Lecture 27 — Esoteric Schools

by P D Ouspensky

Contents List:

School for Being
Three Lines of Work
Understanding and Conditions
Mind and Emotion
School and Student Aims
Practical Work
Understanding Work
Group Work
Octaves and Limitation
Personal Work and Profit
Expansion of Work

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See also:

Consciousness, Laws, and Influences
Four Ways to Immortality
Personal Integration
Man's Place in the World

School for Being

In these lectures we have so far spoken about man — not enough, but sufficient for practical purposes; we have spoken a little about the Universe; but the idea of school and school-work is still very vague and sometimes mixed with formatory conceptions which do not lead anywhere. The idea of school must be taken simply: that is to say, a school is a place where you can learn something. But there must always be a certain order in things, and you cannot learn without following this order.

Speaking of schools connected with some kind of higher schools (without this connection a school has no meaning) I said that in such schools you must work on your being at the same time as your knowledge, because otherwise all your knowledge will be quite useless and you will derive no profit from it. Esoteric ideas that are not taken practically become mere philosophy — intellectual gymnastics that can lead nowhere.

I have given you all the words necessary for the study of the system and explained the position of the system in relation to other systems. You will remember that I have spoken about different ways and that this system belongs to the Fourth Way, that is, it has all the features and peculiarities of schools of the Fourth Way. Then I said that a school depends on the level of the people who study in it, and level depends upon the level of being.

For development of being, a school is necessary, i.e., many people working in the same direction according to school principles and methods. Many people working together can do things that one man cannot do. When I met this system I very soon became convinced that it was connected with schools and in this way had passed through recorded and unrecorded history. During this time methods were invented and perfected.

Three Lines of Work

Schools can be of different degrees, but at present I take as a school every kind of preparatory school leading in a certain direction. Any organisation that can be called a 'school' of the Fourth Way introduces three forces into its work. What is important to understand is that there is a kind of secret in school-work, not in the sense of something actually hidden, but something that has to be explained.

The idea is that if we take school-work as an ascending octave, we know that in each octave there are two hiccups or gaps — between mi and fa and between si and do. [See Universal Octaves — Ed.] In order to pass over these gaps without changing the character of the line of the work, it is necessary to know how to fill them. So if I want to guarantee the direction of the work in a straight line, I must work on three lines simultaneously. If I work on only one line, or on two lines, the direction of the work will change. But if I work on three lines, or three octaves, one line will help another to pass the hiccup by giving the necessary shock. It is very important to understand this. School-work uses many cosmic ideas, and three lines of work is a special arrangement to safeguard the right direction of the work and to make it successful.

The first line is work on oneself: self-study, study of the system, and trying to change at least the most mechanical manifestations. The second line is work with other people. One cannot work by oneself; a certain friction, inconvenience, and difficulty of working with other people creates the necessary shocks. The third line is work for the school, for the organisation. This last line takes on different aspects for different people.

The principle of three lines is that the three octaves must go on simultaneously and parallel to one another, but they do not all begin at the same time. So, when one line reaches a hiccup, another line comes in to overcome it, since the places of these hiccups do not coincide. If a man is equally energetic on all three lines, it keeps him out of many accidental happenings.

Naturally, the first line begins first. In the first line of work, you take knowledge, ideas, and help. This line concerns only yourself; it is entirely egocentric. On the second line one must not only take but also give: communicate knowledge and ideas, serve as an example, and many other things. It concerns people in the work, so on this line one works half for oneself and half for other people. On the third line one must think of the work in general, about the school or the organisation as a whole. One must think about what is useful, what is necessary for the school, what the school needs; so the third line concerns the whole idea of a school and all the present and the future of the work. If a man does not think about this and does not understand it, then the first two lines will not produce their full effect. This is how school-work is arranged and this is why three lines are necessary — one can get additional shocks and the full benefit of the work only if one works on three lines.

