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G. I. Gurdjieff

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Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff
Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff
Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff (January 13, 1872 - October 29, 1949), the Greek-Armenian mystic and 'teacher of dancing' born in Alexandropol, Armenia (then of the Russian Empire, now Gyumri, Armenia), traveled to many parts of the world (i.e. Central Asia, Egypt, Rome) before returning to Russia and teaching in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1913.

In the midst of revolutionary upheaval in Russia he left Petrograd (St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd September 1, 1914) 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 a group of his closest pupils moved to Tbilisi remaining there until late May 1920 when political conditions in Georgia deteriorated. Then, by foot, they walked to Batumi on the Black Sea coast embarking for Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) where 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. Gurdjieff also met John G. Bennett in Constantinople.

Gurdjieff left Constantinople in August 1921 traveling on to Western Europe visiting, lecturing and giving demonstrations of his work in various metropolitan centers such as Berlin and London. 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 his recovery he began writing All and Everything originally written by him in Russian and Armenian.

He stopped writing in 1935 after 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'. Gurdjieff lived in Paris at 6 Rue des Colonels Rénard in Vichy France during World War II where he continued to teach his pupils throughout the war. He died on October 29, 1949 at the American Hospital in Neuilly, 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 regarding his early biography before he appeared in Moscow in 1913 are found in his text, Meetings with Remarkable Men. Those who had contact with Gurdjieff saw him as a master of wisdom able to practice self-remembering, external considering and work on oneself, ideas that are discussed in many of the works cited here.

He is best-known through the published works of his students, such as P.D. Ouspensky (author of In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching), A.R. Orage, Thomas and Olga de Hartmann, Fritz Peters, René Daumal, John G. Bennett and Maurice Nicoll among others. His students included Frank Lloyd Wright, Kathryn Hulme, P.L. Travers and Katherine Mansfield.

Three books written by Gurdjieff were published after his death: Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, Meetings with Remarkable Men, and Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'. 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 under the title Views from the Real World: Early Talks in Moscow, Essentuki, Tiflis, Berlin, London, Paris, New York and Chicago, as recollected by his pupils.

When asked about the teaching he was setting forth, Gurdjieff said, "The teaching whose theory is here being set out is completely self supporting and independent of other lines and it has been completely unknown up to the present time." The teaching he brought centers around the struggle of working on oneself for the purpose of awakening conscience. Gurdjieff taught that man has no soul. Rather, man must create a soul while incarnate whose substance could withstand the shock of death. Without a soul, Gurdjieff taught, man will "die like a dog."

He taught that the ordinary waking consciousness of human beings was a form of sleep and that higher levels of consciousness were possible, namely subjective consciousness and objective consciousness. The development of these levels of consciousness corresponds with the development of the higher being-bodies (i.e. the astral, mental, and causal bodies) that could be developed within the physical body in which ordinary consciousness was found. The development of these higher being-bodies required work on oneself under the supervision and guidance of a teacher. That is, under one who has himself been trained in the science and practice of the teaching.

The feature film Meetings With Remarkable Men (1979) directed by Peter Brook and starring Terence Stamp is based upon the book of the same name and was made under the direction of Jeanne de Salzmann and depicts rare performances of the sacred dances taught to serious students of his work known simply as the movements.

His teachings have been called The Work or The Fourth Way which is also the title of a book by P.D. Ouspensky. It has been preserved in Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson a 'legominism' as he called objective teaching tools, and through various groups formed after his death -- including the Gurdjieff [Salzmann] Foundations in New York and Paris, and by various lineage and non-lineage groups. Gurdjieff's Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man was founded to train what he called, "helper-instructors" who could assist in the dissemination and practice of the teaching. Today, many groups abound who use the name of Gurdjieff and/or his ideas. However, few of these have been initiated into the teaching through authentic transmission from Gurdjieff.

A short bibliography

  • Works by Gurdjieff
    • Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson by G.I. Gurdjieff (1950) ISBN 0919608124
    • Meetings With Remarkable Men by G.I. Gurdjieff (1963)
    • Life is only real, then, when "I am" by G.I. Gurdjieff (1974)
    • Views from the Real World Talks of G.I. Gurdjieff (1973)
    • The Herald of Coming Good by G.I. Gurdjieff (1933, 1971, 1988)
  • Books about G.I. Gurdjieff and The Fourth Way
    • In Search of the Miraculous by P.D. Ouspensky (1949)
    • Gurdjieff: Anatomy of a Myth by James Moore (1991, 1999)
    • The Harmonious Circle by James Webb (1980)
    • Gurdjieff: Making a New World by J.G. Bennett (1973)
    • Idiots in Paris by J.G. and E. Bennett (1980)
    • Teachings of Gurdjieff(1961) and Journey Through This World(1969) by C.S. Nott
    • Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff by Thomas and Olga de Hartmann (1964, Revised 1983 and 1992)
    • Undiscovered Country by Kathryn Hulme (1966)
    • Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky by Maurice Nicoll (1952, 1955. 1972, 1980, 6 volumes)
    • A Study of Gurdjieff's Teaching by Kenneth Walker (1957)
    • The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution by P.D. Ouspensky (1978)
    • Gurdjieff: A Very Great Enigma by J.G. Bennett
    • Mount Analogue by René Daumal (1974)
    • On Love & Psychological Exercises by A.R. Orage
    • The Oragean Version by C. Daly King (1951) [Scarce]
    • Monsieur Gurdjieff by Louis Pauwels (1954)
    • Boyhood with Gurdjieff by Fritz Peters (1964)
    • Gurdjieff Remembered by Fritz Peters (1965)
    • Toward Awakening by Jean Vaysse (1980)
    • Who Are You Monsieur Gurdjieff? by René Zuber (1980)
    • Ladies of the Rope: Gurdjieff's Special . . . Group by W. Patrick Patterson (1999)
    • Voices in the Dark by W. Patrick Patterson (2001)

External links

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