G.I. Gurdjieff

Gurdjieff International Review

Georges Gurdjieff

A Documentary Film

Produced by Jean-Claude Lubtchansky

[This French language documentary film, narrated by Pierre Schaeffer, is interspersed with excerpts from interviews conducted by Henri de Turenne. Produced by Jean-Claude Lubtchansky with the participation of Philippe Cambessédès, Maurice Desselle, Philippe Lavastine, Dr. Michel de Salzmann, Henri Tracol, Dr. Jean Vaysse and René Zuber. Paris, 1976, 50 minutes. Broadcast on September 22, 1978 on TFI (Institute National de l’Audiovisuel). Transcript and translation by Jack Cain and Nicolas Lecerf.]

[While the camera explores the above portrait of Gurdjieff, the following quotation from Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, p. 361, is read by Philippe Cambessédès:]

Faith, Love and Hope

Faith of consciousness is freedom
Faith of feeling is weakness
Faith of body is stupidity.

Love of consciousness evokes the same in response
Love of feeling evokes the opposite
Love of body depends only on type and polarity.

Hope of consciousness is strength
Hope of feeling is slavery
Hope of body is disease.

Pierre Schaeffer:

In the folklore of Central Asia, there is a popular character named Mullah Nassr Eddin, an apparently bumbling figure with an unremarkable manner but abundant common sense. The following story is ascribed to him. One day he is outside looking in the sand under the heat and light of the sun for a lost object, let’s say it’s a key. His neighbours ask him: “Are you sure it’s here that you lost it?” And the Mullah answers magnanimously: “I am certain that it is not here because I lost it at home.” So they ask him, “But then why are you looking here?” The Mullah answers, “Outside there is plenty of light and at home it’s dark—I will find nothing there!”

It is with this image in mind, a vivid image of common sense, full of good-humor, that I wish to dedicate this program to the memory of a man for whom this tale is more appropriate and closer to his true spirit than the reputation based on spiteful, exaggerated stories that have been spread about him and which present him as a kind of white or black magician.

I am speaking of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff…

The fact is, that in television we need a label in order to introduce someone and for Gurdjieff, people have used anything and everything. It is difficult to place Gurdjieff in the usual categories: Is he a writer, a thinker, a poet, a musician, the master of a kind of philosophy or a source of spiritual inspiration? Gurdjieff is all of these, but still officially unrecognized as such in any of these fields. He produced a significant book that we will talk about later, published in a peculiar French that was translated from a strange Russian. Gurdjieff—who inspired René Daumal and Luc Dietrich, to mention only those French writers who are well known—is poorly considered in French literary circles where he is referred to only from hearsay and with more of a predilection for slander than for truth.

In fact, the memory of Gurdjieff—a man who has never been perceived in his true dimension—has been obscured by shadows that are growing more and more dense for a variety of reasons. First of all, external appearances were against him. He was a Russian refugee indistinguishable from many others between the two wars. He sported a heavy Caucasian accent, an originality, a particular manner of action and speech, and a taste for well-seasoned food for which he was rarely forgiven. Can a philosopher, a wise man, a scientist be allowed to cook and regale friends?! Could he really be at the same time a guru? An Indian guru is more distinguished! The way he conducted himself, as well as those around him, which included all kinds of people, was not at all reassuring. In speaking of the various religions, he showed respect for them all but also held them all in question—which meant that his spiritual reputation suffered accordingly. And finally, he appeared all too modern while at the same time being also apparently anachronistic.

He lived with a kind of community surrounding him—people from various disciplines—scientists, doctors, biologists. He was interdisciplinary; which was most striking for the time, not as it would be today when we encounter creativity workshops flourishing in California. We know very well now what it takes to live that way and to be audacious.

[Voice-over quoting one of the aphorisms that were painted on the glass windows of the Study House in Gurdjieff’s Institute at the Château du Prieuré at Avon, near Fontainebleau:]

Here there are neither Russians nor English, Jews nor Christians, but only those who pursue one aim—to be able to be.

