Exploring Gurdjieff's Ideas
First of all it is important to recognize that
continued study and practice of the ideas Gurdjieff brought to the west
is not concerned with intellectualizing concepts, but instead,
calls for active and sincere participation
towards developing a balanced relationship between
thought, feeling and the body.
This participation involves your efforts and direct experience.
Gurdjieff left a legacy of work that consists of written works,
music (composed with Thomas de Hartmann)
and movements (including sacred dances).
There are also many varied exercises that, for example, work with attention.
These exercises are also a part of Gurdjieff's legacy -
conveyed by oral tradition. Initially, reading
the books that lie at the heart of the "fourth way literature" is essential.
One of the most difficult aspects to the ideas presented therein
is being open and having the willingness to call into question
almost everything that one naturally assumes
about the world and oneself. For most people,
this is a difficult pill to swallow.
One point that sets this teaching apart from many
"new age" philosophies is that the Work
has roots in the oldest spiritual traditions.
But many people come to realize that it is fairly impossible
to translate these ancient teachings into something of
practical and balanced use in the modern world - for use today.
Out of the myriad of common spiritual practices/paths,
few actually confront and challenge the seeker.
A component part of a genuine path is the necessity of
a challenge of this order.
Other so-called spiritual paths seem to be more
interested in saying things that make us feel good (or powerful) or
appeal to the lowest common denominator of our egos or imagination.
The cumulative problem that results from this placation,
is that it can have an equal effect of lulling one into
an even deeper state of sleep.
In working with the ideas of the fourth way,
it is essential to eventually find an authentic group to work with.
This is the primary aspect of exploring these ideas in a practical manner.
It is also a way to more effectively explore what the effects a
state of sleep really plays in our daily lives.
Another point to mention is that these ideas were not invented by someone
who profits from writing and selling books, tapes, videos, charging for lectures,
and "sacred dance" workshops. In fact over the last 20 years or so,
there have been a proliferation of groups that lay claim of being
"followers" of Gurdjieff's ideas. The advent of the internet
has also made these organizations much more accessible
including those who offer internet Fourth Way study courses,
"educational programs" and of all things, enneagram personality testing!
To the interested seeker, however, two major questions should be of concern:
How to begin a sincere study? And who to trust?
While engaged in the process of looking for a group to work with,
it is important to do a little research to help discriminate
between various Gurdjieff (or Fourth Way) groups - for there are many.
The quality of exposition of the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff is paramount.
One might consider that there are four divisions of groups.
The Gurdjieff work is primarily one of an "oral tradition"
(ie: passed on verbally from teacher to student).
The groups that have the largest part of this oral tradition intact
and presented as Gurdjieff left it are
The Gurdjieff Foundation of New York (est. 1953) - representing North America,
The Gurdjieff Society (London) and Institut Gurdjieff (Paris).
These organizations (collectively called The International Association of
Gurdjieff Foundations - see the web link below)
were set into motion on Gurdjieff's directive and brought to fruition
by Jeanne de Salzmann (d.1991), his most senior student at the time of his death.
This organization also has the full documentation of Gurdjieff's movements
and sacred dances. A link to the American division of this association -
The Gurdjieff Foundation of New York, is also located below.
The second divison of groups would consist of several existing groups
in the US, which were organized and initiated
by some of Gurdjieff's former pupils who operate independent of
the Foundation, but maintain a more or less active connection.
A third division of groups would be those led by students
who studied with Gurdjieff's former pupils.
Finally, the last division of these organizations would include
the numerous groups that haven't any lineage, affiliation to an oral tradition,
or connection to Gurdjieff directly or any of his senior pupils whatsoever.
These groups are led by self-appointed "teachers" or "leaders" and
therefore can be considered as "fringe groups."
They also could perhaps be considered at the least,
aberrant and at the most, demagogic, despite their apparent level of sincerity.
Significant caution should be exercised when approaching these organizations
as it is with these groups that the greatest chance for distortions are most likely.
This point is underscored particularly when these groups,
"fourth way schools" or "teachers" offer to help one to "become a Man #5"
or even help awaken oneself and correspondingly, one's "higher centers."
Some groups put a particular emphasis of study on the publication of
the writings of a former pupil of Gurdjieff, rather than Gurdjieff's.
Also, the utilization of new-age oriented catch words/phrases like
inner alchemy, fellowship, transcendence, conscious school,
esoteric psychology, and eternal essence are commonplace with these fringe groups.
Some of even go so far as to claim to have the key
to the "powerful techniques" of Gurdjieff's ideas
which you can use to expedite the acquisition of a "Kesdjan body!"
Another sign to be aware of concerns those groups that center around
a specific living "awoken" self proclaimed teacher, guide or master.
These "teachers," "schools," "institutes," and "centers" all claim
to follow Gurdjieff's teaching, but inevitably mix their level of understanding
with other influences - be it philosophical concepts, Renaissance art,
a specific religious tradition, or some other contrived and irrelevant notion.
This attempted cross breeding produces a hybrid set of ideas
of dubious and suspect content.
These fringe groups operate independently and without stable oversight or
authentic guidance - the gravity of this reality should not be ignored.
The unfortunate and sad fact about these "groups"
is that their "leaders" clearly demonstrate a vitiated understanding
(and "according to law" as Gurdjieff would say).
And correspondingly, their followers usually suffer the same fate.
So with all the varied organizations accessible, how does the seeker discriminate?
Do research. Ask questions!
And in particular, do not be pressured, forced or obligated
into making commitments. Nor be swayed by promises and rewards.
True students of the Work should not have any interest
in convincing anyone of anything. One is not asked or expected to violate
or abandon cherished beliefs or to accept any of the ideas presented.
In all occasions, a healthy skepticism is encouraged.
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