the fourth way: “… The Fourth Way is sometimes called the way of the shrewd, astute man. The “shrewd man” knows a certain secret that the fakir, monk and yogi do not know …” ~ G. I. Gurdjieff
Much of Gurdjieff’s efforts went into creating what he hoped would be a network of spiritual schools employing The Fourth Way methodology. The aim of these schools was to “wake people up,” for it was his belief that the general population of modern man was “sleep-walking.” And, he did manage to open and run one such school for less than a decade on a large estate in the suburbs of Paris.
Anxious to learn Gurdjieff’s methods for “waking up,” many of the intellectuals and artists of the day lived for various periods at The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. When Gurdjieff died in October of 1949, his last words were said to be, “I’ve left you all quite the mess,” referring to the fact that unforeseen circumstances such as several near-fatal automobile accidents and World War II had thwarted his central aim.
In spite of falling short of creating a network of Fourth Way schools in his own life-time, a handful of Gurdjieff’s closest students managed to pick up and preserve the remnants of his teachings. Many books were written and many groups started by his students. And even more more books were written and more groups started by students of Gurdjieff’s students. A good argument can be made that elements of the “human-potential” movement of the sixties and seventies may be traced to Gurdjieff’s efforts at “waking” people up.
There is a story about a village woman who makes a pot of soup so rich and delicious that her husband insists on inviting all the neighbors to come over for a bowl. Since the woman has only made one pot she is forced to constantly dilute the original soup in order to feed all the people in the village. As a result, all the neighbors only get to taste the “soup of the soup.” We are fortunate that with “In Search of Being” distilled from Gurdjieff’s own words, we get to sample a bowl of soup less diluted.
So, in this post – part 2 of this 2 part series – we continue (and conclude) our mini dive into Gurdjieff’s vast teachings with a summary of the “fourth way” … in his own words (excerpted from the remaining part of the chapter Spiritual Ways) …
… in Part 1 we offered Gurdjieff’s summary of the “three ways” : fakir, monk, and yogi (excerpted from the chapter Spiritual Ways) …
All italicized text below is adapted from In Search of Being: The Fourth Way to Consciousness by G. I. Gurdjieff, Edited by Stephen A. Grant ©2012 by FourthWay Editions, Inc. This edition was published in 2021. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. We took the liberty to add the headline The Fourth Way for this excerpt, it is not part of the excerpt.
The Fourth Way
Given the current state of our ordinary cultural life, an intelligent person who is seeking knowledge has virtually no hope of attaining his goal. This is because, in the world in which we live, there is nothing along the lines of fakir or yogi schools, and the religions of the West have degenerated to such an extent that there is nothing alive in them. Alternatives like occult movements and naive experiments in spiritualism will get us nowhere. And the situation would indeed be hopeless were it not for the existence of a fourth method, which we will call the “Fourth Way.”
The Fourth Way does not require a person to give up and renounce all worldly things, but begins at a point much further along the road than the way of the yogi. This means that, before setting out on the Fourth Way, a follower must already be prepared, that is, he must undergo a serious preparation in ordinary life that embraces many different sides. For this, he must be living in conditions that lend themselves to work on the Fourth Way, or at least do not make it impossible. It must be understood that there are both inner and outer conditions that can create insurmountable barriers to the Fourth Way. Moreover, unlike the ways of the fakir, the monk and the yogi, the Fourth Way has no definite form and must, first of all, be found.
At the same time, to set out on the Fourth Way is easier than beginning one of the other three ways. It is possible to work and follow this way without giving up the normal conditions of life. One can keep one’s job, maintain personal relationships and not renounce anything. On the contrary, on the Fourth Way the life situation in which a follower finds himself, or in which, so to speak, the work finds him, is the best possible situation for him, at any rate at the beginning, because it is his natural situation. It is, in a sense, the person himself, because our life situation makes us what we are. Any situation different from that created by life would be artificial for us, and such that the work would not touch every side of our being at once. In the natural conditions of life the Fourth Way affects simultaneously every side of man’s being. It is work on the three rooms at once.
