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Georgii Ivanovitch Gurdjieff

Of Greek-Armenian descent, G. I. Gurdjieff was born in Alexandropol, in Russian Armenia, Russia sometime sometime between 1866 and 1877 (the exact date is controversial, although the earlier one is perhaps more likely).  He apparently studied medicine and the priesthood in school, but left the academic world in search of esoteric knowledge. From 1894 to 1912, he reputedly journeyed through Asia and the Middle East.  Details regarding his life are infuriatingly vague.  His autobiographical Meetings with Remarkable Men has him journeying to monasteries and esoteric schools in remote parts of Central Asia and the Middle East, in search of spiritual knowledge.  It is almost certain that this account is at least partially (if not totally) a work of fiction, a spiritual teaching device or parable.  Rumours abound.  I remember reading one that said he he was in Tibet as a spy of the Tzar.  In fact no-one knows anything for certain about what he was or what he did.   It is however not unlikely that Gurdjieff did come in contact with Sufi teaching, although these were greatly modified in his own exposition.

In Moscow in 1912, he met the Russian writer and philosopher Peter Ouspensky (1878-1947), who became his most important disciple.

After the 1917 Russian Revolution, Gurdjieff and his followers established The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Tbilisi, Georgia.  He moved to France in 1922, finally settling near Paris, where he set up his famous institute at the Chateau du Prieuré near Fontainebleau in October 1922.  It attracted artists and intellects from the United States and England.  He remained there until 1933, when he moved to Paris, where he lived and taught for the next 16 years.

Gurdjieff's teachings are somewhat unusual, but there is method in the madness. Gurdjieff believed that, owing to the abnormal conditions of modern life, man no longer functions in a harmonious way. Man had to therefore develop new faculties through "work on oneself."  He taught an exceedingly rigirous discipline of meditation and physical exercises.  As with Sri Aurobindo, who taught the integral realisation of all the faculties of the being, Gurdjieff propounded a system of developing all sides of one's being (bodyemotions, and intellect) simultaneously, called the "Fourth Way"   Gurdjieff presented his teachings in the threefold form of writings, music, and sacred dances (movements) corresponding to man's intellect, emotions, and physical body.  His writings also consisted of a trilogy: the pseudo-autobographical Meetings with Remarkable Men; the deliberately obscure and practically unreadable Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson; and his perhaps most lucid work Life is Real Only Then, When I am".

In his book In Search of the Miraculous, Gurdjieff's student Ouspensky described the fundamental ideas of Gurdjieff's system of human psychological development.  Gurdjieff was apparently shocked to discover how transparently the teachings were developed; he had this attitude taht everything had to be really obscure and one had to really slog away and earn the knowledge.  That way only those who persevere and deserve it aquire it.

Gurdjieff died in Paris in 1949, leaving a rich legacy of teaching and influence taht will no doubt contnue for some time to come..

Gurdjieff and Ouspensky- John Lerwill

Gurdjieff and the Chassidic Rebbe's Candle - Aquil Merchant

The Gurdjieff-Ouspensky System


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page uploaded 5 June 1999, last modified 16 November 2003