talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

new york, march 1, 1924

question: has free will a place in your teaching?

answer: free will is the function of the real i, of him whom we call the master. he who has a master has will. he who has not has no will. what is ordinarily called will is an adjustment between willingness and unwillingness. for instance, the mind wants something and the feeling does not want it; if the mind proves to be stronger than the feeling, a man obeys his mind. in the opposite case, he will obey his feelings. this is what is called "free will" in an ordinary man. an ordinary man is ruled now by the mind, now by the feeling, now by the body. very often he obeys orders coming from the automatic apparatus; a thousand times more often he is ordered about by the sex center.

real free will can only be when one i always directs, when man has a master for his team. an ordinary man has no master; the carriage constantly changes passengers and each passenger calls himself i.

nevertheless, free will can only be when one i always directs, when man has a master for his team. an ordinary man has no master; the carriage constantly changes passengers and each passenger calls himself i.

nevertheless, free will is a reality, it does exist. but we, as we are, cannot have it. a real man can have it.

question: are there no people who have free will?

answer: i am speaking of the majority of men. those who have will—have will. anyway, free will is not an ordinary phenomenon. it cannot be had for the asking, cannot be bought in a shop.

question: what is the attitude of your teaching to morality?

answer: morality can be subjective or objective. objective morality is the same throughout the earth; subjective morality is different everywhere and everybody defines it differently: what is good for one is bad for another, and vice versa. morality is a stick with two ends—it can be turned this way and that way.

from the time when man began to live on the earth, from the time of adam—with the help of god, nature, and all our surroundings—there gradually formed in us an organ, the function of which is conscience. every man has this organ, and whoever is guided by conscience automatically behaves in accordance with the commandments. if our conscience were open and pure, there would be no need to speak about morality. then, unconsciously or consciously, everyone would behave according to the dictates of this inner voice.

conscience is not a stick with two ends. it is the quite definite realization, formed in us through the ages, of what is good and what is bad. unfortunately, for many reasons, this organ is usually covered over with a kind of crust.

question: what can break the crust?

answer: only intense suffering or shock pierces the crust, and then conscience speaks; but after a while a man calms down and the organ becomes covered over once more. a strong shock is needed for the organ to become uncovered automatically.

for instance, a man's mother dies. instinctively conscience begins to speak in him. to love, to honor and to cherish one's mother is the duty of every man, but a man is seldom a good son. when his mother dies, a man remembers how he had behaved toward her, and begins to suffer from the gnawings of conscience. but man is a great swine; he very soon forgets, and again lies in the old way.

he who has no conscience cannot be moral. i may know what i should not do, but, through weakness, i cannot refrain from doing it. for instance: i know—i was told by the doctor—that coffee is bad for me. but when i want some coffee i remember only about coffee. it is only when i don't want any coffee that i agree with the doctor and don't drink it. when i am full, i can be moral to a certain extent.

you should forget about morality. conversations about morality would now be simply empty talk.

inner morality is your aim. your aim is to be christian. but for that you must be able to do—and you cannot. when you are able to do, you will become christian.

but i repeat, external morality is different everywhere. one should behave like others and, as the saying goes, when in rome do as the romans do. this is external morality.

for internal morality a man must be able to do, and for this he must have an i. the first thing that is necessary is to separate inner things from outer, just as i have said about internal and external considering.

for instance, i am sitting here, and although i am used to sitting with my legs crossed under me, i consider the opinion of those present, what they are accustomed to, and i sit as they do, with my legs down.

now someone gives me a disapproving look. this immediately starts corresponding associations in my feeling, and i am annoyed. i am too weak to refrain from reacting, from considering internally.

or, for example, although i know that coffee is bad for me i also know that if i don't drink it i shall not be ale to talk, i shall feel too tired. i consider my body, and drink the coffee, doing it for my body.

usually we live like that; what we feel inside we manifest outside. but a boundary line should be established between the inner and the outer, and one should learn to refrain from reacting inwardly to anything, not to consider outer impacts, but externally sometimes to consider more than we do now. for instance, when we have to be polite, we should if necessary learn to be even more polite than we have been till now. it can be said that what has always been inside should now be outside, and what was outside should be inside.

unfortunately, we always react. for example, if i am angry everything in me is angry, every manifestation. i can learn to be polite when i am angry, but i remain the same inside. but if i use common sense, why should i be angry with someone who gives me a disapproving look? perhaps he does it out of foolishness. or perhaps someone turned him against me. he is the slave of someone else's opinion—an automation, a parrot repeating other people's words. tomorrow he may change his opinion. if he is weak, i, if i am annoyed, am still weaker, and i may spoil my relationship with others if i am angry with him, making a mountain out of a molehill.

you should understand and establish it as a strict rule that you must not pay attention to other people's opinions, you must be free of the people surrounding you. when you are free inside, you will be free of them.

outwardly, at times, if may be necessary to pretend to be annoyed. for instance, you may have to pretend to be angry. if you are struck on one cheek, it does not necessarily mean that you must offer the other cheek. sometimes it is necessary to answer back in such a way that the other will forget his grandmother. but internally one should not consider.

if you are free inwardly it may happen sometimes that if someone strikes you on one cheek, you should offer the other. this depends on a man's type. sometimes the other will not forget such a lesson in a hundred years.

