Discovering the Psychological Buffers
In the book called In Search of the Miraculous by P.D. Ouspensky, there are many interesting conversations between Ouspensky and his teacher G.I. Gurdjieff, dealing mostly with the subject of psychology and esoteric psychology. One of such is a conversion in which a lot is spoken about buffers. Here’s what Gurdjieff says about them:
“’Buffer’ is a term which requires special explanation. We know what buffers on railway carriages are. They are the contrivances which lessen the shock when carriages or trucks strike one another. If there were no buffers the shock of one carriage against another would be very unpleasant and dangerous. Buffers soften the results of these shocks and render them unnoticeable and imperceptible.
“Exactly the same appliances are to be found within man. They are created, not by nature but by man himself, although involuntarily. The cause of their appearance is the existence in man of many contradictions; contradictions of opinions, feelings, sympathies, words, and actions. If a man throughout the whole of his life were to feel all the contradictions that are within him he could not live and act as calmly as he lives and acts now. He would have constant friction, constant unrest. We fail to see how contradictory and hostile the different I’s of our personality are to one another. If a man were to feel all these contradictions he would feel what he really is. He would feel that he is mad. It is not pleasant to anyone to feel that he is mad. Moreover, a thought such as this deprives a man of self-confidence, weakens his energy, deprives him of ‘self-respect.’ Somehow or other he must master this thought or banish it. He must either destroy contradictions or cease to see and to feel them. A man cannot destroy contradictions. But if ‘buffers’ are created in him he can cease to feel them and he will not feel the impact from the clash of contradictory views, contradictory emotions, contradictory words.
“‘Buffers’ are created slowly and gradually. Very many ‘buffers’ are created artificially through ‘education.’ Others are created under the hypnotic influence of all surrounding life. A man is surrounded by people who live, speak, think, and feel by means of ‘buffers.’ Imitating them in their opinions, actions, and words, a man involuntarily creates similar ‘buffers’ in himself. ‘Buffers’ make a man’s life more easy. It is very hard to live without ‘buffers.’ But they keep man from the possibility of inner development because ‘buffers’ are made to lessen shocks and it is only shocks that can lead a man out of the state in which he lives, that is, waken him. ‘Buffers’ lull a man to sleep, give him the agreeable and peaceful sensation that all will be well, that no contradictions exist and that he can sleep in peace. ‘Buffers’ are appliances by means of -which a man can always be in the right. ‘Buffers’ help a man not to feel his conscience.”
“…If a man whose entire inner world is composed of contradictions were suddenly to feel all these contradictions simultaneously within himself, if he were to feel all at once that he loves everything he hates and hates everything he loves; that he lies when he tells the truth and that he tells the truth when he lies; and if he could feel the shame and horror of it all, this would be the state which is called ‘conscience. A man cannot live in this state; he must either destroy contradictions or destroy conscience. He cannot destroy conscience, but if he cannot destroy it he can put it to sleep, that is, he can separate by impenetrable barriers one feeling of self from another, never see them together, never feel their incompatibility, the absurdity of one existing alongside another.
“But fortunately for man, that is, for his peace and for his sleep, this state of conscience is very rare. From early childhood ‘buffers’ begin to grow and strengthen in him, taking from him the possibility of seeing his inner contradictions and therefore, for him, there is no danger whatever of a sudden awakening. Awakening is possible only for those who seek it and want it, for those who are ready to struggle with themselves and work on themselves for a very long time and very persistently in order to attain it. For this it is necessary to destroy ‘buffers,’ that is, to go out to meet all those inner sufferings which are connected with the sensations of contradictions. Moreover the destruction of ‘buffers’ in itself requires very long work and a man must agree to this work realizing that the result of his work will be every possible discomfort and suffering from the awakening of his conscience.
“But conscience is the fire which alone can fuse all the powders in the glass retort which was mentioned before and create the unity which a man lacks in that state in which he begins to study himself.