Gurdjieff was born in Armenia, in a family of Greek origin. His father was a well known Ashokh or bard who possessed large droves of cattle and lost his fortune through massive epizootic disease. Gurdjieff’s upbringing was thoroughly scientific and religious; while still young he traveled with a mysterious group he called the “Seekers of Truth,” exploring for over twenty years the inner reaches of India, Tibet, and the Middle East—where he probably met some of the truths he later presented. His biography is in three parts. The first part, very hidden, is evoked in the book Meetings with Remarkable Men which provides, covertly, some autobiographical hints and clues. Then, starts his public life in Moscow and St. Petersburg, when he was 37 years old and where he started to transmit a teaching of overwhelming magnitude.

During that period and for many years after, P. D. Ouspensky, both philosopher and mathematician, assembled an exceptional transmission of Gurdjieff’s ideas, recapturing his words, as in the following passage from his book In Search of the Miraculous [pp. 66, 144–145]:

It may surprise you if I say that the chief feature of a modern man’s being which explains everything else that is lacking in him is sleep. A modern man lives in sleep, in sleep he is born, and in sleep he dies.… And if you think about it and at the same time remember that sleep is the chief feature of our being, it will at once become clear to you that if a man really wants knowledge, he must first of all think about how to wake, that is, about how to change his being.…

There is nothing new in the idea of sleep. People have been told almost since the creation of the world that they are asleep and that they must awaken. How many times is this said in the Gospels, for instance? ‘Awake,’ ‘watch,’ ‘sleep not.’ Christ’s disciples even slept when he was praying in the garden of Gethsemane for the last time. It is all there. But do men understand it? Men take it simply as a form of speech, as an expression, as a metaphor. They completely fail to understand that it must be taken literally.… As he is organized, that is, being such as nature has created him, man can be a self-conscious being. Such he is created and such he is born. But he is born among sleeping people, and, of course, he falls asleep among them just at the very time when he should have begun to be conscious of himself. Everything has a hand in this: the involuntary imitation of older people on the part of the child, voluntary and involuntary suggestion, and what is called ‘education.’ Every attempt to awaken on the child’s part is instantly stopped. This is inevitable. And a great many efforts and a great deal of help are necessary in order to awaken later when thousands of sleep-compelling habits have been accumulated. And this very seldom happens. In most cases, a man when still a child already loses the possibility of awakening; he lives in sleep all his life and he dies in sleep.…

What were Gurdjieff’s sources? Where, in what distant parts of the world, did he find this extraordinary wealth of thought, these allegories which had never before seen the light of day? This knowledge is so original, connecting at the same time the most modern discoveries and the most distant, probably lost, sources of inspiration. Much has been said about these sources. Were, for example, the origins of the main principles of Gurdjieff’s knowledge inspired from Indian thought? Some people said that it was closer to Islam, that he encountered the authentic sources of an Islam now lost or buried somewhere in Persia. Others that he brought back from Tibetan monasteries the most important secrets of his Movements: these gymnastic exercises which are somehow a tuning of mind, body and feeling. Someone has even said that he rediscovered the teachings of the Essenes, a Judaic brotherhood that Christ himself had been in contact with 2000 years ago. But all this is of minor importance since I am not about to enter into an archeology of Gurdjieff’s thought. It is already difficult enough to penetrate it, and I must allow his direct pupils to give a taste of it.

[The follow accounts were related in interviews conducted by Henri de Turenne.]

Dr. Jean Vaysse:

In really knowing himself, a man can reach awakening and a state of presence in life that is completely different from his ordinary state. Instead of being a puppet reacting to external events—if one follows what Gurdjieff tells us—man would have the possibility to become a responsible being, fulfilling a destiny which serves values he has come to recognize completely in himself. It is very extraordinary to see that between 15 and 25 years old, for instance, teenagers and young adults have this interior sensitivity and questioning that leads them to reject all the constraints, habits and conditioning of external life. But, very quickly, the demands of this exterior life become such that they overrun everything, and people are completely drawn into not losing a job, paying taxes, family problems, children, and all the usual demands of ordinary life. At 25 to 30 years old, there are very few who continue to be concerned about these inner questions. Later there are even fewer and slowly the inner question shrinks and vanishes. Man’s awakening—at the time when this interior question, this inner consciousness starts really to awaken, when all has been done for it to awaken—would precisely need to be fed so that it can develop and become the starting point, the interior criteria, the reference point, for all action in life.

