Gurdjieff’s Mission – Historical Background
Gurdjieff was born in ca.1877 in Alexandropol in the Southern Caucasus, during the Russo-Turkish war. He was born into a troubled world: before the time of the Russian Revolution and World War 1.
During his early life whilst pursuing his passion for knowledge, understanding and truth, he encountered a series of wounding’s from ‘stray bullets’ (3 in fact). From this we know that his experience of war was personal and direct. His first encounter with a ‘stray bullet’ was in 1902 whilst in the mountainous regions of Tibet. This was prior to the Anglo-Tibetan war, and was when Russia was striving to make an alliance with Tibet. It was a tension-ladened area and it seems that Gurdjieff was following a two-fold mission when the incident happened :
1 – probably acting as a Russian agent. 2 – Being in pursuit of access to various monasteries and lamaseries in search of hidden knowledge. Apparently, he was so badly wounded that he lay unconscious for several days and took months to recover, taking refuge in a cave.
His second encounter with a ‘stray bullet’ was in 1904 in the very early stages of the Russian Revolution, in the neighbourhood of the Chiatur Tunnel in Transcaucasia. Again there are beliefs that he was a revolutionary and government agent.
Because of the disasters from 1902 onwards the world collapsed. Two World Wars and 40 million lives lost – not to mention the loss to human societies and cultures.
Gurdjieff witnessed the waste-less flow of war and death and he set himself a task of finding out how to help people free themselves from destructive influences.
This was in 1907 and represented a dramatic departure from his earlier objective of gaining knowledge and power for personal benefit. This change was most likely due to the compassion aroused in him by his growing awareness of the dilemma of modern man. He saw man’s need to dominate and destroy nature increasing side by side with a progressive decline in self-discipline and a loss of inner freedom. Gurdjieff seeing this state in modern man describes it as ‘The Terror of the Situation’.
Man had ceased to function as an integrated whole and had lost direction and purpose.
The ‘terror of the situation’ described by J.G. Bennett in 1973 in his book ‘Making a New World’ , says that we face the threat of population explosion, food shortage, exhaustion of resources, pollution and the revolt of the deprived millions. All these factors carry an incredible tension – the type of tension that can make wars, and this doesn’t embrace the threat from the ‘war-machine-technology’ and the nuclear power.
To sum up J.G. Bennett – he says in a lecture given in 1949 that ‘Modern man is a taker and not a giver. Whoever has power uses it to take and hold; whereas the only right use of power is to give and share with others’ 
CAN WARS BE STOPPED?
The specifics of Gurdjieff’s teaching is indicated by P.D.Ouspensky in his In Search of the Miraculous :
What is war?…
“The conversation began with my question ‘Can War be stopped?’ And Gurdjieff answered; ‘Yes it can’
And yet I had been certain from previous talks that he would answer, ‘No. it cannot’. ‘But the whole thing is How?’ he said. ‘It is necessary to know a great deal in order to understand that.’ ‘What is war? It is the result of planetary influences. Somewhere up there two or three planets have approached too near to each other and tension results. Have you noticed how, if a man passes quite close to you on a narrow pavement you become all tense? The same tension takes place between planets. For them it lasts, perhaps a second or two. But here on the earth, people begin to slaughter one another, and they go on slaughtering maybe for several years. It seems to them at the time that they hate one another, or perhaps, that they have to slaughter each other for some exalted purpose, or that they must defend somebody or something and that it is a noble thing to do; or something else of the same kind. They fail to realize to what extent they are mere pawns in the game. They think they signify something.’” (Extract from pages 23-25).
War cannot be stopped by ordinary means…
“There was a question about war. How to stop wars? Gurdjieff; ‘War is the result of the slavery in which men live. Strictly speaking, men are not to blame for war. War is due to cosmic forces – to planetary influences. But in men there is no resistance whatever against these influences and there cannot be any because men are slaves.’
But surely those who realize this can do something? If a sufficient number of men came to a definite conclusion that there should be no war, could they not influence others?
Gurdjieff: ‘Those who dislike war have been trying to do so almost since the creation of the world and there has never been such a war as at present (1919). Wars are not decreasing they are increasing and war cannot be stopped by ordinary means. All these theories about Universal Peace and Peace Conferences are people striving towards an ‘ideal’ – but have these people mastered the impulse of destruction within themselves?.
