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Gurdjieff between 1925 and 1935
|Born||George Ivanovich Gurdjieff|
January 13, 1866
Alexandropol, Russian Empire
|Died||October 29, 1949 (aged 83)|
|School||Fourth Way (the "Gurdjieff Work")|
|Main interests||Psychology, philosophy, science, ancient knowledge|
|Notable ideas||Fourth Way, Fourth Way Enneagram, Centers, Ray of Creation, Self-remembering|
Gurdjieff between 1925 and 1935
|Born||George Ivanovich Gurdjieff|
January 13, 1866
Alexandropol, Russian Empire
|Died||October 29, 1949 (aged 83)|
|School||Fourth Way (the "Gurdjieff Work")|
|Main interests||Psychology, philosophy, science, ancient knowledge|
|Notable ideas||Fourth Way, Fourth Way Enneagram, Centers, Ray of Creation, Self-remembering|
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff // (January 13, 1866 – October 29, 1949), also commonly referred to as Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff and G. I. Gurdjieff, was an influential spiritual teacher of the early to mid-20th century who taught that most humans live their lives in a state of hypnotic "waking sleep", but that it is possible to transcend to a higher state of consciousness and achieve full human potential. Gurdjieff developed a method for doing so, calling his discipline "The Work" (connoting "work on oneself") or "the Method". According to his principles and instructions, Gurdjieff's method for awakening one's consciousness is different from that of the fakir, monk or yogi, so his discipline is also called (originally) the "Fourth Way". At one point, he described his teaching as being "esoteric Christianity".
At different times in his life, Gurdjieff formed and closed various schools around the world to teach The Work. He claimed that the teachings he brought to the West from his own experiences and early travels expressed the truth found in ancient religions and wisdom teachings relating to self-awareness in people's daily lives and humanity's place in the universe. The title of his third series of writings, Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am', expresses the essence of his teachings. His complete series of books is entitled All and Everything.
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (Russian: Гео́ргий Ива́нович Гурджи́ев, Greek: Γεώργιος Γεωργιάδης, Armenian: Գեորգի Գյուրջիև) was born to a Caucasus Greek father called Ἰωάνης Γεωργιάδης,(Georgios or Ivan Georgiades) and Armenian mother Tavrizovy-Bagratouni (Թավրիզ - Բագրատունի) in Alexandropol (now Gyumri, Armenia), then part of the Russian Empire in the Transcaucasus. The name Gurdjieff represents a Russified form of the Pontic Greek surname "Georgiades" (Greek: Γεωργιάδης). The exact date of his birth remains unknown; conjectures range from 1866 to 1877. Some authors (such as Moore) argue persuasively for 1866, others, like Patterson (Struggle of the Magicians, pp. 273–74.), for 1872. Both Olga de Hartmann—the woman Gurdjieff called "the first friend of my inner life"—and Louise Goepfert March, Gurdjieff's secretary in the early thirties, believed that Gurdjieff was born in 1872. A passport gave a birthdate of November 28, 1877, but he once stated that he was born at the stroke of midnight at the beginning of New Year's Day (Julian calendar). Although the dates of his birth vary, the year of 1872 is inscribed in a plate on the grave-marker at Cimetiere d'Avon, in the Prefecture of Paris, France.
Gurdjieff spent his childhood in Kars, which between 1878 and 1918 was the administrative capital of the Russian ruled Transcaucasus province of Kars Oblast, a formerly Ottoman ruled highland march region consisting of extensive grassy plateaux-steppe and high mountains with a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional population that had a history of respect for travelling mystics and holy men and for religious syncretism and conversion. Both the city of Kars and the surrounding territory was home to an extremely diverse population that made Switzerland and Ottoman Macedonia look monolithic in comparison; Kars Oblast was home to Armenians, Russians, Caucasus Greeks, Georgians, Turks, Kurds, and smaller numbers of Christian communities from eastern and central Europe such as Caucasus Germans, Estonians, and Russian sectarian communities like the Molokans and Doukhobors. Gurdjieff makes particular mention of the Yazidi community. Growing up in a multi-ethnic society, Gurdjieff became fluent in Russian, Armenian, Pontic Greek, and Turkish; and later had "a working facility with several European languages." Early influences on him included his father, a carpenter and amateur ashik or bardic poet, and the priest Dean Borsh, a family friend. The young Gurdjieff avidly read Russian-language scientific literature. Influenced by these writings, and having witnessed a number of phenomena he could not explain, he formed the conviction that there existed a hidden truth not to be found in science or in mainstream religion.
In early adulthood, Gurdjieff's curiosity led him to travel to Central Asia, Egypt, India, Tibet and Rome, before returning to Russia for a few years in 1912. He was always unforthcoming about the source of his teachings, but whatever it was, it was encountered during this phase of his life. The only account of his wanderings appears in his book Meetings with Remarkable Men. Most commentators, however, believe it cannot be read as a straightforward autobiography, leaving his background fairly mysterious. Each chapter is named after an individual "remarkable man", many of them members of a society of "Seekers after truth". However, J.G.Bennet, who researched Gurdjieff's sources extensively after his death, suggested these characters were symbolic of the three types of men Gurdjieff used to refer to: men #1 centered in their physical body; men #2 centered in their emotions, and men #3 centered in their minds. Encounters with dervishes, fakirs and Essenes are described. The book also has an overarching quest narrative, involving a map of "pre-sand Egypt," and culminating in an encounter with the "Sarmoung Brotherhood", an organisation which has never been definitively identified and which historian Mark Sedgwick has described as "overtly fictional" and "entirely imaginary."
