The Developments in Gurdjieff’s Teaching

Part One

Several people have said to me, over the years, that it is either pointless or wrong to discuss Gurdjieff: he is simply beyond us. First, I think that it depends upon the quality or level of the discussion. I would agree that if the conversation is of a formatory level it would be useless or worse. But, in itself, that is only a reason to strive for a higher level.

Second, Gurdjieff inserts himself in each of the three series of his writings, especially in the second and third. He says things about himself in the group meetings. This means that it is impossible to have no idea of Gurdjieff at all. If I say that Gurdjieff is beyond us, then I still have an idea or image of Gurdjieff: namely, that he is “beyond us.”

I do not believe that this is an intelligent attitude for students of Gurdjieff’s system. An inchoate and cloudy notion is a liability, especially when the man himself has proved so controversial in the literature, and (as mentioned) Gurdjieff says so much about himself. It should be possible to formulate a clearer image, which will be of more value to us. I attempted to being something in that direction in this post

That is the first thing: we can avoid the discussion, but we cannot avoid having some image of Gurdjieff.


Part Two

I have said that I think the really important question is not “where did Gurdjieff find the system?” but “how did he develop his being?” If we take that as a possible point of departure for just one moment, then it places the developments in Gurdjieff’s teaching in a different light: we see him developing his system as he himself developed. This is why a little bit of time with him in 1949 was worth more than longer exposure at other times.

This perspective immediately does away with two ideas which I think misconceived: first, that he disowned the teaching he gave Ouspensky; second, that all he was doing was adapting his methods to different situations.

On my view, the only thing he disowned was Herald of Coming Good, and as I have said, I consider that little book to have been written when he was at the most unbalanced stage of his adult life, i.e. lacking in judgment as to what should or should not be said. But as is shown in an unpublished memoire of Diana Faidy, he himself was able to recognise this.

Gurdjieff did not disown the teaching he gave Ouspensky, and the idea that he did not teach the ideas in In Search of the Miraculous is absurd: he himself ordered its publication, and said – for the most part – that it was very exact. Mr Adie remembered that Gurdjieff himself had been warm not only about that book but also about Ouspensky himself, as a result of his reading of the transcript. When one of his pupils said to him that she could teach his movements but not his ideas, he told her to take In Search of the Miraculous and to read one page each day, and put into one sentence what she found to be the most important idea on it.

But this does not mean that his being did not develop: I believe that it did. He had done the work needed to present the ideas in as systematic a way as is possible with these ideas, and now he wished to find what means he could to introduce the ideas into the life of people as a practical influence. This was far harder than the first part, and, I think, he succeeded when he began to formulate the methods of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. So it was not a question of disowning an earlier teaching; it was a question of searching for the practical methods needed to perfect that teaching.


Part Three

It is not essential to my hypothesis, but I think that the car accident of 1924 obliged Gurdjieff to accept that his greatest need was to balance himself before he could return to the sort of public activity he had been engaged in. The path he chose to balance himself and to honour the interest he had already aroused in his ideas, was to produce three series of writings, and music to assist in its assimilation. Then, as he neared balance, he introduced Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. Note, too, that as I have shown in my book, this concept was added to Beelzebub after the Orage edition of about 1931. In my forthcoming study on Bennett, I provide overwhelming evidence that the exercises were not taught to Orage and Toomer, and therefore were almost certainly not being taught at all.


Part Four

This thesis also helps to explain why Gurdjieff became more overtly religious. I think that he realised that the teaching, as he had brought it, would strike many good people as being rather cold. The idea of working on oneself would not, by itself, inspire many people to persevere. And inspiration is, I suggest, needed. The incorporation of the more religious elements provides more of a reason to live and to die. After his death, his main pupils moved further in just that direction. Ouspensky and his wife, Nicoll, and Bennett, were, I would suggest, good examples of this. Even Jeanne de Salzmann’s “energy needed for the planet” was something like this.

For me, this perspective on Gurdjieff is rather encouraging: if even the remarkable person we meet in In Search of the Miraculous needed to re-balance himself, we have no right to despair when we find the path forward hard: it is hard, and our experience may be objectively correct (at least in this respect).


  1. I think that’s what we really are left with, questions.

    Is it important to acquire an image of Gurdjieff before working on ourselves or do we try to separate the knowledge from the person?

    I know from my own experience there is some kind of hypnosis trance-like attitude attached to getting to know Gurdjieff. For years I saw him as this mystical guru with special powers and I think that got in my way. When looking at what he said I would always try to think … but what did he really mean by that, what’s the inner significance then I realized later in life that when it rains the pavement gets wet, meaning that sometimes we try to imagine a more mystical experience when it’s really just simple and plain, he was just telling it like it is, Like the statement, what started in Russia ends in Russia. So many people i know try to mystify this statement, like its some type of esoteric code for something, I personally believe and reason that it is attached to his teaching career, that the efforts in Russia were his first go at his teaching but it failed and maybe we should look past those efforts and try to fathom his work after 1925 and maybe like you say, it wasn’t up to par yet. He wasn’t up to par, he did mention in the third series that he still needed more knowledge on the human psyche that was written in 1935,36

    It kind of makes me think that it’s better not to judge the knowledge in relation to knowing who he is but instead see the knowledge as something to work with.

    Also from reading Marsh she quoted him as saying that sometimes he spoke good about in search of the miraculous and sometimes he spoke bad. Like the idea of the ray of creation, he told Madam O. that she needed to drop reading the idea from that book and read from the first series which was correct. I think that was in the book…existence from JGB.

  2. You asked for reference pages. The page number in de Salzmann’s book is 68; the page number in Reymond’s is 165 (paperback). They both say The spirit becomes matter and takes on a definite density in the body.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *