Gurdjieff and his teaching

G.I. Gurdjieff was born circa 1866 in Alexandropol, Armenia, close to the frontiers of Russia and Turkey. He grew up amid the intermingling of various ancient cultures and races. Finding that neither science nor religion could answer his questions about “the sense and aim of human existence.” Gurdjieff became convinced at an early age that an ancient knowledge must still exist on Earth. After twenty years of searching in remote regions of Central Asia, Africa and the Near East (described in his book Meetings with Remarkable Men) he returned to Russia in 1912 with a teaching about man’s possible individual evolution from his inner slavery.

The Russian revolution forced him and his students to embark on a difficult journey that ended in Fontainebleau, France. There, in 1922, he opened the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, which drew new students from England, Europe and the Americas. In 1924, he made the first of a series of visits to the United States. In 1929, he moved from Fontainebleau to Paris where he continued his writing and his working with pupils until his death in 1949.

After his death, a core group of pupils led by Jeanne de Salzmann undertook the responsibility for continuing the transmission of this teaching.

As described in the Introduction to Views from the Real World: “[Gurdjieff] showed that the evolution of man – a theme prominent in the scientific thinking of his youth- is the result of individual inner growth; that such an inner opening was the aim of all religions, of all the Ways. This requires a direct and precise knowledge of changes in the quality of each man’s inner consciousness: a knowledge which had been preserved in places he had visited. He found that this can only be approached through prolonged self- study and ‘work on oneself’ in a search shared with others.”

By studying the ideas he had re-discovered in his travels, as well as many exercises for the attention, those who came to him began to question themselves concerning the meaning of their lives. A feeling began to arise concerning this, as well as many other questions in a way that none of them ever forgot. The Gurdjieff teaching is said to be a “work in life”, meaning that one’s life needs to be lived fully with others, and not in isolation.

The work toward consciousness for which he was asking requires connecting three fundamental human energies, the energy of the mind, the body and the feeling. Gurdjieff emphasized the necessity to gain and strengthen attention in order to bring about a new relationship with these parts. Today the Gurdjieff Work continues around the world with group meetings, the study of ideas, exercises, and also dances known as the Movements. Groups also work with crafts and practical tasks in order to experience the principles of these ideas in action.