“The concept ‘conscience’ has nothing in common with the concept ‘morality.’ Conscience is a general and a permanent phenomenon. Conscience is the same for all men and conscience is possible only in the absence of ‘buffers.’ From the point of view of understanding the different categories of man we may say that there exists the conscience of a man in whom there are no contradictions. This conscience is not suffering; on the contrary it is joy of a totally new character which we are unable to understand. But even a momentary awakening of conscience in a man who has thousands of different I’s is bound to involve suffering. And if these moments of conscience become longer and if a man does not fear them but on the contrary cooperates with them and tries to keep and prolong them, an element of very subtle joy, a foretaste of the future ‘clear consciousness’ will gradually enter into these moments.”
From the above text it can be deducted that buffers are an obstacle towards experiencing the reality that lies beyond the components of the psyche, components that cloud a true reality. These components are the mind, the subconscious mind and the personality. We could say that buffers are part of all three. They are not just manifestation of the egos in the five psychological centers, but rather a thicker layer of protection that is always there (though not always noticeable), just like our personality is always there. In the esoteric psychology, we look at every level of the psyche from the point of view of the consciousness, as how the consciousness perceives them, because that’s the only way to come to real knowledge; looking at the subject from any other place is to look at it from the limits and the colored glasses of the mind, the personality and the subconscious mind. For this reason, in order to reach knowledge about buffers, we have to look within ourselves from the point of view of the consciousness, with techniques of self-remembrance and self-observation. However, unlike discovering an ego, to discover psychological buffers would require another form of reflection, and we can only discover it by knowing what is what – what each of the component of the psyche is and its relation to our essence, the consciousness.
Like Gurdjieff said, buffers have their purpose in the abnormal psychology of the present day humanity, and that purpose is to protect us from continuous inner contradictions, conflicts and disorder. However, the buffers also extinguish a possibility for the inner work, because they prevent the necessary psychological shocks which are responsible for waking up the consciousness within the moment. Not only do they extinguish this possibility, but they also drown the voice of conscience, which is the reason why so many people can continue going through their lives by acting contrary to the divine law.
On the other hand, the inner work changes all this as we eliminate the egos and thus gradually reduce the buffers. We can see that this is taking place because we have more and more moments of those inner shocks which produce awareness of ourselves and our surroundings, and allow us to perceive within ourselves in a way that is sharp and profound. In the beginning such shocks may cause suffering as we have to deal with the inner disorder, however it is not like that for everyone. For many it is joy from the very start, as the newly kindled spiritual light gives hope and a sense of higher purpose. Nonetheless, I can see how for many it may be a painful experience, and if there is not enough spiritual longing they may just return to the old ways, with buffers keeping the conscience out of the picture.
Gradually, as we continue with the work, we purify our personality and make it more neutral, more passive, more compatible with the need of the consciousness. And by working in this way, we will notice that our buffers are also being reduced and even entirely gone. We don’t need them anymore because the essence that we liberate from the entrapment of the egos gives us the necessary apparatus to deal with our own psychology and with the challenges of the external world.
And so dealing with buffers comes down to first of all their discovery through the sense of self-observation becoming more and more sharp. Once we are aware of them, when we see them from the point of view of the consciousness, we begin to have more control, just like when we discover and keep watch over an ego. The strong identification with the essence enables us to maintain the shining of the light within us, and allowing for the impressions from the external and the internal world to reach us properly, which means that they go directly into the consciousness where they are then transformed, without any need for the intermediate of the buffers.
I would say that the most dangerous aspect of the buffers is that they do not allow the start of the inner work for those who haven’t started it yet, because buffers keep out all the necessary shocks that could awaken the consciousness, and also they may pull back to sleep those who have started the inner work, but haven’t yet properly tasted it, that haven’t yet experienced a higher reality of life and themselves. That’s why when we start the work and when we do it for some time, it is important to try and maintain the intensity by being continuously active with practices that serve to awaken the consciousness, eliminate the ego, and bring us spiritual experiences.
HDP, February 2022.