The Six Fundamental Elements of Inner Work, According to the Gurdjieff System


In order to understand Gurdjieff's method, one must first understand that it's based on universal principles. Unsurprisingly, these principles are discernible as primary elements in other esoteric systems, notably yoga and Sufism.


There are six principal qualities needed in order to search for God. These six principles are directly related to Ibn al ‘Arabi’s names of God. And in order to understand these principles, it is necessary to understand that the "names" of God, or “attributes” of God, are influences or actions that represent increasing rates of vibration in the material substance of the universe. These rates of vibration both effect and affect what takes place.


When Jeanne de Salzmann speaks of “energy,” which is a tangible physical experience in movement through the body, she does not just speak of a physical phenomenon. Energy is also an emotional and an intellectual phenomenon; that is, every energy that moves is connected to all three of these centers in man (in addition, it might be noted, to the lower and higher centers.) So an energy with a tangible physical experience to it is also mediating emotional and intellectual, or knowledge, experiences. Failure to understand this may result in an erroneous belief that the energy is somehow bereft of tangible meaning and interpretable action in the real world.


Any collapse of understanding in this area would be paradoxical, since both de Salzmann and Gurdjieff insisted that the system was a science, understandable, and directly applicable to real world situations.


Each energy actually represents an attribute, or name, of God. As has already been demonstrated in studies of the enneagram, it's possible to arrange these attributes in a hierarchy consistent with both yoga and Sufism. That hierarchy actually reflects the six principal elements in Gurdjieff's work, all of which are treated in great length both in Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous and all of Gurdjieff’s works, especially his magnum opus Beelzebub.


The six elements of work must be combined with the three principal actions of divinity in order to understand the system, which conforms to an octave.


In order to understand this question further, it's necessary to see that the six elements of work, and the three principal actions of divinity, are all actually laws. The law of three and the law of seven in Gurdjieff's system are composed of subordinate laws. This is necessary and even obvious, since Gurdjieff himself made it quite clear that the nature of the universe is fractal.


Laws are, in other words, representative of rates of vibration and the nature of their action. The six elements of work are actually six universal, or superior, laws, to which all other levels and elements of law are subordinate.


Now we'll examine Gurdjieff's six principle elements of work (which in their entirety form the law of seven, which is actually the law of octaves) and the three elements of divinity which interact with them.


 Although I could have designed a specific enneagram to accompany this discourse, I believe that the following diagram will suffice to visually convey the essence of the material, even though it was developed to illustrate another essay:


The divine presence


The fact that the law of three consists, in addition to Gurdjieff's appellations (holy affirming, holy denying, and holy reconciling) of other known or knowable names or qualities is indisputable. They are, in fact, also referred to as the absolute (Encompassing the highest law, in direct contact with what al ‘Arabi calls the Essence), conscious labor, and intentional suffering.


The fact that conscious labor and intentional suffering exist as identifiable entities (that is, actions or forces) within the law of three as specific actions is sufficient evidence that the laws pertaining to the law of seven have equally tangible qualities and meanings, which can be assigned to the notes of the octave.


As we will see, the properties of these principal laws, as assigned to the individual notes, are universal, and can be understood from the point of view of any major line of spiritual work or philosophical inquiry. What is perhaps not so well understood is that the principal laws affect the material development of every single phenomenon that arises in the universe.


Each one of these principal laws represents an unmistakable major feature in Gurdjieff's landscape of inner work. This is not a coincidence, because his work is a system based specifically on the universal principles that the enneagram outlines.




Materiality is the first principle law, manifesting directly from what Ibn al ‘Arabi called the Essence, that is, the fundamental and unknowable — transcendent and incomparable — entity of God.


Materiality may be so obvious as to be a given, but it isn't. Many things a man encounters, such as ideas, knowledge, other abstract concepts such as compassion, mercy, and so one are considered to be immaterial by both Western philosophy and western attitude.


In Gurdjieff’s system, everything is material, and this fundamental understanding affects his entire system of inner work. The entire chapter on the chemical factory in In Search of the Miraculous (chapter 9) makes this quite clear. All inner work must begin with materiality.


There must be not only a conceptual understanding of materiality, but a direct, essential, and organic experience of materiality. Jeanne de Salzmann saw quite clearly that the majority of individuals in the Gurdjieff work did not have a practical understanding of this fundamental principle, without which nothing further could proceed. She consequently spent a good deal of her effort on emphasizing a connection with sensation, which develops this first point of understanding.  Every beginner in the work works on this point first, sometimes for many years, until it is properly understood.


