George Ivanovich Gurdjieff

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866–1877) was an influential early 20th-century Russian mystic, philosopher, spiritual teacher, and composer. He teaches the one great art is that of making a complete human being of oneself.

Gurdjieff feature title

Gurdjieff's Principle Ideas

Gurdjieff's principle ideas are the transformative power of attention, consciousness, self-awareness and self-development.

Gurdjieff fused western and eastern, ancient and modern traditions

He also drew on Hindu and Buddhist ideas of non-attachment and reincarnation. Also classical harmony and geometry (as in the complex ninefold symmetry of the Enneagram).

Gurdjieff cultivated an aura of wisdom and mystery

Gurdjieff was charismatic and charming. But at times powerfully overbearing. He cultivated an aura of wisdom and mystery that fascinated some of the smartest seekers of his day. 

Gurdjieff's writings are considered largely indecipherable

Gurdjieff's writings are considered largely indecipherable, even by his most avid disciples. The novelist and mathematician Peter Ouspensky was his star pupil whose books In Search of the Miraculous and The Fourth Way provide most of what we know about Gurdjieff's teachings. 

Gurdjieff’s legend continued to grow after his death in 1949 due largely to the writings and teachings of Ouspensky, De Hartmann and Orage.

Gurdjieff methods combine the body, the soul and the emotions

He called an examined, waking life of self-observation his “Being Duty”. 

Highly charismatic and a notorious womaniser

Gurdjieff loved to drink (especially Armagnac Brandy) and he enjoyed smoking opium. He was charismatic, a notorious womaniser and said to have fathered over 100 children.

One must think of how to find the right way

From Gurdjieff: It is impossible to recognize a wrong way without knowing the right way. This means that it is no use troubling oneself how to recognize a wrong way. One must think of how to find the right way.

Man is asleep – he has no real consciousness or will. He is not free: to him, everything ‘happens’. He can become conscious and find his true place as a human being in the creation, but this requires a profound transformation.”

Achieving Full Human Potential

Gurdjieff taught that humans lived in a hypnotic waking sleep state, but that it was possible to awaken to a higher state of consciousness and achieve full human potential.

Wake up through practice of self-observation

Gurdjieff's teaching is the practise of self-observation. The Work is a practical approach to ancient teachings of both East and West. 

He called the discipline of attempting to awaken The Work. The work was to "work on oneself". 

He also referred to it as The System and The Fourth Way. Gurdjieff's viewed his method for awakening one's consciousness as uniting the methods of the fakir, monk and yogi.

The discipline of attempting to awaken was training in the development of consciousness.

Gurdjieff's teaching is that real satisfaction and happiness are found by looking beyond the ordinary self which can not be contacted by the senses. We have to look beyond the ordinary self (an illusionary or imaginary self) which is simply a collection of "I's".

We connect instead with our fundamental self or divine self. Our fundamental self is consistent and ruled from within by consciousness and rooted in the same creative essence that created the external Universe. 

Gurdjieff's method was designed to awaken us to a higher state of consciousness so we can achieve our full human potential.

First of all one must realise that one is in a state of sleep

In order to awaken, first of all one must realise that one is in a state of sleep. And in order to realise we are in a state of sleep, we have to recognise and fully understand the nature of the forces that keep us in this state of sleep, or hypnosis. 

This can be done by using the very source which induces the hypnosis, our rational mind.He stated the existing forms of religious and spiritual tradition on Earth no longer serve humanity. They are a one-sided approach to human development, which does not result in a fully integrated human being.

Cultivate comprehensive and balanced inner development.

Gurdjieff callled the three dimensions of the person the faculties or centers. The three dimensions are the emotions, the physical body and the mind.

The fourth-way discipline is to work on all three to promote comprehensive and balanced inner development. 

It is important to note that Gurdjieff never put major significance on the term "Fourth Way". He 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.

Gurdjieff's teaching addressed the question of humanity's place in the universe

Gurdjieff's teaching addressed the question of humanity's place in the universe and the importance of developing latent potentialities. 

