Saturday, December 16, 2017
Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way: A Critical Appraisal

George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, who brought an ancient esoteric teaching to the West, was one of the most important spiritual teachers of the 20th century.

  • The impact of his ideas, teaching methods and powerful personality continue to challenge and fascinate seekers of wisdom more than 65 years after his death.
  • His teaching, known as ‘the Work’ - which has come to be called the ‘Fourth Way’ - has greatly influenced spiritual seekers throughout the world.

Assessments of Gurdjieff by students, followers, journalists, critics, scholars and fellow spiritual teachers are bewilderingly diverse, ranging from ‘charlatan’ and ‘black magician’ to ‘extraordinary spiritual master’ and even ‘A Messenger from Above.’

In light of such a conflicting portrait of Gurdjieff there is a real need to examine his life, teachings and influence on the contemporary world based on an objective, balanced approach free from preconceptions or ideological bias.

The intent of this website is to bring together multiple perspectives from a wide range of sources to examine and evaluate the Gurdjieff phenomena, with the hope of stimulating debate and discussion rather than providing any final definitive statement or conclusion.

Gurdjieff – Sexual Beliefs and Practices

By all accounts Gurdjieff was a vigorous, charismatic man with a robust sexual nature, described by biographer James Webb as “a sensual man who enjoyed the pleasures of the bed as much as those of the table.”

Gurdjieff's sexual conduct shocked many people in the 1920s and 1930s, especially in conservative America.

  • There were rumours that he had a highly varied sex life and was involved in unusual sexual practices.
  • Some claimed he was a master of exotic Tantric sexual teachings learned in the East.
Gurdjieff – Drugs, Alcohol and Food

Anthropological research suggests that human beings in virtually every culture in history have ingested chemical substances to alter their consciousness.

  • Certain spiritual traditions celebrate inebriation as a metaphor for conscious transformation.
  • Sufi mystics speak of being ‘drunk with the wine of love.’
  • The Zen tradition has a history of poets and teaching masters who were spirited drinkers of saké.
  • Other spiritual traditions have employed certain ‘power drugs’ and psychedelics in sacred rituals and ceremonies as an integral part of their teaching.
The Inner Circle of Humanity

The source of Gurdjieff's teachings has never been conclusively established by either scholars or students of Gurdjieff.

However, some have speculated that he contacted and learned from esoteric schools that were custodians of ancient spiritual teachings on the evolution of humanity.

Gurdjieff spoke in general terms about esoteric schools directed by a circle of evolved human beings who have guided the spiritual development of humanity throughout history.

Gurdjieff's Cosmological Ideas

The system of knowledge that Gurdjieff taught has a psychological side and a cosmological side, which form twin halves of a comprehensive whole.

Study of the psychological ideas is helpful in understanding the cosmological concepts, and vice versa.

To a certain extent, a thorough grounding in Gurdjieff’s basic psychological ideas is a prerequisite to approaching his complex cosmology.

Sources of Gurdjieff's Teachings

From the beginning of Gurdjieff’s teaching mission in the West, a number of questions have fueled an ongoing debate about the source of his teachings and practices.

  • Where did he learn his powerful system of psychological and cosmological ideas?
  • What particular spiritual teachings form the foundation of his work?
  • Which teachers inspired and influenced his development?
Gurdjieff's Search for Esoteric Knowledge

G.I. Gurdjieff has been described as one of the most fascinating and remarkable men of the 20th century.

He possessed immense personal magnetism and profound esoteric knowledge of human transformation, and he brought a spiritual teaching of vast scope and power to the Western world.

  • Yet, throughout his life Gurdjieff was an enigma even to his closest students and was widely misunderstood by observers, critics and the public.
Authenticity as a Spiritual Teacher

Gurdjieff first emerged as a spiritual teacher in 1908 in Tashkent, Turkestan where he attracted a small circle of pupils.

His teaching activity from this initial stage until 1912 is largely shrouded in mystery and cannot be independently verified in any way.

Research by John Bennett and biographer James Moore suggests that this period was essentially experimental, as Gurdjieff tested his ideas and teaching methods on a wide spectrum of personality types.

Evolution: A Critical Appraisal

Evolution is defined by science as an orderly and progressive development of organic life governed by certain laws.

From the perspective of science the biological evolution of plants, animals and humans is a series of irreversible transformations of the genetic composition of populations, based primarily upon altered interactions with and adaptations to their environment.

Although many aspects of human evolution based on the Darwinian and neo-Darwinian perspectives have been validated through a variety of scientific findings in many different fields of study, these are primarily related to physical evidence while disregarding the role of mind and consciousness in the evolutionary process.

Contemporary status of the Work

Although more than half a century has elapsed since Gurdjieff's death, his life and teachings continue to challenge and intrigue contemporary seekers of spiritual wisdom.