Henri Tracol:

The real question is: Who am I?

No matter how I ask it, I am always led back to this central point. Who am I?

And it really seems that when this question rises in me, I do nothing but reach for it as it goes by. Maybe I am here precisely to ask myself this question.

There are other forms of creation which are not destined for self-questioning and are content to just be. And man not only is not content to just be, he questions the meaning of his being and it is at that moment of questioning that he tries to awaken to what he really is. And this is the awakening that Gurdjieff proposes to us. His method is based in its entirety on an interior process he calls self-remembering.

[Reading of two of Gurdjieff’s aphorisms and an excerpt from In Search of the Miraculous, pp. 64–65.]

When you do something, do it with all your being. One single thing at a time.

The ability to concentrate oneself is the privilege of a real man.

There are two lines along which man’s development proceeds, the line of knowledge and the line of being. In right evolution the line of knowledge and the line of being develop simultaneously, parallel to, and helping one another. But if the line of knowledge gets too far ahead of the line of being, or if the line of being gets ahead of the line of knowledge, man’s development goes wrong, and sooner or later it must come to a standstill.

People understand what ‘knowledge’ means. And they understand the possibility of different levels of knowledge. They understand that knowledge may be lesser or greater, that is to say, of one quality or of another quality. But they do not understand this in relation to ‘being.’ ‘Being,’ for them, means simply ‘existence’ to which is opposed just ‘nonexistence.’ They do not understand that being or existence may be of very different levels and categories.

Pierre Schaeffer:

One might ask why Gurdjieff did not appear in political events. It seems that his ambition was greater than that. It seems also that the sources rediscovered by Gurdjieff during his 20 years of far-flung journeys, these treasures from a lost civilization, this forgotten wisdom, of which he may be the only real heir, appeared greater to him than any political activity. Besides, one is forced to admit that most human endeavors end in failure, become contradictory and that the results are completely opposite and in a contrary direction to that of the original expectations.

Gurdjieff has a response to this and this response is strangely, a musical allegory. It concerns the musical scale, which originated in Asia Minor—and is echoed in its name—major and minor—where the two half tones are strangely located in the architecture of the scale and color it as we all know more or less. Gurdjieff teaches that this scale is at the same time the physical support for the music accompanying the Movements, and accompanies the body’s physical engagement in harmony while being also a symbol and even a system of knowledge. Not only are these two minor intervals, the mi-fa and the si-do, the most difficult to undergo, they demand an increase of energy, “a super-effort” as Gurdjieff says, in order to carry the scale upwards, otherwise it is diverted from the initial direction so that, exposed to other scales of life, on both an individual and collective basis, people are turned back towards involution and take the opposite direction, go back to their starting point, and inevitably contradict themselves.

This great allegory may be connected in some way to the most contemporary of ideas—such as that man is not fully developed, that the human brain has infinite possibilities, that to escape contradiction dialectic is necessary and that he is in danger of entropy—which is why Gurdjieff’s scales rise up, fueled by a necessarily self-imposed gigantic effort called the Work, an effort in which man finds meaning, the sole effort that justifies, fulfills and renders man worthy of himself, instead of descending unconsciously towards entropy.

Dr. Michel de Salzmann:

If for example we take a moment to consider our life, it would seem that to put oneself in question—taking the time to stop and see who one is, what a human being really is—is an incredible luxury. I term it a luxury because the movement of life is such, its pressure so great, that the current of never-ending social suggestion and its hypnotic consensus ensures that everyone is at the mercy of individual as well as collective fantasies. But if this fundamental questioning ever takes place, it requires attention. With a small amount of attention there is only a small amount of self-questioning. If we were capable of a complete mobilization of ourselves, that is, possessing a total attention—including not only our thought but also our emotion, or feeling, and even our body—perhaps we could, in this act of general mobilization in which we finally appear; perhaps we could know ourselves and have a response to the question: ‘Who am I?’

And then finally, ultimately, might we get to the bottom of this question: ‘Who am I?’—following it to its supreme limit, by being able to completely mobilize oneself—but this, says Gurdjieff, is impossible for us and he explains why this is so.

