- Religion and Philosophy
The Gurdjieff work by a former member
My experiences as a member of the Gurdjieff work
George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff is perhaps not a name that is so well known and yet as a mystic and philosopher he had and still has a large following of people interested in learning his system of knowledge.
Gurdjieff was born in Armenia in 1866 or 1877 (even this is not known for certain) and the story goes that as a young man he became fascinated by the unexplained and paranormal mysteries of life and decided he would set out into the world to find out what it was all about. This he did and his travels took him from the Caucusus to Egypt, Asia and to the Himalayas.
He also spent time studying Sufi traditions and eventually formulated a system of knowledge he brought back to teach in the Western world. Gurdjieff's travels were before 1912 when he returned to Moscow but exact details are sketchy because they are mainly based on what he said he did.
Gurdjeff travelled in Europe in 1921 and 1922 but he had a car accident in 1924, which nearly killed him. Whilst recovering he wrote Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson.
Gurdjieff, or G as he was also known, taught that there were four paths to knowledge - that of the monk, the fakir, the yogi and the fourth way, which equated with a new human that he was trying to create.
Buy Meetings With Remarkable Men
Tribute to Gurdjieff with actual footage of him
PD Ouspensky and The Fourth Way
His avid follower PD Ouspensky pushed the term the fourth way much more than his teacher ever did and went on to write books on the subject including In Search of the Miraculous - Fragments of an Unknown Teaching and The Fourth Way.
Gurdjieff wrote three books in a series known as All and Everything - Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, Meetings With Remarkable Men and Life Is Real Only Then, When I Am. The first of these is a very lengthy work of some 1,000 pages in the form of a Science-fiction story with Beelzebub as an extraterrestrial aboard a spacecraft returning to his home planet. He is telling his grandson Hassan all about the ·"three-brained beings" that breed on the planet Earth and about their pecularities and his time amongst them.
In many ways it was made deliberately hard to read with very long convoluted sentences and a whole vocabulary of bizarre words such as Heptaparaparshinokh and the Common-Cosmic Trogoautoegocrat law. Published in 1950, it deals in the history of the world from Atlantean times up until the modern era and often pokes fun at the customs of people and their belief systems. In fact it is a very funny book in many ways - both funny peculiar and funny ha-ha.
Meetings With Remarkable Men, which was made into a film starring Terence Stamp, details all the people he met (and a dog) that Gurdjieff felt in some way stood out and taught him something he needed to know. Life Is Real Only Then,'When I Am' contains autobiographical material and some lectures he had given. He also wrote The Herald of Coming Good, which came out in 1933.
Gurdjieff was seeking to wake people up from their robotic and sleeping ways and taught a group of followers whom he attracted.He taught that there was such a thing as "super effort" and an example would be you walk from A to B then from B to A and finally from A to B and then you have completed that walk. He also taught complex dance routines.
Gurdjieff focused on how hypnotised and asleep everyone was and how this led to insane conditions like war, which he defined as a "mass human psychosis."
There were and are many things said about Gurdjieff - that he was a master hypnotist, that he had other powers including being able to be in two places at once, that he was actually a spy, that he met and was an advisor to the Dalai Lama, that Hitler met him and regarded him as a "superman" and that Aleister Crowley was also impressed with him and that the two had met. There are also some who have wanted to debunk Gurdjieff and his teachings and say he was a very clever conman and a charlatan with a huge ego and a lot of charisma. Whatever the truth, Gurdjieff remains a true man of mystery.
In around 1976 I became a member of the British Gurdjieff work after seeing a notice advertising for interested people to get in touch. Only a small number were accepted and we had regular meetings in Chapter Arts centre in Cardiff and also weekend all day workshops at a house in Wincanton in Somerset that was owned by our teachers George and Dorothy Philpotts. They had been actual pupils of Gurdjieff.
At meetings we discussed selected passages from the Gurdjieff books and were given mental exercises to do in our own time. I remember one of these was to look out a window at a particular time each day for a week and see what was going on. And another was to be aware of yourself and your tools and your environment whilst working.
That last one I remember because I had been put to work in the garden in Wincanton and was focusing on my spade and the soil and the worms and insects in it. I spoke about it at the group discussion we had that day and I said I felt that I was the earth and the spade for a moment.
At the Wincanton meetings group members were given different tasks such as gardening, cleaning the house or preparing the meals and we would have breaks to talk and share our opinions on the day's work. At the end of the day we had a large meal and most excellent home-made wines were available.
I remember there were rules about the washing up and whoever was doing it had to rinse every item under running water so there were no traces of suds. This served two purposes - to ensure the plates and dishes were as clean as possible, and secondly to make you make the best possible effort in your work. There was the threat of if George or Dorothy inspected it all and found any suds then you had to wash the entire lot again.
I also remember that group members would be inclined to believe that George and Dorothy had special powers and that they could read our minds, for example.
One time I asked about what UFOs were and the answer I was given was that they exist but are not on this "ray of creation" and that basically we should be concentrating on doing all we could to work on ourselves in this one.
I eventually left the group due to various ties and problems in my personal life at the time and will always remember that I was told, as advice for the future, that the only relatively safe pathway to follow besides Gurdjieff's teachings was the work of Krishnamurti.
I feel that I learned a lot in my time in the Gurdjieff work but I never took up studying Krishnamurti for some reason. Many writers and thinkers have been influenced by or have looked into Gurdjieff's work. Kate Bush makes reference to him in her songs. In Them Heavy People she sings:
"They open doorways that I thought were shut for good.They read me Gurdjieff and Jesu. They build up my body, break me emotionally. It's nearly killing me, but what a lovely feeling!"
For more info on Gurdjieff there is a good article here: http://www.gurdjieff.org/munson1.htm
And Gurdjieff in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gurdjieff
© 2008 Steve Andrews