Lecture 33 — Overcoming Personal Difficulties

by P D Ouspensky

Contents List:

Identifying Personal Difficulties
The Starting Point
Negative Emotions
Plan of Attack
Aids to Perseverance
Studying Thought
Energy Conservation
Potentially Useful Irritation
Negative Imagination
Imagination, Memory, and Attention
Development Through Suffering
Personal Responsibility
Right Thinking
Higher Emotional Thought
How to Become More Conscious
From Verification to Faith
Salvation and Immortality

Return to:


See also:

Noumena and Karma
Lecture for Degree XIII
Mind, Life, and Body

Identifying Personal Difficulties

The time has come for us to think about personal things that are near and practical. We have spoken much about theory, and we have a tendency to use too many words without asking ourselves what we mean by them. Now we must deal with facts; we must understand where we are and start from there. At any given moment there are things we could control but don't, whether through laziness, lack of knowledge, suspicion, or something else. Thinking about these things would be right thinking.

Try to find your personal difficulties. I do not mean difficulties of an external kind, but inner difficulties — personal features, personal inclinations and disinclinations, attitudes, prejudices, activities which can stop your understanding and prevent you from working.

All the difficulties you can meet with in your personal work can be roughly divided into three categories or classes:

These are the chief kinds of difficulties we have to find in ourselves. For one person one thing is more permanent; for another person, another thing. Later we may discover many more things, but in the beginning it will be roughly one of these.

One can have a difficulty that is most urgent, and everybody can find which of these three is his or hers. You must find what is most pressing to struggle against and concentrate on that. There must be reasons for deciding on one or another, but all three are applicable to everybody. For most people it is necessary to begin with negative emotions. For some others it is necessary to begin with imagination, for they invent things and so never come to real things. And for yet others it is necessary to struggle with formatory thinking, for if they don't they will always remain in the same place.

Before you can destroy negative emotions, you must get to know them. You must know in yourself the most important negative emotion, because everybody has a pet one and you must begin with that. When you know where to begin, you can study practical methods. But first and last, when you find negative emotions in yourself, you must understand that the causes are in you and not in other people — they are internal, not external. When you realise that they are in yourself, results will begin to come according to the depth of your conviction and the continuance of your memory.

The Starting Point

What I want you to understand is that each person separately has a certain definite point which prevents him from working rightly. This point must be found. Each person has many such points, but one is more significant than the others. So each of you separately must find your chief difficulty and, having found it, work against it. This may help you for a certain time, and then perhaps you will have to find another difficulty, and another, and another. Until you find your difficulties of the present moment you will not be able to work in the right way.

The first difficulty for everybody is the word 'I'. You say 'I' and do not think that this is only a small part of you that is speaking. But behind and beyond this there must be something else, and this is what you have to find. It may be a particular kind of negative emotion, a particular kind of identification, or imagination, or many other things.

You must understand that all the difficulties people have are such because people are such. Difficulties can disappear or change only when people change. Nobody can make other people's difficulties easier for them. If a good magician came and took away all their difficulties, it would be a very bad service to them — for people would then be satisfied to remain as they were because there would be no incentive for them to change. Try to think what makes things very difficult or takes much of your attention.

For example, self-pride makes a good servant but a bad master. But how to make it a servant? Only by beating it. Take the example in the New Testament about turning the other cheek. An ordinary person will say that self-pride will not let him. But if you can turn self-pride into a good servant it will make you do that. And this is important, because to be able to do that means other things as well — quicker perception, control over the emotional and moving centres, and many other things.

Everybody must try to find his own difficulty, not somebody else's. In order to do that, one must get rid of one's prejudices and of thinking that ideas are one thing, work another, and life yet another. So long as you think like that you will not understand. You must realise that you work here for your own personal aims and that there is no difference between life and work. There are many things that stand in your way in a life sense now, and in order to conquer them and improve matters you must do what the work suggests. The results will be seen in ordinary life: in relation to people, to things, and to the work you have to do in life. So try to ask questions referring only to your own personal difficulties. Abstract things we may admit occasionally, but remember that they are not the first aim.

For further example, take struggle with possessiveness. First of all, mind must become free from justification of it. Mind must be separate, must not identify. We have a certain control of mind, so to a certain extent we can command here. If you decide not to justify a certain negative emotion, it is already the beginning of the struggle. Then the mind will act on emotions. What is the justification of negative emotions? They are always caused by other people, it is always other people's fault. That justification must be stopped. You must recognise that the cause of your negative emotions is in you. And you must not find reasons for negative emotions — it is always easy to find reasons.

The urge to express negative emotions very often arises from imitation. Someone else expresses negative emotion and something in you admires him and thinks how beautifully he expresses this negative emotion, and wants to imitate, and you do not know it. It may be many other things, but very often it is imitation.

Negative Emotions

You must work on negative emotions, first by studying them, then trying not to express them, then going further and finding your own favourite negative emotion. If someone has no self-pity, then it is easy for him to work on self-pity; but he may have some other emotion, his own particular one, against which it is difficult to struggle. Generally one has only a few principal negative emotions, although some exceptional people may have more.

