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Peter Demianovich Ouspensky P.D. Ouspensky

"I already knew then as an undoubted fact that beyond the thin film of false reality there existed another reality from which, for some reason, something separated us. The miraculous was a penetration into this unknown reality."

— P. D. Ouspensky —

Peter D. Ouspensky (Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenskii, also Uspenskii or Uspensky, March 4, 1878–October 2, 1947).  Ouspensky is well-known for his expositions of Esoteric Chrisitianity, the inner psychological practices of the Gospels as taught by George Gurdjieff, whom he met in Moscow in 1915.  Ouspenky's, In Search of the Miraculous, provides a concise explanation of what he learned from Gurdjieff in the years between 1915–1924.  Shortly after his death in 1947, The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution was published, and in 1957, a collection of question and answer sessions was published under the title The Fourth Way, detailing important concepts for students of Gurdjieff's teachings.

There are three traditional ways of self-development generally known in esoteric circles.  These are the Way of the Fakir, dealing exclusively with the physical body; the Way of the Monk, dealing with the emotions; and the Way of the Yogi, dealing with the mind.  Common to these three methods of inner psychological and spiritual development is the demand for complete seclusion from the world.  According to Gurdjieff, there is a Fourth Way which does not demand that one abandon the world, where the work of self-development takes place right in the midst of ordinary life.  Moving forward with this idea, Ouspensky continued his own school, making the Fourth Way central to his own teaching of the ideas of Gurdjieff.  Ouspensky experimented with the technique of 'self-remembering', introduced to him by Gurdjieff; a technique requiring a division of attention where a person not only pays attention to what is going on in the exterior world, but simultaneously, to the interior movement of one's psychological, emotional, and physical states, or apperception, the consciousness of the concrete actual self with its changing states, the so-called 'inner sense.'

Definitions of Psychology

1) Psychological and philosophical systems that study man as he is or as they imagine him to be, thus the study of soul-less animals or organisms.  These systems talk of change, growth and maturation, but not of evolution.

2) Psychological systems that study the principles, laws, and facts of man's possible evolution, that is, how man might be transformed psychologically in the inner development of consciousness, being, and achieving a soul.

"Natural evolution" refers to the development of diverse forms of organic life from the first molecules through complex cells, plants, animals and finally to man.

"Neo-Darwinian evolution", or the "monkey-to-man" theory, describes the metamorphosis of life as a process of natural selection and adaptation driven by random mutations of genetic material.

"As regards ordinary modern views on the origin of man and his previous evolution, we must realize that we know nothing about the origin of man, and we have no proof of man’s physical or mental evolution, thus we must deny any possibility of future mechanical, or accidental evolution of man according to laws of heredity or selections, or without man’s conscious efforts to know himself".

The distinction between mechanical and conscious evolution is at the heart of the differences between western scientific theories and the Fourth Way teaching.  The Fourth Way psychology is concerned with the evolution of man in a psychological, metaphysical and cosmological way, brought about through intentional effort resulting in an awakening of consciousness and higher levels of being.
"Our fundamental idea is that man is not a completed being; that nature develops him to a certain point, and then leaves him to develop further by his own efforts and devices, or to live and die as he was born or to degenerate and lose capacity for development.  The evolution of man means the development of certain inner qualities and features which usually remain undeveloped, and which cannot develop by themselves.  Observation shows that this development is possible only under certain definite conditions, with efforts of a certain kind, and with sufficient help from others who have already attained a certain knowledge of methods.  We must understand that in the way of development, man must become a different being and we must learn and understand in what sense a man must become a different being; that is, what a different being means, and which inner qualities and features can be developed or attained".

"There is a missing link in ordinary theories, even in those based on the idea of the possibility of evolution of man.  Before acquiring any new faculties or powers which man does not know and does not possess, he must acquire faculties and powers he also does not possess, but which he ascribes to himself, that is, he thinks that he knows them and can use and control them."

"By way of evolution, that is, a way based on effort and help, man must acquire qualities which he thinks he already possesses, but about which he deceives himself.  Man does not know himself.  He does not know his own limitations and his own possibilities.  He does not even know to how great an extent he does not know himself.  Human evolution involves the development of latent powers and capabilities, which include faculties which people already believe that they possess.  In this way, the psychology of the Fourth Way deals with the study of a human as he is, and as he is capable of becoming."

