Ouspensky on the Fourth Way

The term ‘Fourth Way‘ is a term Ouspensky adopted from George Gurdjieff. But although the name ‘Fourth Way’ appears for the first time in the twentieth century, it points to an ancient tradition, a broad heritage practiced throughout history by certain individuals. Whatever they may have called their work, in spirit, it would have been identical to Gurdjieff and Ouspensky’s ‘Fourth Way’.

“You cannot say this system is the Fourth Way; the Fourth Way is very big, and this system is very small by comparison…” (From “The Fourth Way”, p106)

Gurdjieff and Ouspensky on the Three Ways

The Fourth Way obviously implies three other ways. These, according to Gurdjieff, are the Way of the Fakir, the Way of the Monk and the Way of the Yogi. All ways lead to the same end: the awakening of consciousness in man. However, each reaches that destination via different means.

The three ways stem from the the three possible centers of gravity in man. The Way of the Fakir corresponds to the moving-instinctive man; the Way of the Monk to emotional man; and the Way of the Yogi to intellectual man. Each ‘way’ focuses on one of man’s centers correspondingly, and through that, generates consciousness. Since consciousness stands separate from functions, the three ways yield the same result.

This is the theory of the three ways, as presented by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In practice, however, an atmosphere of work can never focus on a single way exclusively. All teachings involve physical, emotional and intellectual aspects. More realistically, a teaching will be a blend of these three ways, with a center of gravity in one.

The Fourth Way is distinguished from these three, first in its stress on the need of verification (as opposed to belief), and second in its balance: it strives to harmonize the three centers in man and lead him beyond functions towards consciousness. Any teaching that follows these guidelines would be considered ‘Fourth Way’, regardless of when it appeared in history. This explains Ouspensky’s remark on the system and the Fourth Way. The system, as he presented it, was a twentieth expression of the ‘Fourth Way’, which was an ancient tradition.

Ouspensky on the Fourth Way

Since the Fourth Way is a path, it must be understood, not through books, but through experience. Consequently, it would be useless to here add more explanations on the Fourth Way, to the already existing volumes written by Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and their followers. However, not much has been expressed on the Fourth Way as a tradition and as an influence. For a student who travels the path of the Fourth Way, it is crucial to become aware of the greater tradition of which he is part.

In this spirit, Ouspensky stressed that the system was not man-made. He stressed its greater origin, along with the ancient Fourth Way tradition. He stressed that, if the system had been invented by human mind, its purpose would instantly be defeated: to elevate human to the superhuman. Human mind has definite limits beyond which it cannot jump, and any system that strove to elevate man above himself had to originate from beyond man’s limitations.

Initially, that ‘beyond’ needn’t concern the beginner. It becomes more apparent as he progresses along the Fourth Way. But farther down the path, knowledge and awareness of the greater whole is indispensable, for the Fourth Way is founded on the famous adage of Hermes Trismegistus: As above so below and as within so without. Man is a micro-cosmos. The laws and phenomenon that occur within him are identical to those manifesting outside of him. His self-knowledge, therefore, grows in direct proportion to his knowledge of the world.

Ouspensky on Unity and Multiplicity

In his presentation of the system, Ouspensky stressed the principle of scale. Man and the world – the micro-cosmos and macro-cosmos – mirrored each other, even though they were of different scales. Man could, therefore, learn certain truths about himself by observing them outside. Moreover, because of man’s difficulty of seeing himself, he could only observe certain phenomena outside of him, and infer them to himself. As Above so Below thus indicated the path towards objective knowledge.

Nevertheless, man must keep his interest in externals in check, for he easily loses himself in pursuit of theoretical knowledge. Ouspensky, therefore, introduced another principle to observation: the principle of relativity. Other scales and ideas are only of value to man in as much as they relate to his aim to awaken. Knowledge of greater or smaller cosmoses could aid man only in so far as it increased his self knowledge. As good examples of bad examples, Ouspensky pointed out modern science, which altogether overlooks the principle of relativity and freely focuses on the smaller or greater worlds while losing sight of man. Modern psychology errs towards the other extreme, by indulging in the functions of man while disregarding his resemblance to the cosmoses around him.

Ouspensky on Self-Knowledge

Man is naturally in a state of self-ignorance. The path to awakening is therefore synonymous to the path towards self-knowledge. Know Thyself, traditionally ascribed to Socrates, actually stands at the foundation of any genuine teaching. Based on the principles of scale and relativity, man cannot know anything before he knows himself.

Ouspensky indicated a twofold path towards self-knowledge. One aspect was self-observation, which called man to observe himself in various circumstances, take note of what he sees, and gradually gather a collection of ‘photographs’ that present an objective picture of who he really is. Another aspect -without which the first would be futile – is knowledge of the system. The system defined the psychology of man to great detail. After enough self-observation, a man working on himself could begin dividing what he saw into the myriad functions outlined by the system.

Ouspensky on Self-Remembering

The above-mentioned efforts had to be connected to consciousness. Ouspensky noted how point distinguished the system from all other psychological endeavors. Unlike modern psychology, man observed his functions, not for the same of his functions, but for the sake of extracting consciousness from them. The entire teaching pointed to this. The whole study of laws and phenomenon had to point to generating consciousness. Man, in his regular state of sleep, was unconscious. Through systematic and consistent effort, he could awaken and become conscious.

Self-remembering was the specific effort of being conscious. In each moment and circumstance, man was called to remember himself. It is an effort to break away from whatever imaginary world he may have delved in a moment ago, and return to the present reality. Ouspensky likened it to a double-headed arrow, where the attention is directed both to the object in view as well as to one’s self. It is an instantaneous internal reorganization: a moment-by-moment extraction of consciousness from functions.

When Gurdjieff first presented this idea, Ouspensky immediately sensed its importance over all other system ideas. He was subsequently struck by how other students failed to give it the proper significance, while people uninvolved in the work disregarded it altogether – often under the excuse that they already remembered themselves.

Ouspensky on Man’s Place in the Universe

Ouspensky stressed that the spiritual evolution of man was a commodity. Evolution was only possible because of its benefit to higher cosmoses. In the greater universal scheme of things, there existed a general downward movement of growth: perpetual physical expansion of the universe, suns giving birth to planets who give birth to moons and so forth. Parallel to this broad way, there existed a narrow way of upward movement against the stream. This was the path to consciousness, and this accounted for why spiritual evolution was so rare and difficult.

Ouspensky repeatedly stressed the difficulties and challenges of awakening. He repeatedly outlined the many pitfalls along the path, and indeed, saw many of his students stumble through them. But in view of the great things at stake, and the magnitude of the reward, he continued his own path along the Fourth Way, and did his best to inspire and instruct those around him willing to follow.