Student beware, (of Mr. G.)

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(this didn't exactly cut and paste right from pdf form)



The methods and techniques employed by Gurdjieff in his teaching, especially the

difficult physical and emotional demands he made on his students, adversely affected

many of them. Some students experienced psychological breakdown, others the dissolution

of their marriage. Gurdjieff was even accused of contributing to the suicide of

certain students, although a causal connection was never ultimately proven.

Gurdjieff’s methods and behaviour throughout the course of his career often aroused

doubts in even his most dedicated students. Early in their relationship P.D. Ouspensky

expressed reservations about Gurdjieff as a teacher. His doubts grew over the years until

finally, in 1924, Ouspensky formally broke all relations with Gurdjieff. Many other

students left the Work, some voluntarily and others at Gurdjieff’s instigation. In the years

following his serious automobile accident in 1924, Gurdjieff deliberately applied pressure

to his most trusted and skilled students, driving many of them away, including

Thomas and Olga de Hartmann, Alexander de Salzmann and A.R. Orage.

Gurdjieff’s motives for alienating his followers have been food for speculation in

Work circles for many decades. The accounts of his closest students and research by

independent scholars suggest several possible explanations for Gurdjieff’s puzzling

conduct: it was a means to force pupils to shed their dependence on him; he was creating

conditions to assist his own spiritual development; it assisted his mission to transmit

esoteric wisdom to the West. Although no clear answers are forthcoming, there is

evidence to suggest that much of his behaviour, though difficult for many to understand

in the moment, was consciously calculated to facilitate his task to bring Fourth Way

teachings to the contemporary world.


Adverse Consequences of Gurdjieff's Methods

In the early 1950s, French writer Louis Pauwels published an article and book which

criticized Gurdjieff’s teaching methods and exposed their adverse effects on many of his

pupils. Pauwels’ publications were roundly condemned by the Gurdjieff establishment

and many of his most serious accusations were subsequently refuted. However, a number

of other reports exist documenting the negative effects of Gurdjieff’s methods which do

appear credible.

In his biography of Gurdjieff, James Webb raises serious concerns about Gurdjieff’s

unconventional methods of working with students:

In administering his “shocks,” he could often be brutally harsh -- and

sometimes he overstepped his limits. Even if we admit the validity

of his objectives, it must also be admitted that in a number of cases

Gurdjieff’s methods ended in tragedy. Either he made a false assess2

ment of a particular pupil, or he was guilty of criminal negligence

toward him. He was playing with fire and the game in which he invited

his pupils to take part was a dangerous one. (1)

As early as 1922, reports circulated in the press that Gurdjieff was a ‘black magician’

who hypnotized his students and caused them irreparable harm. The most sensational

stories were more imagination than fact, but there is evidence from more credible sources

that some of Gurdjieff’s followers experienced serious psychological damage. John

Bennett was a student at Gurdjieff’s Institute at the Prieuré in Fontainebleau in 1923, and

at the time witnessed an extraordinary state of tension there: “Some people went mad.

There were even suicides. Many gave up in despair.” (2) In 1948, Bennett returned to

study with Gurdjieff in Paris after an absence of more than twenty years. Again, the

atmosphere surrounding Gurdjieff was charged and intense, with the effect being too

powerful for many students. Bennett reports that several pupils were so shattered by their

experiences with Gurdjieff that they required treatment in mental institutions.

Central to Gurdjieff’s teaching approach was his belief that the path of spiritual transformation

was more important than any human relationship. He often put intense

pressure on couples and forced them to make choices that placed them in conflict with

each another. Breakups of partnerships and marriages among his students became


In Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff, Thomas and Olga de Hartmann write poignantly of

their deep love for each other and the stress created by Gurdjieff on their marriage. They

reveal that despite emotional demands made by Gurdjieff that were so intense they felt

like leaving, they remained with him because of the great value of his spiritual work with

them. John Bennett has also written of the tremendous pressure he felt from Gurdjieff’s

interference in Bennett’s relationship with his future wife.

Perhaps most extreme was Gurdjieff’s negative influence on the relationship between

Jessie and A.R. Orage. A.R. Orage conducted groups for Gurdjieff in New York and was

a frequent visitor to the Prieuré. Gurdjieff never approved of A.R.’s wife Jessie and

resented her influence over A.R., whom Gurdjieff called his “super-idiot.” Gurdjieff’s

interference resulted in numerous quarrels between the two and tested their commitment

both to their marriage and to Gurdjieff’s teaching. By the late 1920s, the relationship

between the Orages and their teacher had deteriorated irreparably:

Gurdjieff grew increasingly impossible, and the final straw was a terrifying

experience when the couple were leaving Paris for New York in

February 1929. Gurdjieff transfixed Jessie Orage with his gaze. He

seemed to immobilize her, and she could not breathe; for a moment she

was convinced that he was going to make her lose consciousness altogether.

