Esotericism (XVIΙ): Gurdjieff and Ouspensky

Esotericism (XVIΙ): Gurdjieff and Ouspensky

- in Esotericism

1. In this paper I focus on one particular event in the early period of the acquaintance of the two occultists which is for me very important in gauging the relation between them. It is narrated by Ouspensky in ch13 of his In Search of the Miraculous and concerns their stay in Finland in August 1916, some 15 months after Ouspensky began to study with Gurdjieff.

Ouspensky had wanted then (p23, ch1) to see “facts”, i.e. miraculous events or out of the ordinary, in his own experience and Gurdjieff had told him that “many other things are necessary first”.

After a series of “intensive” facts, breathing techniques, prayers and other mental exercises, Ouspensky was in “a state of unusual tension” when arriving in Finland. It had been a period of preparation for a heightened emotional state.

2. There were about 8 people plus Gurdjieff. At the evening meeting they were asked to tell the story of their lives but Gurdjieff kept deriding their cowardice in their narration, which “could not speak the truth”.

Then Ouspensky and only two others met with Gurdjieff separately and he showed them certain postures and physical movements.

After this Gurdjieff returned to the subject of the narrating of one’s life and pointed out that they all had features which prevented them from seeing and speaking the truth. Ouspensky was very perturbed.

Then, began the “miracles”. Ouspensky started “hearing [Gurdjieff’s] thoughts” in his mind. He noticed that even as Gurdjieff was speaking aloud to all there were “thoughts” directed to him personally! Subsequently Gurdjieff stopped talking and in the ensuing silence Ouspensky heard Gurdjieff’s voice “inside” [him] as it were, in the chest, near the heart”. Gurdjieff put a question that roused strong emotion in Ouspensky and Ouspensky replied in the affirmative aloud.

3. “Why did he say that?” asked Gurdjieff the others. “Did I ask him anything?”

Whereupon Gurdjieff put another, more difficult question silently and Ouspensky again replied in audible speech.

The other two were astonished by what was going on.

This “conversation”, silent from one side and audible from the other, continued for not less than half an hour.

Gurdjieff apparently (p 262) put to Ouspensky certain conditions which Ouspensky had either to accept or leave the esoteric work he was doing with Gurdjieff and he had a month in which to decide. Ouspensky waved aside the month accepting at once, but Gurdjieff insisted on the month’s time.

In the subsequent conversation between all four Gurdjieff said something that affected Ouspensky so strongly that he left and went into the forest nearby.

4. Ouspensky walked about alone for about 2 hours in the dark, held in the power of extraordinary thoughts and feelings. He realized suddenly that Gurdjieff was right in that what Ouspensky “considered to be firm and reliable” in [himself] in reality did not exist.

At the same time he found something else. But Ouspensky thought “I knew that he would not believe me and that he would laugh at me if I showed him this other thing.”

I can’t help wondering here at Ouspensky’s certitude that Gurdjieff would not believe him and would laugh at him! Had Ouspensky already reached such a higher state of consciousness (higher mind, higher being) that he could foresee how Gurdjieff would really evaluate Ouspensky’s discovery?…

5. Ouspensky returned to the house and went to bed not knowing that Gurdjieff and the others were having supper. Then, a strange excitement arose in him and he heard Gurdjieff’s voice in his chest. But now he himself responded mentally and Gurdjieff received the message and answered.

Ouspensky thought it could be “imagination” but he felt certain it was real.

The same thing happened the next day. Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that in that state Ouspensky was awake. Afterwards he was “awake” again in Petersburg and actually saw one person after another walking towards him and being “asleep”.

But the most important point is made by Ouspensky much later (p 273-4) when he acknowledges that the experiences in Finland were the most important thing he had learned studying with Gurdjieff, that Gurdjieff had created those states and that he wanted, as he told Gurdjieff, to learn to create them himself. Go told him that he would have to make sacrifices.

6. Ouspensky does not write or hint of having similar experiences thereafter in any of his subsequent publications. This suggests that he did not succeed in finding the method of generating these states. Only Rodney Collin (Smith), one of Ouspensky’s close students, at the end of his Theory of Eternal Life claims that Ouspensky communicated with several of his students immediately after his death on 2/10/1947 – but of this I shall write later.

Clearly then, on this count alone, Gurdjieff was several notches above Ouspensky in being as well as in knowledge. And it is confirmed by several publications of various writers engaged in the Work of the Fourth Way like W.P. Patterson (1996, of the Gurdjieff line) up to Gurdjieff. de Symons Beckwith (2015, of the Ouspensky line).

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