|Gurdjieff on Immortality|
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," said G. "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 crystallization, 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 crystallization, 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 'crystallize'. But crystallization 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 crystallize on these foundations. But this would be a wrong, incomplete, crystallization. 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.
"Crystallization 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 crystallization 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.
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 only be artificially
cultivated in him provided favorable conditions both
internal and external are present.
From: In Search of the Miraculous, pps 47-51
At one of the following meetings of the group, G. continued, in reply to a question, to develop the ideas given by him before on reincarnation and the future life. The talk began by one of those present asking:
"Can it be said that man possesses immortality?"
"Immortality is one of the qualities we ascribe to people without having a sufficient understanding of their meaning," said G. "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" (he emphasized the word "can"), "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 development possible will people cease to ascribe to themselves what, at present, they do not possess, and what, perhaps, they can only acquire after great effort and great labor.
"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 organization 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 full 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 either to the first or to the second body.
"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, 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.' 
"In the terminology of certain Eastern teachings the first body is the 'carriage' (body), the second body is the 'horse' (feelings, desires), the third the 'driver' (mind), and the fourth the 'master' (I, consciousness)
|1st body||2nd body||3rd body||4th body|
"Such comparisons and parallels may be found in most systems and teachings which recognize 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 only be artificially cultivated in him provided favorable 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 '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 crystallized 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 other words, everything is governed by the body which, in its turn, is governed by external influences. In the second case, the command or control emanates from the higher body.
"The functions of the physical body may be represented as parallel to the functions of the four bodies."
G. drew another diagram (Fig. 2), representing the parallel functions of a man of physical body and a man of four bodies.
|man of physical body
|1st (Physical) body||2nd (Astral) body||3rd (Mental) body||4th (Causal) body|
Automaton working by external influences
Desires produced by automaton
Thoughts proceeding from desires
Different and contradictory "wills" created by desires
|man of four bodies
|1st (Physical) body||2nd (Astral) body||3rd (Mental) body||4th (Causal) body|
Body obeying desires and emotions which are subject to intelligence
Emotional powers and desires obeying thought and intelligence
Thinking functions obeying consciousness and will
I / Ego
"In the first case," said G., "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 merely composed of various often contradictory desires belonging to 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 in 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 the 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 stabilize 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 which, 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 magnetize it, to make it radioactive, and so on.
"The process of imparting new properties to the alloy corresponds to the process of the 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 the formation of the fourth body.
"And 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."
It would be much better if for the word
'immortality' we substitute the words
'existence after death'.
From: In Search of the Miraculous, pps 98-100
At one of the meetings, to which a fairly large number of new people had been invited who had not heard G. before, he was asked the question: "Is man immortal or not?"
"I shall try to answer this question," said G., "but I warn you that this cannot be done fully enough with the material to be found in ordinary knowledge and in ordinary language.
"You ask whether man is immortal or not.
"I shall answer. Both yes and no.
"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."
Then G, repeated briefly all that had been said before about the structure of man and the world. He drew the diagram of the ray of creation and the diagram of the four bodies of man [see Figs. 1, 3]. But in relation to the bodies of man he introduced a detail which we had not had before.
He again used the Eastern comparison of man with a carriage, horse, driver, and master, and drew the diagram with one addition that was not there before.
"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 [see Fig. 5b]. 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."
G. put a plus over the 'astral body' and a minus over the physical. [See Fig. 5c.]
"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."
G. put a plus over the 'mental body' and a minus over the 'astral' and the physical bodies, bracketed together.
"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."
G. put a plus over the fourth body and a minus over the other three bracketed together.
"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. [See Fig. 5a.]
"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."
He again drew the diagram of the ray of creation and by the side of earth he placed the physical body of man.
"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. [Fig. 6.]
"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."
They assume among other things that each
of them already has a 'highest being-part'
or, as they call it, a 'soul,' and that this soul
is constantly undergoing reincarnation.
The word reincarnation is found only once (where it is used one or two times, depending upon which issue is referrenced)
Gurdjieff taught that, contrary to conventional belief, man is not born with a Soul, but has to create one through personal effort. He taught further that the conventional belief that reincarnation involves the return of the soul to a physical body on earth is wrong. He maintains that reincarnation refers to the process of the Highest Being Body Soul entering the discarded Kesdjan Body of a recently realized being, a process that takes place in the so called Astral Realm. Working on developing our Highest Being Body Soul is thus not a task to leave for the future, but an essential effort to undertake in the present, as we cannot be sure that there is an abundant supply of Kesdjan bodies of the required gradation on the 'other side'. This process may be open to abuse by certain 'secret societies' whose agenda could involve limiting the development of lower caste members in order to provide a supply of Kesdjan bodies for the benefit of a 'chosen few' Hassnamus Beings. The phenomenon of possession could indicate the presence of an unscrupulous Hassnamus Individual inhabiting the Kesdjan body of someone still on this side of death. (Buyer beware!)