Then he spoke: “If you keep my super-idiot from coming back to

me, you burn in boiling oil.” (3)


This incident marked a turning point for the Orages. They left France and never returned

to the Prieuré. A few years later, A.R. Orage broke off his relationship with

Gurdjieff and did not see him for the rest of his life.

By far the most serious allegation against Gurdjieff is that he directly contributed to

the suicide of certain followers. Biographer James Webb investigated this accusation

thoroughly. The first case of suicide involved a British diplomat who studied at the

Prieuré in 1924. The accounts of his fellow students from this time period indicate that

he was clearly distraught and in the midst of a psychological or spiritual crisis. Shortly

after his last visit to the Prieuré in 1925 he was posted to the Middle East. He shot himself

two days after his arrival. In his analysis of this case, Webb posits that this individual

had a pre-existing psychological imbalance, which cast doubt on the claim that Gurdjieff

“caused” his death: “Gurdjieff’s teaching cannot be shown to have played any specific

part in this suicide; and Gurdjieff might merely have been one ingredient in a personal

crisis whose main constituents were quite different.” (4)

A second suicide linked to Gurdjieff occurred in 1927. A former dancer with the

Paris Opéra who was interested in Gurdjieff’s movements stayed at the Prieuré in 1923.

She was involved in an incident with Gurdjieff that biographer James Webb describes as

a “near rape,” which caused a scandal in the Gurdjieff community. Others strongly refute

this accusation. Nevertheless, Webb suggests that the experience, compounded by

Gurdjieff’s subsequent rejection of her, left the woman mentally unstable. After

unsuccessfully attempting to return to the Prieuré in 1927, she committed suicide while,

in the words of the coroner, “of unsound mind.”

Fritz Peters relates another case of suicide involving a young American woman who

was infatuated with Gurdjieff. During the 1930s, she followed Gurdjieff to New York

from Chicago against the wishes of her family. When family members arrived in New

York they accused Gurdjieff of having “immoral sexual relations” with the woman and

they proceeded to confine her in a mental institution. A week later the despondent

woman took her own life. According to Peters, Gurdjieff was taken into custody by the

authorities for questioning but was subsequently released.

James Webb brings some perspective on these suicides by placing them within a

broader context and stressing a teacher’s responsibility when working with students who

may be psychologically fragile:

The cases of suicide which are from time to time linked with the

Work do not prove a great deal. The unstable people attracted to

“occult” theories include numerous potential suicides. On the other

hand, the teacher must be considered responsible for any pupil whom

he accepts and he must be aware that he will attract people in dangerous

psychological states. The teacher should be able to monitor his

pupils with the skill of a psychological technician; he has to know

precisely what pressure to apply and when; he must be an exception4

ally sensitive person, and he should certainly have undergone lengthy

training in the skills needed by a manipulator of the Fourth Way. (5)

Attempting to determine causality with something as complex as an act of suicide is

speculative at best. It is impossible to isolate one potential cause from another or to assess

the relative contribution of factors like hereditary predisposition or underlying

depression. Those students of Gurdjieff who resorted to suicide were clearly strongly

influenced by him. However, each appeared to have reached a particularly difficult stage

in their life when they came to Gurdjieff. To determine what responsibility to assign to

Gurdjieff and his treatment of these individuals would be impossible, as would be an

attempt to assess the likelihood that these individuals would have chosen to end their

lives in any event, with or without the influence of Gurdjieff.


Questions and Doubts

The force of Gurdjieff’s personality and his unconventional methods raised many

serious questions. To some, Gurdjieff’s powerful influence over his followers was

nothing short of sinister. Doubt and distrust grew among a large number of Gurdjieff’s

students, whose rejection of his teachings led to their expulsion by Gurdjieff or to their

voluntary departure.

Early in their relationship P.D. Ouspensky expressed misgivings about Gurdjieff, but

he believed in the authenticity of Gurdjieff’s vision and esoteric teachings. As the years

went on, his respect for Gurdjieff’s ideas remained strong, but he found Gurdjieff himself

less and less tolerable.