The Fourth Way differs from the other ways in that the principal demand required of the follower is for understanding. One must do nothing that one does not understand, except perhaps as an experiment under the supervision and direction of one’s leader. The more a person understands what he is doing, the greater will be the results of his efforts. This is one of the fundamental principles of the Fourth Way. The results of work depend on the degree to which efforts are undertaken purposefully and consciously. No “faith” is required; on the contrary, faith of any kind runs counter to the Fourth Way.
A follower must satisfy himself of the truth of what he is told before he can do anything at all. The method of the Fourth Way consists in doing something in one room and simultaneously doing something corresponding in the two other rooms—that is, while working on the physical body, one works simultaneously on the mind and the emotions; while working on the mind, one works on the body and the emotions; and while working on the emotions, one also works on the mind and the body. This can be done because followers of the Fourth Way apply a certain kind of knowledge that is unavailable to those who follow the ways of the fakir, monk and yogi, a knowledge that allows work in three directions at once.
In addition, on the Fourth Way the work of each follower can be individualized so that he does what, and only what, is necessary for him. This is possible because the Fourth Way, which is free of definite forms, dispenses with much of the superfluous or merely traditional practices of the other ways. A follower who attains a certain will can apply it because he has acquired control over his mind, body and emotions. He has also saved a great deal of time by simultaneously working on the three sides of his being in parallel.
The Fourth Way is sometimes called the way of the shrewd, astute man. The “shrewd man” knows a certain secret that the fakir, monk and yogi do not know. How he learned this secret is not known. Perhaps he found it in some old books, or perhaps he inherited, bought or stole it from someone. It does not matter. The “shrewd man” knows the secret, and with its help outstrips the fakir, monk and yogi. The fakir takes a whole month of intense torture to produce the energy he needs, and the monk spends a week in fasting, prayer and privations. The yogi, who knows considerably more than the other two, takes less time. He knows what he wants, why he needs it and where to get it. He knows, for example, that it is necessary to produce within himself a certain substance, and that it can be produced in one day by certain mental exercises or by concentrating his consciousness. So he focuses his attention on these exercises for an entire day without allowing a single unrelated thought, and he obtains what he needs. In this way, a yogi is able to accomplish in only one day what would take the monk a week and the fakir a month.
But on the Fourth Way knowledge is even more precise and perfect. A person who follows the Fourth Way knows exactly what substances he needs to achieve his aim, as well as various methods for producing them. And he knows that, with the right knowledge, the same substances can be introduced into the body from outside. Instead of spending a whole day in exercises like the yogi, a week in prayer like the monk or a month in self-torture like the fakir, he simply prepares and takes in all the necessary substances, and in this way, like taking a pill, he obtains the desired results without wasting time.
We are very grateful to Gershon Siegel (our guest contributor) for writing the preamble in the opening blockquote. As to his background: G. I. Gurdjieff’s cosmology first infected Gershon’s paradigm in 1980 and, like a mysterious allergy, has never fully abated.
The next post in this Shambhala Publications series will introduce Pema Chödrön’s teachings via her book How We Live Is How We Die – a fascinating and very valuable, relatable guidance for everyday life … so stay tuned …
All italicized text from the heading The Fourth Way (added by us – not in the book) is adapted from In Search of Being: The Fourth Way to Consciousness by G. I. Gurdjieff,Edited by Stephen A. Grant ©2012 by FourthWay Editions, Inc. This edition was published in 2021. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.
Gurdjieff’s teachings take us on an inward journey that potentially leads to an improved quality of life … a natural consequence of which is more compassion and kindness towards others … so in that spirit let us help the victims of Hurricane Ian in whatever way we can … and to that end here are some options:
2) Go Fund Me: How You Can Help: Donate to Hurricane Ian Relief.
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We are all facing financial challenges but IF your situation allows you to donate and help then please do so …
And, may your exploration of Gurdjieff … bring insights that illuminate your journey … and …
May you remain safe and healthy as you navigate these unsettling times.