George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was a Greek-Armenian mystic and
spiritual teacher. He called his teaching "The Work" (meaning psychological
work on oneself) or the "Fourth Way."
Gurdjieff was born in the city of Alexandropol (today
called Gyumri), then a part of the Russian Empire, in about the year 1866.
In about 1878, his family moved to the town of Kars which lay in an area
which the Tsar had recently conquered from the Turks. Gurdjieff spent the
remainder of his boyhood in Kars, which was very close to the border with the Ottoman
Empire. (See Maps)
Caucasian Region of Russian
Empire ca. 1900
Caucasian Region in 1994
Gurdjieff's father was a "storyteller" - the term he used was
"ashokh" which is equivalent to the Turkish word "ashik." The ashokhs were
bards who sang the great epic poems and other ancient stories to the
accompaniment of a lyre or lute. In the West, we no longer have such people
except for a very few still remaining in places like Ireland or the Balkans.
I visited Kars in the 1980s and had the oportunity to visit a
cafe where the ashiks still performed. I was told that Kars is one of the
few places left in Turkey where such performance may still be seen. (Play Video)
The first 4 or 5 pages of Gurdjieff's book "Meetings with Remarkable Men"
discusses this topic. Gurdjieff makes a point of mentioning that one of the
stories his father would sing about concerned a hero named Gilgamesh. He
claimed that he did not find out that this story was a very ancient Sumerian
legend until many years later - just before the outbreak of WWI.
Gurdjieff said: " ... I was struck by the fact ... that this legend had been
handed down by ashokhs from generation to generation for thousands of years
and yet had reached our day almost unchanged. After this occurrence ... a
result that crystallized in me a spiritualizing factor enabling me to
comprehend that which usually appears incomprehensible -- I often regretted
having begun too late to give the legends of antiquity the immense
significance that I now understood they really have."
The Epic of Gilgamesh is the story of Gilgamesh, King of the Sumerian city
of Uruk, and his search for the secret of immortality. After many
adventures, he finally is on the threshold of success. All he needs to do is
pass the test of "wakefulness" to obtain the secret. Unfortunately, he is
unable to remain "awake" and fails. As an act of grace, he is given the
"plant of rejuvenation" but even this gift is lost when, due to his own
negligence, a serpent is able to steal it. Gilgamesh returns to Uruk, sadder
but wiser, without the immortality he had sought. This Sumerian legend could
almost be a Fourth Way teaching story!