Lecture 39 — Organic Life on Earth

by G I Gurdjieff

Contents List:

The Purpose of Organic Life
The Ray of Creation
Evolutionary Groups
Four Ways
The Fourth Way
Pseudo-esoteric Systems
Genuine Esoteric Schools

Return to:


See also:

Consciousness, Laws, and Influences
Four Ways to Immortality
Man's Place in the World
The Law of Growth
The Economy of Life

The Purpose of Organic Life

To ordinary knowledge, organic life is a kind of accidental appendage violating the integrity of a mechanical system. Ordinary knowledge does not connect us with anything and draws no conclusions from the fact of its existence. But you should understand that there there is nothing accidental or unnecessary in Nature, and that there can be nothing; everything has a definite function; everything serves a definite purpose. Thus organic life is an indispensable link in the chain of the worlds which cannot exist without it just as it cannot it cannot exist without them.

It has been said in earlier lectures that Organic Life transmits planetary influences of various kinds to the Earth and that it serves to feed the Moon and enables it to grow and strengthen. But the Earth is also growing — not in the sense of size but in the sense of greater consciousness, greater receptivity. The planetary influences which were sufficient for her at one period of her existence become insufficient; she needs the reception of finer influences. To receive finer influences, a finer, more sensitive receptive apparatus is necessary. Organic life, therefore, has to evolve, to adapt itself to the needs of the planets and the Earth. The Moon, likewise, can at one period be satisfied with the food which is given her by organic life of a certain quality; but a time comes later when she ceases to be satisfied with this food, cannot grow on it, and begins to get hungry. Organic life must be able to satisfy this hunger, otherwise it does not fulfil its function, does not answer its purpose. This means that in order to answer its purpose, organic life must evolve and stand on the level of the needs of the planets, the Earth, and the Moon.

The Ray of Creation

We must remember that the Ray of Creation, as we have taken it, from the Absolute to the Moon, is like a branch of a tree — a growing branch. The end of this branch, the end out of which come new shoots, is the Moon. If the Moon does not grow, if it neither gives nor promises to give new shoots, it means that either the growth of the whole ray of creation will stop or that it must find another path for its growth, give out some kind of lateral branch. At the same time, from what has been said already in these lectures, we see that the growth of the Moon depends on organic life on Earth. It follows that the growth of the ray of creation depends on organic life on Earth. If this organic life disappears or dies, the whole branch will immediately wither or, in any case, that part of the branch which lies beyond organic life.

The same thing must happen, only more slowly, if organic life is arrested in its development, in its evolution, and fails to respond to the demands made upon it. The branch may wither. This must be remembered. To the ray of creation or, let us say, to its part Earth-Moon, exactly the same possibility of development and growth has been given as is given to each separate branch of a big tree. But the accomplishment of this growth is not at all guaranteed: it depends upon the harmonious and right action of its own tissues. If the development of one tissue stops, all the others stop.

Everything that can be said of the ray of creation or of its part Earth-Moon equally refers to organic life on Earth. Organic life on Earth is a complex phenomenon in which the separate parts depend upon one another. General growth is possible only on the condition that the 'end of the branch' grows. Or, speaking more precisely, there are in organic life tissues which are evolving and tissues which serve as food and medium for those which are evolving. Then there are evolving cells within the evolving tissues, and cells which serve as food and medium for those which are evolving. In each separate evolving cell, there are evolving parts and there are parts which serve as food for those which are evolving. But always and in everything, it must be remembered that evolution is never guaranteed: it is only possible, and it can stop at any moment and in any place.


The evolving part of organic life is humanity. Humanity also has its evolving part, but we will speak of this later. In the meantime we will take humanity as a whole. If humanity does not evolve it means that the evolution of organic life will stop and this in its turn will cause the growth of the ray of creation to stop. At the same time, if humanity ceases to evolve, it becomes useless from the point of view of the aims for which it was created and, as such, it may be destroyed. In this way, the cessation of evolution may mean the destruction of humanity.

We have no clues from which we are able to tell in what period of planetary evolution we exist and whether or not the Moon and the Earth have time to await the corresponding evolution of organic life. People who know may, of course, have exact information about it — that is, they may may know at what stage in their possible evolution are the Earth, the Moon, and humanity. We cannot know this, but we should bear in mind that the number of possibilities is never infinite.

