Tuesday, January 29, 2013

WITW#7: Why did Ouspensky Leave Gurdjieff?

I have been asked to comment on this question. It is a very complex question, and it is far in the past. Mr. Ouspensky died in 1947 and Mr. Gurdjieff died in 1949, and I was born in 1951, so I knew neither man personal as an adult or as a child within this incarnation. I am however an ardent student who has never ceased from studying the subjects that interest me. This has always included all of the sciences as well as the religions and spiritual disciplines that have reached the earth. When I first met my first teacher in the work, who had known Mr. Gurdjieff as a teenager and whose parents were some of his first followers in New York during the 1920s, she said something to me and I replied. She said, "if you are looking for a Guru, you're coming to the wrong place, because I am not a Guru." I replied, and I repeat verbatim, "That's good, because I am Guru-proof". This has always been true of me, but I took Mr. Gurdjieff as my teacher, and he IS my teacher. Not was, not will be, but IS. I have also read every published word of Mr. Ouspensky as well as some of the unpublished documents which are at Yale.

Now I have to go and enter life and meet my obligations. The great thing about a blog is that it can be edited, so as soon as I get an opportunity, I will continue to ask and meet the question, as it is an extremely important and revealing question. Remember that there are within us elements of the Tramp, Lunatic and Obyvatel, in varying proportion, and most of us are drunk on Moonshine or schizophrenic (literal translation -- broken soul) or madder than Hatters. We all have buffers within us so that we do not see our complications. But I will try to take myself by my own hand and with a gentle affectionate compassion I will address our question... in a little while. I am a patient man, and I abide by that virtue -- I know delayed gratification and how to remain hungry and thirsty.

Mr. Ouspensky was an incredible man, blessed with a towering intellect and a decided realization that the world was wrong, and that somewhere was an underground stream of perfect knowledge and tradition. He claims, as I do, that he was never a child or an infant -- that he was born quite old. This is not to say that he did not wear the mask of a child, but that he saw through it, and felt that the loneliness that I felt when I was a child among children. I speak for myself when I say that I could find no Child or children who were interested in the subjects I was interested in, so I learned to wear the mask of a child and perhaps I even enjoyed; in fact I certainly enjoyed some of the aspects of being a child, like playing on a swing or playing tag or taking other childlike risks when the adults weren't around to speak the poisonous words "be careful."

As Mr. Ouspensky grew, he began to search. He joined the theosophical foundation and became one of its rising stars. He had a method of oration that drew people to him. He could expound on the most sublime and elusive subjects with incredible clarity. He had an almost flawless memory and could recite almost anything that passed before his eyes or ears. He therefore drew large crowds who listened to his lectures, mostly about the most abstruse subjects concerned with the destiny and fate of man, and the hidden knowledge which he had sought after.

He became a journalist and did quite well, having his own byline and writing about whatever suited him. Therefore his journalism was much praised and respected. At a certain point in his life he reached a crux point; he was convinced that somewhere in the world there still remained authentic schools of knowledge and of learning which have been made invisible but permanent, and which contain all the knowledge and wisdom of mankind all the way back through the mists of recorded history. With his stipend from the newspaper he gathered his things and went on a long journey through India and Ceylon and many other places. He spoke with many gurus and visited many so-called schools. Some of these were real and some were phony, and being incredibly astute Mr. Ouspensky could taste the difference. The problems with the real schools where that one needed to submit one's entire outer life, at least for a time, and retreat from the world and its distractions in order to come to some real results. As Mr. Ouspensky was a journalist first, he could not agree to any such terms, and so he moved on. He used a number of narcotics and drugs that were available at the time which opened many doors which otherwise cannot be opened. However, when these doors have been shown to you and opened, one should no longer need the drug to find the door and to open it. Ouspensky knew this, so like Rene Daumal, these were not addictions but experiments.

It can be said that he both found what he was looking for as well is that he did not find what he was looking for, because he did not submit to any particular discipline or guru, and upon returning to Russia he was greatly discouraged. He planned another trip, but in his time back at home he gave a series of lectures on the topic of "In Search of The Miraculous", which drew thousands wishing to hear of his discoveries and adventures.