Negative emotions are different from one another and you cannot use the same methods against all of them. But in all cases, you must be prepared. When you are already in the negative emotion, it is too late to think. You must study identification and be able not to identify; you must be able to think in the right way — not at that moment but before and after. And you must be able to use negative emotions for self-remembering. But before all that, you must be able to control the manifestation of negative emotions. If you cannot control the manifestation, you cannot start struggling with negative emotions themselves. You can do nothing when you are in the negative emotion; you can do it before and after. Sometimes, when you are better prepared, you can use them for self-remembering, but that is quite a special thing. In the work, everything can be used, so negative emotions of all kinds can be useful as a help for self-remembering. By that I mean that you can train yourself in such a way that negative emotions will remind you of the necessity of remembering yourself.

Try to learn how the intellectual centre can control the emotional centre. Find emotions connected with a certain kind of thinking, with certain points of view. If you acquire new points of view, then after some time the emotion connected with the old point of view will disappear. Many emotions depend on points of view.

But it is slow work. Nobody can do it quickly because it takes time to change points of view and to have new points of view established. It means breaking down buffers, and this is a painful thing. Besides, buffers cannot be destroyed at once because then one will have no control at all. In the ordinary way one controls oneself with the help of buffers. So buffers must be destroyed gradually and will must be created at the same time. If a buffer is destroyed, will must be put in its place, otherwise one will not be protected by the buffer and one will have no will — so one will be in a worse state than with the buffer. That is why mechanical systems of self-development are dangerous because one can without knowing what one is doing destroy an important buffer without putting anything in its place, and so become worse than before. Means must be conscious: one must know how.

If one is sincere about it, one can always find one's chief negative emotion. It is a question of sincerity and of effort, but if we do not want to make this effort, we never do. Even if we decide to look for our negative emotions, we tend to concentrate on small emotions. We are seldom sincere enough to admit what our chief negative emotion is, because it can look ugly.

When I said it is necessary to find one's chief negative emotion, I meant not necessarily the strongest but the most persistent. If you find them and try to work on them, it often helps to see against what other emotions you can struggle. There are usually two or three you can struggle with. But you must try to be precise and not talk about emotions in general. General talk about emotions is good for general thinking, but not for acting. You can act only in relation to definite facts.

People often think that the most dangerous negative emotions are jealousy, fear, hate, or anger. But from our point of view, this is a wrong classification. The most useful classification is by the degree of identification, for it does the most harm. For some people, self-pity is the worst; for others it may be the feeling of injustice. You never know which is the worst for it depends on identification and on features, since the capacity to feel certain emotions particularly strongly and to identify with them may be the chief feature of false personality. It is different for different people.

It is necessary to transform all negative emotions, and there is no need to make a catalogue. One must begin with those one can tackle, and then pass to more difficult and to still more difficult if it is possible.

Negative emotions are an intermediate state between sanity and insanity. A man whose centre of gravity is in negative emotions cannot be called sane and cannot develop. He must first become normal.

Negative emotions must be divided into three categories from another point of view:

Plan of Attack

At present, since you do not know which emotion belongs to which category, you must try to use all three methods for all of them. But later you will see that they are divided into these categories and in one case one thing helps, in another case another thing. In all cases you must be prepared. It will be difficult to struggle with them and conquer them, but you will learn through time. Only, never mix emotions with the expression of negative emotions. As long as you cannot stop the expression, it means that you can do nothing about the emotions themselves. So before you can do anything else you must learn to control the manifestation of negative emotions. If you learn to control the expression, then you can start.

In the beginning, one cannot protect oneself from feeling negative emotions. From one point of view, it makes you more sensitive; from another, it gives you more opportunity for practice in exercising control.

You identify with many things, not only with negative emotions. From morning to night you pass from one identification to another, but when you try more than usually not to identify, you may notice many negative emotions you have not seen before. Some you may see full-size; of others you may see only their tails disappearing. If you try noticing and not identifying, it will make you stronger in dealing with emotions.

All negative emotions that we cannot avoid become useful functions if we use them for self-remembering. Some people manage to do that and get two things at once — elimination of the negative emotion and creation of self-remembering. If you have a persistent negative emotion and by right thinking connect it with self-remembering, then after some time it will help self-remembering and after some more time, if you persist, the emotion will disappear. So negative emotions can serve a useful purpose if you can use them; but if you identify with them, they are no good at all.

There is no right way to find interest in things without identification. You must either think about right things or connect everything with self-remembering. If you can think about right things, you can be interested in them without identification, but if you are identified all thinking disappears and it becomes just a formatory repetition of words.

We are so mechanical that in some cases we are not responsible for our behaviour. At the same time one has no right to say 'I am not responsible, so it does not matter what I do'. One must do what one can. Non-identifying will not help in such a case. If you feel you have done something wrong, try not to do it again. Very often people give all their energy to thinking about the wrong things they did and next day do exactly the same.

Aids to Perseverance

Very often you cannot fight, or you do not know how to begin to fight, against some special weakness — such, for example, as self-indulgence. However, if you work against any weakness, you will fight against this particular weakness. It is a very easy way of justifying yourself to say you do not know how to fight against a weakness. But if you leave it alone and fight against some other weakness, the result will be the same. In special cases we have to return to the same difficulty again and again, but in general all efforts lead in the same direction, whether it is against negativity, imagination, or anything else.

Giving way to anger gives some people a definite feeling of exhilaration — first because it is a habit, second because it is easy. Every giving way to a habit gives pleasure. The machine always likes to work by the line of least resistance.

Fear is essentially a negative emotion of the instinctive centre, and is necessary for self-protection. But it can lead to imagination and become the basis of many negative emotions which are almost all useless. For instance one may be afraid of snakes and, living in a country where snakes are few and non-poisonous, one may still pass one's life in fear of snakes. This is imagination.