Gurdjieff explains that evolution cannot happen, but requires conscious effort, even to acquire capacities which people normally considered themselves to possess, such as consciousness, indivisible I, will and the capacity to do:
“The evolution of man is the evolution of his consciousness.  And consciousness cannot evolve unconsciously.  The evolution of man is the evolution of his will, and will cannot evolve involuntarily.  The evolution of man is the evolution of his power of doing, and doing cannot be the result of things which happen.”

Ouspensky emphasizes the significance of humans’ illusions about their existing powers and capabilities, and this defines a starting point of work towards conscious evolution.  Human’s psychological illusions are deeply ingrained in common ideas about who and what we are, and what we are capable of becoming.  Until we rid ourselves of these misconceptions, that is, that we are conscious, with indivisible I and will, then there is no possibility of becoming in reality, that which we imagine ourselves to already be.

Similarly, Gurdjieff explains that because people believe that they already possess a soul, they reject as nonsense the idea of struggling to develop higher being bodies as vehicles for the soul’s existence, both within life and for the afterlife.

Gurdjieff provides a radically different perspective on how higher states of consciousness and higher faculties can be approached, and until we apprehend the nature and significance of human’s psychological illusions, we can have little idea of what additional powers and capacities might be acquired.

Ouspensky states, "...we do not know enough about ordinary psychology; we cannot study super-normal psychology, because we do not know normal psychology."

Moments of increased consciousness are attained by overcoming the "sleep-walking" and conditioned state of ordinary life.  The Fourth Way’s depiction of the normal waking state is much more severe than anything modern psychology sets forth.  However, its conceptualization of an individual’s capacity to experience higher states of consciousness and attain the soul, involves an even more radical departure from the ideas of modern "soul-less" psychology and the limited materialist understanding of the human condition.

According to the Fourth Way, humans have the possibility of experiencing four states of consciousness: sleep, waking sleep, self-consciousness and objective-consciousness.  Ordinarily, humans live in only the first two states–sleep and waking sleep–each of which is highly conditioned and subjective.  In contrast, the state of self-consciousness reveals the objective nature of self; and the state of objective consciousness reveals truths about the nature of the cosmos.  In the third state of consciousness, that is, the state of self-consciousness, we can know the full truth about ourselves.  In the fourth state of consciousness, that is, in the state of objective consciousness, we are supposed to be able to know the full truth about everything; we can study "things in themselves," "the world as it is."

Gurdjieff and Ouspensky approach the idea of a human’s evolution from varied psychological perspectives.  Firstly, it involves the development of consciousness, will and unity, faculties which people wrongly ascribe to themselves.  Secondly, evolution involves attaining the states of self-consciousness and objective-consciousness, which enable them to know self and the world in an objective manner.  Thirdly, there are seven possible levels of human evolution or levels of being.

Ordinarily, under the conditions of mechanical life, a human is a man number one, two or three, yet is capable of becoming a human number four, five, six or seven.  This evolution involves the formation and crystallization of an individual’s higher being bodies for the life of the soul.  In this case, instead of “dying like a dog” and becoming fertilizer, the individual might attain other levels of immortality and existence.  This evolution of a human being is an alchemical process of accumulating and refining finer matters and energies within the subtle dimensions of being, and attaining higher consciousness and hidden faculties.
Evolution exists as a possibility for humanity as a whole and for human beings at an individual level.  However, Gurdjieff suggests that although the evolution of humankind does occur, it is on such immense time scales that it means little in terms of the life of an individual.  The scale of time in which humanity evolves corresponds to that of the evolution of the earth, moon and the planets, involving hundreds of thousands, or millions of years, or, on a scale of “infinitely prolonged cycles of time.”

