Fragments of an Unknown Teaching: an appreciation

P. D. Ouspenksy's In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching stands as one of the great classic texts of man’s eternal search for meaning and being.

When Piotr Demianovich Ouspensky (1878-1947) met Gurdjieff in St. Petersburg in 1915, he was uniquely prepared to resonate to the latter’s call, and was to become one of the most important people to help spread Gurdjieff’s ideas in the world. He was already a popular journalist and accomplished writer who had written several books on esoteric traditions (his seminal Tertium Organum was published in 1912). He had just returned from his own extensive search in the East, where he encountered a number of “teachers” but had not found what he was looking for—an esoteric school, with a genuine teacher. In Gurdjieff he recognized such a teacher, and became a student.

Later he distanced himself from Gurdjieff, for reasons that are hinted at in the present book and in other places, but which remain mysterious. Ouspensky himself became an important teacher, in a form derived almost entirely from Gurdjieff. He attracted many students in London, and later in New Jersey where he moved in 1941. He continued to work on the extensive notes he had made during his period studying directly with Gurdjieff (1915-1924). Shortly before he died, he finished the present book, which was based on these notes.

Upon Ouspensky’s death his wife and co-leader of his study groups submitted Fragments (which is what many students call the book) to Gurdjieff, who endorsed it as authentically representing his teaching. It was published posthumously in 1949, and has been translated into many languages. Madame Ouspensky also advised Ouspensky’s students to go to Gurdjieff in Paris and study with him. Several of these students became key individuals in the spread of his teaching.

The book interweaves three elements: the ideas of the teaching itself; accounts of Ouspensky’s exchanges with Gurdjieff including extensive quotes; and the back-story of dramatic events in Russia connected with the emerging Russian Revolution. These events created enormous difficulties for Gurdjieff and his followers, eventually forcing them to undertake a risky escape through the Caucasus mountains, mostly on foot. The story Ouspensky relates of the war and the escape from Russia are integral to the development taking place within himself and his companions. Gurdjieff emphasized that it is precisely great difficulties in outer life that can, with the additional factor of conscious work by the individual, assist the growth of inner substance. He said that if such difficulties do not arise naturally, it may be necessary to create them.

Gurdjieff intended to create among his followers a nucleus from which a new tradition could spread, one that broke decisively with previous religious and esoteric traditions in its ideas and practices, but which had much in common with them in purpose. Gurdjieff felt that such a break was necessary because all the traditions extant in the West had deteriorated and lost their ability to help. Ouspensky’s book rapidly became a standard introductory text for Gurdjieff’s teaching, which now has many thousands of committed students worldwide. The authority and quality of Ouspensky’s writing made a major contribution to the spread of Gurdjieff’s teaching.

Copyright © 2011 Richard Hodges
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