Ouspensky weighs in on the 5%

Ouspensky weighs in on the 5%

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 12 of 19 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: Before you said that I was thinking about this 5 percent and the Ouspensky book. In that book, doesn’t he talk about there only being a certain amount of knowledge?

CTT: Ah. Yes.

Student: And so that’s a little bit, not confusing, but sometimes uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels good, like, “Oh yeah, some privileged people,” but then sometimes it’s like “Oh, that’s not so nice.” Like it kind of reminds me a little bit of Christianity and that Jesus is the only Son.

Student: Is that where he says I need somebody who can be enlightened and those things like that?

Student: Same time.

CTT: Ouspensky uses the analogy of gold, there’s only so much gold in the world and if you gave everybody an equal share, then we’d each have a tiny grain that did nobody any good. I always hate that part of the book, and I refuse to believe it.

Student: Okay.

CTT: And I hope it’s not true.

Student: Okay.

CTT: But suppose it is. I mean suppose there’s a literal food of impressions to really take you into a higher level of consciousness, but its amount is very limited, then it could indeed be the case that you could have a few people who’d move to a whole new level by getting nourished enough. But if you spread it all around, it wouldn’t make any difference with anybody.

I’ll bet we could use an ordinary analogy: medical care. Fancy medical care can extend people’s life. If you do that for people say who are very productive people contributing to society, you’re going to think that’s wonderful, but it costs you a lot. If you take that same amount of money and spread it around equally to every single person on the planet, then what? Everybody will have one less cold, but we’ll all die at the same age.

Now see I really don’t like that part of Gurdjieff. I refuse to believe it, but I recognize my resistance. I rationalize that he said this to deliberately motivate people more. This is a variation of the guy lying in ambush with the stick to find out when you’re not practicing enhanced awareness. I hope this limited amount stuff is not true.

Student: But it’s like the lack of intelligence thing where, when you want to sell something, you say “Oh yeah, limited time offer.” Tomorrow the price is going up, so if you want it at this low, hot price you need to buy it today. And time’s running out, and we’ve got masses of orders coming in, and we might run out of stock. And when you call up a place and you say “Have you got that book?” and they go, “Let me see.”

If you want a room at a hotel and they go, “Oh, let me check. Oh yeah, there’s one room left,” and then you have a conversation and it turns out there were 8 or 10 rooms available. And anyway. (Laughter) I already went out of the mix. (Laughter)

CTT: Let’s just note this as another factor to keep in mind as you study various spiritual traditions. You know? There are realities here that are vitally important, and there are human distortions of the whole process, and there are styles of teaching. Okay?

For a lot of people, Gurdjieff’s methods were harsh, and he was obviously abusing people. There was no question about it. For others, he was the greatest spiritual master ever to come along. For others, he was a real pain in the ass who got them moving. And he would go out of his way to egg people on.

His philosophy was not, “Oh, oh you poor precious souls, we have to make you happy.” His philosophy was that most people were going to die like dogs. They’re not going to make any effort. It’s not worth wasting your time on them. So you’ve got to screen people very rapidly for the ones with potential for actually waking up and then you can treat those people in any way that will actually get them to wake up. If that means being nasty to them at times, no problem.

Waking up is so precious that you wouldn’t give a damn whether you felt like you’d been abused in the process. It’s like when they do CPR on you when you’ve had a heart attack and you’re going to die, right? If you survived, you don’t waste your time sitting around afterwards thinking “Oh, they were pounding on my chest in a very undignified way.”


You know they should have respected me more,” or something like that. You can all see the sense of that approach in a way.

At the same time, what abuse potential that idea has! What a rationalization for charlatans who are not genuine spiritual teachers, but who like to push people around and abuse and exploit them and then claim that it’s for their own good. Don’t we have a preference for the saintly ones who sit up there and beam smiles at us and give us blessings?


One comment

  1. I find it hard to believe that there is a limited amount of spiritual growth to go around. It seems to me that whenever I see an instance where someone is growing in that way… it is as if they are putting light into the world. I know other people don’t see the lights the way I seem to, but it is there and people react to it. The more light there is, the more people seem to be able to find their own way to grow spiritually. It is like when you are nice to someone and that person is nice to someone else because he feels good about the way you treated him. Things just get bigger. Unfortunately, it also works the other way. Being mean to others can diminish the light and that can be passed around too.

    It seems to me that the amount of light in the world available to foster spiritual growth is something we have some control over. At least that’s what I would like to think. Maybe that 5% are just the ones able to turn on the switch?

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