As it is next to impossible to not be affected by the war in Ukraine, it is good that we learn to think about war in a way that will help us understand it. Stopping wars would mean a big change in the understanding of humanity as a group. Anti-war sentiment has existed since the time of Homer, but, almost without fail, each generation has had some taste, whether near or far, of the horrors of warring factions. To systematically kill other men, and kill, as we now see in Ukraine, women and children, cannot be said to be inevitable, but if we wanted to look for one cause of war, it would have to be selfishness, and selfishness is at its root an elemental part of human psychology.
In order to understand war as a phenomenon, we must not only understand man’s vices and his ignorance, we must also have some basic knowledge of the evolution of consciousness and man’s position in that octave. One factor, for instance, that is central to understanding war is to begin to see that the majority of men who start and perpetuate wars are not men in the full sense of the word: their personal evolution has not yet progressed to a human level. Inhuman is a word that is associated with war criminals—it usually means that they are lacking compassion and mercy—but it can also be said that they are inhuman because the functions that are given to us as human beings have atrophied, or are undeveloped.
Good and Evil
Ouspensky and Gurdjieff were very clear about one point in relation to evil: evil is always mechanical; it cannot be conscious.
From the viewpoint of the system there are only two things that can be compared or seen in man, the manifestation of mechanical laws and the manifestation of consciousness. If you want to find examples of what you can call good or bad, to arrive at some standard, you will see at once that what we call evil is always mechanical. ~ Ouspensky
The Gurdjieff system was designed to be very specific in its aims and so left out a great deal of knowledge because that knowledge was unnecessary to its aims. It provided only theories and practices that were meant to increase consciousness or to connect to higher centers. Because of this, the meaning of good must be, by definition, whatever action and thoughts help us become more conscious, and evil must be any actions or thoughts that make us less conscious or more mechanical. Within the confines of self-study, this definition is sufficient, but when we step out of the circle of the esotericism we are lost for the simple reason that very few men outside of this circle have involved themselves in a work that is meant to increase consciousness.
At the same time, I think we can come to a good way of thinking about good and evil in the world by using the same principles. We know from our inner work that all men have the possibility of experiencing lower and higher worlds. These worlds are measured by the rate of vibrations and by the number of laws that are imposed on someone who finds himself in that world. A quicker vibration means a higher and lighter world; a slower vibration means a lower and heavier world. A world with fewer laws means more freedom, and a world with many laws means more restriction. False personality has four times as many laws as essence. To get some sense of the difference between those two worlds it is good to find examples in your own life and compare them. Here are some more universal examples that should give you some guidance. Essence may be felt while walking in a beautiful garden or in a forest, or may be felt in witnessing the innocence of a child, or it may be felt at the funeral of a friend when you understand that we are all mortal and that death will come for all of us. False personality can be seen in an exchange of opinions, especially when those opinions are expressed without any interest in hearing or thinking about what the other has to say. It can be seen when men define themselves in roles or tribes and relate to other people through those roles. I am an American and you are not, I am rich and you are not. I am beautiful and you are not. I am Christian and you are not. False personality drains humanity out of our interactions; essence opens up the possibility of connection.
With a good sense of just these two worlds, I think we can come to a human way of seeing good and evil. In order to make this jump we need to not only look at our internal struggle but also at the influence men have over other men. What it comes down to is this: people who encourage others to express and identify with lower worlds can be seen as evil and people who inspire others to find and express higher worlds are good.
This is not based on nothing. If we accept that the meaning of the universe is to make the Absolute conscious of its creation (or itself), as Meher Baba and other mystical and esoteric traditions have suggested, then we can say that the tendencies that go against that movement can, in a very simple way, be thought of as evil and that the tendencies to propel that movement forward can be considered good.
