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Gurdjieffian magical beliefs and us-vs-them mentality
Posted by: haskellbob ()
Date: January 26, 2007 06:42AM

I am continually perplexed and a bit amused at the irony of a group of people falling under the autocratic sway of an individual (Gurdjieff) because they believe he has WOKEN THEM UP and they can see forces at play they never saw before because they were asleep,

when in fact those very people, in their "awakened" state, are in fact in a kind of spell and could just as easily (since everything is relative) be the ones who are asleep. You run across statements from Gurdjieffians about how they get beyond the unthinking, programmed, mechanical level of modern-day existence, while part of the way they do so is by means of extremely robotic movements in their "sacred dances".

Possibly in a Taoistic way, a way of considering all factors at play, and their balance - one could observe that to the extent they believe they are awake, they are asleep. To the extent they focus and obsess on the whole subject of whether or not they are asleep, they are distracted from real, waking life, and are, in fact, asleep!

Allow me to quote from a book review found at the website, from an anonymous reader of the book by Gurdjieff: [i:80bc7de2a3]Life is Only Real There Where I Am[/i:80bc7de2a3]" (and by the way, just now, copying out the title, it occurred to me that Gurdjieff may have wanted his readers to literally believe that Life is only Real where HE is, where Gurdjieff is. That could indeed be said to be the perspective of the Gurdjieffians):

"This work takes many hours of self-examination and doing what you find uncomfortable, then examining your thoughts as to why.

The idea is to see what really is rather than what you automatically think and feel. This work will expand your abilities to look and see things from your individual perspective and react from an integrated rather than a fractured mental process. The process allows you to see others in their fractured states in which they move without understanding why they react the way they do as they think from a small universe of habits. Once you become free of habitual thinking and habits, a third force comes into play and enlightens the struggle of your-self opposing nature; this is what divine essence is in this work.

Keep in mind nature wants to recreate you without your essence but knowing your indivuality fights nature. Using your personality to understand the essence of your indivuality is difficult and much like a search in a dark room, but the third element is anchored by way of the sychronicity of events in your life and its time line. But your mind must be free of its learned ways in order to see and be guided. Once your path is established, unnatural things will happen - it is magic! Fight nature and you knock it off balance and the laws of the universe begin to release their hold on your reality. It sounds insane but you will be the most sane one as you look out and see who has really examined their reality inside out and upside down. Good luck!"

The interesting angle here is not only that you will see things as "they really are", but that "nature wants to recreate you without your essence, but knowing your individuality fights nature".

It would seem that the Gurdjieff work understands itself as a kind of swimming upstream against the current of Nature and the natural way is to be fought against. Much different from the goal of the taoist philosophy, and it could arguably be said to be a psychological imbalance or obsession, this working to achieve magical powers.

It seems to me they've resolved the cognitive dissonance of having bought into a system of reflection on oneself which is painful, which involves the kind of work which the person making the previous commentary referred to with: "Using your personality to understand the essence of your individuality is difficult and much like a search in a dark room," with the belief that there is a payoff, that there is a special awareness that comes as a result of it. I quote again: "Once your path is established, unnatural things will happen - it is magic! Fight nature and you knock it off balance and the laws of the universe begin to release their hold on your reality. It sounds insane but you will be the most sane one..."

Like, if you hyperventilate for a long time, you get high, and it was worth it. Or if you bungee jump or defy death in any "fairly secure" way, that's a thrill too. Suffering produces pleasure when it's relieved.

And if you join any old political party or activist group in a committed way, that also results in a sense of being awake in a new way. So what's different?

Well, once again, maybe not. Isn't it strange this system that claims to lead its practitioners into such a strange state, and doesn't it seem like the energy they dedicate to convincing themselves they are the sane ones, makes them INsane? Is it not rather dangerous when the "laws of the universe begin to release your hold on your reality"?

Since Nature's hold on their reality has been loosened, it is no wonder they cling to one another in their groups for reassurance, and need to calm their minds with their sacred dances, and invest in a cosmology where you have to WORK AT IT to GET spirituality. No wonder they have to reassure one another that they are indeed progressing, and different.