War has many causes that are unknown to us. Some causes are in men themselves others are outside of them. One must begin with the causes that are in man himself. How can he be independent of the external influences of great cosmic forces when he is the slave of everything that surrounds him? If he becomes free from this he may become free from planetary influences.’” (Extract from ‘In Search of the Miraculous’ page 103).
What does war signify?
“‘Let us take some event in the life of humanity. For instance, war. There is a war going on at the present moment. What does it signify? It signifies that several millions of sleeping people are trying to destroy several millions of other sleeping people. They would not do this if they were ‘awake’. ‘How many times have I been asked whether wars can be stopped? Certainly they can. For this it is necessary that people should awaken. It seems a very small thing but it is very difficult because everywhere this sleep is induced and maintained by the whole of surrounding life and conditions. ‘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 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 men do not understand. They cannot accept the fact that they are asleep.” (Extract from ‘In Search of the Miraculous’ page 143/144).
Progress in warfare…
Christianity forbids murder. Yet all that the whole of our progress comes to is progress in the technique of murder and progress in warfare. How can we call ourselves Christians?
No-one has a right to call himself a Christian who does not carry out Christ’s precepts. A man can say that he desires to be a Christian if he tries to carry out these precepts. But we can only show our attitude by our actions.
Humanity has no inner life
From Maurice Nicoll :
“Where there is no vision people die. Today (1946. ) when vision is ceasing, the power of external life, of machines and war increases. Humanity is becoming enslaved by outer life, because it has no inner life. Having given up on the idea of religion it has nothing with which to resist outer life. Man becomes helpless – a creature of mass movements; mass-politics; and of gigantic mass-organisations’. (page 865, Psychological Commentaries).
The result of this ray of light is to bring into consciousness the unknown and unaccepted sides of ourselves. This softens everything in us and takes away a great deal of our violence. We all have to overcome in ourselves the violent man and the violent woman because all violence is due to lack of consciousness. If you can see another as you see yourself you will never be violent towards him or her……. But the supreme change comes when you can see that what you are violent about is something in yourself that you do not accept.’(Commentaries page 834)
People say: What is war? Why should war be? Does God will war? If God wills war, can he be a God?
Ouspensky said to his pupils ‘All of you in this Work must try to understand why war exists’; because he constantly taught that the most powerful force that we can create in ourselves is understanding. This Work gives us knowledge about our situation on this Earth and understanding means to understand the knowledge that we are given about our situation on Earth. However, most people think that understanding can be gained simply from their ordinary knowledge and do not realize that in order to understand new knowledge is necessary.”
CAN WARS BE STOPPED?
-not by philosophical debate -not through ethics as presently taught in colleges and universities -not by preaching and moralizing
These bind us to ‘thought systems’ offering only an ‘ideal’.
The Fourth Way teaches us to value the potential for our own growth as individuals. It is a system offering knowledge, understanding, and a way which is essentially practical; a system for helping us to ‘know ourselves’ and to develop within us the strength to not only observe but also to contain our own propensity for violence. We strive to hold negative emotions and the seeds of violence in our nature so that our emanations are rendered harmless to ourselves and to others. We strive for growth of Essence.
If Essence could remember war would cease. All development in the ‘Work-sense’ is the development of Essence and this always remember. Collective War cannot make people remember because collective war is a manifestation of Personality. State War is a manifestation of the collective personality and the individual is even more lost.”
Exodus Chapter 20:
“Thou shalt not kill”
“I set before you this day life and death, blessing and cursing.
Choose life that thou and thy seed may live”
Compiled by a group member.
 Gurdjieff: Making a New World. J.G. Bennett
 Is There Life on Earth? J.G. Bennett
 In Search of the Miraculous, Fragments of an Unknown Teaching. P.D. Ouspensky
 Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. Maurice Nicoll
George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff was born in Alexandropol in 1866 to a Greek father and Armenian mother. His father was an Ashokh, or bard, and sung epic poetry in an oral tradition that was thousands of years old, including the story of Gilgamesh. With fellow ‘Seekers of Truth’ Gurdjieff spent twenty years of his early adult life travelling in the East searching for real knowledge, driven by the question of the sense and significance of life. He eventually set up his ‘Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man’ at the Château du Prieuré near Fontainebleau-Avon in France in 1922. He died in 1949 and left an allegorical magnum opus, entitled All and Everything, as well as a large collection of sacred dances and music. One may say that his teaching is simply how to become a real human being.
