“In order to understand this and, in general, the nature of knowledge and the nature
of being, as well as their interrelation, it is necessary to understand the relation of
knowledge and being to ‘understanding.’
“Knowledge is one thing, understanding is another thing.
“People often confuse these concepts and do not clearly grasp what is the difference
“Knowledge by itself does not give understanding. Nor is understanding increased
by an increase of knowledge alone. Understanding depends upon the relation of
knowledge to being. Understanding is the resultant of knowledge and being. And
knowledge and being must not diverge too far, otherwise understanding will prove to
be far removed from either.
At the same time the relation of knowledge to being does not change with a mere growth
of knowledge. It changes only when being grows simultaneously with knowledge.
In other words, understanding grows only with the growth of being.
“In ordinary thinking, people do not distinguish understanding from knowledge.
They think that greater understanding depends on greater knowledge. Therefore they
accumulate knowledge, or that which they call knowledge, but they do not know how
to accumulate understanding and do not bother about it.
“And yet a person accustomed to self-observation knows for certain that at different
periods of his life he has understood one and the same idea, one and the same thought,
in totally different ways. It often seems strange to him that he could have understood
so wrongly that which, in his opinion, he now understands rightly. And he realizes, at
the same time, that his knowledge has not changed, and that he knew as much about the given
subject before as he knows now. What, then, has changed? His being has changed.
And once being has changed understanding must change also.
“The difference between knowledge and understanding becomes clear when we
realize that knowledge may be the function of one center. Understanding, however, is
the function of three centers (meaning moving, emotional and intellectual).
Thus the thinking apparatus may know something (instant downloading?). But
understanding appears only when a man feels and senses what is connected with it.
“We have spoken earlier about mechanicalness. A man cannot say that he
understands the idea of mechanicalness if he only knows about it with his mind. He
must feel it with his whole mass, with his whole being;
then he will understand it.
“In the sphere of practical activity people know very well the difference between
mere knowledge and understanding. They realize that to know and to know how to do
are two different things, and that knowing how to do is not created by knowledge
alone. But outside the sphere of practical activity people do not clearly understand
what ‘understanding’ means.
“As a rule, when people realize that they do not understand a thing they try to find
a name for what they do not ‘understand,’ and when they find a name they say they
‘understand.’ But to ‘find a name’ does not mean to ‘understand.’ Unfortunately,
people are usually satisfied with names. A man who knows a great many names, that
is, a great many words, is deemed to understand a great deal—again excepting, of
course, any sphere of practical activity wherein his ignorance very soon becomes
“One of the reasons for the divergence between the line of knowledge and the line
of being in life, and the lack of understanding which is partly the cause and partly the
effect of this divergence, is to be found in the language which people speak. This
language is full of wrong concepts, wrong classifications, wrong associations. And the
chief thing is that, owing to the essential characteristics of ordinary thinking, that is to
say, to its vagueness and inaccuracy, every word can have thousands of different
meanings according to the material the speaker has at his disposal and the complex of
associations at work in him at the moment. People do not clearly realize to what a
degree their language is subjective, that is, what different things each of them says
while using the same words. They are not aware that each one of them speaks in a language of his own, understanding other people’s language either vaguely or not at all,
and having no idea that each one of them speaks in a language unknown to him.
People have a very firm conviction, or belief, that they speak the same language, that
they understand one another. Actually this conviction has no foundation whatever. The language in which they
speak is adapted to practical life only. People can communicate to one another
information of a practical character, but as soon as they pass to a slightly more
complex sphere they are immediately lost, and they cease to understand one another,
although they are unconscious of it. People imagine that they can, at any rate, understand one another if they try
or want to; they imagine that they understand the authors of the books they read and
that other people understand them. This also is one of the illusions which people
create for themselves and in the midst of which they live. As a matter of fact, no one
understands anyone else. Two men can say the same thing with profound conviction
but call it by different names, or argue endlessly together without suspecting that they
are thinking exactly the same. Or, vice versa, two men can say the same words and
imagine that they agree with, and understand, one another, whereas they are actually
saying absolutely different things and do not understand one another in the least.
