Lecture 41 — School Discipline

by G I Gurdjieff

Contents List:

The Need for Schools
Division of Centres
The Body
Postures and Movements
Breathing Exercises
A Special Exercise
A Sacred Responsibility
Balance and 'Sin'

Return to:


See also:

Wrong Functions
Balance in Personality and Society

The Need for Schools

Schools are imperative first of all because of the complexity of man's organisation. A man is unable to keep watch on the whole of himself, that is, all his different sides. Only school can do this through school methods and school discipline.


A man is much too lazy: he will do a great deal without the proper intensity, or he will do nothing at all while thinking that he is doing something; he will work with intensity on something that does not need intensity and will let these moments when intensity is imperative pass by him. Then he spares himself; he is afraid of doing anything unpleasant. He will never attain the necessary intensity by himself. If you have observed yourself in the proper way, you will agree with this. If a man sets himself a task of some sort, he very quickly begins to be indulgent with himself. He tries to accomplish his task in the easiest way possible, and so on. This is not school work. In school work, only super-efforts are counted — that is, efforts beyond the normal, beyond the necessary; ordinary efforts are not counted.

A super-effort is an effort beyond that necessary to achieve a given purpose. Imagine that I have been walking all day and am very tired. The weather is bad: it is raining and cold. In the evening, I arrive home. I have walked, perhaps, twenty-five miles. In the house, there is supper; it is warm and pleasant. But instead of sitting down to supper, I go out into the rain again and decide to walk another two miles along the road and then return home. This would be a super-effort. When I was going home, it was simply an effort; and this does not count. I was on my way home; the cold, the hunger, the rain all made me walk. In the other case, I walk because I myself decide to do so.

This kind of super-effort becomes still more difficult when I do not decide upon it myself but obey a teacher who at an unexpected moment requires me to make fresh efforts when I have decided that efforts are over for the day.

Another form of super-effort is carrying out any kind of work at a faster rate than is called for by the nature of the work. You are doing something — let us say you are washing up or chopping wood. You have an hour's work. Doing it in half an hour will be a super-effort.

But in actual practice a man can never bring himself to make super-efforts consecutively or for a long time; to do this another person's will is necessary — a will which would have no pity but which would have method.

Division of Centres

If a man were able to work on himself, everything would be very simple and schools would not be necessary. But he cannot; and the reasons for this lie very deep in his nature. I will leave for the moment his insincerity with himself, the perpetual lies he tells himself, and so on. Let us take only the division of the centres. This alone makes independent work on himself impossible for a man.

You must understand that the three principal centres, the thinking, the emotional, and the moving, are connected together and, in a normal man, they are always working in unison. This unison is what presents the chief difficulty in work on oneself. What is meant by this unison? It means that a definite work of the thinking centre is connected with a definite work of the emotional and moving centres — that is to say, that a certain kind of thought is inevitably connected with a certain kind of emotion (or mental state) and with a certain kind of movement (or posture); and one evokes the other — that is, a certain kind of emotion (or mental state) evokes certain movements (or postures) and certain thoughts, and a certain kind of movement or posture evokes certain emotions or mental states, and so forth. Everything is connected and one thing cannot exist without another thing.

Now imagine that a man decides to think in a new way. But he feels in the old way. Imagine that he dislikes someone, say R. This dislike of R immediately arouses old thoughts and he forgets his decision to think in a new way. Or let us suppose that he is accustomed to smoking cigarettes while he is thinking. He begins to smoke a cigarette and thinks in the old way without noticing it. The habitual movement of smoking a cigarette has turned his thoughts round to the old tune. You must remember that a man can never break this accordance by himself. Another man's will is necessary and a stick is necessary. All that a man who wants to work on himself can do at a certain stage of his work is to obey. He can do nothing by himself.

More than anything else he needs constant supervision and observation. He cannot observe himself constantly. Then he needs definite rules the fulfilment of which needs, in the first place, a certain kind of self-remembering and which, in the second place, helps in the struggle with habits. A man cannot do all this by himself. In life, everything is always arranged far too comfortably for man to work. In a school man finds himself among other people who are not of his own choosing and with whom perhaps it is very difficult to live and work, and usually in uncomfortable and unaccustomed conditions. This creates tension between him and the others. This tension too is indispensable because it gradually chips away his sharp angles.

