P.D. Ouspensky, spiritual teacher

I still remember the excitement of reading P.D. Ouspensky's Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution for the first time. It was my first spiritual book and every page was packed with insights into my psychology. Our studies must begin with our selves and not with the heavens. Ouspensky drove home the idea that in our present state we are machines, that we are a conglomeration of voices rather than a unified whole, that we react rather than do, and that we must observe our machines in order to change. According to Ouspensky:

Our aim is to become one, to have one permanent "I". But in the beginning work means to become more and more divided. You must realize how far you are from being one, and only when you know all these fractions of yourself can work begin on one or some principal "I"s around which unity can be built. It would be wrong understanding to unify all the things you find in yourself now. The new "I" is something you do not know at present; it grows from something you can trust. At first, in separating false personality from you, try to divide yourself into what you can call reliable and what you find unreliable.

It is in Ouspensky's aim that his system falls short. While there is talk of becoming a unified whole, a man number 5,6, or 7, there is no evidence that even Ouspensky attained the goal. Ouspensky even said that a school must have two levels: where man number 1,2, and 3 learns to become man number 4 and where man number 4 learns to become man number 5. By that definition, his organization was not really a school, he said. I think Ouspensky is a good beginning, but not a complete system. He lays the foundation for studying our psychology and getting our lives in order, but doesn't venture into the true nature of the mind.

However, the teaching of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff was reportedly by word of mouth. I have only read the books and not studied with a school of this tradition, so I may be missing much data. Objective information on schools is scarce. Even the Gurdjieff Foundation states that there are many spurious groups and declines to provide any contact information. Remember to be wary of those demanding money. Anyone who really knew the Truth would laugh at the idea of charging for it. Try:
www.fourthway.info: a database of contact information for people interested in the Gurdjieff/Ouspensky Fourth Way teachings.

www.kheper.net/topics/Gurdjieff/links.htm: Links to many "Fourth Way" schools.

2011 update: A reader commented, "I enjoyed reading your reviews of the other spiritual teachers too, and particularly happy to see my P.D Ouspensky among them. When reading your thoughts on him, I was surprised to find no mention of his masterpiece, In Search of the Miraculous. Indeed, if you have not read it, I would like to state that Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution can be considered a distillation of Gurdjieff''s teaching, and In Search of the Miraculous its full exposition, running several hundered pages long."

Indeed, such is the case. In Search of the Miraculous covers the years 1915 to 1917 when Ouspensky first met Gurdjieff. It documents many conversations between the two, as well as Ouspensky's frank reactions to Gurdjieff's ideas. Another of Ouspensky's books, The Fourth Way, contains transcripts of Ouspensky's lectures and meetings after his split with Gurdjieff. All three books were published after his death in 1947.

Here is the only video footage I'm aware of that shows G.I. Gurdjieff, Ouspensky's teacher:

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Last Update: March 28, 2014