“If we take the simplest words that occur constantly in speech and endeavor to
analyze the meaning given to them, we shall see at once that, at every moment of his
life, every man puts into each word a special meaning which another man can never
put into it or suspect.
“Let us take the word ‘man’ and imagine a conversation among a group of people in
which the word ‘man’ is often heard. Without any exaggeration it can be said that the
word ‘man’ will have as many meanings as there are people taking part in the
conversation, and that these meanings will have nothing in common.
“In pronouncing the word ‘man’ everyone will involuntarily connect with this word
the point of view from which he is generally accustomed to regard man, or from
which, for some reason or other, he regards him at the moment. One man at the
moment may be occupied with the question of the relation between the sexes. Then
the word ‘man’ will have no general meaning for him and on hearing this word he will
first of all ask himself—Which? man or woman? Another man may be religious and
his first question will be—A Christian or not a Christian? The third man may be a
doctor and the concept ‘man’ will mean for him a ‘sick man’ or a ‘healthy man,’ and, of
course from the point of view of his speciality. A spiritualist will think of ‘man’ from
the point of view of his ‘astral body,’ of ‘life on the other side,’ and so on, and he may
say, if he is asked, that men are divided into mediums and non-mediums. A naturalist
speaking of man will place the center of gravity of his thoughts in the idea of man as a
zoological type, that is to say, in speaking of man he will think of the structure of his
teeth, his fingers, his facial angle, the distance between the eyes. A lawyer will see in
‘man’ a statistical unit, or a subject for the application of laws, or a potential criminal,
or a possible client. A moralist pronouncing the word ‘man’ will invariably introduce into it the idea of
good and evil, and so on, and so on.
“People do not notice all these contradictions, do not notice that they never
understand one another, that they always speak about different things. It is quite clear
that, for proper study, for an exact exchange of thoughts, an exact language is
necessary, which would make it possible to establish what a man actually means,
would include an indication of the point of view from which a given concept is taken
and determine the center of gravity of this concept. The idea is perfectly clear and
every branch of science endeavors to elaborate and to establish an exact language for
itself. But there is no universal language. People continually confuse the languages of
different sciences and can never establish their exact correlation. And even in each
separate branch of science new terminologies, new nomenclatures, are constantly
appearing. And the further it goes the worse it becomes. Misunderstanding grows and
increases instead of diminishing and there is every reason to think that it will continue
to increase in the same way. And people will understand one another ever less and
“For exact understanding exact language is necessary. And the study of systems of
ancient knowledge begins with the study of a language which will make it possible to
establish at once exactly what is being said, from what point of view, and in what
connection. This new language contains hardly any new terms or new nomenclature,
but it bases the construction of speech upon a new principle, namely, the principle of
relativity; that is to say, it introduces relativity into all concepts and thus makes
possible an accurate determination of the angle of thought—for what precisely
ordinary language lacks are expressions of relativity.
“When a man has mastered this language, then, with its help, there can be
transmitted and communicated to him a great deal of knowledge and information
which cannot be transmitted in ordinary language even by using all possible scientific
and philosophical terms.
“The fundamental property of the new language is that all ideas in it are
concentrated round one idea, that is, they are taken in their mutual relationship from
the point of view of one idea. This idea is the idea of evolution. Of course, not
evolution in the sense of mechanical evolution, because such an evolution does not
exist, but in the sense of a conscious and volitional evolution, which alone is possible.
“Everything in the world, from solar systems to man, and from man to atom, either
rises or descends, either evolves or degenerates, either develops or decays. Bur
nothing evolves mechanically. Only degeneration and destruction proceed
mechanically. That which cannot evolve consciously—degenerates. Help from
outside is possible only in so far as it is valued and accepted, even if it is only by
feeling in the beginning.
