The Prieuré at Fontainebleau

Gurdjieff International Review

Excerpts from
Prospectus Number 1

G. Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man

Main Branch: France Fontainebleau
(Formerly “Chateau du Prieuré”)

The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man by the G. I. Gurdjieff system is practically the continuation of the Society that went under the name of the “Seekers after Truth.” This Society was founded in 1895 by a group of various specialists, including doctors, archaeologists, priests, painters, etc., whose aim was to study in close collaboration so-called supernatural phenomena, in which each of them was interested from a particular point of view.

During the existence of the Society, its members undertook many very difficult journeys, mostly in Persia, Afghanistan, Turkestan, Thibet, India, but also in other countries. They also undertook a good deal of work of various descriptions in connection with their object, which involved much labor and organisation.

Throughout the period of travel and work many of the Society’s members lost their lives, while others from time to time abandoned the task, and only a small number returned to Russia in 1913, under the leadership of Mr. Gurdjieff. Their first stop was at Tashkent, but Mr. Gurdjieff subsequently set up his headquarters in Moscow with the intention of arranging the material that had been collected and of putting to practical use such of it as was adapted to the purpose.

A course of lectures given by Mr. Gurdjieff resulted in a number of men of science, representing all branches, rallying round him, and the number of people interested in his ideas began rapidly to increase.

He then resolved to give effect to the plan that he had long entertained of founding a training establishment under the name of the “Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man” for the study of his ideas and in order to put into practice his system of training.

But the war and the subsequent events in Russia hindered this plan and, being compelled by circumstances to leave Moscow, he traveled from country to country and at last settled in Europe.

Notwithstanding the enormous difficulties arising out of the events of recent years, Mr. Gurdjieff nevertheless contrived to organise several scientific expeditions and to form groups in various cities with a programme for the study of the theoretical part of the work.

The site he had long been looking for was at last found in France, at Fontainebleau, near Paris, where Mr. Gurdjieff in 1922 acquired by purchase the old chateau called Le Prieuré, and where he founded a permanent centre of the Institute according to his original plan…

The Gurdjieff Institute’s system of harmonious training is based upon conclusions arising out of the theses set out below.

Owing to the conditions of modern life, man has departed from his original type, that is to say from the type he should have become by virtue of his surroundings: place, society and culture in which he was born and nurtured.

By their very nature, these conditions marked out for man the paths of development and the final normal type to which he should have attained. The civilization of our time, with its unlimited means for extending its influence, has wrenched man from the normal conditions in which he should be living. It is true that civilisation has opened up for man new paths in the domains of knowledge, science and economic life, and thereby enlarged his world perception. But, instead of raising him to a higher all-round level of development, civilisation has developed only certain sides of his nature to the detriment of other faculties, some of which it has destroyed altogether. Civilisation has robbed man of the natural advantages of his type, without at the same time providing him with what was needed for the harmonious development of a new type. And from an individually finished man, normally adapted to the nature and the environment in which he was placed and which created him, civilisation has produced a being, torn from his element, unfitted for life, and a complete stranger to all the conditions of his present mode of existence.

That is the stand taken, with the aid of psycho-analysis, by the psychological system of Mr. Gurdjieff, which proves experimentally that modern man’s world perception and his own mode of living are not the conscious expression of his being taken as a complete whole. Quite on the contrary, they are only the unconscious manifestation of one or another part of him.

From this point of view our psychic life, both as regards our world perception and our expression of it, fail to present an unique and indivisible whole, that is to say a whole acting both as a common repository of all our perceptions and as the source of all our expressions. On the contrary, it is divided into three separate entities, which have nothing to do with one another, but are distinct both as regards their functions and their constituent substances.

These three entirely separate sources of the intellectual, emotional and instinctive or moving life of man, each taken in the sense of the whole set of functions proper to them, are called by the system under notice the thinking, the emotional and the moving centres.

Every really conscious perception and expression of man must be the result of the simultaneous and co-ordinated working of all three centres, each of which must fulfill its share of the whole task, i.e. furnish its quota of associations. A complete apperception in any given case is possible only if all three centres work together. But, owing to many disturbing influences affecting modern man, the working of the psychic centres is almost disconnected. Consequently his intellectual, emotional and instinctive or moving functions fail to complete and correct one another, but, on the contrary, they travel along different roads which very rarely meet, and thus allow of very few moments of consciousness.

The failure of the three centres to coordinate is due to the fact that there are, as it were, three different men in a single individual, the first of whom does nothing but think, the second only feels, and the third only lives by his instincts and motor functions: a logical man, an emotional man and an automatic man.

These three men in one never understand one another; consciously and unconsciously they frustrate the plans, the intentions and the work of one another; and yet each of them at the moment when he is in action occupies a prepotent position and calls himself “I”.

