by P D Ouspensky
The Ardue Library contains The Kybalion, a succinct overview of a system of philosophy referred to as Hermetic both because it is associated with the name of Hermes Trismegistus and because its inner meaning is inaccessible to the "ordinary" person and is therefore considered to be "Hermetically sealed". An eclectic and syncretic philosophy, drawing on the accumulated wisdom of Asia, Africa, and Europe, and effecting a reconciliation of points of apparent conflict, Hermetic Philosophy deserves to be closely studied and put into daily practice by students in the Ardue University.
The Kybalion is a "key" giving admission to a vestibule. Intelligent exploration of the treasures to which the key gives access is greatly assisted by informed guidance. I know of no better source of readily available guidance than two works by P D Ouspensky (1878-1947) in which he expounds "Fragments of an Unknown Teaching" as taught by G I Gurdjieff (1865-1949). The works in question are: In Search of the Miraculous, in which Ouspensky gives an account of his collaboration with Gurdjieff, mainly in Russia, between 1915 and 1924; and The Fourth Way, a record of Ouspensky's own talks based on the teachings of Gurdjieff, given in London between 1921 and 1946. This latter work also contains Ouspensky's answers to many questions asked by members of his audiences. Both books are highly recommended as aids to attaining deeper knowledge of ourselves and of the Universe in which we live and of which we are part.
The "lectures", which I published at monthly intervals, are presented as given either by Ouspensky or by Gurdjieff himself depending on the source from which the material is principally drawn. In general, lectures and quotations attributed to Gurdjieff will have been taken from In Search of the Miraculous, and those attributed solely to Ouspensky from The Fourth Way.
The principal doctrine of Hermetic Philosophy is that Man is a microcosm of the Macrocosm, meaning that the principles which govern the constitution of Man are essentially the same as those which govern the entire Universe "As above, so below". Thus there is a natural affinity between psychology and cosmology, and this is clearly reflected in the lectures.
Although neither Ouspensky nor Gurdjieff himself made frequent mention of "Hermetic Philosophy", it seems to me to be a fitting heading under which to present their fundamental contributions to the study of Man in relation to the Universe.
If it were possible to accept as proven that consciousness (or, as I should now call it, intelligence) can manifest itself apart from the physical body, many other things could be proved. I realised that manifestations of supernormal psychology such as thought transference, clairvoyance, the possibility of knowing the future, of looking back into the past, and so on, had not been proved to my satisfaction. So I tried to find a method of studying these things, and worked on that line for several years. I found some interesting things in that way, but the results were very elusive; and though several experiments were successful, it was almost impossible to repeat them.
I came to two conclusions in the course of these experiments: first, that we do not know enough about ordinary psychology; we cannot study supernormal psychology because we do not know normal psychology. Secondly, I concluded that certain real knowledge exists; that there may be schools which know exactly what we want to know, but that for some reason they are hidden and this knowledge is hidden. So I began to look for these schools. I travelled in Europe, Egypt, India, Ceylon, Turkey, and the Near East. But it was really later, when I had already finished these travels, that I met in Russia during the war [1914-18 Ed.] a group of people who were studying a certain system which originally came from Eastern schools. This system began with the study of psychology, exactly as I had realised it must begin.
The chief idea of this system was that we do not use even a small part of our powers and our forces. We have in us, so to speak, a very big and very fine organisation, only we do not know how to use it. In this group they employed certain oriental metaphors, and they told me that we have in us a large house full of beautiful furniture, with a library and many other rooms, but we live in the basement and the kitchen and cannot get out of them. If people tell us about what this house has upstairs we do not believe them, or we laugh at them, or we call it superstition or fairy tales or fables.
This system can also be divided into study of the world on certain new principles, and study of man. The study of the world and the study of man include in themselves a kind of special language. We try to use ordinary words, the same words as we use in ordinary conversation, but we attach a slightly different and more precise meaning to them.
Study of the world, study of the Universe, is based on the study of the evolution of man, but the evolution of man must be understood in a slightly different way from the ordinary. Ordinarily the word evolution applied either to man or to anything else presupposes a kind of mechanical evolution; I mean that certain things, by certain known or unknown laws, transform into other things, and these other things transform into still others, and so on. But from the point of view of this system there is no such evolution at all I do not speak in general, but specifically of man. The evolution of man, if it occurs, can only be the result of knowledge and effort; as long as man knows only what he can know in the ordinary way, there is no evolution for him and there never was any evolution for him.
