talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

all this teaching given in fragments must be pieced together, and observations and actions must be connected to it. if there is no paste, nothing will stick.
(prieuré, july 17, 1922 and march 2, 1923)

body, essence and personality
paris, august 1922

when a man is born, three separate machines are born with him which continue to form till his death. these machines have nothing in common with one another: they are our body, our essence and our personality. their formation does not depend on us in any way. their future development, the development of each one separately, depends on the data a man possesses and the data which surround him, such as environment, circumstances, geographical conditions and so on.

for the body these data are heredity, geographical conditions, food and movement. they do not affect personality.

in the course of a man's life, personality is formed exclusively through what a man hears and through reading.

essence is purely emotional. it consists of what is received from heredity before the formation of personality, and later, only those sensations and feelings among which a man lives. what comes after merely depends on the transition.

so the body begins to develop in each man subjectively. the development of all three starts from the first days of a man's life. all three develop independently of one another. thus it may happen, for instance, that the body begins its life in favorable conditions, on healthy soil and, as a result, is brave; but this does not necessarily mean that the man's essence is of a similar character. in the same conditions, essence may be weak and cowardly. a man may have a brave body contrasting with a cowardly essence. essence does not necessarily develop parallel with the development of the body. a man may be very strong and healthy, yet as timid as a rabbit.

the center of gravity of the body, its soul, is the moving center. the center of gravity of the essence is the emotional center, and the center of gravity of the personality is the thinking center. the soul of the essence is the emotional center. just as a man may have a healthy body and a cowardly essence, so personality may be bold and essence timid. take for instance a man of common sense; he has studied and knows that hallucinations can occur; he knows that they cannot be real. so in his personality he does not fear them, but his essence is afraid. if his essence sees a phenomenon of this kind it cannot help being afraid. development of one center does not depend on the development of another, and one center cannot transfer its results to another.

it is impossible to say positively that a man is such or such. one of his centers may be brave, another cowardly; one good, another wicked; one may be sensitive, another very course; one gives readily, another is slow in giving or quite incapable of giving. so it is impossible to say: good, brave, strong or wicked.

as we have said already, each of the three machines is the whole chain, the whole system relating to one, to another, to a third. in itself each machine is very complicated but is brought into motion very simply. the more complicated the parts of the machine, the fewer the levers. each human machine is complex, but the number of levers in each one separately may differ—in one, more levers, in another, fewer.

in the course of life one machine may form many levers for bringing it into motion, whereas another may be brought into motion by a small number of levers. time for the formation of levers is limited. in its turn this time also depends on heredity and geographical conditions. on an average, new levers are formed up to seven or eight years of age; later, up to the age of 14 or 15 they are capable of alterations; but after 16 or 17 years of age levers are neither formed nor altered. so later in life only those levers act which have been already formed. this is how things are in ordinary normal life, no matter how much a man may be puffing and blowing. this is true even as regards man's capacity to learn. new things can be learned only up to the age of 17; what can be learned later is only learning in quotation marks, that is, merely a reshuffling of the old. at first this may seem difficult to understand.

each individual man with his levers depends on his heredity and the place, social circle and circumstances in which he was born and grew up. the workings of all three centers, or souls, are similar. their construction is different, but their manifestation is the same.

the first movements are recorded. records of the movements of the body are purely subjective. this recording is like that of a phonograph disc—at first, up to three months, it is very sensitive; then after four months it becomes less sensitive; after a year, still weaker. at first even the sound of breathing can be heard, a week later one can hear nothing below a low-voiced conversation. it is the same with the human brain: at first it is very receptive and every new movement is recorded. as a final result one man may have many postures, another only a few. for instance, one many may have acquired 55 postures while the possibility of recording them lasted, while another man, living in the same conditions, may have obtained 250. these levers, these postures, are formed in each center according to the same laws, and remain there for the rest of a man's life. the difference among these postures is only in the way they are recorded. take, for instance, postures of the moving center. up to a certain time postures become formed in every man. then they stop being formed, but those that are formed remain till his death. their number is limited, so whatever a man may be doing he will use these same postures. if he wishes to play one or another role, he will use a combination of postures he already has, for he will never have any others. in ordinary life there can be no new postures. even if a man wishes to be an actor his position will be the same in this respect.

the difference between sleep and waking of the body is that when a shock comes from outside in sleep, it does not excite, does not produce associations in the corresponding brain.