He taught that higher levels of consciousness, higher bodies, inner growth and development are real possibilities. However they do require conscious work to achieve.

Focus attention and energy and minimising daydreaming and absentmindedness.

Gurdjieff taught people how to increase and focus their attention and energy in various ways. And to minimize daydreaming and absentmindedness.

Existing forms of religious and spiritual tradition on Earth no longer serve humanity.

Gurdjieff stated the existing forms of religious and spiritual tradition on Earth no longer serve humanity as they consist of A one-sided development and did not result in a fully integrated human being.

A person must expend considerable effort to effect the transformation

Gurdjieff taught that a person must expend considerable effort to effect a transformation that leads to awakening. And that working on oneself is only as difficult as wishing to do the work, and making the decision to do so. 

Man cannot be free without self knowledge.

Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.

Gurdjieff's Way to Real happiness and Satisfaction

Real satisfaction and happiness are to be found by living according to our fundamental self rather than our ordinary self. We must connect with the ALL where we find a vast store of inner peace, beauty and harmony.

The way to self knowledge is through our fundemental self

We find our happiness and satisfacation by our fundemental self or divine self as Gurdjieff calls it. This self is rooted in the same creative essence that created the external universe.

A sense based life is not the way

Gurdjieff teaching is that we have to look beyond our ordinary self, beyond what we can contact with our senses. Because if we focus on personal satisfaction in terms of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, our life will be sense-based. And we will become victims of the emotional swings between pleasure and pain. We will suffer a continuous search for fulfillment through money, power and ambition, or through immersing oneself in work, philosophical or artistic pursuits, or religion.

It is necessary to observe yourself differently than you do in ordinary life.

It is necessary to have a different attitude, not the attitude you had till now. Your existing habitual attitudes have led you here, and there is no sense in going on as before.

Many humans are born, but only few grow

In a conversation between George Gurdjieff and 12-year-old Fritz Peters, he is recorded as saying The Work is not for everyone. Gurdjieff says:

For example, if I wish to learn to become millionaire, necessary to devote all early life to this aim and no other. If wish to become priest, philosopher, teacher, or businessman, should not come here. Here only teach possibility how become man such as not known in modern times, particularly in western world.

Gurdjieff then asked me to look out of the window and to tell him what I saw. I said from the window all I could see was an oak tree. He asked what was on the oak tree? I told him acorns. He asked “How many acorns?” The boy replied he did not know. Gurdjieff then asked him to guess how many acorns. The boy said that he supposed there were several thousand of them to which Gurdjieff agreed. 

Gurdjieff then asked me how many of the acorns would become oak trees and the boy answered that he supposed only five or six of them would actually develop into trees.

Gurdjieff said: “Perhaps only one, perhaps not even one. Must learn from Nature. Man is also organism. Nature make many acorns, but possibility to become tree exist for only few acorns. Same with man—many men born, but only few grow. People think this waste, think Nature waste. Not so. Rest become fertilizer, go back into earth and create possibility for more acorns, more men, once in while more tree—more real man. Nature always give—but only give possibility. To become real oak, or real man, must make effort. You understand this, my work, this Institute, not for fertilizer. For real man, only. But must also understand fertilizer necessary to Nature. Possibility for real tree, real man also depend just this fertilizer.”

Gurdjieff continues: “In west—your world—is belief that man have soul given by God. Not so. Nothing given by God, only Nature give. And Nature only give possibility for soul, not give soul. Must acquire soul through work. But unlike tree, man have many possibilities. As man now exist he have also possibility grow by accident —grow wrong way. Man can become many things, not just fertilizer, not just real man: can become what you call ‘good’ or ‘evil’, not proper things for man. Real man not good or 3 evil—real man only conscious, only wish acquire soul for proper development.”

The first step is self observation

The first step in the work is to become aware of the imaginary and multi-faceted nature of our "I". This is done through self-observation.

Self-observation must always be uncritical

The Fourth way starts with self-observation, which must always be uncritical to avoid identification and labelling. The philosopher Krishnamurti calls this watching or passive self-awareness.