Work on moving centre can be properly organised only in a school. The wrong, independent, or automatic work of the moving centre deprives the other centres of support, and they involuntarily follow the moving centre. Often, therefore, the sole possibility of making the other centres work in a new way is to begin with the moving centre — that is, with the body. A body which is lazy, automatic, and full of stupid habits stops any kind of work.


It is sometimes said that if a man develops the spiritual and moral side of his nature, there will be no obstacles on the part of the body. But the whole point is in the 'if'. If a man attains perfection of a moral and spiritual nature without hindrance on the part of the body, the body will not interfere with further achievements. But unfortunately this never occurs because the body interferes at the first step, interferes by its automation, its attachment to habits, and chiefly by its wrong functioning. If the development of the moral and spiritual nature without interference on the part of the body is theoretically possible, it is possible only in the case of an ideal functioning of the body. And who is able to say that his body functions ideally?

Besides, there is deception in the very words 'moral' and 'spiritual' themselves. I have often enough explained that in speaking of machines one cannot begin with their 'morality' or their 'spirituality', but that one must begin with their mechanicalness. The being of man number one, number two, and number three is the beginning of machines which are able to cease being machines but which have not ceased yet ceased to be machines.


It is also sometimes said that it is possible for a man to be suddenly transposed to another stage of being by a wave of emotion.

A wave of emotion is indispensable, but it cannot change moving habits; it cannot of itself make centres work rightly which all their lives have been working wrongly. To change and repair this demands separate, special, and lengthy work. From this point of view, a man does not yet exist for me. There is a complex mechanism consisting of a whole series of complex parts. A wave of emotion may take place in one part, but the other parts may not be affected by it at all. No miracles are possible in a machine. It is miracle enough that a machine is able to change.

The case of the robber on the cross is another thing entirely, and illustrates an altogether different idea. In the first plave, it took place on the cross, that is, in the midst of terrible sufferings to which ordinary life holds nothing equal; secondly, it was at the moment of death. This refers to the idea of man's last thoughts and feelings at the moment of death. In life, these pass by and are replaced by other habitual thoughts. There can be no prolonged wave of emotion in life, and therefore it cannot give rise to a change of being.

It must be further understood that we are not speaking of exceptions or accidents which may or may not occur, but of general principles, of what happens every day to everyone. Ordinary man, even if he comes to the conslusion that work on himself is indispensable, is the slave of his body. He is not only the slave of the recognised and visible activity of the body, but the slave of the unrecognised and the invisible activities of the body, and it it precisely these which hold him in their power. Therefore when a man decides to struggle for freedom, he has first of all to struggle with his own body.

The Body

I will now point out to you only one aspect of the functioning of the body which it is indispensable to regulate in any event. So long as this functioning goes on in a wrong way, no other kind or work, either moral or spiritual, can go on in a right way.

You will remember that when we spoke of the work of the 'three-storey factory', it was pointed out that most of the energy produced by the factory is wasted uselessly: amongst other things, energy is wasted on unnecessary muscular tension. This unnecessary muscular tension eats up an enormous amount of energy. In work on oneself, attention must first be turned to this.

In speaking of the work of the factory in general, it is indispensable to establish that it is necessary to stop useless waste before there can be any sense in increasing the production. If production is increased while this useless waste remains unchecked and nothing is done to stop it, the new energy produced will merely increase this useless waste and may even give rise to phenomena of an unhealthy kind. Therefore one of the first things a man must learn before doing any work on himself is to observe and feel muscular tension and to be able to relax the muscles when it is necessary, that is to say, chiefly to relax unnecessary tension of the muscles.

Postures and Movements

Every race, every nation, every epoch, every country, every class, every profession has its own definite number of postures and movements which are the most permanent and unchangeable in man. They control his form of thought and his form of feeling. But a man never makes use of all the postures and movements which are possible for him. In accordance with his individuality, each man's repertoire of postures and movements is very limited.

The character of the movements and postures in every epoch, in every race, and in every class is indissolubly connected with definite forms of thinking and feeling. A man is unable to change the form of his thinking or his feeling until he has changed his repertoire of postures and movements. The forms of thinking and feeling can be called the postures and movements of thinking and feeling. Every man has a definite number of thinking and feeling postures and movements.

