Gurdjieff And “The Work” (Jacob Needleman, Professor of Philosophy, San Francisco State University)
It is true enough to say that Gurdjieff’s system of ideas is complex and all-encompassing, but one must immediately add that their formulation is designed to point man toward a central and simple power of apprehension which Gurdjieff taught is merely latent within the human mind and which is the only power by which man can actually understand himself in relation to the universe. In this sense the distinction between doctrine and method, which is fairly clear in most of the older spiritual traditions, does not entirely obtain in the Gurdjieff teaching. The formulations of the ideas are themselves meant to have a special action on the sense of self and may therefore be regarded as part of the practical method. This characteristic of the Gurdjieff method reflects what Gurdjieff perceived as the center of gravity of man’s subjectivity—the fact that modern civilization is lopsidedly oriented around the thinking function. Modern man’s illusory feeling of ”I” is built up around his thoughts and therefore, in accordance with the level of the pupil, the ideas themselves are meant to affect this false sense of self. For Gurjieff the deeply penetrating influence of scientific thought in modern life was not something merely to be deplored, but to be understood as the channel through which the eternal Truth first finds its way toward the human heart.
Man, Gurdjieff taught, is an undeveloped creation. He is not really man, considered as a cosmically unique being whose intelligence and power of action mirror the energies of the source of life itself. On the contrary, man as we encounter him is an automaton. His thoughts, feeling, and deeds are little more than mechanical reactions to external and internal stimuli. He cannot do anything. In and around him, everything happens without the participation of his own authentic consciousness. But human beings are ignorant of this state of affairs because of the pervasive influence of culture and education, which engrave in them the illusion of autonomous conscious selves. In short, man is asleep. There is no authentic I am in his presence, but only an egoism which masquerades as the authentic self, and whose machinations poorly imitate the normal human functions of thought, feeling, and will.
Many factors reinforce this sleep. Each of the reactions that proceed in one’s presence is accompanied by a deceptive sense of I—man is many I’s, each imagining itself to be the whole, and each buffered off from awareness of the others. Each of these many I’s represents a process whereby the subtle energy of consciousness is absorbed and degraded, a process that Gurdjieff termed “identification.” Man identifies—that is, squanders his conscious energy, with every passing thought, impulse, and sensation. This state of affairs takes the form of a continuous self-deception and a continuous procession of egoistic emotions, such as anger, self-pity, sentimentality, and fear, which are of such a pervasively painful nature that man is constantly driven to ameliorate this condition through the endless pursuit of social recognition, sensory pleasure, or the vague and unrealizable goal of “happiness.”
According to Gurjieff, the human condition cannot be understood apart from considering humanity within the function of organic life on earth. The human is constructed to transform energies of a specific nature, and neither his potential inner development nor his present actual predicament is understandable apart from this function…(But) man is unable to draw upon the conscious energies passing through him, which in the cosmic scheme, are those possessing the actual power of causal efficacy. Man does not and cannot participate consciously in the great universal order, but instead is tossed around en masse for the purposes limited to the functions of organic life on earth as a whole. Even in this relatively limited sphere—limited, that is, when compared to man’s latent destiny—mankind has become progressively incapable of fulfilling its function, a point that Gurdjieff strongly emphasized in his own writings…the “fate of the earth” is somehow bound up with the possibility of the inner evolution of individual men and women…
How are human beings to change this state of affairs and begin drawing on the universal conscious energies which they are built to absorb but which now pass through them untransformed? How is humanity to assume its proper place in the great chain of being? Gurdjieff’s answer to these questions actually circumscribes the central purpose of his teaching—namely, that human life on earth may now stand at a major transitional point, comparable perhaps to the fall of the great civilizations of the past, and that development of the whole being of man…is the only thing that can permit man to pass through this transition in a manner worthy of human destiny…But whereas the descent of humanity takes place en masse, ascent or evolution is possible only within the individual…
A Study of Gurdjieff’s Teaching, Kenneth Walker, M.D.
The Disinterested Observer
Ouespensky said that he would begin the study of man the machine, with an investigation of his mind, and G’s teaching on this subject differed from all other Western teachings…Ouespensky made free use of diagrams when teaching us, and a diagram which was frequently drawn on the blackboard was the one showing man’s several minds. He said that in this diagram man was regarded as a three-storied being, in the top story of which there resided the intellectual mind or, as Ouespensky now preferred to call it, the Intellectual Centre. In the middle story was man’s emotional mind or centre, and in the lower story…his instinctive…centre. G also said the emotional and intellectual centres were themselves divided into higher and lower minds, though it was rare for humans to operate from their higher mind (It was also the case that, according to G, all living creatures on earth are to be classified in accordance with the number of minds or centres which they possessed, and man was the only creature on this planet equipped with an intellectual centre).
The relative activity of the three chief centres in man (intellectual, emotional and instinctive) was different in different individuals, and this provided us with a means of classifying men under three…headings. There were men who did everything by imitating the behavior of those around them, and who thought, felt, moved and reacted much as everybody else thought, felt…and reacted. Such people were controlled almost entirely by their (instinctive) centre, which possessed a special gift for imitation, and a man of this type would henceforth be referred to as man number one. There were other people in whose lives the emotions played a leading part, people who were guided by what they felt and by what they liked and disliked rather than by what they thought. Such people spent their lives in seeking what was pleasant and in avoiding what was unpleasant, but sometimes they reacted pathologically in the reverse way, extracting what was distressing into a horrid form of voluptuousness. An emotionally controlled person of this kind would be spoken of in the future as man number two. Finally there was man number three, the man who was swayed by theories and by what he called his reason, a man whose knowledge was based on logical thinking and who understood everything in a literal sense. A man of this kind would be called man number three.
Ouespensky made it clear to us that no one of these three was superior to any other one and that all three stood together on the same level, equally at the mercy of their psychological machinery and without any will. All that this classification was meant to show us was that the individual behavior and decisions of one kind of man could often be explained by the predominance of one kind of function…This method of classifying people was possible because human development was usually lopsided…
A properly balanced man, working as he should work, resembled a well-trained orchestra, in which one kind of instrument took the lead at one moment of the performance and another instrument at another, each making a contribution to the symphony being played.
In observing ourselves we must look at ourselves with detachment and as though we were looking at another person about whom we knew very little. At first we might find difficulty in assigning our activities to the right centres…For example, at first some of us would confuse thinking and feeling, and feeling and sensing, and it would be helpful for us to remember that intellectual centre worked by comparing one thing to another thing, and by making subsequent
statements on the basis of this comparison, whereas the emotional centre worked by recording its native likes and dislikes, and acting directly on this basis. Instinctive centre was similarly occupied with whether the sensations it was receiving were of a pleasant or of an unpleasant nature. We should bear in mind the fact that neither emotional nor instinctive centre ever argued or reasoned concerning anything, but because they perceived everything directly they returned to the perception of an equally direct response. We should look upon these psychic functions of ours as being different kinds of instrument, each variety of which made it characteristic contributions to the sum total of our knowledge.
There were different ways of knowing a thing and to know it completely was to know it simultaneously with our thinking, our emotional, and even our moving and instinctive minds…
To change something in oneself without losing something of equal value required a knowledge of the whole which we were very far from possessing… after we had gained skill in observing the working of our various centres, we could begin the more difficult job of looking for examples of the wrong working of our various centres, due either to one centre attempting to perform the work of another centre, or else to one centre interfering with the functioning of another centre. He gave, as examples of a centre doing the work of another centre, intellectual centre pretending it ‘felt,’ whereas it was quite incapable of feeling anything, or emotional centre coming to a decision which it was not within its province to make. He described the moving centre as a very clever mimic and said it often imitated other centres working, making it appear outwardly that real thinking or feeling was going on, whereas in actual fact nothing of a genuine nature was happening at all. For example, a person might read out loud from a book or talk to somebody quite impressively, yet he might be only uttering words without any more meaning for him as he uttered them than the words spoken by a parrot had any meaning for a parrot. Reading, speaking and so-called thinking on this very low level often occurred and they were all imitations of other activities concocted by moving centre…
I was surprised at the richness of the…observations I made…by observing myself in this way…Perhaps the earliest and most disquieting findings…was that I was never the same for more than few minutes, and yet I had the effrontery to preface my remarks with such misleading phrases as ‘I always think that…’ or ‘I am convinced that…’ or ‘I feel strongly that…’ What nonsense! I realized now that frequently I had thought and felt quite differently from the way in which I was thinking and feeling at that particular moment. And who was it that was making that dogmatic statement about his own thoughts and feelings? Who, in short, was ‘I’? Here was a problem of the first magnitude to be faced.
Self-observation gave rise to a whole host of new questions.
Ouspensky…drew our attention to the fact that in the West the word ‘consciousness’ was very badly misused, and not only in popular speech but also by psychologists who ought to know better. Consciousness, he said, was not a function, as many Western works on psychology implied, but it was an awareness of a function. For example, some people used the word consciousness as though it were synonymous with thinking, but thought could take place without any awareness of its existence on the part of the thinker, and consciousness could exist without there being present any thought. Consciousness was a variable which exerted an influence on function, the presence of a greater degree or consciousness having the effect of improving the quality of our various activities. The more conscious we were of doing something, the better we did it.
…If we continued to observe ourselves carefully we should find that the moments of ‘coming to’ and of realizing our existence were very short and were separated from each other by long stretches of self-oblivion, in which we thought, felt, moved and acted without being in the least conscious of our existence. It was nonsense to say, as many people did, that we were aware of ourselves, and if we were honest we should have to admit that we passed the day in a state of waking-sleep, a state which lay somewhere between sleep in bed and wakefulness or true self-awareness. We talked, performed our duties, ate and drank, wrote letters, made what we regarded as being important decisions, wrote books, made peace and declared war, in a state of consciousness so low that it was usually nearer to the condition of sleep than to that of self-awareness. Only for a moment or two did we occasionally become conscious of our existence, and then, like people who had turned over in bed and half opened their eyes, we closed them and lapsed back into our dreams again.
Ouspensky pointed out that the lower the level of our consciousness, the blinder and the more subjective were in our outlook…It was only in a state of higher consciousness that it was possible for a man to see himself and the things around him as they really were, not as he imagined them to be.
