Prof. R.G. Guyatt: PDO Lecture, 1997

Professor R.G. Guyatt gave this lecture on 2nd October 1997, the 50th anniversary of P.D. Ouspensky’s death.
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Perpetual Beginning

Address given to the Study Society on 2nd October 1997, the 50th Anniversary of the death of P.D. Ouspensky

by Richard Guyatt

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of that great Russian philosopher and teacher, P.D. Ouspensky, and so also marks the beginning of the next stage of spreading the influence of his life’s work.

He it was who started the ball rolling for all of us by bringing fragments of a hidden teaching to this country in 1921. He worked on them here, in seclusion, for some years, until he was able to satisfy himself that, though still fragmentary, he had given them a sufficiently coherent form and had organized them into a sufficiently compelling sequence to make it feasible to pass them on to others as a unified system of knowledge. That is our heritage.

Having created the initial impetus, he acquired this house, and founded this Society to enable an understanding of ‘the system’ to grow and develop into a School. But the outbreak of the second world war thwarted his plans, echoing the way the first world war had also altered them.

We are all familiar with the story of how Mr Ouspensky, earlier in his career, convinced that there was vital knowledge in the East, unknown to the West, had gone to India to find it — thereby being one of those ‘seekers after truth’ to herald the gold rush for enlightenment which was to follow much later. However he was forced back almost empty-handed, by the outbreak of the first world war, only to find the aim of his journey was at his point of departure, his own Moscow backyard. This was in 1915, with the communist revolution erupting, when he met the enigmatic Gurdieff and his group of followers, and recognised that his search was over.

This sequence of events demonstrates how wars and revolutions played a significant and recurring part in the shaping of Mr Ouspensky’s life and how the meeting with Gurdieff looms large against this violent background, enabling his understanding to expand at a critical moment in its development.

Today, Gurdieff has become—through the numerous books published about him — something of a legend as a shaman or wizard, seemingly spiced with a touch of the charlatan.

This reputation has undoubtedly rubbed off onto Mr Ouspensky, whose academic credentials as a philosopher have been tarnished by their association. Yet, both these remarkable men shone with their own particular brilliance. Neither sought worldly success, striving neither for fame nor riches, but only for the power over themselves to enable them to unravel the mysteries which control our existence, and which these fragments of knowledge, discovered by Gurdieff, do so much to explain.

We must be clear that neither man ever claimed this knowledge as his own, both insisting that they were only a vehicle for it. As events have developed, each can be seen as playing a distinctly different role in the drama of uncovering a secret doctrine; Gurdieff having the necessary flair and subtle ‘know-how’ to extract it from its hiding place — though always cloaking it in mystery and never saying how or where or when he found it; and Mr Ouspensky having the force of intellect to recognize its validity and to give it an ordered form compatible with contemporary Western thought.

Yet today, such is the hunger for sensation and the glamour of personalities, this knowledge has been presented largely in terms of the ‘image’ built up around these two men, and this, combined with the publication of papers inherently private, has stripped the teaching, which was essentially always an oral method of question and answer, of one of its key elements — of being an ancient knowledge, coming from a level of development far higher than our own, which only reveals its authority and meaning through practice, remaining closed to theory. It cannot be learned or analysed as other philosophical systems can be studied, but has to become a practical way of life, like all the other true ways to understanding open to humanity.

The background to this relationship between Gurdieff and Ouspensky, of such far reaching consequences for all of us sitting in this room, and why they parted, is best told in Ouspensky’s own words, taken from the record of a 1935 meeting. He started by telling the group he would give them a short history of the work and proceeded to outline briefly how various ideas had influenced his interest in consciousness, in particular how he had worked on a line triggered off by his realization that ‘if it were possible to accept as proven that consciousness can manifest itself apart from the physical body, many other things could be proved. Only it cannot be taken as proved’.

He explained how working on this line of enquiry not only led him to return to his own work on higher dimensions, this time taking them psychologically rather than mathematically, and to investigations of occult literature but also to carry out many experiments which though often leading to higher states of consciousness were inconclusive in the sense that they could not be fixed or repeated.

