Lecture 28 — More About School

by P D Ouspensky

Contents List:

Supporting a School
Attitude and Discipline
School Rules
Conquering Self-will
Time and Growth
Organising for Opportunities
School-work and Other Work
Preparation and Evaluation

Return to:


See also:

Esoteric Schools
Human Metabolism

Supporting a School

We cannot start a school. A school starts from another school. If people meet together and say 'Let us start a school', it will not be a Fourth Way school. But if a school is started, how to continue, how to develop — that is what you must think about. And for this you must first understand what work on three lines means and then you must work on three lines.

In a sense, the work must be selfish. The first line of work is selfish, for there you hope to gain something for yourself. The second line is mixed — you have to take other people into consideration, so it is less selfish. The third line is not selfish at all, because it is something you do for the school, not with the idea of gaining something from the school. So the system includes in itself both what is selfish and what is not selfish.

When you begin to understand, this marks a definite moment in the work. Suppose you are in contact with a certain school — which level, or whether good or bad we do not enter into. In this school you get certain knowledge. But what do you give in exchange? In what way do you help the school? That is the third line.

I am often asked what the third line means, how to understand it, and how to start working on it. This question never presented any difficulty for me personally. From the moment I met the system I felt that it was bigger and more important than anything I ever knew and, at the same time, that it was known only to a small group of people. There were no organisations behind it, no help, nothing. Science, art, theatres, and literature had their universities, museums, books, a large following of people, the help of government, the help of society: and at the same time their combined content was very small compared with the system. At best they were only preparation for the system — and in spite of this they had all and the system had nothing.

These were my ideas when I met this system. I decided to work on this line, and this was the third line of work.

It is quite clear that the work needs an organisation and a place for all the people who want to come, and therefore it is necessary to find people who understand this need and are willing and able to support the work in every way they can. Take as an example an ordinary school. It requires a certain plan and organisation and a certain number of people to run it. One must know who will do one thing and who will do another.

So everyone who wants to go on must realise that this work, its existence and its welfare, is his business; that he must think about it and try to understand its requirements. He must regard it as his personal concern that the work should go on, and not leave all this to other people. The most important thing is to make it one's own concern, to think of it as one's own work.

There is a Russian proverb: if you like coasting downhill you must like pulling the toboggan uphill. If someone says, 'I am interested in the first line but not in the third', it is the same as saying 'I like coasting downhill but do not like pulling the toboggan uphill'.

Try to think that I may go away and the work, as it is now, may disappear. Look at it from this point of view; do not take it as a permanent institution.

You may ask: 'How can I learn to contribute to the work?' Sometimes one may be in a position to put the question in that form, but sometimes it is sufficient to understand what may be given, not what you can give — to know what is useful and necessary for the work without relation to yourself. Only then can you understand what may be useful at a given moment and see whether you can do something at that moment or not. So before you can put 'I' into it, you must understand what can be done in general, what the work needs. Only later can you put 'I' into it.

I do not consider so much what one or another person actually does, but I consider very much what he thinks. That is what is important. If he thinks and feels rightly, opportunity may come. He may not have the opportunity to do anything today, but circumstances may change and opportunity may present itself. But if he does not care about this side of things, if he does not understand it and does not think rightly about it, he deprives himself of the possibility to gain what he wants to gain.


Schools must be kept alive. If people cannot work in school conditions, how can they work without these conditions? Experience shows that with all possible help, a long time is necessary to get some results: so if one has to work alone, there is still less chance. It is impossible to say what will happen in one or another case. One tends to forget the most elementary things one has learnt. Even what one thinks one has understood can be forgotten in a couple of weeks. Even with the best intentions, people distort ideas. If they do not come to groups, they must continue to think; if they have problems, they ask themselves questions and have to find answers. One of the usual forms of distortion by people who work alone or in separate groups is that they take some kind of explanation as if it were a principle.

But if a man has learnt to remember himself, his state and conditions have changed.