A great deal more could be said about the principle of materiality, but we will summarize by saying that this is the first universal law, the originating rate of vibration from which all later rates of vibration derive and must be understood.


2- Desire


This second principle law is usually referred to as Aim in the Gurdjieff system. Taken from the point of view of either name, this level of vibration represents an urge, or wish. Wish and aim, which are directly related concepts and thus represent subordinate laws related to desire, are also major features of the Gurdjieff work, which do not need further discussion for those familiar with his process. To give an example, the subordinate octave of desire, briefly described, would roughly consist of urge (a primitive or instinctive desire), wish (urge which has understood itself), aim (wish directed by power) intention (aim which has acquired being), impeccablity (intention which has contained and thus purified itself) and compassion, which is impeccability informed by wisdom.




This third principal law is sometimes referred to as will in the Gurdjieff and yoga systems. The concept is also common to Sufism. In the particular instance of understanding corresponding to this note (as opposed to the understanding of Will as a property of the Absolute) it represents the force necessary for action. Gurdjieff's system spent a great deal of time indicating the necessity for an individual to develop an inner force necessary for action, cf. his references to "weak Yogis" in In Search of the Miraculous.


Much of Mme. De Salzmann’s instruction on the question of attention is related to this particular note or vibration in the octave. She requently spoke of the lack of sufficient force in one's work to achieve one's inner aim.


Attention, Will, and related attributes are subordinate laws related to Power's individual octave.


5- Being


The fourth principle law is so well illustrated in the Gurdjieff system that it needs little discussion. Being has a number of subordinate lawful manifestations related to it, including agency, conscious egoism, heroism, and so on.


It represents passage to a significantly higher level of energy than the first three laws, since self-awareness enters the picture, and with it, the potential to direct a process which up until now has been dominated by mechanical forces that may fruitlessly interact with one another, producing impressive, but ultimately, stunted activity.




This fifth principle law relates to the alchemical principle of refinement, one of its subordinate meanings. Conscious forces, having identified themselves and the forces that act on them (materiality, desire, and power) must refine themselves by eliminating the undesirable or unnecessary influences that arise in the interaction of the first three forces.


Gurdjieff referred to this process ad infinitum in Beelzebub’s Tales, both in regard to the action of saintly individuals sent to help mankind (cf. Ashiata Shiemash) and for human beings, in terms of freeing themselves from the consequences of the organ kundabuffer. In any event, it would be difficult to conceive of any religious practice or inner work that did not count this as a major force.


8- Wisdom


Construed as Knowledge in the hierarchical system of Ibn al ‘Arabi, this is the highest principle law belonging to the octave, to which all other laws are ultimately subordinate. Referred to as understanding by Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and de Salzmann, because it occupies the note directly before the absolute — in other words, it stands under it. Wisdom, in its highest position, informs all the other positions and actions of the notes, to the degree that it is developed. Because wisdom has its own subordinate octave, its influence on the rest of the octave is limited to the extent that its own octave is, in fact, developed. At its highest level (wisdom developed to the level of wisdom), it stands one step short of the divine — a level to which it is almost never developed except in sacred individuals.




The six principal laws, each of which is an absolutely necessary component of inner work, only form a balanced work if they are harmonized and brought into relationship with one another. The two principal actions from the outside — which also represent laws — that influence this work are conscious labor and intentional suffering, which Gurdjieff called the two conscious shocks.


The enneagram is called the law of octaves in part because there are six principal laws, attitudes, actions, or names (depending on how you want to label them) and these two required forces (also laws) outside of them, that emanate from a higher level. Each one represents a conscious force, that is, a form of help sent from outside the octave itself, emanating from a higher level, to render assistance to the octave in its development by raising the rate of vibration at critical points.


All of the energy in the human body follows these laws, and can be understood not only as a sensation, but also as the development of a force, both emotional and intellectual, that affects the entirety of Being.


As such, when we discuss energy, or we hear the word referred to in the teachings of Jeanne de Salzmann, we should understand that it does not just mean what we sense or what we feel. It also carries the force of intelligible and intelligent, or cogent, higher influences within it. Our efforts in sensation and feeling are there in order to help us understand these intelligible higher influences directly.


That type of work cannot be understood solely by theoretical analysis, but it's important to understand that there is in fact a consistent theoretical basis to the process.


 The opportunity exists for future generations to undertake a considerable amount of work in this area.