Observers like journalist Carl Bechhofer-Roberts, who first met Gurdjieff in 1919,

also mistrusted certain aspects of Gurdjieff’s enterprise. In 1924, Bechhofer-Roberts

published an article which questioned Gurdjieff’s excessive self-promotion, exaggerated

claims for his Institute and practice of collecting fees for his teaching. By the time he

visited the Prieuré a few years later, his doubts about Gurdjieff’s legitimacy as a spiritual

teacher had escalated:

In my own mind lies no longer any faintest doubt about Gurdjieff and

his Institute. Signs of hoofs and horns are all over the place, and my

deep and instant distrust, which increased with every day I spent there,

find confirmation now wherever I turn. Much, of course, remains inexplicable,

and will always remain so. Gurdjieff, with reason, is aloof

and inaccessible, and the full truth of his motive we shall never know.

That it is wholly a self or selfish motive, I am convinced . . . The note

of fear, rather than love, is too conspicuous to miss. (6)

During this same period one of Gurdjieff’s English pupils, psychiatrist James Young,

became increasingly skeptical of Gurdjieff and his management of the Institute. Young’s

disillusionment eventually led to his decision to leave the Prieuré, but the catalyst was a

disagreement between Dr. Young and Gurdjieff over an ill student. When a student one

day began to vomit blood, Young diagnosed her with an intestinal ulcer. Gurdjieff

disagreed and even denied that the woman had vomited blood. A subsequent operation

in a London hospital confirmed Young’s diagnosis. When Young challenged Gurdjieff

he was criticized for lacking trust. Some of Gurdjieff’s followers in their unquestioning

support claimed the entire incident had been a test for Young. Even James Webb supports

this view and appears to place the onus on Young for the safe resolution of the

medical emergency:

It could well have been that the lesson Gurdjieff was trying to teach was

that You should assert yourself more -- rely on his professional competence

when he knew himself to be right. There remains an element of

doubt; but the evidence is weighted on Gurdjieff’s side. It was not necessarily

Young’s diagnosis with which he took issue, but with the doctor’s

own psychology. The fact is that, whatever Gurdjieff said, the sick woman

was operated upon, and his pronouncement did not prevent her from having

medical treatment. It may have delayed treatment; in which case Gurdjieff

is certainly to be blamed -- but, as he told his pupils, they were supposed

to take no account of his expressed opinions except as a stimulus to their

psychological work. The trouble was, as he himself recognized, that he

was naturally a figure who inspired uncritical obedience and attracted to

himself people in search of a pair of shoulders broad enough to carry their

burdens. (7)

Fritz Peters, who was a child at the Prieuré in the 1920s and maintained a relationship

with Gurdjieff until his death in 1949, provides an inside perspective on Gurdjieff.

As Peters observed Gurdjieff over the years, a number of troubling questions emerged,

and his respect for Gurdjieff was gradually supplanted by doubt and cynicism. Peters

acknowledged Gurdjieff’s power over him and even admitted to a genuine fear of

Gurdjieff. Yet, he maintained a great affection for Gurdjieff, much as a child feels for a

loving parent. Gurdjieff acknowledged the profound effect he had had on Peters:

You not learn my work from talk and book -- you learn in skin, and you

cannot escape . . . If you never go to meeting, never read book, you still

cannot forget what I put inside you when you child . . . I already in your

blood -- make your life miserable forever -- but such misery can be good

thing for your soul, so even when miserable you must thank your God for

suffering I give you. (8)

Peters’ ambivalent feelings towards Gurdjieff are echoed in the accounts of many

other students who, despite serious doubts and reservations about their teacher, are

nevertheless deeply thankful for the spiritual knowledge and wisdom he transmitted to



Separation From Gurdjieff

During the course of Gurdjieff’s lengthy teaching mission in the West, many pupils

voluntarily left the Work. Others were forced to leave by Gurdjieff, often under

unpleasant circumstances. In the early phase of his teaching in Russia, Gurdjieff

frequently created conditions which made it impossible for certain students to stay with

him. The long journey with his students from Russia to France, where in 1922 Gurdjieff

ultimately established his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the

Prieuré, was a natural sorting process. Many students left Gurdjieff at this time but a

loyal retinue of followers stayed with him and later became his most important assistants.

Among them were composer Thomas de Hartmann and his wife Olga, and stage designer

Alexander de Salzmann and his wife, dancer Jeanne de Salzmann.

At the Prieuré, Gurdjieff attracted an influx of new students, mainly from Britain and

North America. Those prospects whom Gurdjieff deemed unsuitable for the Work were

quickly rejected. In August 1923, he challenged his pupils to “remember why you came”

and asked those who were not making use of the conditions he created for inner work to

leave at once and stop “wasting his time.”