All this work led him to the conclusions that a School was necessary, and so he went to India to investigate Yogic schools. To quote: “I found interesting things there but not of the kind I wanted. I did not find a school as scientific as I wanted it, although I was convinced that they existed.” He was only able to find devotional schools of the sort which could also be found in some Russian monasteries. “But it was not my way. Also I had peculiar suspicion of these devotional schools.”

The outbreak of war forced his return to Russia, though promising himself to continue his search in India after the war. As he says: “I had an idea to go back to India after the war to continue looking for schools. That was the time when I thought that war will end soon. When I realized that war never ends I abandoned the idea.” To continue in his words:

In Russia. I met in Moscow a small group and very soon saw that it was a school. I began to work in it about 1915 and got many ideas there. The first principle of this school was to do nothing until you understood, and the result of every effort was measured by understanding. Understanding was the chief principle. One other principle was that one must not believe anything; everybody must verify everything, accept it or not accept it but never act on faith. Another principle was that those conducting the school must keep people reasoning; not produce infatuation.

I worked there till 1918. There was a constant communication between Moscow and St Petersburg, and then we all went to the Caucasus. In 1918 I parted with G. because something changed. He changed the first principles and demanded that people must believe, and must do what he tells them even if they don’t understand. All people left him with the exception of four, of which three were new. Since then I came twice in contact with him and tried to help him, and it was only in the end of 1923 that I finally parted with him.

He was a Caucasian Greek and a very interesting man. He had travelled in Persia and Russian Central Asia, and had specifically studied dervishes and Sufis. Evidently he came into contact with a School that was not Eastern, and from this School he got his knowledge.

Perhaps in that tantalizing quotation one can detect the seeds of coming trouble, and how Mr Ouspensky’s insistence on a scientific approach and his suspicions of the devotional way, were to lead to his celebrated  ‘abandonment of the System’ in those dire meetings he held in this room on his return from the USA in 1947 after the war was over.

But more of that later when I have indulged in my love for the System and of Mr Ouspensky with some personal reminiscences of my early pre-war days in the work, in the hope they may throw some light on the way Mr Ouspensky worked and perhaps to illustrate, to those interested in the Law of Seven, how each different note in an octave, be it ascending or descending, and irrespective of scale, has an entirely individual taste and resonance of its own.

But before delving into the past, I must remind you that I was very much on the fringe, just twenty two; and that these reminiscences only demonstrate how the work appeared to a new person of that generation.

To start at my beginning — and I talk of 1936 — one was asked to read A New Model of the Universe, and Tertium Organum, and subsequently to show that one was genuinely interested in these ideas, before being invited to attend a meeting — the standard procedure for all people being ‘introduced’. As now, meetings were held on Thursday evenings and one had to ‘phone up each Thursday morning to find out if one might come. Sometimes, with no reason given, one could not.

As Merrily Taylor describes in the biographical outline of her brilliant commentary published for the Ouspensky exhibition at Yale in 1978:

New people were told beforehand of the conditions they should be prepared to accept: they must not talk about what they heard to their family and friends, no payment would be accepted, and it would take at least five lectures to see whether one wished to continue or not. The room in which groups met held only about 50 people, and this created a feeling of common endeavour which was quite unusual for a set of strangers who were seeing and hearing one another for the first time. There was an additional sense of proximity to Ouspensky. Perhaps the most noticeable thing in any meeting, no matter how long one had been going to them, was the unexpected newness of what one heard. Questions would range over the whole field of human affairs and interests, and the questioner might be exceptionally well-versed in the subject of his question, yet Ouspensky’s answer always contained something quite new.

I can vouch for the accuracy of this description as Mr Ouspensky, in his clipped and limited English, opened up extraordinary possibilities and made one see life in an entirely new way. His undoubted authority seemed to come from the power he had over himself, and the complete certainty he felt — and communicated to us — of the truths he was propounding, based on the central proposition that man is a seed, an incomplete being, only capable of developing into the full flower of his potential through his own efforts. No one else could do it for him, but he couldn’t do it on his own—hence the need for a School and three lines of work.

And as he delivered the full course of his Psychological and Cosmological Lectures, the theme of consciousness and ‘self-remembering’ became more and more insistent.

