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In Search of P. D. Ouspensky: The Genius in the Shadow of Gurdjieff Paperback – 20 Nov 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 341 pages
  • Publisher: Quest Books,U.S.; 2nd edition (20 Nov. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0835608484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0835608480
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.3 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,078,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gary Lachman (1955- ) was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, but has lived in London, England since 1996. A founding member of the rock group Blondie, he is now a full time writer with more than a dozen books to his name, on topics ranging from the evolution of consciousness and the western esoteric tradition, to literature and suicide, and the history of popular culture. Lachman writes frequently for many journals in the US and UK, and lectures on his work in the US, UK, and Europe.His work has been translated into several languages. His website is http://garylachman.co.uk/

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Synopsis

G.I. Gurdjieff dominated early twentieth-century esoteric thought with his unsettling system of psychological development known as the Fourth Way, inspiring 156 organisations still extant worldwide today. But much less is known about his brilliant follower, the Russian journalist/philosopher P. D. Ouspensky. This book interweaves biography with excerpts from Ouspenskys other writings to show that he had a strong mystical vision of his own. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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IN OUSPENSKY'S FAMILY there was a tradition that the names "Peter" and "Demian" were passed on from father to son alternately, one generation to the next. Read the first page
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A. G. Gilbert on 23 Sept. 2004
Format: Hardcover
P.D. Ouspensky needs no introduction to anyone who knows anything about the 'Fourth Way'. His 'In Search of the Miraculous' is the prime Gospel of the Gurdjieff movement and is used as a textbook of this complex philosophy. Less well-known is Ouspensky's own work, which was significant in its own right. His early works on the meaning of time, higher dimensionality and eternal recurrence remain provocative to this day. Yet this work was not followed up and over time Ouspensky was transformed from an extrovert with many friends to an unapproachable, 'grumpy old man'. The question is why?
In this excellent book, biographer Gary Lachman leaves few stones unturned in his remorseless quest for the real Ouspensky. In doing so he creates what I believe to be the most vivid portrait yet of this contradictory man. It is a salutary lesson for all those who would put their faith in a guru. In Ouspensky's case, high intelligence proved to be no protection against the guiles of a 'Sly' man.
At the end of his life Ouspensky seemingly repudiated Gurdjieff's 'System': one which he had spent the past thirty years teaching. Now I have read many books by and about Gurdjieff and Ouspensky but this is the first which provides a convincing explanation of his behaviour in those last days. It seems he finally understood that the System was really Gurdjieff's own creation and not something given to him by 'Masters from the East' to disseminate in the West. For a man who was at heart a Theosophist, this must have been hard medicine to take. For us it can be a liberation.
Adrian Gilbert.
(author of 'Magi' co-author of 'The Orion Mystery')
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Neil Bishop on 9 Dec. 2004
Format: Hardcover
In Search of P. D. Ouspensky is a well-researched and insightful study of one of the 20th century's most fascinating philosophical figures. Written in a lively prose style, this is a sympathetic, but not uncritical, account of the philosopher's spiritual aspirations and experiences, his work as a Fourth Way teacher, his achievements as a writer and thinker, and his failure in the end to attain what he was seeking. This is a study of Ouspensky that does not treat him as merely a subset of the Gurdjieffian circle, but as a worthwhile and important thinker in his own right. While Lachman clearly respects Gurdjieff, he asserts the controversial position that Ouspensky may have made the mistake of his life by becoming a disciple of Gurdjieff, and that he would have done better to follow his own lights. Whether one agrees with this position or not, it is well argued and plausible. This is an essential book for all followers of the Fourth Way, for even the most orthodox Gurdjieffians (unless, paradoxically, their thinking has become dogmatically robotic) will not shun such an argument, and it is also essential reading for all those who study the guru-disciple relationship in general.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ashtar Command on 10 Mar. 2013
Format: Paperback
Gary Lachman's book "In search of P.D. Ouspensky" is a biography of the Russian occultist Ouspensky, whose life took an unexpected turn when he met the Greek-Armenian G. I. Gurdjieff, a mysterious spiritual teacher with a shadowy background and colourful disposition.

A turn for the worse, if we are to believe Lachman...

