What is a group in the Gurdjieff Work?

Dificult to convey is the actual fact that work in groups requires a material energy to be manifest or present. The words of Mr. Gurdjieff, or Madame de Salzmann, are not effective unless there is a certain energy present to the enunciation or the listening. Words are just that: without the magnetism or materiality or energy, that allows them to penetrate, they remain words. Without a certain finer vibration, they have no effect.

The work brought by Mr. Gurdjieff also demands that we fully participate in our life and not deny our ordinary responsibilities. There is no withdrawal that is sanctioned (although we may have the wrong friends, we may find out), but the opposite is suggested: a wholehearted engagement in life, and indeed a celebration of more and more conscious participation.

What is the nature of Gurdjieff groups today?

It is the essence of our work, but what exactly constitutes a group? It may be without a group real work is not possible. Just as without a parental structure we could not become individuals, without a chain of people working connected to us, it may be difficult to keep working ourselves.

The following excerpts are Mr. Gurdjieff, as quoted by Mr. Ouspensky, from "In Search of the Miraculous":

…..the point is that a 'group' is the beginning of everything. One man can do nothing, can attain nothing. A group with a real leader can do more, A group of people can do what one man can never do.


"The first and most important feature of groups is the fact that groups are not constituted according to the wish and choice of their members. Groups are constituted by the teacher, who selects types which, from the point of view of his aims, can be useful to one another.

"No work of groups is possible without a teacher. The work of groups with a wrong teacher can produce only negative results.

"The next important feature of group work is that groups may be connected with some aim of which those who are beginning work in them have no idea whatever and which cannot even be explained to them until they understand the essence and the principles of the work and the ideas connected with it. But this aim towards which without knowing it they are going, and which they are serving, is the necessary balancing principle in their own work. Their first task is to understand this aim, that is, the aim of the teacher. When they have understood this aim, although at first not fully, their own work becomes more conscious and consequently can give better results. But, as I have already said, it often happens that the aim of the teacher cannot be explained at the beginning.

"Therefore, the first aim of a man beginning work in a group should be self-study. The work of self-study can proceed only in properly organized groups. One man alone cannot see himself. But when a certain number of people unite together for this purpose they will even involuntarily help one another. It is a common characteristic of human nature that a man sees the faults of others more easily than he sees his own. At the same time on the path of self-study he learns that he himself possesses all the faults that he finds in others. But there are many things that he does not see in himself, whereas in other people he begins to see them. But, as I have just said, in this case he knows that these features are his own. Thus other members of the group serve him as mirrors in which he sees himself. But, of course, in order to see himself in other people's faults and not merely to see the faults of others, a man must be very much on his guard against and be very sincere with himself.

"He must remember that he is not one; that one part of him is the man who wants to awaken and that the other part is 'Ivanov,' 'Petrov,' or 'Zakharov,' who has no desire whatever to awaken and who has to be awakened by force.

"A group is usually a pact concluded between the I's of a certain group of people to make a common struggle against 'Ivanov,' 'Petrov,' and 'Zakharov,' that is, against their own 'false personalities.'

"Let us take Petrov. Petrov consists of two parts—'I' and 'Petrov.' But 'I' is powerless against 'Petrov.' 'Petrov' is the master. Suppose there are twenty people; twenty 'I's' now begin to struggle against one 'Petrov.' They may now prove to be stronger than he is. At any rate they can spoil his sleep; he will no longer be able to sleep as peacefully as he did before. And this is the whole aim.

"Furthermore, in the work of self-study one man begins to accumulate material resulting from self-observation. Twenty people will have twenty times as much material. And every one of them will be able to use the whole of this material because the exchange of observations is one of the purposes of the group's existence.

On another occasion, speaking of groups, G. said:

"Do not think that we can begin straight away by forming a group. A group is a big thing. A group is begun for definite concerted work, for a definite aim. I should have to trust you in this work and you would have to trust me and one another. Then it would be a group. Until there is general work it will only be a preparatory group. We shall prepare ourselves so as in the course of time to become a group. And it is only possible to prepare ourselves to become a group by trying to imitate a group such as it ought to be, imitating it inwardly of course, not outwardly.

"What is necessary for this? First of all you must understand that in a group all are responsible for one another. A mistake on the part of one is considered as a mistake on the part of all. This is a law. And this law is well founded for, as you will see later, what one acquires is acquired also by all.

"The rule of common responsibility must be borne well in mind. It has another side also. Members of a group are responsible not only for the mistakes of others, but also for their failures. The success of one is the success of all. The failure of one is the failure of all. A grave mistake on the part of one, such as for instance the breaking of a fundamental rule, inevitably leads to the dissolution of the whole group.

"A group must work as one machine. The parts of the machine must know one another and help one another. In a group there can be no personal interests opposed to the interests of others, or opposed to the interests of the work, there can be no personal sympathies or antipathies which hinder the work. All the members of a group are friends and brothers, but if one of them leaves, and especially if he is sent away by the teacher, he ceases to be a friend and a brother and at once becomes a stranger, as one who is cut off. It often becomes a very hard rule, but nevertheless it is necessary. People may be lifelong friends and may enter a group together. Afterwards one of them leaves. The other then has no right to speak to him about the work of the group. The man who has left feels hurt, he does not understand this, and they quarrel. In order to avoid this where relations, such as husband and wife, mother and daughter, and so on, are concerned, we count them as one, that is, husband and wife are counted as one member of the group. Thus if one of them cannot go on with the work and leaves, the other is considered guilty and must also leave. –

There is no particular benefit in the existence of groups in themselves and there is no particular merit in belonging to groups. The benefit or usefulness of groups is determined by their results.