The false personality (our Imaginary "I")

Our imaginary, illusionary or ordinary self is a collection of "I's". In contrast, our fundamental self is consistent and is ruled from within by consciousness.

The first step is self-observation. We become aware of our imaginary, illusionary or ordinary self. This self is a collection of "I's".  

If we set aside a part of ourselves to observe this multi-faceted nature of our "I" we are able to observe what our false personality is doing. We can see that most of our activities are mechanical reactions rather than purposive actions. This tells us in a sense we are asleep. The aim of THE WORK is to wake us up through this process of self-observation. 

Self-observation must always be uncritical. We avoid identification and labelling. We are simply watching with passive self-awareness.

Try to understand that what you call “I” is not I, there are many “I’s” and each “I” has a different wish. You wish to change, but which part of you has this wish?

Breaking the hold of our false personality

Our personality is made of a false and proper personality. The false personality is concerned with our ego (pride, vanity, self-conceit, imaginations and daydreams about ourselves). And our personality proper is developed through education, vocation, training and study of all kinds which enable us to earn out living. 

Gurdjieff viewed that in primitive peoples and those connected with Nature and creatives are less smothered by the false personality, but our development of the fundemental self or real self is still usually limited. 

So the aim of Gurdjieff's system is to weaken the false personality or make it passive. By doing this we are enabling our essence to become active. 

He points out we do need a well developed personality proper to support the growth of the fundemental self. He states t is important that one is able to earn one's livelihood (support oneself) to prevent The Work being an escape from everyday life.

Use the power of attention and awareness

Gurdjieff describes using the power of attention and awareness for self development: 

When you do one thing, do it with the whole self. One thing at a time. Now I sit here and I eat. For me nothing exists in the world except this food, this table. I eat with the whole attention. So you must do – in everything. When you write a letter, do not at the same time think what will be the cost of laundering that shirt; when you compute laundering costs, do not think about the letter you must write. Everything has its time. To be able to do one thing at a time . . . this is a property of Man, not man in quotation marks. 

The aim of the work is to make us balanced and working in harmony

One of the aims of THE WORK is to make us balanced. This is acheived by having all centres developed and working in harmony. Gurdjieff viewed that most of us live chiefly in one centre, unbalanced. 

Gurdjieff teaches to live in a truly creative and dynamic way is to live according to the basic laws of one's being. We need to feel and think in a completely new way. The work is to set aside a part of ourselves to observe what our false personality is doing. We can then see that most of our activities are merely mechanical reactions rather than purposive actions. In that sense we are asleep. By doing the The Work we can wake up. 

Knowing your self

Most of us feel unfulfilled without understanding why. The solution is to engage in our own conscious evolution and to realise that each one of us is part of The ALL. We tap into the ALL where we find a vast store of inner peace, beauty and harmony.

Gurdjieff's states only by knowing ourselves can we come to understand the Universe. 

Gurdjieff's method for awakening one's consciousness

Gurdjieff's method for awakening one's consciousness is different from that of the fakir, monk or yogi. His discipline was also called (originally) the "Fourth Way".

According to the Gurdjieff system, the three traditional schools (ways) are permanent forms. And these forms have survived throughout history mostly unchanged and are based on religion. Gurdjieff viewed the schools of yogis, monks (fakirs) as barely distinguishable from religious schools. 

Gurdjieff's The Work differs in that it is not a permanent way, having no specific forms or institutions. The Work comes and goes and is controlled by some particular laws of its own.

He writes "When this work is finished, that is to say, when the aim set before it has been accomplished, the fourth way disappears, that is, it disappears from the given place, disappears in its given form, continuing perhaps in another place in another form. Schools of the fourth way exist for the needs of the work which is being carried out in connection with the proposed undertaking. They never exist by themselves as schools for the purpose of education and instruction."

Self remembering

We have an older, fundamental, greater, nobler self. This self has always been there but has just been smothered by our newer, false personality. 

When we break the hold of our false personality through uncritical self-observation we become aware of the existence of our fundamental self. 

