No man is without fault but, that said, anyone who has studied the canon of literature concerning the lives of two of the greatest truth seekers of the 20th century—namely G. I. Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky—might be forgiven for thinking that the latter had more than his fair share. Over the years, this Russian writer, philosopher and teacher has been accused of just about everything from being an ineffectual dreamer and a weakling, an overly intellectual upstart who lived off the crumbs of his mentor’s table, having deserted him for no good reason, to ending up as a sad old drunk who lost his way spiritually … Dubious credentials indeed! Even the celebrated writer: Colin Wilson, whilst conceding that Ouspensky was a genius, berates the man’s shortcomings, oddly by drawing on the Russian’s semi-autobiographical first novel by way of justification. Consult Refs  and  for further details.
Anyway, what are we to make of all this? Well, an interesting new book—as may be gleaned from its title—attempts to set the record straight. Skilfully written by Gerald de Symons Beckwith, beautifully illustrated and supported with useful colour photographs, it is the extraordinary story of the further development and completion of P. D. Ouspensky’s work by Dr Francis Roles of the Study Society in London, providing compelling evidence for a re-appraisal.
The author’s impressive background puts him in perhaps a unique position to throw new light on both the Fourth Way and the iconic Enneagram by drawing on previously unpublished work. As he explains in the Foreword to his book, in his early twenties, Gerald Beckwith joined Dr Francis Roles’ School, re-organised after the death of Ouspensky in 1947, and studied for some 35 years under the tutelage of several of the Russian’s most devoted followers. The author was entrusted to ensure that the essentials of their completion of Ouspensky’s work—for which the foundation was laid during the last years of his life—should be preserved for future generations. And, as becomes evident from its content, Mr Beckwith has succeeded in demonstrating a complete reconstruction of a living system of knowledge tailored to the needs of the Western World in the 20th and 21st centuries—truly a timely new psychology for man’s possible evolution.
Following the Foreword, Ouspensky’s Fourth Way is divided into two main sections, each of nine chapters:
Part 1 – The Making of a School
Part 2 – The Synthesis of a Teaching
In Part 1, the author opens the batting by explaining that the Fourth Way is an ancient Non –dual philosophical teaching—similar to Advaita Vedanta and Eastern in origin—that was NOT invented by George Gurdjieff as is generally supposed and how it was introduced to the West by the latter’s foremost student PD Ouspensky.
The author proceeds to describe in detail what constitutes a School of the Fourth Way and recounts how Ouspensky set up his in the UK in the early 1930s using properties such as Colet House in London and Lyne Place in Surrey, having broken with Gurdjieff in 1924. Ouspensky attracted an inner circle of devoted followers, most notably Dr Roles.
The story gathers in pace as the author details how Ouspensky overcame great personal difficulties to succeed in his lifelong spiritual quest in dramatic fashion shortly before his death at Lyne Place in 1947. In this connection, there is fascinating material on Time and Recurrence—Ouspensky’s obsessional interests since childhood.
In addition to the importance of re-connecting with the source of the teaching, Ouspensky was aware that something—a simple and natural process—was missing from the Fourth Way, points he stressed to his inner circle and that Dr Roles never forgot.
In 1951, by registering the Study Society, Dr Roles set up his own School of the Fourth Way to continue the work. His organisation expanded over the next ten years and he became involved with such formidable characters as Leon MacLaren and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi whose mantra based form of meditation, Roles identified as the missing ingredient. According to Gerald Beckwith, relationships between these highly influential figures were far less cordial than is generally supposed. Some readers may be offended by some of the shocking revelations. Nevertheless, the author appears to be even handed in his judgment and truthful throughout his narrative.
Part 1 concludes by relating how—through the Maharishi—Dr Roles succeeded in finding the source of the Fourth Way by meeting Shankaracharya Shantananda Saraswati in India with whom he formed a twenty year relationship.
The author also stresses the importance of meditation and explains the approach in detail.
Part 2 consists of a detailed exposition of Ouspensky’s re-constructed and completed work. It is necessarily more technical than Part 1 but is nonetheless equally as interesting and in Chapter 9–Towards an Enneagram Psychology—contains material that this reviewer has never previously encountered.
The controversy surrounding the conflict between Gurdjieff and his foremost student will, no doubt, continue unabated as is well illustrated in Ref . Nevertheless, this book has some nuggets which offer interesting new perspectives on Ouspensky’s true character and the nature of his work.
When asked by Dr Roles whether a detailed exposition of Ouspensky’s Fourth Way was identical to Advaita Vedanta, the then Shankaracharya of Northern India replied: “Yes, there couldn’t possibly be any difference.”
The doorman of the New York restaurant who commented: “I can’t understand his books but Mister Ouspensky is the only really kind man I ever met.”
The fact that, following their breakup, Ouspensky was never heard to make disparaging remarks about his mentor whilst Gurdjieff did not reciprocate in kind … very far from it.
The fact that Gurdjieff shamelessly plagiarised ideas from Ouspensky’s early work, embodied them into his version of the Fourth Way and claimed them as his own … some crumbs … some table … providing evidence that Gurdjieff, for all his of charisma, had lost his way by 1924 and, more importantly, contact with the source of the esoteric teaching.
And finally, according to eye witness testimony, Ouspensky attained full realisation of the Self at Lyne Place shortly before his death. In plain English, in spite of immense difficulties, he got the job done. Can the same be said of Gurdjieff?
Potentially a game changer in the genre, this fascinating book is not cheap and requires concentration but it is worth both the effort and the cost. It is bound to unset some people, yet it provides tantalising clues towards the solution of long standing puzzles. I strongly recommend that it is read with an open mind and the fullness of attention … twice.
1. Colin Wilson: The Strange Life of P.D. Ouspensky originally published in 1993
2. William Patrick Patterson: Struggle of the Magicians first printed in 1998 Published by Arete Communications Fairfax California
3. P. D Ouspensky: Strange Life of Ivan Osokin. London: Faber & Faber, 1948 - available from Amazon.
About the Reviewer:
Chris Allen is a Hypnotherapist, Technical Author and writer with the following books available through Amazon:The Beam of Interest: Taken by StormHypnotic Tales 2013: Some Light Some DarkCall of the Void: The Strange Life and Times of a Confused Person: 1