"The fact is that, in accordance with various second-order cosmic laws, the 'kesdjan being-body' cannot exist long in this sphere, and at the end of a certain time must decompose, even if the 'highest being-part' existing within it has not by that time attained the requisite degree of Reason. As long as this 'highest being-part' has not perfected its Reason to the requisite degree, it must always be dependent upon some kesdjanian arising or other, so that immediately after the second sacred rascooarno every still unperfected 'highest being-body' enters a state called 'teshgekdnel' or 'searching for a similar two-natured arising corresponding to itself,' in the hope that as soon as the highest part of another two-natured arising perfects itself to the required degree of Reason and undergoes the final process of the sacred rascooarno, and before the rapid disintegration of its kesdjan body is clearly sensed, this first 'highest being-body' might instantly enter that other kesdjan body and continue to exist in it for its further perfecting, a perfecting which sooner or later must inevitably be accomplished by every arisen 'highest being-body.'
"And that is why, in the sphere to which the higher being-parts rise after the first sacred rascooarno, that process takes place called the 'okipakhalevian substitution of the external part of the soul,' or 'substitution of a new kesdjan body for the old one.'
"Here it might as well be mentioned that your favorites also have a representation somewhat similar, as it were, to the 'okipakhalevian substitution ' They have even invented very clever names for it, 'metempsychosis' and 'reincarnation,' and in the last century have created around this question a branch of their famous 'science' which gradually became, and still is, one of those minor maleficent factors which in their totality are making their Reason, already strange enough without this, always more and more 'shooroombooroom,' as our dear Mullah Nasr Eddin would say."
"According to the fantastic theories of this branch of their 'science,' now called 'spiritualism,' they assume among other things that each of them already has a 'highest being-part' or, as they call it, a 'soul,' and that this soul is constantly undergoing reincarnation — something like this 'okipakhalevian substitution' of which I have just spoken.
"Of course, if these unfortunates were to take into consideration that, according to the second-order cosmic law called 'tenikdoa,' or 'law of gravity,' this being-part, in the rare cases when it does appear in them, rises from the surface of their planet immediately after the first rascooarno — or as they express it, after the 'death' of the being — they would perhaps understand that the explanations and proofs given by this branch of their 'science' for all sorts of phenomena supposedly produced among them by these fantastic 'souls' of theirs are merely the fruits of their idle fancy; and they would then realize that everything else 'proved' by this 'science' is nothing but Mullah Nasr Eddin's 'twaddle.'
"Now let me tell you about the two lower being-bodies, namely, the planetary body and the kesdjan body.
"After the first sacred rascooarno, the planetary body of a being which is formed of microcosmoses, that is, of crystallizations transformed by the planet itself, gradually decomposes according to a certain second-order cosmic law called 'retarnotoltoor,' and disintegrates on that planet into the primordial substances from which it arose.
"The second being-body, the kesdjan body, being formed of radiations of other concentrations of tritocosmoses and of the sun itself of the given solar system, rises to the corresponding sphere I was speaking about, and after the second process of the sacred rascooarno also gradually decomposes, and the crystallizations of which it consists return in various ways to the sphere of their own primordial arisings.
"But the highest being-body, formed of crystallizations received directly from the sacred Theomertmalogos within the limits of the solar system where the being has arisen and existed, can never decompose And this highest part must exist in the given solar system until perfected to the required degree of Reason — just that Reason which makes such cosmic formations 'irankipaekh,' that is, formations of the most most sacred substances already mentioned, which can exist independently of kesdjanian arisings and not be subject to what are called 'painful influences' from any external cosmic factors whatever.
(Beelzebub's Tales, pp. 702-704)
Recurrence is in eternity,
but reincarnation is in time.
The word reincarnation is found only once (where it is used several times)
The Fourth Way, pp. 420-423
I constantly get questions referring to recurrence, so I want to say something about it which may give you material for thinking. There are two reasons why I avoid speaking about it: first, we can only talk about the theory, we have no real facts about it; and secondly, we do not know whether in connection with the work the laws referring to recurrence change. It is necessary to understand these things. We know very little about recurrence. Some day we may try to collect what can be taken as reliable in all that is written about recurrence and see which way we can think about it, but it is only a theory.
I wrote in A New Model of the Universe, long ago, that even in ordinary life people may be very different in relation to recurrence. Some people may have exactly the same recurrence, other people may have different variations or possibilities; some may go up and others may go down, and many other things. But this is all without relation to the work. In the case of people who come nearer to the work, it may be possible, though only theoretically, to study three successive recurrences. Let us suppose that the first is when one comes close to the possibility of meeting with some kind of ideas of higher mind; the second, when one definitely comes in contact with C influence; and the third, which would be the result of it.
