Mar 9, 2007

Typing Religions, Teachings, and Movements: Gurdjieff

Gurdjieff is a "whole different animal" than western religions like Mormonism, which I discussed below. He came from an eastern mystic tradition with probable roots to ancient Christianity, but quite unlike anything in existence in contemporary western Christianity. I have typed Gurdjieff as SLE (here's a bio from Wikipedia). Let's look at his teaching from a socionic perspective.

The personality of Gurdjieff himself has been absolutely central to the Gurdjieff movement itself, notwithstanding the widespread influence of his teachings (The Matrix, for instance, is full of echoes of Gurdjieff). He was a charismatic, internally driven, demanding force who could easily be considered a cult leader.

Gurdjieff's own spiritual quest, which occupied the first 40 or so years of his life, involved traveling large distances across mountains and deserts, conquering great external obstacles, and experiencing brushes with death. These were the aspects of his spiritual quest that he emphasized the most, and he tried to convey to his followers that any spiritual progress was to made at the cost of great efforts, even at risk of death or harm. He likened achieving higher states of spiritual development to making an escape from prison with the help of other prison mates - slowly and painfully digging their way to freedom with a few hints from those who had escaped before them.

Gurdjieff was a demanding teacher who consciously put his followers through all sorts of trials to test their resolve. His decisions often seemed rash or arbitrary, but were actually aimed at preserving an atmosphere of tension and extreme effort that he considered necessary for spiritual growth. He was often critical to the point of ridicule, but this was likely done to "create obstacles" and "test" followers, rather than simply being an expression of irritation or disgust. As we can see, this closely follows the ideas of a extraverted sensing centered teaching as described in a previous post.

Gurdjieff lived a long life that involved frequent travels and starting over from scratch in several different countries. After he died, there was no formal successor, since Gurdjieff didn't establish a formal organization, much less a church. Instead, there were scattered followers and groups of followers in many different countries. A few attempts were made to join forces, but they haven't led to anything so far, perhaps because Gurdjieff himself gave no compelling reason to have a common organization (such as a belief in a divine organization).

The organizations and groups that do exist seem to have largely morphed from a extraverted sensingintroverted logic emphasis to a introverted logicextraverted sensing one. While still retaining the sense that spiritual development is a hard journey that requires great effort, these groups seem more focused on following or studying the "canon" of teachings that Gurdjieff left behind. In reality, there seems to be no one to submit followers to extraverted sensing type tribulations as Gurdjieff once did. This is another example of how an extraverted founder left an ultimately introverted movement behind him.

I don't know Gurdjieff's teachings as well as Mormonism, but I'll try to look at how different information aspects are valued in the teaching.

extraverted intuition: The concept of a spiritual search is given considerable emphasis in Gurdjieff's teachings, but the substance of it is actually extraverted sensing. In other words, one already has a very good idea of the goal of the search (as opposed to an open-ended extraverted intuition search), and the key is to make up one's mind and press forward despite the obstacles. Searching for the sake of searching seems to be viewed as a frivolous occupation.

extraverted sensing: In addition to what I've already said, Gurdjieff's focus on living in the here and now and not troubling oneself with irrelevant thoughts (worries about the future or regrets about the past) also contains a extraverted sensing emphasis.

extraverted logic: I would say this aspect is completely ignored. If any work is performed, it is only to provide another test of participants' strength and resolve.

extraverted ethics: Gurdjieff's extensive work with music and dancing (including his famous "Gurdjieff movements") can be seen as partly an expression of emotional coalescence with the divine and with other participants. Mormonism, which I just discussed below, as well as quite a few Protestant religions, has no such group rituals that involve external emotional expression.

introverted intuition: Quite a bit of emphasis. Gurdjieff himself practiced hypnosis for a long time and seems to have used trance-like states in his teaching. It could be argued that many of Gurdjieff's teachings that he got from other sources - such as concepts like the "ray of creation" - were meant to be understood symbolically and could be associated with introverted intuition.

introverted sensing: I'm not aware of much emphasis at all. Nowhere does Gurdjieff espouse a particular diet or philosophy of consumption of food or water. Also, the idea of striving for a relaxed, balanced physical state doesn't mesh well with the concept of "super efforts" and accessing one's "reserve batteries."