At the same time, in examining the life of humanity as we know it historically, we are bound to acknowledge that humanity is moving in a circle. In one century it destroys everything it creates in another, and the progress in mechanical things of the past hundered and fifty years has proceeded at the cost of losing many other things which may have been more important for it. Speaking in general, there is every reason to think and to assert that humanity is at a standstill: and from a standstill there is a straight path to downfall and degeneration. A standstill means that a process has become balanced. The appearance of any one quality immediately evokes the appearance of another quality opposed to it. The growth of knowledge in one domain evokes the growth of ignorance in another; refinement on the one hand evokes vulgarity on the other; freedom in one connection evokes slavery on the other; the disappearance of some superstitions evokes the appearance and the growth of others; and so on.

Now if we recall the Law of Octaves we shall see that a balanced process proceeding in a certain way cannot be changed at any moment it is desired. Ir can be changed and set on a new path only at certain 'crossroads'. In between the 'crossroads', nothing can be done. At the same time if a process passes by a 'crossroad' and nothing happens, nothing is done; then nothing can be done afterwards and the process will continue and develop according to mechanical laws. Even if people taking part in the process foresee the inevitable destruction of everything, they will be unable to do anything. I repeat that something can be done only at certain moments which I have just called 'crossreads' and which in octaves we have called 'hiccups' or the 'intervals' mi-fa and si-do.


Of course there are very many people who consider that the life of humanity is not proceeding in the way in which, according to their views, it ought to go; and they invent various theories which, in their opinion, ought to change the whole life of humanity. One invents one theory. Another immediately invents a contradictory theory. Both expect everyone to believe them, and many people indeed do believe either one or the other. Life naturally takes its own course, but people do not stop believing in their own or other people's theories and they believe it is possible to do something.

All these theories are certainly quite fantastic, chiefly because they do not take into account the most important thing, namely, the subordinate part which humanity and organic life play in the world process. Intellectual theories put man in the centre of everything; everything exists for him: the Sun, the stars, the Moon, the Earth. They even forget man's relative size, his nothingness, his transient existence. They assert that if a man wishes, he is able to change his whole life — that is, to organise his life on rational principles. And all the time new theories keep appearing, each in its turn evoking opposing theories; and all these theories and the struggle between them undoubtedly constitute one of the forces which keep humanity in the state in which it is at present.

Besides, all these theories for general welfare and general equality are not only unrealisable, but they would be fatal if they were realised. Everything in Nature has its aim and its purpose, including both the inequality of man and his suffering. To destroy inequality would mean destroying the possibility of evolution. To destroy suffering would mean, first, destroying a whole series of perceptions for which man exists, and second, the destruction of the 'shock', that is to say, the force which alone can change the situation. And thus it is with all intellectual theories.


The process of evolution, of that evolution which is possible for humanity as a whole, is completely analogous to the process of evolution possible for the individual man. It begins with the same thing, namely, a certain group of cells gradually becoming conscious. Then it attracts to itself other cells, subordinates others, and gradually makes the whole organism serve its aims and not merely eat, drink, and sleep. This is evolution; and there can be no other kind of evolution. In humanity as in individual man, everything begins with the formation of a conscious nucleus. All the mechanical forces of life fight against the formation of this conscious nucleus in humanity in just the same way as all mechanical habits, tastes, and weaknesses fight against conscious self-remembering in man.

There are two processes which are sometimes called 'involutionary' and 'evolutionary'. The difference between them is the following:

But consciousness and conscious opposition to the evolutionary process can also appear at certain moments in the involutionary process. From whence does this consciousness come?

It can come only from the evolutionary process. The evolutionary process must proceed without interruption. Any stop causes a separation from the fundamental process. Such separate fragments of consciousness which have been stopped in their development can also unite and, at any rate for a certain time, can live by struggling against the evolutionary process. After all, it merely makes the evolutionary process more interesting. Instead of struggling against mechanical forces there may, at certain moments, be a struggle against the intentional opposition of fairly powerful forces — though they are not of course comparable with those which direct the evolutionary process.

These opposing forces may sometimes even conquer. The reason for this consists in the fact that the forces guiding evolution have a more limited choice of means; in other words, they can only make use of certain means and certain methods. The opposing forces are not limited in their choice of means and they are able to make use of every means, even those which give rise only to temporary success and in the final result destroy both evolution and involution at the point in question.