In the work the first condition is understanding what one wants to gain and how much one is prepared to pay for it. One has to pay for everything. Sometimes one wants things without realising what is involved and how much there is to pay. This means that everything one may acquire needs a certain effort, and in order to make this effort consciously, one must know why one is doing it and what one can get by this effort. It is very important also to understand in which conditions one can work and without which it is useless to try to work.

Payment is a principle. It is necessary not only to the school but to the people themselves, for without paying they will not get anything. The idea of payment is very important and it must be understood that payment is absolutely necessary. One can pay in one way or another way and everyone has to find out that way for himself. But nobody can get anything that he does not pay for. Things cannot be given; they can only be bought. It is magical, not simple. If one has knowledge, one cannot give it to another person, for only if he pays for it can the other person have it. This is a cosmic law.

The idea of payment is very strongly emphasised in the New Testament, for instance in several beautiful parables in Matthew 13. Man has to be a good merchant; he must know what to buy and how much to pay. Things cannot fall from heaven; they cannot be found; they must be bought. What one can get is proportionate to what one is prepared to pay. And one has to pay in advance — there is no credit.

As a general principle, paying in advance means that if you are doing certain work and want to have something connected with it, then if you make it useful for the school, you earn the right to have it.

It is because so many want something for nothing that they have nothing. If we really decided to go for this kind of knowledge — or even for quite a small thing — and we went for it regardless of everything else, we would get it. This is a very important point. We say that we want knowledge, but we don't really. We will pay for anything else, but for this we are not prepared to pay: and so, as a result, we get nothing.

The first payment is, of course, taking the trouble to study and to understand the things you hear. It is not yet payment in itself, but it creates the possibility of payment. Payment, in the true sense of the word, must be useful not only to you but to someone else — to the school. But if you are not useful to yourself, you cannot be useful to the school or to anyone else.

Payment always means a certain effort, certain 'doing', different from what you would do ordinarily; and it must be necessary or useful to the work. Efforts may be payment, but they must be useful, and not only to you. It is necessary to understand the work in general and the needs of the work. When one understands all that, one will find ways of doing something useful. Attitude depends on yourself and on your understanding; opportunity depends on circumstances.


Payment is sacrifice. But what you have to sacrifice is only non-existent things, imaginary things. Nearly all our values are imaginary. In the work one acquires new values and loses imaginary values.

Generally, paying must be difficult, not easy. We cannot have new things and old things: there is no room for them. So first we must make room for the new things by discarding the old. If we want much, we must give much.

We may persuade ourselves that we want to change, but at the same time we want to keep every small thing we already have. So where is the change? Change is impossible if one wants to keep everything. To think about changing, one must also think about what one would give up.

However, I am perfectly sure that in most cases people can continue to do what they have to do and live as they are accustomed to live. There is nothing in the ordinary occupations of life that cannot become work if one tries to remember oneself, tries not to identify, tries to understand that everything happens, and so on. It is not necessary to change circumstances; on the contrary, changing circumstances could make matters worse, especially in the beginning. Later it may be useful, but not at first.

School teaches one to discriminate as to what work one is really capable of. But it does not teach you just to work for people in general; it teaches you to work for the school, and in this way you learn what you can do and how to do it.

You must first work for yourself; without that you cannot get anything. You must learn to be useful to yourself, to change yourself. Secondly you must learn to be useful to people in the school; you must help them. Finally, you must learn to help the school as a whole. Only by working on all three lines can you get full benefit from the school.

Like many other things, these three lines of work cannot be defined in words. At the same time the idea is very clear. The moment you understand it you will ask yourself: 'Why did I want definitions? It is quite clear without words!' You must try to remember all that was said about it, for many things have already been said on this subject. For instance, you remember what was said about prison.

I remember a conversation with Mr Gurdjieff many years ago. He put it in a very simple form. He said: 'One can be useful to oneself; one can be useful to other people; one can be useful to me.' He represented the school. That describes the three lines of work. And he added: 'If one is useful only to oneself and cannot be useful to me or to other people, it will not last long'.