let us say a man happens to be tired. the first shock is given. some lever begins to move mechanically. equally mechanically it touches another lever and makes it move; that lever touches a third, the third a fourth, and so on. this is what we call associations of the body. the other machines also have postures and they are brought into motion in the same way.

besides the central, independently working machines—body, personality and essence—we also have soulless manifestations which take place outside of the centers. in order to understand this, it is very important to note that we divide postures of body and feeling into two kinds: 1) direct manifestations of any center, and 2) purely mechanical manifestations arising outside centers. for instance, the movement of lifting up my arm is initiated by the center. but in another man it may be initiated outside the center. suppose a similar process is taking place in the emotional center, such as joy, sorrow, vexation, jealousy. at one time a strong posture may have coincided with one of these emotional postures and the two postures have thus given rise to a new mechanical posture. this happens independently of centers, mechanically.

when i spoke of machines i called normal work a manifestation of a man—which implies all three centers taken together. this is his manifestation. but owing to abnormal life some people have other levers, which become formed outside centers and which provoke movement independently of the soul. it can be in the flesh, the muscles, anywhere.

movements, manifestations, perceptions by separate centers are manifestations of centers but not of man, if we bear in mind that man consists of three centers. the capacity to feel joy, sorrow, cold, heat, hunger, tiredness is in each center. these postures exist in every center and may be small or big and different in quality. we shall speak later about how this happens in each separate center and how to know to which center they belong. for the moment you must bear in mind and realize one thing: you must learn to distinguish the manifestation of man from the manifestations of centers. when people speak of a man, they say he is wicked, clever, a fool—all this is he. but they cannot say that this is john or simon. we are accustomed to saying "he" in the sense of he as body, he as essence, he as personality.

suppose in a given case we represent essence as 3 units: 3 represents the number of postures. in the case of this man's body the number is 4. the head is represented by 6. thus, when we speak of 6 we do not refer to the whole man. we must evaluate him by 13, for 13 is his manifestations, his perception. when it is the head alone, it would be 6. the important thing is not to evaluate him by only 6 but by 13. the total is what defines him. a man should be able to give a total of 30 for everything taken together. this figure can be obtained only if each center can give a certain corresponding number—for instance, 12 + 10 + 8. let us suppose that this figure 30 represents the manifestation of a man, a householder. if we find that one center must necessarily give 12, it must contain certain corresponding postures which would produce 12. if one unit is missing and it gives only 11, 30 cannot be obtained. if there is a total of only 29 it is not a man, if we call a man one whose sum-total is 30.

when we spoke about centers and a harmonious development of centers, we meant that in order to become such a man, to be able to produce what we were speaking about, the following is necessary. at the very beginning we said that our centers are formed independently of one another and have nothing in common with each other. but there should be a correlation between them, because the sum-total of manifestations can be obtained only from the three together, and not from only one. if 30 is correctly a true manifestation of man and this 30 is produced by three centers in a corresponding correlation, then it is imperative that the centers should be in this correlation. it should be so, but in reality it is not so. each center is separate (i speak of those present), they have no proper relationship to one another and so they are disharmonious.

for example, one has a great many postures in one center, another in another center. if we take each type separately, the sum-total of everyone will be different. if, according to the principle, there should be 12, 10, and 8, but only 10 and 8 are there, and instead of 12 there is 0, the result is 18 and not 30.

take some substance—say, bread. it requires a definite proportion of flour, water and fire. it is bread only when the ingredients are in the right proportion, and similarly with man, to obtain the figure 30, each source must contribute a corresponding quality and quantity. if j. has much flour, that is, physical postures, but no water or fire, it is simply flour and not an individual, not bread. she (o.) produces water (feeling), she has many postures. but no bread cab be got from water—again it is worth nothing; the sea is full of water. l. has much fire but no flour or water—again it is worth nothing. if they could be put together, the result would be 30—an individual. as they are, they are only pieces of meat; but the three together would give 30 as manifestation. could she say "i"? "we," not "i." she produces water, yet she says "i." each of these three machines is, as it were, a man. and all the three fit into one another. man consists of three men; each has a different character, different nature and suffers from lack of correspondence with the others. our aim must be to organize them so as to make them correspond. but before beginning to organize them and before thinking of a manifestation worth 30, let us pause to see consciously that these three machines of ours are indeed at variance with one another. they are not acquainted with one another. not only do they not listen to one another, but if one of them begs the other very hard to do something, and knows how it should be done, the other either cannot or will not do it.

as it is late, we must put off the rest till another time. by then you may perhaps learn to do!