George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (January 14, 1866? – October 29, 1949) was an influential spiritual teacher of the early twentieth century. He called his discipline the “Fourth Way.” He described his teaching as “esoteric Christianity.” Gurdjieff brought to the West from his own experiences and early travels, the truth found in ancient religions and wisdom teachings relating to self-awareness in people’s daily lives and humanity’s place in the universe. Among the books he wrote are Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’, All and Everything, Meetings With Remarkable Men and Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson.

Gurdjieff on Know Thyself

Gurdjieff claimed that the call to self-knowledge, though atributed to socrates, originated from more ancient schools and stood at the foundation of their teachings:

Know thyself.” These words, which are generally ascribed to Socrates, actually lie at the basis of many systems and schools far more ancient than the Socratic.

Gurdjieff outlined different states of consciousness possible to man, stating that, under normal conditions, man was a sleeping machine. In this state of self-ignorance, man is enslaved to his passions and features, which have full control over him because he does not know himself.

The first reason for man’s inner slavery is his ignorance of himself.

Without self-knowledge, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave. This is why in all ancient teachings the first demand at the beginning of the way to liberation was: ‘Know thyself’.

Gurdjieff on Self-Knowledge

Man’s spiritual evolution progressed in direct proportion to his self-knowledge. The more a man knew himself, the more conscious he became, and vica versa. Since Gurdjieff claimed that all ancient teachings first and foremost taught man to become real, know thyself had to be their natural foundation.

Thus, ‘know thyself’ was not only a destination; it was a direction indicating the road to self-consciousness. Moreover, it was a meter that measured man’s real worth, for according to Gurdjieff, only conscious man could rightly be considered a ‘man’, while normal sleeping man was a mere unfulfilled potential.

Awakening is possible only for those who seek it and want it, for those who are ready to struggle with themselves and work on themselves for a very long time and very persistently in order to attain it.

AS EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE IS ONE, so, consequently, everything has equal rights, therefore from this point of view knowledge can be acquired by a suitable and complete study, no matter what the starting point is. Only one must know how to ‘learn.’ What is nearest to us is man; and you are the nearest of all men to yourself. Begin with the study of yourself; remember the saying ‘Know thyself.’


Further Reading:
Ouspensky on Know Thyself
Walt Whitman on Know Thyself
Emerson on Know Thyself
George Sand on Know Thyself