G. I. Gurdjieff

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Fast Facts
Other Names and Nicknames: 
Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff, Georgiy Ivanovich Gyurdzhiev
Fourth Way, Sufism, Christianity, Eastern
Main Countries of Activity: 
Russia, France
Date of Birth: 
January 13, 1866
Place of Birth: 
Alexandropol (now Gyumri), Armenia
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
Date Left His/Her Body: 
October 29, 1949


Gurdjieff's biography is practically unknown until 1912 and is completely reliant on what Gurdjieff said. From 1913 to 1949 the chronology appears to stand on the much firmer ground afforded by primary documents, independent witness, cross-reference, and reasonable inference.

Gurdjieff was born in Alexandropol (now Gyumri), Armenia. The exact date is unknown (anything ranging from 1866 to 1877 has been offered), but many authors argue persuasively for 1866 even though his passport states that he was born on November 28, 1877. Gurdjieff grew up in Kars and traveled to many parts of the world (such as Central Asia, Egypt, Rome) before returning to Russia in 1912.

The only account of Gurdjieff's early biography before he appeared in Moscow in 1912 can be found in his text Meetings with Remarkable Men.

On New Year's Day of 1912, Gurdjieff arrived in Moscow and attracted his first associates. In the same year he married Julia Ostrowska in St Petersburg. In 1914 Gurdjieff first advertised his ballet, "The Struggle of the Magicians," as well as supervised his pupils' writing of the sketch "Glimpses of Truth." In 1915 Gurdjieff accepted P. D. Ouspensky as a pupil, while in 1916 he accepted the composer Thomas de Hartmann and his wife Olga as students. At this time he had around thirty pupils.

Many authors have speculated that Gurdjieff was a spy, most likely of the Tzar, during the wars. This claim has been neither proven nor widely dismissed, due to the fact that Gurdjieff had access to most places in Asia. Gurdjieff personally commented indirectly on this claim in his book Beelzebub's Tales when he said that "during a war every person that is somewhat awake is considered a spy because of his seriousness and alertness."

In the midst of revolutionary upheaval in Russia he left Petrograd in 1917 to return to his family home in Alexandropol. During the Bolshevik Revolution Gurdjieff set up temporary study communities in Essentuki in the Caucasus, then Tuapse, Maikop, Sochi and Poti, all on the Black Sea coast of Southern Russia, where he worked intensively with many of his Russian pupils.

In March 1918, Ouspensky separated from Gurdjieff, and four months later Gurdjieff's eldest sister and her family reached him in Essentuki as refugees, bringing news that Turks had shot his father in Alexandropol on 15 May. As Essentuki became increasingly threatened by Civil War, Gurdjieff planted a fabricated newspaper story of his forthcoming 'scientific expedition' to Mount Induc. Posing as a scientist, Gurdjieff left Essentuki with a following of fourteen (which does not include Gurdjieff's family or Ouspensky). They went by train to Maikop where hostilities detained them for three weeks. In spring of 1919 Gurdjieff met and accepted as pupils the artist Alexandre Salzmann and his wife Jeanne. In collaboration with Jeanne Salzmann, Gurdjieff gave the first public demonstration of his Sacred Dances (Movements in Tbilisi Opera House, 22 June).

In autumn 1919 he and his closest pupils moved to Tbilisi. In late May 1920, when political conditions in Georgia changed and the old order was crumbling, they walked by foot to Batumi on the Black Sea coast, and then Istanbul. There Gurdjieff rented an apartment on Koumbaradji Street in Péra and later at 13 Abdullatif Yemeneci Sokak near the Galata Tower[1]. The apartment is near the tekke (monastery) of the Mevlevi Order of Sufis (founded by Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi), where Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Thomas de Hartmann experienced the sema ceremony of The Whirling Dervishes. In Istanbul Gurdjieff also met John G. Bennett.

In August 1921 and 1922, Gurdjieff traveled around western Europe, lecturing and giving demonstrations of his work in various cities such as Berlin and London, capturing the allegiance of Ouspensky's many prominent pupils, notably the editor A. R. Orage. After he lost a civil action to acquire Hellerau possession in Britain, Gurdjieff established the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man south of Paris at the Prieuré des Basses Loges in Fontainebleau-Avon near the famous Château de Fontainebleau. Gurdjieff acquired notoriety after Katherine Mansfield died on 9 January 1923.

In 1924 he nearly died in a car crash. Driving alone from Paris to Fontainebleau, Gurdjieff had a near fatal motor-car crash. Nursed by his wife and mother, he made a slow and painful recovery--against medical expectation. Still convalescent, he formally 'disbanded' his Institute on 26 August (but in fact he dispersed only his less dedicated pupils), and began writing All and Everything.

