Review of Ouspensky’s ISOM
In search of the head on one’s shoulders, August 29, 2000
…and an old review of In Search Of The Miraculous
As a classic account of Ouspensky’s encounter with Gurdjieff, thence with a disguised version of the Sufi world, this book is remarkable and worth reading as reminder of the many spiritual disguises of one and the same potential self-consciousness of men of all eras, but as an indication of a spiritual path actually existing it deserves a severe caution, if not a skull and cross bones, as on a jar of poison. Beware of it, and the people who claim to exemplify it after so many years. Disappointing, but necessarily so. Try reading a similar work such as Idries Shah’s The Sufis, and note the arbritrary nature of all the content (by and large) describing about the same type of predestigation of method, always the same wiseacred method in the end described plainly in Buddhist sutras on vipassana. The question of the esoteric belongs to authoritarian worlds in a state of hiding, one that is unnecessary now. Bright-eyed candidates of liberal bent for this path created from thin air from a mess of theosophical pottage might consider the reactionary nature of this sage Gurdjieff, the book’s account of the trail of the Whites heading south at the onset of revolution, and the plain fact that Gurdjieff, for all his fancy occultism, was a de Maistrean sort of guy, who disapproved of the abolition of slavery, and liked a submissive relationship in disciples. The grounds of spiritual authority subtlely suggested to induce the impulse to surrender the will as one’s freedom are spurious, the more so if Gurdjieff in Ouspensky’s own view was not even an honest man. This work belongs to an ancient world, and is misleading because it seems to draped in the esoteric and a touch of the modern, when in fact the cosmology is a pastiche of ancient Indian Samkhya transformed in magician smoke. The verdict on a method of spirituality should be the number of its successes, and it was the Indian teacher Rajneesh who noted that this path has never produced a result, realized men. The reason is that the terms described, both as philosophy and method, are too arbritrarily exotic, and finally under suspicion of being made up and leave enthusiasts permanently frozen at the starting point. To concoct a mystery of the enneagram and call it esoteric wisdom takes a peculiar type of brazen hucksterism, since the whole notion is surely a complete fiction, not to say a put on. One of the warnings of Buddhism is, don’t get fancy, and beware of speculation. These vices of metaphysical salesmanship are grimly pervasive in this work and leave desperate seekers tying their head in knots trying to compute self-remembering or produce an alchemy of higher hydrogens in an addlepated brain. Be ye Lamps unto yourselves, the Buddha warned. Before becoming the piece in another all too tricky play designed to stun the wary, and reveal nothing at cost, it is well to remember the warning. And it is worth remembering Ouspensky’s starting point in Tertium Organon with its solid Kantian beginning and metaphysical austerity, all thrown away in this beguiling path that left its own expositor with nothing. Anyway, Gurdjieff is curiously unique, do not therefore grant this to those who claim his teaching. As for the occult demos claimed, either they are fake, and we have fraud, or they are genuine, and we have a fallen yogi indulging in left-hand path skullduggery.