The fateful meeting between Ouspensky and "G" took place in the Russian capital of St. Petersburg (or Petrograd) in 1915. Ouspensky was a successful author and lecturer on various arcane subjects, and had at one point been associated with the Theosophists. He was also a journalist. Ouspensky had travelled extensively in the East, searching for "schools" of esoteric wisdom. By contrast, Gurdjieff was virtually unknown, but had somehow managed to assemble a small group of followers in Moscow. Ouspensky was impressed by Gurdjieff's teachings, later known as The Fourth Way or The Work. He devoted the remainder of his life teaching and practicing it. The best introduction to Gurdjieff's system is still Ouspensky's book "In search of the miraculous".

To make a very long story much shorter, Gurdjieff's message sounds like a strange form of Buddhism combined with techniques similar to encounter therapy. Humans are said to be "machines" and "asleep", and the goal is to wake them up. An awakened human being will develop a kind of immortal soul and miraculous powers, while most humans will simply perish. Gurdjieff even suggested that spiritually unenlightened humans will become food for the Moon! The Fourth Way strikes me as a bleak and pessimistic philosophy, and I frankly never understood why anybody would want to sign up.
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A fantastic book which explores the enigma of the student-guru relationship between two very individual, unique and equally independent thinkers of the early-to-mid 20th century. Ouspenky's contribution to intellectual thought, I believe, is more palatable than Gurdjieff's obscure works. I also particularly enjoyed the atmosphere generated around the time Ouspensky and others discussed the fourth-dimension in St. Petersburg's cafe, The Stray Dog. Lachman evokes a sense of intense intellectual development and gives a wonderful insight into the zeitgeist of the times.

Lachman presents Ouspensky as an interesting and pioneering philosopher in his own right; cementing Ouspensky as an important figure on his own terms, rather than being merely the first port of call for anyone who wants to understand Gurdjieff's 'System'. The author of Tertium Organum and A New Model of the Universe is here presented as a genuine visionary and an honest seeker of higher-states of consciousness. I found this to be one of Lachman's most literary and evocative of biographies that I've read so far.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 14 reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
The Good Friend 5 April 2010
By Mnemosyne - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've read all the classic G & O literature and it's been a tremendous blast. Decades have passed and, like every other experience, it has all faded into standard memory, leaving only some pleasantries and old-timer's allegories to "pass on to my children." The conclusion of this book is that Ouspensky ended his life a defeated man: it had all turned to nothing. Living it, taking the tour, having the adventure was all there ever was. To have a goal: Ouspensky's ultimate advice.

If so, I think he's got it dead right. I think that's all anyone "knows." The arguments that have ranged back and forth through these reviews do not give the impression of a community that has learned anything fundamental about our place in the universe, or of any "destiny" for us as human beings.

I have little interest in purported systems of insight into our ultimate nature anymore. I simply don't believe. It was all a good story and Ouspensky was a brilliant storyteller, whom I've always felt close to and would have dearly loved to meet. The only other dead man I'd really like to have met would be Che Guevara. I think that both he and O had guts and tried to remain true to the last.

Perhaps Gurdjieff was a great man, but I found the recordings of his voice [the harmonium tapes] most disappointing. For me, the question is this: who would one like to have had as a friend? Ouspensky would be at the top of my list, along with Che. The latter, too, strove to create "The New Man," and it's that effort, that passion, that compulsion, that I find attractive.

This book tells a good story, I recommend it.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Beelzebub's grandson 7 Mar. 2013
By Ashtar Command - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Gary Lachman's book "In search of P.D. Ouspensky" is a biography of the Russian occultist Ouspensky, whose life took an unexpected turn when he met the Greek-Armenian G. I. Gurdjieff, a mysterious spiritual teacher with a shadowy background and colourful disposition.

A turn for the worse, if we are to believe Lachman...

The fateful meeting between Ouspensky and "G" took place in the Russian capital of St. Petersburg (or Petrograd) in 1915. Ouspensky was a successful author and lecturer on various arcane subjects, and had at one point been associated with the Theosophists. He was also a journalist. Ouspensky had travelled extensively in the East, searching for "schools" of esoteric wisdom. By contrast, Gurdjieff was virtually unknown, but had somehow managed to assemble a small group of followers in Moscow. Ouspensky was impressed by Gurdjieff's teachings, later known as The Fourth Way or The Work. He devoted the remainder of his life teaching and practicing it. The best introduction to Gurdjieff's system is still Ouspensky's book "In search of the miraculous".