at times one should retaliate, at other times not. it is necessary to adjust yourself to your circumstances—now you cannot because you are inside out. you must discriminate among your inner associations. then you can separate, and recognize every thought, but for that it is necessary to ask and to think why. choice of action is possible only if a man is free inside. an ordinary man cannot choose, he cannot form a critical estimate of the situation; with him, his external is his internal. it is necessary to learn to be unbiased, to sort out and analyze each action as though one were a stranger. then one can be just. to be just at the very moment of action is a hundred times more valuable than to be just afterwards. a great deal is necessary for this. an unbiased attitude is the basis of inner freedom, the first step toward free will.

question: it is necessary to suffer all the time to keep conscience open?

answer: suffering can be of very different kinds. suffering is also a stick with two ends. one leads to the angel, the other to the devil. one must remember the swing of the pendulum, and that after great suffering there is proportionately great reaction. man is a very complicated machine. by the side of every good road there runs a corresponding bad one. one thing is always side by side with the other. where there is little good there is also little bad; where there is much good there is also much bad. the same with suffering—it is easy to find oneself on the wrong road. suffering easily becomes pleasurable. you are hit once, you are hurt; the second time you are less hurt; the fifth time you already wish to be hit. one must be on guard, one must know what is necessary at each moment, because one can stray off the road into a ditch.

question: what is the relation of conscience to the acquisition of i?

answer: conscience helps only in that it saves time. a man who has conscience is calm; a man who is calm has time which he can use for work. however, conscience serves this purpose only in the beginning, later it serves another purpose.

at the beginning of every religion we find an affirmation of the existence of god the word and the word-god.

one teaching says that when the world was still nothing, there were emanations, there was god the word. god the word is the world. god said: "let it be so," and sent the father and the son. he is always sending the father and the son. and once he sent the holy ghost.

everything in the world obeys the law of three, everything existing came into being in accordance with this law. combinations of positive and negative principles can produce new results, different from the first and the second, only if a third force comes in.

if i affirm, she denies and we argue. but nothing new is created until something else is added to the discussion. then something new arises.

take the ray of creation. at the top is the absolute, god the word, divided into three: god the father, god the son and god the holy ghost.

the absolute creates in accordance with the same law. only in this case all the three forces necessary to produce a new manifestation are in the absolute himself. he sends them forth from himself, emanates them.

sometimes the three forces change their places.

the three forces or principles, issuing from the absolute, have created the whole multitude of suns, one of which is our sun. everything has emanations. the interaction of emanations produces new combinations. this refers to man, to the earth and to the microbe. each of the suns also emanates, and emanations of the suns, by means of combinations of positive and negative matter, give rise to new formations. the result of one of these combinations is our earth, and the newest combination is our mood.

after the act of creation, existence and emanations go on. emanations penetrate everywhere according to their possibilities. thus emanations also reach man.

the result of the interaction of emanations is new frictions.

the difference between the creative activity of the absolute and subsequent acts of creation consists in the fact that, as i have said, the absolute creates from himself. only the absolute has will; he alone sends forth the three forces from himself. subsequent acts of creation proceed mechanically, by means of interaction based on the same law of three. no single entity can create by itself—only collective creation is possible.

the direction of the creative activity of the absolute proceeding toward man is the direction of momentum. according to the law of seven, development can go on only as far as a certain point.

we have taken the line issuing from the absolute and passing through us. this line, able to proceed only as far as a certain point, ends in our moon. the moon is the last point of creation on this line.

the result is something like a ladder, and the moon is the base of this ladder. the main points of this line of creation are: absolute, sun, earth, and the last point, moon. between these four points there are three octaves: absolute—sun; sun—earth; earth—moon. each of these points is a do. between them at three points, there are, as it were, three machines whose function is to make fa pass into mi.

all through the cosmic octave the shock at fa must come from outside, and the shock at si comes from inside the do. by means of these, involution proceeds from top to bottom and evolution from bottom to top. the life of man plays the same role as planets in relation to earth, earth in relation to moon and all suns in relation to our sun.

the matter which comes from the absolute is hydrogen, resulting from a combination of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen. one hydrogen combining with another turns it into another kind of hydrogen with its own qualities and density.

everything is governed by law—which is very simple. i have shown you how the law works outside; now you can find out how it works in you. in accordance with the law, you can follow either the law of evolution or the law of involution. you must put the outside law inside.

in our system we are similar to god—threefold. if we consciously receive three matters and send them out, we can construct outside what we like. this is creation. when they are received through us it is the creation of the creator. in this case, all three forces manifest through us and blend outside. every creation can be either subjective or objective.

question: what is the neutralizing element in the birth of man?

answer: some kind of color mixed with the active and passive principles; it too is material and has special vibrations. all the planets project their vibrations on the earth, and all life is colored by the vibrations of the planet nearest to the earth at a given moment. all planets have emanations, and the emanations of each particular planet are strongest when it is nearest to the earth. planets project special influences, but each special influence stays unmixed only for a short time. sometimes the totality has special vibrations. here, too, the three principles must correspond to one another in accordance with law; when their relationship is correct there can be crystallization.

(question about the moon)

answer: the moon is man's big enemy. we serve the moon. last time you heard about kundabuffer. kundabuffer is the moon's representative on earth. we are like the moon's sheep, which it cleans, feeds and shears, and keeps for its own purposes. but when it is hungry it kills a lot of them. all organic life works for the moon. passive man serves involution; and active man, evolution. you must choose. but there is a principle: in one service you can hope for a career; in the other you receive much but without a career. in both cases we are slaves, for in both cases we have a master. inside us we also have a moon, a sun and so on. we are a whole system. if you know what your moon is and does, you can understand the cosmos.