“The language in which understanding is possible is constructed upon the indication of the relation of the object under examination to the evolution possible
for it; upon the indication of its place in the evolutionary ladder.
“For this purpose many of our usual ideas are divided according to the steps of this
“Once again let us take the idea man. In the language of which I speak, instead of
the word ‘man,’ seven words are used, namely: man number one, man number two,
man number three, man number four, man number five, man number six, and man
number seven. With these seven ideas people are already able to understand one
another when speaking of man.
“Man number seven means a man who has reached the full development possible
to man and who possesses everything a man can possess, that is, will, consciousness,
permanent and unchangeable I, individuality, immortality, and many other properties
which, in our blindness and ignorance, we ascribe to ourselves. It is only when to a
certain extent we understand man number seven and his properties that we can understand the gradual stages through which we can approach him, that is, understand the
process of development possible for us.
“Man number six stands very close to man number seven. He differs from man
number seven only by the fact that some of his properties have not as yet become
“Man number five is also for us an unattainable standard of man, for it is a man
who has reached unity.
“Man number four is an intermediate stage. I shall speak of him later.
“Man number one, number two, and number three, these are people who constitute
mechanical humanity on the same level on which they are born.
“Man number one means man in whom the center of gravity of his psychic life lies
in the moving center. This is the man of the physical body, the man with whom the
moving and the instinctive functions constantly outweigh the emotional and the
“Man number two means man on the same level of development, but man in whom
the center of gravity of his psychic life lies in the emotional center, that is, man with
whom the emotional functions outweigh all others; the man of feeling, the emotional
“Man number three means man on the same level of development but man in
whom the center of gravity of his psychic life lies in the intellectual center, that is,
man with whom the thinking functions gain the upper hand over the moving,
instinctive, and emotional functions; the man of reason, who goes into everything
from theories, from mental considerations.
“Every man is born number one, number two, or number three. “Man number four is not born ready-made. He is born one, two, or three, and
becomes four only as a result of efforts of a definite character. Man number four is
always the product of school work. He can neither be born, nor develop accidentally or
as the result of ordinary influences of bringing up, education, and so on. Man number
four already stands on a different level to man number one, two, and three; he has a
permanent center of gravity which consists in his ideas, in his valuation of the work,
and in his relation to the school. In addition his psychic centers have already begun to
be balanced; one center in him cannot have such a preponderance over others as is the
case with people of the first three categories. He already begins to know himself and
begins to know whither he is going.
“Man number five has already been crystallized; he cannot change as man number
one, two, and three change. But it must be noted that man number five can be the
result of right work and he can be the result of wrong work. He can become number
five from number four and he can become number five without having been four. And
in this case he cannot develop further, cannot become number six and seven. In order
to become number six he must again melt his crystallized essence, must intentionally
lose his being of man number five. And this can be achieved only through terrible
sufferings. Fortunately these cases of wrong development occur very rarely.
“The division of man into seven categories, or seven numbers, explains thousands of
things which otherwise cannot be understood. This division gives the first conception
of relativity as applied to man. Things may be one thing or another thing according to
the kind of man from whose point of view, or in relation to whom, they are taken.
“In accordance with this, all the inner and all the outer manifestations of man, all
that belongs to man, and all that is created by him, is also divided into seven
“It can now be said that there exists a knowledge number one, based upon imitation
or upon instincts, or learned by heart, crammed or drilled into a man. Number one, if
he is man number one in the full sense of the term, learns everything like a parrot or a
“The knowledge of man number two is merely the knowledge of what he likes; what
he does not like he does not know. Always and in everything he wants something
pleasant. Or, if he is a sick man, he will, on the contrary, know only what he dislikes,
what repels him and what evokes in him fear, horror, and loathing.
“The knowledge of man number three is knowledge based upon subjectively logical
thinking, upon words, upon literal understanding. It is the knowledge of bookworms,
of scholastics. Men number three, for example, have counted how many times each
letter of the Arabic alphabet is repeated in the Koran of Mohammed, and upon this have based a whole system of
interpretation of the. Koran.
