‘Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West—and then seek’. G.I. Gurdjieff.
Nobody knows the exact date of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff’s birthday but he usually celebrated it on January 13th. Gurdjieff was always vague about dates, places, and details of his early life. He was a man of mystery, who had a charismatic quality about him and it was said he had psychic abilities. Everybody who met him described him differently, it was as if he wore a separate mask for each person, thus not letting anyone know the real Gurdjieff. But he was a man with a mission, and that was to awaken the people.
His Greek father was the rock in his life who showed him how to live a good existence from an early age. His father was a very much respected man in the area, singing old folk songs and telling tales of old. His mother was Armenian and she stayed with him until her death in 1924.
As a young man Gurdjieff travelled in search of sacred places in search of lost knowledge and secret brotherhoods. He went looking for the Sarmoung Brotherhood, a secret esoteric order. Gurdjieff tracked them down and spent some time with them where he learnt the ancient wisdom, of yogis, fakirs and monks, dances for the mind and body and with all this knowledge he began to put together his teachings.
Gurdjieff met his wife in 1914; she was the Countess Ostrowska of the Russian court and a member of the Theosophical Society in Russia. They remained together until her death in 1925.
Gurdjieff had many various trades; hypnotist, carpet seller and mender of anything. He was the all-round handy man. In 1917 Gurdjieff was in Petersburg where he set up a small school teaching esoteric dance. He wrote a ballet, called ‘The Struggle of the Magicians’. This was a tale of good versus evil as a dark magician and a magician of light battle it out.
Music was very important in Gurdjieff’s life. In his travels he had been shown the power of music, how it can affect everything by its tones and the way it was played. At one of the schools he was shown a seed that was planted in a pot, music was played to it and as the music progressed the seed began to grow so that within a short time it became a seedling, flourishing into a mature plant, all along while the music played.
Music is one of the keys to life; it was all to do with the vibrations of the notes of the music along with the vibrations within one’s own body and Gurdjieff knew this, so he incorporated dance and music into his teaching, he taught sacred dances, which were exercises for the mind, body and soul.
It was during this time that he was sought out by a Russian man also on the same path: Peter Demianovich Ouspensky. Ouspensky had already published some of his own writings, ‘The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin’ a fiction tale on time travel and another ‘Talks with a Devil’, two tales on encounters with evil and the devil.
Both men wanted to evolve, to stop being machines, to stop doing things automatically. They both wanted to become better men; both believing that man does not use his senses correctly and that humanity was so out of touch, out of kilter with the world around him, that he is not able to operate properly, in a harmonised way.
Gurdjieff wanted to teach man how to reconnect with his true self, Ouspensky wanted to do just that, find that true self. Gurdjieff offered a way, sometimes known as the Fourth Way but Gurdjieff knew that the majority of people would be too lazy or greedy to want to better themselves; he called this the sickness of the 20th century.
To Gurdjieff, everybody was asleep in life, like a machine, just rolling through it yet not actually living it. Gurdjieff talked about a law of three, a law that operated throughout the universe. A part of this law is that men and women have three centres within them that operate throughout their life on earth; an emotional centre, an intellectual and a moving centre. Emotions drive us along, intellect and intelligence helps us to think our way through the day whilst our moving centre, the physical side puts us in motion. These three ways are unbalanced in men and women, working irrationally and thus causing disorder. A fourth way was needed to bring all three centres in harmony.
Gurdjieff’s mission was to help man unite himself inside, his inner self in total synchronization so that one could then work with the outer life in a more productive way.
In October 1922 Gurdjieff set up a new school and gave it the name ‘The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man’. Gurdjieff bought a large chateau called the Prieure with large grounds in the village of Fontainebleau, France. Students came from all over the world but the majority were American and British. Gurdjieff intended to train these people to become a harmonious person within.
By day they performed physical work clearing the grounds and building a steam bath. In the evenings they would eat then listen to Gurdjieff talk and the rest of the time they practised the exercises that Gurdjieff gave them which could be physical or mental.
Gurdjieff also began to teach exercises that were to become known as the movements. Slow and at first glance odd dances they had positions designed to move the energy of the inner body around and like a meditation to take the mind to another level. These movements were later performed in New York City to quite mixed reviews; nothing had been seen like it before in the Western World.
Gurdjieff had big plans for the school, which he discusses in his book ‘The Herald of Coming Good’; he was going to perform many experiments and patent many new inventions some of which involved sound and magnetism.
All was going well until Gurdjieff was involved in a very serious car accident driving back from Paris on the night of the 8th July 1924. His car hit a tree and he was thrown from it, found later unconscious lying on the ground.
He was brought back to the Prieure after a short hospital stay and was carried to his room. The doctors said he was lucky to be alive as he had received serious head trauma along with other injuries. As Gurdjieff began to recover, he shut down the institute and dismissed the students, keeping only his closest pupils with him.
Gurdjieff was unfit to teach and had to recover from that near fatal accident. In the same year his mother passed and the following year his wife died from cancer. A triple shock in a short time.
Gurdjieff decided to put his teaching into book form. He wrote a set of books under the collective title ‘All and Everything’. He began to dictate his first book to the few remaining students and it was entitled ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson’.
It is the story of Beelzebub, an angel from another planet who had been sent to Mars many millennia ago as a punishment for a misdemeanour he had with the God type character in the book called His Endlessness.
Chapters from the book were read out at groups meetings in France and the USA, long sittings where great attention was needed to try and understand the teaching messages Gurdjieff had put into them.
Gurdjieff’s second book in his ‘All and Everything’ series is entitled ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’, a biography of his life and travels and the teachers he has sought with his friends who called themselves ‘The Seekers of Truth’.
The books tales follow him across continents meeting various types of peoples and how he paid his way with his various trades as a handyman and some slight con tricks such as capturing sparrows, painting them bright colours then selling them as canaries.
This book was not brought out until after his death just like his third book ‘Life is real, only then, when I am’. It focuses more on his times in America and the groups he had worked with there.
All of Gurdjieff’s books are written in his own unique way, which hopefully is not lost in translations. Gurdjieff wrote sentences that became paragraphs in his aim to get his point across.
Gurdjieff passed away on October 29th 1949. He is buried in Fontainebleau with his wife and mother. Two big megalithic stones stand at either end of the grave.
Gurdjieff strongly believed that one should accept all religions; it was one of his most important aphorisms. He said he had come to bring humanity a new conception of God, to awaken mankind up to who they are, who God is and what their own role is in the universe. Gurdjieff came to teach all and everything.