Lecture 20 — Laws and Justice

by P D Ouspensky

Contents List:

What is Justice?
Circles of Humanity
Orders of Laws
Right Thinking and Choice

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See also:

Man's Place in the World
Essay on Man — Part 7
The Republic


On the scale of the Ray of Creation, the Earth is under forty-eight laws. However, we cannot use the same scale in relation to Man, who is not under one type of law but under many different types. First of all Man, like every creature on Earth, lives under physical laws, which means he can live only within certain limits of temperature and pressure. Then there must be a particular amount of humidity in the air, and the air must be of a special chemical consistency for Man to breathe. Man is also limited to a certain kind of food which he can digest. These things are all laws for Man.

Then coming to quite simple laws, there is, for instance, our ignorance. We do not know ourselves — this is a law. If we begin to know ourselves, we get rid of a law. We cannot make a catalogue of laws for some of them have no names, but some we know. For example, we know that all men live under the law of identification. Those who begin to remember themselves begin to get rid of the law of identification. So in order to free oneself from laws it is first necessary to find one law from which one can liberate oneself, and get free from it. Then, when free from this law, one can find another and again liberate oneself. This is the practical way to study laws.

Some laws, such as the need to sleep for so many hours in the twenty-four, are cosmic laws. We are made that way. But there are laws which hinder us on all sides or keep us in subjection but which have no beneficial side and for which there is no cosmic necessity. Because of our mechanicalness, we live under too many unnecessary laws. For instance, we live under the law of negative emotions and, although people do not believe it, could live much more happily without negative emotions.


The Four Ways are ways of liberation from unnecessary laws. Without schools one cannot know from which laws one can get free or find means of getting free from them. We are under too many mechanical laws. We can get rid of some of them by becoming subject to other, 'higher', laws. But this is only the general idea. You can be shown the way but you must work yourself.

The outcome of work on oneself is not the creation of new laws but liberation from unnecessary laws. Discipline, necessary for a period of study, is only a means, not an end. In studying oneself, it is necessary to be conscious and to understand. Words by themselves will not do. It may be helpful to find analogies. For instance, if a man is well, he is under a certain number of laws; if he is ill, he is under more laws.


Nature sometimes seems to Man to be very unjust and cruel, and we wonder why. But 'why?' is a question about purpose. We cannot speak of purpose without scale and relativity. It is impossible that the same purpose should apply both on a large and on a small scale. Everything has a cause, but not everything has an aim or purpose. We must never forget the idea of scale. So we must presume that Nature, including organic life, was created like it is because there was no other way. If we do not like it, we can study methods of how to escape from it.

As individuals, we are too small and insignificant to be known by any higher forces. So who is just and unjust? We operate with imaginary ideas. In a small limited circle, in definite limited conditions, there can be justice and injustice. But on a larger scale this idea loses its meaning. There are many such ideas which have a certain meaning on a small scale but lose all meaning on a larger scale.

At the same time this idea of justice is interesting because people lose a great amount of energy on this point. We can stop this waste, but we cannot correct things in the world. All life from beginning to end is an injustice. For instance, we have to die — and we think it is most unjust. We divide things into just and unjust, and what right have we? All organic life is based on injustice; it is a self-supportive farm to breed cats and rats. Cats eat rats and rats eat cats. What is justice among cats and rats? This is life. It is nothing very comfortable. Our aim is to get out, so it is not our business to feel indignation: that is simply loss of energy. But we must not pretend that the facts are different from what they are.


From Man's point of view, all organic life can be regarded as a long work of experimenting with the idea of producing a self-evolving being. If Man can reach a higher state it is because he is made that way — he is created to be self-evolving. Other beings are only experiments for developing different features; they do not possess all the qualities that man possesses.

Man is a machine: but there are different machines, and machines can be made for a special purpose. If a machine is used for the purpose it is made for, it is in the right place; but if it is made for one purpose and used for another, it is in a wrong place. Man is a special machine, made for a certain purpose; he is made to be a recipient of certain higher influences coming from Worlds 3, 6, and 12; and because he can receive these influences from higher worlds he can become independent of the world surrounding him.

In a higher state of consciousness, man is subject to fewer laws. Most of the laws we have to obey are the result of our sleep and our unconsciousness. Every step we make in becoming more conscious sets us more free. If a man is satisfied with mechanical life, he cuts himself off from higher influences and receives only influences beginning with World 24. Certainly he is then in a worse position than a man who receives influences from higher worlds. Laws or influences from Worlds 3 and 6 can come only through higher mental centre and influences from World 12 through higher emotional centre.

You must also understand that many influences can be received mechanically but many others need effort. Moreover, influences received by man do not remain as they are, but are transformed in him. Much depends on how they are transformed.

Men 1, 2, and 3 are less responsible for what they do; Men 4 and above are more responsible: responsibility grows. An animal has nothing to lose, but a man has. When a man has started to grow, he has to pay for every mistake he makes. If we have no control, as in sleep, we have no responsibility; but if one has even a small possibility of control, a possibility of being more awake or less awake — as in our case — one is already responsible.

What is Justice?