“The knowledge of man number four is a very different kind of knowledge. It is
knowledge which comes from man number five, who in turn receives it from man
number six, who has received it from man number seven. But, of course, man number
four assimilates of this knowledge only what is possible according to his powers. But,
in comparison with man number one, man number two, and man number three, man
number four has begun to get free from the subjective elements in his knowledge and
to move along the path towards objective knowledge.
“The knowledge of man number five is whole, indivisible knowledge. He has now
one indivisible I and all his knowledge belongs to this I. He cannot have one I that
knows something which another does not know. What he knows, the whole of him
knows. His knowledge is nearer to objective knowledge than the knowledge of man
“The knowledge of man number six is the complete knowledge possible to man;
but it can still be lost.
“The knowledge of man number seven is his own knowledge, which cannot be
taken away from him; it is the objective and completely practiced knowledge of All.
“It is exactly the same with being. There is the being of man number one, that is, the
being of a man living by his instincts and his sensations;
the being of man number two, that is to say, the being of the sentimental, the
emotional man; the being of man number three, that is, the being of the rational, the
theoretical man, and so on. It is quite clear why knowledge cannot be far away from
being. Man number one, two, or three cannot, by reason of his being, possess the
knowledge of man number four, man number five, and higher. Whatever you may give
him, he may interpret it in his own way, he will reduce every idea to the level on
which he is himself.
“The same order of division into seven categories must be applied to everything
relating to man. There is art number one, that is the art of man number one, imitative,
copying art, or crudely primitive and sensuous art such as the dances and music of
savage peoples. There is art number two, sentimental art; art number three,
intellectual, invented art; and there must be art number four, number five, and so on.
“In exactly the same way there exists the religion of man number one, that is to say,
a religion consisting of rites, of external forms, of sacrifices and ceremonies of
imposing splendor and brilliance, or, on the contrary, of a gloomy, cruel, and savage
character, and so on. There is the religion of man number two; the religion of faith,
love, adoration, impulse, enthusiasm, which soon becomes transformed into the
religion of persecution, oppression, and extermination of ‘heretics’ and ‘heathens.’
There is the religion of man number three; the intellectual, theoretical religion of proofs and arguments, based upon logical deductions, considerations, and
interpretations. Religions number one, number two, and number three are really the
only ones we know; all known and existing religions and denominations in the world
belong to one of these three categories. What the religion of man number four or the
religion of man number five and so on is, we do not know, and we cannot know so
long as we remain what we are.
“If instead of religion in general we take Christianity, then again there exists a
Christianity number one, that is to say, paganism in the guise of Christianity.
Christianity number two is an emotional religion, sometimes very pure but without
force, sometimes full of bloodshed and horror leading to the Inquisition, to religious
wars. Christianity number three, instances of which are afforded by various forms of
Protestantism, is based upon dialectic, argument, theories, and so forth. Then there is
Christianity number four, of which men number one, number two, and number three
have no conception whatever.
“In actual fact Christianity number one, number two, and number three is simply
external imitation. Only man number four strives to be a Christian and only man
number five can actually be a Christian. For to be a Christian means to have the being
of a Christian, that is, to live in accordance with Christ’s precepts.
“Man number one, number two, and number three cannot live in accordance with
Christ’s precepts because with them everything ‘happens.’ Today it is one thing and
tomorrow it is quite another thing. Today they are ready to give away their last shirt
and tomorrow to tear a man to pieces because he refuses to give up his shirt to them.
They are swayed by every chance event. They are not masters of themselves and
therefore they cannot decide to be Christians and really be Christians.
“Science, philosophy, and all manifestations of man’s life and activity can be
divided in exactly the same way into seven categories and this is why it is so
difficult for people to understand one another.
In Search of the Miraculous (ISOM) P.D. Ouspensky