Question: And doesn’t such an experience need an entire life? Is it possible to do something such as this by oneself?

In theory, it is possible: because one does not need time to know … but practically, it is a different thing. If we take into account the strength of our conditioning, a counter-current is needed, another influence of extraordinary strength, in order to oppose one’s personal conditioning resulting from 10, 20, 50, 60 years of habits, or from the general conditioning of our surroundings, the influence of the milieu in which we live, established through centuries.

However, this force does exist. In certain moments, a man may, all of a sudden, hear this question which is inside himself and may realize progressively that it is impossible for him to stay there, and be involved in life at the same time—this is the main point—because Gurdjieff requested that we not abandon life in order to be, and not only not abandon life but even not wish to change the conditions of one’s own life, saying that everything that makes up the life of each one of us is the reflection of his person, and therefore a mirror for self-knowledge.

[Reading of a conversation between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky from In Search of the Miraculous, p. 22.]

Try to understand what I am saying: everything is dependent on everything else, everything is connected, nothing is separate. Therefore everything is going in the only way it can go. If people were different everything would be different. They are what they are, so everything is as it is. This was very difficult to swallow. ‘Is there nothing, absolutely nothing, that can be done?’ I asked? Absolutely nothing. ‘And can nobody do anything?’

That is another question. In order to do it is necessary to be. And it is necessary first to understand what to be means. If we continue our talks you will see that we use a special language and that, in order to talk with us, it is necessary to learn this language. It is not worthwhile talking in ordinary language because, in that language, it is impossible to understand one another. This also, at the moment, seems strange to you. But it is true. In order to understand it is necessary to learn another language. In the language which people speak they cannot understand one another. You will see later on why this is so.

Pierre Schaeffer:

How to use this power? Where to find that test of strength where one can at last attain a level of being which is substantial? Its tempting to say, superficially, that Gurdjieff began with the mobilization of the body—a body which is mobilized strangely, using rhythmic gestures, where the left arm is taken independently from the right, both arms from both legs, the head from the whole—and, above this, through extraordinary control, the physical sustains the thought and creates an arena of opening through which comes, what Gurdjieff considers to be the most subtle: feeling.

[Reading of a text introducing the showing of an excerpt from a film of Gurdjieff’s Movements.]

Gurdjieff says: Each race, each epoch, each country, each profession, has a definite number of postures and gestures that are genuinely theirs. Each man has a definite repertoire of roles. He has a role for each of life’s circumstances. All of our movements are automatic and our thoughts and feelings are as well. All of our moving, emotional and intellectual postures are connected to each other. One cannot be changed without changing the others. Only a global and direct knowledge of the movement of this energy can help us to be free of these automatisms.

The study of movement leads us to discover attitudes based on an interior order which is different. They reveal to us that beneath the narrow circle of our automatisms, exist other gestures, other attitudes linked with subtler states of consciousness where the mind and feeling rise to a new perception of reality.

Maurice Desselle:

With him, you had an extraordinary impression. When he was speaking with you, you continually had the impression that you were, for him, the only person who existed in the whole world. That is something very rare. One second later he would shift his attention to someone else and you no longer existed but that was normal. It seemed very normal to us. It’s something that everyone, to some extent, has a taste of—this potential which is impossible to realize by oneself—it appeared when you saw that man, when you saw him in himself, complete, missing nothing that was happening, noticing even the tiniest details. It was visible in his carriage, in the way he held himself. He was always very calm, quiet, completely and precisely corresponding to what the moment demanded.

René Zuber:

It was the first time I met a man; that I was seen by a human being, a human being like myself, a human being in ordinary life but one who saw me. It was like meeting … like meeting someone, at the same time, very very close—I will use this classic saying from Islam: ‘closer than the jugular vein in my neck,’ very close and yet very distant. To receive at the same time these two impressions, was something totally unusual. And I can repeat these two expressions—even if his proximity has increased for me—and say still today that he is both very close and very distant. He is very distant because his intelligence and the full scale of his thought are such, that it is difficult to hope to completely understand him.

