- For P.D. Ouspensky‘s book titled ‘The Fourth Way‘ see Fourth Way (book). For the jazz group, see The Fourth Way (band).
The Fourth Way is a term used by G.I. Gurdjieff to describe his approach to self-development. Gurdjieff believed that his method combined what he saw as the three established ways, or schools: that of the body, the emotions and the mind.
The way of the mind is that of the fakir, of the physical body, instinctive-moving-sensory people without much mind and without much heart. The way of the monk, the religious way, is of emotional people. The mind and the body are not strong. The third way is that of the yogi. The heart and the body are not strong. In any of these ways, if the other ways are too strong, they may be a hindrance on this way. A fourth way exists for those who cannot go with any of the first three ways.
According to Gurdjieff, the chief difference between the three traditional 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 exit, 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 always has some work of a specific import, and “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, that is, it disappears from the given place, disappears in its given form, continuing perhaps in another place in another form. 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.” 
Today, the Fourth Way is sometimes referred to as “The Work,” “The Gurdjieff Work,” or “Work on oneself, or “The System”  Gurdjieff never used the term “The Fourth Way” in his writings, his pupil P.D. Ouspensky used the term in his lectures and writings. After Ouspensky’s death, his students published a book entitled The Fourth Way, based on his lectures.
The Fourth Way mainly addresses the question of people’s place in the Universe and their possibilities for inner development. 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 objective 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. When asked about the teaching he was setting forth, Gurdjieff said, “The teaching whose theory is here being set out is completely self supporting and independent of other lines and it has been completely unknown up to the present time.” The exact origins of Gurdjieff’s teachings are unknown, but various people have offered various sources.
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 was 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 Way of the fakir
- The fakir works to obtain mastery of the attention (self-mastery) through struggles with the physical body involving difficult physical exercises and postures.
- The Way of the monk
- 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 Way of the yogi
- 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. He called it ‘The Fourth Way‘.
The Fourth Way
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 and it utilizes sexual energy not only in procreation but also in sublimation.
The Fourth Way does involve certain conditions imposed by a teacher, but blind acceptance of them is not encouraged. Each student is advised to do only what they understand, and to verify for themselves the veracity of the teaching’s ideas. The Fourth Way requires supreme effort to devote oneself continuously to inner work, even though one’s outward worldly roles may not change much at first, if at all. In spite of his insistence that work without a teacher was next to impossible, Gurdjieff stressed each individual’s responsibility:
- “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 results of his efforts. This is a fundamental principle of the fourth way. The results of work are in 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 of what he is told. And until he is satisfied he must do nothing.”
By its very nature, the Fourth Way is not for everyone. Gurdjieff said that the so-called “secret knowledge” of his transformational system is not “hidden”, but that most people are simply not interested. Gurdjieff referred to those capable of receiving the work as “five of twenty of twenty” – only twenty per cent of all people ever think seriously about higher realities. Of these, only twenty per cent ever decide to do anything about it. And of these, only five per cent ever actually get anywhere, or one in five hundred.
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. However, the Fourth Way bears striking similarities with such integral paths as, for instance, Natya Yoga, where the “divine acting” is one of the core concepts too.
One of the notable factors in Gurdjieff’s teachings is that all different subjects fit together and relate to each other. Thus by studying one thing, Gurdjieff said that the person simultaneously studies many other subjects.
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.
In the book, “In Search of the Miraculous,” it was noted that Gurdjieff taught that once the initial school with the real teacher is finished, all the other schools which try to continue the work presented by the initial school are no longer real.
Gurdjieff’s teachings dealt with an enormous number of subjects. His main explanations revolved around the following: Consciousness, Subconsciousness, Higher Consciousness, Conscience, Remorse of Conscience, The Physical Body‘s Functions, Higher Bodies, Centers, Self-Awareness, Knowledge vs. Understanding, Essence vs Personality, Universal Laws, Enneagram, Ray of Creation, Human History, Language, Hypnotism, Sacred Dance, Sacred Music, Humans’ Natural Weaknesses…some are expanded below:
One aspect is to strive 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.
Division of Attention – (Preliminary exercise to Self-Remembering)
Gurdjieff encouraged his students to cultivate the ability to divide their attention, that is, the ability to remain fully focused on an external object or internal thought while being aware of oneself. One might, for instance, let part of one’s attention dwell in one’s little finger, while the other half is aware of our own presence. In the division of attention, in the initial stages one may need to go back and forth between one thing and another. However, experiencing them both fully and simultaneously is the aim.
Beyond the division of attention lies “remembering oneself” – a state, which is permanent in a “conscious” person, while fleeting and temporary in the average person. In this state a person sees what is seen without ever losing sight of himself seeing. Ordinarily, when concentrating on something, people lose their sense of “I,” although they may, as it were, passively react to the stimulus they are concentrating on. In self-remembering the “I” is not lost.
The Need for Efforts
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 Many ‘I’s
Many I’s is a term which indicates the different feelings and thoughts of ‘I’ in a person: I think, I want, I know best, I prefer, I am happy, I am hungry, I am tired, etc. These feelings and thoughts of ‘I’ usually have nothing in common with one another, and are present for short periods of time. They tie in directly with Gurdjieff’s claim that man has no unity in himself. This lack of unity results in wanting one thing now, and another, perhaps contradictory, thing later.
Gurdjieff claimed that people’s bodies are over-tensed during their actions, and thus they unnecessarily waste a lot of energy. Gurdjieff focused on ways of relaxing the physical body and minimizing the tenseness of the human muscles.
- Main article Centers (Fourth Way)
Gurdjieff classified plants as having one center, animals two and humans three. Centers refer to apparatuses within a being that dictate specific organic functions. There are three main centers in a man: intellectual, emotional and physical, and two higher centers: higher emotional and higher intellectual.
Body, Essence and Personality
Gurdjieff divided people into three independent parts, that is, into Body, Essence and Personality.
- Body is the physical functions of a body.
- Essence – is a “natural part of a person” or “what he is born with”; this is the part of a being which is said to have the ability to evolve.
- Personality – is everything artificial that he has “learned” and “seen”.
Gurdjieff focused on two main cosmic laws, the Law of Three and the Law of Seven.
- 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 Centre, the Emotional Centre and the Moving Centre, 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.
Gurdjieff was documented as teaching that people assimilate and transubstantiate certain matter which upon their death is released from their body and transferred to the Moon. The simplest way of explaining this theory is by comparing it to other Biogeochemical cycle such as the Carbon Cycle or the Nitrogen Cycle. In the nitrogen cycle, bacteria assimilate and transfer nitrogen from the soil into the atmosphere. Parallel to this, in Gurdjieff’s moon theory, humans assimilate a certain type of matter in order that it is transferred from the Earth to the Moon.