They are right about being different, although in regard to the "progress" they make in the WORK, I'm inclined to believe they are de-evolving rather than evolving, moving away from reality into dark rooms in which everyone talks about how much light they can see...

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Gurdjieffian magical beliefs and us-vs-them mentality
Date: April 28, 2007 11:01AM

Thanks for your clear post regarding Gurdjieff groups.

I have a friend involved in the School of Economic Science/School of Philosophy that I understand follows Gurdjieff's teachings.

In your post, you talk about followers of the Gurdjieff movement thinking about what makes them uncomfortable. From your readings or experience, do you have any concrete examples of how this technique is applied? Are students merely asked to think about what makes them uncomfortable, or are they placed in uncomfortable situations?

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Gurdjieffian magical beliefs and us-vs-them mentality
Posted by: haskellbob ()
Date: April 28, 2007 10:16PM

I have never actually been to a Gurdjieff group, so my report is not going to be firsthand, but I do know that Gurdjieff himself, at his Center for the Harmonious Development of Man, kept his disciples up very late, put them to work on arduous tasks (some of them were even pointless; he had someone - I think it was de Hartmann, the composer - dig ditches and then fill them up again. I have heard also from my significant other (isn't the word "girlfriend" a little bit silly at the age of 52?! But "significant other" is too clinical...) that they put her ex-husband to work hauling heavy loads up a hill... a test of his willingness...

Perhaps someone else could give more precise info. You might read "[i:31f1622fa1]The Harmonious Circle"[/i:31f1622fa1] or even de Hartmann's "Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff".

I will see what else I can dig up - haha - and get back to you.

(Another thing is he would shout "STOP!" in the middle of the "sacred" (yeah, right. Sacred. uh-huh) dances and have the dancers hold whatever posture they were in for possibly quite long periods.

All of this, of course, was for their greater awareness.

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Gurdjieffian magical beliefs and us-vs-them mentality
Posted by: mxkitty ()
Date: May 16, 2007 08:37AM

Working disciples to exhaustion is a major tactic in MANY cults in order to make the brain more susceptible to mind control and brainwashing.

It's also used in the military.

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Gurdjieffian magical beliefs and us-vs-them mentality
Posted by: Jupiter ()
Date: July 24, 2007 06:57PM

I've been in a Gurdjieff-inspired group (Subud), although they increasingly distance themselves from their historical roots and manipulate past events to make it all sound very mystical and harmonious. Having been involved in a form of diluted mysticism for the last 23 years of my life (I'm 3rd generation), I could relate a lot to what you've said. The anger of the tone doesn't help me, though. By resenting and attempting to undermine their beliefs, I just stoop to their level of irony and control. I can't make sense of the experiences I've had - I WISH I could explain it succinctly. I've also had the experience of having to hold a pose in the middle of our "training", which is what you'd describe as the sacred dances (same thing). At the time you just can't see anything wrong. Being one of the last few people in the room to hold a pose is a thrill, and everyone looks at you and admires you. The feeling of having a spiritual power is extremely addictive, and very hard to let go of - especially if your "outer" life is a complete disaster (as mine undoubtedly is / was).

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Gurdjieffian magical beliefs and us-vs-them mentality
Date: July 24, 2007 08:35PM

I'd like to hear more about your experience in a Gurdjieff-inspired group, please, Jupiter. No matter how strange or trivial you think the story, let us know here. Insider information about these groups is hard to come by. Thanks.

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Gurdjieffian magical beliefs and us-vs-them mentality
Posted by: Jupiter ()
Date: July 27, 2007 11:21PM

I will, I promise... but it will take me time.

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Gurdjieffian magical beliefs and us-vs-them mentality
Posted by: brainstormer ()
Date: August 17, 2007 01:29AM

I have been to several of these groups.

They are very split politically. Each of them tend to say the other is
a false group, although some of them seem to be getting better at overcoming this problem, perhaps making themselves look a bit
ridiculous with having done it for so long to each other in the past.