For us neophytes, the concept of three lines of work was given a practical expression by being allowed to work at Lyne Place — the country estate where the Ouspensky’s lived with their entourage of helpers.

Quite a few people lived there permanently or went for long visits, but the weekends saw droves of people coming down either to spend a couple of nights or just for the day. Although never formulated, for there must have been many different levels of endeavour, I understood that the overriding  aim of the work we did at Lyne was to burn off all one’s excess mechanical energy by hard physical work, leaving the way free, through the practice of ‘self-remembering’ and attention, to reach the main accumulator of conscious energy in higher centres. If such was the case, I must confess it never happened to me. I just reached the first stage of physical exhaustion every time I went there, without any particular breakthrough to reward me. But there were many other rewards at lower levels and looking back I’m certainly glad to have had the experience of taking part in such a rigorous experiment.

As I eventually understood, what the Ouspensky’s were also trying to do was to make us see ourselves differently, to make us realize that our ordinary life values were those of ‘a sleeping man’, and that the imperative need was to ‘wake up’ and reach a different level of consciousness. As a result, visits to Lyne were always something like being a new boy at school. Nothing was done to put one at one’s ease, in fact, quite the reverse, with talking discouraged—and none at all allowed at meals—and no explanation given of what was going on or what was expected of one, except to carry out the job allotted to one for the day. No introductions were given to anybody, so one hadn’t the slightest idea of who anyone was or what they did. The atmosphere, though not unfriendly, was formal in a way calculated to make false personality uncomfortable and robbed of its usual freedom, this at times could be painful.

I say, ‘the Ouspensky’s’ for it was obvious that Madame was the active force in organising Lyne, keeping an eagle eye on all arrangements, whilst Mr Ouspensky adopted a passive role, working privately and only to be reached by appointment or if he asked to see one.

However, his presence was all pervading; he was often to be seen riding on his pony around the grounds, and clearly much went on behind the scenes that one could only guess at. For instance, I was never senior enough to take part in one of his fabled all night sessions where he employed a teaching technique of ‘in vino veritas’, and the nearest I ever got was when once, returning to the house for breakfast after early morning work, I encountered a group, who had clearly benefited from it, making their way to the men’s sleeping quarters in the farm’s cottage and I remember my stab of envy at their privileged status.

If Madame matched her husband in authority, she far outdid him in her imperious ways, and with her talent for mimicry, instilled fear into those she was instructing by showing up their weaknesses in a most unpleasant fashion. In this, she was quite unlike Mr Ouspensky, whose kindly and imperturbable bearing was reassuring, leaving one enriched and confident. But taken as a couple they were very much the head master and head mistress, each playing their respective role quite differently.

If things were hard going at times, it was largely the result of being made to see one’s own limitations. I remember once being taken to an [abandoned and] completely rusted-up back axle and told to dismantle it. An appalling prospect! I had no tools, no idea what to do and no one to turn to. By lunch time my only success was to have found a spanner, but by tea-time, when my instructor returned to inspect progress I had not managed to undo one single nut. There lay the axle in its rusty virgin state and I was led away, without comment, and put to some really hard physical work for the rest of the day.

Sometimes one had skills which could be used, as when I helped in painting the scenery, designed by Madame, for the great demonstration of Movements to be held in the newly acquired Colet House. The design consisted of domes, minarets and palm trees shimmering in hot sunlight under a blue and cloudless sky. Madame proved a hard task-mistress with a constant stream of criticisms, demanding complicated refinements and often complete reworkings. There was a certain sense of relief when the last minaret passed muster.

The demonstration itself, when it took place, was a glittering affair and was of course staged in this room which was packed to overflowing. In those days the seating, consisting of rows of ‘tip-up’ red velvet cinema seats faced in the opposite direction to today’s arrangement, with the other end of the room occupied by quite a deep platform or stage. For the performance, this was curtained off with a proscenium arch and brightly lit, while the rest of the room was in darkness. All the performers were dressed in long white robes and our palm trees and minarets made an unexpectedly suitable back-drop to these mysterious dances. The whole effect was stunning, especially to those of us who did not know them.

