive and balanced inner development. Though Gurdjieff never used the term Fourth Way in his writings, his pupil P.D. Ouspensky made the term and its use central to his own teaching of the Gurdjieff Ideas and even published a book with that name.

Gurdjieff's teaching mainly addresses the question of people's place in the Universe and their possibilities for inner development. He also emphasized that people live their lives in a form of waking sleep, and that higher levels of consciousness, higher bodies,[3] and various inner developments are possible.[4]

In his teaching Gurdjieff gave a distinct meaning to various ancient texts such as the Bible and many religious prayers. He claimed that those texts possess a very different meaning than the one which is commonly attributed to them, and that the real meaning of these texts points in the same direction as his teaching. 'Know thyself'[5] and the 'Lord's Prayer' are the basic examples.

Gurdjieff taught people how to increase and focus their attention and energy in various ways, and to minimize daydreaming and absentmindedness. According to his teaching, this inner development in oneself is the beginning of a possible further process of change, whose aim is to transform a man into what Gurdjieff believed he ought to be.[6]

Distrusting "morality", which he describes as varying from culture to culture, often contradictory and superficial, he greatly stressed the importance of conscience. This he regarded as the same in all people, buried in people's subconsciousness, thus both sheltered from damage by how people live and inaccessible without "work on oneself".

To provide conditions in which attention could be exercised more intensively, Gurdjieff also taught his pupils "sacred dances" or "movements" which they performed together as a group, 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 collaboration with one of his pupils, Thomas de Hartmann. Gurdjieff also used various exercises, such as the the "Stop" exercise, to prompt self-observation in his students. Other shocks to help awaken his pupils from constant day-dreaming were always possible at any moment.

[edit] Methods

Gurdjieff transmitted his ideas through a number of different methods and materials, including meetings, music, movements or sacred dance, writings, lectures, and innovative forms of group work. He was not consistent in his use of these materials through his lifetime; for example, six years in Paris were devoted primarily to writing, while composition of music and movement centered around a few distinct periods. In Russia he was described as keeping his teaching confined to a small circle, [7] while in Paris and North America he gave numerous public demonstrations. [8]

[edit] Music

The Gurdjieff music breaks into three distinct periods. The first period is the early music, composed and orchestrated entirely by Gurdjieff, which includes music from Struggle of the Magicians, music for early movements like the Obligatories and ethnic dances.

The second period, for which he is most well known, was written in collaboration with Russian Composer Thomas De Hartmann and is known as the Gurdjieff-De Hartmann music. Gurdjieff claimed he did not compose this music but retained it from his travels[citation needed]. A primary use of this music was to be performed before readings of Gurdjieff's texts or before Gurdjieff's lectures. Scores of this music were released by Schott and have been recorded several times.

The last musical period is the improvised harmonium music which accompanied the dinners Gurdjieff held in his Paris apartment. Recordings of Gurdjieff improvising on the harmonium have recently been republished. He described it to one student as "objective music"[citation needed].

[edit] Movements

Gurdjieff sometimes referred to himself as a "teacher of dancing", and gained initial public notice for his attempts to put on a ballet in Moscow called "Struggle of the Magicians". Gurdjieff continued composing movements, or sacred dances, in parts of his later life. He claimed in his autobiography to have discovered them at a secret temple and that they were thousands of years old. Early dances include the Obligatories, and ethnic and work dances. Near the end of his life Gurdjieff composed a new set of dances known as "the Thirty-Nine"[citation needed] and his former student De Hartmann was contacted to compose music for them based on a private demonstration; alternate musical settings for some of the thirty-nine exist composed by Helen Adie[citation needed]. Numerous fragments of dances also survive. The sacred dances are heavily protected by the Gurdjieff Foundations and few reliable public records are available[citation needed]; one such record being a scene in the Peter Brook movie Meetings with Remarkable Men.