Attitude and Discipline

There are organisations that help people to work on all three lines. But an organisation cannot help by itself, because each line must be based on some kind of attitude. An organisation cannot replace an attitude, but at the same time an organisation is necessary for understanding certain things. For instance, one of the most important things in the work is understanding discipline. If one understands this idea of discipline, one finds the possibility to work against self-will. If one does not understand it, one will think one works; but in reality one will not work, because it will be only self-will.

Study of discipline is connected with the second line of work. Without understanding school discipline, one cannot have inner discipline. There are people who could do good work and who fail because they lack discipline. Yet change of being is possible only with school-work and school discipline. For a certain period of time one must have it and then, later, one can work by oneself. Discipline is connected with rules. Rules are the conditions under which people are accepted and given knowledge in a school. Keeping these rules or conditions is their first payment and their first test.

School Rules

One of the most important things in every kind of school is the idea of rules. If there are no rules, there is no school. If it is an imitation school there will be imitation rules, but there must be some kind of rules. One definition of a school is that it is a certain number of people who accept and follow certain rules. Rules are not for convenience or for comfort: they are for inconvenience and discomfort: and in that way they help self-remembering.

You must understand that all rules are for self-remembering, although each rule also has a purpose in itself. If there are no rules and the importance of rules is not understood, there is no work.

The important thing to realise about rules is that there is really only one principle governing rules: that one must not do anything that is unnecessary. Try to understand that. Why cannot we 'do' in the right sense? It is because we do so many unnecessary things. Before we can 'do', we must first learn not to do anything unnecessary — first in connection with the work, and later in connection with our own lives. It may take a long time, but this is the way to learn. You must do this, you must not do that; this is all specifications, but there is only one principle. Until you understand this fundamental principle, you have to try to follow the specific rules which are given.

Rules are particularly important in connection with organisation of groups because, since people come without knowing one another and without knowing what it is all about, certain rules have to be imposed. For instance, one of the rules that apply to new people is that they should not talk to people outside about what they hear at lectures. People begin to realise the importance of this rule only when this form of talk turns against them, when their friends insist on their talking and they no longer want to talk. This rule is to help people not to lie, because when they speak about things they do not know, they naturally begin to lie. So if, after listening to one or two lectures, people begin to talk about what they have heard and express their opinions, they begin to lie. Most people are too impatient; they do not give themselves enough time; they come to conclusions too soon, and so cannot help lying.

But the chief reason for this rule is that it is a principle of school-work not to give ideas but to keep them from people, and to give them only under certain conditions which safeguard them from being distorted, otherwise they will be distorted the next day. We have had enough experience of that. It is very important to prevent these ideas from deteriorating, because it may be said that a school is something where people and ideas do not die. In life both people and ideas die — not at once, but slowly.

Another reason for this rule is that it is a test, an exercise of will, an exercise of memory and understanding. You come here on certain conditions: the first condition is that you must not talk, and you must remember it. This helps enormously to self-remember, because it goes against all ordinary habits. Your ordinary habit is to talk without discrimination. But in relation to these ideas, you must discriminate.


For quite a long time, what you learn in a school cannot be applied to help anyone but yourself. If you try to do something with only a little amount of knowledge, you will distort it. It is necessary to have more, because only then will you be able to judge whether or not you can do something with it in a given case — whether you can give something to this person or that.

Besides, everything is this system must be explained fully or not touched at all. In order to explain one thing you have to explain another. For us, many things are facts, or at least should be facts. If you tell them to people who have not gone slowly through this study, for them it will be something like faith. They will either believe or not believe, and since these things mostly go against ordinary ideas, it would be much easier for them to disbelieve. So why should we produce more disbelievers? It is impossible to convey these ideas sufficiently clearly to people who do not study them.

Until it becomes easy, you cannot begin to do anything; everything will be transformed into talk and will remain only talk. Only when you are able to keep silent, keep something to yourself, can you accumulate more knowledge or material. If you make a hole in a balloon, the contents of the balloon will escape. If you make a hole in yourself, something will also escape. Rules are difficult to keep, but by remembering rules and obeying rules you accumulate conscious energy. This is chiefly why rules are made.

