From the journal Material For Thought, issue number 9
© 1990 Far West Editions
Ouspensky on Love
by Claude Bragdon
The following review of the first edition of Tertium Organum by P. D. Ouspensky is excerpted from The Messenger, Vol. VII, No. 10, March 1920. A revised translation of Tertium Organum has recently been published by Alfred A. Knopf.
And the rumor that here was a man who knew how to look, stirred
the doubtfully visible ones,
stirred the women.
Looking how long?
For how long now, deeply deprived, beseeching in the depths of his glance?
When he, whose vocation was
to wait, sat far from home— the hotel’s distracted unnoticing bedroom
moody around him, and in the avoided mirror once more the room
and later from the tormenting bed once more—
then in the air the voices
discussed, beyond comprehension, his heart, which could still be felt;
debated what through the painfully buried body could somehow be felt: his heart;
debated and passed their judgment: that it did not have love.
(And denied him further communions.)
For there is a boundary to looking. And the observable world
longs to flourish in your love.
Work of the eyes is done, now
go and do heart-work
on the images inside you, those captives; for you overpowered them, but still they are strangers. Learn, inner man, to look on your inner woman, the one attained from a thousand
natures, the merely attained but
not yet beloved form.
The fifteenth chapter of Tertium Organum is devoted to a discussion of love. We have had Freud on love, and Schopenhauer on love, but what dusty answers do they give to the soul of a lover! Edward Carpenter comes much nearer the mark, but Ouspensky penetrates to its very center.
We all know, in our secret hearts, that love is a mystical experience, however much we belittle it and degrade it, and strive to use it for our own ends. It is because of our egotisms, our cautions and our cowardices that we rot and smoulder instead of bursting into purifying flame.
The modern world, because of its materialism, has tried to cheapen love by treating it as a physiological function of the human organism, or at best a psychological phenomenon: men strive to utilize love as an instrument or means for the settling of their lives, or they demand of love that it shall settle the affairs of their souls.
“But in both cases,” Ouspensky says, “love is burdened by purposes and problems which do not belong to it at all. In reality love is a cosmic phenomenon, in which men are merely accidents: a cosmic phenomenon which has nothing to do either with the lives or the souls of men, any more than that the sun shines in order that by its light men may go about their little affairs, and that they may utilize it for their own purposes. If men would but understand this, if with only a part of their consciousness, a new world would open, and to look on life from all our usual angles would become very strange. For then they would understand that love is something else, and of quite a different order from the petty phenomena of earthly life.
“Perhaps it is a world of strange spirits who at times take up their abode in men, subduing them to themselves, making them tools for the accomplishment of their inscrutable purposes. Perhaps it is some particular region of the inner world wherein the souls of men sometimes enter, and where they live according to the laws of that world, while their bodies remain on earth, bound by the laws of earth. Perhaps it is an alchemical work of some Great Master wherein the souls and bodies of men play the role of elements out of which is compounded a philosopher’s stone, or an elixir of life, or some mysterious magnetic force necessary to someone for some incomprehensible purpose.”
The denial of the importance and deep meaning of love comes from our materialistic habit of thought, and the materialistic view of love cannot be true. It cannot be true because it considers love too narrow, sees, as it were, only in a plane section, a phenomenon of a four-dimensional character. Love is exactly as material a phenomenon as the picture of a painter, or the symphony of a musician. To analyze and evaluate love materialistically is precisely the same thing as trying to determine the value of a picture by its weight, or a symphony by the volume of sound produced. But what, Ouspensky asks, does the spiritual understanding of love mean?
“It means the understanding of the fact that love does not serve life, but serves the higher apprehension. If he is in right relation to it, love attunes man to the note of the ‘wondrous,’ strips off veils, opens closed doors. Love in relation to our life is a deity sometimes terrible, sometimes benevolent, but never subservient to us, never consenting to serve our purposes. It is impossible to subordinate love to anything, and it mercilessly revenges itself upon those little mortals who would subordinate God to themselves and make him serve them. It confuses all their calculations and forces them to do things which confound themselves, forcing them to serve it, to do what it wants.”
What is ordinarily considered to be the chief use, meaning and purpose of love—the production of children, the continuation of the race—Ouspensky regards as a subsidiary function of love:
“If posterity is the aim and end of love, why all this enormous waste of energy?” he asks.