Interest in Gurdjieff's teachings is also growing in the secular world and many of his psychological and cosmological ideas have influenced various “Human Potential” and “New Age” movements and even entered the cultural and academic mainstream. His name and ideas appear in a surprising array of current cultural expressions:

  • CDs and Internet downloads of the music of Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann
  • DVDs and videos of the Movements
  • The emergence of the enneagram symbol as a type of cultural icon
  • Films, TV documentaries, radio interviews
  • Theatre, dance, drama, literature
  • Books, journals, magazines, periodicals
  • Scholarly study in academic fields as diverse as psychotherapy, ecology, comparative religion and quantum physics
  • Conferences, seminars, weekend workshops
  • Business applications, management training
  • Countless websites
Annotated Bibliography

A rich and multifaceted literature has been created over the years from the pens of Gurdjieff, his direct students (first generation), pupils of his students (second generation), scholars and researchers, journalists and critics, and biographers.

At best these writings (Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, In Search of the Miraculous) are works of ‘objective art’ which convey, on multiple levels, great spiritual truths and ideas with an undeniable impact on the reader.

At worst they are shallow, ill-informed and misleading, as they attempt to define Gurdjieff and his teachings through the lens of subjectivity, preconception and dogmatic bias.

Taken as a whole, the Gurdjieff literature forms a composite multidimensional mosaic or portrait of this exceptional teacher, his teachings and his students

Critical Appraisal

Annotated Bibliography

Annotated Bibliography A rich and multifaceted literature has been created over the years from the pens of Gurdjieff, his direct students (first generation), pupils of his students (second generation), scholars and researchers, journalists and critics, and biographers. At best these writings (Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, In Search of the Miraculous) are... Read more

Contemporary status of the…

Contemporary status of the Work Although more than half a century has elapsed since Gurdjieff's death, his life and teachings continue to challenge and intrigue contemporary seekers of spiritual wisdom. Interest in Gurdjieff's teachings is also growing in the secular world and many of his psychological and cosmological ideas have influenced various... Read more

Evolution: A Critical Appr…

Evolution: A Critical Appraisal Evolution is defined by science as an orderly and progressive development of organic life governed by certain laws. From the perspective of science the biological evolution of plants, animals and humans is a series of irreversible transformations of the genetic composition of populations, based primarily upon altered interactions with and adaptations to... Read more

Authenticity as a Spiritua…

Authenticity as a Spiritual Teacher Gurdjieff first emerged as a spiritual teacher in 1908 in Tashkent, Turkestan where he attracted a small circle of pupils. His teaching activity from this initial stage until 1912 is largely shrouded in mystery and cannot be independently verified in any way. Research by John Bennett and biographer... Read more

Gurdjieff's Search for Eso…

Gurdjieff's Search for Esoteric Knowledge G.I. Gurdjieff has been described as one of the most fascinating and remarkable men of the 20th century. He possessed immense personal magnetism and profound esoteric knowledge of human transformation, and he brought a spiritual teaching of vast scope and power to the Western world. Yet, throughout... Read more

Sources of Gurdjieff's Tea…

Sources of Gurdjieff's Teachings From the beginning of Gurdjieff’s teaching mission in the West, a number of questions have fueled an ongoing debate about the source of his teachings and practices. Where did he learn his powerful system of psychological and cosmological ideas? What particular spiritual teachings form the foundation of... Read more

Gurdjieff's Cosmological I…

Gurdjieff's Cosmological Ideas The system of knowledge that Gurdjieff taught has a psychological side and a cosmological side, which form twin halves of a comprehensive whole. Study of the psychological ideas is helpful in understanding the cosmological concepts, and vice versa. To a certain extent, a thorough grounding in Gurdjieff’s basic psychological ideas... Read more

The Inner Circle of Humani…

The Inner Circle of Humanity The source of Gurdjieff's teachings has never been conclusively established by either scholars or students of Gurdjieff. However, some have speculated that he contacted and learned from esoteric schools that were custodians of ancient spiritual teachings on the evolution of humanity. Gurdjieff spoke in general terms about esoteric... Read more

Gurdjieff – Drugs, Alcohol…

Gurdjieff – Drugs, Alcohol and Food Anthropological research suggests that human beings in virtually every culture in history have ingested chemical substances to alter their consciousness. Certain spiritual traditions celebrate inebriation as a metaphor for conscious transformation. Sufi mystics speak of being ‘drunk with the wine of love.’ The Zen tradition... Read more

Gurdjieff – Sexual Beliefs…

Gurdjieff – Sexual Beliefs and Practices By all accounts Gurdjieff was a vigorous, charismatic man with a robust sexual nature, described by biographer James Webb as “a sensual man who enjoyed the pleasures of the bed as much as those of the table.” Gurdjieff's sexual conduct shocked many people in the 1920s... Read more

Gurdjieff and the Fourth W…

Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way: A Critical Appraisal George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, who brought an ancient esoteric teaching to the West, was one of the most important spiritual teachers of the 20th century. The impact of his ideas, teaching methods and powerful personality continue to challenge and fascinate seekers of wisdom more... Read more