by G I Gurdjieff
At one of my meetings, someone asked about the possibility of reincarnation, and whether it was possible to believe in cases of communication with the dead.
Many things are possible. But it is necessary to understand that Man's being, both in life and after death, if it does exist after death, may be very different in quality. The 'man-machine' with whom everything depends upon external influences, with whom everything happens, who is now one, the next moment another, and the next moment a third, has no future of any kind; he is buried and that is all. Dust returns to dust. This applies to him. In order to be able to speak of any kind of future life there must be a certain crystallisation, a certain fusion of man's inner qualities, a certain independence of external influences. If there is anything in a man able to resist external influences, then this very thing itself may also be able to resist the death of the physical body. But think for yourselves what there is to withstand physical death in a man who faints or forgets everything when he cuts his finger. If there is anything in a man, it may survive; if there is nothing, then there is nothing to survive.
But even if something survives, its future can be very varied. In certain cases of fuller crystallisation, what people call 'reincarnation' may be possible after death, and, in other cases, what people call 'existence on the other side'. In both cases it is the continuation of life in the 'astral body'.
You know what the expression 'astral body' means. But the systems with which you are acquainted and which use this expression state that all men have an 'astral body'. This is quite wrong. What may be called the 'astral body' is obtained by means of fusion, that is, by means of terribly hard work and struggle. Man is not born with it. And only very few men acquire an 'astral body'. If it is formed it may continue to live after the death of the physical body, and it may be born again in another physical body. This is reincarnation. If it is not reborn, then, in the course of time, it also dies; it is not immortal but it can live long after the death of the physical body.
Fusion, inner unity, is obtained by means of 'friction', by the struggle between 'yes' and 'no' in man. If a man lives without inner struggle, if everything happens in him without opposition, if he goes wherever he is drawn or wherever the wind blows, he will remain such as he is. But if a struggle begins in him, and particularly if there is a definite line in this struggle, then, gradually, permanent traits begin to form themselves, he begins to 'crystallise'. But crystallisation is possible on a right foundation and it is possible on a wrong foundation. 'Friction', the struggle between 'yes' and 'no', can easily take place on the wrong foundation. For instance, a fanatical belief in some or other idea, or the 'fear of sin', can evoke a terribly intense struggle between 'yes' and 'no', and a man may crystallise on these foundations. But this would be a wrong, incomplete, crystallisation. Such a man will not possess the possibility of further development. In order to make further development possible he must be melted down again, and this can be accomplished only through terrible suffering.
Crystallisation is possible on any foundation. Take for example a brigand, a really good, genuine, brigand. I knew such brigands in the Caucasus. He will stand with a rifle behind a stone by the roadside for eight hours without stirring. Could you do this? All the time, mind you, a struggle is going on in him. He is thirsty and hot, and flies are biting him; but he stands still. Another is a monk; he is afraid of the devil; all night long he beats his head on the floor and prays. Thus crystallisation is achieved.
In such ways people can generate in themselves an enormous inner strength; they can endure torture; they can get what they want. This means that there is now in them something permanent. Such people can become immortal. But what is the good of it? A man of this kind becomes an 'immortal thing', although a certain amount of consciousness is sometimes preserved in him. But even this, it must be remembered, occurs very rarely.
Immortality is one of the qualities we ascribe to people without having a sufficient understanding of their meaning. Other qualities of this kind are 'individuality', in the sense of an inner unity, a 'permanent and unchangeable I', 'consciousness', and 'will'. All these qualities can belong to Man, but this certainly does not mean that they do belong to him or belong to each and every one.
In order to understand what man is at the present time, that is, at the present level of development, it is necessary to imagine to a certain extent what he can be, that is, what he can attain. Only by understanding the correct sequence of possible development will people cease to ascribe to themselves what, at present, they do not possess, and what, perhaps, they can acquire after great and prolonged effort.
According to an ancient teaching, traces of which may be found in many systems, old and new, a man who has attained the full development possible for man, a man in the full sense of the word, consists of four bodies. These four bodies are composed of substances which gradually become finer and finer, mutually interpenetrate one another, and form four independent organisms, standing in a definite relationship to one another but capable of independent action.