Moreover, moving, thinking, and feeling postures are connected with one another in man and he can never move out of his repertoire of thinking and feeling postures unless he changes his moving postures. An analysis of man's thoughts and feelings and a study of his moving functions, arranged in a certain way, shows that every one of our movements, voluntary or involuntary, is an unconscious transition from one posture to another, both equally mechanical.

It is illusion to say our movements are voluntary. All our movements are automatic. Our thoughts and feelings are just as automatic. The automatism of thought and feeling is definitely connected with the automatism of movement. One cannot be changed without the other. So if a man's attention is concentrated, let us say, on changing automatic thoughts, then habitual movements and habitual postures will interfere with this new course of thought by attaching to it old habitual associations.

In ordinary conditions we have no conception of how much our thinking, feeling, and moving functions depend upon one another, although we know at the same time how much our moods and our emotional states can depend upon our motions and postures. If a man takes a posture which with him corresponds to a feeling of sadness or despondency, then within a short time he is sure to feel sad or despondent. Fear, disgust, nervous agitation, or calm can be created by an intentional change of posture. But as each of man's functions, thinking, emotional, and moving, has its own definite set of postures, all of which are in constant interaction, a man can never get out of the charmed circle of his postures.

Even if a man recognises this and begins to struggle with it, his will is not sufficient. You must understand that a man's will can be sufficient to govern one centre for a short time. But the other two centres prevent this, and a man's will can never be sufficient to govern three centres.

Breathing Exercises

Right exercises which lead directly to the aim of mastering the organism and subjecting its conscious and unconscious functions to the will, begin with breathing exercises. Without mastering breathing, nothing can be mastered. At the same time, to master breathing is not easy.

You must realise that there are three kinds of breathing. One is normal breathing. The second is 'inflation'. The third is breathing assisted by movements. What does this mean? It means that normal breathing goes on unconsciously; it is managed and controlled by the moving centre. 'Inflation' is artificial breathing. If, for instance, a man says to himself that he will count ten inhaling and ten exhaling, or that he will inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left — this is done by the formatory apparatus. The breathing itself is then different because the moving centre and the formatory apparatus act through different groups of muscles. The group of muscles through which the moving centre acts are neither accessible nor subordinate to the formatory apparatus. But in the event of a temporary stoppage of the moving centre, the formatory apparatus has been given a group of muscles through which it can influence and with whose help it can set the breathing mechanism in motion. However, its work will, of course, be worse than the work of the moving centre and it cannot go on for long.

You may have read a book about 'yogi breathing', or heard or read about the special breathing connected with the 'mental prayer' in Orthodox monasteries. It is all one and the same thing. Breathing proceeding from the formatory apparatus is not breathing but 'inflation'. The idea is that if a man carries out this kind of breathing long enough and often enough through the formatory apparatus, the moving centre, which remains idle during this period, can get tired of doing nothing and start working 'in imitation' of the formatory apparatus — and, indeed, this sometimes happens. But so that this should happen, many conditions are necessary: fasting and prayer are necessary, and little sleep, and all kinds of difficulties and burdens for the body. If the body is well treated, this cannot happen. If you think there are no physical exercises in Orthodox monasteries, just try to carry out one hundred prostrations according to all the rules. You will have an aching back that no kind of gymnastics could ever give.

All this has one aim: to bring breathing into the right muscles, to hand it over to the moving centre. As I said, this is sometimes successful. But there is always a big risk that the moving centre will lose its habit of working properly, and since the formatory apparatus cannot work all the time — as, for instance, during sleep — and the moving centre does not want to, then the machine can find itself in a very sorry situation. A man may even die from breathing having stopped. The disorganisation of the functions of the machine through breathing exercises is almost inevitable when people by themselves try to do 'breathing exercises' from books without proper instruction. Many people used to come to me in Moscow who had completely disorganised right functioning of their machines by so-called 'yogi breathing' which they had learned from books. Books which recommend such exercises represent a great danger.

The transition of breathing from the control of the formatory apparatus into the control of the moving centre can never be attained by amateurs. For this transition to take place, the organism must be brought to the last stage of intensity, but a man can never do this by himself.

