Esotericism (II): Ouspensky & Gurdjieff (B’)

Esotericism (II): Ouspensky & Gurdjieff (B’)

- in Esotericism


1. I first met Ouspensky as a young student back in a summer of the late 1950s in London in his book In Search of the Miraculous. My English was about good enough then to manage to read it in a few days. It shocked me, it enthused me, it filled me with wonder and longing. That was it! I recognized the main ideas as what I had been searching for throughout my previous years of puberty. But I also felt that perhaps I was not ready for such work.

The book was recommended by a friend, much older who, as I learnt subsequently, had started dabbling in “esoteric work”. I poured questions on him and he did his best to reply by saying he did not know much. But he recommended some more books in the same line and I got onto O’s A New Model of the Universe. This too filled me with wonder and longing. But this I found more difficult. Several chapters remained uncomprehended, almost totally impenetrable, despite a second and a third reading. And then I read other books by O.

2. One chapter of A New Model… I still don’t understand and wonder why it was written at all the way it was written. But before I come to this, I should deal with another important matter.

One reason adduced by O for leaving G’s tutelage was that G did not after a time select as students/followers people who were “prepared” but accepted just about anybody who was interested.

How does one get prepared and how does a member of, say, O’s groups/school recognize such a person?

Obviously, strong interest is one such criterion. But if the man interested does not know much about the subject how can another man, unless the latter can read thought, know whether the former man’s interest is genuinely for the specific esoteric teaching? Also, the man may be interested for deep-hidden selfish reasons (e.g. make money, find sexual partners) or because he is simply curious after reading much literature round the subject of esotericism, or wanting to write a book or articles for a newspaper. There are many cunning actors who can fool many people.

3. However, it cannot be a matter of interest alone. It is possible that the multifarious experiences of everyday life, and especially “slings and arrows” of fortune, may force one into searching for true or deeper causes of events, for hidden forces and motives in one’s character or more generally “the meaning of life”.

I recall myself as a teenager wondering why my feelings sometimes changed without apparent external cause. Also wondering whether things one did, like going down one street instead of another was unalterable “fate” and what would happen if one somehow managed to break this “unalterable fate”.

Why was the thinking so incessant and automatic, beyond my control?

Why did girls attract me so intensely?

How did men of genius like Da Vinci, Galileo, Vivaldi, arise and men of wisdom like Pythagoras, Lao Tse, Aristotle and so on.

And so on…

4. The chapter in O’s A new Model… that produced misgivings was the fourth one, “Christianity and the New Testament”. I know very well the Gospels and wondered at O’s treatment of them which in no way illuminated them. Nothing significant is explained in 60 pages of small print.

In the Preface to the 2nd Edition (of 1934) too there is something so unbelievably wrong that it makes you wonder about O’s understanding of social and economic forces. And this is doubly significant because he connects the specific issue (“the existence of the Soviet government”) with the distinction he rightly makes between “logical” and psychological” thinking.

But I must leave both issues for the next paper.

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