The Fourth Way

“The Fourth Way” is the title of a 1957 book by Russian esotericist P. D. Ouspensky that is supposed to be about the self-development methods of the mystic/philosopher/teacher G. I. Gurdjieff. Ouspensky was a student of Gurdjieff for a significant part of his life until there was a parting of the ways. This book was published after Ouspensky died in 1947. A substantial amount of it is constructed in questions and answers, as a teacher might answer their student’s questions.

Ouspensky’s first book in 1909 was about the fourth dimension, which was much in the public consciousness in the first few years after Einstein published his theory of special relativity. His second book was titled “Tertium Organum”, or the third canon of thought, after Aristotle’s first and Francis Bacon’s second. Ouspensky’s third book “A New Model of the Universe” continued in this way, linking science with spirituality, or at least consciousness.

What is a person or what are the aspects of a person? Is a person a machine? A physicalist thinks that a person is their body, and the mind is what the brain does. A dualist thinks that a person has a body as well as a separate mind, but we know that the mind is dependent on the body for operation and it can be diminished by injury, neglect, or abuse. There are other aspects of the person, such as the emotions or “heart”, which are somewhere between the body and the mind.

And if you search on the web, “soul” or “spirit” are often shown in images along side body, mind, and mood, but these terms are imprecise. Sometimes soul is defined as spirit, sometimes spirit as soul. It is difficult to determine what is meant by them, but they are usually of a higher-order nature than the physical or mental or emotional. It is usually what remains the same for a person, the still point of a changing self, regardless if that endures after death.

  • Body
  • Mind
  • Mood (Heart or Emotions)
  • and Spirit?
  • or Soul?
  • or Balance?

Various schools of spiritual people concentrate on the control and discipline of different aspects of the self: the physical for the Fakir, the mental for the Yogi, and emotions for the Monk. These are the first three historical ways for self-development, but they require separation from the normal social world, and neglect the other aspects of the self. The Fourth Way was said to require no extreme separation, and to develop body, mind, and mood in a balanced way.

Gurdjieff thought that most if not all people were machines because they were “asleep at the wheel” (my metaphor), the wheel being the control of their own consciousness. Similar to the practice of lucid dreaming, these teachings (also called “the work” or “the system”) purported to develop the conscious self into something much more than ordinary awareness. This aware self would have access to all sorts of abilities that remain hidden or dormant in most of us.

The Fourth Way is also said to be the way of the “sly man”, but to be sly is to be crafty, cunning, and tricky. If you are sly you are deceitful or a charlatan, dishonest and evasive, a “rogue”. You take advantage of people, or you game the social system. Are there any truth to these teachings, or were they merely a way that Gurdjieff found to make an easy living? If not, why call it the way of the “sly man”? On the other hand, who doesn’t want to develop their best selves in the most efficient and clever way?

  • Fakir: Physical
  • Yogi: Mental
  • Monk: Emotions
  • Rogue: Balance or ?

I also read that “sly man” is a translation of the French “le ruse”. The idea behind this name is for a person that takes advantage of opportunities in their normal life to development their awareness, rather than just their attitude towards others. And so it’s a posture towards the broader world, not just towards people. If I had a short word to substitute for “rogue” in the above diagram, I might do so, to prevent the negative impression I might be giving. But the term “rogue” is probably less offensive that it used to be, so I’ll keep it for now.

Yet people do love to be deceived. They love to be entertained, and they love a good story with charismatic characters. They also love to hear what they want to hear. Perhaps that’s all these teachings really were and are. And yet, many artists, writers, and thinkers have embraced the ideas of this fourth way. Certainly to enhance one’s consciousness is a positive thing to do, or to eliminate erroneous or harmful thought, or to “know thyself”. Socrates taught that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Perhaps there is some worth to these teachings after all, but a person may have to determine this for themselves.

Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Way

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fourth_Way_(book)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gurdjieff

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._D._Ouspensky

Tertium Organum online:

http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/to/index.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novum_Organum

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centers_(Fourth_Way)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Know_thyself

Some videos to entertain found by searching for “fourth way” and “sly man”:

[*10.168, *11.48]

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5 Responses to “The Fourth Way”

  1. Gilbert Kirk Says:

    You might consider eliminatng behavior as a possible fourth triangle in that it implies physicality, rather than simply a state of being.

  2. Martin K. Jones Says:

    That’s a good point. The reason I suggested it was because I saw several images for “stress” that listed how body, mind, emotions, and behavior could influence it. I don’t mind physicality, but I might prefer to replace it with something like “mien” to indicate an outward state like “mood” is an inward state. Plus I am somewhat ruled by needing words of approximately equal size. I’ll remove “behavior” for now even though I believe that a person’s actions constitute an important part of who they are. “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do”, is attributed to Jung, although not verified, and I’m not sure if it’s really true. Even so, I’m not sure what should go in the fourth place of body, mind, mood…

  3. Gilbert Kirk Says:

    The Alan Watts talk was much appreciated. Thanks for the research to find it. Currently listening to the Fourth Way.

  4. Martin K. Jones Says:

    I had only listened to a tiny bit of Watts’ talk until your comment, but now I’ve listened completely and enjoyed. Thank you!

  5. Martin K. Jones Says:

    And I especially liked Watts’ comments on Wu Wei. You might enjoy this older entry on the subject:

    https://equivalentexchange.blog/2012/05/09/wu-wei-or-natural-action/

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