George Ivanovich Gurdjieff
28 November 1877 – 29 October 1949
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was a mystic, philosopher, spiritual teacher, and composer of Armenian and Greek descent, born in Armenia. Gurdjieff taught that most humans do not possess a unified consciousness and thus live their lives in a state of hypnotic "waking sleep", but that it is possible to awaken to a higher state of consciousness and achieve full human potential. Gurdjieff described a method attempting to do so, calling it "The Work” Thus "work on oneself") According to his principles and instructions Gurdjieff's method for awakening one's consciousness unites the methods of the fakir, monk and yogi, and thus he referred to it as the "Fourth Way"
"The Work" is in essence a training in the development of consciousness. Gurdjieff used a number of 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.
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.
In early adulthood, according to his own account, Gurdjieff's search led him to travel to Central Asia, Egypt, Iran, India, Tibet and Rome before he returned to Russia for a few years in 1912. The only account of his wanderings appears in his book Meetings with Remarkable Men. Each chapter is named after an individual "remarkable man"; many are putatively members of a society of "seekers of truth".
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 a person must expend considerable effort to effect the transformation that leads to awakening. The effort that is put 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 believed that such texts possess meanings very different from those 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 of 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.
After Gurdjieff's death, J. G. Bennett researched his sources extensively and suggested that these characters were symbolic of the three types of people to whom Gurdjieff referred: No. 1 centred in their physical body; No. 2 centred in their emotions and No. 3 centred in their minds. He asserts that he has encounters with dervishes, fakirs and descendants of the extinct Essenes, whose teaching had been, he said, conserved at a monastery in the Sarmoung Brotherhood.
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 establishment organization influenced by the ideas of Gurdjieff, was organized by Jeanne de Salzmann during the early 1950s, and led by her in cooperation with Lord John Pentland head of the United States and John G. Bennett was assigned the head of London and the UK. Other pupils of Gurdjieff formed independent 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. Independent thriving groups were also formed and initially led by John G. Bennett and A. L. Staveley near Portland, Oregon.
Jeanne de Salzmann (1889–1990) She was originally a dancer, Dalcroze Eurythmics teacher. She was responsible for transmitting Gurdjieff's choreographed movements exercises and institutionalizing Gurdjieff's teachings through the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York, the Gurdjieff Institute of Paris, London's Gurdjieff Society Inc and other groups, she established in 1953.
John G. Bennett (1897–1974) was a British intelligence officer, polyglot (fluent in English, French, German, Turkish, Greek, Italian), technologist, industrial research director author and teacher, best known for his many books on psychology and spirituality, particularly the teachings of Gurdjieff. Bennett met both Ouspensky and then Gurdjieff at Istanbul in 1920, spent August 1923 at Gurdjieff's Institute, became Ouspensky's pupil between 1922 and 1941 and, after learning that Gurdjieff was still alive, was one of Gurdjieff's frequent visitors in Paris during 1949. See Witness: the Autobiography of John Bennett (1974), Gurdjieff: Making a New World(1974), Idiots in Paris: diaries of J. G. Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett, 1949 (1991).