In 1925 Gurdjieff's wife contracted cancer, and she died in 1926 despite radiotherapy and Gurdjieff's unorthodox treatment. Ouspensky attended her funeral. In July 1926 Aleister Crowley briefly visited Prieuré and Gurdjieff emphatically repudiated him.

Starting in 1929, Gurdjieff made visits to North America where he took over as the teacher of pupils who were at that time being taught by A.R. Orage.

In 1935 Gurdjieff stopped writing All and Everything, having completed the first two parts of the trilogy and only having started on the Third Series (published under the title Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am').

In Paris, Gurdjieff lived at 6 Rue des Colonels-Rénard, where he continued to teach throughout World War II.

Gurdjieff died on October 29, 1949 at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. His funeral was held at the St. Alexandre Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral at 12 Rue Daru, Paris. He is buried in the cemetery at Fontainebleau-Avon.



Gurdjieff claimed that people do not perceive reality, as they are not conscious of themselves, but live in a state of hypnotic "waking sleep."

"Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies". Gurdjieff taught that each person perceived things from a completely subjective perspective. Gurdjieff stated that maleficent events such as wars and so on could not possibly take place if people were more spiritually awake. He asserted that people in their typical state were unconscious automatons, but that it was possible for a man to wake up and experience life more fully.

Self-development teachings

In his early lectures G.I. Gurdjieff described his approach to self-development as a Fourth Way. In contrast to the three eastern teachings that emphasize the development of the body, mind, or the emotions separately, Gurdjieff's exercises worked on all three at the same time to promote comprehensive and balanced inner development. Today, Gurdjieff's teachings are also sometimes referred to as "The Work", "The Gurdjieff Work", "Work on oneself" or simply the "Work". Though Gurdjieff never put major significance on the term "Fourth Way" and never used the term in his writings, his pupil P.D. Ouspensky made the term and its use central to his own teaching of the Gurdjieff Ideas. After Ouspensky's death, his students published a book with that name, based on his lectures. Although Ouspensky's main book setting out Gurdjieff's teaching is called "In Search of the Miraculous", of which Gurdjieff himself approved.


Gurdjieff transmitted his ideas through a number of different methods and materials, including meetings, music, movements (sacred dance), writings, lectures, and innovative forms of group work. He was not consistent in his use of these materials through his lifetime; for example, six years in Paris were devoted primarily to writing, while composition of music and movement centered around a few distinct periods. In Russia he was described as keeping his teaching confined to a small circle, while in Paris and North America he gave numerous public demonstrations.



Gurdjieff groups are meeting in many locations around the world. To find a group near you see http://gurdjieff.meetup.com.

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Books & Media

Recommended Books: 
Cover image

In Search of the Miraculous (Harvest Book)

by P. D. Ouspensky


A new edition of the groundbreaking spiritual treasure, with a foreword by bestselling author Marianne Williamson .

Since its original publication in 1949, In Search of the Miraculous has been hailed as the most valuable and reliable documentation of G. I. Gurdjieff\'s thoughts and universal view. This historic and influential work is considered by many to be a primer of mystical thought as expressed through the Work, a combination of Eastern philosophies that had for centuries been passed on orally from teacher to student. Gurdjieff\'s goal, to introduce the Work to the West, attracted many students, among them Ouspensky, an established mathematician, journalist, and, with the publication of In Search of the Miraculous, an eloquent and persuasive proselyte.

Ouspensky describes Gurdjieff\'s teachings in fascinating and accessible detail, providing what has proven to be a stellar introduction to the universal view of both student and teacher. It goes without saying that In Search of the Miraculous has inspired great thinkers and writers of ensuing spiritual movements, including Marianne Williamson, the highly acclaimed author of A Return to Love and Illuminata. In a new and never-before-published foreword, Williamson shares the influence of Ouspensky\'s book and Gurdjieff\'s teachings on the New Thought movement and her own life, providing a contemporary look at an already timeless classic.

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Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson: All and Everything, First Series (Compass)

by G. I. Gurdjieff


With Beelzebub\'s Tales to His Grandson, G. I. Gurdjieff intended to \"destroy, mercilessly . . . the beliefs and views about everything existing in the world.\" This novel beautifully brings to life the visions of humanity for which Gurdjieff has become esteemed. Beelzebub, a man of worldly (and other-worldly) wisdom, shares with his grandson the anecdotes, personal philosophies, and lessons learned from his own life.The reader is given a detailed discussion of all matters physical, natural, and spiritual, from the creation of the cosmos to man\'s teleological purpose in the universe. This edition of Beelzebub\'s Tales to His Grandson--the first single-volume paperback to appear in English--restores the original, authoritative translation.

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Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am': All and Everything, Third Series (Compass)

by G. I. Gurdjieff


Begun in 1934, this final volume of Gurdjieff\'s trilogy, All and Everything, is a primary source for Gurdjieff\'s ideas, methods, and biography. Gurdjieff offers guidance to his \"community of seekers,\" through a selection of talks given in 1930, autobiographical material crucial to understanding his ideas, and the incomplete essay \"The Outer and Inner World of Man.\" Available for the first time in paperback, this is the ultimate piece of Gurdjieff\'s work that his numerous followers have been waiting for.

