Lecture 05 — Consciousness, Laws, and Influences

by P D Ouspensky

Contents List:

Categories of Man
Mechanical Man
General Laws
The Law of Three
The Law of Seven
Good and Evil
Morality and Conscience
Influences A, B, and C
The Ray of Creation
Cosmic Influences
The Law of Three Applied
Table of "Worlds"

Return to:


See also:

Human Evolution
Wrong Functions
The Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science
The Doré Lectures on Mental Science
The Kybalion


I ended my last lecture with the idea that we are in prison. For us prison is our sleep and, laying aside the metaphor, we want to awaken when we realise we are asleep. This must be realised emotionally. We must understand that in sleep we are helpless; anything may happen. We can see things, big and small, happen in life, see why they happen, and realise that it is because people are asleep. But in sleep we cannot do anything. We are at the mercy of circumstances.

So we must try to observe ourselves in different conditions. To begin with, and for a long time, there should be no analysis. In order to analyse we must know laws; why things happen in that way and could not happen in another way. So before you know the laws, it is better not to try to analyse. Just observe things as they are and try to classify them more or less into intellectual, emotional, instinctive, and moving functions. Each of these functions has its own centre or mind through which it operates.

Categories of Man

In connection with functions and states of consciousness, and from the point of view of his possible evolution, man is divided into seven categories. People are born only in one of the three first categories. A person in whom the instinctive or moving function predominates, and in whom intellectual and emotional functions are less developed, is called Man Number 1. If the emotional function predominates over the other functions, he is called Man Number 2. If the intellectual function predominates over the other functions, he is called Man Number 3. Beyond these three kinds of men, but not born as such, is Man Number 4. This means the beginning of change, chiefly in consciousness but also in knowledge and capacity for observation. Next comes Man Number 5, who has already developed in himself the third state of consciousness, that is, self-consciousness, and in whom the higher emotional function works. Next is Man Number 6, and finally Man Number 7, who has full objective consciousness and in whom the higher intellectual function works.

When we know better what is lacking in us, what the things are that we ascribe to ourselves but do not possess, we shall begin to see something about it, although actually we can distinguish people of a higher level only by their knowledge. If they know something that we do not know, and if we realise that no one else knows it, and that it could not be learned in any ordinary way, that may serve as a guide.

Try to think a little about the characteristics of these seven categories of man. For instance, what could be the general characteristics of Man 1, Man 2, and Man 3? First of all, sleep. Man 1, 2, or 3, before he begins to study himself in connection with some system which gives him the possibility of self-study, passes all his life in sleep. He only looks as though he is awake; he is never really awake, or, occasionally, he wakens for a moment, looks round, and falls asleep again. This is the first characteristic of Man 1, 2, and 3.

The second characteristic is the fact that he has many different 'I's, and some of these 'I's do not even know one another. Man can have quite definite attitudes, definite convictions, or definite views, quite different likes and dislikes, and one of them does not know the other. This is one of the chief characteristics of Man 1, 2, and 3. Men are very divided and they do not know and cannot know it, because each of these 'I's knows only certain 'I's that it meets by association; other 'I's remain quite unknown. 'I's are divided according to functions; there are intellectual, emotional, instinctive, and moving 'I's. Round themselves they know something, but beyond that they know nothing, so until man begins to study himself with knowledge of this division, he can never come to a right understanding of his functions or reactions.

Mechanical Man

The sleep of man, and absence of unity in him, create another very important characteristic, and that is the complete mechanicalness of man. Man, in this state, Man 1, 2, and 3, is a machine controlled by external influences; he has no possibility to resist these external influences, and no possibility to distinguish them from one another, no possibility to study himself apart from these things. He sees himself always on the move, and has a long-established and very strong illusion that he is free to go where he wills, that he can move according to his wish, and that he can go to the right or to the left. He cannot do this; if he moves to the right, it means that he could not move to the left.

'Will' is quite a wrong idea; it does not exist at this level. Will can exist only in a man who has one controlling 'I', but as long as he has many different 'I's which do not know one another, he has just as many different wills; each 'I' has its own will; there can be no other 'I' or other will. But man can come to a state when he acquires a controlling 'I', and then he acquires will. He can reach this state only by developing consciousness. These are the rudiments of the principle of this system.