I had in fact, without knowing it, been introduced to them at Lyne. Having wondered what went on in the squash courts, which seemed often to be a secret rendezvous for certain people after tea, an opportunity to find out presented itself when for my evening job I was given the roving commission to cut long grass with a bill-hook wherever I fancied. I seized my opportunity and began my work near the squash courts to be rewarded by the sound of tinkling music and, as I got closer, the flip-flop of sandals slapping on the bare concrete. My curiosity aglow I edged closer still, but then, out of the blue and quite without warning the blood curdling shout of the ‘Ho-Ya’ crashed out to rend the heavens, startling me out of my guilty skin and sending me scuttling for cover; convinced, more than ever, that Lyne held more secrets than I could cope with.

Towards the end of 1937 Mr Ouspensky began telling groups there was a real need to form a Society and to acquire a bigger house to allow the expansion of activities, for he expected numbers might rise to 600 members. So with the acquisition of a 39 year lease for this house the Historico-Psychological Society was born, which in our own time and due to Dr Roles’s initiative, has [evolved to] become the Study Society.

A tremendous amount of reconstruction of the interior was needed before this house could come into use, the main job being the building of the present concrete staircase, straight up from the hall to the top floor. It had to thrust its way through the second floor, which was made into Mr Ouspensky’s private suite — the present office was his bedroom — and was a major work. How much was done by outside contractors I don’t know, but certainly a great deal of it was done by ourselves and I can remember vividly the great gaping hole and the pile of rubble in which we all worked. Slowly the majestic concrete staircase appeared, sparkling with the stardust Mr Ouspensky had asked for, and eventually carrying a wide strip of gorgeous red carpet. The fixings for its gleaming brass stair rods are still in place to remind one nostalgically of a different era.

But all the physical, mental and emotional efforts which were being concentrated by so many people during this period, to establish and expand the organization, were to be frustrated by the outbreak of war. After a period of turmoil and seeing the work disintegrate before their eyes, the Ouspensky’s left for the USA in 1941.

At a meeting at Lyne just before he left — Madame had gone on ahead — the ensuing dialogue took place which is of particular interest in view of the subsequent events all of us here were to witness. Mr Ouspensky was asked, in the light of his departure and with organized work becoming impossible, what were people to do on a personal work level. He replied:

“For that I gave the hint about stopping thoughts. It sounds little, but if you do it regularly two or three times a day you will see results. It is the best thing you can do at present. It is always, but now it is the only thing, almost the chief thing. If you do that you will see the way and will do many other things.

Q.         What kind of other things?

Mr O.   If you do it you will see. After some time. Months and months are necessary.

Q.         Do you mean if we learn …?

Mr O.   No, you cannot learn, you can practise.

Q.         … then it will become clear what we ought to do?

Mr O.   No. No theories. It is a question of direct effort. There are no helps. All that you knew before, all that you learnt before. It is particularly necessary to avoid all theories about what may happen. Try it and then you will see.

He finished the meeting saying he hoped to return soon—but it was not to be until 1947, just months before his death. So, the work having collapsed due to war-time conditions, and with its centre of gravity moved to the USA, we were left dispersed and having to look after ourselves. Some comfort was to be found in our certainty that Mr Ouspensky would one day return and the work would start again. Our hopes hung on that and then we heard, half unbelieving, that he was indeed returning. This was news indeed, and Dr Roles has described the miracle of regaining Colet House—against all the odds, from the Admiralty who had commandeered it—in time for the return. This was a measure upon which Mr Ouspensky had insisted, making a seemingly impossible demand.

So the stage was set and expectancy ran high for what proved to be his final meetings, held, as I have already said, in this room. I was only able to come to one of them, alerted by Dr Roles (with whom I had kept in touch throughout the war) who urged me to come whatever the difficulties. As I took my seat I was aware of a general feeling of excited anticipation which was catching.

Yet Mr Ouspensky’s entrance, from the back of the stage, was a great shock. Instead of the robust authoritative figure we knew and were expecting, here was a stranger, a bent little old man, guided by an imposing lady in black, obviously gravely ill and hardly able to walk. The effect was devastating and one could feel the whole audience stiffen at the way this longed for return was being actualized.