What is the purpose of life?
A brief exploration, in the light of the teaching of Gurdjieff
This question of questions, the purpose of life, is not for the mind alone. Attempting to grasp its magnitude, our feelings and instinct must have equal share of the work.
Imagine a compassionate and impartial being looking down upon earth from afar, seeing everything, from epoch to epoch. Seeing our destruction of one another’s existence in untold numbers of terrible wars, seeing our abuse and ingratitude to our Mother Nature, seeing the vanities that make up our personal lives…. Might not this being conclude, sorrowfully, that it is only by our death that in general human beings serve a useful purpose, by being food for worms?
Walking in the countryside in springtime, who can fail to be moved by the exuberance of Nature? The singing of the birds, the bursting forth of new life, new growth. But look at that young carefree lamb gambolling in the lush green field over there. Is our fate really any different to his, destined to be slaughtered for his meat?
Gurdjieff tells a story of a rich magician and his sheep, saying that it was a very good picture of the life of people:
‘There is an Eastern tale which speaks about a very rich magician who had a great many sheep. But at the same time this magician was very mean. He did not want to hire shepherds, nor did he want to erect a fence about the pasture where his sheep were grazing. The sheep consequently often wandered into the forest, fell into ravines, and so on, and above all they ran away, for they knew that the magician wanted their flesh and skins and this they did not like.
‘At last the magician found a remedy. He hypnotized his sheep and suggested to them first of all that they were immortal and that no harm was being done to them when they were skinned, that, on the contrary, it would be very good for them and even pleasant; secondly he suggested that the magician was a good master who loved his flock so much that he was ready to do anything in the world for them; and in the third place he suggested to them that if anything at all were going to happen to them it was not going to happen just then, at any rate not that day, and therefore they had no need to think about it. Further the magician suggested to his sheep that they were not sheep at all; to some of them he suggested that they were lions, to others that they were eagles, to others that they were men, and to others that they were magicians.
‘And after this, all his cares and worries about the sheep came to an end. They never ran away again but quietly awaited the time when the magician would require their flesh and skins.’ [i]
Gurdjieff frequently talks of this state of hypnotized sleep in which we live. However, there is an interesting sequel to this story, also said to be ancient, and prevailing in medieval Europe, about the black sheep who has somehow freed himself from the general hypnosis and realises his position, thus having greater possibilities. [ii]
Gurdjieff often colourfully described human beings as ‘factories for producing merde.’ [iii] (Merde is sometimes politely translated from the French as fertiliser or manure.) He often stressed the need to realise with one’s whole being one’s own nothingness, to see ‘the absurdity of our ordinary life,’ [iv] and even to be ‘convinced that [one] is heading directly over a precipice towards annihilation,’ [v] in order to be really motivated to change. We are ordinarily so immersed in illusion, that we are quite comfortable being such factories. However, Gurdjieff once described himself as being a seeker of ‘pearls in manure’! [vi]
Fritz Peters recounts an episode when he was a twelve year old boy at Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Prieuré in Fontainebleau-Avon:
‘He then asked me to look out of the window and to tell him what I saw. I said that, from that window, all I could see was an oak tree. And what, he asked, was on the oak tree? I told him: acorns.
‘ “How many acorns?”
‘When I replied, rather uncertainly, that I did not know, he said impatiently: “Not exactly, not ask that. Guess how many!”
‘I said that I supposed there were several thousand of them.
‘He agreed and then asked me how many of the acorns would become oak trees. I answered that I supposed only five or six of them would actually develop into trees, if that many.