General Laws

We begin with psychology — study of oneself, of the human machine, of states of consciousness, methods of correcting things, and so on; but at the same time an important part of the system is given to doctrines of general laws of the world. We cannot understand even ourselves if we do not know some of the fundamental laws which lie behind all things. Ordinary scientific knowledge is not sufficient for this because, just as important points of self-remembering were missed in psychology, so our science either forgot, or never knew, the fundamental laws on which everything is based.

All things in the world, whether big or small, on every scale, are based on two fundamental laws which, in this system, are called the Law of Three and the Law of Seven.

The Law of Three

The Law of Three, in a short description, means that three forces enter into every manifestation, into every phenomenon, and every event. They are called (but these are only words, because they do not express their qualities) positive, negative and neutralising, or active, passive and neutralising; or, still more simply, they may be called first force, second force and third force.

These three forces enter into everything. In many cases we understand the need for two forces — that one force cannot create an action, that there is action and resistance. But generally we are not aware of the third force. This is connected with the state of our being, the state of our consciousness. In another state we would be aware of it in many cases where we do not see it now. Sometimes we can find examples of the third force in ordinary scientific study — for example, in chemistry and in biology we can find the necessity for a third force in the creation of events and phenomena.

We begin with the study of psychology. Later we shall talk more about three forces and we may find some examples of their interaction. But it is better to be prepared and get accustomed now to the idea of the need to study these three forces.

The Law of Seven

The Law of Seven must also be described briefly. It means that no process in the world goes without interruptions.

In order to understand the meaning of this law it is necessary to regard the Universe as consisting of vibrations. Suppose something begins to vibrate at 1000 vibrations a second and the frequency increases to 2000 vibrations a second. This period is called an octave, because this law was applied to music and the period was divided into seven notes and a repetition of the first note. The octave, particularly the major octave, is really a picture or formula of a cosmic law because, in common arrangements, within one octave there are two moments when octaves slow down by themselves. Vibrations do not develop regularly. In the major octave this is shown by the missing semi-tones; that is why we are told that it is a picture of a cosmic law; but this law is not restricted to music.

The reason why it is necessary to understand the Law of Seven is that it plays a very important part in all events. If there were no Law of Seven, everything in the world would go directly to its final conclusion; but because of this law, everything deviates. For instance, if rain began it would go on without stopping; if floods began, they would cover everything; if an earthquake began it would go on indefinitely. But they stop because of the Law of Seven, because at every missing semi-tone things deviate; they do not go by straight lines.

The Law of Seven also explains why there are no straight lines in Nature. Everything in Life and in our machine is based on this law. So we shall study it in the work of our organism, because we have to study ourselves not only psychologically, not only in connection with our mental life, but also in connection with our physical life. In our physical processes we find many examples of the working of this law.

At the same time, the Law of Seven explains that, if you know how and at what moment to do it, you can give an additional shock to an octave and keep the line straight. We can observe in human activity how people start to do one thing and after some time do a quite different thing, still calling it by the first name without noticing that things have completely changed. But in personal work, particularly in work connected with this system, we must learn how to keep these octaves from deviating, how to keep a straight line. Otherwise we shall not find anything.


We have to keep returning to psychology even when studying other sides of the system, because only with the help of the psychological study shall we really increase our knowledge; without it we shall only be learning words. Only when we know how to study ourselves psychologically, in relation to the working of our minds, our cognition, our emotions, and our movements, can we begin to understand something.

I will try to give some examples of how self-study should begin. We spoke already of lying and I gave a possible definition of psychology as 'the study of lying'. So one of the first and most important things for you to observe is lying.

Very much akin to lying are our illusions, things about which we deceive ourselves, wrong ideas, wrong convictions, wrong views. All these must be studied, because until we begin to understand our illusions we can never see truth. In everything we must first separate our illusions from facts. Only then will it be possible to see whether we can really learn something new.