The reason why it is possible for four bodies to exist is that the human organism, that is, the physical body, has such a complex organisation that, under certain conditions, a new independent organism can grow in it, affording a much more convenient and responsive instrument for the activity of consciousness than the physical body. The consciousness manifested in this new body is capable of governing it, and it has full power and control over the physical body. In this second body, under certain conditions, a third body can grow, again having characteristics of its own. The consciousness manifested in this third body has full power and control over the first two bodies; and the third body possesses the possibility of acquiring knowledge inaccessible to either of the first two bodies. In the third body, under certain conditions, a fourth can grow which differs as much from the third as the third differs from the second and the second from the first. The consciousness manifested in the fourth body has full control over the first three bodies and itself.
These four bodies are defined in different teachings in various ways.
The first is the physical body or, in Christian terminology, the 'carnal' body; the second, in Christian terminology, is the 'natural' body; the third is the 'spiritual' body; and the fourth, in the terminology of esoteric Christianity, is the 'divine' body. In theosophical terminology the first is the 'physical' body, the second is the 'astral', the third is the 'mental', and the fourth the 'causal' [that is the body which bears the causes of its actions within itself, is independent of external causes, and is the body of will. PDO.].
In the terminology of certain Eastern teachings, the first body is the 'carriage' (body), the second is the 'horse' (feelings, desires), the third is the 'driver' (mind), and the fourth the 'master' ('I', consciousness, will).
Such comparisons and parallels may be found in most systems and teachings which recognise something more in man than the physical body. But almost all these teachings, while repeating in a more or less familiar form the definitions and divisions of the ancient teaching, have forgotten or omitted its most important feature which is that man is not born with the finer bodies, and that they can be artificially cultivated in him only if favourable conditions, both internal and external, are present.
The 'astral body' is not an indispensable implement for man. It is a great luxury which only a few can afford. A man can live quite well without an 'astral body'. His physical body possesses all the functions necessary for life. A man without an 'astral body' may even produce the impression of being a very intellectual or even spiritual man, and may deceive not only others but also himself.
This applies still more, of course, to the 'mental body' and the fourth body. Ordinary man does not possess these bodies or their corresponding functions. But he often thinks, and makes others think, that he does. The reasons for this are, first, the fact that the physical body works with the same substances of which the higher bodies are composed only these substances are not crystallised in him, do not belong to him; and secondly, it has all the functions analogous to those of the higher bodies, though of course they differ from them considerably. The chief difference between the functions of a man possessing the physical body only and the functions of the four bodies, is that, in the first case, the functions of the physical body govern all the other functions. In the second case, the command or control emanates from the higher body. In other words, everything is governed by the body which, in its turn, is governed by external influences.
The functions of the physical body may be represented as parallel to the functions of the four bodies.
In the first case, that is, in relation to the functions of a man of physical body only, the automaton depends upon external influences, and the next three functions depend upon the physical body and the external influences it receives. Desires or aversions 'I want', 'I don't want', 'I like', 'I don't like' that is functions occupying the place of the second body, depend upon accidental shocks and influences. Thinking, which corresponds to the functions of the third body, is an entirely mechanical process. 'Will' is absent in ordinary mechanical man he has desires only; and a greater or lesser permanence of desires and wishes is called a strong or a weak will.
In the second case, that is, in relation to the functions of the four bodies, the automatism of the physical body depends upon the influences of the other bodies. Instead of the discordant and often contradictory activity of different desires, there is one single 'I', whole, indivisible, and permanent; there is individuality, dominating the physical body and its desires and able to overcome both its reluctance and its resistance. Instead of the mechanical process of thinking there is consciousness. And there is will, that is, a power, not composed merely of various and often contradictory desires belonging to the different 'I's, but issuing from consciousness and governed by individuality or a single and permanent I. Only such a will can be called free, for it is independent of accident and cannot be altered or directed from without.
