Fourth Way


ray of creation

The Fourth Way refers to a concept used by Russian spiritualist G.I. Gurdjieff to describe an approach to self-development learned over years of travel in the East that combined what he saw as three established traditional ‘ways,’ or ‘schools’ into a fourth way. These three ways were of the body, mind, and emotions. The term ,The Fourth Way, was further developed by Russian esotericist P.D. Ouspensky in his lectures and writings. Posthumously, Ouspensky’s students published a book entitled ‘Fourth Way,’ based on his lectures. The ‘Fourth Way’ is sometimes referred to as ‘The Work,’ ‘Work on oneself,’ or ‘The System.’

According to this system, the chief difference between the three traditional schools, or ways, and the fourth way is that ‘they are permanent forms which have survived throughout history mostly unchanged, and are based on religion. Where schools of yogis, monks or fakirs exist, they are barely distinguishable from religious schools. The fourth way differs in that it is not a permanent way. It has no specific forms or institutions and comes and goes controlled by some particular laws of its own.’

It is never without some task around which and in connection with which it can alone exist. When this work is finished, that is to say, when the aim set before it has been accomplished, the fourth way disappears. Schools of the fourth way exist for the needs of the work which is being carried out in connection with the proposed undertaking. They never exist by themselves as schools for the purpose of education and instruction.

The Fourth Way mainly addresses the question of people’s place in the Universe, their possibilities for inner development, and transcending the body to achieve a higher state of consciousness. It emphasized that people live their lives in a state referred to as ‘waking sleep,’ but that higher levels of consciousness and various inner abilities are possible.

The Fourth Way teaches people how to increase and focus their attention and energy in various ways, and to minimize daydreaming and absentmindedness. According to this teaching, this inner development in oneself is the beginning of a possible further process of change, whose aim is to transform a man into what Gurdjieff taught he ought to be.

Gurdjieff’s followers believed he was a spiritual Master, possessing higher consciousness; a human being who is fully awake or enlightened. He was also seen as an esotericist or occultist. He agreed that the teaching was esoteric but claimed that none of it was veiled in secrecy; rather, Gurdjieff claimed that many people either don’t have an interest or the capability to understand certain ideas.

The Fourth Way teaches that humans are not born with a soul, and are not really Conscious, but only believe they are Conscious because of the socialization process. A person must create/develop a soul through the course of his life by following a teaching which can lead to this aim, or he will ‘die like a dog,’ and that men are born asleep, live in sleep and die in sleep, only imagining that they are awake. The system also teaches that the ordinary waking ‘consciousness’ of human beings is not consciousness at all but merely a form of sleep, and that actual higher Consciousness is possible.

As exercises in attention, Gurdjieff taught his pupils ‘sacred dances’ or ‘movements,’ now known as Gurdjieff movements, which they performed together as a group. Gurdjieff left a body of music inspired by what he heard in visits to remote monasteries and other places, which was written for piano in collaboration with one of his pupils, Thomas de Hartmann.

Gurdjieff taught that traditional paths to spiritual enlightenment followed one of three ways. The fakir works to obtain mastery of the attention (self-mastery) through struggles with the physical body involving difficult physical exercises and postures. The monk (or nun) works to obtain the same mastery of the attention (self-mastery) through struggle with the affections, in the domain, as we say, of the heart, which has been emphasized in the west, and come to be known as the way of faith due to its practice particularly by Catholic religious. The yogi works to obtain the same mastery of the attention (as before: ‘self mastery’) through struggle with mental habits and capabilities.

Gurdjieff insisted that these paths – although they may intend to seek to produce a fully developed human being – tended in actuality to cultivate certain faculties at the expense of others. The goal of religion, the goal of spirituality was, in fact, to produce a well-balanced, responsive and sane human being capable of dealing with all manner of eventualities that life may present to them. Traditional methods as such generally failed to achieve this end. Gurdjieff therefore made it clear that it was necessary to cultivate a way that integrated and combined the traditional three ways. Gurdjieff saw himself as being one who presented such a teaching.

Gurdjieff said that his Fourth Way was a quicker means than the first three ways because it simultaneously combined work on all three centers rather than focusing on one as is done in the first three ways, that it could be followed by ordinary people in everyday life, requiring no retirement into the desert. The Fourth Way does involve certain conditions imposed by a teacher, but blind acceptance of them is discouraged. Each student is advised to do only what they understand, and to verify for themselves the veracity of the teaching’s ideas.

