George Gurdjieff: the remembrance of the true self

Intro

A theological/philosophical question that many thinkers and scholars have in common is, “Who really are we?” And “who we used to be?” For a mind that seeks spiritual elevation, it seems to be too simplistic to assume that such complex living beings, are not the product of previous existences. Thus concepts such as reincarnation, Life After Death, the Gilgul, and many other theories concerning “what we have been” are introduced.

Even classical theologians, like Christian theologians, cannot escape the reincarnationist view, and in the Gospel we have attestation of “spirit guides” who reincarnate into advanced spiritual personalities. They arrive among believers with a special purpose, a reincarnation to follow up the innate human search for GOD

When Jesus came to the parts of Casarea, to Phillippus, he asked his disciples, “Whom do men say is the son of man? And they answered, “Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and some say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
(Matthew 16:13)

Even for the thought of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff we are the product of a multitude of existences, although almost all of us cannot remember what we have been. Yet it is possible to “awaken” from this state of “sleep,” and finally live flatly and with awareness. We all have a much “bigger” and “higher” purpose than we imagine.

Life

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff born in Alexandropol, Russian Empire and present Gyumri in Armenia, (1877-Oct. 29, 1949). Gurdjieff was a master of spirituality, philosopher, mystic, spiritual guide, taught that most human beings do not possess a unified consciousness and therefore live their lives in a state of “watchful sleep,” as if they were hypnotized, although it is possible to awaken, thus achieving a “higher” state of consciousness. He also described a method to succeed in “awakening” the Spirit, calling it the “discipline of Work,” which refers to “working on oneself” to improve oneself and enlighten one’s minds.

“There are minds that question, that desire the truth of the heart, seek it, strive to solve the problems generated by life, seek to penetrate the essence of things and phenomena, and to penetrate into themselves. If a man reasons and thinks well, it does not matter which path he follows to solve these problems, he must inevitably return to himself, and begin with solving the problem of what he himself is and what his place is in the world around him.”
George Gurdjieff

According to biographer Paul Beekman Taylor, Gurdjieff was born to a Greek father from the Caucasus and an Armenian mother. The name Gurdjieff would represent a Russified form of the Greek surname “Georgiades” (Γεωργιάδης ). Gurdjieff spent his childhood in Kars, which from 1878 to 1918, was the administrative capital of the Russian-ruled Transcaucasian province of Kars Oblast, a border region recently conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Highlands and mountains inhabited by a multi-ethnic and multi-faith population, which had a respectable history of mystics, pilgrims, and saints in general. Both the city of Kars and the surrounding area were home to an extremely diverse population: although part of the Armenian Plateau, Kars Oblast was home to Armenians, Russians, Caucasian Greeks, Georgians, Turks, Kurds, and a smaller number of Eastern and Central European Christian communities such as Caucasian Germans, Estonians, and other Russian sectarian communities. In this multiethnic society therefore Gurdjieff became fluent in Armenian, Greek, Russian and Turkish, speaking the last in a mixture of elegant Osmanlı and some dialect.

Early influences on him included his father, an amateur ashik or bardic carpenter and poet, and the priest of the Russian church in his town, Dean Borsh, a family friend. The young Gurdjieff avidly read scientific literature in the Russian language, and over time, influenced by these writings, and having witnessed a number of phenomena that he could not explain, a conviction formed in him that there was a hidden truth that could not be found in science or traditional religion. His experiences and the questions of life and faith that he began to ask himself prompted him to travel extensively in search of answers, developing a thought and philosophy of his own that immediately made inroads into the spirits of those who were able to listen to him for the World.

