It is said in an ancient teaching that man lives in a large house, but for some reason, spends all of his time and energy in the basement. The house has numerous rooms and each room is filled with furniture and various machines. Each of these machines may run on a different type or grade of fuel. Some on gas, some on kerosene, some on electricity. The house is wired for electricity but the switches are all left off so that man stumbles around in the darkness and stubs his toes. He only uses the machines in the basement. Sometimes, one of the rooms lights up by accident for a moment because the wiring is frayed, and then a man may go there and see the room and the machines which are in it, but they are in disarray. Then the light goes out, and he curses and returns to the basement scratching his head. Occasionally one of the machines may turn on by accident and a man may get messages, but because of the darkness he doesn't know what to do with them, or even if the lights are on for a moment the messages may be in a code, and he cannot read them.
There is a small lamp in the basement but the man doesn't know how to use it and he has never learned how to focus its light, so he can confines himself to the small area of the basement which it lights willy nilly. He is content to let the lamp run on a low grade fuel which trickles into the house on its own. There is a pump nearby which can upgrade the fuel, but the pump is manual and requires work, and the man doesn't want to work. He is content to sit in the half dark and occupy himself with the toys and small games which are stored in the basement. Some of the games which he plays are called "I am grown up," "powerful," "beautiful" and so on.
If one of the machines accidentally turns on, or if one of the rooms lights up by accident, or if he gets bored with the toys and games, or perhaps if he is told of the other rooms, he may get curious. If his curiosity lasts long enough and is strong enough he begins to wander through the house but finds it too dark. If he then cedes to work, he can use the pump to upgrade the fuel which runs the lamp. It is hard work, and he doesn't want to do it, but then the lamp works much better, only not for long. The fuel container is too small. There are larger containers (and even other lamps) in the house but he must find them. But if he works to collect fuel he can head out with the lamp to explore through the house. Whenever he comes to a new room he will see that it is in disarray, and he may see the machines but not be able to get to them because of the clutter, so he starts to clean up. Then the fuel runs out quickly, and he must return to the basement and pump again so that then he can return to the room. For each room he must return again and again tidying the room up in order to reach the switches on the various machines. If he cleans a room sufficiently he may see a light switch on the wall. Depending on circumstances it may be rusted and break or it may be stuck but operable. If he gets the light switch turned on he can return to the room more easily.
Then he can see the furnishings and the machines much better. Some of the machines he may have heard about, and some he doesn't recognize at all. The rooms are handsomely appointed. Some of the machines may be rusty, and some may be broken from when he wandered around in the dark stubbing his toe. He may even have broken some in anger with his cursing. He doesn't know how to operate the machines but some of them have manuals left beside them while others have manuals in the library. The manuals may be written in different languages. If the first room he finds is the library and he gets the light switch on, he may see the manuals, but not the machines. The library also contains fiction, which is easier to read than the technical manuals and more pleasant. If he tidies up the library and gets the light switch on, he might spend all of his time reading fiction. He might read both the fiction and the manuals. He may think that the manuals are a form of fiction, and he may even write his own fiction, or write fanciful manuals.
If he turns a machine on without reading the manual it may do very strange things, frightening him, and he may abandon the room and return to the basement where he has learned to be comfortable. Because he knows nothing about the machines he may leave one on which then drains the house of energy and dims what lights are on, or it might damage the house. A machine which is left on by accident may catch fire from overheating and burn the house down, and because the man hides in the basement he may not know it until it is too late to do anything. The sprinkler system is in disrepair and untested. However, many of the machines have timers or fuses to protect them. But if he blows a fuse on one of the machines he cannot find another because he doesn't know where to look, and he may become frustrated and angry. He may go on a rampage.
If the man is sensible he will proceed slowly. If he is careful and gets a machine to work it may help him, but then he may fall in love with the machine and try to use this one machine for everything. But each machine has a specialty. Each of the rooms in the house have themes, and the machines in it are connected to these themes. There may be a telephone in the house, but it is disconnected so that those who might wish to call him are unable to do so. The man may not know that there are other houses, or he may disbelieve it. If he finds and turns on the radio the broadcast may be very faint because the antenna is elsewhere. In the basement are both kitchen and bathroom but poorly appointed. Upstairs, there may be others, more lavish, and cookbooks and a larder. There may be recycling machines for garbage, air filters; even solar panels. The owner of the house may have been very erudite. The man may find a chemists laboratory, a wine press; even a distillery.
As the man works more on cleaning up the house and straightening out more of the rooms he sees that it is appointed lavishly, and by and by he begins to move his things out of the basement and into one of the other bedrooms. The owner of the house is clearly wealthy. If he reaches the master bedroom he may see an ornate bed. There may be a note upon it. It is from the owner. He is away on business. The man may have full use of the house. The owner asks him to treat everything as if it were his. The note says that if the man should undertake to set the house in order, that there will be a reward upon the owners return. Along with the note there is a diagram of the house and a list of all that is in it. There are instructions regarding the care of the house and the use of the machines. Next to the bed is a night stand, and upon it, a bible.
Adapted from p.44, paragraph 4 of Fragments of an Unknown Teaching by P.D.Ouspensky, quoting G.I.Gurdjieff.