An Eastern teaching describes the functions of the four bodies, their gradual growth, and the conditions of this growth, in the following way:
Let us imagine a vessel or a retort filled with various metallic powders. The powders are not in any way connected with each other and every accidental change in the position of the retort changes the relative position of the powders. If the retort be shaken or tapped with the finger, then the powder which was at the top may appear at the bottom or the middle, while the one which was at the bottom may appear at the top. There is nothing permanent in the position of the powders, and under such conditions there can be nothing permanent. This is an exact picture of our psychic life. Each succeeding moment, new influences may change the position of the powder which is on top and put in its place another which is absolutely its opposite. Science calls this state of the powders the state of mechanical mixture. The essential characteristic of the interrelation of the powders to one another in this kind of mixture is the instability of these interrelations and their variability.
It is impossible to stabilise the interrelation of powders in a state of mechanical mixture. But the powders may be fused; the nature of the powders makes this possible. To do this a special kind of fire must be lighted under the retort and this, by heating and melting the powders, finally fuses them together. Fused in this way the powders will be in the state of a chemical compound. And now they can no longer be separated by those simple methods which separated and made them change places when they were in a state of mechanical mixture. The contents of the retort have become indivisible, 'individual'. This is a picture of the formation of the second body.
The fire by means of which fusion is attained is produced by 'friction', which in its turn is produced in Man by the struggle between 'yes' and 'no'. If a man gives way to all his desires, or panders to them, there will be no inner struggle in him, no 'friction', no fire. But if, for the sake of attaining a definite aim, he struggles with desires that hinder him, he will then create a fire which will gradually transform his inner world into a single whole.
Let us return to our example. The chemical compound obtained by fusion possesses certain qualities, a certain specific gravity, a certain electrical conductivity, and so on. These qualities constitute the characteristics of the substance in question. But by means of work upon it of a certain kind, the number of these characteristics may be increased, that is, the alloy may be given new properties which did not primarily belong to it. It may be possible to magnetise it, to make it radioactive, and so on.
The process of imparting new properties to the alloy corresponds to the process of formation of the third body and of the acquisition of new knowledge and powers with the help of the third body.
When the third body has been formed and has acquired all the properties, powers, and knowledge possible for it, there remains the problem of fixing this knowledge and these powers, because, having been imparted to it by influences of a certain kind, they may be taken away by these same influences or by others. By means of a special kind of work for all three bodies, the acquired properties may be made the permanent and inalienable possession of the third body.
The process of fixing these acquired properties corresponds to the process of formation of the fourth body.
Only the man who possesses four fully developed bodies can be called a 'man' in the full sense of the word. This man possesses many properties which ordinary man does not possess. One of these properties is immortality. All religions and all ancient teachings contain the idea that, by acquiring the fourth body, man acquires immortality; and they all contain indications of the ways to acquire the fourth body, that is, immortality.
In this connection certain teachings compare man to a house of four rooms. Man lives in one room, the smallest and poorest of all, and until he is told of it, he does not suspect the existence of the other rooms which are full of treasures. When he does learn of this he begins to seek the keys of these rooms and especially of the fourth, the most important, room. And when a man has found his way into this room he really becomes the master of his house, for only then does the house belong to him wholly and forever.
The fourth room gives man immortality and all religious teachings strive to show the way to it. There are a great many ways, some shorter and some longer, some harder and some easier, but all, without exception, lead or strive to lead in one direction, that is, to immortality.
This question has many different sides to it. First of all what does 'immortal' mean? Are you speaking of absolute immortality or do you admit different degrees? If, for instance, after the death of the body something remains which lives for some time preserving its consciousness, can this be called immortality or not?
Or let us put it this way: how long a period of such existence is it necessary for it to be called immortality?
Then does this question include the possibility of a different immortality for different people?
And there are still many other different questions.
I am saying this only in order to show how vague they are and how easily such words as 'immortality' can lead to illusion. In actual fact nothing is immortal; even God may be 'mortal' in some sense. But there is a great difference between man and God. It would be much better if for the word 'immortality' we substitute the words 'existence after death'. Then I will answer that man has the possibility of existence after death. But possibility is one thing and the realisation of the possibility is quite a different thing.
