• Gurdjieff

    Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff (Russian: Георгий Иванович Гурджиев) (January 13, 1866? – October 29, 1949) was a Greek-Armenian, the remarkable teacher of psycho-spiritual transformation  and self-professed ‘teacher of dancing’.  His discipline « The Work » (connoting « work on oneself ») according to Gurdjieff’s principles and instructions or (originally) the « Fourth Way » 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.The essence of his teachings is expressed in the title of his third series of writings: Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’. At one point he described his teaching as « esoteric Christianity ».


    Gurdjieff was born in Alexandropol (now Gyumri), Armenia, he was born in the Caucasian Region of the Russian Empire. 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 (where he attracted his first students) and St. Petersburg in 1913. The only account of Gurdjieff’s early life before he appeared in Moscow in 1912 appears in his text Meetings with Remarkable Men. In the same year he married Julia Ostrowska in St 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 thirty pupils.

    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 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 1922, he settled in France, first near Fontainebleau and later in Paris.

    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. Timelines, facts and whereabouts of Gurdjieff’s early biography before he appeared in Moscow in 1913 are found in his text « Meetings with Remarkable Men ».


    The teachings which he brought to the West were derived from his studies among the Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi masters that he encountered during his travels in Central Asia.  His studies focused upon techniques necessary to obtain self-awareness and understanding of humanity’s place in the Cosmos. The techniques do not require withdrawal to a monastery, but may be utilized while participating in ordinary life.  These Gurdjieff techniques came to be referred to collectively as the « Fourth Way. »

    He offered sophisticated and realistic teachings about the human condition and human potential. Gurdjieff advocated a method of human psychological transformation through the practice of intense, holistic and unadulterated psychological exercises directed toward awakening higher levels of consciousness while continuing to function in the activities of everyday life. Today, many years after his death in 1949, his teachings are being kept alive by many Gurdjieff organizations around the world.

    At different times in his life Gurdjieff formed and closed various schools around the world which followed his teachings.

    Gurdjieff believed that because of our conditioning and education most of us live our lives as unconscious automatons. Oblivious to our own real potential, our essence, we are totally « identified » with our personality, our self-image, and with whatever thoughts, feelings, images, daydreams, or sensations capture our attention at the moment. Because we so quickly and mechanically say « I » to each impulse as it arises, says Gurdjieff, especially those impulses that support our self-image, we believe we are masters of ourselves, seldom noticing our own inner fragmentation and our lack of will and choice as a result of this fragmentation. We lose ourselves at every moment in one or another aspect of our lives, out of touch with the remarkable wholeness that is our birthright.

    Self-observation is a powerful method not only of self-study but also of self-change. Self-observation as described by Gurdjieff is an intimate pathway into one’s own mind, body, and spirit. It allows us to experience new levels of self-awareness, and by so doing to live more conscious, harmonious lives.

    One of the foundations of the Gurdjieff Work is what is called « sittings, » a profound form of inner work that is passed down orally from teacher to student. Though the various sitting exercises that Gurdjieff passed on to his students are not available to the general public, the basic approach has been described in some detail in Jean Vaysse’s excellent book on Gurdjieff’s teachings, called Toward Awakening. Though it is important, of course, eventually to learn how to observe oneself in any circumstance, it is helpful to begin by sitting quietly for at least 20 minutes at the beginning of each day with one’s eyes closed and one’s spine erect but supple. As one begins to relax more and more into this very simple posture, allowing one’s attention to gradually occupy the whole of one’s body, one will begin to experience a new, more comprehensive sensation of oneself. It is this sensation that makes it possible to see, hear, and « record » our thoughts, feelings, intuitions, postures, and so on, and how these various functions influence one another in this complex « machine » that one calls oneself.

    Self-observation of « sensations » can be experienced at many different levels, depending on one’s degree of relaxation and attention. Though Gurdjieff himself does not define these levels of sensation, at least not in any of his published works, they become quite clear in a deep, sustained work of self-observation. These levels include the automatic sensation of aches and pains; the deeper sensation of muscular tensions and contractions; the more subtle sensation of temperature and movement: the uniform « prickly » sensation of one’s skin; the living, breathing sensation of one’s internal organs, bones, tissues, and fluids; and the integrative sensation of the body’s energy circuits, connecting all the organs and functions of one’s being.

    Gurdjieff makes clear that our feelings and emotions are the horses that drive the carriage of our body. And it is our feelings and emotions that most clearly shape and reflect our relationship, our attitudes, to ourselves and the world. As we continue the work of self-sensing, for example, we will see that certain kinds of feelings open us, allowing our awareness to move freely throughout our organism, while other kinds close us, locking awareness and impressions out. We will also become convinced that the real observation and study of emotions is not a mental or psychological process, but rather a physical one.

    Our breathing not only connects us with the outer world, but it also connects our body, mind, emotions, and spirit, and will always show us, if we can be receptive to it, the various forces acting at the moment. Our breathing can even help show us where the experiences and impressions that we are unable to face are resonating in our bodies.

    Gurdjieff warns us, quite rightly, that any attempt to manipulate or change our breathing without sufficient knowledge of our organism can over time cause many problems. It is crucial, therefore, especially at the beginning of the work of self-observation, to learn to sense, to follow, our breathing without attempting to change it in any way.

    This approach to self-observation is a very intimate one, since it gives each of us an opportunity to learn more about ourselves in the most direct way possible. What’s more, it begins to alter our very being: the light of consciousness begins to penetrate into the dark recesses of our being, relax our somatic structures and tissues, and gradually allow the energy to flow more harmoniously and lawfully. Nevertheless, for self-observation to bring the ultimate self-knowledge and transformation that is possible, most of us will eventually need the help not only of an outside teacher or group such as one finds in the Gurdjieff work, but also of a somatic practitioner.