Ouspensky then went on to say that there were four states of consciousness possible for man and that we were familiar only with two of these, namely, with sleep in bed at night, and with the state of consciousness in which we spent the day, a state which he proposed to call ‘waking sleep.’ Above these two customary states there were two higher levels of consciousness, the first of them being the state…referred to as ‘self-remembering’ or true self-consciousness. Ouspensky said that this was associated with a vivid sense of one’s own existence as well as of what was happening around one, and it was a state of consciousness which some of us might have experienced accidentally, especially during our childhood. The fourth and highest state of consciousness was Objective Consciousness, sometimes referred to in literature as Cosmic Consciousness….
The chief difference between identification, or the mechanical entanglement of the attention in some problem, and an attention which has been deliberately directed on to it, is that identification has the effect of narrowing the field of consciousness, whereas directed attention usually widens it so that more things come within it. It is this narrowing effect of identification which explains the popular saying that a person is unable to see the wood for the trees. What has happened here is that his attention has been imprisoned by one or two of the trees so that nothing else is able to come into view. Similarly, by identifying with an anxiety, disappointment or source of irritation, we put ourselves completely in its power, so that it is impossible to think or feel about anything else. Ouspensky pointed out that identifying was the chief obstacle to self-remembering, for it imprisoned a man in some small part of himself, and was therefore the very antithesis brought about by self-remembering. In short, identification led to loss of all sense of existence, to deeper sleep, greater subjectiveness of outlook and absence of all ability to exercise the most modest range of choice.
Ouspensky repeated all day long that we were passing from one form of identification to another form of it, and that nothing was so trifling that we were unable to become identified with it. A man could become identified even with an ashtray, and if an ashtray could act in this way, it was easy to see how a man’s possessions, his successes and enjoyments, gave him still ampler opportunities for identification. What was more difficult to understand was how a man could be equally well lost in his miseries and misfortunes, and yet such was the case. Ouspensky said that G had often commented on man’s partiality for his own and for other people’s griefs, and had remarked that the last thing a man was willing to give up was his suffering. He would agree, on certain occasions, to renounce his pleasures, but he was so constituted that he clung with the greatest possessiveness and tenacity to his sufferings. It was obvious that anyone who had a desire to develop would have to sacrifice his grievances and his sufferings, for an identification with negative emotions entailed an enormous wastage of nervous energy, a wastage which it was imperative that we should save. Ouspensky said identification with negative emotions played such havoc with out lives that it would be useful to us to make a list of the particular unpleasant emotions to which we were specially partial. Everybody, he said, had his own particular favorites in the way of negative emotions, and we had to become better acquainted with them.
We took his advice and by doing so learnt how powerful was the influence exerted by negative emotions on our lives. We saw how we ennobled these unpleasant feelings when they arose in us, and how we persuaded ourselves that it was only right and proper that we should have them, justifying our anger and irritation by means of such phrases as ‘righteous indignation’. We found ourselves enjoying our sufferings, especially when we were able to blame other people for them, as we almost always managed to do. We saw also how we accepted the portrayal of violence, despair, frustration, melancholy and self-pity on the stage and in literature as the highest form of art, and how cleverly we disguised from ourselves the fact that we were exacting immense enjoyment our of misery and suffering.
Our observations of all forms of negative emotions yielded truly astonishing harvests. Even members of the group who prided themselves on being of a cheerful and eventempered disposition discovered that irritation, jealousy, envy, anger and disapproval of others were continually arising in them. As we acquired skill in observing ourselves we became more and more familiar with the very unpleasant physical sensations which accompanied our various negative emotions, and learnt how quickly the poisons they engendered permeated our bodies. We also learnt from bitter experience how drained we were of all energy after having given it away to a negative emotion, so that we lost a great deal of valuable energy through them.
Sometimes we actually felt the energy pouring out of us and learnt to our cost that once we had yielded ourselves to them—as we almost always did—there was no possibility of getting rid of them. There we had to remain in their power until they had burnt themselves out. The best hope of learning how to avoid falling such an easy prey to negative emotions appeared to lie in becoming more and more sensitive to the early signs of their advent, and, having detected their close proximity to us, to step aside in time. If we waited too long before we did this we were completely in their power.
…Somebody inquired about fear and asked whether it should be included amongst the negative emotions. To this Ouspensky replied that this depended on the nature of the fear, for there were many different kinds of fear. There was, for example, the fear registered by the body when it felt itself slipping towards the edge of a cliff, or when it realized that it was on the point of being run over by a rapidly approaching car, and such fears as these were useful to us because they mobilized our efforts to escape from danger with a speed which far exceeded the quickness of thought. But in addition to these warnings of the presence of physical danger there were also numerous fears which came under the general heading of anxiety, and many fears of this kind originated in the imagination and had no real existence. We were scared of a great many things which might conceivably happen to us, but which were unlikely to happen and never did actually happen. Ouspensky said that many people spent their time inventing them, in justifying them. ‘One has to show forethought and be ready for difficulties when they come,’ they said, and then proceeded to invent new fears. Imaginary fear of this kind had to be included amongst the negative emotions, and if we were ever to get rid of them the first thing to do was to see them more clearly, and the second to cease justifying them.
This, of course, applied to all our negative emotions, that we had to realize that it was we who were responsible for them and that we must not immediately put the blame for them on other people. Another person might have acted as the exciting cause of a negative emotion, but the unpleasant manifestation itself was our own, and not his. If, therefore we wanted to become free from these negative emotions we must straight away accept full responsibility for them, and never, on any occasion, find excuses for them. In other words, we could not enjoy simultaneously two entirely incompatible pleasures, that of putting the blame for our negative emotions on to somebody else, and the pleasure of eventually escaping from them entirely. We must choose one of these two alternatives and give up the other.
Ouspensky then went on to say that there was a common form of identification which played a very large part in keeping us asleep and which was known as inner considering. Inner considering meant identification with oneself or with one took to be oneself, for everybody had a picture of himself, partly authentic and partly fictitious. Having painted this self-portrait, the individual was always presenting it to the world in the hope that the world would accept it as a striking likeness. This work of producing himself, in the theatrical sense of the word, to the world took much of a man’s time, so that he was often very preoccupied when talking with other people with the impression he was producing on them. He took careful note of their reactions to what he was saying, watched their facial expressions, paid attention to the tone of their voices in replying to him, to what they had said and had not said, weighed the respect with which they had received him, the interest they had displayed in his conversation and manifested in many other ways how occupied he was with the effect he was having on them. This intense preoccupation with the impression being made on people and the feeling of inadequacy which often accompanied it was usually called shyness or self-consciousness, but it was the very antithesis of the true self-consciousness and was a manifestation of deeper sleep.
Identification with the self of everyday life, or what Western psychologists call the ‘ego’, may take on many different forms. Freud declares that the ego is first and foremost a body ego, and it is quite true that much inner considering is evoked by a person’s identification about his body and actual or supposed peculiarities, strengths and weaknesses…
But identification with the ‘ego’ may spread far beyond the confines of the physical body, so that a man may be oversensitive about a hundred real or supposed deficiencies or weaknesses in his character and his personal history. He may be distressed on the subject of his upbringing, his parentage, his lack of education, his social standing, his failure to obtain advancement. All these supposed deficiencies have to be hidden from the world and his strong points have to be brought into the foreground when he is talking with other people. The man who is inner considering resembles very closely a commercial traveler with a brand of good to sell. Great skill will have to be used doing this, and it will probably be necessary for him to introduce his good discretely so that he appears not to be pushing them forward at all. Excessive modesty and making fun of oneself are often good tactical moves in the grand strategy of inner considering. ‘Of course, I really know very little about this subject’ may be the opening gambit to a brilliant piece of talking which wins not only the admiration of the audience but a special prize for modesty as well.
Like other highly mechanized activities in us, inner considering is highly contagious. When the person to whom we are talking begins to inner consider, the emotional tension rises, and as a result of this we feel uncomfortable and begin to inner consider ourselves. We feel that something has gone amiss with both the conversation and our relationship with the other person and that it is up to us to put things right. Perhaps we were rater tactless in our handling of the other person a little earlier on, and, as the result of this, he is now offended with us. We decide that we must tread more carefully, and the consequences of our efforts to undo the mischief may well be that the inner considering grows worse. Inner considering is a sign of inner weakness, and it is often due in great part to our fear of other people. It is astonishing how frightened we human beings are of our fellow men.
Controlled and blinded as we are by these inner compulsions, it would be absurd, therefore, for us to imagine that on our ordinary level of being we are capable of understanding another person, let alone of giving him help. We cannot even see that other person as he is, but only as he appears through the distorting glasses our various likes and dislike, prejudices and aversions. No one is capable of entering into and understanding another person unless he has first entered into and understood himself, and even when he is possessed of this self-knowledge a man will often make mistakes. I am still appalled at the very little I am able to see of the person to whom I am talking and at my inability to feel him. We talk together and even intimate things but as complete strangers to the other.
External considering is the precise opposite of inner considering and it would be the correct antidote to inner considering if we could only manage to produce it when required. But external considering is an extremely difficult accomplishment, as different to evoke in ourselves as is self-remembering. It demands an entirely different attitude and relationship to other people, namely, a preoccupation with their welfare instead of our own. The man who considers externally does his best to understand the other person and see what are his needs, and he is only to do this if his own requirements are entirely put on one side. External considering demands of the man who is practicing it a great deal of knowledge and an equal amount of self-control, and this means that it can never happen automatically in a state of sleep, but necessitates a state approaching self-remembering. No person who externally considers can ever talk to another person ‘for his good,’ or ‘to put him right,’ or ‘to explain to him his own point of view,’ for external consideration makes no demands and has no requirements other than those of the person addressed. It allows of no feeling of superiority on the part of the person who is externally considering, for what he is trying to do is put himself into the other man’s place in order that he may be able to discover his needs. This necessitates the abandonment of the last shred of self-identification and, in order that the other person may be seen as he really is, the distorting glasses of the personality, with all it subjective likes and dislikes, have to be laid on one side so that he is viewed as objectively as possible.
