Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff appeared in Moscow in 1912 prepared to transmit to the West a vast knowledge that he had gathered in the East. To those who became his devoted followers during these years leading up to the Russian revolution, Gurdjieff unveiled fragments of an all-encompassing cosmological and psychological system, complete with a practical approach to developing an understanding that would lead to true Being…a system he called the Fourth Way. This fourth way required no retreat from life; it was a work in life. Of equal significance, as evidenced by the name he gave to the school he established a few years later…the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man…this fourth way involved a simultaneous development of all three ‘centers’ of a person…the body, the mind and the feelings.
Gurdjieff came to acquire the knowledge he brought with him through extensive travels as a young man through regions of Persia, Central Asia, India and Egypt over a period of roughly 20 years, but only some aspects of his earlier life prior to his arrival in Moscow can be documented with certainty, despite a plethora of books attempting to do so.
A clearer picture can be given of Gurdjieff’s efforts once he arrived in Moscow. In 1917 he left behind the unrest in Russia with a small band of devoted followers and family, traveling over the Caucasus and establishing along the way his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man and the groundwork of a methodology for transmitting his ideas. In 1918, he met Jeanne de Salzmann and began working with her on what has become known as the sacred dances or ‘movements.’ (It was this same Jeanne de Salzmann to whom Gurdjieff, thirty years later on his death bed, passed on instructions and the responsibility to carry on his Work.) Arriving in France in 1922 he established his school in Fontainebleau d’Avon, just east of Paris, and embarked on an intensely creative three-year period with pupils who arrived primarily from Europe, America and Russia. By 1925 he had developed a large body of the sacred dances with musical accompaniment, had begun the first series of his writings (which in the end consisted of three series carrying the overall heading All & Everything), had co-composed alongside Russian composer-pupil Thomas de Hartmann over 200 musical compositions of sacred prayers, hymns, dances and melodies that are related to the transmission of his ideas, and had traveled to America to launch a branch of his Institute there. He remained in the Paris environs for the remainder of his life, working with pupils until his passing in October of 1949.
In response to Gurdjieff’s death-bed planning as to how the work could be continued following his passing, Jeanne de Salzmann lived to the age of 103 during which time she oversaw the establishment of Gurdjieff Foundations worldwide, documented the sacred dances and accompanying piano music through a series of films, oversaw the recording of nearly the entire catalog of the Gurdjieff-de Hartmann music of prayers, hymns, dances and melodies, made arrangements for the continued publication of all of Gurdjieff’s three series of writings, realized the production of a film of the second series of writings, Meetings With Remarkable Men, and continued until her death to work tirelessly to bring the Work to the world by traveling and working with Foundation and non-Foundation groups everywhere.
Many ideas originally brought by Gurdjieff to the West have found their way into common vocabulary today, notably the term fourth way, Movements, and an intriguing but enigmatic diagram called the enneagram. Because these ideas have appeared in today’s culture separated from the all-encompassing body of knowledge from which they are derived, in which every idea is related to every other, these isolated fragments in current circulation often serve to mislead those who otherwise might be truly touched if they were to see them as part of the much bigger picture.
Fortunately for those of us meeting the Gurdjieff work in this current era, over 70 years since his death, it can be said unequivocally that the teaching brought by Gurdjieff passes the test of 11th century philosopher Pierre Abelard, “Tradition is alive when it can inspire the creation of new work.” The Work brought to us by Gurdjieff continues today to take on great meaning for those who spend the time exploring the ideas, trying to relate them to their personal experience and, most importantly, trying to understand how to work with others. (1/16/21)