One of the most important and most difficult illusions to conquer is our conviction that we can 'do'. Try to understand what that means. We think that we make a plan, decide, start, and achieve what we want, but the system explains that Man 1, 2, and 3 cannot 'do' anything; everything just happens to him. That may sound strange, particularly now when everybody thinks he can do something. But little by little you will understand that many things we are accustomed to say about man generally could be true only of men of higher level and do not apply to men of our low level. If you say that man can 'do', that would be right about Man 7 or Man 6. Even Man 5 can do something in comparison with us, but we can do nothing.

You might say, too, that you think man has consciousness. That would be right in relation to Man 5, 6 or 7, beginning at Man 5; and if you were to say that man has conscience, that would be right in relation to Man 4 but not in relation To Man 1, 2 or 3. We must learn to distinguish to which category of man things refer, because some things are right in relation to one category but wrong in relation to another.

It is very important to understand that man cannot 'do', because this is the basis of our view of ourselves, and even when we become disappointed with ourselves, we think other people can 'do'. We cannot accept completely and fully that things happen mechanically and that nobody gives them a push. At first it is difficult to see this on a big scale, but you will see it very soon in yourself. In studying yourself, if you try to do certain things which generally you do not do — for instance, if you try to remember yourself — then very soon you will see whether you can 'do' it or not. And in most cases you will find that you cannot do it.

There are no outside agencies we can call in because we are mechanical. We can do nothing, but there are differences in doing, and self-observation will show them. For instance, we can show some resistance. We may have some wish, some tendency, but we can show resistance to it and we can go on resisting every day. In quite small things we have choice, so we can 'do' now. For instance we can try to be aware of ourselves. Certainly we cannot do it for a long time. But do we try or not? This is the question. In observing these different actions of ours, we see that, as a general principle, although Man 1, 2 and 3 can 'do' nothing, if he becomes interested in something, if he begins to want something more than ordinary things, then he is not always on the same level and he can choose moments when he can start doing in a very elementary sense.

Good and Evil

Another very important problem we must consider is the idea of good and evil in this system, because generally people's views are very confused on this subject and it is necessary to establish for yourself how to understand it. From the viewpoint of the system there are only two things that can be compared or seen in man, the manifestation of mechanical laws and the manifestation of consciousness. If you want to find examples of what you call "good" and "bad", to arrive at some standard, you will see at once that what we call "evil" is always mechanical — that it can never be conscious; and what we call "good" is always conscious, it cannot be mechanical. It will take a long time to see the reason for that, because these ideas of mechanical and conscious are mixed in our mind. We never describe them in the right way, so this is the next point you must consider and study.

Morality and Conscience

Further, in connection with the question of good and evil, we must try to understand the relative positions of morality and conscience. What is morality and what is conscience? We can say first of all that morality is not constant. It is different in different countries, in different centuries, in different decades, in different classes, with people of different education, and so on. What may be moral in the Caucasus may be immoral in Europe.

For instance, in some countries, blood revenge is the most moral thing: if a man refused to kill somebody who had killed his distant uncle, he would be considered most immoral. But in Europe nobody would think that; in fact, most people would think a man very immoral to kill anybody, even somebody who had killed his uncle. So morality is always different, and it always changes.

But conscience never changes. Conscience is a kind of emotional understanding of truth in certain definite relations, generally in relation to behaviour, to people, and so on. This is always the same; it cannot change and it cannot differ from nation to nation, from country to country, in one person or another.

Try to connect in your mind what I said about the study of good and evil, mechanicalness and consciousness, morality and conscience, and then put the question: 'Is conscious evil possible?' That will require study and observation, but from the point of view of the system there is a definite principle that conscious evil is impossible; mechanicalness must be unconscious.

When you have enough examples of what you call evil, you will see that they can all happen mechanically, and hence that evil has no need of consciousness.


We should study the ideas of this system chiefly in connection with the evolution of man. By evolution we must understand a conscious process and conscious efforts, continuous and connected. There is no mechanical evolution, as is sometimes supposed. If evolution is possible, it can only be conscious, and the beginning of evolution is always the evolution of consciousness: it cannot be the evolution of anything else. If consciousness begins to evolve, other things begin to grow and evolve. If consciousness remains on the same level, everything else remains on the same level.

