by P D Ouspensky
We often think in a very naďve way. We already think we can do. To get rid of this conviction is more difficult for a man than anything else. We do not understand all the complexity of our organisation and do not realise that every effort, in addition to the results desired, even if it gives these, also gives thousands of unexpected and often undesirable results. The chief thing we forget is that we are not beginning with a nice, clean, new machine. There stand behind us many years of a wrong and stupid life, of indulgence in every kind of weakness, of shutting our eyes to our own errors, of striving to avoid all unpleasant truths, of constant lying to ourselves, of self-justification, of blaming others, and so on, and so on. All this cannot help affecting the machine. The machine is dirty, in places it is rusty, and in some places artificial appliances have been formed, the necessity for which has been created by its own wrong way of working.
These artificial appliances will now interfere very much with all our good intentions.
They are called buffers.
Buffers are special arrangements, special growths, which prevent us from seeing the truth about ourselves and about other things. 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 for anyone to feel that he is 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 is surrounded by people who live, speak, think and feel by means of buffers. Imitating them in their opinions, actions, and words, a man involuntarily 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 a man out of the state in which he lives that is, 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.
Buffers divide us into thought-proof compartments. We may have many mutually contradictory desires, intentions, or aims, and we do not see that they are contradictory because buffers stand between them and prevent us from looking from one compartment into another. When you are in one compartment you think it is the whole thing; then you pass into another compartment and you think that this is the whole thing.
These appliances are called buffers because, as in railway carriages, they diminish shocks. But in relation to the human machine they are even more: they make it impossible to see, so they are blinkers as well. People with really strong buffers never see; but if they saw how contradictory they were, they would be unable to move, because they could not trust themselves. That is why buffers are necessary in mechanical life. Such extreme cases mean wrong development; but even in ordinary people, in one or another line, there are always deeply hidden buffers.
You must recognise the existence of a buffer before you can do anything about it. And whether you can do anything after you have seen it depends on the size of the buffer and on many other things. Sometimes it is necessary to take a hammer and break it; and sometimes it disappears if you throw light on it, for buffers do not like light. When buffers begin to disappear and become less strong, conscience begins to manifest itself. In ordinary life it is kept down by buffers.
Buffers can be very different. For instance, I knew a man who had a very interesting buffer. Every time he did something wrong, he said that he did it on purpose, as an experiment. Another man had a buffer that he was never late; so, with this buffer firmly established, he was always late but never noticed it. If his attention was drawn to it, he was always astonished and said, 'How can I be late? I am never late!'
All the work in this system is preparation for the occasion when a buffer goes down and you see something about yourself that seems unbearable. If we do not work but only think that we work, and a buffer suddenly disappears by some accident, we find ourselves in a very unpleasant situation: we see that we only pretended to work. Buffers help us to pretend instead of really working. This is why people in the ordinary state have no conscience, because if conscience suddenly came, they would go mad.
Buffers are useful in this respect: they help to keep us sedated. For if other sides were not developed, if everything were not brought into a certain balance, one would not be able to bear oneself amid all the contradictions. So it is not advisable to destroy buffers too soon. One must first be ready. We can bear ourselves only because we do not know ourselves. If we knew ourselves as we are, it would be unbearable. Disharmony is the normal state of Men 1, 2, and 3. A sleeping man cannot be harmonious; if he were harmonious there would be no incentive for development and therefore no possibility.
Intellectual self-study is only preparation. When you try to remember yourself and not to identify, you begin to feel emotional.
Morality is always relative; conscience is absolute. It is a special positive emotion. In our present state we have a very small trace of this emotion, sufficient to have a general feeling that something may be right and something else may be wrong, but insufficient to say definitely what is right and what is wrong. This has to be developed. At present the state of conscience we can have does not distinguish the big from the small; but later, conscience may become quite a different method of cognition, an instrument of discrimination.
Before conscience can be fully opened, we must have will, we must be able to 'do', to act according to the dictates of our conscience. Otherwise, if conscience awoke fully in a man in his present state, he would be a most miserable being: he would not be able to forget, not able to adapt to things, and not able to change anything. Conscience destroys buffers, so that a man finds himself defenceless against himself. At the same time he has no will, so he cannot change, cannot do what he knows is right. So first he must develop will, otherwise he will find himself in a very unpleasant situation beyond his control. When he acquires control, he may allow himself the luxury of conscience, but not before that.
If one does not have a definite aim, if one does not work for a certain definite purpose, the function of conscience is only to spoil life for a person who is unlucky enough to have it. But if he works for a definite purpose, then conscience helps him to achieve his aim. An inevitable consequence of the process of self-development is the acquisition of certain knowledge and powers which could be used for evil purposes. But at the same time, the awakening of conscience will prevent any possibility of using new powers for any wrong aim or purpose. When conscience awakens, it will not allow one to do anything selfish or contrary to other people's interests, or harmful to anybody nothing, in fact, that we may consider wrong or evil. So conscience has to be awakened as part of the process.
Truth exists without us, but one can know truth only in objective consciousness not 'absolute' truth, but simply truth, for truth does not need qualification. In our state we cannot know truth with the exception of very simple things, and even then we make mistakes.
In simple things, one can recognise what is a door and what is a wall, and one can reduce every difficult practical question to simple ones. It means you have to recognise a certain quality in quite simple principles and verify other things by these simple principles. This is why conventional philosophy mere discussion of possibilities or the meanings of words is excluded from this system. You must try to understand simple things, and you must learn to think in this way; then you will be able to bring everything to simple things.
Take, for instance, self-remembering. You are given all the material; if you observe yourself you will see that you did not remember yourself at that moment; you will notice that at some moments you remember yourself more and at some moments less; and you will decide that it is better to remember yourself. This means that you have found a door, that you see the difference between a door and a wall.
Being able to be sincere is a science. And even deciding to be sincere is very difficult, for we tend to deceive ourselves.
Only complete recognition of the fact that we are slaves to mechanicalness and its inevitable results can help us to find and destroy the buffers which enable us to deceive ourselves. We can understand the nature and horrors of mechanicalness only when we do something horrible and fully realise that it was mechanicalness in us that made us do it.
It is necessary to be very sincere with oneself to be able to see it. If we try to cover it, to find excuses and explanations, we will never realise it. It may hurt dreadfully, but we must bear it and try to understand that only by fully confessing it to ourselves can we avoid repeating it again and again. We can even change results by full and complete understanding of mechanicalness and by not trying to hide it.
We can escape from the tentacles of mechanicalness and break its force by big suffering. If we try to avoid suffering, if we are afraid of it, we cannot acquire conscience. If we try to persuade ourselves that nothing bad really happened, or that it is unimportant and that things can go on just as before, we shall never escape. We shall become more and more mechanical, and shall very soon come to a state when there will be no possibility for us and no chance.