THE PSEUDO-OUSPENSKY ON ST JOHN’S GOSPEL
Joseph Azize Page
The wedding at Cana
The Pseudo-Ouspensky on St John’s Gospel
Part One: Notes on Saint John’s Gospel, published by Ediciones Sol, Mexico, undated, attributed to P.D. Ouspensky, almost certainly in fact written by an anonymous pupil of Ouspensky (see James Webb, The Harmonious Circle).
It (sc. the Gospel of St John) talks about New Foods. The first miracle it relates is the miracle of water turned to wine at the wedding feast. Wine represents New Food – not a natural food, but something which has to be made by a very complicated process. Wine is the juice of fruit which is ‘fermented’, which means it has taken on a new force from being dead. Water comes naturally, from a spring. Wine has to be made intelligently, by men, for their own use.
A whole chapter talks about Bread, Flesh, Blood. “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from Heaven and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said, I am the bread of life. He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” The disciples wanted the bread to be ‘given to them’. Jesus at once answers, “I am the bread.” It is something very difficult; they cannot understand. They ask for ‘a gift’. Jesus answers, “He that cometh to me shall never hunger, he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”
“To come” means progress, advance step by step.
“To believe” means work to combine Imagination, Reason and Will into a balanced power which will be Faith. Faith is not an emotion.
Jesus said unto them: “Verily, verily I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood ye have no life in you … For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”
“Flesh” and “blood” are New Food. Food is another name for Power . We are enclosed inside powers of which we are not conscious. We cannot ‘eat’ or ‘drink’ because the faculties with which we could take those powers in and use them are not working. We are like dried-up sponges in water. The water cannot soak in and penetrate the sponges because they are dead.
“Eat the flesh” and “drink the blood” means being made an active living part inside a great force – like a red corpuscle in blood, which draws life from the food a man eats and makes new life from it. “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him.”
“Dwelleth in me and I in him” means being admitted into a new consciousness.
Saint John gives a new meaning to the word “Light”.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. … All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.”
Light is the basis of all life on earth. Vibrations of energy and power travel on. light. All material forms are threaded through with it, like beads on a string.
“And the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.”
“Darkness” means mechanicalness. Earth is enclosed and enwrapped in a great flame of radiant power. The same power is stored inside every living form, waiting for some shock that will set it free.
“The darkness comprehendeth it not.” “Comprehend” means ‘take in and use’. We are Darkness so long as we are mechanical. Life with power flows all round us, but we cannot take it in and use it.
“Light” is Food. Every animal and plant and stone draws in something from light and could not live, without it. Colour is food which flowers draw out of a ray of light in which our eyes can see, no colour at all, unless it is broken up for us in a rainbow. Colour is as necessary for the flower as its ordinary food of moisture and warmth. But it uses another faculty to absorb colour. It is a faculty which we have not got at all.
The Gospel talks of ‘mechanicalness’ several times. “Then, said Jesus, I go my way, and ye shall seek me and die in your sins: Whither I go, ye cannot come.”
“Die in your sins” means in the circle of mechanical thoughts and feelings which enclose us.
Jesus answered, “For I know whence I came and whither I go.” We do not know whence we came and whither we go. We do not ‘come’ or ‘go’.
“I am the door of the sheep … By me, if any man enter in he shall be saved and shall go in and out and find pasture.”
“Sheep” represent mechanical people.
“Shall go in and out” means ‘shall be conscious and therefore free’.
“Find pasture” means ‘find fresh growing food’.
“And he said, Therefore said I unto you that no man can come unto me except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time, many of his disciples went back and walked. no more with him.”
The superficial disciples did not like being told they were mechanical. They liked to think they had ‘chosen’ to be disciples.
“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? And Simon Peter answered him Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”
The real disciples could never be ‘offended’. They knew what they wanted. Their aim filled their minds and drove out all negative objections.
“Words of eternal life” means New Food. The true disciples thought it so precious they were prepared to sacrifice their worldly life in order to find it.
The Gospel talks of “Truth”. “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
“Worship in spirit” means secretly, inwardly, in thought and feeling.
