Fourth Way

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Fourth Way

The Fourth Way is a body of teaching on the possible spiritual development of man, introduced to the Western culture by George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff in the first half of the 20th century. P. D. Ouspensky, a contemporary and student of Gurdjieff, has brought many aspects of the teaching to a condensed form in his book In Search of the Miraculous.

Gurdjieff's teaching

Within the Fourth Way teaching, the term Fourth Way is a path of spiritual development set apart from the three traditional ways, these being the Way of the Fakir, emphasizing the mastery of the physical body, the Way of the Monk, emphasizing mastery of emotions, and the Way of the Yogi, which emphasizes discipline of the mind. These different ways or approaches to spiritual development generally correspond to the three types of man. The Fourth Way differs from these in that it seeks to simultaneously develop all three sides and to do so in the environment of ordinary life, whereas the three first ways all require from the beginning a complete abandoning of daily life and a seclusion into a monastic environment. The Fourth Way is sometimes therefore called the way of the 'sly man.' All the four ways may lead to the same understandings and may bring their practitioner from the 'outer circle' of humanity to the 'exoteric' and later 'mesoteric' and 'esoteric' circles.

The Fourth Way teaching starts from the premise that man is essentially mechanical and free will and true consciousness and freedom are only seldom realized possibilities. In the normal state man is subject to circumstance and passes his life in a state of sleep.

The term Work (usually with a capital 'W') refers to the ensemble of Fourth Way practices of work on the self introduced to the public by George Gurdjieff.

Central concepts of the Fourth Way include:

  • Little 'I's. Man's inner division and lack of consistency.
  • Doing. How man is usually incapable of doing: "everything happens".
  • Being. The level of "being" that people have can vary tremendously, and its development is crucial along with the gaining of knowledge.
  • Identification and waking sleep. The ordinary state in which man lives is akin to a form of hypnosis.
  • Self-remembering. A more conscious state in which man almost never lives.
  • Centers of the human being. The division of functions into three levels of motor and instinctive, emotional, and intellectual.
  • Man number 1, 2, and 3. The fundamental "types" of exterior man, or the ways in which different persons are lopsided.
  • Inner fusion. The means and process of creating a consistent, real I.
  • Cosmoses or worlds. A cosmology of levels of existence, and the relation of humanity to all that exists.
  • Hydrogens. The substances of which all that exists are composed, and their role both in cosmology and the human machine.
  • Food for the Moon. Humanity's slavery, in which it serves as "food" for something at another level of existence.

While the form of the three first Ways is relatively constant, the Fourth Way and Fourth Way schools appear and disappear according to need, in a form appropriate to the time. The Fourth Way work appears for accomplishing a specific esoteric task, as times may require.

Written accounts

Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous is probably the most concise and structured presentation of the background and precepts of the Fourth Way. It is especially valuable in that it presents not only the theory, but also an account of Gurdjieff's practical approach and insight during the early years.

The main works that Gurdjieff himself wrote are Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, Meetings with Remarkable Men, and Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'. While they cover many aspects of his teaching, Ouspensky's account is more suitable as a first introduction and general overview.

An extensive, structured presentation of the theory can also be found in Boris Mouravieff's Gnosis trilogy. This may well be the most complete presentation of the theory, though it lacks much of the practical insight and is colored by certain biases that Mouravieff had, along with a tendency towards overintellectualization. The three volumes are an excellent supplement to Ouspensky's account and Gurdjieff's own material, and are recommended as such.

Other books have also been written by several students of Gurdjieff, as well as by students of students (e.g. students of Ouspensky). Generally, these tend to put their own "spin" on the teaching, the writers being selective in their focus and re-interpreting several concepts. Such books can be useful, but are best taken with a grain of salt, and not as a primary resource.

For a deeper understanding of Gurdjieff's teaching and methods, the historical research of William Patrick Patterson is useful. His latest work Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff: The Man, The Teaching, His Mission is recommended for a deeper exploration of the "story" of Gurdjieff and his students – the events, the people, and some perspective on the teaching.

A broader approach

The FOTCM sees Gurdjieff as a teacher of central importance in recent times and often refers to his work. However, we do not see Gurdjieff as representing the end-point of the development of understanding of man and the Universe. He was a trailblazer who accomplished very much, but rather than dogmatically limiting ourselves to what he accomplished, we see our task as picking up the torch and forging further ahead. This also seems to be what Gurdjieff intended "his grandson" (the people of our time) to do.

