The Study Society

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Colet House

The Study Society is registered with the Charity Commission as Registered Charity Number 1155498[1][2][3] and based at Colet House, Barons Court, London.[4] It is a centre for the study and practice of a number of approaches to self-discovery and spiritual development. The principal purpose of the Society is to encourage individuals “to pursue a journey towards Self-realisation—realisation of their full potential—through experience of the true nature of Consciousness and its deep level of stillness, truth and love.”[5]

The three main sources it draws upon are: the teaching of P. D. Ouspensky, the teachings of Swami Shantanand Saraswati who came from the Advaita Vedanta tradition, and the Sufi tradition of Mevlana. The Society seeks to develop a teaching and practice that unifies eastern and western spirituality and philosophy and “is designed to bring an inner unity to individuals and to society at large.”[5] One of its main aims is to seek to correlate the methods and knowledge it employs with current developments in scientific and medical understanding.


The Society was registered in 1951 by Dr Francis C. Roles,[6] after the death of his teacher, the Russian philosopher P. D. Ouspensky, who settled in England in 1921.[7] In Russia, Ouspensky had learned a system of knowledge and certain practical methods from G. I. Gurdjieff and until his death in 1947[8] Ouspensky devoted his life to further developing this system in the light of his own ideas. He established large groups of pupils in London and New York.[9] Ouspensky’s London headquarters before and following World War II were at Colet House.[10] This work led him to the conviction that the system was essentially incomplete; in particular it lacked a simple accessible method to allow the ideas to develop naturally into behaviour and experience.[11] Dr Roles continued with Ouspensky’s teaching for 13 years but in 1960, as a result of Ouspensky’s instruction to search for ‘the source of the system’, he came to meet Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in London. He recognised the method of meditation that the Maharishi was disseminating as the simple method that Ouspensky had told him to find.[6] The Study Society was instrumental in setting up the Maharishi’s seminal lecture to 5000 people at the Royal Albert Hall in 1961[12] which greatly raised his profile in Europe. Nevertheless, it was not until Dr Roles was introduced to Swami Shantanand Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath—the head of the Advaita tradition in Northern India whose teaching of the non-dual philosophy of the Vedanta complemented and completed all he had learnt before—that he became convinced that his search was over.[13] Dr Francis C. Roles died in 1982[14] and Shantanand Saraswati in 1997.[15] The Society maintains a connection with the Shankaracharya tradition in India and is currently directed by Dr Peter Fenwick.

The objectives of the Study Society were restated in October 2013 as: “for the public benefit: to advance the education of the public in religion, science, philosophy and the arts; the promotion of moral and spiritual welfare.”[16] The Study Society teaches the moral code of Sanatan Dharma, which it summarises as “Do as you would be done by”.[17] In January 2014 the Study Society registered with the Charity Commission as Registered Charity Number 1155498.[1][2][3]


The Study Society runs study groups in which the teachings of P. D. Ouspensky, Shantanand Saraswati and Dr F. C. Roles are discussed and their practical application developed. There are three types of study groups specialising in different aspects of the teachings:[18][19][20]


The Non-Duality group focuses on the non-dual aspects of the Society’s teachings. The foundation of the non-dual philosophy is the Advaita Vedanta which is the basis of the Shankarcharya tradition to which Shantanand Saraswati belonged. Advaita is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘not two’ and teaches that there is an underlying unity of consciousness which upholds the whole of creation. Vedanta refers to this philosophy as embodied in the great works such as the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. In practical terms it offers another way of perceiving the drama of everyday life. Shantanand Saraswati taught that when perception is from this underlying universal consciousness there is a sense of freedom from the drama, a relief from personal concerns and life is enjoyed in a harmony and wholeness brought about by a realisation that it is this universal consciousness or Absolute, not the separate individual, that lives.[21] A key principle is that the individual soul and all phenomena of nature are not different from this Absolute, referred to in the Advaita tradition as Brahman, hence non-duality.[22]

Shantanand Saraswati

In addition to explanation of Advaita Vedanta, Shantanand Saraswati gave much practical advice to Dr Roles and other members of the Society in a series of audiences over a period of 32 years from 1961 to 1993 on overcoming the various obstacles to spiritual development that occur in everyday life.[13] This advice extended beyond the pure non-dualistic teaching of Advaita Vedanta to include ideas from other dualistic interpretations of the Vedanta as were appropriate to the question and the questioner.[23] Extracts from these audiences have been published by the Society in a series of books. Weekly groups focus on the study and practice of all of the teachings of Shantanand Saraswati, with the dualistic aspects of his teaching also being employed, as he recommended, ‘for training purposes’ in clearing away the habitual illusions that conceal the fundamental conscious unity of creation.