Our struggle…takes place at the bottom of a scale of being. We are at the ass-end of the cosmos, Gurdjieff tells us, a place in the scale of the cosmos virtually dense with restrictive laws. Farther up the cosmic scale…we eventually come to the Absolute, the allness, the prime mover, subject to only one law: unity. In the next world down, the level of worlds and galaxies, there are three orders of cosmic law; in the next, designated All Suns, there are six; in the next, at the level of the Sun, there are twelve; at the level of the planets, twenty-four; at the level of our woebegone world, forty-eight orders of laws. Because we live “under forty-eight laws” we are far from the will of the Absolute, according to this system. We move toward the Absolute, toward liberation, by transcending the mechanical laws shackling us. (There are) seven levels of the Ray of Creation…seven levels of matter; each level has its own rate of vibration. The Absolute vibrates most rapidly and is least dense; our level vibrates slowly, through a murky density.
I recently heard an astrophysicist say that at the beginning of Creation, before the Big Bang, there was, indeed, Unity, one law or two—afterwards a sort of fractured symmetry led to the creation of the four forces, gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear forces: the closer you get to the beginning of Time, the fewer laws; the farther away, the more laws.
Gurdjieff, or his teachers, anticipated much of quantum physics. For example, these Heisenbergian remarks from Gurdjieff in 1915: “Matter or substance presupposes the existence of a force or energy. This does not mean that a dualistic conception of the world is necessary. The concepts of matter and force are as relative as everything else. In the Absolute, where all is one, matter and force are also one. But in this connection matter and force are not taken as real principles of the world itself, but as properties or characteristics of the phenomenal world observed by us.”
In Search Of The Miraculous, Ouspensky
On the mechanical
Once I was talking with G. in Moscow. I was speaking about London, where I had been staying a short while before, about the terrifying mechanization that was being developed in the big European cities and without which it was probably impossible to live and work…
“People are turning into machines,” I said. “And no doubt sometimes they become perfect machines. But I do not believe they can think. If they tried to think, they could not have been such fine machines.”
“Yes,” said G., “that is true, but only part true. It depends first of all on the question which mind they use for their work. If they use the proper mind they will be able to think even better in the midst of all their work with machines. But, again, only if they think with the proper mind.”
…”And secondly,” he continued, “the mechanization you speak of is not at all dangerous. A man may be a man…while working with machines.” There is another kind of mechanization which is much more dangerous: being a machine oneself. Have you ever thought about the fact that all peoples themselves are machines?”
“Yes,” I said, “from the strictly scientific point of view all people are machines governed by external influences. But the same question is, can the scientific point of view be wholly accepted?”
“Scientific or not scientific is all the same to me,” said G. “I want you to understand what I am saying. Look, all those people you see,” he pointed along the street, “are simply machines—nothing more.”
“I think I understand what you mean,” I said. And I have often thought how little there is in the world that can stand against this form of mechanization and choose its own path.”
“This is just where you make your greatest mistake,” said G. “You think there is something that chooses its own path, something that can stand against mechanization; you think that not everything is equally mechanical.
“Why, of course not!” I said. “Art, poetry, thought, are phenomena of quite a different order.”
“Of exactly the same order,” said G. “These activities are just as mechanical as everything else. Men are machines and nothing but mechanical actions can be expected of machines.”
“Very well,” I said. “But are there no people who are not machines?”
“It may be that there are,” said G., “only not those people you see. And you do not know them. That is what I want you to understand.”
I thought it rather strange that he should be so insistent on this point. What he said seemed to me obvious and incontestable. At the same time, I had never liked such short and all-embracing metaphors. They always omitted points of difference. I, on the other hand, had always maintained differences were the most important thing and that in order to understand things it was necessary to see the points I which they differed. So I felt it was odd that G. insisted on an idea which seemed to be obvious provided it were not made too absolute and exceptions were admitted.
“People are so unlike one another,” I said. “I do not think it would be possible to bring them all under the same heading. There are savages, there are mechanized people, there are intellectual people, there are geniuses.”
“Quite right,” said G., “people are very unlike one another, but the real difference between people you do not know and cannot see. The difference you speak of simply does not exist. This must be understood. All the people you see, all the people you know, all the people you may get to know, are machines, actual machines working solely under the power of external influences, as you yourself said. Machines they are born and machines they die. How do savages and intellectuals come into this? Even now, at this very moment, while we are talking, several million machines are trying to annihilate one another. What is the difference between them? Where are the savages and where are the intellectuals? They are all alike…
“But there is the possibility of ceasing to be a machine. It is of this we must think and not about the different kinds of machines that exist. Of course there are different machines: a motorcar is a machine, a grammophone is a machine, a gun is a machine. But what of it? It is the same thing—they are all machines.
In connection with this conversation I remember another.
“What is your opinion of modern psychology?” I once asked G. with the intention of introducing the subject of psychoanalysis which I had mistrusted from the time it had first appeared. But G. did not let me get as far as that.
“Before speaking of psychology we must be clear to whom it refers and to whom it does not refer,” he said. “Psychology refers to people, to men, to human beings. What psychology…can there be in relation to machines?” Mechanics, not psychology, is necessary for the study of machines. That is why we begin with mechanics. It is a very long way yet to psychology.”
“Can one stop being a machine?” I asked.
“Ah! That is the question,” said G. “If you had asked such questions more often we might, perhaps, have got somewhere in our talks. It is possible to stop being a machine, but for that it is necessary first of all to know the machine. A machine, a real machine, does not know itself and cannot know itself. When a machine knows itself it is then no longer a machine, at least, not such a machine as it was before. It already begins to be responsible for its actions.
“This means, according to you, that a man is not responsible for his actions?” I asked.
“A man…is responsible. A machine is not responsible.”
In the course of one of our talks I asked G.:
“What in your opinion, is the best preparation for the study of your method? For instance, is it useful to study what is called ‘occult’ or ‘mystical’ literature?”
In saying this I had in mind more particularly the “Tarot” and the literature on the “Tarot.”
“Yes,” said G. “A great deal can be found by reading. For instance, take yourself: you might already know a great deal if you knew how to read. I mean that, if you understood everything you have read in your life, you would already know what you are looking for now. If you understood everything you have written in your book, what is it called?”…”Tertium Organum”…”I should come and bow down to you and beg you to teach me. But you do not understand either what you read or what you write. You do not understand what the word ‘understand’ means. Yet understanding is essential, and reading can be useful only if you understand what you read. But, of course, no book can give real preparation. So it is impossible to say which is better. What a man knows well …that is his preparation. If a man knows how to make coffee well or how to make boots well, then it is already possible to talk to him. The trouble is that nobody knows anything well (okay, this is an exaggeration—he is given to absolutes). Everything is known just anyhow, superficially.
This was another of those unexpected turns which G. gave to his explanations. G.’s words, in addition to their ordinary meaning, undoubtedly contained another, altogether different, meaning. I had already begun to realize that, in order to arrive at this hidden meaning in G’s words, one had to begin with their usual and simple meaning. G.’s words were always significant in their ordinary sense, although this was not the whole of their significance. The wider or deeper significance remained hidden for a long time.
There is another talk which has remained in my memory.
I asked G. what a man had to do to assimilate this teaching.
“What to do?” asked G. as though surprised. “It is impossible to do anything. A man must first of all understand certain things. He has a thousand false ideas and false conceptions, chiefly about himself, and he must get rid of some of them before beginning to acquire anything new. Otherwise the new will be built on a wrong foundation and the result will be worse than before.”
How can one get rid of false ideas?” I asked. “We depend on the forms of our perception. False ideas are produced by the forms of our perception.”
G. shook his head.
“Again you speak of something different,” he said. “You speak of errors arising from perceptions, but I am not speaking of these. Within the limits of given perceptions man can err more or err less. As I have said before, man’s chief delusion is his conviction he can do. All people think that they can do, all people want to do, and the first question all people ask is what
they are to do. But actually nobody does anything and nobody can do anything. This is the first thing that must be understood. Everything happens. And it happens in exactly the same way as rain falls as a result of a change in the temperature in the higher regions of the atmosphere or the surrounding clouds, as snow melts under the rays of the sun, as dust rises with the wind.
“Man is a machine. All his deeds, actions, words, thoughts, feelings, convictions, opinions, and habits are the results of external influences, external impressions. Out of himself a man cannot produce a single thought, a single action. Everything he says, does, thinks, feels—all this happens. Man cannot discover anything, invent anything. It all happens.
To establish this fact for oneself, to understand it, to be convinced of its truth, means getting rid of a thousand illusions about man, about his being creative and consciously organizing his own life, and so on. There is nothing of his kind. Everything happens—popular movements, wars, revolutions, changes in government, all this happens. And it happens in exactly the same way as everything else happens in the life of individual man. Man is born, lives, dies, builds houses, writes books, not as he wants to, but as it happens. Everything happens. Man does not love, hate, desire—all this happens.
“But no one will ever believe you if you tell him he can do nothing. This is the most offensive and the most unpleasant thing you can tell people. It is particularly unpleasant and offensive because it is the truth, and nobody wants to know the truth.
“When you understand this is will be easier for us to talk. But it is one thing to understand with the mind and another thing to feel it with one’s ‘whole mass,’ to be really convinced that it is so and never forget it.
“With this question of doing, yet another thing is connected. It always seems to people that others invariably do things wrongly, not in the way they should be done. Everybody always thinks he could do it better. They do no understand, and do not want to understand, that what is being done, and particularly what has already been done in one way, cannot be, and could not have been, done in another way. Have you noticed how everyone now is talking about the war? Everyone has his own plan, his own theory. Everyone finds that nothing is being done in the way it ought to be done. Actually everything is being done in the only way it can be done. If one thing could be different, everything could be different. And then perhaps there would have been no war.
“Try to understand what I am saying: everything is dependent on everything else, everything is connected, nothing is separate. Therefore everything is going in the only way it can go. If people were different everything would be different. They are what they are, so everything is as it is.”
This was very difficult to swallow.
“Is there nothing, absolutely nothing, that can be done?” I asked.
“And can nobody do anything?”
