Gurdjieff and his pupils
Gurdjieff recognized in his youth that conventional Western science, philosophy, and religion could not answer his compelling questions about what he called "the sense and aim of human existence."
Gurdjieff was born (c. 1866) in the Caucasus, a region where many peoples and traditions coexisted productively in what remains to this day a border zone between Asia and the West. He recognized in his youth that conventional Western science, philosophy, and religion could not answer his compelling questions about what he called "the sense and aim of human existence."
Convinced that answers to his questions might be found in Asia, perhaps in remote religious communities sheltered from the modern world, he formed a group of like-minded associates, the Seekers of Truth, and for some twenty years traveled with them in search of missing knowledge through the Near East, Central Asia, India, and parts of North Africa and the Orthodox Christian world.
Early in 1912, he established himself as an independent teacher in Moscow (and the following year also in St. Petersburg) and began to transmit the ideas and practical methods for work on oneself that today bear his name.
When the Bolshevik Revolution imposed heavy restrictions on Russian society, he migrated to Paris with a number of pupils. There in 1922, just outside Paris, he founded the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man to which pupils came from the United States as well as many other countries. While Paris and its region remained his residence until his death in 1949, he visited the United States at the beginning of 1924, established groups for the study of his teaching, and periodically returned to work with them through 1948.
After Gurdjieff's death in October 1949, his core group of pupils, guided by Jeanne de Salzmann to whom he had passed the responsibility for his work, undertook to preserve and share the teaching. Experienced and trusted men and women in Paris, London, New York, and soon Caracas founded groups locally and in many other cities in the course of the 1950s. Several of these original pupils wrote personal accounts of their experience with Mr. Gurdjieff, listed here: Books.
Those groups in turn fostered the work of the next generation, now responsible for groups worldwide, including our group in Cambridge. Several groups are listed here: Online Resources.
A number of Gurdjieff pupils, through their writings, our encounters with certain of them, and their own pupils, have a continuing influence on the work of the Cambridge house.
P. D. Ouspensky
A major contributor to twentieth-century ideas, Ouspensky (1878--1947) anticipated many of the key questions in philosophy, psychology and religion that have driven and informed us to this day. He was an early exponent of Gurdjieff’s teachings. His book, In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, is a genuinely brilliant exposition of the Gurdjieff teaching as first offered in Russia (see Books in the Gurdjieff Canon).
Jeanne de Salzmann
A conservatory-trained pianist and student of the Dalcroze approach to music and dance, Madame de Salzmann (1889–1990) met Gurdjieff in 1919 and emerged as his closest pupil In later years. Uniting the various leaders and Gurdjieff groups in Europe and North America after Gurdjieff’s passing, she went on to lead and support the Work in Paris, London, New York, and Caracas. Among many achievements, her films of the Gurdjieff Movements preserve both the form and the spirit of this unique and beautiful discipline. Her voice is still heard, a lasting influence, in virtually all houses of the Gurdjieff teaching (see Books in the Gurdjieff Canon).
Henry John Sinclair, Lord Pentland (1907–1984) was a pupil of Ouspensky in the later 1930s and 1940s, who joined Gurdjieff in Paris in 1948. Appointed by Gurdjieff to lead the Work in North America, he became president of the Gurdjieff Foundation when it was established in New York in 1953 and remained in that role until his death. He was a teacher of astonishing scope and depth. The current leaders of the Work in Cambridge include pupils of Lord Pentland (see Books in the Gurdjieff Canon).
Born in a small village in the Pyrenees, Madame Lannes (1899-1980) was introduced to Gurdjieff by Madame de Salzmann in 1940 and, at Madame de Salzmann’s request, in later years led the Work in London and in Lyon. Her resolutely practical and warm approach to inner work is reflected in several books, including This Fundamental Quest (see Books in the Gurdjieff Canon).
Michel Conge (1912-1984) was a physician whose extreme experience in combat at the beginning of World War II gave birth to a lifelong search. In 1944, while working at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, he met Madame de Salzmann, who soon included him in meetings with Gurdjieff. Encouraged by Gurdjieff and Madame de Salzmann, Dr. Conge began to gather a nucleus of pupils whose search he accompanied and led until his death. In later years he had many pupils. A number of his writings, edited and published in recent years, reflect his special temperament: profoundly committed to the methods and ethos of the Work, he was a man of religion for whom the Gurdjieff teaching led by its very nature to faith, hope, and love (see Books in the Gurdjieff Canon).
A photo-journalist in earlier years, and an avocational sculptor throughout his life, Henri Tracol (1909-1997) was introduced to Gurdjieff in 1941 by Madame de Salzmann. After Gurdjieff’s death, he founded groups in France and, alongside Madame de Salzmann, took part annually in the work of centers in London, New York, and Mexico City. As well, he participated with her in the translation of Gurdjieff's works into French. President of the Gurdjieff Institute in France for many years, he also created a Study and Research Center at Gordes in the south of France. It is again his writings that we now have (see Books in the Gurdjieff Canon), but also a living influence. Many teaching today knew him well. He embodied the clarity and quiet power of the Work.
William Segal (1904-2000) initially encountered the ideas of the Fourth Way through PD Ouspensky in the early 1940s as part of a small group of seekers in New Jersey. After some years, he had the opportunity to work directly with Gurdjieff, who became the galvanizing influence in his life. Segal had an active entrepreneurial life, founding a successful men’s fashion magazine, American Fabrics, whose business frequently took him to Japan. There he discovered a strong affinity for the practice of meditation, and befriended Zen scholar D. T. Suzuki and other teachers in the Zen tradition. Not least, he was a painter and printmaker, expressing a quality of artfulness in all aspects of his life.