Let us now try to see what this possibility depends upon and what the realisation means.
Man is a complex organisation, consisting of four parts which may be connected or unconnected or badly connected. The carriage is connected with the horse by shafts, the horse is connected with the driver by reins, and the driver is connected with the master by the master's voice. But the driver must hear and understand the master's voice. He must know how to drive and the horse must be trained to obey the reins. As to the relation between the horse and the carriage, the horse must be properly harnessed. Thus there are three connections between the four sections of this complex organisation. If something is lacking in one of the connections, the organisation cannot act as a single whole. The connections are therefore no less important than the actual 'bodies'. Working on himself, man works simultaneously on the 'bodies' and on the 'connections'. But it is different work.
Work on oneself must begin with the driver. The driver is the mind. In order to be able to hear the master's voice, the driver must first of all not be asleep, that is, he must wake up.
Then it may prove that the master speaks a language that the driver does not understand. The driver must learn this language. When he has learned it, he will understand the master.
But concurrently with this he must learn to drive the horse, to harness it to the carriage, to feed it and groom it, and to keep the carriage in order because what would be the use of his understanding the master if he is not in a position to do anything? The master tells him to go yonder. But he is unable to move because the horse has not been fed, it is not harnessed, and he does not know where the reins are.
The horse is our emotions. The carriage is the body. The mind must learn to control the emotions. The emotions always pull the body after them. This is the order in which work on oneself must proceed. But observe again that work on the 'bodies', that is, on the driver, the horse, and the carriage is one thing. And work on the 'connections' that is, on the 'driver's understanding', which unites him to the master; on the 'reins', which connect him with the horse; and on the 'shafts' and the 'harness', which connect the horse with the carriage is quite another thing.
It sometimes happens that the bodies are quite good and in order, but that the 'connections' are not working. What then is the use of the whole organisation? Just as in the case of undeveloped bodies, the whole organisation is inevitably controlled from below, that is, not by the will of the master but by accident.
In a man with two bodies, the second body is active in relation to the physical body; this means that the consciousness in the 'astral body' may have power over the physical body. In a man with three bodies, the third or 'mental body' is active in relation to both the 'astral body' and the physical body; this means that the consciousness in the 'mental body' has complete power over both the 'astral body' and the physical body.
In a man with four bodies, the active body is the fourth. This means that the consciousness in the fourth body has complete power over the 'mental', the 'astral, and the physical bodies.
As you see, there exist four quite different situations. In one case all the functions are controlled by the physical body. It is active; in relation to it, everything else is passive.
In another case, the second body has power over the physical. In the third case the 'mental' body has power over the astral and the physical. And in the last case the fourth body has power over the first three.
We have seen before that in man, exactly the same orders of relationship is possible between his various functions. The physical functions may control feeling, thought, and consciousness. Feeling may control the physical functions. Thought may control the physical functions and feeling. And consciousness may control the physical functions, feeling, and thought.
In man of two, three, and four bodies, the most active body also lives the longest, that is, it is 'immortal' in relation to a lower body.
The ordinary man, Man number One, Two, Three, and Four, has only the physical body. The physical body dies and nothing is left of it. The physical body is composed of earthly material and at death it returns to Earth. It is dust and to dust it returns. It is impossible to talk of any kind of 'immortality' for a man of this sort.
But if a man has the second body, this second body is composed of material of the planetary world and it can survive the death of the physical body. It is not immortal in the full sense of the word, because after a certain period of time it also dies. But at any rate it does not die with the physical body.
If a man has the third body, it is composed of material of the Sun and it can exist after the death of the 'astral' body.
The fourth body is composed of material of the starry world, that is, of material that does not belong to the Solar System, and therefore, if it has crystallised within the limits of the Solar System there is nothing within this system that could destroy it. This means that a man possessing the fourth body is immortal within the limits of the Solar System.
You see, therefore, why it is impossible to answer at once the question: Is man immortal or not? One man is immortal, another is not; a third tries to become immortal; a fourth merely considers himself immortal and is, therefore, simply a lump of flesh.