Now this was in 1913. In 1912, Mr. Gurdjieff began his outward teaching in Moscow and then later in St. Petersburg, gathering disciples and students around him very carefully, picking types to work with. When he got wind of Mr. Ouspensky, he asked his students to read everything that Ouspensky had written and to make a report to him about Mr. Ouspensky's strengths and weaknesses -- his knowledge and understanding and lacks thereof. This his students did, and Mr. Gurdjieff decided that he could use Ouspensky to further his aim, which at this time was left unrevealed. He told one of the Russians, a certain Dr., to "inveigle" Mr. Ouspensky -- that is, To pique his interest, which the good doctor did. After causing Mr. Ouspensky a great deal of trouble he arranged for a meeting for Ouspensky with Mr. Gurdjieff.

At this meeting, which is well recorded, Mr. Gurdjieff played all of his tricks of placing obstacles in a man's path, which he has to cross in order to meet Mr. Gurdjieff. Mr. Ouspensky left the meeting with an incredible feeling of peace and love and dancing feet. He told his then girlfriend that what he had been looking for all over the world he had now found at home in Russia with this man -- Mr. Gurdjieff.

Now Ouspensky was introduced to one of Mr. Gurdjieff's groups, and allowed to join. Mr. Gurdjieff allowed no note taking or writing down of anything that was said or spoken of in the groups, but Mr. Ouspensky told Mr. Gurdjieff that his outer life was that of a journalist, and unless he were permitted to write it would not be able to follow. Mr. Gurdjieff gave him permission tacitly that he could write down whatever he could commit to memory, but not to write in the presence of the others or while in the group, so Mr. Ouspensky, with his prodigious memory, would run home and quickly write down everything that he could remember. This was the beginning of the book that Mr. Ouspensky called "Fragments of an Unknown Teaching."

The book became ISOM, and it is a journalistic report of Mr. Ouspensky's time with Mr. Gurdjieff. Mr. Ouspensky had some fixed ideas -- one of the most compelling was the notion of his desire to know the future and his concepts of recurrence, which he had taken from Nietzsche. Mr. Gurdjieff frustrated this question and refused to answer it to Mr. Ouspensky's satisfaction. Even in the moment where Mr. Gurdjieff sees Mr. Ouspensky enter the Café in a sad face and offered to answer him any question that was put to him, Mr. Gurdjieff already knew what Mr. Ouspensky would be asking. It was about recurrence, and although Mr. Gurdjieff answered him with great clarity, he only used it to show how easily Mr. Ouspensky was turned from sad to happy. Mr. Ouspensky was a man number 3-2-1, and those who really knew him knew of him as a really pleasant person, good to be around -- as Mr. Gurdjieff says, good to drink whiskey with, and with a deep sentimental nature. But at the same time, Mr. Ouspensky was in a kind of trap-- he wanted to become conscious but he did not want to suffer conscience, and he was something of a dualist; what I mean is that he did not want to work with the body -- he loved to ride horses but he did not like the movements which Mr. Gurdjieff taught, and he completely balked at what Mr. Gurdjieff called duliotherapy -- which is crudely translated as slave therapy -- where a man submits his will completely and absolutely in order to develop real will of his own -- which replaces the confluence of desires and aversions that constitute a man as he is mechanically driven from the outer world. This submission, which is the exact translation of the word Islam, was something that Mr. Ouspensky could not submit to, and in addition, during a trip to Finland, after three years work with Mr. Gurdjieff, he was granted a taste of what he had been asking for -- objective consciousness. This was preceded by his taking it upon himself without consulting Mr. Gurdjieff, a series of fasting and breathing exercises and other such procedures.

When Mr. Gurdjieff noticed Ouspensky in this state, he communicated to him telepathically that Mr. Ouspensky had disobeyed Mr. Gurdjieff's teachings, and he told him that finally, Ouspensky had gotten exactly what he wanted and he might as well enjoy it -- but it scared Mr. Ouspensky to the core, and Mr. Gurdjieff puts certain conditions upon him if he wished to continue in Mr. Gurdjieff's company. In Mr. Ouspensky's constellation of character attributes and flaws, he could not accept these conditions, and mistakenly referred to them as Mr. Gurdjieff moving in a religious direction; the kind of obedience that he had been asked for by gurus of the real schools in India, and which he could not accept. Now he was brought to a barrier. Every man in the Work reaches barriers, which if he allows them to turn him aside, stops everything in a dead stop.

