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The Fourth Way

"With the right methods and efforts, a man can acquire control of
consciousness and can become conscious of himself with all that it implies.
And what this implies, we in our present state, can not even imagine."

— P. D. Ouspensky —

The question is often asked, "What is the Fourth Way?" Webster's dictionary defines "way" as: "A course of action or sequence of events leading in a direction or toward an objective."

In order to grasp what the Fourth Way is, it is necessary to see what the three traditional ways are.

The first of the three traditional ways is the way of the fakir; the way of trying to achieve individuality, consciousness and will through the body. Fakirs remain in one posture for years or subject their bodies to all kinds of physical hardships. After many years they do obtain a strong will and control of the body, but without development of the mind and emotions they cannot make use of their power. The first way requires no teacher; one simply imitates another fakir.

The second of the three traditional ways is the way of the monk. This is the way of devotion, of work on the emotions. This is the way of faith and religious feeling. By subjecting themselves to one emotion - faith - monks can achieve unity in themselves. The body and the intellect remain undeveloped. On the way of the monk, absolute faith and devotion to a teacher are required.

The third way is the way of the yogi, the way of knowledge, of work on the mind. Yogis can achieve unity by working on the mind, but the emotions and body remain undeveloped and no use can be made of all the knowledge acquired. They know everything and can do nothing. One on the way of the yogi must have a teacher whom he completely believes in and tries to imitate.

The Fourth Way is distinguished by the fact that it is practiced entirely in the midst of everyday life, whereas the other three ways require a complete withdrawal from the world. The Fourth Way works on the body, emotions, and mind at the same time. In the Fourth Way a teacher is necessary; however, no faith or belief in the teacher is required. Any attitude of this sort toward the teacher will soon turn negative. The Fourth Way is designed to develop faith and trust in one's self, rather than faith and trust in someone else.

The immediate aim of the Fourth Way, sometimes called the Way in Life, is to bring our three centers, intellectual, emotional and instinctive-moving (body), into balance so that they all work together instead of contradicting each other. When the centers are in balance, our essential self can begin to function.

To begin the Fourth Way, I need only want more than ordinary life has to offer; maybe a wish to know who I really am, or a want for more meaning in my life, or any simple personal wish that is not being satisfied by ordinary means.

The Last Esoteric Message

Just as many religions have been introduced during the current cycle of humanity, there have also been esoteric teachings which teach how to do what the exoteric part of religion preaches. Gurdjieff said an esoteric teaching is "preserved in secret in special schools and with its help it is always possible to rectify what has been distorted [in religion] or to restore what has been forgotten."

All the religious revelations failed to create the New Type of Man needed to fill the enlarging gap. Warned Gurdjieff, "Humanity is at a standstill, and from a standstill there is a straight path to downfall and degeneration. There is nothing that points to evolution proceeding. On the contrary when we compare humanity with a man we quite clearly see a growth of personality at the cost of essence, that is, a growth of the artificial, the unreal, and what is foreign, at the cost of the natural, the real, and what is one's own. Contemporary culture requires automatons. And people are undoubtedly losing their acquired habits of independence and turning into automatons, into parts of machines. Man is becoming a willing slave. He no longer needs chains. He begins to grow fond of his slavery, to be proud of it. And this is the most terrible thing that can happen to a man."

In a rare political pronouncement Gurdjieff predicted that the Eastern world would again rise to a position of world importance and become a threat to the momentarily all-powerful, all-influential new culture of the Western world dominated by America, a country that was very strong but also very young.

Gurdjieff said that one should look at the world in the same way that one would look at another person or at oneself. The world was, in a sense, only a reflection or an enlargement of the individual world in each of us. Just as there were two sides to a person, there were two sides to the earth. To bring each of these sides together so that they might live in peace and harmony was the one fundamental purpose of all messiahs and messengers from the gods. He said that the time was very short. That it was necessary to achieve this world harmony as soon as possible to avoid a complete disaster.

Gurdjieff said that the world harmony of which he spoke could not be achieved by politics, philosophy, religion or any other organized movement that treated "man in the mass." It could only be accomplished through the individual development of man. In doing so, an individual's unknown potentialities would become strong so that he might influence many more people. If enough individuals could develop themselves—even partially—into genuine, natural men, each such individual would then be able to convince and win over as many as a hundred other men, who would, each in his turn, be able to influence another hundred, and so on.

For the current cycle, Gurdjieff brought the ancient teaching of The Fourth Way—a sacred and scientific teaching of self-transformation—which speaks directly to our situation and gives the principles and practices by which human beings individually and collectively come to a new awakening. The Fourth Way is the last esoteric message and teaching.

"What is the significance of life on earth, and of human life in particular?"

This is the question that compelled G.I. Gurdjieff to search for the origins of truth, which he believed was contained in the wisdom of ancient civilizations.

For a man who wishes to wholly be himself one day, the search for the truth of what he is becomes the most urgent necessity. It is this search which leads to the knowledge of oneself, of which all traditional schools are concerned.

