Charles and I meet once a week to discuss Gurdjieff books over a nice glass of wine. Since my readers periodically ask my recommendations on how to gain a broader background on Gurdjieff’s legacy, I share our recommended literature here. We list our recommendations in two different points of view: the first lists books that convey Gurdjieff’s teaching; the second lists books that present Gurdjieff’s life. Books written by Peter Ouspensky are listed alongside Gurdjieff, since Ouspensky played such an instrumental role in documenting and disseminating the Fourth Way:
Books on Gurdjieff’s Teaching
Although the two of us don’t unanimously agree on the order below, we do agree that newcomers to the Fourth Way will benefit from simplicity. The newcomer is susceptible to getting lost in the labyrinth of ideas and drifting farther away from practicality. Gurdjieff never intended this. In this spirit then, we list Gurdjieff books in order of clarity and accessibility, beginning with those that present Gurdjieff’s teaching in the most simple and succinct manner and ending with the complex and elaborate:
1. Views from the Real World – Recollections by Gurdjieff’s pupils of early talks in Moscow, Essentuki, Tiflis, Berlin, London, Paris, New York and Chicago. Within this book is an essay titled Glimpses of Truth, an account, written by one of his Russian pupils, of a visit to Gurdjieff near Moscow before the revolution. This essay was occasionally read in Moscow as an introduction for people meeting Gurdjieff for the first time, as is related by P. D. Ouspensky in In Search of the Miraculous.
2. Life is Real Only Then, When I Am – The long awaited third and final installment of Gurdjieff’s exposition published in 1976. This books opens a unique window into Gurdjieff’s personal work that is uncommon in other works. The prologue gives a most interesting disclosure of the inner world problems which Gurdjieff had to face and the process of his own spiritual evolution. The final chapter, called the ‘Inner and Outer World of Man’ is incomplete, and it stops tantilizingly when Gurdjieff is about to disclose the secret for the prolongation of human life.
3. Meetings with Remarkable Men – a purported autobiographical description of key moments in Gurdjieff’s formative years. Intriguing and colorful. Map of pre-sand Egypt. Gurdjieff’s father as Ashokh. It is clear that Gurdjieff wrote this. It is less clear whether it actually happened the way he wrote it. J. G. Bennett, who sought to trace Gurdjieff’s sources after his death, claimed that most of these stories were metaphorical and the figures alluded to pseudonymical.
4. Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson – Written in an obscure and lengthy style that neutralizes the reader’s normal cognitive pathways, Gurdjieff paints a galactic canvas unlike normal expository narrative. Gurdjieff spend seven years writing this magnum opus–as he himself said, sparing himself neither day nor night, constantly writing and rewriting. It appears that Gurdjieff, having decided to throw open his ideas to anyone who chose to buy his books, wished to safeguard their real significance by making them accessible only to those who were prepared to make a very big effort. In doing this, however he fell between two stools. On the one hand, he was anxious that Beelzebub’s should be widely read. On the other hand, he was impelled to write more and more obscurely.
5. Herald of the Coming Good – Gurdjieff’s first and relatively short narrative reflecting Gurdjieff’s initial and somewhat naive enthusiasm. This book would be of profound interest for understanding the development of Gurdjieff’s thinking; but, at the same time, it represents an unfortunate episode which he afterwards wished to bury. Only a year or so later he wrote that if any of his readers had by their good fortune failed to read The Herald of the Coming Good, he advised them not to do so.
1. In Search of the Miraculous – a cinematic narrative in Ouspensky’s own words of his experience searching for the miraculous and finally crossing paths with George Gurdjieff in Russia. Published posthumously and after the manuscript had been reviewed, praised and authorized by Gurdjieff. To this day, In Search of the Miraculous is the best-selling doorway into Gurdjieff’s practical, theoretical and philosophical teachings.
2. The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution – the most concise exposition of the core of the Fourth Way. An easy read written in lecture form, read before an audience by Ouspensky’s inner circle, with Ouspensky taking notes and revising over a period of 6 years. Save for the historical narrative of In Search of the Miraculous, this would be our #1 pick for best introduction to the Fourth Way. These first two books are the only ones edited by Ouspensky himself. The books below are compilations from meeting transcripts.
3. Conscience – The Search for Truth – a compilation of five essays based on more of P. D. Ouspensky’s talks and answers to questions. This compilation is centered around the development of conscience, although subject range through all Fourth Way ideas. The contrast between morality and conscience was a popular idea to which Gurdjieff periodically returned. In Conscience – the Search for Truth, Ouspensky explores Gurdjieff’s ideas in depth.
4. The Fourth Way – a well indexed and accessible exposition of the Fourth Way, taken from notes of those attending Ouspensky’s lectures. this book was not compiled by Ouspensky, but elaborates in great detail on what The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution outlines. Each chapter is dedicated to a series of related Fourth Way topics, beginning with an introductory compilation of Ouspensky on that topic and continuing with questions and answers from his meetings.
5. A Further Record – further notes from Ouspensky’s lectures, written in a similar form to The Fourth Way, but including material that was left our from that compilation. This book would not serve as a good introduction to Gurdjieff’s ideas, but as an inspiring addition to the books listed above.