One has only to read the verbatim reports of those last meetings to catch something of their flavour; the baffled questions and the baffling answers. It was bewildering and despairing, as if our teacher had come back to mock us, to shake us off, and to tell us, “What of it if I have led you into a cul-de-sac?” No gleam of hope, no encouragement, no farewell, just flat statements of fact that seemed to contradict all he had taught us.

It was a remarkable performance on his part—from where did he get the energy?—and a shattering experience for us, not at all the uplifting boost we had been expecting. Yet, with hind sight, that is exactly what it proved to be, for with a strength coming from his level of ‘being’, he was enabling Dr Roles to make a fresh beginning.

Not everyone will read these events in this light, yet the more I think about this unbelievably strange ending to Mr Ouspensky’s direct work as a teacher, the more do I find any other interpretation lacking in credibility. The two main possible alternatives, either that these meetings are an example of the inane wanderings of a senile mind or, at the other extreme, that they show Mr Ouspensky with a typically authoritative gesture, intent on sacrificing his life’s work for selfish ends, do not bear inspection. The first does not stand because there is such a pattern of purpose behind his provocatively frustrating answers which point out the need for starting in the right way, and of having an aim; while the second flatly contradicts the final instructions he gave to Dr Roles, to find the source of the System.

My strong belief is that he knew exactly what he was doing, that he was clearing the way for a new beginning, or, to be technical, that he had reached a level of ‘being’ which enabled him to realize that a special effort was needed to bridge the second interval in the octave of his guardianship of the work and simultaneously to bring about the evolution of his own essence to a higher level of being—the same challenge which always faces all of us with a perpetual beginning. By his extraordinary self-awareness throughout this period, he generated the energy to reach his aim, and in the act of dying he gave a living performance of the laws of three and seven interacting to bring about his aim. As Dr Roles was to say of him, “He undoubtedly found his own target at the end of his life, there’s no doubt about that”.

This view, that his end was a conscious beginning, is confirmed by the descriptions of this period by some of his intimate followers who played their various roles in the drama of his death. They have recorded his insistence, despite his weakness, on a gruelling schedule of visiting places that held a significance for him, and how these great demands that he made upon himself, and upon them coupled with his extravagantly irrational behaviour, generated an intense emotional atmosphere which opened them to a completely new level of understanding. To illustrate this, here is what Dr Roles wrote in a 1950 paper, which, starting with the account of how Mr Ouspensky, many years earlier, had shown him in a long drawn out conversation, the meaning of ‘love your enemies’, goes on:

Twelve years went by. The scene changes to the front drive of Lyne Place on the evening of 17th September three years ago, about a fortnight before Mr Ouspensky’s death.

During the past few days he had been putting himself and those who were with him through a series of increasingly severe tests of endurance.  On the morning of the previous day he had come in, having been in the car with one short break for 24 hours.

But the next morning he was ready early again, and they had set off driving in a hired car, and only returned to Lyne at 8 o’clock that night during which time Mr O. had eaten nothing.  They hoped he would now come in and have his dinner and rest.  But he laughed at them and appeared very cheerful but continued to sit where he was.  He seemed determined to be as unreasonable as possible.  The driver wanted to get home and became very restive.  Finally, the taxi proprietor had to come and rescue him (the driver), immobilizing the car so that we couldn’t use it.  Towards midnight, R., stiff and cold, remembers being stirred to the very depths of indignation.  But suddenly an echo of that old conversation came to his mind.  He remembered that he had agreed to accept this relationship with Mr Ouspensky; that he would love him whatever he did, that he would have no doubts in his rightness, and suddenly he became calm and laughed to himself.  It seemed to him afterwards that something changed in him then which has remained since; and that it was not coincidence that ten minutes later Mr O. began to unfold his plans for the reconstruction of the System and the continuation of the work after his death, beginning with the words:

“I had to move you from where you were.  Now I can speak….”