“Worship in truth” means ‘true with ourselves.’
“When the spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak, and he will show you things. to come.”
“Spirit of truth” means ‘no self-deception’. The more we try to be true in spirit, secretly, the more chance we have of understanding objective truths.
“For he shall not speak of himself” means ‘he shall no longer be subjective.’
“But whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak.” He shall ‘hear’. It is a new faculty. Their machinery makes the noise they imagine they hear. To hear means three separate efforts combined continuously:
First, effort to make silence in ourselves, by stilling the noise made by our imaginings;
Second, effort to listen, to become aware of something outside us;
Third, effort to take in. A new faculty is needed, which will start a new process of thought and feeling.
“He will show you things to come” means the new faculty the conscious man will have acquired will enable him better to understand laws.
Jesus says, “I can of mine own self do nothing. As I hear, so I judge … and my judgment is just, because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”
Jesus directly followed the Will of God. It cannot reach us except through laws. Each person has a law. Our work of self-observation is simply in order to find out what is our particular law. No one else can tell us what it is.
Jesus says, “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory, but he that seeketh the glory that sent him, the same is true and no unrighteousness is in him.”
“He that seeketh the glory that sent him” means a man who is trying to wake, in order to follow the law that works through him, apart from his feelings.
“No unrighteousness is in him” means no mechanicalness.
“Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself; except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”
“Abide in me” means ‘obey your law’. The home of the branch is in the vine. It ‘abides’ there. That is where it is fed and kept alive. If we awake, the home of our thought and feeling will be in a new sort of conscience. New food will be drawn from it and life will not be able to be parted from it.
Jesus heals the man who was born blind. No one recognizes him after he is healed. They think he is different – another person. Pharisees and Jews come and question him. They ask the wrong sort of question, ‘How was it done?’ ‘What sort of a man was Jesus?’ They do not really care. They are inquisitive. The man whom he healed simply says, ‘All I know is, I was blind and now I can see’. The result is all that matters.
Saint John is a poet. He gives new meanings to ordinary words. When he speaks of Wine, Bread, Light, Flesh, Blood, he means Foods – New Powers. Food is a key. It is a new force which starts machinery. Food is another name for Power. If we stop feeding for an instant we die.
Innumerable keys turn the wheels which control the circulation of our blood and feed our brain and keep up movement in us continually, which we call life. Our food is light, air, vision, sound and every impression of feeling and sensation drawn from our surroundings. We have an illusion of being active. In reality we depend entirely on our foods and have no more power in ourselves than a windmill without wind.
Self-remembering is an effort to make new power which will be Food for new faculties which otherwise are starved.
Part Two: The Provenance of the Text and Its Purport
The text was published in a small blue booklet by Rodney Collin-Smith in Mexico. His press, Ediciones Sol, is mentioned by Joyce Collin-Smith in her important book Call No Man Master. Copyright was not claimed by the editor, the publisher, or on behalf of the author. Someone purchased the booklet on my behalf in the USA, I think from the late Michael Smyth. However, I never asked Michael about it, although I am proud to say that I was close to him. I do not presently have access to Driscoll’s bibliography or any of my Gurdjieff and Ouspensky books. However, a correspondent who read the first draft of this blog has informed me that according to James Webb’s Harmonious Circle Rodney Collin-Smith found the materials amongst Ouspensky’s papers after his death, and believing Ouspensky to have been the author, published them (with, I might add, a Spanish translation). When he discovered his error, he withdrew the booklet. Why, I wonder, did he just not re-issue it as “Anonymous, Unknown”?
In the first version of this blog, I wrote of this text: “My own view is that it is too concise and too deep to be by Collin-Smith, but may well have been written by Ouspensky.”