Fourth Way

P. D. Ouspensky developed his system of Self-discovery from the fundamental idea that ordinary human consciousness is incomplete and that it is possible for it to evolve further by personal effort and understanding.[24] Historically, this approach has generally been confined to closed orders, religious or otherwise and directed to the development of one particular human faculty: intellectual, emotional or physical.[25] Ouspensky promoted the practice of a ‘Fourth Way’, whereby ordinary people, remaining engaged in life, could work on all three aspects simultaneously. His teaching demonstrates the unity of the individual with the whole cosmos in both structure and potential and expresses this understanding in plain language.[26]

At the Study Society, P. D. Ouspensky’s teaching has for 60 years been continuously reformulated and developed to keep pace with current science and culture. It presents a profoundly practical psychology and cosmology, both expressed in accessible Western terms and language. Together with its basic training in attention and self-awareness, this system of knowledge leads towards a clear understanding of non-dualism.[27] The Fourth Way study groups take Ouspensky’s teaching as their starting point, following the journey that Dr Roles took with Shantanand Saraswati that led Ouspensky’s system back to its Source.[6][20]

Practical Methods

In addition to the practices of self-observation and Self-remembering, prescribed by both P. D. Ouspensky and Shantanand Saraswati, the Society has three methods for training attention. These are the practice of mantra meditation, the Mevlevi Turning and ‘The Movements’.

The Meditation

Meditation is the central practice of the Study Society. This method of meditation was introduced in 1961 to the West for people living and working in everyday life.[28] It was the inspiration of a group of Indian sages the most prominent of whom was Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, Guru Deva.[29] His successor, Swami Shantanand Saraswati authorised Dr Francis Roles to teach this method of meditation in the West. This daily meditation uses a simple mantra to help the student discover and re-connect to the inner space of peace and stillness which is universal to everyone. Since its introduction in 1961 the practice of meditation has been central to all the activities of the Study Society and its associated groups around the world. Many hundreds of people have been taught this method of meditation[28] and it continues to be taught today.

Mevlevi Turning of the Whirling Dervishes

In 1963 the Society formed a connection with Resuhi Baykara, a leader of the Mevlevi Tradition in Istanbul.[30] Since then more than 500 people have been trained in the discipline of Whirling Dance. This Sufi discipline, originated by the 13th century mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī provides a powerful method of acquiring inner stillness and a direct appreciation of non-duality. A five month training for new students takes place each year and a community of adherents has sprung up around the The Study Society: the Whirling Dervishes of West London. The ceremony of the sema, or Mukabele takes place regularly at Colet House. There are also several groups which study the poetry and music of the Mevlevi Tradition.[31]

‘The Movements’

The Study Society has practised these Movements since they were introduced into this country by Mme Ouspensky in the 1930s, when they were taught to Ouspensky’s pupils at Lyne Place, Virginia Water and at Colet House.[32] The tradition has been maintained in its original form, passed down in a direct line to the present day. These Movements were originally called Sacred Dances, Prayers and Exercises, and were known only in certain monasteries, temples, closed communities and esoteric orders scattered throughout the Middle East, the Hindu Kush and Tibet. During his travels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, G. I. Gurdjieff learned these sacred dances and their original music at their diverse sources and brought them together into a single repertoire which he then taught to his students in Europe.[33][34]

Public Lectures

One of the Society’s aims is to seek contact and dialogue with like-minded individuals, teachers and organisations from the fields of science, philosophy, religion and the arts.[5] To this end, it organises a regular programme of public lectures by leading figures in these fields. Recent speakers have included: Rupert Spira, Iain McGilchrist, James H. Austin, Matthew Fox, Rupert Sheldrake, Dr Denis Alexander, Dr Peter Fenwick, Chris Frith.[35]

Further reading

Books Published by the Study Society

Other Books

  • P. D. Ouspensky. The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution. Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-394-71943-6. 
  • P. D. Ouspensky. In Search of the Miraculous. Paul H Crompton Ltd. ISBN 978-1-874250-76-0. 
  • Francis C. Roles (1992). Voyage of Discovery. The Society for the Study of Human Being. 