From the perspective of an individual’s life, there is no apparent evolution of either the planets or humankind.  Maurice Nicoll writes, "If a person is told that in, say, a thousand million years, all mankind may possibly be on a higher level of evolution, it cannot interest him in any genuine way or really alter anything for him in his daily life, and his difficulties."
For Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, the first definition of psychology involves the study of the principles, laws and facts of the man’s possible evolution.  However, in order to understand a human’s miraculous possibilities, we have to realize the extent of man’s unconscious sleepwalking condition.  By doing so, we may begin to understand how acorns might become oak trees, instead of fertilizer, and what inner evolution entails.  The Fourth Way teaching provides a profound psychological, metaphysical and cosmological perspective of the possible evolution of the individual human being.

Sleeping Humanity

People have been told almost since the creation of the world that they are asleep and that they must awaken.  Men take it simply as a form of speech, as an expression, as a metaphor.  They completely fail to understand that it must be taken literally.  So long as a man sleeps profoundly and is wholly immersed in dreams he cannot even think about the fact that he is asleep.  If he were to think that he was asleep, he would wake up.  And men have not the slightest idea what they are losing because of this sleep.

Humans' central psychological illusion is that they know themselves.  The illusion is that they live a conscious, consistent and willful existence, knowing themselves, conscious of what they are, of what they think, feel, and do, and that they make choices and know how to love. The Fourth Way teaching instead portrays humankind as not properly conscious, as lacking a permanent and constant state or real I, and as lived out in a mechanical and conditioned fashion by a thousand and one forces of which they are unaware.  Humans are sleep-walkers, half asleep or semi-conscious, in a state which Gurdjieff labels "automated consciousness" and "waking sleep."

The idea that humans are asleep, living in illusion and ignorance of self is a central theme of mystical psychology.  With this idea comes the aim of awakening.  Sufi Mystics suggest: "Man, you are asleep, must you die before you awake?"  Similarly, an aphorism of Gurdjieff's reads: "The only thing is to awake." Ouspensky gives this theme a somewhat different twist: "All people in life are asleep, but not all are dead yet."

The central aim of esoteric psychology is to overcome the sleep walking state of mechanical life, to be reborn in essence, and to attain real "I."  A human being can be reborn and experience the world with a new completeness, vibrancy and wakefulness.  Humans can also possess new powers and capabilities, many of which they mistakenly think they already possesses, such as real I, will, objective knowledge and the capacity for love.

It is very difficult to realize the mechanicalness of everything and of oneself.  Without a conscious struggle against the current of mechanical happenings, the subtleties of life never become apparent.  If we begin to awaken even momentarily, then gradually we can build on this and come to realize more and more deeply the nature of humankind's sleep state.

Kenneth Walker, a student of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, recounts his disturbing vision of the sleep-walking state of humanity:  As I drove back to Harley Street (London) that evening, I turned over in my mind, all that Ouspensky had said about sleeping mankind.  If it were really true that not only myself, but that everybody else was asleep, what a revolutionary change we should have to make in our view of human life on this planet.  A sleeping world!  A world of drowsy people drifting about in the streets, closeted in government offices, conducting affairs of State, hurrying into the lobby of the Houses of Parliament to record their votes, dispensing justice from the Bench; people doing a thousand different things and doing them all in a state which approximated to a state of sleep!  Yes, Ouspensky had meant us to take his words on the subject, literally.  He had pictured a world of somnambulists, a world of men walking about automatically, without their being aware of what they were doing, a world of people behaving entirely mechanically and according to conditioned habits. 

Humans are marionettes, characters in a Punch and Judy show, pulled this way and pushed that way, all in sleep.  As machines, they are imprisoned by dozens of mechanical laws of which they are unaware.  The pomp and nobility of human life is a facade to conceal the realities of the sleeping world.  Ouspensky states: "Sleeping people fight, make laws; sleeping people obey or disobey them.  All of history is made by people who are asleep."

Psychologist, D. King, describes his brief alterations in awareness brought about by efforts to self-remember while waiting for a commuter train.  His account presents a terrifying vision of the psychopathology of humankind: "…the scene altered unexpectedly and with a startling abruptness, as if one stage set had been substituted instantly for another.  It was chiefly the other people who held the focus of attention.  They looked dead, really dead.  One expected to see signs of decay but of course there were none.  What one did see was stark unconsciousness, scores of marionettes not self-propelled but moved by some force alien to themselves, proceeding along their automatic trails mechanically and without purpose.  Some of the mouths were open and they looked like holes in cardboard boxes.  The faces were blankly empty; even those upon which otherwise some expression would have been noticeable, had been drained of any significance and one saw that those expressions were unrelated to the entities that wore them.  For the first time the concept of the zombie became credible."

