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You are here You are here: Home Study Psychology & Mind Fourth Way Critical Appraisal Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way: A Critical Appraisal
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Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way: A Critical Appraisal
From: Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way: A Critical Appraisal

George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, who brought an ancient esoteric teaching to the West, was one of the most important spiritual teachers of the 20th century. The impact of his ideas, teaching methods and powerful personality continue to challenge and fascinate seekers of wisdom more than half a century after his death. His teaching, known as ‘the Work’ - which has come to be called the ‘Fourth Way’ - has greatly influenced spiritual seekers throughout the world.

Assessments of Gurdjieff by students, followers, journalists, critics, scholars and fellow spiritual teachers are bewilderingly diverse, ranging from ‘charlatan’ and ‘black magician’ to ‘extraordinary spiritual master’ and even ‘A Messenger from Above.’

In light of such a conflicting portrait of Gurdjieff there is a real need to examine his life, teachings and influence on the contemporary world based on an objective, balanced approach free from preconceptions or ideological bias.

The intent of this website is to bring together multiple perspectives from a wide range of sources to examine and evaluate the Gurdjieff phenomena, with the hope of stimulating debate and discussion rather than providing any final definitive statement or conclusion.

Search

search-smOne of the great mysteries of Gurdjieff’s life is the nature of his extensive and unremitting search for an esoteric knowledge and teaching that would explain the significance and meaning of life.

There has been an abundance of conjecture, conflicting theories and misinformation about this crucial phase of his life.

We know little about which countries and regions he visited, the spiritual teachings and traditions he studied, and the source or sources of the vast system of ideas he brought to the West and transmitted to others for almost 40 years.

    
Gurdjieff's Search for Esoteric Knowledge

  • Validating the Events of Gurdjieff's Life
  • Gurdjieff's Early Life
  • The Seekers of the Truth
  • The Sarmoung Brotherhood
  • Teaching Mission in the West

    
The Inner Circle of Humanity

  • Esoteric Knowledge and School
  • The Innner Circle of Humanity
  • The Fourth Way

    
Sources of Gurdjieff's Teachings

  • Christianity
  • Sufism
  • Buddhism and Hinduism
  • Western Occult Tradition
Controversy

harmonious devAlmost from the beginning of Gurdjieff's teaching mission in the West, he was surrounded by controversy, rumour and speculation.

Critics, outside observers and even some of his own students questioned his intentions, credentials as a spiritual teacher, methods, traditional attitudes and beliefs, use of alcohol, sexual behavior and validity of the ideas he presented.

Was he a genuine spiritual teacher or a charlatan, an ‘Emissary from Above’ or a ‘black magician’?

  
Authenticity as a Spiritual Teacher

  • Conflict with Traditional Religious Beliefs
  • Authority and Mandate to Teach


Controversial Reputation

  • Criticism by Journalists and the French Metaphysical Community
  • Criticism by Pupils of Gurdjieff
  • Exaggerated Knowledge and Abilities
  • Travelling Adventures

    
Drugs, Alcohol and Food

  • Gurdjieff's Knowledge and Use of Drugs and Alcohol
  • Use of Drugs and Alcohol with Pupils
  • Ritual Meals and Food as Sacraments

    
Sexual Beliefs and Practices

  • Gurdjieff's Beliefs About Sexuality
  • Gurdjieff's Sexual Behaviour

    
Gurdjieff's Psychological Ideas

  • System is Fragmentary and Incomplete
  • Pessimistic View of Human Nature
  • Lack of Love
  • Control of Negative Emotions
  • Emphasis on Effort and Struggle
  • Substituting Belief Systems

    
Gurdjieff's Cosmological Ideas

  • Unbelieveable and Incoherent
  • Lack of Scientific Validity
  • Materiality vs. Spirituality
  • Influence of the Moon
  • Planetary Influences
  • The 'Organ Kundabuffer'
  • The Development of a Human Soul
Methods

gurdjieff1920That Gurdjieff was a powerful and charismatic teacher who employed unusual and challenging teaching methods is indisputable.