Gurdjieff claimed to have been supporting himself during his travels with odd jobs and trading schemes (some of them roguish, such as dyeing hedgerow birds yellow and selling them as canaries). On his re-appearance, as far as the historical record is concerned, the ragged wanderer had transformed into a well-heeled businessman. His only autobiographical writing concerning this period is Herald of Coming Good, a work, if anything, even less reliable than Meetings. In it, he mentions acting as hypnotherapist specialising in the cure of addictions, and using people as guinea pigs for his methods. It is also speculated that during his travels he was engaged in a certain amount of political activity, as part of the great game.
From 1913 to 1949 the chronology appears to be based on material that can be confirmed by primary documents, independent witnesses, cross-references and reasonable inference. On New Year's Day in 1912, Gurdjieff arrived in Moscow and attracted his first students, including his cousin, the sculptor Sergey Merkurov, and the eccentric Rachmilievitch. In the same year he married the Polish Julia Ostrowska in Saint Petersburg. In 1914, Gurdjieff advertised his ballet, The Struggle of the Magicians, and 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 about 30 pupils. Ouspensky already had a reputation as a writer on mystical subjects and had conducted his own, ultimately disappointing, search for wisdom in the East. The Fourth Way "system" taught during this period was complex and metaphysical, partly expressed in scientific terminology.
In the midst of revolutionary upheaval in Russia, Gurdjieff left Petrograd 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 in Tuapse, Maikop, Sochi and Poti, all on the Black Sea coast of southern Russia, where he worked intensively with many of his Russian pupils. Gurdjieff said, "Begin in Russia, End in Russia".
In March 1918, Ouspensky separated from Gurdjieff, settling in England and teaching the Fourth Way in his own right. The two men were to have a very ambivalent relationship for decades to come.
Four months later, Gurdjieff's eldest sister and her family reached him in Essentuki as refugees, informing him that Turks had shot his father in Alexandropol on 15 May. As Essentuki became more and more threatened by civil war, Gurdjieff fabricated a newspaper story announcing his forthcoming "scientific expedition" to "Mount Induc". Posing as a scientist, Gurdjieff left Essentuki with fourteen companions (excluding Gurdjieff's family and Ouspensky). They traveled by train to Maikop, where hostilities delayed them for three weeks. In spring 1919, Gurdjieff met the artist Alexandre de Salzmann and his wife Jeanne and accepted them as pupils. Assisted by Jeanne de Salzmann, Gurdjieff gave the first public demonstration of his Sacred Dances (Movements at the Tbilisi Opera House, 22 June).
In the autumn of 1919, Gurdjieff and his closest pupils moved to Tbilisi, formerly known as Tiflis. There Gurdjieff's wife, Julia Ostrowska, Mr and Mrs Stjoernval, Mr and Mrs de Hartmann and Mr and Mrs de Salzmann, gathered the fundamentals of his teaching. Gurdjieff concentrated on his still unstaged ballet, The Struggle of the Magicians; Thomas de Hartmann (who had made his debut years ago, before Czar Nicholas II of Russia) worked on the music for the ballet; and Olga Ivanovna Hinzenberg (who years later wed the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright) practiced the ballet dances. In 1919, Gurdjieff established his first Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.
In late May 1920, when political conditions in Georgia changed and the old order was crumbling, his party travelled by foot to Batumi on the Black Sea coast and then[clarification needed] to Istanbul. 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 kha’neqa’h (monastery) of the Molavieh Order of Sufis (founded by Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi), where Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Thomas de Hartmann witnessed the sema ceremony of The Whirling Dervishes. In Istanbul, Gurdjieff also met his future pupil Capt. John G. Bennett, then head of British Military Intelligence in Constantinople, who describes his impression of Gurdjieff as follows:
It was there that I first met Gurdjieff in the autumn of 1920, and no surroundings could have been more appropriate. In Gurdjieff, East and West do not just meet. Their difference is annihilated in a world outlook which knows no distinctions of race or creed. This was my first, and has remained one of my strongest impressions. A Greek from the Caucasus, he spoke Turkish with an accent of unexpected purity, the accent that one associates with those born and bred in the narrow circle of the Imperial Court. His appearance was striking enough even in Turkey, where one saw many unusual types. His head was shaven, immense black moustache, eyes which at one moment seemed very pale and at another almost black. Below average height, he gave nevertheless an impression of great physical strength
In August 1921 and 1922, Gurdjieff travelled around western Europe, lecturing and giving demonstrations of his work in various cities, such as Berlin and London. He attracted the allegiance of Ouspensky's many prominent pupils (notably the editor A. R. Orage). After an unsuccessful attempt to gain British citizenship, 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. This once-impressive but somewhat crumbling mansion, set in extensive grounds, housed an entourage of several dozen, including some of Gurdjieff's remaining relatives and some White Russian refugees.
