Some 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. The article had contained biblical quotations often used by groups to support their arguments. What follows is my response to the prospective student’s questions. Read Part II here and Part III here.
Query: I’m considering joining a Fourth Way group (a brief description was provided) and I would appreciate your advice.
Response: Firstly, I was struck by the fact that the group you were considering joining found it necessary to use biblical quotations. My thought was, why not quote Gurdjieff? Why is it necessary to bring the bible into the 4th way teaching? (I’m aware that Gurdjieff is said to have called his teaching “esoteric Christianity”). I’m not expecting an answer – it was just what went through my mind.
Query: Is more theory (not practical exercises) taught in work groups than I can find from the reading that I have already done (Ouspensky’s ‘In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching’, ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson’, ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’, ‘Life is Real’, and ‘Views from the Real World’, and various other oddments like Patterson’s ‘Eating the “I”‘)?
Response: A difficult question to answer because it depends on the work group. What real knowledge do they actually have? Are they imitating without understanding? Have they altered the knowledge to fit their own theories? There are so many groups that are spin-offs of the main teaching.
My teacher taught some knowledge that was not in the Gurdjieff work books – at least it was only mentioned in passing. But now I wonder where that knowledge came from. My teacher was only with his teacher for a few months – far too short a time in my view – to have developed his own ideas or even to have fully grasped what Gurdjieff taught. Yet he left his teacher and started his own ‘school’, as many do. Nevertheless, there was much to be gained from being part of his teaching.
It would be strange if there was not some difference between teachers provided the core ideas of the teaching remained the same. In fact, if a teacher was imitating Gurdjieff’s manner and way of teaching, I would be suspicious of his/her authenticity.
I would say there may be LESS knowledge being taught in work groups than is found in the Gurdjieff work books. Though I felt I gained a great deal from the ‘school’ experience, I now realise there was a lot missing in what we were taught. Why? Maybe my teacher didn’t have the whole picture.
Unless you happen upon a very small group with an authentic teacher, it is likely you would be taught by people other than the group leader and the degree of knowledge of other students can be very variable. Often they will simply repeat what they have been told (maybe inaccurately) but don’t yet understand, and when questioned, their knowledge does not go deeper.
I found it necessary to separate the Gurdjieff knowledge from the ‘school’ I was in and the people teaching within it. The ‘school’ was a vehicle and fellow students were travellers like myself with varying levels of being, knowledge and understanding.
However, there is something about your question that seems to miss the point. It’s important to understand that the work is far from being just about accumulating knowledge. It’s about being. It’s experiencing. It’s verification of the ideas. Working, changing, growing internally, suffering. It’s taking the knowledge and using it every moment of every day until you understand it. Understand it physically, mentally and emotionally. You absolutely have to USE the knowledge.
I verified the impossibility of doing the work alone, at least initially. Uncomfortable though it may be, to make progress you need to be in the company of other people who share the same interest and aims as you do and most importantly, are making efforts. There is something almost mysterious about this – the way other people’s presence, their thinking and efforts, seem to affect the ability of others to make efforts.