Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Gnosticism

Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Gnosticism

I think the early Gnostics probably were rather secretive, and not only on account of the persecution.  Of course, modern Christian commentators write about this with scorn, as if anything they had to say should have been said openly in a church for all to hear.  But anything they knew about higher-level psychology would have been genuinely difficult to convey, even within a small and highly selected group.

The books of Gurdjieff, who might be regarded as a modern Gnostic, and of his associates, most notably Ouspensky, are one of the things that have been wiped off the modern landscape.  He was very interested in the idea of esoteric groups throughout history, and stressed the importance of secrecy and confidentiality within his own groups, on the grounds that ‘normal’, non-esoteric psychology was so much at variance with what was involved in reaching a higher level of awareness, that his students would only retard their own progress and stir up hostility and misinterpretation by discussing the work of the group outside it.  In fact, the casting of pearls before swine was to be avoided.

This, of course, was one of the things that made Gurdjieff’s system so unacceptable in the modern world, although a watered-down version of it still operates at Waterperry, near Great Milton in Oxfordshire, and it is possible to get into advanced classes, although it is not mentioned that before doing so you will be sworn to secrecy.  (In fact, I only guess that this is so, although it is compatible with the mysteriousness and lack of information that prevails.)

Pauline Christianity, with its explicitness and mass appeal, was after all a reaction against, or antidote to, the higher level influence.  And, in fact, the inclusion of a description of higher level generosity is an illustration of this.  The reactions described are a side-effect of existential awareness and only occur when one is maximally uncertain of the reality of the external world and of the people in it, but of course this will be seized on as indicating the prime importance which ‘other people’ should occupy in the emotional landscape.  (Attempts to imitate excessive and immediate responses to request are unlikely.)  So there is certainly no way a higher level person would want such things to be advertised as part of a mass religion.  In fact, of course, Pauline Christianity reinstates society and ‘other people’ as the central issue in the approved worldview, which is fundamentally occlusive. 

Cf. the following, from an exposition* of esoteric Buddhism:

       Some people may ask: how will the awakened one, in his new state of “Awakened One”, act towards others?

       The reply to this question is:  Do others really exist? – Are not others really like the other objects which furnish our environment, just projections of our thought, and considering that our senses deceive us in everything, should we accept their evidence when they set before us the form of another wholly distinct from ourselves?

       In any case it is impossible for us, who are not awakened, to form an idea of the condition in which an “Awakened One” finds himself.  It is similar to the impossibility for a sleeper, absorbed in his dream, to be aware of that which exists outside the dream.


       … [quotation from] the Vajracchedika Sutra:


“It is when one no longer believes in the ‘I’, in the ‘person’, when

one has rejected all beliefs, that the time has come to distribute gifts.”       

I don’t entirely endorse the bit about not believing in the ‘I’, but you get the idea.


* from The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects by Alexandra David-Neel and Lama Yongden, published by City Lights Books, New York 1967, p 120.