Fear is simply a certain state; it can be without any object. This shows how useless negative emotions are. We often invent objects for an emotion when the emotion is already there. Take envy, fear, suspicion. We think the emotion is produced in us by something outside when in reality it is in us; we only look for an object afterwards, and in this way we justify it.

If you observe yourself, you will see this clearly. Causes outside remain the same, but sometimes they produce negative emotion in you, sometimes not. Why? Because real causes are in you; there are only apparent causes outside. If you are in a good state, if you are remembering yourself, if you are not identifying, then nothing that happens outside (relatively speaking, for I do not mean catastrophes) can produce a negative emotion in you. If you are in a bad state, identified, immersed in imagination, then everything just a little unpleasant will produce a violent emotion. It is a question of observation.

Why should other people's behaviour produce negative emotions in you? They are machines. Why should the behaviour of a machine produce negative emotions? If a machine hits you, it is your own fault; you must not be in the way of the machine. You may have a negative emotion, but it is not the fault of the machine: it is your own fault. Other people do not have as much power over you as you think: it is only the result of identification. You can be much more free if you do not identify, and sometimes you are more free. That is why I say it must be observed.

If you observe well, you will see that sometimes you identify more, sometimes less; and because of this, sometimes you are absolutely in the power of negative emotions and sometimes you have a certain amount of resistance. It may take a long time to learn how to resist negative emotions, but it is not impossible.

You must understand one thing about negative emotions: we are too much afraid of them, we consider them too powerful. We can show resistance to them if we persist and do not consider them inevitable and omnipotent.

Studying Thought

Suppose you have to meet a certain man who irritates you and you lose your temper with him. This is an example of mechanicalness. You cannot control your temper when it has already begun to appear — it is then too late. Struggle must begin in your mind. You must begin with the study of your thinking.

What do you think about this man — not what you feel when you are irritated, but what do you think about him at quiet moments? You may find that in your mind you argue with him; you prove to him that he is wrong; you tell him all his mistakes; you find that, generally, he behaves wrongly towards you. All this is wrong thinking on your part.

If you learn to think rightly, it will happen differently. Although emotion is much quicker than thought, emotion is a temporary thing; thought, on the other hand, can be made continuous. So whenever emotion jumps out, it comes up against this continuous thought and cannot manifest itself. So you can struggle with the expression of negative emotions, as in this example, only by creating continuous right thinking.

It is impossible in a few words to explain what right thinking is; it is necessary to study it. If you remember what I said about parts of centres you will come to that, because in most cases and most conditions in ordinary life, people think only with the mechanical part of the intellectual centre, which is the formatory apparatus. This is not sufficient. It is necessary to use the intellectual part of the intellectual centre. Identifying is the chief reason why we do not use it. Trying to self-remember and trying not to identify are the best means of passing into higher parts of centres. But we always forget about identification and about self-remembering.

Energy Conservation

Conquering negative emotions is one of the best ways of collecting energy. All possibilities of development are contained in conquering negative emotions and transforming them. A man at the mercy of negative emotions will never do anything.

When negative emotions are conquered, the energy appears as some kind of emotion mixed with very much understanding — an emotion of the higher parts of centres. Almost any negative emotion we have now can be so transformed. But it needs understanding, conviction that it is necessary, and decision to do it.

There are two kinds of indignation: one selfish, as when you are annoyed; and the other unselfish, as when you see a child being molested. The more unselfish the indignation is and the more right you are, the worse it is. The more energy you lose in it, the more negative results it will produce.

Many people are roused into negative emotions during discussions, particularly political discussions, more than at any other time. This is because they always think that things can be different. When you realise and become firmly convinced that things could not be different, you cease to argue. Arguing is based on the idea that things could be different and that people could do things differently. Try to think from the point of view that all that happens happens because it cannot be different; if it could be different it would have happened differently. It is very simple, but very difficult to realise.

If we see something we do not like in others, it is most often because they are mirrors for ourselves. But it is a great thing to realise this. Generally we do not realise it, and it makes us dislike the people who act as mirrors. But there is also a principle in the work that before becoming better, one has to become worse. It is not only because one notices more — one actually does become worse before one acquires more control.

You must try to remember that mechanical people cannot act other than mechanically. Until this remembering is constant, you can understand nothing about them. There are many things like that. All you learn in the system must be in your consciousness at the same time, otherwise every small thing will make you forget everything.

Suppose again you become irritated when you are given advice you don't agree with. This is based on your attitude: you allow someone else to affect your emotional state. We should not admit an emotional power like that over us. Now, even if you merely think about this advice, you feel annoyed. You reconstruct it. But you should think in quite a different way: it is purely a matter of reasoning. Even if people give advice without thinking, even if you know better, there is no reason for you to lose your temper. You cannot get anything by being annoyed or irritated. You must stop justifying it in your mind.

When one stops this justifying, one very often finds that the cause of all these negative emotions is some wrong idea. Everybody can find something wrong in one or another side of his life and generally one tends to put the responsibility on this thing. One thinks that if the thing were right, everything else would be right.