This was a glimpse of the mechanical, artificial and unconscious state of humanity asleep.  True existence is hidden and the masses do not "instinctually sense reality" or cosmic truths.

Self-remembering illustrates how asleep humans are and the terror of the situation.  Ouspensky recounts his early experiences: After this there followed a strange period of time.  It lasted about three weeks.  And during this period from time to time I saw sleeping people.  This requires a particular explanation.  Two or three days after Gurdjieff's departure I was walking along the Troitsky Street, and suddenly I saw that the man who was walking towards me was asleep.  There could be no doubt whatever about this.  Although his eyes were open, he was walking along obviously immersed in dreams which ran like clouds across his face.  It entered my mind that if I could look at him long enough I should see his dreams, that is, I should understand what he was seeing in his dreams.  But he passed on.  After him came another also sleeping.  A sleeping coachman went by with two sleeping passengers. Suddenly I found myself in the position of the prince in the "Sleeping princess."  Everyone around me was asleep.  It was an indubitable and direct sensation.  I realized what it meant that many things could be seen with our eyes which we do not usually see.  These sensations lasted for several minutes.  I at once made the discovery that by trying to remember myself I was able to intensify and prolong these sensations for so long as I had energy enough not to be diverted, that is, not to allow things and everything around me to attract my attention.  When attention was diverted I ceased to see "sleeping people" because I had obviously gone to sleep myself.  I told only a few of our people of these experiments and two of them when they tried to remember themselves had similar experiences.

The practice of self-remembering reveals one’s unconsciousness and conditioned state, and that of everyone around.  Humans are sleepwalkers living in illusion and ignorance of self.  In fact, people have no idea of the profound sleep in which they live; a sleep perpetuated by the whole of mechanical life, by man’s psychological illusions and even by the moon.

As Gurdjieff states, there is only one thing which is serious and that is to escape from the general law and to be free.  This means overcoming the conditioning and sleepwalking state which governs the mass of humanity. Self-remembering as a practice helps us to glimpse the reality behind all the fine words about the sleep state of humankind.  People do not know self nor do they realize "the horror of the situation."  Gurdjieff explains: "A modern man lives in sleep, in sleep he is born and in sleep he dies.  Sleep is the chief feature of our being.  If a man really wants knowledge, he must first of all think about how to wake, that is, about how to change his being."  The sleep walking state of humankind is a central feature of the human psychopathology.

P. D. Ouspensky Quotes

"Development cannot begin on the basis of lying to oneself, or deceiving oneself. Man must know what he has and what he has not. It means that he must realize that he does not possess the qualities already described, which he ascribes to himself; that is, capacity to do, individuality, or unity, permanent Ego, and in addition Consciousness and Will. It is necessary for man to know this, because as long as he believes that he possesses these qualities he will not make right effort to acquire them, exactly as a man will not buy costly things and pay a high price for them, if he thinks that he already possesses them."

"In all living nature (and perhaps also in that which we consider as dead) love is the motive force which drives the creative activity in the most diverse directions. And since we are able to trace how the energy of love transforms itself into instincts, ideas, creative forces on different planes of life; into symbols of art, song, music, poetry; so can we easily imagine how the same energy may transform itself into a higher order of intuition, into a higher consciousness which will reveal to us a marvelous and mysterious world."

"Two things can get people to make efforts: if people want to get something, or if they want to get rid of something. Only, in ordinary conditions, without knowledge, people do not know what they can get rid of or what they can gain."

"It is only when we realize that life is taking us nowhere that it begins to have meaning."

"Philosophy is based on speculation, on logic, on thought, on the synthesis of what we know and on the analysis of what we do not know. Philosophy must include within its confines the whole content of science, religion and art. But where can such a philosophy be found? All that we know in our times by the name of philosophy is not philosophy, but merely "critical literature" or the expression of personal opinions, mainly with the aim of overthrowing and destroying other personal opinions. Or, which is still worse, philosophy is nothing but self-satisfied dialectic surrounding itself with an impenetrable barrier of terminology unintelligible to the uninitiated and solving for itself all the problems of the universe without any possibility of proving these explanations or making them intelligible to ordinary mortals."

