The direct connection between the Fourth Way and Inner Christianity

 

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The 'Elders' of the Inner Tradition

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The Inner Tradition today ...

In the West, between the two world wars, and after the Revolution in Russia, P. D. Ouspensky taught a highly simplified psychological form, developed by G. I. Gurdjieff, of what we have now identified as one stream of traditional Orthodox thought, although almost certainly with additions borrowed - in ways themselves traditional with the inner teaching - from other forms of inner tradition.

In the 1980's a story was still current in Ouranopolis, the Greek seaside village from which the ferry leaves for Mount Athos every morning, of an old man who travelled round the great monasteries of Athos just after WWII offering the monks new factory-made carpets in exchange for their ancient Turkish equivalent. Whenever I would mention this story to someone with a serious interest in Gurdjieff, their face would light up with a knowing smile, and they would say something such as: "we know who that was."

For those who are unaware of him, Gurdjieff was an Armenian savant known to have taught in Moscow before the revolution, who finally reached as far West as California. Gurdjieff told the students of his strange system that “this is esoteric (or 'inner') Christianity," but without revealing his sources for this information, although a clue is given by the fact that at the end of his life he suggested an attempt to contact those who originated the teaching, and directed that attempt to specific Christian sources. Not surprisingly, this statement had little or no effect: some of his more influential students continue to seek for the source of his teachings in the Sufi masters of the Middle East. Between them, a few men from an Orthodox Christian world - G. I. Gurdjieff, Boris Mouravieff, P. D. Ouspensky and others who followed them -began to define something that my many years of investigation have proved was based - at least in large part - on the forgotten psychological method of the early church. Gurdjieff himself confirmed his debt to Christianity when he told his pupils that after his death, then imminent, they should 'make contact with the Inner Tradition on Mount Athos.'

This was the Tradition I referred to earlier, and included tested means of healing human beings and restoring their psyches to health. This was one of the two practical supports that made the early Christian Church so effective. It was the fact that this tradition never reached the West in 'working order' which made the early Church so different from most churches today.

Although the results of these modern teachers were sometimes remarkable, they never equalled those produced by the early Church. Because of this, someone who grew up in his household reports that, when Ouspensky returned to England in 1946, and when in his honesty he looked at his English students, who during six years or so of war had progressed not at-all, and, after a few meetings at which nobody had any real questions, he said that the teaching had failed, and that it was time to start again from the beginning.
The enigmatic and highly capable Gurdjieff, who appeared to be an eccentric teacher of the disciples of an eccentric age, died later than his pupil Ouspensky, but again admitted failure. He did not leave visible behind him anyone of comparable knowledge or ability. “Je vous laissez dans les beaux draps," he said to his students on his deathbed, “I leave you in a fine old mess."
Because of his novel way of explaining things, because of his flamboyant and apparently egotistical style of teaching that made it too easy to judge him a charlatan and so avoid the searching questions raised by his very existence, and because he disguised or left out certain Christian dogmas that would have been unacceptable to his students, nearly every committed Christian has ignored him. But he is historical fact, and his influence is indirect as well as direct. The lesson of all these is not that they were in any way inadequate, far from it, they were the best of their times.

 

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One of the things that triggered the investigation that led to this book was this almost ignored claim of Gurdjieff, later confirmed by meeting one of the men who followed up an instruction by G after his death to make contact with the Tradition in a certain location in the Eastern church, a contact which finally came to fruition in 1983. Further confirmation lay in the fact that the Philokalia, the great compendium of teachings of the early fathers that has driven Eastern monasticism since the sixteenth century, and which has waited until now to be proven, was translated into English as an indirect but clearly traceable result of the work of these two men, as a direct result of Ouspensky’s friendly contact with a hermit on Mount Athos, a Father Nikon. After O’s death, certain of his students visited that hermit, and this contact with the mainstream had considerable effect on Western spirituality, since it was this that led directly to Gerald Palmer’s translation into English of parts of the Philokalia. The idea came from Ouspensky’s friend Father Nikon in conversation with Palmer, once a student of Ouspensky. Palmer’s co-translator in this, also co-translator of the Art of Prayer and Unseen Warfare, was Madam Kadloubovsky, who for many years was Ouspensky’s secretary.

It was after several years of investigation into sources on Mount Athos that I finally discovered, much closer to home, the report that Gurdjieff had arranged, only a short time before his death, for a party to go to Athos in hopes of establishing contact with the Tradition whose doctrines he had taught in such a unique manner. This finally convinced me that this statement that his teachings were esoteric Christianity was correct not just loosely, but in many important details, previously unproved because of the difficulties in carrying out an adequate study.

The simplest confirmation of this story, indeed, has been the gradually growing awareness that to make this connection has taken us a long way towards the completion of those then still incomplete teachings, so that they lead to results of a new kind.
It is those results, and their ability to meet the inner needs of individuals, that take us back to the personal and so light up the historical aspect of our study, and it is the particular nature of inner study which has led to the need to express not just data but the understandings that have been brought by slow assimilation of that data and conscientious practice of certain of the methods that, traditionally, have always existed alongside it.
This book, then, is a detailed study of a single Christian inner tradition in several different forms: in its written forms, some of them nearly two millennia old, and including the Gospels themselves; in its direct modern form that survives in the monasticism of the Eastern church, and in perhaps less complete modern forms, as a lay teaching that in the recent past has taken on different terminology at different times. Accepting that these modern forms are incomplete, the book begins to explore what elements in early texts or monastic practice would be needed to restore something like the original form of this Tradition, and what there was in the psychology of the Fourth Way forms not now available to the West, but essential if there is ever to be a reawakening of spirituality in the Western world.

Last modified: 14 July, 2006
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