The Life of G.I. Gurdjieff, His Search and Teaching
Copyright © Reijo Elsner
To the reader
This introduction has been amended for the Fourth Way & Sufism site 2005]
There are good introductions to Gurdjieff's whereabouts to be found in many places on the internet, but none more detailed that James Moore's Chronology, which can be read in here.
This text for Gurdjieff's search is not in chronological order; it follows Oksanen's search based on his objectives in trying to find the answers to his 'burning questions' and explanations to the 'unexplained phenomena'.
Foreword - What This Article Is About ?
I am focusing on these questions:
- What was Gurdjieff's background?
- What were the motives for his search for truth?
- What did he discover in his search?
- What was the message of his teaching?
- What has happened to his teaching after his death?
Chapter 1 - Gurdjieff's Background
The most likely date for Gurdjieff's birthday is the 13th of January 1866 and no doubt his birthplace is Alexandropol. This date means that his age when starting to teach in Russia was between 45 and 47, which matches with Ouspensky's notion 'no longer young' when they first met. It also means that he died at the age of 83 - and he certainly looked very old in some of the latest photographs.
His father was Greek and mother Armenian... But let us not go into the details of that here. These details are freely available on the internet from other sites, also from the links provided in the links section. It is sufficient to note that the early influences in his life played a vital role in the whole of his life.
If you are interested in reading a good story about life in Armenia at the time of Gurdjieff's youth you can go to The Fool. It is a tale of a man, a woman, and a nation divided, written by Raffi, who is a popular Armenian writer.
Early Education and Methods
Gurdjieff's family intended him for priesthood and he was prepared for that with the help of his father and the teachers that he had in adolescence. He himself dreamed of technical specialization. Gurdjieff's first teacher was Dean Borsh from the Kars Military Cathedral, which had recently been 'taken over' by the Russian Orthodox Church.
The links on the left to Alexandropol [GONE 2013] and Kars will give some idea of the environment where Gurdjieff was when receiving his highly theologically inspired education. Echmiadzin is also well worth your visit, the web site is full of material and very beautifully presented.
In The Material Question of The Meetings Gurdjieff tells his audience (gathered to celebrate the opening of the New York branch of his Institute in 1924) that he is 'the very man who has sacrificed almost his whole personal life to this vital question of education' and that he intends to write a book about the educational methods of his father.
He points out the methods of teaching by his father and his first teacher. His father told extraordinary tales with the result that Georges imagined that he did everything in quite a special way. Under the instruction of his teacher he practised various manual crafts and skills. Learning how to learn and to learn quickly was the main principle.
Due to this ability learned in his youth Gurdjieff claims that he was able to grasp the essence of whatever information he found, 'instead of being left with merely an accumulation of empty rubbish' which is the result of our method of learning by heart.
The second teacher was Bogachevsky, who had his education in the Russian Theological Seminary. Bogachevsky joined later the monastic community in Mount Athos. Moving further South Bogachevsky became 'father Evlissi, an assistant to the abbot of the chief monastery of the Essene Brotherhood, situated not far from the shores of the Dead Sea'.
Searching for Essenes on the internet gives you hundreds of links. Some of them refer to the Gurdjieff sites mentioned in our links, some talk about the 'Dead Sea Scrolls' or other old writings referring to the Essenes. Then there are the sites that look more interesting: they are what I would call 'new age' Essene communities, often basing their ideas on the writings of the old. As a curiosity you can have a look at the Order of the Nazorean Essenes, subtitled A Buddhist Branch of Original Christianity. But there is no information to be found on father Evlissi or the chief monastery. Neither is there anything that suggests that the Essenes had a monastery near the Dead Sea as late as the 19th century.
One of Gurdjieff's best friends in his early years and at the time of his education was Sarkis Pogossian, who studied in the Theological Seminaries in Erivan and Echmiadzin. Both of these are important centers in the Armenian Church.
Gurdjieff was, however, interested in finding answers to the unexplainable phenomena that he came across continuously. This resulted in his 'search for the truth' that lasted appr. 30 years. The only authentic clues to where he was at that time are given by himself in 'Meetings with Remarkable Men'. This book is referred to in the text as 'The Meetings'.
I can not pass Meetings with Remarkable Men without saying something about the film made of it. Never have I been more disappointed in seeing a film after I have first read the book. No criticism on Peter Brook who directed it. I have enjoyed much of his work. The fact is that you just cannot put into two hours a lifetime full of incidents as colourful as Gurdjieff's, whether they are true stories or fairy-tales.