talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

america, february 17, 1924

working on oneself is not so difficult as wishing to work, taking the decision. this is so because our centers have to agree among themselves, having realized that, if they are to do anything together, they have to submit to a common master. but it is difficult for them to agree because once there is a master, it will no longer be possible for any of them to order the others about and to do what they like. there is no master in ordinary man. and if there is no master, there is no soul.

a soul—this is the aim of all religions, of all schools. it is only an aim, a possibility; it is not a fact.

ordinary man has no soul and no will. what is usually called will is merely the resultant of desires. if a man has a desire and at the same time there arises a contrary desire, that is, an unwillingness of greater strength than the first, the second will check the first and extinguish it. this is what in ordinary language is called will.

a child is never born with a soul. a soul can be acquired only in the course of life. even then it is a great luxury and only for a few. most people live all their lives without a soul, without a master, and for ordinary life a soul is quite unnecessary.

but a soul cannot be born from nothing. everything is material and so is the soul, only it consists of very fine matter. consequently, in order to acquire a soul, it is first of all necessary to have the corresponding matter. yet we do not have enough materials even for our everyday functions.

consequently, in order to have the necessary matter or capital, we must begin to economize, so that something may remain over for the next day. for instance, if i am accustomed to eating one potato a day, i may eat only a half and put the other half aside, or i may fast altogether. and the reserve of substances which has to be accumulated must be large; otherwise what there is will soon be dissipated.

if we have some crystals of salt and put them into a glass of water, they will quickly dissolve. more can be added over and over again, and they will still dissolve. but there comes a moment when the solution is saturated. then the salt no longer dissolves and the crystals remain whole at the bottom.

it is the same with the human organism. even if materials which are required for the formation of a soul are being constantly produced in the organism, they are dispersed and dissolved in it. there must be a surfeit of such materials in the organism; only then is crystallization possible.

the material crystallized after such a surfeit takes the form of the man's physical body, is a copy of it and may be separated from the physical body. each body has a different life and each is subject to different orders of laws. the new, or second, body is called the astral body. in relation to the physical body it is what is called the soul. science is already coming to the possibility of establishing experimentally the existence of the second body.

if we talk about the soul, we must explain that there can be several categories of souls, but that only one of these can truly be called by this word.

a soul, as has been said, is acquired in the course of life. if a man has begun to accumulate these substances, but dies before they have crystallized, then simultaneously with the death of the physical body, these substances also disintegrate and become dispersed.

man, like every other phenomenon, is the product of three forces.

it must be said that—like everything living—the earth, the planetary world and the sun give out emanations. out in space between the sun and the earth there are, as it were, three mixtures of emanations. the emanations of the sun, which are longer in proportion to its larger size, reach the earth and even go through it unchecked, since they are the finest. the emanations of the planets reach the earth but do not reach the sun. the emanations of the earth are still shorter. in this way, within the confines of the earth's atmosphere there are three kinds of emanations—those of the sun, of the earth and of the planets. beyond it there are no emanations of the earth, there are only the emanations of the sun and planets; and higher still there are only the emanations of the sun.

a man is the result of the interaction of planetary emanations and the earth's atmosphere, with matters of the earth. at the death of an ordinary man, his physical body disintegrates into its component parts; the parts from the earth go to the earth. "dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return." parts which came with planetary emanations return to the planetary world; parts from the earth's atmosphere return there. in this way nothing remains as a whole.

if the second body succeeds in becoming crystallized in a man before his death, it can continue to live after the death of the physical body. the matter of this astral body, in its vibrations, corresponds to matter of the sun's emanations and is, theoretically, indestructible within the confines of the earth and its atmosphere. all the same, the duration of its life can be different. it can live a long time or its existence can end very quickly. this is because, like the first, the second body also has centers; it also lives and also receives impressions. and since it lacks sufficient experience and material of impressions it must, like a newborn baby, receive a certain education. otherwise it is helpless and cannot exist independently, and very soon disintegrates like the physical body.

everything that exists is subject to the same law, for "as above, so below." what can exist in one set of conditions cannot exist in another. if the astral body comes up against matter of finer vibrations it disintegrates.

and so, to the question "is the soul immortal?" in general it is only possible to answer "yes and no." to answer more definitely, we must know what kind of soul is meant and what kind of immortality.

as i have said, the second body of man is the soul in relation to the physical body. although in itself it is also divided into three principles, taken as a whole it represents the active force, the positive principle in relation to the passive, negative principle, which is the physical body. the neutralizing principle between them is a special magnetism, which is not possessed by everyone but without which it is impossible for the second body to be master of the first.

further development is possible. a man with two bodies can acquire new properties by the crystallization of new substances. a third body is then formed within the second, which is sometimes called the mental body. the third body will then be the active principle; the second, the neutralizing; and the first, the physical body, the passive principle.

but this is still not soul in the real meaning of the word. at the death of the physical body, the astral may also die and the mental body may remain alone. but, although in a certain sense it is immortal, it too can die sooner or later.

only the fourth body completes all the development possible for man in the earthly conditions of his existence. it is immortal within the limits of the solar system. real will belongs to this body. it is the real "i," the soul of man, the master. it is the active principle in relation to the other bodies taken together.

all four bodies, which fit one into another, may be separated. after the death of the physical body, the higher bodies may become divided.

reincarnation is a very rare phenomenon. it is possible either over a very long period of time, or in the event of there being a man whose physical body is identical with that of the man who possessed these higher bodies. moreover, the astral body can reincarnate only if it accidentally meets with such a physical body, but this can happen only unconsciously. but the mental body is able to choose.