If we connect the three lines of work with the idea of right and wrong, then all that helps the first line, that is, one's personal work, is right. But on the second line you cannot have it all to yourself. You have to think of other people in the work, you have to learn not only to understand but to explain; you must give to others. And you will soon see that you can understand certain things only by explaining to others. The circle becomes larger, right and wrong become bigger. The third line already relates to the outside world, and good and bad become what helps or hinders the existence and work of the whole school, so the circle becomes still larger. This is the way to think about it.

I particularly draw your attention to the study and understanding of the idea of three lines. It is one of the chief principles of school work. If you apply it, many things will open up for you. This system is full of such instruments. If we use them, they open many doors.

Understanding and Conditions

The first principle of the work is that efforts give results proportionate to understanding. If you do not understand, there will be no results; if you do understand, the results will be according to how much you understand. So the first condition is understanding, and even before that one must know what to understand and how to get the right understanding. Real work must be work on being, but work on being requires understanding of the aims, conditions, and methods of the work. The aim of the work is to establish a school. For this purpose it is necessary to work according to school methods and school rules, and to work on three lines.

There are two conditions of the work with which one must begin: first, that one must not believe anything but must verify everything; second, that one must not do anything until one understands why one does it and for what purpose. These two conditions must be understood and remembered. It is true that one may realise that one does not know anything and does not know what to do. Then one can always ask for advice: but if one asks, one has to accept and follow it.

So far, you have worked on the first line. You have studied what was given and explained to you, and you have tried to understand. Now, if you wish to continue, you must try to work on the second line and, if possible, on the third line. You must try to think how to find more work on the first line, how to pass to work on the second line, and how to approach work on the third line. Without this, your study will give no results.

Now ask questions until you are satisfied that you understand about the three lines of work — what each line means, why they are necessary, what is necessary for each of them, and so on. The profit you may get is always proportionate to your understanding. The more consciously you work, the more you can get. That is why it is so important that all this should be explained and understood.

Mind and Emotion

In the beginning, all depends on the mind. Mind must be educated; it must awaken. Later, it will depend on emotion. For this one needs a school: one must meet other people who know more than one does oneself and one must discuss things with them. Certainly, if you remain by yourself, you will forget the things you learn because there are so many momentums in us that things just disappear from our mind. That is why a man cannot work alone and only the combined work of many people together can produce the necessary results. There are many obstacles, many factors, which keep us asleep and make it impossible for us to awaken. Things we learn will just disappear if nothing helps them. What can help them? Only other people.

First one must work on acquiring knowledge, material, and practice. Then, when one has got a certain amount, one begins to work with other people in such a way that one person is useful to another and helps another. On the second line, because of a certain special organisation, one is in a position to work for other people, not only for oneself. And later one may understand in which way one may be useful to the school. It is all a question of understanding. On the third line, you work for the school only, not for yourself.

If you work on those three lines, after some time this organisation will become a school for you; but for other people who work only on one line, it will not be a school. You remember I said that a school is an organisation where you can not only acquire knowledge but also change your being. A school of this nature is not always the same: it has magical qualities, and may be one kind of school for one person and something quite different for another person. You must understand that all you can receive, all ideas, all possible knowledge, all help, comes from school. But the school does not guarantee anything. Take an ordinary university where only knowledge and instruction are given. It can guarantee you only a certain amount of knowledge, and even that only if you work. But when the idea of change of being enters, no guarantee is possible. People may be in the same school, in the same organisation, but on different levels.

School and Student Aims

Before we can understand the aims of schools, we must prepare ourselves for understanding them. We have school ideas, so we must make use of them: that will help us to understand schools. If we do nothing ourselves and merely talk about schools, it will create nothing but imagination. We must draw profit from the ideas we have. If we draw no profit from them, schools will not exist for us. You must have your own aim and it must coincide with, or enter into, the aim of the school. In relation to an individual, the aim can refer only to the present; in relation to a school, the aim will be for a longer time.