Following his serious automobile accident in 1924, Gurdjieff appears to have deliberately

alienated many students at the Prieuré. In Life is Real Only Then, When "I Am,"

Gurdjieff relates that in 1928 he took a sacred oath: “to remove from my eyesight all

those who by this or that make my life too comfortable.” (9) In keeping with his resolution,

Gurdjieff deliberately tested his students and their commitment to his teaching by

placing insurmountable obstacles in their path which caused many to leave:

The teacher’s role is to present certain barriers that the student has

to surmount. At first they are small, but as he progresses more is

required of him. Finally he gets to a point where he can no longer

return to life, to sleep, and yet he is not yet awake. He is presented

with a difficult barrier, and he cannot get over it. He may then “turn

against the work, against the teacher, and against other members of

the group.” . . . Sometimes he may be made to leave it intentionally;

he may be put in such a position that he is obliged to leave, and for

good reason. He is then watched to see how he will react. Generally,

in such cases, the one who leaves turns against the work. When a

student asked Gurdjieff what happens to such people, he replied,

“Nothing.” There is no need for anything to happen. They are their

own punishment. (10)

John Bennett considers this process to have been essential to the ultimate fulfilment of

Gurdjieff’s teaching mission, that Gurdjieff needed to separate from many of his closest

students and friends. What appeared to them to be practical and immediate actions to

impose the suffering that would aid in their development were actually calculated steps

on a deliberate course charted by Gurdjieff to send them on their way permanently.


Within the span of a few years, Gurdjieff lost one of his oldest pupils, Dr. Leonid

Stjoernval, as well as Alexander de Salzmann and Thomas and Olga de Hartmann. The

departure of the de Hartmanns was particularly telling. According to John Bennett, when

Gurdjieff recognized that the de Hartmanns had developed a dependency on him, he

began to make life very difficult and unpleasant for them. Their relationship with him

became very strained. Finally, in October 1929, Gurdjieff made an impossible demand

which forced the de Hartmanns to leave the Prieuré. The couple was devastated and Olga

was so emotionally overcome that she could not get up from her bed for four days.

Gurdjieff also engineered a situation which led to A.R. Orage’s ultimate split from

Gurdjieff in 1931. Gurdjieff visited Orage’s groups in New York and perceived that the

groups had become stuck and needed a shock to recover their spiritual momentum. He

decided to ask the group members to sign a letter repudiating Orage as their leader.

Ironically, Orage also signed the letter, sensing some hidden intent to Gurdjieff’s actions.

Eventually, Orage’s relationship with Gurdjieff deteriorated and he saw Gurdjieff for the

last time in May 1931. Despite a number of attempts by Gurdjieff to resume their relationship,

they never spoke to each other again. In a conversation with fellow student

C.S. Nott, Orage revealed his feelings about breaking with his teacher, saying that “he felt

that his work with groups in America had come to an end, and another phase was

beginning; that to every pupil the time comes when he must leave his teacher and go into

life and work out, digest, what he has acquired.” (11)

The gratitude Orage felt for his teacher overshadowed his pain at their separation. Nott

observes that the host of other students from his inner circle who were pushed to separate

from Gurdjieff -- de Hartmann, Stjoernval, de Salzmann and others – remained

influenced by Gurdjieff and his teachings for the rest of their lives.

John Bennett believes that Gurdjieff’s separation from his students served a much

broader purpose than their own individual development. Bennett posits that Gurdjieff

drove students away as part of his own spiritual development and to further his aim of

transmitting esoteric teachings to the West:

It was not until much later that he revealed his own personal reasons

for these traumatic actions. They were necessary to enable him to

gain the bodily and mental energy for completing his task. It is a very

remarkable fact that no one who has written about Gurdjieff -- even

from the most intimate acquaintance like the Hartmanns -- seems to

have understood what he himself had to suffer at that time. They saw

him always as their teacher, concerned with the spiritual progress of

his pupils, whereas, he was concerned with the fulfillment of his mission,

which he saw upon a very much larger scale than those around him.

He was not concerned with the immediate present but with the impact

which his work and his ideas could have on the world over a long period

of years. (12)

Bennett’s assessment appears essentially correct. Most likely the real motivation

behind Gurdjieff’s decision to force students to leave him involved a combination of


factors: the pupils’ need for independence to further their own spiritual development, the

creation of favorable conditions for Gurdjieff’s teaching mission in the West, and the

generation of obstacles for the benefit of Gurdjieff’s own inner development.