But there is a third way: breathing through movements. This third way needs a great knowledge of the human machine and it is employed in schools directed by very learned people. In comparison, all other methods are 'home-made' and unreliable.

The fundamental idea of this method consists in the fact that certain movements and postures can call forth any kind of breathing you like, and it is also normal breathing, not 'inflation'. The difficulty is in knowing what movements and what postures call forth certain kinds of breathing in what kind of people. This latter is particularly important because people are from this point of view divided into a certain number of definite types, and each type should have its own definite movements to get one and the same breathing because the same movement produces different breathing with different types. A man who knows the movement which will produce in himself one or another kind of breathing is already able to control his organism and is able at any moment he likes to set in motion one or another centre, or cause that part which is working to stop. Of course the knowledge of these movements and the ability to control them has its degrees, like everything else in the world. A man can know more or less and make a better or worse use of what he knows. In the meantime, it is important only to understand the principle.

This is particularly important in connection with the study of the divisions of centres in oneself. Mention has been made of this several times already. You must understand that each centre is divided into three parts in conformity with the primary division of centres into 'thinking', 'emotional', and 'moving'. On the same principle, each of these parts in its turn is divided into three. In addition, each centre is from the very outset divided into two parts: positive and negative. In all parts, there are groups of 'rτles' connected together, some in one direction and others in another direction. This explains the differences between people — what is called 'individuality'. Of course, there is in this no individuality at all, but simply a difference of 'rτles' and associations.


Many schools prescribe fasting as a method of improving control control over one's machine. The difficulty in fasting consists in not leaving unused the substances which are prepared in the organism for the digestion of food.

These substances consist of very strong solutions and, as they will poison the organism if they are left without attention, they must be used up. But how can they be used up if the organism gets no food? Only by an increase of work, an increase of perspiration. People make a tremendous mistake if, when fasting, they try to 'save their strength', make fewer movements, and so on. On the contrary, it is necessary to expend as much energy as possible. Then fasting can be beneficial.

A Special Exercise

In order to oppose this automatism and gradually acquire control over postures and movements in different centres, there is one special exercise. It consists in this — that at a previously agreed word or sign from the teacher, all the pupils who hear or see him have to arrest their movements at once, no matter what they are doing, and remain stock-still in the posture in which the signal has caught them. Not only must they cease to move, but they must keep their eyes on the same spot at which they were looking at the moment of the signal, retain the smile on their faces if there was one, keep the mouth open if a man was speaking, maintain the facial expression and the tension of all the muscles of the body exactly in the same position in which they were caught by the signal.

In this 'stopped' state, a man must also stop the flow of his thoughts and concentrate the whole of his attentiom on preserving the tension of the muscles in the various parts of the body exactly as it was, watching this tension all the time and moving his attention from one part of the body to another. He must remain in this state and in his position until another agreed-upon signal allows him to adopt a customary posture or until he drops from fatigue through being unable to preserve the original posture any longer. But he must not change anything in it — neither his glance, points of support, nothing. If he cannot stand, he must fall — but, again, he should fall like a sack without attempting to protect himself from a blow. In exactly the same way, if he was holding something in his hands he must hold it as long as he can, and if his hands refuse to obey him and the object falls, it is not his fault.

It is the duty of the teacher to see that no personal injury results from falling or from unaccustomed postures, and in this connection the pupils must trust the teacher fully and not think of any danger.

The idea of this exercise and its results differ very much. Let us take it first of all from the point of view of the study of movements and postures. This exercise affords a man the possibility of getting out of the circle of automatism and it cannot be dispensed with, especially at the beginning of work on oneself.

A non-mechanical study of oneself is possible only with the help of the 'stop' exercise under the direction of a man who understands it.

Let us try to follow what occurs. A man is walking, or sitting, or working. At that moment, he hears a signal. A movement that has begun is interrupted by this sudden command to stop. His body becomes immovable and arrested in the midst of a transition from one posture to another, in a position in which he never stays in ordinary life. Feeling himself in this state, that is, in an unaccustomed posture, a man involuntarily looks at himself from new points of view, sees and observes himself in a new way. In this unaccustomed posture he is able to think in a new way, know himself in a new way. In this way the circle of old automatism is broken. The body tries in vain to adopt an ordinary comfortable posture. But the man's will, brought into action by the will of the teacher, prevents it. The struggle goes on not for life but till the death. But in this case, will can conquer.