New pupils included C. S. Nott, René Zuber, Margaret Anderson and her ward Fritz Peters. The generally intellectual and middle-class types who were attracted to Gurdjieff's teaching often found the Prieuré's spartan accommodation and emphasis on hard labour in the grounds disconcerting. Gurdjieff was putting into practice his teaching that man needs to develop physically, emotionally and intellectually, hence the mixture of lectures, music, dance, and manual work. Older pupils noticed how the Prieuré teaching differed from the complex metaphysical "system" that had been taught in Russia. In addition to the physical hardships, his personal behaviour towards pupils could be ferocious:
Gurdjieff was standing by his bed in a state of what seemed to me to be completely uncontrolled fury. He was raging at Orage, who stood impassively, and very pale, framed in one of the windows . . . Suddenly, in the space of an instant, Gurdjieff's voice stopped, his whole personality changed, he gave me a broad smile—looking incredibly peaceful and inwardly quiet— motioned me to leave, and then resumed his tirade with undiminished force. This happened so quickly that I do not believe that Mr. Orage even noticed the break in the rhythm.
During this period, Gurdjieff acquired notoriety as "the man who killed Katherine Mansfield" after Katherine Mansfield died there of tuberculosis under his care on 9 January 1923. However, James Moore and Ouspensky convincingly show that Mansfield knew she would soon die and that Gurdjieff made her last days happy and fulfilling.
Starting in 1924, Gurdjieff made visits to North America, where he eventually received the pupils taught previously by A.R. Orage. In 1924, while driving alone from Paris to Fontainebleau, he had a near-fatal car accident. Nursed by his wife and mother, he made a slow and painful recovery against medical expectation. Still convalescent, he formally "disbanded" his institute on 26 August (in fact he dispersed only his "less dedicated" pupils), which he explained as an undertaking "in the future, under the pretext of different worthy reasons, to remove from my eyesight all those who by this or that make my life too comfortable."
After recovering, he began writing Beelzebub's Tales, the first part of All and Everything in a mixture of Russian and Armenian. The book was deliberately convoluted and obscure, forcing the reader to "work" to find its meaning. He also composed it according his own principles, writing in noisy cafes to force a greater effort of concentration.
In 1925 Gurdjieff's mother died, and his wife developed cancer; she was to die in June 1926 as a result of Gurdjieff's well-intentioned but medically unsound radium water and magnetic treatments. Ouspensky attended her funeral. According to Fritz Peters, Gurdjieff was in New York from November 1925 to the spring of 1926, when he succeeded in raising over $100,000. In all he was to make six or seven trips to the U.S. During them he alienated a number of people with his brash and undisguised demands for money. Some[who?] have interpreted this in terms of his following the Malamatiyya technique of the Sufis, deliberately attracting disapproval.
Despite his fund-raising efforts in America, the Prieuré operation ran into debt and was shut down in 1932. Gurdjieff constituted a new teaching group in Paris. Known as The Rope, it comprised only women, many of them writers, and many lesbians. Members included Kathryn Hulme, Jane Heap, Margaret Anderson and Enrico Caruso's widow, Dorothy. Gurdjieff became acquainted with Gertrude Stein through Rope members, although she was never a follower of his.
In 1935 Gurdjieff stopped work on All and Everything. He had completed the first two parts of the planned trilogy but only started on the Third Series. (It was later published under the title Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'.) In 1936, he settled in a flat at 6, Rue des Colonels-Renard in Paris, where he was to stay for the rest of his life. In 1937, his brother Dmitry died, and The Rope disbanded.
Although the flat at 6 Rue des Colonels-Renard was very small for the purpose, he continued to teach groups of pupils throughout World War II. Visitors recalled the pantry, stocked with an extraordinary collection of eastern delicacies, that served as his inner sanctum, and the suppers he held with elaborate toasts to "idiots" in vodka and cognac. Having cut a physically impressive figure for many years, he was now distinctly paunchy. His teaching was now far removed from the original "system", being based on proverbs, jokes and personal interaction, although pupils were required to read, three times if possible, copies of his magnum opus Beelzebub's Tales.
His personal business enterprises (he had intermittently been a dealer in oriental rugs and carpets for much of his life, among other activities) enabled him to offer charitable relief to neighbours who had been affected by the difficult circumstances of the war, and also brought him to the attention of the authorities, leading to a night in the cells.
After the war, Gurdjieff tried to re-connect with his former pupils. Ouspensky was reluctant, but after his death (October 1947), his widow advised his remaining pupils to see Gurdjieff in Paris. J. G. Bennett also visited from England, the first meeting for 25 years. Ouspensky's pupils in England had all thought that Gurdjieff was dead. They discovered he was alive only after Ouspensky's death. The latter had not told them that Gurdjieff still was living. They were overjoyed to hear this, and numbers of Ouspensky's pupils including Rina Hands, Basil Tilley and Catherine Murphy visited Gurdjieff in Paris. Hands and Murphy worked like Trojans on the endless typing and re-typing of the forthcoming book "All and Everything".
Gurdjieff suffered a second car accident in 1948, but again made an unexpected recovery.