The interesting thing is that, after the second, the possibilities of recurrence greatly diminish. Before one comes into contact with C influence, they look unlimited, but after this contact the possibility of recurrence is reduced. If we understand that, we will be able to speak about recurrence with a certain amount of reason and profit; otherwise, if we take everything on the same plane, it will be just theoretical talk and quite useless.
Q. Do you mean that after coming in contact with C influences the number of chances diminishes?
A. Yes, because C influence cannot be wasted. B influences are practically unlimited; this means they are thrown into life and one can take or not take them; they do not diminish. But C influence is limited. Try to answer this question for yourselves and you will understand why the possibility of receiving C influence must be limited, because if one does not make use of it, what is the good of wasting it?
Q. Does it mean if we worked in the right way our chances would increase?
A. No, it does not mean that at all. It merely means that if we do not work in the right way we will lose the possibility of these chances recurring.
Without this additional feature I have just mentioned it is quite useless to speak about recurrence even as a theory. In thinking about recurrence, it is useful to think about what is possible and what is impossible; what can happen and what cannot happen. Generally people either do not accept this idea, or do not know about it, or do not understand it, or else accept too much, put too much into it. So it is useful to think in what relation we stand to it, and for this we must have a basis from which to start. For instance, it refers to 'remembering'. People often ask about remembering past lives, but they forget that without the work of higher centres they cannot.
Very often you hear people say, chiefly in connection with what they call 'reincarnation', that they can remember their lives in previous reincarnations, and they write books about what they were before. This is pure fantasy. You must understand that in our ordinary state we cannot remember past lives — there is nothing to remember with. In our mind and centres, it is all new. What may pass from one life to another is essence. So one can have only such vague sensations, instead of definite recollections, that it is hard to suppose that anyone can remember anything concrete. Only in the first years of life is it really possible, but then one generally does not notice this feeling, or if one does, it creates imagination.
Q. What is the difference between the theory of reincarnation and the theory of recurrence?
A. The idea of reincarnation is a kind of adaptation of the idea of recurrence to our ordinary understanding, because, as a theory, the idea of recurrence is much more difficult for us — it needs quite a new understanding of time. Even educated people need a certain amount of mathematical knowledge to understand the idea of return. Recurrence is in eternity, but reincarnation is in time. It supposes that time exists apart from us and that we continue to exist in this time after death. For instance, in Buddhism they take it that a man dies and is immediately born again, so that one life follows another, because this is easier to understand for ordinary people. But we have no evidence of the existence of time beyond our life. Time is life for each person, and it includes in itself all time, so that when life ends, time ends. So reincarnation is a less scientific theory than recurrence — too much is taken for granted.
Q. But where do all these lives take place?
A. We do not speak about the place, but about recurrence. If you say that you remember that you lived in Rome, for instance, how can you find proof? It is impossible. So each theory can exist on different planes. The theory of recurrence can exist on a certain plane which requires a certain knowledge and a certain understanding, and then it can be distorted and brought down to lower and lower planes. This can happen with every theory and sometimes in the process it can even become its own opposite. But you must always remember that we cannot prove anything and cannot insist on any particular theory. Only, we must understand each theory within its own limits and its own cycle and see what is possible and what is impossible from the point of view of this theory. If you take a theory and proceed to add one thing and to take away another, that would be wrong. In each theory one must study what it includes, and nothing must be omitted. So if we find a theory that is philosophically possible, we can look for conditions in which it would cease to be a theory and would become a fact.
Q. Am I wrong in assuming that you yourself are not convinced in the reality of the theory of eternal recurrence?
A. I tried to explain that you cannot be convinced of these theories. If you think you can be convinced, it will be just belief. There are whole series of questions and problems about which all we can do is to form theories, without ever being really convinced that one theory is better than another. As a theory I would say that the theory of recurrence is better than the theory of reincarnation, but we have no real evidence as to whether it is nearer to facts or not. And we cannot have evidence because of our state of consciousness. The only possibility, from the point of view of work, is to hope that perhaps, if we change our state of consciousness, our possibilities of observation will increase. In our present state we can have nothing but theories about such things.
We are limited by the state of our being, and the state of being of man 1, 2 and 3 is such that we cannot know these things for certain.
Q. Did you say that one could not possibly remember a former life?
A. Yes. Only essence can remember, and since in ordinary man essence is unorganized and not separated from personality, we do not remember.