In relation to evolution, there are several things which it is important to understand from the very beginning. First, out of the very large quantity of Men 1, 2 and 3, only very few can become 4, 5, 6 and 7. That must be very well understood, because if we begin to think that everybody can evolve, we cease to understand the conditions necessary for the beginning of evolution as I described them for you in the example of escape from prison.

From the point of view of possible development, there appears to be no difference between the white, yellow, black, brown and red races. At the present time, the white and yellow races have predominance, whereas in the past it was probably one of the others. For instance, the Sphinx reminds one of a negro, not a European.


This particular system leaves man very free. He wants to create consciousness and will. Neither consciousness nor will can be created by following certain external restrictions. One must be free. You must understand that external things matter least of all. It is the internal things that are important.

Influences A, B, and C

If we return to the idea that only a very few can develop and find hidden possibilities in themselves, the question naturally arises: What determines the difference? Why do some people have a chance and some people have no chance?

It is quite true that some people have no chance from the very beginning. They are born in circumstances such that they can learn nothing, or they are themselves defective in some way; so we exclude defective people because there is nothing to be said about them. We are interested in people who are in normal circumstances, and they themselves must be normal, with ordinary possibilities of learning, understanding, and so on. Now, out of these people, only a very few will be capable of making even the first step in the way of development. How and why is it so?

All people in the ordinary conditions of life live under two kinds of influences. First there are the influences created in life — desire for riches, fame, and so on, which we call influences A.

Secondly, there are other influences which come from outside life, which work in the same conditions although they are different, and we call these influences B. They reach man in the forms of religion, literature, or philosophy, and are conscious in their origin, whereas influences A are mechanical from the beginning. Man can meet these B influences or he can pass them by without noticing them, or he can hear them and think that he understands them, use the same words, and at the same time have no understanding at all.

These two types of influence really determine the further development of man. If man accumulates B influences, the results crystallise in him (I use the word 'crystallise' in the ordinary sense) and form in him a certain kind of centre of attraction which we call magnetic centre.

The compact mass of memory of these influences attracts him in a certain direction. When magnetic centre is formed in man it will be easier for him to attract to himself more influences B, and not to be distracted by influences A. With ordinary people influences A can take so much of their time that nothing is left for other influences and they are hardly affected at all by influences B.

But if this magnetic centre in man grows, then after some time he meets another man or a group of people from whom he can learn something different, something that is not included in influences B, and which we call influence C. This influence is conscious in origin and action and can be transmitted only by certain instruction. Influences B can come through books and works of art and things like that, but influence C can come only by direct contact. If a man in whom magnetic centre has grown meets with a man or a group through whom he comes into contact with influence C, that means that he has made the first step. Then there is a possibility of development in him.

This first step is connected with the idea of a 'path' or 'way'. What is important to understand is that the way does not begin on the ordinary level of life; it begins on a higher level. The first step is the moment when one meets with influence C. From this moment there begins a staircase with a number of steps which have to be climbed before the way can be reached. The way does not begin at the bottom, but only after the last step has been climbed.

The Ray of Creation

Why is it so difficult for a man to start changing himself, to come to a possibility of growing?

We must remember that man is created by nature in a very interesting way. Nature does not develop man beyond a certain point; after this point he must develop himself. Later we shall learn in full detail up to what point man is developed and how his further development must begin; and we shall see why from this point of view he could never develop himself and why he cannot be developed by nature. But before that we must understand certain general conditions.

If we look for the nearest place to us in the Universe, we realise that we live on the Earth, and that the Moon is under the influence of the Earth. At the same time we see that the Earth is one of the planets of the Solar System; that there are bigger planets, probably more powerful than the Earth; and that all these planets, taken together, must somehow affect and control the Earth.

Next in scale comes the Sun, and we realise that the Sun controls all the planets and the Earth at the same time. If you think from this point of view you will already have a different idea of the Solar System, although there is nothing new in these things: it is only a question of how we relate one thing to another.

Earth is one of the planets of the Solar System and the Sun is one of the stars of the Milky Way. Beyond that we can take all possible worlds. This is all we know from the ordinary point of view. As a purely philosophical term we can add to that a condition or relationship of things which we call the Absolute, a state in which everything is One.

We can represent this arrangement as a set of concentric circles with the Moon at the centre and the Absolute as the outermost circle which contains all the others.