Everyone has one, sometimes two or more, combinations of circumstances which one blames for everything wrong one does and for all one's manifestations of weakness. But one must understand that absolutely anything in the world can produce this result. Suppose there is some definite thing that is wrong and I think: 'If it were right, I would be different'. But if it were right, I would be just the same. I speak from experience, because I know people who thought so, and when the particular thing they found was changed, they remained the same and merely found another unpleasant thing instead of the first one.

Potentially Useful Irritation

Irritation is one of the deepest features in people and it affects the whole mass. The most difficult thing in the world is to bear patiently the unpleasant manifestations of other people. People can sacrifice everything else, but they cannot stand that. Irritation is a particular emotion produced by the feeling of mechanicalness in oneself or other people. It does not mean that every mechanical thing causes irritation, but sometimes mechanicalness produces it. If we do not feel the mechanicalness of other people in some particular instance, they may be at their most mechanical but there is no irritation. We are irritated by other people acting as machines because we are machines ourselves. If we cease to be machines, we cease to be irritated. This feeling of mechanicalness becomes irritation when we identify with it.

If we manage to remove identification, the same thing that we know now as irritation becomes a very useful emotion by which we can feel mechanicalness. You cannot imagine how different quite ordinary emotions become, and often how useful, if we do not identify with them.


Very often, when negative emotions in the work take the form of apathy or passive resistance, you can do nothing at the moment. But you can continue to work. If you can do nothing today, there will be tomorrow, and the day after, and the next week, and next month. You must prepare for the future, first by self-remembering, by remembering why you came, by remembering the first principles. All these negative feelings come from long sleep. If you continue to sleep when you should try to awaken, this sleep will produce one or another negative state.

One of the most important features of our life is a desire to be comfortable. To this desire we sacrifice everything. We are ready to give up everything to go by the line of least resistance. Sometimes this desire becomes so strong that one can be comfortable and nothing else. Even if something is uncomfortable, one tries to arrange it so that it should be comfortable.

What to do about this is a different question; we must come to it from another side. This desire is a very big thing and every effort against it is important. Therefore every effort must be discussed specially — not all efforts together. Sleep is the most comfortable thing; trying to awaken is very uncomfortable. Later, when we partly awaken, we will feel how uncomfortable it is to sleep when anything may happen at any moment. But it is necessary to come to that state.

Laziness can be countered only by effort. It is difficult to speak in general because there are so many forms of laziness — so many different escapes. We must speak about concrete cases, so only you yourself can answer. Find in yourself different kinds of laziness, and you will see that it is not always the same. In some cases it manifests worse, in others less strongly. You need a large quantity of observations — nobody from outside can help you.

Suppose one is lazy in one particular thing, but not always equally lazy. This is material for observation. Find what makes you more lazy or less lazy, then you will find some causes and will know where to observe further. In many things in us, we must find what makes a difference, because nothing in us remains the same for long. Even permanent features manifest themselves differently — one day in one way, another day in another way. It is necessary to find what causes it.

One must distinguish between laziness and genuine need for rest. As in many other things, there are cases when you can say definitely, and you must take only these cases and not think about doubtful ones. If you start with cases where you do not know, you can do nothing. In the system you must start with things about which you have no doubt.

Negative Imagination

The same answer applies when you must distinguish between genuine self-remembering and mere imagination. There will be moments when you have no doubt and there will be moments when you know that they are imagination. You cannot be sure about every moment, but about some moments you will be sure.

You can have violent negative emotions and observe them. Very often negative emotions wake us up to a certain extent, so we can observe them. But this does not diminish them; they become even better if you do this and even more pleasing as a form of sleep. Observation is not the way to destroy negative emotions; observation is only for study.

But the more negative you are, the better you can remember yourself — if you realise you can get out. It must remind you, serve as an alarm; otherwise you will remain in a negative state all the time.

It is sometimes possible to get out of a negative emotion by becoming interested in something pleasant, but if you become identified it will be just the same from a practical point of view. However, in pleasant things you can be interested without being identified; in an unpleasant thing you cannot be interested without being identified.

Every kind of emotional state can be used for self-remembering, but before you can do that it is necessary to create a capacity for it. The capacity can be created only by constant, regular effort. If you think about it only once a week, nothing will come of it.

Imagination varies. Day-dreams are only half of our imaginings, and the most innocent half. Certainly they mean loss of time, but we waste time in so many ways that a little more or less does not make much difference. It is much more dangerous if you imagine certain qualities in yourself, in other people, in humanity, or in nature, and then come to believe in these imaginary ideas and put your faith in them. We are surrounded by these imaginary qualities, and it is with these we must struggle.

There is no point in trying to find the causes of imagination; there are too many. One must simply stop it. Replace imagination with intentional thinking in which the imaginative faculty can be properly employed.

Observing imagination does not give anything. Imagination always turns in the same circle. It is an uncontrolled mental activity, and by indulging it we create many false values which we keep and use in our thinking. That is why imagination is dangerous. We do not verify things. We imagine things either because we like them, or sometimes because we dislike them and are afraid of them. We live in an imaginary world — partly due to mental laziness: it is easier to imagine a thing that to study it.

You can know this, and it will still go on. A special effort is necessary to stop it. We are so mechanical that we can know and still do the same thing.

Struggle with mechanicalness is long work. Years and years have passed in ordinary life. When you hear about mechanicalness and are just beginning to struggle with it, you want results at once. It is necessary first to get accustomed to these ideas. There are no secrets or special methods to make it quicker.

Every emotion based on identification is imagination. Identification is a sign of imagination. When you find an emotion without identification, you will find an emotion without imagination.

