Gurdjieff's teaching aims for us to be present to ourselves and our lives, no matter what our conditions are. This requires questioning of what our life is and what we are as human beings. What does it mean to be present? What is my place in this world, in this society? What could it mean to be a whole human being?
One of the central ideas of Gurdjieff's teaching is that human beings are not complete; rather, we are an unfinished creation with enormous potential of which we are unaware. Our development is brought to a certain point by Nature, sufficient for the demands of ordinary life. Further development of our larger possibilities does not, and cannot, occur spontaneously, but depends on our active participation. Gurdjieff said:
"The evolution of man is the evolution of his consciousness. And 'consciousness' cannot evolve unconsciously. The evolution of man is the evolution of his will, and 'will' cannot evolve involuntarily. The evolution of man is the evolution of his power of doing, and 'doing' cannot be the result of things which 'happen'."
If we are a creation possessing marvelous potential, the question arises as to why we do not move toward it, to claim it urgently as our own. Gurdjieff proposes that in our ordinary state we are asleep. In this state of sleep, many of us live our entire lives without being aware that something more is possible. We imagine ourselves to be fully conscious and fully developed. This illusion prevents us from seeing our situation and, especially, ourselves as we really are. Gurdjieff expressed this very clearly: "If a man in prison was at any time to have a chance of escape, then he must first of all realize that he is in prison."
Forms of the Teaching
Gurdjieff chose to express his teaching in many forms. The direct descendants of his initial efforts maintain a worldwide affiliation to continue what is called The Work. Ideas and methods of the teaching are thoroughly and deeply explored in group meetings. There is also practical work, which can include study of craft, art and other skills as a means to study ourselves and our attention. The Movements, or sacred dances, offer a unique approach to self-awareness and the development of integrated attention. Classes work on a large repertory of dances and exercises, choreographed by Gurdjieff primarily on the basis of models witnessed during his years of travel in remote regions. Music also represents an essential expression of the teaching. Piano music to accompany the Movements was composed by Gurdjieff in collaboration with a highly trained Russian composer, Thomas de Hartmann. There is, as well, a body of "salon" or concert music, composed by Gurdjieff and de Hartmann in the mid-1920s, now available in a four-volume edition and a growing discography. Finally, there are Gurdjieff's own writings and those of his close students, of which a recommended set appears on our Resources pages.
The Gurdjieff teaching is an oral teaching: it must be passed from teacher to student and must be lived to be well understood, but it has a firm foundation in books, the Movements, and the music. This diversity is a means of preservation and transmission of the teaching, and is one of its hallmarks