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G. I. Gurdjieff

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (January 13 / January 14, 1866? - October 29, 1949), the Greek-Armenian mystic and 'teacher of dancing' born in Alexandropol, Armenia (then of the Russian Empire, now Gumri, Armenia), traveled to many parts of the world (i.e. Central Asia, Egypt, Rome) before returning to Russia and teaching in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1913. In the midst of revolutionary upheaval in Russia he left Petrograd (St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd September 1, 1914) in 1917 to return to his family home in Alexandropol. During the Bolshevik Revolution he set up temporary camps in Essentuki in the Caucasus, then Tuapse, Maikop, Sochi and Poti, all on the Black Sea coast of Southern Russia where he worked intensively with many of his Russian pupils. In mid-January 1919 he and group of his closest pupils moved to Tbilisi remaining there until late May 1920 when political conditions in Georgia deteriorated. Then, by foot, they walked to Batumi on the Black Sea coast embarking for Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) where Gurdjieff rented an apartment on Koumbaradji Street in Péra and later at 13 Abdullatif Yemeneci Sokak near the Galata Tower. The apartment is near the tekke (monastery) of the Mevlevi Order of Sufis (founded by Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi) where Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Thomas de Hartmann study the sema ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes. Gurdjieff also meets John G. Bennett in Constantinople. Mr. Bennett, who was then a British naval officer, later became one of Gurdjieff's most well-known pupils.

Gurdjieff left Constantinople in August 1921 traveling on to Western Europe visiting, lecturing and giving demonstrations of his work in various metropolitan centers such as Berlin and London. In October 1922, he established the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man south of Paris at the Prieuré des Basses Loges in Fontainebleau-Avon near the famous Château de Fontainebleau. In 1924 he nearly died in a car accident. After his recovery he began writing All and Everything originally written by him in Russian and Armenian.

He stopped writing in 1935 after having completed the first two parts of the trilogy and only having started on the incomplete Third Series which had been published under the title Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'. Gurdjieff lived in Paris at 6 Rue des Colonels Rénard in Vichy France during World War II where he continued to teach his pupils throughout the war. He died on October 29, 1949 at the American Hospital in Neuilly, France. His funeral was held at the St. Alexandre Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral at 12 Rue Daru, Paris. He is buried in the cemetery at Fontainebleau-Avon near the grave of Katherine Mansfield.

Timelines, facts and whereabouts regarding his early biography before he appeared in Moscow in 1913 are uncertain, fictionalised or have been deliberately obscured by him, though some believe that his text, Meetings with Remarkable Men, is an accurate account of his early search. Few doubt that Gurdjieff was a master of wisdom able to practice self-remembering, external considering and work on oneself ideas that are discussed in many of the works cited here. There are many eyewitness accounts by pupils and acquaintances of miraculous occurrences and super-human feats achieved in his presence.

He is best-known through the published works of his students, such as P. D. Ouspensky (author of In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching), John G. Bennett, Thomas and Olga de Hartmann, René Daumal and Maurice Nicoll among others. His students included Frank Lloyd Wright, Kathryn Hulme, P. L. Travers and Katherine Mansfield. Three books written by Gurdjieff were published after his death: (Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, Meetings with Remarkable Men, and Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am', a trilogy known collectively as All and Everything. A book of his early talks was also collected by one of his students and personal secretaries, Olga de Hartmann, and published in 1973 under the title Views from the Real World: Early Talks in Moscow, Essentuki, Tiflis, Berlin, London, Paris, New York and Chicago, as recollected by his pupils. Gurdjieff's teachings have much in common with the teachings of Zen and other Hindu and Buddhist traditions. He called his teaching Esoteric Christianity and borrowed techniques from Eastern Orthodox hesychasm. His ideas center around the struggle of working on oneself for the purpose of becoming more conscious and more in control of the levels of one's being through various attention focusing exercises, meditation activities and movements that may develop into the all-center-awake practice of self-remembering. Many of his ideas and practices find similar expressions within the various schools of Sufism. he taught that the ordinary waking consciousness of human beings was a form of sleep and that higher levels of consciousness were possible, namely subjective consciousness and objective consciousness. The development of these levels of consciousness corresponded with the development of the higher bodies (i.e. the alchemical processes occurred within the human being seeking completion.

The feature film Meetings with Remarkable Men (1979) directed by Peter Brook and starring Terrence Stamp is based upon the book of the same name and was made under the direction of Jeanne de Salzmann and depicts rare performances of the sacred dances taught to serious students of his work known simply as the movements.

His teachings have been called The Work or The Fourth Way which is also the title of a book by P. D. Ouspensky. His teaching methods have been somewhat preserved by various groups formed after his death including the Gurdjieff Foundations in New York and Paris, under the direction of Jeanne de Salzmann. John G. Bennett, another well known pupil of Gurdjieff and author, founded autonomous groups called the International Academy for Continuous Education established at Sherborne House, England in 1970 and The Claymont Society for Continuous Education in West Virginia in 1974. There are many other groups under the direction of many other of Gurdjieff's pupils, or his pupil's pupils (or even his pupil's pupil's pupils!) that have various pedigrees and connections with other Gurdjieff groups -- some of very dubious claim to a link with Gurdjieff's original teachings and methods. Some have also suggested that it was Gurdjieff who spawned the area of Enneagram studies. Some, such as Idries Shah, claim that Gurdjieff's spiritual authority to transmit an authentic esoteric teaching ended at his death and has not been transmitted to his any of students in unadulterated form. Many Westerners continue to discover Gurdjieff's life and teachings and endeavor to contact individuals and groups with some connection with the traditions that have developed under the guidance of his pupils.

A Short Bibliography

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