You may be aware that the schedule of discussions around the theme of IDENTITY has been changed to allow Laura to receive her book and prepare for her session which has been moved to February.
For our next meeting on 17th January, I will be introducing some thoughts from Gurdjieff’s work, which I hope will have something to say about our understanding of Identity. I have chosen 3 extracts from Chaper three of Ouspensky’s book “In Search of the Miraculous” which will be the basis for our discussion. The whole of Chapter three is reproduced below with my chosen extracts highlighted in BOLD.
Please read the extracts highlighted & bring a copy of these with you to our next Thursday session………………..
P. D. Ouspensky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
BY THE beginning of November, 1915, I already had a grasp of some of the fundamental points of G.’s system in relation to man. The first point, on which he laid stress, was the absence of unity in man. “It is the greatest mistake,” he said, “to think that man is always one and the same. A man is never the same for long. He is continually changing. He seldom remains the same even for half an hour. We think that if a man is called Ivan he is always Ivan. Nothing of the kind. Now he is Ivan, in another minute he is Peter, and a minute later he is Nicholas, Sergius, Matthew, Simon. And all of you think he is Ivan. You know that Ivan cannot do a certain thing. He cannot tell a lie for instance. Then you find he has told a lie and you are surprised he could have done so. And, indeed, Ivan cannot lie; it is Nicholas who lied. And when the opportunity presents itself Nicholas cannot help lying. You will be astonished when you realize what a multitude of these Ivans and Nicholases live in one man. If you learn to observe them there is no need to go to a cinema.”
“Has this anything to do with the consciousnesses of separate parts and organs of the body?” I asked him on this occasion. “I understand this idea and have often felt the reality of these consciousnesses. I know that not only separate organs, but every part of the body having a separate function has a separate consciousness. The right hand has one consciousness and the left hand another. Is that what you mean?” “Not altogether,” said G. “These consciousnesses also exist but they are comparatively harmless. Each of them knows its own place and its own business. The hands know they must work; the feet know they must walk. But these Ivans, Peters, and Nicholases are different. They all call themselves ‘I.’ That is, they consider themselves masters and none wants to recognize another. Each of them is caliph for an hour, does what he likes regardless of everything, and, later on, the others have to pay for it. And there is no order among them whatever. Whoever gets the upper hand is master. He whips everyone on all sides and takes heed of nothing. But the next moment another seizes the whip and beats him. And so it goes on all one’s life. Imagine a country where everyone can be king for
five minutes and do during these five minutes just what he likes with the whole kingdom. That is our life.” During one of the talks G. again returned to the idea of the different bodies of man. “That man can have several bodies,” he said, “must be understood as an idea, as a principle. But it does not apply to us. We know we have the one physical body and we know nothing else. It is the physical body that we must study. Only, we must remember that the question is not limited to the physical body and that there are people who may have two, three, or more bodies. But it makes no difference to us personally either one way or another. Someone like Rockefeller in America may have a great many millions, but his millions do not help me if I have nothing to eat. It is the same thing in this connection. Everyone must think of himself; it is useless and senseless to rely on others or to console oneself with thoughts of what others possess.” “How is one to know if a man has an ‘astral body’?” I asked. “There are definite ways of knowing that,” answered G. “Under certain conditions the ‘astral body’ can be seen; it can be separated from the physical body and even photographed at the side of the physical body. The existence of the ‘astral body’ can be still more easily and simply established by its functions. The ‘astral body’ has definite functions which the physical body cannot have. The presence of these functions indicates the presence of the ‘astral body.’ The absence of these functions shows the absence of the ‘astral body.’ But it is too early to speak of this now. All our attention must be concentrated on the study of the physical body. It is necessary to understand the structure of the human machine. Our principal error is that we think we have one mind. We call the functions of this mind ‘conscious’; everything that does not enter this mind we call ‘unconscious’ or ‘subconscious.’ This is our chief error. Of the conscious and the unconscious we will speak later. At this moment I want to explain to you that the activity of the human machine, that is, of the physical body, is controlled, not by one, but by several minds, entirely independent of each other, having separate functions and separate spheres in which they manifest themselves. This must be understood first of all, because unless this is understood nothing else can be understood.” After this G. went on to explain man’s various functions and centers controlling these functions in the way they are set out in the psychological lectures. These explanations, and all the talks connected with them, took a fairly long time, while at almost every talk we returned to the fundamental ideas of man’s mechanicalness, of the absence of unity in man, of man’s -having no choice, of his being unable to do, and so on. There is no possibility of giving all these talks in the way they actually took place.
For this reason I collected all the psychological and all the cosmological material in two separate series of lectures. In this connection it must be noted that the ideas were not given us in the form in which they are set out in my lectures. G. gave the ideas little by little, as though defending or protecting them from us. When touching on new themes for the first time he gave only general principles, often holding back the most essential. Sometimes he himself pointed out apparent discrepancies in the theories given, which were, in fact, precisely due to these reservations and suppressions. The next time, in approaching the same subject, whenever possible from a different angle, he gave more. The third time he gave still more. On the question of functions and centers for instance. On the first occasion he spoke of three centers, the intellectual, the emotional, and the moving, and tried to make us distinguish these functions, find examples, and so on. Afterwards the instinctive center was added, as an independent and self-supporting machine. Afterwards the sex center. I remember that some of his remarks arrested my attention. For instance, when speaking of the sex center he said it practically never worked independently because it was always dependent on other centers, the intellectual, the emotional, the instinctive, and the moving. Then in speaking of the energy of centers he often returned to what he called wrong work of centers and to the role of the sex center in this work. He spoke a great deal about how all centers rob the sex center of its energy and produce with this energy quite wrong work full of useless excitement and, in return, give to the sex center useless energy with which it was unable to work. I remember his words. “It is a very big thing when the sex center works with its own energy, but it happens very seldom.” I recollect another remark which afterwards proved a ground for much wrong reasoning and many wrong conclusions. This was that the three centers of the lower story: the instinctive, the moving, and the sex centers, work, in relation to each other, in the order of three forces—and that the sex center, in normal cases, acts as neutralizing force in relation to the instinctive and moving centers acting as active and passive forces. The method of exposition of which I am speaking, and G.’s suppressions in his first talks, resulted in the creation of such misunderstanding, more particularly in later groups not connected with my work. Many people found contradictions between the first exposition of a given idea and subsequent explanations and sometimes, in trying to hold as closely as possible to the first, they created fantastic theories having no relation to what G. actually said. Thus the idea of three centers was retained by certain groups (which, I repeat, were not connected with me). And this idea was, in some way, linked up with the idea of three
forces, with which in reality it had no connection, first of all because there are not three centers but five in the ordinary man. This uniting of two ideas of an entirely different order, scale, and significance gave rise to many further misunderstandings and completely distorted the whole system for those who thought in this manner. It is possible that the idea of the three centers (intellectual, emotional, and moving) being the expression of the three forces arose from G.’s wrongly repeated and wrongly received remarks on the relationship to each other of the three centers of the lower story. During the first and subsequent talks on centers G. added something new at almost every talk. As I said in the beginning he spoke first of three centers, then of four, then of five, and afterwards of seven centers. Parts of centers hardly came into these talks. G. said that centers were divided into positive and negative parts, but he did not point out that this division was not identical for all the different centers. Then he said that each center was divided into three parts or three stories which, in their turn, were also divided into three; but he gave no examples, nor did he point out that observation of attention made it possible to dis tinguish the work of parts .of centers. All this and much else besides was established later. For instance, although he undoubtedly gave the fundamental basis for the study of the role and the significance of negative emotions, as well as methods of struggling against them, referring to non-identification, non-considering, and not expressing negative emotions, he did not complete these theories or did not explain that negative emotions were entirely unnecessary and that no normal center for them existed. I shall, further on, reproduce the talks and lectures of the St. Petersburg and later groups in the way I remember them while endeavoring to avoid what has already been given in the first and second series of lectures. But it is impossible to avoid repetition in certain cases and the original exposition of the ideas of the system in the way G. gave them is, in my opinion, of great interest.
Somebody asked at a meeting: “How should evolution be understood?” “The evolution of man,” G. replied, “can be taken as the development in him of those powers and possibilities which never develop by themselves, that is, mechanically. Only this kind of development, only this kind of growth, marks the real evolution of man. There is, and there can be, no other kind of evolution whatever. “We have before us man at the present moment of his development. Nature has made him such as he is, and, in large masses, so far as we can see, such he will remain. Changes likely to violate the general requirements of nature can only take place in separate units.
“In order to understand the law of man’s evolution it is necessary to grasp that, beyond a certain point, this evolution is not at all necessary, that is to say, it is not necessary for nature at a given moment in its own development. To speak more precisely: the evolution of mankind corresponds to the evolution of the planets, but the evolution of the planets proceeds, for us, in infinitely prolonged cycles of time. Throughout the stretch of time that human thought can embrace, no essential changes can take place in the life of the planets, and, consequently, no essential changes can take place in the life of mankind.”
“Humanity neither progresses nor evolves. What seems to us to be progress or evolution is a partial modification which can be immediately counterbalanced by a corresponding modification in an opposite direction. Humanity, like the rest of organic life, exists on earth for the needs and purposes of the earth. And it is exactly as it should be for the earth’s requirements at the present time.”
“Only thought as theoretical and as far removed from fact as modem European thought could have conceived the evolution of man to be possible apart from surrounding nature, or have regarded the evolution of man as a gradual conquest of nature. This is quite impossible. In living, in dying, in evolving, in degenerating, man equally serves the purposes of nature—or, rather, nature makes equal use, though perhaps for different purposes, of the products of both evolution and degeneration. And, at the same time, humanity as a whole can never escape from nature, for, even in struggling against nature man acts in conformity with her purposes. The evolution of large masses of humanity is opposed to nature’s purposes. The evolution of a certain small percentage may be in accord with nature’s purposes. Man contains within him the possibility of evolution. But the evolution of humanity as a whole, that is, the development of these possibilities in all men, or in most of them, or even in a large number of them, is not necessary for the purposes of the earth or of the planetary world in general, and it might, in fact, be injurious or fatal. There exist, therefore, special forces (of a planetary character) which oppose the evolution of large masses of humanity and keep it at the level it ought, to be. “For instance, the evolution of humanity beyond a certain point, or, to speak more correctly, above a certain percentage, would be fatal for the moon. The moon at present feeds on organic life, on humanity. Humanity is a part of organic life; this means that humanity is food for the moon. If all men were to become too intelligent they would not want to be eaten by the moon. “But, at the same time, possibilities of evolution exist, and they may be developed in separate individuals with the help of appropriate knowledge and methods. Such development can take place only in the interests of the man himself against, so to speak, the interests and forces of the
planetary world. The man must understand this: his evolution is necessary only to himself. No one else is interested in it. And no one is obliged or intends to help him. On the contrary, the forces which oppose the evolution of large masses of humanity also oppose the evolution of individual men. A man must outwit them. And one man can outwit them, humanity cannot. You will understand later on that all these obstacles are very useful to a man; if they did not exist they would have to be created intentionally, because it is by overcoming obstacles that man develops those qualities he needs. “This is the basis of the correct view of human evolution. There is no compulsory, mechanical evolution.
Evolution is the result of conscious struggle. Nature does not need this evolution; it does not want it and struggles against it. Evolution can be necessary only to man himself when he realizes his position, realizes the possibility of changing this position, realizes that he has powers that he does not use, riches that he does not see. And, in the sense of gaining possession of these powers and riches, evolution is possible. But if all men, or most of them, realized this and desired to obtain what belongs to them by right of birth, evolution would again become impossible. What is possible for individual man is impossible for the masses. “The advantage of the separate individual is that he is very small and that, in the economy of nature, it makes no difference whether there is one mechanical man more or less. We can easily understand this correlation of magnitudes if we imagine the correlation between a microscopic cell and our own body. The presence or absence of one cell will change nothing in the life of the body. We cannot be conscious of it, and it can have no influence on the life and functions of the organism. In exactly the same way a separate individual is too small to influence the life of the cosmic organism to which he stands in the same relation (with regard to size) as a cell stands to our own organism. And this is precisely what makes his ‘evolution’ possible; on this are based his ‘possibilities.’ “In speaking of evolution it is necessary to understand from the outset that no mechanical evolution is possible. The evolution of man is the evolution of his consciousness. And ‘consciousness’ cannot evolve unconsciously. The evolution of man is the evolution of his will, and ‘will’ cannot evolve involuntarily. The evolution, of man is the evolution of his power of doing, and ‘doing’ cannot be the result of things which ‘happen.’ “People do not know what man is. They have to do with a very complex machine, far more complex than a railway engine, a motorcar, or an aeroplane—but they know nothing, or almost nothing, about the construction, working, or possibilities of this machine; they do not even understand its simplest functions, because they do not know the purpose of these functions. They vaguely imagine that a man should learn to control his machine, just as he has to learn to control a railway engine, a
motorcar, or an aeroplane, and that incompetent handling of the human machine is just as dangerous as incompetent handling of any other complex machine. Everybody understands this in relation to an aeroplane, a motorcar, or a railway engine. But it is very rarely that anyone takes this into account in relation to man in general or to himself in particular. It is considered right and legitimate to think that nature has given men the necessary knowledge of their machine. And yet men understand that an instinctive knowledge of the machine is by no means enough. Why do they study medicine and make use of its services? Because, of course, they realize they do not know their machine. But they do not suspect that it can be known much better than science knows it; they do not suspect that then it would be possible to get quite different work out of it.”
Very often, almost at every talk, G. returned to the absence of unity in man. “One of man’s important mistakes,” he said, “one which must be remembered, is his illusion in regard to his I.
“Man such as we know him, the ‘man-machine,’ the man who cannot ‘do,’ and with whom and through whom everything ‘happens,’ cannot have a permanent and single I.
His I changes as quickly as his thoughts, feelings, and moods, and he makes a profound mistake in considering himself always one and the same person; in reality he is always a different person, not the one he was a moment ago. “Man has no permanent and unchangeable I. Every thought, every mood, every desire, every sensation, says ‘I.’ And in each case it seems to be taken for granted that this I belongs to the Whole, to the whole man, and that a thought, a desire, or an aversion is expressed by this Whole. In actual fact there is no foundation whatever for this assumption. Man’s every thought and desire appears and lives quite separately and independently of the Whole. And the Whole never expresses itself, for the simple reason that it exists, as such, only physically as a thing, and in the abstract as a concept. Man has no individual I. But there are, instead, hundreds and thousands of separate small I’s, very often entirely unknown to one another, never coming into contact, or, on the contrary, hostile to each other, mutually exclusive and incompatible. Each minute, each moment, man is saying or thinking ‘I.’ And each time his I is different. Just now it was a thought, now it is a desire, now a sensation, now another thought, and so on, endlessly. Man is a plurality. Man’s name is legion. “The alternation of I’s, their continual obvious struggle for supremacy, is controlled by accidental external influences. Warmth, sunshine, fine weather, immediately call up a whole group of I’s. Cold, fog, rain, call up another group of I’s, other associations, other feelings, other actions. There is nothing in man able to control this change of I’s, chiefly because
man does not notice, or know of it; he lives always in the last I. Some I’s, of course, are stronger than others. But it is not their own conscious strength; they have been created by the strength of accidents or mechanical external stimuli. Education, imitation, reading, the hypnotism of religion, caste, and traditions, or the glamour of new slogans, create very strong I’s in man’s personality, which dominate whole series of other, weaker, I’s. But their strength is the strength of the ‘rolls’ in the centers. And all I’s making up a man’s personality have the same origin as these ‘rolls’; they are the results of external influences; and both are set in motion and controlled by fresh external influences. “Man has no individuality. He has no single, big I. Man is divided into a multiplicity of small I’s. “And each separate small I is able to call itself by the name of the Whole, to act in the name of the Whole, to agree or disagree, to give promises, to make decisions, with which another I or the Whole will have to deal. This explains why people so often make decisions and so seldom carry them out. A man decides to get up early beginning from the following day. One I, or a group of I’s, decide this. But getting up is the business of another I who entirely disagrees with the decision and may even know absolutely nothing about it. Of course the man will again go on sleeping in the morning and in the evening he will again decide to get up early. In some cases this may assume very unpleasant consequences for a man. A small accidental I may promise something, not to itself, but to someone else at a certain moment simply out of vanity or for amusement. Then it disappears, but the man, that is, the whole combination of other I’s who are quite innocent of this, may have to pay for it all his life. It is the tragedy of the human being that any small I has the right to sign checks and promissory notes and the man, that is, the Whole, has to meet them. People’s whole lives often consist in paying off the promissory notes of small accidental I’s. “Eastern teachings contain various allegorical pictures which endeavor to portray the nature of man’s being from this point of view. “Thus, in one teaching, man is compared to a house in which there is a multitude of servants but no master and no steward. The servants have all forgotten their duties; no one wants to do what he ought; everyone tries to be master, if only for a moment; and, in this kind of disorder, the house is threatened with grave danger. The only chance of salvation is for a group of the more sensible servants to meet together and elect a tem- porary steward, that is, a deputy steward. This deputy steward can then put the other servants in their places, and make each do his own work: the cook in the kitchen, the coachman in the stables, the gardener in the garden, and so on. In this way the ‘house’ can be got ready for the arrival of the real steward who will, in his turn, prepare it for the arrival of the master.
“The comparison of a man to a house awaiting the arrival of the master is frequently met with in Eastern teachings which have preserved traces of ancient knowledge, and, as we know, the subject appears under various forms in many of the parables in the Gospels. “But even the clearest understanding of his possibilities will not bring man any nearer to their realization. In order to realize these possibilities he must have a very strong desire for liberation and be willing to sacrifice everything, to risk everything, for the sake of this liberation.”
To this period, that is, to the beginning of the St. Petersburg lectures, are related two interesting talks. On one occasion I showed G. a photograph I had taken in Benares of a “fakir on nails.” This fakir was not merely a clever juggler like those I saw in Ceylon, although he was undoubtedly a “professional.” I had been told that, in the court of the Aurangzeb Mosque on the bank of the Ganges, there was a fakir lying on a bed studded with iron nails. This sounded very mysterious and terrifying. But when I arrived the bed with iron nails alone was there, without the fakir; the fakir, I was told, had gone to fetch the cow. The second time I went the fakir was there. He was not lying on his bed and, so far as I could understand, he only got on it when spectators came. But for a rupee he showed me all his skill. He really did lie almost entirely naked on the bed which was covered with long rather sharp iron nails. And, although he evidently took care not to make any quick movements, he turned round on the nails, lay upon them on his back, his sides, his stomach, and obviously they neither pricked nor scratched him. I took two photographs of him but I could give myself no explanation of the meaning of this phenomenon. The fakir did not produce the impression of being either an intelligent or a religious man. His face wore a dull, bored, and indifferent expression, and there was nothing in him that spoke of aspirations toward self-sacrifice or self-torture. I told all this to G., showing him the photograph, and I asked him what he thought of it. “It is difficult to explain in two words,” answered G. “First of all the man is not, of course, a ‘fakir’ in the sense in which I have been using the word. At the same time you are right in thinking it is not altogether a trick. But he does not know himself how he does it. If you bribed him and made him tell you what he knows he would probably tell you that he knows a certain word which he has to say to himself, after which he is able to lie down on the nails. He might even consent to tell you this word. But it would not help you in the least, because it would be a perfectly ordinary word which would have no effect whatever on you. This man has come from a school, only he was not a disciple. He was an experiment. They simply experimented with him and on him. He had