As Gurdjieff said, the Fourth Way comes and goes and has no permanent shape. Gurdjieff closed his schools and seems to have considered his endeavor to awaken people during his lifetime to be a failure.[1] Effectively, his iteration of the Fourth Way ended with him. Ever since, so-called "Fourth Way" groups have imitated his teaching, turning more into schools of fakirs than practicing the genuine article, which is always a living and evolving experiment.

Our approach is centered around the Cassiopaean Experiment, in relation to which Gurdjieff's teaching has been and continues to be a major inspiration. Gurdjieff's synthesis of ancient knowledge aligns very well with other ancient sources, one example being the sufism of Ibn al-'Arabi. Key concepts of the teaching are also echoed in the discoveries of modern psychology. The Cassiopaean material is also well-aligned with Gurdjieff's teaching, though the terminology differs. In short, Gurdjieff is one of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand.

Gurdjieff had to hide many things behind allegory that the FOTCM is able to speak about directly. This is especially true of the concept of humanity being 'food for the Moon,' i.e. the manner in which hyperdimensional entities manage humankind as a farmer would manage sheep.

The role of Gurdjieff's teaching

The Fourth Way teaching is recommended to and practiced by most members of the community, as a way of seeing ourselves, others, and the world around us from a more objective perspective, rather than through the distorting prism of our own subjectivity. I.e., it is a way of working past our emotional issues, programs, mechanical behaviour, buffers, sacred cows, and wishful thinking.

The Work benefits from active participation in a group/network like this, where others also involved in the Work can provide feedback and act as a mirror in which we can see ourselves more clearly. The short Gurdjieffian text "The First Initiation" is a must read and explains, very concisely, the situation in which each of us finds him- or herself.

Two particularly important concepts to understand and put into practice are strategic enclosure and external considering.

Complementing Gurdjieff's teaching

Since to Work on one's "machine" both involves improving its health and funtioning, and also depends on its health and functioning, the modern information on health and wellness is also crucial. After all, the state of our minds depends on our brains, and the state of our brains depends on the health of our bodies. And the connection also goes the other way: psychological health (particularly emotional health and healthy interpersonal dynamics) affects bodily health.

Modern psychological knowledge is also important for understanding Fourth Way psychology more concretely. You'll find frequent references on the Cassiopaea Forum to the "big five" psychology books, which are extremely helpful tools towards acquiring a basic understanding of one's own "machine". Equally important, the findings of cognitive and social psychology include, in detail, how we really don't know ourselves – the extent to which our thinking, attitudes and behavior are driven by unconscious systems in our brain. Findings from neuroscience further make clearer both how we function, and how we can change it.