You have the Gurdjieff Foundation groups, which are probably the most psychologically safe. They charge a fairly large fee. I was never a member but went to two meetings. Then the Nyland ones, which are known to be somewhat verbally abusive. I was in this group during two periods, for a period of about two months each time. It was funny because when I came back the things I told the group the first time were the things they were teaching. The first time I was there the teaching was very one-dimensional and the meetings very dull. They totally reject all the other Gurdjieff teachers but Nyland. The meetings both times had about five core members. Never were there more than about six people present.

I was verbally ganged up on the second time in the Nyland group, for no reason, and heard the teacher saying that "It is exactly against the teachings of Gurdjieff to out and practice virtuous acts." The teacher seemed to have this kind of dark radiance to him. I think the only
reason why he started them ganging up on me is to assert a type of blind authority.

I know someone who was in a Gurdjieff group that was much more like an overtly abusive cult, I believe it was in Colorado. Several people ended up in mental hospitals who were associated with this person. The leader was an alcoholic, taught his students to have indiscriminate sex with each other, and one practice of the group was for them to focus on one member and hurl insults at the person.

More and more is becoming known about the problems of the Gurdjieff philosophy while at the same time aspects of it try to gain popularity. A person who I think is somewhat of an academic has written a critical book against the philosophy, comparing it to "traditionalist" spiritual methods.
I haven't read it yet but have come to similar conclusions. It's funny that Gurdjieff says to take nothing on faith, yet all of them take all of his words verbatim, even the part in the book "In Search of the Miraculous" that
said Jesus' disciples actually really ate the literal flesh and blood of Jesus.
Gurdjieff said the disciples were cannibals and his followers believe this
without any question!

I have written more about my experience with them in a recent post here on J.G. Bennett and Subud. I did have an ongoing but not very close relationships that people that came mostly from the Bennett lineage. Some of the groups tend to often attract professionals, doctors, and many people who one person called "petty tyrants." One can imagine that a mean spirited teacher often attracts mean spirited followers. The psychologists have written volumes on people's inner masochism, and this cult shows how that draws people in. Also, the obsessive drive, as written about in Leo Salzmann's book The Obsessive Personality, can show how some people must have perfection in themselves and others. The idea of process addiction is very interesting also when studying the drive to self-remember and the building of hydrogens, the good feeling stuff and so. Part of the Gurdjieff canon of ideas is a well-crafted application of common sense, and other esoteric system use Gurdjieffian language to describe their own processes, such as modern alchemists. Even Timothy Leary and John Lily mention Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff has a popularity that few other cult leaders have and people do not often associate him enough with the insanity of the cults that branched off from his group.

It wouldn't attract so many educated followers if it wasn't based on something good, however, it is a "one-note" idea -- that drawing into the
self and the experiences of the brain is somehow a spiritual experience.
I think altruism and traditional religious ideas about God bring the only real spiritual experience. I had experiences that were like "self-remembering" even as a child, but the way this group focuses on this kind of experience I think changes the meaning of those kinds of pre-Gurdjieff "why I am here" experiences that we all have.

I try to keep an ongoing relationship with some of them and inject some
light and reasoning where I can.

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Gurdjieffian magical beliefs and us-vs-them mentality
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: August 21, 2007 12:30AM

For a survey of the intellectual movement that is termed traditionalism,
get and read Mark Sedgwick's [i:f11b516c31]Against the Modern World[/i:f11b516c31]. You may need to go either to a university library or a very well equipped public library to get it. Sedgewick has a website and a blog and has done a lot to put this
important but obscure movement on the map.


Traditionalism is worth looking at because it is an ideology that has been a lens through which many persons get exposed to Sufism, Orthodox Christianity, esoteric studies, etc. Unless you know what the features of traditionalism are, persons committed to it may slip its biases into their seemingly objective presentation of the subject matter at hand, making it hard to achieve real academic accountability. Traditionalism tends to be rather secretive--it goes on the assumption that modern society is not actually progressing but actually regressing, and that the only hope is to find an authentic source of true, undistorted wisdom, a group or source capable of giving true intiatition.

The seeker must beware of counter-intiatic groups that masquerade as true sources of wisdom but are actuallly counterfeits that lead the seeker astray. One must search and hope to find a member of one of the elite groups willing to offer the hidden teaching.

