Movements Traditions

Any learning process has stages. It requires the acquisition of new knowledge, the absorption and digestion of this material, and finally the application in practice of what has been learned in theory. In learning Movements these stages add up to a minimum of ten years.
It only makes sense to study with a teacher who knows the Movements, is willing to give the whole Movement and not just in fragments, and is able to stimulate the class in its inner work.

From "The Big Seven"

From „The Big Seven“
Photo by: Marco Borgreve

A transmission line is authentic when founded by a personal pupil of Gurdjieff. These pupils often co-operated with one another, at least in the years immediately after Gurdjieff s death, and amidst the labyrinth formed by these lines, the Institute Gurdjieff in Paris and the related Foundations stand out because of their historical bonds, their competence and the size of their organisation, and because all were led by their founder, Mme. Jeanne de Salzmann.
Several other lines, independent from the above-mentioned organisation, and smaller in size, can also be qualified as authentic because they too were founded or guided by direct pupils of Gurdjieff who themselves stood in his Movements classes.
From this last group the original Ouspensky and Bennett lines seem the most important, insofar as comparative study of Movements transmission is concerned, but these are by no means the only ones.
All these organisations differ widely. To call the Bennett line an organisation is a misnomer in the first place, because it consists of a varying group of pupils of John Bennett who have organised different sorts of activities, open to everybody, according to specific needs or circumstances.
The Ouspensky line is a relatively small one, while the Foundation, by which term I indicate the different international Foundations founded or supported by the French Institute Gurdjieff and the Foundations, which incorporate thousands of students. Despite their different sizes, these last two have in common that they could be qualified as hierarchic.

If we, just as an example, want to compare these three lineages, we need criteria for comparison. The following criteria seem relevant.
Criteria for comparison – whether or not Movements are related to the study of Gurdjieff’s teaching as a whole:

  • the number and type of Movements that are being transmitted;
  • the relation between form and content of these Movements;
  • to whom they are taught;
  • whether or not whole Movements are given, or only fragments of Movements.

Application of these criteria will quickly bring the strengths and weaknesses of the different lines of transmission to the surface.
Both the Foundation and the Ouspensky line teach Movements only to members of their organisations, as an integrated component of the whole teaching they are supplying. The Bennett line experiments with short seminars, open to everybody, where the Movements dominate all other activities.
The repertoire of the Ouspensky line consists only of the 27 older Movements that have been preserved, but not only do they know them in full historical detail, they also transmit them in their totality.
The Bennett line has a mix of some old Movements and several newer exercises. They too teach the whole Movement, however not with the same painstaking care for detail as demonstrated by the Ouspensky line.
The Foundations have a true wealth of newer exercises at their disposal, unequalled by any other existing lineage. However, in Europe many of the older Movements are hardly practised at all and are almost forgotten. Equally unparalleled as their repertoire of newer exercises is their knowledge and experience in exploring the inner content of them. The other side of this coin is that they show a shocking disrespect for the form of Movements by their inclination to teach fragments only. Further, because of their size, they are in danger of creating „specialists“ for different areas of Gurdjieff´s teaching, Movements being one of them. To become a „specialist,“ in whatever part of the Gurdjieff Work, means to suicide oneself for the whole of it.
It is remarkable, and touching as well, to realise that the three entities we selected all reflect, to this day, the historical stage of the Movements at the time when they received them.

The intensive training programs in the Ouspensky line, where everybody knows all the old Movements by heart, originated no doubt from the time that Gurdjieff demanded his pupils to exercise them, five to six hours a day, as preparation for the public demonstrations in Paris and in America. The focus on the newer exercises in the Foundation, and the way to connect them to inner work, stems from the last stage of Gurdjieff´s Movements teaching and the enthusiasm of Mme. Jeanne de Salzmann, who preserved many of these exercises. The readiness to experiment with new forms of Movements education, characteristic of the Bennett line, mirrors the open-mindedness of John Bennett himself.
The key supplied by this comparative effort, and the basic lesson to be learned is that no line is perfect. When you want the best of these three worlds you have to sacrifice your isolation and start working together. That means to co-operate without being incorporated. This is what we in the Berlin and Amsterdam Movement groups have done.
Years ago, we organised in Amsterdam an exchange on the subject of the „old“ Movements between our group and a group of the original „Ouspensky“ line. To our surprise, Mrs. van Oyen, one of the two living members of Ouspensky’s London group, turned up to join us and when asked why, given her extreme old age, she replied, „I saw many years ago how the Work had split itself into small fractions. Now I heard that an effort is being made to unite what I had seen drift apart, and for this reason I insisted on being present. Only if we work together will there be results!“
This is a direction we hope will continue.