Further reading


  1. Cassiopaea Forum: Imitation Fourth Way Groups Started by Gurdjieff Rejects

External links


Cassiopaea Forum


All ‘Fourth Way’ topics

  • 200 conscious beings (George Gurdjieff said that 200 people belonging to the esoteric circle of humanity could greatly change the world if they so chose.)
  • Adamic man (A human being who has an individuated soul.)
  • Aim (In order to make progress in the Work, one must have an aim.)
  • Analogy of the coach (The horse-drawn coach is used as a metaphor for the human being.)
  • Attention (Attention, like the focusing of a lens that directs light, is a power of the Will that can direct energy and activity.)
  • A, B, and C influences
  • Bankruptcy (Fourth Way) (A turning point in life where one constates that the external life can no longer provide meaning to life.)
  • Being (Being is the togetherness of experience with an objective and a subjective aspect.)
  • Being mentation (Refers to thinking beyond the passive associative mechanism of the brain by the effort of the will.)
  • Black magnetic center (A perversion of the magnetic center, forming through and pulling a man towards a self-serving caricature of genuine esoteric work.)
  • Bodies of man (Whether man possesses so-called higher bodies from birth varies from teaching to teaching. For example, theosophy and anthroposophy teach that such exist, whereas George Gurdjieff says they must be created through esoteric work. We can bridge between Gurdjieff and Rudolf Steiner by the system of seven bodies presented by Mark Hedsel.)
  • Brain (The brain plays a role in mediating between the physical world and consciousness.)
  • Buffer (Fourth Way) (A buffer is a kind of thought-proof compartmentalization of the mind. They allow a person not to feel contradictions, putting the person's conscience to sleep. Under their influence, uncomfortable aspects of reality are ignored, and the person remains asleep.)
  • Center of gravity (The center of gravity of a person relates to the person's type.)
  • Centers (Fourth Way) (The 4th Way teaching attributes different areas of man's functioning to so-called centers.)
  • Conscience (The awareness of a moral or ethical aspect to one's conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong: Let your conscience be your guide.)
  • Conscious vs. mechanical suffering (This is defined as consisting of conscious labors and intentional suffering, which is an impulse necessary for man's development towards objective reason and being while mechanical suffering refers to the emotional or physical reaction to anything ordinarily painful.)
  • Consciousness (Everything is really a form of consciousness, from its formless higher transcendental aspects to it's lower derivatives that take an innumerable number of different forms.)
  • Constatation (Used in the meaning of a definite result of self-observation.)
  • Cosmoses (Fourth Way) (The Fourth Way cosmology is based on a scale of seven worlds or cosmoses. This is related to the scale of densities of the Ra and Cassiopaea materials, but each classification has a different emphasis.)
  • Death (Death is the center of a vast network of symbols.)
  • Destiny (A prearranged life plan, possibly watched over by some higher forces which will make it so the destiny gets fulfilled.)
  • Doing (Doing is doing in favor of one's destiny.)
  • Emotional thinking (Refers to emotions taking over the functions of thinking.)
  • Esoteric Christianity (A term used to refer to the Fourth Way teachings.)
  • Essence (In Fourth Way discourse, a man's essence is the totality of the qualities or propensities he is born with. As opposed to this, personality is the totality of the acquired or learned patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior. In modern psychology, inherited characteristics also play a large role.)
  • Evil magician (A tale that well illustrates man's position on this planet.)
  • Exoteric, mesoteric, and esoteric circles (In Fourth Way discourse, humankind is divided into four circles according to progress on the path of conscious evolution. There is first the outer circle of exterior men; then three progressive circles of interior men follow: the exoteric, the mesoteric, and the esoteric.)
  • External vs. internal considering (External considering is the practice of taking others into account when acting, seeing their situation as it is and accordingly making life easy both for oneself and for others. Internal considering is the opposite – acting out of a subjective inner state and view of the situation to which one is attached, with any of a number of consequences.)
  • Food for the Moon (An allegory that the Moon feeds on organic life, on humanity. In this sense, humanity is food for the Moon.)
  • Formatory thinking (The mechanical aspect of the lower intellectual center)
  • Free will (The first universal principle)
  • Fusion (Fourth Way) (The term fusion, as used in Boris Mouravieff's Gnosis books, is the process of forming a 'real' or 'permanent I' out of the multiple little 'I's which generally constitute man's personality.)
  • General Law (The law(s) under which man live as a mechanical part of a mechanical world. During esoteric Work, the General Law is the adversary, until the successful development of self-mastery and conscious will makes possible an escape from its rule.)
  • Heating the crucible (Receiving shocks and using these as catalyst for internal change, generally for building cohesion between little 'I's.)
  • Hydrogens (Fourth Way) (In the Fourth Way cosmology, all that exists is seen in the context of a table of 'hydrogens', where the term hydrogen simply means substance in general. Some hydrogens are material, some are information, others are spiritual energies for which there is no general description in human language.)
  • Identification (A nearly constant, universal feature of man's psyche.)
  • Idiot (In general usage, a foolish or stupid person, but the term "idiot" has also its esoteric meaning as used by George Gurdjieff.)
  • Imagination vs. impression (Imagination is one of the principal features of man which keep him asleep. Impressions, on the other hand, are called the 'third being food' and are an absolute necessity for life.)
  • Impartiality (The ideal state of perception.)
  • Involution vs. evolution (Evolution is the lower becoming the higher, following an ascending octave. Involution is the higher determining or creating the lower, following a descending octave.)
  • Karma (Involves a soul's 'accountability' for its actions and is usually understood to cover multiple lifetimes.)