Le prime influenze su di lui includevano suo padre, un falegname e poeta dilettante ashik o bardico, e il prete della chiesa russa della sua città, Dean Borsh, un amico di famiglia. Il giovane Gurdjieff leggeva avidamente la letteratura scientifica in lingua russa, e nel tempo, influenzato da questi scritti, e avendo assistito a una serie di fenomeni che non poteva spiegare, si formò in lui la convinzione che esistesse una verità nascosta che non può essere trovata nella scienza o nella religione tradizionale. Le sue esperienze e le domande di vita e di fede che iniziò a porsi lo spinsero a viaggiare moltissimo in cerca di risposte, sviluppando un suo pensiero e una sua filosofia che fece da subito breccia negli Spiriti di coloro che riuscirono ad ascoltarlo per il Mondo.

His thinking

“I ask you not to believe anything that you cannot verify for yourself.

Gurdjieff argued that humankind does not have the innate ability to perceive reality, and this drives most men and women to live in a state of “sleep,” which like a vigil hypnotizes our beings: “Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies.” (PD Ouspensky (1949), In search of the miracolous). So consequently, each person perceives things from a completely subjective perspective, operating, however, as unconscious automatons, but this destiono is not “forever,” as each person has the ability to “wake up” and become a new human being.

Self-development

Gurdjieff argued that many of the existing forms of religion had lost connection with their original meaning and vitality, and therefore could no longer really serve humanity in the way it was originally intended. As a result, human beings were failing to realize the truths of the ancient teachings and were instead becoming more and more like automatons, susceptible to control from without and increasingly capable of otherwise unthinkable acts of mass psychosis such as World War I. 

According to Gurdjieff, only one of the three dimensions of the person (emotions, the physical body and the mind) tends to develop, and generally at the expense of the other faculties (also called “centers”). As a result, these paths fail to produce a properly balanced human being. Moreover, anyone wishing to embark on one of the traditional paths of spiritual knowledge (which Gurdjieff reduced to three, namely, the path of the fakir, the path of the monk, and the path of the yogi) had to renounce life in the world. Gurdjieff thus developed a “Fourth Way” that would be amenable to the needs of modern people living a modern life, and this for both Westerners and Orientals (in Europe, America and the rest of the World). Instead of developing body, mind or emotions separately, Gurdjieff’s discipline worked on all three to promote complete and balanced inner development. Parallel to other spiritual traditions, he therefore taught that a person must make considerable effort to effect this transformation that leads to awakening. This effort is referred to as “The Work” or “working on oneself.”
Although Gurdjieff never attached any major meaning to the term “Fourth Way,” and never used the term in his writings, his student PD 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 and the importance of developing latent potentialities, regarded as our natural endowment as human beings but rarely brought to fruition. He taught that higher levels of consciousness, higher bodies, inner growth and development are real possibilities that nevertheless require conscious work to achieve. He gave distinct meanings to various ancient texts such as the Bible and many different religious prayers, believing that these texts had very different meanings than those commonly attributed to them. “Do not sleep”; “Wake up, for you do not know the hour”; and “The kingdom of heaven is within” are some examples of biblical statements indicating teachings whose essence has been forgotten.

Gurdjieff taught people how to increase and focus their attention and energy in various ways and how to minimize daydreaming and distraction. According to his teaching, this inner development of oneself is the beginning of a possible further process of change, the purpose of which is to transform people into what they really should be, always emphasizing the importance of good conscience.

Methods

“The Work” is essentially training in the development of consciousness. Gurdjieff used a variety of methods and materials, including meetings, music, movements (sacred dance), writings, lectures and innovative forms of group and individual work. Part of the function of these various methods was to undermine and undo patterns of habit ingrained in the mind and lead to moments of insight. Because each individual has different needs, Gurdjieff had no one-size-fits-all approach and adapted and innovated according to circumstances.
He believed that the traditional methods of self-knowledge (fakir, monk and yogi) were acquired through pain, devotion and study, respectively. Thus in themselves usually inadequate, and often leading to various forms of imbalance and excess. Yet his methods never departed from the teachings of the past by respecting them, but were simply designed to improve on traditional paths to speed up the development process. He sometimes called these methods “The way of the clever man” because they constituted a kind of shortcut to a development process that might otherwise continue for years without substantial results. The more skillful teacher sees the individual needs of the disciple and sets tasks that he knows will result in a transformation of consciousness in that individual. Instructional historical parallels can be found in the annals of Zen Buddhism, where teachers employed a variety of methods (sometimes very unorthodox) to provoke the arising of insight in the student.

