Fourth Way Perspectives
The Life & Legacy of P. D. Ouspensky
October 2, 1997, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of P. D. Ouspensky at 69 years of age. A man of great integrity, blessed with a rare and penetrating intellect, a phenomenal memory and a deep thirst for truth and liberation, Mr. Ouspensky to the very end was a seeker in the best sense of that word. He drew his last breath in the arms of his student Rodney Collin, who believed that he died a conscious death. There is no reason to believe it was not so, given his long and faithful practice of the teaching as it had been given to him by his first and only teacher, George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff. His legacy shines in the remarkable quality of the writing he left behind, a quality of such scale and depth that his books continue to inspire new generations. His best-known work, In Search of the Miraculous, begun in Constantinople in 1921 and rewritten over the years, was not published until two years after his death in 1950. It exerted then, as it continues to do today, a special influence on mind and heart, responsible for enlisting people in all parts of the world in the sacred and ancient quest of self-awakening. May this light never dim.
As inspiring as his search and his written works are, they also leave a number of questions that must be answered, if the light that he was for so many is not to fall into shadow with all its attendant confusions. It is undeniable that he left Mr. Gurdjieff because, as he said, "I ceased to understand him." Understanding, as Gurdjieff told Ouspensky, is composed of knowledge and being and, as such, cannot be given but must be earned. The teacher's understanding, by definition, is higher than the student's and therefore the student will not always understand the teacher's actions. Still, he must follow. Ouspensky refused and so broke the octave of the teaching. Worse, limited in understanding, he began to teach, thus initiating what for some people would be a new line, the socalled "Ouspensky line." This line continued through Rodney Collin in Mexico and Dr. Francis Roles in England. There are remnants of Collin's teaching that still exist today in Mexico and South America.
Roles continued Ouspensky's work for many years, keeping it free of other teachings. However, in his last years he agreed to mix the teaching with Vedanta. It also became mixed with the late Leon McLaren's London School of Economic Science, as well as its satellite, The School of Practical Philosophy. In effect then, the Ouspensky line, diluted to begin with, has been so mixed that it is no longer a Fourth Way Teaching.
The inarguable fact is that there is only one legitimate line of The Fourth Waythe Gurdjieff line. The idea that there could be an Ouspensky line, or Bennett, or Nicoll line is in no way supportable. None of these men were on Gurdjieff's level. None brought a teaching. Each was a pupil of Gurdjieff's. One can only now meet these men through their writings. Ouspensky's books stand head and shoulders over the others, yet even his best is far below the quality of Gurdjieff's All and Everything.
This truth is a hard-to-swallow Kurdish pepper pod for those in other Fourth Way "lines." They insist they are a part of The Fourth Way while continuing to mix the teaching with Vedanta and other teachings, and various psychologies. Knowingly, they speak of Gurdjieff's teaching, not even 50 years after his death, as needing to be "updated" with a new language, concepts, approach and so forth. All of which, not surprisingly, they confidently believe they have the understanding to provide. They even hold conferences using the Gurdjieff name while teaching only an Ouspensky-ized or Bennett-ized Gurdjieff, the former with a thick layering of Vedanta.
As great a seeker and soul as P. D. Ouspensky was, he was also deeply in error about his teacher. This confusion, and the resulting dilutions and mixing, is unfortunately also part of this great man's legacy. It is the responsibility of those who follow to clear this up. Otherwise The Fourth Way teaching Gurdjieff brought to the West at such a great personal cost to himself is in danger of losing its unique and powerful identity, an identity which Mr. Gurdjieff himself referred to ascompletely self-supporting and independent of other lines and completely unknown up to the present time.