"[I] was looking at a dying man. Even this is not enough to express it. It was a dead man, a corpse, that came out of the car; and yet it walked. I was shivering like someone who sees a ghost.”
With iron-like tenacity Gurdjieff managed to gain his room, where he sat down and said: “Now all organs are destroyed. Must make new.” Then he turned to Bennett, smiling: “Tonight you come dinner. I must make body work.” As he spoke a great spasm of pain shook his body and blood gushed from an ear. Bennett thought: “He has a cerebral haemorrhage. He will kill himself if he continues to force his body to move.” But then he reflected: “He has to do all this. If he allows his body to stop moving, he will die. He has power over his body.”
After recovering, Gurdjieff finalised plans for the official publication of Beelzebub's Tales and made two trips to New York. He also visited the famous prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux, giving his interpretation of their significance to his pupils.
Gurdjieff died on October 29, 1949, at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. His funeral took place at the St. Alexandre Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral at 12 Rue Daru, Paris. He is buried in the cemetery at Fontainebleau-Avon.
Gurdjieff had seven known natural children:
Clarification: Svetlana Hinzenberg – b. Sept. 27, 1917, d. Sept. 30, 1946 Mother: Olga (Olgivanna) Ianovna Lazovich, Father (of Record): Valdemar Hinzenberg. "In the winter of 1919, humoring a friend, she (Olgivanna) left her apartment to see a visiting Armenian-born mystic, a man who was said to teach dances that could develop the will. She was, she recalled, "looking for something beyond the limits of my senses." Friedland & Zellman: "The Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright & The Taliesin Fellowship." HarperCollins, 2006. page 18, citing OLW, Autobiography.
Gurdjieff claimed that people cannot perceive reality in their current states because they do not possess consciousness but rather live in a state of a hypnotic "waking sleep."
"Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies." As a result of this condition, each person perceives things from a completely subjective perspective. He asserted that people in their typical state function as unconscious automatons, but that one can "wake up" and become a different sort of human being altogether.
Gurdjieff argued that many of the existing forms of religious and spiritual tradition on Earth had lost connection with their original meaning and vitality and so could no longer serve humanity in the way that had been intended at their inception. As a result humans were failing to realize the truths of ancient teachings and were instead becoming more and more like automatons, susceptible to control from outside and increasingly capable of otherwise unthinkable acts of mass psychosis such as World War I. At best, the various surviving sects and schools could provide only a one-sided development, which did not result in a fully integrated human being.
According to Gurdjieff, only one dimension of the three dimensions of the person—namely, either the emotions, or the physical body or the mind—tends to develop in such schools and sects, and generally at the expense of the other faculties or centers, as Gurdjieff called them. As a result these paths fail to produce a properly balanced human being. Furthermore, anyone wishing to undertake any of the traditional paths to spiritual knowledge (which Gurdjieff reduced to three—namely the path of the fakir, the path of the monk, and the path of the yogi) were required to renounce life in the world. Gurdjieff thus developed a "Fourth Way" which would be amenable to the requirements of modern people living modern lives in Europe and America. Instead of developing body, mind, or emotions separately, Gurdjieff's discipline worked on all three to promote comprehensive and balanced inner development.
In parallel with other spiritual traditions, Gurdjieff taught that one must expend considerable effort to effect the transformation that leads to awakening. The effort that one puts into practice Gurdjieff referred to as The Work or Work on oneself. According to Gurdjieff, "...Working on oneself is not so difficult as wishing to work, taking the decision." Though Gurdjieff never put major significance on the term "Fourth Way" and never used the term in his writings, his pupil P.D. Ouspensky from 1924 to 1947 made the term and its use central to his own teaching of Gurdjieff's ideas. After Ouspensky's death, his students published a book titled The Fourth Way based on his lectures.
Gurdjieff's teaching addressed the question of humanity's place in the universe and the importance of developing latent potentialities—regarded as our natural endowment as human beings but rarely brought to fruition. He taught that higher levels of consciousness, higher bodies, inner growth and development are real possibilities that nonetheless require conscious work to achieve.
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 what is commonly attributed to them. "Sleep not"; "Awake, for you know not the hour"; and "The Kingdom of Heaven is Within" are examples of biblical statements which point to a psychological teaching whose essence has been forgotten.
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, the aim of which is to transform people into what Gurdjieff believed they ought to be.
Distrusting "morality," which he describes as varying from culture to culture, often contradictory and hypocritical, Gurdjieff greatly stressed the importance of conscience.
To provide conditions in which inner attention could be exercised more intensively, Gurdjieff also taught his pupils "sacred dances" or "movements," later known as the Gurdjieff movements, which they performed together as a group. He also left a body of music, inspired by what he heard in visits to remote monasteries and other places, written for piano in collaboration with one of his pupils, Thomas de Hartmann. Gurdjieff also used various exercises, such as the "Stop" exercise, to prompt self-observation in his students. Other shocks to help awaken his pupils from constant daydreaming were always possible at any moment.
The Work is in essence a training in the development of consciousness. During his lifetime Gurdjieff used a number of different methods and materials, including meetings, music, movements (sacred dance), writings, lectures, and innovative forms of group and individual work. Part of the function of these various methods was to undermine and undo the ingrained habit patterns of the mind and bring about moments of insight. Since each individual has different requirements, Gurdjieff did not have a one-size-fits-all approach, and he adapted and innovated as circumstance required. In Russia he was described as keeping his teaching confined to a small circle, whereas in Paris and North America he gave numerous public demonstrations.