  1. 1.0 1.1 "A brief history of the Study Society". The Study Society. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Charity Commission". The Charity Commission. Retrieved 2 February 2014. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Society was previously established according to the Friendly Societies Act, 1974, with the full name of ‘The Society for the Study of Normal Psychology’.
  4. Colet House, 151 Talgarth Road, Barons Court, London W14 9DA, England
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Purpose and Objectives". The Study Society. Retrieved 1 March 2012. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Eadie, Peter McGregor (2001). The Bridge (The Study Society) 14: 27. 
  7. Lachman, Gary (2006). In Search of P. D. Ouspensky. Quest Books. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-8356-0848-0. 
  8. Lachman, Gary (2006). In Search of P. D. Ouspensky. Quest Books. p. 270. ISBN 978-0-8356-0848-0. 
  9. Lachman, Gary (2006). In Search of P. D. Ouspensky. Quest Books. pp. 178, 248. ISBN 978-0-8356-0848-0. 
  10. Lachman, Gary (2006). In Search of P.D. Ouspensky. Quest Books. pp. 230, 262. ISBN 978-0-8356-0848-0. 
  11. Good Company II. The Study Society. 2009. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-9547939-9-9.  Extract of audiences with Shantanand Saraswati.
  12. Collin-Smith, Joyce (1988). Call No Man Master. Bath, UK: Gateway Books. pp. 142–144. ISBN 0-946551-46-4. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Good Company II. The Study Society. 2009. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-9547939-9-9.  Extract of audiences with Shantanand Saraswati.
  14. "Obituary: Dr F.C. Roles". British Medical Journal 285: 67. July 1982. PMC 1499089. 
  15. Obituary, The Hindhu Times, Sunday December 7, 1997
  16. "Purpose and Objectives". The Study Society. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  17. "How we try to live". The Study Society. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  18. "Non-duality Workshop". The Study Society. Retrieved 1 April 2013. 
  19. "Study Groups". The Study Society. Retrieved 1 March 2012. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Fourth Way Study Groups". The Study Society. Retrieved 1 March 2012. 
  21. Good Company. The Society for the Study of Normal Psychology. 1987. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-9561442-1-8.  Extract of audiences with Shantanand Saraswati.
  22. Waite, Dennis (2007). 5000 Years of Advaita. O Books. ISBN 978-1-905047-61-1.  Chapter 4.
  23. Good Company II. The Study Society. 2009. ISBN 978-0-9547939-9-9.  Extract of audiences with Shantanand Saraswati. Samkya: page 47. Nyaya: page 52. Vaisheshika: page 39
  24. Ouspensky, P. D. (1974 - originally published in 1940). The Psychology of Man′s Possible Evolution. Vintage Books. ISBN 0-394-71943-3. 
  25. Ouspensky, P. D. (1950). In Search of the Miraculous. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. ISBN 0-7100-1910-6.  Chapter 15.
  26. Ouspensky, P. D. (1950). In Search of the Miraculous. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. pp. 205–216. ISBN 0-7100-1910-6. 
  27. Ouspensky, P. D. (1981 - originally published in 1923). Tertium Organum. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. ISBN 0-7100-0671-3.  Chapter 21.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Mason, Paul (1994). Maharishi Mahesh Yogi - The Biography of the Man who gave Transcendental Meditation to the World. ISBN 978-1-85230-571-0.  Chapter 5.
  29. Roles, Francis (1972). A Lasting Freedom. The Society for the Study of Normal Psychology. p. 8. 
  30. Koren, Wilhelm (1997). The Bridge (The Study Society) 12: 202. 
  31. "Whirling Dervishes". The Study Society. Retrieved 1 March 2012. 
  32. Howarth, Jessmin. "Remember Inner Work". Gurdjieff International Review Spring 2002. 
  33. Howarth, Jessmin & Dushka (2009). It’s Up To Ourselves. Gurdjieff Heritage Society. ISBN 978-0-9791926-0-9. 
  34. Mistlberger, P. T. (2010). The Three Dangerous Magi. O Books. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-84694-435-2. 
  35. "Talks and Downloads". The Study Society. Retrieved 1 March 2012. 

External links