P.D. Ouspensky: We are machines

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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 ouspenskybegin 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 P.D. 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 P.D. 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 P.D. 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.

GurdjieffClub.com: Links to many “Fourth Way” groups all over the world.

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 hundred 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, P.D. Ouspensky’s teacher:

9 thoughts on “P.D. Ouspensky: We are machines”

  1. interested in esotericism and modern thought. I have the paperback addition 1974. Seems like this book was ahead of its time wanting to belong to a group that discusses such topics as mention by PD Ouspensky and maybe how this affects modern society even today. Some books don’t go out of date they just evolve I feel this is one of those books.

  2. I too remember reading “The Psychology of Mankind’s Possible Evolution” for the first time as the most prominent point of change in my development of an idea that I have worked on for 16 years. I feel as he must have when stating “You most likely have not heard this before but…”
    I am sure that I would not have come thus far without such writings and am glad to see such pages on the internet as yours. Thank you.

  3. For anyone who is still interested:

    Both Gurdjieff and Ouspenski, in some form or another said to abandon their system. Not the 4th way itself, but their take on it. That does not mean that their take on it didn’t work for them, but it cannot work for you. Each person has to take the essence of what the 4th way teaches and find your own path with it. However, I do think that both Gurdjieff and Ouspenski, did become men #5. The deal is that becoming a man #5 means that you are enough self aware of your mechanicality that you can deal with it enough to maintain long periods of flight time in the 3rd state of consciousness. The real problem is in becoming a man #6.

    You see, a person can become a man #5 with flaws still attached and in some ways even cheated their way to get there. But, to become a #6, you will have to be boiled down to your foundations, with no turning back and have to rebuild yourself and this time, you will have to rely with complete self knowledge you learned and without outside help. This is where many 4th way teachers fall off the path. The set themselves up as demigod gurus with no flaws to put on a show for their followers, but in order to become a man #6, you have to have all of your flaws laid out in the open, like putting a jigsaw puzzle back together. If you have to put forth an image, you will not be able to do so and will become the opposite of everything you hope to achieve.

  4. I am confuse… Dr. Ouspensky said u need school on order to reach man no.4
    Mr. K. Krishnamurti: Said u don’t have to have school in order to reach there..Truth need not path.
    Kindly can u guys explain this to us.

    1. You are trying to compare apples and oranges. Ouspensky is telling you to study mathematics so that you can manage your money in the bank and Krishnamurti says you don’t need math to become rich. Of course it’s possible to do it without a school but it’s a lot harder and slower. Just because it worked for Krishnamurti – it doesn’t mean that it will work for you (most likely it won’t). That’s the beauty of G’s system – it’s designed to show you immediate progress (it’s based on verification not on belief). If your spirituality is based on belief – then you are barking at the wrong tree, my friend.
      The biggest problem is actually finding a good school (actually a good teacher). Gurdjieff Foundation, Gurdjieff Society and Bennett groups – they are all candidates for the “insane asylum” so you would probably be better off with just sticking to Krishnamurti.

    2. One path is Within. The other is outside of the Self.
      Krishnamurti ask us to look to the inherit “knowing” we each have at higher states of consciousness. The process can be slower, but not necessarily so. The journey on the other hand, is one of Self-discovery. Should I choose to seek my Truth in “school” I am only learning someone else’s truth.
      These are my thoughts.
      J Crow

  5. P.D Ouspensky was a mathemetician and was impressed with Gurdjieff’s rigorious scientific approoach to psychology, self-devolopment, and metaphysics. For example, the idea of 7 states of ‘man’ comes from the law of 7 (law of octaves), and the law of 3 explains many relious Trinities. Here the Fourth Way refers to the three ways of ‘spiritual’ development: the Way of the Monk, the Way of the Yogi, the Way of the Fakir. Each ways sought to develop one of the ‘three brains’ of man: Emotional, Intellectual, Physical, and to produce a ‘substance’ that could survive the death of body, and achieve immortality within the limits of the Solar System. The monk did it through developing the emotions (love, compassion), the yogi through the intellect (knowledge, concentration), the Fakir through the body (physical endurance, pain). But in the Fourth Way, you develop all three ‘brains’ simultaneously and shun one sided development. The most famous proponent of the Fourth Way has been Osho Rajneesh. It’s not well know that Osho was a disciple and teacher of the Fourth Way, since he talked about many esoteric traditions. But when pressed, as to what he was teaching, Osho answered that he called his way the Fourth Way, because Gurdjieff called his way the Fourth Way.

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