Observation of the disunited and contradictory action of the centres shows that man cannot be master of himself, since it is not he who governs his centres, and he himself does not know which of his centres will begin to function next. People do not notice this, because they are under the illusion of the unity of their “I’s” and of their general psychic constitution.

If a correct observation of the psychic activities of man is made, it will be clearly seen that modern man never acts of his own accord, and for reasons within himself, but by his action merely expresses the changes that are induced in his mechanism by external causes. It is not man who thinks, but something thinks in him; he does not act, but something acts through him; he does not create, but something creates in him; he does not accomplish, but something accomplishes through him.

This thesis becomes particularly clear when we understand the process of perception by each centre of external (and internal) influences and similarly the process by which responsive actions are brought about.

The psychic centres of a newborn child may be compared to blank phonograph rolls, upon which from the first day the impressions of both the internal and external worlds inscribe themselves. The matter thus impressed is preserved in each centre in the same order, sometimes absurd, and in the same relations in which the impressions were actually received in life.

The process of imagination, memory, judgement, reasoning and thinking are made up exclusively of the matter inscribed, which combines and associates in various ways under the influence of chance shocks. These shocks set in motion with more or less intensity one or another of the rolls whose contents (the matter inscribed on it) thus become the centre of association in the given case. A further shock, or a shock of a different intensity, evokes yet another association and, consequently, another train of thoughts, feelings and acts. And no centre can add anything from itself or anything new to the combinations thus formed, nor can it draw upon the material formed in the other centres.

It will be understood from this that man’s world perception is always the work of only a part of his being, or, stated differently, that man has three different processes of perception. These processes have but little association with one another, or associate quite by chance and only partially. Therefore every judgement man forms about things is the work of merely a part of his psychic constitution and the expression of but a fraction of the matter at his disposal. Hence, man’s judgements are invariably partial, and consequently false.

It is clear from the foregoing that the first thing necessary to the harmonious development of man is to train him to be able to introduce immediately the work of his three centres into each of his psychic functions. The work of the centres must be of equal intensity at one time, and then the three main wheels of the human machine will work smoothly without obstructing one another and with the highest efficiency, both as regards their separate functions and as regards the level of consciousness which it is possible for man to attain, but which he never reaches in ordinary circumstances.

When it is borne in mind that the degree of development possible in each centre differs with every individual and that their contents (impressions registered) are also different, we are forced to the obvious conclusion that each person’s approach to the work must be strictly individual.

All the functional disorders to which the human machine is liable in the conditions of ordinary life increase as time goes on. And this machine can only be made to run smoothly after a long and determined struggle with the defects that have arisen.

But man is unable to carry on this struggle unaided and by his own efforts of will. Nor will it avail him to work upon himself by the various methods of self-training and self-development now widely current. These recommend for all and sundry general methods and processes, such as various physical exercises, exercises in meditation and concentration, breathing and physical exercises, various systems of diet, fasting, etc.

Such methods, prescribed for everybody without distinction of individual needs and abilities and without due regard to the peculiarities and qualities of each person, are not only useless, but may even become dangerous, for while ignorant attempts to overhaul a defective machine may possibly bring about certain changes, these will at the same time cause other changes, which an inexperienced and ignorant person can neither foresee nor guard against. It should be borne in mind that the human machine is always in mechanical equilibrium, whether running smoothly or irregularly. Therefore any change wrought in one direction is bound to bring about a change in another direction, and it is absolutely essential that this should be foreseen and allowed for.

In order to obviate unexpected and undesirable consequences, it is necessary when working upon oneself to conform to the discipline imposed by the special and strictly individual methods aiming at the development of new and particular “inertias,” by means of which the old ones may be regulated and changed. In other words it is necessary to develop new faculties, unattainable in ordinary life, and which man can neither develop unaided nor by recourse to any general method.

The adoption of this strictly individualized methods of education of this kind is possible only on the condition that every particular of man’s organic and psychic condition as well as his previous upbringing and all the conditions and circumstances of his life are taken into account. In order to determine these particulars with absolute accuracy, a long time is necessary. This is mainly owing to the fact that man from his earliest days, as a result of our modern upbringing, acquires an external mask, that is to say an external type that has nothing in common with his real type. During his lifetime, this mask gradually grows thicker and thicker, until a man is unable to see himself for his mask.

But as it is necessary, in order to establish the individual particulars relating to each person, to discover the features and faculties of his type, his mask has to be destroyed, which is a question of time. It is only then that we can proceed to study and observe the man, that is to say his real type; it is only then that a programme can be drawn up for his further work…

Copyright © 1923 G. I. Gurdjieff
This webpage © 1997 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Fall 1997 Issue, Vol. I (1)
Revision: January 1, 2000