Esotericism (L): Ouspensky’s Fourth Way (2)

Esotericism (L): Ouspensky’s Fourth Way (2)

- in Esotericism

1. G.Beckwith’s title is a misnomer for two reasons. The term itself “fourth way” belongs to the Vedic Tradition when it was said that anyone or the three traditional ways (of action, devotion or knowledge) were pursued by a householder without personal desire. Then, the system of the Fourth Way purveyed by Ouspensky was, in fact, Gurdjieff’s teaching.

Ouspensky’s formulations are to be found in the writings, arranged after Ouspensky’s death by Mme O – In Saerch of the Miraculous, The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution, The Fourth Way and two volumes of Extracts from Meetings and A Further Record: 1928-45.

Gurdjieff’s teaching is found in Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, in Views from the Real World and the trilogy of All and Everything (plus various books like K. Walker’s, J. Bennett’s, C Nott’s etc, etc). This last trilogy is not crucial to our investigation.

Apart from insignificant details due to the different idiosyncrasies of the two men and Ouspensky’s intellectual clarity of expression, there is no other significant difference between the two teachings.

2. The first part of G.Beckwith’s book deals with historical events and the second examines the “system”. Before looking closely at the two divisions, I shall examine one aspect of the historical events.

On p 66 G.Beckwith refers to the School of Economic Science in London which was started by Andrew MacLaren (Member of Parliament, Labour) in 1937, his son Leon and some friends. Afterwards the SES, as it came to be known, was run by Leon alone, an indomitable barrister. Young MacLaren introduced into the Economics courses some Platonic ideas and the Socratic method of conducting an inquiry with question and answer (1950). In 1953 Leon MacLaren met Dr F. Roles and joined the Study Society.

Soon Leon MacLaren introduced the Fourth Way as a separate Philosophy course into the SES. He reconstructed the system brilliantly. At this point G.Beckwith (p 67) wonders that Leon MacLaren “unusually wrote material for the groups” even in the Study Society. Yet only a paragraph later he acknowledges Leon MacLaren’s “intellectual brilliance and clarity”!

3. On the whole G.Beckwith disdains L.MacLaren’s efforts and the teaching in the SES. He is not the first and won’t be the last. He writes of L.MacLaren that he “would never accept that to actually understand what he was writing about… required that he examines himself and his own character in a manner he appeared both unwilling and unable to accept. Only too keen to enforce stringent disciplines and ascetic styles of life onto his students, he seemed to lack much ability or desire to apply them to himself”. (pp 67-68). But how did he know this and b y what criteria did he evaluate L.MacLaren’s self-disciplines?

Having known the SES and L.MacLaren from the late 1950’s onward until his death in 1994, I must agree that this is true to a very minor extent in those early years but wholly untrue of later years when L.MacLaren too accepted the same Śaṅkarācārya as his own teacher. He might not appear such a zealot for self-discipline but G.Beckwit’s estimation is way out.

4. G.Beckwith’s view reflects Dr Roles’, since I doubt he had much contact with the SES and L.MacLaren. GB cites a letter of Dr Roles to the Śaṅkarācārya 29/9/1964 wherein he writes among other things that L.MacLaren “has seemed to me to be far from understanding because there is a very active mind… It is very difficult to get him to take your words to himself – he is only thinking of how he will pass them on, so I dare not give him much” (G.Beckwit, p 71).

However, Dr Roles did recommend L.MacLaren to the Śaṅkarācārya and the latter accepted L.MacLaren as a disciple. So the Shankaracharya at least thought L.MacLaren was doing very useful work!

GB goes on to demean even further L.MacLaren and the SES: “Francis Roles and the study Society generally, saw the … SES as a rather pedestrian organization… only superficially on a path similar to their own… it seemed than MacLaren had seized the exquisitely mysterious and mountainous landscape of Ouspensky’s system and reduced it to a featureless plain of rules and regulations” (p69).

5. However, in the end G.Beckwit does acknowledge that the SES offered enormous help in spreading the meditation after organizing efficiently the Maharishi’s efforts in London and elsewhere (South Africa, New Zealand etc). “By the end of his life, L.MacLaren had brought the inspiration and practical blessings of… Advaita tradition to the attention of a wider audience in the West than any other individual except perhaps the Maharishi himself” (p 72). A man without self-discipline could hardly do that.

And to complete this picture I quote from Dorine Tolley’s biography of (herself and) L.MacLaren: “After L.MacLaren’s death I showed the Part One material [=Introductory 12 Sessions] to Prof Guyatt of the Study Society who had been a pupil of Ouspensky and Dr Roles. He expressed his admiration for the way L.MacLaren had made the esoteric concepts [of O’s system and Shankaracharya’s teaching] accessible for a wider public, something which had not been attempted in his organization” (p55 The Power Within 2008, privately published in Sydney, Australia). In fact, L.MacLaren produced a much better fusion of the old “system” and Saṅkarācārya’s Advaita than Dr Roles giving emphasis to Advaita.

But this we shall examine later.


  1. Ιορδάνης Παρασκευάς

    Good evening Nikodemοs,
    Our respect for such Men with deep look, quiet Lions that really calm down (not just "lampoun")!
    Yours sincerely

    1. Yes, all such men deserve our respect!

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