Imagination, Memory, and Attention

Imagination is one of the manifestations that occur without attention. The moment you turn your attention to it, imagination stops. If you just notice and turn away, it will go on, but if you keep attention on it, it stops. Attention acts like a light, and imagination is like a chemical process that can go on only in the dark.

Thought brings attention. Attention is a different faculty, because even thought can go on without attention. But thought can work with attention, while imagination cannot. Some faculties can work only with attention and some others can work without attention. Uncontrolled imagination is a form of sleep, a weakness. It is easy, it does not need any effort. Everything useful needs effort. Imagination can take three forms: passive imagination, imagination expressing itself in talk, and imagination expressing itself in action.

There are lines and lines of our activity, each quite different from another. Some start with effort and go on with effort. Others may be imagination. One may think it is effort when in reality it is imagination expressing itself in activity which cannot stop and needs no effort. Talking is the same: some people must talk, others must do something, but both are manifestations of the same thing.

Memory by itself is not responsible for anything. It is impartial and supplies material for anything you want. You may want it for serious thinking, for imagination, for expression of negative emotions, and so on.

Memory itself is mechanical, but the use of memory, the application of memory, the functioning of memory can be more mechanical or less mechanical. Memory is inscriptions on the rolls of our centres. How to use them how to find them, how to verify them is another question.

It is always necessary to know the cause of any negative moods one observes. You cannot fight it unless you know the cause, and the cause is generally in your own imagination. All the causes are in you, so it is necessary to know them.


Negative emotion is not the same as suffering. Suffering is very useful. You can get many things only through suffering. But when suffering is connected with identification and imagination, it becomes negative emotion.

We should try to give up suffering, but we cannot do this all at once. There is much unnecessary suffering which one does not want to give up. Then there is some inevitable and necessary suffering which one must accept if one wants to get something. On the Fourth Way, one has to gradually sacrifice all unnecessary things: wrong theories, talk, imaginary suffering. Imaginary suffering is the chief obstacle.

Only a certain amount of suffering is real, but we increase it by imagination. Real suffering exists, but it is limited by many things — by time, for instance. But nothing can stop or limit imaginary suffering. Real suffering, if it has a cause, may be necessary to give knowledge. Imaginary suffering takes knowledge away. The death of a friend, or grief of some kind, is real suffering: but if you identify with it, it can produce negative emotion. After all, real suffering normally occupies only a very small part of our life, while negative emotions can occupy the whole of it.

Simply suffering pain is not a negative emotion, but when imagination and identification enter, it becomes a negative emotion. Emotional pain, like physical pain, is not a negative emotion by itself, but when you begin to make all sorts of embroidery on it, it becomes negative.

If you think deeply, you will see that everybody has some kind of suffering — say, self-pity. One never gives up this self-pity; it is Man's most cherished possession; he carries it with him, puts it in the best place; he will never try or decide in his mind to make an effort to get rid of this self-pity.

Everybody has one or two negative emotions he is particularly attached to. He does not say to himself, 'I like this negative emotion', but he lives in it, is fully absorbed in it, and everything is coloured by it, so he will not sacrifice it. For many people, sacrificing their negative emotion would mean sacrificing their whole life.

Man no longer believes that his sufferings are a direct punishment from God, but he will never really give them up. When he decides to give them up, he becomes free of them. It seems such a simple thing, but when it comes to practice he finds that he cannot do it. His sufferings have already become a habit so, although he decides in his mind, he still continues to feel the same. Nevertheless, in order to get rid of unnecessary suffering, the first step is to decide to give it up; but as long as his mind is hypnotised by this suffering, he will not make the effort. If he gives it up, he will in exchange get absence of suffering; that is why he does not want to give it up.

Realisation of new values is necessary before suffering can be sacrificed. But there are different kinds of suffering. Sometimes an effective way to destroy suffering is to see that it belongs to the imaginary part of oneself. Division into real and imaginary is very useful.

The general idea is that you cannot get anything for nothing; you have to sacrifice something. But what to sacrifice? The best answer is: sacrifice your suffering — negative emotions, negative imagination, and all that. It is a very good sacrifice, only it is very difficult because one is ready to sacrifice any pleasure, but not suffering.

If you refuse to accept your suffering, you stop your suffering. It is very simple. Suppose you have a grievance: you are hurt or offended or something. Try to sacrifice this grievance and you will see how much you are attached to it. Actually it is a very pleasant to feel, 'I have nothing to worry about. Nobody is guilty'. But people dislike this because they feel it as emptiness.

Knowledge does not necessarily bring suffering. It is true that development means increase of suffering for some time, but you cannot regard this as an aim or as a necessary result. By itself suffering can bring nothing, but if one remembers oneself in connection with it, it can be a great force. If suffering did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it because without it one cannot come to right self-remembering. But people try to run away from suffering, or try to disguise it, or they identify with it, and in this way destroy the strongest weapon they have.

Until we get rid of the useless suffering we cannot come to the useful. Most of our suffering is absolutely useless; we have too much of it. You must learn what is useless suffering. The first condition for getting free of it is to know it for what it is.