Serious study begins in this system with the study of psychology, that is to say with the study of oneself, because psychology cannot be studied, as astronomy can, outside oneself. A man has to study himself. When I was told that, I saw at once that we do not have any methods of studying ourselves and already have many wrong ideas about ourselves. So I realised that we must get rid of wrong ideas about ourselves and at the same time find methods of studying ourselves.
Perhaps you realise how difficult it is to define what is meant by psychology? There are so many meanings attached to the same words in different systems that it is difficult to have a general definition. So we begin by defining psychology as study of oneself. You have to learn certain methods and principles and, according to these principles and using these methods, you will try to see yourselves from a new point of view.
If we begin to study ourselves we first of all come up against one word which we use more than any other and that is the word 'I'. We say 'I am doing', 'I am sitting', 'I feel', 'I like', 'I dislike', and so on. This is our chief illusion, for the principal mistake we make about ourselves is that we consider ourselves one; we always speak about ourselves as 'I' and we suppose that we refer to the same thing all the time when in reality we are divided into hundreds and hundreds of different 'I's. At one moment when I say 'I', one part of me is speaking, and at another moment when I say 'I', it is quite another 'I' speaking. We do not know that we have not one 'I', but many different 'I's connected with our feelings and desires, and have no controlling 'I'. These 'I's change all the time; one suppresses another, one replaces another, and all this struggle makes up our inner life.
'I's which we see in ourselves are divided into several groups. Some of these groups are legitimate they belong to right divisions of Man; and some of them are quite artificial and are created by insufficient knowledge and by certain imaginary ideas that man has about himself.
To begin self-study it is necessary to study methods of self-observation, but that again must be based on a certain understanding of the divisions of our functions. Our ordinary idea of these divisions is quite wrong.
We know the difference between intellectual and emotional functions. For instance, when we discuss things, think about them, compare them, invent explanations or find real explanations, this is all intellectual work; whereas love, hate, fear, suspicion, and so on are emotional. But very often, when trying to observe ourselves, we mix even intellectual and emotional functions; when we really feel, we call it thinking, and when we think we call it feeling. But in the course of study we shall learn in what way they differ. For instance, there is an enormous difference in speed, but we shall speak more about that later.
Then there are two other functions which no system of ordinary psychology divides and understands in the right way instinctive function and moving function. Instinctive refers to the inner work of the organism: digestion of food, beating of the heart, breathing these are instinctive functions. To instinctive function belong also ordinary senses sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, the feeling of cold and warmth, things like that; and that is all, really. Of outer movements, only simple reflexes belong to instinctive function, because more complicated reflexes belong to moving function.
It is very easy to distinguish between instinctive and moving functions. We do not have to learn anything that belongs to instinctive function; we are born with the capacity to use all the instinctive functions. Moving functions, on the other hand, all have to be learned a child learns to walk, to write, and so on. There is a very great difference between the two functions, since there is nothing inherent in moving functions, and instinctive functions are all inherent.
So in self-observation it is necessary first of all to divide these four functions and to classify at once everything that you observe, saying, 'This is intellectual function', 'this is emotional function', and so on.
If you practise this observation for some time you may notice some strange things. For instance, you will find that what is really difficult in observing is that you forget about it. You start to observe, and your emotions connect with some kind of thought and you forget about self-observation.
Again, after some time, if you continue this effort to observe, which is a new function not used in the same way in ordinary life, you will notice another interesting thing that generally you do not remember yourself. If you could be aware of yourself all the time, then you would be able to observe all the time, or in any case as long as you liked. But because you cannot remember yourself, you cannot concentrate; and this is why you will have to admit that you have no will. If you could remember yourself, you would have will and you could do what you liked. But you cannot remember yourself, you cannot be aware of yourself, and so you have no will. You may sometimes have will for a short time, but it turns to something else and you forget about it.
This is the situation, the state of being, the state from which we have to start self-study. But very soon, if you continue, you will come to the conclusion that almost from the very beginning of self-study you have to correct certain things in yourself which are not right, to arrange certain things which are not in their right places. The system has an explanation for this.