But doubts have been raised about the provenance of his provocative teaching style and use of role-playing and blameworthy behaviour.

Did Gurdjieff cross an ethical line in his dealings with some students by his confrontational behavior and excessive demands or was he always acting in the best interests of his pupils?

    
Powerful and Magnetic Personality

  • Personal Power and Presence
  • Power of Attention and Awareness
  • Psychic and Hypnotic Powers
  • Personality Worship

    
Deception and Role-Playing

  • Secrecy and Deception
  • Manipulating Atmosphere and Environment
  • Playing Roles
  • The 'Path of Blame'

    
Challenges and Difficulties for Students

  • Experimentation with Students and Others
  • Physical and Emotional Demands
  • Financial Demands
  • Purpose of Testing Students


Negative Effects on Students

  • Adverse Consequences of Gurdjieff's Methods
  • Questions and Doubts
  • Separation From Gurdjieff
  • Ouspensky's Break with Gurdjieff
Successors

mme de sDuring his lifetime, Gurdjieff projected his teaching with the assistance of his most gifted students, with decidedly mixed results.

Many of Gurdjieff’s principal pupils faithfully transmitted his fundamental ideas and practices, but others modified and distorted many facets of his comprehensive teaching.

The same pattern continued after his death as some faithfully preserved and shared the essence of his teaching, while others modified and diluted ‘the Work’ through their own subjective interpretations and ambitions.

Today the world is awash with Gurdjieff-inspired or officially sanctioned groups, countless websites, books, journals, music and films, enneagram workshops and multidisciplinary conferences, some of it authentic and valuable, much of it simplistic and often exploitive.

    
Dissemination of the Work During Gurdjieff's Lifetime

  • P.D. Ouspensky in England and America
  • A.R. Orage in America
  • Jean Toomer in New York and Chicago
  • The Taliesin Fellowship of Wisconsin
  • John G. Bennett in England

    
Gurdjieff's Successors and Teaching Lines

  • Jeanne de Salzmann and the Gurdjieff Foundation
  • The Work in England
  • The Work in America

    
Contemporary Status of the Work

  • Current Gurdjieff Groups and Organizations
  • The Enneagram Phenomenon
  • Challenges Facing the Work
Legacy

5th-oblig-smWhen Gurdjieff died in 1949, the direct spiritual impact of his presence and being also ended.

But he left an enduring legacy of priceless value to the contemporary world in the form of his music, movements and sacred dances, and written teachings.

These gifts, created through ‘conscious labours and intentional suffering,’ are food for human spiritual development of the highest order and a bequest for generations to come.

Writings

  • Writings of Gurdjieff
  • Books Written by Students of Gurdjieff
  • Secondary and Ancillary Literature
  • Biographies of Gurdjieff

    
The Music of Gurdjieff and de Hartmann

  • Objective Art and Music
  • Source and Creation of Gurdjieff's Music
  • Classification and Description of the Music
  • Influences of the Music on the Listener

    
Gurdjieff's Movements and Sacred Dances

  • Significance of Sacred Dance
  • Development and Presentation of the Movements
  • Nature of the Movements
  • Effects of the Movements
  • The Movements Today
Bibliography

bibliographyA rich and multifaceted literature has been created over the years from the pens of Gurdjieff, his direct students (first generation), pupils of his students (second generation), scholars and researchers, journalists and critics, and biographers.

At best these writings (Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, In Search of the Miraculous) are works of ‘objective art’ which convey, on multiple levels, great spiritual truths and ideas with an undeniable impact on the reader.

At worst they are shallow, ill-informed and misleading, as they attempt to define Gurdjieff and his teachings through the lens of subjectivity, preconception and dogmatic bias.

Taken as a whole, the Gurdjieff literature forms a composite multidimensional mosaic or portrait of this exceptional teacher, his teachings and his students.

The Gurdjieff Literature: An Annotated Bibliography

  • Writings and Talks of Gurdjieff
  • Books Written by Students of Gurdjieff
  • Secondary and Ancillary Literature
  • Biographies of Gurdjieff

Critical Appraisal

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Contents - Critical Appraisal