G.I. Gurdjieff was born in 1877 of Greek and Armenian parentage in Alexandropol, close to the frontier of Russia and Turkey, and grew up in the Caucasus amid the intermingling of various ancient cultures and races. Finding that neither science nor religion answered his questions about the real meaning of man's life, he became convinced at an early age that an ancient knowledge must have existed and been handed down and still be known somewhere on the earth. In 1912, after about twenty years of search in remote and dangerous parts of Central Asia and the Near East, he reappeared in Russia with a powerful and complete teaching about man's inner slavery and his possible individual evolution. Gathering a few people around him, he began the Work that was to be his mission for the remainder of his life.
"What does his teaching consist of? And is it intelligible to everybody?
He showed that the evolution of man - a theme prominent in the scientific thinking of his youth - cannot be approached through mass influences but is the result of individual inner growth; that such an inner opening was the aim of all religions, of all the Ways, but requires a direct and precise knowledge of changes in the quality of each man’s inner consciousness: a knowledge which had been preserved in places he had visited, but can only be acquired with an experienced guide through prolonged self-study and ‘work on oneself.’
Through the order of his ideas, and the exercises which he changed repeatedly, the minds of all who came to him were opened to the most complete dissatisfaction with themselves and at the same time to the vast scale of their inner possibilities, in a way that none of them ever forgot."
|from the Introduction to “Views from the Real World”
Gurdjieff's early students included the writer P.D. Ouspensky, the well-known composer Thomas de Hartmann and his wife, Olga, and Alexandre and Jeanne de Salzmann as well as others. The small band of pupils were led by Gurdjieff amid the maelstrom of the Russian Revolution through Western Russia, Turkey, and into Europe, where Gurdjieff established his now celebrated Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at Fontainebleau, near Paris, in 1921. Gurdjieff remained based in France until his death in 1949, but came to America a number of times to visit groups which had formed in New York and Chicago to study his teaching under the guidance of the English literary critic, A. R. Orage.