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Ouspensky Foundation
updated till: 19-dec-01

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History of the Work
- MacLaren -


How MacLaren turned this stream into an accessible waterway

Leon MacLaren was born in Glasgow in 1910. He had delicate health and was often absent from school, so that later in life, he had to combine studying for the bar with a job. He played piano from the age of three, and as a young man, he earned a little bit extra as a saxophonist in a jazz band. Following his father, MP for the Labour Party, he was an admirer of the American economist Henry George, who towards the end of the 19th century inspired a large readership with his ideal of freedom based on each person's natural right to land. Sales of his book Progress and Poverty reached two million copies at the time. MacLaren said: "As I was sixteen, I studied that book thoroughly and became strongly aware of such notions as truth and justice. What's more, the fact that these notions could be defined seemed to me a most valuable pursuit and I decided to respond to this by founding a school."

Inspired by his father, fascinated by this book and urged on by the misery of the depression, he founded the School of Economic Science. He developed the teaching material, the school expanded and also held out during the Second World War. After the war, he summarised the teaching material in a book: The Nature of Society.

MacLaren: "Initially, it all went quite well; I explained Henry George's economic principles in a broad sense and wanted to bring it all to a conclusion in the last chapter. But nothing came. No solution appeared, the whole thing reached a deadlock. It was as if you were standing in a dark corridor, knowing that you had to go on, but without any clue for any direction." This period of calm lasted several years. It started to dawn on him that the fluctuations in economy should in fact not be studied in the light of economic laws, but on the basis of universal laws influencing the life of man.

In 1953, he met dr. Roles and attended his lectures, introducing Ouspensky's ideas to him. He relates: "I was surprised to see that their material was presented in the same way as in our economics courses, based on diagrams, albeit with a wider, philosophical meaning rather than an economic purport." He withdrew his groups in the buildings of the School of Economic Science, developed his own philosophy course, based on Ouspensky's teaching and supported by the meditation method he received from the Maharishi.

In 1965, dr. Roles and a number of others were invited by the Maharishi to go to India for a special visit to meditate together. It somewhat resembled Gurdjieff's experiments at the Black Sea, because the course implied that they meditated eight hours a day. But it was precisely there, in the heat of meditation exercise that dr. Roles met the 'source' he was looking for, because a special Swami, the Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath, Shantananda Saraswati, paid them a visit. Then dr. Roles knew that this was the man he had waited for for such a long time.

In his report, he wrote: "One evening, when we were all sitting on the sand on the banks of the Ganges, you can imagine how surprised I was to hear the following: "all our problems happen because we do not remember ourselves." The word 'self-remembering' resounded as if Ouspensky had said it." From that time on, up to and including 1993, this Advaita Vedanta teacher invited Roles and MacLaren for private discussions. It soon became clear that the Advaita Vedanta teaching and the teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky were closely related and complemented each other wonderfully. Since then, Roles and MacLaren have both used and passed on the material of these discussions, together with the teaching of the two others. Shantananda once summarised it thus: "The knowledge of the East will bloom in the fertile fields of the West."

My impressions of Leon MacLaren

When, as a thirteen-year old, I first met Leon MacLaren in 1960, I certainly was not aware that later I would share 22 years of my life with him and help him to continue his work. My first impression was that I was sitting next to him on the piano stool with fourhanded Mozart sonatas on the music stand. He was a great musician. From the very first moment he fascinated me with his subtle approach to music, his sense of humour, and sharp insight into human nature, so that he always saw through you when there was something you did not want to yield up, and then to give you confidence with a wink. He could move mountains both for himself and for you. He was a magician, a considerate teacher and a friend for life. There was no distance between the child I was then and him; the thirty-seven years between us simply vanished.

This youthful impression may reflect something of what kind of individual we are dealing with, because he is as hard to define as the two previous ones. Many who met him in the last thirty years of his life - in which the schools of the School of Economic Science shot up like mushrooms all over the world - are mainly fascinated by his knowledge, and dynamic power, and by the many things he accomplished. One such a subject could take a lifetime. But he undertook, for instance, the weekly writing of philosophy material, the foundation of schools for children, four major musical compositions for choir and orchestra, Sanskrit studies, penetrating the principles of architecture, art and science, up to and including translations of the books of Marcilio Ficino and Hermes Trismegistus. All as a by-product of the whole philosophical business, in which he guided each step of his groups during weeks and weekends, exactly like Gurdjieff and Ouspensky have done before him. He was always watchful against arrogance, and regularly reminded us that the school he founded worldwide was only a 'preparatory' school. We lived in one of the country estates of the School of Economic Science, Waterperry House near Oxford, but the pressure of groups was so great that we hardly ever stayed in one spot for more than three days. In addition, we travelled around the world each year and all in all our life was very much like a touring circus!

It is worth mentioning that he never asked anyone to do anything which he had not done himself first, whether it was a physical task or a spiritual exercise. I did not have any privileges, rather the contrary; my tasks were many and most diverse. Above all, he was truthful and upright, something he had already sought as a small boy, and expected the same from everyone around him. He would not have none of servility, a phenomenon every leader encounters, and since he usually saw through everything with his sharp eye, he was feared often enough, with all its consequences. Those who did dare to debate with him, however, received the full measure of his warm personality, and huge knowledge.

Like his predecessors, he tried everything to make the most of the research into the truth in every human being. This meant, of course, tackling the problems with respect to personality and letting go of it. He developed a unique process for discovering 'chief feature' and also applied a method of 'humouring', which most resembles modern quantum psychology, as described by Stephan Wolinsky in his book Trances People Live. This put him half a century ahead of the psychology of his time. Therefore, it was inevitable that the experiments he did with students, which he called 'steps in the dark', were sometimes too hard on people and that he sometimes crossed the borders of reasonableness, so that people were shocked and left. In 1984, some of these went to the press, and a reaction was published.

Last years

In 1989, he handed the philosophical leadership over to the younger generation, and gradually withdrew from everything that was going on at the school. But followers love form, and held on to their adoration of his leadership, so that they have barely understood the deeper meaning of the stillness which had begun to permeate him. MacLaren actually did not meet the standards of a leader anymore, because he had long since renounced it and so fulfilled his life ideal. He had once formulated it as follows: "The Absolute is only interested in the inner intention. The outer form can be anything, that is not important and perfect as it may be, if the inner intention is wrong, it is absolutely unacceptable."

This culminated in a total retreat during the last year of his life, in which he was surrounded by a small number of people only, as has been the case with Ouspensky. He had become reconciled to it, he said, and added in his characteristic, meaningful way that people did not want to come and see him anymore because he had nothing to give anymore, and that most people only came to get something.

Here it is fitting to go back to a description of Gurdjieff by Margaret Anderson in her book The Unknowable Gurdjieff, in a meeting with him after the war years, when he too was left by the stream of followers: "Gurdjieff seemed unchanged. He had become a bit older, a bit more tired, but as generous as ever, and he was more silent than in previous years. But there was teaching in all he did or said, only the form had changed: now he mainly taught by means of his presence - by his 'being', as he would have said."

A pupil who had visited MacLaren shortly before he died gives a very similar description, and you could read this as the essential description of each of the three great souls: "The look in his eyes was timeless and meaningful. It revealed a new way of teaching without words. An unforgettable self-remembering. The use of words and performing actions then turned out to be a coarse cover that was not necessary anymore. It was as if his eyes were my own, looking at myself. The eyes of a courageous man. He was no longer my teacher, he was myself."