Esotericism (XVI): Ouspensky and Yoga

Esotericism (XVI): Ouspensky and Yoga

- in Esotericism


1. Ouspensky used to expect of his prospective students to have read at least his New Model of the Universe (1931 Routledge & Kegan Paul, London). I wonder if anybody had noticed and told him straight of the inadequacies of the chapter on the New Testament, if nothing else. I don’t, of course, mean the Gnostic side of Christianity which would have been a matter of few experts, but the contradictions, discrepancies and inconsistencies in and among the Four Canonical Gospels.

However, his treatment of Yoga is also highly inadequate. His knowledge of the Indic culture generally is that of a sadly misinformed westerner. He has no real knowledge of the religions and philosophical traditions of India, its arts and sciences. India has a very significant tradition in architecture, dance, music, painting, poetry and theatre; also in Astronomy, Mathematics, Medicine (Āyur-veda) and of course Linguistic study. But we stay with Yoga.

2. His chapter on Yoga is number 6 and covers pp 242-270, that is 29 pages. Yet nowhere does he mention the classical aṣṭānga (eightfold) system of Yoga of the ancient master Patāñjali – to whom I shall return.

He says on p 243 that one of the meanings of yoga is ‘right action’. Yes, it has this and several other meanings in its general use but its basic meanings are uniting/union, coming to rest and controlling, absorption/unification. However, in Patāñjali’s Yogasūtra which is the basis for this discipline it is defined as cittavṛitti-nirodha ‘the annihilation/cessation/control of alterations/modifications in the mind-stuff’. (1:2). This is the aim of the discipline of Yoga so that the self, termed ‘seer/witness’ draṣṭṛ, can be in his natural state (1.3).

Translations and popularisations of Patāñjali’s Yogasūtra, as well as other scholarly and general studies were available in the first two decades of the 20th century – certainly in English, French and German.

3. On p. 246 O gives five divisions of Yoga:

1. Raja (=rāja) Yoga, of the development of consciousness.

2. Jnana (-jñāna) Yoga, of Knowledge

3. Karma–Yoga, of right actions

4. Hatha (=haṭha) of power over the body

5. Bhakti – Yoga, of right devotional/religious action.

Yes, generally speaking this categorization and definition (expounded in some details in subsequent pages) is correct. But in fact there are several more Schools of Yoga –  Mantra or Shabda (=Śabda) which is Yoga of inner sound or meditative with some sound or mantra; Laya-yoga which is a variant of Rāja yoga with the dissolution or cessation of mind – modifications (and feelings); Tantra-yoga which entails “magical” and other ceremonial acts; and so on.

Tantra was and is an extensive and varied branch with its own Karma and Bhakti (=devotional) aspects.

4. O is quite right when in the end of his chapter he writes that all and not just the 5 types he mentions were originally one system (p 220). He directs us to his In Search of the Miraculous – Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, wherein, of course, he describes his own contact with Gurdjieff and the system he propounded.

This one System is implicit in Patāñjali’s Yogasūtra except that the sūtras are brief, elliptic statements and need a teacher guru plus a reliable commentary to elucidate them. But it is also present in the system of Jñāna-yoga which is, in fact, the oldest and most complete system later known as Vedānta or Uttara-mīmāṃsā.

Both Yoga and Vedānta are referred to in several ancient writings like the epic Mahābhārata and are implicit in the most ancient (and revered) holy scripture of the Vedas, the Ṛgveda hymns. There, both the need for practices (dharma or ethical behaviour, right action; meditation; generosity; etc) and the unity or the individual and the Universal Self are frequently mentioned.

5. I examined O’s treatment of Yoga to show that once again as with the New Testament, he does not really apply his “psychological” or “esoteric” method in his investigations, that is to examine in much greater detail the subject.

His A New Model… came out in 1931 (and 2nd edition with a new Preface in 1934). By, say, 1930 he had worked with Gurdjieff’s system for 15 years, as a student first and as a teacher later. By that time much evidence of the NT and abundant for Yoga was in existence and he could have treated both subjects much more thoroughly.

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