Who is Gurdjieff? 5 Quotes From a Spiritual Master
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was an Armenian-Greek spiritual teacher and mystic, noted for his pan-spiritual approach, unifying the teachings of the Christian monk, the Hindu yogi and the Sufi fakir in a bid to take humans to a higher state of consciousness.
Like most mystics, Gurdjieff’s work (which is known as ‘The Work’) focused on the realisation of the individual self as an egocentric illusion.
The Work is aimed at allowing humans to reveal this knowledge via a process of awakening from the state of “waking sleep” to a recognition of universal consciousness.
“Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies…”Gurdjieff
Gurdjieff taught that religions had become overburdened with heavy layers of extraneous meaning implemented by man in his egocentric state.
This effect meant that religions primarily focus on the mind, body and emotions, ignoring the deeper reality and power of the spirit – the true nature of man and where true peace resides.
While opinions on Gurdjieff range from being a modern-day prophet to a charlatan, the 5 quotes below offer an insight into his teachings for you to gain an idea of his philosophy, value and influence on spirituality.
Who is Gurdjieff? 5 Quotes From a Spiritual Master
1: A man will renounce any pleasures you like but he will not give up his suffering.
It is a spiritual axiom that in the noble acceptance of suffering we find meaning and, ultimately, transcendence.
However, in the above quote, Gurdjieff outlines the problem of suffering isn’t so much that suffering exists in itself but that human beings become attached to it.
This is especially dangerous because suffering thereby becomes how we identify ourselves and our role in the world.
We all know the guy who has to better your story of pain and hardship, the one for whom his pain has become his excuse for anger, resentment and confusion in the world.
This is not to say there isn’t a time for such emotions, but that the end-goal is to overcome this pained state, not make a lifelong identity from the ashes of suffering.
In the quote, Gurdjieff is showing us how man even prizes his victim story above pleasure.
While pleasures are indeed enjoyable, they do not provide the comforting false hope that identification with suffering does, as this gives us an excuse for why we’ve struggled in life.
The problem is that this way of living leads to more pain, more confusion and more decay, all while promising the complete opposite, meaning we cling ever closer to it.
In this state, Gurdjieff states: “Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies…”
The point of your life isn’t to die but to awaken.
2: A man may be born, but in order to be born he must first die, and in order to die he must first awake.
Feeding on from our previous insight, Gurdjieff points towards the escape from suffering – the symbolic death.
Why this concept is so central to Gurdjieff, Recovering Man and limitless spiritual movements is that it provides the foundation for change to occur.
When we go through a symbolic death, we begin to see the suffering we once experienced as the growing pains of a new state of consciousness.
However, this change isn’t like anything we experience in our day to day lives, it does not emanate from therapy, self-help books or thinking ourselves to freedom.
Watch: What is Enlightenment?
In order to reach this state, we must go through the process of undoing, rather than doing, as true change requires us to ‘bottom-out’ to a place of complete openness and neutrality.
Once here, we are capable of seeing the true nature of things, that life itself built everything around us, that it holds everything in its presence, and that the egocentric ‘I’ is a mere illusion created by the mind.
If this sounds like nonsense, fair enough, perhaps this isn’t for you – good luck on your journey.
However, if something inside you rings true when you read such words, the process is already emanating within you now.
This is not a process therapists, Gurdjieff, Recovering Man or anyone else has authority over, it is the consciousness within you calling, your true reality, peace within calling you to awaken.
The more you can be still and peaceful, leaving your mind to chatter away as you rest in your own presence, the more you’re inner sanctuary will begin to grow.
If you’d like to explore this more, consider checking out the Silent Prayer.
3: A ‘sin’ is something that is not necessary.
While the word ‘sin’ has become somewhat outdated due to centuries of fire and brimstone rhetoric, seemingly promising eternal damnation for finite transgressions, our understanding of its meaning has transformed somewhat of late.
New-age teachers, Christian mystics and more have been eager to stress the notion of sin back to its root etymology, with the original meaning of ‘missing the mark’ taking a new precedence.
The rediscovery of the deeper meaning of sin somewhat validates Gurdjieff’s notion that we have lost the deeper meaning of our religious and spiritual traditions.
In our haste to figure out literal meanings in the materialistic and pragmatic mind, we have lost our way into scaring people away from spiritual wisdom with the promise of eternal torture.
With this quote, Gurdjieff is seemingly attempting to bring us back to a simpler definition, outlining that sin is essentially that which isn’t needed and isn’t fundamentally the truth.
In this definition, we’re freed from guilt, shame and judgement – ironically enough, judging oneself is actually sinful from this point of view in that it assumes the egoic mind has the right to judge.
As we continue our spiritual growth, we must then be mindful and jettison all that isn’t necessary, staying with the core truth of our being.
4: Without self-knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.
As we come to a state of realisation of our true nature, we begin to see the egocentric realm of being a man as more mechanical than our deeper spirit reality.
In the day to day world, we exist in nature, and are thus subject to its laws.
The point of spiritual growth isn’t to deny the physical realm, but to transcend it – to be ‘of the world but not in it’ to use Christian terminology.
In accepting the inevitability of suffering and tragedy in the physical world, this affords us the freedom to take part in life’s play without squirming, hiding or trying to control it.
This produces freedom within because we are sourcing our sense of being from life itself, rather than looking for completion from the external things of the world.
Seeking comfort in the things of the world is fool’s gold, as while the ecstatic highs and glitz of the world are irresistible to man’s eye, such things will always pass – the hangover is inevitable, the orgasm passes, riches lose their novelty.
Stepping out of this realm is the ultimate freedom.
5: Without struggle, no progress and no result.
Those in the struggle above should not be disheartened. It is the fate of man to struggle to overcome the world – you and billions of others have and will experience this.
It is in fact our unique struggles that define us.
Struggle is the ingredient that allows us to separate truth from lies, it forces us to avoid ‘sin’ and ensure we are on point to hitting the mark and recognising truth.
So don’t shy away from struggle – don’t let the mind tell you your pain is in vain – struggle is the engine of your awakening.
If you enjoyed this piece, why not consider picking up a free copy of the Recovering Man book, From Lost Boy to Awakened Man, which covers many of the key themes in this piece in much greater detail below: