The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution

P.D. Ouspensky

P.D. Ouspensky

Lecture in 1937

Thursday, September 23, 1937

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There are some things I want to speak about, because without understanding them you will not be able to understand many other things.

First of all, we must talk about schools, then about the principles and methods of the organisation and work of schools, and particularly about rules, then about the history of our work. Soon you will be able to read the beginning of a book I am writing, called 'Fragments of an Unknown Teaching' [1] where I describe how I met this system and how the work developed.

[1. Published in English as In Search of the Miraculous. Pdfs available in English and Spanish (Fragmentos de Una Ensenanza Desconocida) in this directory: /gurdjieff/ ]

It was explained to you many times and in different ways that nobody can work alone without a school. Also it must be clear to you by now that a group of people who decide to work by themselves will arrive nowhere, because they do not know where to go and what to do. The question arises. What is a school? And the next question which is most important for us is: Is this, i.e., our organisation, a school?

There are many kinds of schools. I have spoken before about the four ways: way of fakir, way of monk way of yogi and the fourth way. From the point of view of this division, schools are also divided in the four kinds: fakir schools, religious schools or monasteries, yogi schools, and the schools of the fourth way.

Then—what constitutes a school? Speaking generally, a school is a place where one can learn something, i.e., from the school. There can be schools of modern languages, schools of music, schools of medicine, etc. But the kind of school I mean is not only for learning but also for becoming different. A school I speak about must not only give knowledge but also help to change being: without that it would be just an ordinary school.

Knowledge is necessary, but knowledge can come only from those who passed the same way before. So the man who can conduct work must come from a school; that means he must be connected with a school, or at least he must have received instruction from a school in the past. A self-appointed or elected head of a group also cannot lead it anywhere.

Then schools are divided by degrees. There are schools where men No. 1, 2, and 3 learn how to become No. 4 and acquire all the knowledge that will help them in this change. The next degree are schools where men No. 4 learn how to become No. 5. There is no need for us to speak of further degrees, as they are too far from us.

Now an interesting question arises: Can we call ourselves a school? In a certain sense we may, because we acquire a certain knowledge and at the same time learn how to change our being. But I must say in relation to this that in the beginning of our work, i.e., in 1916 in St. Petersburg, we understood that a school, in the full sense of the term, must consist of two degrees; i.e., it must have two levels in it, one level where men No. 1, 2, and 3 learn to become No. 4, and the other where men No. 4 learn to become No. 5.

If a school has two levels it has more possibilities, because a double organisation of this kind can give a larger variety of experience and make the work more quick and more sure. So, although in a certain sense we can call ourselves a school, it is better to use this term for a bigger organisation.

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Understanding and Rules

What makes a school? First of all, it is understanding of principles of school work, and discipline of a certain very definite kind connected with rules. When people come to lectures, they are told about certain rules they must keep. These rules are conditions on which they are accepted and given knowledge. Keeping these rules or conditions is their first payment.

The first rule I was told about was that I must promise not to write about anything I hear. Later you will hear what I answered when I was told this and how this problem was solved. This rule means that you cannot write, without the permission of the person conducting the work from whom you have learned, what you intend to write, and when you write, if you get his permission, you must refer to the man from whom you learnt these ideas, and to the source of these ideas.

When I publish the Fragments you will be able to write. So long as Fragments is not published you cannot write. When this book is published, this condition will be removed, but not until then.

Then there are other rules: you must not talk. This means you must not make these ideas subject of ordinary talk, without aim or purpose. And if you talk with a certain aim and a certain purpose—I mean with people outside of the work—you must be very careful and you must not say much. You must remember that people must pay for what they hear. This is the principle of the work, and you have no right to give ideas to people for which they not only not pay, but even cannot be expected to pay. It is better to ask permission to speak in each individual case.

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Now I want to speak about one particular rule that was introduced into these groups and which is very important. I must explain how this rule arose, and before this, I must give you a short description of the history of the work. I met this system in 1915 in Russia. There was a group in Moscow conducted by G. I. Gurdjieff, a Caucasian Greek who came to Russia from Central Asia. I learned very much working with these groups, but in 1918 I parted from them because from my point of view they began to lose the most important of their original principles. Soon after my parting with them, almost all members of groups parted with Mr. G. Only four people remained with him. [I.e., Gurdjieff disbanded the school. –ed.]

I met Mr. G. again in 1920 at Constantinople and again tried to work with him, but very soon found that it was impossible. In the beginning of 1922 when I was already in London, Mr. G. came to me and told me about his plans for new work which he intended to start in England or in France. I did not believe much in these plans, but I decided to make a last experiment and promised to help him to organise his work. At that time I already had groups in London.

After some time G.'s work was started in France. I collected money for him and many of my people went to the place he bought at Fontainebleau on their money. I went there myself several times and continued to do it till the end of 1923, when I saw that things were going wrong at Fontainebleau and decided to part with Mr. G. completely.

If you ask me what was wrong, I can say only one thing, which really was quite sufficient to wreck every thing. By this time Mr. G. had abandoned most of the principles he himself taught us in Russia, particularly principles referring to choice and preparation of people for the work. He began to accept people without any preparation, gave them places of authority, permitted them to speak about the work and so on. I saw that his work was going to crash, and I parted with him in order to save the work in London.

In January 1924 I told my groups in London that I had broken all connections with Mr. G. and his group, and would continue my work on my own as I began it in 1921. I offered them free choice: to remain with me or to follow Mr. G. or to leave work altogether. At the same time, for those who decided to remain with me I introduced a new rule, namely, that they should not speak about Mr. G. or discuss the causes of the failure of the work at Fontainebleau.

I introduced this rule because I wished to stop imagination, for since nobody knew anything, all talks on these subjects would have been pure invention or repetition of malignant gossiping, which came from Mr. G.'s new people, and who from my point of view, should not have been admitted in the work at all. I said that whoever wishes to know anything about it, he must ask me.

This rule remains and it was never revoked, but people never properly understood it and made all sort of excuses for themselves, or even affirmed that this rule was for other people but not for them.

You must understand that all rules are for self-remembering. First, they have a purpose in themselves, and second they are for self-remembering. There are no rules that are not for self-remembering, although in themselves they may have a different aim.

If there are no rules, there is no work. If the importance of rules is not understood, the possibilities of a school disappears.

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Q and A

Miss F: Why do you say that it is worse to talk about the system without mentioning where you got it from?

Mr. Ouspensky: Because speaking about it without mentioning the source of your information would be stealing. For instance, you cannot take ideas from a book and not mention the book. People only do this with my books; they constantly steal ideas from my books.

Mr. M: How long had the Moscow school existed?

Mr. Ouspensky: Several years in Moscow.

Mr. M: What was its size?

Mr. Ouspensky: This is neither here nor there. Before that, it existed in Central Asia. As for how long it had existed before—there are reasons to believe that it took this form and was formulated in this language in the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Mr. M: Does this knowledge claim to have connection with esoteric knowledge?

Mr. Ouspensky: Obviously, otherwise it would have no meaning. A school can only start from another school, otherwise it would be just formatory invention.

Mr. M: So it is an unbroken chain?

Mr. Ouspensky: It must be, although you cannot trace it. You can only trace certain connections by ideas and terminology. This system came from the East; yet it has European terminology. In terminology it is connected, evidently through Russian masons of the eighteenth century with several earlier authors, for instance, with Dr Fludd. [2]

[2. Robert Fludd (1574-1637) ]

Miss J: You said you will tell us in what sense we can call this a school.

Mr. Ouspensky: I think I have answered it. Only a two-degree school is reliable. Another school may be a school today and not a school tomorrow, as it happened with the Moscow school. Also long ago I explained that an organisation which is a school for one person is not a school for another. Much depends on personal attitude and personal work.

Miss R. If schools are a real living thing, why do they die?

Mr. Ouspensky: What do you mean, saying that schools are living beings? It is vague and indefinite. But if we take it literally, it will make quite clear why schools die. All living things die sooner or later. If people die, schools also must die. It was explained in my lectures that school needs certain conditions. If these conditions are destroyed, the school is destroyed. If there was a school in Canton or Wanhsien [China], it could be destroyed now and it would cease to exist.

Miss R: Ideas may remain?

Mr. Ouspensky: Ideas cannot fly. They need human heads. And school does not consist of ideas. You forget all the time that school teaches how to improve our being.

Mr. F: No ideas were written down in the past?

Mr. Ouspensky: Maybe, but ideas can be written down in different forms; they may be written down so that nobody can read them without explanation from those who know or without change of being. Take the Gospels—they are written in different ciphers. One must know the key to decipher them. Otherwise it would be just a story, doubtful historically and producing many wrong effects.

Mr. F: Will the system give the key to the Gospels?

Mr. Ouspensky: Some keys, but you cannot expect all the keys. Many keys can be got only with the change of being; they cannot be only matter of knowledge. Again you forget about being. Change of being means connection with higher centres. Higher centres can understand many things which ordinary centres cannot understand.

Mr. F: Is school self-evolving?

Mr. Ouspensky: What do you mean by this? If your question refers to origin of schools, then they are not self-evolving because one school must always start from another school.

Mr. F: Can a school reach a higher level than the school it started from?

Mr. Ouspensky: Yes, if it works according to methods and principles of school work, it can grow. But you must remember that the level of the school depends on the level of being of people who constitute it.

Mr. F: You said one can learn how to escape only from those who have escaped before.

Mr. Ouspensky: Quite right, in the allegory of prison. And this means a school can start only from another school.

Mrs. D: Would it be possible for everyone in a school to progress from No. 4 to No. 5, or only for a few?

Mr. Ouspensky: There is no limitation in principle. But you must understand that there is an enormous difference between No. 4 and No. 5. Man No. 4 is a man who has acquired a permanent centre of gravity, but in everything else he is an ordinary man. Man No. 5 is very different. He already has unity, he has permanent 'I', he has the third state of consciousness, i.e., self-consciousness. That means he is awake, he can always, when he needs, remember himself, and that higher emotional centre works in him, and this gives him many new powers.

Mrs. D: The idea then is to attempt to get to No. 5?

Mr. Ouspensky: First you must think of how to become man No. 4, otherwise it will be just fantasy.

Mrs. S: Has man No. 4 less 'I's?

Mr. Ouspensky: Maybe he has more, but he has better control of them.

Mr. A: The chief immediate objectives you recommend are elimination of emotional life?

Mr. Ouspensky: No, quite different; emotional life is most important. The system speaks of elimination of negative emotions. Negative emotions are an intermediate state between sanity and insanity. A man whose centre of gravity is in negative emotions cannot be called sane and cannot develop. He must become normal first.

Mr. A: Why I spoke of the elimination of emotion life was because you said that all our emotions are potentially negative.

Mr. Ouspensky: Yes, potentially, but it does not mean that they all become negative. Emotional centre is the most important in us for our development. There are many things one can understand only with emotional centre. Intellectual centre is very limited; it cannot take us very far. The future belongs to the emotion centre.

But it must be understood that negative emotions are not really in the emotional centre. They are controlled by an artificial centre, and this is our only chance of getting rid of them. If their centre was real and not artificial, there would be no chance of getting rid of them, because it would mean that they are useful, or may be useful, in some way. The artificial centre is created by a long wrong work of the machine. There is nothing useful about it. Because of this, negative emotions can be eliminated; they do not serve any useful purpose.

Mrs. S: So none of us use the emotional centre rightly?

Mr. Ouspensky: Why not?

Mrs. S: You said we have no positive emotions.

Mr. Ouspensky: Positive emotions are quite a different thing, they belong to higher emotional centre. Man No. 5 has positive emotions. All our emotions can become negative, although, as I said, it does not mean every emotion will become negative. At the same time our emotions are not reliable so long as there is no control and so long as we are asleep. But they will become more and more reliable if we become less asleep and acquire more control.

Mr. D: Does a school suffer if a member breaks a rule?

Mr. Ouspensky: It depends how important was the rule. By breaking a rule he may break the school. Or the man who conducts the school may close it if certain rules are broken.

Mr. F: You say that a school which embraces two degrees is more effective. How can one part of it be allied to the other?

Mr. Ouspensky: You can only learn this by practice. If school has two degrees it has much more powers.

Mrs. B: Does this system exist in other European countries?

Mr. Ousnenskv: I never heard.

Mr. M: Has communal life to do with the organisation of schools?

Mr. Ouspensky: It depends what kind of communal life you mean. For instance, some time ago in Russia existed so-called Tolstoy Colonies. Most of them had the same history. People decided to live together, bought some land and so on, then after the first three days they began to quarrel and it all came to nothing.

Mr. M: I meant a group of people who live in the same building.

Mr. Ouspensky: It depends first of all on the condition by whom it is organised. If it is organised by themselves, it generally comes to nothing. But if a school organises it according to definite principles and with definite rules—in some cases it may be useful.

Miss R: Has the man who organises a school authority?

Mr. Ouspensky: He has responsibility, so he must have authority.

Miss R: Where does it come from?

Mr. Ouspensky: From his knowledge, from his understanding, from his being.

Question: Not to be able to go on with the system is worse than not to have started?

Mr. Ouspensky: If you have started, nobody can stop you except yourself.

Mr. M: How to reconcile this with what you have said about there being no guarantee?

Mr. Ouspensky: It depends on your work. How can I guarantee your work?

Mr. M: But facilities for work would remain? I mean if a person works.

Mr. Ouspensky: Barring catastrophes. We live in insecure times. About guarantee: what we can get depends on our own efforts and one must work at one's own risk. But after some time one begins to see: 'I got this that I did not have before' and 'I got that that I did not have before.' So little by little one can be more sure.

Mr. A: I suppose also you can give no guarantee as to whether people will suffer from some delusion as regards personal experience? One may take illusion for fact?

Mr. Ouspensky: Yes, very easy, but if one remembers all that one was told, one learns to discriminate.


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