By bringing together the way of the Fakir (Sufi tradition), the way of the Yogi (Hindu and Sikh traditions) and the way of the Monk (Christian and Buddhist traditions, amongst others) Gurdjieff clearly places the Fourth Way at a crossroads of differing beliefs. Ouspensky documented Gurdjieff as saying that ‘two or three thousand years ago there were yet other ways which no longer exist and the ways now in existence were not so divided, they stood much closer to one another. The fourth way differs from the old and the new ways by the fact that it is never a permanent way. It has no definite forms and there are no institutions connected with it.’

Conscious Labor is an action where the person who is performing the act is present to what he is doing; he is not absentminded during his act, and or is ‘remembering himself.’ At the same time he is striving to perform the act more efficiently. Intentional suffering is the act of struggling against the desires of the physical body such as daydreaming, pleasure, food (eating for reasons other than real hunger), etc. Gurdjieff states that ‘the greatest ‘intentional suffering’ can be obtained in our presences by compelling ourselves to endure the displeasing manifestations of others toward ourselves.’ Gurdjieff claimed that these two acts were the basis of all evolution of man.

The Fourth Way’s focus is on raising the level of consciousness a person can experience, with the ultimate aim of creating a permanent higher level of consciousness. Specific methods are employed to achieve this aim, such as self-observation. Gurdjieff encourages his followers to observe in one’s self the certain behaviors and habits which are usually only observed in others, and to observe them in one’s self as dispassionately as one may observe them in others; to observe one’s self as an interesting stranger. Another aspect is to attempt to discover in one’s self an attention that can differentiate between the actual thoughts, feelings, and sensations that are taking place at the moment, without judging or analyzing what is observed.

Gurdjieff emphasized that awakening results from consistent, prolonged efforts. These efforts are the ones that are made after a person is already exhausted and feels that he can’t go anymore, but nevertheless he pushes himself.

The Law of Seven is described by Gurdjieff as ‘the first fundamental cosmic law.’ This law is used to explain processes. The basic use of the law of seven is to explain why nothing in nature and in life constantly occurs in a straight line, that is to say that there are always ups and downs in life which occur lawfully. Examples of this can be noticed in athletic performances, where a high ranked athlete always has periodic downfalls, as well as in nearly all graphs that plot topics that occur over time, such as the economic graphs, population graphs, death-rate graphs and so on. All show parabolic periods that keep rising and falling. Gurdjieff claimed that since these periods occur lawfully based on the law of seven that it is possible to keep a process in a straight line if the necessary shocks were introduced at the right time. A piano keyboard is an example of the law of seven, as the seven notes of the major scale correspond exactly to it.

The Law of Three is described by Gurdjieff as ‘the second fundamental cosmic law.’ This law states that every whole phenomenon is composed of three separate sources, which are Active, Passive, and Reconciling or Neutral. This law applies to everything in the universe and humanity, as well as all the structures and processes. The Three Centers in a human, which Gurdjieff said were the Intellectual Center, the Emotional Center and the Moving Center, are an expression of the law of three. Gurdjieff taught his students to think of the law of three forces as essential to transforming the energy of the human being. The process of transformation requires the three actions of affirmation, denial and reconciliation.

How the Law of Seven and Law of Three function together is said to be illustrated on the Fourth Way Enneagram, a nine-pointed symbol which is the central glyph of Gurdjieff’s system.

In his explanations Gurdjieff often used different symbols such as the Enneagram and the Ray of Creation. Gurdjieff said that ‘the enneagram is a universal symbol. All knowledge can be included in the enneagram and with the help of the enneagram it can be interpreted … A man may be quite alone in the desert and he can trace the enneagram in the sand and in it read the eternal laws of the universe. And every time he can learn something new, something he did not know before.’ The ray of creation is a diagram which represents the Earth’s place in the Universe. The diagram has eight levels, each corresponding to Gurdjieff’s laws of octaves.

Gurdjieff laid emphasis on the idea that the seeker must conduct his or her own search. The teacher cannot do the student’s work for the student, but is more of a guide on the path to self-discovery. As a teacher, Gurdjieff specialized in creating conditions for students – conditions in which growth was possible, in which efficient progress could be made by the willing. To find oneself in a set of conditions that a gifted teacher has arranged has another benefit. As Gurdjieff put it, ‘You must realize that each man has a definite repertoire of roles which he plays in ordinary circumstances … but put him into even only slightly different circumstances and he is unable to find a suitable role and for a short time he becomes himself.’

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