Issue 7 — January 15, 2019

“Moving Mandala”

“In Search of the Miraculous”


“Moving Mandala”

It is not every day that an arresting and beautiful work of animation appears on my computer screen. Here is one that did. I have dubbed it a “moving mandala” and it inspired me to write a few paragraphs about it. Not that I understand it in any detail, but the intent is obvious. It is a “teaching device” par excellence. Here goes ….

“A Visual Unfolding of the Cosmos and Its Laws” is the title of this “moving mandala” created by Fifth Press, the imprint of a group of followers of the Fourth Way established in Salt Lake City, Utah. Fifth Press is dedicated to publishing and maintaining in print the books of the late Dr. Keith Buzzell, osteopath and director of a medical clinical in Fryeburg, Maine. He is the author of six major books on the nature of man, described in some detail on the website for Fifth Press.

The so-called “visual unfolding” is a 8.25-minute video, available any time and everywhere on YouTube. It depicts the creation of the cosmos following the steps identified by G.I. Gurdjieff and described by P.D. Ouspensky in his book In Search of the Miraculous.

The video that appeared on my computer in late November of 2018 was accompanied by an extensive statement by Dr. Buzzell, which is well written and well worth reading. It was followed by a request for “comments.” The comments that I contributed to Fifth Press appear here:

The “visual unfolding” is remarkably intelligent and meditative as well as artistic and sensible. Honours should flow to the team and the recognition to the team-work that evolved it.

The colours are unusual and memorable on their own, as are the narrator’s pace and voice. The piano accompaniment could not have been more appropriate. I would like to say that I will watched the video – with its stately movements and meditative appearance – until I understood each and every one of its ins and outs, but that would be rash of me because in order to do so it would take many months or perhaps many lifetimes!

One detail intrigued me and that is the use of what P.D.O. called the “unicursal” route around the enneagram. I see it demonstrated here. The enneagram’s “unicursal” character is mentioned in In Search of the Miraculous, but the continuous motion is characteristically withheld in those pages. I wonder how many viewers learned by their own efforts (as I did) how to trace the unbroken track without backtracking as it is effortless and naturally demonstrated here.

I am now struggling to follow the specifics of Dr. Buzzell’s learned “note” (an understatement to be sure) which is quite remarkable as a supportive yet self-standing understanding and appreciation of the “visual unfolding.”

23 Nov. 2018

“In Search of the Miraculous”

Last evening I sat down in the most comfortable armchair in our house in Toronto and read in its entirety the text of In Search of the Miraculous. I did it in thirty-five minutes. It was not my first reading of P.D. Ouspensky’s text, nor will it be the last time I expect to read this work, yet it took me only a 1,200 seconds.

It is true I once took a course in speed-reading, but this time I was not using the techniques that I had learned at those sessions. (Indeed, my speed-reading instructor once said, “Speed-reading is good for general reading, but not for ‘the four P’s’ – poems, plays, pornography, printer’s proofs … and I might add philosophical texts.) Nor did I skim or scan the text. I read every word with comprehension. I recommend the practice and the experience to one and all.

You will be forgiven if you have already decided that I am out of my mind! Indeed, how could anyone read with comprehension and with recall every page of Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous? After all, the tome is 390 pages long, with 570 words per page, a total of 222,300 words. I am referring to the edition that is titled and subtitled In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching which appeared on the list of Harcourt, Brace and Company of New York in 1949. This is the first edition.

It was a remarkable text then and it is a remarkable text now. Of course it is impossible for even a graduate speed-reader to embrace its contents in thirty-five minutes. Thirty-five hours might be a better estimate of the time it would take to absorb what the author had to say, and only then after repeated readings.

It was ten years after the tome was first published that I read it for the first time. Louise Welch, a woman who was very knowledgeable about the Work, privately suggested that I not boast of having read it at so young an age. She added, “The Table of Hydrogens is really very detailed and difficult, you know.” The same applies to all the book’s eighteen chapters, not just to Chapter IX which describes the indeed-difficult Table of Hydrogens.

In Search of the Miraculous was not Ouspensky’s first choice of titles for this magnum opus, which appeared two years following his death – the same year as death came to the remarkable man who is identified throughout the text as “G.” – George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. The author planned to give it the title Fragments of an Unknown Teaching. That may be a truly descriptive series of words, but it is one that is less saleable than the present one. Instead, Fragments, etc., became the volume’s subtitle.

There was always the feeling that had the book appeared as Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, it might now be confused with another book by another author – Fragments of a Faith Forgotten written in 1900 by the Theosophist and writer G.R.S. Mead. Ouspensky knew about Mead’s book, for he had enjoyed an early association with the Theosophical Society, so that some confusion might have followed.