Ouspensky’s Break with Gurdjieff

P.D. Ouspensky’s break with Gurdjieff is one of the most significant and controversial

events in the history of the Work. (13) Ouspensky’s disillusionment with and eventual

separation from Gurdjieff led to a splitting of the Work into two major streams, one led

by Ouspensky and the other by Gurdjieff. For many decades the two lines of teaching

existed independently of one another with virtually no communication between their

respective proponents.

Ouspensky met Gurdjieff in Russia in 1915 and shortly thereafter began working with

him intensively. Gurdjieff recognized Ouspensky’s intellectual gifts and spiritual

potential, seeing in his student a possible co-creator of a Fourth Way school in the West.

(14) A turning point in their relationship occurred in the summer of 1917 at Essentuki

when Gurdjieff suddenly announced he was disbanding his group and ending all work.

Ouspensky would later write that on this occasion his confidence in Gurdjieff began to

waver and that for the first time he had begun to separate Gurdjieff the man from

Gurdjieff’s ideas.

By 1918, Ouspensky’s doubts had grown to the point where he found it impossible to

continue working with Gurdjieff:

I had no doubt about the ideas. On the contrary, the more I thought of

them, the deeper I entered into them, the more I began to value them and

realize their significance. But I began very strongly to doubt that it was

possible for me, or even for the majority of our company, to continue to

work under G.’s leadership . . . I saw clearly at that time that I had been

mistaken about many things that I had ascribed to G. and that by staying

with him now I should not be going in the same direction I went at the

beginning . . . I had nothing to say against G.’s methods except that they

did not suit me. (15)

Although Ouspensky continued to support Gurdjieff’s ideas and maintained cordial

relations with him, he felt he had no choice but to leave Gurdjieff’s community. In 1921,

Ouspensky emigrated to London and gave a series of public lectures based on Gurdjieff’s

ideas. He quickly gathered a nucleus of students including many prominent members of

the intelligentsia, like literary critic A.R. Orage.

Gurdjieff made two visits to London in early 1922, where he publicly criticized

Ouspensky and asserted his own authority in the transmission of Fourth Way teachings.

Many of Ouspensky’s students reacted by aligning themselves with Gurdjieff and

providing financial support for the purchase of the Prieuré in France. Despite this


Ouspensky maintained a surprising degree of loyalty to Gurdjieff in public, sending

pupils to the Prieuré and collecting money for his Institute. Ouspensky would later state

that the efforts he made on behalf of Gurdjieff at this time constituted one final test to see

if Gurdjieff’s attempt to establish his Institute in France would bear fruit.

Ouspensky’s concern with Gurdjieff’s conduct and the direction of the Work intensified

throughout 1923, at which time Gurdjieff was implicated in a sexual scandal involving

a female follower. Ouspensky objected to the way new students were selected and

integrated into the Institute’s program (16) and felt that Gurdjieff, by his own behaviour

was contradicting the most fundamental tenets of his own teaching. Where formerly

Gurdjieff had required his students to act only with full understanding and after

verification through their own experience, he now appeared to be demanding their

obedience and their blind faith in his word. To Ouspensky, this was a clear abuse by

Gurdjieff of his authority as a teacher.

January 1924 marked a critical turning point in the relationship between Gurdjieff

and Ouspensky. At a meeting in London with some of his senior students, Ouspensky

announced that he had decided to end completely his association with Gurdjieff. His

students would have to choose between him and Gurdjieff as their teacher. Students

who decided to remain with Ouspensky were ordered to avoid communicating in any

way with Gurdjieff and his pupils. As a result of Ouspensky’s decision, two separate

lines of the Work emerged.

There is considerable evidence that after the official break in 1924, Ouspensky remained

in contact with Gurdjieff for many years. Biographer James Webb describes a

number of visits by Ouspensky to the Prieuré from 1924 to 1926 which were witnessed

by some of Gurdjieff’s pupils. Webb notes that Gurdjieff was careful to conceal

Ouspensky’s visits from the other students. The final meeting between the two occurred

in 1931 on the terrace of the Café Henri IV in Fontainebleau. The nature of the meeting

and the content of their conversation is unknown, but it appears to have ended in a


Even after their official break, Ouspensky appeared to remain fascinated and conflicted

about Gurdjieff. Robert de Ropp met Ouspensky in 1936 and during an exchange

commented that Gurdjieff must have been a very strange man. Ouspensky replied:

