Esotericism (XΙΧ): Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (C’)

Esotericism (XΙΧ): Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (C’)

- in Esotericism

1. In my youth in England, I got acquainted with Krishnamurti’s and Ouspensky’s writings and, shortly after, Gurdjieff’s. Krishnamurti was very much alive then (late 1950’s) and I attended some of his talks. But he had no “school”, no practical, methodical system of teaching – only the practice of non-interfering “watching” or “self–awareness”. Therefore, I could not follow him in a practical way because, no sooner did I remember to watch my condition and state of the mind than I forgot again for a very long time. Fortunately, soon afterwards I joined an organisation descending from O.

But I enthused immensely over the teaching of G & O as given in the dispassionate style of O’s books and the immense span they covered in human psychology and cosmic structure. I confess though, that even then, I found rather artificial the hydrogens and the food-octaves based on them.

2. Today, (Dec 2017), the G-O tradition is very fragmented even where groups continue in direct descent from one or the other. In those days around 1960, we looked at the life and legacy of the two in great awe. I myself thought of G and O as Socrates and Plato, even though Socrates had died many years before Plato, whereas G outlived O by 2 years and had written his own books.

Even in those days there were those who favoured O and those who favoured G. This initial split, which obviously had begun much before, gradually, with the passage of years, became a strong and rather “un-esoteric” partiality towards the one or the other line of descent.

Over the years appeared books promoting implicitly or explicitly the one or the other line, vindicating G over O and vice-versa, sometimes not without much acrimony.

3. Of the two lines I find now that O’s has proved the more successful for reasons I will explain later.

At present I shall focus on one important aspect of O’s character which comes out strongly in his own writings. This is ascertained, searched out and sketched by W.P. Patterson in his Struggle of the Magicians (1996 Arete Commun. Publ. Fairfax, Cal). WPP writes (pp 36-37, n 22) that the point of O’s real break with G began in Finland, in August 1916. At that time, G had induced in O his telepathic ability of communication and O had discovered something about himself but decided (as he writes in his In Search of the Miraculous p 263) that he would not show this to G “because he would laugh at him”. Quite rightly WPP considers that here O betrays lack of trust in his teacher (one moreover who had just demonstrated to O powers unknown to him!) and assumes contrary to all esoteric principles, which O himself would later emphasize to his own students, that a student cannot know his teacher’s level of being!

4. In O’s A Further Record: Extracts from Meetings 1928-1945, in the section on the “Short History of the work”, O says that he went to the East to look for schools but, in India, he found only devotional ones which expected acceptance on the students’ part of all they were told and he was not interested; for such schools existed in Russia too.

This to me sounds very odd for three important reasons.

First, in his book In Search of the Miraculous O writes (p 5) of the devotional schools, indeed, but also that he heard of a different type that could have been what he was looking for; moreover, the people who were connected with and spoke to him about that type of school were very different from others. Nonetheless, he rejected that, too, without further investigation because, as he says, such schools demanded too much – that he should give up his ideas and plans!

Second, O himself put similar conditions of obedience on his students also, sometimes quite severe, demanding and seemingly unreasonable, especially towards the end of his life. (In a later paper I shall examine the last months od his life in England which have been preserved in great detail.)

Third, O enjoined his successor in London in 1947 to make contact with the Inner Circle and find the source of the system but he made no such effort himself throughout his life. Why not? He said at an interview in the 1930’s that Central Asia was closed and one could not travel there and in any case conditions, people and institutions like monasteries etc, would have changed beyond possible recognition; but John Bennet did travel there in the early 1950’s and discovered much. India was easily accessible being a British colony and one, moreover, which O had visited much earlier and found possibilities!

I shall examine this whole situation in detail in the next paper.


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