G.I. Gurdjieff was an influential spiritual teacher who maintained that neither science nor religion entailed the answers to life’s crucial questions. This guru, in his ostensibly astute observation, believed that most human beings were in a state of entrancing, ‘waking sleep’ and that it is possible to rise to a higher level of consciousness by means of spirituality. Thus, he developed a discipline called ‘The Work’, which implied ‘work on oneself’. In his lifetime, he offered to display a path to his followers—one which would show them a way to live a meaningful, fulfilling life. His commanding, powerful personality was supposedly enough to stun a whole room. With great oratory skills, Gurdjieff exuded a sense of self-confidence and allure. He is best-known for his works, ‘All and Everything’. His teachings, very much like those of Ouspensky, promised his followers an admission into acryptic world of primeval spiritual wisdom. Today, there are more than a dozen ‘Gurdjieff Foundation’ centres around the world that are working towards preserving and promoting the works of this spiritual leader.
Childhood & Early Life
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was born in the 19th century to a Greek father and an Armenian mother in Alexandropol (now Gyumri, Armenia), a part of the Russian Empire.
He was raised in Kars—a city where Turkish, Russian and Armenian cultures entwined. He was greatly influenced by the Russian language and scientific literature but he realized that none of the two could explain the inexplicable singularities he would often experience.
This led him to believe that a deeper truth lay beyond science and religion. It was this belief that led him to travel around the world for a few years, before he returned to Russia in 1912.
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He supported himself during his travels by working a number of odd jobs such as dying hedgerow birds yellow and selling them as canaries. In 1912, he arrived in Moscow and attracted his first students, talking about the purpose of human life and his theories on ‘waking sleep’
Two years later, since he was an avid musician, he publicized his ballet, ‘The Struggle of the Magicians’, which he also believed, was a route to spirituality.
During the Russian Revolution in Russia, he left Petrograd in 1914 and traveled to his family who lived in Alexandropol. During the Bolshevik Revolution, he set up provisional study groups in Tuapse, Pot, Sochi and Caucasus, where he worked on a number of his pupils.
In 1919, he established the first Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.
From 1921 to 1922, he traveled around Western Europe, lecturing and giving demonstrations of his work about man’s inner oppression and evolution, in various cities such as London and Berlin. He then decided to establish the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Paris.
In 1924, he travelled to North America and even experienced a near-death car accident, which caused a slow, painful recovery. After he recovered from the accident, he authored ‘Beelzebub’s Tales’, the first part of his famous collection titled, ‘All and Everything’.
In 1932, he constituted a new teaching group in Paris, which comprised of only women (many of them lesbians), who collectively came to be known as ‘the Rope’. Three years later, he stopped work on ‘All and Everything’
In 1936, he settled in Paris, where he would live for the rest of his life. Shortly after settling in Paris, ‘The Rope’ was disbanded. At the onset of World War II, he continued to teach a number of pupils from his home and engaged in personal business (selling oriental rugs and carpets) to offer relief to neighbors to overcome the financial crunch during World War II.
In 1948, he suffered another unexpected car accident, but recovered from it soon. After his quick recovery, he decided that he would finalize the publication of ‘Beelzebub’s Tales’.
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In the last few years of his life, he traveled to New York and visited a number of antediluvian cave paintings, giving his elucidation of their meaning to his pupils. In his final years, he also improvised a lot on harmonium music; concerts of which he would give to his students after dinners at his apartment.
Throughout his life, Gurdjieff worked on the three parts of his magnum opus, ‘All and Everything’. The first part, ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson’, is an extensive, figurative work, published posthumously in 1950. This work includes two English translations, one which was carried out under his observation and the other which was published in 1991.
This is largely considered one of his greatest works because it is believed to give the best summary to Gurdjieff’s ideas, since part of the book’s intent is to arrogate the standard patterns of thought. Two of the other parts of ‘All and Everything’ titled ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’ and ‘Life is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’, were also equally successful, while the latter remained unfinished.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Julia Ostrowska in Saint Petersburg, in 1912.
He fathered seven children with seven different women. These women were Jessmin Howarth, Lily Galumnian Chaverdian, Georgii, Edith Annesley Taylor, Elizaveta Grigorievna, Jeanne Allemand de Salzmann and Olga Ivanovna Hinzenberg.
He was often criticized for his unrealistic and unsuccessful treatments on people, which led to the deaths of many individuals, including his wife, who died after suffering from cancer and after being treated with unsuccessful medical practices by Gurdjieff.
He passed away in an American hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, in France. His life was soon surrounded by fanciful legend after his death. His pursuit for human spiritual evolution led to the establishment of over a dozen ‘Gurdjieff Foundations’ around the world, most of which are located in North America.
The ‘Fellowship of Friends’ currently operates the ‘Gurdjieff-Ouspensky Centers’ in over 30 countries around the world. His teachings are currently used to increase the focus and attention of people, using spiritual energy from within, to minimize distraction and inattentiveness.
Many critics believed that he brought new awareness to Western Culture, whereas a number of other critics believed that he was an impostor and believed in self-glorification and thus, formed his visions.
He is believed to have had strong control and influence over personalities including Kate Bush, Robert Fripp, Peter Brook, Keith Jarrett, George Russell, John Shirley, Jacob Needleman, Muriel Draper and the most important personality of all, who was also his student, P.D. Ouspensky.
There are a number of books written on Gurdjieff such as ‘The Reality of Being’, ‘In Search of the Miraculous’, ‘The Unknowable Gurdjieff’, ‘The Teachers of Gurdjieff’, ‘Gurdjieff Unveiled’ and ‘Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff’ to name a few.
This famous Greco-Armenian spiritual leader was accused of killing Katherine Mansfield after she died of tuberculosis under his care as he was known for his notorious and unsuccessful medical treatment.
Throughout his life, this spiritual leader composed nearly 200 musical pieces with de Hartmann.