evidently been hypnotized many times and under hypnosis his skin had been rendered first insensitive to pricks and afterwards able to resist them. In a small way this is quite possible even for ordinary European hypnotism. Then afterwards both the insensitiveness and impenetrability of the skin were made permanent in him by means of post-hypnotic suggestion. You know what post-hypnotic suggestion is. A man is put to sleep and told that five hours after he wakes up he must do a certain thing; or he is told to pronounce a certain word and that as soon as he does so he will feel thirsty, or think himself dead, or something like that. Then he is awakened. When the time comes he feels an irresistible desire to do what he was told to do; or, if he remembers the word that was given to him, on pronouncing it he immediately falls into a trance. This is just what was done to your ‘fakir.’ They accustomed him to lie on nails under hypnosis; then they began to wake him and tell him that if he pronounced a certain word he would again be able to lie down on the nails. This word puts him into a hypnotic state. This is perhaps why he had such a sleepy, apathetic look. This often happens in such cases. They worked on him, perhaps, for many years and then simply let him go, to live as he could. So he put up that iron bed for himself and probably earns a few rupees a week. There are many such men in India. Schools take them for experiment, generally buying them when they are children from parents who gladly sell them because they afterwards profit from it. But of course the man himself does not know or understand what he is doing or how it is done.” This explanation interested me very much because I had never before heard or read an explanation quite like this. In all the attempts to explain “fakirs’ miracles” that I had come across, whether the “miracles” were explained as tricks or otherwise, it was always assumed that the performer knew what he was doing and how he did it, and that, if he did not speak of it, it was because he did not want to or was afraid. In the present instance the position was quite different. G.’s explanation seemed to me not only probable but, I dare say, the only one possible. The fakir himself did not know how he worked his “miracle,” and, of course, could not have explained it. On another occasion we were talking of Buddhism in Ceylon. I expressed the opinion that Buddhists must have magic, the existence of which they do not acknowledge, and the possibility of which is denied in official Buddhism. Entirely without connection with this remark, and while, I think, I was showing my photographs to G., I spoke about a small shrine in a private house in Colombo in which there was, as usual, a statue of Buddha, and at the foot of the Buddha a small, bell-shaped ivory dagoba, that is, a small carved replica of a dagoba, hollow inside. They opened this in my presence and showed me something inside it
that was regarded as a relic—a small round ball the size of a large shot, carved, as I thought, out of ivory or mother-of-pearl. G. listened to me attentively. “Did they not explain to you what this ball meant?” he asked. “They told me it was a piece of bone of one of Buddha’s disciples; that it was of very great antiquity and holiness.” “It is so and it is not so,” said G. “The man who showed it to you either did not know or did not want to say. It was not a piece of bone but a particular bone formation which some people get round the neck in the form of a necklace as a result of special exercises. Have you heard the expression ‘Buddha’s necklace’?” “Yes,” I said, “but this means something quite different. The chain of Buddha’s reincarnation is called ‘Buddha’s necklace.'” “Yes,” said G., “that is one meaning of the expression, but I am speaking of another meaning. This necklace of bones which encircles the neck beneath the skin is directly connected with what is called the ‘astral body.’ The ‘astral body’ is, so to speak, attached to it, or, to be more accurate, this ‘necklace’ connects the physical body to the astral. Now if the ‘astral body’ continues to live after the death of the physical body, the person possessing a bone of this ‘necklace’ can always communicate with the ‘astral body’ of the dead man. This is magic. But they never speak of it openly. You are right about their having magic and this is an instance of it. It does not follow, of course, that the bone you saw was a real one. You will find these bones in almost every house; but I am telling you of the belief which lies at the bottom of this custom.” And again I had to admit that I had never before met with such an explanation. G. drew a small sketch for me showing the position of the small bones under the skin; they went in a semicircle round the back of the neck, beginning a little in front of the ears. This sketch at once reminded me of an ordinary diagrammatic representation of the lymphatic glands in the neck, such as can be seen in anatomical charts. But I could learn nothing else about it.