Chapter 3 - Gurdjieff's Teaching in 'Russia'

Tashkent 1909 - 1911

Reijo Oksanen

Gurdjieff started his teaching in 1909 in Tashkent, that is if we can call this first period 'teaching'. At the age of 43 he had behind him approximately 25 years of search.

Again our main sources of information are his own writings. The time in Tashkent was a continuation of the studies of hypnotism using guinea-pigs. In The Herald he writes: 'This time my reflections...resulted in a decision to make use of my...knowledge of the so-called "supernatural sciences", as well as my skill in producing different "tricks" in the domain of these so-called "sciences", and to give myself out to be, in these pseudo-scientific domains, a so-called "professor-instructor".'

Gurdjieff got in contact with the vast number of people involved in what he called the psychosis of "occultism", "theosophism", "spiritualism", etc. and became an expert and guide in evoking phenomena of the beyond in a very large "circle".

In the process he began to observe and study the waking state of the psyche of his "Guinea-Pigs". In the beginning of the third year he had acquired a solid authority among the members of three such large independent "Workshops". He then decided to give them all up and undertake the organization of his own "circle" on quite new principles. This decision was based on his observation that the workshops had people of three or four definite types, but he needed to have representatives of all the 28 categories of types existing on Earth.

As we can see this was not teaching at all. Experimenting may be the right word, perhaps helping some people and entertaining with tricks. It does show clearly that the beginning is always hard. What Gurdjieff writes in the Herald he wrote in 1932. He also explains the big change in what he wanted to do and what he aimed to do when he started moving towards Russia proper.

Moscow and St. Petersburg 1912 - 1920

The earliest account of the Russian time is oddly enough written by an Englishman, Sir Paul Dukes, who was in the secret service in Moscow and introduced to Gurdjieff in 1913. Of the time in Russia and out of there around 1915-1918 we have P.D. Ouspensky's masterpiece 'In Search of the Miraculous', which still to-day is the best presentation of Gurdjieff's ideas and how they were delivered. Thomas de Hartmann, the componist who wrote down, composed with Gurdjieff and played the music and his wife Olga de Hartmann, give an account of this time in his book 'Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff'.

When Gurdjieff reached Moscow and soon after also St. Petersburg he had made an oath not to use his psychic powers for his personal benefit. This oath contained the decision to lead an 'artificial life' for the next 21 years of his life. The oath was made in 1911 and he wrote about it in 1932, in the year his oath ended.

In the course of his 21 years of artificial life Gurdjieff played many roles. In Russia he appears first as Prince Ozey, an oriental prince, who surprisingly speaks good English. Ouspensky describes on his first meeting an oriental man, who was poorly disguised and spoke Russian incorrectly with a strong Caucasian accent. Another role was 'a teacher of dancing'.

The systematic presentation of the ideas begins with Ouspensky and ends with him as well. Sir Paul Dukes' first meeting dealt with Gurdjieff's interpretation of The Lord's Prayer and his demonstration of it as a combined breathing exercise and a mantra. There is an excellent article on this meeting at

Ouspensky's first meeting with Gurdjieff took place about 1½ years later in the Spring of 1915. Reading The Fragments between the lines it is fairly clear that a fair share of the contents did not come from group meetings, but was delivered in private conversations between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

The Fragments contains all the psychological and cosmological ideas. To take it as the whole teaching would be wrong. Ouspensky certainly did not follow Gurdjieff all the way. The first meeting happened as a result of various 'co-incidences' starting from Ouspensky clipping a notice of The Struggle of the Magicians out of a newspaper. The 'ballet' gave birth to the movements as we know them to-day. Ouspensky was not particularly interested, neither did he take part in the movements later in life when they were offered to him. Surely they did not suit his type.

Ouspensky puts his approach very clearly in one of his answers to a question in The Fourth Way: when you follow conscious ideas you become more conscious. But he said also that the system cannot be learned from books. There are good articles on Ouspensky in the Gurdjieff International Review right here (go to Past Issues, Vol.II, No 2).