“Strange! He was extraordinary! You cannot possibly imagine how extraordinary

Gurdjieff was.” (17) De Ropp was struck by Ouspensky’s tone and many years later


So many emotional elements entered into that simple statement: wonder,

admiration, regret, bewilderment. I had the feeling that in his relationship

with Gurdjieff, Ouspensky had confronted a problem that was absolutely

beyond his power to solve. He had played the great game with a master

and had been checkmated, but he still could not figure out quite how it had

happened. (18)


Although Ouspensky clearly understood the importance of obedience to and trust of

one’s teacher, he also recognized the student’s need to take ultimate responsibility for

his or her own spiritual development. In In Search of the Miraculous he describes the

conflict that was inherent in his relationship with Gurdjieff:

All work consists in doing what the leader indicates, understanding in

conformance with his opinions even those things that he does not say

plainly, helping him in everything that he does. There can be no other

attitude towards the work. And G. himself said several times that a most

important thing in the work was to remember that one came to learn and

to take no other role upon oneself. At the same time this does not at all

mean that a man has no choice or that he is obliged to follow something

which does not respond to what he is seeking. (19)

One of the primary reasons given by Ouspensky for leaving Gurdjieff was that he

began to separate the teaching from Gurdjieff the teacher. The former he supported, the

latter he could not. William Patterson questions whether one can in fact separate the

teacher from the teaching since the teacher embodies the teaching. And Rafael Lefort

believes that Ouspensky’s intellectual approach to the teaching blocked his understanding

of what his teacher was attempting to transmit: “Gurdjieff wanted to teach Ouspensky to

‘pick up’ the teaching by establishing a bond between them by virtue of which the teacher

could transmit to the pupil; but Ouspensky, always the correct and classic intellectual,

wanted to be given the ‘principles’ from which to work out the most ‘efficient’ method.”


Patterson believes that it was intellectual arrogance on Ouspensky’s part that led him

to separate himself from Gurdjieff. Much of Gurdjieff’s behaviour as a teacher could

only be understood in relation to his larger aim of transmitting wisdom to future

generations, a goal that transcended any individual teaching situation. Gurdjieff valued

Ouspensky’s intellectual abilities and potential as a “helper-instructor” and tried to

confine him to that role. In the end, Gurdjieff’s efforts were ineffective in the face of

Ouspensky’s resistance and ambitions.

Other observers present an alternate perspective. Gary Lachman argues that Gurdjieff

contributed to the breakdown of the relationship by undermining and humiliating

Ouspensky, behaviour which he suggests was motivated by Gurdjieff’s need to dominate

his colleagues:

Either Gurdjieff was unable to see Ouspensky’s own powers and abilities,

or his need to dominate was too great. It is true, Ouspensky could have

left whenever he wanted to. Some need, some weakness prevented him

from cutting the ties earlier or, indeed, ever: although physically separated

from Gurdjieff, it’s clear that Ouspensky was never very far from him in

his mind or heart . . . And if the object was to get Ouspensky to stand on his

own two feet, then why did Gurdjieff undermine all of Ouspensky’s efforts

to do that, why did he go out of his way to humiliate him? Gurdjieff, too,


perhaps had a weakness, a need to dominate and master the people around

him. Like some sadly dysfunctional relationships, in many ways the two

were made for each other. (21)


Gurdjieff’s stated purpose in working with his students was to reveal, without compromise,

each pupil’s fundamental weakness or ‘chief feature’ in an effort to ‘awaken’

them to a higher level of being. Gurdjieff’s confrontational methods when not properly

employed carried the risk of serious consequences. Students who could not handle

Gurdjieff’s physical and emotional demands often suffered psychological trauma. Others

were forced to leave their teacher when his psychological pressure became too much to

bear. Others experienced the breakdown of their closest relationships.

Gurdjieff’s manipulation of his students and the impact of his powerful personality

raise serious ethical questions. While in some spiritual circles casualties are considered

unavoidable in the course of serious inner work, most condemn the misuse of powerful

spiritual techniques. Sufi teacher Omar Ali-Shah writes: “The amount of confusion

and damage which was caused and still is being caused by Gurdjieff and his followers can

be measured only in terms of human suffering and pain.” (22)

Ali-Shah argues that Gurdjieff had an incomplete knowledge of many of the potent

psychological and spiritual methods he employed with students and ignored the

injunction of proper ‘time, place and people’ in their application:

If you follow and analyze some of the techniques and tactics employed

by Gurdjieff, you can see how they were half-learnt. There is a great

difference between learning a technique and knowing when to use it. You

can learn the best technique in the world, but if you apply it at the wrong

time and under the wrong circumstances, it will fall to the ground. (23)