Attaining change of being entails suffering of a kind. We can get nothing from pleasure; from that we can get only suffering. But every effort is suffering; every realisation is suffering, because there are many unpleasant realisations about ourselves and about other things, and there are many forms of suffering. We judge suffering from the point of view of whether it helps or hinders our work, so our attitude to suffering must be more complicated. Useless suffering is the greatest obstacle in our way; at the same time suffering is necessary, and sometimes it happens that people cannot work because they are afraid of suffering. In most cases, what they are afraid of is imaginary suffering. We have much imagination and sometimes giving up certain kinds of imagination looks difficult.

Suffering other than physical pain is possible without false personality, but it does not become so insistent. When false personality begins to enjoy it, it becomes dangerous. Most of our suffering depends on identification, and if identification disappears, our suffering disappears too. One must be reasonable and realise that it is no use suffering if it is possible not to suffer.

Theoretically speaking, every kind of suffering can be transformed into positive emotion: but it cannot transform itself into positive emotion. Nothing transforms itself; it must be transformed by effort of will and by knowledge.

No single isolated shock can help a man to attain a higher state of consciousness because there are many ties that keep us in our present state. It is important to understand that thousands of shocks are necessary, and for years. Only thus can all the threads be broken and man become free.

Development Through Suffering

You may ask how real suffering can exist if the emotional centre has no negative part. In the description of man in this system, one comes up against the impossibility of describing things as they are: they can be described only approximately. It is the same as on small-scale maps where the relative sizes of things cannot be shown. In some cases, in the description of the human machine, the differences are so great that it is better to say that a thing does not exist at all than to say that one thing is big and another small. This applies to the emotional centre. There are emotions that are not negative, yet very painful, and there is a centre for them, but it occupies such an infinitesimal part compared with negative emotions that are not real that it is better to say that emotional centre has no negative part.

There is a great amount of suffering in the world., and it is possible from the point of view of the work to find at least a logical form of solution of this problem. In organic life, man must be regarded as an experiment of the Great Laboratory. In this laboratory all possible kinds of experiments are made, and they have to be made by means of suffering to bring about some kind of fermentation. In some way suffering is necessary for this; all the cells of this experiment have to suffer. Because of that their tendency is to avoid suffering, to have as little of it as possible, or to run away. If some of these cells break this tendency and accept suffering voluntarily, they can rid themselves of it and become free. Voluntary suffering can become school-work. Nothing is more difficult, and at the same time nothing can create so much force as voluntary suffering. The idea of development is to create an inner force, and how can a man put himself to the test without suffering? From one point of view the whole of organic life exists for planetary purposes. From another point of view it exists only for the sake of those who escape. So it does not exist only for feeding the Moon. This suffering is the highest product and the rest are merely by-products; the highest is always the most important.

We are far from understanding the idea of suffering: but if we realise that small things can be attained with small suffering and big ones with big suffering, we shall understand that it will always be proportionate.

But we must remember one thing: we have no right to invent suffering. Also, one has the right to accept suffering for oneself, but one has no right to accept it for other people. According to one's views of life, one helps other people: but it must be understood that helping cannot diminish suffering; it cannot change the order of things.

There is suffering which can be relieved and suffering which cannot be relieved because it depends on bigger causes. Sleeping people have to suffer. Maybe there is a great cosmic purpose in this suffering, because only suffering can eventually wake them up. If they can arrange their lives so as to be happy and contented in sleep, they will never awaken. But all this is only talk, because anyway it cannot be changed.

Probably for the purposes of evolution everyone must be surrounded by enormous possibilities of suffering. Evolution depends on a man's attitude if he accepts suffering and tries not to identify with it. It may be that this whole law was created so that he could become stronger, because strength can be created only by suffering. No one can suffer for another. If I have a toothache, it will not diminish mine if you have one too.

Man is specially made for evolution. He is an experiment made for self-development. Every individual man is an experiment — not all men together.

Personal Responsibility

Now we have to return to practical things and the study of personal work. It is necessary to understand responsibility in personal work, because when a man begins to understand something, to formulate certain wishes in connection with the work, his responsibility towards himself increases. The more one understands, the greater one's responsibility. If one knows nothing and does not attempt to work, one cannot make a serious mistake. But when one begins to work one can, so to speak, sin against the work; and when a man makes mistakes it can stop his personal work. So his responsibility begins as soon as he begins to work, and it must be understood that this responsibility is very great, because everything counts: everything one says or does, everything one does not say or do, everything is counted and is put for or against one. It is not an arbitrary action: it is in the very nature of things. Things themselves make it so.

In order to do something, to reach something, it is necessary to work on many lines at the same time, otherwise one sticks. If you miss one or two lines, you have to go back and start again from the beginning; you cannot choose which lines to work on. Suppose you have to work on fifty lines and you discard three lines you do not like and work on forty-seven. Then, sooner or later, you have to go back and begin again on all fifty lines, because after some time forty-seven lines cannot take you any further. I mean by those lines trying to remember yourself, trying not to identify, trying not to express negative emotions, and so on. Suppose you accept all these lines and leave out only one — about talking: it will spoil everything. Or if you accept them all, and the next moment forget, you will again get nowhere. That is why we cannot get right results. We start well and then the next moment forget and say to ourselves: 'I cannot keep fifty things in my head at once'.

Responsibility must be based on valuation. If you value something, then you have a sense of responsibility.

Right Thinking

One of our chief difficulties arises from formatory thinking. To overcome this, we must think to the best of our ability and compare occasions when thinking gives results with occasions when it does not. We may thus come to a better understanding of how to think — at any rate better than just wondering about it. Definition will not help: desire for definitions is only an excuse. If you find yourself in a very difficult position, you will think to the best of your ability how to get out of it. Continue to think in the same way.

