Monday, February 21, 2011

Ouspensky's Secret Knowledge

"The idea of a knowledge which surpasses all ordinary human knowledge, and is inaccessible to ordinary people, but which exists somewhere and belongs to somebody, permeates the whole history of the though of mankind from the most remote periods" (11).

The idea of secret knowledge does indeed permeate the whole history of mankind, from the Holy Grail to the messages of the Gods. Science fiction novels and worship communities, fantasy films and archaeological conspiracy theorists talk about secret knowledge for as far back as there is written documentation. But what does this mean? Is this some sort of proof in itself? Or is it just evidence that believing in secret knowledge is a product of evolution? Perhaps a function of coping with our ability to project scenarios into the future?

For Ouspensky, history is just the beginning. The experiential, or the 'gut-feeling,' is also a powerful mode of evidence.

"Man is conscious of being surrounded by the wall of the Unknown, and at the same time he believes that he can get through the wall and that others have got through it; but he cannot imagine, or imagines very vaguely, what there may be behind this wall. He does not know what he would like to find there or what it means to possess knowledge. It does not even occur to him that a man can be in different relations to the Unknown....In this incapacity of man to imagine what exists beyond the wall of the known and the possible lies his chief tragedy, and in this, as has already been said, lies the reason why so much remains hidden from him and why there are so many questions to which he can never find the answer" (14-15).

And what is this secret knowledge? This so-called Holy Grail? Well maybe it's just that. Certainly, the ultimate prize in both fantasy and religious texts seems to always be the same. Whether it be an eternity of perfect peace and enlightenment or the gift of a Universe to govern, the big 'I'-word seems to come up quite frequently....

"This was the secret which was revealed to the initiated. The idea was that having learned, that is, having fully understood and felt, this secret, the man could no longer remain as he was before. The new understanding began to work within by itself, to give new meaning to the whole of life and to guide his own life and activities along a new path. If we could accept the idea of man as a seed and if we could find confirmation of it as a theory, this would radically change all our conceptions of man and humanity and would explain at once many things at which before we have only dimly guessed. The life which we know, in itself contains no aim. This is the reason why there is so much that is strange, incomprehensible and inexplicable in it. And indeed it cannot be explained by itself. Neither its sufferings nor its joys, neither its beginning nor its end, nor its greatest achievements have any meaning. All these are either a preparation for some other, future, life, or merely nothing. By itself life here, on our plane, has no value, no meaning and no point. It is too short, too unreal, too ephemeral, too illusory, for anything to be demanded of it, for anything to be built upon it, for anything to be created out of it. Its whole meaning lies in another, a new, a future, life, which follows upon "birth" (514-515).

Too much to hope for? Too much to dream of? Is the desire for Immortality the most ancient of coping mechanisms? An attempt to reconcile what we can see unavoidably in our future? I guess a better question would be....what does your gut say?

Quotes from Ouspensky's "A New Model of the Universe," the 1997 Dover edition.

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