The WORK is to do this as often as possible each day. Particularly when we are stressed. When we do this, we break the hold of our false personality on us. We in effect wake up. And find that our lives are gradually transformed.

You have already too much knowledge

From Gurdjieff: You have already too much knowledge. It will remain only theory unless you learn to understand not with mind but with heart and body. Now only your mind is awake: your heart and body are asleep. If you continue like this, soon your mind also will go to sleep, and you will never be able to think any new thoughts. 

You cannot awaken your own feelings, but you can awaken your body. If you can learn to master your body, you will begin to acquire Being.

For this, you must look on your body as a servant. It must obey you. It is ignorant and lazy. You must teach it to work. If it refuses to work, you must have no mercy on it. Remember yourself as two— you and your body. When you are master of your body, your feelings will obey you. At present nothing obeys you—not your body, nor your feelings, nor your thoughts. You cannot start with thoughts, because you cannot yet separate yourself from your thoughts.

Act in life as your conscience bids you.

You must learn not what people round you consider good or bad, but to act in life as your conscience bids you. An untrammelled conscience will always know more than all the books and teachers put together.

Practicing Gurdjieff's "The Work"

The key is to heighten one's awareness through attention. 

Practicing self remembering

Gurdjieff's self-remembering practice is when we consciously look listen and smell while sensing your body as one organic whole. Self remembering amplifies the power of our intention. So the aim here is to increase our self-awareness and our ability to remain present naturally throughout the day. We become more and more able to consciously respond rather than unconsciously react by practicing this self remembering.

Setting an objective in our mind and achieving it naturally increases our awareness and our inner energy. So each time we "self-remember" we become self-aware, and have achieved our objective. This in turn increases oour presence for the next opportunity to self remember. 

So in essence self remembering. is remaining present and self-aware whatever you are doing. Self-remembering essentially means to be fully centred. Fully centred i.e. fully present and anchored to our essence. 

Self remembering is form of detachment. We divide oour attention between the activity you are doing and your self-awareness simultaneously.

Practicing self observation

As you cultivate your ability to remain present using mindful breathing (self-remembering) you can begin the second practice which is self-observation. Self-observation can be seen as the start and the end of the inner transformation journey.

Through self-observation, we can discover who we truly are. And naturally, overcome any subconscious blocks that are not serving us.

Like self-remembering, the practice of self-observation increases our level of awareness, However, self-observation also requires an intention to remember to self-observe. 

Self-observation requires that we take responsibility for everything happening in our reality. Life is happening from us, not to us. Accepting that we are co-creating everything happening in our reality can be challenging. Particularly if we don't like what is happening or we would prefer different circumstances.

If this idea is too hard to accept you can set this assumption in your mind: I am responsible for 100% of everything happening in my life. As you practice self-observation with this assumption over time it will become a natural feeling. And with deeper knowing you will see how you are attracting your reality with your focus and attention. You can learn to understand that you are the co-creator of your reality. This leads to the understanding that you are 100% responsible, you are in charge and you CAN make a change whenever you choose.

Just how are we co-creating our personal reality? The Law of Attraction. This law states you get what you focus on. And it describes that we attract in life what we are, not what we want. 

Now we don't know who we truly are. On average 90% of who we are lies in our unconscious. However, cultivating self-observation allows us to increase our consciousness and begin to discover who we truly are. And in doing so we naturally overcome any subconscious block that is not serving us.

The key here is we become a neutral witness. We don't try to change any of our current behaviours or actions. We simply set our intention on remembering to observe ourselves as we go throughout our day. Witnessing without judgment is like being a neutral spectator at the movie of our life. This neutralisation of our mental judgment makes the practice of self-observation work. And adopting an observing state of awareness also quiets our mental dialogue.

If you are working inwardly, nature will help you.

For the man who is working, Nature is sister of charity; she brings him what he needs for his work. If you need money for your work, even if you do nothing to get it, the money will come to you from all sides.

Self Remembering and Self Observation Exercises

The key is to heighten one's awareness through attention. 