The Fourth Way

“The Fourth Way” is an approach to self-development developed by Gurdjieff during years of travel in the East (c. 1890-1912). It combines and harmonizes what he saw as three established traditional “ways” or “schools”: those of the body, emotions and mind (fakirs, monks and yogis). Students often refer to the Fourth Way as “The Work,” “Self Work,” or “The System.”

The term “Fourth Way” was further used by his student PD Ouspensky in his lectures and writings. After Ouspensky’s death, his students published a book entitled “The Fourth Way” based on his lectures. According to this system, the three traditional schools, or ways, “are permanent forms that have survived throughout history mostly unchanged and are based on religion. Where schools of yogis, monks or fakirs exist, they are barely distinguishable from religious schools. the fourth way differs in that “it is not a permanent way. It has no specific forms or institutions and goes and is controlled by some particular laws of its own.”

The Fourth Way addresses the question of humanity’s place in the Universe and the possibilities for inner development. It emphasizes that people normally live in a state referred to as a semi-hypnotic “waking sleep,” while higher levels of consciousness, virtue and unity of will are possible. The Fourth Way teaches how to increase and focus attention and energy in various ways and how to minimize daydreaming and distraction. This inner development in oneself is the beginning of a possible further process of change, the purpose of which is to transform man into “what he should be.”

More insights

Gurdjieff taught that traditional paths to spiritual enlightenment followed one of three ways:

  • The way of the fakir: who works to achieve mastery of attention (self-control) through struggles with [control] of the physical body involving physical exercises and difficult postures.
  • The Way of the Monk who works to achieve the same mastery of attention (self-control) through struggles with [control] of the affections, in the domain, as they say, of the heart, which has been emphasized in the West, and become known as the Way of Faith for its practice particularly in Catholicism.
  • The Way of the Yogi who works to achieve the same mastery of attention (as before: “self-mastery”) through the struggle with habits and mental capacities [of control].

Gurdjieff insisted that these paths, although they may have the intention of trying to produce a fully developed human being, tend to cultivate certain faculties at the expense of others. The goal of religion or spirituality was, in fact, to produce a balanced, responsive and healthy human being capable of dealing with all the eventualities that life may present. Gurdjieff therefore made it clear that it was necessary to cultivate a path that integrated and combined the three traditional paths.

The fourth way

Gurdjieff said his Fourth Way was a faster means than the first three because it simultaneously combined work on all three centers rather than focusing on one. It could be followed by ordinary people in everyday life without requiring them to “retreat to live in the desert” like the old ascetics. The Fourth Way implies some conditions imposed by a teacher, but each student is always advised to do only what he or she understands, and to always verify for himself or herself the ideas of the teaching.

Ouspensky documented that Gurdjieff stated that “two or three thousand years ago there were still other ways that no longer existed, and the ways then existing were not so divided, they were much closer to each other. The fourth way differs from the old and new ways in that it is never a permanent way. It has no definite forms and there are no institutions attached to it.” 

Ouspensky quotes Gurdjieff that there are false schools and that “it is impossible to recognize a wrong way without knowing the right way. This means that it is useless to worry about recognizing a wrong way. One must think about how to find the right way.”

