Gurdjieff and Sufism (Parallels and Contrasts)
Excerpts from the extraordinary essay
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Watch rare footage of the great mystic and founder of the Fourth Way,
Excerpts from the extraordinary essay:
Gurdjieff, Enneagram and The Fourth Way
Sufism and Ismaili Gnosis
Gurdjieff himself was evidently fascinated with Oriental-Islamic culture, especially its Turkish subvariant: interestingly enough, since his Armenian and Greek ancestry and long history of Ottoman oppression ( and in his time, genocide over the Armenian people ) would logically imply at least a distaste for all things Turkish. Quite the contrary !
Since he spoke Turkish fluently, frequently referenced a legendary figure of Turkish folklore Nasruddin Khwaja/Hoja, gave numerous hints suggesting his association with Naqshbandi order of Sufis, traded with Persian rugs, enjoyed wearing parts of Turkish apparel even in Paris- a legend emerged that Gurdjieff was "essentially" a Sufi and that his teaching is Sufism accomodated for Western audience. But any serious analysis reveals that Gurdjieff, while ostensibly a westernized Sufi, did not share Sufis's worldview nor was influenced by central Sufi concepts. Sufism, being Islamic mysticism, has developed an elaborate network of metaphysics, psychology, soteriology, theology and philosophy-all expressed in a highly articulate and complex, Arabic-based technical vocabulary. The fact that Gurdjieff was not a practicing monotheist rules out any Sufi affiliation. Also, his esoteric doctrine, when set against a background of Sufi metaphysics and psychology, shows that these are worlds apart.
Virtually the only thing that Gurdjieff assimilated from Islamic esotericism is the symbolic central glyph of his school, enneagram. Yet, since this mandala originated in a branch of Ismaili sect, heavily influenced by Neoplatonism and alchemy- the Sufi connection ( apart from Gurdjieff's personal contacts and preferences ) can easily be dismissed. But- if he didn't care for Sufi theory and almost entire Sufi practice, Gurdjieff certainly studied, adopted and re-designed dances which originated in Turkish and Caucasian Islamic milieu, in the area permeated by Sufi cultural influence. Gurdjieff's use of the enneagram symbol is most visible in his Russian (post -1915) and European years, when he gathered a cluster of disciplined devotees and made stage appearances with them, both in Europe and the US (mainly in the 1920ies).According to some reports, his disciples danced along enneagram points and lines, self-observing themselves, until under Gurdjieff's command "Stop !" they would freeze up in an act of (supposedly) self-remembering, when, at least in theory, Gurdjieff would transmit spiritual (or, more likely, bioenergy equivalent to Taoist ch'i) to their susceptible psyches with the aim to elevate and expand their consciousness and being- an exercise in some points resembling the transfer of Sufi barrakah (blessing, spiritual energy) or Tantric shaktipat. Also, the profile of dances, devised by Gurdjieff himself, betray influences of Sufi and Vajrayana/Tibetan traditions. Enneagram doesn't play a prominent role in his own writings, and, apart from his early and middle periods (1915- 1920ies, with the significant pause in 1925., when he barely survived a car-crash), it is mainly preserved in Ouspensky's books.Later "enneagrammoratos", from Arica's Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo to the contemporary pop-psychologizing Jesuits and Salesians have been already mentioned.