The Stop exercise

Immediately stop whatever you're doing and freeze in that position, mentally, emotionally and physically. Observe your current inner state. 

The Stop command needs to come from an external impartial source. This could be instructor or even a randomly activated computer program. 

On Stopping remain immobile and observe the state of your physical, emotional and intellectual centers. Evaluate whether you were Self Remembering or were Identified. 

You should attempt to note your physical position and Sensations, your level of emotional arousal, and the thoughts occurring in your intellectual center. 

Observe your physical state. Are you in a position of stable balance or an awkward, off-balance position? Were you aware of the sensations of your body? 

Now observe your emotional state. Were you worried, angry, depressed, happy, etc.? Were you aware of your emotional sensations? 

Next, observe your intellectual state. Were you thinking about the past or future? Were you thinking about what other people thought about you? 

Now observe if you were aware of your surrounding environment. Or were you lost in an inner world of subjective concerns?

Note: It is said that the Stop Exercise is impossible to do on your own. 

Take a piece of paper and write your aim on it. Make this paper your god.

Gurdjieff teaches that we have no energy to fulfil voluntary aims because all our strength, acquired at night (he calls this our passive state) is used up in negative manifestations. He says our negative manifestations are our automatic manifestations, which are opposite of our positive, willed manifestations.

Here is the exercise if we are already able to remember our aim automatically, but have no strength to do it: 

Sit for a period of at least one hour alone. Make all your muscles relaxed. Allow your associations [the thoughts and pictures that automatically arise in your mind] to proceed but do not be absorbed by them. Say to them: “If you will let me do as I wish now, I shall later grant you your wishes.” Look on your associations as though they belonged to someone else, to keep yourself from identifying with them. 

At the end of an hour take a piece of paper and write your aim on it. Make this paper your God. Everything else is nothing. Take it out of your pocket and read it constantly, every day. In this way it becomes part of you, at first theoretically, later actually. 

To gain energy, practice this exercise of sitting still and making your muscles dead. Only when everything in you is quiet after an hour, make your decision about your aim. 

Don’t let associations absorb you. To undertake a voluntary aim, and to achieve it, gives magnetism and the ability to “do.”

Being effort is the only method of developing.

Gurdjieff teaches that "being effort" is the only method of developing. You can be aware when you have made an effort. Every successful effort adds while every failure subtracts.

Gurdjieff FAQ

Musas sunt boreass de varius elevatus. Ferox, camerarius homos inciviliter resuscitabo de talis, bassus mens.
  • What is Gurdjieff "The Work"?

    Gurdjieff's "The Work" or The Fourth Way is an approach to self-development. Students often refer to the Fourth Way as "The Work", "Work on oneself", or "The System". 

    Gurdjieff Fourth Way combines and harmonizes what he saw as three established traditional "ways" or "schools": those of the body, the emotions, and the mind, or of fakirs, monks and yogis, respectively. 

    The work is to "work on oneself" through self awareness, giving up our fantasies, and converting our energies into something higher. 

    The aim of this work is to awaken to our own inner experience. And to discover our relationship to everything. To be present, to be there.

    The Fourth Way teaches our center of gravity is within ourselves. And we can contain our energy voluntarily and consciously and point it in a certain direction.

    Gurdjieff developed the work over years of travel through the East (c. 1890 – 1912). 

    The exact origins of some of Gurdjieff's teachings are unknown, but various sources have been suggested.

  • What is Gurdjieff philosophy?

    Gurdjieff's philosophy is that most people 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. 

    He viewed modern western civilization as lopsided and heavily rational and that man’s feeling of “I” is an illusion built up around his thoughts.

    Gurdjieff stated that most humans do not possess a unified consciousness. He developed what he called "The Work" which later came to be known as "The Fourth Way" as a method for awakening to the latent possibilities in a human being. These practical methods were designed to cultivate awareness and presence in everyday life.

    “Man is asleep – he has no real consciousness or will. He is not free: to him, everything ‘happens’. He can become conscious and find his true place as a human being in the creation, but this requires a profound transformation.” 