“That is another question. In order to do it is necessary to be. And it is first necessary to understand what to be means. If we continue our talk you will see that we use a special language. It is not worth while talking in ordinary language because, in that language, it is impossible to understand one another. This also, at the moment, seems strange to you. But it is true. In order to understand it is necessary to learn another language. In the language which people speak they cannot understand one another. You will see later on why this is so.
“Then one has to learn to speak the truth. This also appears strange to you. You do not realize that one has to learn to speak the truth. It seems to you that it is enough to wish or to decide to do so. And I tell you that people comparatively rarely tell a deliberate lie. In most cases they think they speak the truth. And yet they lie all the time, both to themselves and to others. Therefore nobody ever understands either himself or anyone else. Think—could there be such discord, such deep misunderstanding, and such hatred towards the views and opinions of others, if people were able to understand one another? But they cannot understand because they cannot help lying. To speak the truth is the most difficult thing in the world; and one must study a great deal and for a long time in order to be able to speak the truth. The wish alone is not enough. To speak the truth one must know what the truth is and what a lie is, and first of all in oneself. And this nobody wants to know.
On Immortality and the four bodies
…The talk began by one of those present asking:
“Can it be said that man possesses immortality?”
“Immortality is one of the qualities we ascribe to people without having a sufficient understanding of their meaning,” said G. “Other qualities of this kind are “individuality,” in the sense of an inner unity, a ‘permanent and unchangeable I,’ ‘consciousness,’ and ‘will.’ All these qualities can belong to man…but this certainly does not mean that they do belong to him or belong to each and every one.
“In order to understand what man is at the present time, that is, at the present level of development, it is necessary to imagine to a certain extent what he can be, that is, what he can attain. Only by understanding the correct sequence of development possible will people cease to
ascribe to themselves what, at present, they do not possess, and what, perhaps, they can only acquire after great effort and great labor.
“According to an ancient teaching, traces of which may be found in many systems, old and new, a man who has attained the full development possible for man, a man in the full sense of the word, consists of four bodies. These four bodies are composed of substances which gradually become finer and finer, mutually interpenetrate one another, and form four independent organisms, standing in definite relationship to one another but capable of independent action.
“The reason why it is possible for four bodies to exist is that the human organism, that is, the physical body, has such a complex organization that, under certain conditions, a new independent organism can grow in it, affording a much more convenient and responsive instrument for the activity of consciousness than the physical body. The consciousness manifested in this new body is capable of governing it, and it has full power and full control over the physical body. In this second body, under certain conditions, a third body can grow, again having characteristics of its own. The consciousness manifested in this third body possesses the possibility of acquiring knowledge inaccessible either to the first or to the second body. In the third body, under certain conditions, a fourth can grow, which differs as much from the third as the third differs from the second and the second from the first. The consciousness manifested in the fourth body has full control over the first three bodies and itself.
“These four bodies are defined in different teachings in different ways.” G. drew a diagram, and said:
1st body 2nd body 3rd body 4th body
Carnal body Natural body Spiritual body Divine body
“Carriage” “Horse” “Driver” “Master”
(body) (feelings, desires) (mind) (I, consciousness, will)
Physical body Astral body Mental body Causal body
“The first is the physical body, in Christian terminology the ‘carnal’ body; the second, in Christian terminology, is the ‘natural’ body; the third is the ‘spiritual’ body; the fourth, in the terminology of esoteric Christianity, is the ‘divine’ body. In theosophical terminology the first is the ‘physical’ body, the second is the ‘astral,’ the third is the ‘mental,’ and the fourth is the ‘causal.’
“In the terminology of certain Eastern teachings the first body is the ‘carriage’ (body), the second is the ‘horse’ (feelings, desires), the third is the ‘driver’ (mind), and the fourth the ‘master’ (I, consciousness, will).
“Such comparisons and parallels may be found in most systems and teachings which recognize something more in man than the physical body. But almost all these teachings, while representing in a more or less familiar form the definitions and divisions of the ancient teaching, have forgotten or omitted its most important feature, which is: that man is not born with the finer bodies, and that they can only be artificially cultivated in him provided favorable conditions both internal and external are present.
The evolving part of organic life is humanity. Humanity also has its evolving part…If humanity does not evolve it means that the evolution of organic life will stop and this in its turn will cause the growth…of creation to stop. At the same time if humanity ceases to evolve it becomes useless from the point of view of the aims for which it was created and as such it may be destroyed. In this way the cessation of evolution may mean the destruction of humanity.
“We have no clues from which we are able to tell in what period of planetary evolution we exist and whether…the earth (has) time to await the corresponding evolution of organic life or not….we should bear in mind that the number of possibilities is never infinite.
“At the same time in examining the life of humanity as we know it historically we are bound to acknowledge that humanity is moving in a circle. In one century it destroys everything it creates in another and the progress in mechanical things of the past hundred years has proceeded at the cost of losing many other things which perhaps were much more important for it. Speaking in general terms there is every reason to think and to assert that humanity is at a standstill and from a standstill there is a straight path to downfall and degeneration. A standstill means that a process has become balanced. The appearance of any one quality immediately evokes the appearance of another quality opposed to it. The growth of knowledge in one domain evokes the growth of ignorance in another; refinement on the one hand evokes vulgarity on the other; freedom in one connection evokes slavery in another; the disappearance of some superstitions evokes the appearance and growth of others; and so on.
…a balanced process proceeding in a certain way cannot be changed at any moment it is desired. It can be changed and set on a new path only at certain ‘crossroads.’ In between the ‘crossroads’ nothing can be done. At the same time if a process passes by a ‘crossroad’ and nothing happens, nothing is done, then nothing can be done afterwards and the process will continue and develop according to mechanical laws; and even if people taking part in the process foresee the inevitable destruction of everything, they will be unable to do anything…
“Of course there are very many people who consider that the life of humanity is not proceeding in the way I which according to their views it ought to go. And they invent various theories which in their opinion ought to change the whole life of humanity. One invents one theory. Another immediately invents an contradictory theory. And both expect everyone to believe them. And many people indeed do believe either one or the other. Life naturally take its own course but people do not stop believing in their own or other people’s theories and they believe it is possible to do something. All these theories are certainly quite fantastic, chiefly because they do not take into account the most important thing, namely, the subordinate part which humanity and organic life play in the world process. Intellectual theories put man in the center of everything; (wrong) everything exists for him, the sun, the stars, the moon, the earth. They even forget man’s relative size, his nothingness, his transient existence, and other things. They assert that man if he wishes is able to change his whole life, that is, to organize his life on rational principles. And all the time new theories appear evoking in their turn opposing theories; and all these theories and the struggle between them undoubtedly constitute one of the forces which keep humanity in the state in which it is at present. Besides, all these theories for general welfare and general equality are not only unrealizable, but they would be fatal if they were realized. Everything in nature has its aim and purpose, both the inequality of man and his suffering. To destroy inequality would mean destroying the possibility of evolution. To destroy suffering would mean, first, destroying a whole series of perceptions for which man exists, and second, the destruction of the ‘shock,’ that is to say, the force which alone can change the situation. And thus it is with all intellectual theories.
“The process of evolution, of that evolution which is possible for humanity as a whole, is completely analogous to the process of evolution for the individual man. And it begins with the same thing, namely, a certain group of cells gradually become conscious; then it attracts to itself other cells, subordinate others, and gradually makes the whole organism serve its aims and not merely eat, drink, and sleep. This is evolution and there can be no other kind of evolution. In humanity as in individual man everything begins with the formation of a conscious nucleus. All the mechanical forces of life fight against the formation of this conscious nucleus in humanity, in just the same way as all mechanical habits, tastes and weaknesses fight against conscious self-remembering in man.
“Can it be said that there is a conscious force which fights against the evolution of humanity?” I asked.
“From a certain point of view it can be said,” said G.
“Where can this force come from?” I asked.
“…there are two processes which are sometimes called ‘involutionary’ and ‘evolutionary’…An involutionary process begins consciously in the Absolute but at the very first step it already becomes mechanical—and it becomes more and more mechanical as it develops; and evolutionary process begins half-consciously but it becomes more and more conscious as it develops…The evolutionary process must proceed without interruption. Any stop causes a separation from the fundamental process. Such separate fragments of consciousness which have been stopped in their development can also unite and at any rate for a certain time can live by struggling against the evolutionary process. After all it merely makes the evolutionary process more interesting. Instead of struggling against mechanical forces there may, at certain moments, be a struggle against the intentional opposition of fairly powerful forces though they are not of course comparable with those which direct the evolutionary process. These opposing forces may sometimes even conquer. The reason for this consists in the fact that the forces guiding evolution have a more limited choice of means; in other words, they can only make use of certain means and certain methods. The opposing forces are not limited in their choice of means and they are able to make use of every means, even those which give rise only to a temporary success, and in the final result they destroy both evolution and involution at the point in question.
But as I have said already, this question has no practical significance for us. It is only important for us to establish the indications of evolution beginning and the indications of evolution proceeding. And if we remember the full analogy between humanity and man it will not be difficult to establish whether humanity can be regarded as evolving.
Are we able to say for instance that life is governed by a group of conscious people? Where are they? Who are they? We see exactly the opposite: that life is governed by those of us who are least conscious, by those who are most asleep.
Are we able to say that we observe in life a preponderance of the best, the strongest, and the most courageous elements? Nothing of the sort. On the contrary we see a preponderance of vulgarity and stupidity of all kinds.
Are we able to say that aspirations towards unity, towards unification, can be observed in life? Nothing of the kind of course. We only see new divisions, new hostility, new misunderstandings.
So that in the actual situation of humanity there is nothing that points to evolution proceeding. On the contrary when we compare humanity with a man we quite clearly see a growth of personality at the cost of essence, that is, growth of the artificial, the unreal, and what is foreign, at the cost of the natural, the real, and what is one’s own.
Together with this we see a growth of automatism.
Contemporary culture requires automatons. And people are undoubtedly losing their acquired habits of independence and turning into automatons, into parts of machines. It is impossible to say where is the end of all this and where the way out—or whether there is an end and a way out. One thing alone is certain, that man’s slavery grows and increases. Man is becoming willing slave. He no longer needs chains. He begins to grow fond of his slavery, to be proud of it. And this is the most terrible thing that can happen to a man.