At the same time, the fact that one person has one kind of essence and another another kind is one of the strongest arguments for pre-existence, because essence cannot be born out of nothing — it is too definite. But the system takes man only from birth to death.
Q. Where does the part of us which recurs come from?
A. It is you. When we speak about recurrence, we think about our recurrence. Where this part comes from we do not know, and we can spend our whole life on theoretical definitions, but it will not change anything or help our psychological understanding of the idea. I am now trying to establish certain principles which will give us a practical understanding of it. We could find many words, but words will not lead anywhere.
Have you found the answer, why C influences cannot be wasted? Think about that. If you answer this question, you will answer many other questions. And this you do know — put two and two together.
A. This is implied, but it is not the answer. Certainly, if it is wasted, and again wasted, what is the use? But there is something you do not see in all this, and yet it is the key to the whole thing. It is very simple, there is nothing mysterious. It is not a puzzle, it is merely a question of thinking.
Try to think like this: take an ordinary school.
A boy goes to school and every year begins to learn the same thing. He studies something for a whole year, then goes home and forgets everything, and has to learn the same thing all over again. Again he studies it for a whole year, and again goes home and forgets, and again comes back and learns the same thing. What will they say to him at school? This is why schools are not repeated, why there is no recurrence for schools. And this is what people want, they want to learn the same thing again. But next time you must be in a higher school. If you cannot go to a higher school there will be no other school on this level, because you have already passed it.
Here we understand soul as meaning something
that can survive the death of body while staying
a recognizable unit and can possibly consciously
reincarnate. This is however said to be very rare.
From: Cassiopaea Wiki
Generally, the 4th Way does not emphasize the concept of reincarnation. For the common man, reincarnation is not seen as specially central. Some exceptional persons incarnate into the world for a specific mission. In order to be able to do so, one must already have achieved essentially all spiritual development possible to the human form.
For the rest of humanity, Gurdjieff does not really speak of anything recognizable surviving physical death. He says blessed is he who has no soul and blessed is the one who has one, but woe to one who has one in embryo. Here we understand soul as meaning something that can survive the death of body while staying a recognizable unit and can possibly consciously reincarnate. This is however said to be very rare.
For half-crystallized fragments of souls, Gurdjieff describes these as wandering in the planetary sphere and incarnating as the chance may occur in whatever life forms may be available. Ones without any significant crystallization sort of melt into a pool of indifferentiated energies.
Ouspensky and Mouravieff write about recurrence. Recurrence is a mechanical replay of mechanical circumstances. This is not exactly reincarnation, although this too involves a person having repeated mechanical lives.
Recurrences take place in eternity. Eternity does not here mean an endless stretch of linear time but rather the set of all possible 'parallel' realities. In these parallel variants, countless essentially similar recurrences of one life can play themselves out ad infinitum. Eternity can be seen as a distinct dimension orthogonal to linear time.
Conscious influences can enter these lives from another plane, as it were. These are so-called B and C influences. These may be works of objective art, books, teachings, esoteric schools and so forth and represent a possibility for escaping mechanical recurrence. By recognizing such influences, one can increase consciousness in one's life and gradually come under another law, the Law of Exception. This in itself does not guarantee one's escape but can affect another round of repetition by giving one increased capabilities or motivation for more work towards consciousness.
Mouravieff uses the term film when speaking of the recurring pattern of a life, mechanically proceeding on parallel tracks in the dimension of eternity. Certain films may have an esoteric purpose. It is the task of the people in incarnation to find their respective cast members and perform a certain task together. The films play themselves in the dimension of eternity, potentially perpetually repeating but If one seeks to awaken and follow B influences the film may change and possibly lead to liberation from mechanical recurrence.
Again, one round will not be enough but there may be progress between rounds or on the other hand one may reject conscious influences in which case they may not reappear.
Ouspensky's book 'The Strange Life of Ivan Ousakan' illustrates the concept. Ivan is disillusioned with life, love and the world, in other words is facing a personal 'moral bankruptcy.' He goes to the magician and asks to be transported to his childhood with all memories intact, so that he may have another try. This happens and he makes the very same mistakes, his knowledge does not help him and on the contrary he forgets gradually how he returned and becomes again identified with a rerun of the same life. He faces the same quandary again and goes to the magician. This time he catches himself and instead of asking to go back yet again he asks to become a student of the magician, has met C influence. In principle one can repeat life endlessly but since the magician comes from the conscious realm, finding him again in the world of mechanical influences is in no way guaranteed.
Generally, the 4th Way teaching about reincarnation or recurrence is not very explicit nor is it central to the Work since one can only do Work in the present.
Gurdjieff's reference to 'he who has no soul' above may or may not have referred to 'preadamic man' as Mouravieff uses the term. Generally, the concept is not found in Gurdjieff's teaching.