Introductory Points II

17. Before studying the Enneagram symbol, it is essential to understand some aspects of the teaching which makes use of it, as well as the relationship of this teaching to other systems which use symbolism for the transmission of knowledge.

18. The ways which lead to the knowledge of Unity approach it like the radii of a circle moving towards its center; the closer to the center, the closer the ways approach each other. Because of this, theoretical statements from one line can sometimes be explained from the point of view of another line, and it may sometimes be possible to form an intermediate line between two adjacent ones. However, in the absence of complete knowledge and understanding of the fundamental lines, these intermediate ways may end up leading to a mixing of lines, producing confusion and error.

19. The principle known lines are the Hebraic, the Egyptian, the Persian and the Hindu. In addition, there exists theosophy and Western occultism which are mixtures of the fundamental lines; due to their incompleteness, attempts at their practical realization can only bring negative results.

20. The teaching which uses the Enneagram symbol and whose theory Gurdjieff presented is, according to G.: “Completely self-supporting and independent of the other lines and it has been unknown up to the present time [1916].” (ISOM 286)

21. The Enneagram symbol cannot be found anywhere in the books or oral transmission of “occultism”. “Those who knew” felt it was necessary to keep knowledge of it secret. However, some hints and partial representations of it can occasionally be found in the literature.

22. The Enneagram symbol is used to express the Law of Seven in its union with the Law of Three. It unites into one whole all knowledge connected with the law of the structure of the octave.

23. The law of octaves involves the the complete process of the note “do” going through a succession of tones until it reaches the “do” of the next octave. The “do” must pass through 7 tones which represent the Law of Seven. The final “do” is the eighth step, which is a repetition of the first tone but in another octave, and which acts as the end of the first process and the beginning of the next.

24. There are two intervals in the octave, called by Gurdjieff “shock points”, which, when added to the eight mentioned above, gives ten steps. Thus, the law of octaves, and the process of development which it expresses, actually involves the numbers 1-10.



According to Gurdjieff, in order to understand this law, it is first necessary to regard the universe as consisting of vibrations.

“These vibrations proceed in all kinds, aspects, densities of the matter which constitutes the universe, from the finest to the coarsest; they issue from various sources and proceed in various directions, crossing one another, colliding, strengthening, weakening, arresting one another, and so on.” (ISOM 122)

Traditionally in the West, vibrations are regarded as continuous, proceeding uninterruptedly, either ascending or descending, until the force of the original impulse naturally weakens.

Ancient knowledge, however, places at the base of the understanding of vibrations the principle of the Discontinuity of Vibrations. This means that the force of the original impulse in vibrations does not act uniformly, but becomes alternately stronger and weaker, leading to periodic accelerations and retardations.

Vibrations develop in a regular way according to the nature of the original impulse, but at a certain moment they slow down and no longer “obey” the original impulse: they begin to change their nature and direction. After this temporary retardation, the vibrations again proceed uniformly until another check in their development takes place. The periods of uniform action of the momentum are not equal and the periods or retardation are not symmetrical.

The laws which govern the deflection of vibrations from their primary direction were known to ancient science and were incorporated into a formula which has been preserved up to our times, known as “the octave.”

The ideas of the octave have been handed down from teacher to pupil, from school to school. One of these schools found that it was possible to apply this formula to music. This resulted in the development of the seven-tone musical scale, which was known in ancient times, then forgotten, and then discovered again.

According to G., “The seven-tone musical scale is the formula of a cosmic law which was worked out by ancient schools and applied to music.” (ISOM 124)

However, the law of octaves can also be found in light, heat, chemical, magnetic and other vibrations.

By studying the seven-tone scale, one can gain a foundation for understanding the cosmic law of octaves.

A musical octave is the period between one do and the next, and is divided into seven unequal parts. The differences in the notes or the pitch of the notes are called “intervals”. The smallest intervals occur between mi-fa and si-do, and these are the precise places of retardation in the octave. When octaves are spoken of in a “cosmic” sense, only those intervals between mi-fa and si-do are called “intervals”.

This law explains why there are no straight lines in nature, and why ordinary human beings can neither “think” nor “do” and why everything happens in a way opposed to what is desired or expected. All this is the clear and direct effect of the intervals– retardations in the development of vibrations. At these moments, deviations from the original direction take place.

Deviation after deviation can eventually result in the line of the octaves turning completely around and proceeding in a direction opposite to the original direction. If this continues, it may even return to the original direction, making a complete circle.

The law of octaves explains many phenomena in our lives which seem incomprehensible:

First, there is the principle of the deviation of forces.

Second is the fact that nothing stays in the same place or remains what it was; everything is moving, going somewhere, changing, and inevitably either develops/ascends or degenerates/ descends.

Third, fluctuations are constantly taking place in the rising and falling, ascending and descending.

The right development of octaves– that is, octaves which develop in a consecutive and orderly way–is based on what looks like an accident.

Octaves intersect and meet, and in some way or another one octave will fill up the interval of the other, making it possible for the vibrations of the receptive octave to develop freely and without checks. Observations of this have established that if, at the moment when an octave is passing through an interval, there enters into it “additional shock” which corresponds in force and character, the original direction will be maintained without a loss or change in its nature.

Shocks occur accidentally. However, those lines of development which are straightened by accident can give people the impression that these straight lines exist naturally and are the rule rather than the exception. People then live under the illusion that it is possible for them “to do”, that is, to attain a projected aim.

In reality, according to Gurdjieff, people can do nothing, and if they do attain anything, it is usually either by accident or only a superficial resemblance to actual attainment. But people then convince themselves that they have achieved their aim and give the impression to others that anyone else can also attain their aim. In reality, this is all an illusion. A person can easily deceive themselves and take the result “obtained” as the result desired.

Control over things begins with control over ourselves. Most people have no control over things within themselves. However, this control can be attained by understanding the law of octaves.

By recognizing the moments of the intervals in one’s activities, a person can learn to create the additional shocks that are necessary.

The possibility of specially created additional shocks gives a
practical aspect to the study of the law of octaves. But it is only possible to learn this in a school, that is, a rightly organized school which follows all esoteric traditions.

Without the help of a real school, a person “can never understand the law of octaves and know the moments of the intervals or be able to create necessary additional shocks.” (ISOM 134) This is because certain conditions are necessary for this purpose, and these can only be created in a school which itself is created on these principles.>

P.D. Ouspensky

[NOTE: see also ]

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