Conquering Self-will

Emotional development needs discipline. Nothing develops the emotional centre so much as giving up self-will. Rules are connected with the idea of conduct. When we become Men No. 5, our conduct will be perfect compared to what it is now. But we are not Men No. 5, so we must have rules. If we remember rules, understand and follow them, our conduct will be consistent and will lead in a definite direction; it will no longer be the erratic conduct of Men 1, 2, and 3.

All the ways need discipline. This explains why one cannot work by oneself. One cannot create discipline by oneself. If one understands this work, then discipline takes the form that one does not decide for oneself but works according to instructions. It takes a long time to acquire will, for self-will has to be conquered first. In the meantime another will is necessary — the will of the school, of the organisation.

But there can be no rules on the first and third lines. There you must do what you can; there must be initiative and the work must be free. On the second line, there must be discipline and you must be able to forget your own interests, your own likes and dislikes.

One must understand the necessity of working with people whether one likes them or not. When you begin to understand that it is physically impossible to work alone, that it is only because of these other people that you yourself can work, that will be understanding — but it will not yet be the second line. You must understand that the people you meet in school are as necessary for you as the system itself. That will be a beginning.

[At this point, it may be helpful to read Thomas Troward's essay on Submission — Ed.]

Time and Growth

This work is what it is because we are not what we might be. There is a certain principle in the work — time is counted. For every person certain demands are made. If you have been in the work for only one month, demands are small; next month they grow; after six months they are bigger. Payment means first of all being able to meet demands. Demands always grow. If you work, if you grow, you will be able to meet the demands; otherwise, not.

Do not worry about giving things up for the sake of the work. When it is necessary to give something up, it becomes quite clear. If you do not see what you have to give up, it means that it is not yet the time to think about it. Intellectual thinking about it is quite useless, for when you have to give something up, it never comes in the form of a puzzle. Maybe some day you will see some particular kind of negative emotion and realise that if you want to keep it you cannot work. Or it may be some kind of imagination.

It may seem paradoxical that in order to get free from laws, it is necessary to submit to many more laws for a certain time. One reason for this is that we are too lenient with ourselves; if we set ourselves a task, after some time we begin to make excuses, and then we deceive ourselves too much.

So if people want to continue to study, they must accept certain conditions. This means they must make the study practical. If people do not take the work seriously enough, it is a waste of time. You have a right to go away and I have a right to stop lectures, so there are no obligations on either side. I have other work to do, but my giving up my time to do this is necessary because it is the only way to establish a school. If I can say, 'If I die tomorrow, work will continue', it will mean that a school is established. If it depends wholly on me, it will mean that the school is not of sufficient strength.

It is more difficult to be objective about other people than about oneself. If you become objective to yourself, you can see other people objectively, but not before, because before that it will be coloured by your own views, attitudes, tastes, likes, and dislikes. To be objective, you must be free from all that. You can become objective to yourself in the state of self-consciousness; this is the first experience of coming into contact with the real object.


A good shock makes energy quickly. But shocks can be of three kinds: somebody else can give it to you; you can give it to yourself; or it may come accidentally. Nothing else can create energy quickly. A good shock can make you remember yourself and remember the shock. It may be so good that you will be unable to forget it for some time; that will make you more emotional and the emotional centre will produce energy.

Accidental shocks don't count. Things happen; people find money in the street, but you cannot rely on it. When we speak about 'giving shocks', we speak about conscious shocks.

We must understand how things happen. We must do something and then come to a hiccup [See The Octave — Ed.] without so much as realising the existence of hiccups or knowing about their possibilities. This is our situation. Before we come to the possibility of aiming and attaining, we must understand that this is very far from us and we must study hiccups in the given examples — such as the food diagram. By studying these hiccups and the two conscious shocks which were explained, by learning to produce them we may come to the possibility of quite a different kind of shock — but not before that.

