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The Impossibility to Sit Between Two Stools

On this occasion G. stopped in quarters on the Liteiny near the Nevsky. He had caught a severe chill and we met at his place in small groups. He said once that there was no sense in our going on any further in this way and that we ought to make a definite decision whether we wanted to go on with him, wanted to work, or whether it was better to abandon all attempts in this direction, because a half-serious attitude could give no results whatever. He added that he would continue the work only with those who would make a definite and serious decision to struggle with mechanicalness in themselves and with sleep.
"You already know by this time," he said, "that nothing terrible is demanded of you. But there is no sense in sitting between two stools. Whoever does not want to wake up, at any rate let him sleep well."
He said that he would talk to each of us separately and that each of us must show him sufficient reason why he, that is G., should trouble about him.
"You think perhaps that this affords me a great deal of satisfaction," he said. "Or perhaps you think that there is nothing else that I could do. If so you are very gravely mistaken in both cases. There are very many other things that I could do. And if I give my time to this it is only because I have a definite aim. By now you ought better to understand in what my aim consists and by now you ought to see whether you are on the same road as I am or not. I will say nothing more. But in the future I shall work only with those who can be useful to me in attaining my aim. And only those people can be useful to me who have firmly decided to struggle with themselves, that is, to struggle with mechanicalness."
With this the talk ended. G.'s talks with members of the group lasted about a week. With some he spoke for a very long time, with others not so long. Finally almost everybody stayed on.


Only two people dropped off who, exactly as though through some kind of magic as it seemed to us, suddenly ceased to understand anything and saw in everything that G. said misunderstanding on his part, and, on the part of the rest, a lack of sympathy and feeling.
This attitude, at first mistrustful and suspicious and then openly hostile to almost all of us, coming from nobody knew where and full of strange and quite unexpected accusations, astonished us very much.
"We made everything a secret"; we failed to tell them what G. had spoken of in their absence. We told tales about them to G., trying to make him distrust them. We recounted to him all talks with them, leading him constantly into error by distorting all the facts and striving to present everything in a false light. We had given G. wrong impressions about them, making him see everything far from as it was.
At the same time G. himself had "completely changed," had become altogether different from what he used to be before, had become harsh, requiring, had lost all feeling and all interest for individual people, had ceased to demand the truth from people; that he preferred to have round him people such as were afraid to tell him the truth, who were hypocrites, who threw flowers at one another and at the same time spied on the others.
We were amazed at all these and similar talks. They brought with them immediately a kind of entirely new atmosphere which up to this time we had not had. And it was particularly strange because precisely at this time most of us were in a very emotional state and were particularly well disposed towards these two protesting members of our group.
We tried many times to talk to G. about them. He laughed very much when we told him that in their opinion we always gave him "wrong impressions" of them.
"How they value the work," he said, "and what a miserable idiot I am from their point of view; how easily I am deceived! You see that they have ceased to understand the most important thing. In the work the teacher of the work cannot be deceived. This is a law which proceeds from what has been said about knowledge and being. I may deceive you if I want to. But you cannot deceive me. If it were otherwise you would not learn from me and I would have to learn from you."
"How must we speak to them and how can we help them to come back to the group?" some of us asked G.
"Not only can you do nothing," G. said to them, "but you ought not to try because by such attempts you will destroy the last chance they have of understanding and seeing themselves. It is always very difficult to come back. And it must be an absolutely voluntary decision without any sort of persuasion or constraint. You should understand that everything you have heard about me and yourselves are attempts at self-justification, endeavors to blame others in order to feel that they are in the right. It means more and more lying. It must be destroyed and it can only be destroyed through suffering. If it was difficult for them to see themselves before, it will be ten times more difficult now."
"How could this have happened?" others asked him. "Why did their attitude towards all of us and towards you change so abruptly and unexpectedly?"
"It is the first case for you," said G., "and therefore it appears strange to you, but later on you will see that it happens very often and you will see that it always takes place in the same way. The principal reason for it is that it is impossible to sit between two stools. And people usually think that they can sit between two stools, that is, that they can acquire the new and preserve the old; they do not think this consciously of course but it comes to the same thing.
"And what is it that they most of all desire to preserve? First the right to have their own valuation of ideas and of people, that is, that which is more harmful for them than anything else. They are fools and they already know it, that is to say, they realized it at one time. For this reason they came to learn. But they forget all about this the next moment; they are already bringing into the work their own paltry and subjective attitude; they begin to pass judgment on me and on everyone else as though they were able to pass judgment on anything. And this is immediately reflected in their attitude towards the ideas and towards what I say. Already 'they accept one thing' and 'they do not accept another thing'; with one thing they agree, with another they disagree; they trust me in one thing, in another thing they do not trust me.
"And the most amusing part is that they imagine they are able 'to work' under such conditions, that is, without trusting me in everything and without accepting everything. In actual fact this is absolutely impossible. By not accepting something or mistrusting something they immediately invent something of their own in its place. 'Gagging' begins - new theories and new explanations which have nothing in common either with the work or with what I have said. Then they begin to find faults and inaccuracies in everything that I say or do and in everything that others say or do. From this moment I now begin to speak of things about which I have no knowledge and even of things of which I have no conception, but which they know and understand much better than I do; all the other members of the group are fools, idiots. And so on, and so on, like a barrel organ. When a man says something on these lines I already know all he will say later on. And you also will know by the consequences. And it is amusing that people can see this in relation to others. But when they themselves do crazy things they at once cease to see it in relation to themselves. This is a law. It is difficult to climb the hill but very easy to slide down it. They even feel no embarrassment in talking in such a manner either with me or with other people. And chiefly they think that this can be combined with some kind of 'work.' They do not even want to understand that when a man reaches this notch his little song has been sung.
"And note one thing more. They are a pair. If they were separate, each one by himself, it would be easier for them to see their situation and come back. But they are a pair, they are friends, and one supports the other precisely in his weaknesses. Now one cannot return without the other. And even if they wanted to come back, I would just take one of them and not take the other."
"Why?" asked one of those present.
"That is another question entirely," said G., "in the present case simply in order to enable the other to ask himself who is the most important for him, I or his friend. If he is the most important, then there is nothing to talk about, but if I am the most important, then he must leave his friend and come back alone. And then, afterwards, the other may come back. But I tell you that they cling to one another and hinder one another. This is an exact example of how people do the very worst thing they possibly can for themselves when they depart from what is good in them."

(Gurdjieff in Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous.)