It may help if I remind you how this work began. A very long time ago I came to the conclusion that many things existed in man that could be awakened, but I saw that this did not lead anywhere because one moment they were awakened and another moment they disappeared because there was no control. So I realised that school was necessary and I began to look for a school — again in connection with these powers which I called 'miraculous'. Eventually I found a school and found many ideas. These are the ideas we are studying now. For this study, an organisation is necessary: first, in order that people can learn these ideas; and second, in order that they may be prepared for a further stage.

This is one of the reasons for an organisation, and only those people can have a place in it who have done something for themselves already. As long as they are in the power of false personality they cannot be useful, either to themselves or to the work. So the first aim of everyone who is interested in the work is to study himself and find what must be changed. Only when certain things are changed does one become ready for active work. One thing must be connected with another. One must understand that personal study is connected with the organisation and with the study of general ideas. With the help of these ideas we can find much more: the more you have, the more you can find.

Practical Work

Work is never at an end: the end is far. It cannot be theoretical: each of these ideas must become practical. There are many things in this system that an ordinary man cannot invent. Some things one can discover by oneself; some other things one can understand only if one is given them; and there is a third kind of things which one cannot understand at all. It is necessary to understand these gradations.

From the first lecture you were given material for self-observation and for practical work. You must think what you need besides lectures and discussions. You need instruction, you need to be shown the way. One cannot find the way by oneself; it is the state of human beings that they can be shown the way, but they cannot find it by themselves.

You enter the second line of work in this way: groups of workers have been going on for a long time, and there were people and groups before you. One of the principles of school work is that one can get instruction and advice not only from a lecturer but also from people who have been studying before you came, perhaps for many years. Their experience is very important for you because, even if I wished it, I could not give you more time than is possible for me. Other people have to supplement what I can give you, and you, on your side, must learn how to use them, how to profit by their experience, how to get from them what they can give you.

Experience shows that in order to get what is possible to get from these ideas, a certain organisation is necessary, organisation of groups of people not only for discussing things but also for working together as, for instance, in the garden, in the house, or on the farm, or doing some other work that can be organised and started. When people work together at anything for the sake of experience, they begin to see in themselves and in other people different things which they do not notice when they just discuss. Discussion is one thing and work is another. So in all schools there exist different kinds of organised work, and people can always find what will suit them without unnecessary sacrifices, because sacrifices are not expected.

But you must think about it. You must realise that so far people have looked after you, talked to you, helped you. Now you have to learn to look after yourselves, and later you will not only have to look after yourselves but also look after new people. This also will be part of your work.

Understanding Work

The chief point I speak about is understanding. I mean understanding of the work, of the necessity for work, of the requirements of the work, of the general plan of the work, and of interest in all of the work. This is what is obligatory. One cannot understand the methods of the work until one understands its general direction. Understanding the direction will help one to understand more things than one wants to understand. One cannot avoid one's share in this part of the work. Any one who avoids it for whatever reason cannot acquire any more.

Some people do not understand the very beginning of the work; they do not think about work as work; they take it in the ordinary way. After a certain time, it is necessary to make a personal evaluation of the work. If everything is taken for granted or from the point of view of ordinary work, nothing changes. Much depends on personal attitude and personal work. A school for one person is not a school for another.

Before beginning to study, one must decide what one really wants to know. It is quite possible that what we study here will not interest you, and you find that you don't need it at all. So you must first try to find more or less what you want, otherwise you may waste your time. Then you must understand certain fundamental principles, else you will fail to understand many other things.

Group Work

A very important principle is that a person cannot study the system alone, and it is necessary to understand why. There are many reasons. The first is very simple and obvious — one cannot have a teacher all to oneself. If you find someone who can teach this system, he will not spend his time on one person; and without someone who can explain things and work with you, you can do nothing. Secondly, if you try to work alone, you cannot put someone else in your place, and at a certain moment this becomes very necessary in order to pass to the next degree of knowledge and being.

You will remember what I said about the staircase in Lecture 5 in connection with the explanation of the growth of magnetic centre and the work following? I said that a man can rise to the next step of the staircase only by putting another man in his place. This means that one climbs up this staircase which represents the difference in levels between ordinary life and what is called the Way. The Way does not begin on the same level as ordinary life; one has to go up higher to reach it. This means that the level of our understanding, our ordinary mind, even our ordinary feelings have to be changed.