[edit] Group Work

Gurdjieff taught that group efforts greatly surpass individual efforts towards self-development, and therefore he innovative ways for individuals to come together to pursue his work. Students regularly met with group leaders in group meeting, and groups of students came together in "work periods" where intensive labor was performed and elaborate meals were prepared. Gurdjieff student William Segal recounts periods of hard labor "around the clock" in his biography[citation needed]. Gurdjieff's student John Pentland connects the Gurdjieff group work with the later rise of encounter groups[citation needed]. Groups also often met to prepare for demonstrations or performances to which the public was invited.

[edit] Writings

Gurdjieff wrote and approved for publication three volumes of his written work under the title All and Everything. The first volume, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, is a lengthy allegorical work that recounts the explanations of Beelzebub to his grandson concerning the beings of the planet Earth. Intended to be a firewall and a teaching tool for his teachings, Gurdjieff had gone to great lengths in order to increase the effort needed to read and understand the book. Gurdjieff also stated that he answered every question which could arise in a man's head. The second volume, Meetings with Remarkable Men, purports to be an autobiography of early years, but also contains symbolic lessons and the facts have not been verified. The final unfinished volume, Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am', contains a fragment of an autobiographical description of later years, as well as transcripts of some lectures.

[edit] Reception

Gurdjieff's writings and activities have divided opinion. Sympathizers regard him as a charismatic master who brought new knowledge into Western culture, a psychology and cosmology that opened up new and fruitful avenues of thought, enabling insights beyond those provided by established science.[9] Critics assert he was simply a charlatan with a large ego and a constant need for self-glorification.[10]

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, writers, and thinkers including Aleister Crowley, John Godolphin Bennett, Keith Jarrett, Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, Robert Fripp, Jacob Needleman, John Shirley, Peter Brook, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Frank Lloyd Wright.

His influence has spread out from a "mainstream" of Gurdjieffianism to variants with no clear cut relationship to his teaching apart from the use of his name.

[edit] Criticism

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 any other person.

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, accomplishes, 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 concepts most commonly evoke criticism:

Contemporary 'exact-positive 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 man.

Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, Chapter 48, From the Author, Lecture 1

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, almost certainly falls under Gurdjieff's category of "average man," as would 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.

[edit] Other Views

Gurdjieff's funeral
Gurdjieff's funeral

With so much surrounding Gurdjieff and his teaching, other views are possible. For example, during the Russian period he spoke with respect of the obyvatl, the simple householder or peasant, salt of the earth, who lives by traditional values and slowly makes his way to Heaven. Much later in Paris, he gave encouragement and financial help to a multitude of people who were hard up for one reason or another. His Paris flat had, people say, one of the world's worst art collections, which were purchased from indigent artists as a cover for providing them with funds without humiliating them. Diogenes, the ancient Greek Cynic philosopher whom Gurdjieff resembles, once said of himself that like the chorus master, he set the note a little high so that the chorus would hit the right note. For his pupils and in his writings, Gurdjieff set the note "a little high" as a goal and inspiration, while in his personal conduct, he was generous to "the average man." Many of them attended his funeral at the Russian cathedral, rue Daru. Gurdjieff's pupils didn't know them.

[edit] Bibliography

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 texts.

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, Margaret Anderson, and Louis Pauwels among others. Many others were drawn to his 'ideas table': Frank Lloyd Wright, Kathryn Hulme, P.L. Travers, Katherine Mansfield and Jean Toomer.

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.