  • Knowledge (What is known is known in context and in an applicable form)
  • Kundalini (A sort of force or effect that is localized at the base of the spine and can be activated either spontaneously or through deliberate exercises. Different teachings assign different meaning to it.)
  • Law of Accident (George Gurdjieff's term for those mechanical laws that govern the way man lives. See also "General Law".)
  • Law of Seven (The 4th Way cosmology sees all processes as divided in seven stages, often denoted by the notes from do to si (ascending) or do to re (descending).)
  • Law of Three (The Law of Three is fundamental to Fourth Way cosmology, where each phenomenon springs from the interaction of three forces. The idea is also central to the Cassiopaean Experiment, where context or consciousness determines alignment in relation to the fundamental duality of the cosmos.)
  • Lies and lying (Lies are ubiquitous in both the inner and outer life of man. Any work aspiring towards truth needs to deal with this state of matters – which to begin with requires distinguishing between various forms of lying.)
  • Lines of Work (In Fourth Way schools, the Work is divided into three distinct lines: the student's work on the self, the work with other students, and work for the school.)
  • Little 'I's (The Fourth Way teaches that man is a collection of inconsistent habits, programs, or stimulus-response patterns; these rule all kinds of inner and outer behavior, and whichever resulting 'self' is active at the moment calls itself 'I' and sees itself always as the one, same person.)
  • Magnetic center (A function in man which is formed as esoteric work proceeds beyond exterior, sleeping man.)
  • Make nice program (An automatic behavior tending towards avoiding conflict and making repeated concessions or tolerating consistent ill treatment.)
  • Man number 1, 2, and 3
  • Memory (That which mediates between the parts of self, and only through memory can we speak of Being casting its illumination on the human mental landscape.)
  • Negative emotion (An emotion that does not accord with objective reality.)
  • Networking (The natural form of organization for service to others, networking is a foretaste of fourth density STO.)
  • Objectivity (In general usage, the capacity to see things as they are.)
  • Organic portal (The Cassiopaean term Organic Portal for preadamic man.)
  • Paying all in advance (One cannot achieve objective results without sacrificing the subjective.)
  • Personality (Fourth Way) (In Fourth Way psychology, personality comprises all acquired aspects of man's thinking, emotions, and behavioral tendencies. It is what has been instilled from without as opposed to what is truly one's own.)
  • Polar opposites or polar beings (Denotes a couple consisting of a man and a woman whose centers are precisely matched, a sort of union "made in heaven".)
  • Prayer (In general, a prayer is an act that invites a connection with a deity or a spiritual entity through careful and conscious communication.)
  • Presence or being present (Various notions exist of the meaning of 'being present'.)
  • Principle of relativity (Fourth Way) (Gurdjieff sees this principle as a necessity to prevent misunderstandings arising from mixing one level of meaning with another resulting in what FotCM calls the cross conceptualization of ideas.)
  • Program (Fourth Way) (The term refers to a habitual pattern of thought or association or behavior.)
  • Proper use of emotional energy (Emotions have their own place and own specific type of energy, which plays a necessary role in the human metabolism.)
  • Reaction machine (The term reaction machine is sometimes used to describe man's mechanical nature. This applies to common man in general but especially to the organic portal or Pre-Adamic man and even more to the psychopath.)
  • Reading error (The subjective bias of interpretation people put on their experience.)
  • Real I (Unlike other schools of thought that see man as mechanical, the Fourth Way does not see this as a permanent or necessary condition, and least of all as desirable. Man is called to evolve past mechanicality, becoming a conscious assistant to creation. This requires developing internal unity and a permanent, real I.)
  • Recurrence (A mechanical repetition of life with its mechanical circumstances.)
  • Reining in the horse (Refers to the Coach parable and means not expressing or acting on initial emotional impulse.)
  • Salt (Alchemical term referring to the motor center.)
  • Self-calming (The process of pushing aside thoughts or emotions that are uncomfortable.)
  • Self-importance or self-love (The self-importance is similar to self-love, where they are identification with external circumstance, status, internal considering, worry over how other see the self.)
  • Self-medication (This is a special case of self-calming, often done with a chemical substance such as alcohol or with a formalized mental exercise such as visualization coupled with physical techniques.)
  • Self-remembering (This is the 4th Way practice of dividing attention. Normally, one is in a state of constantly shifting identification.)
  • Sex (Almost every imaginable claim has been made concerning sex, and it can be looked at from the angles of myth, mass culture, various esoteric teachings, etc.)
  • Sheep (Gurdjieff's allegory of Human Beings manifesting the group characteristic of "sheep")
  • Shock (Fourth Way) (In the Fourth Way teaching, shocks are necessary for the development of man, and also play an important role in cosmology.)
  • Soul (Whatever part of a person is permanent and survives physical death.)
  • Staircase (Fourth Way) (The Staircase corresponds to four notes, SI, LA, SOL, and FA of the Way.)
  • Strategic enclosure (A practice that should be engaged in by every seeker of truth. It has both an external aspect, which is to employ a kind of "strategic silence", and an internal aspect, which is to always maintain a beneficial inner – or psychological – environment.)
  • Thresholds (Fourth Way) (Mouravieff distinguishes three thresholds in esoteric development.)
  • Waking sleep or confluence (Designate a peculiar hypnotic state in man where he is identified with the mental currents that flow through him and mistaking the thoughts that are engendered from this current as his own thoughts.)
  • Will and creation (It is conceivable that somehow, somewhere, there must be a Greatness, a Source of Initiative, that is infinitely greater then all of Existence from which an impulse comes forth that is inconceivable and unknowable that is neither a fact nor reducible to fact.)