Gurdjieff felt that the traditional methods of self-knowledge—those of the fakir, monk, and yogi (acquired, respectively, through pain, devotion, and study)—were inadequate on their own and often led to various forms of stagnation and one-sidedness. His methods were designed to augment the traditional paths with the purpose of hastening the developmental process. He sometimes called these methods The Way of the Sly Man because they constituted a sort of short-cut through a process of development that might otherwise carry on for years without substantive results. The teacher, possessing consciousness, sees the individual requirements of the disciple and sets tasks that he knows will result in a transformation of consciousness in that individual. Instructive historical parallels can be found in the annals of Zen Buddhism, where teachers employed a variety of methods (sometimes highly unorthodox) to bring about the arising of insight in the student.
The Gurdjieff music divides into three distinct periods. The first period is the early music, including music from the ballet Struggle of the Magicians and music for early Movements, dating to the years around 1918.
The second period music, for which Gurdjieff arguably became best known, written in collaboration with Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann, is described as the Gurdjieff-de Hartmann music. Dating to the mid-1920s, it offers a rich repertory with roots in Caucasian and Central Asian folk and religious music, Russian Orthodox liturgical music, and other sources. This music was often first heard in the salon at the Prieuré, where much was composed. Since the publication of four volumes of this piano repertory by Schott, recently completed, there has been a wealth of new recordings, including orchestral versions of music prepared by Gurdjieff and de Hartmann for the Movements demonstrations of 1923–24. Solo piano versions of these works have been recorded by Cecil Lytle and Keith Jarrett.
The last musical period is the improvised harmonium music which often followed the dinners Gurdjieff held in his Paris apartment during the Occupation and immediate post-war years, to his death in 1949. A virtually encyclopedic collection of surviving recordings was recently released. A detailed booklet includes thoughts from producer Gert-Jan Blom and a preface by Robert Fripp. In all, Gurdjieff in collaboration with de Hartmann composed some 200 pieces. And most recently in May 2010, 38 minutes of unreleased solo piano music on acetate was purchased by Neil Kempfer Stocker from the estate of his late step-daughter Dushka Howarth.
Movements, or sacred dances, constitute an integral part of the Gurdjieff Work. 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 taught that group efforts both enhance and surpass individual efforts, preparing them to practice a new psychology of evolution. To accomplish this, he declared that he needed to constantly innovate and create new alarm clocks to awaken his sleeping students, "as Jesus had done 1900 years before." Students regularly met with group leaders; both separately and in group meetings, and came together for "work periods" where intensive conscious labor, connected with the forms mentioned above. Work in the kitchen was a special task and sometimes elaborate meals were prepared. This work was the lowest of the three: food, air, and impressions. Special exercises were given for air and impressions as they were viewed as being more important.
According to Gurdjieff, the work of schools of the Fourth Way never remains the same for long. In some cases, this has led to a break between student and teacher as is the case of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff. The outward appearance of the School and the group work can change according to the circumstances. He believed that the inner individual expression, such as the practice of self-remembering with self-observation and the non-expression of negative emotions, always remains the same and could never change, for that is the guarantee of ultimate self-development.
A follower of Gurdjieff, former American Fabrics magazine publisher William C. Segal, tells of periods of hard labor around the clock—which, in the Gurdjieff system, are known as "super-efforts". According to Gurdjieff, only super-efforts count in the Work. In 1948 and 1949, Segal was sporadically in contact with Gurdjieff, who had been the teacher of avant-garde lesbian Jane Heap. In 1951, at 26, Peter Brook became a pupil of Heap in London and Segal published the magazine Gentry. As Segal would write in the poem "Silence Clarity", "... It is through the body that sits here/ that I go to my true nature." A voice at the borders of silence would conclude, "... It is through the mind that stands still/ that I experience my true nature."
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. There are two English translations of this work, one carried out under his supervision and the other posthumously published in 1991. Gurdjieff was said to have deliberately tried to increase the effort needed to read and understand the book. As a result, the book is perhaps not the best introduction to Gurdjieff's ideas since part of the book's intention is "to frustrate and usurp the normal patterns of thought." The second volume, Meetings with Remarkable Men, is written in an accessible manner, and purports to be an autobiography of his early years, but also contains many allegorical statements. His final volume, left unfinished (Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am') contains a fragment of an autobiographical description of later years, as well as transcripts of some of his lectures.
Gurdjieff's own writings are generally not considered the best introduction to his thought. His own writings do not present any sort of systematisation that clearly existed in his private teachings. Several of Gurdjieff's students kept records of these teachings and published their own accounts. The most highly regarded of these accounts are considered to be those of P D Ouspensky .