I was not sure that it was in fact by Ouspensky, as my wording “may well have been written by Ouspensky” shows. However, the only alternative author I then considered was Collin-Smith. I continued: “Also, we know from odd comments made in A Record of Meetings that Ouspensky believed St John’s Gospel to have been the most extraordinary document, written, he said, by someone who was nourished by Hydrogen 12, if I remember correctly. By this Ouspensky meant that the author could consciously receive the impressions of higher centres. It is difficult to argue. If anything I have seen is inspired, it is the Gospel of St John. If any text warranted Ouspensky’s comments, it is this one. As an aside, in Orage’s unpublished notes in the Brotherton Library is the following scheme: Hydrogen 6 corresponds to I, 12 to sex, 24 to emotions, 48 to air, 96 to magnetism, 192 to air, 384 to water, 768 to food, 1536 to mineral and 3072 to mineral. In other words, St John’s food was the highest possible.” I thought, therefore that the attribution to Ouspensky was reasonable, but I went on to add: “Now, the thing is the commentary as it stands.”
I do not know whether Webb’s information is accurate or not, and unfortunately, as is well known, he gave very few references. He stated that he would leave his references with Thames & Hudson for scholars. I made enquiries, and am informed that Thames & Hudson do not in fact possess any such document. Further, Joyce Collin-Smith tells me that Webb’s wife did not retain any of the documents, and that they are effectively lost.
I do not know who really wrote these notes, but will refer to the author as the Pseudo-Ouspensky. It is a shame we know so little about the Ps-O., but he or she was a very impressive thinker. And this itself is important: in the late 1940s, Gurdjieff apparently disparaged Ouspensky’s teaching, but from the evidence of these notes, at least one student attained to insights of a high order, and possessed a great power of expression.
Modern biblical scholars have only recently started shaking off the dogma of the “higher criticism” in respect of what one may call the “Johannine Corpus” (the Gospel, the three epistles and the Apocalypse). I will just say here that if you have come across the books of writers like Bultmann and Raymond E. Brown on St John, you might bear this in mind. Ellis’s The Making of the New Testament Documents, and Charles E. Hill’s The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church, are, however, well worth the study.
I have no doubt, and neither did those closest to the Apostolic Age that all five documents were written by St John himself, the beloved disciple, even if all or some of chapter 21 has been added to the Gospel to authenticate and perhaps even to supplement the text. I suspect that St John wrote his Gospel chiefly to leave a testament of his own understanding of Jesus’ teaching and ministry, partly also to counter errors circulating about the roles of the apostles, especially perhaps Peter, and partly to supplement what he and others saw as lacunas in the three Synoptic Gospels. My reading of the texts is that John believed he had a special insight into Jesus’ work, and that his wish to share it was genuine, even if he was urged to it by others. He opted, in the event, to write a Gospel which was different: Clement of Alexandria refers to John’s decision to write a “spiritual” Gospel, which was published while he was still alive (see Ellis, esp. 151-4).
John’s first language was Aramaic, the language in which Jesus taught. John’s Greek was either poor or non-existent: certain Greek speakers approached Philip because he did speak Greek, as suggested in John 12:20-1. The Johannine Corpus has come down to us exclusively in Greek, and the Greek of the five documents is identical in style. Perhaps the texts we have were in whole or in part either (1) translated from John’s teaching, whether oral or written, or (2) edited from John’s rather rough Greek. John’s use of an amanuensis, translator or editor would explain discrepancies of style and vocabulary within the corpus, and why the Apocalypse is written in what scholars often consider a very “Semitic” form of Greek (in addition, the influence of its unusual genre should not be forgotten). For the authenticity of the Apocalypse, together with research into why authorship ever became an issue, see the thesis of Michael Michael, The Number of the Beast, available in the University of Sydney’s Fisher Library and elsewhere.
One can infer from our text that it’s purpose was to relate the Gospel of St John to the teaching which Ouspensky had from Gurdjieff, and developed in certain respects. It explains key Gospel words and phrases in terms of the Gurdjieff system. It raises many questions for me: can light be shown on or related to the Ray of Creation? The Pseudo-Ouspensky seems to be saying that light is a very fine hydrogen or series of hydrogens, perhaps even H1. Could this be part of the meaning of the hackneyed phrase “God is Light”? Of course, light is not a simple thing, and I am not qualified to study it the way a tertiary trained scientist could. But I sense that light is of fundamental importance, and I shall have to return to it, many many times. The insight that light is food is striking.