[edit] Works by Gurdjieff

[edit] Books about G. I. Gurdjieff and The Fourth Way

  • Gurdjieff: A Very Great Enigma by J. G. Bennett (1969)
  • Gurdjieff: Making a New World by J. G. Bennett (1973), ISBN 0-06-090474-7
  • Idiots in Paris by J. G. Bennett and E. Bennett (1980)
  • Mount Analogue by René Daumal (1st edition in French, 1952; English, 1974)
  • Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff by Thomas and Olga de Hartmann (1964, Revised 1983 and 1992)
  • Gurdjieff Unveiled by Seymour Ginsburg (2005)
  • Undiscovered Country by Kathryn Hulme (1966)
  • The Oragean Version by C. Daly King (1951)
  • The Gurdjieff Years 1929-1949: Recollections of Louise March by Annabeth McCorkle
  • Gurdjieff: The anatomy of a Myth by James Moore (1991)
  • Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky by Maurice Nicoll (1952, 1955. 1972, 1980, 6 volumes)
  • Teachings of Gurdjieff - The Journey of a Pupil by C.S. Nott, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London (1961)
  • On Love by A.R. Orage (1974)
  • Psychological Exercises by A.R. Orage (1976)
  • In Search of the Miraculous by P.D. Ouspensky (1949)
  • The Fourth Way by P.D. Ouspensky (1957)
  • The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution by P.D. Ouspensky (1978)
  • Eating The "I": An Account of The Fourth Way—The Way of Transformation in Ordinary Life by William Patrick Patterson (1992, 1993, 1997)
  • Ladies of the Rope: Gurdjieff's Special Left Bank Women's Group by William Patrick Patterson (1999)
  • Struggle of the Magicians: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship by William Patrick Patterson (1996, Second Edition 1998)
  • Taking with the Left Hand: Enneagram Craze, The Fellowship of Friends, & the Mouravieff Phenomenon by William Patrick Patterson (1998)
  • Voices in the Dark: Esoteric, Occult & Secular Voices in Nazi-Occupied Paris 1940–44 by William Patrick Patterson (2001)
  • Boyhood with Gurdjieff by Fritz Peters (1964)
  • Gurdjieff Remembered by Fritz Peters (1965)
  • Gurdjieff: An Introduction To His Life and Ideas by John Shirley (2004)
  • The Gurdjieff Work by Kathy Speeth ISBN 0-87477-492-6
  • Toward Awakening by Jean Vaysse (1980)
  • Gurdjieff: An Approach to his Ideas by Michel Waldberg (1981)
  • A Study of Gurdjieff's Teaching by Kenneth Walker (1957)
  • The Harmonious Circle: The Lives and Work of G. I. Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky, and Their Followers by James Webb (1980) Putnam Publishing. ISBN 0-399-11465-3
  • The War Against Sleep: The Philosophy of Gurdjieff by Colin Wilson (1980)
  • Who Are You Monsieur Gurdjieff? by René Zuber (1980)

[edit] Videos/DVDs about G. I. Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ John G. Bennett: Witness
  2. ^ James Moore: Gurdjieff – A Biography: The Anatomy of a Myth
  3. ^ P. D. Ouspensky: In Search of the Miraculous, Chapter 2
  4. ^ P. D. Ouspensky: The Fourth Way, Chapter 1
  5. ^ P. D. Ouspensky: In Search of the Miraculous, Chapter 6
  6. ^ P. D. Ouspensky: In Search of the Miraculous, Chapter 9
  7. ^ P. D. Ouspensky: In Search of the Miraculous, Chapter 1
  8. ^ Life is Real Only Then When 'I Am' Talk 3
  9. ^ P. D. Ouspensky: The Fourth Way, Chapter 1
  10. ^ Michael Waldberg: Gurdjieff – An Approach to his Ideas, Chapter 1

[edit] External links

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[edit] The Gurdjieff Foundations

The Gurdjieff Foundation, the largest organization directly linked to Mr. Gurdjieff, was organized by Jeanne de Salzmann during the early 1950s and led by her, in cooperation with other direct pupils[2]:

Connected to these three Foundations are numerous smaller groups around the world, collected under the umbrella of the "International Association of Gurdjieff Foundations":

Affiliated American groups can be found here:

Affiliated Canadian groups can be found here:

[edit] Other websites

[edit] Critics

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