Recommended DVD & Video: 
Cover image

Meetings with Remarkable Men


As a young man exploring ancient ruins, Gurdjieff discovers scrolls confirming the existence of a hidden brotherhood long thought to be extinct. He begins a search that leads through unforeseeable hazards and finally to a school where he learns to bring together all the principles of an esoteric teaching. The film, by renowned director Peter Brook, was made on location in the forbidding, rarely photographed mountains and deserts of Afghanistan, and has been widely acclaimed for its unique visual beauty.

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The Life & Significance of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, Part I - Gurdjieff in Egypt: The Origin of Esoteric Knowledge


Winner of the WorldFest 2000 Gold Award \"What is the sense and significance of life on Earth, and human life in particular?\" This is the question which impelled G. I. Gurdjieff\'s search for the origin of esoteric knowledge. Gurdjieff believed that the esoteric knowledge of ancient civilizations contained the answer to his question and so set out to find its origin. Gurdjieff in Egypt follows Gurdjieff\'s search for pre-sand Egypt beginning with the Sphinx and Great Pyramid, to Thebes and the Temple in Man and Karnak, to the Valley of the Kings, the Temples of Edfu and Abu Simbel, and into Ethiopia where he unexpectedly discovers the origin of the ancient teaching of The Fourth Way.

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In Search of the Miraculous DVD


A film directed by Zivko Nicolic, script adaptation by Milan Peters based on the 1949 book by P.D.Ouspensky. Sidney:Fairway Films in association with Znak Productions Belgrade, 1998, 42 min. black & white. \"Thoughtfully telescopes Ouspensky\'s book and glimpses of the teaching he received from Gurdjieff, interspersed with archival footage the Russia Revolution. Ends with Katherine Mansfield\'s eloquent soliloquy at Gurdjieff\'s Institute in France, shortly before her death.\" ~J. Walter Driscoll (Author of Gurdjieff: A Reading Guide.)

Recommended Audio: 
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Chants, Hymns And Dances

(Audio CD)

Philosopher, seeker after the truth, reconciler of science and religion, teacher, guru to artists, writers and musicians, Gurdjieff was an enigmatic figure; even his birthdate is uncertain: 1866 or 1877. He taught movements \"to alter or heighten consciousness\" at his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, located outside Paris---a highly improvisatory process for which he composed equally improvisatory music. Technically untrained, he depended on skilled assistants to realize and write down his ideas, and found one in a devoted disciple: Ukranian pianist/composer Thomas de Hartmann, who selflessly suspended his own career and, after Gurdjieff\'s death in 1948, privately published and recorded some of their collaborations. As a composer, Gurdjieff, born at the border of Armenia and Turkey, was influenced by the region\'s ethnic and cultural diversity, by his childhood memories of the religious and philosophical songs improvised by his father, a Greek troubadour, by the hymns of the Greek Orthodox Church, and by his extensive travels through Europe and Asia. For this recording, the performers themselves arranged his compositions for cello and piano, adding five pieces by pianist Tsabropoulos, including three based on Byzantine hymns. Both players have been involved with Armenian, Ukranian and Greek Orthodox music; both are expert improvisers. Their strong feeling and affinity for the material allows them to approach it with both reverence and freedom; the playing is primarily subdued and inward. The piano texture ranges from delicate tinkling to full-blooded chords and arpeggios; the cello, playing mostly in the low and middle register, often in unison with the piano, sounds dark, warm and beautiful. The music, except for one lively dance, is slow, solemn, and mournful, in the minor mode. Melodies featuring oriental intervals are elaborated but not developed; based on single-note drones, harmonies are static or move in stepwise progressions but do not modulate. This lack of contrast and variety creates an otherworldly, disembodied atmosphere, despite several buildups of motion, dynamics, and intensity. --Edith Eisler

Pro Opinions

Wonderful path to awareness

Luna's picture

The remembering yourself method, presence and awareness to all centers are amazing tools for spiritual development.


gg74k's picture

I agree that once you start reading some of the books it can become way too heady, but i find myself using the divided attention technique alot, it just seems to have stuck....Peace

Con Opinions

The followers groups

kalgo's picture

Been to a several meetings of Gurdjieff groups. I felt that it was mostly intellectual chitchat and less meditation and deep realization work.

saj's picture



saj | Sun, 01/08/2012 - 03:15

Too complicated

george's picture

I believe that effective methods are the ones that are simple.

I find G's techniques too complicated.

I also don't agree with his claim that without a school, you can not progress.

The Fourth Way - eBook199 KB
Life is Real only then when I am - ebook1.17 MB