Everything I have said till now I have said about the whole of humanity. But as I pointed out before, the evolution of humanity can proceed only through the evolution of a certain group, which, in its turn, will influence and lead the rest of humanity.
Are we able to say that such a group exists? Perhaps we can on the basis of certain signs, but in any event we have to acknowledge that it is a very small group, quite insufficient, at any rate, to subjugate the rest of humanity. Or, looking at it from another point of view, we can say that humanity is in such a state that it is unable to accept the guidance of a conscious group.
“How many people could there be in this conscious group?” someone asked.
“Only they themselves know this,” said G.
“Does it mean that they all know each other?” asked the same person again.
“How could it be otherwise?” asked G. “Imagine that there are two or three people who are awake in the midst of a multitude of sleeping people. They will certainly know each other. But those who are asleep cannot know them. How many are they? We do not know and we cannot know until we become like them. It has been clearly said before that each man can only see on
the level of his own being. But two hundred conscious people, if they existed and if they found it necessary and legitimate, could change the whole of life on the earth. But either there are not enough of them, or they do not want to, or perhaps the time has not yet come, or perhaps other people are sleeping too soundly.
We have approached the problems of esotericism.
It was pointed out before when we spoke about the history of humanity that the life of humanity to which we belong is governed by forces proceeding from two different sources; first, planetary influences which act entirely mechanically and are received by the human masses as well as by individual people quite involuntarily and unconsciously; and then, influences proceeding from inner circles of humanity whose existence and significance the vast majority of people do not suspect any more than they suspect planetary influences.
The humanity to which we belong, namely, the whole of historic and prehistoric humanity known to science and civilization, in reality constitutes only the outer circle of humanity, within which there are several other circles.
So that we can imagine the whole of humanity, known as well as unknown to us, as consisting so to speak of several concentric circles.
The inner circle is called the ‘esoteric’; this circle consists of people who have attained the highest development possible for man, each one of whom possesses individuality in the fullest degree, that is to say, an indivisible ‘I,’ all forms of consciousness possible for man, full control over these states of consciousness, the whole of knowledge possible for man, and a free and independent will. They cannot perform actions opposed to their understandings or have an understanding which is not expressed by their actions. At the same time there can be no discords among them, no differences of understanding. Therefore their activity is entirely coordinated and leads to one common aim without any kind of compulsion because it is based upon a common and identical understanding.
The next circle is called ‘mesoteric,’ that is to say, the middle. People who belong to to this circle possess all the qualities possessed by the members of the esoteric circle, with the sole difference that their knowledge is of a more theoretical character. This refers, of course, to knowledge of a cosmic character. They know and understand many things which have not yet found expression in their actions. They know more than they do. But their understanding is precisely as exact as, and therefore precisely identical with, the understanding of the people of the esoteric circle. Between them there can be no discord, there can be no misunderstanding. One understands in the way they all understand, and all understand in the way one understands. But as was said before, this understanding compared with the understanding of the esoteric circle is somewhat more theoretical.
The third circle is called the ‘esoteric,’ that is, the outer, because it is the outer circle of the inner part of humanity. The people who belong to this circle possess much of that which belongs to people of the esoteric and mesoteric but their cosmic knowledge is of a more philosophic character, that is to say, it is more abstract than the knowledge of the mesoteric circle. A member of the mesoteric circle calculates, a member of the esoteric circle contemplates. Their understanding may not be expressed in actions. But there cannot be differences in understanding between them.
What one understands all the others understand.
In literature which acknowledges the existence of esotericism humanity is usually divided into two circles only and the ‘esoteric’ circle as opposed to the ‘esoteric’ is called ordinary life. In reality, as we see, the ‘esoteric circle’ is something very far from us and very high. For ordinary man this is ‘esotericism.’
The outer circle is the circle of mechanical humanity to which we belong and which alone we know. The first sign of this circle is that among people who belong to it there is and cannot be a common understanding. Everybody understands in his own way and all differently. This circle is sometimes called the circle of the ‘confusion of tongues,’ that is, the circle in which each one speaks his own particular language, where no one understands another and takes no trouble to be understood. In this circle mutual understanding between people is impossible excepting in rare exceptional moments or in matters having no great significance, and which are confined to the limits of the given being. If people belonging to this circle become conscious of this general lack of understanding and acquire a desire to understand and be understood, then it means they have an unconscious tendency towards the inner circle because mutual understanding begins only in the esoteric circle and is possible only there. But the consciousness of the lack of understanding usually comes to people in an altogether different form.
So that the possibility for people to understand depends on the possibility of penetrating into the esoteric circle where understanding begins.
If we imagine humanity in the form of four concentric circles we can imagine four gates on the circumference of the third inner circle, that is, the esoteric circle, through which people of the mechanical circle can penetrate.
These four gates correspond to the four ways…
The first way is the way of the fakir; the way of people number one, of people of the physical body, instinctive-moving-sensory people without much mind and without much heart.
The second way is the way of the monk, the religious way, the way of people number two, that is, of emotional people. The mind and the body should not be too strong.
The third way is the way of the yogi. This is the way of the mind, the way of people number three. The heart and body must not be particularly strong, otherwise they may be a hindrance on this way.
Besides these three ways yet a fourth way exists by which can go those who cannot go by any of the first three ways.
The fundamental difference between the first three ways…and the fourth way consists in the fact that they are tied to permanent forms which have existed throughout long periods of history almost without change. As the basis of these institutions is religion…These three traditional way are permanent ways…
Two or three thousand years ago there were yet other ways which no longer exist and the ways now in existence were not so divided…
The fourth way differs from the old and the new ways by the fact that it is never a permanent way. It has no definite forms and there are no institutions connected with it. It appears and disappears governed by some particular laws of its own.
The fourth way is never without some work of a definite significance, is never without some undertaking around which and in connection with which it can alone exist. When the work is finished, that is to say, when the aim set before it has been accomplished, the fourth way disappears…continuing perhaps in another place and form….
Only conscious work can be useful in all the undertakings of the fourth way…so that the first task of the people who begin such a work is to create conscious assistants.
The quicker a man grasps the aim of the work which is being executed, the quicker can he be useful to it and the more will he be able to get from it for himself.
…When the work is done the schools close….But it happens sometimes that when the school closes a number of people are left who were round about the work, who saw the outward aspect of it, and saw the whole of the work in this outward aspect.
Having no doubts whatever of themselves or in the correctness of their conclusions and understanding they decide to continue the work. To continue the work they form new schools, teach people what they have themselves learned…All this naturally can only be outward imitation. But when we look back on history it is almost impossible for us to distinguish where the real ends and the imitation begins…We know practically nothing about real schools…
But such pseudo-esoteric systems also play their part in the work and activities of the esoteric circles. Namely, they are the intermediaries between humanity which is entirely immersed in the materialistic life…if there were not these pseudo-esoteric schools the vast majority of humanity would have no possibility whatever of hearing and learning of the existence of anything greater…because truth in its pure form would be inaccessible for them. By reason of the many characteristics of man’s being, particularly of the contemporary being, truth can only come to people in the form of a lie—only in this form are they able to accept it; only in this form are they able to digest and assimilate it. Truth undefiled would be, for them, indigestible food…
The idea of initiation, which reaches us through pseudo-esoteric systems, is also transmitted to us in a completely wrong form…The Mysteries represented a special kind of way in which, side by side with a difficult and prolonged period of study, theatrical presentations of a special kind were given which depicted…the whole path of the evolution of man and the world.
Transitions from one level of being to another were marked by ceremonies of presentation of a special kind, that is, initiation. But a change of being cannot be brought about by any rites.
Rites only mark an accomplished transition. And it is only in the pseudo-esoteric systems in which there is nothing else except these rites, that they begin to attribute to the rites an independent meaning. It is supposed that a rite, in being transformed into a sacrament, transmits or communicates certain forces to the initiate…There is not, nor can there be, any outward initiation…Systems and schools can indicate methods and ways, but no system or school whatever can do for a man the work that he must do himself. Inner growth, a change in being, depend entirely upon the work which a man must do on himself.
The Way (influences of the third kind)
The chief difficulty in understanding the way, said G., consists in the fact that people usually think that the way…starts on the same level on which life is going. This is quite wrong. The way begins on another, much higher, level. This is exactly what people usually do not understand. The beginning of the way is thought to be easier or simpler than it is in reality….
Man lives in life under the law of accident and under two kinds of influences again governed by accident.
The first kind are influences created in life itself or by life itself. Influences of race, nation, country, climate, family, education, society, profession, manners and customs, wealth, poverty, current ideas, and so on. The second kind are influences created outside this life, influences of the inner circle, or esoteric influences—influences, that is, created under different laws, although also on the earth. These influences differ from the former, first of all in being conscious in their origin. This means that they have been created consciously by conscious men for a definite purpose. Influences of this kind are usually embodied in the form of religious systems and teachings, philosophical doctrines, works of art, and so on.
They are let out into life for a definite purpose, and become mixed with influences of the first kind. But it must be borne in mind that these influences are conscious only in their origin. Coming into the general vortex of life they fall under the general law of accident and begin to act mechanically, that is, they may act on a certain definite man or may not act; they may reach him or they may not. In undergoing change and distortion in life through transmission and interpretation, influences of the second kind are transformed into influences of the first kind…
We have spoken about the beginning of the way. The beginning of the way depends precisely upon this understanding or upon the capacity for discriminating between the two kinds of influences…If a man in receiving them does not separate them, that is, does not see or does not feel their difference, their action upon him also is not separated…But if a man in receiving these influences begins to discriminate between them and put on one side those which are not created in life itself, then gradually discrimination becomes easier and after a certain time a man can no longer confuse them with the ordinary influences of life.
The results of the influences whose source lies outside life collect together with him, he remembers them together, feels them together. They begin to form within him a certain whole…the results of these influences collect together within him and after a certain time they form within him a kind of magnetic center, which begins to attract to itself kindred influences and in this manner it grows. If the magnetic center receives sufficient nourishment, and if there is no strong resistance on the part of the other sides of man’s personality which are the result of influences created in life, the magnetic center begins to influence a man’s orientation, obliging him to turn round and even move in a certain direction. When the magnetic center attains sufficient force and development, a man already understands the idea of the way and he begins to look for the way. The search for the way may take many years and may lead to nothing. This depends upon conditions, upon circumstances, upon the power of the magnetic center, upon the power and direction of inner tendencies which are not concerned with this search and which may divert a man at the very moment when the possibility of finding the way appears.