The Fourth Way is a system of ideas and practices designed to increase consciousness of oneself and to develop understanding in the individual. It teaches a psychological methodology which is instruction in the process of 'metanoia', meaning the transformation of mind. This path to enlightenment was introduced to the twentieth century western world by G.I. Gurdjieff who called it 'Esoteric Christianity'.

This knowledge, fundamentally in accord with the traditional teachings of the 'Great Knowledge', makes strikingly clear the deep chasm between what they represent and man's contemporary way of living and thinking. Whoever meets them without prejudice for the first time feels touched to the heart by a force of truth that cannot be denied, and also called on to put into question all of the values which, until then, have supported him through life. By finding again and again in himself the taste of this attitude, may the reader receive practical help in his own search for an unchangeable truth.

"Being endowed with thought, how can a man go through life without questioning himself; endowed with feeling, how can he remain indifferent?"

Being endowed with thought, is a man not bound to ask himself, 'What is the specific characteristic of human life, which human life alone can develop?' One day, should he arrive at an answer which seems valid, can a man worthy of the name have any other aim than to try to nourish from then on, by all available means, this quality proper to him and his brothers? More and more clearly the question arises, 'Would it not be possible to give my life a quality other than that which I ordinarily see in it, that very quality that I glimpse only in moments of awakening?'

"Once a man has realized that he ought to get to the root of things, and that he can no longer be content with living in accordance with the demands of the ordinary world, then a question arises about what he himself is and about the meaning of his own life. In the beginning, the way he searches, and the way he puts this question to himself can take very different forms. But, finally, beyond the partial aspects, which appear at first to be the only ones, does not all searching in this field come to be seen as one—that of knowing, behind appearances, what is true? And, in the end, is not every man who asks himself this question, definitely and essentially a seeker of truth? When one begins a search for a 'way', there are many trails and many forks in the road."

The Fourth Way requires no retirement into the desert, does not require a man to give up and renounce everything by which he formerly lived. The Fourth Way begins much further along than the way of the yogi. This means that a man must be prepared for the Fourth Way and this preparation must be acquired in ordinary life and be a very serious one, embracing many different sides. Furthermore, a man must be living in conditions favorable for work on the Fourth Way, or in any case, in conditions which do not render it impossible. It must be understood that both in the inner (esoteric) and in the external (exoteric) life of a man there may be conditions that create insuperable barriers to the Fourth Way. Furthermore, the Fourth Way has no definite forms like the ways of the fakir, the monk and the yogi. And, first of all, it has to be found. This is the first test. It is not as well-known as the three traditional ways. There are many people who have never heard of the Fourth Way, and there are others who deny its existence or possibility.

At the same time, the beginning of the Fourth Way is easier than the beginning of the ways of the fakir, the monk, and the yogi. On the Fourth Way, it is possible to work and to follow this way while remaining in the usual condition of life, continuing to do the usual work, preserving former relations with people, and without renouncing or giving up anything. On the contrary, the conditions of life in which a man is placed at the beginning of his work, in which, so to speak, The Work finds him, are the best possible for him, at any rate at the beginning of The Work. These conditions are natural for him. These conditions are the man himself, because a man's life and its conditions correspond to what he is. Any conditions different from those created by life would be artificial for a man, and with such artificial conditions, The Work would not be able to touch every side of his being at once. The Fourth Way affects every side of man's being simultaneously. It is work on all three centers: physical, emotional and intellectual all at once.

The Fourth Way differs from the other ways in that the principal demand made upon a man is the demand for understanding. A man must do nothing that he does not understand, except as an experiment under the supervision and direction of his teacher. The more a man understands what he is doing, the greater will be the result of his efforts. This is a fundamental principle of the Fourth Way. The results of his work are in direct proportion to the consciousness of the Work. No 'faith' is required on the Fourth Way. On the contrary, faith of any kind is opposed to the Fourth Way. On the Fourth Way, a man must satisfy himself of the truth he is told, and until he is satisfied, he must do nothing.

The method of the Fourth Way consists in doing something on all three centers; the physical, the emotional, and the mental, at the same time. Therefore, when a man attains will on the Fourth Way, he can make use of it because it has developed evenly throughout the physical, emotional and mental, and saved a lot of time working on the three sides of his being in parallel and simultaneously.

The Fourth Way is sometimes called the "way of the sly man". The sly man knows some secret that the fakir, monk, and yogi do not know. How the sly man learned this secret is not known. Perhaps he found it in some old books, perhaps he inherited it, perhaps he bought it, perhaps he stole in from someone. It makes no difference. The sly man knows the secret, and with its help, outstrips the fakir, the monk, and yogi.

"In the Fourth Way, you live an ordinary life in the world, and life is your teacher. Balancing the three centers in the midst of daily life has a deceptively simple sound to it. In actuality, it is the most relentlessly demanding way of all. However, working with yourself in this way causes profound shifts in your consciousness, so that you no longer view life in an ordinary way. You come to realize that life has a meaning beyond itself."

Maurice Nicoll

Recommended Reading

In Search of the Miraculous

The Fourth Way

The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution


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