  • What are Gurdjieff's movements, or sacred dances?

    The Gurdjieff Movements are a repertoire of ancient and sacred dances and esoteric movements. These movements were gathered from closed communities, temples and monasteries in the Middle East and Asia.

    Gurdjieff's movements (sacred dances) constitute an integral part of the Gurdjieff Work. 

    Gurdjieff sometimes referred to himself as a "teacher of dancing" and gained initial public notice for his attempts to put on a ballet in Moscow called Struggle of the Magicians.

    Gurdjieff viewed the dances as reflecting the movements of the solar system, connecting the performers and their audience to the cosmos around them and the spirit within.

    "In the strictly defined movements and combinations of the dancers, certain laws are visually reproduced which are intelligible to those who know them. Such dances are called “sacred dances.” In the course of my travels in the East I have many times witnessed such dances being performed during sacred services in various ancient temples."

  • Meetings with Remarkable Men

    Gurdjieff wrote Meetings with Remarkable Men, an entertaining, mythologised account of Helena Blavatsky's early travels which was filmed by Peter Brook, a disciple of The Work, in 1979.

  • Being Duty

    Gurdjieff championed the examined, waking life of self-observation. He called this his “Being Duty"

    Gurdjieff's Fourth Way was a synthesis of the Fakir (endurance and pain), the Monk (asceticism and devotion), and the Yogi (dedicated study). The Fourth way was his method based on as he saw it the three well-trodden paths to enlightenment:

    Gurdjieff saw the three existing well-trodden paths to enlightenment as lacking which led him to develop the Work or Fourth Way which combined the body, the soul and the emotions.

  • Gurdjieff's Objective Music

    This from Wikipedia: The Gurdjieff music divides into three distinct periods. The first period is the early music, including music from the ballet Struggle of the Magicians and music for early Movements, dating to the years around 1918.

    This from Gurdjieff:

    “Objective music is all based on ‘inner octaves.’ And it can obtain not only definite psychological results but definite physical results. There can be such music as would freeze water. There can be such music as would kill a man instantaneously... Snake charmers’ music in the East is an approach to objective music, of course very primitive. Very often it is simply one note which is long drawn out, rising and falling only very little; but in this single note ‘inner octaves’ are going on all the time and melodies of ‘inner octaves’ which are inaudible to the ears but felt by the emotional center. And the snake hears this music or, more strictly speaking, he feels it, and he obeys it. The same music, only a little more complicated, and men would obey it.”

  • Was Gurdjieff Gnostic?

    Liberis studere in primus revalia! Agripeta emeritis turpis est. Est audax canis, cesaris. Cum brabeuta mori, omnes accolaes locus fatalis, altus ignigenaes. Cur particula peregrinationes? Rationes sunt liberis de barbatus nutrix. Sunt cliniases locus secundus, audax lamiaes.
  • What was Gurdjieff's Background?

    George Gurdjieff was born in Alexandrapol in 1866/1877, the son of a local bard. Gurdjieff is said to have joined the Seekers of Truth, an esoteric order inspired by the mystical writings of Theosophical Society founder Helena Blavatsky.

    Gurdjieff was born on the frontier of Russia and Turkey. His education as a boy left him with many unanswered questions so he set out quite young in search of those who had achieved a complete knowledge of human life.

  • Peter Ouspensky

    The Russian philosopher, novelist and mathematician Peter Ouspensky was Gurdjieff's star pupil. Ouspensky write In Search of the Miraculous and The Fourth Way about the teachings of Gurdjieff. Ouspensky claimed to be engaging in telepathic conversations with his master.Being Duty

  • Gurdjieff on Sex

    Everything that people do is connected with sex: politics, religion, art, the theater, music, is all ‘sex.’ Do you think people go to the theatre or to church to pray or to see some new play? That is only for the sake of appearances. The principal thing, in the theater as well as in church, is that there will be a lot of women or a lot of men. This is the center of gravity of all gatherings...

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