‘He nodded. “Perhaps only one, perhaps not even one. Must learn from Nature. Man is also organism. Nature make many acorns, but possibility to become tree exist for only few acorns. Same with man – many men born, but only few grow. People think this waste, think Nature waste. Not so. Rest become fertiliser, go back to earth and create possibility for more acorns, more men, once in a while more tree – more real man. Nature always give – but only give possibility. To become real oak, or real man, must make effort. You understand this, my work….not for fertilizer. For real man only. But must also understand fertilizer necessary to Nature. Possibility for real tree, real man also depend just this fertilizer.” ’[vii]
One of Gurdjieff’s special ideas was that of ‘reciprocal maintenance’. He held that human beings, like everything else in the universe, were apparatuses for the transformation of energy, that each so-called ‘class of being’ depended on every other class of being, and that a continual exchange of substances, or reciprocal feeding, takes place. In the words of one of his English pupils, John Bennett, ‘….man….is specifically required to produce sensitive and conscious energy needed for maintaining the harmony of the solar system.’ [viii]
For Gurdjieff, all life was equally necessary and precious. He said, ‘For [the megalocosmos] there is no difference between the life of man and the life of beings of any other form.’ [ix] Indeed, Gurdjieff loved animals and plants, and stressed our kinship with other creatures. Bennett said, ‘….Reciprocal Maintenance….alone breaks down the artificial barrier that man has erected between himself and his Mother Nature.’[x] Gurdjieff, indeed, was the supreme ecologist: the whole universe itself as an ecosystem.
Bennett also said that ‘….the individual can bring about the complete transformation of his nature [only] through his own [in Gurdjieff’s words] ‘conscious labour and intentional suffering.’ [xi] Bennett described this way of living as ‘Service and Sacrifice’ [xii] Through these means, manure may be transformed into ‘Holy Merde,’ [xiii] or even a pearl.
Gurdjieff often described the human organism using an Eastern allegory of the horse, carriage and coachman. The carriage itself represents the body, the horse the emotions, and the coachman the mind. However, in the ordinary person, the carriage is broken down and in dire need of repairs, the horse has been brought up on beatings and continual abuse and has never been properly educated, and the coachman is always drunk and half asleep. And instead of the carriage having an owner who is the master of the equipage, there is a continual succession of passengers that are the different ‘I’s that make up our daily life. One of the aims of Gurdjieff’s teaching was the education of each of these separate components, and to gain one’s own unchanging ‘I’, or conscious individuality.
Gurdjieff demanded that we keep things in perspective:
‘Go out one clear starlit night to some open space and look up at the sky, at those millions of worlds over your head. Remember that perhaps on each of them swarm billions of beings, similar to you or perhaps superior to you in their organization. Look at the Milky Way. The earth cannot even be called a grain of sand in this infinity. It dissolves and vanishes, and with it, you. Where are you? And is what you want simply madness?
‘Before all these worlds ask yourself what are your aims and hopes, your intentions and means of fulfilling them, the demands that may be made upon you and your preparedness to meet them.’ [xiv]
There are two rivers of life, according to Gurdjieff [xv], and the drops within them represent human lives. One is an unconscious current, flowing purely in accordance with the needs of Nature, and the water eventually disappears down crevices to the depths of the earth. The other is the living water, in which those who have their own ‘I’ may take their place, and which ultimately enters and unites with the boundless ocean.
What is he Purpose of Life? Compiled by Dr. Clare Mingins
[i] Ouspensky, P.D. In Search of the Miraculous p.219
[ii] Anon. Gospel of Orage p.7-9
[iii] Patterson, W.P. Voices in the Dark p.252-25
[iv] Gurdjieff, G.I. Life is real only then, when ‘I am’ p.103
[v] Tchekovitch, T. Gurdjieff: Master in Life p.131
[vi] Gurdjieff, G.I. Life is real only then, when ‘I am’ p.7
[vii] Peters, Fritz. Boyhood with Gurdjieff p.43
[viii] Bennett, John. Gurdjieff: Making a New World p.191
[ix] Gurdjieff, G.I. Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson (1950) p.193
[x] ibid. P.271
[xi] ibid. p.194
[xii] ibid. p.212
[xiii] Patterson, W.P. Ladies of the Rope p.117
[xiv] Gurdjieff, G.I. Views from the Real World p.58
[xv] Gurdjieff, G.I. Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson (1950) p.1227-1232