As a matter of fact, if we could produce enough necessary shocks that are strong enough, there would be practically nothing we could not attain. The only thing we need is shocks, but we cannot make them. Even if we think of them, we are not confident enough, we do not trust ourselves, we do not know for certain that this shock will produce the desired effect. That is why organised work includes in itself many shocks, so it is not left to ourselves. We are so fast asleep that no shocks waken us — we do not notice them.


Realisation of our mechanicalness already gives us some choice, but it does not bring the power to 'do'. One can know and not be able to do anything. It is most unpleasant if one begins to see things but is unable to do anything about them. That is why in some cases it is better not to begin working unless one is ready to go on to the end. Otherwise one may remain between two stools.

The idea of choice is a contradictory idea. From one point of view there is no choice; from a second point of view there is choice; from a third, again, no choice; and all are true. It is a very complicated idea. For instance, in the work there is choice, but work is connected with life outside. Things may become so bad that there is no choice. Then, perhaps, there is a moment of choice, but if we miss it, we miss it.

Such moments can be recognised only by finding them in the work, because this system is a method of acquiring new knowledge and power and, at the same time, a means of exercising this knowledge and power. Here we have more possibility to choose. If we exercise it, then perhaps later we will be able to apply it to other things.

Organising for Opportunities

This idea is connected with crossroads. Crossroads are moments when one can 'do'. A moment comes when one can help in this work or not. If an opportunity comes and one misses it, another may not come for perhaps a year, or even longer, unless one arranges to use organised work which may make permanent opportunities. Everybody is given the opportunity, but an individual person cannot organise work on the second line for himself; it must be arranged.

In this connection it was found by experience that physical work is very useful in school. In some schools there are special physical exercises; but, in the absence of these, physical work takes their place. All this refers to the second line — it must be organised work. The idea is that when a certain number of people work together — in the house, in the garden, with animals, and so on — it is not easy. Individually they can work, but working together is difficult. They are critical of one another; they get in one another's way; they take things from one another. It is very good help for self-remembering. If a person is interested in the idea, he can try it, but only if he feels the need of it. You must not think there is some kind of magical help. Work means action. Theoretically, all work with other people is second line, but you must not think that being in the same room with other people, or doing the same work, is already second line. You do not yet know what the second line of work is.

Physical work — not sport, but hard work, one kind for one person, another kind for another person — puts centres right. Centres are connected with a certain way and energies are distributed in a certain way. When people are idle, centres try to do one another's work and, because of that, physical work is a very reliable method for making them work better. This method is largely used in schools. In modern life, particularly with some people, wrong work of centres saps all the energy. But of course, even in organised work, if one works with identification it does not mean anything.

School-work and Other Work

There is an important difference between work in ordinary life and organised physical work in a school. Working anywhere else is much easier: you give yourself more freedom to choose the way to do it.

Suppose you work in your own garden. You will do the things you like doing and do them in your own way. You will choose your own tools, your own time, your own weather, everything. So you introduce much self-will into it. In organised work you have not only physical results; you also struggle with your self-will. Work does not cease to be dangerous by being specially organised, however, because in ordinary work, will always remains self-will; whereas in school-work self-will spoils the whole thing — and not only for oneself but also for other people. Self-will always knows better, and always wants to do things its own way. All organised work is a chance to work against self-will.

Besides, organised physical work needs emotional effort. That is why physical work cannot be called physical, because it is emotional as well. If it were only physical it would not be so profitable. If there is no emotional effort in the physical work you are doing, you must either increase your speed or increase the time of the effort in order to make it emotional. Try to do some physical work harder or longer than you can do it with ease, and you will see that it requires an emotional effort. We are, of course, speaking of physical work connected with the system. It is under quite different laws from ordinary work; you do it for a different purpose, and you have to remember why you do it.

Preparation and Evaluation

School is for those who are prepared for school. The beginning of school-work already means some preparation. In school, a new octave must begin. The duty of this personality which was magnetic centre now becomes valuation of the work, valuation of the system and of everything connected with the system. If valuation is there, personality will grow; if it is not there, it will not grow.