Dr. de Salzmann:

He was not a magus, nor a thaumaturge, nor a philosopher, nor a mystic as some have claimed. He was something else, at the same time simpler but no less extraordinary. He was a danger. A real threat. A threat for one’s self-calming, a threat for the little regard one had of oneself, a threat for the comfortable repertoire where we generally live. But at the moment when this threat appeared, like a ditch to cross, a threshold to step over, one was helped to cross it by his presence itself. This threat was quickly followed with a sense of well being. One had set aside the mask; one had sloughed off the weight of one’s images and one felt suddenly free.

For all those who came near him, the meeting was a shock. Three ways to express this: being stripped, having a new feeling of responsibility and being small. I would say small, not compared to Gurdjieff, but small in front of the grandeur of the human condition, if you will, which was as yet unfathomed and to which one suddenly became attuned. I say ‘stripped’ because, as I said a moment ago, all the masks kept falling and ‘with a new feeling of responsibility’ because suddenly there was the need to respond to this new vision of human condition, of being human.

[Excerpts of some home movies of Gurdjieff are shown while Dr. de Salzmann is speaking.]

I would like to convey the impression I experienced while near him, the impression that emanated from him: the impression of a permanency. He was always quiet, contained, regardless of the circumstances, dramatic or otherwise—and there were many such—whether he was on his way to the market or remaining with his students, presiding at his table with many guests. There was always this same kind of density of presence as if he were being seen and as if his own seeing, without judgment, was upon the world. It was contagious. When one was under the sway of this quietness one had the feeling, all of a sudden, of seeing things from a distance, from tranquility.

As for the children who were at the Prieuré, each one retained an indelible memory of this time. I always felt that the meaning of Gurdjieff’s education, was to give the children, on the one hand, the sense of a very challenging life, sometimes reduced to the essentials, even to restriction; and on the other hand to experience the sense of plenitude, the feeling of having been gratified, completed, and have even more than what had been hoped for. To have always these two aspects so as not to form beings who are naïve—to be neither in a state of perpetual demanding nor in a perpetual state of dreaming, without knowing really the essential reality of life, and its possible hardship.

Henri Tracol:

This path is situated firmly in life and is not something on the outskirts of life—not a sort of requirement, which is contrary to a presence in life. Presence to oneself and presence to life; these two correspond to each other and complement each other. The great teacher continues to be life. It is from life, from her that I can learn everything. It is from her that I can understand everything. And for that it is necessary to experiment as deeply as possible, as fully as possible.

Pierre Schaeffer:

When Gurdjieff died in Paris, on October 29, 1949, at the age of 72, the first voice to speak up in the world to herald his decisive influence was that of the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright who recalled that Rudyard Kipling had announced that the twins, East and West, will never meet. And Wright said that in Gurdjieff they had met and had finally recognized each other. Perhaps it was indeed in the United States that the image of Gurdjieff was the most quickly and the most ably transmitted, maybe because California opened the United States to a better understanding of the East…

In France, Gurdjieff’s teaching was found unappealing, difficult and was muddied by negative accounts, in particular, the well-known tale of Katherine Mansfield who, with the recommendation of the famous English writer Orage, was received by Gurdjieff in Fontainebleau when she was close to death. She was in the final stages of pulmonary tuberculosis, and, of course, responsibility for her death was, without any compunction, entirely laid at Gurdjieff’s feet.

The well-known French writers, René Daumal and Luc Dietrich, are obviously the closest for us to Gurdjieff’s teaching; they are the most approachable. Daumal, was connected to the Surrealist movement; Luc Dietrich is a kind of reformed bad boy, very moving, a sort of Alain Fournier1 of the following generation and it is from them that Gurdjieff’s influence in France is the most visible.

[A quote is read from René Daumal’s symbolic novel that was inspired by Gurdjieff’s teaching, Mount Analogue. English translation by Roger Shattuck, Penguin, 1974:]

I am dead because I lack desire;
I lack desire because I think I possess;
I think I possess because I do not try to give.
In trying to give, you see that you have nothing;
Seeing you have nothing, you try to give of yourself;
Trying to give of yourself, you see that you are nothing;
Seeing you are nothing, you desire to become;
In desiring to become, you begin to live.