On the other hand, there is evidence that Gurdjieff, well aware of the potential pitfalls

of his powerful methods, monitored the physical and emotional states of his students (24)

and took care not to push them past their breaking point:

Though Gurdjieff often pushed his students past what they had supposed

was their limits of endurance . . . he always knew when they had reached

their actual limits, and he then rewarded their organism with food and

sleep. He followed the same course in his assaults on his students’ psychological

mechanicality: he would role-play seamlessly, appearing to be

enraged; he would shout at people, “press their corns,” going right for their

psychological weakness, pushing them to their apparent limits and just

beyond, but he always, later, gave them ease and support, and they understood

that what they’d endured had been an exercise, not some dictatorial

cruelty. (25)


Biographer James Webb argues that the essential element in any evaluation of

Gurdjieff’s methods is his motives. Webb believed that Gurdjieff had begun to identify

with his students’ view that he was omniscient and incapable of misjudgment, and thus

lost perspective and a sense of caution. His conviction grew stronger that his unorthodox

and risky methods were necessary to help his students, and he disregarded the possibility

that his actions would cause serious harm.

The acrimonious split between Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky is a case in point. There

is no doubt that Ouspensky was profoundly impacted by his decision to leave Gurdjieff

and remained bitter for the remainder of his life. Gary Lachman argues that Gurdjieff

must share some of the responsibility for his break with Ouspensky and that Ouspensky

has not received sufficient credit for his own independent spiritual knowledge and


Ouspensky was no stranger to the realms of higher consciousness, and to

the readers of his early books, it’s clear he already knew a great deal before

his fateful meeting with Gurdjieff. His introduction to Gurdjieff was

without doubt the central experience of Ouspensky’s life. Yet some, like

myself, may wonder if his meeting with his master wasn’t perhaps the worst

thing that ever happened to him. (26)

Gurdjieff was one of the most unusual and powerful spiritual teachers of the 20th

century. More than sixty years after his death many of his ideas and methods have percolated

into the mainstream of contemporary spiritual teachings. Yet, no one has been

able to duplicate the profound effect he had on his students and followers. His case is

both an example and a warning of the inherent power of esoteric teaching methods. In

the hands of enlightened teachers they can lead students to new levels of self-knowledge

and inner development. Used incorrectly they can cause irreparable damage and

unnecessary suffering.


(1) James Webb The Harmonious Circle: The Lives and Works of G.I. Gurdjieff,

P.D. Ouspensky, and Their Followers (Boston: Shambhala, 1987), pp. 332-333.

(2) John Bennett Witness: The Autobiography of John G. Bennett (Tucson: Omen Press,

1974), p. 113.

(3) James Webb The Harmonious Circle: The Lives and Works of G.I. Gurdjieff,

P.D. Ouspensky, and Their Followers (Boston: Shambhala, 1987), p. 363.

(4) James Webb The Harmonious Circle: The Lives and Works of G.I. Gurdjieff,

P.D. Ouspensky, and Their Followers (Boston: Shambhala, 1987), p. 334.


(5) James Webb The Harmonious Circle: The Lives and Works of G.I. Gurdjieff,

P.D. Ouspensky, and Their Followers (Boston: Shambhala, 1987), p. 567.

(6) Louis Pauwels Gurdjieff (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1972), p. 212.

(7) James Webb The Harmonious Circle: The Lives and Works of G.I. Gurdjieff,

P.D. Ouspensky, and Their Followers (Boston: Shambhala, 1987), p. 259.

(8) Fritz Peters Gurdjieff Remembered (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1971), pp. 25-26.

(9) G.I. Gurdjieff Life is Real Only Then, When “I Am” (New York: Triangle, 1975),

p. 45.

(10) Gary Lachman In Search of P.D. Ouspensky (Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books,

2004), p. 131.

(11) C.S. Nott Journey Through This World (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1969), p.28.

(12) John Bennett Gurdjieff: Making a New World (New York: Harper & Row, 1973),

pp. 172-173.

(13) The reason behind the split between Ouspensky and Gurdjieff has been a source of

speculation for many decades. Students and historians of the Fourth Way have

raised many questions and explored many possibilities, but provide few satisfactory

answers: Did Ouspensky misunderstand the nature and importance of Gurdjieff’s

mission in the West? Did Ouspensky’s independence and egoism prevent him

from working effectively on Gurdjieff’s behalf? Did an opportunistic Ouspensky

appropriate Gurdjieff’s ideas in order to establish himself as a rival teacher? Or did

Ouspensky attempt to save the teaching from a man he perceived as increasingly

erratic and misguided?