The way Dr Roles had been ‘moved on’ gave him the courage and the insight to maintain the work after Mr Ouspensky’s death, in the form in which he had learned it, until he was absolutely sure, when it presented itself, of the new beginning it had to make. This is how he describes it in a paper dated 1960, the year he met the Maharishi: (and what follows must link with the quote I made earlier of Mr Ouspensky’s advice to the Lyne group, just before his departure to the States)

About 1935 when I first began to sit alone with Mr O he would often say:

“Something is missing in the system. Either G. didn’t know or he forgot. We are told that everything depends on remembering ourselves and next minute we are told ‘You can’t remember yourself’. If man is meant to remember himself there must have been some simple natural method. But it’s been lost. I could never find it. Once in India I heard an echo of such a method.” And he told it me, “Try it if you like”, he said, “but I can’t teach it because it’s not the real thing—it’s only second hand. Perhaps you have to find the real thing.” And from that time on he sent me to see anyone who came to London with any claims. I saw the most fantastic Yogis, etc. but never anything real until last January.

Then one of our people mentioned a certain Indian master, then in London, who had a very interesting method which her daughter was trying with great success. As usual I went to try it with the scepticism engendered by previous disappointments. Judge my astonishment when I recognized the exact method of which Mr O had given me the echo! No doubt of it.

So the golden, life giving method of meditation came to our rescue, and as, over the following years, Dr Roles became the devoted disciple of His Holiness the Shankaracharya, without in any way denying his first teacher, but using his knowledge of the system to test this new development, a marvellous transformation took place.

For, as Mr Ouspensky had predicted, with the finding of the source of the System, a fountain of pure knowledge poured out through the wisdom of the Realized man to nourish and enrich humanity; and Dr Roles, prepared by Mr Ouspensky, had the level of being to realize its significance to the full.

Due to his talents and training, Dr Roles was able to combine his knowledge of the Western System and his knowledge of Western medical science, with the exploration of the Advaita Tradition being unfolded to him by His Holiness.

This triple, three layered understanding of the knowledge he was absorbing, was centred on the Enneagram, that universal symbol which holds the key to the working of the two great laws of the universe, the Law of Three and the Law of Seven, and which, Dr Roles often told us, was the basis of everything he taught us. It was the basis of all those brilliant papers he wrote for our benefit throughout the years, which set out the framework for an East–West collaboration, so necessary if the lop-sided development of today’s civilization is to regain its balance. This great body of work, in fact the standing record of Dr Roles’s life’s work, forms a priceless treasure house of wisdom, which, if we play our parts faithfully, will one day come to be recognized as a breakthrough to the meaning and nature of consciousness—the exploration of which is at last exercising serious scientists today as ‘the final frontier’.

This new knowledge he was gaining from His Holiness filled the gaps in the Western System, the most crucial one being the recognition of the True Self as the divine spark in everyone—inexplicably always the same spark—thus creating a unity only to be found at a different level of consciousness.

The Enneagram, the centrepiece of the Western System, revealed a new power as Dr Roles demonstrated how the Absolute at the centre of the diagram, was this very spark, radiating divine and conscious energies through the various pulsating movements of its inner circulation. This universal, all-embracing circulation shows how the Laws of Three and Seven interlock throughout the whole range of cosmoses, creating a cosmic octave from the minutest sub-atomic world of the particle, via the world of individual man, the mid-point, to the vastest world containing all worlds. All are built to the same pattern at every scale and all reflect the image of God to form one whole. This is the Vyashti and Samashti of H.H’s teaching put into diagrammatic form, a form which can convey deep emotional insights without the tyranny of words. and unique in its ability to unify all our experience and knowledge.

This finding of the source of the System also explains, to some extent, Mr Ouspensky’s ‘peculiar suspicion’ over schools of the devotional way referred to earlier and why he didn’t find the sort of school for which he was looking. It has always been my understanding that this suspicion was based on his recognition that the one of the pitfalls of an emotional way were that it could lead to an enjoyment of the emotional centre as an end in itself, thus denying its true role as a passage way to higher centres. In a sense this view is vindicated by H.H. when he is reported as saying:

“Development of being is the most essential part of anybody’s association with him.  Devotion is no doubt far the best of all the ways but it is also the most difficult and rare.  The off and on devotion is not of any value.”