If the magnetic center works rightly and if a man really searches, or even if he does not search actively yet feels rightly, he may meet another man who knows the way and who is connected directly or through other people with a center existing outside the law of accident, from which proceed the ideas which created the magnetic center.
…let us imagine he has met a man who really knows the way and is ready to help him. The influence of this man upon him goes through his magnetic center. And the, at this point, the man frees himself from the law of accident….The influence of the man who knows the way upon the first man is a special kind of influence, differing from the former two, first of all in being a direct influence, and secondly in being a conscious influence. Influences of the second kind, which created magnetic center, are conscious in their origin but afterwords are thrown into the general vortex of life, are intermixed with influences created in life itself, and are equally subject to the law of accident. Influences of the third kind can never be subject to the law of accident, they are themselves outside the law of accident and their action also is outside the law of accident. Influences of the second kind can proceed can proceed through books, through philosophical systems, through rituals. Influences of the third kind can proceed only from one person to another, directly, by means of oral transmission.
The moment when the man who is looking for the way meets a man who knows the way, is called the first threshold or the first step. From this first threshold the stairway begins, Between ‘life’ and the ‘way’ lies the ‘stairway.’ Only by passing along this ‘stairway’ can a man enter the ‘way.’
In addition, the man ascends this stairway with the help of the man who is his guide; he cannot go up the stairway by himself. The way begins only where the stairway ends, that is, after the last threshold on the stairway, on a level much higher than the ordinary level of life.
Therefore it is impossible to answer the question, from what does the way start? The way starts from something that is not in life at all, and therefore it is impossible to say from what. Sometimes it is said: in ascending the stairway a man is not sure of anything, he may doubt everything, his own powers, whether what he is doing is right, the guide, his knowledge and powers. At the same time, what he attains is very unstable; even if he has ascended fairly high on the stairway, he may fall down at any moment and have to begin again from the beginning. But when he has passed the last threshold and enters the way, all this changes. First of all, all doubts he may have had about his guide disappear and at the same time the guide becomes far less necessary to him than before. In many respects he may even be independent and know where he is going. Secondly, he can no longer lose so easily the results of his work and he cannot find himself again in ordinary life. Even if he leaves the way, he will be unable to return where he started from.
…A man may attain something…and may later on sacrifice these powers in order to raise other people to his level. If the people with whom he is working ascend to his level, he will receive back all that he has sacrificed. But if they do not ascend, he may lose it altogether.
…The results of the work of a man who takes on himself the role of teacher do no depend on whether or not he knows exactly the origin of what he teaches, but very much depends on whether or not is ideas come in actual fact from the esoteric center and whether he himself understands and can distinguish esoteric ideas, that is, ideas of objective knowledge, from subjective, scientific, and philosophical ideas.
So far I have spoken of the right magnetic center, of the right guide, and of the right way. But a situation is possible in which the magnetic center has been wrongly formed. It may be divided in itself, that is, it may include contradictions. In it, moreover, may enter influences of the first
kind…under the guise if influences of the second kind but distorted to such an extent that they have become their own opposite. Such a wrongly formed magnetic center cannot give a right orientation. A man with a wrong magnetic center…may…look for the way and…meet another man who will call himself a teacher…But in reality may not know the way…there are many possibilities:
1. He may be genuinely mistaken and think that he knows something, when in reality he knows nothing.
2. He may believe another man, who in his turn may be mistaken.
3. He may deceive consciously.
…the teacher always corresponds to the level of the pupil. The higher the pupil, the higher can be the teacher…Actually, a pupil can never see the level of the teacher…No one can see higher than his own level.
Neither the psychical not the physical functions of man can be understood unless the fact has been grasped that they can both work in different states of consciousness.
In all there are four states of consciousness possible for man. But ordinary man, that is, man number one, number two, and number three, lives in the two lowest states of consciousness only. The two higher sates of consciousness are inaccessible to him, and although he may have flashes of these states, he is unable to understand them and he judges them from the point of view of those states in which it is usual for him to be.
The two usual, that is, the lowest, states of consciousness are first, sleep, in other words a passive state I which man spends a third and very often a half of his life. And second, the state in which men spend the other part of their lives, in which they walk the streets, write books, talk on lofty subjects, take part in politics, kill one another, which they regard as active and call ‘clear consciousness’ or the ‘waking state of consciousness.’ The term ‘clear consciousness’ or the ‘waking state of consciousness’ seems to have been given in jest, especially when you realize what clear consciousness ought in reality to be and what the state in which man lives and acts really is.
The third state of consciousness is self-remembering or self-consciousness or consciousness of one’s being. It is usual to consider that we have this state of consciousness or that we can have it if we want it. Our science and philosophy have overlooked the fact that we do not possess this state of consciousness and that we cannot create it in ourselves by desire or decision alone.
The fourth state of consciousness is called the objective state of consciousness. In this state a man can see things as they are. Flashes of this state of consciousness also occur in man. In the religions of all nations there are indications of the possibility of a state of consciousness of this kind which is called ‘enlightenment’ and various other names but which cannot be described in words. But the only right way to objective consciousness is through the development of self-consciousness. If ordinary man is artificially brought into a state of objective consciousness and afterwards brought back to his usual state he will remember nothing and he will think that for a time he had lost consciousness. But in the state of self-consciousness a man can have flashes of objective consciousness and remember them.
The fourth state of consciousness in man means an altogether different state of being; it is the result of inner growth and of long and difficult work on oneself.
But the third state of consciousness constitutes the natural right of man as he is, and if man does not possess it, it is only because of the wrong conditions of his life. It can be said without any exaggeration that at the present time the third state of consciousness occurs in man only in the form of very rare flashes and that it can be made more or less permanent in him only by means of special training.
For most people, even for educated and thinking people, the chief obstacle in the way of acquiring self-consciousness consists in the fact that they think they possess it, that is, that they possess self-consciousness and everything connected with it; individuality in the sense of a permanent and unchangeable I, will, ability to do, and so on. It is evident that a man will not be interested if you tell him that he can acquire by long and difficult work something which, in his opinion, he already has. On the contrary he will think either that you are mad or that you want to deceive him with a view to personal gain.
The higher states of consciousness–‘self-consciousness’ and ‘objective consciousness’—are connected with the functioning of the higher centers in man.
In addition to those centers of which we have so far spoken there are two other centers in man, the ‘higher emotional’ and the ‘higher thinking.’ These centers are in us; they are fully developed and are working all the time, but their work fails to reach our ordinary consciousness. The cause of this lies in the special properties of our so-called ‘clear-consciousness.’
In order to understand what the difference between states of consciousness is, let us return to the first state of consciousness which is sleep. This is an entirely subjective state of consciousness…Then a man wakes up. At first glance this is a quite different state of consciousness. He can move, he can talk with other people, he can make calculations ahead, he can see danger and avoid it, and so on. It stands to reason that he is in a better position than when he was asleep. But if we go a little bit more deeply into things, if we take a look into his inner world, into his thoughts, into the causes of his actions, we shall see that he is in almost the same state as when he is asleep. And it is even worse, because in sleep he is passive, that is, he cannot do anything. In the waking state, however, he can do something all the time and the results of all his actions will be reflected upon him or upon those around him. And yet he does not remember himself. He is a machine, everything with him happens. He cannot stop the flow of his thoughts, he cannot control his imagination, his emotions, his attention. He lives in a subjective world of ‘I love,’ ‘I do not love,’ ‘I like,’ ‘I do not like,’ ‘I want,’ ‘I do not want,’ that is, of what he thinks he wants, of what he thinks he does not want. He does not see the real world. The real world is hidden from him by the wall of imagination. He lives in sleep. He is asleep.
What is called ‘clear-consciousness’ is sleep and a far more dangerous sleep than sleep at night in bed.
Let us take some event in the life of humanity. For instance, war. There is a war going on at the present moment. What does it signify. It signifies that several millions of sleeping people are trying to destroy several millions of other sleeping people. They would not do this, of course, if they were to wake up. Everything that takes place is owing to this sleep.
Both states of consciousness, sleep and the waking state are equally subjective. Only by beginning to remember himself does a man really awaken. And then all the surrounding life acquires for him a different aspect and a different meaning. He sees that it is the life of sleeping people, a life in sleep. All that men say, all that they do, they say and do in sleep. All this can have no value whatever. Only awakening and what leads to awakening has a value in reality.
How many times have I been asked here whether wars can be stopped? Certainly they can. For this it is only necessary that people should awaken. It seems a small thing. It is, however, the most difficult thing there can be because this sleep is induced and maintained by the whole of surrounding life, by all surrounding conditions.
How can one awaken? How can one escape this sleep? These questions are the most important, the most vital that can ever confront a man. But before this it is necessary to be convinced of the very fact of sleep. But it is possible to be convinced by this only by trying to awaken. When a man understands that he does not remember himself and that to remember himself means to awaken to some extent, and when at the same time he sees by experience how difficult it is to remember himself, he will understand that he cannot awaken simply by having the desire to do so. It can be said still more precisely that a man cannot awaken by himself. But if, let us say, twenty people make an agreement that whoever of them awakens first shall wake the rest, they already have some chance. Even this, however, is insufficient because all twenty can go to sleep at the same time and dream that they are waking up. Therefore more still is necessary. They must be looked after by a man who is not asleep or who does not fall asleep as easily as they do, or who goes to sleep consciously when this is possible, when it will do no harm to himself or to others. They must find such a man and hire him to wake them and not allow them to fall asleep again. Without this it is impossible to awaken. This is what must be understood.
It is possible to think for a thousand years; it is possible to write whole libraries of books, to create theories by the million, and all this in sleep, without any possibility of awakening. On the contrary, these books and these theories, written and created in sleep, will merely send other people to sleep, and so on.
