G.I. Gurdjieff was born in Alexandropol, in Russia, near the Persian border. His father was descended from Ionian Greeks of Caesarea. A herdsman on a grand scale, Gurdjieff’s father had inherited, through oral tradition, an ancient culture. Because of him, Gurdjieff’s childhood was steeped in the stories and poems of a distant past.
Later, singled out by the Archbishop of Kars Cathedral, he was guided by men who were capable of awakening in him the taste for essential values and who provided for him a modern scientific education as well as a profound religious training.
In this area of the southern Caucasus, where so many peoples were mingled—Russians, Greeks, Iranians, Tartars, Armenians—and where so many civilizations and customs confronted one another, a multitude of facts convinced Gurdjieff that a real knowledge of man and his nature had existed in the past and that its traces had been erased, but that it must still be possible to find it once again.
This conviction was to determine his entire existence.
His life was then shared with men who, like himself, were animated with a desire to understand the real meaning of human life.
Together with these “Seekers of Truth”—who included geographers, archaeologists, doctors—G.I. Gurdjieff, overcoming the greatest hardships, succeeded in coming into contact with very isolated communities in Africa, the Near East and Central Asia and in gathering the dispersed fragments of a traditional teaching. In submitting these fragments to the flames of the most rigorous inner disciplines, he succeeded in bringing them alive once again and in reconstituting for himself the unity of knowledge which he sought.
In 1912 it was a very different man who returned to Europe. A new task awaited him: he had to find a way to transmit this knowledge by creating conditions which would permit others to experience it. He was then about 40 years of age. In Moscow, then in St. Petersburg, groups of seekers formed around him. One of his first pupils, P.D. Ouspensky, was later to record in his book In Search of the Miraculous; Fragments of an Unknown Teaching the value of what Gurdjieff had brought to them: “It was not a patchwork”, he wrote, “as all scientific and philosophical systems are, but an indivisible whole.”
The war, then the revolution, impelled them to move to France. Gurdjieff settled in 1922 at the Prieuré of Avon, near Fontainebleau, south of Paris, and assembled many students who were mostly English and Americans. In 1924, a near-fatal car accident obliged him to change the direction of his activities; he resolved to write a series of books and to keep near him only a limited number of pupils.
On October 29, 1949, he died at the American Hospital in Paris, but his thought had been transmitted and the knowledge for which he had so struggled remained alive.