However, this point has no practical significance for us. It is important for us only to establish the indications of evolution beginning and the indications of evolution proceeding. If we remember the full analogy between humanity and man, it will not be difficult to establish whether humanity can be regarded as evolving.

Are we able to say, for instance, that life is governed by a group of conscious people? Where are they? Who are they? We see exactly the opposite: that life is governed by those who are the least conscious, by those who are most asleep.

Are we able to say that we observe in life a preponderance of the best, the strongest, and the most courageous elements? Nothing of the sort. On the contrary we see a preponderance of vulgarity and stupidity of all kinds.

Are we able to say that aspirations towards unity, towards unification, can be observed in life? Nothing of the kind, or course. We see only new divisions, new hostility, new misunderstandings. [Gurdjieff spoke these words in about 1916. I think that if he were alive today, he would see that whereas all the old divisions are still rife, he might see in the Internet at least a semi-conscious striving as well as a means towards unity, at least among some "cells" of humanity. I certainly hope so! — Ed.]

Hence in the actual situation of humanity, there is nothing that points to evolution proceeding. On the contrary, when we compare humanity with a man we quite clearly see a growth of personality at the cost of essence, that is, a growth of the artificial, the unreal, and what is foreign, at the cost of the natural, the real, and what is one's own.


Together with this, we see a growth of automatism.

Contemporary culture requires automatons. People are undoubtedly losing their acquired habits of independence and turning into automatons, into parts of machines. It is impossible to say where is the end of all this and where the way out — or whether there is an end and a way out. One thing alone is certain: that man's slavery grows and increases. Man is becoming a willing slave. He no longer needs chains. He begins to grow fond of slavery, to be proud of it. And this is the most terrible thing that can happen to a man.

Evolutionary Groups

Everything I have said till now I have said about the whole of humanity. But as I pointed out before, the evolution of humanity can proceed only through the evolution of a certain group which, in its turn, will influence the rest of humanity.

Are we able to say that such a group exists? Perhaps we can on the basis of certain signs, but in any event we have to acknowledge that it is a very small group, quite insufficient at any rate to subjugate the rest of humanity. Or, looking at it from another point of view, we can say that humanity is in such a state that it is unable to accept the guidance of a conscious group.

In a conscious group, all the members would "know" each other.

Imagine that there are two or three people who are awake in the midst of a multitude of sleeping people. They will certainly know each other. But those who are asleep cannot know them. How many are they? We do not know and we cannot know until we become like them. It has been said already that each man can see only on the level of his own being. But two hundred conscious people, if they existed and if they found it necessary and legitimate, could change the whole of life on the Earth. But either there are not enough of them, or they do not want to, or perhaps the time has not yet come, or perhaps other people are sleeping too soundly.


We have approached the problems of esotericism.

It has been pointed out that the life of humanity to which we belong is governed by forces proceeding from two different sources: first, planetary influences which act entirely mechanically and are received by the human masses as well as by individual people quite involuntarily and unconsciously; and then, influences proceeding from inner circles of humanity whose existence and significance the vast majority of people do not suspect any more than they suspect planetary influences.

The humanity to which we belong, namely the whole of historic and prehistoric humanity known to science and civilisation, in reality constitutes only the outer circle of humanity, within which there are several other circles. We can imagine the whole of humanity, known as well as unknown to us, as consisting, so to speak, of several concentric circles.

The inner circle is called the 'esoteric'; this circle consists of people who have attained the highest development possible for man: each one of them possesses individuality in the fullest degree, that is to say, an indivisible 'I', all forms of consciousness possible for man, full control over these states of consciousness, the whole of knowledge possible for man, and a free and independent will. They cannot perform actions opposed to their understanding or have an understanding which is not expressed by actions. At the same time, there can be no discords among them, no differences of understanding. Therefore their activity is entirely co-ordinated and leads to one common and identical understanding.

