Gurdjieff Studies

P D Ouspensky

Piotr Demianovich Ouspensky (1878 -1947)

An appreciation by James Moore


Incontestably the most famous pupil of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866-1949), P. D. Ouspensky was by profession a journalist and author, and by temperament an ardent intellectual esotericist. There is a skein running through his life which begs sympathy: in youth he contemplated suicide and his sister died in a Tsarist prison; the Russian revolution cut him from his beloved land and joined him with a wife for whom he had no feeling; his privileged liaison with Gurdjieff nevertheless arrested his independent development as a notable metaphysical philosopher. By his own criteria he failed to make crucial contact with a putative ‘Higher Source’.

Click to enlarge

(click on image to enlarge)


Though adamant against inspirazzione, intuizzione, imaginazzione in his pupils, he himself indulged a speculative ‘Eternal Recurrence’ paradigm which overcast his spirits. The Gurdjieffian ‘System’ – progressively reduced by Ouspensky to an intellectual construct and expropriated as teaching material – slipped finally from his hands. He died lonely, childless, and disappointed. And yet, and yet...


Ouspensky separated from Gurdjieff. The ensuing polarisation was far from a philosophic abstraction. It affected many people’s destinies. It confronted them with hard questions and existential choices. It created a powerful current in which, despite turbulence, Gurdjieff’s Work has thriven. In the final analysis this is arguably Ouspensky's essential, if unplanned, contribution.


From the bewildering historical canvas of human experience some lives stand out as notably unfortunate and pitiable. Yet even of these merely a  fraction qualify as ‘tragic’. This emphatic adjective is licensed only by the totemic stature of an individual and the irony of his fate. Ouspensky once possessed such a stature. Sixty years after his death he remains – notwithstanding his frailties – a figure to be taken very seriously.


Copyright © James Moore 2007


(For James Moore’s fuller-length account

of the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky relationship

click here.)



Gurdjieff Studies Ltd, Registered Charity No. 1098600