Most traditionalist scholars and groups are harmless but it is easy to see how this ideology can attract persons who are at risk of generating group dysfunction. One person told Sedgwick that if you become convinced that modern life means regress rather than progress, there are few persons left whom you can usefully talk to. (ahem..)


G apparently appropriated many, many elements from Theosophy.

[i:f11b516c31]Madame Blavatsky's Baboon[/i:f11b516c31]--Peter Washington It gives a wide angle overveiw of late 19th century spiritualism, Theosophy, Gurdjieff, Bennett, Idries Shah

[i:f11b516c31]Turn off Your Mind [/i:f11b516c31]by Gary Lachman

Lots of information about the influence of Gurdjieff, Crowley, Lovecraft on the ideas and artistic output of the 1960s--including Timony Leary's exposure to G work while running his own communal living experiment (also based on Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game)

In Search of PD Ouspensky by Gary Lachman

Both of these are chock full of information-and if you were too young to live through the 1950s, may fill in some gaps.

Lachman was a student of Fourth Way work and even spent some time in an OTO group. He was also member of the rock group, Blondie, so he knows the rock music culture and artistic process from the inside (Lachman has given interviews in Fortean Times and these can be accessed on line. Look him up on Google--he writes interesting stuff)

James Webb did a very detailed job tracing G's use of Theosophy and occult literature and carefully traces his source. For this, read, [i:f11b516c31]The Harmonious Circle.[/i:f11b516c31] He had access to old files in the British M15 or M16
and found some suggestive clues that Gurdjieff was a spy for the Imperial Russian secret service. This may account for why G was able to do all the travelling he did. And it is probably why he was denied permission to reside in the UK.

Spies live under pressure, they are treated as disposable objects by their handlers, and they live behind a mask, constantly playing a role, manipulating others to extract information from them. Spies use people as objects and are themselves used as objects. They operate from fear and power and cant afford the luxury of intimacy.

So whatever spiritual truths and techniques G acquired, IMO, if he was a spy, these spiritual truths and techniques would have curdled in his hands and become mere tools for manipulation. He had a powerful but needy personality that was in the end, a distraction from his stated goal of waking people up.

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Re: Gurdjieffian magical beliefs and us-vs-them mentality
Posted by: Bronte G ()
Date: October 24, 2007 10:02PM

Subud is in no way a "Gurdjieff Inspired Group" That is just Soooo Wrong!
It just happened that people who followed him heard of Subud, and decided that was a "next step" for them Hence John Bennet joined Subud. Then he left Subud, wandered around the mystical pathways available to him, and died. As we all eventually do.
The poeple, or rather their successors, he led in his lifetime mostly can be found in non-Subud activities today which can loosely be described as "spiritual", from what I can gather.

As to "At the time you just can't see anything wrong. Being one of the last few people in the room to hold a pose is a thrill, and everyone looks at you and admires you."
Well I had to get away form the rather unsatisfactory behaviour of Subud people, partly including the fact that I was criticised for doing things, during the trainig sessions. they thought were not quite right. But I was told, and found for myself, right from the start, that we should not watch others. I even saw the founder give instructions to one of the other practitioners not to watch what others in the session were doing.

I wonder how the people who need help to escape from the things they -sometimes quite rightly - call "Cults", actually do, by way of a spiritual "path".

I started my life, from age 5, going to Bible study classes.
After seven years of weekly "Sunday School" I asked question, some of which are answered, well or badly, by cults.
But I wanted to worship God. Does anyone recall that Biblical promise "Seek first the Kingdom of heaven and all will be added to you." (All =all things needed by you)
I always did, and I do.

Are the escapees from their various crazy teachers finding God? Or are you/they finding -nothing?

If only some more of the simple experiences, the good personal ones, were shown alongside the terrible ones here.
Suicides; nightmares; loss of sanity. All things that seem to me to belong outside the realm of true religion, or spirituality. Yet problems truly meant to be helped in that area of life called religion. And not all teachers of these so-called cults are really false teachers, are they? There seem to be some good Christian teachers being condemned too.

Is there a God who wants us to Love Him, trust in His Son, and then love our fellow man?
I think so.
And many will be the trials we go through to test that belief. I am sure I have many to come.

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