As Gurdjieff explained to Ouspensky ... "for exact understanding exact language is necessary." In his first series of writings, Gurdjieff explains how difficult it is to choose an ordinary language to convey his thoughts exactly. He continues..."the Russian language is like the English...both these languages are like the dish which is called in Moscow 'Solianka', and into which everything goes except you and me..." In spite of the difficulties, he goes on to develop a special vocabulary of a new language, all of it his own. He uses these new words particularly in the first series of his writings. However, in The Herald of Coming Good, he uses one particular word for the first time: "Tzvarnoharno", allegedly coined by King Solomon.
Opinions on Gurdjieff's writings and activities are divided. Sympathizers regard him as a charismatic master who brought new knowledge into Western culture, a psychology and cosmology that enable insights beyond those provided by established science. On the other hand, some critics assert he was a charlatan with a large ego and a constant need for self-glorification. Gurdjieff is said to have had a strong influence on many modern mystics, artists, writers, and thinkers, including Walter Inglis Anderson, Raymond Armin, Kevin Ayers, Peter Brook, Kate Bush, Carlos Castaneda, Abdullah Isa Neil Dougan, Muriel Draper, Robert Fripp, Keith Jarrett, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Timothy Leary, Dennis Lewis, James Moore, Jacob Needleman, Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh), Louis Pauwels, Robert S de Ropp, George Russell (composer), Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, John Shirley, Jean Toomer, Jeremy Lane (writer), P. L. Travers, Alan Watts, Robert Anton Wilson and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Gurdjieff's notable personal students include Jeanne de Salzmann, Willem Nyland, Lord Pentland (Henry John Sinclair), P. D. Ouspensky, Olga de Hartmann, Thomas de Hartmann, Jane Heap, John G. Bennett, Alfred Richard Orage, Maurice Nicoll, Lanza del Vasto, George and Helen Adie, Rene Daumal and Katherine Mansfield. The Italian composer and singer Franco Battiato was sometime inspired by Gurdjieff's work, for example in his song "Centro di gravità permanente"—one of most popular modern Italian pop songs. Aleister Crowley visited his Institute at least once and privately praised Gurdjieff's work, though with some reservations. During WWI, Algernon Blackwood took up spying while reporting to John Buchan, author of The Thirty Nine Steps. After the war, during the Roaring Twenties, Blackwood studied with Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
Gurdjieff gave new life and practical form to ancient teachings of both East and West. For example, the Socratic and Platonic emphasis on "the examined life" recurs in Gurdjieff's teaching as the practice of self-observation. His teachings about self-discipline and restraint reflect Stoic teachings. The Hindu and Buddhist notion of attachment recurs in Gurdjieff's teaching as the concept of identification. His descriptions of the "three being-foods" matches that of Ayurveda, and his statement that "time is breath" echoes jyotish, the Vedic system of astrology. Similarly, his cosmology can be "read" against ancient and esoteric sources, respectively Neoplatonic and in such sources as Robert Fludd's treatment of macrocosmic musical structures.
An aspect of Gurdjieff's teachings which has come into prominence in recent decades is the enneagram geometric figure. For many students of the Gurdjieff tradition, the enneagram remains a koan, challenging and never fully explained. There have been many attempts to trace the origins of this version of the enneagram; some similarities to other figures have been found, but it seems that Gurdjieff was the first person to make the enneagram figure publicly known and that only he knew its true source. Others have used the enneagram figure in connection with personality analysis, principally in the Enneagram of Personality as developed by Oscar Ichazo, Claudio Naranjo, Helen Palmer and others. Most aspects of this application are not directly connected to Gurdjieff's teaching or to his explanations of the enneagram.
The science-fiction and horror novelist John Shirley has written an introductory work on Gurdjieff for Penguin/Tarcher, Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas.
Gurdjieff inspired the formation of many groups after his death, all of which still function today and follow his ideas. The Gurdjieff Foundation, the largest organization directly influenced by the ideas of Gurdjieff, was organized by Jeanne de Salzmann during the early 1950s, and led by her in cooperation with other pupils of his.
Various pupils of Gurdjieff and his direct students have formed other groups. Willem Nyland, one of Gurdjieff's closest students and an original founder and trustee of The Gurdjieff Foundation of New York, left to form his own groups in the early 1960s. Jane Heap was sent to London by Gurdjieff, where she led groups until her death in 1964. Louise Goepfert March, who became a pupil of Gurdjieff's in 1929, started her own groups in 1957 and founded the Rochester Folk Art Guild in the Finger Lakes region of New York State; her efforts were closely linked to the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York. Independent groups were formed and led by John G. Bennett and Mrs. Staveley.
Gurdjieff student Lord Pentland connects the Gurdjieff group-work with the later rise of encounter groups. Groups also often meet to prepare for demonstrations or performances to which the public is invited.
Gurdjieff's notable pupils include:
Jeanne de Salzmann, originally a teacher of dance, recognized as his deputy by many of Gurdjieff's other pupils. She was responsible for transmitting the movements and teachings of Gurdjieff through the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York, the Gurdjieff Institute of Paris, and other groups.
Willem Nyland was considered by some to be Gurdjieff's closest pupil, after Jeanne de Salzmann; he was appointed for an undisclosed special task by Gurdjieff in the USA. At present, Mr. Nyland's groups exist in small concentrations across the United States, most notably at two locations, one termed "The Barn" in rural New York, and another termed "The Land" in Northern California. These groups are thought to be unique amongst recognized Gurdjieff groups, in that they are the only groups to have recorded their original meetings, resulting in an audio library in excess of many thousands of hours, featuring almost exclusively talks by a first-hand student of Gurdjieff. Many of these tapes have also been transcribed and indexed according to subject matter, but neither the tapes nor transcriptions are available to the general public.