If you are interested in finding out more of the people and details of this teaching period I can recommend James Moore's Gurdjieff Biography.

Ouspensky's role in presenting Gurdjieff's ideas to a wider public and handing the contacts over to Gurdjieff is the story of his life that continued even after his death.

What Ouspensky was to the ideas Thomas de Hartmann was to the music. He came to Gurdjieff in late 1916, just over one year after Ouspensky. Everything comes to he who waits. Did Gurdjieff wait? According to de Hartmann he was good at waiting for the right moment. There had been musicians in Gurdjieff's company before; Sir Paul Dukes was a musical student and there were others. Was this just 'happening' or was it planned? As it can be seen later, Gurdjieff had made contact with his two most important pupils in just a period of three years.

These two men were very different form each other, but became nevertheless good friends. Ouspensky had his intellect and de Hartmann his heart. De Hartmann's emotional attitude can be seen in various remarks in his book 'Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff'. During the difficult and tumultous conditions of the Bolschevik revolution he often writes that everything is all right or at least will sort itself out, as Gurdjieff was with them. This kind of dependence and attitude is entirely lacking in Ouspenky, who rather went his own way.

By 1917 Gurdjieff had under his 'wings' a brilliant writer and a high class musician. The best source on the internet, for those who want to find out more about the music (and the movements), is

These two different human functions, thinking and feeling, as approaches to Gurdjieff's teaching and as channels of transmitting the teaching, are two of the essential elements of the harmonius development of man. The third element in the reception and transmission is the movements. You can enter the Work through any of your centers: the writings, readings and lectures appeal mainly to the thinking center, the music mainly to the emotional center and the movements mainly to the moving center. The Work itself is a 'combined effort' to work on all three centers. This is the real definition of The Fourth Way, often wrongly interpreted as a 'collection of ideas, which are not transmitted in a monastery'.

Having moved to Tiflis and attracted Jeanne and Alexander Salzmann to join him Gurdjieff was now ready to give his first public performance of the Sacred Dances. This took place in the Tiflis Opera House. Work on the Struggle of the Magicians continued.

To further his teaching and to give it an official facade, Gurdjieff established The Insitute for the Harmonius Development of Man. This took place in Tiflis in 1919 and had as its first members Thomas and Olga de Hartmann, Jeanne and Alexander Salzmann and Dr. Leonid Sjörnvall, who had been with Gurdjieff since 1914. Ouspensky had already gone away. Fairly soon after the Institute's conception Gurdjieff moved to Constantinople with the mentioned members. Ouspensky was already there some months earlier and had prepared the ground by holding lectures on the teaching.

The Turkish Interlude 1920-1921

The time in Constantinople can be seen as a further development of the form the teaching would take. Gurdjieff worked with both Ouspensky on the texts and de Hartmann on the music of 'The Struggle fo the Magicians'. The form of the teaching was giving lectures and performing some of the dances to a restricted audience. None of the lectures have been published. The rule was, and still in some groups is, that you were not allowed to take notes or write down afterwards what you remembered.

From 1918 Ouspensky had felt that he had to go away from Gurdjieff. He writes in 'The Fragments': "I had nothing to say against G.'s methods except that they did not suit me." He continues: "I percieved that G. was leading us in fact towards the way of religion, of the monastery, and required the observance of all religious forms and ceremonies...but it was not my way." When the Institute was opened in Constantinople Ouspensky did not join, but later on gave lectures in the Institute. Already at this time Gurdjieff authorized the writing and publication of the lectures in St. Petersburg with Ouspensky's commentary.

In Constantinople Gurdjieff received an invitation to go to Hellerau, which is situated near Dresden in Germany. This contact came through Alexander von Saltzmann, who had been employed in Hellerau in 1910 as a painter and specialist on stage design for the performing arts. Jeanne Saltzmann had met Alexander in Hellerau while studying Eurhythmics, developed by Emile Jaques-Dalcroze.