…as he is organized, that is, being such as nature has created him, man can be a self-conscious being. Such he is created and such he is born. But he is born among sleeping people, and, of course, he falls asleep among them just at the very time when he should have begun to be conscious of himself. Everything has a hand in this; voluntary and involuntary suggestion, and what is called ‘education.’ Every attempt to awaken on the child’s part is instantly stopped. This is inevitable. And a great many efforts and a great deal of help are necessary in order to awaken later when thousands of sleep-compelling habits have been accumulated. And this very seldom happens. In most cases, a man when still a child already loses the possibility of awakening; he lives in sleep all his life and he dies in sleep. Furthermore, many people die long before their physical death.
…A fully developed man…should possess four states of consciousness… ‘mystical states’…when they are not deceptions or imitations…are flashes of what we call an objective state of consciousness….Knowledge…the real objective knowledge towards which man, as he asserts, is struggling, is possible only in the fourth state of consciousness…Knowledge which is acquired in the ordinary state of consciousness is intermixed with dreams.
Man’s possibilities are very great. You cannot conceive even a shadow of what man is capable of attaining….In the consciousness of a sleeping man his illusions, his ‘dreams’ are mixed with reality…And this is the reason why he can never make use of all the powers he possesses and why he always lives in a small part of himself.
It has been said before that self-study and self-observation…bring man to the realization of the fact that something is wrong with his machine and with his functions in their ordinary state…Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity for self-change. And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes. He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening. By observing himself he throws, as it were, a ray of light into his inner processes which have hitherto worked in complete darkness. And under the influences of this light the processes themselves begin to change. There are a great many chemical processes that can take place only in the absence of light. Exactly the same way many psychic processes can take place only in the dark. Even a feeble light of consciousness is enough to change completely the character of the process, while it makes many of them altogether impossible. Our inner psychic processes (our inner alchemy) have much in common with those chemical processes in which light changes the character of the process…
…man…must begin to see himself, that is to say, to see not the separate details, not the work of small wheels and levers, but to see everything taken together as a whole—the whole of himself such as others see him.
But it is not so easy to learn…how to catch characteristic postures, characteristic facial expressions, characteristic emotions, and characteristic thoughts….
Instead of the man he had supposed himself to be he will see quite another man. This ‘other’ man is himself and at the same time not himself. It is he as other people know him, as he imagines himself and as he appears in his actions, words, and so on; but not altogether such as he actually is. For a man himself knows that there is a great deal that is unreal, invented, and artificial in this other man whom other people know and whom he knows himself. You must learn to divide the real from the invented. And to begin self-observation and self-study it is necessary to divide oneself. A man must realize that he indeed consists of two men…
Man’s inability to remember himself is one of the chief and most characteristic features of his being and the cause of everything else in him…A man does not remember his decisions, he does not remember the promises he has made to himself, does not remember what he said or felt a month, a week, a day, or even an hour ago. He begins work of some kind and after a certain lapse of time he does not remember why he began it. It is especially in connection with work on oneself that this happens particularly often.
…And this deprives man’s views and opinions of any stability and precision. A man does not remember what he has thought or what he has said; and he does not remember how he thought or how he spoke.
This in its turn is connected with one of the fundamental characteristics of man’s attitude towards himself and to all his surroundings. Namely, his constant ‘identification’ with what at a given moment has attracted his attention, his thoughts or his desires, and his imagination.
‘Identification’ is so common a quality that for purposes of observation it is difficult to separate it from everything else. Man is always in a state of identification, only the object of identification changes.
A man identifies with a small problem which confronts him and he completely forgets the great aims with which he began his work. He identifies with one thought and forgets other thoughts; he is identified with one feeling, with one mood, and forgets his own wider thoughts, emotions, and moods.
…It is especially difficult to free oneself from identifying because a man naturally becomes more easily identified with the things which interest him most, to which he gives his time, his work, and his attention. In order to free himself from identifying a man must be constantly on guard and be merciless with himself, that is, he must not be afraid of seeing all the subtle and hidden forms which identifying takes.
It is necessary to see and to study identifying to its very roots in oneself. The difficulty of struggling with identifying is still further increased by the fact that when people observe it in themselves they consider it a very good trait and call it ‘enthusiasm,’ ‘zeal,’ ‘passion,’ ‘spontaneity,
‘ ‘inspiration,’ and names of that kind, and they consider that only in a state of identifying can a man produce good work, no matter in what sphere. In reality of course this is illusion. Man cannot do anything sensible when he is in a state of identifying…Look at people in shops, in theatres, in restaurants, or see how they identify with words when they argue about something or try to prove something, particularly something they do no know themselves. They become greediness, desires, or words; of themselves nothing remains.
Identifying is the chief obstacle to self-remembering. A man who identifies with anything is unable to remember himself. In order to remember oneself it is necessary first of all not to identify. But in order to learn not to identify man must first of all not be identified with himself, must not call himself ‘I’ always and on all occasions. He must remember that there are two in him, that there is himself, that is ‘I’ in him, and there is another with whom he must struggle and whom he must conquer if he wishes at any time to attain anything. So long as a man identifies or can be identified, he is the slave of everything that can happen to him. Freedom is first of all freedom from identification.
After general forms of identification attention must be given to a particular form of identifying, namely identifying with people, which takes the form of ‘considering’ them.
There are several different forms of ‘considering.’
On the most prevalent occasions a man is identified with what others think about him, how they treat him, what attitude they show towards him. He always thinks that people do not value him enough, are not sufficiently polite and courteous. All this torments him, makes him think and suspect and lose an immense amount of energy on guesswork, on suppositions, develops in him a distrustful and hostile attitude towards people. How somebody looked at him, what somebody thought of him, what somebody said of him—all this acquires for him an immense significance.
And he ‘considers’ no only separate persons but society and historically constituted conditions. Everything that displeases such a man seems to him to be unjust, illegal, wrong, and illogical. And the point of departure for his judgment is always that these things can and should be changed. ‘Injustice’ is one of the words in which very often considering hides itself. When a man has convinced has convinced himself that he is indignant with some injustice, the for him to stop considering would mean ‘reconciling himself to injustice.’
There are people who are able to consider not only injustice or the failure of others to value them enough but who are able to consider for example the weather….A man can take everything in such a personal way as though everything in the world had been specially arranged in order to give him pleasure or on the contrary to cause him inconvenience or unpleasantness.
All this and much else besides is merely a form of identification. Such considering is wholly based upon ‘requirements.’ A man inwardly ‘requires’ that everyone should see what a remarkable man he is and that they should constantly give expression to their respect, esteem, and admiration for him, for his intellect, is beauty, his cleverness, his wit, his presence of mind, his originality, and all his other qualities. Requirements in their turn are based on a completely fantastic notion of themselves…And what are they suffering from? First of all from an extraordinary opinion of themselves, then from requirements, and then from considering, that is, being ready and prepared beforehand to take offense at lack of understanding and lack of appreciation.
There is still another form of considering which can take a great deal of energy from a man. This form starts with a man beginning to think that he is not considering another man enough, that this other person is offended with him for not considering him sufficiently. And he begins to think himself that perhaps he does not think enough about this other, does not pay him sufficient attention, does not give way to him enough. All this is simply weakness. People are afraid of one another…
So far I have spoken of internal considering….
The opposite of internal considering and what is in part a means of fighting against it is external considering. External considering is based upon an entirely different relationship towards people than internal considering. It is adaption towards people, to their understanding, to the requirements. By considering externally a man does that which makes life easy for other people and for himself. External considering requires a knowledge of men, and understanding of their tastes, habits, and prejudices. At the same time external considering requires a great power over oneself, a great control over oneself. Very often a man desires sincerely to express or somehow or other show to another man what he really thinks of him or feels about him. And if he is a weak man he will of course give way to this desire and afterwards justify himself and say that he did not want to lie, did not want to pretend, he wanted to be sincere. Then he convinces himself that it was another man’s fault….This is an example of how external considering passes into internal considering. But if a man really remembers himself he understands that another man is a machine just as he is himself. And then he will enter into his position, he will put himself into his place, and he will really be able to understand and feel what another man thinks and feels. And if he can do this his work becomes easier for him. But if he approaches a man with his own requirements nothing except new internal considering can ever be obtained from it.
Right external considering is very important in the work. It often happens that people who understand very well the necessity of external considering in life do not understand the necessity of external considering in the work; they decide that just because they are in the work they have the right not to consider…
‘Buffer’ is a term which requires special explanation. We know what buffers on railway carriages are. They are contrivances which lessen the shock when carriages or trucks strike one another…Buffers soften the results of these shocks and render them…imperceptible. Exactly the same appliances are to be found within man. They are created, not by nature, but by man himself, although involuntarily. The cause of their appearance is the existence in man of many contradictions; contradictions of opinions, feelings, sympathies, words, and actions. If a man throughout the whole of his life were to feel all the contradictions that are within him he could not live and act as calmly as he lives and acts now. He would have constant friction, constant unrest. We fail to see how contradictory and hostile the different I’s of our personality are to one another. If a man were to feel all these contradictions he would feel what he really is. He would feel that he is mad. It is not pleasant to anyone to feel that he mad. Moreover, a thought such as this deprives a man of self-confidence, weakens his energy, deprives him of ‘self-respect.’ Somehow or other he must master this thought or banish it. He must either destroy contradictions or cease to see and feel them. A man cannot destroy contradictions. But if buffers are created in him he can cease to feel them and he will not feel the impact from the clash of contradictory views, contradictory emotions, contradictory words.
‘Buffers’ are created slowly and gradually. Very many ‘buffers’ are created artificially through ‘education.’ Others are created under the hypnotic influence of all surrounding life. A man issurrounded by people who live, speak, think, and feel by means of ‘buffers.’ Imitating them in their opinions, actions, and words, a man involuntary creates similar buffers in himself. ‘Buffers’ make a man’s life more easy. It is very hard to live without ‘buffers.’ But they keep man from the possibility of inner development because buffers are made to lessen shocks and it is only shocks that can lead man out of the state in which he lives, that is, to waken him. ‘Buffers’ lull a man to sleep, give him the agreeable and peaceful sensation that all will be well, that no contradictions exist and that he can sleep in peace. ‘Buffers are appliances by means of which a man can always be in the right. Buffers help a man not to feel his conscience.
‘Conscience’ is again a term that need explanation.