Henry John Sinclair, 2nd Baron Pentland was a pupil of Ouspensky for many years during the 1930s and 1940s. He began to study intensely with Gurdjieff in 1948. He was appointed by Gurdjieff as his representative to publish Beelzebub's Tales, and then to lead the Work in North America. He became president of the Gurdjieff Foundation when it was established in New York in 1953, and remained in that position until his death in 1984.
Jane Heap, an American publisher, met Gurdjieff during his 1924 visit to New York, and set up a Gurdjieff study group at her apartment in Greenwich Village. In 1925, she moved to Paris to study at Gurdjieff’s Institute, and in 1935 to London to set up a new study group.
Peter D. Ouspensky, a Russian esoteric philosopher, met Gurdjieff in 1916 and spent the next few years studying with him, later forming his own independent groups which also focused on the Fourth Way. He wrote In Search of the Miraculous about his experiences with Gurdjieff.
Thomas de Hartmann, a Russian composer and prominent student and collaborator of Gurdjieff, first met Gurdjieff in 1916 in Saint Petersburg. From 1917 to 1929 he was a pupil and confidant of Gurdjieff. During that time, at Gurdjieff's Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man near Paris, de Hartmann transcribed and co-wrote much of the music that Gurdjieff collected and used for his Movements exercises, as well as additional music not intended to accompany Movements. Olga de Hartmann was Gurdjieff's personal secretary for many years, and collected many of Gurdjieff's early talks in the book Views from the Real World (1973).
In 1924, Alfred Richard Orage, a British intellectual, the editor of the magazine, The New Age, was appointed by Gurdjieff as the assistant of another old follower of Gurdjieff to lead study groups in America, but due to Gurdjieff’s nearly fatal automobile accident, the one who was supposed to lead the groups never went to US and Orage decided to lead the groups on his own initiation.
Maurice Nicoll became a pupil of Gurdjieff in 1922. A year later, when Gurdjieff closed his Institute, Nicoll joined Ouspensky's group. In 1931, he followed Ouspensky's advice and started his own groups in England. He is perhaps best known as the author of the five volume series of texts on the teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky: Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (Boston: Shambhala, 1996, and Samuel Weiser Inc., 1996).
John G. Bennett, a British technologist, industrial research director, and author best known for his many books on psychology and spirituality, and particularly the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff, whom Bennett met in Istanbul in 1921.
Olgivanna Lazovich who later became Mrs. Olgivanna Lloyd Wright when she married the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, was a student of Gurdjieff, as was their daughter, Iovanna Lloyd Wright. After returning to Taliesin, Iovanna instituted classes in Gurdjieffian Dance Movements, which apprentices were required to participate in and learn. On Wednesday afternoons, Mr. Wright would read to his pupils and discuss Gurdjieff's ideas expressed in All and Everything, and in Ouspensky's book, In Search of the Miraculous.
Fritz (Arthur H) Peters. An American who first encountered Gurdjieff at the age of 11. He arrived at the Prieuré under the care of his mother's sister, Margaret Anderson, where he took on the role of Gurdjieff's personal assistant and errand-boy, also receiving an hour of personal tuition each week. Peters returned to the US, but was to have a string of meetings with Gurdjieff in subsequent years. He wrote a reminiscence of his time with Gurdjieff (as well as the novel Finistere), but was never a central figure in the US Work groups.
Maurice Desselle was with Gurdjieff during and after WW2 in Paris. He became a 'group leader' in France and also visited London where he was respected and loved by the pupils. He continued to visit until old age made it impossible. A saying of his, often quoted, in speaking about Work on oneself, was, "I said it is simple; I did not say it is easy." A feature of M. Desselle was his directness and lack endless explanation leading nowhere.
Kenneth Macfarlane Walker (1882–1966) was a British author and urologist. Among many other books he wrote The Log of the Ark with Geoffrey Boumphrey in 1923, Life's Long Journey and A Study of Gurdjieff's Teaching. Walker also published the book "Meaning and Purpose" - An analysis of the main scientific theories of the last hundred years and their impact upon religious thought and belief, in 1944, aimed at questioning the completeness of "Charles Darwin's" theory of natural selection and evolution, as well as evaluating the most relevant scientific discoveries at the time of publication and their effect on the general population.
Louis Pauwels, among others, criticizes Gurdjieff for his insistence on considering people as "asleep" in a state closely resembling "hypnotic sleep." Gurdjieff said, even specifically at times, that a pious, good, and moral man was no more "spiritually developed" than any other person; they are all equally "asleep."
Henry Miller approved of Gurdjieff's not considering himself holy but, after writing a brief introduction to Fritz Peters' book Boyhood with Gurdjieff, Miller wrote that man is not meant to lead a "harmonious life," as Gurdjieff claimed in naming his institute.