To make a very long story much shorter, Gurdjieff's message sounds like a strange form of Buddhism combined with techniques similar to encounter therapy. Humans are said to be "machines" and "asleep", and the goal is to wake them up. An awakened human being will develop a kind of immortal soul and miraculous powers, while most humans will simply perish. Gurdjieff even suggested that spiritually unenlightened humans will become food for the Moon! The Fourth Way strikes me as a bleak and pessimistic philosophy, and I frankly never understood why anybody would want to sign up.

Both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky were forced to leave Russia after the Bolshevik revolution, eventually finding their ways to the West. Ouspensky settled in Britain and later in the United States. He returned to Britain shortly before his death in 1947. Gurdjieff stayed in France, somehow managed to survive the Nazi occupation, and died in 1949. Still today, various Fourth Way groups (both official and unofficial) exist in various countries.

However, it's patently obvious from Lachman's account that not everything was well within The Work. Gurdjieff was an authoritarian, manipulative, erratic kook. The movement he created around himself had all the usual characters of a cult. Gurdjieff didn't even like Ouspensky! He seems to have recruited Ouspensky largely for strategic reasons. The unknown Armenian wanted influential, rich or prestigious supporters as a front. The erratic antics of Gurdjieff soon taxed Ouspensky's patience. The apostle broke with the master already before their respective departures from Russia. And yet, Ouspensky never *really* broke with Gurdjieff, maintaining a bizarre love-hate relationship with him for decades. This seems to have been the most disturbing aspect of their relationship: even though Ouspensky had left Gurdjieff behind, he nevertheless developed similar character traits and turned his own group into a kind of cult, with no little help from his wife Sophie Grigorievna, who had been a Gurdjieff devotee far longer than Ouspensky.

Lachman paints a tragic portrait of P.D. Ouspensky, as a man who started out as a positive, life-affirming, loving and independent-minded seeker, but ended up as a carbon-copy of Gurdjieff, the rogue guru he had repudiated. Ouspensky was a man who longed all his life for a transformative spiritual experience, but to no avail. He also longed for a teacher, and after the break with Gurdjieff, expected the *real* esoteric masters to contact him. Of course, they never did. The "Inner Circle" seems to have been a product of Ouspensky's own imagination.

But the most bizarre events took place shortly before Ouspensky's death. Much to the shock of his followers, Ouspensky declared that "the System" (his and Gurdjieff's spiritual path) was finished, that he had been wrong about it all along, and that everyone must strike out and experiment on their own. Only in such a manner can the truth eventually be found. Lachman believes that Ouspensky quite seriously wanted to break with his past, but his followers regarded Ouspensky's sudden turn of heart as a "test", and refused to go along with it! Ouspensky, already a sick and dying man, was trapped, surrounded by sheep-like devotees whose veneration seems to have increased the more their master condemned both them and his old message.

The worst loyalist was a young man named Rodney Collin, who for a time even adopted the speech patterns and personal mannerisms of Ouspensky, scaring the living daylights out of Ouspensky's wife Sophie (who by all accounts wasn't easily scared - she was, after all, one of the cult leaders!). Collin believed that Ouspensky was preparing himself to "die consciously" and would be transformed, Christ-like, to a luminous being with a mystical body existing for all eternity. In Britain, Collin took the dying Ouspensky on an extensive car ride across the country, during which the old man supposedly prepared himself to break free from the reincarnation cycle. Many people believed that the journey was Collin's idea, and that Ouspensky went along with it somewhat unwillingly. After the death and burial of Ouspensky, Collin entered his study, locked himself up and meditated for six days without eating, drinking or shaving. When the other devotees broke the door open, they found an emaciated Collin declaring that he had been in telepathic contact with Ouspensky, who had appointed Collin the new leader, that a New Age would soon dawn on man, etc.