Teaching and teaching methods

Basis of teaching

  • Present here and now. The only time that really matters is the present, not remembering the past or being influenced by the future (expectations).
  • We do not remember ourselves. No one is allowed to be born with awareness of who we are, but we can all get there.
  • Conscious work. Actions in which the person who is doing the act is “present” in what he or she is doing, and not distracted.
  • Intentional suffering is the act of struggling against automatisms such as daydreaming, pleasure, food (eating for reasons other than actual hunger), etc. In Gurdjieff’s book Beelzebub’s Tales he states that “the greatest intentional suffering can be achieved in our presences by forcing ourselves to endure the unpleasant manifestations of others toward ourselves” For Gurdjieff, conscious work and intentional suffering were the basis of all human evolution.
  • Self-observation. Observation of one’s own behavior and habits. Observing thoughts, feelings and sensations without judging or analyzing what one observes.
  • The need to strive. Gurdjieff emphasized that awakening is the result of constant and prolonged effort over time.
  • The many “I’s.” Indicates the fragmentation of the psyche, the different feelings and thoughts of the “I” in a person: I think, I want, I know better, I prefer, I am happy, I am hungry, I am tired, etc. These have nothing in common with each other and are unaware of each other, arising and fading for short periods of time. The human being therefore has no unity in himself, desiring one thing now and another, perhaps contradictory, thing later.
  • Centers. Gurdjieff classified plants as having one center, animals two and humans three. Centers refer to apparatuses within a being that dictate specific organic functions. There are three main centers in a human: intellectual , emotional and physical , and two higher centers: higher emotional and higher intellectual.
  • Body, Essence and Personality. Gurdjieff divided people’s being into Essence and Personality. Essence is a “natural part of a person” or “what a person is born with,” and this is the part of a being that is said to have the ability to evolve. Personality, on the other hand, is anything artificial that has “learned” and “seen.”

Gurdjieff divided people’s being into Essence and Personality. Essence is a “natural part of a person” or “what a person is born with,” and this is the part of a being that is said to have the ability to evolve. Personality, on the other hand, is anything artificial that has “learned” and “seen.”

Hints of cosmic laws and symbols

Gurdjieff focused on two main cosmic laws, the Law of Three and the Law of Seven.

  • The law of seven is described by Gurdjieff as “the first fundamental cosmic law.” The fundamental use of the law of seven is to explain why nothing in nature and in life consistently occurs in a straight line, that is, there are always ups and downs in life that occur legally. Examples of this can be noted in athletic performance, where a top athlete always has periodic drops, as well as in almost any graph that plots topics that occur over time, such as economic graphs, population graphs, mortality rate graphs, and so on Su. They all show parabolic periods that keep going up and down. Gurdjieff said that since these periods legally occur according to the law of seven, it is possible to maintain a straight-line process if the necessary shocks are introduced at the right time.
  • The Law of Three is described by Gurdjieff as “the second fundamental cosmic law.” This law states that every entire phenomenon is composed of three separate sources, which are Active , Passive and Reconciliatory or Neutral . This law applies to everything in the universe and humanity , as well as to all structures and processes. The “Three Centers” in a human being (Intellectual, Emotional and Mobile), are an expression of the law of three. Gurdjieff taught his students to think of the law of three forces as essential to transforming the energy of the human being The transformation process requires the three actions of affirmation, negation and reconciliation. This law of three separate sources can be seen as a modern interpretation of the early Hindu philosophy of the Gunas. We can see it as Chapters 3, 7, 13, 14, 17 and 18 of the Bhagavad Gita discuss Gunas in their verses. (The Bhagavad Gita. Sargeant, Winthrop, 1903-1986., Chapple, Christopher Key, 1954- (25th anniversary ed.). Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press. 2009. ISBN 978-1-4416-0873-4. OCLC 334515703)

Gurdjieff’s enneagram. The universal and coordinated action of the two laws is exemplified by the symbol of the enneagram: a circle that includes an equilateral triangle intertwined with another six-sided figure. Of its nine sides, six are obtained from 1 divided by 7 (which produces an infinite number in which 3, 6 and 9 never appear), the others from 1 divided by 3 (which produces an infinite series of 3, 6 and 9). The points where the sides touch the circle are numbered from one to nine. The circle symbolizes zero, the hermetic snake biting its tail: it is actually not a circle but a spiral, because the symbol is not static but dynamic. The Enneagram represents any process that maintains itself by self-renewal: for example, life. That is why, according to Gurdjieff, it is “perpetual motion and also the philosopher’s stone of the alchemists.”

