Gurdjieff's System

gurdjieff-7From: Gurdjieff and "The Terror of the Situation"

G. I. Gurdjieff (1872-1949) is one of the more interesting teachers to emerge from the so-called "esoteric" tradition in the modern period. You can read a brief bio by clicking on this link.

The cosmological aspects of Gurdjieff's work as presented in the trilogy Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, are intriguing but need to be taken with a grain or two of salt. Beelzebub's Tales reads like science fiction. The protagonist, Beelzebub, reflects upon his life in the Solar System, Ors, where he had been banished by "His Endlessness". While in exile he observes our solar system and develops a keen interest in the planet earth and its inhabitants. Beelzebub relates his tales to his grandson Hassan while they are traveling in the spaceship Karnak.

Gurdjieff deliberately (some might say maliciously), wrote the Beelzebub trilogy in a long winded and torturous style in order to discourage the frivolous and to place demands upon those who presumed to penetrate its mysteries.

Gurdjieff was distinguished most of all by ingrained skepticism when it came to the human condition. He viewed the average human as a malfunctioning machine in which the various parts are chronically out of sync. The resulting state of consciousness he characterized as "waking sleep" - a kind of hypnotic state of partial awareness.

Whereas teachers of the Eastern tradition tend to speak optimistically of consciousness raising techniques, Gurdjieff had a much less rosy view of the prospects of success. He regarded most people as wily self-deceivers, who con themselves into imagining they have achieved conditions of "enlightenment" while remaining essentially unchanged.

The method he offered students, was a lot more demanding than the use of mantras or other incense enhanced efforts to tame the 'monkey' of the mind. His mechanistic model - 'man as malfunctioning machine', certainly doesn't flatter those with notions about themselves derived from religion, philosophy or the optimistic side of modern psychology. One suspects that Beelzebub's disparaging reference to humans as "slugs" reflects a conviction held by Gurdjieff himself. This conviction was borne out by the way he handled visiting celebrities who showed up at the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Fontainbleau back in 1920's. Famous personalities, accustomed to being feted, would often be required to dig in the garden or scrub the floors. At table their vanity would sometimes become the butt of sly humor as Gurdjieff engaged in elaborate toasts based on his "science of the idiots".

The theory of the human machine and its functions is quite complex. It takes the view that the everyday state of "wakefulness" is a mechanical state, governed by false personality with its ever-shifting "I's". Ideas, feelings, impulses etc act through us in an automatic fashion, rather than being consciously initiated. Gurdjieff believed that we flatter ourselves in believing we possess any type of fixed or unified "I". He considered such inner unity only possible in a higher state unattainable by most.

In order to begin the challenging task of "awakening", Fourth Way teaching recommends a technique of self-observation. This is a dispassionate form of observation capable of maintaining vigil irrespective of how hectic and demanding our life may happen to become. Gurdjieff referred to this and other techniques as "the work" and often emphasized how difficult it is to self-observe correctly over a sustained period of time, without defaulting back into the state of identification. As a way of increasing the force of self-observation so-called "movements" or sacred dances are sometimes used.

Gurdjieff maintained that his Fourth Way system was the best method of inner development for those engaged in the affairs of everyday life. However he was highly skeptical that the average person could succeed, claiming that only 20% of people ever thought seriously about inner development, and of those only 5% would actually manage to achieve anything meaningful.

Gurdjieff's system

gurdjieff-3G. I. Gurdjieff (1872-1949) is one of the more interesting teachers to emerge from the so-called "esoteric" tradition in the modern period. You can read a brief bio by clicking on this link.

The theory of the human machine and its functions is quite complex. It takes the view that the everyday state of "wakefulness" is a mechanical state, governed by false personality with its ever-shifting "I's". Ideas, feelings, impulses etc act through us in an automatic fashion, rather than being consciously initiated. Gurdjieff believed that we flatter ourselves in believing we possess any type of fixed or unified "I". He considered such inner unity only possible in a higher state unattainable by most.

In order to begin the challenging task of "awakening", Fourth Way teaching recommends a technique of self-observation. This is a dispassionate form of observation capable of maintaining vigil irrespective of how hectic and demanding our life may happen to become. Gurdjieff referred to this and other techniques as "the work" and often emphasized how difficult it is to self-observe correctly over a sustained period of time, without defaulting back into the state of identification. As a way of increasing the force of self-observation so-called "movements" or sacred dances are sometimes used.

Gurdjieff maintained that his Fourth Way system was the best method of inner development for those engaged in the affairs of everyday life. However he was highly skeptical that the average person could succeed, claiming that only 20% of people ever thought seriously about inner development, and of those only 5% would actually manage to achieve anything meaningful.

He viewed the average human as a malfunctioning machine in which the various parts are chronically out of sync. The resulting state of consciousness he characterized as "waking sleep" - a kind of hypnotic state of partial awareness.

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