“We know that nothing can be lost. If energy exists then it must transform itself into something. Now if a merely negligible percentage goes into the creation of the future by begetting, then the remainder must go into the creation of the future also, but in another way.... We say that a merely negligible part of love’s energy goes into posterity, the greater part is spent by the fathers and mothers on their personal emotions, as it were. But this also is necessary. Only because of these at first sight collateral results of love, only because of this tempest of emotions, feelings, desires, thoughts, dreams, inner creation; only because of the beauty which it creates, can love fulfill its immediate function.
“Moreover, and this perhaps is of the most importance, the superfluous energy is not wasted at all, but is transformed into other forms of energy possible to discover. Generally speaking the significance of the indirect results may very often be of more importance than the significance of the direct ones. And since we are able to trace how the energy of love transforms itself into instincts, ideas, creative forces on different planes of life, into symbols of art, song, music, poetry, so can we easily imagine how the same energy may transform itself into a higher order of intuition, into a higher consciousness which will reveal to us a marvelous and mysterious world.”
The relation in which the two sexes stand to one another physically is perfectly understood by everyone, because we have eyes only for the material, but their metaphysical relation is scarcely understood at all. According to Ouspensky, just as man fecundates woman physically, so does she psychologically fecundate his creative faculty, starting in him another order of creation.
“All ideal, all intuitive creation of man is the result of that energy which flows from love, either secret or avowed. All creative activity is of necessity a conscious or unconscious interaction between the two sexes. Without this interchange of emotion no creation is possible. It is quite immaterial for the inspiration of creation that woman should know what she gives to man. On the other hand, she may have no slightest comprehension of those ideas which she arouses, for she acts by her mere presence, by her beauty, by her infinite, illusive feminites, by her expressed or unexpressed desire. A woman may neither see nor know a man, may pass him by and nevertheless fecundate his fancy, his imagination, his creative energy.
“Infinitely various are the means of this fecundation of the spirit: Sometimes pleasure is necessary, and all the beauty and fullness of love; sometimes suffering, penetrating to the very depths of the soul; and sometimes crime is necessary for it, sometimes heroism, self- abnegation, self-sacrifice.”
* * *
In the latter part of the chapter on love, Ouspensky ties it up, as it were, with his general philosophy, which is based upon certain mathematical concepts, hyper-dimensionality, transfinite numbers, etc. His conception is that the purpose of life is knowledge, not through the mind alone, but through the feelings, the aesthetic sense, the religious sense. Through the harmonious development and intensive culture of the individual consciousness we come to a knowledge of that larger consciousness of which each is a part. He regards morality not as a code—no matter of what kind—of predetermined rules, but as an inner necessity for the appraisal of one’s actions from the standpoint of the higher understanding, the inner necessity for the co-ordination of one’s actions and one’s life with those ideas to which thought has attained. Coming now to the subject of love he says:
“The power to thus co-ordinate love and thought can appear in men when—and only when—they have come to understand that love is not a phenomenon of this world, and that it does not belong to them, but is infinity itself, with which they sometimes come weakly in contact.
“To feel this infinity it is necessary to understand the unreality of everything material and factual, and the reality of fantasy and the world of the imagination.
“The material world does not exist.
“Any man who is able to sense and understand this will sense and understand it best of all and clearest of all in love, for that love is the most real which is the most fantastic. But it is necessary both to feel and to understand what all this means.
“In love the most important element is that which is not, which absolutely does not exist from the worldly, materialistic point of view. In this sensing of the world which is not, and in the contact through it with the world of the wondrous, i.e., the truly real, consists the principal element of love in human life.
“The purpose of love is the awakening of the soul, but to attain this purpose the love-flame must burn at the maximum of clearness and intensity. This is possible only when there are no false views upon the subject of love, and only for those who are not hopelessly sunk in materiality.
“Love is the Great Sifter. Nature has many methods of “sifting,” and love is one of the chief. Those who are able to feel that which is not, go in one direction, and those who are inapt, who know facts only—in another. In love, clearer than anywhere else, are manifest the differences between two fundamental types of men, the higher and the lower race—the ‘wheat’ and the ‘tares’ of humanity.”
According to Ouspensky, love is the potent force which tears off all masks, and men who run away from love do so that they may preserve their masks. He sees love as the motive force, not alone in the birth of human beings, but still more in the birth of ideas. “If creation,” he says, “is the light that comes from love then this light comes from a great flame. It is this eternally burning flame in which humanity and all the world is being incessantly consumed, all the forces of the human spirit and of genius are being evolved and refined; and perhaps, indeed, from this same flame or by its aid a new force will arise which shall deliver front the chains of matter all who will follow where it leads.”