The way the Law of Seven and the Law of Three work together is said to be illustrated in the Fourth Way Enneagram, a nine-pointed symbol that is the central glyph of Gurdjieff’s system.

Simbols

In his explanations Gurdjieff often used different symbols such as the Enneagram and the Ray of Creation. Gurdjieff said that “the Enneagram is a universal symbol. All knowledge can be included in the Enneagram and with the help of the Enneagram it can be interpreted…. A man can be completely alone in the desert and can trace the enneagram in the sand and in it read the eternal laws of the universe, learning something new each time.” The ray of creation is a diagram representing Earth’s place in the Universe, has eight levels, and each corresponding to Gurdjieff’s laws of octaves.
Through the elaboration of the law of octaves and the meaning of the enneagram, Gurdjieff offered his students alternative means of conceptualizing the world and their place in it.

Writings

Three books by Gurdjieff were published in English in the U.S. after his death: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson published in 1950 by EP Dutton & Co. Inc., Meetings with Remarkable Men , published in 1963 by EP Dutton & Co. Inc., and Life is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am,’ privately printed by EP Dutton & Co. This trilogy is Gurdjieff’s legominism, known collectively as All and Everything . A legominism, according to Gurdjieff, is “one of the means of conveying information about certain events of distant epochs through initiates.” He was the one who coined this by pointing to symbols left in the past of any kind: written, drawn, sculpted, even architectural works, anything that holds a cosmic truth.A book of his early talks was also collected by his student and personal secretary, Olga de Hartmann , and published in 1973 as Views from the Real World: Early Talks in Moscow, Essentuki, Tiflis, Berlin, London, Paris, New York and Chicago, as his students recall .

Gurdjieff’s views were initially promoted through the writings of his students. The best known and widely read of these is In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching by PD Ouspensky , which is widely regarded as a crucial introduction to the teaching. Others refer to Gurdjieff’s books (detailed below) as primary texts. Numerous anecdotal accounts of time spent with Gurdjieff were published by Charles Stanley Nott , Thomas and Olga de Hartmann , Fritz Peters, René Daumal , John G. Bennett , Maurice Nicoll , Margaret Anderson and Louis Pauwels , among others.

Books

Conclusions

The teachings of this master, if understood deeply, can truly change our existence for the better. Gurdjieff was a religious man and believed in GOD, but he was not content to just follow what he was taught, trying to dig deeper into his Spirit. Another great mind that strived in trying to help others, to “see” what he “saw” and be “at peace” as he was. Everyone can choose whether to go with the flow, manifesting a semi-conscious existence, or instead seek to “be and live fully,” to evolve consciously, move toward the ability to receive and generate higher and more refined energies. We can then perform a higher “Work” for the primordial forces of creation, where the law “nothing is created and nothing is destroyed” reigns. However, everything is transformed, nothing is wasted, everything (including ourselves and our spirits) is “food” for something else, even the smallest particle is utilized.
So we come to the conclusion that ongi true teaching is actually already within us, we just need to rediscover it. We do not “understand” because it is merely explained to us or we read it, but actually we already know it deep inside us, and we verify it by our experience.

The poles of our identity are exactly oriented; however, we must approach the concepts we seek and investigate regarding the role and task that summarizes our imperceptible passage within Creation. Thoughts regarding the purposes of our existences, however, are usually weak, reflections containing sporadic questions that dissolve insolubly in the oceans of our complex daily lives. Yet approaching these practices, even naively, still corresponds to being ready to receive. We are all called to expand our Soul, but we should sacrifice the trivial, the superfluous, the inappropriate, and above all the unfair.
There has been a past and there will always be a future where everything has seemed and will seem incredibly closer, real and possible, we just have to believe to make that actually happen.

 

Bibliography

 

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