"In ordinary life the concept 'conscience' is taken too simply. As if we had a conscience. Actually the concept 'conscience' in the sphere of the emotions is equivalent to the concept 'consciousness' in the sphere of the intellect. And as we have no consciousness we have no conscience.
"Consciousness is a state in which a man knows all at once everything that he in general knows and in which he can see how little he does know and how many contradictions there are in what he knows.
"Conscience is a state in which a man feels all at once everything that he in general feels, or can feel. And as everyone has within him thousands of contradictory feelings which vary from a deeply hidden realization of his own nothingness and fears of all kinds to the most stupid kind of self-conceit, self-confidence, self-satisfaction, and self-praise, to feel all this together would not only be painful but literally unbearable.
"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 horrorof 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 co operates 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.
"There is nothing general in the concept of 'morality.' Morality consists of buffers. There is no general morality. What is moral in China is immoral in Europe and what is moral in Europe is immoral in China. What is moral in Petersburg is immoral in the Caucasus. And what is moral in the Caucasus is immoral in Petersburg. What is moral in one class of society is immoral in another and vice versa. Morality is always and everywhere an artificial phenomenon. It consists of various 'taboos,' that is, restrictions, and various demands, sometimes sensible in their
basis and sometimes having lost all meaning or never even having had any meaning, and having been created on a false basis, on a soil of superstition and false fears.
"Morality consists of 'buffers.' And since 'buffers' are of various kinds, and as the conditions of life in different countries and in different ages or among different classes of society vary considerably, so the morality created by them is also very dissimilar and contradictory. A morality common to all does not exist. It is even impossible to say that there exists any general idea of morality, for instance, in Europe. It is said sometimes that the general morality for Europe is 'Christian morality.' But first of all the idea of 'Christian morality' itself admits of very many different interpretations and many different crimes have been justified by 'Christian morality.' And in the second place modern Europe has very little in common with 'Christian morality,' no matter how we understand this morality.
"In any case, if 'Christian morality' brought Europe to the war which is now going on, then it would be as well to be as far as possible from such morality,"
"Many people say that they do not understand the moral side of your teaching," said one of us. "And others say that your teaching has no morality at all."
"Of course not," said G. "People are very fond of talking about morality. But morality is merely self-suggestion. What is necessary is conscience. We do not teach morality. We teach how to find conscience. People are not pleased when we say this. They say that we have no love. Simply because we do not encourage weakness and hypocrisy but, on the contrary, take off all masks. He who desires the truth will not speak of love or of Christianity because he knows how far he is from these. Christian teaching is for Christians. And Christians are those who live, that is, who do everything, according to Christ's precepts. Can they who talk of love and morality live according to Christ's precepts? Of course they cannot; but there will always be talk of this kind, there will always be people to whom words are more precious than anything else. But this is a true sign! He who speaks like this is an empty man; it is not worth while wasting time on him.
"Morality and conscience are quite different things. One conscience can never contradict another conscience. One morality can always very easily contradict and completely deny another. A man with 'buffers' may be very moral. And 'buffers' can be very different, that is, two very moral men may consider each other very immoral. As a rule it is almost inevitably so. The more 'moral' a man is, the more 'immoral' does he think other moral people.
"The idea of morality is connected with the idea of good and evil conduct. But the idea of good and evil is always different for different
people, always subjective in man number one, number two, and number three, and is connected only with a given moment or a given situation. A subjective man can have no general concept of good and evil. For a subjective man evil is everything that is opposed to his desires or interests or to his conception of good.
"One may say that evil does not exist for subjective man at all, that there exist only different conceptions of good. Nobody ever does anything deliberately in the interests of evil, for the sake of evil. Everybody acts in the interests of good, as he understands it. But everybody understands it in a different way. Consequently men drown, slay, and kill one another in the interests of good. The reason is again just the same, men's ignorance and the deep sleep in which they live.
"This is so obvious that it even seems strange that people have never thought of it before. However, the fact remains that they fail to understand this and everyone considers his good as the only good and all the rest as evil. It is naive and useless to hope that men will ever understand this and that they will evolve a general and identical idea of good."
"But do not good and evil exist in themselves apart from man?" asked someone present.
"They do," said G., "only this is very far away from us and it is not worth your while even to try to understand this at present. Simply remember one thing. The only possible permanent idea of good and evil for man is connected with the idea of evolution; not with mechanical evolution, of course, but with the idea of man's development through conscious efforts, the change of his being, the creation of unity in him, and the formation of a permanent I.
"A permanent idea of good and evil can be formed in man only in connection with a permanent aim and a permanent understanding. If a man understands that he is asleep and if he wishes to awake, then everything that helps him to awake will be good and everything that hinders him, everything that prolongs his sleep, will be evil. Exactly in the same way will he understand what is good and evil for other people. What helps them to awake is good, what hinders them is evil. But this is so only for those who want to awake, that is, for those who understand that they are asleep. Those who do not understand that they are asleep and those who can have no wish to awake, cannot have understanding of good and evil. And as the overwhelming majority of people do not realize and will never realize that they are asleep, neither good nor evil can actually exist for them.
"This contradicts generally accepted ideas. People are accustomed to think that good and evil must be the same for everyone, and above all that good and evil exist for everyone. In reality, however, good and evil exist only for a few, for those who have an aim and who pursue that aim. Then what hinders the pursuit of that aim is evil and what helps is good.
"But of course most sleeping people will say that they have an aim and that they are going somewhere. The realization of the fact that he has no aim and that he is not going anywhere is the first sign of the approaching awakening of a man or of awakening becoming really possible for him. Awakening begins when a man realizes that he is going nowhere and does not know where to go.