Can Wars Be Stopped?

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’ [1], 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’ [2]


The specifics of Gurdjieff’s teaching is indicated by P.D.Ouspensky in his In Search of the Miraculous [3]:

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 [4]:

“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.”



-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”

Moses said:

 “I set before you this day life and death, blessing and cursing.

  Choose life that thou and thy seed may live”

‘Can Wars be Stopped?’ compiled by JEB.


[1] Gurdjieff: Making a New World. J.G. Bennett

[2] Is There Life on Earth? J.G. Bennett

[3] In Search of the Miraculous, Fragments of an Unknown Teaching. P.D. Ouspensky

[4] Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. Maurice Nicoll