We cannot perceive differently until we think differently. We have control only of our thoughts; we have no control over our perception. Perception depends particularly on the state of consciousness. If one remains awake for sufficiently long, one can perceive many things one does not perceive now. It does not depend on desire or decision.

Much of our thinking is formatory. But when we think about serious things, such as the ideas of this system, we either cannot think at all or our thinking is not formatory. Formatory thinking is always poor, and for some problems it is ridiculous.

Identification makes thought narrow and defective. It binds you; you cannot properly arrange data and you cannot make deductions. It lowers the standard of your normal intellectual capacity. Thinking about the big ideas of the system stops identification because you cannot think about them if you identify with them. Your thinking will have no effect. When we are studying, trying to understand, this means a new way of thinking. The moment we get back to the old way of thinking, we identify.

You can know what one or another thing is without making a catalogue of what it is not. It is quite a wrong self-accusation to say that you always have to use such a clumsy method of thinking, because in that way you would have to think for two years about every small thing. You can think about things without opposites — just about what they are. Formatory thinking is not thinking. Never forget that formatory thinking can serve many useful purposes, but it is not for thinking.

Men 1, 2, and 3 can live all their lives with only formatory apparatus. The great majority of people use nothing else. Certainly they have a certain sense of being, but it is not, so to speak, individual: it is mass growth in the sense of the growth of a child into an adult. But their being does not grow beyond a certain level, and we are interested in growth of being towards Man 4. To grow up in the ordinary way is natural; but this does not change the level of being.

If you ask a question and want to know the answer, you must stop mechanical associations and take in what is said. Only then think about it and compare. If you do not stop associations, the answer comes to you mixed with your own thoughts, not exactly what was said, so you never get the right answer. Struggle with associative thinking is a definite line of work. If you study something, listen to something, or are trying to understand something, you have to do it with a free mind. If you go on with your own thoughts at the same time, your mind will never be free to follow.

One is inclined to ask 'why' rather than 'how' because it is easier, more mechanical, and we are accustomed to it. To ask 'how' needs thinking; you have to formulate your question in the right way; but 'why' can be asked without thinking.

Thinking differently means taking some subject which produces emotion and thinking about it, trying not to justify oneself or to accuse other people. That will be different thinking. Although there are negative emotions that cannot be destroyed in this way — for they need stronger methods — this method must be tried first in every case.

It is important to remember clearly what we have understood already, but I do not know of any special method. Moments of understanding must be connected. Look backwards, try to compare. This is particularly important in relation to some definite question. For instance, you may understand something you had not understood half an hour ago; but perhaps in the past there have been moments when you also understood something in this connection. Try to remember these moments and connect them. People understand according to their level of being, to their capacity — not according to the meaning of things.

It is impossible to make anything clear using only formatory thinking and words. People think they understand something when they give it a name, but they do not realise that this is artificial. When you can feel a thing and when you can verify it by higher consciousness and higher mind, only then can you say that it is really true and that it really exists.

Higher Emotional Thought

Esoteric schools do not deal with ordinary intellectual ideas. This means that these ideas — as, for instance, the idea of self-remembering — are not clear without higher centres, for without them one cannot come to the truth. Schools are the work of higher centres; they give us something which we cannot attain by ourselves, because we can use only the ordinary mind. And the ordinary mind has definite limits and cannot jump over them. It can accumulate material, forget it, accumulate again and forget again, and reduce the system to mere nonsense by going too straight in one direction.

When you find yourself in a state approaching higher emotional centre, you will be astonished how much you can understand at once — and then you come back to your normal state and you forget it all. By persistent self-remembering and by certain other methods, you may come to the higher emotional centre, but you will not be able to retain what you have understood then. If you write it down, it will have no sense when you read it later with the intellectual centre.

In trying to self-remember, you may sometimes have a strange feeling about inanimate objects as if they had some sort of awareness. You must then discount the possibility of imagination. Let us say simply that you feel something new in things. But when you begin to explain it, you begin to imagine. Do not try to explain; just leave it. Sometimes you can feel strange things in that way, but explanations are always wrong, because you feel with one very good apparatus and explain with another — a very clumsy machine that cannot really explain.

How to Become More Conscious

You cannot try to be emotional — the more you try, the less emotional you will be. You can try to be conscious, and if you become more conscious you will become more emotional. You must think about how to get more energy to be conscious. That would be a right question, and the answer would be that first you must stop leaks and try to get more energy by following all the indications you get from the work — all of them. Do not concentrate on only one; you can always find something that you did not do.

You always have more than enough material for work on yourself; you can never be at a loss as to what to do. Try to stop thoughts — that is easy and useful. If you have no energy to do that, you must accumulate energy by struggle with mechanical habits and things like that. That will accumulate enough energy for this effort to remember yourself or the effort to stop thoughts.

Indian books speak of meditation, but they also say that one must work under a teacher. We read and remember one thing and forget another; we think we can study meditation or meditate ourselves. If you can remember yourself, you can meditate; if not, you cannot. Meditation is an action of a developed mind, and we ascribe it to ourselves. It would be very good if we could meditate, but we cannot; self-remembering is the way to it. You cannot begin from the end; you have to begin from the beginning like in everything else. For us, meditation means thinking about the system, trying to connect ideas so as to reconstruct the system, not simply thinking about one word or one idea.