Why should manifested life in different stages of evolution emerge out of the absolute Reality, which is infinite? The need for manifested life arises out of the impetus in the Absolute to become conscious of itself. ~ Meher Baba (The Discourses)
And we all know the people who represent a downward tendency. They are on the news every day. They encourage others to express and identify with violence, greed, and prejudice. They bring out the worst in others and manage to bring others down to their level. The opposite of this would be to promote generosity instead of greed, humanity instead of nationalism, and understanding instead of prejudice. It should be clear that good in this sense is not only goodness. It can also mean pointing out illusions. If we are to perform the service of directing consciousness back in the direction of the Absolute, then we need also to provide forms that promote self-consciousness, and seeing oneself is not easy; delusion is always easier because it is a downhill movement rather than an uphill battle.
The bridge from false personality to essence on a human level begins with critical thinking and emotional maturity. In esoteric circles this bridge is more complex; it includes esoteric knowledge and physical, mental, and emotional exercises that lead the aspirant beyond critical thinking and emotional maturity. These tools are necessary because in esoteric circles essence is not the aim, but is rather a staging point for consciousness to manifest. But for the purposes of understanding why men keep finding themselves at war with their neighbors, it will be enough to examine the reasons behind the lack of emotional and intellectual development.
The Octave of Evolving Consciousness
The Octave of Evolving Consciousness shows the evolution of consciousness from its beginning in stones and metals all the way up to the Absolute. It specifically looks at how centers of identity, which are energetic in nature, form and are added to other centers to form more complex beings. Darwin’s theory of evolution can be seen as a mechanical image of the Octave of Evolving Consciousness on the scale of material existence. They both share the principle of complex beings developing from simpler beings through time and adaptation, but there are major differences. Mechanical natural selection, which is the basis for Darwin’s theory, is not enough to propel a conscious ascending octave. Effort, craving, and outside help are needed if the evolution is to continue to develop. From another point of view, we can say that they are parallel octaves, one for the development of consciousness and one for the development of complex material forms that are meant to be vehicles for consciousness during the physical stages of conscious advancement. The point is that there is no inherent contradiction between Darwin’s ideas and the Octave of Evolving Consciousness. Speciation and variation, as they are understood in Darwinian evolution, are processes that provide us with finer and longer-living vehicles, which can aid in bridging many of the intervals in the long path of the evolution of consciousness.
As this is an ascending octave, we begin at the bottom.
Do: Stones, Metals, Minerals, and Crystals. At this level there is no natural center for identity. This ‘do’ is, in a sense, a beginning from nothing and must pull together some semblance or memory of an energetic field in order to move on. Part of what this means is that a stone’s existence must be saturated with the energy that surrounds it for enormous spans of time. It is also right to say that the Octave of Evolving Consciousness is circular in that the Absolute, in the act of creating the universe, imbues the matter of planetary stone with an energy that can accumulate over time into the rudiments of a center of identity. The death of a stone occurs when its form is broken down into the basic forms of sand, dirt, and soil which is food and a medium of growth for trees and plants. In esoteric circles it is said that for a being to evolve, it must be eaten by a higher world. The Octave of Evolving Consciousness describes how this principle works.
Re. Trees and Plants. Before we get too far into this discussion, it is important to understand why, for instance, bacteria or microbes, or DNA are not part of the Octave of Evolving Consciousness. They are not because in this octave we are only looking at forms that create lasting centers of identity. Remember that there are octaves within octaves and that no seven-note octave can explain the complexity of everything. Diagrams like this one are meant to pull out specific elements and show not only the development but also where the intervals occur and how those intervals affect the movement.
Trees and plants are what we think of as life (as compared to stones and minerals). Their lifespan is considerably shorter than that of stones. They are alive and can die much easier than a stone can. They have no free movement, but they are supple enough to find movement from external forces like wind and water (sea plants). They also grow and mature over their lifetime, which is another type of movement. Evolution within this note would be from simple plants to more complex and longer living plants (like trees), but it is also important that this evolution include a closer proximity to two brained beings, insects, birds, reptiles, and mammals. This proximity feeds the trees in the sense that they become infused over time with the energy of two-brained beings, and of course, they are literally food for the two-brained beings.
Mi: Insects, Reptiles, Fish, Birds, Most Animals.
What is clear in this note is that there is a considerable advancement within the confines of two-brained beings. This is also true for all other notes in the Octave of Evolving Consciousness, but here it might be more apparent. A tiger is far more complex than a worm. A tiger’s motor abilities and instinctive awareness are far more developed, but both a tiger and a worm are two-brained beings.
