Ouspensky’s separation from Gurdjieff has been much misunderstood. Fundamentally, it was not a personal conflict but a necessity of not confusing two ‘schools’ of knowledge and methods of teaching. Once a person has really understood something it becomes their own, something new, and they can build on this and teach others accordingly.
An example of the necessary separation of teacher and pupil, once the pupil has become autonomous, is found in the case of Dr Maurice Nicoll. Nicoll was the only person Ouspensky authorized to teach the system during his lifetime, and after Nicoll launched his own school he purposely and entirely amicably had no further contact with his teacher.
In an ‘Autobiographical Fragment’, published in A Further Record, Ouspensky wrote:
… in the summer of 1918 I began to feel that I had ceased to understand him, or his views had changed, and I found it necessary to separate G., and the system, of which I had no doubts. But it did not help very much, so in the end I broke with G. …
… in January 1920 I left Russia for Constantinople and stayed there about a year and a half. Constantinople then was full of Russians. I began lectures there on psychology, on my travels, etc., and in the summer of 1920 I met G. who had come there from Tiflis. I tried to work with him again but soon found it impossible for the same reasons as before.
In August 1921 I left Constantinople for London. I started my lectures in London and met many people interested in the same kind of ideas. In February 1922 G. visited London; he then lived in Germany. I was still very interested in his work, but this time I very firmly decided to stand apart. G. went to France. I helped him in many ways to organize his work there, and in 1922 and in 1923 went many times to Paris and to Fontainbleau. At the end of 1923 I found that I could not remain connected with G. because I ceased to understand him completely, and I broke with him finally in January 1924.
And in A Record of Meetings:
9 October 1935
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.
4 October 1937
I said people must not talk to those who left the work. Then I spoke about the rule made in 1924 after I broke relationship with G. I see that even now it immediately produces questions that cannot be answered. This shows why I said that people must not talk among themselves about the reasons of my separation from G.
Another of Ouspensky’s rules was ‘not to talk as if you know’ — which is an aid to noticing when one is lying to oneself, as well as to others.