The Gurdjieff Movements in the World of Osho

Gurdjieff Movements

Punya interviews Jivan during one of his international Intensives in Corfu

It is Jivan’s afternoon off from the 10-day Gurdjieff Movements Intensive he is giving at our Corfu Buddha Hall. It is the third time around he has given this workshop here. While driving down towards the sea I ask him about the hall and he enthusiastically exclaims: “It is the planet’s most beautiful workshop space!” Vasanti, who built the hall, made it specifically to suit the Gurdjieff Movements – although many other workshops are hosted here. The round layout is perfect for the Movements, but with his comment he also means its location on top of the hill, the panorama onto the hills and over to the sea.

By living here I had the chance to find out more about the Movements, in particular when Vasanti started giving morning classes to the local community and summer guests. One night I wrote this down:

“In my head I am counting to six, I know the piano melody by heart now (and love it more and more), so the counting is getting easier. My feet are following the 6-er rhythm and my arms are doing the gestures, they change when the feet start on the 1. Of course I know that if I think about dinner I will lose it and make a mistake, so am aware of that and catch any intruding thoughts. Today for the first time I start feeling the grace behind the movements. I wish I could give expression to the blissfulness in me – that is the moment I make the mistake! From the man in front I see what I should have been doing. I am back within myself, keeping excitement, frustration, embarrassment within – where it is absorbed immediately. The lesson ends, I feel refreshed, relaxed, silent and full of energy. I am not quite sure where I am. In the body? In the mind? In a vast space for sure.”

Our class was invited to see the video which Jivan showed during the week. The first was from the U Theatre in Taiwan where Jivan teaches as well, and the other one was a track from the Gurdjieff Foundation where a lady (Jeanne de Salzmann) gave instructions followed by the presentation of the movements. I was so overwhelmed by watching the dances, awestruck by the grace I saw in the Movements, that I left the hall in silence.

I share with Jivan my experiences and he says: “The power of the dances comes through the dancers’ presence, more than the external form of the dances themselves, which are interesting in their own right. It is the presence of the dancers where the power of the dance resides. That is what draws you in. And the grace comes from being present. Just see when Osho walks… The grace comes from total awareness.”

04-Binu and Bhasa 2

When we are well settled out of the wind and with drinks in hand at my favourite café (I promised not to mention it anymore, but here I am again because it now has a sign with the name ‘Akrotiri’, meaning ‘cape’), I ask him if it is true what someone once told me, that the idea is to come to a point where the body remembers the Movements and takes over. He replies in a soft spoken, well-articulated manner and I am soon sucked into the story:

“Gurdjieff said that man has 3 centres: intellectual, emotional, physical. Normally they work independently. The aim of the Movements is to bring these into harmony. The Movements work and affect all those three centres and we use all of them in practising them. Even though the body, the physical centre, is doing the movements – and after a while might remember the movements by heart – still the mind wants to be involved with the counting and knowing in what sequence we are.

“It is not that after a while the body takes over. In my teaching I often say that the mind is happy when it has something to do. When it has nothing to do it ‘thinks’, it wanders off. In the Movements we give it something to do: the counting. And the emotional centre is touched by the music. It will inform the body of the quality of the movement. What is essential is to be in the moment, step by step, in the here and now.”

It appears to me that more and more people are getting interested in the Gurdjieff Movements. Am I right?

“No, there is no revival. It is just that in the last 20 years the Work of the Gurdjieff Movements has become more public and this is the reason why we hear more about them. 25 years ago the Gurdjieff Movements were kept a secret. Why? Gurdjieff did once say that knowledge should not be spread too thinly, that it should not become too diluted. Maybe this is the reason why the Gurdjieff Foundation decided to keep the Work secret. As a result it happened that less and less people got to hear about the Work and Gurdjieff.

“It is said that Gurdjieff left the Work to Jeanne de Salzmann (she appears in the movie) and, as far as I know, it was she who started the Gurdjieff Foundation. But Gurdjieff’s first line of pupils all became teachers. And as it often happens when the Master dies, every pupil has his or her own interpretation, each one slightly different from the other.

“One of the branches of the Gurdjieff system comes from John Bennet. He created a school in England and those who come from his school began to teach the Movements more publicly. As far as I can understand there was the worry that Gurdjieff’s Work was going to die if it did not go public. In fact, many who were with the Gurdjieff Foundation found that it was too rigid an idea to keep the Work secret and began to go a bit more public with it. One teacher, Wim van Dullemen, who was previously with the Gurdjieff Foundation, is now the biggest driving force to get the Movements out there.”

How did the Gurdjieff Movements come into the sannyas world?

“Osho saw the movie ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’ and, as far as I heard, he did not like the movie much but liked the 10 minutes of the Movements at the end. He apparently said, “We should do them here.” He gave the project to Amiyo and Yogendra, I believe. As they knew very little, they wrote to many Gurdjieff groups asking for assistance but they got mostly negative replies. Amiyo learned the movements just from watching the movie over and over again.

“Many might not know that ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’ was filmed with the blessings of the Gurdjieff Foundation, directed by Peter Brook, himself a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation, with Jeanne de Salzmann as a consultant. So the dances were authentic, shortened versions of the movements, but accurately done. The people doing the parts were actors but the people doing the movements were Gurdjieff pupils. So that was all we had in the beginning.

“After about 2 years, in 1991, some ex-Gurdjieff people came to the commune and they gave us some notes and showed us various postures, but they were very incomplete. But shortly afterwards there was a breakthrough! We got that film which you saw the other night. It was secretly filmed in a Japanese movie theatre at a convention of the Gurdjieff Foundation. When I first saw it I was enthralled! At that time I was leading the intensive together with Sangati and so it was our turn to sit in front of the video player, watching, rewinding, watching…until we had understood the movements. And then we taught them.”

Are you still teaching in silence?

“Originally Osho had asked us to teach the movements in silence but when this very complex material came in, we saw that it was not possible and dropped the idea. Sometimes I do a session, or part of a session in silence. There is a lot to get across and that needs to be done verbally. There was the danger for us teachers to become like mime artists… ”

Where do the Movements come from? I see in them the whirling which we know from the Sufis?

“Gurdjieff travelled through the Middle East to Egypt, to what was then Palestine, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, India, China and Tibet. He went everywhere, also to places where the Sufis taught. The Movements have been influenced by all these places.”

Where are you teaching the Gurdjieff Movements?

“I am not really teaching the Gurdjieff Movements. I am teaching what I have learned about meditation and awareness from Osho, through the medium of Gurdjieff’s Movements. The places I teach at present are Taiwan, China, UK, Germany, Bulgaria, and in summer I will be here in Corfu again for the Intensive; and of course in winter in Israel, which is my base.”

Jivan Sunder

Jivan Sunder grew up in London, studied to become a theatre director and took sannyas in 1980. He trained to lead groups: Gurdjieff Movements and also Awareness Intensive Satori and Who is in? He lives in Israel and travels worldwide giving workshops and intensives. His next Gurdjieff Movements Intensive in Corfu will be 3 -12 August 2011.


Punya is the founder of Osho News, author of many interviews and of her memoir On the Edge.

Comments are closed.