Books on Gurdjieff’s life
Books that shed light on Gurdjieff’s life, from his early years of search through his apprenticeship and till his maturation as a teacher. This list includes accounts of Gurdjieff’s life by other authors:
1. Meetings with Remarkable Men – an accessible acquaintance with George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, even though its historical details are to be taken with more than a grain of salt. The books is written in autobiographical form and paints a vivid picture of Gurdjieff’s childhood circumstances, the influence of his father and first tutors, and his early searches for secret knowledge. Gurdjieff here shares a formative milestone that would color the rest of his life: when he realizes that his father (an illiterate bard who would recite ancient songs) was the tail end of a long oral tradition, that maintained ancient wisdom from thousands of years earlier with hardly any alteration, Gurdjieff perceives his obligation to the ancient legacy of schools.
2. Life is Real Only Then, When I Am – This book opens a unique window into Gurdjieff’s personal work that is uncommon in other works. The prologue opens an inspiring window into the intimate challenges with which Gurdjieff grappled in the process of becoming a young teacher. It presents the student Gurdjieff, whom we have come to know mostly as a teacher, but who had to, at some early stage, undergo the same trials all aspirants undergo in their passage into consciousness: “In spite of all my desires and endeavors, I could not succeed in “remembering myself in the process of my general common life…”
3. Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson – this obscure and lengthy myth does undoubtedly contain many biographical anecdotes. The most apparent may be the places about which Gurdjieff writes, which he could not present had he not visited them himself (although not during the alleged dates he claims to have done so in his book).
1. In Search of the Miraculous – much of the value of this books lies in Ouspensky’s aim of remaining faithful to Gurdjieff’s lectures, the way they occurred in Russia between 1915 and 1918. The reader gaines insight into Gurdjieff as a young teacher, his method of exposition, his deliberate holding back of key ideas until later times, his intentional contradictions and his unique ability to induce mystical states in his students. Furthermore, In Search of the Miraculous paints a dramatic canvas upon which this teaching occurs: tumultuous Russia between the revolution and World War I. Gurdjieff and his students are continually on the move, trying their best to avoid those regions struck by civil war.
2. Gurdjieff – Making a New World (J.G.Bennett) – J. G. Bennett was a student of both Ouspensky and Gurdjieff. As an English intelligence agent, he had access to those regions in Central Asia in which Gurdjieff had done much of his gathering. After Gurdjieff passed away, Bennett undertook the daunting task of visiting those places in search of the origins of Gurdjieff’s teaching. This book presents a remarkably methodical result. However, the reader will only value it in as much they are familiar with Meetings with Remarkable Men, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, and In Search of the Miraculous. Bennett repeatedly references them, attempting to reveal the historical figures behind Gurdjieff’s allegorical heroes.
Other Notable Fourth Way Books
Below is an even more comprehensive list of books related to Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way tradition:
1. Tertium Organum - Peter Ouspensky’s best seller from before his acquaintance with George Gurdjieff. A direct experience of Ouspensky’s mind, without the Gurdjieffian imprint. Ouspensky comments on his own book, “I have called the system of higher logic Tertium Organum because for us it is the third law of thought after Aristotle and Bacon. The first was Organon, the second Novum Organum. But the third existed before the first.” In this book, Ouspensky postulates the nature of the real world beyond the ordinary senses, discusses the essential evolution in human consciousness and emotion which must come before the higher world can be perceived and understood, and presents the ‘new logic’ or terminology which is essential for the description of the new reality.
2. A New Model of the Universe - Ouspensky outlined and began this book before meeting George Gurdjieff, and completed it after the two had separated. Despite the years with Gurdjieff which intervened between writing and publication, Ouspensky tried in his revision to keep separate what he knew before he encountered the system and what he learned while within it. The book draws from his travels to the near and far east, and offer a psychological method for approaching the wisdom of ancient cultures (Tarot, Gothic, Buddhism, Esoteric Christianity, etc.). rich in historic background…
Rodney Collin Books
The Theory of Celestial Influence – According to some accounts, a book outlined in the last weeks of Ouspensky’s life, possibly dictated by the dying teacher to his student whose writing skills he valued. Additionally, in a powerful introduction that sheds light onto Ouspensky’s personal teaching, Collin admits this books came in response to Ouspensky’s abandoning the system and tasking his students with reconstructing it for themselves. In The Theory of Celestial Influence, Collin elabores where Gurdjieff and Ouspensky left off, developing ideas which would later become popular such as body types and the enneagram. Collin also examines objective laws as they manifest on different scales, from the macro cosmoses of the universe, through civilizations, humans, and to microscopic beings.
The Theory of Conscious Harmony – very readable excerpts, taken from Rodney Collin’s answers to correspondence he received from a wide variety of those working individually and with groups, shaped around the Gurdjieff Ouspensky work. Thoughtfully arranged into over 30 subjects. Collin shares his view of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky as two complementary poles of the Fourth Way in the twentieth century, and lays the groundwork for its possible future manifestations.
The Theory of Eternal Life – a scientific attempt to examine the journey of the soul before conception, during birth, its passage through the physical body and its continuation after death. Rodney Collin examines the relation of time to man, and attempts to convey how it varies significantly depending on the relation of his spirit to his body. The final chapter also shares some personal experienced he had with his teacher, Peter Ouspensky.