What is interesting about this stage is that there are animals that show the beginnings of the next note; that is; the rudiments of human consciousness. Dogs and horses, for instance, have a rudimentary emotional center. (Gurdjieff also suggests that sometimes cows have an emotional center.) And some monkeys and apes have a rudimentary intellectual center.
Mi/Fa Interval: Becoming Human
In the first three notes of the octave, craving is enough to move the octave along. The stone imprisoned in endless, static life longs for growth and expansion; plants rooted in the earth long for the freedom of movement; and insects and birds and mammals long to grow into more and more complex and perceptive creatures. For the second and third notes change of form, or reincarnation, becomes a necessary part of the evolution.
If we look at different plants from the point of view of exposure to the next level of existence, we can see that a primitive plant living close to the surface of the earth will not have the same kind of experience as a large tree. The tree will experience movement in the wind and the rain and may house birds or squirrels or monkeys. Such impressions will over time express themselves as cravings, in other words, the experience will create in the soul of the tree an urge to free itself from its roots and ascend to the next stage of evolution where it has a functioning motor function. It should be understood that these cravings or urges are mechanical and are part of a natural upward trend that is pushed forward by the energy of creation The ability of a tree to separate itself from the being of a one-brained being and to incarnate into a two-brained being is largely dependent on the amount of higher impressions that have saturated its identity or soul.
The same can be said for two-brained beings, which may go through a large number of incarnations as insects, birds, and mammals until the impressions that make up their experience lead to a craving to incarnate as a human. But here is where there is a difference. A human is not a three-brained being but is rather a four-brained being. This, probably better than anything else, describes the difficulty that the mi/fa interval represents: how can a two-brained being develop into a fully functioning four-brained being. The answer is that in most cases it cannot make the transition. It may be that transition from animal perception to becoming human is rarer and more difficult than the transition from a fully-functioning human being to a spiritual being (the movement between the notes fa to sol) There are a number of reasons for this. This development will require a great amount of experience (impressions); that is, it will require a great number of incarnations. But more importantly, at this stage of development craving will not be enough. Identity as a man can only happen through choice or will and action. Birth as a human being does not guarantee compassion, humanity, and intelligence; it only guarantees the existence of centers for these capacities. The capacity to be human is a potential; it is not a birthright.
A man who does not learn to use his intellect and does not learn to feel cannot be said to be human because he neglects to develop the faculties that distinguish him from two-brained beings. Empathy, love, compassion, and critical thinking are what make us human. Without the development of a focus that combines man’s four lower centers into a unified whole, what Gurdjieff called right work of centers, a man is not a man. A man may be born with the hardware for the instinctive/moving, emotion, and intellectual centers, but he may desire only instinctive/moving experiences.
Man is also the first creature to have a unified sense of I. This is the result of having an intellectual center, which has the capacity to look forward and backward and form a picture of itself in time. If you hunt and kill an animal, the pain that it feels is real, but it does not feel I am in pain. If you hurt a two-brained being, it will remember you as a threat and may even attack you if you threaten its space, but it cannot think: this is my enemy and plot its revenge when you are not part of its present space. A predatory animal kills to protect and feed itself, but it does not have the capacity or very little capacity to organize its killing. It cannot raise armies, invent weapons, bomb cities, or hate entire races.
So if the mind is responsible for delusion and cruelty, why were humans given an intellectual center? The Octave of Evolving Consciousness answers this: man was not just given a mind, he was given a mind along with an emotional function at the same step. Both the emotional and intellectual centers contain elements that mechanically represent higher consciousness. The emotional center has the potential to transform and process higher energies, and the intellectual center has the capacity to view present events from a scale that is larger than those events. Both of these capacities are aspects of the experience of higher centers, and only when they are combined in the human experience do we begin to see the signs of spirituality in man. In a very real sense the mi/fa interval in the Octave of Evolving Consciousness can be seen to express the difficulty of balancing heart and mind.