introverted logic: Heavily emphasized, at least in the early period of Gurdjieff's teaching, when he introduced a complex conceptual system (basically, the equivalent of "doctrine" in religions) that followers were expected to think about and discuss actively.

introverted ethics: Fully suppressed. Gurdjieff felt that "being nice" encouraged "sleep," and that it was necessary to be harsh and blunt to keep people "awake." Occasionally followers accused him and his teachings as being "heartless." Also, Gurdjieff often made a point of alienating those who had dropped out and encouraging active followers to break off contact with the person as a necessary step to avoid being distracted by feelings of sentimentality and empathy.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

so in other words Intraverted Inituition is as it is...cause it has Extraverted Sensing as a goal set
and Extraverted Intuition is as it is, cause it has Intraverted Sensing as a goal set
(i.e. i seem to detect a language where the search mode is for the ILE or directed on the freedom of that search__
it is expressive cause it needs to be to preserve that homely free sense a Intraverted Senser gives out
...a mentology to dualization
by counter concept
the ILI and iei relative silence also fills this mentology set requirement toward Extraverted Sensing)
-lol, that is my equation for today
...oh, this guy was good,
thanx Rick, for introducing us to a wonderful knowledge segment
..i would say the Intraverted Logic is instrumental to any such 'journist/scientist/practioner'___as it sets to show forth the knowledge which developed them to present...
but then is left the journey has to continue with 'dynamic' tools
tools such as Intuition, married in 'mode-set' to a dual associated mentology value

Rick said...


Thanks. This is an interesting dialogue with a very extraverted logic approach to the subject.

iAnnAu said...

Rick, I have read 2 of Ouspensky's books on Gurdjieff's teachings (The Fourth Way and In Search of the Miraculous). I can't remember which things come from which books, but I do remember a couple of things I'd like to add to the discussion:
Introverted sensing: Yes, G DID emphasize certain aspects of this, because one of the major obstacles I encountered in reading the books came from a description of different "states" of food, described as Hydrogen levels. He gave the example that a dog eats a certain H-level food, and we eat a higher level. We could eat the dog's food, but it would lower our ability to raise our consciousness. The dog could eat our food, but it would impart no extra ability for it to raise its consciousness. While I can sort of understand what he was getting at, the bluntness of the text implied that it was supposed to be taken as literal, in which case what point are the Hydrogen levels, etc?
Another thing I remember giving me problems is when G would talk about consciousness as having almost empirical, quantitative qualities. For example, he implied that knowledge (and he goes into a long description of what knowledge is and is not) gets diluted the more people it is transferred to. Therefore, wisdom should be reserved for those who can "handle" or "deserve" it.
Another offensive (in my opinion) idea was this crazy talk about celestial bodies having consciousnesses that dwarfed our own and in some ways gave rise to our own ... in specific, he said that the moon feeds off the non-consciousness of humans. He advocated leaving a certain percentage of the world's population unenlightened, because otherwise the moon would starve and DIE. While I can accept that such things may have been intended "to be understood symbolically" (from your introverted intuition descri), the implications - especially of the lack of potential - turn me off.
I welcome comments in response to the points I have raised. Since G did not publish his own writings, and since Ouspensky was translated (from Russian, I believe), there may be things that were misrepresented or else that I simply misinterpreted.

Rick said...


I think those "states of food" were meant to be understood allegorically; basically, different things produce different qualities of energy, and certain kinds of energy are required for certain tasks. I don't think that qualifies for a true Si focus. Plus, Gurdjieff's "all out" approach, especially about making "super efforts" and reducing the hours one sleeps to a bare minimum, are quite against the strivings of Si types.

I personally don't find the elitist attitude towards enlightenment offensive. It's pretty much standard for spiritual teachings, including Jesus ("many are called but few are chosen"). As I understand, G. was simply stating a fact, not issuing an order not to try to enlighten others.

The opposite of an 'honest' elitist approach is a 'deceptive' everyone-can-do-it approach. Just think how silly it sounds when investment gurus say things like, "everyone can be successful at investing." :)

Or people like Robert Kiyosaki and other proponents of MLM. No matter what you do, only the people at the top will make the big bucks.

In my opinion the average "degree of enlightenment" of mankind as a whole can slowly creep upward or downward, but people who achieve great enlightenment or great personal power by definition do so in comparison to everyone else.

Maybe I didn't have any problems with Gurdjieff because I take everything allegorically. I don't know :)