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It is now over seventy years since George Gurdjieff died, officially leaving the organizational responsibility for the continuation and develop of his teaching to Jeanne de Salzmann. In this period, the question arose, as it does following the death of any teacher, “What do we do now?”

Under Madam de Salzmann, some of Gurdjieff’s disciples chose to work together under the organizational name The Gurdjieff Foundation, Other disciples chose to manifest their responsibility to keep the teaching alive in other ways, often establishing groups that have now their own “lineage”. Today there are also an unknown number of people working with Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods outside the umbrella of these direct lines.

This is the way with all “movements”. When the master departs, the weight of responsibility falls on the shoulders of the disciples. With great sincerity, they try their best to carry on the mandate of the teaching according to the understanding of each. Although some disciples may in time develop the understanding of the master and become one themselves, each of those left with this enormous responsibility can only meet it at their individual level of development at that time, some more advanced and some less. The quality of understanding, even at the beginning, is not necessarily uniform.

After the death of a founder, as the number of newly interested followers increases, the need to meet the requirements of that growing demand falls on the shoulders of the disciples and their second-generation students. More and more groups must be formed and organized to meet the growing need.  Because much of Gurdjieff’s teaching is an oral tradition, the new generation of instructors must spread themselves thin or limit their energy to only a small number of students. As time goes by, in some cases, the responsibilities for transmission exceed the current level of development of those who find themselves in such a position. Gurdjieff foresaw the lawfulness of this phenomenon and explored it extensively in his writings, especially in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (1950,1964,1999 editions). His perspective will be examined below.

In addition to this inevitable process of dilution and distortion facing spiritual legacies, there are additional “laws” that govern the life and death of all organized groups which effect both religious and secular efforts with the same conditions and pressures.

The Challenge of Group Dynamics

 Unconscious Individual Patterns

As a species, we humans are pack animals. From earliest life, we live in groups: family groups, school groups, sports groups, social groups, work groups. The frictions that arise between people living, playing, and working together often have their basis in unresolved family-of-origin dynamics.  Groups create roles, official and psycho-dynamically unspoken. Leader and follower relations often carry flavors of parent-child interactions. Interactions between followers often reflect sibling rivalry issues.  As all the participants in a group had different childhoods with different parents and siblings … or no siblings … or missing parents … each relationship pairing will have an idiosyncratic flavor.

Nevertheless, we all carry with us from our early conditioning experiences, unspoken and often subconscious, bias, preferences, tripwires, and sensitivities to different types of people and circumstances. To the extent these are still active and easily activated in participants, they will play a role in the form and quality of group experiences. Those in leadership positions may unconsciously, or consciously, take on a parental or elder sibling role which interferes with the responsibility of the role they play in the community. Some group members will vie with each other for status within the group. Much of the interpersonal difficulties that arise in groups are re-enactments of unresolved dynamics from childhood and/or from the lingering influence of unhealed adult relationship wounds. All groups, large and small, from marriages to organizations, from businesses to governments, are inhabited by people, most of whom carry varying degrees of these unresolved elements. This is one of the factors that play a significant role in the success or failure of these organized, human endeavors.

These inevitable conditioned factors are a major objective of self-study in Gurdjieff’s, and other spiritual paths. As a result, when healthy, these communities can function at a level of cooperation, efficiency and creativity that far exceeds those of groups in ordinary life, because their adherents are working to identify, and take responsibility for, their own reactions. However, the study of these individual programmed personality tendencies must be carried out in real time while participants are still under the full assault of such old ongoing patterns. This confuses the process for a long time and requires guidance from “elders” who are, hopefully, fully engaged in the study of their own conditioned reactions. However, any remaining blind spots within a leader, will add to the problematic dynamics of the community.