Philippe Lavastine:

Besides René Daumal, Gurdjieff’s impact on these French intellectuals who had already established a certain career for themselves was very negative. There was only André Breton, at the end of his life, who thought that Beelzebub’s Tales was the greatest book published in the 20th century. André Breton put that in black and white in the foreword of an exhibition by Fourrier: L’écart absolu

Question: But was it as a book, did he speak about it as a literary work or … from what point of view?

He spoke about it as a book and he spoke about it, as often happens, on the basis of a complete misunderstanding. He was admiring Gurdjieff for what Gurdjieff was not! I believe that the contrary is true, a lot of people despise Gurdjieff for what Gurdjieff is not at all. A man, when he has acquired a certain personality in the positive sense of the word, not an arrogant personality—Me! Me! Me!—but when such a man lives with more force than other people then immediately the phenomenon of a legend forms around him. This legend is, of course, ultra positive or ultra negative and, in this way, one can avoid what is essential. Which seems…

Question: And what is essential? How would you define Gurdjieff if you had to?

He was willing to teach us things much simpler than the realization of the absolute spoken of by René Guénon.2 At the time I knew Gurdjieff, I also read René Guénon but for me it remained completely theoretical. Immediately, it was a question of the superman, the creation of the superhuman, forgetting an important step that was simply what Gurdjieff was suggesting to us: to become ordinary good people! That seemed quite paradoxical—aren’t there ordinary good people everywhere? Indeed, no; in fact there are very few.

Question: What did he mean by that, an ordinary good man?

Maybe we could say first, a man who would accept not to be God. That is, not judging everything, not thinking a priori that he knows everything.

Pierre Schaeffer:

Thus have we outlined the pivotal themes of Gurdjieff’s thought and teaching, all of this accompanied by the discipline of the dances, the dances which where shown publicly, and probably were completely misunderstood, at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in 1922, and in New York at Carnegie Hall in 1923. And, a little while after his return from America, Gurdjieff began to write. The work itself consists of three great series of books, including the Gurdjieffian masterpiece, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. It is a completely original kind of what I would call metaphysical fiction. It is a spaceship large enough to contain Beelzebub and all his family. Beelzebub is an angel, somewhat fallen, but with good feelings. He has repented, and seems to subsume in himself the whole dialectic of good and evil. He is an angel, subservient to a many-leveled hierarchy of beings who are more and more elevated, subservient also to cosmic laws and who is striving for his redemption and had the kindness to care about “the three-brained beings of the planet Earth, who have taken your fancy” says Beelzebub to his grandson. It is all about us terrestrial beings.

Among Beelzebub’s allegories, of which there are many, I will cite only one. Man, according to Gurdjieff, was such an ill-fated being, such a failure, on a planet that could have been superb, he was a failure perhaps not through his own fault; the responsibility here for original sin is not ascribed to man at all but to a clumsy angel. Thus man became so desperate that—in his contradiction, in his ephemeral life, which became intolerable—he would have been tempted by suicide and because of that, an organ was grafted on to him by an angel who was part engineer, part surgeon. What was grafted onto him was a sort of tail that contained an organ of forgetfulness. And later, when they wanted to repair this in man and get rid of the tail, which was quite unwieldy, the effect of this organ of forgetfulness, which had been installed in man, persisted through certain regressive side-effects, so that man is now a being who is oblivious to himself, who forgets himself, who cannot remember that he exists, who never remembers the lessons of his history and turns in circles, in this spiral that the musical scales, biting their tails, are helping us to understand better…

That, roughly, is what Gurdjieff’s work is about and now I would like to present a passage from Beelzebub’s Tales [pp. 1208–1209]. Choosing a passage is always difficult because the book is a whole, and is difficult to cut into small pieces:

A man comes into the world like a clean sheet of paper, which immediately all around him begin vying with each other to dirty and fill up with education, morality, the information we call knowledge, and with all kinds of feelings of duty, honor, conscience, and so on and so forth. And each and all claim immutability and infallibility for the methods they employ for grafting these branches onto the main trunk, called man’s personality.

The sheet of paper gradually becomes dirty, and the dirtier it becomes, that is to say, the more a man is stuffed with ephemeral information and those notions of duty, honor, and so on which are dinned into him or suggested to him by others, the ‘cleverer’ and worthier is he considered by those around him.

