EnneagramFourth Way Gurdjieff Ouspensky School Education Concerning the Work Teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky, Maurice Nicoll, and their students.
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Six Processes: Ordered Triads

Ouspensky taught further that the forces in an event enter in a certain order, forming a triad, and that this order determines the nature of the event, or process. I call this `ordered triads'. There are six possible orderings: 123, 132, 213, 231, 312, and 321. Ouspensky also talked of a seventh class of event, beyond our comprehension, in which all three forces enter together and occupy each position of the triad.

The question of what precisely is meant by the `order of entry' of the forces, and how to determine it, is very difficult and deep. It does not always correspond to a temporal ordering. Purpose and scale are important determinants.

We must also bear in mind that a phenomenon that looks like a single process might, on closer scrutiny, prove to contain several interrelated but distinct processes.

It is best to feel our way towards an understanding by studying examples. The six basic processes are described below, with one or two examples of each. However, the names given to them are not canonical and other names are possible.


The order 123 signifies the process of `growth'. This includes incarnation, multiplication, and differentiation. In Rodney Collin's terminology the forces represent life-matter-form, and it is on this scale that we can most easily discern the process. A seed (life) meets with passive soil (matter) and becomes a plant (form). Note that the neutralising force, the form, enters last: it is, in fact, the aim and result of the process.


The other process with this property corresponds to the order 213, and signifies `digestion'. This includes transformation, refinement, and purification. We put a piece of bread (passive matter) in the mouth, where it is acted upon by enzymes in saliva; the result is chyme: the bread has been transformed, raised a level in the digestive chain.

In both the above processes (growth and digestion) a thing is placed in a certain medium and becomes something else. But in one case the thing is more intelligent than the medium, and is modified downwards, towards death; in the other case the medium is more intelligent than the thing, and modifies it upwards, towards life.


The order 231 signifies a process we may call `invention'. It includes adaptation, healing, renewal, and some forms of creation. We can see examples in cookery. The leavening of dough is one such; another is the making of junket from milk (passive), rennet (neutralising), and heat (active). Collin describes this process as `the rediscovery of spirit by matter, through the mediation of right form'. In the slow renewal of a desert, cactus and brush grow in the sand (the passive medium) and act as a neutralising presence, making possible the return of insects, birds and other forms of life (the active principle).


Swapping the positions of the first two forces, we arrive at the order 321, which signifies `work' in the true sense of the word, i.e. doing: hence also regeneration, change of nature, and art. When beginning work, we formulate an aim: this is the neutralising force. But our very nature (taking the rôle of passive, denying force) opposes the aim: we are in prison, unable to do. So we try to make a map of the prison, to look for a way of escape. This map of the prison is our ally; armed with it we may discover what we must, and can, finally do. This is active force.

The above description is undoubtedly over-simplified. The three forces might not follow one another in strict progression: as understanding grows, the aim may alter, and as the aim alters, new obstacles appear. But the underlying order of influence remains.


The order 132 signifies a process of `reduction': it includes decay, disintegration, elimination, and some forms of destruction. A whole is decomposed into its constituent elements. For example, on the forest floor, microorganisms (active) act on plant matter (neutralising), reducing it to soil (passive). Or in the human body, digestive juices (active) act on ingested food (neutralising) and produce excreta (passive). In this last context the process always takes place alongside that of digestion. The same is true in the first example, but on a different cosmic scale: that of Organic Life.


Finally we come to the order 312, which signifies the process of `crime', and includes disease, rebellion, and corruption. As in the process of work, the neutralising force comes first, but in this case it represents something wrong, like a poison, or a war. Suppose a war is declared. Then there will be bombs, active principles of warfare. And the bombs will seek out passive cities to destroy, unconscious of what they are destroying: this is a characteristic of crime and distinguishes it from the natural process of reduction. In general, crime leads to further crime. The declaration of war is itself the result of a prior process of crime in humanity.

Forces Ordered Triads Ascending and Descending Open and Closed Relationships Opposites The Diagram
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