You must try different ways. You can concentrate on one or another side of the subject, or take one or another point of view, or try to explain something to someone else. If it's difficult to think on some definite subject, you can always imagine you are explaining this subject to some person. But again you must imagine yourself explaining it to different people — people with preparation or without preparation; a religious person, a scientifically minded person, and so on. You have to explain differently according to who you are explaining to. Then it is very important to separate what you knew before from what you have learnt from the system. If you do not separate, you will always mix things in your thinking. It is necessary to know what you knew before, what you read somewhere, and what you got here.

There is yet another thing you can do: you can try to write a programme of thinking for yourself. Find your own subjects you would like to think about, or subjects which you think may be useful to you, or subjects which you do not understand but would like to learn to think about. All this is useful. Then, if you have time, think about them two or three times a day.

Some people try these imaginary conversations, but cannot make them last long enough. They must go according to plan. You cannot start them from just any point. You can invent some sort of situation and make yourself speak to some imaginary person, or to someone you know, and explain some particular subject to him according to the kind of person he is. This may help. But do not try to give a lecture — a lecture is bound to turn formatory. Alternatively you may think about the ideas of the system and set yourself definite tasks.

Another approach is to see whether all this mental talking is useful or useless. It may be useful, but mostly it is useless. Talking, like all mechanical habits, is very difficult to struggle with. You do not notice it, or you may have been talking to yourself for two hours before you notice, so you must have a better watchman to ring the bell when you begin. This means being more awake.

It would help if you could remember more of the system at one moment, instead of just fragments. That is why you will see after some time that it is useful to work with new people and explain things to them. You cannot have a sufficiently large part of the system before your eyes if you do not repeat it all, and you can do this only when you have to explain things to new people and answer their questions. It is not necessary to give lectures or have large groups; something useful can be done with one, two, or three people.

You may sometimes feel dissatisfied with yourself and your lack of results, but you must not let yourself be identified with these negative feelings and disappointments: that would be the worst possible thing. Think about something cheerful. For instance, you can take any subject in the system and compare how you thought about it before and how you think now. You will see that you have gained one thing and another thing and a third thing. That will help you to struggle on.

From Verification to Faith

You must also bear in mind that faith has no place in this system. You must try to verify everything and base your attitude on facts, not on belief. If you do even one-tenth of what is suggested, very soon you will have facts, and then you must base your attitude on these facts, not on theories.

Faith is a passive thing. We have to verify everything, accept nothing on faith. For faith there are other ways, but in the Fourth Way faith would be a weakness — trying to escape work. Instead of trying to know, we would believe. Only what a man himself finds to be true can serve as a sufficient foundation.

We must understand that faith, in the true sense, is a certain state that is more than emotional. It is a positive emotion and, taken in this sense, it means a higher level that we, being Men 1, 2, and 3, have not reached, and so we do not know what faith really means — it is only a word for us. Faith must be directed to big things, not applied to small things of ordinary life. When people use what we call 'faith' in cases where they must know, it is just laziness.

There can be one faith and another faith — it can be on different levels. According to the division of men into seven categories, there can be seven kinds of faith, so it is difficult to speak in these terms.

Real faith is a higher emotion belonging to the higher emotional centre. In our ordinary emotional centre, there can be only imitation faith. Real faith means not only emotion, but also knowledge.

Salvation and Immortality

Some people have the idea that work on oneself is work towards salvation or immortality. These are big words, but you might just as well say that work is towards making fools of ourselves. We constantly make fools of ourselves because we are asleep.

However, the question of immortality is very important. It is normally thought of as 'life after death'. But all experience of mankind (I do not mean imagination) shows that we cannot know what happens after death, otherwise we would have known something positive about it. Since we know nothing, it proves definitely that in this state of consciousness, with ordinary centres, we cannot get at the truth; we can only make theories.

First try to understand that our capacity of cognition, our capacity for knowing, is limited by our state of consciousness. In this state of consciousness we can know only certain things and have answers only to certain questions. If we want to know more, we find that we cannot: in practically every line of study we sooner or later come to a blank wall. In some cases this wall always remains in exactly the same place, as in the case of life after death: we know no more about it than man of the Stone Age. We can only think that if we acquire a higher state of consciousness and use higher centres, we may get a concrete answer to that question.

We can know our life only from birth to death. If we want to know what was before and what will be after — if there is a before and after in relation to that — we can only hope that in a better state of consciousness, using an improved machine, we will be able to understand. We ask ourselves questions and we do not realise that, such as we are, we cannot have answers. There are many questions like that.

It is necessary to realise and remember how many are the things we come up against in our thinking which are really insoluble for our mind. When we realise that, it will help us to see that we must begin with possible problems. Many people, I do not mean necessarily in the work but even in the work, spend all their mental energy on these insoluble problems. They invent all kinds of solutions, try to think about them in this way or that way, but it is all quite useless.

You can understand one thing if you understand another thing, and a third thing if you have understood the first two. There are ways for everything, but some problems we can approach with the ordinary mind, while other problems we must put off and wait until we are more conscious and able to use better machines for thinking.

In ordinary thinking, in ordinary philosophy and psychology, this question never arises — or, if it does, it arises in so vague and confused a form that it does not help. But we know more divisions, more steps, and we must use this knowledge. It will help us to think more practically, to avoid useless abstractions, and to prevent our trying to solve problems which, at present, we cannot solve.