The next circle is called the 'mesoteric', that is to say, the middle. People who belong to this circle possess all the qualities possessed by the members of the esoteric circle with the sole difference that their knowledge is of a more theoretical character. They know and understand many things which have not yet found expression in their actions. They know more than they do. But their understanding is precisely as exact as, and therefore precisely identical with, the understanding of the people of the esoteric circle. Between them there can be no discord, there can be no misunderstanding. One understands in the way they all understand, and all understand the way one understands. But as was said, this understanding compared with the understanding of the esoteric circle is more theoretical.

The third circle is called the 'exoteric', that is, the outer, because it is the outer circle of the inner part of humanity. The people who belong to this circle possess much of that which belongs to people of the esoteric and mesoteric circles but their cosmic knowledge is of a more philosophical character, that is to say, it is more abstract than the knowledge of the mesoteric circle. A member of the mesoteric circle calculates, a member of the exoteric circle contemplates. Their understanding may not be expressed in actions. But there cannot be differences in understanding between them. What one understands, all the others understand.

In literature which acknowledges the existence of esotericism, humanity is usually divided into only two circles and the 'exoteric circle' as opposed to the 'esoteric' is called ordinary life. In reality, as we see, the 'exoteric circle' is something very far from us and very high. For ordinary man, this is already 'esotericism'.

The 'outer circle' is the circle of mechanical humanity to which we belong and which alone we know. The first sign of this circle is that among people who belong to it there is not and there cannot be a common understanding. Everybody understands in his own way and all differently. This circle is sometimes called the circle of the 'confusion of tongues', that is, the circle in which each one speaks in his own particular language, where no one understands another, and takes no trouble to be understood. In this circle, mutual understanding between people is impossible excepting in rare exceptional moments or in matters having no great significance and which are confined to the limits of the given being. If people belonging to this circle become conscious of this general lack of understanding and acquire a desire to understand and to be understood, then it means they have an unconscious tendency towards the inner circle because mutual understanding begins only in the exoteric circle and is possible only there. But the consciousness of the lack of understanding usually comes to people in an altogether different form.

Hence the possibility for people to understand depends on the possibility of penetrating into the exoteric circle where understanding begins.

Four Ways

If we imagine humanity in the form of four concentric circles, we can imagine four gates on the circumference of the exoteric circle through which people can penetrate from the outer mechanical circle. These four gates correspond to the four ways described in Lecture Seven.

The first is the way of the fakir, the way of people number one, of people of the physical body, instinctive-moving-sensory people without much mind and without much heart.

The second way is the way of the monk, the religious way, the way of people number two, that is, of emotional people. The mind and the body should not be too strong.

The third way is the way of the yogi. This is the way of the mind, the way of people number three. The heart and the body must not be particularly strong, otherwise there may be a hindrance on this way.

Besides these three ways yet a fourth way exists by which can go those who cannot go by any of the first three ways.

The fundamental difference between the first three ways and the fourth way consists in the fact that they are tied to permanent forms which have existed almost unchanged throughout long periods of history. At the basis of institutions is religion. Where schools of yogis exist they differ little outwardly from religious schools. In different periods of history, various societies or orders of fakirs have existed in different countries and they still exist. These three traditional ways are permanent ways within the limits of our historical period.

Two or three thousand years ago there were yet other ways which no longer exist and the ways now in existence were not so divided; they stood much closer to one another.

The Fourth Way

The fourth differs from the old and new ways by the fact that it is never a permanent way. It has no definite forms and there are no institutions connected with it. It appears and is governed by some particular laws of its own.

The fourth way is never without some work of a definite significance, is never without some undertaking around which and in connection with which it can alone exist. When this work is finished, that is to say, when the aim set before it has been accomplished, the fourth way disappears, that is, it disappears from the given place, disappears in its given form, continuing perhaps in another place in another form. Schools of the fourth way exist for the needs of the work which is being carried out in connection with the proposed undertaking. They never exist by themselves as schools for the purpose of education or instruction.

Mechanical help cannot be required in any work of the fourth way. Only conscious work can be useful in all the undertakings of the fourth way. Mechanical man cannot give conscious work: so the first task of the people who begin such work is to create conscious assistants.

The work itself of schools of the fourth way can have very many forms and many meanings. In the midst of the ordinary conditions of life, the only chance a man has of finding a 'way' is in the possibility of meeting with the beginning of work of this kind. But the chance of meeting with such work, as well as the possibility of profiting by this chance, depends upon many circumstances and conditions.