Ouspensky’s preferred title for his work was Man and the World in Which He Lives – Fragments of an Unknown Teaching. He was preparing that work for publication in 1912-1934 while he was working on another of his big books, A New Model of the Universe, which was first published in 1931 and revised in 1935; the standard edition is the one issued by Harcourt, Harcourt, Brace and Company in New York in 1950. The earliest known working title for New Model is The Wisdom of the Gods.

In a footnote to New Model of the Universe, dated 1912-1934, he states that a new book is “being prepared for publication.” At the same time we also learn from the same source that the author was working on the notion of “different time in different cosmoses … which will be the subject of another book.” He was revising the English version of a novel with the working title The Wheel of Fortune. That one had originally been published in St. Petersburg in 1915 as Kinemadrama. It eventually appeared in English as The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin. So it might have had three titles.

Could anyone actually read In Search of the Miraculous in thirty-five minutes? That is an obvious impossibility. When I make the claim that I did, I failed to explain that the text that I succeeded in reading so rapidly was Chapter IX of A New Model of the Universe which is coincidentally titled “In Search of the Miraculous.” The book’s chapter runs from page 305 to page 342, so it is only thirty-seven pages long, easily read in a little more than half an hour, especially as it is about as far from being technical in orientation as possible. In fact, it highlights the writerly side – indeed, the literary side – of Ouspensky’s otherwise austere temperament.

Readers of A New Model of the Universe may or may not recall that Chapter IX is composed of six literary sketches – feuilletons in French – which evoke six aspects of “the miraculous.” The sketches are both subjective in emotion and objective in the sense that their subjects are appreciated and evaluated in the contest of what might be called “the real history of the world” instead of what we know as “the history of crime.”

The first sketch evokes the magnificence of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris and explores the claim made for it is that, just as modem science has conquered space, esoteric science “as conquered time.” It has done so for “it knows methods of transferring its ideas intact and of establishing communications between schools through hundreds and thousands of years.”

Egypt and the Pyramids are described in the second sketch. It discusses the construction of the three pyramids on the Giza plateau and leaves the reader with the following thought: “In reality the pyramids contain a great enigma.” One of the enigmas is anti-evolutionary in nature. On this basis alone we should conclude the existence of civilized beings prior to ourselves; hence we ourselves are not “the descendants of a monkey.”

Sketch number three is devoted to the Sphinx about which “nothing is known.” The author writes, “The Sphinx is indisputably one of the most remarkable, if not the most remarkable, of the world’s works of art. I know nothing that I would be possible to put side by side with it. It belongs indeed to quite another art than the art we know. Beings such as ourselves could not create a Sphinx.”

“The Buddha with the Sapphire Eyes” is the title of the fourth sketch. Ouspensky’s account of it – his meditation on the reclining figure – has made it among occultists and esotericists the most famous of Ceylon’s giant statues. It is located just outside the Sri Lanka capital of Colombo, and there is a photograph of it reproduced in the Commemorative Issue of The Bridge, a journal published by The Study Society, London, in 1977. But the author offers a verbal portrait worth a thousand pictures. This Buddha speaks to us “of a real existence, of another life, and of the existence of men who know something of that life and can transmit it to us by the magic of art.”

The fifth sketch is called “The Soul of the Empress Mumtaz-i-Mahal” and it paints a rosy and pastel image of the Taj Mahal, a scene that never seems to cloy or lose its fascination. The Taj is a tomb, a burial site, but it is not a gravesite. Here Ouspensky develops a theory that moves into dimensions beyond the fourth, infinity being the fifth: “The soul and the future life are one and the same.”

“The Mevlevi Dervishes” is the sixth and last sketch. In Constantinople he was invited to a tekke at Pera where he had the opportunity to observe the dervishes whirl about like the planets in the heavens. He witnessed the ceremony on at least two occasions at an interval of one dozen years. He concluded that events move more quickly than do the dervishes for all their speed. For instance, in the interval, Russia itself had ceased to exist. Events that had occurred to him during those twelve years had imparted some knowledge to him. “And now I knew more about them. I knew a part of their secret. I know how they did it. I knew in what the mental work connected with the whirling consisted. Not the details of course, because only a man who takes part in the ceremonies or exercises can know the details. But I knew the principle.”

On that note this chapter ends. These synopses of Ouspensky’s sketches are meant to offer the reader a sense of the poetic side of the author’s temperament. It was Colin Wilson’s argument that the world lost a great metaphysician in P.D. Ouspensky when he met G.I. Gurdjieff. Whether this is true or not, all is not lost. We have Ouspensky’s heart and soul in the chapter “In Search of the Miraculous,” and his body and mind in the book In Search of the Miraculous.

Perhaps you will agree with me that this is not bad for thirty-five minutes of reading!

6 Sept. 2012