Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and the Evidence of “Tertium Organum”

The Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review has published my article “P. D. Ouspensky’s First Revision of Tertium Organum.” It is in the 2023 edition, volume 14 (1) 47-67.

I think it is a reasonably important article, if understanding the Gurdjieff system is important to you. I would say that the implications of this research go beyond simply the history of the system, or even the smaller topic of the relationship between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. The contents of this article go to the hitherto unknown fact that, long before the publication of In Search of the Miraculous, Ouspensky had incorporated into his 1916 Russian revision of Tertium Organum,  material he had learnt from Gurdjieff. Given the close cooperation between the two men at that time, and the fact that Ouspensky had no chance of hiding the fact of borrowing from Gurdjieff, the inescapable conclusions are that Gurdjieff allowed or even instigated this, and Ouspensky gladly complied. Then, when the new 1916 edition was translated into English by Bragdon, the thought which so impressed people like Orage and Lady Rothermere, was in fact mixed with Gurdjieff’s. This also explains why, when Ouspensky met Bennett, and Ouspensky was already teaching the Gurdjieff system, he gave Bennett a copy of Tertium Organum.

Further, the fact that Ouspensky makes no reference to this in Miraculous shows that this was intended to be secret, and to maintain the secret, he was prepared to lie about not making written records. That is, it is not merely that Ouspensky makes no reference to the introduction of Gurdjieff’s ideas into Tertium Organum; it goes further than that, he stated that no notes could be taken, nothing written without Gurdjieff’s permission, and that when he suggested to Gurdjieff that he write something (this being after he had published the 1916 edition), Gurdjieff had agreed in principle.

This makes me wonder whether the history of In Search may not be more complex than we know. If Gurdjieff connived at the revision of Tertium, surely he had made plans with Ouspensky for In Search? If Gurdjieff had mapped it out with Ouspensky, at least to a certain point, this may account for the extraordinary power of that book: it was a joint effort by the two, up to the time of their split. Now, this is the abstract of the article:

When P. D. Ouspensky (1878–1947) is noted today, it is generally as a quondam pupil of G. I. Gurdjieff (c.1866–1949), and the author of In Search of the Miraculous, an account of his time with Gurdjieff. Ouspensky had a considerable reputation in Russian esoteric circles before he had met Gurdjieff, and it is sometimes asserted that Ouspensky’s standing as an independent thinker has been underestimated. The English translation of his book Tertium Organum has been cited as evidence that Ouspensky had already anticipated some of Gurdjieff’s leading ideas. However, a comparison of the 1911 Russian-language edition with the 1920 English translation of the 1916 Russian revision of Tertium Organum establishes that the 1911 original lacked key ideas found in later editions, most of which are distinctively Gurdjieff’s. This shows the extent of Ouspensky’s debt to Gurdjieff, and casts a different light on the relationship between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky; namely, that there was more collaboration than previously known, and that Ouspensky’s account of his agreement with Gurdjieff about committing Gurdjieff’s ideas to writing, was tendentious, if not misleading.

Then, in addition, there was the surprising discovery that the talk “Pure and Impure Emotions” also known as “The Meaning of Life,” which has long been recognised as by Gurdjieff, and is even in the Early Talks volume, is in fact by Ouspensky, and what  is more, appeared in the 1911 edition of Tertium Organum, i.e. before he had met Gurdjieff. The fact that very many people, myself included, and even senior in the Gurdjieff Work, accepted it as by Gurdjieff who after all had it read to his pupils, shows just how high the level of Ouspensky’s thought could be, or rather, how sound his reason was.

I did not place the following ideas in the article: they came to me as a result of pondering the results of my own study. But, I think a fresh idea at the history of Gurdjieff and his school is in order. The material he provided to Ouspensky was programmatic for his entire career. The ideas he had disclosed, and the plan of the Fourth Way, were of course deviated from in some significant aspects. But even these are illuminating. It seems to me that the Fourth Way work of Gurdjieff was initially, organised around the preparation of “The Struggle of the Magicians” to be the public face of the esoteric work. The scenario for this ballet was written by Ouspensky, although he himself thought that the central idea of the scenario was too much based on magic and not enough on inner work. It seems to me that the Movements demonstrations in France and the USA were part of this preparation. The development of this programme was cut short by two things: his 1924 car crash and the rift with Ouspensky which meant that In Search did not appear. It seems to me that Gurdjieff had intended that the public work would be supported by a book.

Kindly do not ask me for a copy: you must pay, both because of the esoteric principle of payment and for the honourable practical reason that I must keep faith with the Review, which would go bankrupt if it was not remunerated by readers. Besides, it is good to patronise such reviews, when their copy is good copy. The process of getting something through peer review can be helpful in improving the quality of the final product.


  1. If Ouspensky’s 1911 writing “Pure and Impure Emotions” or “The Meaning of Life” had similarities to aspects of Gurdjieff’s teaching even before he met Gurdjieff, why should the 1916 revisions to TO which resemble Gurdjieff’s teaching not also belong to this trend in Ouspensky’s thought? Alternatively, why should the similarities not be due to Gurdjieff adopting aspects of Ouspensky’s thought? These strike me as alternative explanations.

    1. Because Ouspensky said that the system was new to him. The thing about “Pure and Impure Emotions” is that it is not entirely consistent with the Gurdjieff ideas, but the level is extraordinarily high. I don’t know anything about the circumstances in which it was read, but it shows how highly Gurdjieff esteemed Ouspensky. If you read my exercises book, you will see that I think Gurdjieff did take ideas from Ouspensky, e.g. the idea of a book of talks with a devil. But the influence is in the presentation, not, so far as I can see, the contents.

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