More Thoughts on Joining a Gurdjieff Group / School
After I published an article online some time ago (no longer available) regarding Gurdjieff work groups, a prospective student of the Gurdjieff work emailed some questions. What follows is Part II of my response to the prospective student’s queries. (The student’s questions have been abbreviated.) Read Part I here and Part III here.
Query: How can somebody without knowledge decide which path to follow to gain the knowledge that they seek?
Response: Before you start out on a path, you go looking for knowledge as you are doing now – investigating several paths without actually travelling far down any of them. The decision about which path to eventually follow, needs to be made with both the intellectual and emotional parts of yourself. In other words, you need to have a broad enough knowledge so that you can feel what is right for you.
Query: Do you know the origins of different parts of Gurdjieff’s teachings – indeed, which, if any, are original?
Response: I don’t know the origin of his teaching apart from what has been written in various books specifically those by J. G. Bennett. According to Bennett, there is a strong Sufi element to Gurdjieff’s teaching. I think you’ll find, should you begin the work, and begin to experience the effects of applying the Gurdjieff work efforts in your own life, the origin of the ideas will become less important.
Of course, it’s natural to be curious about Gurdjieff’s personal history but it is only peripheral knowledge which will not change you. Only efforts will. It’s helpful to keep a clear distinction in your own mind between knowledge of Gurdjieff’s life and that of his system of ideas. Too often they get muddled.
Query: The fact that Gurdjieff does not directly credit previous (religious) traditions, and his admitted behaviour (in his writings), suggested that he possessed what we’d consider a pretty large and selfish ego.
Response: Perhaps he considered the ideas to be more important than the people who taught them – which is not to say he didn’t value those people.
Also, you will probably find that whichever teacher you choose, there will be unattractive aspects to their character. As I mentioned in the earlier email, it’s important to see past the people in a group, and even the teacher. S/he is a finger pointing the way, a guide, a help – but teachers still have their human frailties to contend with. But their frailties don’t necessarily negate the ideas they are attempting to communicate.
Query: Gurdjieff seemed to suggest a limited availability of (esoteric) knowledge, that it’s best not to spread it too thinly, and those without knowledge are mere sheep. These views do not sit easily. Were these points ever discussed in your group?
Response: The biblical idea that many are called but few chosen was sometimes mentioned and I can feel the truth of that.
I’ve verified beyond doubt that to develop requires prolonged and consistent efforts which would seem to be beyond most people. Irrespective of whether Gurdjieff’s views are politically acceptable nowadays, you have only to look around you to see that many people have little interest in matters spiritual, and where they do have an interest, it’s often weak and transient.