(14) Boris Mouravieff, who knew both men, argues in Ouspensky, Gurdjieff and

Fragments of an Unknown Teaching (Chicago: Praxis Institute Press, 1997, p. 12)

that Gurdjieff exerted a powerful dominating influence on Ouspensky and used

Ouspensky for his own advantage: “Without Ouspensky, Gurdjieff’s career in the

West would probably not have gone beyond the stage of endless conversations in


(15) P.D. Ouspensky In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching

(New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1949), p. 374.

(16) In the early Russian phase of his teaching (1915-1916), Gurdjieff gave Ouspensky

the responsibility for screening potential pupils in St. Petersburg while Gurdjieff

was in Moscow. But in subsequent years many students were admitted to the Work


from St. Petersburg without Ouspensky’s prior approval. Gurdjieff later blamed

Ouspensky for the unsuitability of many of these pupils, a charge Ouspensky felt was

unfair and unjustified.

(17) Robert de Ropp Warrior’s Way (Nevada City, California: Gateways, 2002), p. 91.

(18) Robert de Ropp Warrior’s Way (Nevada City, California: Gateways, 2002), p. 92.

(19) P.D. Ouspensky In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching

(New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1949), p. 374.

(20) Rafael Lefort The Teachers of Gurdjieff (London: Victor Gollancz, 1973), pp. 6-7.

(21) Gary Lachman In Search of P.D. Ouspensky (Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books,

2004), pp. 279-280.

(22) Omar Ali-Shah The Sufi Tradition in the West (New York: Alif, 1994), p. 226.

(23) Omar Ali-Shah The Sufi Tradition in the West (New York: Alif, 1994), p. 225.

(24) In one instance, related in Frank Sinclair’s Without Benefit of Clergy (U.S.A.:

Xlibris, 2005, p. 126), a pupil watched Gurdjieff verbally assault and reprimand

another student for their mechanical unconscious behavior. Seeing the observing

pupil’s obvious distress, Gurdjieff offered a gentle reassurance: “Not to worry . . .

She like duck; shed water from feathers.”

(25) John Shirley Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas (New York: Jeremy

Tarcher, 2004), p. 180.

(26) Gary Lachman In Search of P.D. Ouspensky (Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books,

2004), p. 3.

Edited by 3bob
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The article makes out that Gurdjieff's aim was somewhat mysterious but from his own books he makes clear that one of his principle aims was to discover the real reason for war and try to eradicate it from the planet, or at least somewhat reduce the mass destruction which periodically decimates a significant part of it. He had seen the impact of the Ottoman conquests on his own country then lived through the mass devastation of two World Wars as well as being in Russia for the revolution, so he was operating in a period when there was death on the level of hundreds of millions. He also saw that the planet would go through such huge destruction on a periodic basis throughout history, so he wanted to try do something about it and change the course of this cycle of insanity.


So his ambition was to set up spiritual groups in every main city on the planet which would process the tension and create the sort of vibrations needed in order to prevent the earth's need for further death on a big scale. So in light of that aim his merciless and ruthless attitude toward his students and himself is more understandable, he had a limited amount of time and energy in order to try fulfil this ambition of essentially creating a new worldwide lineage of genuine spiritual development which would last after his death, so his aim was far more important than trying not to upset other peoples feelings or maintaining his own reputation.

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the end does not justify the means in my book, thus take care of the little things and the big things will work out.

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Who knows what the truth is, there were all sorts of rumours about him some of which were apparently started by Gurdjieff himself, also there was a lot of suspicion he was a foreign agent so there were people working against him politically.


He was known to be a healer of psychological malodies for much of his life so I suspect he would do what he could for people in a bad way mentally, but its true his work was intense alchemy designed to bring down your defenses and bring out what is in the subconscious so it wouldn't surprise me if there were casualties as there isn't much difference between that process and a psychotic break, which is why many would leave as the heat turned up and create all sorts of accusations against him because he was trully dangerous towards their ego defences.


Also the article doesn't mention that Ouspensky told his own students including his own wife to go study with Gurdjieff before he died, so if he really thought he was that dangerous he wouldnt have done that.

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a greater ego/personality can tear down a lesser ego/personality, (with "causalities") but I see no virtue in that.


A great teacher always sees the soul/Spirit and thus works from the inside out, revealing same to the student in an indelible way so that they to will always have a spiritual anchor while dealing with ego/personality. For a teacher to tear someone down and leave them adrift or lost because that teacher is not working from purity of Spirit is not teaching at all, it is mind games to put it mildly.

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