Sometimes, when people asked Ouspensky about self-remembering, he said: ‘Bring heart to head.’ Balance between two modes of perception depends on it. Sometimes there is too much pressure in one place, sometimes in the other. Harmonized, they can hardly make mistakes. ~ Rodney Collin
In order for a man to ascend through the human part of his personal evolution, the emotional and intellectual must develop side by side. The development of one over the other leads to problems.
The development of emotional function without intellectual development leads to arbitrary, passionate beliefs, to people who support evil because they have no understanding. Intellectual development without emotional development leads to a cold, calculating personality and sociopath-like behavior; for example, scientists who build and perfect weapons without comprehending that the use of these weapons will destroy lives and cripple men and bring enormous grief, or politicians who amass armies and use devastating weapons to achieve selfish objectives.
Failure to bridge the mi/fa interval in the Octave of Evolving Consciousness means that individual centers of consciousness will be reincarnated in earlier notes in the octave. The ascent will be broken, and what remains of the individual consciousness will be relegated to animal life, plant life, or confinement in stone or mineral forms.
Why would a man who desires nothing but an animal existence, who fails to make use of his emotional and intellectual functions, continue to be born as a human? It is a waste. His animal existence will be rewarded with an incarnation as an animal. Why would a man who is afraid to move outside of a small circle of his material needs, who denies himself social and intellectual change, be given another human incarnation? His rigidity and his craving for stability will be rewarded with incarnation as a tree. And a man whose opinions, delusions, and prejudices have become fixed, whose being has become crystallized in confining and cruel attitudes will be incarnated as a stone so that what he has become may be broken down by centuries of rain and wind and heat and cold.
If a man is to continue to be incarnated as a human there must be some upward movement in his development of emotional and intellectual functions. He must engage in positive social and intellectual projects and experiments. He must connect to other people.
Fa: Being Human. The mi/fa interval in the Octave of Evolving Consciousness can be said to be bridged when a man balances his four lower centers; that is, when the instinctive, moving, emotional, and intellectual centers work in their proper place and with their proper energy. This balance is achieved and passed down through lifetimes by the collection of experiences, which are stored, not in the lower centers themselves, but in the higher intellectual center. A man at this level can help others develop their emotional and intellectual functions.
With energy balanced in the four lower centers, a man can now divert energy from lower centers (and the sex center) into focusing the higher emotional center. To add a functioning higher emotion center to his being, a man must desire it, make efforts, and have help.
This note tells us that all spiritual evolution passes through being human. You cannot achieve spiritual aims without first arriving at empathy, humanity, and compassion. If you want to find your soul, you need to find your humanity first.
Esoteric relationships have to be human relationships transmuted to something higher. They can never be less than human relationships. ~ Rodney Collin
Sol: Spiritual Man. The note sol in this octave is represented by a man who has four balanced lower centers as well as a functioning higher emotional center. He knows himself and can help other men balance their lower centers in preparation for the working of the higher emotional center. You can also say that the experiences (memories) of the four lower centers are a medium of growth or food for the higher emotional center.
La: Perfected Man: The note la in this octave is represented by a man who has four balanced lower centers as well as a functioning higher emotional center and a functioning higher intellectual center. Such a man sees the world without illusion and can help other men begin to experience the higher emotional center.
Si: Realized Being or Being Set Free: The note si in the Octave of Evolving Consciousness is represented by a being who is not burdened by the four lower centers or by the cycle of death and rebirth. It is represented only by the two higher centers.
Si/Do Interval: We cannot know how this interval is bridged, only what it means. It means that consciousness created through its long evolution becomes part of the Absolute; it means that the Absolute becomes conscious of a part of its creation.
Do: The Absolute: All that is.
From one point of view, we can say that time is an expression of the Absolute that opens up the possibility of progress for the universe to ascend from its initial state of matter through identity, self-knowledge, and return to its source. Time is evolution. Without time there would be no up and down moment. You cannot say that the Absolute is outside of time because He is all that is. Maybe it is better to think of time, as we perceive it, as eternity slowed down or made smaller.