As Mr Ouspensky was in India before the meditation was made available, an ‘on-an -off’ devotion seems to have been the only possibility for the man-in-the-street, and short of giving up everything and entering a monastery, an appeal to reason seemed to be the best way to steer him in the right direction by realizing that the ordinary emotions were, in Mr Ouspensky’s own words, in Tertium Organum, ‘instruments of knowledge’. Mr Ouspensky regarded the System as a balanced medium for all three ‘types’, emotional, intellectual, and physical—the ‘fourth way’—yet he knew it had to cater for the strong rational element in Western understanding for he saw its development growing out of Western culture—a view shared by Dr Roles. As such it had to keep pace with scientific developments and technological advances by establishing a new psychology in relation to consciousness.

As Dr Roles told us in one of his last meetings, the January before his death:

This was precisely what Mr Ouspensky had in view when, having got Colet House for us just before World War II, he started a Society which we later called “The Society for the Study of Normal Psychology” or ‘Study Society’ for short.

He insisted on 3 points:-

(1)  That we must study healthy normal people (not making theories only out of case reports of mental or damaged cases as psychology loves to do, and psycho-analysts were doing then).

(2)  That we should establish a common language, agreeing among ourselves always to use important words like the four “States of Consciousness” to express the same meaning.

(3)  That we should use contemporary Western language and keep abreast of Western discoveries about the nervous system (e.g. the “alerting system,” the asymmetry of the two halves etc.).

At a later meeting, in March of the same year Dr Roles said:

First of all I had in my pocket at the Annual General Meeting a letter from the Shankaracharya, got to me by special messenger, giving me courage and advice about how to prepare for my own `next journey’ – and that’s going to be my target now, however long it’s going to take. So I am leaving it to the Society, the people who are going to take over, to find their own way through without somebody standing over them, making them think that he is doing their thinking for them, because he isn’t! You’ve got to do it yourselves, and you’ll only do it from necessity. That’s the first thing. But secondly, I would like to remind everybody that this is Mr Ouspensky’s house. That he got it for us from the Russian Ballet and that he had certain reasons for starting this sort of Society which was all about the “psychological transformation of man” — the possibility that man was only an incomplete being but could by endeavour, if he discovered the right lines, complete his possibilities. And that’s what our Society is really for.

So for the last fifteen years we have been left to our own devices, driven by the necessity within us. We have not all reached the same conclusions, but what has united us all is the practice of the meditation and our devotion to His Holiness. These are strong bonds and have proved themselves flexible enough to develop the directions we feel called on to follow.

And His Holiness told us in 1985 — on our first visit after Dr Roles’s death — when questioned about the validity of continuing to study the Western System:

H.H. does not claim that only His knowledge is responsible for the liberation of the individual – whatever you think is necessary, whatever can be used of the material left by Mr. Ouspensky should be happily used so that people can see the variety and take whatever is suitable to them.  Don’t make any problem of this situation – use whatever is necessary.  The necessary work is the liberation of man.  It was also the aim of Mr. Ouspensky and what Dr. Roles tried to bring in with the help of His Holiness – His material is equally available.  Use them both – there should be no difficulty in using them both.

This advice, so full of impartial wisdom, leaves the way equally open to both those of us who wish to follow His Holiness’s teaching without further reference to the Western System, and those who see the Western system, so enhanced by being bathed in the light of His Holiness’s teaching that they prefer to follow that route. As H.H. tells us ‘the necessary work is the liberation of man’ and both approaches give us the unity of purpose so essential for this aim.

Finally, this seems to be the appropriate occasion, an evening devoted to the memory of Mr Ouspensky, to announce with great pleasure the setting up of the Ouspensky Society which is just taking place. Largely due to the initiative of the School of Philosophy in Amsterdam (which Dr Roles helped to found) it is a joint venture between some of them and some of us who see Mr Ouspensky’s work as the ideal third force needed as a basis to relate the science of the West to the mysticism of the East. But it is useful to remind ourselves, whatever developments are taking place here at Colet House that, as His Holiness tells us, we are only taking part in a play and, as Dr Roles confirms, “every scene in this drama must be set beforehand by a consciousness higher than our own”.


So, in conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, as I see your glasses are now charged with what was one of Mr Ouspensky’s favourite wines, let me propose a toast in his honour,  that great man, the Founder of our Society, who opened the door for each of us to make a perpetual beginning, I give you,

Pyotr Demianovitch Ouspensky

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