    Even in the special conditions of the Gurdjieff Work, however, self-observation does not always bring to light some of the deepest springs of our behaviour and being. Because of our extensive conditioning by family, friends, education, and society, and the powerful interrelationships that exist between somatic structure, breathing, and emotions, there are almost always deep contractions, tensions, and disharmonies in our muscles, viscera, and nervous system that cannot be sensed except through a deep, direct work with the body and breathing. In many cases, this will require a skilled somatic practitioner, or a spiritual teacher who utilizes somatic work, who can work with us individually to help us experience the ways in which our bodies are not only reflecting but also maintaining powerful emotional attitudes that we are unable to observe on our own, no matter how hard we try or how sensitive we are. In many cases, this work cannot be done only through words, movement, and meditation. It may also require the art and science of someone else’s physical touch to awaken and guide our deeper organic energy and awareness through the deep tensions, contractions, and sensory disharmonies of our being. (1997 by Dennis Lewis, http://www.dennislewis.org)

    Here Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff  explains what means by objective art

    « You must first of all remember that there are two kinds of art, one quite different from the other — objective art and subjective art. All that you know, all that you call art, is subjective art, that is, something that I do not call art at all because it is only objective art that I call art.

    To define what I call objective art is difficult first of all because you ascribe to subjective art the characteristics of objective art, and secondly because when you happen upon objective works of art you take them as being on the same level as subjective works of art.

    I will try to make my idea clear. You say — an artist creates. I say this only in connection with objective art. In relation to subjective art: that with him ‘it is created.’ You do not differentiate between these, but this is where the whole difference lies. Further you ascribe to subjective art an invariable action, that is you expect works of subjective art to have the same reaction on everybody. You think, for instance, that a funeral march should provoke in everyone sad and solemn thoughts and that any dance music, a komarinsky for instance, will provoke happy thoughts. But in actual fact this is not so at all. Everything depends upon association. If on a day that a great misfortune happens to me I hear some lively tune for the first time this tune will evoke in me sad and oppressive thoughts for my whole life afterwards. And if on a day when I am particularly happy I hear a sad tune, this tune will always evoke happy thoughts. And so with everything else.

    The difference between objective art and subjective art is that in objective art the artist really does ‘create,’ that is he makes what he intended, he puts into his work whatever ideas and feelings he wants to put into it. And the action of this work upon men is absolutely definite; they will, of course each according to his own level, receive the same ideas and the same feelings that the artist wanted to transmit to them. There can be nothing accidental either in the creation or in the impressions of objective art. »

    Gurdjieff taught too that all humans on Earth could be divided into four groups or concentric circles of awareness ( from Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous (pages 310-311):

    « The humanity to which we belong, namely, the whole of historic and prehistoric humanity known to science and civilization, in reality constitutes only the outer circle of humanity, within which there are several other circles

    So that we can imagine the whole of humanity, known as well as unknown to us, as consisting so to speak of several concentric circles.

    The inner circle is called the ‘esoteric’; this circle consists of people who have attained the highest development possible for man, each one of whom possesses individuality in the fullest degree, that is to say, an indivisible ‘I,’ all forms of consciousness possible for man, full control over these states of consciousness, the whole of knowledge possible for man, and a free and independent will. They cannot perform actions opposed to their understanding or have an understanding which is not expressed by actions. At the same time there can be no discords among them, no differences of understanding. Therefore their activity is entirely coordinated and leads to one common aim without any kind of compulsion because it is based upon a common and identical understanding.

    The next circle is called the ‘mesoteric’, that is to say, the middle. People who belong to this circle possess all the qualities possessed by the members of the esoteric circle with the sole difference that their knowledge is of a more theoretical character. This refers, of course, to knowledge of a cosmic character. They know and understand many things which have not yet found expression in their actions. They know more than they do. But their understanding is precisely as exact as, and therefore precisely identical with, the understanding of the people of the esoteric circle. Between them there can be no discord, there can be no misunderstanding. One understands in the way they all understand, and all understand in the way one understands. But as was said before, this understanding compared with the understanding of the esoteric circle is somewhat more theoretical.

    The third circle is called the ‘exoteric’, that is, the outer, because it is the outer circle of the inner part of humanity. The people who belong to this circle possess much of that which belongs to people of the esoteric and mesoteric circles but their cosmic knowledge is of a more philosophical character, that is to say, it is more abstract than the knowledge of the mesoteric circle. A member of the mesoteric circle calculates, a member of the exoteric circle contemplates. Their understanding may not be expressed in actions. But there cannot be differences in understanding between them. What one understands all the others understand.

    In literature which acknowledges the existence of esotericism, humanity is usually divided into two circles only and the ‘exoteric circle’ as opposed to the ‘esoteric,’ is called ordinary life. In reality, as we see, the ‘exoteric circle’ is something very far from us and very high. For ordinary man this is already ‘esotericism.’

    The outer circle’ is the circle of mechanical humanity to which we belong and which alone we know. The first sign of this circle is that among people who belong to it there is not and there cannot be a common understanding. Everybody understands in his own way and all differently. This circle is sometimes called the circle of the ‘confusion of tongues,’ that is, the circle in which each one speaks in his own particular language, where no one understands another and takes no trouble to be understood. In this circle mutual understanding between people is impossible excepting in rare exceptional moments or in matters having no great significance, and which are confined to the limits of the given being. If people belonging to this circle become conscious of this general lack of understanding and acquire a desire to understand and to be understood, then it means they have an unconscious tendency towards the inner circle because mutual understanding begins only in the exoteric circle and is possible only there. But the consciousness of the lack of understanding usually comes to people in an altogether different form. »