Becoming identified with a school means losing the school. One can be identified with the school by liking it too much, or criticising it too much, or believing in it too much.

In relation to the school, your actions are controlled by rules. Outside school you find that it is also necessary to apply certain principles which you use in school. If you do not try to apply them whenever you can, it is useless to know them. Then — this is not a rule or a principle — you will find even outside school that if you want to do something you must not do some other thing; in other words, you have to pay for everything — not in the sense of paying out money, but by some kind of 'sacrifice' (I do not like to use this word, but there is no other). In that way it will involve all your life.

The number of people in a school depends on the number of people who have a certain being and who can look after other people, teach and instruct them, and so on. A school is the result of long work. Even if you take this room and us sitting here talking, it is the result of thirty years' work of many people, and maybe many before them. This must be taken into account.

Besides, knowledge in our sense means knowledge connected with the possibility of development of being. This knowledge must come from another school and must be valuable. Suppose I make you learn by heart the dates of birth of all French presidents, what use will that be? Yet very often this is called knowledge.

You cannot have a right valuation of a thing you do not pay for. If it comes too easily, you do not value it. This is one side; another side of the question is that if you value a thing you will not give it away to other people. If you realise what effort has been put into it, how many people have worked and for how long, to give you this knowledge, you will not give it away for nothing. It would be a great injustice and, because they are not ready for it, it will be of no use to them. But this cannot happen, because they cannot take it anyway.

This school — any school in which you can be — is a very small thing on a cosmic scale. It may help you, but it is a great presumption on our part to think that it has any cosmic meaning. You want to have a certain knowledge, and you cannot get it until you meet a school: that is, a school that has obtained this knowledge from another school, not knowledge invented by ordinary men. This is the only idea from which you can start.

If we meet people of a higher level, we shall not recognise their being, but we can recognise their knowledge. We know the limits of our knowledge, so we can see when somebody knows more than we do. This is all that is possible in our present state. But we cannot see whether or not another person is conscious, or more conscious than we are. He may look the same. It is particularly interesting that some people who are more developed may even look less conscious, and we may take them to be more mechanical than we are.


The chief difficulty in understanding schools is that they cannot be diluted too much. If they become diluted they become their own opposite: they cease to mean anything or to have any purpose. When schools influenced humanity, humanity was very small and schools very big. Now humanity is very big and schools very small. For instance, schools under the name of different Mysteries influenced certain periods of Greek life, but Greece was a very small country. Egypt too was comparatively small, so it could be influenced. But how could this small school influence humanity at the present time?

I remember Mr Gurdjieff saying that 200 conscious people could influence humanity. We calculated once what this would mean. Suppose one Man 7 exists in the world, he must have at least a hundred pupils because he cannot be in contact with lower degrees by himself. So if there is one Man 7, he must have at least a hundred Men 6. Each of these Men 6 must have at least a hundred Men 5, so that makes 10,000 Men 5. Each of these 10,000 Men 5 must have at least a hundred Men 4 through whom he can have contact with other people, so there must be 1,000,000 Men 4. Each of these Men 4 must have at least a hundred Men 1, 2, and 3 with whom he can work, so that will make 100,000,000 Men 1, 2, and 3.

This means that, even if we suppose that a thousand makes one school, there would be 100,000 schools. Well, we know definitely that there is no such number of schools, so it is impossible to expect a Man 7, because the existence of such a man would mean that schools would control life. Even Man 6 would mean that schools control the world. This implies that Men 7 and 6 would be in the world only in special conditions, and it would be seen and known because it would mean that life would be controlled by schools. And since we know that if there are schools now, and they are very hidden, it cannot be so in our times.

I did not say that Man No. 7 cannot exist. I said we may have reason to think that he does not exist on this planet, because his existence would show itself. But that does not exclude the possibility that for some reason Men 7 may exist and not show themselves: only it is less probable.