In the event, nobody followed Collin. Most of Ouspensky's followers instead travelled to Paris and joined Gurdjieff's movement! They also published "In search of the miraculous", Ouspensky's book on The Fourth Way, a book Ouspensky expressly had forbidden them to ever publish. Thus, rather than breaking with The Work and leaving cultism behind, as Ouspensky had wanted them to do in his waning months, his brain-washed admirers decided to follow the very guru Ouspensky had tried decades to get away from. A partial exception was Ouspensky's close friend Maurice Nicoll. He never broke with the Fourth Way, but he *did* refuse to work with Gurdjieff. Yet, Nicolls' magnum opus is titled "Psychological commentaries on the teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky". Another exception was J. B. Bennett, who simply joined a new string of cults. Poor Collin moved to South America, still convinced that Ouspensky was evolving into a divine Sun-Being. He eventually died by falling from the tower of a cathedral...

There is enough material in this book for an entire congress of psychiatrists!

"In Search of P.D. Ouspensky" is a captivating read about the dysfunctional relationship between two spiritual masters. Unfortunately, the book is somewhat sloppy, not based on original research (Lachman can't read Russian) and has an obviously "journalistic" bent. I nevertheless award it four stars. If only half of what's in this book is true, I can only say: Karnak, come in, we have a problem!
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Ambivalence and Certainty 2 Feb. 2010
By Cynde Moya - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I'd long been curious about what the deal was between those two, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In addition to providing an introduction to the concepts of the work, Lachman clearly illuminates for me the sadomasochism in the esoteric teacher-student relationship. I have experienced that state of mind myself, where the mind whirrs in circles trying to interpret the teacher's demands -- what I mostly learned is that my mind has an endless ability to create unusual gestalts from limited teaching input.
Lachman, once a student of the work, does not editorialize, but rather allows the story to reveal the lessons of this occult relationship. It's much better that way. Lachman allows the ambivalence of Gurdjieff's character to emerge -- was he a classic kind of charlatan, what with his history as a hypnotist and his cruel techniques? Or was this questionable self-presentation part of his teaching, which was genuinely rooted in a deep esoteric understanding? Whatever the case, Gurdjieff did gather and use a lot of enthusiastic students as his guinea pigs, and he must have learned something valuable from them as a group.
As for Ouspensky, Lachman makes much of his turnabout at the end of his life. I myself read this part of the biography with astonishment. Because Ouspensky finished his career with a bizarre repudiation of the work, telling his students shocking things like: There is no system. Who tells you that you are mechanical, that you are asleep? All that is necessary is that you know what you want, and aim for that. Think for yourself.
25 of 34 people found the following review helpful
acceptable survey for casual readers 6 Jun. 2007
By k wolf - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The partisan squabbles between the devotees of Ouspensky and those of Gurdjieff take place on roughly the same level as those between the advocates of the XBox and the Playstation, or the Yankees and Red Sox. But Lachman doesn't sink to their level, and his understanding of events is as near to the truth as we will probably see from any of these types. He is still sort of a moon-mad mystic, but not nearly to the degree of William Patterson or J G Bennett or any of the other lost souls who have written about these subjects in the past. However, there is little new in this book, and the author's understanding of Ouspensky's most important ideas is obviously quite shallow, as he concentrates on the more incidental aspects of his work. Those who have read the sourceworks, almost all of which are decades old, won't find this book to be of much value.

The Gurdjieff work is a hundred miles wide and one foot deep. Just deep enough for those who can't swim to drown in, as Ouspensky almost did. The work isn't without value; many of Gurdjieff's ideas are basically correct, but everything he knew can be found in superior form in other places. All of Gurdjieff's ideas are distortions of things he got from other places, but he wasn't sophisticated enough to always tell the good from the bad, and he mixes wisdom and foolishness together in a salad of roughly equal parts. And much of what Gurdjieff taught, such as the necessity of group work or self-observation as endless toil, is the opposite of truth. Gurdjieff was a man who asked the right questions, but got all the answers wrong. Partly because Gurdjieff was a second-rate mystic with a second-rate mind, and partly because he was like all gurus: he had a deep-seated need to manipulate others and take financial advantage of them. I have seen his type repeatedly and known some of them personally. They are all the same. They take bits and pieces of other people's ideas and use them to impress the gullible. Ouspensky was able to separate what little good there was in Gurdjieff from the little con man himself, but grew too attached to the ideas before finally rejecting them.