Critics note that Gurdjieff gives no value to most of the elements that comprise the life of an average man. According to Gurdjieff, everything an "average man" possesses, accomplishes, does, and feels is completely accidental and without any initiative. A common everyday ordinary man is born a machine and dies a machine without any chance of being anything else. This belief seems to run counter to the Judeo-Christian tradition that man is a living soul. Gurdjieff believed that the possession of a soul (a state of psychological unity which he equated with being "awake") was a "luxury" that a disciple could attain only by the most painstaking work of over a long period of time. The majority—in whom the true meaning of the gospel failed to take root—went the "broad way" that "led to destruction."
In Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson (see bibliography), Gurdjieff expresses his reverence for the founders of the mainstream religions of East and West and his contempt (by and large) for what successive generations of believers have made of those religious teachings. His discussions of "orthodoxhydooraki" and "heterodoxhydooraki"—orthodox fools and heterodox fools, from the Russian word durak (fool)—position him as a critic of religious distortion and, in turn, as a target for criticism from some within those traditions. Gurdjieff has been interpreted by some, Ouspensky among others, to have had a total disregard for the value of mainstream religion, philanthropic work and the value of doing right or wrong in general.
Gurdjieff's former students who have criticized him argue that, despite his seeming total lack of pretension to any kind of "guru holiness," in many anecdotes his behavior displays the unsavory and impure character of a man who was a cynical manipulator of his followers. Gurdjieff's own pupils wrestled to understand him. For example, in a written exchange between Luc Dietrich and Henri Tracol dating to 1943: "L.D.: How do you know that Gurdjieff wishes you well? H.T.: I feel sometimes how little I interest him—and how strongly he takes an interest in me. By that I measure the strength of an intentional feeling."
Louis Pauwels wrote Monsieur Gurdjieff (first edition published in Paris, France in 1954 by Editions du Seuil). In an interview, Pauwels said of the Gurdjieff work: "... After two years of exercises which both enlightened and burned me, I found myself in a hospital bed with a thrombosed central vein in my left eye and weighing ninety-nine pounds...Horrible anguish and abysses opened up for me. But it was my fault."
Pauwels claims Karl Haushofer, the father of geopolitics whose protegee was Deputy Reich Führer Rudolf Hess, as one of the real "seekers after truth" described by Gurdjieff. According to Rom Landau, a journalist in the 1930s, as reported to him by Achmed Abdullah: at the beginning of the 20th century, Gurdjieff was a Russian secret agent in Tibet who went by the name of "Hambro Akuan Dorzhieff" (i.e. Agvan Dorjiev), chief tutor to the Dalai Lama. However, reports have it that Dorzhieff went to live in the Buddhist temple erected in St. Petersburg and after the revolution, he was imprisoned by Stalin. James Webb conjectures that Gurdjieff may have been Dorzhieff's assistant Ushe Narzunoff (i.e. Ovshe Norzunov) but this is untenable.
Colin Wilson writes about "...Gurdjieff's reputation for seducing his female students. (In Providence, Rhode Island, in 1960, a man was pointed out to me as one of Gurdjieff's illegitimate children. The professor who told me this also assured me that Gurdjieff had left many children around America)."
In the early 1930s Gurdjieff publicly ridiculed one of his pupils, Alfred Richard Orage. In response, his wife Jessie Dwight wrote the following poem about Gurdjieff:
He call himself, deluded man,
The Tiger of The Turkestan.
And greater he than God or Devil
Eschewing good and preaching evil.
His followers whom he does glut on
Are for him naught but wool and mutton,
And still they come and sit agape
With Tiger's rage and Tiger's rape.
Why not, they say, The man's a god;
We have it on the sacred word.
His book will set the world on fire.
He says so—can God be a liar?
But what is woman, says Gurdjieff,
Just nothing but man's handkerchief.
I need a new one every day,
Let others for the washing pay.
In The Oragean Version, C. Daly King surmised that the problem that Gurdjieff had with Orage's teachings was that the "Oragean Version", Orage himself, was not emotional enough in Gurdjieff's estimation and had not enough "incredulity" and faith. King wrote that Gurdjieff did not state it as clearly and specifically as this, but was quick to add that to him, nothing Gurdjieff said was specific or clear.
Gurdjieff's views have arguably become 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, Rodney Collins among others, regard as a crucial introduction to the teaching. Others refer to Gurdjieff's own books (detailed below) as the primary texts.
Published accounts of time spent with Gurdjieff have appeared written 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 found themselves drawn to his "ideas table": Frank Lloyd Wright, Kathryn Hulme, P. L. Travers, Katherine Mansfield, Jeremy Lane (writer), Jean Toomer and Ethel Merston.
Three books by Gurdjieff were published in the English language in the United States after his death: Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson published in 1950 by E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc., Meetings with Remarkable Men, published in 1963 by E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc., and Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am', printed privately by E. P. Dutton & Co. and published in 1978 by Triangle Editions Inc. for private distribution only. 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. Jeanne de Salzmann and Peter Brook wrote the film, Brook directed, and Dragan Maksimovic and Terence Stamp star, as does South African playwright and actor, Athol Fugard.
Spiritual Physics, Jerry Brewster, edited by J/ Anderson & M. May Lulu Publ. Group Work With Rita Romilly Benson, edited by Marshall May Lulu Publ
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