To my mind, one of the most puzzling aspects of Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson is its pervasive but eccentric religious aspect. Gurdjieff populates his cosmos with a deity and four ranks of angels, what is effectively hell, heaven and purgatory, and messengers from above bringing revelation. Where is the austere almost clinical universal scheme he sketched to Ouspensky, described in In Search of the Miraculous? I doubt that anyone would find a new religious faith in Beelzebub’s pages, whatever else they may strike there.
On the other hand, the Pseudo-Ouspensky’s comments here are luminous, deep and insightful. Why did Gurdjieff not write something like this? Perhaps, one could guess, because the Gospel wasn’t important to him: but then why did he speak of his system as “esoteric Christianity”, and why did he use the Johannine concept of the logos (the Word), as centrally as he did in Beelzebub (Theomertmalogos: the concept is also found in Views)? Did Gurdjieff wish to leave it to others? Who? I do not think Nicoll’s work is anywhere deep enough to demonstrate essential connections between Gurdjieff’s teaching and Christianity. The Pseudo-Ouspensky’s far briefer notes, however, succeed. No, my conjecture is that Gurdjieff was equivocal about Christianity.
Why did Gurdjieff cease teaching of the kind he had engaged in with Ouspensky? It cannot be because only Ouspensky could understand: many people proved otherwise. I just do not understand why Gurdjieff did not do more to spread his ideas, despite his stated intention of sharing his discoveries. Once more, I wonder if he did not have an equivocal attitude, at least to certain aspects of his ideas, namely, those he had taught to Ouspensky. The movements and the inner exercises, at least, seem to have been in a different category for him, as he continued to invent these until his death. Yet, the Gurdjieff groups profited immensely from the publication of In Search, indeed, it rather than Gurdjieff’s books, filled the Foundation and the Institutions for a period. And the Pseudo-Ouspensky established that they could be developed.
I repeat: why did Gurdjieff not do more to spread and develop his ideas? Because he had written Beelzebub? But he prevented its publication until after his death. Why? To form a nucleus which could support the book? But if the nucleus did NOT do one thing, it was support the book. The book was published, and then not used. I have a transcript of a meeting at Bray where Henriette Lannes is asked a question about something in the book and she replies in words to this effect: “No questions about Beelzebub. This is a rule in all groups, you have your reading of it and that is what is important: you work with that.”
I mentioned that to Mrs Staveley once, and she laughed: why not ask questions about it? And I would add now, that on that basis, “you have your own reading of it”, no questions on any topic would ever be asked in groups. You always have your own experience.
I suspect that from Mme de Salzmann’s point of view, the problem with Beelzebub was far more straightforward: she did not sufficiently understand Beelzebub, and she was too pragmatic to court questions she could not answer. I am told that someone once asked Tracol a question about the book, and his reply was something like: “everything in the book is in the Ashiata Shiemash chapters”. Tracol was dodging. Besides, it is wrong. There is a great deal in other parts of the book which cannot be found in Ashiata.
Some friends have made comments about the first draft of this piece, and I feel obliged to add a post-script. First, my appreciation of this piece is by no means undiminished by knowing that it was almost certainly not by Ouspensky. On the contrary, I now have a new sense of appreciation for the unknown pupil of Ouspensky, and gratitude that he or she left their papers with Ouspensky for Collin-Smith to find.
Second, in a DVD I have seen, Dr William Welch says that not long before he died, Gurdjieff, in the company of a few men, drove to a Russian Orthodox Church and parked outside. There he sat in silence for quite a while before driving off.
To my mind, this perfectly encapsulates what I call Gurdjieff’s equivocal attitude to what we might call “exoteric Christianity”. He felt outside it, and yet he felt attracted to it. He had unfinished business.
I have no doubt that Gurdjieff believed that there was a way not only out of the circle of mechanicalness, but to the vision of God. And it is at that second point, as I see it, that his equivocation begins. Others are entitled to disagree: that is my view.
Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book “The Phoenician Solar Theology” treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.