War and the Octave of Evolving Consciousness
The Octave of Evolving Consciousness explains why men wage war against each other: they wage war because they act from selfish, instinctive motivations that have not been made passive by the development of the emotional and intellectual functions. The Octave of Evolving Consciousness also explains that the stage of development, which gives the understanding and compassion to end wars, falls at the interval in the octave; this means that it cannot develop mechanically and that it needs outside help to continue. Outside help, on the level of an individual, can come in many different forms; it can be as simple as parents teaching generosity, or a state providing education.
Remember we are not talking about spiritual development. That comes later. We are talking about becoming human. This is what Gurdjieff meant when he said that esoteric (or school) work begins at a level above ordinary life. In ordinary life we find a large number of people who are incapable of assimilating emotion and intellectual material. They must first develop the qualities that make them men and women. Religion—I am not talking about sham religions that reinforce greed and prejudice and intolerance—helps individuals develop emotional depth and maturity; in other words, by teaching ethical behavior, they are a preparation for spiritual work. The same can be said for science and philosophy; they prepare the intellect for esoteric knowledge.
War, and really all human cruelty, is a consequence of man’s search to replace animalistic behavior with human values. The horrors of war are impressions that we all carry within us as a motivation for change and development. Continued reincarnation as an ascending octave within the human stage of the Octave of Evolving Consciousness results in a closer and closer proximity to people and influences that aid in the development of the emotional and intellectual functions. This cycle is repeated until the interval can be bridged.
Why Evil has an Advantage and Why Good Will Always Win in the End
People who are willing to say and do anything, no matter how many lies they tell or how many people they hurt, have an obvious advantage over people whose behavior is restricted by conscience, common sense, and decency. This is not hard to understand. A politician who is willing to promise his constituents anything and lie about his opponent has a great deal of sway over voters and followers who are not schooled in critical thinking. This becomes especially dangerous when the politician has a predilection for inspiring lower emotions in crowds. His opponents will always have the difficult task of explaining reality and trying to inspire decent, common-sense policies to people who have been promised the world.
But in the end, after all the suffering, reality always wins. It wins because experience has a tendency to drag us out of our delusions. Lies are eventually exposed, and it is connection (the beginning of love) that gives life meaning and advances consciousness. Nationalism and military aggression represent a breakdown of connection and communication.
Nationalism is a collective delusion or prejudice that one group of people is better or more deserving than another. When a leader strokes fear and anger and hatred in a large group of people who have no capacity for emotional maturity or critical thinking, he sets the stage for acts of cruelty and military aggression. Military aggression can be seen as a collective, organized action based on delusion and misunderstanding, and is less a result of material concern as it is a result of unexamined identification of a tribe in which the aggressor belongs. Military aggression cannot exist under the light of understanding, or, in most cases, under the light of critical thinking. The cost of war—the loss of life, the destruction of property, the advancement of hate and prejudice, and the damage to the natural environment—is almost always greater than the benefits of the acquisition of land and the occupation of another country. Not only are the initial costs high but the residual cost of occupation is high because the resentment and anger can be prolonged through generations.
At the same time war can bring out selfless actions in those who fight against an aggressor who threatens the lives and well-being of a people or nation.
A few weeks ago I sat down with a Ukrainian woman, N, who fled to California after the first bombs started to fall on Kyiv. She was a veteran of the Chechen War and Russia’s long occupation there. She lived in Grozny with her husband until he was killed by a bomb while walking home from work. They were not soldiers; they were both civilians caught in the middle of the conflict. After his death N returned with her son to her home in Ukraine, where she said that she cried for three years. Her son is still in Ukraine; though not a soldier, he was not allowed to leave the country. At this time he is not fighting, though if things get worse, he has the possibility of being drafted into a civilian militia, where he would probably not see actual fighting but would be required to do other war-related work.
Despite the uncertainty of her situation, N became animated and spoke with some pride and irony about the resistance her countrymen had put up against the Russians. She told me many stories: how gypsies had stolen abandoned tanks by latching them to horses and carting them away; how there was at least one battalion of Russians who deserted Russia and are fighting alongside Ukrainians; how the pilots in the Ukrainian air force are all old men because they are the only ones who were trained, by the Russians, to fly the old Soviet airplanes.