So Ouspensky began to separate from Mr. Gurdjieff, with a resentment -- which is from the French and means "to feel again". Eventually Mr. Ouspensky settled in England, having his escape from the Russian Revolution paid for by a wealthy English woman, and he set himself up as a professional teacher of the Work, which he called the System. He refused to acknowledge Mr. Gurdjieff except by his first letter, "G". This did not happen until 1924, right before the accident of Mr. Gurdjieff's. Mr. Ouspensky even hosted Mr. Gurdjieff when he visited England, but was personally insulted when Mr. Gurdjieff did not let him translate but instead brought a secretary/translator whom he insisted was better at translating into English than Ouspensky. This crushed Mr. Ouspensky's self-esteem and made him look like a student in front of his own students. That was probably the breaking point.

Whereas Mr. Gurdjieff's aim was never work with a single person or group of people, which he called his guinea pigs or lab rats, but his aim was to bring a dispensation of spiritual insight which is superior to any other before given to mankind. In every age man is given a spiritual impulse which begins with a warning and which is followed by a solution. As this enters into the world the solution is forgotten, and the warning is disregarded, and all that is left is a dribble of the teaching which is no longer teaching, but becomes the subject of discussion and argument and dispute.

This is already happening to Mr. Gurdjieff's Work, and it is by law, that is -- lawful. It happens here on WITW, as well as anywhere else where Mr. Gurdjieff's ideas are spoken about. The ideas are not the Work. The principles are not the Work, and Mr. Ouspensky, who had a very magnetically attractive personality and who taught only through lecture and in answering questions centripetally, has formed a bridge towards Mr. Gurdjieff. We have much to thank him for, but he was also a weak man -- who became a professional philosopher/teacher.

His entire life was spent lamenting his break with Mr. Gurdjieff, and his sentimentality was only increased by his constant and increasing use of alcohol. Finally, with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, he suffered a series of strokes which left him rather helpless and defenseless. He died in a period of great sorrow, trying to regain a sense of where he had been by revisiting old places. He forever wished to return to Russia, but it was not to be.

Ouspensky is neither a man to disregard or hate; neither is he a man to love unabashedly. As I have said, he was in possession of a towering intellect and a prodigious memory and in his meetings with those who became interested in the ideas, he was essentially flawless -- his answers are an extraordinary accomplishment, but at the same time, he could not submit and he met a barrier he could not cross. Sadly, Mr. Gurdjieff was obligated by a very high law under which he served, so that he could not avoid placing that barrier across Mr. Ouspensky's path.

You see, conscious love is not sentimental. The light is not kind, and the truth is indigestible. Part of our Work is to create new stomachs, which can handle truths about ourselves that otherwise would cause us to run screaming like the painting, "The Scream."

Now, I am interested in your impressions of my attempt to meet the question honestly and from the deepest place in me that I can reach just now. Love of the Work -- Richard

3 comments:

Anonymous said...


"The book became ISOM...," you wrote - but against Ouspensky's wish. On wiki we read: The book was published posthumously in 1949 by Ouspensky's students, two years after his death. Ouspensky originally titled the book simply Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, reflecting his view that Gurdjieff's system had to be "assembled" by the student himself, as well as his view that much of the original system was probably lost. However, the publisher insisted on adding the prefix In Search of The Miraculous, which became the more commonly known shortened name for the book.

Becky Brook-Iness said...

In study of the many books written by students and Ouspensky's own writings, it had always been clear to me that this is why Ouspensky remained only a philosopher. He would not submit his self to a Master, and Mr. Gurdjieff was the Master he had been looking for. It is so ironic. It also says a lot about how hard it is when someone has aquired a large intellect and has the pride involved with having this intellect. Pride is a very large barrier to this work. Thank you for your view and I see it is very clear. If only Ouspensky had been able to cross that gulf. He wanted to take himself with him, to the place that no false self can remain. When I say false, that is the part of us that is prideful. It is useful to a point but when he had found his teacher, he was carrying a very large log in his eye. If not for this story, of the way he was unable to cross, this would not be a large help to others who have the same feature.

Grace said...

very interesting and enlighting!
It seems like you have a lot of knowledge about this subject.

recently I was starting to wonder about the origin of the name Gurdjieff. I read that the meaning of the word Guruji actually means "spiritual teacher, guide" (link: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Guruji) and this and some other things got me thinking, it is intersting, maybe he really made that name up? what do we really know about this man? we know for sure about his exceptional skills of making stories. Do you have information about this? I couldn't find anything about it anywhere. And don't get me wrong, I'm fascinated by the fourth way and its ideas, and it has been a great interest for me for quite a while now. I would love to hear your thoughts about this. sorry for any english mistakes, i'm not a native speaker.