The quicker a man grasps the aim of the work which is being executed, the quicker can he become useful to it and the more will he be able to get from it for himself.

But no matter what the fundamental aim of the work is, the schools continue to exist only while the work is going on. When the work is done the schools close. The people who began the work leave the stage. Those who have learned from them what was possible to learn and have reached the possibility of continuing on the way independently, begin in one form or another their own personal work.

Pseudo-esoteric Systems

It sometimes happens that when the school closes, a number of people are left who were round about the work, who saw the outward aspect of it, and saw the whole of the work in this outward aspect.

Having no doubts whatever of themselves or in the correctness of their conclusions and understanding, they decide to continue the work. To continue this work, they form new schools, teach people what they have themselves learned, and give them the same promises that they themselves received. Naturally, all this can only be outward imitation. But when we look back on history, it is almost impossible for us to distinguish where the real ends and where the imitation begins. Strictly speaking, all we know about various kinds of occult, masonic, and alchemical schools refer to such imitation. We know practically nothing about real schools excepting the results of their work and even that only if we are able to distinguish the results of real work from counterfeits and imitations.

However, such pseudo-esoteric systems also play their part in the work and activities of esoteric circles in that they act as intermediaries between a humanity which is entirely immersed in the materialistic life and schools which are interested in the education of a certain number of people — as much for the purposes of their own existences as for the purposes of the work of a cosmic character which they may be carrying out. The very idea of esotericism, the idea of initiation, reaches people in most cases through pseudo-esoteric systems and schools. If there were no such schools, the vast majority of humanity would have no possibility of hearing and learning of the existence of anything greater than life, because the truth in its pure form would be inaccessible for them. By reason of the many characteristics of man's being, particularly of the contemporary being, truth can come to people only in the form of a lie — for only in this form are they able to digest and assimilate it. Truth undefiled would, for them, be indigestible food.

Besides, a grain of truth in unaltered form is sometimes found in pseudo-esoteric movements, in church religions, in occult and theosophical schools. It may be preserved in their writings, their rituals, their traditions, their conceptions of the hierarchy, their dogmas, and their rules.

Genuine Esoteric Schools

Esoteric schools, that is, not pseudo-esoteric schools, which perhaps exist in some countries of the East, are difficult to find because they exist there in the guise of ordinary monasteries and temples. Tibetan monasteries are usually built in the form of four concentric circles or courts divided by high walls. Indian temples, especially those in Southern India, are built on the same plan but in the form of squares, one contained within the other. Worshippers usually have access to the first outer court and sometimes, as an exception, persons of another religion and Europeans. Access to the second court is for people of a certain caste only or for those having special permission; access to the third court is only for persons belonging to the temple; and access to the fourth is only for Brahmins and priests. Organisations of this kind which, with minor variations, are everywhere in existence, enable esoteric schools to exist without being recognised. Out of dozens of monasteries, one is a school. But how is it to be recognised? If you get inside it you will only be inside the first court; only pupils have access to the second. But you do not know this; you are told that they belong to a special caste. As regards the third and fourth courts, you cannot know anything about them. You can, in fact, observe the same order in all temples, and until you are told, you cannot distinguish an esoteric temple from an ordinary one.

The idea of initiation, which reaches us through pseudo-esoteric systems, is also transmitted to us in a completely wrong form. The legends concerning the outward rites of initiation have been created out of the scraps of information we possess in regard to the ancient Mysteries. The Mysteries represented a special kind of way in which, side by side with a difficult and prolonged period of study, theatrical representations of a special kind were given which depicted in allegorical forms the whole path of the evolution of man and the world.

Transitions from one level of being to another were marked by ceremonies of presentation of a special kind, that is, initiation. But a change of being cannot be brought about by any rites. Rites can only mark an accomplished transition. It is only in pseudo-esoteric systems in which there is nothing else except these rites that they begin to attribute an independent meaning to the rites themselves. It is supposed that a rite, in being transformed into a sacrament, transmits or communicates certain forces to the initiate. This again relates to the psychology of an imitation way. There is not, nor can there be, any outward initiation. In reality only self-initiation, self-presentation, exist. Systems and schools can indicate methods and ways, but no system whatever can do for a man the work that he must do for himself. Inner growth, a change of being, depend entirely upon the work which a man must do on himself.