Georgy Ivanovich Gurdjieff was a mystic, philosopher, spiritual teacher and one of the most enigmatic figures of the first half of the 20th century. He was born on 28 December 1873-77 in Alexandropol (presently, the city of Gumri in Armenia) into a Greek-Armenian family. His father was an ashok, a collector and performer of ancient epos. The Russian Orthodox priest Borsh engaged himself in the upbringing of young Gurdjieff, having the intention of making a church minister and a doctor of him. However, prompted by an “unquenchable aspiration to understand the precise meaning of the life process of al the outward forms of breathing creatures on Earth and, especially, the aim of human life” , Gurdjieff along with a group of like-minded associates, calling themselves “Seekers of the Truth,” set out travelling throughout the East in search of ancient knowledge, which possibly survived, having been preserved up to our time. Subsequently, during conversations with pupils who asked him questions about the sources from where he drew his knowledge, Gurdjieff mentioned Tibet, Eastern Persia and Outer Mongolia.
Gurdjieff appeared in Russia sometime between 1911 and 1913. In his background was a complex life which many biographers had tried to decipher. He himself did everything in his power to scatter all the traces, to confuse facts with legends, and sometimes even with absurdities and anecdotes. Some people saw in him a prophet and a bearer of ancient knowledge, while others viewed him as an “enslaver of men” and “seducer of women” and even the devil himself. Gurdjieff himself has made no small effort to create this ambiguous image. He frequently signed his epistles to his pupils as the “The Black Greek,” “The Tiger of Turkestan” and “The Nephew of the Prince of Mukhran”.
In order to keep his teaching from undergoing conceptual crystallization, Gurdjieff invented various means in order to liberate people from a superfluous grasp of his teaching and directing them along the path of profound comprehension. This comprehension was connected with a change of the system of values and reference points of the human being and was supposed to lead towards a renewal of life, which was the most important sense and aim of Gurdjieff’s efforts.
Gurdjieff was able by degrees to attract the attention of the Russian artistic intellectuals, and the appropriate people started gathering around him. However, because of the revolution of 1917 and the Civil War which followed it Gurdjieff’s grandiose aims could not be achieved, and he was compelled to depart for the Caucasus. Ouspensky and his other pupils followed him.
In Tiflis Gudjieff became acquainted with Alexander and Jeanne de Salzmann (A. de Salzmann was a theatrical artist, and his wife Jeanne was a dance teacher following the system of the famous choreographer Jacques Dalcroze) and began his work on the production of his ballet “The Struggle of the Magicians”.
Because of the turbulent political situation on the Caucasus Gurdjieff along with a group of pupilsd set out from Batumi to Constantinople in 1920. Later on, in August 1921 they were compelled to depart for Germany, which in the early 1920s was a Mecca for mysticism. In 1922 Gurdjieff bought the estate of Prieure in Avon, close to Fontainebleau, with the money gathered by the pupils of his follower P.D. Ouspensky in London, and founded the Institute for Harmonious Development of Man there. At that period of time Gurdjieff’s work was mainly devoted to the methods of study of rhythm and plastic art.
In December 923 Gurdjieff organized in Paris in a theater on the Champs Elysees a demonstration of dance and rhythmical movements to special music, composed by him for these aims.
Meanwhile, financial worries did not leave hold of Gurdjieff, who was compelled to search for additional earnings in order to sustain life at Prieure. His trip to America in 1924 became one of his attempts to liberate himself from the insoluble financial snare in which he found himself, and a heroic exploration of virgin territory for his activities.
Upon his return to France, Gurdjieff suffered a car accident: he crashed into a tree when he was driving his automobile back at a great speed from Paris to Fontanebleau. Six months later, recovering his health with great difficulty after the car accident Gurdjieff came up with the decision to liquidate the institute. During the following few years he wrote a number of books, among which was an advertising brochure, “The Herald of coming good,” the pseudo-biographical novel “Meetings with remarkable Men” about his childhood, youth and the search for the “lost ancient knowledge” in the East, as well as his fantastic novel “Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson”.
During World War II Gurdjieff lived in Paris. After the war he started being surrounded, once again, with his former and new pupils, with whom he had conversations, and to whom he gave instructions.
He died on 20 October, 1949 in Paris, leaving his pupils in a state of confusion and perplexity in regards to the subsequent fate of his teachings. However, his closest pupil, Jeanne de Salzmann was able to gather some of them around her and to organize them into the existing Gurdjieff Foundation. Other followers of Gurdjieff went along the path of synthesis of the teaching obtained by them from Gurdjieff and Ouspensky with Christian, Sufi and Hinduist ideas and practices.
A number of “Fourth Way” groups emerged in Russia in the early 1970s on the wave of the religious and artistic revival, which was taking place chiefly in the Russian underground, which, nonetheless, had a considerable amount of influence on the censored cultural life of that time.
At the present time books by Gurdjieff are being published in the West and in Russia in significant runs. His music in the arrangement of the well-known Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann is being published as score albums and compact discs. Among the intellectuals who became adherentsof Gurdjieff’s ideas mention must be made of George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood… – the list of names of talented people, who have gratefully developed that which they were able to acquire due to their encounter or their direct interaction with the “system”, will take fare more than one page. Numerous organizations of his followers, who study his works, practice his teachings and perform the sacred dances and movements created by him, exist in most countries of Europe, Asia and America.
Gurdjieff’s return to Russia is taking place not only in the form of translations of his books and a massive all-round interest in his ideas, remarkable dances and music, but also in the form of a purely practical application of his ideas to business and economics. In the West already for several decades many people make use of the universal principles, stated in Gurdgieff’s teachings in the sphere of management and monitoring of organizations, for preparation of personnel, and in other spheres.