In ordinary life the concept ‘conscience’ is taken too simply. As if we had a conscience. Actually the concept ‘conscience’ in the sphere of the emotions is equivalent to the concept ‘consciousness’ in the sphere of the intellect. And as we have no consciousness we have no conscience.
Consciousness is a state in which a man feels all at once everything that he in general feels, or can feel. And as everyone has within him thousands of contradictory feelings which vary from a deeply hidden realization of his own nothingness and fears of all kinds to the most stupid kind of self-deceit, self-confidence, self-satisfaction, and self-praise, to feel all this together would not only be painful but literally unbearable.
If a man whose entire inner world is composed of contradictions were suddenly to feel all these contradictions simultaneously within himself, if he were to feel all at once that he loves everything he hates and hates everything he loves; the he lies when he tells the truth and that he tells the truth when he lies; and if he could feel the shame and horror of it all, this would be the state which is called ‘conscience.’ A man cannot live in this state; he must either destroy contradictions or destroy conscience. He cannot destroy conscience, but if he cannot destroy it he can put it to sleep, that is, he can separate by impenetrable barriers one feeling of self from another, never see them together, never feel their incompatibility, the absurdity of one existing alongside another.
But fortunately for man, that is, for his peace and for his sleep, this state of conscience is very rare…Awakening is only possible for those who seek it and want it, for those who are ready to struggle with themselves and work on themselves for a very long time and very persistently in order to attain it. For those it is necessary to destroy ‘buffers,’ that is, to go out to meet all those inner sufferings which are connected with the sensations of contradictions. Moreover the destruction of ‘buffers’ in itself requires very long work and a man must agree to this work realizing that the result of his work will be every possible discomfort and suffering from the awakening of his conscience.
But conscience is the fire which alone can fuse all the powders in the glass retort which was mentioned before and create the unity which man lacks in the state in which he begins to study himself.
The concept ‘conscience’ has nothing in common with the concept ‘morality.’
‘Conscience is a general and a permanent phenomenon. Conscience is the same for all men and conscience is possible only in the absence of ‘buffers.’ From the point of view of understanding the different categories of man we may say that there exists the conscience of a man in whom there are no contradictions. This conscience is not suffering; on the contrary it is joy of a totally new character which we are unable to understand. But even a momentary awakening of conscience in a man who has thousands of different I’s is bound to involve suffering. And if these moments of conscience become longer and if a man does not fear them but on the contrary co-operates with them and tries to keep and prolong them, an element of subtle joy, a foretaste of the future ‘clear consciousness’ will gradually enter into these moments.
There is nothing general in the concept of ‘morality.’ Morality consists of buffers. There is no general morality. What is moral in China is immoral in Europe and what is moral in Europe is immoral in China…What is moral in one class of society is immoral in another and vice versa. Morality is always and everywhere an artificial phenomenon. It consists of various ‘taboos,’ that is, restrictions, and various demands, sometimes sensible in their basis and sometimes having lost all meaning or never even having had any meaning, and having been created on a false basis, on a soil of superstition and false fears.
Morality consists of buffers. And since buffers are of various kinds, and as the conditions of life in different countries and in different ages or among different classes of society vary considerably, so the morality created by them is also very dissimilar and contradictory. A morality common to all does not exist. [2 different meanings of ‘conscience’] It is even impossible to say that there exists any general idea of morality, for instance, in Europe. It is said sometimes that the general morality for Europe is ‘Christian morality.’ But first of all the idea of ‘Christian morality’ itself admits of very many different interpretations and many different crimes have been justified by ‘Christian morality.’ And in the second place modern Europe has very little in common with ‘Christian morality,’ no matter how we understand this morality.
In any case if ‘Christian morality’ brought Europe to the war which is now going on, then it would be as well to be as far as possible from such ‘morality.’
“Many people say they do not understand the moral side of your teaching,” (said one of his students). “And others say that your teaching has no morality at all.”
“Of course not, said G. People are very fond of talking about morality. But morality is merely self-suggestion. What is necessary is conscience.” We do not teach morality. We teach how to find conscience. People are not pleased when we say this. They say that we have no love. Simply because we do not encourage weakness and hypocrisy but, on the contrary, take off all the masks. He who desires truth will not speak of love or of Christianity because he knows how far he is from these. Christian teachings is for Christians. And Christians are those who live, that is, who do everything, according to Christ’s precepts. Can they who talk of love and morality live according to Christ’s precepts? Of course they cannot; but there will always be talk of this kind, there will always be people to whom words are more precious than anything else. But this is a true sign! He who speaks like this is an empty man; it is not worth while wasting time on him.
Morality and conscience are quite different things. One conscience can never contradict another conscience. One morality can always very easily contradict and completely deny another. A man with buffers may be very moral. And buffers can be very different, that is, two very moral men may consider each other very immoral. As a rule it is almost inevitably so. The more ‘moral’ a man is, the more ‘immoral’ does he think other moral people.
The idea of morality is connected with the idea of good and evil conduct. But the idea of good and evil is always different for different people…
Nobody ever does anything deliberately in the interests of evil, for the sake of evil. Everybody acts in the interests of good, as he understands it. But everybody understands it in a different way. Consequently men drown, slay, and kill one another in the interests of good. The reason is again just the same, men’s ignorance and the deep sleep in which they live.
This is so obvious that it even seems strange that people never thought of it before. However, the fact remains that they fail to understand this and everyone considers his good as the only good and all the rest as evil. It is naïve and useless to hope that men will ever understand this and that they will evolve a general and identical idea of good.
“But do not good and evil exist in themselves apart from man?” asked someone present.
“They do,” said G., “only this is very far away from us and it is not worth your while even to try to understand this at present. Simply remember one thing. The only possible permanent idea of good and evil for man is connected with the idea of evolution; not with mechanical evolution, of course, but with the idea of man’s development through conscious efforts, the change of his being, the creation of unity in him, and the formation of a permanent I.
A permanent idea of good and evil can be formed in man only in connection with a permanent aim and a permanent understanding. If a man understands that he is asleep and if he wishes to awake, then everything that helps him to awake will be good and everything that hinders him, everything that prolongs his sleep, will be evil. But this is so only for those who want to awake, that is, for those who understand that they are asleep. Those who do not understand that they are asleep and those who can have no wish to awake, cannot have understanding of good and evil. And as the overwhelming majority of people do not realize and will never realize that they are asleep, neither good nor evil actually exist for them.
This contradicts generally accepted ideas. People are accustomed to think that good and evil must be the same for everyone, and above all, that good and evil exist for everyone. In reality, however, good and evil exist only for a few, for those who have an aim and who pursue that aim. Then what hinders the pursuit of that aim is evil and what helps it is good.
But of course most sleeping people will say that they have an aim and that they are going somewhere. The realization of the fact that he has no aim and that he is not going anywhere is the first sign of the approaching awakening of a man or of awakening becoming possible for him. Awakening begins when a man realizes that he is going nowhere and does not know where to go.
As has been explained before, there are many qualities which men attribute to themselves, which in reality can belong only to people of a higher degree of development and of a higher degree of evolution…Individuality a single and permanent I, consciousness, will, the ability to do, a state of inner freedom, all these are qualities which ordinary man does not possess. To the same category belongs the idea of good and evil, the very existence of which is connected with a permanent aim, with a permanent direction and with a permanent center of gravity.
The idea of good and evil is sometimes connected with the idea of truth and falsehood. But just as good and evil do not exist for ordinary man, neither do truth and falsehood exist.
Permanent truth and permanent falsehood can exist only for a permanent man. If man himself continually changes, then for him truth and falsehood will also continually change. And if people are all in different states at a given moment their conception of truth must be as varied as their conceptions of good. A man never notices how he begins to regard as true what yesterday he considered as false and vice versa. He does not notice these transitions just as he does not notice the transitions of is own I’s one into another.
In the life of an ordinary man truth and falsehood have no moral value of any kind because a man can never keep to one single truth. His truth changes. If for a certain time it does not change, it is simply because it is kept by buffers. And a man can never tell the truth. Sometimes ‘it tells’ a lie. Consequently his truth and his falsehood have no value; neither of them depend upon him, both of them depend upon accident. And this is equally true when applied to man’s words, to his thoughts, his feelings, and to his conceptions of truth and falsehood.
In order to understand the interrelation of truth and falsehood in life a man must understand falsehood in himself, the constant incessant lies he tells himself.
These lies are created by buffers. In order to destroy the lies in oneself as well as lies told unconsciously to others, buffers must be destroyed. But then a man cannot live without buffers. Buffers automatically control a man’s actions, words, thoughts, and feelings. If buffers were to be destroyed all control would disappear. A man cannot exist without control even though it is only automatic control. Only a man who possesses will, that is, conscious control, can live without buffers. Consequently, if a man begins to destroy buffers within himself he must at the same time develop a will. And as will cannot be created to order in a short space of time a man may be left with buffers demolished and with a will that is not yet sufficiently strengthened. The only chance he has during this period is to be controlled by another will which has already been strengthened.
This is why…a man must be ready to obey another man’s will so long as his own will is not yet fully developed. Usually subordination to another man’s will is studied before anything else…a man must understand why such obedience is necessary and he must learn to obey. The latter is not easy. A man beginning…self-study with the object of attaining control over himself isaccustomed to believe in his own decisions. Even the fact that he has seen the necessity for changing himself shows him that his decisions are correct and strengthens his belief in them. But when he begins to work on himself a man must give up his own decisions, ‘sacrifice his own decisions,’ because otherwise the will of the man who directs his own work will not be able to control his actions.
In schools of the religious way ‘obedience’ is demanded before anything else, that is, full unquestioning submission although without understanding…
Renunciation of his own decisions, subordination to the will of another, may present insuperable difficulties to a man if he had failed to realize beforehand that actually he neither sacrifices nor changes anything in his life, that all his life he has been subject to some extraneous will and has never had any decisions of his own. But a man is not conscious of this. He considers that he has the right of free choice. It is hard for him to renounce the illusion that he directs and organizes his life himself. But no work on himself is possible until a man is free from this illusion.
He must realize that he does not exist; he must realize that he can lose nothing because he has nothing to lose; he must realize his ‘nothingness’ in the full sense of the term…