1. Ouspensky is certainly a major figure, if not the most important one, among modern occultists or esoteric philosophers/psychologists, as many would have them. Despite my own disagreements, I still regard him a great benefactor and authority in esoteric matters.
O wrote: “In the New Testament the esoteric idea occupies the chief place in the four Gospels.” These, he continued, “are written for the very few, … pupils of esoteric schools. However intelligent and educated in the ordinary sense a man maybe, he will not understand the Gospels without special indications and without special esoteric knowledge” (148-9).
He then pointed out that there are discrepancies between the FCG (=Four canonical gospels, I term them) and other writings in the NT (=New Testament) and subsequent Christian literature by Fathers of the Church and later Church magnates.
With this latter idea I concur fully but I would add that there are just as big and disturbing discrepancies among the FCG themselves, which O fails to notice!
2. There is much that O notices in the FCG that seems to me right and therefore agreeable. At the same time, very little of this has not been noticed and commented upon by previous writers, mystics, occultists, theologians et al.
For example, on p 181, O takes some passages from John (5,21; 5,28; 8,51) which say that the “dead” or those “in graves” shall hear Christ’s voice and will live (or be quickened) while those who do keep his saying will not “see death”. O explains that the first lot are only metaphorically “dead”; they are alive but “dead” to esoteric truth and become alive when they hear the teaching; those that practice it will not be bothered (see) by death.
Again, on p 197, O examines the parable of the Good Samaritan as the passage in Luke 10. 25-37 has come to be known. A lawyer asked Christ who is his “neighbour” (plēsion in Greek) and he narrated the story of the man who travelled from Jerusalem to Jericho but was attacked by thieves, stripped, beaten up and left “half dead”. Then a priest passed by and then a Levite but both ignored him. Later a Samaritan came and after tending his wounds, took him to an inn and took further care of him.
Now everybody believes that one’s neighbour is any one person, but Jesus points out most clearly that it is the Samaritan, “he that showed mercy” on the wounded traveler. So one’s neighbour (plēsion) is the person who helps one along the spiritual way: him one should love as one loves oneself – not just anybody!
3. Many passages in the FCG refer to esoteric work as distinct from common religious or spiritual involvement.
O has a very curious view of the FCG, however. He thinks they are “objective works of art”, i.e. works of the highest possible kind of art, meant for very special people of higher being and higher mind or, to quote him, for those who already have a certain degree of understanding… who possess a key. (But then people of “higher being and higher mind” would hardly need to read such writings since they already know about this esoteric development. And what would they who possess a key do with them? The commandments “Love one another” and “Do unto others as ye would others do to you” are plain enough! If one were to practise them diligently, one would hardly need all the cryptic rest.)
“They are written”, says O, “consciously for a definite purpose by men who know more than they wrote” (151). The adverb “consciously” indicates action by men of higher being and mind, far above us.
This cannot be right as there are far too many contradictions to take very seriously anyone of the FCG in its entirety.
4. The FCG contain much that is of value both for the life of Jesus (after all, they are the only biographies) and for his teaching. But they contain also much traditional Judaic lore and, of course, what may be termed “apocalyptism”, i.e. the vision of Christ’s second coming “in the clouds” and angels that gather the elect from the corners of the earth (Mark 13. 3-33; Mathew 24. 3-36; Luke 21. 7-36).
O rightly rejects all apocalyptism but evades totally these passages which indicate that the writers are not at all of higher mind since nothing of the sort came to pass!
O says that the FCG are the only sources with evidence that Jesus existed (156). This is not true. We may circumvent Tacitus (Annales 15.44) and Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3), who refer to him, as too late, near 100 CE (=Common Era=AD). Earlier, Clement, Bishop of Rome (c 95) mentions Christ by name. Also the Syrian stoic Mara bar Serapion (c75) writes of a Jewish wise king, whom the Jews put to death, and draws parallels with Pythagoras and Socrates. Josephus too called him sophos “a wise man”. Both of them regarded him as a philosopher, not religious leader.
On the other hand, Philon of Alexandria, who encompasses Christ’s lifetime, does mention some prophets and miracle-workers in Palestine and sects like the Essenes but not Jesus, who resurrected Lazarus before all the villagers of Bethany (John, 11). Surely the news of such a miracle (and there were other resurrections) would have spread widely and would not have passed unnoticed by other writers!