"Existing criminology is insufficient to isolate barbarism. It is insufficient because the idea of "crime" in existing criminology is artificial, for what is called crime is really an infringement of "existing laws", whereas "laws" are very often a manifestation of barbarism and violence. Such are the prohibiting laws of different kinds which abound in modern life. The number of these laws is constantly growing in all countries and, owing to this, what is called crime is very often not a crime at all, for it contains no element of violence or harm. On the other hand, unquestionable crimes escape the field of vision of criminology, either because they have not recognized the form of crime or because they surpass a certain scale. In existing criminology there are concepts: a criminal man, a criminal profession, a criminal society, a criminal sect, and a criminal tribe, but there is no concept of a criminal state, or a criminal government, or criminal legislation. Consequently what is often regarded as "political" activity is in fact a criminal activity. This limitation of the field of vision of criminology together with the absence of an exact and permanent definition of the concept of crime is one of the chief characteristics of our culture. Consequently what is often regarded as "political" activity is in fact a criminal activity, consequently, the biggest crimes actually escape being called crimes."

"When a man begins to know himself a little he will see in himself many things that are bound to horrify him. So long as a man is not horrified at himself he knows nothing about himself."

"If a man gives way to all his desires, or panders to them, there will be no inner struggle in him, no "friction," no fire. But if, for the sake of attaining a definite aim, he struggles with the desires that hinder him, he will then create a fire which will gradually transform his inner world into a single whole."

"The greatest barrier to consciousness is the belief that one is already conscious."

"I've found that the chief difficulty for most people was to realize that they had really heard new things, that is, things that they had never heard before. They kept translating what they heard into their habitual language. They had ceased to hope and believe there might be anything new."

"People who think they can control their negative emotions and manifest them when they want to, simply deceive themselves. Negative emotions depend on identification. If identification is destroyed in some particular case, they disappear. The strangest and most fantastic fact about negative emotions is that people actually worship them. I think that, for an ordinary mechanical man, the most difficult thing to realize is that his own and other people's negative emotions, have no value whatever and do not contain anything noble, anything beautiful or anything strong. In reality negative emotions contain nothing but weakness and very often the beginning of hysteria, insanity or crime. The only good thing about them is that, being quite useless and artificially created by imagination and identification, they can be destroyed without any loss. And this is the only chance of escape that man has."

"Under the conditions of modern life we have more control over our thoughts, and in connection with this there is a special method by which we may work on the development of our consciousness using that instrument which is most obedient to our will, that is, our mind, or the intellectual centre. In order to understand more clearly what I am going to say, you must try to remember that we have no control over our consciousness. When I said that we can become more conscious, or that a man can be made conscious for a moment simply by asking him if he is conscious or not, I used the words 'conscious' or 'consciousness' in a relative sense. There are so many degrees of 'consciousness' and every higher degree means 'consciousness' in relation to a lower degree. But, if we have no control over consciousness itself, we have a certain control over our thinking about consciousness, and we can construct our thinking in such a way as to bring consciousness. What I mean is that by giving to our thoughts the direction which they would have in a moment of consciousness, we can, in this way, induce consciousness."

Recommended Reading

In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching

In Search of the Miraculous, hailed as the most valuable and reliable documentation of the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff, this influential work is considered by many to be a 'primer of mystical thought'.

The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution

The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution studies man from the view of what he may become and how a man must work simultaneously on his knowledge and his being to find inner unity.

The Fourth Way

The Fourth Way is the most comprehensive statement published on the ideas taught by P. D. Ouspensky.  Consisting of verbatim records of his oral teaching from 1921–1946, Ouspensky provides a lucid explanation of the practical side of Gurdjieff's teachings.

In Search of the Miraculous

Based on his book In Search of the Miraculous, published in 1949, this video series telescopes Ouspensky's book and glimpses of the teaching he received from Gurdjieff, interspersed with archival footage of the Russian Revolution.


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