Esotericism (I): Ouspensky & Gurdjieff

Esotericism (I): Ouspensky & Gurdjieff

- in Esotericism


1. Recently I was asked by an “Anonymous” about Gurdjieff groups that are on the decline. I am writing in English because although there is a good translation of Ouspensky’s chief works (Πύρινος Κόσμος), there are several very bad ones and Gurdjieff’s are just as bad. Furthermore, a student of this system should know English anyway.

Here in Athens there are at least 3 Gurdjieff-groups and 2 Ouspensky-groups that I know of. The fact is that Gurdjieff-groups are at loggerheads and speak very badly of one another. I used to know the leader of the first ever Gurdjieff-group here back in the 1970s: the man obviously had no real grasp of the system even in its theoretical aspect; moreover, he used to take drugs and thought it right. Of the Ouspensky-groups I have no information except that their own few translations are not up to standard.

2. Many rumours about the two men were floating around even in the 1930s and 40s but many have spread in the last 60 years. Many of the publications seem to have been written by somewhat irresponsible people who like calumnies and scandals. In any event, it is one (and permissible) thing to write dispassionately about the system as given by the two men and quite another (and impermissible) to write gossiping about them.  Since Ouspensky died in 1947 and Gurdjieff in 1949, different persons are now promoting their teachings, some capable and others not at all.

The basic fact is that both men tried, each in his own way, to help people who wanted it to raise their level of consciousness and, at the same time, realize aims of their own. Judging by their writings, one cannot but conclude that they were very different characters and consequently their methods and their version of the teaching would be quite different.

3. Ouspensky writes quite plainly that after a period of about 3 years he felt that he was no longer understanding Gurdjieff and, after their emigration from Russia, in January 1924 he broke from Gurdjieff completely.

Ouspensky established himself in London in 1921. Gurdjieff had gone to Germany but his plans failed and after visiting Ouspensky in London in 1921, went to France where he settled in the Chateau du Prieuré near Fontainebleau and had many disciples staying there with him. Ouspensky wrote that he could not see the direction Gurdjieff’s work was taking but thought the method had the monastic quality about it.

This monastic quality was one of the obstacles Ouspensky saw separating him from Gurdjieff. Another one was the fact, as it seemed to him, that Gurdjieff started accepting people who were not prepared for the work. Moreover, Gurdjieff did not insist that disciples/students should not write anything about the work and the people involved without permission from Gurdjieff.

4. All these are well documented facts and well-known by anyone who has evinced serious interest in this esoteric affair.

Both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky held onto the System which Gurdjieff taught (and imparted to Ouspensky) or, rather, the “Fragments of an Unknown Teaching” as Ouspensky would call it. Neither of them sought to enrich or fuse the System with other teachings like Sufism (developed in Turkey and Persia) or Vedãnta (brought from India to the West by Vivekãnanda first and many others subsequently).

It is obvious from the reliable published documents (there are many fantasy-ridden ones) that Gurdjieff knew more of the System than he gave to Ouspensky or, as far as I know, to anyone else.  Some writers say Gurdjieff lost contact with the Inner Circle; others that he went mad. Such opinions seem to me far-fetched: they presuppose that the writer(s) knew what the Inner Circle is (which I don’t believe for a moment) or that they could judge objectively Gurdjieff, who as a character was very difficult to assess, since by all accounts he was very enigmatic being a consummate actor who managed to conceal himself behind many personas.

5. Hereafter I stay with Ouspensky and part company with Gurdjieff, whose actual work I don’t really know. It is said that Gurdjieff’s successor in the USA, Lord Pentland, produced good results. This is very likely but two of his students that I met in Athens did not inspire me.

Ouspensky had done much work on his own before meeting Gurdjieff in Moscow in 1915. Some have written that Gurdjieff had, in fact, plagiarized Ouspensky’s own work on the four (and higher) dimensions, but this is not easy to prove.

Ouspensky certainly loved truth and pursued it to the end of his life with great intensity. But here it should be obvious to all that just because someone announces repeatedly that he loved and pursued truth, he had not necessarily arrived at it or was on the right way to it.

This is not to deny that Ouspensky did pursue truth passionately and his work produced results that affect with their goodness thousands of people even to this day (Nov 2017).

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