And seeing that people look upon his ‘dirt’ as a merit, he himself inevitably comes to regard this dirtied sheet of paper in the same light. And so you have a model of what we call a man, to which frequently are added such words as ‘talent’ and ‘genius.’ And the temper of our ‘talent’ when it wakes up in the morning is spoiled for the whole day if it does not find its slippers beside the bed.

The ordinary man is not free of his manifestations, in his life, in his moods. He cannot be what he would like to be; and for that he considers himself to be, he is not that. Man—how mighty it sounds. The very name ‘man’ means ‘the acme of Creation;’ but ... does his title fit contemporary man?

At the same time, man should indeed be the acme of Creation, since he is formed with and has in himself all the possibilities for acquiring all the data exactly similar to the data in the actualizer of everything existing in the Whole of the Universe.”

To possess the right to the name ‘man,’ one must be one.

And to be such, one must first of all, with an indefatigable persistence and an unquenchable impulse of desire, issuing from all the separate independent parts constituting one’s entire common presence, that is to say, with a desire issuing simultaneously from thought, feeling and organic instinct, work on all-round knowledge of oneself—at the same time struggling unceasingly with one’s subjective weaknesses—and then afterwards, taking one’s stand upon the results thus obtained by one’s consciousness alone, concerning the defects in one’s established subjectivity as well as the elucidated means for the possibility of combating them, strive for their eradication without mercy towards oneself.

[Another excerpt from a film of Gurdjieff’s Movements is shown.]

Henri Tracol:

I would like for us, in any case, to sweep away the idea that Gurdjieff’s teaching runs counter to traditional teachings. In fact, he refers to what he calls the fourth way and the fourth way exists in Christianity, in Hinduism, in Islam, in Taoism, in every traditional form, which tries to establish a direct relation between man and his origin.

Question: So it’s a religion, a new religion?—another religion or perhaps the same as…

The fourth way that Gurdjieff is referring to is in contradiction with none of these religions nor is it to be confused with any of them. It is an attempt to deepen what the different doctrines propose. The deepening is situated along the line of knowledge that is, above all, a knowledge of oneself. The idea is—there is nothing I can know if I don’t know the ‘knower’ himself, if I don’t know the one who seeks to know. When we were speaking a little while ago of awakening, maybe this is the first step of awakening: Man awakens to himself as seeker. Man is a born seeker.

Pierre Schaeffer:

One will doubtless ask the question—now that Gurdjieff is dead, what will remain of his teaching and what will come after him? Well, I find this question is quite banal and very Western in character, but the influence which I described in many countries of the world has clearly continued to grow—in quantity, definitely, but in quality also—by means of a work which is particularly discreet. I think that if there is a lesson to take from tradition, it is that when a master dies it frees his disciple, leaves the disciple to his freedom, to his responsibilities. Therefore, it is up to the disciple thereafter to do something with his own life. And if one asks finally what is the result of all this, in what can all this be summarized? I would say—that’s it—it cannot be summarized.

We have tried to provide, successfully or not, some elements, some outline of this teaching—a teaching which is so original, apparently so acrobatic, so contradictory. But perhaps we need to remember that it is not the answer that matters but the question itself. And so this introduction is first of all dedicated to those who ask themselves questions and it is also dedicated to all those who have helped, who have contributed by their presence, by their experience not so as to answer all these questions but to help those who are searching to focus and deepen their questioning.


1 Alain Fournier (1886–1914). Pen name of French novelist, Henri Alban Fournier, who was killed in action during World War I. His major work, Le Grand Meaulnes (1913, tr. The Wanderer, 1928) is a poetic and mystically symbolic novel about the youthful search for an ideal. [GIR ed.]

2 René Guénon (1886–1951). French philosopher, mathematician, Gnostic esotericist, scholar of Hinduism and Islam. Posited the existence of a Primordial Tradition at the heart of every authentic religion. Regarded traditional Christianity and finally Islam—to which latter he converted—as the only hope for the metaphysical crisis of modern life. [GIR ed.]

Copyright © 1976 Jean-Claude Lubtchansky / INA
This webpage © 2001 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2001 Issue, Vol. IV (2)
Revision: October 1, 2001