"The work of every man can proceed in three directions. He can be useful to the work. He can be useful to me. And he can be useful to himself. Of course it is desirable that a man's work should produce results in all three directions. Failing this, one can be reconciled to two. For instance, if a man is useful to me, by this very fact he is useful also to the work. Or if he is useful to the work, he is useful also to me. But if, let us say, a man is useful to the work and useful to me, but is not able to be useful to himself, this is much worse because it cannot last long. If a man takes nothing for himself and does not change, if he remains such as he was before, then the fact of his having by chance been useful for a short time is not placed to his credit, and, what is more important, his usefulness does not last for long. The work grows and changes. If a man himself does not grow or change he cannot keep up with the work. The work leaves him behind and then the very thing that was useful may begin to be harmful."


From Madame de Salzmann, The Reality of Being:

P 106.

Each action taken in the name of the Work adds or removes a possibility for the common undertaking. To be related to the Work means to be related to those who feel responsible in front of it. This relation brings an obligation. The first step is to recognize that there is no conscious relation among us and that we must go toward this relation. If we cannot come to relate ourselves consciously, there will be no work, none at all. Each step we take now, however small will either strengthen our relation or take us in the opposite direction. Until today we have received the fruits of the efforts and energy of those who came before. Now the life of the Work depends on us. The Work will not live without us, without our sharing in the responsibility. This requires a total engagement, with all our intelligence, all our willingness.


On a deeper level, the work with others is a condition for living this teaching, for playing out the drama Gurdjieff left for us. The way toward inner rebirth requires vigilance, first of all to counteract the lie in the affirmation of ourselves. It is a decisive test. There must be no compromise with truth. This is why the most important condition, the necessary condition, is to work with others of comparable experience and understanding, who are capable of upending the completely false scale of values established by personality. We need to see that at the center of everything is this monstrous proliferation of our vanity and our egotism, which takes all the room. To work together sincerely would be to understand our nothingness and what a real human relation would be.

P 109.

The first requirement of a living organization is to come together to unite. We can attain nothing unless the conditions of “coming together” are right. Without impatience, without intellectuality, without sentimentality, an event must take place. I need to be called and I need to call. The cause is the same. I need to listen and to hear the call, and I need to bring the call in a way that will be received. What is needed is a conscious relation sustained by vigilance and the giving up of my ordinary will in order to work together. I accept or I do not accept this relation with the others. At a certain point there are no leaders and no followers, only those who both question and listen. The teaching is the guide, and only he who questions more deeply can be responsible to serve. What each of us understands depends on his level of being. I must learn to know my own limitations and to recognize when others understand more.

When I think of myself and the rest, the others, I realize that others please me, make me afraid, threaten me. But I need them. It is by my reactions that I can see both myself and the others, not just me. In order to know what I really am, I must go from discovery to discovery. Liberation is not to be found in judging the “bad” or the “good”. It is in the disappearance of the ego and the union with everything and everyone. The only bad is ignorance, the only good, awakening. Yet everyone wants to direct or be directed as he likes, to judge and criticize before seeking to understand. This attitude is fundamentally false. What we have to seek is not to impose an order, but to enter into an order, an order that existed long before us. It is the order that is important, not the organization.

P. 110

We must understand that our organization exists in life on two levels. One level, which alone gives true meaning, is that of the work, our search, with all the conditions it requires. The other is the official or outer aspect, which is only a cover, nothing more, but which can help us pursue our work without disturbance. This distinction seems easy to understand but in fact is not. I have seen that this official side, organized to meet the image and routine required by life, always reclaims its rights and tends to impose its structure on the work, that is, to impose a form that responds in no way to its true order of values.

P. 118

Only in the beginning is it necessary to create groups artificially with a leader answering questions. For a definite time, a work of penetration can only take place in coming together in this way. Later the organism forms itself naturally among those of the same level who together feel the need. As we go further, the need for conscious exchange becomes more urgent. We may work separately, each making efforts alone. Yet at certain moments it is imperative to come together to verify and exchange, and in order, by a certain common effort, for truth to emerge more strongly.

There is a time for everything. I speak of the form that our work today has taken, of groups, and of the possibility that has been created. (P.119) If this possibility is not sufficiently realized, this form will degenerate by itself and will never give birth to a new, more inner form, with a new possibility. Forms do not invent themselves. They arise from the need to work together that certain elements feel is necessary to preserve their existence.

How much more time should this form last? This depends on the depth of work of a certain number of people, and the relation established between them-the quality of their exchange. I need to collaborate in a common effort of ascent. If I do not, whether or not I wish it, I am responsible for the stone I do not bring to the edifice. So, we have to reflect deeply on our work together, which little by little must manifest itself in our lives. We must reflect on our relation, on the form of our life together, and above, on our exchange.