It is Ouspensky's work that is of serious interest, but really only parts of it, mainly his thinking on spatial dimensions. It is a tragedy of epic proportions that Ouspensky abandoned his real work for the shallow occultism of the dubious Gurdjieff, and it doesn't speak well of Ouspensky's more mystical side. But that isn't the side of Ouspensky that will stand the test of time.

To this day, his two books Tertium Organum and New Model of the Universe are at the cutting edge of human thought. They show the real direction that our conceptions of space and time should take, not the mathematically correct but logically ridiculous direction physics has taken. And yet, no doubt largely because of his association with the little Armenian con man, the enormous importance of Ouspensky's work is largely forgotten by all but a few.

Those two books show how to overcome the paradoxes of not just physics, but of philosophy. Nothing like them exists, or has ever existed. If you understand his ideas, their truth cannot be denied on any level. Unlike the endless double-bind prison that constitutes the "thought" of the "fourth way", the essays in those two books can change the way you perceive the world in the most fundamental way imaginable. But they are beyond both the reach and grasp of people with no more intelligence or common sense than occult disciples, which is why the people most likely to encounter them get very little from them.

To his eternally recurring credit, Ouspensky abandoned and renounced the Gurdjieff system late in life, realizing at last that it was a dead end, a dangerous distraction. It is ironic that Ouspensky is remembered mostly for his book on Gurdjieff, which is the least of his works and the very thing that keeps the Gurdjieff movement going. Indeed, much of the better stuff people tend to give Gurdjieff credit for was, in fact, Ouspensky all along. Without Ouspensky to make his ideas semi-coherent, there never would have been a Gurdjieff movement. It would have died with Gurdjieff.

In any event, it has been noticed by too few that many of the ideas credited to Gurdjieff, such as the antiquity of the Sphinx, for example, are mentioned in Ouspensky's books long before Gurdjieff professed them, in altered form, later on. And Gurdjieff himself said he would beg Ouspensky to be his teacher if Ouspensky "understood" his own books! From this we can gather that Gurdjieff read Ousepensky's early classics, admired them, and very likely appropriated many of Ouspensky's own ideas, only to regurgitate them back at their originator later on, as part of Gurdjieff's own admittedly "stolen" hodgepodge of ideas. No wonder Ouspensky was so impressed with him.

My recommendation is to read Ouspensky's two early classics, then come back to this biography if you are interested in more information on this fascinating man. But only if you haven't already read any of the existing biographical literature.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Interesting but biased account of the Gurdieff-Ouspensky relationship 20 Oct. 2010
By Michael - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
While I have no problems with the fact that this book was written by an ex-punk rocker, I do have a problem with a writer who doesn't write objectively, but uses his work to promote what he believes in, and bashes what he opposes, in what is meant to be a neutral analysis. Gurdjieff and his doings are always described in a negative way, and it seems the man can't do a thing right in Lachman's eyes. This constant negative slant inevitably leads to serious contradictions though. Probably the most obvious one is the paradox that while Gurdjieff is portrayed as a conman out to make a buck by fooling the gullible, he is simultaneously criticized for always breaking off his various ventures in setting up schools (in Tiflis, Fontainbleau, etc) just as they were getting started. The most dramatic example of this was the closure of the school at Fontainbleau of course, just when he was attracting the wealthy and famous. Seems like a crazy move for a conman though. Just when he had things set up to make big bucks, he closes the whole thing down. No, accuse the man of many things, being erratic, inconsiderate, downright eccentric, but a conman out to make a buck he certainly was not.

This is just one example from a book of contradictions that far from throwing a favourable light on Ouspensky, shows him up as being an insecure man who in his last years seemed extremely doubtful of what he'd been teaching for 30 years. While this may come as no surprise to all who have tried to penetrate Ouspensky's turgid work 'The Fourth Way', it certainly should give second thoughts to those who see Ouspensky as a genius overshadowed by Gurdjieff, when in fact it is clear that if he hadn't met Gurdjieff, he would have remained the second-rate, wannabe mystic and esotericist he was at the time of their first meeting. This book is still interesting for the many anecdotes and interesting information on both men, but don't expect an objective account of their relationship.
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