She had no hatred for the Russian people—her thoughts that night were translated by a Russian/American woman who took her in for a time when she first arrived—but she did not hesitate to call Putin evil and was glad to see that the war was going badly for him. She prayed that more Russians would begin to see Putin for what he is: evil and delusional.
In the example of this war, which is not much different than other wars, we can see that the backdrop of a very difficult situation can inspire some individuals to acts of courage and self-sacrifice.
When we examine actions in war—as to whether they are ascending or descending in relation to the Octave of Evolving Consciousness—in a broad way we are looking at two factors. Is the action selfless? And does that action open up the emotional and intellectual functions or does it close down the emotional and intellectual functions? The first is fairly obvious, but the second is just as important to consider. A soldier, who fights because he believes lies and propaganda, may sacrifice himself, but he does so with his intellect shut down. In the same way, a soldier who fights Ukrainians because he is a Russian, even when he knows that their cause is spurious, acts with his emotions shut down. Remember all we are looking at here is whether or not an individual is choosing actions that help him evolve towards becoming human, and this evolution is pinned to opening up and developing emotional maturity and intelligence.
In 1994 I was in Saint Petersburg on May 9th, the day that the Russians celebrate their victory against Germany in World War 2. That morning I walked from the apartment where I was staying with V, a friend and writer, to the Nevsky Prospekt, the boulevard that Ouspensky haunted while he made his first experiments in self-remembering. There was a parade of tanks, military vehicles and soldiers, some carrying enormous banners with pictures of Stalin. The sidewalks were packed with people and at one point I collided with a man, who yelled at me in Russian. I didn’t feel his anger was justified, in that we were both just being pushed along by the crowd, and neither of us had been hurt or had fallen down. I said nothing but just stared at him. I hadn’t understood what he has said. After a moment of looking at each other, he turned and walked away, and I made my way to a quieter side street, and then walked back to V’s apartment.
V, who was a late riser, was eating breakfast, and so I joined him at the table and described the parade. After I told him what I had seen, I asked, ‘Stalin. Really? Are they glorifying Stalin?’
He replied, and these are his exact words. ‘Yes, well there are people in Russia. They say they want to make Russia great again.’
I didn’t think much about V’s words at the time, but the memory was resurrected when this sentiment surfaced in 2016 in the United States. And now it is spread around the world.
At a time when our survival requires that we work together and compromise, we find ourselves in a worldwide epidemic of small-minded nationalism. The so-called strong man mentality has proven to be inadequate for most of the problems that now face mankind. Such an approach is not only insufficient, but is counterproductive for the problems of climate change, health care, and the necessity of diplomacy in a world where weapons can wipe out whole populations. Survival of the fittest is not an evolutionary trend for man. It is a harboring backward toward the life of two-brained beings.
What a petty thing a man is that he must belittle and kill other men and defile the grandeur of the earth in order to make himself feel great. The single life of a man is too short to be great. Time swallows him up. Men, who desire to dominate and control others, who support prejudice and hate, base their identity on delusions that have followed them from earlier stages of evolution.
The climb up the Octave of Evolving Consciousness is dependent on feeding parts of ourselves that can survive the many deaths that are necessary for the soul to reach a state that reflects the greatness of the universe. Opinions and attitudes, unless they are artificially crystallized, die with the body. Attitudes become useful when they lead to understanding, which is only possible when essence and higher centers begin to function. Though essence dies with the body, it colors the impressions that reach higher centers. It creates the individual nature of a soul. Without essence, the souls of men would be exactly the same; which means they could not transfer the diversity of the universe back to the Absolute. Greatness means incorporating worlds that bring the understanding of generations because the time frame that is natural to them spans generations. Greatness is not only striving; sometimes it means surrendering to forces that lift us out of worlds that are closed to understanding.
In times of war we imagine that enormous political conflicts that play out before our eyes are more important than our personal friendships and loves, but, in fact, war is an attempt to stifle human connection, so we must hold to our connections because connection is the beginning of humanity and empathy and love and compassion. It is the beginning of becoming human.