Only, in thinking about putting other people in one's place, it is very important to avoid one dangerous mistake. Some people are inclined to think that this must be their individual work. They fail to understand that this expression is a formulation of a general principle. It is childish to think that it can be done by one person transmitting these ideas to another. People cannot do it and it cannot be demanded of them, because individual work can refer only to oneself. Putting people in one's place is school work, that is, joint efforts of all the people belonging to the school. All school work is organised with this purpose in view and the different branches of the work all pursue the same end: to put new people in the place occupied by the people who are there at present, and in this way to help them rise to other steps.

Those who have studied the ideas of the system before you themselves want to go further. For that they have to help other people to know what they know. They cannot do it by themselves, so they help to arrange lectures and other things for newer people. This is part of the general plan of school work. The principle of the work is that everyone must do what he can. Then, when other people come, it is for them to do what others have done before them. A certain period of effort is necessary and everyone must share in it.

In a school, certain sharp corners are smoothed out. People have to adapt to one another, and this is generally very useful. Further, one is surrounded by mirrors: one can see oneself in every other person.

There are no imposed obligations. Obligation come from work. The more one does, the more obligations one has. If one does nothing, nothing is asked of one. Mr Gurdjieff said it was dangerous to do something in the work if you did not want difficult things to be asked of you.

Octaves and Limitation

Every line in the work, everything in the world, goes by octaves — increasing, decreasing, passing hiccups, and so on. If you work on all three lines, when you come to a hiccup in your personal work, another line of work may be going well and will help you to pass that hiccup. Or your individual work may be going well and may help you to pass a hiccup in some other line.

One thing to understand in the work is that one cannot be free. Certainly, freedom is an illusion, for we are not free anyway: we depend on people, on things, for everything. But we are accustomed to think that we are free and like to think of ourselves as free. Yet at a certain moment we must give up this imaginary freedom. If we keep this 'freedom', we can have no chance of learning anything.

Personal Work and Profit

You must feel that school work is your own work. A school can exist only when people feel not outside it but inside, when they think of it as 'home'. Only then will they benefit from it and know how they may be useful to the work.

You remember the parable in the New Testament about a man finding a pearl and selling everything to go and buy it. There are also other small parables which are all pictures of a personal attitude. If you can imagine someone taking these situations impersonally, they would be quite different. The New Testament always shows the necessity of a personal attitude, of personal interest and profit.

Many things become possible if we think about them in the right way. Every problem connected with the work, if understood rightly, gives you something; there is nothing from which you cannot get more profit than you do now. The first thing to learn in this system is how to get things; everything you do must be done for a purpose — your own purpose.

In relation to the third line it is very important to understand the general idea of why this work exists and how to help it. The idea is to establish a school, that is, to work according to school rules and principles, first studying these rules and principles and then applying them in practice. Many conditions are necessary for that. One of these conditions is that people are necessary. There are people who are prepared, who are capable of developing these ideas, but they do not know them. So it is necessary to find the right kind of people and give them these ideas. But for that one must first understand these ideas oneself.

Expansion of Work

Sometimes I am asked why expansion should be necessary for a system that is meant only for a few. It is quite true that this system cannot belong to all, or even to many. But we must make every effort to give it to as many people as possible. Expansion of the ideas of the system will be limited by the nature of the ideas themselves and by people's inertia and their incapacity to understand these ideas. But it must not be limited by our own inertia.

The system can reach the right people, people who can not only take but also give, only if it is given to a large number of people. Small groups, if they think that they can keep the ideas to themselves, will distort and spoil them. Distortion can be avoided only if work grows and if many people know about it. Small groups, limited and unchanging, will always add something personal to it. So the more the work grows, the more each individual can get from it.

Another reason why schools exist on too small a scale is that only a certain number of people gives a sufficient variety of types. For successful group-work, variety of types is necessary, otherwise there is no friction, no opposition. People would think they understood one another.