This exercise, taken together with all that has been said, is an exercise for self-remembering. A man must remember himself so as not to miss the signal; he must remember himself so as not to take the most comfortable posture at the first moment; he must remember himself in order to watch the tension of the muscles in different parts of the body, the direction in which he is looking, the facial expression, and so on; he must remember himself in order to overcome what can someimes be very considerable pain from unaccustomed positions of the legs, arms, and back, so as not to be afraid of falling or dropping something heavy on his foot. If one forgets himself for a single moment, the body will by itself and almost unnoticeably adopt a more comfortable position; it will transfer the weight from one foot to the other, will slacken certain muscles, and so on. This exercise is a simultaneous exercise for the will, the attention, the thought, the feelings, and the moving centre.

But it must be understood that in order to bring into action a sufficient strength of will to keep a man in an unaccustomed position, a 'stop' command from the outside is indispensable. A man cannot give himself the command stop. His will will not obey this command because the combination of habitual thinking, feeling, and moving postures is stronger than a man's will. The command stop which, in relation to moving postures, comes from outside, takes the place of thinking and feeling postures. These postures and their influence are, so to speak, removed by the commant stop — and in this case moving postures obey the will.

A Sacred Responsibility

The 'stop' exercise is considered sacred in schools. Nobody except the principal teacher or the person he commissions has the right to command a 'stop'. 'Stop' cannot be the subject of play or exercise among the pupils. You never know the position a man can find himself in. If you cannot feel for him, you do not know what muscles are tensed or how much. Meanwhile, if a difficult tension is continued, it can cause the rupture of some important vessel and in some cases it can even cause immediate death. Therefore only he who is quite certain in himself that he knows what he is doing can allow himself to command a 'stop'.

At the same time, 'stop' demands unconditional obedience without any hesitation or doubts. This makes it the invariable method for studying school discipline. School discipline is something quite different from military discipline in which everything is mechanical and the more mechanical the better. In the 'stop' exercise, everything should be conscious because the aim consists in awakening consciousness. For many people, school discipline is much more difficult than military discipline. There, it is always one and the same; here, it is always different.

Balance and 'Sin'

Keeping silence is sometimes thought to be the most severe discipline to which a man can subject himself. But complete silence is simply a way out of life. The man who maintains complete silence should be in the desert or in a monastery. In life we speak of work, and a man can keep silence in such a way that no one will even notice it. The whole point is that we say a great deal too much. If we limited ourselves to what is actually necessary, this alone would be keeping silence.

It is the same with everything else: with food, with pleasures, with sleep. With everything, there is a limit to what is necessary. After this, 'sin' begins. This is something that must be grasped: a 'sin' is something that is not necessary.

Ordinary people do not know what is necessary, but I am not talking of them. They are going nowhere and so for them there are no sins. Sins are what keep a man on one spot if he has decided to move and if he is able to move.

Sins exist only for people who are on the way or are approaching the way; and then sin is what stops a man, helps him to deceive himself and to think that he is working when he is simply asleep. Sin is what puts a man to sleep when he has decided to awaken. What puts a man to sleep? Again, everything that is unnecessary, everything that is not indispensable. The indispensable is always permitted; beyond this, hypnosis begins at once.

But you must remember that this refers only to people in the work or to those who consider themselves to be in the work. Work consists in subjecting oneself voluntarily to temporary suffering in order to be free from eternal suffering. But people are afraid of suffering. They want pleasure now, at once, and for forever. They do not want to understand that pleasure is an attribute of paradise and that it must be earned. This is necessary not by reason of any arbitrary or inner moral law but because if man gets pleasure before he has earned it, he will not be able to keep it and pleasure will be turned into suffering.

The whole point is to be able to get pleasure and be able to keep it. Whoever can do this has nothing to learn. But the way to it lies through suffering. Whoever thinks that as he is he can avail himself of pleasure is much mistaken, and if he is capable of being sincere with himself, then the moment will come when he will see this.