We can also express this relation of Moon to Earth, Earth to planets, and so on, in a slightly different way.

Looking from the top down, we can begin to understand the vast difference in scale if we compare All Suns with our Sun, or Earth with All Planets. We can understand that they stand in a definite relation of scale to one another. The smallest is the Moon, and beyond the Moon we know nothing. The whole of this is called the Ray of Creation. There are other rays, because this ray does not include the whole Universe, but since we live on the Earth and it passes through the Earth, we belong to this particular Ray of Creation.

From this we can see that we live in a bad place in the Universe. The worst place is the Moon, but the Earth is almost as bad. It is like living near the North Pole, which explains why so many things on the Earth are difficult for us. We cannot change or do anything about it: but when we know we can adapt, and in that way we can escape many things which we should otherwise have to put up with. But we must not let our imagination run away with us and tell us that we can escape altogether.

Cosmic Influences

For reasons which are as yet difficult to explain, all these worlds in the Ray of Creation are connected with each other. Influences pass from higher to lower, but there is a gap between Planets and Earth. In order to bridge this gap so that influences from All Planets could reach Earth, a special instrument was invented. It is a kind of sensitive film which surrounds the Earth, that is to say, Organic Life on Earth. So plants, animals, and men serve a definite purpose; they serve for communication between Earth and Planets. With the help of organic life which can receive and retain them, planetary influences penetrate to the Earth. This is the meaning and reason for organic life on Earth.

We are interested in this because we are on the Earth and are part of Organic Life on Earth, so we speak only about Earth. All other planets we take together as a mass, but about Earth we speak differently. This is the principle of scale. The nearer something is to us, the nearer to full scale is our study. If we study the room in which we intend to have a meeting, we need to know how many people are coming and how many chairs will be required; we study in detail. But if we take the house containing the room, we do not need such detail. And if we take the street, it is again different. In the same way we study the Ray of Creation on different scales. We speak about organic life on the Earth, but we do not speak about organic life on any other planet; we have no way of studying it except on the Earth.

I will give a few more details about the Ray of Creation which will explain to you what I mean when I say that the Earth is a bad place in the Universe. You will remember that, earlier, I said we should have to come to the study of the fundamental laws of the Universe, the Law of Three and the Law of Seven. I have just alluded to the principle of scale, and you understand that we do not study everything on the same scale. This is really the weakest point of ordinary science: scientists try to study everything on the same scale, without understanding that it is not necessary — in fact, quite the opposite. For all practical purposes we must learn to study things on different scales.

The Law of Three Applied

We must return to the Law of Three. You will remember how it was explained that everything that happens is the result of the action of three forces and that two forces by themselves cannot produce any effect. I will try to connect this idea with the Ray of Creation.

The Absolute is World 1, for the three forces in it make it One. By His own will and consciousness the Absolute creates worlds. It is all intentional there and each force in it occupies each place. This is incomprehensible to us.

In the next world, World 3, there are the same three forces, only they are already divided.

These three forces again produce worlds of which we take one for consideration. But this World 6 is different from World 3 which is in contact with the Absolute, for it is already mechanical.

World 6 has three forces from the preceding world and three of its own. The next world, World 12, has three forces from the world of the second order, six from the world of the third order, and three of its own. The next world, World 24, has twenty-four forces, the one after has forty-eight forces, and the last ninety-six forces.

Table of "Worlds"

World 1 Absolute 1
World 3 All Worlds 3
World 6 All Suns 6 (3+3)
World 12 Sun 12 (3+6+3)
World 24 All Planets 24 (3+6+12+3)
World 48 Earth 48 (3+6+12+24+3)
World 96 Moon 96 (3+6+12+24+48+3)

The figures in the right-hand column refer to the number of laws governing each world. The greater the number of laws, the harder it is to change anything.

For instance, Man lives on Earth, which is under 48 laws. He himself is under many more laws, but even these forty-eight make it very difficult for him to change anything because every little thing is governed by these laws. Fortunately, not all of the laws under which Man lives are obligatory for him, so he may escape from some of them, and his possibility of evolution is fundamentally connected with escaping from certain laws.