Most people think justice is getting what we want and not what we deserve. Justice means some co-ordination between actions and results of actions. This certainly does not and cannot exist under the law of accident — and we live under the law of accident. When we know the chief laws, we understand we live in a really bad place in the Universe. But we cannot live in any other, so we must see what we can do here. Only we must not imagine things are better than they are.

The question of justice and injustice is a very good subject for thinking, because people spend much energy on this problem. They use the words: but they do not think out for themselves why they call one thing just and another unjust. Yet one thing is always connected with another, one thing inevitably follows from another. It is only our assumption that there must be justice on each scale.

Try to explain what is just and unjust. How can you know? People are machines. How can machines be just? It is not a quality that belongs to machines. If they are responsible, like Man 5, then you can speak about justice and injustice; but if they act in the way conditions and circumstances make them act, what can you expect?

Very often our idea of injustice is based on a very narrow view. We do not compare things and see that it is the natural order of things. We cannot speak about injustice so long as we think of it as an exception. When we see it as a rule, we may think of how to escape from it. There can be no justice in our present state, no justice in prison. When we realise we are in prison, the only thing we can seriously think about is how to escape, not sit and cry about injustice in prison.

People are machines. They are pushed in a certain way and they roll; when they hit a wall, they stop and begin to roll back.

Circles of Humanity

Justice, like many other things, depends on place. Let us start placing it from the point of view of the system. We start with the division of humanity into different circles. Now we can see where the misunderstanding about justice arises. Justice begins in the second circle when people begin to understand one another better; and there is more justice in the circle inside that one and still more in the innermost circle. In the outer circle containing Men 1, 2, and 3, justice, like everything else, can only be accidental. We want to find justice here, in the outer circle. But, like many other things real and imaginary — such as positive emotion, knowledge of certain things like future life, understanding between people, and so on — justice, if it exists at all, exists only in the inner circles; here, in the outer circle, it is impossible.

Things in this circle will remain as they are; but we can escape. It needs much knowledge to know from what we can escape and from what we cannot escape. But the first lesson we must learn, the first thing that prevents our escaping, is that we do not even realise the necessity of knowing our position. Whoever knows it is already in a better position.

Orders of Laws

We can understand the laws of man by analogy with the laws of the higher worlds. If we take World 6, we see that there are six orders of laws, three from the world above and three of its own. So we can say that the laws belonging to World 6 are half the totality of laws under which it exists. Taking World 12, three laws of its own make one half, equivalent to the other nine laws which make the other half; and so on, until we come to man. Three laws of man's own are equivalent to one half of the total number of laws under which man lives. You will see from this that the finer the forces, the less of them comes to man. 'Local' forces occupy half the place, and may even occupy the whole — in which case the other forces may not work at all. All depends upon which influences we are open to — higher or lower.

Planetary forces may create wars. The whole Solar System is a unit, so everything in it is connected with cosmic causes and it all affects life on Earth. Causes of things that happen on Earth are often outside the Earth. But when there are causes that can produce wars, much depends on the state of humanity at a given place and time. People can show more or less resistance. If people at a certain time in a given country are in a better state, they show more resistance.

These are not arbitrary statements. They come from the system. I did not invent the system. It comes from higher mind. I started with the psychological aspect to give you the possibility of evaluating these ideas for yourselves. If you have this possibility, you will be patient with statements which you do not yet fully understand.

In seeking to free ourselves from laws, we are working against nature: but nature is a relative term. In these concentric circles of worlds within worlds, if you work against nature you work against one circle but it may not be against another circle. It is not all one nature. You cannot work against nature outside of Nature; if you go outside of one nature, you are still inside another nature.

Man cannot go away from the Earth, but he can be under different laws while remaining in the same position and on the same Earth. He can be under one set of laws or under another set of laws, and it is possible to observe this if we know what it means. We can observe people living under different sets of laws in ordinary life, and when we prove it even in a small way, we can easily understand that it can go further. You must think what it means to live under different laws. Even such as we are, we have a certain choice: maybe not a full choice, but we can change many things just by choosing rightly.

Choice is not so much a question of knowledge but of being. Man lives under influences coming from different parts of the Universe. In one state one kind of influence predominates, in another state another kind. In the life of the same man, he can be one day under one kind of influence and another day under another.

When you started studying the system, you must have had many questions and thoughts about the world, about the relation of different things, and about yourself in the world. Study of laws gives you a new point of view: you had thoughts about things in one way and now, through these new principles, you begin to think in another way.

This is practical, not theoretical; and certainly it will help understanding to grow, because it will create a firm ground for it. The Ray of Creation is a system of elimination, of simplification. It does away with all knowledge which is not practical. With the help of the Ray of Creation we eliminate from the Universe all that has no personal relation to us, all that cannot be understood practically. It enables us to use the principle of scale. This applies to our perception of things; and yet, from another point of view, it also refers to things in themselves. This must be understood: it is not only subjective, because things on different scales are under different laws.

Besides, all big ideas like the Ray of Creation and the fundamental laws of the Universe are necessary because they keep our thought in the right channels. They do not let it spread without any results and so they also help self-remembering. If you discard them, if you try only to self-remember and exclude all other ideas, it will not come.