Mahakala (protector Deity)
National Museum, New Delhi
Perfecting the Higher Being-Bodies— Part 1 of 3
What does it mean to "perfect the higher being bodies?"
A reader asked this the other day, and I thought the question deserved some examination.
We must, I think, begin with the comments that Gurdjieff made to Ouspensky on the matter. The precise descriptions that he gave in this section — of a physical, astral, mental, and causal body — are lacking in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson; but the two ideas of "coating" the higher being-bodies and "perfecting" the being parts, or the reason, occur in the book quite a few times.
In order to examine this, it's worth considering what the meaning of a body is in the first place.
Although I sometimes find myself skeptical of the obsessive use of word etymology (though I practice it myself) I think, in this case, it's worth looking at the precise definition from the Oxford English dictionary:
I. 1. The material frame of man (and animals). — The physical or material frame or structure of man or of any animal: the whole material organism viewed as an organic entity.
I think that we can safely agree this is the primary meaning Gurdjieff assigns to the word. As such, an "higher" being body is an organic, whole material organism superior to the ordinary physical body. The idea presumes not just a physical entity superior to the ordinary physical body — and we must take it as empathetically physical, since material components from the air are used to "coat" the astral body — but a consciousness which inhabits that body. The body is, after all, a dwelling place; and what Gurdjieff proposes here is a successive series of dwelling places for consciousness, each, owing to the identity of its different body, obtaining its own separate consciousness. It is (once again, emphatically) a Russian – doll concept, with one consciousness nested inside, and "beneath", the next.
So the bodies presume a material existence, although not on the physical plane — as the chart from In Search of the Miraculous (see link) indicates. These bodies do not "grow" naturally, automatically, and on their own (although there are some processes that automatically contribute to their growth.) They grow by being "coated" with substances. That is to say, there are material atomic, molecular, and chemical processes that take place within the physical realm associated with the growth of these bodies. Gurdjieff made much of this with his talk about finer materials; and we can see a direct and essential connection between the discussions in the chemical factory chapter of ISOTM and the discussions of coating the higher being bodies in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.
To be coated means to be covered; and since the choice of words is specific and repeated, we must assume that the word has to mean what we know it means: a coating lies on the surface of something, and does not penetrate into its interior. This is an interesting proposition, because our ordinary understanding of bodies is that materials penetrate into their interior. The "coating" of which Gurdjieff repeatedly speaks appears to be an essentially — forgive the use of the word, I am sure you will feel it is heretical — superficial process.
Now, this has implications that will only become clear with more discussion, so for the time being, ponder this question and we will take it up again in the next post two days from now.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.