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Who Is G.I. Gurdjieff?

The highest aim of human life is to strive to attain the welfare of one's
neighbor. This is possible only by the conscious renunciation of one's own.

— G. I. Gurdjieff —

The Terror of the Situation

  This world of ours cannot be saved in our measure of time. Had it been possible it would have been saved a long time ago by prophets and teachers who have been sent. Those who look for the world to be saved by a single teacher in a given time are shirking their own responsibility. They wait and hope of a second coming with no effort on their part, indulging in the disease of tomorrow.

Teacher of Radical Transformation

  A lecture on the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff, known as The Fourth Way or The Work, dealing with personal transformation through the development of self-awareness and new levels of consciousness.

Watch, Do Not Sleep ... Awaken, Know Thyself

"His love for the world was no less than Christ's or Buddha's; no less was his commitment to the transmission of the truth of the world he saw dimmed by the floating ash of successive explosions of human error. He sought to restore the bleak human landscape of ignorance to light and life, and he carried that light and life in himself on his quest to impart it to others without discrimination."  A. R. Orage

You have no business to believe me. I ask you to believe nothing you cannot
verify for yourself. If you have not a critical mind your visit here is useless.

  "To my mind, those who swallow the Gurdjieffian "Cosmogony" whole, and those who reject it out of hand, are equally wrong and, above all, equally superficial. Those who study Gurdjieff without either fear or respect, are equally naïve. From such a man one takes and rejects, one is both wary and receptive. One struggles with him. To struggle with Gurdjieff (not against him) is to understand him, to know him, and, in the end, to love him. As for putting him on a pedestal, especially after his death, that is the most sinister trick that well-meaning Gurdjieffians could possibly play on him. That is to show true disrespect." - Pierre Schaeffer, The Old Man and His Movements

  George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (January 13, 1866 – October 29, 1949), was a Greek-Armenian mystic, a teacher of sacred dances, and a spiritual teacher. 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. He is most notable for introducing what some refer to as "The Work," meaning work on oneself according to Gurdjieff's principles and instructions, or as he first referred to it, the "Fourth Way".

  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. Gurdjieff stated that maleficent events such as wars and so on could not possibly take place if people were more awake. 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 the 1914-18 war. At best, the various surviving sects and schools could only provide 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 proper 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 superficial, Gurdjieff greatly stressed the importance of conscience. This he regarded as the same in all people, buried in their subconsciousness, thus both sheltered from damage by how people live and inaccessible without "work on oneself".

  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 day-dreaming were always possible at any moment.

  The Work is, in essence, 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 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.

  Gurdjieff taught that group efforts both enhance and surpass individual efforts preparing them to practice a new psychology of evolution. To accomplish this, he needed to constantly innovate and create new alarm clocks to awaken his sleeping students, as Jesus did 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 food was the lowest of the three being foods, food, air and impressions. Air and impressions being even more important, special exercises were given for them.

  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.

  "If a man could understand all the horror of the lives of ordinary people who are turning round in a circle of insignificant interests and insignificant aims, if he could understand what they are losing he would understand that there can only be one thing that is serious for him: to escape from the general law, to be free. What can be serious for a man in prison who is condemned to death? Only one thing: how to save himself, how to escape. Nothing else is serious."

Recommended Reading

Gurdjieff's Views on Christianity

Gurdjieff: A Brief Introduction

 The Work: Esotericism and Christian Psychology
by Rebecca Nottingham

The teaching is called "The Work" and it is about the inner psychological meaning of Christ's teaching. It is a system of ideas and psychological practices derived from the Fourth Way System that originated with George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, interpreted by Peter Ouspensky, and taught by Maurice Nicoll in "Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky". Students at any stage can use this reference to find guidance into the intended aim of The Work in order to carry it forward as the sacred path it was meant to be and applies to anyone who is seeking meaning and an authentic path that leads to real personal development.

Read the Introduction to The Work